Friday, 15 April 2016


Servant Leadership in our Homes

A number of months ago an academic-type friend and I were talking, and she brought forward the subject of 'servant leadership.' She fed me some garb about how 'servant leaders' seek to put the needs of others first as a way of leading and to allow others to 'share' in the power as opposed to a more traditional leadership models which see power flowing from the top-down. Anyway, my thought was, ‘Pssth. Servant leadership. This is just some buzz word that some stuffy academic invented to make him and all his nerdy friends feel all warm and fuzzy inside while they alternate between sitting in peaceful offices and taking sabbaticals.' But, for whatever reason, this notion stuck with me.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, as if often our custom, we made a trip to my family farm and childhood home for Easter. Now, I have to preface this story by telling you that I have a BIG family (I hear you, you have a BIG family multiply yours by 10), and this big family of mine likes to get together for special occasions, play cards, stay up late, and, most importantly, eat a really big meal. So with that in mind, it is no small responsibility that the execution of these epic occasions inevitably falls on the shoulders of one of my sisters. Same sister every time. Don't ask me why, but it's B who sends out an email three months in advance asking which days and times work to get together for X special occasion, and it's B who, after only getting one reply, sends out a reminder email a month later gently asking the same question. After getting a few more replies, she sets a time which then, via multiple other correspondences, she then rearranges to accommodate brother so-and-so who is making the trip from Japan and can only do Saturday pm.

Fast forward to the actual day of said special occasion, and then you have the food. Well, it is B who arranges who is going to bring what (even though she will still end up doing the bulk of the work), and it is B who considers who's a vegetarian this year, and B who stresses about what the new boyfriend (allergic to nuts, wheat, and hates cheese) will eat, and B who rustles up her famous cinnamon buns because niece so-and-so has specially requested them. And then it is B, who after a great feast and with a few helping hands (we're not that terrible) keeps right on trucking until the dishes are in the dishwasher, and the leftovers are put away or sent in care packages with the starving students. Then there is a whole shitload of chaos and noise and connecting and reconnecting and love, and everyone goes home happy and renewed, unquestioning in their expectation that B will absolutely do it all again for the next special occasion.

So, I get it! This. THIS is ‘servant leadership.’ My own sister personifies it, because in the 20 odd years since our mother’s passing, there have been more than few special occasions, all of which materialized into nothing short of magic under B’s careful watch. The word ‘servant’ is entirely appropriate since, unless you count that one time we all chipped together to buy her couch, her efforts have been entirely unpaid and for others’ benefit. Though we endeavor to say our ‘thank you’s’, it really is such small words for such BIG things done with BIG heart, and since it is my firm belief that special occasions as we know them would cease to exist without her, the word ‘leadership’ is also fitting.

Sometimes greatness in life is like that corner lamp in your childhood home that you inherited from your grandparents…It’s been there so long, so steadfastly, that you forget that you are in its presence or how it illuminates all that is important and sacred in its unique light—the kind of thing you don’t miss until some jerk turns it off and everyone shouts simultaneously, “TURN THAT LAMP BACK ON. We can’t see the puzzle.” So to my amazing sister and all others like her who embody true servant leadership in their homes and families, it is an honour and a pleasure to share in the light of your greatness. Thank you… Again.

For: B

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Parenting--the Decline of Good Intentions

7 years ago when we had my son, my husband and I, with the best of intentions, vowed we would never let our kids play with guns, so at the tender age of two when we bought him a pressurized water-spewing instrument, we were careful never to call it a water gun or a water pistol. Rather, “Oliver, you got me with your blaster,” or “I'm going to squirt you. Better run.” And for this I gave myself a little pat on the back until...

One day a year later late in the fall, I look up and my not-yet-4 year-old has his very own finger-gun pointed right in my shocked face. “Bang! I shoot you Mom!” As I collected myself from the mental GSW, my thoughts scrambled, 'Where? Who? Why?' and then it hits me. Preschool. PRESCHOOL. The little psychos in his preschool are to blame. They have exposed my son to gun violence. Well, I wasn't having that. First, we sat down and had a serious talk with our son about the meaning of his obscene little finger gesture, and how guns can hurt people and how we never point them at anyone even as a game, and on and on. Then we diligently informed the preschool teacher of the incident so she would be able to prevent further carnage. Things improved for awhile and in my head, I'm all like, “Phew. Crisis averted.” Until...

One day a number of months later, I took my son and few of his buddies to a park where they were running around happily while I ignored them, happy to be in conversation with another adult on the park bench. Then I saw it. My son and their friends had their finger-guns blazing! They were deeply engrossed in a game of Bang-Bang-I-got-you with the older children of this woman I was talking to, all laughing and having a whale of a time. Now this was one of those awkward parenting moments where you find you are in complete disagreement with the person sitting next to you (who you've only just met) about the appropriateness of a certain behavior, and you have to decide if or to what extent you will intervene. Well, what did I do? I took my posse aside, asked them not to use the words 'kill' or 'die,' and settled on the use of finger guns if they agreed not to point them at each other. Just this once. The boys went on playing while I silently judged the mom and politely excused myself to sit elsewhere.

Well, 'just-this-once' became 'just-this-twice' and so on until they tired of finger-guns a few months later. I wasn't thrilled about this turn of events, and during this time, I occasionally made futile attempts to keep the gun-play on the up and up...whatever that means. Much to my relief, the gun powder settled for some time until my son's 5th birthday when his uncle gifted a him his very first shiny, multiple-rounds nerf gun. His face lit up while my husband and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows. We put off opening it for awhile and tried to distract him with his other presents which we did successfully for a few days. We finally relented and let him take it out the package, but not before yet another big speech on the seriousness of guns and the threat that we would put the gun away if he ever shot it at anyone which of course he did...less than half an hour later.

Fast forward a year or so, I take my son and his two little sisters to a park. At this point and at this particular park, my son is a little bored, finding everything a bit too-baby for his liking, so he occupies himself collecting rocks while I alternate between pushing the baby on the swing and catching his other little sister on the slide. Then I notice my son enviously watching a family on the periphery of the park. They have slightly older kids, nerf-guns blazing, and they are heavily engaged in an enthusiastic gun battle. The dad is really into it--falling over, sound effects, and a running commentary—when he notices my son and asks, “Mind if he joins in? We have an extra gun.” Sigh. “Not at all. Go for it, Oli.” And they really did have a good time.

Well, over the next year gun-play made its way into our son's play repertoire quite regularly, whittling away the last of my 'good intentions.' His friends started getting similar toys, he watched movies with all manners of weapons, and came out with random new gun vocabulary that I can only blame on the schoolyard. So if you ask me how we got from the best of intentions seven years ago to where we are today...

Him: Mom, wanna see me gun collection?
Me: Sure. (all Lego, I assure you)
Him: This one is called a Turbo Pistol and it has two triggers and a scope that lets you see bad guys from far away.
Me: Oh!
Him: And this one has shields on it and it can throw bombs. Oh yeah, and this part holds the ammo so you can shoot for like 2 hours.
Me: 2 hours!
Him: And Mom! Do you want to see my biggest one?
Me: Yea! (Who am I to argue with a 7 year-old wielding multiple weapons?)
Him: This. (proudly displaying his creation. You should see it sometime. Really impressive.) THIS is the SUPER DEATH GUN, and it can...

…well I have no idea, but I can tell you this…I’m more than willing to take my turn on the receiving end of other parents’ scathing judgement on this or any other matter. It’s the circle of parenting life really—to judge and then have to eat your words later, to start with the best of intentions, and then find that your children have better ones. As a seasoned parent, you realize a few things… One is that all things come and go in phases, so where he might be into guns this week, next week it will be skateboards, and then Star Wars the week after that. Two is that all of these phases come with their own mishaps and lessons, all of which shape our children into the amazing people they are and shape us into the parents we need to be.  Three is that it’s not about the ‘decline of good intentions’ at all, rather the slow burn of a realization that it is not actually you who is in charge on this journey you call parenting. 

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Pissed-Off Matriarch

We've all seen her around from time to time. She makes a few appearances in family homes every year, often-but-not-limited-to special occasions. You know the Pissed-Off Matriarch (POM) has arrived from the subtle sound of dishes clattering a little too noisily, the tone of her clipped 'Fine' when you ask her if everything is ok, or from her uncharacteristic bark when the second cup of milk spills all over the lunch table. She isn't talking as much as usual, and her dark mood oozes out of her like venom. You have no idea who or what peed in her Cornflakes, but you know better than to ask. If it was you, and probably it was, it's best to just keep your head down. You find it uncomfortable, and you wonder why she has picked today of all days--your son's 4th birthday--to act this way. She has the whole household walking on eggshells, and you wonder why she can't put on a smile and just suck it up (whatever 'it' is).

What you fail to realize is that she is doing just that!  The fact that the POM in your life is accomplishing the sheer volume of tasks that she is, on three hours of sleep, with a baby on her hip, with a headache she hasn't told you about, all in the company of your less-than-quiet extended family whilst not resorting to screaming, tranquilizers, or retreat is a testament to her formidable ability to 'suck things up.'

What you also don't realize when your well-intentioned parents arrive with an abundance of garden fresh produce is that it takes time—time she doesn't have—to wash, peel, slice and present said vegetables and to make a dip so that people actually consume them.

And in your heroic efforts to get the groceries, sweep the floor, and peel the potatoes in the span of just two hours you forget that this woman—this beautiful, angry woman—has spent days, weeks organizing this birthday in her head so it will be just right for your son who she loves more than life itself. She has spent time arranging and rearranging a time that works for everyone, attended to thousands of little details—everything from cousin Sally's nut allergy to the sleeping arrangements for out of town guests (clean sheets and towels for everyone) to the creation of a Pinterest-worthy monster truck cake.

You wonder why she can't just scale back a little (a lot!). No one would ever notice. Do NOT say this to her. She tortures herself wondering why she fusses this way, but she knows it has something to do with love.

Though the little tiff she told you about with her bestie is long gone from your mind, she is still stewing, and the only way she can get her mind off it is to make monster truck confetti—lots of it. Yes she knows there's more than enough, and, no, that is no reason to stop.

She realizes that your family is unlikely to be impressed by her new kale and stilton dip, but, quite frankly, she is sick of obliging their desires for all things kraft and cheez with a 'z'. Besides, she likes stilton.

Yes, she knows your Auntie Elizabeth pulls off this type of classy affair every second Sunday, sans pissy mood, all smiles and chatty pleasantries, and seemingly effortless, but what you don't realize is that your dear Auntie Elizabeth's famous cinnamon bun are store-bought, and that underneath her fucking flower-print dress, big boobs, and Betty Crocker apron, Auntie Elizabeth is actually a ROBOT. And your dear POM makes it a habit to not compare herself to robots.

She hates herself when she snaps at the kids or you over little things. She knows she is not being entirely fair, that she just got herself in over her head, and that you're all paying a price. No one is kicking herself more than she is for overdoing it AGAIN and for forgetting to save some energy to enjoy the day as she'd planned.

Having said that, your Pissed-Off Matriarch loves doing this stuff only slightly less than the people she does it for. She really does hope you will never-mind her mood, give her a hug, some encouragement, at least try the stilton dip, and just get on enjoy the party. That's what she wants most of all actually. Just enjoy the damn party.