The story of the Lululemon jacket

Thursday, September 29, 2011 | | 0 comments

When I got home tonight, my wife turned to my daughter and said, “Do you want to tell Daddy what happened today?” I could tell by the look on my daughter’s face, this wasn’t going to be a good story.

My daughter told me that today at school, someone took her Lululemon jacket. It was hanging on her hook outside her classroom and when the day ended, she looked for her jacket and it was gone.

She looked throughout the school, but there’s no sign of it and since it was taken off her hook by someone, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll ever see it again.

My daughter was very sad about this and worried that my wife and I were going to be mad at her. I was furious and still am, but certainly not at my daughter.

As angry as this news has made me, I’m probably more hurt than anything else. To understand my reaction, you probably need to know the whole story.

In April of this year, my daughter was turning nine. The girls on her cheerleading team plus a lot of the girls at her school were wearing anything and everything made by Lululemon. My daughter longed for even one item of clothing from this magical company.

Over and over she begged and pleaded, but the answer was always “no.” The stuff seemed far too expensive to us and since I had just started a new job, it seemed like money that we really didn’t have.

This was going to be a tough lesson for my daughter, but little did she realize, it was far tougher on us because it just flat out hurts to not be able to buy things for your children that they’d really like to have.

When it comes to money I’m usually the one who says “no” the longest and my wife is the one who says “maybe,” especially when it comes to the kids. Without telling anyone, my wife decided she would research used Lululemon jackets in our area and found a woman who had several in my daughter’s size, in good shape and for a fair price. She asked me what I thought, but I was surprised that used jackets could still be so expensive! She said it would be our birthday present to our daughter and after a couple of minutes, I said that if our daughter would want that to be her birthday present, we could find a way to do it.

When my daughter heard the plan she was overjoyed and didn’t care that this would be a used jacket. This would be the best birthday present she could ever dream of and wondered how soon could they go and see it?

I still thought it was ridiculous that used jackets would cost so much, but knew this was about giving my daughter something she thought was really special for her birthday. My daughter has never cared about “fitting in” but I knew it had to be hard for her to understand why she didn’t have what the other girls had and I was glad we were making this sacrifice.

My wife and daughter returned home with the jacket and the smile on my daughter’s face didn’t leave for several days. Her reaction made me forget about the money and how low I had felt that we hadn’t been able to provide the jacket sooner.

I guess the hardest part about today is that someone didn’t just take my daughter’s jacket - they took something that was very special to her. They took her birthday present and the giant smile that lasted for several days.

We’ve turned this into lessons about honesty and trust and hope that these are things she will always remember. But, for sure, I know she’s not going to forget her sadness. Not for a while.

And more than anything, that’s what really hurts.

The story behind "the picture"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 | | 0 comments

A few weeks ago, I had some pictures taken because I’m serving on the Board of Directors for my local professional association. For most people, the experience would be unremarkable, but I’ve found myself laughing quite a bit over the details and suspect I’ve created most of my own fun.

The pictures were being taken in the evening, immediately after a networking event for the association, followed by a board meeting, creating the concern of not knowing how to dress for the occasion. We’re not an overly formal group, but we’re not super casual either, so I was really only able to rule out tuxedos and coveralls. Terribly unsure of myself, I settled on a dress shirt and pants and a jacket as my outfit.

Within minutes of arriving at the venue, I realized that “layers” had been a huge mistake and I was seriously overheating. Worse yet, I had missed the four second window where removing the jacket without causing further embarrassment was still an option. This was quite troubling as I still had a couple of hours of talking to strangers to put in before pictures; this realization alone seeming to send the temperature in the room even higher.

Several conversations followed with people who must only remember me as some variation of “the guy who got really hot,” before it was finally time to take my shattered pride and slink outside for some air.

Luckily, the pictures were being taken outside so I could cool down for a while. I hoped that the fresh evening air would erase whatever mess the inside had made of me to that point, but I was doubtful.

The photographer didn’t know our names and resorted to ordering us into our positions by pointing and saying things like, “You, with the white dress, come down here.” If he had turned to me and said, “You, sweaty guy, stand with your hands in your God, what’s wrong with you?” I would not have been surprised.

After the group shots, we took our turns to have our individual pictures taken. I was one of the last people to go and the photographer seemed deeply troubled that the natural light had changed so significantly since the first pictures were taken. He excitedly showed me the difference on his camera about 20 times, but I’m unsure why he did so since there was nothing I could do to change the situation and a total blackout would have suited me just fine.

The rest of the evening was uneventful and we went our separate ways to await the finished product.

About a week ago, I was sent an electronic version of the picture they planned to use for me in the newsletter. The photographer had skilfully masked my glistening, but somehow missed the fact that I looked positively demented.

So, I asked if there were other options to consider and received about seven or eight of the other shots. In many of them, I’m obviously trying so hard not to blink that my eyes could be confused for “The Cookie Monster’s.” There were several shots taken from underneath my chin and I can neither remember the photographer lunging to the ground to take these nor do I enjoy the double chin effect this angle created.

I’m a fan of the crossed arm look, but here too, I had found a way to make this look dorky.

After careful consideration, I found one that seemed better than the others and submitted my selection.

I was told by one of my fellow board members that Mariah Carey takes less time to decide on an album cover. I’m not sure you’re ever really prepared to be compared to Mariah Carey, but I thought it most appropriate to laugh at myself.

Once again.

Meet the teachers barbecue night

Friday, September 23, 2011 | | 0 comments

I’ve just returned home from the annual meet-the-teachers-school-barbecue. My wife was working tonight, so I had the pleasure of bringing the kids on my own.

This is my sixth year attending the barbecue, so I knew to show up early to avoid the long line-ups that form 10 minutes after the event starts for food that couldn’t possibly meet the school standards for healthy choices (hamburgers, hotdogs, chips and pop).

The second I stepped into line, the kids abandoned me in favour of their friends and I knew I was going to have trouble carrying and garnishing three versions of the combo meal.

The kids came running when they saw I had food for them and we sat on a step, next to the hill to eat our meals. Ketchup was spilled everywhere and the kids argued over who had which can of pop and which bag of chips, but quickly ran off to find their friends again, leaving me sitting with a giant mess of plates, cans and bees.

It didn’t take long for my son to come running back in desperate need of my help. He explained to me that he had lost a small toy on the hill and needed my help to find it. He said he threw it down the hill then rolled down to where he thought the toy would be. When he stopped rolling, he couldn’t find it.

If only there had been some way to avoid this problem...

He wasn’t sure exactly where he had thrown it and I suspect the rolling didn’t help. I asked him to recreate the scene by having him stand where he had been and throw the imaginary toy as my daughter and I watched.

While we looked in the general area we thought it would have landed, my daughter instructed him to roll down the hill, as perhaps this would reveal clues to the missing toy. He gladly obliged and my daughter said, “Keep rolling, keep rolling, keep rolling,” until he was well past the bottom of the hill and I wondered what purpose that had served.

“How big is the toy we're looking for?” I asked.

“About the size of a smurf,” my daughter answered. Thankfully, she held her fingers about two inches apart or I would have followed the generally accepted guideline and looked for something “three apples high.”

The toy was gone and it was time to go inside to meet the teachers.

Both kids enjoyed showing me their desks, the work they contributed to the walls and the system each teacher has to tell them when their behaviour is about to get them in big trouble. My son’s class uses red, yellow and green lights and my daughter’s teacher writes the word “Awesome” on the board and erases one letter each time their behaviour warrants it, until all letters are gone and they get a detention.

Awesome indeed.

My wife is much better at teacher conversations, always coming prepared with 42 or more questions, while I struggle to think of a single thing to say.

The truth is, I hope there isn’t a lot to talk about, two weeks into the year and feel like I just need to show the teacher that I care enough to come and make a big deal about the things that are important to my kids.

If nothing else, I surely did that.

If you're going to do it anyway...

Thursday, September 22, 2011 | | 0 comments

Something that happened to me today at my eye doctor’s office got me thinking about a mistake many businesses make. It’s a mistake I’ve made myself, many years ago when I worked in the service industry.

At the time of my story, I was an Assistant Branch Manager for a car rental company. It was a demanding job that required me to arrange all the customer pickups and drop-offs, ensure cars were clean before customers arrived, phone were answered and employees were in the right spot at the right time.

One day, my Branch Manager overheard me take a phone call from a customer who was finished with her rental car and wanted us to come to her house to pick up the car. This was something we never liked to do, because it took two employees out of the branch, sometimes for a very long time, putting the branch under a lot of stress while they were away.

I told her that we normally don’t pick up cars and asked if she could drive the car to our branch and we’d be happy to give her a ride home.

She didn’t want to do that.

I then explained the problem of having two employees out of the branch and again asked if she could return the car herself.

Again, she refused.

I told her that we could pick the car up from her house, but since it was going to take extra bodies and extra planning, I wasn’t sure when we would be there.

She didn’t seem to care about the inconvenience of waiting one bit and we agreed that sometime before the car rusted away, we would be there to pick it up.

When I hung up the phone, my manager asked me, “Do you find that works, asking customers over and over to bring the car back so we don’t have to pick it up?”

I had to admit that almost always the customer stuck to their guns and in the end we picked up the car.

“Right,” he said, “so after the first time you ask, why don’t you just agree to pick up the car and be done with it? Otherwise, all you’re really doing is annoying people.”

I realized immediately that he was right and I was browbeating my customer into doing what benefited me, not them. It rarely worked and even if it did, I had an unhappy customer.

It’s a lesson that stuck with me.

Today, at my eye doctor’s office, I needed to pick up some contact lens solution. I’m on a plan where I pay for a year’s supply, which I’m supposed to receive at the beginning of the year. The problem is that I always run out and have to come back to the office to get more.

For years they didn’t bat an eye when I came in for additional supply, but this year they give me a lecture about how they’re changing things and that if I run out I’ll need to pay for the additional bottles.

Except they don’t make me pay, they just continue to give me the lecture.

I’m sure the cost of running an optometry office has gone up and contact lens solution might be a money loser. I’m sure they don’t like giving me lens solution for no money.

But those are their problems, not mine. This was the deal that they offered me and I don’t need to feel like I’ve asked them for a kidney each time I need more lens solution.

I’m terribly sorry that this deal has become a hardship for you, but we both know, you’re going to give me the lens solution and not charge me.

So, why do we have to go through this every time?

Taking my kids to the fair

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 | | 0 comments

When I was a kid, I looked forward to the one glorious week each year that the Fall Fair came to town in almost the same way I looked forward to Christmas.

In my hometown, the fair transformed a large patch of grass, an even larger parking lot and old, tired buildings into a magical place for kids. Today, so many years later, I can still remember the excitement I felt when I knew I was going to the fair.

Because of my daughter’s singing competitions, we likely get to as many fairs as any family in Ontario, so I have ample opportunity to compare the fairs of my youth to the fairs of today. Perhaps it’s not surprising, but in most ways, the fairs and the fair experience for my kids are exactly the same as they were for me.

The rides were the big thing when I was a kid and that’s still the case today. My kids can’t wait to get on anything that goes around too many times, goes too high or too fast. I can barely watch them without feeling queasy, but they never slow down and have to be forced to take breaks.

Many of the rides from my youth are still going, like the Scrambler and the Zipper. The Himalaya is still going too, impossibly with what seems to be the same DJ, taunting riders with his trademark, “Do you want to go faster?”

Kids scream “Yes!” and adults whimper, “No, not really.”

When I was younger I never worried about the safety of the rides, but being a parent has changed that for me. At one fair this year, I noticed a giant dent in the corner of a metal barn that seemed ridiculously close to the nearest ride. It’s hard to completely overlook a thing like that.

The games with the really big prizes are still unwinnable and the easy games have prizes that aren’t worth winning. I remember my dad telling me I shouldn’t waste my time with any of the games because the game that cost a dollar to play might net me a prize that cost ten cents to manufacture, even if it was six feet tall.

When I came home one year with a mystery prize that I learned was a “backscratcher,” he laughed at me, but I was undeterred. My kids already ignore me in a similar fashion and will someday, undoubtedly come home with equally worthless prizes. It seems no kid ever can resist the temptation of horrible fair games.

The food may actually be worse now than it was then or perhaps I just didn’t notice that they were frying both butter and Mars bars. Nope, I can’t believe I would have missed that.

Fairs still have agriculture on display, and for many I’m sure that’s a big part of their fair experience. My kids aren’t any more interested than I was in cows, goats, sampling butter milk or seeing a ribbon on a giant pumpkin, so we tend to avoid these areas completely.

I think I see the fair now the way my parents did-a huge cash grab with little to nothing of real entertainment value.

But, like my parents, I realize that fairs aren’t for me, they’re for kids.

And to a kid, the fair is pure magic.


A talent show to remember

Monday, September 19, 2011 | | 0 comments

I doubt I will ever forget this weekend.

My daughter was competing in the finals of the Western Fair Youth Talent Competition for kids aged 12 and under. She made it to the finals last year as well, but at only 8-years-old, we had no expectations that she could place in the top three.

I hoped that she would make it back to the finals this year and place somewhere in the top third of the group of 15. If so, with another year of improvement, she could come back next year and have a shot at winning the whole thing as a 10-year-old.
These may well be the crazy dreams of a proud daddy, but I’ve learned that my daughter is capable of some pretty amazing things.

My daughter was the final performer in this year’s show and for a parent it’s akin to torture to watch every other talented kid take the stage and wonder if your own child stands a chance.

In the days leading up to the show, I had given my daughter so much advice I think I stopped just before telling her to “win one for the Gipper.” While I’m sure I was mostly rambling, I did tell her to believe in herself, to control what she can control and to enjoy the moment when she was on stage. Having done all the coaching I could, and likely more than she ever wanted, I sat back and nervously watched the other kids perform.

At some point in the competition, I started to realize that if my daughter performed as well as she could, that she wouldn’t be “outclassed” by any of the kids in the show. In my eyes, she belonged with this group, even though she was a few years younger than nearly all of them.

It was her turn to sing and she simply blew me away. Before her song was over, I knew this was her day and that she was giving the performance of her life. When she hit her last note, I was bursting with pride and didn’t give a damn how the judges saw things. She had done more than I ever thought she could in three short minutes and nothing could diminish the feeling inside me.

When they announced the third place winner, I thought it was a shame she hadn’t at least snuck into that spot. Second place would have been awfully nice, but that too went to another performer. I guess the judges were looking for different things and that was ok, because as I always tell my daughter, we can’t control any of that.

“And the 2011 Western Fair Youth Talent Competition Champion is............number 15, Lauren Hastings!”

I was in shock and disbelief. My wife cried. My daughter deserved first place, but I just never thought it would happen!

After the show, one of the judges approached my daughter and told her that she has a bright future and that she must keep singing. She went on to say that she doesn’t like kids doing Disney songs because they’re performed by adults and normally too difficult for children...but she was making my daughter her one and only exception. I thought that was a tremendous compliment.

Then the judge gave my daughter some great advice.

“Remember, you’re only as good as your last performance-that will keep you humble.”

And since this is true, my daughter should feel incredible about the performance she put on at the Western Fair.

Congratulations, Lauren, you should be so proud of yourself!

Click here to see the video.

Things I learned from Phineas and Ferb

Thursday, September 15, 2011 | | 0 comments

My kids really enjoy watching a cartoon program called “Phineas and Ferb.” If you’re a parent you might be familiar with the show and if you’re not a parent, but watch it anyway, I’m not here to judge.

Phineas and Ferb are stepbrothers who decide to pursue some fabulous adventure in every episode. Just before the adventures begin, Phineas turns to Ferb and says, “Ferb, I know what we’re going to do today.”

I don’t know why that line has stuck in my head, but recently it dawned on me that maybe Phineas and Ferb are onto something with the way they schedule their lives.

Now, I’m not going to suggest living your life according to the “Tao of Phineas and Ferb,” but even so, I should probably explain myself quickly before you think I’ve lost my mind.

When I think back to times in my life where I’ve been unhappy, often these times have been exceptionally busy, but I haven’t been doing what I really wanted to do. I’ve changed my career a couple of times because I wasn’t finding a single thing in my work day that excited me or allowed me to use my greatest strengths. I hope you don’t know what that feels like, but if you do, you know it’s a pretty miserable way to live.

Even today, despite my best intentions, I can be my own worst enemy by over-scheduling my life, only leaving time to get to the “must do’s” and none of the “want to do’s” on my list. The end of those days leave me exhausted, unfulfilled and even a little angry at myself that I didn’t build in at least one thing that I could get excited about.

I know that “life happens” and that few of us have total control of our time or our circumstances. I certainly don’t. But if you declared even a single thing each day that you really wanted to do and found a way to do it, how happy would you be? Just one thing?

For me, it’s making time to exercise or time to write this blog. It’s about making time to play with my kids (though I’m still terrible about turning off my BlackBerry when I know I should).

At work it’s about doing more writing, getting involved in interesting projects, stretch assignments, or learning new skills. You might think that my job is different from yours, that interesting opportunities are all around me, but the truth is that I often have to think up these opportunities myself or “invent” the need so that I can do something I know is helpful, but also what I want to be doing.

My life is a far cry from the lives of two cartoon characters that have every day of their summer vacation to use as they see fit (did I just compare myself to cartoon characters?). But, each day that I can decide what that one thing is that I can enjoy doing, and then follow it through, is a really good day.

Lessons for a French teacher

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 | | 0 comments

I really don’t like to be critical of teachers, especially when I think my kids go to a great school. But, I received an introduction letter from my son’s Grade 1 French teacher and I just have to point a few things out.

Let’s start with the good stuff. The letter is intended to tell parents what our child will be learning, how they will be learning and how we can assist them with their learning.


The first problem though is the length of the letter – it’s a full page, front and back, single spaced, probably about 2,000 words (think four times the length of this blog). Unless you’re sharing the entire course material with parents, this is entirely too long.

We’re told “the program uses the Accelerative Integrated Method for teaching French.”

What a relief that is! I thought they might use some lesser method that’s slow and not integrated.

The third paragraph is as follows:

“The motivating activities address the needs of a variety of language learners and their learning styles, including kinesthetic, linguistic, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal which, in turn, helps students develop confidence and competence in French as they progress through each story unit."

I think they may be trying to say that this learning program will appeal to all the kids in the class, but it’s possible that this 41-word sentence actually isn’t saying much of anything. Either way, I’m certain I’ll see more of this gobbledegook come report card time.

The fifth paragraph begins, “In addition, as opportunities present themselves, we will introduce and learn other basic vocabulary...”

As opportunities present themselves? What else would you be doing? I guess that’s a drawback of the Accelerative Integrated Method.

The tenth paragraph (yes, the tenth) tells us what our child will need to do this year to do well in the class. This might be the most important piece of information in the letter and it barely made it onto the first page!

The children should “use class time wisely, stay focused and complete all class work in a reasonable time.” Hmm, not sure I see my son excelling in the world of “independent study.”

The top of the second page is the “How can you help?” section. I suspect many parents will see it when they grow weary from reading and turn the page over in the act of throwing it down on the table in frustration.

Apparently we are to explore French websites with our child. A suggestion or two about specific sites would have been helpful here.

I’m told my child “has a folder (chemise) that contains work in progress.”

What else would it contain? It’s a chemise!

“The chemise remains at school.”

You obviously don’t know my son.

I’m told my child “will also have a duo tang (cahier) that will be filled with the vocabulary for the unit, a script of the play, song sheets, puppets and additional vocabulary that may be introduced during other activities in class.”

A cahier filled with vocabulary concerns me and is it more than a little odd that this is the very first mention of puppets?

I’m not a teacher and I thought a chemise was a shirt, but I know that this letter would have been far better if it was one page max, had included a quick introduction of the teaching style and course content, followed by tips for success and what we as parents can do to help our child.

And really, in two pages you couldn’t mention that some kids will be forced to pee in their pants when they don’t know how to ask to go to the bathroom in French?

A movie that defined our generation?

Monday, September 12, 2011 | | 0 comments

I received a question the other day from my youngest brother. He’s 10 years younger than me (technically, we’re 11 calendar years apart, but since his birthday is January and mine is December, I feel like a fraud adding that extra year) and asked if there was one movie that defined my generation. One never knows the reason behind these random questions from him or when they might be coming, and I was stumped to provide an answer.

So, I did something I’ve never done before and posted the question on my Facebook page, hoping it might spark some conversation. Boy, did it ever.

I guess this is the way social media is intended to be used and I’m just now figuring this all out.

I had a lot of fun reading people’s replies to the question, and going down memory lane with all of them. Many of the respondents (strange thing to call friends, I know) came from my hometown and had seen these movies at the only theatre we had at the time. The movies were the place to be and the place to be seen. We were all at the mercy of seeing popular movies several times when they were “held over for a second or third or fourth smash week” and we couldn’t think of anything else to do.

Friends from other places were watching the same movies (presumably when they had greater choices) and it seemed their experiences were similar to ours. I suppose I would have expected that to be the case, but it was fun to confirm it.

I got the sense that the question stirred a lot of memories in the people who replied and perhaps those who didn’t respond, but read along. I’d be interested to hear more of your stories about your favourite movies from your teenage years, and hope that you’ll want to share.

Looking forward to keeping the conversation going!

Oh, and If this goes well, I promise we can have the discussion about 80s music sometime.

Lessons Learned: September 11th

Sunday, September 11, 2011 | | 0 comments

As hard as it is to believe, today is the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001.

While TV, print and digital media have recently bombarded us with stories of that fateful day, I’ve done my best to avoid their coverage. Instead, I’ve spent some moments on my own thinking about my experiences of that day. It’s the usual stuff-where I was, how I heard and how I reacted when the news reached me. I’ve also thought about how much the world has changed in ten short years. How much I’ve changed.

Ten years ago today I was working in Halifax, Nova Scotia as a regional manager for a car rental company. My wife was about three months pregnant with our first child and my thoughts were split between overwhelming joy and secret terror at the prospects of being a dad.

I had chosen to spend my day at our largest and busiest branch. The day was like any other-customers and employees coming and going constantly, phones ringing off the hook. In a word, it was crazy.

Our branches didn’t have televisions or internet or radios. Cell phones didn’t send automatic updates on catastrophic world events like the one we were about to live through. Instead, while our employees were out picking up customers, they heard on car radios that a plane had crashed into a tower and brought the news back to the office. Our customers too were hearing the news and sharing it with us each time they arrived.

Sometime after the initial reports, someone said they had heard a plane had just crashed into a tower. We assumed they were telling us what we had known for a while, but then the awful realization set in that this wasn’t old news. There were two planes. Planes crashed in other parts of the US and we learned that these were coordinated terrorist attacks. Towers collapsed. We were in the middle of an earth shattering series of events that none of us would ever forget.

At the time, I thought myself a good manager. I thought my role was to acknowledge the horrible events that had overtaken the day, but keep the team focused on running the business. I was aware that this was going to be more difficult than any challenge we had faced before as a team, but somehow we had to quickly put it out of our minds and do what we did on any other day.

My wife was frantically calling me on my cell phone with every update as she sat glued to our TV set at home. Like anyone else, my mind was racing, but I thought that if I showed even the slightest hint of emotion that our business would implode. So, I did my best to put it out of my mind and asked the team to focus on doing their jobs. I could tell I wasn’t giving my people what they wanted that day, but I believed that good leadership could make you extremely unpopular at times.

Looking back, I don’t think it was wrong of me to try to balance out the delirium in the office by remaining calm and asking that others did the same. But, it’s clear to me now that I expected others to manage their shock and their pain exactly as I did, by putting it out of their mind and focus only on the business. That wasn’t fair of me under the circumstances and I’ve regretted it ever since.

I wish I had put less emphasis on the business and more on the people I managed. I wish I had given them an opportunity to react in whatever way they felt necessary before asking them to carry on with the business of renting cars.

I wish I realized then that the business of renting cars should never be made to seem more important than the emotions of those employees who faithfully ran the business every single day, especially in a crisis such as this.

I realize that now.

I shared these thoughts with my wife earlier tonight and she asked me if I feel differently about the way I acted that day because I’m a dad or simply because I’m older. I thought about the question for a minute, then answered that fatherhood has given me more patience and compassion. Then, I added that being older has shown me that there are a lot more important things in life than running a business or being someone’s boss.

I can’t say September 11th is solely responsible for these lessons, but I know that it played a part.

Fun with Homework

Wednesday, September 7, 2011 | | 0 comments

Day 2 of school and it seems the routine doesn’t work...for me.

My wife worked tonight so I was on my own to pick the kids up, get them home, feed them, and get them through their homework.

My daughter didn’t have any homework, so after dinner she went to her room to work on her song. Careful inspection of my son’s school bag revealed that he did have some work to do, so we sat at the kitchen table and got started.

Our task tonight was to complete two pages of exercises that focused on writing the letters “S” and “A” and using them to write some simple words. How hard could this be?

My son hadn’t been seated for two seconds before he complained that his pencil wasn’t sharp enough. Perhaps it wasn’t, but I’ve written with duller pencils and this seemed to have “excuse” written all over it. Rather than fight him on the issue, I tried to find a pencil sharpener, but none could be found.

I wasn’t ready to admit defeat just two minutes into “Operation Homework”, so I decided I could sharpen a pencil using a large kitchen knife. While this is certainly possible, no kid ever gets over the strange look of a pencil “whittled” by his father in this fashion and the confusion alone was paralysing to my son.

Somehow I found a sharp pencil and we were free to try our hand at writing small S x 15. There seemed to be no regard for spacing or keeping the letter between the top and bottom lines provided on the page and any attempts at coaching on my part were met with, “Daddy, this is hard!” Endless starting and stopping and complaining made for a tedious session and we weren’t nearly finished.

I remember going through this with my daughter when she was first learning to write, then again when she was learning to read, each time resembling the character on Sesame Street who smashes his face on the piano keyboard saying “I’ll never get it, never, never, never!”

After an exhausting 20 minutes, we were ready to copy “Sammy”, “Snake”, and “See.” Each letter beyond “S” required a negotiation to complete and I had lost my patience. I chose to ignore the gigantic “M’s” that used up most of the available space and hoped we had time to get to the second letter.

At that moment, my daughter came downstairs to tell us that my son should turn on the TV because there was a really cool show on about reptiles. I did my best to tell my son that reptiles had nothing on the letter “A” - that “Amanda”, “Ant” and “Apple” were what the cool kids were doing right now, but knew I didn’t stand a chance.

It was nearly time for bed anyway and we had used up all of our time.

Putting him to bed was no easier. Instead of putting on his PJs and brushing his teeth like I asked, he came down the stairs and asked, “Do you think there’s something wrong with this frog, Daddy?” (Answer: there’s a giant marble that you’ve stuffed into his mouth)

And just when I think he might finally be settling into bed? I can hear him in his room.

He’s singing “Moves Like Jagger.”

Daddy, I don't think I have a BFF

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 | | 0 comments

As a parent, one of the most difficult things I deal with is watching my child get hurt emotionally, knowing that I can’t do much about it.

Today was the first day of school for both kids and unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to talk to either of them about their day until just before bedtime.

My daughter is very excited about being in Grade 4 and nothing about today seemed to slow her down. My son didn’t say much about his first day of Grade 1 other than the full day of school (his first ever) was very long and tiring. His eyes backed up his story of being exhausted, but only after he went to bed did I learn that perhaps it was more than just the hours in the classroom that had taken a toll on him.

My daughter reported that at recess, she noticed that my son wanted to play with an older boy named Aidan that he knows from the baby sitter’s house, but that Aidan wanted nothing to do with my son. My son persisted and Aidan continued to ignore him and run away, leaving my son heartbroken and without a friend to play with for the entire recess.

It hurt to hear this story, remembering similar things that happened to me when I was his age. I hoped they wouldn’t happen to my caring little boy-a boy who wouldn’t be mean to anyone, but such is life.

The story hurt a little more because I remembered a conversation I had with my son a week ago as we drove somewhere in the car.

“Daddy, I don’t think I have a BFF,” he started.

I hate the term “BFF” and a big part of the reason is that kids as young as six feel that if they don’t declare this friendship they will be left without the one thing that every kid wants-a friend.

I had erroneously assumed that BFFs were more of a girl thing, but obviously need to worry about the concept with my son as well.

“Daddy,” he continued, “I think Aidan is my BFF. I’ve never asked him though if I’m his BFF, but I think I am.”

I told my son that since Aidan is a couple of years older than him that he might have other friends and maybe even a BFF (using the term made me cringe). I told him that it was far more important to be a good kid and have lots of friends than to have a BFF at six.

“That’s ok, Daddy, Aidan is my BFF so I should let him know.”

We’ve gone through similar situations with my daughter and will take the same approach with my son: teach him that sometimes kids hurt our feelings for no reason and that the best thing you can do is find other kids who will be better friends.

There’s a real chance that I’m taking this harder than my son, but I felt the need to go into his room again before he fell asleep to give him an extra hug and tell him that I love him.

I wonder if he’ll remember this in the morning and have more questions about why it happened.

I wonder too if today at recess, he was just trying to tell Aidan that he was my son’s BFF.

Paris Fair Talent Competition

Monday, September 5, 2011 | | 0 comments

This weekend, we were at the Paris Fair for my nine-year-old daughter to compete in the Youth Talent Competition, for children aged 12 and under.

She’s a singer and decided to sing Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid. She was a little late in picking her song and developed a case of the sniffles a week before the competition, so I was even more nervous than usual about how things were going to go.

The first performer was a girl who required a team of three to set up what looked like a 15-foot swing set with two long strands of fabric hanging down from the middle. I learned this was called “a silk act” and based on previous experience, I expected her to do very well. Last year at this same show, a girl performed an acrobatic routine, climbing on and through a large circle that spun on a base. I had absolutely no idea what I was watching or whether it was the best acrobatic spinning circle routine in history, but she took top prize at the fair so I am led to believe it was extraordinary. The silk act was similarly confusing to me, but the audience erupted as though they had never before been more impressed by silk and the judges likely gave it a perfect score.

I have learned to pay attention only to the other vocal acts because I don’t know how to compare my daughter to acrobats, dancers, lion tamers, or anyone riding a motorcycle in a giant sphere. I have concluded that judges will award top prize in the show to the biggest act imaginable, leaving my daughter and the other singers to fight for the spoils, but that is beyond my control. On that note, those children wishing to read poetry in talent shows need not bother.

The first singer was a 12-year old girl, wearing a similar dress to the one my daughter was wearing, who was also singing Part of Your World! This happens at nearly every show, and you always hope to avoid being the second person singing a song that might now bore the judges. What can you do?

There were two dancers in the competition and although I don’t know good dancing from bad, I’ve decided that tap dancing is more impressive to me than other types. There was a girl who did a routine with a baton and I don’t think you need much experience to know that dropping the thing all over the stage is going to produce a poor score. Poor kid!

There were two pianists-one great and one who played for about 30 seconds. A man in his 40’s, obviously not part of the talent show, walked across the stage between acts and thought he was clever for playing a bit of Chopsticks on the piano and I hoped it might explode on him like it does in the cartoons.

In all, there were 10 singers and, as often happens, my daughter was the youngest and smallest of them all. But, she absolutely nailed her song and I think she may have been the crowd favourite.

She has learned so much in four years of competing about stage presence, audience rapport and turning her song into three minutes of musical theatre.

My daughter placed first in the vocal category and second overall and will compete next weekend at the Western Fair in London. I’m so proud of her and all that she’s accomplished. Let’s have fun in London!

Oh, and who placed first overall?

The silk act.


If you’d like to see my daughter’s performance, click here to see the video.

How to prepare to talk to your child

Thursday, September 1, 2011 | | 0 comments

As a parent, you know that certain conversations with your kids are coming. You don’t know when, but you anticipate and prepare.

In your planning sessions (conducted years in advance and entirely in your head), the child brings up a contentious issue, the parent acts as though the subject has taken them completely by surprise, but miraculously provides the perfect answer/guidance/acceptance/refusal with Shakespearean eloquence. The child is awed by the response and asks only that the conversation can continue long enough to thank you for your wisdom.

I wish that my years of planning had helped me tonight with my conversation with my daughter about getting her ears pierced.

The chat started exactly as I envisioned: “Daddy, can I get my ears pierced?”

The answer I had rehearsed was, “Hmm, I’m not sure about that. Why do you want to get your ears pierced?”

The answer that came out was, “No,” surprising even me.

My daughter asked, “Why not?” and I answered, “Because I don’t want you to have any more holes in your ears.”

The truth is, I really don’t know how I feel about my daughter, at nine years old, getting her ears pierced but found myself playing a game of “Say the first thing that enters your mind.”

My daughter then countered with, “But everyone has their ears pierced, Daddy!”

Knowing this to be untrue, but still not in control of brain or my words, I provided the examples of her close friend and my mother. A total deviation from the script to be sure, but I was pleased that I had come up with one relevant example and only one ridiculous example, right there on the spot. If pressed, I was going to mention the members of the Blue Man Group and I’m thankful it didn’t come to that.

My daughter rolled her eyes and said, “It doesn’t cost anything!”

I said that it must cost something and she said that it didn’t, but quickly added, “If it does cost something, I’ve got gift cards!”

I knew I had an argument that buying goods and services with gift cards (that had been purchased for cash), was not in any way obtaining services for free, but stopped myself when I realized I was playing right into her hands. How had I let things get this far? I had lost all control.

“Mommy says the two of you will have a conversation about this,” she added.


A conspiracy...

I hadn’t planned for that.