Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Go Canada Go

When my dad was 14 he left his home in Field, BC, hopped on a train and got off in Montreal. The first thing he did was stash his suitcase behind a garbage can in an alley and use the last of his cash to get himself a ticket to the hockey game that night. Not surprisingly, when he left the Forum (which sadly is no longer in use) and returned to the Alley, his suitcase was gone.

My dad loved hockey. His two teams were the Canadiens and the Canucks. Those teams became my teams as I watched them on Saturday nights from his lap. My childhood is filled with the sounds of hockey; the theme song to Hockey Night In Canada; Don Cherry, who was old even 25 years ago; the call of the game by the best commentators in the biz. I heard the Canada/Swiss game on the radio the other night while driving to the grocery store. The slap of the stick against the puck, the checks against the boards, the skates on the ice... As a kid I listened to many Canucks games on the radio during road trips and the sound of that Canada/Swiss game instantly recalled the safe, snug, secure feelings of laying in a dark cocoon under a blanket in the back seat while the snow whirled around me and the gentle rumble of tires and the call of the game filled the car.

My childhood was filled with hockey. I still have my binder of Upper Deck Hockey Cards. My dad would bring them home every so often and opening each packet was a thrill. I still remember when I got Pavel Bure's card. As I grew up I dropped the Habs from my favourite team list and became devoted to the Oilers. Don't we all remember their glory days? Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Anderson, Fuhr... magic! Eventually they lost their sparkle and I moved on to flirt briefly with the L.A. Kings. It didn't last. The Canucks have been the only constant team in my heart but even they haven't been able to keep me interested. As I've gotten older I've watched less and less hockey. I don't know who any of the players are anymore, well, except Jerome Iginla and Sidney Crosby. I am still Canadian after all! It was a slow fade for me. First I stopped watching the regular season. Then I stopped watching the play-offs. Now, unless it's game 7 and Vancouver is playing I won't even watch the Stanley Cup Finals. And since that hasn't happened since oh....1994, I haven't watched hockey in a long time.

I'm no longer a constant fan but my childhood love of hockey is never too far under the surface and I have odd recurrences of the old love. Like during pregnancy for instance. And also during the Olympics. As I'm typing Canada is playing Russia in it's first do-or-die game. It's 7-3 Canada with 7 minutes left in the third. I started writing this in the kitchen at the island with my back to the TV and my stomach in knots. I am now on the couch with my stomach in knots. I am not emotionally equipped to handle the stress of 60 agonizing minutes of play. The swearing and crying I did during both the Canada/Swiss and the Canada/US game made me perfectly aware of that. I know in the big scheme of things this game is not important. Haiti is important. The state of education in Alberta is important. Whether Canada beats Russia at the Olympics for the first time in 50 years shouldn't matter. Except somehow it does. Whether as Canadians we truly have hockey in our blood or whether we're just indoctrinated at a young age to believe we do, I don't know. And frankly, I don't care. All I have to say is "GO CANADA GO!"

Oh and Sebastian has a message for us too:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reasons to move back to BC sooner rather than later

Today was a very exciting day.  Well, it was supposed to be.  This morning I registered Tristan and Ava for Kindergarten and was hit with some news that will change how our next year plays out.  As I've mentioned before, for a long time I was concerned about all-day everyday Kindergarten.  It's part of the reason we waited an extra year.  Our kids will turn six at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year and we felt waiting that extra year would mean the kids were more ready for that level of energy output, social responsibility and information.  Our kids are so excited for Kindergarten and we have talked it up in a big way; getting to stay all day; getting to play on the playground everyday; getting to go to gym class everyday; getting to eat lunch at school. We even bought the kids snazzy, and ridiculously on sale, backpacks that have lunchboxes attached to them special for eating lunch at school. Those are the things they are most excited about.  And now, it is not an option.

At a time when BC is implementing all-day everyday Kindergarten for all their schools over the next two years, Alberta is cutting education funds.  I was a resister of full day Kindergarten (FDK) but became a believer when I read some of the benefits.  Kids in FDK have greater literacy and numeracy.  Their reading comprehension and general learning skills are better.  They make significantly greater progress in learning social skills.  There is more time for the teacher to spend with each student, more time to get to know the student and assess his/her progress and adequately meet the students' needs.  They spend more time in creative activities, more time engaged in active, child-initiated small group activities as opposed to a large group learning model.  All good things!

Medicine Hat has run this program successfully for five years but it has not been provincially funded.  The province funds a half-day and our local school board has provided the funds for the other half-day.  Thanks to all the cutbacks in education our school board will need those funds for other things, like maintaining classroom sizes.  Today when I dropped off the kids' registrations the Principal had just returned from a school board meeting and asked if I had five minutes to chat.

What the school board is proposing is A) to keep FDK at a cost to parents of $280 per month per child or B) go back to half-day Kindergarten which could mean five half-days or every other full day. Besides the fact that I believe FDK should be provincially-funded for all of Alberta I would 100% rather have free half-day Kindergarten.  Do the math. If option A is chosen Kindergarten will cost us $560/month.  $560 a month is more than our monthly grocery budget, and more than half of our mortgage payment.  I would have to get a job to put our kids in Kindergarten and then have to pay childcare for my two-year-old.  And did I mention the $280/month/child is not tax deductible because it's for education and not child care?  The whole thing is ridiculous!

If I could, I would choose half-days that look like every other full day to get the best of both worlds.  But here's the kicker.  I don't get to choose.  Oh I get to tick my preference in a box on a sheet of paper but I don't get to choose.  I know people who are currently spending over $1000/month on Montessori.  They both work full-time. $280 for full-days would be a deal compared to paying for child care for half-days.  Part of the reason FDK was implemented here in the first place is because so many families are dual income that parents were having to go to extreme lengths to get their kids from school to daycare and it was not unusual to see cabs lined up along the school yard.  FDK eliminated that.  And now we're back to square one.  Only this time people have had a taste of FDK and I think they'll fight tooth and nail to keep it.

I am frustrated and feel totally helpless. Yes, I have a voice, but I know very well how small that voice is.  I feel like I am at the mercy of people who have chosen to work full-time rather than be at home with their kids and are therefore in a higher income bracket than I am.  I respect their right to make that choice.  I only ask that they respect me for the choice I have made.  Alberta's Budget 2010 website says that this years budget "strikes the right balance between fiscal discipline and protecting health care and other priority programs".  It's sad, unfortunate, and short-sighted that education for our children, the future of this province, is not considered a priority program.  Then again neither is our carbon footprint.  But that doesn't matter.  Climate change doesn't really exist anyway.  Right Cypress?  Right Whistler?  Right BC?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Surprisingly Did Not Require Ice Cream

Okay so remember that paper I applied to?  I called about a week or so after the close date and found out they filled the position.  After referencing the wrong paper in my cover letter I wasn't surprised that I hadn't heard from them but I asked the Editor if I could come in and talk to him about my submissions and give me some constructive criticism.

I met him at his office a week later and he pulled out my submissions and we sat down to chat.  He flipped through them briefly then looked me in the eye and said, "Basically, I just don't like your writing style."  Ouch.  I totally felt like the girl who auditions for Idol because her friends and family all tell her she's such a good singer and then Simon looks at her and says, "Trust me this business is not for you.  You actually can't sing.  At all.  Seriously."

This editor then went on to an abstract discussion of art, and how sometimes people put pins in a barbie and call it the existence of man but that just that morning his dog, and I quote, "laid a tight coil on my front yard and we called it steamy".  I thanked him for his time and walked back to my van and sat there for awhile.

For as long as I can remember I have been paralyzed by a crippling fear of failure.  I always wanted to do highschool theatre but I never did.  I was afraid I wouldn't get any callbacks after auditioning.  After highschool there was a theatre program at a school in Vancouver that I really wanted to apply to.  I got the forms and I partially filled them out and then, I just didn't finish.  I was so afraid of the audition process, so afraid of being told no that I never even applied. And I have lived some version of that story over and over as the fear of failure, of rejection, has kept me from ever attempting to chase down whatever dream is in my heart.

For a long time now I have dreamed of writing and it was only this year I had the courage to put myself out there.  And then I was rejected.  The thing I had always feared most in the world happened.  Technically, I failed.  Not only did I not get the job, I didn't even get an interview.  Not only did I not even get an interview, the Editor said he didn't like my writing style.  At all.  Now put that ice cream back in the freezer because this is where it gets good.  When I failed, when I was rejected, when I was told I wasn't good enough the world didn't come to an end.  It didn't change the axis on which it was rotating.  It didn't get sucked into a black hole.  And, most importantly, it didn't make me want to give up; didn't make me want to crawl into bed and pull the covers up over my head; didn't make me vow never to write another word.  It didn't even make me want ice cream.  Okay, whoa!  Let's not get crazy here. I always want ice cream.

I guess what I'm trying to say is the anticipation of failure and rejection was much worse than actually experiencing it.  And now?  That fear no longer has the power to keep me from chasing my dreams.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Landscape of a Dream

Well Canucks?  Are you feeling patriotic?  I am.

I know there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Games of Vancouver 2010.  There have been complaints and protests about the taxpayers dollars and the $177 million that went into a training initiative for our athletes. I get that. But on the other hand if you were able to attend any of the torch relay celebrations as the torch crossed our country you stood madly waving little red flags, cheering at the top of your lungs, in a sea of people, whose hearts were all united behind one idea: Canada.  Our home and native land. In the words of Shane Koyczan, "an experiment gone right." I think more than a sea-to-sky highway, more than better transit and sport facilities in Vancouver, more than exposure to the world, what the Olympics is doing is bringing us together and helping us define our nation.

As Canadians we are often criticized for being unpatriotic, especially compared to our American counterparts.  We rarely sing our anthem at the top of our lungs, we criticize our military, Canada Day Celebrations and voting booths are poorly attended.  Although we are united under the red and white maple leaf we are more like a collection of sovereign states that happen to be geographically near each other than a unified whole.

Americans pledge "one people under God, indivisible." The Separatists have taught us that our unification even after 142 years is still fragile, uncertain.  Having spent most of my childhood in the Yukon and then my teenage years in BC I feel absolutely no connection to the East.  Eavesdropping on the adults at parties meant I heard many a conversation that perhaps BC should follow Quebec's lead.  The Celtic traditions of the Maritimes is a foreign concept for a kid who grew up with drumming circles, school potlatches and field trips to totem poles.

I feel as Canadians that we have struggled with our national identity and how to bring our disparate and diverse parts together into a strong and unified whole.  I thought the Opening Ceremonies did a great job of being Canadian in all it's facets.  And I thought it spoke beautifully of our connection with the physical elements of our land and how the elements have shaped us as a nation and as individuals. It was a feast for the eyes. It stirred my spirit.  It made me proud of this nation that I love, proud to be Canadian.  And you can't put a price on that.

You can't put a price on unity.  You can't put a price on national pride.  Because when we are proud of our country we care what happens to it.  We vote.  We volunteer.  We raise children who are convinced they can contribute and make their country a better place.  This is not about Vancouver 2010.  This is about Canada.   The true north strong and free.

And yes, we say zed, not zee.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The process of cutting another apron string.

It's that time. Kindergarten registration looms ever closer. Our kids could have gone to school this year but they have a later birthday and emotionally they are young five-year-olds so we decided to wait. Already I am so glad we waited, already I know it was the right thing to do. But we can put it off no longer. They will start school this coming September and choosing a school has been an exciting and scary ride all at the same time.

Someone recently described to me how they picture the transition from home to Kindergarten. Your child walks out a door of love and trust and safety and gets hit in the face with a bucket full of ice water. Welcome to the real world, SUCKA! When we started thinking about sending our innocent, trusting, sheltered little souls into the dog-eat-dog world of playground politics I have to admit I was severely tempted to homeschool. For about a day. And then after practicing letters for a few minutes with a boy who was trying to write with his arm hovering above the table I decided public school punks with bad attitudes and bad language are way less damaging than a mom yelling, "I said to rest your arm on the table! The table! THE TABLE! Look how shaky your lines are! You have to put your arm down on the table. The. Table. Arm. On table. The table. PUT YOUR ARM ON THE FRIGGIN' TABLE!"

We narrowed our choices down to the two schools closest to us since I don't want to have to drive 40 minutes round trip if someone forgets their snowpants. Up for consideration was a Catholic school and a Public school. Let me break them down for you before I tell you what we decided.

Tour #1. Catholic School which we will call St. A's.
Frankly the fact we were even considering Catholic school was a surprise to me as I had never imagined my kids going anywhere but public school and we are certainly not Catholic. But I had a good friend whose daughter had already spent two great years there and in those two years I heard enough about the ordinary day-to-day experiences to make me love St. A's. So we called and spoke to a very friendly secretary and set up an appointment to tour the school. The school itself is one long hallway of classrooms and reminded me strongly of the little elementary school I went to. Which, big points on the nostalgia factor. The Principal there is one of the most kind and caring individuals I have ever met. He knows every student's name in the school, interrupted every single class to introduce us to the teachers and introduce the kids to the students and halfway through the tour Sebastian, our two-year-old, was asking him for "up, up." The kids in the classes seemed bright and happy, St. A's literacy program is excellent, their playground is well supervised and the school motto is "Be Great In The Small Things". You had me at HELLO!

Compare and contrast if you will when I called the public school, which I will refer to as JH, to book a tour. Firstly I had to go through an automated system - press 1, press 2 etcetera. Then when I pressed zero for the receptionist the phone rang and rang and rang. It rang long enough that I started to prepare a message to leave on the machine. And then it continued to ring and I started to wonder if they even had an answering machine and if I should hang up or let it ring some more. I had just decided to hang up when, I am not even remotely exaggerating, Marge Simpson's sister picked up and barked/coughed, "HELLO." Startled I held the phone out to make sure I had called the right number and then tentatively introduced myself and explained why I was calling. Her response? (You need to read this like you've been smoking for 100 years to really get a feel for the conversation.) "YOU WANNA SEE THE SCHOOL? OKAY. SURE. COME IN. WELL MAYBE YOU NEED AN APPOINTMENT. I DON'T KNOW IF YOU NEED AN APPOINTMENT. YOU MIGHT NEED AN APPOINTMENT. I'D ASK THE PRINCIPAL BUT I CAN'T. SHE'S NOT HERE. NEITHER IS THE VICE PRINCIPAL. THEY'RE NOT HERE."

Understandably I was put off and in that moment had just solidified our decision to go with St. A's when she said, "MAYBE YOU COULD CALL BACK TOMORROW WHEN THE SECRETARY IS BACK IN." Sigh of relief. Marge's sister is not the secretary. When we did get to JH to go on our tour it was the secretary who gave it. This secretary, the Not-Marge's-Sister secretary, was honestly not much better than Marge's sister. When I asked her if she could tell us a bit about their literacy program and about some of their literacy strategies her response was, "We strongly believe in literacy." Well that's good. I was afraid for a moment we might have been considering the only school in the country that didn't believe in literacy. What a relief.

When we met the Principal the secretary didn't use either our names or the Principal's name so I didn't know the Principal's name until we read through the school handbook on the way home. Neither the secretary, the Principal or the Vice Principal asked our kid's their names and we didn't get to meet any of the Kindergarten teachers. However the Principal did grow on me as we talked and I found her much warmer than I originally thought she was going to be. And when we peeked into the music room the Grade 4's were playing African drums and not triangles or maracas which is what elementary school music consisted of for me. The classrooms are bright and each one has five or six computers, the playground is enormous and brand new and Kindergarten kids get Grade 4 reading buddies to help them feel comfortable around the older kids on the playground.

Walking out of JH I was much more torn than I thought I would be. I assumed that when we walked the halls of JH it would just confirm to us that St. A's was absolutely, positively the school for us. I'm not sure what I was expecting the public school to be like but my imagination had conjured up a Lord of the Flies type environment where chaos and mean girls in high heels and blue eyeshadow reined. My entire school education was at public school and besides a few miserable, lonely months when the queen bee of elementary school cast me out of her royal presence and declared me persona non grata, I liked school. So I'm not sure why I had come up with this mental picture except perhaps that everyone is always saying how kids are so much different these days, so much harder to handle, show so little respect. Shockingly, none of the kids who filed past us on their way to library were wearing eyeshadow, blue or otherwise. Amazingly, the windows we peeked through showed classes in perfect order. We didn't even get one black look or middle finger. Who knew public school was so....non-threatening? Walking out of JH I realized the kids would truly be fine in either school.

So what did we decide on in the end? It took us about a week and a couple of conversations with my mom to decide. When I talked to my mom about the differences in Principals and secretaries between the two schools she reminded me how little contact I had with either in my school experiences and that their individual teachers would be more important in forming Tristan and Ava's view of school. One of the Kindergarten teachers at JH also has a music degree and incorporates a lot of music into her lessons which I know my kids would really respond to. Plus class size at JH is more controlled. There is a maximum of 16 kids per class until Grade 3 and each class gets a teacher and an aide. When I bemoaned to my mom the kids not getting to experience the St. A's Principal she said she understood and reminded me of the dynamic and charismatic Principal I had in elementary school. Interestingly when I had been thinking of my elementary school Principal I had been drawing a complete blank. I couldn't even remember if the Principal had been a man or woman. Obviously not a big impact in my life, obviously not something to choose a school over. JH has another thing going for it. It's bigger than St. A's. This year there is three Kindergarten classes to St. A's one. A bigger school means all the good things like more options, more programs, more provincial funding etc. But it also means should some queen bee at some time oust Ava she won't have to sit alone on the playground wishing she had other options for friends.

Underlining all these considerations is the fact that we want our kids to go to the public highschool up in our area (should we still live here when that time comes). It's a really good school with a lot of sports and arts options and opportunities like overseas exchanges and school trips to New York. Bottom line, in this city you don't feed from Catholic elementary school to Public highschool. Personally I would not want to have to start over on the friend department in Grade 7. Kind of a tender age emotionally if you know what I mean. So with all that being said we chose, drum roll please.....JH, public school, and couldn't be happier with our decision. True to form Tristan is excited about gym class and getting to play on the playground everyday and Ava is excited about getting to eat lunch at school and having an after-school snack.

Initially Tristan and Ava didn't want to go to JH. They wanted to go to St. A's because they took to the Principal so strongly but when I told them he wouldn't be their teacher and the gym and playground at JH were way bigger they were sold. Isn't it great how easily convinced kids are? Oh my gosh. They're easily convinced. What if some kid convinces them they shouldn't like their parents? Or listen to their teachers? Or that all the cool kids smoke? What if they hate it? What if someone is mean to them?

Why did I think homeschooling wasn't a good idea again?