Mothering without a licence

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?


{ 0 comments }

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


{ 1 comment }

Have you heard this one? Facebook is launching a Messenger application dedicated to kids ages six to 13. Wait, what? Did you say SIX?

From their launch message, Facebook promises:

Whether it’s using video chat to talk to grandparents, staying in touch with cousins who live far away, or sending mom a decorated photo while she’s working late to say hi, Messenger Kids opens up a new world of online communication to families.

Pretty rosy, right? All warm and cuddly. And I’m here to tell you that while those things might happen, 99% of the messaging is going to be between peers, and I am not sure how happy I’d be giving even my nine year old that sort of technology.

untitled

Let’s talk about all the things that are wrong with this.

Since kids under age 13 aren’t even supposed to have Facebook accounts, to use the app parents must download it and then authenticate it with their own account. So Facebook gets a new “customer” by way of the kid, but potentially also a way to get parents who haven’t previously heard the siren song to sign up for an account as well. And Facebook requires you to use the child’s actual name instead of a pseudonym.

Let’s just give a passing thought, too, to the potential entanglements of shared custody and parents who disagree about whether their primary school kids should have access to Facebook. But who’s to say that the person giving access to the kid is in fact the parent, or even a real person? Much as Facebook would hate to admit it, it’s not hard to fake up a Facebook account.

And then there’s the whole question of Facebook having even MORE data about my family than they already have. They’ve said they won’t serve up ads to the kids, but they haven’t said they won’t be collating the data they collect on our family relationships, or the kid connections, or just about anything else. Sketchy, to say the least.

I guess there’s an argument to be made for the fact that kids will be using iMessage or other texting apps already. I just feel like Facebook is promising a false sense of security and control, and while I love using Facebook, I do not trust their motivations.

I like how The Verge put it:

And yet at a time when I’m still struggling to understand how social media is altering my own mind, I’m hesitant to recommend it to children. The benefits of Messenger Kids to Facebook are too obvious, and too little acknowledged by its creators. And the benefits to children all but elude me.

I also think that my perspective with relation to my hypothetical six (seriously, are we really talking about SIX YEAR OLDS here?) year old and my actual thirteen year old are a little different. It’s possible that I wouldn’t have gotten my hackles up on this if it were marketed as an app for ages 10 to 13, instead of as young as six. In fact, it’s possible I bent the rules to help my then 11-year-old get an Instagram account, but you can bet I pretty tightly monitored it and that there were a LOT of conversations about responsible use. And as an aside, I find it more than a little funny that both my teens have Facebook accounts that sit idle. There are plenty of streaks happening on Instagram and SnapChat, but I’m pretty sure there are cobwebs on both Facebook accounts.

What do you think? Do you share my unease and distaste, or do you think this is a great new way for kids to be able to connect? Or maybe something in between?


{ 0 comments }

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.


{ 2 comments }

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.

2017-05-17 18.46.50

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 for it. Last March Break, he had a single foil of red put into his hair at his bangs. He quite liked it, and it faded nicely to a copper before disappearing entirely around the end of the summer. In the interim, I had my own hair coloured at a salon for the first time ever, adding all the colours (because really, why limit yourself to just one?) and over the year learned everything I never knew about caring for colour-treated hair.

This spring, I picked up a couple of tubes of semi-permanent colour in cyan and magenta, and we tried to add a little colour to the bottom inch or two of Tristan’s hair at the nape of his neck. First we tried the cyan, which came out more of a murky green on his dark golden hair, and was virtually undetectable pretty much from the first day. A few weeks later we tried the magenta, leaving it on longer, but to the same result. In fact, you could see the magenta dye in my cuticles longer than you could see any trace of it in his hair.

He didn’t want to commit to bleaching his hair as he quite likes his natural colour, but still wanted to have a little pop of colour. And that’s when my brilliant Facebook friends told me about Kool-Aid dip dyeing. Did you know that’s a thing? Maybe it wasn’t on my radar because I never dreamed of colouring my hair until I knew I could have all the colours, but I’d never heard of it before. I poked about for a while on Google, and it seemed simple enough: a packet or two of unsweetened Kool-Aid, some hot water, and 15 minutes of your time. Sure, that’s worth trying.

Problem: did you know they don’t sell those little enveloped of unsweetened Kool-Aid mix in Canada anymore? When did that happen? I have clear memories of buying it for the kids when they were toddlers, but they have no memory of ever drinking it. (I picked up the closest equivalent I could find, those pre-sweetened singles that you add to a glass of water, and they gobbled them up like crack. But – don’t use those in your hair. You need the UNsweetened mix.)

You know you’re down the rabbit hole when you are reading Facebook posts lobbying Kraft to bring the unsweetened envelopes back to Canada, and you are really past the point of no return when you decide the best course of action is to actually order some from the Internet. (I found this site to be reliable and quick, should you also be looking for a source.)(Not a sponsored post – more of a PSA!)

2017-05-17 17.59.28

Getting the Kool-Aid was definitely the more challenging part of this adventure. Actually colouring Tristan’s hair with it was surprisingly easy!

I read a few tutorials online to get a feel for the process. (I swear, I will read a 10,000 word blog post before I will watch a three-minute video. I am old skool, give me words, please!) It seemed I had two basic options: mix Kool-Aid in boiling water and dip the hair in it, or mix Kool-Aid with conditioner and paint it onto the hair. I wanted the path of least resistance and most intense colour, so we went for the dip dye.

I put a cup of water into a pot and brought it to a simmer, then added two packages of (unsweetened) Kool-Aid. Tristan chose the Strawberry flavour because we were aiming for more pinkish than red. It was, as you can see, quite red.

2017-05-17 18.08.46

I let it simmer for a few minutes, but because we were on a tight timeline, not for too long. I imagine if you let it boil down a bit, the colour would be even more intense. While it was boiling, I pulled Tristan’s hair into a little ponytail at the base of his neck.

This is where you have to be careful. You want the mixture to still be hot, because heat opens up the hair cuticle so the colour is more fully absorbed. On the other hand, you do not want to scald anyone. I poured the mix into a small mason jar, but a juice glass or mug would also work. Be careful – it will be hot! I let it sit for three or four minutes.

2017-05-17 18.10.36

I sat on the sofa and he sat on the floor at my feet with an old towel on his shoulders. (Important! Kool-Aid may stain your towels and clothes!) I carefully dunked his ponytail and held the jar in place for about five minutes. I think it may have been closer to six.

2017-05-17 18.11.49

And that’s all there was to it! I pulled the ponytail out of the dye mix and carefully squeezed the excess out of his hair, and then released the ponytail and towel-dried the ends of his hair. He let it air dry and this was the result.

2017-05-20 18.45.23

It was a little sticky, but he left it overnight (with a towel for a pillow case!) and rinsed it with lukewarm water the next day. The colour is AMAZING! So much more vivid than the tubes from the beauty supply store! It’s been a few days and I haven’t seen much fading at all. By some accounts I read online, it should last at least a few weeks. Others said it just grew out.

Have you ever dip-dyed your hair? I hear it was quite the thing to do circa 1995, but I totally missed it back then. This was fun, and we still have quite a few packages left over. Heck, maybe I don’t need to go back to the salon for my rainbow touch-ups???

self-portrait of Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders


{ 1 comment }

This will be my seventh year on our elementary school council, and my third year on the intermediate/high school council. I don’t see any reason why I will not continue to be on the high school council right through Lucas’ graduation in 2026, which means that by the time he’s done school I’ll have logged a full SEVENTEEN YEARS on school council. In fact, I’ll have been retired from my day job for two years before I retire from council.

I didn’t join the school council at the boys’ first school, where Tristan attended JK through Grade 3 and Simon attended Kindergarten before we moved to Manotick, mostly because I was shy and a little bit intimidated. I thought you had to be part of the “in crowd” of moms, the ones who all seemed to know each other at the school fence, who made coffee dates and attended zumba class and didn’t generally talk to me. I thought that because I worked downtown during the day, I wouldn’t be able to participate. I thought you had to be one of those hyper-involved moms with boundless energy and community connections, entirely unlike tired, barely-holding-it-together, socially awkward me.

When we moved to Manotick, though, I thought maybe joining school council would help me get to know our new school and our new community, so I put on my brave girl pants and showed up for the first meeting of the year. The first person who befriended me remains a friend of the family to this day (hi Debra!) and all of the myths I’d assumed about council were dispelled. I didn’t need to commit to hours of activities during school hours, but I did need to commit to monthly meetings. Joining the school council has been great for making friends, occasionally exasperating, an excellent way to make community connections, and one of the best things I’ve done to feel connected to the place where the boys spend so much of their formative years.

Here’s five reasons why you should join your kids’ school council.

1. You will know what’s happening at school

The pre-teen’s monosyllabic grunt in response to “what’s new at school?” may be the least informative mode of human expression. This becomes, in my opinion, an even bigger challenge in middle school and high school. Schools try very hard to ensure parents are informed and have many channels of communication, but being on council has been the single most effective way for me to know not only what’s going on with school events and activities, but what challenges the school is facing, what victories they are celebrating, and to get a feel for the culture of the school.

2. You can voice your opinions and contribute to decisions

From fundraising to parking lot conflicts to lunch programs to technology in the classroom, being on council gives parents a meaningful voice in school life. Knowledge is power, and council offers an insightful window on the challenges your school is facing (from funding to enrollment to infrastructure) and what changes are being considered. I can think of a few occasions where the school admin have approached council with a contentious issue, listened carefully to feedback, and implemented a solution based on what they heard instead of what they were originally planning.

3. Builds relationships with staff and community

Through council, I’ve met many great people and made friendships that have extended beyond the school walls. Equally valuable, I’ve had the chance to get to know the school administration and many of the teaching staff. On the very few occasions when something has come up that I’ve needed to talk to the school about a sensitive or troubling matter, it’s been great to be able to rely on an existing relationship to smooth the way. It’s also great to be able to put a face to the names that come up in conversation with the kids, and to feel connected to their school lives.

4. Give back

It’s important to me to be able to give back to my community, and to set an example of community service for the boys. This is a pretty small commitment in the grand scheme of things, and a self-serving one, given the reasons outlined above. Still, it does feel good to be able to volunteer a couple of hours each month to make the boys’ school a better place for them and for their classmates.

5. It’s not as much work as you might think

I think this was my biggest fear about getting involved in council. What kind of purgatory am I signing up for? I’ve found through the years, though, that you can take on as much or as little as you are able. There are indeed some parents who can and do volunteer at the school on a nearly full-time basis, and there are others like me who try to weave it in to the fabric of working and parenting and everything else. If your council has voting positions, you need to commit to attending the monthly meetings so quorum (having enough voting members present to pass motions) can be achieved. Some years, that’s barely all I could achieve. Other years, I’ve been secretary, which requires only showing up and keeping a record of the proceedings and managing the agenda. This past year, in a fit of delusional enthusiasm for Simon’s Grade Six graduation year I was foolish enough to take on the yearbook. I nearly drowned in the 100+ hours it ate through May and June and I learned to sit on my twitchy-to-volunteer hands through forthcoming September meetings. Most councils are open-door, so even if you don’t want to commit to a voting position, you’re still welcome to sit at the council table and listen and contribute to the conversation. This is a great way to find out about other volunteer options, through council sub-groups or school activities like lunch programs and social events.

apple on books

Councils, like schools, each have their unique personalities. I need to mention that we live in a high-privilege community, and the chairs around our council tables are always full, but I have heard that there are schools in Ottawa who struggle to get even a few regular volunteers for council. I imagine this makes things a lot more challenging, as each person has to take on a larger share of the work.

While I’ve found council sometimes frustrating (oh humanity) and occasionally exhausting (when you get up at 5:30 for work, a meeting that runs until 9:30 on a cold February night can feel interminable!) in general my experiences with both the elementary and high school councils have been far more positive than not, and I would recommend that anyone who has an interest in their kids’ school lives consider signing up or at least attending some of the meetings.

What’s your experience? Have you volunteered for your school’s parent council? How did you find the experience?


{ 4 comments }

In which she waxes poetic about the wonders of Pokemon Go

31 July 2016 5 things

So, Pokemon Go. Right? It’s insanely popular. It’s taken over the conversation online, but what’s really stunning is to go to a local park or landmark and see how it really is EVERYWHERE. I have never seen anything like it. As mom to three boys, I know a little bit about Charmander and Squirtle and […]

2 comments Read the full article →

Should parents stop sharing info about their kids on social media?

13 March 2016 Meta-blogging

I I’ve always taken articles about the dangers of posting photos or personal stories about children online with a grain of salt, and any perceived risk seemed infinitesimally remote, especially when compared with the vast richness that the blog has brought to our family’s lives. That’s why I was taken aback when a few bloggers […]

7 comments Read the full article →

Flashback Faves: This is how they grow up, quietly and quickly and right under your watchful eye

11 February 2016 Flashback faves

Thanks to Facebook, I know that five years ago today I wrote this post. Tristan is now in middle school and safely walks to and from the bus stop without incident. What I find charming is that he was in Grade 3 when I wrestled with the idea of the risk of letting him walk […]

0 comments Read the full article →

World Diabetes Day: Dylan’s Story

14 November 2015 Life, the Universe and Everything

In 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing a charming extended family on a farm just south of town. It was truly one of the warmest, most fun days of portraits and play in the five years I’ve been in business, and since that warm summer day on the farm, I’m happy to […]

1 comment Read the full article →