Nature vs Nurture

Parents, remember when the children were little, and you thought that each time a phase hit, it was the toughest time of all?

Ahh, the terrible twos. The tantrums, the fights to get them to eat a vegetable, the potty training (sorry, I think it’s called, ‘learning,’ now), the struggle to speak language one person besides Mommy will understand. That was tough.

The first day of kindergarten when they were afraid to let go of your hand and you were afraid they wouldn’t make any friends because, well, they’re weird. They’re so little. They made the friends and colored the pictures and learned their ABC’s. That was tough.

Then when they hit middle school and you thought they wouldn’t adjust to roaming the halls to class, or they would get in with the ‘wrong’ crowd, they wouldn’t make any friends, because well, they’re weird and awkward and your kid. And so young. The school dances, the snapchats, the social media. That was tough.

Then high school. Whoa, high school. Will they be bullied; will they join the club they like or not join any club? Will they play band or try out for a team, or will they get an afterschool job? Will they have friends, because well, they’re even more weird than before and they’re your kid? Social media, field parties, smoking, drinking, drugs, rebellious door-slamming and the ever popular, “I’m-sleeping-over-at-so-and-so’s-house” when really, they’re at a field party.  That was tough.

Every stage is tough from babyhood to adulthood.  Acknowledging the toughness and the weird awkward strange oblivion of parenthood makes it almost bearable, when you know everyone has gone through or is going through the same thing.

But what happens when they’re not?

What happens if your kid is the one who bullies? Your kid is the one who flunks out, who has anger issues, who smokes outside the cafeteria or inside it, who drinks, who does the drugs? What then?

It’s so easy for people to jump to assumptions and judge. Bad parenting. Ignorance. Not paying attention.

Nope. Nope. And NOPE.  

Sorry, judges, that is not how it works. Bad parenting cannot be the knee-jerk reactionary reason for kids to turn to the dark side. Not buying that.

Oh, sure it can be blamed for some kids, but not all. It’s not a ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of deal.  Here’s a thought before you judge. Chemical imbalance? Something deeper going on. Mental Health issue?  Let’s look at a case study.

A couple get married and decide to start a family. Mom has trouble conceiving, so she adopts. Baby number one, she is told, is healthy and perfect. The adoption went so well, they decide to adopt another. Baby number two is six-weeks old, healthy, they were told, and perfect. Then uh oh, mom gets pregnant. What she thought was the flu, was a baby. She gives birth prematurely, the baby struggles, but manages to survive.

So, nuclear family. Three children from all different birth mothers. All raised by the same parents in the same household, but completely different personalities, character traits and DNA.

Baby 1 is developing normally, excels in school, sports and is an all-around average kid. Works hard, gets good grades, has friends, etc.

Baby 2 developed normally, however, there were issues. He starts manifesting behavioural issues. Anger, truancy, failing grades, poor impulse control, etc. This continues into adolescence when it evolves into drug use, alcohol use, behavioural and anger management issues, until finally, police involvement and a stay at a group home.

Baby 3 Develops normally. Shy, but average grades, friends and works throughout high school, an average kid.

So, an average household, considering the constructs of the loss of the patriarch during the adolescence years of all three children. Two out of the three children develop normally. Go on to acquire post-secondary education, move out of the home and get married. They have children of their own and are happy.

Baby 2 struggled his entire life. Social workers, and school personnel tried to explain his behaviour, but none could, until it was too late. Behaviour difficulties manifested from a poor sense of self, poor self esteem, and a steep learning disability. He left high school at sixteen illiterate.  By the time he was in his twenties, things began to change. He got a job. He had a girlfriend. He was learning to read and write. He had his own apartment. He matured, changed, and realized his worth.

So, all three raised by the same parents, but one went completely off the rails. Totally off script, sideways in every way imaginable.

Bad parenting? No, on the contrary. Both parents were stable, loving, generous influences on their children.

Let’s consider that two babies were adopted. Birth parents and their influences on those babies played an integral part in their development, despite being physically absent.

Baby 2, in my opinion, suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. All the signs were there, but in the seventies, this was unheard of.  It was not a well-known nor often diagnosed syndrome. If the parents had not disclosed the babies’ adoptions, it would not have been investigated. Why would it? The parents were not drinkers.

My point in this long case study, in explaining this perspective, is for clarity. Is for a different perspective on kids going through a tough time, other than the label of ‘bad parenting.’  Stop it.

Instead, support. That ‘bad kid’ may come back from whatever hole he is in, and it won’t be because he had bad parents. It will be because of maturity, support, good parents who stuck it out and decided he was worth sticking around for. Shunning, shaming and labeling doesn’t work. Simply stating that the parents are to blame helps no one. And, in most cases, it’s not true.

As a parent, we were strict. We totally own that. Rules, limits, and more rules. Our kids will raise their children the way they see fit. They will be good parents based on, yes how they were raised, but also outside influences, chemical make-up of their children, and good ol’ personality traits. It’s the classic nature vs nurture and say what you will, nature will always play a part.

Next time you hear of someone’s child going down a dark path, before you judge, before you slough it off as bad parenting, consider there may be a different reason. Support. Listen. Encourage. Be someone’s ally, not a discouraging judge.

You Do You

The winds of change are bringing out the flowers, the green grass, and my abhorrent lack of patience. Time marches steadily on and as if there was not enough angst and anxiousness whispering among the buds of the trees, I have life events that are tugging at my pant leg. It’s the inevitable curtain of change tumbling down that sends everyone careening to the safety of backstage and I’m not sure I’m ready. Hold on a minute. Where are you going?

The kids are growing up and out, the job is getting so ingrained in my daily existence I don’t understand how the new people don’t understand. It’s because they haven’t been here for a millennium. It’s because I’m so used to working alone that I know all the procedures BECAUSE I INVENTED THEM. I made them so my life at the office would be an efficient life at the office not a “dafuq-is-this-shit?” kind of vibe. And now, as I head into the ‘cruising’ part of my professional life, I’m left explaining myself to the newbies, who with their wide puppy dog stares and apparent need to question my motives behind the filing organization, stand with notepads in hand and jot down what I say. Really? Ya need to write that down?  Okay, you do you.

That seems to be my new motto. I don’t have the patience to explain why the pencil sharpener is on the desk beside the door, and not on the other side of the room. But if you need to have a new flow, a new Fung-shui kind of moment, you do you. Give ‘er. I’ve done my part. I’ve contributed the better part of my daily presence to creating a good space, making sure everyone understands the role, and ensuring people are comfortable. The desks are new, the space is clean and new, and the files are current. You wanna add a fish tank, or new pictures on the walls, awesome. Do that.  

My body has decided to stage a revolt and the ultimate coup has resulted in seriously arthritic hip. The universe has played the last ace and is reveling in my newfound awkward and slow gait, throwing the final blow with a two-year wait time for a replacement. Thanks, Healthcare. It’s awesome being fifty-five and walking like a ninety-five-year-old grandma.  I get sympathetic looks and pitiful glances from the public who feel I must need help. I must need supervision and a trained aide just to walk in the mall. Somebody help the old lady before she throws out her other hip!  Dude. Chill.

My family takes a much different approach. Their sympathy has turned to mocking. Their pity has evaporated into exasperation. Especially with all the cane-dropping going on.  They’re more likely to mock my limp and curse the cane.  It’s a never-ending battle between trying to maintain a sense of dignity while good Samaritans try to rescue the beast from the floor. Not me, the cane. The bane of my existence. The very thing that helps me to walk but causes me to swear. Thanks for feeling bad for me, but let it stay there and rot. That thing clangs and drops without any warning leaving people scrambling to pick it up lest I fall to my demise. PLEASE LET ME FALL. I could get a new hip faster if it’s actually broken instead of just rotting slowly away. Seriously. DROP ME DOWN THE FUCKING STAIRS.  

When days are warmer than freeze-your-ass-off degrees, I find myself lamenting the loss of the ability to run. To get outside and feel the breeze in my face and hear the music in my ears, my running shoes pounding on pavement, playing chicken with oncoming traffic. I miss it.  I also miss the ability to walk with stuff in both hands instead of making multiple trips carrying things in one hand or asking for help. Simple things that others may not think of, that I never thought of, is now at the top of my list of things to remember.  Getting older sucks.

Change is hard. Life is hard. Using a cane is driving me mad, but better days ahead. The Summer will arrive for a day or two. The sun will beat down and the birds will sing. The flowers will bloom, and we will be able to sit outside with a cold beverage and wonder what we were complaining about. The kid will get into Medical School, the daughter will get married, and daughter squared will get her dream job. AND I’ll get a new hip.  It will all happen. Someday.

In the meantime, I’m looking at upgrading from a cane to a Segway. Thoughts?

I need me one of these.

All the World’s A Stage

The fall winds are beginning to whisper among the trees, and I hesitate to say farewell to summer. It has gone too quickly, and I’m afraid I’ve wasted the last few months lamenting the horrible weather. While the rest of North America endured days of heat, we had rain and cool temps.  Heat was scant and reticent.  July was nothing short of a warmish fall. We were able to escape to a ‘staycation’ where summer kindly smiled on our hiking adventures and sunset viewings, but it was merely one week amongst many.  I’m convinced I will have to wait an entire year for any more sunshine and summer hospitality.

The ‘hood on the other hand, withstood a veritable plethora of activity posted via Facebook, complete with visual documentation. I would say most were outraged, disappointed, and appalled by the utter gall of those damned teenagers acting like, well, teenagers. The absolute nerve. How dare they ring doorbells and run, pull their pants down on a trail and moon an old lady who was out for her pre-evening stroll; let out their pirate cat who promptly shit on someone’s back patio. Who are these heathens?  It’s the inevitable restlessness of youth and the audacity to think its funny. It is, but the lack of enthusiasm for humouring the young people has more to do with overly sensitive self-righteousness than the normality of teenaged angst. Don’t blame the teenagers, y’all. Blame your inflated sense of civility.           

The neighbourhood is just that. A neighbourhood. A community that is connected through family, children, and its inhabitants no matter the age, ethnicity, and religion. Let’s remember that our community encompasses a group of like-minded people who endeavour to maintain a healthy and active social network. Children inevitably grow into young adults and those young adults are inherently adept to making mistakes; errors in judgement; perhaps inducing a raucous gathering or vandalising property. The responsibility lies in the reaction of the adults to discourage the negative behaviour with the understanding that teenagers are also reacting. This has been a difficult and unprecedented year and a half. ‘Normal’ is gone and replaced with something unrecognizable. Masks, limited gatherings, sports activities disappeared then returned, and every occasion has been laced with restrictions. It’s hard to keep up.  Teens are especially sensitive to the ongoings of their social network and with the onslaught of limitations to their access to friends, school, and leisure activities, of course they would get a little, antsy; restless; thoughtless. It’s a by-product of the new social construct. They must figure out a new path, a new way to be a teen without the world watching, and commenting, and proclaiming the youth have become disrespectful degenerates.

No, they haven’t. They just haven’t been given the opportunity to show off their community mindedness due to the few that have reacted differently to a challenging situation. Or, you haven’t noticed.  You haven’t seen the youth who are volunteering virtually, who are helping behind the scenes, who are standing in line at the grocery store for their elderly neighbour, or who are working jobs and getting spat on for the inhuman act of asking someone to wear a mask. Instead, you’ve seen the vulnerable insecure few who have chosen to perform on a small stage and been ridiculed for it.  

Take a breath.

In the meantime, the pirate cat can come over anytime.


On The Edge of An Ocean

The black and white photo of my parents sits proudly next to my wedding picture on my mantle. They were younger, huddled together with arms secured around each other in a joyful embrace. That’s how I like to remember them. Laughing. Together.

Both have since gone. My dad succumbed to cancer that ravaged his fifty-six-year-old body until there was nothing left. Memories were taken at the end. I heard him ask my mother as we stood at his bedside about the red-headed girl who was crying.  “Who is that?” he had asked. My mother looked at me, confused. She turned to his questioning face. “That’s Karla. You know her,” she said quietly patting his hand and willing him to recognize his only daughter.

My Dad was from Nova Scotia. “I’m a Bluenoser,” he would say. We would crinkle our noses and laugh, “Your nose doesn’t look blue!” I had no perception of Nova Scotia. A scant picture of a foreign landscape and of a Nana I didn’t know were my only introductions to an East Coast so vastly different than my Southwestern Ontario upbringing.  I possessed no concept of life outside my little townhouse in Chatham. He would tell us tidbits of his life in Digby. My dad was an only child. His stories of eating seaweed and sardines made us cringe and laugh. When he was in his teens, my grandfather urged him to work on the fishing boats. Hard work to which my Dad gave an honest effort, but it wasn’t for him. He had other plans. A three-year stint in the Air Force and then off to Ontario to find work. By 1954, he and my Mother had married, and they had started a family.

I’m fifty-four and I have lived in Newfoundland and Labrador for twenty-five years. I married a Botwood boy out of college. We met in Toronto, married, and started a family. As fate would have it, we were destined to an island, again, very foreign to me. It took a few years and a few kids later, but I adjusted. I understand the Bluenose reference. My ears have become acclimated to the various dialects and nuances of Newfoundland vernacular. I have even said a few, “Go on, b’ys,” myself. I appreciate the ease of becoming part of a community that is innately communal. Generations of families living close and welcoming ‘mainlanders’ into their fold. An expedition to stomp around the homestead of my late father is never far from my mind. A bucket-list item that heads the top, it should have happened years ago, but with babies comes responsibilities. The leisure of visiting a place of my roots was put off for something more immediate like a school trip or dance lessons. Now, the notion of a no-travel ban has raised its steel toe boot to my bucket- list and I lament not having made the trip. I had the luck to visit the Maude Lewis exhibition in Halifax last year before the ugly virus drove us inside. I felt at home sitting outside her house, thinking my Dad may have driven by her little painted dwelling on his way out of town. Maybe my grandfather knew her. The mere idea of a connection makes me feel at home. I’m part Bluenoser, part Newfoundlander and part Chathamite. Fractions of places that feed my identity as a whole woman at ease living on the edge of an ocean.

Top Ten Tips for a Happy 2021

With the uptick in COVID-19 cases in our province and the heightened alert of everyone regarding isolations, I think it necessary to concentrate on what we can control. We can control our behaviours, ie, wear a mask and wash our hands. We can also control how we react to situations, ie, restraining the urge to gossip about how cases evolved or how someone was irresponsible with lax protocols. We can also choose to remain positive and upbeat, and maybe spread a smile instead of a virus.

In the spirit of maintaining sanity and spreading joy not disease, I’ve concocted a Top 10 list to lighten your spirit. Or make you drink. Either way, it is a real mood enhancer. Enjoy!

 Now go wash your hands!

Top 10 Tips for a Happy 2021

10.  Last year is so last year – Resist the urge to look into the rear-view mirror with horror-stricken eyes on a year that dragged its ass into your world and ate your last donut. Instead, look ahead to all the possibilities that are laying at your feet. “What, a new brand of wine? How nice!” See?  POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.

9. You don’t have to visit family, unless you want to – “Uh, I can’t come over, Aunt Martha.  COVID, remember?” Sometimes, it’s better to stay away from family. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or something like that. Maybe Aunt Martha was nasty to you one too many times, so visiting her can be off the table with no guilt. A GIFT FROM THE UNIVERSE.

8. Outside doesn’t have to be scary- Even in the grips of winter, the outdoors can trigger all kinds of good feelings. Go for a walk in the woods, (not in the creepy woods, but in the nice bright ones with sunshine) snowshoeing (Hubby bought us both a pair to try. Should be interesting) or take the doggo out for a trot. The fresh air will do wonders for your body and your mood. You won’t act like such a twatsicle when someone asks you a simple question, if you’ve just spent half an hour laughing at your neighbour for falling on her ass in the snow. See? I’m helpful.

7.  You can choose to tell, ‘Dry January and February and every other month’ to Fuck-off – It seems to be all the rage, now. People are posting about not drinking for the next few months because everyone consumed copious quantities of alcohol during the initial COVID lockdown and thereafter, BECAUSE IT WAS NECESSARY TO KEEP LIVING.  STOP THE MADNESS. We are still in a pandemic and while I applaud the do-gooders who are keeping themselves ‘dry’ for a cause or just for themselves, I am choosing to drink my face off. I’ll be posting my weekly posts about how much wine I consumed on the weekend. I’m helping to keep the liquor stores stocked and the wine prices lowered while the rest of you ‘dryers’ are abstaining now, so when you do return to drinking, there’s not a shortage. Can you imagine if everyone stopped drinking? The liquor stores would stop ordering supplies, because of lack of sales. People will be laid off. The public would resort to standing outside the liquor stores wondering where all the wine went and why the shelves remain empty. They’ll be brandishing cocktail forks and little paper umbrellas protesting the government and their lack of response to a dire situation…I JUST SAVED ALL OF THAT FROM HAPPENING BECAUSE I KEPT DRINKING. YOU. ARE. WELCOME.

6.  Try something new – It can be a new hobby, a new tv show, a new movie, a new hairstyle, a new spouse…I kid. I kid.  A little bit of change can make a big difference, so embrace the time to try something you’ve always wanted to try. Paint, draw, write, dance; something that’s different and maybe challenges you. I’m going to try drunk snowshoeing. See? Add alcohol and ANYTHING can be fun. See #5.

5. Redecorate – I’m talking rooms in a house, here. I redecorated the front room of our house and although it was a lot of work, it’s one of my favourite places to hang out, now. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, Hubby has decided to take it one step further by redoing all the floors in all 3 bedrooms on the second floor. With hardwood. Meaning he is responsible for tearing up the carpet, because he wanted to even though SOMEBODY told him not to.  Yay. So, he’ll be tearing up carpet and I’ll be drinking because nothing says, ‘support for Hubby in his new endeavour’ like a wife standing by with a full glass of wine repeatedly reminding him, “I told you not to do that by yourself.”  So much fun!

4. Rest – Sometimes, just taking a day to sit and watch the snow fall or watch a mindless tv program can ease your brain and give yourself a much-needed break. No need to work endlessly or try to keep yourself too busy. There’s such a thing as burning out and you do not need to be everything to everyone all the time. Take it easy. *sip, sip*

3.  Get some exercise – I’m not talking about a marathon or the World Body Building Championship, just move a bit. Go for a walk, take in a yoga class or something to get your heart rate up. You will be surprised how much better your feel afterwards…and, you will have burned enough energy to have that glass of wine. Or five. It’s all about balance, people.

2. Clean up – It’s a large task and one that I abhor. It’s time-consuming and tedious, however, decluttering has advantages beyond a tidy house. The process of purging gives you a sense of purpose. You have a task that keeps you focused on the activity of improving your space. AND, what you decide to toss may still be appropriate for donation. Check with your local Salvation Army or Diabetes Association for their guidelines during COVID. You could be making a big difference in someone else’s life, not just your own.

1. Choose to be happy – I read this somewhere and there’s elegance in its simplicity. You can choose to be happy instead of lamenting the situation you find yourself in. You can choose to smile instead of frowning your way through the day. You can choose to lift someone up with a positive word or a kind gesture instead of begrudging her. It’s simple. And it doesn’t cost anything. A win-win all around.

Those are the tips to keep your spirits up and your mood in-check. When in doubt, there’s wine.

Always.

Stay safe and stay healthy,

KJ xo