How I’ve Become My Parents

Memoir Mondays

Courtesy of The Daily Post:
Do you ever find yourself doing something your parents used to do when you were a kid, despite the fact that you hated it back then?


Upon my first glance at this prompt I would say that I’m really not all that much like my parents at all, but that’s not likely since the overwhelming majority of people turn out to be very, very much like their forebears. My reaction, then, is probably just a result of the fact that, in general, most people never really see their parents in themselves. Parents often see themselves in their children, but children often deny it vehemently. For instance, when I was younger I was constantly being told how much I look like my father. It was absolutely true – I look much more like my father than my mother – but I denied it like my life depended on it because what I was hearing was that people thought I looked like a man.

But I’m a grown adult now, so I should be mature and reasonable enough to accept that yes, there are things about me that are just like my parents, even the parts that drove me insane as a kid. So let’s just sit back and think about it for a moment…

Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that, as an adult, I have a pretty intense hatred of snow. It’s funny because as a child I loved snow so much that I would spend hours out playing in it until my nose turned blue, and it would drive me up the wall when my parents would complain about it and wish for it all to melt. I still love snow in the sense of it making the world feel Christmasy, and it’s adorable to watch my daughter play in it, but after a few short weeks of shoveling, and poor road conditions, and delayed flights I begin to develop a hatred that would rival the intensity of a small sun.

Another thing, which will probably give my parents a good chuckle, is that I can’t stand when my kid is being “saucy” (i.e. talking back). I was an outrageously saucy kid myself, and I hated how my parents would always get so mad at me for it, because in my mind I was just telling it like it is and/or standing up for myself. But nowadays I catch myself seething with barely-contained rage when my daughter gets saucy. I try to tell myself that she’s just saying things as she sees them, but like most parents I can’t help but feel like she’s being a saucy little brat and she damn well knows it.

Something that’s more specific to my mom: my temper. I feel pretty strongly that I’m significantly better at keeping mine than she is (yeah, you heard me, mom), but I’ve definitely inherited her ability to Hulk-out. When I was a kid I used to think she was nuts; sometimes it felt like she was getting unrealistically angry at me for no good reason. Now I find myself in the opposite position…I’ll be fine many times in a row, but then there will be this one little thing that my husband or daughter says or does that snaps something inside my brain and makes me want to put my fist through a wall. The key is that I manage to not punch any walls (or anything else), which is now something that I can appreciate she was capable of as well.

And something more specific to my dad: a complete inability to read instructions properly, in particular when building something. It always used to drive me mad when I’d be helping him build something and he’d skip a step, resulting in a need to backtrack and deconstruct several steps before being able to continue. Now, for whatever reason, I seem to have become the exact same way. It’s like I’m genetically predisposed to glaze over certain crucial information whenever it comes to household furniture and appliances. Honestly, it’s rather quite amazing that my husband has never murdered me while attempting to put up shelving or a new installation in the house.

I’m sure there are many more things that I can’t see. I’m sure my husband could point out a few, and I’m quite certain my parents will have compiled a mental list if they’re reading this post. Hell, my daughter could probably point out a similarity or two. But I’ll end it here, because I’m feeling a strong urge to go out and reconfirm my individuality. ^_~

How are you like your parents? Don’t be shy now, go ahead and share!

A Memorable Idea

This past weekend was full and tiring. My parents visited Friday night, and two awesome friends visited Saturday night. There was drinking and eating and cleaning up before and after visits, and between all that we had the baby outside in her pool, going for walks and playing with the neighbor’s grandkids. In addition to all that I had a hard time sleeping Friday night, and we were up drinking and playing foolish trivia games until 3 am on Saturday night, so I’ve developed a rather debilitating sleep debt.

This is currently the face of my jealousy.
This is currently the face of my jealousy.

So it is with bags under my eyes and an enormous yawn on my lips that I sat down at my laptop and struggled to think of something to blog about for today. I considered a number of previously-planned options that made my head hurt because I am simply too tired to deal with them right now. I thought about reading the first chapter of The Artist’s Way and talking about that, but it turns out that there are half a dozen introduction chapters that seem pretty important before you get to the actual program part of the book, and my addled brain can’t really handle that at the moment. I thought about simply writing about my weekend, about the tomfoolery that occurs when the husband and I get together with our friends and some good liquor, but I couldn’t figure out how to work that into anything coherent and interesting.

With those ideas set aside, I thought I’d mention something that I had been meaning to bring up for a while. It’s an idea I came up with one day a while ago, something that’s one part memory exercise, one part mental therapy, and one part keepsake-that-can-be-helpful-when-writing.

I call it a Memory Book, for lack of something cooler. I don’t remember when or why I came up with the idea, but one day I picked up a pretty notebook and a nice pen, and I began writing down memories. I don’t make the memories long and complicated; they’re generally just a one-or-two-liner that gives the basic idea. For instance, I might write, “That time I decided to roller-blade to school, but the hill was too steep and I ended up having to admit defeat.”

The memories can be good ones (“The first time Jason told me he loved me…he looked so cute and nervous!”) or bad ones (“The first time I left for out West and I was waiting for the plane while struggling not to cry.”) or just random things from my past that mean nothing but that are non-the-less cluttering up my brain (“The time our cabin water was shut down so we kept having to collect stream water in buckets in order to be able to flush the toilet.”). Any random memory that I can think of can end up in the book.

So what’s the point?

Well, for one thing it exercises my memory (which has gone so downhill over the past six or seven years of my life) to bring up information that might be buried deep; alternatively, re-reading it allows me to recall things I may have allowed myself to forget about.

For another thing, it can be very therapeutic. Instead of struggling to think of something to write for my works-in-progress or my blog, I can just sit with this notebook and spill out information that’s already in my head, like a mental Spring Cleaning.

And lastly, having this notebook handy has actually been helpful to my writing. See, one of the hardest aspects of writing fiction (in my opinion) is coming up with relatable characters, people whom the readers will love and sympathize with. Part of this is making the characters feel more real, and in the past I’ve been able to accomplish this by using my Memory Book and juicing the memories up a bit to craft pasts for my characters. Why is a certain character so shy? Because of this embarrassing event, stolen from my Memory Book and blown up a bit to make it sound even more mortifying. How did two other characters meet? Steal something from the Memory Book and spruce up the details a bit. See what I’m saying?

A Memory Book might not be useful for everyone, but it’s been useful for me in several ways, so I thought I’d share and invite everyone to give it a try. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy…it could be a Dollar Store notebook tucked into your purse or wallet, or a Word file on your computer. You can write about any kind of memories you like, and you can write quick one-liners like me or write a whole page for each. Whatever makes it work for you.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear from you!

Keep Yourself Out of Internet Mud…or You Might Never Get Clean Again

As previously mentioned, I’ve been taking a bit of time to read some “craft books” on writing, and the first one I’ve been looking at is Kristen Lamb’s Rise of the Machines. The focus of her book is social media and how writers can use it to create a working “author platform”, but she also touches on other subjects such as traditional vs. indie publishing, marketing, and occasionally a little bit of (related) neuroscience. Yeah, you heard me.

One of the side-topics that has come up in what I’ve read so far (enjoying it so much!) is this idea of ruining your platform without even realizing it. In other words, turning your name to mud by accident. In a world where everything can be re-Tweeted half a million times before you blink, it’s easy for one stupid mistake to go viral and effectively ruin your good name for, well, for good. This doesn’t only apply to writers (or the celebrities we so often see spiraling the metaphorical toilet bowl); it applies to everyone. That’s why I wanted to talk about it today, because this is the kind of thing that everyone should know, but which most people never think about.

I’ve spoken before about how anonymity does not truly exist on the internet and how we should watch what we do and say because it can come back to bite us in the ass. In that previous post I was focused on what I called “The Golden Internet Rule”, which is simply “don’t be a jerk on the internet”. This time I’m not talking specifically about being a jerk, but simply about understanding that whatever you choose to talk about on the internet has now become searchable, findable, and quite possibly eternal.

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Don’t want to be wearing this for the rest of your days, do you?

I’ll give a personal example, because what better way to show people what you mean than by sharing your own morbid embarrassment?

When I was in university, studying to be a technologist, I had ups and downs. I had chosen my path partially on a whim because of a stressful situation (the course I had originally chosen was cancelled two months before the start of the semester, so I had to pick something else quick or simply not go to school). The result was that I often wondered if I’d chosen the right thing, whether or not I should drop out and choose something else, and was I really suited for this kind of career? I kept pressing forward because change is scary, and eventually I found myself in the fourth and final year of program, having an all-out panic attack. It began to occur to me that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. I didn’t know what kind of jobs I was even qualified for, how I would go about applying for them, where the work would end up taking me, or whether I would even be any good in the field. Sure I’d made pretty great grades in school, but the real world is a lot different from the class world. I didn’t know what kind of work I would be doing, but I was pretty confident it would not be writing short lines of computer code to set tiny LED lights to flash on and off at timed intervals.

One night when I was particularly stressed, I went online to a forum that I frequented in those days. I wrote a long post about my concerns, my worries, my stress level. I ranted about things like “wasting time and money on a degree I don’t even understand” and how I would disappoint my parents if I suddenly up and decided to do something different, and how I was terrified of the idea that I might have to move away from home for a job and “why oh why didn’t I choose a career path with a clearer future?!”

It was a rant born of stress, passion, and an overwhelming desire for someone to wrap their virtual arms around me and say that it was going to be okay. I did get that virtual hug from my virtual companions, but I also made a teeny tiny mistake. Within the confines of that rant, I used my full, real name. It wasn’t a concern because most of the folks on this forum knew my real name anyway, but in this particular post I wrote one line that described what my diploma would look like when I graduated, with my full name in the center of it. I added that bit in to make a point concerning my rant, but I didn’t consider what adding my full name in actually did to that post.

Haven’t figured it out yet?

It made me instantaneously  and easily locatable on Google.

For the most part this was a non-issue. I was a nobody that no one cared about. Who would even go looking up my name on Google, and if they did find my post, why would they care? At least that’s what I thought until someone did happen to Google my name and did click on the link that led them to my post. It was my uncle. I can’t recall the reason that he searched my name in the first place, but when he did he happened upon my post, read it, and subsequently wrote me a very long, very concerned email.

I was mortified.

My uncle was just trying to be helpful and calm my concerns, and he was very sweet. That’s not the mortifying part. The mortifying part was that he read my post in the first place. When I wrote that post it was with the intentions that only my internet friends ever see it. I just wanted a little bit of anonymous support from people who I never had to deal with face-to-face. For good or ill, I’ve never been the kind of person who can share their pains and emotions with their closest loved ones, so when one of those close loved ones found my whining, complaining, melodramatic post I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. And while in this case I had the opportunity to go back and change what I’d written (posts on this forum were editable), in another place I may have been stuck with what I’d written forever.

This is what we’re dealing with when we put ourselves out there on the internet, and my example is absolutely nothing compared to what some people have put themselves through. Every one of you reading this right now has seen at least one photo of someone who uploaded their pic on a social network site only to realize later that there was something excruciatingly embarrassing about it. One particular photo that comes to mind is of a teenage girl who took a “selfie” of herself and uploaded it to Facebook before noticing that her vibrator was sitting in plain view in the corner of the pic. As if that’s not mortifying enough, before she noticed it dozens of people had copied it and posted it elsewhere. The picture went viral. Because this girl failed to take a few seconds to actually look at the photo before posting it, she is now an internet meme that will never die.

Whatever you say, whatever you post, whatever you do, it only takes one opportunist to back-up your mistake on his computer before you can backtrack. In this way the internet is forever. Ask anyone who has ever found themselves depicted as a cruel jape on sites like 9gag. It doesn’t matter how much you beg or cry or scream, you can’t erase something from the internet once people have decided to use it at your expense. Even if it is an extreme example and you have grounds for legal action, it only takes one person to store the quote/pic/post away to whip out again at a later date. And the bigger a deal you make out of trying to abolish a bad rep, the bigger a deal people will make out of making sure that it never dies.

This is why we have to be careful, not only when dealing with touchy issues like religion and politics, or when letting our tempers get the best of us online. We also have to be careful with everything we say or do on the internet. Before you say or post or upload, step back and think. Think about how you would feel if your parents (or your children) happened across your post. Think about the repercussions if your employer saw that pic. Think about the veritable shit storm you might inadvertently stir up with your status update.

Basically, just THINK. It’s something we don’t do enough of these days, and with the Internet playing the part of devil’s advocate, one stupid mistake can mean that you name is mud for a very, very long time.

Have you ever said or did something on the internet that came back on you in an embarrassing or painful way? Do you know anyone else who has had to deal with this kind of unintentional reputation ruining? Thoughts and comments?

Accountability Tuesdays – Week 26

Two things to mention before I get to the heart of the matter today. First of all, it’s week number 26! That means I’m halfway through the year! And while I’m nowhere near where I would need to be to be on track with my million word goal, I’ve written more in the past six months than in the previous 2 years combined! But more on that later.

The other thing I want to mention is that as you are reading this I am packing up my last couple of bits and bobbles from the control room at work, chucking it all in a backpack, and awaiting the bus that will return me to camp where I’ll giddily await my plane home. My last plane home. That’s not to say that I won’t end up back out in Alberta for work in a few months or so, but for now I’m heading home with nothing on the horizon except spending quality time with my family and maybe enjoying a number of alcoholic beverages from the comfort of my back deck. Look upon me and be in awe, for I am officially ON VACATION!

Okay, that’s enough of that. 🙂

Health and Body Image Goal

I’ve been a bit on the ins and outs with this goal, unfortunately, but I’m still not doing too badly. As I mentioned last week I did, in fact, drag myself to the gym and try running on the treadmill. It wasn’t ideal, but acceptable. I figured that’s what I’d do until my stomach felt better. But then my stomach felt worse. I don’t know if it’s the actual physical exertion that’s bothering me, or if it’s the camp food (which, thank god, I won’t be enjoying any more of any time soon), or if I’ve been suffering from some as-yet-diagnosed condition inherited from my sickly parents (love you guys, really :P), but I’ve hardly been able to stand leaving my room in the morning and suffering through the bus ride to work, never mind exercising on top of that. Luckily, about two days ago, my symptoms seemed to subside and I’ve felt halfway decent since then, so here’s hoping all will be well when I get home and try to run around my neighborhood again.

All that said, I’ve still been managing to eat pretty well. I’ve had a cookie here, some pop there, but for the most part I’ve been eating decent food (or as decent as it gets on camp) and not too much of it. I haven’t weighed or measured myself recently because I doubt I’ve lost anything during my refusal-to-exercise days, but I’ve recently had an unusual number of coworkers tell me that I look like I’ve lost weight, so I’m just going to go ahead and say, “Woohoo! I look like I’ve lost weight!”

Editing Goal

I have a stupid, STUPID confession to make. I did try to get some editing done this week, I swear, I really did. But when I finally took out my tablet and opened up the files I transferred there for editing purposes, I discovered something idiotic. Of the four different word-processor-ish apps I have on my tablet, none of them open rtf files. Guess what format all my files are in? After two days of searching for an Android program that DOES open rtf files (for free, because screw that, I’m not paying for an app that I only need for a week) I gave up and admitted defeat. Apparently the world of tablets and smartphones does not believe in the existence of rtf files. So the editing will have to wait for this coming week. Grr.

1,000,000 Word Goal

I have been writing like a maniac this week, mostly due to my rediscovery of 750Words.com. I don’t know what it is, but I love just typing and typing and typing and watching the word counter go up. It’s addictive. Over the course of the week I’ve written blog posts, typed out a few scenes for Returning Hope, did a couple of writing exercises, and did a little bit of free-writing (i.e. writing whatever came to my head as it came to my head). Through all of this combined I managed to once again beat my best week score with a total word count of 16556. In addition to that, I’m happy to announce that I’ve reached a yearly total so far of over 165,000. Again, it’s nowhere near where I need to be for my goal, but it’s a heck of a lot more than I normally would have written, so I’m proud. Revel in my pride! Only six months to go to try and boost that total up as high as I can!

And with that said, I plan to spend the next several hours in the lounge at camp, with my feet up, reading A Dance With Dragons, and waiting for my final flight home. See you soon, Cape Breton!

Gender Insignificant

Gender stereotypes.

Paying attention? I’d be willing to bet that you are because these two words, when combined, create panic attacks and mass hysteria, especially when applied to children.

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You said it, Joker.

Gender stereotypes are something that I’ve personally never played into. As a little girl I was a bit of a tomboy who preferred pants to skirts, blue to pink, and climbing trees to tea parties, but I also liked baby dolls and My Little Pony. I grew up to become a woman working in a male dominated field, but I do so wearing red lipstick and nail polish. I guess you could say that I’m a feminine tomboy. Does that make sense? Sure it does. Move on already, geeze.

I just happened to turn out the way I am through neither the fault nor the effort of my parents or the other people in my life. My mom tried to get me to wear more girlie clothes, but I mostly vetoed her; my slew of male cousins tried to get me into things like fishing and shooting pellet guns, but I never really caught on to those things. I was pretty adamant that I liked what I liked, and to hell with the rest.

When I was a kid the topic of gender stereotypes didn’t really exist as far as I was concerned, but now that I have a child of my own, I see the argument in a much different light. It makes me raise a critical eyebrow.

People are absolutely nuts when it comes to the gender stereotype issue. Absolutely nuts.

There are two major groups that I can discern. The first are the people who cling to the gender stereotypes. These people believe that girls belong in pink skirts, and boys in blue pants. They believe that girls should play with dolls and boys with trucks. Girls should be gentle and sensitive, boys should be rough and tough. Girls grow up to be mothers who take care of the household, boys grow up to be the providers. To the minds of these people, any deviation from the norm is some kind of horrible character flaw. They’re terrified that allowing children to experience anything outside their gender’s “rulebook” will create ultra-feminists and flamboyant gays, which is a concept that, aside from being just ridiculously prejudiced and bigoted, couldn’t be any less based in actual fact.

Second, you have the other side who take it to the exact opposite extreme. These people think that kids who stick to concepts that are traditionally labeled to their gender makes them somehow socially backward. A little girl who dreams of being a princess is an embarrassment to “enlightened” women. A little boy who likes superheroes is automatically a typical testosterone-laden chauvinist. By choosing to embrace things that fall into the stereotypes we’ve grown up with for decades, these kids are thought to be some kind of terrible example of the rampant sexism in the world and people’s unwillingness to advance.

Does anyone beside me think that both of these types of people are a little looney?

You want to know what I think? (Well it doesn’t matter because it’s my blog and I’m going to tell you anyway!) I think that, for a change, we should just stand back and let the kids make their own decisions as to what to surround themselves with. Give them the opportunity and let them figure it out on their own what they like, instead of what you think they should like. I promise you that what toys he plays with does not decide whether your little boy is going to be a vicious brute or be sexually confused, and that your little girl is not going to become a vapid slut or develop unhealthy female body expectations just because she happens to like Barbie dolls.

I’ve said this before, but kids aren’t born understanding things like stereotypes and prejudice; they learn it because we inflict it upon them. The choices they make on their own are innocent, free of our perceived consequences. If a little girl likes trucks it’s not because she’s too masculine, nor does it mean she’s a strong, enlightened woman; it’s because trucks are fun toys. That’s it. End of discussion. If a little boy likes to play with tea sets it does not mean that he’s destined to be gay, nor does it mean that he’s advanced and in touch with his feminine side; it means that tea sets are fun toys. Honestly, that’s really all that goes through a child’s mind:

“Is it fun? No? Get that crap away from me!”

“Is it fun? Yes? Gimmi gimmi gimmi!”

Kids learn from us, and it’s our habit of focusing on gender stereotypes that is the real problem. By making a big deal out of it, one way or the other, we reinforce that this is an issue and it therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Seriously, if we would just pretend that the issue doesn’t even exist and let kids figure out what they enjoy on their own, it’ll be much, much easier on everyone. I promise.

(And yes, before any smart-asses point it out, I realize that I am, by way of this blog post, “focusing on the issue”. You know what I mean; stop being purposely contradictory.)

My daughter is now 2 and a half. We’ve imposed nothing on her (except for, obviously, we’re the ones who have been buying her clothes), and she is one of the most well-rounded toddlers I know. She loves reading books and she loves running and jumping. She has tea parties and she has water gun fights. She loves her My Little Pony t-shirts and she loves her Ninja Turtles pajamas. She likes purple and pink, and blue and green. Her mother is on the other side of the country two weeks out of every four, and her father is a stay-at-home-dad, and you know what? It hasn’t affected her one bit…because why would it?

It’s time to stop pushing our kids to be the way we believe they should be and let them figure out who they want to be. Wouldn’t you have wanted that as a child, had you been given the choice? Please share your thoughts and comments!

Cherish What You’ve Got

These days parents tend to be needlessly overprotective of their kids. They’re terrified of germs, they lose their minds if their child gets a cut or a bruise, and they refuse to let their children have any independence for fear of something horrible happening. To these people I point out that children are not, in fact, made of glass, and that making mistakes and getting hurt every now and then are important parts of childhood.

But this post is not about how kids are not as delicate as we make them out to be. This post is about how kids are not invincible.

When we become parents for the first time we take a lot of things for granted. We expect to watch our little bundles of joy grow and learn. We expect to see them start, and finish, school. We expect to someday see them find the perfect person, get married, and have children of their own. We expect that as long as we love them, teach them, encourage them, and take care of them that they’ll grow into happy, healthy adults. We expect that someday, far in the future when we’re very old, that we’ll pass on and leave our beautiful legacy behind us.

No one expects their child to leave them before any of these things can come to pass.

A little over a week ago I got some awful news: my cousin’s son lost his battle with sickness and passed away. He would have been seven years old at the end of this month.

I am not close with this cousin – in fact I very rarely ever see her – and I’d never met her little boy, but when I got word that he was gone from this world my throat went dry and I felt terribly ill. No parent should have to suffer the pain of losing a child, especially when that child is still a child. I can’t even fathom the pain my cousin is going through right now and I just hope that someday that pain lessens, though I know it will never leave her completely.

In the days following this terrible news I think I hugged and kisses my daughter a hundred times a day. I probably spent twice as much time on the floor playing with her, and when she was bad I couldn’t find it in me to get mad. I was haunted with the idea of what it might be like to lose her, because even when she’s pushing every single one of my buttons, she’s still my beautiful, precious little princess. But then I began to think: it shouldn’t take a tragedy to remind me of that fact.

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I mean, come on…how precious is that?

As much as we wish it could be otherwise, our children are not invincible. Sometimes terrible, cruel, unfair things happen. Knowing this doesn’t mean that we should coddle our kids or make their lives miserable by being ridiculously overprotective. It simply means that we should cherish them…for as long as we are given the chance.

Kids will do wrong. They’ll be brats. They’ll be unreasonable and insufferable, and do things that make us want to pull our hair out. They’ll do everything they can to make us lose or minds, and we will: we’ll get mad and frustrated and we’ll lose our cool. That’s life and it’s part of parenthood and childhood. But beyond those moments, take a breath, look at your children, and cherish that they are in your life. They are the most precious thing in the world, and it should never, ever, take a tragedy like what my cousin is going through for you to realize that.

A Childish Memory: Blessing or Curse?

I often say that when dealing with kids we should try very hard to remember what it was like to be one. I honestly believe that this is very good advice, but sometimes it can also be a bit of a curse.

When I was a little kid, I had a hard time sharing. Actually, I should reword that: I didn’t have a problem sharing when it came to other kids’ toys, but I was awful about it when it came to my own toys. The problem, I suspect, stemmed from when I was quite young and my cousin hid my Playskool flashlight while we were both staying at our grandmother’s house. When my parents came to pick me up it was still hidden and he insisted that he couldn’t remember where he’d put it. My grandmother did manage to find it before we left, but I was freaking out there for a few minutes because the thought of leaving a toy behind was absolutely unthinkable. It might seem like an innocuous event, but remember that small things can feel like a big, big deal to a kid. From that day forward I had formulated the belief that if I let other kids touch my toys they would hide them, steal them, or break them. Not a good attitude, but one I was powerless to expel from my head.

Now that I’m a parent, surprisingly, I find this attitude is still very much prevalent in the back of my mind. Recently we had our niece stay over for a night, and the two girls had a blast together, but every so often our niece would start playing with (what was evidently) the wrong thing, and my daughter would have a mini-breakdown. The first time it was her My Little Ponies. She had five of them lined up on the table in front of her when Niece ran over and took one to put in the farmhouse play set. Daughter looked like she was going to have the tantrum of a lifetime, complete with big, sooky, quivering lip. She couldn’t have looked any more upset if Niece had tossed the toy in a bonfire while laughing maniacally.

So here’s where “parent” brain began to have a vicious duel-to-the-death with “I totally remember exactly what it felt like to be in that position” brain. Of course I had to tell Daughter that she had to share, and that it was going to be fine, that she could have her pony back when Niece was done with it. But in my mind, while looking into those tear-filled little eyes, I was positively screaming bloody murder. Niece did absolutely nothing wrong (Daughter wasn’t even really playing with the pony at the time…it just happened to be physically in front of her), but my natural instinct was to tell Niece that the pony belonged to Daughter and to give it back right now.

This, my friends, is the curse of remembering (truly remembering) what it felt like to be a kid. Every time I try to teach my daughter a life lesson I get vivid flashes of memories from my own parents trying to do the same thing. The result is that I recall how frustrating it was to go through that as a child, as well as experiencing how frustrating it is from the adult’s point-of-view right this minute. It’s really just a vicious cycle of never-ending frustration.

Here’s another example to prove this wasn’t an isolated incident: food. I can remember, quite clearly in fact, my mother demanding that I eat my carrots when I was little. I hated carrots, and I couldn’t understand what was so damn important about my consuming them, especially when my father would side with me by saying things like, “There’s no point in trying to force it down her throat if she doesn’t like it.” Nowadays, here I am dealing with a picky eater who doesn’t even want to try things, and while I know that she has to have variety and that she can’t just get out of supper every night by saying she doesn’t like it, I keep flashing back to those feelings of, “Why would you force me to eat something I hate?!

I still believe that remembering what it’s like to be a kid is a good thing, but having too vivid a memory can definitely interrupt parental instinct a bit, and this is something I have a lot of trouble with. I’m working through it one instance at a time (while grinding my teeth down to little nubs), but it’s harder than it sounds.

Do you remember what it felt like to be a kid? Do you think that this makes it easier or harder to deal with children now that you’re grown? Do you ever have to restrain yourself from having childish outbursts because of how you acted as a kid? Please share!

Things I Know About Kids – Learning

First, I feel I should point out that I have done no real research on the topic of learning capabilities in small children, nor have I read any research done by others. What I know I’ve learned from my own daughter, and to a lesser extent my niece and the children we see at playgroup.

With that aside, what I know is that we as a society have a bad habit of underestimating small children. We follow guidelines that tell us what skills our kids should know and by when, we buy age-specific toys based on assessments made by the companies who designed them, and we get upset if our kids haven’t learned a specific skill by a specific time, even if they’ve become quite advanced in a different skill in the meantime.

In other words, we group all children together, expecting them to learn and grow at the same rate, and limiting them by focusing on only the skills we’re told they should have by now. I personally think this is very silly because, while you shouldn’t push your children to “learn learn learn learn learn!!!” you should always encourage them to go further and further.

I’ll give you an example. My daughter has a wooden alphabet puzzle. The back of the puzzle board states that the puzzle is for ages 3 and up. At the time we purchased the puzzle I thought that “ages 3 and up” couldn’t possibly refer to any kind of safety issue because the puzzle pieces are quite large, and a quick examination showed that there is no way the pegs could possibly become disconnected. When the safety check was all clear we gave our daughter the puzzle to play with…at the time she was just under a year old. Yes, we gave our one year old a toy that someone, somewhere, decided was meant for three year olds and up. We weren’t pushing the learning toy on her, and we certainly didn’t expect giving it to her to make her a genius or anything; we just figured it was a good, educational toy that she’d enjoy playing with. But here’s the thing…she caught on pretty fast. It only took her a few weeks to be able to locate where the pieces went, and by the time she was just under a year and a half old we had her telling us what all the letters were as she was doing the puzzle. It didn’t take long after that for her to understand that letters naturally went in a particular order, and if I wrote down letters she’d tell me which ones came next.

There were other factors that contributed to her success, of course… For one thing we took the time to sit with her and tell her what all the letters were. For another she also regularly watched a Sesame Street special that teaches kids the alphabet. But the point of the story is that if we had set the puzzle aside, assuming that she wouldn’t be able to understand it until she was at least three years old, she might not have caught on to the alphabet so soon. If we took it upon ourselves to assume that the Sesame Street special was too advanced for her, she wouldn’t be THIS close to being able to sing the whole alphabet song at less than two and a half years old (imagine me holding my fingers a few millimeters apart).

Again, I’m not saying my kid is a genius, but I can absolutely say with certainty that she has advanced faster than expected because we don’t hold back teaching her new things just because she’s still young. We make sure her toys are safe, and if we buy her something meant for older kids (Ninja Turtles action figures and My Little Pony sets come to mind) we make sure to remove any small pieces she might decide to swallow for fun. Once those two things have been accomplished, we let her play with what she’s interested in, and we encourage her to learn new things. In fact, she and her soon-to-be-four-year-old cousin can work my Samsung Galaxy Tab2 better than some adults I know.

Kids are sponges, they really are. We regularly take this into consideration when taking care not to transfer bad habits, but we rarely think about it when considering teaching and learning practices. Encourage your kid to learn, and (as long as safety permits) let them decide what toys and programs are appropriate for their age group. They’ll thank you for it later.

Interview with a Vampi-…Uh, I mean, Character

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

94. Interview a character

For the purposes of this post, I did a quick Google search and found some good character questionnaires here. I’m going to use the first set of questions on the page, and since it’s supposed to be an ‘interview’, I’ll reword them a bit an answer them as though I am the character. Fun, yes? If the responses seem a bit vague or odd, it’s because it would ruin the actual story if I answered them in a straight-forward manner. 🙂

What is your name, and do you have any nicknames?

“My full name is Victoria Ann MacKinnon, but everyone calls me Tori.”

What is you hair color? What about your eyes?

“My hair is strawberry blond and falls just below my shoulders. I usually wear it up in a ponytail. My eyes are very bright blue; sometimes it freaks people out that they’re so bright…I always have people thinking that I’m wearing special contacts.”

Do you have any distinguishing features, such as a birthmark, or scars, and if so, how did you get them?

“Nothing major, really. I have a faint scar on my knee from when I wiped out on my bike when I was a kid, and one across my left index finger from the first time I tried to cook for myself. I’m…not good with knives.”

Describe your friends and family. Who do you surround yourself with? Who are you closest to and who do you wish you were closer to?

“My family is just my parents, Katherine and Robert. I have a few aunts and uncles, and three of my grandparents are still alive, but they live far enough away that I never see them. I used to have quite a few friends…before…but I haven’t seen many of them lately. The only one I ever really hang out with is Jacen, but that’s only because he won’t leave me alone. Not to say that I don’t like Jacen, but I really wish he’d mind his own business and let me…let me just be. My problems aren’t his.”

Where do you go when you’re angry?

“The nearest bar. That’s a bit of a cop-out though, because lately that’s the only place I go besides work.”

What is your biggest fear? Who have you told this to, and who would you never tell? Why?

“My biggest fear? Probably having to face the truth about my…condition. The only one who knows is…well I won’t talk about him. I would never tell anyone else,  because it’s hard enough dealing with it on my own without having to deal with the pity I’d see in other people’s eyes.”

Do you have a secret?

“You hadn’t figured that out from the last question? Yes, I have a secret. No, I won’t share.”

What makes you laugh out loud?

“Not much, these days. I used to really enjoy crappy old b-movies, but I can’t seem to get into them anymore.”

Have you ever been in love, had your heart broken?

“Okay, that’s it, this interview is over. Goodbye.”

Tune Out the World

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

74. Music or silence while writing

Remember back in school when you had two or three different sources (parents, teachers, etc) telling you to turn off that TV/radio/Walkman/whatevs and concentrate on your homework? I always hated that, hated it with a passion, because for me music always helped me with my homework. That’s not to say that all music is the same…Metallica doesn’t exactly encourage academic thinking…but for the most part having background noise has always helped me concentrate. I’ve always found silence to be strangely distracting. Whenever I tried to do homework without music playing or a show on the TV, I’d find my mind wandering to other things, as though it was somehow desperate to fill up the silence. I don’t really know why, but I always found it particularly difficult to focus if it was too quiet around me.

This desire for background noise has followed me into adulthood and manifests itself while I’m writing. I find it nearly impossible to sit down in a silent room with a pen and paper (or my laptop) and just write. My brain ends up floating off in a hundred different directions. That’s not to say that there aren’t some kinds of noises that are distracting. Writing in the lunch room at work, for instance, is damn near impossible because there are conversations happening all around me and it’s difficult to tune that kind of thing out. Writing with music playing, however, is bliss. It’s just the right kind of noise to allow my subconscious mind to occupy itself while still allowing my conscious mind to keep on task.

No matter how many times I try to explain this, however,  I have never yet found an employer that agrees to let me listen to music while working…I wonder why that is? 😛