Posts from the ‘Youth’ Category

Bye kids…hello adults.

FirstDayofSchool_07

It is still the first day of school, though this time it’s university and it’s forever…

Tomorrow, the youngest will head off to the university to start his next stage of learning. He will leave the house after 17 plus years of being fed, clothed and nurtured.  And though going to Queen’s in the same town, he will head off to meet a new crowd of similarly minded young adults – sharing a dorm room with one of his high school mates, and a dorm floor with potential best friends for life.

For me, he will be so close – but then again, so far.

Like his sister who started university three years ago, and now shares a house only 10km from me, the distance that will emerge between us cannot be measured in mere kilometres. I am guessing, based on my experience, we will be worlds apart – just as I was with my folks.

I think back almost two decades, to the early days of child-raising – a time when I, as a parent, was the centre of their universe. A time when kids thought that spending time being cuddled, or watching TV and drinking hot chocolate, was nirvana. A time that I was always right and I was the font of all knowledge.

“It has to be true. Dad said it was.” – the mantra of the young child.

And even through their teen-hood – when I regressed to being a simple and flawed mortal, subject to the occasional constant eye-roll, sneer, or snarky feedback — through to their young adulthood, there was always some way or another in which Dad was needed: help with homework, a ride to a friend’s house, a meal that included a vegetable, sorting that never-ending pile of laundry, or constant nagging about one thing or another. It was the timeless dance of parents and their offspring.  The constant see saw-battle of “I can do it by myself” weighed against “I don’t want them to get hurt”.

And in 24 hours that will change. Soon I will have absolutely no clue what happens in their daily lives. I will not know about their successes, challenges, failures or fears. Unless they tell me. Our overlapping Venn Diagrams of life have just experienced a tectonic shift.

Grease poleAnd even though it causes me a little stress, it is right. It is, to quote Timon, “the circle of life”.  This is one of the last steps they will take in getting ready for the rest of their lives. The last time that they let go of the coffee table to take a few tottering steps with me watching, hands at the ready. They eventually have to “fly from the nest” – or is it “swim without water wings”?

And I think back to 1983.  I remember the feelings as I left home over 30 years ago.  Opportunity, independence, promise, excitement all flavoured with a soupçon of anxiety. I was a little sad that I was leaving my home and the people who had formed me; from the family who had made me a priority and made sure that I never wanted for the important things. But this melancholy was only a light blemish on the joy I was feeling.

I was on my own and on my way to becoming worldly, to learning grownup things and sharing good times and laughing and living for real!

And now I sit here on the other side of the fence. Perhaps not as sad as my parents, because we have already practiced being apart. But I am sad none-the-less. It is the end of a chapter.

It is the end of the childhood – completely. Everything, completely everything that defined their childhood innocence has now evaporated. It has disappeared, just like the sweet morning breath of a toddler escapes eventually.

I wish my son a fantastic time at university – just as I had. There will be friends and fun. And it will be full of many characterHangover building opportunities – of seemingly insurmountable challenges in the shape of readings and mid-terms and exams, of fantastically crushing hangovers and temptations of all shapes and sizes. He will learn great lessons like how borrowing $3 or $4 from five or six people can fund a whole evening of debauchery that you never have to pay back, as no one tracks loans under $5.00 (thanks for that lesson, ‘Tosh); or the governing factor in the frequency of laundry is the pairs of underwear that are relatively clean – and that buying muted tones of clothes means you can wash everything in one load; or that when it comes to engineering homework, “where there is no pressure, there is no flow”. And most importantly, that perhaps the best things you learn and remember in university aren’t taught in the lecture hall.

The Venn Diagram of Engineering

The Venn Diagram of Engineering

But, it will be totally unlike the days when I walked him to the school bus, or asked him if he had done his homework as we sat for dinner. It will be unlike the days when I was able to see the struggle and offer my wisdom. Now as he faces his new dragons, with the support of his well-meaning but similarly inexperienced peers his only broadsword, he must eventually learn all the lessons and overcome all the challenges on his own.  That’s what makes you an adult.

And I will wait, patiently, as my parents probably did, for the time he will call me for help, for support, and to hopefully to hear the voice of someone who wants to share in his life regularly — but who knows better than to ask.  And when he calls, I will probably give him a hard time, because that is how Dads show love. I will tease him, and almost make him regret calling me. But in the end, after the joking is over, I will give him advice and the benefit of my experience. He can take it or leave it, because in the end, it’s his life and his victories.

Dunc.Pal

I envy him, in a nostalgic sort of way. And I hope he exploits this for all its worth, because at this moment, the world is his oyster – and frosh week awaits!

Always a RMC Redman, but I'll wave the Queen's banner for my kids!

Always a RMC Redman, but I’ll wave the Queen’s banner for my kids!

Good luck to all of you that are seeing your leave the nest.  Exciting and sad, isn’t it?

Later,

ASF

Bubble wrap and the Bogeyman….

Need more bubble wrap....

Need more bubble wrap….

I recently read an article in the Globe and Mail by Stephen Quinn.

In his blog, he recounts the adventures of his two lads as they try to make their way home via public transport from downtown Vancouver – with minimal help from  dad. The short piece has its funny bits – sometimes  “funny ha-ha”, but sometimes more  “funny-peculiar” –  like how the two boys were slightly perplexed and seemingly naïve to the perils around them. Well according to the author anyway; his lads seemed confused about the perils as assessed by a worldly man standing 5’11” . The world is probably a lot rosier when you are well protected boys standing only 4 foot plus…

The article took me back in time. No worries, I never  “abandoned” my kids downtown with only bus fare, phone money and a Hot Rod pepperoni stick each. But rather, I remember being a kid in Toronto at a time when parental overwatch was minimal.

Oh the things we did! Before grade six, I remember walking to soccer tournaments during the summer holidays, leaving the house at 7.30 am, walking what seemed a hundred miles to Riverdale Park at Broadview. Funnily enough, I “Google-Mapped” it a little while ago (I think that is a verb); surprisingly, it was really a simple walk through the side streets of the Danforth, across Greenwood then Pape and finally to Broadview – but each walk had Stand By Me proportions. A simpler time, each day Mom would pack me a ham sandwich, an apple and a can of RC cola – and if I was really lucky, a two-pack of Dad’s Brand oatmeal cookies.  That and a hug on the way out the door was all the motherly attention I needed. Heaven!  And at Riverdale Park,  I played soccer all day – no worries of sunscreen, no bottles of water, no sun hat – and ran around crazily all day. I would get home about 10 hours later – dirty, banged up and really happy –  just in time to hear my Dad’s favorite greeting as he walked in the door from work, “…’Jinder, what’s for eating?”

Streetcars on Queen Street c 1970

Streetcars on Queen Street c 1970

Donwtown Toronto 1975...I have no clue who is in the middle of the road....

Downtown Toronto 1975…I have no clue who is in the middle of the road….

I also remember as the oldest child of three – and at the ripe old age of 12 years – leading my brother and sister (aged 10 and 8), right into the heart of Gotham, to Dundas and Yonge. We would see Black Beauty or the Shaggy D.A. or Star Wars at the Old Imperial Six theatre. It was great! And how many times did we jump on the subway or the bus or the streetcar to head to Ontario Place or the Ex’, or Maple Leaf

The Imperial Six....

The Imperial Six….

Gardens or the Royal Ontario Museum, or the Planetarium, or the Science Centre (which even today is not a TTC-friendly destination…)? A kids’ adventure…

And where were my parents during all this?  At home or at work – who knows?  I didn’t care; I had a dime for a phone call – there were lots of phone booths around.  Who needed a smart phone or a GPS or a child tracker? Not us…

I remember those days – we all reminisce about sitting untethered in the back of the station wagon, people smoking everywhere, when biking or skating without a helmet was okay. Parenting today is so different; so many things that we do and things that we buy to keep them safe. Comparatively, we lived a relative Darwinian existence.

I remember being doing things on my own: buying stuff, and making change and generally being aware of things when they just did not feel right. I remember looking both ways and crossing with the green, and reading a map and asking for directions from complete strangers. I never felt threatened nor scared.

But I can’t ever remember letting my kids do that. Why not? Is it because I felt that the world was not a safe place, that the risks were too high? Probably.  And by not letting them, did I do really do them a favour?

Everyone knows that parenting has changed. Even the big corporations. I mean, look at the Chevy car ad…the parents fawning  over their poor lad Tonito!  Okay, what is that all about? That kid is gonna be scarred and look to Mommy and Daddy for everything. He will never learn the life lesson of forgetting your indoor shoes in the winter, or why idiot strings on mittens aren’t such a bad idea or the thrill of swimming to the far side of the pool without water wings and with that slightly terrifying panic of “I’m gonna drown…” – of realising that yes, yes he can do it on his own without mom or dad holding him up – or back.

Lucas the Forever Scarred... See the vid at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IZDzlZXNG4

Tonito, the Forever Scarred… See the vid at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IZDzlZXNG4

So why are we so different from our parents? I know – the world has changed… rapists and molesters, murderers and abusers, drug pushers and pimps and slave traders all abound in droves now. But sadly, statistically speaking – and counter intuitively – our kids are probably in more peril being with those in positions of trust than with complete strangers. But still,  I had the same fears as all parents, and I had to fight the urge to be over-protective. Hopefully I kept it in check to some degree – the scar on my daughter’s forehead is testimony to that.

But I am sure that, like all of my generation, I have imparted some of my anxieties and tics to my children. It’ll be interesting to see what their parenting style is like!

I think about what my parents did, or really, didn’t do. They never drove me anywhere unless they were going there too – I walked, rode my bike or took public transit. They rarely gave me money – I delivered papers, had summer jobs or did chores for money.  Don’t get me wrong.  I never wanted for anything. I had clean clothes (not necessarily the most fashionable). I had good food…though it took me until my 20s to realise that curry was something special. I had birthdays and presents and video games – Pong and Intellivision –  and the ever-present music.

But somewhere between my growing up and becoming a parent, I began to think that was not enough for my kids. I did not want my children to want for anything, or to get hurt or to be sad or tired or hungry or anxious. But in retrospect, I could have done better.  I now believe that independence and challenges are the very best teachers; a fishing pole instead of a fish.   As I look around, I am not sure that coddling or bubble-wrapping kids is working. Failure and rejection and disapproval are pretty good teachers, too.

I am who I am because Mom and Dad let me explore and experience and take risks and the occasional scolding.

Yes, my kids are confident and happy (I think). And they are independent: one living on her own and having spent a good chunk of last summer backpacking through Europe with friends, and the other just about to head off to residence and uni. Not bad, and even though they still do love Dad’s taxi and the occasional help from  Dad’s bank account, who wouldn’t!

But, thinking back, I wish I had released the reins a bit more. Think of all the other places they could have gone and the adventures they could have had.  And you know what, I am sure that if you giv’em a little age appropriate latitude as they grow, they will probably find out where the real bogeymen are all by themselves…

Later,

ASF

Guns, Mental Illness and Infamy…

Innocence LostNothing but tears for the unfulfilled hopes, dreams and expectations of all the victims of yet another senseless act of violence. Condolences and wishes for peace to all those parents, families and a community tragically ripped apart by yet another unfathomable and inexplicable event…

The fourth US mass shooting in the past year with a total of 54 men, women and children dead.   Over the past few decades, there have been mass shootings in Australia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Norway, and the UK.  And not even China has been immune – though their issue is mass knifing instead of shootings.

The airwaves, television screens and internet are all abuzz with stories and theories and recriminations and calls for action. Hasty exploitive interviews with family and children and neighbours and academics and psychologists and sociologists and criminologists are everywhere – each with their own agenda to provide meaningful insight, analysis and coverage. Special theme music, a CNN phenomenon in the post-Gulf War I era, litter the media landscape – as if this sad event needed any more to stress the poignancy.

And as always in the aftermath, the pundits offer their solutions to forever end these debacles. Whatever the discussion, we need to discuss the issues in the right frame – not misappropriate them for purpose of unrelated arguments on whatever topic we champion.

The biggest argument is the persistent criticism of the US gun culture and their Second Amendment – “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  The sticking point is whether the person subscribes to the Individual Rights Theory or the Collective Rights Theory. Does it refer to the e individual’s right to own guns, or the State’s obligation to protect its citizens? There is no consensus.

Regardless, CNN reports that in 2009 there were over 310 million American non-military firearms for  305 million people – and shockingly, there were 11,500 “homicides by firearm” in the same year.

Using the 2009 ratios, proportionally Canada’s 33.7 million citizens would own 34.2 million firearms and commit 1270 firearm homicides.  But for some reason we didn’t… in 2011 there were 7.9 million firearms, and in 2009 we had 179 deaths by shooting. The numbers are much less, but sadly they are not zero.

more-guns-more-mass-shootings

I do not believe that today’s society, one that makes money – legally and illegally – from handguns and long barrel guns, will ever cut shooting deaths to zero.

For the record, I am not a gun owner – never have been one, never want to be one. But,  I do enjoy target shooting on occasion. I also understand that hunters love to hunt and do not begrudge them that. I am not against recreational shooting.

But I do believe that if you only have a hammer, then everything becomes a nail.  If you carry a gun, you probably view everyone as a potential target. And if by chance an intruder into my house has a gun, I’d bet the chance of someone dying probably escalates exponentially if I introduced a second gun into the equation. I am not arguing whether the intruder “deserves” to face a gun…I am talkng about potential outcomes. I can only conclude that if I put “his already-morally-compromised back” against the wall,  I just become a nail to be hammered.  I know lots will disagree – but that’s just me; I simply poin to the Trayvor Martin/George Zimmerman episode in Florida this past summer.

Anyway, it’s a moot point: the US of A will never give up its guns. I acknowledge that.

But as offered by Nick Kristof in the New York Times, “…shooting is fun! But so is driving, and we accept that we must wear seat belts, use headlights at night, and fill out forms to buy a car. Why can’t we be equally adult about regulating guns?” Maybe that will be enough.

Enough about guns.

The other issue that needs to be addressed is the mental illness piece. There are so many viewpoints on this topic, too.

Here in Canada we have been trying hard to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. It is an uphill battle. And rightly or wrongly, we all jump to the issue of mental illness as “rationalisation” for the atrocity –  as if all mentally ill people will inevitably take up arms and slaughter innocents. That is not true.  But, if that is how we brand them, it is no wonder that no one wants to admit to mental issues. But even if we identify the issue, finding help  in this resource-constrained world is difficult.

The Anarchist Soccer Mom takes the issue head-on when she describes her son Michael. “I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me. A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7- and 9-year-old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.”

She then goes on to discuss how her options are now limited after pharmaceuticals, therapy, psychiatry and law enforcement have been unable to control the problem effectively.  Her fear is that he is on the same awful trajectory as all those who have killed others.

Her story offers a new perspective. It is not just about guns – though I am sure that we all agree that a person with mental illness without a gun, or a knife for that matter, is unlikely to commit such a crime of the same proportion.

It is time for a serious look at how we educate ourselves about mental illnes, and how we diagnose, respond, and treat those affected. It should be a high public health priority…

And lastly… I ask what is the media’s role in all this?

In a strange internet hoax, Morgan Freeman, is wrongly attributed for a pointed citicism against the media. It wasn’t him. But I wish the anonymous author would come forward. Their is merit in their words. Sensationalization, voyeurism, instant fame. Anonymous writes on why the shootings continue:

You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here’s why.

It’s because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single *victim* of Columbine?

Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he’ll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.

CNN’s article says that if the body count “holds up”, this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer’s face on all their reports for hours.

Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer’s identity? None that I’ve seen yet. Because they don’t sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you’ve just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.

You can help by forgetting you ever read this man’s name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.”

Three different viewpoints on the same issue – all trying to learn from the Newtown shooting and to prevent the next one.

Just like we did after the Milwaukee Sikh Temple Shooting, Colorado’s Batman Cinema Shooting, the École Polytechqnique Shooting in Montréal, the Gifford Shooting Spree in Tucson, the Shooting at Fort Hood, the Virginia Tech Shooting, or the Columbine Massacre…and on and on.

Dozens killed or injured in mass shooting at Colorado cinema

Gun control? Mental Illness? The Media?

I don’t know which is to blame. And evidently people with a lot bigger brains are just as confused, otherwise this would be sorted. All I know is that we need to talk about all of them, how they interact, and then we need to sort it. Hearing and seeing adults, teenagers, children – male and female –  die needlessly at the hands of executioners armed to the teeth is not an acceptable option.  And I hope that our egos and our priorities can be altered to appropriately restrict a troubled person’s access to instruments that can kill – guns, knives, or whatever.

Some say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. Okay, I can’t refute that. But surely we can also add a qualifier…”People with guns kill people.” A gun definitely makes it easier…

We have to take away the means (unregulated weapons), address the causes (mental illness, poverty…) and remove the incentive (infamy, notoriety, exposure…) for those who might be inclined to kill the innocent.  If not, we will just continue the same superficial conversations – gnashing our teeth and crying our tears – over another series of senseless deaths.

And while I hope we can all take a moment to think of all those who have been gunned down during the simple act of living their lives innocently, please take an extra moment to remember the little children lost forever, and their protectors who died trying to save them. Offer what strength you can to their families and friends as they deal with indescribable pain and a despair that no one should ever have to deal with…

  • Charlotte Bacon, 6;
  • Daniel Barden, 7;
  • Rachel Davino, 29;
  • Olivia Engel, 6;
  • Josephine Gay, 7;
  • Ana Marquez-Greene, 6;
  • Dylan Hockley, 6;
  • Dawn Hochsprung, 47;
  • Madeleine Hsu, 6;
  • Catherine Hubbard, 6;
  • Chase Kowalski, 7;
  • Jesse Lewis, 6;
  • James Mattioli, 6;
  • Grace McDonnell, 7;
  • Anne Marie Murphy, 52;
  • Emilie Parker, 6;
  • Jack Pinto, 6;
  • Noah Pozner, 6;
  • Caroline Previdi, 6;
  • Jessica Rekos, 6;
  • Avielle Richman, 6;
  • Lauren Rousseau, 30;
  • Mary Sherlach, 56;
  • Victoria Soto, 27;
  • Benjamin Wheeler, 6;
  • Allison Wyatt, 6

Later,

ASF

Where did all the kids’ costumes go?

Now, admittedly I have lived in the UK for the past three years, where 31 October just means it is the last day before November – so maybe my Hallowe’en rant  has already been aired (and I do not mean I am upset over the supposed “celebration of evil” thing). Maybe living in a country that considers Hallowe’en an “American Scourge” has insulated me from the furor. If so, I appear to not only have missed the start of the debate, but I also think I have missed the “tween” sexual revolution that seems to be the cause of the latest angst…

What am I talking about? I guess if you are one of those people who closes the curtains, turns off the porch light and ignores the doorbell and high-pitched chorus of “Trick or Treat, smell my feet”, or does not parent a twelve year-old girl, you probably have no clue of what I am talking about.

For sure, I am not talking about the home-made costumes that I recall my friends wearing when I was a kid…you remember the ghosts and cowboys and ladybugs and cats and mummies. No, they were cute and age-appropriate.

Time has been kind to the boys – but what about the girls?? How many news stories and blogs have I seen on the subject of costumes for young girls?  It seems that Cinderellas and Faeries and Raggedy Anns have been replaced by Pseudo-Stripper costumes that look more at home in an Adult ‘marital aids” store than the girls’ costume department at Wal-Mart.

If you are not sure what I mean, how about this for a visual…

If everyone’s complaining about them, who is buying them?

Time for one of my tangents….

What’s happening?  Is it something as simple as believing that young girls want to – or should – emulate the options available to grown women? As one of my Facebook friends commented cynically, the Hallowe’en Party at the local watering hole was shaping up to be a “Slutty Policewomen Convention”…I am sure there were a few skanky nurses to be seen, too.

Is that we want to our daughters to use as role models?

Now I am all about hearing the other side…debate should invite discussion and growth comes through entertaining differing views. But despite several blogs on the issue, include Dan Savage’s commentary that Hallowe’en should be celebrated as Heterosexual Pride Day or Heterowe’en (WARNING: some good old-fashioned “adult” language in the last hyperlink…), I am still unconvinced that we need to “slut”-ify the costumes. I think some of the comments in his article may ring true – and perhaps some have been explored while lying on the psychotherapists couch –  but there are also a few comments I oppose (like seriously, isn’t the term “ass-less chaps” an oxymoron – aren’t all chaps “ass-less”?).

Anyway, he is talking about adults and I agree that adults are entitled to dress any way they wish – as long as they abide by popular (and legal) conventions… and if they wish to play a game of Doctor and Nurse in the privacy of their house, who am I to disagree. (I don’t care, but it is not for me… I look horrible in a nurse’s outfit…)

But…

Shouldn’t such attire stay in the adult realm?  Selling that sexualised notion to “tween” and “teenage” girls is just plain wrong.  Perhaps it is a result of mainstream media or women’s magazines or popular film or music videos. Or maybe it is just a sad second-order effect of depressingly disturbing shows like Toddlers and Tiaras or Honey-Boo-Boo (no pictures…it is just too disturbing).

Whatever it is, I am not a fan. And I guess that I will just leave it at that…

Later,

ASF

The tragic aftermath of cyber-bullies…

Like most of the connected world, I was saddened by the new story out of British Columbia – the girl who committed suicide, evidently to stop the bullying and to end the cruelty of youth.

What a waste.

For those that have not seen the You Tube video (link here – Amanda Todd’s Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide, Self Harm – YouTube), it is disheartening. And it speaks volumes about the evil side of the internet and connectivity.

I have commented before that the internet is whatever you want to make of it. It can highlight beauty and achievement and creativity and humour and wonderment; but then again, the internet provides opportunities for deviants and criminals and trolls and the mean.

It is incomprehensible to what depths that some people can descend; especially the bullies and the trolls.  Hiding behind their keyboards, cozy in their anonymity, they dispense vitriol and venom with reckless abandon – content that they have made someone’s life a misery.

Why? I don’t know…I am sure that no one really does.

Now, when it comes to the poor girl in the video, I am sure everyone will admit that it is true she made mistakes.  But seriously, were they life-ending ones? Yes, she was stupid and careless and ignorant of what the internet could be used for – and as a result she suffered fear, shame, pain and depression.  But why was she driven to such desperation? News reports allude to a stalker – while others report of  bullying from peers.

And though she tried to cope, in the end, it was too much. She killed herself.

Now if there was a predator involved, I hope that they find him and punish him to the greatest extent possible.

As for the kids…it is a sad truth that kids can be cruel to each other. And when the cruelness starts, the only options seems to be binary…hunt or be hunted.  And because most of the “hunted” kids are not mentally resilient enough to “let it go”, the effects can be devastating.  The statistics are mounting.

I often wonder why kids are so cruel.  Unfortunately, there could be many reason and contributing factors.  But without benefit of a Master’s degree in childhood development, or child psychology, I would probably blame it on two possible causes: bored kids or disconnected parents.

The results?

Kids who use the internet to amuse and entertain themselves, trying hard to fill whatever emotional vacuums they suffer, in whatever way they can. Maybe they are desensitized – their own emotions stunted through a lack of healthy stimulation; or maybe they are damaged, and want to spread their own pain to as many people they can because misery loves company.

I don’t know.  I don’t think anybody does.

All I know is that every once in a while, we are shocked that some young person tips over the edge and because of bullying – cyber, physical, mental or whatever – is either killed or takes their own life. And then, in the aftermath, we gnash our teeth and beat our chests and say that those responsible must be punished and that we need new laws to deal with the delinquent and the disturbed.

Close the gate – the horses have bolted.

General deterrence might address the issue – but I doubt it.  Bullying has been around for ever. Why not close the gate before the horses bolt? Why not talk to your kids and learn about their lives? Why not get to know their friends and learn about their “un-friends”? Why not share some affection, so that they don’t have to look for it elsewhere?  The shoulder to cry on should be at home…not on the ‘net.

It is too late to help Amanda Todd, just like it was too late to help Reena Virk.

You know, I hope that we do make laws harder on those that stalk or bully others on the internet. But more importantly, I hope that those of us charged with raising emotionally healthy, secure and confident human beings work very hard at it. We can’t protect against everything – some battles belong to our children alone. But, if we do a good job, maybe whatever these ignoramuses write or post on the net will be irrelevant.  No one will care.

And that, in my opinion, would work better than any new laws…

To learn more about the issue, you can check out the following sites:

STOP cyberbullying: Cyberbullying – what it is, how it works and how to understand and deal with cyberbullies

www.cyberbullying.ca

Later,

ASF

25 Years doesn’t change a thing – Truth, Duty, Valour

In 1983, I set foot onto Canadian Forces’ Base Chilliwack, British Columbia and started an experience that still continues to this day.  At that time, I was a young dewy-faced, neophyte –

ASF circa 1983

and because I knew no one, I was alone. But, as it happens, so was everyone else.  And in our shared solitudes, we all tried very hard to ignore the shouting, the stress, and the discomfort, as we challenged every ounce of our beings to understand our new culture – in a new place,  far away from our homes.

We were 18.

And in that brief 6 weeks, in which we learned to wear the uniform, to march, to live in the field, to run long distances, to navigate and to lead small teams, we all made a few friends. But these friends were at a different level than  “friends” that share a few common interests, or say hello when they see each other in the street; nope, these were new friend that I would learn, and need, to depend on implicitly.  These were people I would trust with my life.

And for the next four years, we shared everything. Good times, bad times…happy moments and tears.  We took on challenges as a team, and we endured – not

The Collwood Eight

always victorious, but always together. We consoled each other, we encouraged each other; at times we scolded each other and offered life advice – offered from the vantage point of worldly young twenty-somethings.We played sports together, we studied together, we ate together, we watched TV together…and given the horrible state of the military buildings, we shared an intimacy that broke any barriers of self-modesty, as we showered and did our ablutions together in old World War II infrastructure.

RMC v Westpoint 1986

We shared clothes and smokes and beers and money. We were each other’s wing-men – taking on names like Carl Gustav and Tommy Gunn to advance the cause. And on occasion, we stopped fights and sweet talked bouncers or Kingston’s Finest for each other – the Cadets from the Institute.

We jumped into the cauldron with each other – not war – but preparation for it.  We were young, and we were Soldiers (and Sailors and Aircrew).  We were invincible, healthy and ready to take on whatever anyone threw at us.

We forged friendships that will last a life time. And in that bittersweet moment when we walked through the College Arch – no longer students, but full-fledged

The Troll, Spenny, Spud, ASF, Mitch, Miff. Grad 87

leaders – we spread to the four corners of the globe, executing our duties. And over time, we matured. We honed our crafts; we fell in love; we married; we had children, and we grew wiser. And as the hour-glass of our lives slowly filled, as happens to all close groups, we  drifted – imperceptibly – apart. But this separation was only physical.

Some of us left the military. And using the same self-discipline, courage and adventurous spirit that brought us together in 1983,  these brave ones struck out into fields unexplored, creating new paths and achieving new success.  And their success has validated us, and all we did when we were younger.

And some of us stayed in uniform – taking on growing leadership challenges to achieve success for Canada and her citizens.  And, again, our success has validated us all.

But no matter where we are, or what we are doing, every five years, most of us return to the Mothership. Like pigeons to the roost, or bees to the hive, we return to be with our Buds.  And be it five years, 10, 15…or as just last weekend, 25 years since Graduation…it was just like we were back in our youth.  The stories, the lingo, the memories are just as good today as they were then.  And though we may be older or rounder, perchance greyer or balder, the friendships have not yellowed or frayed.   In fact, the comfort, the ease, and the love are just as strong today as they were 25 years ago.  Time has not changed a thing.  It is uncanny. And I see nothing but the same for many years to come as I watch our Elders celebrate their 40th, 50th, and in some cases 60th reunions together.

I know it is crazy, but being with my Buds makes me younger. It takes me back to the time when The Clash was new, when a new Ford Mustang cost $10,000, when shoulder pads were hip. Back to a time when I had my whole life, and the whole world ahead of me.  And when I am in their company, I still feel capable of wonderful things – like taking on our newest generation in rugby, or water polo – or partying like its 1999 (or earlier). It is rejuvenating, like drinking from a fountain of youth.

And as my wife commented after my 25th reunion weekend: I am so lucky to have friends who are timeless; to have friends with whom I have gone through “the shit”- friends whom without, I wouldn’t have made it through.

It is something to cherish.

And when we meet again – tomorrow, or next week, next year, or in five years – it will be like time stood still.  I will still love them just as much. Amongst all the people I know – probably thousands – there is no tighter circle than ours.   And while I do miss them when we are apart, I know that neither time nor distance does anything to diminish our bonds and our trust. I know that tomorrow, like today and yesterday, they have my back. And they know that I have theirs.

So until we meet again, stay well class of ’87.  See you at our 30th.

TDV

(PS. Miff – you rock. Figuratively and literally.)

Later,

ASF

…Most wonderful time of the Year!

First day of school! Back to school supplies, new clothes, lunches all sorted and arranged in a frenzy of preparedness…parents across the continent have snapped pictures and sent the kids packing.  A mixture of pride, and perhaps relief, with a whiff of sadness.  They are growing up.

And for some, the day is full of angst as four-year olds make their first forays into junior kindergarten, or their older kids start at a new school for the first time, and as older ones spread their wings and leave the nest in their first years of university.

So much emotion, so much anxiety.  Will they make friends? Will their teacher be nice? Will they be bullied?  Will they be happy?

The answers – yes, hopefully, hopefully not, and yes.  We were happy – just like the generations before us. Both at school and after school.

I can’t say that everything at school was fantastic, I mean my Grade 4 teacher Mrs. B used to chastise us with, “Stop whispering back there!  I used to listen for airplanes during the war – I can hear you plainly!” Also, several of her students passed out while executing the daily “Lead the Class in Oh Canada” duty…and there was the unfortunate “karate chop” incident that led to my one-on-one with the Principal…

But overall, thinking of school is nothing but a nostalgic visit with memories that make me happy.  We all have them. Things like:

Recess.  I mean recess…how cool.  Unless it was “Indoor Recess” because it was too cold or too wet.  Recess meant “foot hockey”…tennis ball soccer with goalies using their coats as “goalie pads”. Or it meant Four-Square or Kings’ Corner, with the red rubber bouncy ball (you know, the one that made the pinging sound as it bounced) and three opponents in a four sectioned square.  Or it meant tether ball, or dodge ball or Spud or tag or hide-and-seek or British Bulldog or red-rover.  These were the things that made school fun.

Or was it the School Sports Day?  One whole Spring day full of relay races, where everyone sat down in line – calmly – once they had navigated the obstacle course, or hula-hooped, or put on the clown outfit, or did whatever the teachers invented. A day full of competitive spirit, when every team was in the hunt for the coloured ribbons.  And it was the day when you got that awesome orangey-like juice from the McDonald’s cooler, to wash down the one lunchtime hotdog.

And what about assemblies…the whole school in one place. All the kids kept trying to get the attention of their best friend in the other class…or it was youngest siblings waving at their “cooler” older sibling who was trying their hardest to ignore them. And the snake-like cacophony of the teachers’ constant “shhh”s  as we waited for the Principal to introduce the Visitor.  Rumours were prevalent just before Assembly…would it be Elmer the Safety Elephant or Blinky the Police Car…would it be a guitar sing-song or a short film?  Would we be watching another class do a special play? So much excitement, so much fun!  Regardless of the reason, it was always an exciting break from the routine.  Good for some time away from the grindstone!

And in the same vein, what about the perennial Christmas concert…I have been to them as a parent, and except for that four-minute period that your own child is singing a Christmas medley of Rudolph/Frosty/Jingle Bells…it is painful.  Oh, wait…the kindergarten kids, regardless of their song, are so cute with their snowflake hats or elf costumes!! Regardless of the pain, for uncounted generations, parents have endured as their child has sung with gusto to be heard above the others in the Choir.

And lastly there was the favourite “Parent Night” (not to be confused with the dreaded parent-teacher conference.  Moms and dads coming in to the open house, as their children showed off their notebooks, their desk space (all tidied up and neat for the special occasion), and proudly pointing out the artwork that made the bulletin board, or the short story with the gold star at the front of the classroom.  For me and my sibs, the evening was usually capped off at the house with an evening treat – ice cream or cake and hot custard.  It was awesome.

As I sit and reminisce, I think of all the other things that made me happy to go back to school…

  • the 64 pack of Crayola with the built-in sharpener and awesome colours like Periwinkle Blue and Vermillion, which morphed into Laurentian Pencil Crayons as I grew older….
  • the utility math kit, with the compass and the protractor and the six-inch ruler and the eraser – which usually finished the season with a broken case containing only a snapped ruler…
  • marking your supplies with your name – and usually putting a masking tape “flag” on your pens on which to write your name….
  • Coming home at lunch time to tomato soup and a cheese sandwich as I watched Fred and Barney get into another jam. They were “Stupid Good-lookings”…a “Judo-chop-chop”
  • Chocolate bar sales as we raised money for some unknown cause, motivated by earning that Pizza Party for the class
  • Feeling slightly sad for the kid who forgot his indoor shoes during the winter and had to spend the day walking around in socks…but boy, could they slip and slide down the polished hallways!

  • The audio centre at the back of the classroom, where we could put on a record, don the headphones and listen to “A Spoonful of Sugar” or the “Bear Necessities”… with the teacher tapping us on the shoulder to tell us we were singing a bit too loudly
  • The jokes we used to tell…Knock,Knock…I was born on a Pirate Ship…or the mildly risqué story that was made up entirely of Chocolate Bar Names (you remember, with Oh Henry and Sweet Marie…)
  • The foldy paper-thingy – a “fortune teller” or “cootie catcher” – that had numbers and colours and told you your future depending on the combinations you gave the owner…
  • The arts and crafts that produced Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards, or Easter baskets or snowflake calendars….
  • And finally, the classroom party – dressed up for Hallowe’en, or participating in the gift exchange at Christmas ( I remember getting socks one year.  Practical; but what 8 year-old wants practical?), or the Valentine Day card-giving (with the little cards, and the unofficial competition of who would receive more, and your parents’ advice to give one to everyone so that no one’s feelings got hurt), Easter and then the  year-end Party. Surprising that we got anything done.

I don’t know if all that happens anymore.  My kids have grown.

Maybe things have changed…maybe computers and smart phones or Health and Safety and our litigious nature have changed everything.  I hope not. I hope that underneath our radar, underneath the white noise of “earning a living”, or “paying the mortgage”, or “the pursuit of the material goods”, that our kids are doing the things that kids should do – and that they are having fun. That’s the way it should be.

And, because, kids are kids, whether it is 1976 or 2012 – I bet they are! And If I’m wrong, I am sure you will let me know.

Happy back to school, Everyone.

Later,

ASF