Category Archives: child rearing

Ebony And Ivory

The great Alexei Sayle once had a routine that went along the lines of: ” I heard this bloke on the radio the other day going on about how we could all live together in perfect racial harmony on piano keyboards. Well, I’m telling you, pianos aren’t going to solve nothing, no way, no how”

That’s as might be, but late last year a piano was involved in something pretty darn special. Flash back about seven years: For reasons I neither remember nor understand, my then wife and I bought a keyboard at Costco as a Christmas present for the kids. It came loaded with tunes that they could play by simply following along with the book, and I considered it a waste of money, to be honest. The kids and their mum both had some fun with it, and it stayed at that.

However, as my daughter’s interest in all things creative grew, she took up playing the guitar, and began paying more than passing interest in the keyboard, apparently just playing along and following the instructions. She seemed to be doing pretty well, when as luck would have it, the son of the woman who made her spare land available for a community P-Patch (allotment) turned out to be a genius, who later on was accepted into Julliard at 17. My daughter took lessons from him on an informal basis, but eventually he was no longer an option, so her mother signed her up for lessons with a local teacher.

Just before Christmas we were informed that the pupils would be giving a recital for the benefit of the parents, so on the appointed night, I hurried to the teacher’s home and took a seat in the studio. The kids in my daughters’ group ranged from about five to thirteen years old, and as you can imagine, all parents waited with bated breath for their own child to perform. I, of course, was no different, and I have to say that heavily biased as I am, she gave a wonderful performance, playing 5 short pieces. I don’t have the sheet available, but they were not easy pieces, and as she had made the effort to dress for the occasion, my daughter looked every inch the professional musician. As we were departing, her teacher commented on how well she had performed, despite being extremely nervous – apparently one of her legs was shaking almost uncontrollably with nerves during the entire performance. I hadn’t realised this, as my daughter is one of the most confident and self – assured people I know. Of course, I congratulated my daughter profusely, as I found her playing to be flawless, but as I say, I’m not exactly the most unbiased of listeners.

The kicker came when her teacher said that she would like her to perform again, two days later at another of the recital sessions. At this later performance I was seated so I could see her hands and was amazed at the level of dexterity and professionalism she showed. I know this is a dreadfully overused cliche, but her fingers just danced across the keyboard, and I have to admit choking up with pride that she could play with such flourish and elan.

Just to push things even further, a couple of weeks later my ex and I received an email from her teacher saying that she would like my daughter to take an exam from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto some time in May. Bloody hell! This is the institution attended by Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould!

Lest you think I’m getting ahead of myself, this exam is a test of both ability and progress, and in no way means that she is headed north of the border for schooling, but if she’s good enough to take one of their exams, her teacher must think very highly of her indeed. I honestly don’t know what to make of it all. I’ve always known that she is highly talented and extremely creative, but where the hell she gets it from is beyond me, I mean, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, even if I use both hands. One thing of which I am certain, though is that whatever path she takes, she’s always going to go straight to the top. I’m also certain that I’ll never hear her repeat one of Eric Morecambes’ more famous catchphrases, used when performing one of his musical pieces: “I am playing all the right notes. Just not necessarily in the right order.”

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Some Candy Talking.

Growing up in England Halloween was somewhat different from the American version, consisting of a party in someone’s home involving games such as bobbing for apples (an early form of waterboarding but involving fruit) and ghost stories. I’m sure that by now American cultural imperialism has swept all that away, but when I moved here in 1992 it took me a while to get used to the new paradigm.

Of course, the arrival of kids changed all that and as soon as they were old enough to go trick or treating, a routine was established. The local merchants organise an annual event which basically involves kids going from storefront to storefront and accumulating pancreas bursting amounts of candy. It’s a great way for local stores to give a little back to the community, it takes place in daylight and everyone is assured of a hefty haul in the course of the two hour run. Of course, the costumes have changed over time. My son who used to dress as Winnie The Pooh then morphed into a cow and then a construction worker for a couple of years and for the last two events has dressed as an angry bird. My daughter soon outgrew her flower outfit and swapped it for Pooh, and then a Hogwarts outfit. She’s a big mythology buff and last year dressed as Medusa.

Imagine my surprise when her mother dropped them off the day after with my daughter in her outfit sans snakes. You see, without the snakes she was dressed from head to foot in a long, hooded black robe making her look like she was off for a shopping trip in downtown Kabul, Tehran or Mecca. I’m pretty sure that if she had gone trick or treating in her accidental faux burqah instead of as Medusa she would have scared a hell of a lot more people.

This year they were with me, but we had to stop off at the kid’s house so her mother could do her makeup, as she was dressing as a Ghoul School Prom Queen. At least the outfit was long enough, although I’m sure part of the attraction was the opportunity to wear heels. As an aside, I have to ask why so many store bought Halloween costumes for young girls tend more towards porn queen than prom queen. I really, really find it distasteful that society seems to find it acceptable for preteen girls to be sexualised in this manner.  I also don’t understand why adults feel the need to dress up for Halloween either, but that’s just me.

All was not calm, though. My son was very keen to TOT in a local neighbourhood after hitting downtown. I was less keen as it would involve quite a walk and would make for a very late night. His mother informed me that his concern was that at 12 this would be his last TOT as by next year he would be too old. However, all was not lost, as, just like the U.S. Cavalry coming over the hill in the final reel, I received a call from the mother of one of my daughters’ school friends inviting us to TOT in their neighbourhood. 

I ended up shepherding my son and two other boys as they hit up every single house in the area, while my daughter and her friends took a different route. By the end of the evening they both had an impressive haul, although we will never know for sure about my daughters’ as she seemed to have eaten most of it while on her circuit. She did, however, learn a valuable lesson; High heels aren’t comfortable. As I told her, style has costs, but I guess she had to learn for herself. A lifetime of blistered heels await her, no doubt.

One nice thing, though. Several houses had left a bowl of candy on the porch, and my son, always the voice of reason insisted that the boys take no more than two pieces each, a statement that was accepted without complaint. Nice to see that parenting pays off in the long run.

Naturally, the next day while my daughter tried to hide empty wrappers, my son organized his 107 pieces of candy by type, lining them up on the bedroom floor. I know. As for me, having decided to abstain from candy in October as well as alcohol and snacks, I was glad that Halloween falls on the 31st, as by then the allure of all that chocolate had faded. Not that I didn’t pocket a few pieces on our sojourn just so I could indulge my sweet tooth the next day. At least it helped compensate for the bitterness of Liverpool’s defeat by Newcastle United.

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Hand In Glove.

I appear to have made a habit of making shocking revelations in this blog, and I fear that this entry is no exception, so I will pause while you steel yourself. Ready? I’ve never owned a baseball glove.

Please come out from under the bed. You could suffocate if you wrap that Stars and Stripes any tighter around yourself, although I suspect that you can’t hear me as you have your fingers jammed in your ears and are singing “God Bless America” at the top of your lungs. Here, have a piece of Mom’s apple pie and calm down.

In fact, I’ve only worn a baseball glove twice in my life; the first time was when helping out at my son’s training session a couple of years ago as I ran around collecting balls as he practiced batting. The second episode was only this summer when my daughter attended a softball pitching training session. After being shown the basic techniques, all the girls settled in for some pitching practice with the help of a family member to act as catcher. I have to say that it gave me great pleasure to see her delivering balls with a fair degree of accuracy and more than a little pace, especially as it was her first ever attempt at pitching.

There is a great deal of satisfaction in hearing and feeling the ball slap into your glove, especially when it is your own flesh and blood delivering the ball. She didn’t pitch this season, but hopefully she will next year, although I have to say that her batting this year has been spectacular. Of course, I attend as many games as I can, although I missed a couple this year due to events scheduled before the season’s fixtures were known. About a third of the way through the season she remembered that she is both competitive and aggressive and her whole approach changed; she came to the plate wound up like a spring, daring the pitcher to throw a strike, and I’m happy to report that apart from a couple of sacrifice RBIs and a couple of good hits that deserved better, almost every time she got a hit, she got a run.

In blazing sun, in torrential rain she went out and always did her best and enjoyed herself even in defeat. My only regret is that her team didn’t make the playoff final and I was denied the opportunity to dye my hair pink for the game as I had promised her. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. I took a tube of temporary dye all the way to San Francisco on a trip with my sweetie just so I would have it available and be prepared to attend the match as soon as I got home. I bet that would have give airport security something to puzzle over.

It wasn’t a terribly successful season, but the most important thing is that she developed as a person, improving those soft skills that are so vital in order to be a decent human being; teamwork, compassion, empathy, sportsmanship, determination, courage. That’s what I understand when I read the phrase ” It’s not the winning that counts, but how you play the game”.

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Take The Skinheads Bowling.

Whoever invented the calendar deserves a bloody good kick up the arse. Whoever invented the calendar for the Galaxy III phone deserves  two. Let me explain. Recently my sweetie and I sat down to synchronise our calendars and I mentioned in passing that as the kids were away during spring break I would be having them for a couple of days outside the regular schedule. Icy stare. And I mean icy. Icy enough to make a White Walker reach for an extra cloak.That’s how icy it was. My sweetie had had a dreadful week at work and was not ready to hear that our planned weekend together would not be happening. I’m a guy. Hard as you may find it to believe, I am a guy, which means that just because you tell me something and I’m looking at you, it doesn’t mean I actually heard or remembered what you just said, let alone put it in my calendar.

At this point, my mind was scrambling desperately to find a solution so I wouldn’t end up with two ruined weekends instead of just one. Picture Wile E. Coyote trying to claw his way back to safety having just realised that he has run off the edge of the cliff. With me? It was then that I came up with another brilliant idea. “Another one?” I hear you ask in a voice composed of equal parts incredulity, surprise and contempt. Yes. Another one. You remember that idea I had about wearing underwear on the outside to save on laundry bills?

“Why don’t you come over on Saturday like we planned and we can all go bowling?” Phew. Just managed to grab the edge of the cliff with my fingernails. So that is what we did. The kids got a taste for bowling at a friends’ birthday party, and I’d asked them if they would be interested in going again as I’m always looking for ways for them to have a fun weekend with me. They both like my sweetie ( see “We Are Going To Be Friends”), and she and I had been  bowling, so I had a fair belief that the day would work. We all duly piled into the car and headed off to the bowling alley. My son, tech head that he is, set up the scoreboard and away we went.  It was interesting to watch the interactions, as my daughter insisted on showing my sweetie the game in the arcade that she really likes while my son kept track of our combined strikes and spares. All went well, as I expected it would, and I was pleased that the kids took it as read that the four of us would be having what amounted to a family day out. Lunch at a local hostelry followed, giving us more time to chat and the kids to get comfortable with the situation when I got a text from my ex regarding my daughters’ softball uniform pants. The original ones didn’t fit, so she would drop the new ones off so my daughter would have them for practice the next day.

I was futzing around the house when the doorbell rang. I answered it, expecting a quick exchange when my son announced my sweeties’ presence and insisted that the two of them meet. Awkaaaaaaard! Naturally this was unplanned, but both were civil to each other, and at least it answered my question about whether the kids had talked about our museum visit.

I have to say that it was nice to see the three of them spending the day together and getting along with each other, and how the kids just regarded it as a perfectly normal day. I’m really happy that things are working out and that I can expect future visits to be just as successful. Only slightly happier than I am about those three consecutive strikes I got in our second game.

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Shakespeare’s Sister.

“School play”. Two words guaranteed to strike dread into the heart of any parent. Usually such events involve sitting through a parade of nervous children clad in badly made cardboard cutouts of various U.S. states, or being subjected to such musical classics as “There Are Four Major Food Groups, Yes There Are”. (I have to add as an aside that my school play experiences involved  performances as Pontius Pilate, a classic example of typecasting if ever there was one, and appearing in blackface. Hey, it was the 70s, and we didn’t know any better, or maybe Catholics just don’t care about such things). Thankfully, this is not so at my son’s school. For the past couple of months the entire sixth grade were involved in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Not just the theatrical performance, but an exploration of the characters and their motivations and an exploration and  retelling of the story.

As you can imagine, the theatre was full of expectant parents, each one of them eager to see the fruits of two months’ work by their children. Elizabethan English is difficult at the best of times, but the entire cast gave their best effort in presenting a full blown production. My son is not the most demonstrative of people, so he was well cast as Vulpecula, one of King Oberon’s servants, and it was gratifying to see him throw himself into the role, delivering his lines with confidence and assurance; just what I would expect of him. My daughter is a natural born performer, so she was eager to see the play, and now can’t wait until she is a sixth grader and can participate in a production. She had some difficulty following the plot during the first performance, but at the matinee she got much more from it.

Of course, my Ex was there, with her boyfriend in tow. As I’ve said (see “Creep”), he’s an ignorant, freeloading redneck, so I’m not sure if he was there because he wanted to be, or because she expected him to be there. I have to say, that for the evening performance, he could at least have made the effort to dress up a little,  out of respect for the space, the occasion and the cast. But no, he turned up in his dirty baseball cap and cargo shorts. The first performance was not too bad, as they  were seated on the opposite side of the room, but for the matinee they were directly behind us, partly at my daughter’s behest, and partly due to the restricted options available to them due to their arrival shortly before the start.  While I was at least able to engage in polite conversation with my Ex, he again didn’t even have the grace to say a word.

The kids were with me that weekend, so we had to wait for my son at the stage door. I have to say, that I never expected to hear the words “Your son will be out soon, he’s just removing his makeup”. Needless to say, both of them slept soundly the first night. After the matinee, the cast all headed off to an after party while the parents broke down the set. The stage was disassembled and carried piece by piece to the barn for storage, the lighting removed, and so on. A task that was accomplished with much comradeship and cooperation, although a few more Allen keys would have been nice.

I had expected my son to be running on empty after the party, but  much to my surprise he jumped at the opportunity of a sleepover with some of his friends, the invitation having been extended as my daughter and I drove home. I think that the prospect of playing in the snow the following day was too much for him to resist, and who can blame him? Where he gets the energy from, I don’t know. I guess being 11 has a lot to do with it.

I have to say that I am immensely proud of my son for taking such an active interest in the play. He tends to be on the quiet side, yet when on stage it was as if he was in a different world. I did note some signs of nervousness among some of the cast, which is only to be expected, but he showed none of that. Bravo, son. Encore!

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All I Want

ALL I WANT. 08/04/13

I have no solid basis for this, but I’m pretty sure that humanity invented the word “Want” about 10 minutes after it invented fire. As soon as people have something, they want something better, be it a bigger cave in a nicer part of the valley, a spear with  a sharper point or an iPhone 5. It’s an evolutionary imperative. If we didn’t have wants, we’d all still be living in crappy caves with not enough storage, a lousy view and last years’ style in loin cloths.

However, some of our species seem to have missed that  cave painting. Take my son, for instance. He’s a truly great kid with a great future ahead of him. He’s caring, articulate, insightful and thoughtful, all truly commendable qualities in a fully rounded human being, but he has almost no needs.

Let me explain. After we drop his sister off at her riding class, we have just over an hour to ourselves. I ask him what he wants to do, and invariably it is a trip to the bakery for a cookie. Actually, usually two, if they only have the regular sized ones, but given the full run of the store he makes a modest selection and is inordinately happy with his choice.

Birthdays are a case in point. I gave his sister a gift card for the American Girl Doll store for a not insignificant amount which made her very happy. If you’ve seen the catalogue, you will understand just how pricey the stuff is, yet my son had some trouble in even thinking of ideas for gifts and settled eventually on a pair of cordless headphones for his desktop.  I felt bad about not getting him something else, but he’s not interested in having things just to have them, so why waste the money? “How very un-American” I hear you say, but that’s how it is.

Whilst in town  last week he stopped at the outdoor bargain table of a local store and was very keen on the USB hubs for sale. Long story short, it cost me $1.90 to buy one for him   ( and one for me) , and he was delighted. How wonderful to be happy with such a simple thing. To take it down another few levels, after a particularly warm afternoon at the beach with his friends I offered him the choice between Ice Cream and Lemonade as a way to cool off. He chose the latter, and as I didn’t feel like driving for the 15 minutes it would have took us to go to his favourite spot, we headed to my favourite pub. This is how bad a father I am: I didn’t realise that he doesn’t like carbonated drinks, which is all they had. He was happy, and I mean actually happy with a pint of ice water and a pint glass filled with pretzels. I have a kid who is happy with bread and water. How the fuck do you come to terms with that?

This makes it very hard for me to deny his requests on the rare occasions when he does ask for something. When in the store he will make a hesitant request for either Cheezits  or Wheat Thins. I know they aren’t exactly the healthiest things in the world, but he could be eating a lot worse. When I say “Yes’, as I invariably do, he picks up a standard size box, even though the larger ones are right along side.  Greed is a concept I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand.

None of this is a complaint, I just have difficulty with the polarity of wanting to fulfill all my kids’ material needs when one of them doesn’t really have any.

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Twistin’ By The Pool


Having two kids with birthdays less than three weeks apart has had both benefits and drawbacks over the years, most noticeably the very similar guest lists, as my son includes his friends’ siblings and my daughter likewise. A lot of our friends have two kids, almost all about the same age as ours, so the only real difference has been the content of the goodie bags, the nature of any crafts involved and the amount of pink and purple present.

This year, after toying with the idea of a party at the local horse riding school, my daughter decided on a pool party at the local Aquatic Centre. Previous years have involved the renting of a bouncy castle and the provision of cake, ice cream and enough room for them to run around like lunatics followed by the slow transition into a barbeque for close friends until it becomes too dark to see.

This wouldn’t happen this year, largely due to the logistics, the “drop off” nature of the party and my Dad not being here for the first time since Mum died. On the plus side, there was very little to organise as the A.C. took care of the cake, ice cream and utensils, so all we had to do was organise goodie bags, which my ex had already prepared. Of course, the kids had a blast, and seeing as it wasn’t my custodial  weekend, I departed after the cake cutting as I had to go home and change for a date.

One week later, today, in fact, we found ourselves in the same situation, as my son had decided on a pool party too. The crowd was much smaller due to many of his friends being away camping or with the non resident custodial parent. Funnily enough, he didn’t care and had just as much fun with the 6 other kids present as his sister had the week before with twice the number.

What it is to be satisfied with simple pleasures. Also, three hours in the pool tires out kids a darn sight faster than 6 hours running round the garden, bouncy castle or not, so the wind down was much smoother and easier.

I have to say that I’m very happy that both the kids seem to enjoy whatever they have. They’re not driven by the desire for more simply for the sake of having more. Not that I’m bragging, but I think we did a pretty good job of getting them this far without them turning into the type of snide little brat one sees so often nowadays.

All in all a very successful week.

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