Monday, November 14, 2011

Mum's the word

Right now, I'm still a mommy. But I have a feeling that will be changing soon.

Yes, technically I'll still be a mother. But my son is trying on "mom" from time to time. And I'm sad.

Last weekend, one of his best friends slept over. Though her birthday is only one month ahead of his, hers is in December, meaning she is in kindergarten. She refers to me and my husband as our son's mom and dad. Being in kindergarten means letting go of things that are considered babyish. I'm not sure when my mom ceased to be mommy, but I think it was some time between kindergarten and grade 1. And I'm pretty sure my son hears other kids use "mom" and "dad" so it's natural he'd consider calling us that.

It's that conflict of wanting my son to grow yet keep him a little boy at the same time. It's funny, I've heard other women say they hate the word "mommy" but I'm having a hard time letting go of it. I have become attached to it.

I like it when my son sees me at the end of the day and yells, "Mommy!" as he sprints across the room to hug me. And "mom" is so much easier to drag into that whiny, multi-syllabic, "Mo-om," which is usually accompanied by an eye roll.

At the same time, I don't want to be that weird, overprotective mother who forces her kid to act like a baby, becomes the overbearing mother of a teen who hides from her, and finally, becomes the monster-in-law to his significant other.

So I'll enjoy being mommy while I can and hopefully, mom will grow on me when the time comes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tell your story

A friend of mine shared this on Facebook. Thought it was worth sharing here.

We all have our own truth. If someone doesn't agree with the way you represent yours, it really doesn't matter. Tell your story in your words and in your way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembering on Remembrance Day

This is Frank and Isabella Dill, my grandparents. Grandpa was in the Navy during WWII. He never talked about it to me. Even my mom says he didn't say much about his experience in the war, other than to say that it was a waste of life. He didn't get dressed up every Remembrance Day to take part in a parade. He didn't head to the Legion to raise a glass to friends long gone. I'm pretty sure the war had a huge impact on him nonetheless.

During the war, Grandma worked in Halifax, giving paycheques to sailors. She too has said little about her experience. I do know she made friends there and I remember visiting one friend with her when I was a child and lived in Halifax. She didn't do parades either.

Everyone remembers differently. And even though my grandparents weren't about remembering in a public way, I'm certain their experiences during the war helped form the people they became. So today, I think of my grandparents, in addition to my friends who have served, and those who never returned.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Does letter-writing make a difference?

If we're friends on Facebook or you follow me on Twitter, you know how angry I was to hear that BC is significantly cutting nurse visits to new moms and their babies.

My interest in this cause is a personal one. The nurse who visited me and my son our first full day home from the hospital came just in the nick of time. We'd had a terrible night of him screaming at me because I had no milk. She helped me immensely in figuring out the whole breastfeeding thing when I was a sleep-deprived, emotional mess.

Not only that, but Cara followed up with me and told me she would come back and visit any time I needed her to. A lucky coincidence was she ended up being one of the nurses who came to the mom and baby drop-in session at the local community centre. Eventually, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD). Though it wasn't caught in that home visit (I was good at hiding it), being able to talk to Cara was critical to my feeling I was able to open up to my family doctor about the challenges I was having.

Cara was a huge support to us and I don't think I could ever thank her enough. I'm worried that these cuts will mean women give up on breastfeeding and wait longer than they need to to get the help they need for PPD.

Time to act

So with all this in mind, I looked to find out what I could do. I tweeted a CBC radio show that asked for people's reactions. I found out a Facebook group had been created. Supporters of the nurse visit program were encouraged to write to the premier and their MLA, so I wrote a letter telling them my story. I added Minister of Children and Family Development Mary McNeil and NDP critic Claire McNeil to the list for good measure.

So far? Only one form response from the premier's office.

The premier's office response

"Thank you for your email regarding the Healthy Start program. We appreciate the time you have taken to express your views on the subject. As you are aware, government is reviewing the perinatal and child public health services offered by public health nurses, and other care providers, across the province as a component of the Healthy Start pillar of the Healthy Families BC strategy. Our focus is to support all mothers and babies in having a healthy pregnancy, giving all children a good start in life and supporting a healthy future.

As part of the overall Healthy Start program, which is available to all mothers, government is introducing the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP). This program will offer more intensive care, time and resources to low income, young, first time mothers from second trimester through to when their baby is two years of age. Evidence clearly shows that it is the only nurse home visiting program with a wide and varied range of strong positive outcomes for mothers and children. (emphasis mine - Lori)

Government has a responsibility to make sure public health resources are used effectively to support all families with ongoing or episodic care needs- including those who would benefit the most from intensive follow up. We want to assure you the Minister of Health and his staff are working closely with health authorities, physicians and public health nurses to help ensure the program has no unintended impacts.

Thank you again for being in touch. We are always looking for ways to improve programs and policies and your feedback helps us in that process."

My response
In other words, they likely read the subject line of my letter and nothing else. They told me nothing new and they didn't respond to my concerns, namely, how will they ensure that more women don't give up on breastfeeding, or let their PPD go undiagnosed and untreated.

The writer emphasized the "wide and varied range of strong positive outcomes for mothers and children" in the home visit program. So if there are such positive results, how can this be the right place to make cuts? They didn't say.

So I basically feel like writing my letter and actually giving a shit was a giant waste of my time.

Where do I go from here?

What are my options now?

1. Give up.
2. Respond to their letter and call them on not answering my questions.
3. Find other means of making my voice heard - no idea what these are.

Do mothers need to occupy something, perhaps the premier's office? I'm tired and I'm running out of ideas. I want someone to tell me what to do.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Andy Rooney: "Writers don't retire. And I'll always be a writer."

Hearing that Andy Rooney died was like hearing that a great uncle who I didn't see much anymore but still adored was gone.

My dad was a longtime journalist and he'll be a news junkie for life. When I was a kid, I remember sighing every time he turned the TV to the news. Hey, I later ended up becoming a journalist, but I was still a kid at the time. With 60 Minutes, it was a little different. Though it was, well 60 minutes long, Andy Rooney was the reward we got at the end. Perhaps I simply recognized good story-telling.

Rooney's blunt, crusty manner reminded me of other men of his generation who were in my life, particularly my grandfather. And his articulate rants reminded me of one important man not of his generation, my old man. I could be staring off into space, or playing quietly for most of the show, but when Rooney appeared on the screen, my eyes and ears were on him. Riveted.

And the same as when that great uncle dies, I feel regret. Regret that I hadn't watched Rooney recently and regret that I hadn't seen his final sign-off. Watching it online tonight, I was intrigued that he considered himself a writer first and foremost. Not a commentator, and certainly not a TV personality, but a writer.

"A writer's job is to tell the truth. I believe that if all the truth were known about everything in the world, it would be a better place to live," said Rooney.

Well said, Mr. Rooney. Farewell and thank you for the stories.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Heartwarming memories

My friend Mandy from Running with Glitter Glue shared this on Facebook a while back and it reminded me of a story that I wrote several years ago. I'm feeling under the weather and will be under the influence of NeoCitran soon, so thought this was a good opportunity to post it.

This is about one of those childhood experiences that seemed rather devastating at the time, but writing about it made me laugh. Looking at it now as a mother makes me laugh even harder. Enjoy!

The Jell-O Incident

It was another lazy day at the farm for us kids. Morning was inching closer to noon and the temperature already inching closer to 30 degrees when Terri and I changed out of our pajamas. We were ready to take on the world – right after lunch of course. At Grandma’s, lunch was always the same, almost ritualistic: Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup served in melmac turquoise and brown bowls; an assortment of ham and cheese, tuna and roast beef sandwiches; and today for dessert Jell-O! It was the lunch of champions – or at the very least, the lunch of peckish farmers and their grandchildren.

Michelle was up and about already, watching Grandpa sweat away in the barns. Inside, our cousin Terri and I moved as little as possible in preparation for our big expedition of the day – a trip to the bridge. It was already near sweltering so we thought it best to do as little as possible. All we needed to do was fill our energy reserves and we’d be all set to go. Dad was reading the paper as Mom, Aunt Jean and Grandma battled the heat and those sandwiches. Terri and I sat at the table, oblivious to their efforts and impatient for lunch so we could get on with our day.

Grandma leaned into the fridge, no doubt enjoying a brief respite from the sauna of the kitchen. Then disaster struck at 11:30. In an attempt to nudge past the Jell-O to get a jar of pickles she tipped over the unset dessert. Sweet fruit flavoured water splashed down and coated the bottom of the fridge. In a prime example of poor timing, Michelle bounded through the door at that very moment. “When’s lunch Grandma?” she grinned, showing off the gaps where her adult teeth had yet to grow in. Time froze for a few awkward moments. Grandma, crouching in front of the fridge, slowly turned her head towards the door.

“Get your own goddamn lunch,” she said. Terri and I looked at each other, stunned. We turned to Michelle, whose fine blonde hair was nearly standing on end, blue eyes as big as saucers, her bottom lip trembling. The three of us bolted out the door and huddled on the lawn next to the house.

Terri and I were forever making Michelle ask Grandma for stuff – sheets to make forts outside, the badminton rackets, a ride to Tender Tootsies in town. When Michelle complained we were always forcing her to ask Grandma for stuff we chimed, “You’re the youngest, everybody likes you better.” I was 10, chubby and shy and Terri, at 9 years old, was the lanky opposite of me but outgrowing her cuteness.

Michelle, at the tender age of seven, still had wispy hair that turned nearly white in the summer. She was missing her front teeth. She was funny and coy and knew how to use her cherubic cuteness to her advantage. Of course, Terri and I were onto her act, but Grandma? Was it the heat? To make matters worse, nobody – not Dad, Mom or Aunt Jean – had bothered to come out and see if we were okay.

We needed a plan. To the bridge it was, lunch or no goddamn lunch. And we wouldn’t even tell anyone we were leaving. So off we went, looking back at the house now and then, just to see if anyone would come running out with a bag of sandwiches to sustain our trip. But no one did.

The Bridge
The bridge was as much a tradition as our soup and sandwich lunches back in those days. In reality, it was about a one-kilometre walk. For us, it was an afternoon expedition. Once we got to the end of Grandma and Grandpa’s laneway, we’d turn left and hike down the gravel road past Robbie and Myrah Simpson’s farm. Robbie and Myrah’s place was to the right. On the left, the land was still Grandma and Grandpa’s property and at that point in the trip, we’d pass the beehives. More often than not, I’d end up running past them since I was (and still am) dreadfully afraid of bees. Anyway, after the beehives we’d turn right and keep walking until we hit the bridge, unless something else – a massive mud puddle or maybe a furry caterpillar caught our fancy.

The bridge was a simple concrete structure, crossing the Thames River. It was built when Mom was in high school in the 1960s, to replace the old red metal structure that criss-crossed overhead. Grandma had old black and white photos of the old bridge in the big trunk in the spare bedroom Mom and Dad slept in. My first memories of the place are going to the bridge on a fishing expedition with Dad and Michelle when I was six. Michelle was just a toddler and started crying when she realized we weren’t fishing off the bridge, rather we had to walk through the long grass to the water. Finally, Dad got us both back in the car and brought Michelle back to the farm. Dad and I returned for fishing and about five minutes into it, the old rod he’d found in one of the barns snapped.

Now the bridge was different. We kids rarely went there with our parents now. It was our place, where we’d confide in one another and plan our lives. Eventually, it was under the bridge that baby sister of mine would teach me how to properly inhale a cigarette.

Our Great Escape
When we got there that afternoon we were relieved to be away from the farm. We stayed on top for a while, leaning our chins on the railing and just staring at the current below. We could never tell how deep it really was. All I know is it looked pretty black. We never tried swimming in it, nor did we see anyone else attempt to. The most contact we had that day and any time we went to the bridge was throwing rocks into the river. Better than just tossing the rocks overhand was dropping them through the grates meant to let the rain run through. We didn’t quite know where the rocks would drop so we’d stare at the water, watching for tiny rings.

“I’m going under,” Terri announced. She went back to the start of the bridge and walked down the grassy slope, then turned and disappeared underneath. Michelle, who’d outgrown her fear of the long yellow grass, darted after her. I sighed then followed my sister.

Under the bridge, the grass gave way to rocks. Terri stood, hands on hips, surveying our new surroundings. Michelle wandered closer to the water and found a stick. She poked at the rocks. “Don’t go too close to the edge,” I said, not wanting her to fall, which would inevitably lead to my getting in trouble.

My stomach growled, but I didn’t say anything. I knew going back to the farm wasn’t an option. We hadn’t been gone nearly long enough and going back for something to eat would be like admitting defeat. I sat down on the rocks. “I wish there was more wood under here. Then we could build a fort,” I said.

“Yeah, then we’d never have to go back,” Terri agreed. Despite my hunger, I didn’t even think of the fact that we wouldn’t have food. Michelle worked on turning rocks over with her stick. She was frowning, the same way Dad did when he was reading the paper. I wasn’t sure whether it meant she was concentrating on the rocks or what we were saying.

“We could always go back and steal some sheets,” I said. “Yeah, Michelle couldn’t ask for them,” Terri replied. She looked at me and we started laughing. Michelle just kept quietly poking at the rocks.

I stood up and brushed off the backside of my jeans. “Let’s go back up,” I said and started up. Terri sprinted past me, then Michelle. I muttered under my breath, annoyed that my chunky legs didn’t move as fast as theirs and embarrassed that I was out of breath by the time I got back to the edge of the bridge.

We stood back in the same spot we had earlier, tossing rocks into the water. A dirty white car came from the opposite direction of Grandma and Grandpa’s and started over the bridge. The driver, a man about the same age as Grandpa, waved and honked. We had no clue who he was, but people were always waving and honking around here, so we waved back.

Our Return
Then we heard a car coming from the other way, and slowing down to a stop. We looked over and it was my Dad in his aqua Mustang with the bucket seats. “What are you guys doing out here?” he asked. He didn’t sound worried or angry, just curious. “Nothing,” we replied in unison. “Well, get in the car. Supper’s almost ready,” he said. We piled in, feeling defeated. They didn’t even miss us.

The Jell-O incident wasn’t discussed for years. In my teens I asked Mom if she remembered it. She confessed that after we’d fled the kitchen, every adult in the room burst out laughing. Finally, at that moment all those years later, so did I.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to be a good client

Ever have one of those days when you wished you could fire a client?

Many years ago, when I was working retail at a one hour photo lab (I'm really dating myself now, aren't I?), I had my first instance of wanting to kick a customer where it counts. I can't remember what the issue was, but suffice to say I was close to tears by the time he had finished loudly berating me in front of everyone else in the store, coworkers and other customers alike. My manager calmly walked up to the counter and said, "We won't charge you for your order. Now please leave and don't come back again. I won't have you speaking to my staff like that."

I was in awe. "Can my manager really do that?" I wondered to myself. He did. And the business thrived under his management. He cared about his staff and it showed in our performance.

Sorry, tangent. My point is, do you want to be that client? Because a good business person, whether a retail manager, a freelance creative, or an agency president will fire a bad client if they need to. Yes, the economy stinks. But a good business person knows that their sanity and that of their staff (and perhaps their family, in the case of the freelancer) isn't worth it.

Isn't being tough a good thing?
While you may think being difficult is the best way to get what you want, often it stalls and outright derails projects. I'm not talking about being a strong, colourful character who brings ideas to the table. I'm talking about the know-it-alls, the argumentative, the time wasters, and the "Let's yell at the administrator because I'm having a shitty day," kind of client.

In short, good clients enable the experts they have contracted to get things done. Here's how you can be a good client.

1. Commit your time to the project.
You would think that if an individual or a company is ready to pay a professional the big bucks, they would be equally willing to commit their time. Yes, delegating time to your staff is fine, that's what they get paid for, right? But in the end, if you're the business owner, it's your baby. You need to be there for the important meetings. You need to look at every item you approve. Otherwise, you run the risk of discovering something is missing, or worse yet, wrong, when it's too late.

2. Be prepared for our first meeting.
You know your business best. I need to know what your pains are, what your objectives are, and what your clients want. This way, we can all work together to eliminate those nasty pains, and see where your objectives and your client's objectives overlap. That gives us an excellent starting point. Being unprepared simply wastes time. And the adage that time is money is true for both of us.

3. Answer my questions.
I swear, I am not calling you or emailing you questions after our meeting to make your life difficult or because I'm exceedingly lonely. I want to get the job done, and get it done right. And if I keep asking you the same question in different ways? It's because you didn't answer it when I first asked it! When you refuse to answer my questions because you're busy, or because you assume I should know the answer already, it does nothing to move the project forward. And it puts me in a negative frame of mind. Remember, you're paying me to do a job!

4. Remember that sometimes, mistakes happen.
As much as I wish it wasn't the case, shit happens sometimes. I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my work, so believe me when I say it probably hurts me more than it hurts you when I make a mistake. Yes, I'll take my lumps, but there's no need to berate me, much less take it out on someone who isn't to blame, like the office manager, or my colleague if I'm away on the particular day you call. Let me know you're disappointed, but let me know how I can fix the problem and I guarantee you, I will go above and beyond to make you happy. You may even forget about the mistake that made you so angry to begin with.

5. Admit when you are wrong.
Yeah, I know, this is hard for many of us in our personal lives, much less our professional lives. A creative friend actually inspired today's post with a Facebook status about a client, a real estate agent who wanted an open house ad, and forgot to give the team an address. Kind of critical to having an open house, no? Anyway, instead of apologizing when called by the agency, the client screamed, yelled, bitched, moaned, and, get this, said the address wasn't necessary. Yes, you read that correctly. Admit you're wrong and move on.

Creatives and clients alike: any suggestions on other qualities that make for a good client?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hello contentpalooza

Alright, I haven't written in a while. Well, rather, I haven't blogged. Yeah, yeah, don't write about not blogging and maybe people won't notice.

Anyway, I've been trying to get back into it. But starting a new job in August, the insanity that comes with having a pre-schooler and my partner in crime's fall schedule doing school photography has meant blogging has been firmly placed on the back burner.

I'm just not one of those people who can wake up at 3am, work out, write, then serve a nutritious hot breakfast to my family. Leisurely walk to daycare while encouraging my son to stop at every leaf, flower and tree. Drop him off and get to work with half an hour to spare, enjoy coffee and the paper as my colleagues trickle in.

I'm more like press snooze, wake up in a panic realizing I actually turned off the alarm, say goodbye to the husband who is on his way out the door, inspire my child to wake up and get ready by barking orders like a drill sergeant, trying to make the kid pick one of two healthy cereals rather than the weekend sugar bombs, then dashing for the bus, doing daycare drop-off and heading for work. Work my ass off and try not to panic at looming deadlines. Come home, drop dead. Wake up next day and repeat.

Sorry, I got sidetracked there.

Then I saw it: #contentpalooza in a tweet from @violetzombie.

It's about content (duh). It's an offshoot of NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month, when writers write a novel in one month. I've seen a 50,000 word count mentioned here and there. Anyway, contentpalooza seems to mean different thing to different writers. But the key is producing content for 30 days. In a row, not over a year.

Someone I'll no doubt draw inspiration from is my friend, artiste Bret Taylor, who is has been painting every day for just under 700 days. He had his first solo art show last month, which is a huge deal, right? And who has an art show because they paint every now and then?

Any successful writer will tell you to write every day (Stephen King does just that in On Writing). And any successful creator will tell you to create every day.

No concrete goals, just write
So I'll be honest. Right now, I don't have a goal in mind other than blogging every day. I'm hoping that by doing this, I'll get some ideas for projects I can work on. I'm happy that I make a living writing and I'm certainly not going to bite the hand that feeds. However, I always promised myself that whether I was writing full-time for money or not, I would always work on my own creative projects.

Maybe by putting some ideas down in writing here, it will give me the motivation I need to start exploring some of them.

My ideas
1. Write more about my grandparents' farm. I've toyed with using those memories as inspiration for creative non-fiction but I've been a chicken about it.
2. Write more about the causes I support. Yeah, I know, I don't want to become a one-issue writer. But I'm finding my passion for local issues is becoming stronger. Maybe I need to do something about it.
3. Interview and write about my friends who seem to have become content creation machines. Pro: it will give me a kick in the ass. Con: it may be the easy way out, since it would be easy to take the lazy way out and let them tell the story.
4. Hash out creative issues I'm having in my 9-5 job and see if I can resolve them myself or perhaps solicit advice from readers.
5. Explore the unexplored? Not really sure what I mean by that...

I'm not going to put a word count on this because I'm really starting from nothing. Well, nothing since July. Anyway, I think I'm done for tonight. See you all again tomorrow.