Time to add some nuance to the phrase “screen time”

This post is borne out of the occasional frustrating conversations I’ve had with other parents at my kids school.

I am part of the PAC at our elementary (k-5) school, and we have just begun talking about adding WiFi to our school as a number of teachers want to use more technology in the classroom. are curious to use it. But there is resistance among some parents about technology use in schools, and often this hesitancy is hidden behind the coded phrase “screen time”.

You see, “screen time” is bad. “Screen time” is why they don’t want technology in the classroom. Too much “screen time”. Battles with kids at home about “screen time”.

The evil “screen time”.

I don’t think I have ever heard anyone use the phrase ‘screen time” and mean it in a positive way.

But what does that phrase really mean? What is hiding behind the words? It’s a question I am beginning to ask more and more when people brush aside the entire spectrum of technology use with the generic “too much screen time” argument. Well, what do you mean by “screen time”?

Do you mean too much reading books? Because that happens on a screen. When is the last time you told your kid to stop reading a book?

Or do you mean you are worried about too much making music? Because in our house (and in many other places) making music is just as likely to occur using a screen with a physical keyboard hooked up to a computer as it is with a guitar. The screen is an important piece in the music making arsenal in our house.

Or do you mean too many YouTube videos? Well, in the past 2 weeks my kids have watched their fair share of YouTube videos, including a number of music & cat videos. But they have also watched videos on how to do arts & crafts projects like create stuff on a rainbow loom and draw bat wings (my son is currently a bit obsessed with bats thanks to recently reading the Kenneth Opel SilverWing series). My son has also watched soccer videos to pick up some new skills for his upcoming camp. And my daughter loves watching Mythbusters clips, learning to debunk popular myths and develop some critical thinking skills.

My son learning how to use the rainbow loom via YouTube videos created by other kids

Or do you mean stop learning about the world? One of my sons favorite activities on the screen is to cruise the world in Google Earth, especially Japan. He has begun to use Google Streetview to get a better understanding of what life in a Japanese city might be like.

Or what about playing games? We play games in front of screens. My son plays Minecraft and loves building. When he was interested in Kung Fu, he built a dojo in Minecraft. When we read that Silverwing series, he built locations from the book. For him, building in Minecraft is an extension of what he is curious about in his life. He reads or sees something, then he builds. And in the process, he gains a better understanding of what it was that he read or saw. He also does this with Lego, but Minecraft is what he loves building in.

I play World of Warcraft with my kids (and they only play when I am there with them). We work together as a team to solve complex quests. We have fun – as a family – solving problems and supporting each other. How is this worse than sitting down as a family on a Friday night and playing Rummoli at the kitchen table (which we also do)? Simply because there is a screen involved? We’re spending time together as a family.

I loved that both kids felt “famous” when they had leveled up enough that their avatars become visible in the WoW community.

WoWWho cares that there are screens? In fact, through our participation in the virtual world of WoW, I am able to pass on valuable lessons in digital literacy and participating in virtual communities – what to look out for, who to trust, how to interact with other characters and remind them there are real people at the other end of those avatars. And be prepared to deal with jerks I wish my kids teachers would be doing the same. Modelling for my kids what it is like to participate in a virtual community, showing my kids how to behave in a discussion forum, what appropriate commenting is, and how to learn from the network. But I digress….

What about screens make you unhealthy? Well, this comes down to balance. My son plays soccer, my daughter dances. My daughter has a FitBit and spends her days working towards the goal of 10,000 steps. She often checks her screen to see how she is doing. It keeps her motivated. My daughter and I also dance together with the Wii – in front of a big screen in our living room.

My daughter and I getting our heart rate up.

Or do you mean “too much expressing yourself artistically?” My son has taken his passion for bats and those previously mentioned Kenneth Oppel books and is using a screen based word processor to write his own sequel to the series because he was unhappy with how the books ended and left him hanging. He is just learning to spell, and the auto spell checking in Word that underlines misspelled words is helping him to see where his mistakes are. Do I stop this because he is doing on a screen? How is this a bad thing? Isn’t this creative? How is it different than if he was doing this on paper with a pencil? Would I stop him from writing a book because he is spending too much time with a pencil and paper?

Or my daughter, who is learning to draw and do art on a tablet? Why is that worse than doing it on paper with a pencil (which she does as well)? In fact, both my kids float from screen to “real life” as if the distinction is meaningless. And it is.

Or do you mean “too much time with their friends”? Well, my kids have virtual email pen pals. Their virtual pen pals have lost grandparents, won sports competitions, they have shared artwork and learned what life is like in their part of the world. In short, they are learning that there are real people on the other end of that screen. How is this different than if it were paper letters? Why is this worse simply because it involves a screen?

So, I think it is time to banish the term “screen time” when we have conversations about the role of technology in our lives. In my experience, it is being used as a wet blanket, a catch-all designed to stop important conversations before they have a chance to happen. It is time for us to begin to have a more nuanced conversation about what that term means, and unpack the meaning hiding behind the term. What do people really mean when they say they are worried about “screen time” in schools? Because in the end, I don’t think it is really the screens people are worried about. It is how those screens are used. And that is a conversation we cannot have until we move past “screen time” and begin to talk about specifics.

Buzzkill

Yesterday was Black Friday. But yesterday was also Buy Nothing Day, and this post in in the spirit of Buy Nothing day.

This video keeps popping up on my Facebook feed. You might have seen it.

At first blush, this is the kind of video I love. Showing that people are basically good and altruistic. But there was something that bothered me. I watched the video again. Then I zoomed in on the final shot where one guy passes a beverage to another. A Coke.

It’s a Coke commercial. And then I got angry. Not that it was a commercial riding on the feel-good factor – commercials have always done that. Just don’t try to fool me and hide your message. It’s deceptive and dangerous. When people find out, they become angry and cynical and that beautiful message that the world is a great place completely gets blown out of the water and is replace by the message that the world is full of deception. Had there been a simple logo shot at the end of the commercial saying it was sponsored by Coke, I would not have felt so duped. So stupid. So cynical.

I was tempted to go back to FB and start commenting on everyone’s feed, “Nice, but it’s a damn Coke commercial.” But, you know. Buzzkill. No one likes to be the one to pop the feelgood balloon. Who likes to have it pointed out that they have been duped?

But wait a sec. Who have I been duped by?

I started to dig around and look into the organization that had their logo tagged on the end of the video, Love Everybody (where I am seeing comments that others are suspecting the same thing I am about the Coke product placement). I was certain I would find out that they were funded by Coke somehow. But if they are, it is not obvious from their website. And then as I continued my research to try to uncover whether this was really a Coke commercial or not, I came across this version of the ad on YouTube:

Now in this version, there is a very definite Coke logo and product shot at the end. It is obvious in this version that this IS a Coke commercial and the message was sponsored by Coke. I see this version and I am okay with this. Coke has been explicit. So, why did Love Everybody edit the video to remove the Coke logo at the end that clearly showed that it was a Coke commercial? What was their motivation to do this? Did they want to use the video as a vehicle for their own organization? Try to re-edit in such a way that they would get the feel good factor out of it? Or are they really funded by Coke and have re-edited the video to make the Coke message obscure and almost subliminal? Or are they engaging in some form of culture jamming and it is actually a sophisticated ploy to use the message of a corporation to provoke exactly the kind of negative reaction and backlash to a mega-corp that I felt? Or perhaps they are funded by the state and are trying to soften the perception that constant public surveillance is a good thing?

And here in lies the problem. Going down this road has made me start questioning what this simple little message that seemed so sincere and earnest really means. The message that the world is a good place has been replaced, and that pisses me off because I want to believe that the world is a good place and people are basically good. That may be a naive attitude, but as a father trying to raise engaged kids who don’t end up living a cynical life steeped in fear, I NEED to believe that.

I like to think of myself as fairly media literate. I worked in that world, on both the commercial and alternative media sides and feel I have a good bullshit detector. But it reminds me that we are living in complicated media times where messages and media can easily be manipulated. For me, this is another indicator of the importance radical transparency in everything we do. We need transparency as a core value in our society today or risk creating a cynical society that lives in fear, uncertainty and doubt. We need to push at our governments, corporations, institutions, and ourselves, and believe that being open and transparent and making our motives & actions visible and explicit is the only option.

Instructions for a Bad Day

Yesterday was Pink Shirt Day in Canada. A day to stand up to bullying. It also marked the release of this video, created by students at G.P. Vanier school in Courntay, BC.

It is a touching video about hope, featuring a composition created to mark the day by poet Shane Koyczan (he of We Are More fame from the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics).

What a wonderful, inspiring project, which will (thanks to YouTube) be seen by thousands of people around the world. And, perhaps, one person who just might need to hear this message at the most pivotal moment of their life.

Here is Shane talking about how the project came about.

Thank you, Internet Archive

I started this blog in 2004 when my daughter was just under a year old. In those days, blogging was still a pretty technical thing. Other than Blogger, there was not a lot of options on the web for hosting a blog unless you did it yourself. So I did. I mean, I really did it myself. I bought an old surplus computer and turned it into a web server. I installed a copy of WordPress (then called b2) and went at ‘er. 

I was young. I was reckless. Backups? We don’t need no stinkin’ backups.

I was writing like a machine. Blog posts popped up everyday…sometimes 2 or 3 a day. I was a partial stay at home Dad with a young daughter who took long afternoon naps. Time was endless. Funny, because at the time I can remember thinking I didn’t have a lot of time and I was soooooo busy. How our perceptions of time can get so warped by whatever stage we are in our life. Oh, to have the time I thought I didn’t have then, now.

It was inevitable that some kind of disaster would strike my fragile, perilous second hand DIY web server, and in 2005 it did. My server died. No backups. Well, some backups, but rather haphazard. At the time I didn’t think nothing of it. I remember thinking, “ah well, I lost a few blog posts, no big whoop”.

Fast forward a half dozen years and an idle night playing on the Wayback Machine provided by the Internet Archive. Hmmm, I wonder…

I type in http://dadventure.ca and what pops up makes me kick myself for not doing this sooner. And for being so damn cavalier about the information I lost.

As I sift through this archive of posts, I am swept back to a time that seems so long ago, yet was so recent. 2005. Just 7 years ago. I am reading posts about moving out of our first house when my daughter was 2. 

Our first house. Her only house.

The reasons are valid: not enough space, a backyard that remains flooded from November to March, no dining room, too much tripping over each other. Yet it is still sad to leave the memories, like walking into this house with the girl the very first time. That moment when her Mom and I exchanged a sideways glance that we both knew meant, “This is it. We’re on our own. Now what?” I never knew one glance could reveal so much information.

This is the bedroom where we first stayed up all night with a sick girl, throwing up over and over and forcing us to cancel a (rare) planned weekend trip away from home that we had both been looking forward to. Another sideways glance. Ah well, I guess this is what being a parent is all about.

Memories of the frustrations of being the stay at home parent of a 2 year old.

Like I said, some days just seem harder than others. The extra struggle trying to get her dressed as she flops around like an electrified octopus, screaming and crying at the top of her lungs. The extra effort of trying to strap a 2×4 into a car seat so you won’t be late for her play group. Trying to play United Nations peacemaker with the other kids, negotiating the landmine of 2 pushcars for 30 kids. The extra concentration required while you try to carry on a phone conversation with a roofer with a human fog horn strapped to your leg bellowing DADDYDADDYDADDYDADDY! And the constant demands for upeee, uppeeee, upppeeeee.

Some days it is all I can do from screaming TAKE ME AWAY FROM HERE! Get me back to the sanity of backstabbing co-workers and bastard bosses. Of impossible deadlines and even more impossible budgets. Take me back to sanity of the real world.

Surviving my first parental experience with puke

Maggie puked on me for the first time. Not a little baby spit up after an over the shoulder burp – but a full-on, gut emptying, projectile spewing geyser. At one point, I swear I saw her kidney come up.

I knew the moment would eventually come and I had been dreading it. Smell is a powerful sense for me, and I don’t do well with foul scent. My wife discovered this about me when we walked into our house once after spending a month traveling in Turkey only to find our freezer had crapped out sometime between Gallipoli and Istanbul. She quickly realized I wouldn’t be much help digging the previously frozen blackberries and chicken out from the bottom of the dearly departed freezer.

Mom was at work today, so it was just Maggie and me – poor girl. She has been sick in the past, but never quite this sick. So I carried her off to the bathroom and stripped us both down. I toyed with giving her a bath, but she was looking quite stunned, and I couldn’t quite bare the thought of inflicting a bath on her when it looked like the only thing she wanted to do was crash. So I wiped her off as best I could, dressed her and gave her some water. Ten minutes later she was fast asleep on my chest. A chest, I must admit, that was a bit bigger knowing that I had handled my first major vomit situation with my breakfast intact.

The voice of the 2005 me. The new Dad me.

I haven’t recovered everything. I know there was more. But what I did manage to recover is better than gold. And now has been transferred to this blog. With weekly backups. Hosted on redundant servers. And tonight, I am hugely grateful to the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine.

How do I tell my daughter she looks nice?

I’ve been watching my 8 year old daughter start to play with her identity. It’s a wonderful thing to watch her develop into her own person and begin to visually express on the outside who she feels she is on the inside. Yet, this is also causing me some confusion as I grapple with how I should respond.

This Christmas she received a gift card from her aunt to an accessory store. You know, that store in the mall where they sell cheap jewelery and every item is adorned with cuter-than-cute airbrushed images of Justin Bieber or bejewelled and bedazzled to within an inch of its life. One of the items she bought was a pair of glasses. Now, my daughter doesn’t need glasses. She bought them simply as a fashion accessory. She wanted to see how she would look with glasses on.

This morning she came down the stairs from her bedroom wearing both the glasses and a pink bandanna headband. She looked adorable, and I was just about to say, “hey, you look cute.” And then I caught myself. If I say that, what is my daughter really going to hear? That making a change in her appearance gets her noticed as “cute”? And what of that word “cute” anyway? What am I saying to my daughter when I say she looks “cute”? Am I seeding the thought in her that her self-worth is tied to her appearance?

Of course, I didn’t think all that consciously in that split second where I paused, questioning my choice of phrase. This has all come after as I reflect on the moment. But something in that moment did make me hesitate and check what I was about to say and, instead of saying she looked cute, I said ,”hey, who are you and what have you done with my daughter?” She smiled and giggled and went into the bathroom.

I don’t know if that was a better choice of words, but it felt better in the moment than saying, “hey, you look cute.”

I’ve been thinking about this for the rest of the day. Our words carry so much weight with our kids. I know sometimes it doesn’t feel that way (is she listening to me?) but they do, and they are listening. Always. I hear the things I say come rolling out of my kids mouths all the time. They take it all in.

What do I say to her? I love that she is beginning to play with her identity and make her outside a reflection of who she feels she is on her inside. But what do I say to let her know that I don’t think her self-worth is connected to how she looks?

8 year old me

Glasses. I used to get beat up when I was a kid for wearing glasses and here she is wearing them as an accessory. Fine by me, which is me projecting my own feelings about what those glasses represent. Intelligence? Brains? Really, if she wants to project an image that she is intelligent and brainy, isn’t that okay? Better than short skirts and makeup, right?

Or is it? I mean, I am still making a judgement call about her based on how she looks, projecting my own assumptions and beliefs about what something like glasses represent. Am I not still making a judgement based on her appearance?

There are going to be times when I want to compliment her on her appearance. She’s beautiful, and I want to tell her that. I want to notice. Maybe I want to say it to her as a shield to protect her from the message that she will be constantly bombarded with by popular culture and advertising that she is not. She’s my little girl and I want to protect her. But on the other hand I don’t want to start sending her signals that men only notice her when she looks a certain way.

So, I’m feeling a bit caught right now. What do I say to my daughter? Is it okay to tell her I think she looks nice? That she is beautiful? Any advice?

Because a little girl can never feel inadequate enough

This book has not yet been released, but I am still going to judge it by it’s cover on it’s Amazon page (which I am linking to so you can do your part to leave a comment about how appropriate you think this book is) and by it’s description on the authors website which says:

Maggie has so much potential that has been hiding under her extra weight. This inspiring story about a 14 year old who goes on a diet and is transformed from being overweight and insecure to a normal sized teen who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self image.

Maggie has so much potential but she will never achieve it because she is fat. She will never have self confidence as long as she is fat. Self-esteem? Garbage until she gets skinny and popular.

What’s worse, according to this article from The Guardian and the description from US Amazon site, is that this book is aimed at 6 year old girls. 6 year old girls? a 6 year old girl is probably just starting to understand the wider world around her and her place in it, and she is met with this message? That she has no self-worth unless she is skinny?

The book blog Treasury Island said it well in their scathing post about the book:

Young girls are surrounded by messages telling them they’re not good enough. But just in case they miss the billboard adverts, TV commercials, models and actors preaching impossible standards of beauty and culturally acceptable body sizes why not give them this? It’s never to early to introduce body fascism to your children!

At least when someone stumbles onto this book on the Amazon site and reads the customer comments and tags for this book, they will understand the true messages behind a book like this. The Internet can be such a great place.

A piece of my childhood returns

Since my Mom passed away earlier this year, my Dad has been going through boxes of stuff that he and my Mom have accumulated over the years. Bit by bit, pieces of my childhood have been slowly migrating out to the west coast with each family member who makes the trip from Saskatchewan to Victoria.

A few days ago my sister arrived at my door with the latest bounty – a box chock-a-block full of informal learning circa 1976.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

The complete Childcraft collection circa 1976. Published by World Book Encyclopedia (which we also had, and which I also cherished), I spent hours pouring over the books from the time I was 8 or 9 until I lost my way as a teenager to other vices. But for my formative learning years, this was how I got my info fix when I wasn’t in school.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

I loved these books, and going through them over the last few days made me realize just how much these books taught me. These were my gateway to the world. These were my Internet.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

A favorite of mine was the special section of the Human Body book which had a transparent overlay of a boys and a girls body. Flip the transparent from page to page and you could overlay it like an onion skin over top the various systems of the body. I thought it was the coolest thing ev-ah!

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

Each year Childcraft would release a new volume. 1976 was a banner year. It was the year the dinosaur issue arrived.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

The only thing that would have been cooler is if they would have had a Star Wars yearbook.

As I pour over these, I am again struck at what an amazing time we live in, and how our kids won’t really know it as an amazing time because for them, it will just be a time. They will have no frame of reference for what life was truly like PI (pre-Internet), just like I have no frame of reference for what life was like pre-TV, pre-telephone or pre-power. And I wonder if someday my daughter or son might wander over to the Internet Archive and view the Martha Speaks or National Geographic Kids website from 2011 with the same kind of nostalgia for learning that I have experienced over the past couple of days flipping through these books.

Funny, though. Since these things have arrived, my daughter has kept this dog-eared yearbook close at hand.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

Which goes to show, no matter how much things may change, little girls will always want a puppy.

 

Foolproof Birth Control

I’m sure no one see MY kids as this.

How digital technology is changing the rhythm of family life

Earlier this summer, the Joan Ganz Cooney Centre released a study called Families Matter which documents how families with young children are integrating digital media into the rhythm of daily life.

800 parents of children ages 3-10 were interviewed for the study which examines how parents feel about raising children in a digital age.

The study found that most families are in a period of transition when it comes to digital technologies in our homes as we try to adjust to these new technologies that are profoundly changing our world. I had originally written both ours and our kids world, but then realized that our kids world isn’t going to be “changed”. For them, it will just be the world they live in.

Not surprising, when it comes to the media we participate in with our children, we prefer the older stuff. 89% of us say we like watching TV with our kids, 79% of us read books with them, and 73% of us play board games (really?). But the one media our kids really love – video games – is the one that only half of us are doing with them, which is even more interesting to me when the research shows that the majority of us  believe that video games help children foster skills that are important to their academic achievement.

While parents believe that video games can be powerful educational tools, we are not quite so fond of the educational potential of mobile technologies with many of us viewing mobile phones as the least educational device our kids can use. Yet many educators, such as the New Media Consortium in their 2011 New Horizons report on educational technology, are predicting that mobile technologies s will be a major force in education in the very near future. Clearly there is a disconnect with how parents perceive mobile technologies and how educators perceive them when it comes to their role in education.

Other findings of the study include:

  • More than half of parents are concerned about the effect of media usage on their children’s health, but fewer than 1 in 5 of us think our kids spend too much time with digital media.
  • More than a third of us have learned something technical from our kids.
  • Lack of exercise and online privacy are our biggest concerns.

 

Fair does not mean equal

Been having some challenges with my kids and getting them to understand the principal that fair does not always mean equal.

Case in point last week. My son had to spend a few hours in an isolation ward in emergency at the hospital (it’s okay – he’s fine). But during the course of the 6 hour stay he got stuck in an isolation room and poked and prodded by Dr’s and nurses. When he was finished and released, we wanted to reward him with a little something, so I picked up a little Star Wars light sabre for him that he has been eyeing up for the past few weeks. This prompted a “hey, that’s not fair” from his older sister. I tried to explain why it actually was fair, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

It works both ways. At 7, my daughter has been doing summer camps this year and having a great time. This has led to some “that’s not fair” resentment from my 4 year old pre-school son.

My kids have this sense that unless everything is exactly equal, things are unfair. But yet, they are different kids – different people with different interests and (at 7 and 4) different abilities. Why would you want things to be exactly equal in those circumstances? Yet somehow, they have this feeling that unless they get exactly the same things and are treated exactly the same, then one is getting more.

It used to drive me nuts when my parents would get me and my brother and sister the exact same thing at Christmas in an attempt to keep things equal, but I understand the temptation to do this now that I have kids of my own and am fighting the “it’s not fair” battle. I made the mistake of snapping at one last week “well, life isn’t fair”. Fortunately, my wife caught me and put a stop to that line of thought.

So, how do you handle the fair, but not equal battle at your house?

Looking for SAHD to be on The National

A producer from CBC’s The National contacted me hoping to interview me as part of a story they are doing on stay at home Dad’s. I’m pretty sure they got my name from this Financial Post article about stay at home Dad’s which seems to imply that a) the Post interviewed me and that b) I am still a stay at home Dad. Neither are true. The quotes attributed to me in the article are pulled directly from this post I wrote in 2005 when I was a stay at home dad. Just for the record, I am generally okay with them pulling content from my blog as everything is released under a Creative Commons license. But I’m a little less comfortable with the way the article is written, which seems to imply that they interviewed me for the article because, if they would have interviewed me, they would realize that I haven’t been a SAHD since 2007.

Anyway, if you are a SAHD, The National is looking to interview someone for a story they are working on. Preferably, that SAHD will be in Toronto, but it’s the Mother Corp and I’m sure they can scream up a camera crew in any major city in the country so don’t let that stop you. If you are interested, connect Laura MacNaughton, Producer, CBC News: The National at work: 416-205-3372 or via email at laura.macnaughton@cbc.ca.

Schools – the heart of the community

picnic

There are some things that I don’t think you truly get until you become a parent. For me, one of those things is the role of schools in our society.

Before becoming a parent, I thought schools were simply a place where kids went to learn the curriculum, and, perhaps, participate in a few extra-curricular activities.  However, now that The Girl has almost completed her first full year at public school, I am beginning to realize that schools have a much bigger role to play in our society. Not only are they a place where kids go to learn, they are also places where communities form and develop.

Each morning I have the opportunity to drop my daughter off at school has become a community building opportunity. In the schoolyard waiting for the morning bell to ring, I connect with the people in my neighbourhood, some of whom I have known since their kids and The Girl began daycare together 6 years ago. This has become my social circle. The parents of my daughters friends have now become my friends, and the school and the activities that happen there have become spaces for us to connect and kindle our friendships. To develop our community.

This year, the primary school my daughter is attending turns 100 years old, and the celebrations have ramped up as the year comes to a close. In the past few weeks, my wife and I have attended a school musical celebrating the centenary performed by 150 students, a school sponsored community picnic attended by scores of families, and a special 100th anniversary Victorian tea party at which each class in the school dressed up in costumes representing each of the decades in the school’s 100 year history. Tomorrow, we are marching in a local parade with other families from the school, proudly wearing our red school colours. Each of these events have become shared events in which kids, parents and grandparents have gathered, mingled, talked, danced, laughed, shared food and stories, and played together.

These events have nothing at all to do with the curriculum, but have everything to do with learning. I see it in my daughter as she speaks about her school with pride, singing songs that were composed for the school musical, and feeling like she is at a special place. She is learning about citizenship, civic pride, and the importance of community. I can almost see the roots growing as she moves out of our house and begins connecting to a larger world.

I didn’t get it. But now that I am a parent, I do. I feel like this year I have had my eyes opened, and truly see just how important schools are to our communities – not just for teaching kids the basics of reading, math and science, but the role – the crucial role – that they have in  developing caring and compassionate human beings by nurturing in them a sense of belonging.

I think I get it now.

The hardest thing I have ever had to do

Mom & Dad

Sandi Lalonde August 18, 1946 – February 8, 2011

“Call Me Sandi!”

If you were a friend of a 16 year old me, that is probably the first thing you heard my Mom say when you met her – “Call Me Sandi!”

It was said with that unique larger than life “Call Me Sandi” attitude. Those of you who knew my Mom in another time probably remember that Sandi. The Sandi who loved to laugh, who’s exuberance, zeal and brash attitude made her a sassy broad in all the best senses of that term. As I have been thinking back on my Mom over these past few days, I have been thinking a lot about “Call Me Sandi.”

“Call Me Sandi” – a lover of all things cherub and angel, of things dainty, precious and delicate. Of Elvis, and of her family.

“Call Me Sandi” was a scrapper – she never gave up. Stubborn and headstrong, she could be as tenacious as a pit bull. I often grew up thinking my mom coined the term the best defense is a good offense. Which is, perhaps, why the past few years have seemed especially difficult as I watched a scrapper fade.

Mom was a proud homemaker, but when times got tough would take on extra work as a medical receptionist, a teacher aide or whatever else was required to make ends meet.

She was also a crafty lady – she never met a craft that she didn’t like. She cherished working with ceramics, floral arrangements, swags, dolls and anything else that required imagination and creativity, and she often gave these creations away to friends, family members and even acquaintances who admired special pieces.

Mom loved to bake, and I remember when I was a kid that Christmas baking season began around the same time as the first day of school. And even though we were only a family of 5, by the time Christmas rolled around Mom and Dad had stockpiled enough Nanaimo bars, date squares, slices, Cinnamon rolls, puffed wheat cake,nuts and bolts, rice krispie squares, rum balls. matrimonial squares, rocky road squares, Maple fudge, chocolate fudge, runny fudge, peanut butter cookies and great shortbread cookies to feed a family of 35 for 5 Christmases. When I asked my childhood friends this week about their favorite memories of my Mom, it amazed me how many people’s responses included memories of my Mom’s baking.

When my sister and I arrived at the house Wednesday night, we discovered a book of Mom’s that my sister had given her some years ago. It was a kind of diary called Reflections from a Mother’s Heart – your life story in your own words. It turns out, Mom made a few entries in the book and answered some of the questions, and we would like to share with you some of Mom’s earliest memories – memories that we, too, are just discovering.

What was your favorite pastime as a child? My favorite pastime was playing with paper dolls and dressing up and putting on plays with my sister Dee and all the neighbour girls. I also liked playing school and I was the teacher as we were the only family to have chalk and a chalk board.

What are your earliest memories of church? I went to church when I was six. My earliest memory was that the minister talked and talked. It was a very long service.

List one special memory you have of each of your brothers and sisters.

  • Pat – Lots of fun. Played games with me.
  • Viv – Taught me Grade 5 math and gave me perms.
  • Dot – Took me along for rides in the car with her and her boyfriends. Bought me a dress.
  • Dee – Taught me to twirl a baton.
  • Eileen – When her and I would fight, she would take my clothes and hide them, especially if I had a favorite skirt or sweater. Eventually she gave them back.
  • Al – Gave me cigarettes (funny. I’ll bet there are a lot of people who could say the same about my Mom). He let me use his nice sweater.
  • Dick – Built us forts and played with me.

Family relationships are seldom easy, often complicated and full of twists and turns that can sometimes take you into dark places. You all know. You are all part of families. These relationships bring with them the highest highs and the lowest lows. But at the heart of it all is always love. No matter how dark things get, love endures. It is the glue that holds us together. The light that illuminates. And it is love that has brought us all here today to pay tribute to my mom.

Just call her Sandi.

Excerpts from the eulogy I gave to my Mom on February 12, 2011

The ad purge is complete

I removed the final block of ad code from my site and have added an advertising policy that explains that the intent of this site is to be ad free. If you do come across any old affiliate links or blocks of Google Adsense or text ads that once were on this site, please let me know and I’ll remove them.

I think I need a site facelift now that the ad’s are gone and not taking up so much space. Hmmm…time for a redesign I think.

Dumping the ads and reclaiming my space

This post has been a long time coming, but was finally pushed into the fore by a combination of finally having the time and this post on the Best Daddy Bloggers awards.

When I first began blogging 6 or 7 years ago (gawd, has it been that long?), the parent blogging world was very different, and my attitude towards blogging was very different than it is today. At the time, I wanted to undertake the technical challenges of setting up a personal webspace, having just finished a post-grad program in information technology. I also was about to have my first kid, and want a space to document that journey.

But I also wanted some place to connect with other Dad’s. At the time, there weren’t a lot of places for Dad’s on the web, not a lot of space for personal stories.

In those first few years, I wrote a few posts that got popular and passed around. I was seeing lots of traffic. I was also trying to balance work/life, and thought that maybe I could turn this blog thing into a way to make a few bucks. So, I signed up for Adsense, and explored the world of making a few bucks off my Daddy experiences. This was, oh, like 2005/06 or so. Early days.

But then I noticed something. It changed the way I wrote. The personal stories got less and less, and the blog became more like a machine I had to feed. I became obsessed with stats and tracking and checked my Adsense account often. It changed the way I blogged, and I wasn’t sure I liked it.

Right around this time, blogging exploded – especially parent blogs. Mommy and Daddy blogs were popping up left, right and centre. Sites like Minti and Babble appeared, and parents were forming and connecting online like never before. Blogging about your experiences as a parent became a business model, and I noticed that authenticity I saw in the early days disappearing from the blogosphere. Actually, authenticity became a business strategy. Me included. And I’m not feeling comfortable with it these days.

So, I am going to be removing the advertising from my site. I want to reclaim this space and reconnect with why I started blogging in the first place. It’s about me – this is my story, these are my memories. I put them out there as a way of both sharing and connecting, commiserating when the days are tough, and celebrating when the days are good.

I need to dump the ad’s. That is the first thing I need to do in order to reclaim this space as my own.