Ah, me boys

We’ve been inflicting the pop culture touchstones of our teenage and young adult years on the boys, making sure they have a cultural appreciation of the literary and film influences that helped shape Generation X.

We were doing quite well for a while. The Princess Bride more than withstands the test of time, and Rent was well received. We’re all ecstatic that most of Monty Python’s oeuvre will soon be coming to Canadian Netflix (though eek, I did not remember The Meaning of Life being quite so, um, graphic!) It’s little surprise that since they liked Monty Python, they appreciated my reading of both the full Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (all five parts) and Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman. The music from LadyHawke was nearly unbearable, but the story is still sweet and enjoyable. I was delighted to find out that one of the boys added the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack to his Spotify playlists, and the Matrix was better in 2018 than I remember it being in 1999.

On the other hand, not everything passes the filter of a modern sensibility. We started reading Stephen King’s Christine recently, as I have been a King fan my whole life. After a few chapters, though, we gave up. There’s something distasteful in the narrator’s descriptions of the characters that feels not only anachronistic but misanthropic as well, and we just couldn’t get past it. Some of the character descriptions felt like they were pulled out the comment sections of any modern media article – full of othering and judgementalness.

While I remember most 80s movies for young people as being crass and crude (everything from National Lampoon’s franchise to Porky’s and Risky Business) I was deeply dismayed to find on rewatching that many of John Hughes’ movies could be sexist, ageist, racist and homophobic. I adored John Hughes growing up; he wrote what I thought were honest, true depictions of the teenage experience. I could, and have, waxed rhapsodic about the power of The Breakfast Club, how its angst felt like the voice of my generation, and I expected it to resonate equally with the boys. Instead, watching it with them about a decade after the last time I viewed it, I was devastated by the homophobic language, by the idea that the quirky girl has to have a makeover to become “normal” in order to be accepted, by the fact that a boy can be cruel and abusive and still get the girl in the end. Sixteen Candles was even worse – by far. How to reconcile these viewpoints? Can I still profess to love these books and movies when I can see so many troubling themes that I would not endorse or embrace in the woke world of 2018?

I had this blog post half written when I came across this article written by Molly Ringwald in The New Yorker about her concerns about these exact things. How do we reconcile our love for these movies when they are so desperately anachronistic, so out of step with modern perspectives and sentiments? In the article, Ringwald poses the very questions that I’m grappling with: “How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose? […] Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art—change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go.”

In the article, Ringwald references an interview she did with John Hughes before he died.

In the interview, I asked him if he thought teen-agers were looked at differently than when he was that age. “Definitely,” he said. “My generation had to be taken seriously because we were stopping things and burning things. We were able to initiate change, because we had such vast numbers. We were part of the Baby Boom, and when we moved, everything moved with us. But now, there are fewer teens, and they aren’t taken as seriously as we were. You make a teen-age movie, and critics say, ‘How dare you?’ There’s just a general lack of respect for young people now.”

And that made me think of the incredibly brave, ballsy, clever kids in Parkland, FL, and how they have been leading an unprecedented and delightfully subversive charge against the NRA in particular and the Trump administration in general. It’s an almost vertiginous sweep, the distance we’ve come in just a generation or two, and stunning how different the world is now. But aren’t the themes John Hughes so beautifully illustrated – of belonging, of searching for meaning, of trying to fit in and stand out and find your place in the world – still universal?

In the end, Ringwald was able to balance her affection for Hughes and her contribution to the movies with her modern perspective:

John wanted people to take teens seriously, and people did. The films are still taught in schools because good teachers want their students to know that what they feel and say is important; that if they talk, adults and peers will listen. I think that it’s ultimately the greatest value of the films, and why I hope they will endure. The conversations about them will change, and they should. It’s up to the following generations to figure out how to continue those conversations and make them their own—to keep talking, in schools, in activism and art—and trust that we care.

What do you think? How do you reconcile a modern reading of classic movies or literature, when some themes are universal but others are so deeply anachronistic that you can barely bear to watch them, let alone embrace them? From Holden Caufield to the Honeymooners, there are no shortages of cultural touchstones who could never survive a modern filter. Is it enough to say, “they are a product of their times. It’s different now,” as I’ve said to the boys? Does it even bother you?


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Spoiler Alert

by DaniGirl on March 23, 2018 · 1 comment

in Ah, me boys, Mothering without a licence

We’re standing in WalMart, of all places. I don’t even like WalMart and almost never shop there. But we’re in WalMart and we’ve just walked past several rows of pastel-coloured Easter goodies, and it twinges something I’ve been thinking about.

“Hey Lucas,” I begin, leaning down to be closer to his 10 year old ear. I don’t have to lean far. When did he get to be as tall as my shoulder anyway?

“Lucas, um, I was wondering, do you know…” I stall. Maybe I’m happier not having this conversation. But he’s watching me now, as we continue on to the back of the store.

“Well, I was wondering. You, uh, you know that there’s not actually a giant rabbit who comes into the house and hides the Easter candies and the eggs, right? I mean, you know who it is, right?” I blurt in a rush of words, still not convinced I want to have this conversation after all. What if I’ve misread him? What if I’ve just ruined this for him? Why exactly did I start this conversation?

Lucas is not, to my relief, devastated. “Yup,” he confirms, casually shattering our shared delusion. “It’s Granny!” Each year, my mother spends hours hiding treats around her place for the boys, and making up lists of clues for them to follow. Before I can clarify, he continues. “And I know that you and Dad are Santa Claus, too. I heard you filling the stockings.”

I can only nod, a lump of mingled relief and regret swelling in my throat.

So I guess that’s that. I mean, we were never very insistent on the whole Easter Bunny thing, but Santa has been a different story. The older boys have always been careful to never explicitly confirm or deny believing in Santa Claus, and I avoided asking them about it, lest I open Pandora’s box for Christmas.

It’s easier now that we can be open about hiding the candy and eggs, of course. I can even solicit the boys to help stuff the plastic eggs full of jelly beans and marshmallow bunnies after we paint our colourful eggs. And Christmas Day will be much more pleasant if I haven’t stayed up until all hours on Christmas Eve, trying to outlast them so I can fill their stockings on Santa’s behalf.

It’s the end of a thing, though. Another of the thousand little changes that mean that they’re growing up. It will be easier, but it will be harder, too. Easter candy this year is a little bit bittersweet.

Family photos by Mothership Photography


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Photo of the day: Dish pan hands

by DaniGirl on March 16, 2018 · 0 comments

in Lucas, Photo of the Day

We had a dishwasher catastrophe this week. I’d just started a cycle when I looked over to see thick, angry black smoke pouring out of the electrical panel on our GE dishwasher. It’s only six or seven years old, but it has been doing a mediocre job on and off for a while anyway, and I just couldn’t imagine ever trusting it again after spending hours agonizing over the “what ifs” — thinking of all those times you load up the dishwasher and start it up and fly out the door. Long story short, a new one has been ordered and will be delivered soon. I scored a pretty good deal, too, so I suppose the story has a moderately happy ending, except for the giant expenditure that was not in our March Break forecast.

In the interim, someone had to step up and clean the dishes. Lucky for me, Lucas happily volunteered.

Dishes

This was my job when I was about ten years old, too. We didn’t get our first dishwasher until I was 12 or so. I instructed Lucas just like my mom instructed me: glasses first, then plates and bowls, then pots and pans and utensils. Mind you, I didn’t have to worry about dropping plates or glasses into an extra deep ceramic farmhouse sink. We are clumsy folk, after all. I try not to hover, and trust that he won’t drop anything. It’s a work in progress, this growing up thing.


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I think the paths along Hogsback Falls in Ottawa are truly one of the city’s overlooked treasures. I see photographers crawling all over the Arboretum but am surprised that I rarely see family photos being taken at Hogsback – there’s a stunning variety of backdrops and perfect places for posing and playing. It’s been a few too many years since we’ve been there, though I drive past it on my commute every single day and think about stopping. We took advantage of the incredible weekend weather to go out for a wander.

Taking photos of the boys is more of an adventure than it used to be. I told them to “go over there so I can take your picture.” The posing and art direction was left up to them.

fun family photos in Ottawa

I call it “Album Cover, Autumn 2017 edition.” 😉

I think this would be an acceptable alternate cover.

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

Some of them are more willing to pose for me than others. It depends on the day which kid is in which category!

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

(Oh my heart!)

fun family photos in Ottawa

autumn wander at hogsback simon

(Yes, that’s my camera. Good thing I carry a spare in my pocket!)

Did I mention it’s been a FEW years since we were up on the lookout?

fun family photos in Ottawa

We have a few favourite spots we go to year after year. I’m making sure that Hogsback Falls is put back into rotation from now on!


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Sometimes, I have an anecdote that I want to share like I did back in the day, but I don’t have a photo to go with it. Despite having my own stock library of nearly 6,000 images on Flickr alone, sometimes there just isn’t a photo that goes with the story.

And sometimes, I have photos that I like that don’t really have a story.

I’m really sort of appalled that it took me this long to marry the two of them together.

I like this photo, of a red fishing shack full of lobster traps. We discovered it wandering around the fishing village of French River, in Prince Edward Island.

image by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

When Tristan first stayed in the house by himself, I used to make him text me when he arrived and about every hour. That lasted about a month before we both got tired of it. I was less strict when Simon started staying by himself, partly because I had calmed down a bit, and partly because by then Tristan was usually also home with him. They were both quizzed thoroughly on a long line of do’s and don’ts — don’t answer the door, don’t tell people you are home alone, don’t use the stove. Okay, maybe they were all don’ts.

This summer being home on vacation, Lucas learned how to prepare a tin of tomato soup for lunch. A few days later, Beloved and I returned from running a few errands together, having left the three boys with the elders more or less in charge, and saw the soup-rimmed pot and bowl in the sink. We looked at each other, at the intact stove, at the opened tin and dirty pot, and flinched.

As happens so often with the third child, the rules slipped a little bit. Maybe because he wasn’t staying home entirely by himself, or maybe just because he’s the third child and that’s the way it is with third children, Lucas didn’t get the lecture about not using the stove. It’s only the second or third time he’s ever used the stove. He’s not the most attentive creature when it comes to details. Or safety. Somehow, though, he’d remembered to turn off the burner, and to avoid putting anything flammable near the stove, and even put the dirty dishes in the sink.

Of course, everything was fine. I’ve got three more grey hairs, though.


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If you’re a long-time blog reader, you know that as a family, we have been stalking Chef Michael Smith for about four years now. We’ve long been fans of “the world’s tallest freestanding chef” and have been visiting his Flavour Shack in Souris every year that we visit Prince Edward Island. For my birthday in 2015, we even sprang for a night out with the family at his amazing FireWorks restaurant in the Inn at Bay Fortune – although the Chef was not in attendance that evening.

You might even remember that last winter, I got to meet Chef Michael when he was in Ottawa on business, and I managed to convince him to Face-Time with Beloved and the kids. I’m not kidding, we’re serious fans!

So when the stars aligned for our 2017 visit and we found out that Chef Michael’s annual charity event, the Village Feast, not only coincided with our visit for the first time ever, but would take place practically walking distance from our cottage, there was no way we could *not* go.

To our delight, right there as soon as we walked in was the man himself, offering oysters for sale to raise funds for the various charities that the Feast supports. And didn’t we just walk right up and say hello, as if we hadn’t been stalking the man for more than four years? I asked him if he remembered FaceTiming with the kids last year, and he was delighted (or so it seemed) to be meeting them face to face.

Here’s a memorable photo: that moment when your family meets your culinary boyfriend:

The Village Feast with Chef Michael Smith

The Feast itself was amazing. We had salmon cakes and fresh greens, steak cooked to perfection, PEI potatoes mashed with gravy, a Kenyan curried bean dish called Githeri, and strawberry shortcake for dessert. Especially considering it was food cooked for a thousand people, it was the best meal we had on PEI.

We were just finishing dessert when I noticed a familiar face in the crowd. Loretta from Chef Michael’s Flavour Shack has taken our family portrait each year that we’ve visited PEI, by sheer coincidence of her being at work in the Flavour Shack every time we’ve visited. I walked over to say hello and asked if she remembered us, and not only did she remember us, but she was happy to take a “Village Feast” version of our annual PEI family portrait.

The Village Feast with Chef Michael Smith

On our way out, we stopped for a quick final chat with Chef Michael. I was amazed at how accessible he was – if this event were back in Ottawa, he’d be thronged with people trying to say hello or get a selfie. There was plenty of that going on – he signed my new Village Feast souvenir hat, which we needed in the blazing afternoon sun! – but it was a steady stream of folks instead of a big crowd. Most of the people just wanted to greet him as one greets a neighbour in the local grocery store, not an internationally recognized celebrity with his own TV shows. It was charming, and typical of the small-town vibe on PEI.

Lucas and I each tried oysters. Chef Michael carefully instructed Lucas on how to hold and eat the oyster, and I was just a little bit relieved when Lucas didn’t promptly spit it back out.

The Village Feast with Chef Michael Smith

Isn’t that awesome? He is as kind and magnetic in person as he is on TV – a perfectly Canadian celebrity. 🙂

A few days later, we saw via this local newspaper that the Feast had surpassed expectations, raising more than $100,000 for charity. It was one of many great moments from our trip to PEI this year.

Feast news


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Photo of the day: the boys in Souris

26 July 2017 Ah, me boys

We’ve just returned from our annual vacation in Prince Edward Island, and I have a *cough* few photos to share. This might be my new favourite photo of the boys, taken in Souris. I might have thought, years ago, that vacationing with teenagers would have been a very different experience. We’ve just spent the most […]

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Photo of the day: First and Last Day of School 2016-2017

28 June 2017 Ah, me boys

Our annual first-and-last day of school photo is getting harder to execute – one boy finished school two days ago, and one biked off with his friends before the other was even out of school. But we still managed! We are getting quite the collection. Beloved was joking that in a few years, we’ll have […]

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Remember that time she ordered Kool-Aid from the Internet to dye her son’s hair?

20 May 2017 Mothering without a licence

Today’s entry on the (never-ending) list of things I never expected to do as a parent: ordering Kool-Aid packets off the Internet so I could dye my son’s hair. It never gets old, this parenting thing! It’s not that I didn’t want Tristan to colour his hair, or even that I didn’t want to pay […]

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Photos of the day: Newborn kittens!

17 April 2017 Ah, me boys

My big-hearted friends are fostering a mama cat and her brand new litter of kittens, and they were kind enough to let the boys and I come over for a visit. You didn’t think I’d leave my camera behind, did you? This is Abby. I love this photo because her expression says everything I felt […]

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