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Being a Man

Dear Loch,

So, you have a girlfriend at school. She’s new this year and you’re crazy about each other. She’s your favorite and you’re her hero. It’s mad cute. The other day though, one of the “cool” girls (and I say that with a touch of irony as I know everyone is 3 and 4) told your girlfriend that she could sit beside her. Your girlfriend was thrilled. She’d finally been accepted! You, however, were not so thrilled. As it worked out, there wasn’t enough space now for you to sit. You tried to finesse one but it wasn’t happening so you stood in front of your girl and wailed. You cried and cried until I came and lead you away. What I told you then makes me laugh just thinking of it. It went kinda like this, “Loch, I understand you’re upset. I know you want to be with her but you can’t be the guy crying in her face. Go play with your boys. Sit with someone else. Have fun and just hang out and she’ll come back to you. She has to sit with the girls right now. That a big move for her. But she’s crazy about you and she’ll come back just as long as you aren’t the boy screaming in her face. You don’t wanna be that guy.” Honestly, Preschool mirrors Jr. High more than I can possibly say. But it got me thinking. I told you you “don’t want to be that guy.” But what kind of guy should you be? What kind of man would I like to see you become? What could I possibly have to teach you about being a man?

Loch, you have a wonderful father who has been loving and involved in your life since before you were born. You will learn how to be a good man from him. Sensitive but not wussy. Confidence without arrogance. It’s such a relief for me to know that should I not be around, your father will be. Listen to him. He is a spectacular role model, and despite his rocky beginning in the teenage behavior department, he became one of the best men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. That being said however, women have a unique perspective on what makes a man. What qualities we value varies from person to person but since you are my son, I want you to know what I see as the markings of a truly good man.

When you’re young and dating, people always ask you what your “top 5” requirements are. You’ll answer this question many times in your life. MY list looked something like this:

Top 5 Qualities in an Ideal Man

Ambitious

Sense of Humor/Funny

Smart

Attractive

Powerful

Ambition is a big one and one that still rests near the top of my list. Ambition is a bit illusive as you can be ambitious without being successful, but, I feel that truly ambitious people eventually succeed because they’re not the type to give up. Determine goals for yourself. Set the bar high and be tenacious working towards them. You gotta be “hungry” and not afraid of the work it will take to get where you want to be. Men aren’t lazy. Boys are. Ambition can be a wonderful trait. It can spur you on when you feel like stopping. It can inspire you to find a new way to do something. It can focus your life like no other. Just be sure that your ambition doesn’t overshadow your life. Push yourself. Aim high. Go for the gold, and all the other cliches you can think of, but never at the expense of your family or friends. Getting where you want is not worth anything if you’re alone. Don’t step on anyone on the way up that you wouldn’t want to see on the way down. Remember who helped you. Help others. Be a man you can be proud of and that others are happy for.

Sense of Humor is on everyone’s list. I read once that to most people sense of humor simply means, someone who laughs at my jokes. Funny would be someone who makes you laugh.  Strive to be both.

Hospitalized in Mexico. Sean brings light to the situation.

Ultimately people just want someone who gets them. Funny people are almost always liked. I don’t mean being a comedian – someone who’s always on or pushing to find the humor – or a comic who is funny for a living, but just someone who enjoys the lightness of life and isn’t afraid to laugh at himself. Sense of humor also means someone who can see the humor in a bad situation. Who can brighten a room and make others more comfortable. There’s nothing worse than people who take themselves too seriously. People who are too self aware to laugh a little. A real man uses humor to his advantage and isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself.

Smart is big. You want to be a smart man. Smart does not mean intellectual. Often the most intellectual people aren’t very smart. Smart, to me, means clever. Well educated. Aware. People who are exceptional in their given field but who are also clued in to the rest of the world. You should have a working knowledge of many areas of life. You might not care about sports (that would be me) but you should know the names of at least 6-10 teams in each league. You should know the names of major sports stars of the day and you should have a working knowledge of how the games are played/scored. (Unless it’s cricket. I don’t get that game.) You may not be a business guy but you should at least comprehend the stock market and interest rates (I plan on putting you in classes for this since this a problematic department for me). Fashion might not be your thing but you should be able to name at least 8 designers and know how to dress yourself so you don’t look like a douche. You may be ambivalent about entertainment (almost impossible growing up in this house) but you should know certain actors, bands, author’s names. I don’t watch reality television but I could have a relatively interesting conversation on the topic. You have to be aware. It’s not enough to say, “I’m a guy. I don’t know about that stuff” or “I’m too busy to watch the news.” Get a clue. Life is happening. Not just your life. Be part of it. There’s nothing duller than a man who knows infinite amounts about only one topic.

Attractive is totally subjective and on the surface might seem shallow or irrelevant. At the end of the day you will be attracted to who you are attracted to and vice versa. It’s a lot of chemistry that is sometimes unexplainable.

Ready in 5 minutes but the man is not afraid of a few accessories.

When I talk about begin attractive I am really talking about taking care of yourself. You’re going to look how you’re going to look. Currently things are looking good and I’m not going to lie, the world is kinder to attractive people. It’s a sad but true fact. What I’m talking about though is taking pride in how you look. Working out. Staying in shape. Respecting your body for what it can do, but also for how good it can look if you put some effort in. I’m talking about showering and smelling good. I’m going to insist on deodorant – preferably non-aluminum. Musky is nice. Too much musky is rank. Get a cool haircut. Put product in or don’t. Have nice nails and non-Hobbit like feet. Avoid sketchy facial hair. Care, within reason, about your clothes. Don’t be too cool to dress up. Be respectful of where you’re going. You can still be manly if you make an effort. Just don’t get prissy about it. Men that take longer than women to get dressed are unattractive no matter how handsome they are. And that’s the long and the short of it, isn’t it? Attractiveness has a whole lot to do with attitude. You don’t have to be the best looking to be attractive. You have to be at ease in your skin. Confident with yourself. And those things are easier to do if you smell and look nice.

Powerful is one of those things I still find attractive but one that no longer makes my top 5. Powerful men are sexy. Powerful men are attractive. Powerful men get things done. And getting things done – being someone who delivers – is a palpable trait. It’s hard not to be attracted to power. It’s addictive. But it can also be hard. It can be vain. It can be short sighted. You want to be someone who gets s#^* done but you don’t want to be rude about it. I’d call it quietly powerful. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for what you want. To let someone know if they let you down. To send a steak back if it’s cooked all wrong or to tell a manager if there’s a problem. Stand up for what you know is right. Stick to your guns. Practice the art of persuasion and learn how to get what you want without being a d*^#. As your Granddad always said, be diplomatic. It’s power…with class.

And though power has it’s place, it’s Kindness that has replaced it on my list. In many ways, kindness has moved right to the top. It took me years to figure this out so I’ll let you know that some women, particularly young women, might not have any idea this is a key quality. They still like bad boys. The men that keep them guessing. The men that treat them like dirt. I understand this phenomenon as, for a time, I was that girl. It wasn’t until much later that I realized love wasn’t supposed to be that much work. It wasn’t supposed to cause me so much pain. That having someone be nice to me was lovely and I deserved it. You deserve it too. Pick kind people to be around if you can help it. Be kind to others. Be empathetic. Think about how what you do or say might affect someone else. I’m not advocating doormat behavior or being the “nice guy”. I’m just saying be a nice guy. Be someone people can count on. Which leads me to…

Honorable. An old word but an exceptional trait. You want to be the kind of man that people trust. That people can trust in. The kind of man that gives his word and follows through. The world has become very wishy washy in the honor department. It’s a trade up world. A world where people don’t think twice about selling out to get ahead. Money is king in modern day America and for that honor has taken a real back seat. I think it’s a real compliment to be referred to as a stand up guy. A gentleman. It speaks to a world of principles that are almost lost to us. And with honor comes…

Loyalty. Real men are loyal. To their friends. To their morals. To their wives. Enough said.

Other things I’d like to see my boy learn on his way to manhood:

Learn to Dance – I’d probably steer you away from competitive dancing, but dancing in general is a phenomenal skill for a man to have. The man that can dance is a real catch. If you can dance to popular music that’s a bonus but learn couple dancing too. Learn to lead. It’s great fun and a terrific way to impress the ladies. P.S. Your dad is awesome at this.

Be Handy – Now this may be impossible as I think it’s more genetic than taught – you’re either handy or your not – but it is my hope, based on the fact that I was quite handy until I met your Dad (who is so handy that I became useless), that you will have some skill in this department. Handy is key. Something is broken? You can fix it. Something needs building? You can build it. I really can’t say enough about this. I remember talking to someone Granny’s age once and she said if she could do it all over again she’d marry someone handy. First quality. I laughed because I grew up with your Granddad who is gifted in so many areas but handy is not one of them. When I married Sean it was such a pleasure to not have to call someone for every little thing. This summer, after 2 engineers, 1 architect and 2 business men tried to put together your swing set at the cottage, your Dad arrived and got it done in 1 day. One day. Get the tools and learn from your Dad. Everyone will be grateful you did.

Change a tire – I am the worst feminist for admitting this, but there are still some things I like a man to do. Changing a tire is one of them. I know I should learn but I still don’t know how. Pathetic but true. But as a man, you better know. My sexism also extends to…

BBQ  – I have a hard time thinking of a man as a man if he doesn’t know how to barbecue. Really dude?! You can’t grill a burger? Not cool.

Pay your own bills – A tough one because sometimes it’s easier said than done, but I feel it’s hard to consider a man a real man if he can’t pay his own bills. You don’t necessarily have to be the provider (sole or otherwise) but you can’t have your girl or your parents or your boyfriend always pick up your tab. We don’t want no scrubs.

Develop Manners – Look people in the eye when you shake hands. Be appreciative. Open doors for people – not just women – people. (Though you should help women on and off with their coats and offer your jacket to a cold girl.) Respect your elders and your juniors. Be polite to waiters and people serving or helping you. And apologize when you’re wrong. The world opens to people with manners. A real man knows that, but would have done it anyway.

Play at least one sport (video games don’t count) – I don’t care if it’s golf, football or anything in between. Sports and men kinda go together. It breeds camaraderie. It bolsters healthy competition. It keeps you fit and it gets you outside. It also helps you shape up to…

Lift heavy things or at least open jars – Please don’t be the guy that can’t open a jar. I don’t want you to be a meat head but at least have enough physical strength to help a friend move or open a new jam.

Finally, Listen – Men are notoriously bad at this. Work against that. Pay attention when people say things. Especially special people in your life. The man that brings you peonies because you said they were your favorite flower, is a man you keep. Try not to be the guy who brings the generic roses with the baby’s breath from the deli.

Here’s the thing: Your Dad was an Eagle Boy Scout. He can make a fire with no match. He can find his way out of the forest with no compass. He can shoot accurately with multiple guns, a cross bow and a bow & arrow. He’s white water rafted and jumped out of a plane. He played football in high school and is now into competitive paintball. He’s a man’s man and you’ll learn multiple skills from him. But he’s also an actor and a dancer and a romantic. He tells a great joke. He knows about wine. He takes pleasure in his appearance. He’s loyal to his friends. He’s a hands-on father. He works his heart out for his career. He remembers my favorite things and puts his family first. He is a loyal, loving man and a person you should be proud to grow up like.

But for goodness sake, avoid being the punk a@# he was in his teens. You blow up an abandoned car and I’ll kill you myself.

xo Mom

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School: A Diatribe

Ok, so I’ve got one year before Loch starts Kindergarten and it’s already keeping me up nights. You want to do right by your children. You want them to have every possible opportunity. To have all doors open to them and to feel that they can be and do anything. But the reality of the situation is less optimistic. Time Magazine recently ran an article, well, really the entire issue was in some way devoted to, education and upward mobility. The cover read: Can You Still Move Up in America? The answer was, maybe not. America has been billed as, and until recently was, the land of opportunity. A place where, with enough work, anyone from anywhere could succeed. But today’s  statistics are showing us that’s not necessarily the truth. The divide between the have and have nots is becoming increasingly difficult to overcome. Those who have will continue to have, and those who don’t will continue to struggle. It’s the bankers getting their bonuses while the economy tanks on their watch mentality. In many ways this divide is the root of the Occupy Wall Street protests that are going on right now. To paraphrase the 1976 film, Network, people are mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it any more.

The thing is, having been blessed enough to be born in a particular socio-economic group, I never really thought about the economy the way I do now that I’m a parent trying to navigate the world for my child.  It’s different than it was when I graduated from High School and, as much as I feel old, that wasn’t that long ago. A subsequent article in the same Time Magazine titled “When will we Learn?” claims that the education system in the US  is, for all intents and purposes, broken. Education, which used to be the foundation of life improvement is now one of the country’s dividing forces. The article begins by referencing the recent death of Steve Jobs and what a remarkable journey he had from the “adopted son of working class parents, who dropped out of college to become one of the great technologists and businessmen of our time.” They go on to say that he was, obviously, an “extraordinary individual” but that his opportunities and first rate public education in Cupertino, CA gave him “a grounding in both the liberal arts and technology” and “did the same for Steve Wozniak, the more technically oriented co-founder of Apple, who Jobs met at the same school.” When Steve Jobs graduated from High School in 1972 California public schools were rated the “finest in the country – well funded, well run with excellent teachers”. These schools were the “engines of social mobility that took people like Jobs and Wozniak and gave them an educational grounding that helped them rise.” ^

Today, California schools rate at the bottom of the country just as the US “sits at the bottom of the industrialized world by most measures of educational advancement.” The World Economic Forum ranks the US educational system 26th in the world. This might hardly be news to some, but to a first time mother getting ready to put her only child into school, it came as quite a shock.

Living in California, particlularly Los Angeles, I always said there was no way my child was going to public High School. Even without research it is widely known that most High Schools are terrible, overcrowded and out of date. The teacher’s unions are incredibly strong and while I’m all for unions, it’s almost impossible to fire incompetent teachers and quality teachers are not supported the way they should be. It is hard not to talk about the issue of educational problems without also touching on the issue of illegal immigrants and the subsequent drain on the school system that directly relates to that. I realize this is a hot button issue but with so many of my peers feeling refusing to send their kids to the local school I know I’m not alone in referencing it. Our local High School is 68.8% Hispanic. Many classes are even taught in Spanish (or partial Spanish) to make it easier for the majority of the student body. It is rated the 700th school in California. In 2000 the student body was 34% white and 8.4% African American and now it’s 19% and 4.7% respectively, with statistics continuing to drop.* With Governor Jerry Brown recently signing legislation that allows illegal immigrants who have gone through the California public system access to state aid for college, what would stop people who don’t pay taxes from continuing to send their children to the local (and tax payer funded) schools? In a world where you can’t even hope to move up without a College Education, your High School education is paramount, and the way things are now it’s put a lot of pressure on the parents to go Private/Independent.

Some light bedside reading...

Now I went to a private school in Canada from Grade 6 though Grade 13. (High School was 5 years back in my day and has since been phased out.) When I started it was around 7-9k a year, when I graduated it was more in the 11-13K range. Today, that same school is 28K a year. That’s pretty much the going rate down in LA too. Seriously?! $30,000 a year!?! That price freezes so many people out. Honestly, if we had more than one child, it wouldn’t even be up for discussion. One of my dearest friends went to my school from PreK through grade 13 and is now the Kindergarten teacher there. She says it’s not like it was. Regular white collar people are no longer the “norm”. It’s not “professional’s” kids so much as millionaire banker and sport’s star kids. It’s a totally different vibe. But with the public education system being what it is, what’s the alternative?

Lately I’ve been trying to navigate (read: understand) the exceptionally complicated Magnet and Charter schools that are in my vicinity. They are essentially public schools with either a hard focus on particular subjects like computers, pre-med, or preforming arts; or they are schools that have petitioned to be able to deviate (even slightly) from the standardized education mandated by the state.  They can, for example, add a second language class or a drama class if the board agrees, and as long as they still hit all the decided upon benchmarks. These schools are considered exponentially better than “regular” public school and they’re mad tricky to get into. There’s a lotto based on a point system that I am still trying to comprehend. The benchmarks are essentially from the Bush implemented “No Child Left Behind” mandate that tied school subsidies to student scores on standardized testing. It’s forced teachers to teach towards the tests but it’s not really helping our children’s minds grow, or fostering a love of learning. If you focus only on tests you miss out on so many other fascinating things to learn. You create teachers that can’t implement their own ideas or use their strengths or imaginations to expand their curriculum and you create students under a constant state of stress who lack creativity. A recent article in Parenting magazine called “Is your child creative enough” claimed that in the world of standardized testing (which now more than half the states begin in kindergarden) “learning becomes about following instructions. Children aren’t given the opportunity to express their own ideas or come up with their own way of doing things. Instead, the answer is A, B or C. There is only one answer.” ** The Parenting article stresses that limiting thinking like that will be detrimental to our future generations. Our children will face “a universe of rapidly evolving technology, an ever shifting global economy and health and environmental challenges that will require plenty of creative thinking” *** If our schools are teaching the opposite, we will only continue to underperform on the world stage. And please, for the love of God, stop focusing only on Math & Science to the exclusion of everything else. Creative and divergent thinking is the backbone of entrepreneurial ship and it’s the entrepreneurs that will help raise the country back up.

I read an article last year about how boys are falling through the cracks in many public schools because of the absence of recess and the phasing out of Physical Eduction to make time for more study. Due to the fact that boys brains mature slower than girls, they are unable to sit and concentrate at the same level as their female peers until around 3rd grade. They need more time to blow off steam. They need to move around more. They need breaks. With recess missing and the emphasis on focused study starting in the 1st grade, research is finding many young boys acting out. Unable to concentrate for as long as expected they cause disturbances and are often pegged as “bad eggs” or “problem children”. Many are even dubbed ADD/ADHD and are subsequently medicated for it. By the time these boys get to the age to really sit still and study, they are already “over” school. They are disinterested or disengaged. They don’t like it, and who can blame them?

Knowing all these facts I am determined that this will not be my son’s fate. I want him to love school. To love learning. To feel from the beginning of his scholastic journey that he wants to be there, and subsequently be able to get the most out of it he can. He might not even be conscious of it, but if he likes going to school he’ll most likely thrive. I don’t think he’ll feel like that in a school where he’s one of 38 kids in a class. Or when his teacher isn’t speaking his language. It can’t be at a school that prizes standardized testing above real learning and I don’t want him at a school that, like my local school, looks like a prison of grey cinderblock and almost no windows. He needs to be in an inviting, positive environment that teaches how to do what’s expected of you but also rewards out of the box thinking. He needs enough time to stretch his legs and his mind. He needs every opportunity we can give him.

This book is giving me palpitations. I need to know more senators for recommendation letters.

So, we’re going private. We talked seriously about picking up and moving just to get into one of the quality elementary districts (there are some) but we’d have to buy a house that we currently can’t afford. As it stands right now I’ll have to pay, essentially, a college tuition per year to ensure my child can compete. In the hope that he won’t get lost. So now, he has to be accepted (with interviews, observations, parental interviews, letters of recommendation from your pre-school director and any one else important you could get) and we’ll have to figure out how to pay for it. You’d think in our current situation we would qualify for financial aid, but in some schools having limited funds isn’t the only requirement. Some schools require you also be in a large and unmanageable amount of debt. In that case, We’d be better off buying a house we couldn’t afford or buying cars we shouldn’t, just to qualify for aid. That, or be a single parent. As one of my happily married friend’s said, “I’d be better off getting divorced and doing this as a single mother or putting on that renovation we wanted but couldn’t afford. I feel like I’m being punished for not screwing up my life.”

As an alternative, I went to look at a more reasonably priced private school that’s subsidized by the church. It was good. Nice. It was a place that, should I not qualify for financial aid or should Loch not be one of the 34% (!!!) accepted to private school in LA, I could see him going. The sad thing is, it wasn’t special. It’s 10K a year for what I remember public school being like 20 years ago. What you would expect from a school. Good, basic classrooms (maybe a little tired). Middle aged, female teachers (also maybe a little tired). But, generally, a welcoming, kind place for your child to go. They also seem to have good placement in quality (private) High Schools which give your child a better chance of getting into a quality college.

The bottom line is, it’s a cluster f^#@. America has made a major mistake somewhere. California has made major mistakes. And I know many in Canada might feel the same. We seem to protect the rich and aid the poor but I think we’ve forgotten about the middle. Quality education is the cornerstone of improving your situation. But if we’re not rich enough to afford the good schools and not poor enough to qualify for financial aid, where does that leave us?

I know I’ll eventually find Loch a terrific school to stimulate his mind, but really, it shouldn’t be this hard. My child is 3 1/2 and I’m panicking about his path to college.

The sad thing is, it’ll make a difference that I did.

^ Time Magazine, November 14, 2001 “When Will We Learn”, Fareed Zakaria

*www.schooldigger.com

** Jennifer Keys Adair, Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin in Parenting Magazine, Dec/Jan 2012

*** Carolina A. Miranda “Is your child creative enough?” for Parenting Magazine, Dec/Jan 2012

Good Night My Angel

Dear Lochie,

You are 3 1/2 and I just left your bedroom where you fell asleep in my arms. You’ve never done that before. Not even when you were a little baby. I hadn’t seen you all day. Mondays are my day to work. Dad takes you for the day. You go to your co-op preschool in the morning (9-12), have a picnic in the park and then go to your other preschool in the afternoon (1-4). I got home from acupuncture and while your Dad prepared dinner (take note, this will make your future wife very happy), we played ‘Winter’ for about 10 minutes. We made “snowmen” and “snow balls” and “snow angels” in our imaginary snow and then we ate. You told me about your day. How you’d played fireman and carwash, and how at your “old school” (the co-op) you now have your own box with your name on it. With such pride you told me. “It’s black on top and grey on the bottom!!”. I know you’re working on books with the other “graduates” that the parents will get at the end of the year. You told me you are getting ready for kindergarden. You don’t understand yet that you are younger than all your friends and still have another year of preschool before you get to kindergarden. It’s ok. It’ll be nice that you are one of the oldest when you start. It’s just too bad that all your friends now will be a grade ahead of you. That’ll matter for a while…

But I’m off topic. After dinner daddy went to work in the office and you and I played ‘Seasons’. We did a highlight from every month and acted it out. October, Daddy’s birthday. November, Thanksgiving/raking and throwing leaves. December, Christmas!!! January, New Years. February, Lochie’s Birthday, etc… By the time we were at the cottage in August it was time to brush your teeth. You still don’t dig our grown up toothpaste but your teeth look so much better that I can deal with the complaints. We went to bed. One story became two, two became three, and my insistence that I wasn’t going to snuggle was abandoned when I realized that I WANTED to snuggle. I hadn’t seen you all day! I got my iPhone and played you some quiet songs. We’d never done that before and I think we both loved it. You took my arm and wrapped it around you and that was it. You just drifted off to sleep. I could smell your just showered head of hair which is somehow already messed up. I could feel your little ribs going up and down. Your tiny lips were on the back of my hand as you’d given it a kiss when you wrapped my arm around you, and I just didn’t want to move. Often when we snuggle I go to get up and you say “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave”. Because I’m sick I always read into that. I know in my head that you are just a kid wanting his mom to stay, but my fear sometimes gets the best of me and I think maybe you’re a sage, and because of your purity you know something I don’t. I worry that I am going somewhere and you are asking me not to.

I promise you this Loch. If I can help it, I am staying. I love my life. I love you and Daddy. I love the sun and the water and the cottage and my parents and our family. I love traveling. I love going out to dinner. I love Christmas and my birthday. I love your birthday. I love the sound of your voice and being in your daddy’s arms. I love laughing and being with friends. I love alone time and reading. I even love television and shopping. I love being alive. I want so much to live. Selfishly though, I want to live as me. Not as some marginalized version of myself. I know I can’t do all I would like anymore, and even precious young you knows I have “bad lungs”, but I am still me. I don’t have to deal with so much that people who have PH have to deal with. I have no oxygen tank. I have no heart cathitar. I look, for all intensive purposes, normal and healthy. But I’m greedy. I want to stay like that. I want my life AND I want to recognize the person in the mirror.

I want you to know me as I am now. I hope you do. I want you to know that I love swinging you around and giving you piggy backs and being your “horse”. I wish I could do it more. I love being with you and making up games and voices and songs. I can’t stop kissing and hugging you and I’ve already taught you that three hand squeezes means “I. Love. You.”. I love being your mom. You are the center of my universe. If I do get sicker you won’t know this version of me and that scares me. If I should die you’re too young to really remember me at all and that devastates me. I don’t want to be just a picture in a frame.

It’s not fair Loch. It’s not fair your mom’s sick. But I’m grateful. So grateful to have this time with you. Every day is a blessing. I know that in my head even though it’s often hard to see through the sadness in my heart or the anger in my gut. Every day I have is a gift and I’m doing my best not to squander it. I’m still someone who cares about my weight and yells at automated systems. I’m not perfect or calm or zen. I do, however, have perspective on the frailty of life that gives me clarity on what’s important.

Try and get that perspective in your life without the sick part. Focus on what’s really significant. Spend the time with those you love. Send cards on people’s birthdays. Contact friends you’re thinking of. Be positive when it’s easier to be negative. Try as hard as you can to really live without taking unnecessary chances with your life. Make smart choices. Life is amazing. Respect it.

And if your child one day wants you to stay in bed with him until he falls asleep, even if you know it’s probably better if you stick to the rules… Do it. It’s worth it.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde

I love you.

xo Mom

Childhood

Dear Loch,

Man, did I have a great childhood. Really. Idyllic. I was, like yourself, an unplanned only child. Meaning we planned to have more but couldn’t, not that you were a surprise. Though I missed the, real or imagined, joys of sibling-hood, I had all the perks that come with being an Only. It is a luxury to be just one. The biggest perk – and what people see as the breeder of bad behavior – is you don’t have to share. I had my parent’s undivided attention. They were always available to me. They drove me to and from. They came to see my games and plays. They were there every step of the way through school. I was the sole focus and it was amazing. There were other perks too: I got to go to great schools; I came out of University/Grad School/Theatre Conservatory debt free (!!); my summer job as a camp councilor was more fun than work; and I  got to travel the world – a lot. Having just one child allowed my parents to expose me to so much more than they could have with more children. It also allowed me the opportunity to really get to know them. Since it was just the 3 of us, I confided in them more than most – let’s be honest, I told them everything – and they handled it beautifully. Rarely judging, mostly listening. It’s a special relationship – the only child and parents – and one I’m very grateful for. It’s the main thing your dad and I fall back on when we feel sad we can’t give you siblings.

Only children are kinda spoiled too. I’d be lying to say that wasn’t also a major perk.

The thing about childhood is that it’s fleeting. And it only seems to be getting shorter as the years go by. The things 10-year-olds know these days blow my mind. I know when you’re little you just want to be grown up but let me tell you, grown up is a lot of work. Be young for as long as you can baby. I’m not advocating the Peter Pan syndrome. It’s not cute to be a man-child. But when you’re a kid, be a kid. When you’re a teenager, don’t wish the years away. I don’t even have to tell you not to rush College, because by then you’ll realize how incredible these years are and you’ll milk every moment.

I’m planning on cruise directing your childhood but if I’m not here in person to do that, here’s what I want for you:

Enjoy the Little Things – Having children is one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself. They allow you to re-experience the newness of life. Right now everything is amazing to you. Even things you’ve done a million times  – like drive a boat – still delight you. I find myself looking at the world through your eyes and getting so much out of it. Even when you’re not with me, I find myself pointing out things I wouldn’t have even noticed before. “Look! A train!” It makes your dad laugh. I realize I see the world now with so much more awe. It’s an unjaded way of being and it’s wonderful. Hang onto that for as long as you can. The world is magnificent. A huge spider in a web. The way a bunch of rocks come together. A stream. A sunset. The moon… Right now it all thrills you and it thrills those of us around you. We are always trying to find new things to show you. To excite you. Even when you’re off making your own plans, keep doing that. Don’t lose the wonder you had as a child.

Relish your Traditions – I can’t decorate the house enough for holidays. You get such joy out of it. The big spiders and webs and pumpkins for Halloween. The tree and all the fixings that come with Christmas. The eggs and bunnies that (tastefully) take over our house at Easter. We even have St. Paddy’s Day decorations. Every season is special and each one comes with it’s own traditions. Embrace that. Enjoy the songs, movies, food and activities that come with each special time. Relish the favorites year after year. I have to watch White Christmas, decorate the tree and listen to Bony M for it to really feel like Christmas. I like a round, fat, tall tree. One year Granny and Granddad bought a little, short, scrawny tree while I was at University and I got home and burst into tears. They’d chosen the wrong tree! AND, they’d done it without me! They were trying to be efficient. But for me, it was like stealing part of my Christmas. I’m embarrassed (and proud) to say we EXCHANGED the tree on December 23rd. I picked the “perfect” tree and got to decorate it with my parents. Extreme, yes, but traditions are important. For your Dad, Christmas is watching It’s a Wonderful Life and new Christmas Eve jammies with Gigi (used to be GK) reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. For you it might be The Polar Express and building an Architectural Digest worthy gingerbread house with your Dad. Whatever it is, fall into the comfort of tradition repetition. It allows you to relive your childhood year after year. As you get older you’ll have to blend traditions. But if your traditions mean enough to you, others will respect and accept them too. My birthday always has cake (specifically lemon) and your Dad’s always had all his cards stuck to his door. Now when our birthdays roll around, he bakes and I get serious about sticking mail to the wall…

Believe – In magic. In possibilities. In yourself. Believe that you can do anything, be anyone. Believe that the world is good and that all people are equal. Being a child – if you’re raised right – comes with optimism. To a child everything is possible and there are no limits. You say you want to be an astronaut and everyone supports you. Heck, you say you want to be a fire truck and that’s good too. If you can dream it, it’s possible. Magic exists everywhere. Magicians fill you with wonder. Your dad is the strongest man alive. Santa comes to your house… I’m a big believer in this one. By the time you read this I’m sure you’ll know the truth, but I want you to know I never saw it as a lie. Allowing you to believe in something wonderful and happy that fills you with joy is a gift. I’ll never forget when Alison Bokle told me Santa wasn’t real. I was in Grade 2. Mrs. Felker’s class. Her brother told her and she told me. My head swam. I told her she was wrong. I told her he’d written me a note. She said my parents had written the note. My brain almost exploded. I turned away from her and walked right off the playground and all the way home. (Nice security 1982!)  When my shocked mother opened the door I wouldn’t let her speak. I said, “Is there, or is there not, a Santa Clause?” The look on her face told me all I needed to know and I was devastated. I didn’t go back to school that day I was too busy crying (deduction had also shattered my belief in the Easter bunny and the Tooth Fairy). But despite how crushed I was, I wouldn’t give up those years of believing for anything. Going to sleep on Christmas Eve. Waking up in the morning knowing he’d been there. That pure pleasure. I wanted that for you Loch. And to be quite honest, I wanted it for me. I wanted to create that illusion for you. To this day I kinda still believe in Santa…even if it’s just in the etherial magic of Christmas, and not an actual man that fits down my chimney. I think I’m a better person for it.

Limit your Judgement – It isn’t till you’re a bit older that you start to notice people’s differences with any judgement. There’s a little boy who lives near us with an undeveloped arm and 2 fingers and a thumb. You’ve noticed but it doesn’t affect how you feel about him. You ask why people are in wheel chairs but don’t think differently of them. I’m not even sure if you’ve become aware of  the difference in skin color yet. It’s such a wonderful time and one that sadly we lose the quickest. You can’t help what society will expose you too but you can remember that there was a time when you looked at others with no preconceived notion. A time where you liked and judged people on how they treated you and not on how they looked or who they were. Choose not like someone because they’re a jerk not because they’re a color.

Try New Things – When you’re young you have to try new things all the time because everything is new. New food. New places. New sports. New schools. Enjoy the ‘try me’ years. Experiment with everything that inspires you. You may not be good at, or like everything, but if you don’t try you won’t know. I did 2 student exchanges in Middle School. The first was a horrible bust where the girl and I were so astoundingly different that all we had in common was our gender. Her family lived on the outskirts of Boston so even though it was a “Boston Exchange” I never saw the city. Other than school I never saw anyone. Her brothers spit on me, her mother forgot to pack me a lunch and it was just generally miserable in her house. Not wanting to blanket judge all exchanges, I wrote it off as a single bad experience and tried an exchange again in Grade 8. Ironically, it was equally, if not more, terrible. Luck had drawn me essentially the same girl but this one spoke no English. I hated every minute of it. But, with hindsight, I’m proud to say I did it. It, unlike bad skin, is one of those experiences that actually made me stronger. Better, for the bad. I wasn’t afraid to take a risk. As we age we get more stuck in our ways and are less likely to branch out. Try things now. And even if they don’t work out (and you have to learn to say “I want to go home” in a foreign language) you’ll have grown. And that kind of growth is great.

Be open with your love – You tell me you love me all the time right now. You love holding my hand and snuggling. Children are gregarious with their love because they do very little self editing. They aren’t worried about how they are being perceived. I’m dreading the time when you no longer want to hug and kiss me. When having me around is a thorn in your side. Try not to get too self aware if you can help it. I went through a distinct “parent embarrassment” period where I wanted to be dropped off a block from the party at all times. You’ll know you’re really grown up when you no longer care about things like that, and getting dropped off at the front door of an event by your parents is awesome. Less walking! No cab fare! Take the same lesson to heart when dealing with girlfriends. Physical affection is a lovely thing to offer those you care for. Don’t be crazy PDA guy – he’s gross – but don’t withhold either. Who cares what others think. If you want to hold her hand, hold it. And if you wanna hold mine…I can think of nothing better.

Be a Joiner, Be a Doer, Be a Leader – You don’t have to join everything just get out there. Open up your mind. Make new friends. A Doer is essentially someone who’s not lazy. Enjoy the energy and freedom of your youth and get involved with people, things and causes you’re interested in. Work takes over so much of your adult years. Do the things you want while you have the time to do them. And you can choose to be a leader or not, just don’t be a follower. Followers give up too much of their power. They put their needs and feelings in someone else’s hands. It’s more responsibility to make your own decisions. More work to stand up for yourself rather than behind another. But if you make that choice you’ll never feel like a spectator in your own life and there is something real to be said for that.

Enjoy your Summers–  I know most of the other things are abstract but I’m going to get kinda specific with this one. Summers are special, holy even, in the world of a child. The days get longer and the nights shorter. You can be outside well past your bedtime. Popcicles and freezies are everywhere. Friends and parents are available more. There’s no school. I can’t even fathom this concept of year round school or starting the year mid August. That’s ridiculous. Summer is what fuels you for the rest of the year.

Lochlan, It is my plan that you spend at least 6 weeks of every summer in Canada. I was blessed enough to grow up summering in Ontario. Being at the cottage. Going to camp. I can’t express how happy those experiences made me or how instrumental they were to who I am. If you grow up and want to spend the summers with your friends in California, at surf camp or whatever, I totally understand. But please try to spend some time in Canada. Maybe 2 weeks at the cottage and a month at camp? It’s my hope that you’ll love it as much as I did and look forward to it all year. The friends and memories I have from my childhood summers are some of my strongest. Your cottage is the last of the great outdoors, and there is something exceptional about spending your summers in the wilderness surrounded by throngs of happy, healthy, young people. I even say that with the full knowledge that you’ll probably cease all contact with me during those days, as people as old as your parents don’t exist when you’re in the world of camp.

Watch the sun set. Dive into a lake on a boiling hot day. Go skinny dipping on a warm night. Drive the boats or wakeboard behind them. Sing songs. Do skits. Party in the evenings when the sun sets but the heat stays. Paddle a canoe. Read a book by the fire. Your dad and I are agreed, just as my parents always were, that no TV will ever be at the cottage. It was there I learned to love reading. It was there that you could really appreciate the night. The sounds, the stars…Life is so connected that it’s a real luxury to go somewhere that, for all intensive purposes, you’re off grid.  We broke down last year and got a DVD projector for the occasional movie, but it’s a treat and not the norm. I hope it remains that way for you. That goes the same for game systems…

Finally, Have Fun and Don’t worry – Ride your bike, read comics, play ridiculous games with your friends, try new things, douse yourself in silly string, stay up all night playing video games, make a rally cry with your team, do crazy dances to make someone laugh, wear costumes…do all those silly, fun, yes, childish things. Because darling, you’re a child and you deserve to be light. Stress free. Try not to worry. Worry is for adults. For parents. What you can do is respect the worry. Know that we worry for real reasons, and because we want you safe and happy. Be responsible. Make smart choices. Call when you get there not because you’re told to, but because you understand why we need you to. But ultimately leave the stress to us. There’s lots of time to be serious. Childhood isn’t one of them.

You said to me the other day, “Kids don’t always get what they want, do they Mommy?” I told you that adults don’t always get what they want either. Life doesn’t work like that. We do the best we can to line up our realities with our dreams, and all too often we have to adjust. As a child, especially a child as blessed as you, that’s a foreign concept. Right now, aside from things like the candy apple you asked for in bed a couple days ago, you have very few disappointments. If it could be like that forever I’m not sure it would make you a better man. Some disappointments are necessary to make us stronger and less vulnerable, to clarify our values and desires. I want you to have as close to a perfect life as possible without ending up clueless. But I also want you to grow into a man that can handle being a grown up without losing the joy he had as a child.

If for nothing else, it’ll make you a great parent.

xo Mom