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The Importance of Safety

Dear Loch,

Being a parent is a major lesson in staying calm. One I often fail. Question after question after question…I’m pretty good at. Whining, whining, whining…I’ve been known to crack.  But for me, I struggle the most to keep calm about your safety. Once you have a child you’re constantly preoccupied with their well being. Their health. Their milestones. Their welfare. Sure we all want you to be gorgeous geniuses in happy relationships with great jobs and fulfilling lives, but mostly we want you to be safe. To be healthy. To be secure. And, unfortunately, the world you live in is filled with things working against our goal.

From the moment we bring you home from the hospital we are doing things to protect you. We baby proof our houses within an inch of their lives. For the one child that drowned in the toilet, we have a million parents with toilet guards that make it nearly impossible to use their own facilities. We put you in 5 point harness carseats and dress you like American Gladiators to ride your bike. We lather you in sunscreen and scour the internet with every apparent illness or behavior (Or at least I do. Getting sick turned me into a raging hypochondriac). It’s a tough gig, and for every hurdle you clear – he’s over 5, we’ve passed the autism window – there’s another one ready to rear it’s ugly head – sexual predators, driving, drugs… There’s always something that can happen to you, and as parents, it’s our job to try and shield you from as much as possible. But we can’t do it without your cooperation. Really, we’re like Jerry McGuire – a character in a popular 90’s movie by the same name I suggest you see – We need you to “help us, help you.”

Listen to what we say. We aren’t trying to be pains in your a^*. We are literally trying to get you to adulthood with all your limbs and a fully functioning brain. If we suggest you do something or avoid something else, know that we say it in hopes of saving you some pain or anxiety. The fact is, we’ve lived longer and seen more. In this case, we truly know better. Defer to us.

One of the first things I taught you in terms of safety was to put your hand out first so a dog can smell you. Even as a really tiny guy you would stick out your chubby, little mitt for a dog to sniff. At the time you were still too nervous to pet them, but you liked the connection. As you get older though, this is a good lesson not just for animals but life in general. Be innately cautious when dealing with things that can potentially hurt you. Go in slowly and let the situation unfold organically. Assess the risk and proceed as you deem appropriate. Check if there’s rocks under the water. Sometimes, even when you do the right thing, you still get bitten. But it’ll happen a lot less. It’s also a good rule of thumb to ask the owner if you can pat the dog, or use the equipment, or swim in the pool… I learned that lesson the hard way when a ridiculous doggie on a pillow attached itself to my lip when I was 8. As far as I’m concerned if you brought your dog to a workplace or social situation it should be friendly. Don’t bring your bit*^y, bitting, yip of a dog to a place to launch itself at children’s faces. That dog stays home. But I should have asked.

One thing you also learned early was the danger of taking pills that aren’t for you. I take a litany of medications daily. They’re prevalent in our house. I keep all my PH drugs in a box on my dresser, but it’s not locked, and every night there are 2 cups filled with pills beside my bed for 11pm and 7am. I also take pills at 3pm when we are usually together. I’ve borrowed your sippy cup more times than I can count to wash them down. You can’t help but see them. They are an ever present part of your life. So as early as I could I taught you that you don’t take pills.

Medicineamigo.com

Me: Do you take pills Lochie?

You: No.

Me: What happens if you see a pill on the ground?

You: I don’t touch it and tell a grown up.

Me: What if someone tries to give you a pill?

You: I don’t take pills.

Now, obviously as you get older you will take pills for pain or illness but I think the lesson stands. You don’t take pills that aren’t for you. You don’t steal your Dad’s Adderall, you don’t take your friend’s mom’s valium. You don’t mess around with perscription drugs and you don’t take recreational drugs made in a lab. Those things will eff you up. If you experiment with drugs at all, please just limit it to things that grow out of the ground. Once something has been messed with scientifically you don’t know what you’re getting. Nothing in your life was made to be snorted or injected. Nothing good comes from that s#^@. No high is worth what you could possibly lose.

We have guns in our house. Not real guns but toy guns. For big boys and little ones. Your Dad is an avid competitive paintballer and his gun looks like a semi automatic weapon. You’ve seen him clean it numerous times and he’s shown you all the components and ammunition so you really understand what it is. You have Star Wars laser guns and two very excellent marshmallow guns. I thought, not having grown up with guns at all, that I would be very anti-gun in our house but to be honest, it’s hard to keep a boy away from a weapon. If I don’t give it to you you’re just using your fingers, and with your Dad’s military background, boy scout sharpshooting and weekend hobby, there is no way I can keep guns out of your life. I just want you to be responsible. We’ve discussed that there is a difference between what we have and a real gun, and what to do if someone ever shows you a real one. You are not to touch it. You are to get away as quickly as possible and tell a grown up. I reiterate this lesson a lot. Too many kids have been killed accidentally looking at their father’s gun or showing off for their friends. I want you to know that a real gun is not a toy but a weapon designed to kill. They need to be treated with the utmost respect.

This is the actual target. I took a picture because I was proud. Freaked out, but proud.

As a side note on guns, I’d never even held one till this year. Dad took me to a gun range one night so I could get a feel for one. We chose a revolver and went into the range. First of all, it’s so bloody loud I don’t know how people do it without flinching. It’s also really scary to be in a place where everyone has a loaded gun. Even blanks can kill you. I kept picturing the guy with the glock shooting next to us just turning around and opening fire. It made me unbelievably nervous. I ended up shooting a full round of bullets. My very first shot ever was like a joke. Dead center of the target. Perfection. Every other bullet wizzed by his head or went through his arm. But as my friend said, “It’s really the first shot that counts.” And my first shot was awesome. After, Dad asked me if I wanted to try a semi-automatic hand gun but I declined. I’d had enough. I got the hell out of there and watched through the glass as Dad and his friend decimated a target. He’s a good shot your Dad. After, we had a conversation I never thought I’d have. We debated the merits of having a gun at home. We decided that it’d be pointless in a home invasion as we’d have the gun and the ammo in separate locked boxes and it’d be totally impractical. We really would just want one for when the zombies came and we weren’t quite ready to sign up for that. We got an alarm system instead.

I guess when I really think about it, other than you getting sick, the thing I worry about most isn’t you, but others. How other people and their choices will effect you. Right now, those other people are strangers but when you’re older it’ll more likely be peer pressure and poor decision making. Strangers are a real issue for parents. We have a Berenstain Bears book called Learn About Strangers. In the book Mama Bear shows Sister Bear, using a barrel of apples, that most people are essentially good but it’s the one bad apple that you have to be careful of. She shows sister a bumpy, misshapen apple and Sister says that must be the bad one because it looks funny. When they cut it open though, it’s a perfectly good apple. The bad one turns out to be one that looks totally pristine. The book goes on to illustrate that you can’t judge a person based on how they look and, though we don’t want our children to be afraid of everyone they don’t know, we want them to be cautious so they have a better chance of staying safe. Not talking to strangers is a good rule of thumb – especially if you’re alone – but if you are with a grown up you trust,  look to them for guidance. Granny was recently bemoaning the state of the world that she can’t even say hi to a child in the grocery store anymore. They’re so drilled with stranger danger that they’re immobilized by fear. People talk to you all the time Loch and I encourage you to respond. Have a conversation. Politely answer their questions. Just do it when you’re with a grownup who can assess the situation. Most people just want to talk to little kids because they’re so cute. It seems a shame that children no longer feel safe to do that.

Get into the habit of saying “I have to ask my Mom/Dad/Sitter.” The lady at the Dry Cleaners loves you and wants to give you gifts. I know and trust her, so you can have them. But if you get into the habit of asking, you won’t find yourself in the position where you take things or go with strangers. If your answer to any offer is always, “I have to ask”, you’ll discourage most of those kind of potentially dangerous situations. If there’s no one there to ask, then the answer is always NO. “No. I can’t come see your dog in the car. No. I can’t take that candy. No. I can’t go to your house. No. I don’t want to be your special friend.” Our co-op members recently heard a speaker on predators. According to the speaker, the number one fear of Predators is getting caught, and the children that are taught to ask their caregivers before doing anything, the ones that are well educated on their body parts, that take ownership of themselves, the ones that aren’t afraid to tell their parents anything, are the least appealing victims. We’ve taught you, much to my horror with society, that you are the “boss of your body”. That no one should touch you but you. Sometimes doctors and parents have to help you but you’re in charge and you say what you’re comfortable with. Even as you age you still have to be on the lookout for unsavory characters looking for an adorable boy like you.

Stay by your grown up. If you get lost, go to a mother with kids or the sales person at the cash register. Apparently security guards are no longer safe. Too many predators dress up like them to lull children into a false sense of security. And you wonder why we worry. Mother’s with children and sales people are the most secure choice. Sad but true. Finally, I’ve taught you that if, God forbid, someone picks you up or tries to take you anywhere you scream at the top of your lungs “I don’t know you! I don’t know you!” over and over again. You can also say, “Help! Police!” All too often we see parents picking up screaming, thrashing kids, feel sorry for the parents and ignore the situation. If something is happening you want people to KNOW it’s happening. Don’t let them tune you out.

When I was young they taught us if a man attacked us to scream “Fire!” instead of “Help!” or “Rape!”, because people want to see a fire but they don’t want to get involved in an attack. I also learned that if someone tries to get you into a car or van using a weapon, FIGHT and RUN, because getting stabbed or shot is better than what will happen if you get in that vehicle. Remember, predators want passive victims. They avoid fighters as being too much trouble. That’s the kind of trouble you want to be.

Sadly, you also have to be careful of people you know. More often than not abusers aren’t strangers. Never do anything you’re not comfortable with. Listen to your gut. If the situation seems funny or wrong. Trust that it is. You’d rather be embarrassed than hurt. In David Fincher’s film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the villian points out that the Hero came willingly into his house knowing something wasn’t right. That his need to be polite overrode his need to be safe and now he would pay for it with his life. I’m all for manners but this is a good lesson. Be rude if you have to be. Your safety is more important than what someone might think of you. Don’t get into a car with a friend that’s been drinking because he’s riding you to do it. Don’t not use protection with the girl you just met because she says “it’s ok.” Don’t help that man you don’t know carry his TV into his house. I don’t care how big or strong you get, everyone is vulnerable and you have to be your own best judge.

Finally, as I always remind you, you live in the cyber world. Predators are on line en mass. They are there to steal your identity. To steal your stuff. To lure you into hazardous situations. You have to be vigilant. We’ll put parental controls on things but, watching you navigate and iPad right now, I think you’ll have access to whatever you want no matter what we do. Knowing that, I say, BE CAREFUL. These people are dangerous. Stay within the designated lines. They are set up to protect you. Your teenage self wants to see porn, we can work that out. Just don’t send your information or picture to some stranger on Facebook or have someone from Craigslist come get Gears of War 8 when we’re not home. And tell us immediately if you receive anything that seems inappropriate or makes you uncomfortable. Don’t keep secrets from us. We are here to look after you. Let us. We aren’t trying to ruin your fun, just protect you from ruining your life.

Your father is nervous that my concern for your safety will scare the adventure out of you. He wants me to ensure you understand that everything above is there as a precaution. But I’m the mom, and it’s my job to give you all the facts so you can protect yourself. Your dad can work on the daring. He’ll run headlong off the dock with you and I’ll check the temperature of the water. We’re a good combination that way. For now I’ll just say…

Don’t play with fire. Always note the Emergency Exits. Have an Earthquake kit at home and in your car. Take a first aid course. Don’t go to sleep smoking or with a laptop on your bed. Charge your cell phone. Carry a spare tire. Be alert when you drive. And if you’re ever robbed, give up everything without question. Don’t give them any reason to hurt you. Stuff is replaceable. You aren’t.

Be smart. Use your head. And if your head’s a bit fuzzy, call your parents. We’ll come get you. No questions asked.

I love you. Take care.

xo Mom

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Friendship: An Overview

Dear Lochie,

Friends are one of the most significant things you can have in your life. For many, friends are even more important than family. I’ve heard it said that “friends are the family you choose for yourself” and I believe that to be true. In many ways it’ll be even more applicable to you because you’re an only child. You have no peers genetically linked to you. I know there lots of siblings that don’t get along, but at the very least, I always saw siblings as a built-in ally, if not a best friend. Even if they don’t see eye to eye, for the most part, siblings have each others backs. From having someone to talk to in the back seat of the car to weathering the burden of aging parents, people with brothers and sisters aren’t alone. Whether the relationship is cultivated or not is up to the individual. My sickness robbed you of a sibling so your friends will be especially important to you.  Your dad and I will do all we can to make sure you aren’t lonely. As an only child myself I always had friends around. Granny and Granddad went out of their way to include my pals as much as possible. I went on a trip with a friend (or friends) every year in high school. Parties were often at our house and my girlfriends had an annual weekend at the cottage for almost a decade. My parents made a real effort to know my circle and to make sure to include them as much as possible. As a result my friends remain close to my family today. I’m hoping to cultivate that same environment for you. I just bought a new car and the question arose of why I would need a third row of seats when there only 3 people in our family. It’s for your friends. I want there always to be room for them in our lives. I want them to feel as welcome at our house as my group always was at mine.

My 16th Birthday at the cottage with my girls. I'm the moon face in the front.

Right now Dad and I are your best friends. You tell us everything and want to be with us as much as possible. And as much as my heart hurts to know it won’t always be like that, it’s an important step in growing up for your parents to be usurped by your friends in order of importance. So, knowing it’s coming (sniff) here’s my advice. I want you to have killer friends and the only way you get that is by being one yourself.

To make friends you have to do two things:

1, BE YOURSELF– you can’t make real friends without putting your real self out there. People have to know you to befriend you. Don’t change to try and fit in. If you have to change, those aren’t the right people for you. You don’t have to be the same as everyone – lots of friendships are based in similarities but solidified by differences – you just have to stay true to yourself and the right people will find you.

2, CARE WHO THE OTHER PERSON IS – When I was little granny tacked a piece of birch bark on my wall that said, “You can make more friends in 3 days by being genuinely interested in other people than you can in 3 years by trying to make other people genuinely interested in you.” Take the time to listen and really understand people.  You are incredibly interesting but so are others. I’ve alway been a devoted friend, but when I was younger I was preoccupied with how I was perceived. I wanted so much to be “cool”, to be “accepted”. That’s pretty normal teenage behavior – self absorption and the need to fit in – but it’s not something I’m particularly proud of. What I am proud of though, is that I had, and continue to have, great friends. I cared about them and they knew it. I hope they still do. I also took the opportunity to be friends with a number of different kinds of people and that was a smart choice.

Here’s the thing, I’ve always felt that cliques had a bad rap. Some people click. Others don’t.  Essentially a clique is just a group of people that get along better than others. It only is classified as a clique when the folks involved are “cool”. A bunch of kids that let’s say, love D&D, and hang out with each other exclusively would not be considered a clique and yet, technically, they are. I think cliques are only bad when others are excluded maliciously. Exclusion itself happens organically. People with similar interests tend to hang with each other. That’s just how it is.

23 years old. Our first friend's wedding. Same group of girls. I'm the head on the bride's shoulder.

You will, in all likelihood, end up in some sort of clique. You’re a boy so they’ll call it a “group”. Enjoy it. It’s nice being part of a pack. I myself was part of a group internally dubbed SITC (after a game played on the original 90210 called Skeletons in the Closet, not after the popular TV show that took over my early 20’s called Sex in the City, though that’s not so far off) To this day, those girls remain some of my closest friends. At this point we’re more like family than friends, our knowledge of each other is so deep. We accept each others shortcomings as fact and have a vernacular that only comes from 25 years of friendship. Our relationships within the group – who’s closer to whom, who drives who crazy, who we’re worried about – changes from year to year. It’s a constantly evolving relationship. So, if I were to say “don’t be cliquey” I’d be a hypocrite and, I think I’d be advising you wrong. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a crowd where you feel you belong – whether there are 3 of you or 13 – respect and cultivate those relationships. They can be a huge source of strength for you throughout your life. When I was diagnosed, the first person I called was one of my girls. The one I knew wouldn’t cry. I gave her the facts and she relayed them to the rest of the group. She had exactly the right attitude to keep me from breaking down. Once I’d learned to handle the idea of being sick, I could then talk to the others without tears. To this day I wear the Tiffany’s bracelet they got for me (coordinating in 3 separate countries) to let me know they were there. It makes my medical alert look much more tolerable.

29 years old. My Bachlorette. Same girls. C&W theme to lovingly mock my solitary love of country music.

There’s a real intrinsic value in being part of a group, should you be blessed enough to find a good one, but I would also advise you not to segregate or limit yourself to only those people. I was a  joiner. The member of lots of teams and clubs so I took full advantage of mixing it up in the friendship department. I also went to camp and some of my dearest friends are still from those summers. I’d encourage you to branch out. Try not to get too caught up in who’s cool or not cool. If you’re not traditionally cool don’t write off the cool kids and vice versa. There are so many interesting people out there. I have a number of friends who, at first glance, I have little in common with and yet we adore each other. Their perspective is different. Their humor is divine. They give me insight I wouldn’t otherwise have and I’m a better and more well rounded for having them in my life. But keep in mind, with friends in different circles it’s very important that you stay consistent. If you make an untraditional friend, remain his, or her, friend no matter the circumstance. Your friendship should not be contingent on environment.

Friendship is also not perfect. Like any good relationship, it has it’s ups and downs. When I started a new school in Grade 6, I was accepted right away by a girl who was, for all intents and purposes, the leader of the grade. She took me under her wing and introduced me to a whole new world. One day in late spring our group went to an event called May Fair (a small local fair with a BIG social element if you’re 11-17). I arrived at her house in flowered boxer shorts and a bright fushia t-shirt (1987, lest you judge) and all the other girls were wearing cut off jeans and white shirts. That may not sound like a big deal, but for the 10-year-old new girl it felt like the end of the world. When my friend realized my discomfort she immediately went upstairs and cut a pair of her jeans for me to wear. She cut her jeans for me. I have no idea what her parents thought, but I’ll never forget that kindness. 2 years later, that same friend and I had a falling out and she ostracized me. The power she had used to bring me in, she used to cast me out. I would talk and she would pretend she couldn’t hear me. What was worse is that the whole group went along with it. I fought and cried and rallied against it, to no avail. No one would talk to me. I was dead to them. (For the record, girls can be a lot tougher than boys in the mind game department – kinda glad you can avoid that)  So, I dried my tears and, for the second half of the year, I got another set of friends. There was talk of Granny and Granddad pulling me from the school because I was so miserable, but I knew that was the wrong choice. I had to learn, if not accept, how to deal with the problem, and getting new friends was the first step to that.

The thing is, once I accepted it, it mattered less and less, and eventually it didn’t really affect me anymore. People only have power over you if you let them. That’s a hard thing to see when you’re in the middle of something, but still a good thing to know in the back of your head. Friendship shouldn’t be hard just as love shouldn’t be pain. Sometimes you just gotta let go. As it turned out, once I was over it, it was over. In the summer between Grade 8 and 9, my old friend called to apologize for treating me so badly. It was a nice call to get. One I had dreamed about getting all fall, but by August mattered much less. When we got  back to school – High School – no one person seemed to have the power anymore. New girls came in and I met the person who would be my best friend and closest ally for the next 8 years. We too eventually had a falling out and coming back together. Life is like that. Don’t write off a friendship because of a fight. Sometimes you need time or space to grow. Sometimes it’s just over. That’s ok too. Not all friendships make it. Not all are supposed to.

For the record, that jean short cutting friend/Grade 8 nemesis is now your God Mother so…you just never know.

What I learned in that year though, is that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. Friends can let you down. They can disappoint you. And though I ultimately ended up back with my old group, I knew I had to remain branched out. You might ask yourself, why did I go back? Why after being ignored by this group of girls for a year did I return to them? Why didn’t I continue to hang with the group that accepted me when I was an outcast?  I just think it was an organic swinging of the pendulum. I’m not sure if there’s a lesson to be gleaned from my experience other than to be open and kind to people always. Things have a way of working themselves out.

Now, because I made a lot of dear friends early, I have few close friends from University or Grad School. There were plenty of great people I hung out with, but as far as retaining those relationships long term, it didn’t really happen. My dance card was full. I have a couple great pals from my days in New York but I don’t get to see them enough. You might find the opposite. Your close friendships might occur after your childhood/teenage years. Your Dad lived all around the world as a kid so most of his tightest bonds (with a couple notable exceptions) are from his adult years. There’s something special about old friends – who know your family, where you come from and who you were – but there is also something exceptional about the friends you make as an adult, as the person you are, not the person you’re perceived to be. Adult friends are, in some ways, less complicated. As time goes by you make less friends because you need less friends. Friendship takes time and commitment and as adults we don’t have a lot of either. So if you connect with someone as a grown up  it’s really special. You’ve chosen that person because they truly add to your life. They accept you for the person you are without the shadow of the person you were.

Some of my closest "Adult" friends. We don't see each other nearly enough. Grown up schedules are a killer!

Finally, as I’ve said before in my letter about Technology, you live in a socially networked world. Please don’t judge yourself on the amount of friends or followers you have on line. In my opinion, no one needs 500 friends. It’s too much work. However, you can sometimes reconnect with or get to know people you wouldn’t have otherwise using technology. It’s a brave new world for that. Acquaintances I had earlier in life have become friends on line. Sometimes the get to know you phase is simpler without the pressure of getting together. It’s often easier to share your feelings in the cyber world within the protection of a well crafted email or note. I know things about people that I’m not sure they would have told me had we been speaking in person. You can be more open on line. Plus, you can edit what you’ve said before you send it, a luxury so many of us wish that we had in real conversations. Finally you can be friends with people who aren’t in your day to day life. I can retain my friendships with people all over the world by remaining part of their lives on line. So when we see each other it’s not like we lost track. We can just pick up where we left off. And isn’t that, in itself, the definition of a good friendship?

Choose your friends wisely. Don’t cultivate relationships with people who are petty or cruel. Remember, if you can’t trust someone it isn’t real. Be the kind of friend you’d like to have and let people know how much they mean to you. Be loyal and forgiving. Everyone wants to be liked and accepted and ultimately everyone makes mistakes. Find common ground and build on it. Because friendships will carry you through life. They will be the life raft to your drowning man and champagne that launches your boat.

Never underestimate the power of a true friend.

Your best friend always,

xo Mom

Regrets

Before I begin let me just say what an honor it was to be chosen for Fresh Pressed last week. Thank you to all who took the time to read my post on The Death of Anticipation and to those of you who responded. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to get back to everyone but I thoroughly appreciate the support and positive feedback. I am also very grateful to those of you who took the time to peruse the site and read and respond to other posts. This process of writing to Loch is a real labor of love and I am thrilled that so many of you see it as a useful and engaging endeavor. I hope you will continue to read both old and new posts and find that them worthwhile. But, since I planned to do a new post a week, the time has come to move on. Thanks again and keep reading.  xo leigh

Dear Lochie,

Here’s the thing about regrets, you want as few as possible. Some are inevitable, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about them, but if you’re really using your noodle they should be few and far between. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb to ask yourself, will I ever regret this? Maybe not now but later? If the answer is anything other than no, rethink it. That doesn’t mean don’t take risks. It just means be accountable for them.

When I was in my 3rd year of University at McGill I went to dinner with your Granddad. I went with the express intention of telling him that I didn’t plan to do an Honours (spelled with a U in Canada) degree in my final year.  I believed it was unnecessary. I had no plans for Graduate school, Law School or any other school, and the work required, not to mention the extra classes and 100 page defendable thesis, seemed excessive without the goal of further education. Granddad listened to my argument without interruption. Then, as I drank to this day the best chocolate martini ever, (clear, not milky, served with raspberries) he laid it out for me. He didn’t veto it outright, as he had when I expressed my thoughts of deferring University altogether for theatre school, he simply asked me two questions: “Can you tell me without hesitation that making this choice will never matter?” and “Can you tell me that you will never wish you’d chosen differently?”  How could I know that? All I knew was that I had no plans of higher education so why would I mire myself down with a last year of someone who did.

Granddad: “So, when you’re applying for a job one day and you don’t get it, you can tell me it wasn’t because the other person had a graduate degree and you didn’t?”

Me: “Well no. How would I know that?”

Granddad: “Well if you had a graduate degree, you’d know it wasn’t a lack of one that didn’t get you the job. ”

Me: “Right…”

Granddad: “Then why make a choice now that effects all your future choices?”

Me: “But I don’t want to go to Graduate School.”

Granddad: “And you might not. But if you don’t do the degree then you probably can’t. Why close that door now when you might regret it later? ”

His argument made sense and we left that dinner with my decision to do the Honours degree changed. I’d do the degree and if I didn’t need it, no harm done, but if I changed my mind, I had it.

I changed my mind.

As the end of University approached I realized I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and I’d be better off deciding while in school – improving my chances of further job opportunities – than I would be working in some random job. I applied to a very prestigious Graduate program in Broadcasting at Ryerson University (3rd in North America at the time after USC and NYU) and was one of the 40 students out of 1500 applicants accepted. I’d be naive to say that honors degree didn’t help.

It also turns out that I was right about not wanting to go to Grad School. I finished only one of the two years as I was offered a job in Film Distribution in January of my first year. A group I was in won a business award called “The Pitch” in which we had to present our project and findings to a room full of television industry people. I guess I made an impression as I was offered a number of jobs after that event. I worked and went to school for 6 months and by June, I was working full time. One thing I did do though was fulfill all my scholastic requirements for that year to the best of my ability. That way in case I ever wanted to return to school I could. I didn’t ever want to regret leaving.

I never did.

I did find however, that working full time selling Television and Film didn’t make me happy. I hated my days in an office. Just because I worked in a “cool” industry didn’t make my job cool. Every day felt the same. I switched up the monotony by taking a different route to work, or having a cappachino instead of a latte. It just wasn’t for me. One day, after being there just over a year, I left work early for a “doctor’s appointment” and went to a movie instead (!!). The movie was Center Stage, a story about young people – in this case, dancers – living out their dreams in NYC. I sat in the theatre, surrounded by numerous little girls in ballet outfits, crying. I knew I was on the wrong path.  I knew had to do what the kids in the film were doing. I’d always wanted to be an actor and not following that dream was killing me. I left the movie theatre and went home and said, “I’m quitting my job and moving to New York” and I wasn’t kidding. I knew I’d regret never giving it a real shot and when I laid the plan out for my parents I think they must have seen that too. They agreed to support my move and pay for acting school. As it turned out, the only legitimate school I hadn’t missed the deadline for was Circle in the Square, a 2 year theatre conservatory program set 2 floors underneath a working Broadway Theatre in Times Square. So, I FedEx-ed my application, was on a plane within the month to audition, and 3 months later I moved and never looked back.

Now, I did quite well in New York as an actress. I had some pretty cool credits to show for myself and when I graduated I was one of the first of my classmates to sign with an agency and manager. I did a whole lot of theatre and just missed a couple of really excellent permanent TV gigs. When I moved to LA 5 years later I thought it was the right time. I wasn’t getting any younger and I really wanted to do television. The exit of Friends had left an opening for sitcom darling and I thought I’d just breeze in and take it. Not so much. LA is a tough town. As soon as I got here I realized how old I really was. 28 in LA is like 45 in regular years. All my theatre credits were practically worthless. It was like I’d been a dental hygienist in Omaha and had just decided to become an actress. It was horrible. I had moments where I cursed my family for telling me I couldn’t go to theatre school right out of High School. If I’d done that I wouldn’t be so old now! But I couldn’t regret my years at McGill. I loved University. I became an adult there. I learned who I was and I had so much fun doing it. I wouldn’t give up those days for anything. I also don’t regret following my dreams to NYC. Though I’m no longer an actress it put me on the right path. It brought me joy and inspiration and ultimately lead me to your father and you.

You’ll never regret following your dreams even if those dreams change along the way. You will, however, regret taking the “safe” road and always wondering “what if…”

When I got to LA I switched from my New York agent to the LA office with some difficulty. None of the agents really knew me, and any money I made went back to NY as they were the ones who originally signed me. So I found the LA office had no vested interest in me. I didn’t have a champion so I tried to make some connections. I took one agent out to lunch. Made friends with him and learned his son loved frogs. When his daughter was born, I gave him a present but also included a froggy stuffed animal so his son wouldn’t feel left out. I sent cards and left messages to stay fresh in their brains. I changed managers at their request and did everything I could to ingratiate myself. Then I did something that, to this day, I regret. I had recently seen Dirty Dancing 2 and found the acting appalling. Not working had made me angry so anybody in a public and well recognized role that did a s^*#y job just pissed me off. I ended up taking a box of cupcakes to my agency (another ploy to make them like me) and on the top of the box I wrote: “Just saw Dirty Dancing 2. If SHE’s working then I definitely should be! Let’s make this happen! xo Leigh” It literally makes me feel sick to think about it now. I got a call later that day from one of the agents balling me out for my “inappropriate behavior” and “extremely poor” choice to write such a thing. She told me she had ripped the top off the box and I should “think” before I do things. She further informed me that this particular actress was a very big star in England (she was well known) and a “friend of the agency” and that I should use my brain before I “disparage” someone again. I was humiliated. Apologetic and humiliated. I was also soon dumped from that agency. I’ll tell you this babe, I don’t for one minute regret having that opinion. She was terrible in the film. Wooden, fake and two dimensional. What I DO regret is having that opinion in a public and professional forum. I’ve seen that actress in many films since and she’s quite good (especially when she remains British) but my choice to voice negativity in that way was the wrong one and I paid dearly for it.

If you have an opinion of someone, unless you are a critic whose job is to critique, mind your audience. Your Dad has worked with some big name actors who are, for lack of a better term, total a-holes. When people ask him what they’re like the best answer he can give is an upbeat “fine”. Hedge your bets. Be ambiguous. Answer in a way that allows you to be truthful without being critical. You never know who knows whom. You don’t want to be the guy talking out of turn, and unless someone is just truly intolerable think about what Granny used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice. Don’t say anything at all.” In the privacy of your personal life feel free to rip on people if they deserve it, just be careful of how widely your opinions are known. Don’t let them come back to bite you in the a*^. It’s a terrible feeling. Trust me.

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My first kiss was an excellent one. Grade 9 March break on a cruise. His name was Zeb Ripple and he went to boarding school in Connecticut. He was about the coolest boy in the world and I was just crazy about him. When we held hands for the first time electric shocks went through my whole body. And when we first kissed I thought I might die of happiness. We spent the whole week together and when he left the ship he gave me his hat and I slept with it for weeks crying my eyes out. The thing is, the feelings were mutual and he called and wrote me all the time. We made a plan to have him come up to Toronto for my first Semi-Formal ever. He was excited. I was excited. My parents were ok having him stay with us. It was like a dream. Then, I panicked. I was quite insecure about my looks in comparison to my friends. It wasn’t till University that I even thought I was that attractive. During High School I was “the funny friend of So in So.” or “The cool girl that hangs out with Blank”. I started to panic that Zeb would come to Toronto and fall in love with one of my friends. I felt that would be worse than never seeing him again. So I uninvited him. I UNINVITED him!!! Good God. What an idiot. I can’t even remember what I said to make him not come. He was really disappointed but we made a plan to meet up in the summer when I was going to be in Maine. I thought, Yes, that’s safe. He’ll just see me. It’ll be the same and I won’t’ lose him to someone else. But, the day before he was scheduled to come he got in a car accident and couldn’t make it. I never saw him again. What a fool I was. I let fear and insecurity ruin what could have been a magical night and possibly a wonderful relationship.

I made a similar mistake a year later when I fell for this boy who had a cottage near me. His brother was a big hockey player and the family got a lot of attention for it. We connected the spring of Grade 10 and had a pretty cute little thing going. When I had my annual girls weekend at the cottage that June, he came over with bunch of his buddies to hang out. My friends teased them mercilessly. The thing is, they went to an all boys school that wasn’t as traditionally “cool” as the guys we normally hung out with. They were all hockey players and as a group did come off a bit “meat heady”. Individually, I’m sure they were all pretty nice, I know the guy I liked was. But as a group they didn’t do themselves any favors, and my friends, being smart, educated, ladies, just decimated them. It wasn’t good. The boys resorted to tactics like going swimming so they could show off their not unimpressive physiques but it came off as cheesy and lame and only increased the awkwardness of the situation. So when the boy I liked called me later in the week I blew him off. My friends wouldn’t approve, and at the time that was more important than the fact that I liked him and wanted to be with him.

So that boy turned out to be a big NHL hockey star too. Gorgeous and fun and after University all the prettiest and coolest girls were after him. The same girls that had dismissed him years before were interested in him now. One weekend I ended up at his cottage (now on a more expensive and swanky lake than before) and he told me how much I’d hurt him in High School. That he’d really liked me and I’d dropped him for no reason. I had nothing to say but sorry. Sorry that I hadn’t been strong enough not to bow to my friend’s perception and that I was fully aware I’d screwed up. He agreed and ended up dating one of my best friends for about 6 months. It was pretty hard to swallow. Now, it also turns out that fame had made him a bit of a player and he didn’t stay with any girl for long, but the regret is still mine. I shouldn’t have done what I thought my friend’s would have done. I should have done what I wanted to do.

Never make choices based on others opinions. Be confident enough to do what makes you happy. Others will fall in. And if they don’t, f^*k em. It’s your life. You’re the one who has to live it.

For the record, there’s a difference between a regret and wishing you’d made a different choice. Regrets are the things that still make you shake your head years later. Dating the guy that treated me like garbage in University? I don’t regret that. It taught me what I didn’t want, what I was really worth and how to say “no, this is not good enough for me.” It took me 2 years of totally unhealthy behavior, but I learned it. Dating the weird bartender dude in NY with the mohawk and very probable secret drug problem? Don’t regret it. It was fun and different gave me one of the coolest memories ever – driving across the Brooklyn Bridge at dusk in late summer on the back of his vintage Triumph motorcycle, the orange and pink clouds highlighting New York’s beautiful skyline and the summer wind on my face. Did it work out? Of course not. But it was fun while it lasted.

Brooklyn Bridge Sunset Photograph - Brooklyn Bridge Sunset Fine Art Print - Susan Candelario

Dating the supermodel with 5 kids? Absolutely no regrets. I did that for almost 2 years and it was a lovely relationship. It taught me how important it is to be with someone kind (and handy) and it enforced my belief in boundaries for children. Plus, I knew it wasn’t forever. The thing is you can date people and do things that teach you lessons that stay with you long after the situation changes. Things I regret are actions like drinking too much on my 3rd date with a famous actor I’d met at a bar. We’d gone out a couple of times and everything was going really well. He invited me to come and see him headlining in Shakespeare in the Park and then for drinks at his private club. I was so into this guy (and maybe a little intimidated by his celebrity) that I got really nervous and overdid it on the booze. I ended up kind of acting like a tool. He never called me again and I still look at that night and groan. Do I regret not being with him? No, I was meant to be with your father. Do I do regret my behavior? Hells yes. Try to avoid that feeling. It still makes me cringe.

Make your decisions in life with a clear head using your own mind, rather than using others opinions as your guide.  Be aware of making decisions under the influence of anything. Drugs (though I hope we can avoid this one), alcohol or other people. Try and ask yourself if there’s any chance you’ll regret the decision later and adjust your actions accordingly. Be aware of your audience when sharing your opinions and remember that professional situations require different, more guarded behavior. Follow your heart and know that at the end of the day you’re the one that has to live with the success or fallout of your decisions.

Be happy. Be safe. Use protection. Believe me, those are regrets you don’t want to deal with, ever.

Life is a wonderful adventure. Try to have as many experiences as you can with as few mishaps as possible. As Frank says, “Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention…” Do it your way and be proud you did.

I love you always.

xo Mom

Death of Anticipation

The Christmas season is over and as I reflect back I see that for all it’s rushing and busyness, there is something to be said for a time of year that forces us to wait for something. Christmas Day is the one day of the year that still has the build of anticipation. That giddy feeling that something you really want is coming. That the promise of what’s ahead is so exciting you can barely sleep. It’s a special feeling, and one we are sorely lacking in today’s highly technological and immediate world.

Years ago I read an article in Cookie Magazine about the Death of Anticipation and it stuck with me. Our modern world leaves less and less room for expectation and excitement and in many ways I think that’s a shame. I’ll take you through the top points heralded in Cookie to better illustrate what I mean:

In 1969 Nathaniel Branden wrote The Psychology of Self Esteem which established a link between healthy self esteem and future success. Though I believe this to be true, that a healthy sense of self worth is essential to future success, I believe we might have gone a bit too far. Every child is important and every effort is worthy of praise but we’ve found ourselves in a world where every child gets a medal. Where simply showing up is considered success. A world where children aren’t to be singled out for bad OR good behavior. Loch got his first medal at his pre-school annual Thanksgiving fundraiser. It’s called the Turkey Trot. The kids run as many laps as they can around the school and then everyone gets a certificate printed with their name and number of laps and a medal. I thought this was terrific. He was proud. I was proud.  The kids are all included. Whether you did 50 laps or 5, no one is left out. But they’re in preschool. The oldest kid is 5. I think the problem stems from extending this mentality straight through high school. Why should anyone get excited about winning a race when the people who just put on their shoes get as much fanfare. In 1996 Dr. Jean M. Twenge published a fascinating book called Generation Me. Generation Me is defined as anyone born in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. Though being born in the mid 70’s myself, I’d say I see this phenomenon more in the 80’s and 90’s babies, but for the purpose of the example you can lump us 1970’s kids in there. The Me Generation is the generation that take it for granted that self comes first. We’re also known as the Entitlement Generation. “Generation Me has never known a world that put duty before self, and believes that the needs of the individual should come first. This is not the same thing as being selfish – it is captured, instead, in the phrases we so often hear: “Be yourself,” “Believe in yourself,” “Love yourself before you can love someone else.”* These have become some of our most deeply entrenched beliefs.

“We live in a time when high self-esteem is encouraged from childhood, when young people have more freedom and independence than ever, but also far more depression, anxiety, cynicism, and loneliness. Today’s young people have been raised to aim for the stars at a time when it is more difficult than ever to get into college, find a good job, and afford a house. Our expectations are very high just as the world is becoming more competitive, so there’s a huge clash between expectations and reality. More than any other generation in history, the children of Baby Boomers are disappointed by what they find when they arrive at adulthood.” ** The question becomes are we raising our children, and have we ourselves been raised with, unrealistic hopes, undisciplined self-assertion, and endless, baseless self-congratulation.*** You find examples of this in the school system every day. In Canada you can no longer fail a student. Grade inflation is a big gaff of the United States that runs right into college, and “independent spelling” and self grading has become way more accepted than it should. According to Twenge 30% of students polled believed they should pass a class simply because they showed up. If everything we do is fabulous and worthy then how do we adjust when everything doesn’t go our way?

If just being there earns us a medal, it creates a disconnect in our brain regarding what we are worth and what we deserve with very little effort on our parts. In a world where reality stars make more money than doctors what are we teaching our children? It’s the Teen Mom / Kardashian empire phenomenon. I was recently talking to a 17 year old who was graduating from High School and when I asked her what she wanted to do she said she wanted to be a reality star or, tongue and cheek, a trophy wife. It was depressing. She wasn’t really joking. But why shouldn’t she want that? Lack of talent and shame is now a calling card in our society. It’s as if we’ve been told we’re so great for so long that we buy our own press. Why wouldn’t everyone want to know what I’m eating for dinner? Tweet. Why should I start at the bottom of this company? I’m really smart and special. Quit. Why should I work for a company in the first place? I’ll just start my own business. Fail. It’s tough. Upbringing and celebrity culture are at a real cross roads with reality. Dr. Mel Levine, a pediatrics professor at the University of North Carolina Medical School and author of a book called Ready or Not, Here Life Comes, says  “We’re seeing an epidemic of people who are having a hard time making the transition to work — kids who had too much success early in life and who’ve become accustomed to instant gratification” .

I’m all for going out on your own. For entrepreneurial endeavors. For thinking outside the box. Some say it’ll be the new generation of “Me thinkers” that get America on it’s feet again. They’re referred to as “productive narcissists”. Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissitic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails, argues “that businesses that rely on innovation, new technology, and globalization require far bolder leaders who can take risks, shrug off conventional wisdom, project confidence, formulate hyper-ambitious plans, and charm the pants off investors and underlings alike, so that they, too, will make a leap of faith and believe in the next cold-fusion-powered car or the iPod that pays your bills and runs your household.” It is just my opinion that self esteem can be healthy without being over blown, and that once you get past preschool the best project, runner, swimmer, etc. should be the one who goes home with the ribbon. Why would anyone ever practice, strive or work to uncover their talents if they’re taught that everything they already do is amazing and worthy of praise? Who are these people auditioning for American Idol who can’t sing? Or So You Think You Can Dance who can’t dance? Why are their families there with signs that say they’re the best. Why can’t we believe in our children without blowing smoke up their a*%es. Why can’t we love them and support them within the frame of reality? Egos become very fragile when they aren’t based in truth.

It’s hard to anticipate your future successes if you think by simply existing you will succeed. The only people that works for is trust fund babies and supermodels.

But, I digress. Other things we have ceased to anticipate….

In the 1980’s strawberries became available all year round. This might seem simplistic and not worth mentioning but I think it’s indicative of a culture that has placed value more on quantity over quality. Have

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you seen strawberries lately? They used to be my favorite fruit. Juicy, sweet, red all the way through and the size of a quarter. Now, you bite into one and it’s almost always white, flavorless and more often than not, the size of a plum. Strawberries were not meant to get that big. We were supposed to eat apples in the fall and strawberries in the spring and summer. To this day I think there is nothing more delicious than a Ontario grown summer peach. But I don’t want one in the middle of February. Just like I don’t want Turkey in May. I’ll wait for Thanksgiving or Christmas. In our efforts to give everyone what they want when they want it, we’ve sacrificed the very thing we desire. It’s the waiting that makes it special.

In 1987 the sonogram was perfected to let us know the sex of our baby with almost 100% certainty and without a great aunt twirling a spoon over our belly. Now, I would be a hypocrite to critize this technology as I found out what we were having before Loch was born.Though I was happy to know I’ll readily admit it does take the surprise out of it. Personally, it was a surprise I didn’t want. Not so much so we could do the baby room in the right color or get appropriate non-gender neutral baby gifts, but more because I was favoring a girl and I didn’t want to have even one moment of confusion or disappointment in the delivery room. I wanted to be happy and adjusted and feel nothing but joy. And that was the right choice for me. As I’ve said before, it took me about a month to get over pig tails and party dresses and the fact that most children’s stores are 3/4 girl stuff, till I was psyched to have a boy. When Loch came out, I was thrilled to see him. However, I think it’d be fair to say that the sonogram and it’s subsequent technology has also lead to scheduled C-sections (of which many of my friends are big proponents of), early inductions pre-delivery date to avoid those last pounds, and official birth plans that rarely go as expected and more often than not cause mothers endless extra hours of grief as they try and keep on point. Sometimes you just have to let things unfold as they will.

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The 1990’s were probably the biggest blow to the concept of delayed gratification. We saw the birth of the internet, the creation of caller ID, answering machines or services in almost every home and the creation of digital cameras. No more waiting all day for your song to come on the radio. Or for your pictures to be developed. No more trying to time a call just right to make sure someone was home. You can avoid people you don’t want to speak to with caller ID but our kids will never know the joy of hoping that that ring is for you. “Please let it be Jeff. Pleeease let it be Jeff. ” There is an entire generation of kids that don’t realize that you didn’t use to be able to look at a picture right after you took it and quite frankly, it’s just made us all more vain. “Ugh, I look terrible. Delete it. Take it again.”

We don’t get telegrams. We don’t wait for letters. We have email and voice mail and text messaging. Everything is right away. Every new step is faster than the next.

You no longer have to wait for your show to come on TV as you can watch it at your leisure on whatever DVR device you happen to be using now. Personally I often miss the television season altogether and watch the episodes back to back on Netflix or On Demand later. You don’t have to hope that Blockbuster isn’t out of the movie you want, because they’re all available on streaming services in your mailbox, on line or on your TV.

I can remember as a child waiting all week for The Wonderful World of Disney to come on on Sunday nights. It was so exciting to hear those first few cords of When You Wish Upon A Star knowing I had one whole hour of television just for me. Loch has been watching kids shows on demand since he was a baby. He’ll never know the joy of that suspense. And, not that it matters like it used to with all of today’s viewing choices, but 1994 also saw the Olympics switched to an alternating schedule. Instead of waiting 4 years between Olympics we now wait 2 and really are only one trial away from the next one. The Olympics used to be an event. Capital E. It was the only time we ever brought a TV to the cottage. Now you watch the opening ceremonies and TiVo the rest. I’m still glued to it, but will the next generation be? The more available something is the less exciting. Or maybe, we have so much now, very little even registers as exciting at all…

Kids still await summer but with the talk of year round school really becoming a reality – LAUSD is starting mid August now – what summer will they really be awaiting? And, to be a real downer – if you look at the environmental shifts, the Greenhouse effect is making our earth warmer and warmer every year. Without a real change we could be looking at a future of summer all year round. Let’s try to avoid that shall we?

It’s the little things as well as the big ones. It’s being grown up enough to wear high heels. Nope, Suri Cruise, age 3 has them, I want them too. Earning money to buy your first car. No way dude, I’m 16, where’s my ride?! Waiting till you’re in a serious relationship to sleep with someone? Who does that? Trading sex for favors in grade school or jr. high sex parties are becoming the NORM. I’m literally afraid for my kid.

The biggest things we anticipate nowadays is new technology (if you’re my husband) or sequels to films and books (if you’re me). Ah, Deathly Hallows how I loved you. I eagerly awaited you in print and celluloid and you didn’t disappoint. But please, can more people do this? It’s so fun to look forward to something.

That’s the thing, kid’s need to look forward to things. Adults do too. It makes things special. Loch is blessed at Christmas time to have a Gigi that gives us a present for every day (!) of advent. It’s incredibly thoughtful and we love it, but when I watched Loch wake up every morning in December excited to open a present, I wondered how much it was distracting from the excitement of Christmas Day itself. When I was young I did an advent calendar with pictures for every day. Some years I even added a chocolate one. I loved it but I didn’t get any presents till the 25th. I’d certainly never tell my mother-in-law to stop. It’s a lovely tradition that comes from her heart – and I’m sure it’s different for Sean’s brother’s family who have 3 children, so that the majority of the gifts aren’t for just one child – I’m just not crazy about Loch seeing December as one big smorgasbord of gifts. Maybe I should stop letting him unwrap Sean and my gifts. It’s become more about the present itself than the meaning behind it.

I’m hoping to instill some sense of suspense into Loch’s life but it’s hard. Everything in his world is so readily available. So instantaneous. He asked to do something the other day and I said, “We’ll see.” and he said, “Yay!!!”. I realized in that moment that though I don’t give him everything he asks for, I do give him a lot, and a lot right away. If he wasn’t going to get it I would have just said, “No.” My saying “We’ll see.” to him meant “Yes”. It also leads to a “what’s next” mentality. When you get what you want right away, you’re often off to the next thing before you really enjoy the first. Without anticipation. Without waiting. Without having the time to truly want, it’s hard to appreciate and ever really, truly enjoy.

Anticipation in itself is a gift. One I’m going to have to work harder to give.

Lovely Kid waiting for Santa wallcoo.net

* Generation Me, Jean M. Twenge, PhD

** Generation Me, Jean M. Twenge, PhD

***Roy F. Baumeister, author of The Cultural Animal: Human Nature, Meaning, and Social Life, and Eppes Eminent Professor of Psychology, Florida State University