Traditions, traditions…??

Traditions are developed over long periods:  decades, centuries, millennia…or so I thought. 

It’s the time of year again when traditions take centre stage.  The holidays are approaching and everyone – every family, every social and religious group – has their own way of celebrating all based on their traditions.  But traditions aren’t just about holidays or special events; they also govern the way that we interact with one another in our day-to-day lives.

This year, I am spending the holiday season together with my own family, as a tenant in my parents’ house. For those who missed my previous post, let me catch you up.  Aged forty-something, mother of 2 boys and wife of one very Mr. Niceguy, I’m undertaking the ambitious project of renovating my house into my dream home (or as close to it as budget will allow!).

It goes without saying (though must be said as both parents are avid readers of my work) that my parents are making the ultimate sacrifice.  I’m sure that when my sister and I first moved out they must have breathed the largest sigh of relief: “Finally…”  They had accomplished what I believe all parents hope to achieve (which I now appreciate):  two married daughters, established, homes of their own – now they could relax.

Until they took us in.

Only months after they had taken in my younger sister and her family…

And only weeks after they completed their own renovations…

But (I believe) as parents, they’d signed a deal (perhaps with God or the universe) and in so doing, upheld their traditions of always caring for family so on November 2 (Mr. Niceguy’s birthday!!) we moved in.

I had prepared my brood for how they’d need to behave:  be neat and tidy, no eating in front of the television, no yelling/screaming/fighting/pretend skiing or car racing in the house/and always, always finish the food on your plate.  I thought I had it figured out what with years and years being under my parents’ roof – surely things could not have changed that much, could they?

What I hadn’t banked on was just how much I would change (or come into my own) after flying the coop…

Kim K ArmeniaWhen I married Mr. Niceguy I thought to myself, I will absorb this man.  I come from a culture that is as old as Ancient Egypt (and incidentally has produced some of the sexiest people in the world including Kim Kardashian!) while his is only a few hundred years old.  I will convert him to an Armenian and he will adopt all of our traditions, our ways of being – he will no longer be phased by my air-traffic-controller hand gesticulations or jump at my voice as I yell commands from just the other room as though I was on a trans-Atlantic telephone call circa 1979 – incidentally my dad still does this whenever he’s on a long-distance call…even if it’s just to my aunt and uncle in Hamilton!

Oh how wrong I was.  While Mr. Niceguy did get used to me and my ways (he loves the cuisine and even raises his voice above a whisper from time-to-time)…I hadn’t realized until I moved in with my parents just how many of his traditions I’d adopted.  He quietly, stealthily, converted me into a person who went from blurting, “Huh?” and “What?!” to “Pardon?” and “Please.”  Living with my parents, I see where so many of my quirks and foibles come from but having had time apart, you really do develop your own traditions.

Our life has become so individualized:  each of us has a schedule – I volunteer, write, and am managing our home renovation; Mr. Niceguy has a full time job and is constantly in training mode for one obstacle race or another; and the 9 year old and 5 year old are a couple of jumping beans bouncing between school, soccer, swimming, piano, skiing, judo, jiu jitsu and everything else in between!  We have what’s a very modern “grab-and-go” lifestyle.  We eat on the run, do homework on the run, catch-up on the run and perhaps the only two things we do staying still are video games and sleep.  (And TV for me!!)

Just the other day I was standing in the kitchen having breakfast for dinner:

Elegant mom:  What are you doing dear?  Why are you eating like that, hunched over your plate?  Why don’t you sit down?

Me:  ***Food stuffed cheeks***  Pardon?

Elegant mom:  I said, why don’t you sit down while you eat?  And what is it that you’re eating anyway?  Are you having eggs?  For DINNER??!

Me:  ***Swallow quickly – don’t talk with mouth full***  Yes.  It’s Wednesday.  Wednesday is Judo night.  I got the boys from school, cleaned up, did homework, made breakfast for dinner, and now I’m just eating quickly so I can get them to their class…

Elegant mom:  But eggs?  For dinner?  Surely dear they must need better nourishment.  They’re growing boys!  Look here, I’ve made green fasoolia with rice – why don’t you feed them what I made?  And where’s Mr. Niceguy?  Should I fill a plate for him?

Me:  ***Totally exasperated – I don’t have time, I don’t have time, I don’t have time…*** Mom I don’t have time!  I have to get them out of the door.  Mr. Niceguy will take care of himself!

Elegant mom:  “Take care of himself?”  No.  That’s not right.  He must feel comfortable and be well fed in our home.  You know dear, you must make time for good nutrition.  Look at you. Did you sleep well?  You know, if you don’t take care of yourself…

Carrie Post photoThis is one of just a myriad of interactions…in a day.  But I’m beginning to realize that perhaps I shouldn’t depart so quickly from my “old” traditions. While loud and food centric at times, these traditions are rooted in taking the time to have real interactions – not just those on-the-go – they value a slower, more humane pace and while I seldom have the patience for “twenty questions” (“Where’d you go? What’d you do? Who’d you see? Who’d you know?”*), they’re an indication of real, genuine interest and caring: the cornerstone of family.

So, while you make your lists for Santa this year consider the gift of family and good friends.  I am getting the gift of knowing my parents as the people they are now, Mr. Niceguy is getting a front-row seat to my history, and my children are not only getting to build memories with their grandparents, but getting first-hand experience with our rich and unique culture laced with ALL of our traditions.

Now, if only I could put a stop to the teen angst flashbacks that keep cropping up like my chubby days, the mean girls, the countless crush dramas, getting caught, the heartbreaks and, and, and…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, your families and loved ones.  May 2016 bring us all more of what will fill our hearts and souls, and make memories we can recount for years to come…

*Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City, recounting discussions with Aiden Shaw after moving in together to her girls.




The Great Outdoors Pt. II: You can take a fish out of water…or can you?

Summer’s over…it’s back to school and (slowly) back to writing.  But just before I completely leave my beloved season behind, thought I’d share this little happenstance from just a couple of weeks ago…  (Dedicated to all those city girls that put in the effort for their families – and especially to TSM, a true lover of cottaging – how do you do it?!)

This summer, my top priority was to take a break from everything routine – my blog, homework, extra-curricular activities and most especially electronics – and to focus on the great outdoors.  At least I tried anyway…minus my addiction to Candy Crush (I had resisted for so long!) a game where the object is to match up coloured candy in various patterns in order to progress to increasingly more challenging levels. You see, one night, seeing Mr. Niceguy so engrossed in this game, I snuck a peak and got sucked into candy land myself – didn’t matter that I’d been getting facebook requests on a daily basis, but like a lemming I followed Mr. Niceguy into his candy cavern and I swear I now see everything in “candy vision”:  can I shift that car over there and blast that row to drive into that spot?  Let me fork some salad, a piece of kebab dunked in hummus which then snatches some rice – quadruple effect!!

Bachelor-In-Paradise-August-4-2014-Recap-250x200(The lack of) summer TV programming also helped with my goal of getting back in touch with Mother Nature and “a simpler lifestyle”… particularly once the World Cup ended (which, in essence, was a total nightmare for a die-hard Espana fan such as me) but just until a couple of weeks ago, when Bachelor In Paradise started and my Achilles’ heel started to itch…I gave myself the green light – after all, the show is set in the “great outdoors” (ok, not quite the great outdoors but a contrived resort on the beaches of Tulum, Mexico).  But since I too would be going to the cottage for our annual pilgrimage soon, I figured this little indulgence was justified…it would lessen my dread of cottages and whet my appetite for some sand, sun and water activities…I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Those who know me know that I’ve been quite vocal and unabashed about my dislike of cottaging.  It’s not that I don’t think it’s “of value” – particularly when it comes to children and forging a love of the outdoors, physical activity, creativity, and so on but still, I have to sit through hours of traffic to get to some remote destination where I “have the privilege” of doing all the cooking, cleaning, planning and entertaining…wait, isn’t that what I do at home anyway???!!  

I wasn’t always plagued with such an aversion; my “cottage allergy” has only become more severe since I had children.

Before then, I used to dislike cottaging because I was a bit of a priss and had a hard time letting go of my creature comforts like my favourite pillow, air conditioning, water pressure and the ability to flush the toilet as many times as I wanted (sit down you environmentalists – I do my part in other ways!) and not for strategic reasons like an inherent fear of clogging septic plumbing or worse yet, needing to drown out biological noises thanks to paper thin doors.  Before children, I could do it all and particularly well I might add when helped by a six-pack of beer, good company (especially when rehashing old camp songs and memories) and the ability to stay on the swim-party-sleep cycle indefinitely.  But post children…I’m totally out of my comfort zone and constantly fighting off the bloodsucking bugs (I’m referring to the mosquitos and black flies of course) that seem to relish in tormenting me!  So I ask…why bother?!

As a Canadian born Armenian growing up in the Middle East during its golden age, I had all the makings of a city girl and rugged adventurer!  As my family moved from one cosmopolitan locale to the next, my father, an avid outdoorsman, ensured that my sister and I developed a strong love of nature as he taught us to climb the mountains of Taif (Saudi Arabia), survival swim in the Red Sea and of course join scouting (or guiding as it were) to then rough it in the great Canadian outdoors.  While my sister ended up being much closer to Mother Nature, my relationship with Her was one that was more subdued.

The City captured my imagination – its noises and lights like a constant disco that I couldn’t get enough of – it filled my soul and for many, many years, I was happily at its mercy.  It wasn’t really until I had my boys that I really rediscovered nature – or at least was forced to rediscover nature – and I realized that if my relationship with nature was going to have any chance, I was going to have to put in the effort and let go of much more than I thought…

My struggle is best encapsulated by one particular incident from our recent trip (though believe me, I have many to choose from).  I nearly lost my mind when I handed my prized (and very-typically-not-backed-up) iPhone over to my 4 year old who was begging to take a picture of a speedboat on the dock.  While I was correcting his position (he kept taking snapshots of his own hand) he dropped my phone and everything went in slow motion:  phone, floating through the air, rotating over and over, slipping through the planks on the dock that was floating thirteen feet above the cold, black lake, and landing on the floatation device underneath – all with the gorgeous backdrop of the setting sun…AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!

I felt like I was in a movie…like I was having an out of body experience and I kid you not, I was Hugh Grant. Flopsy, awkward and positively cornered Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral – you know the scene, the one when he’s about to marry Duck Face at the church:  bugger, bugger, bugger…BUGGER!   But what came out of my mouth instead, first in utter disbelief followed by shock and catastrophe, in increasing crescendo and volume was one profanity after the next:  *Bleep* the cottage!  *Bleep* the great outdoors!  *BLEEPITY-BLEEP-BLEEP* the thought that I could actually let go long enough to appreciate any of it!!

coming undoneI could see my phone…balancing precariously on its edge…like my mental state…and at that moment I vowed not to abandon it – my only connection to civilization and the last vestige of who I am.  Never mind that I’d entered into a state of hysteria and was ready to tear each individual hair on my head, I would NOT walk away until the glow from the screen faded away.

Out poured all of my frustrations (at great volume, I might add) – the cooking, the cleaning, the refereeing, juxtaposed with the freedom and expanse of the great outdoors – I was a fish out of water and hated it.  I was coming undone.  I felt trapped and cornered and like I was slowly slipping through the crack myself…but surely this city girl had faced worse than this?  And it was in that one moment – in that break from the insanity – that I came up with part of a solution.  Hearing it through my wails and my tears, Mr. Niceguy took over, reached in and saved the day.

Embarrassed by my behaviour, I shrank away.  I took my beloved phone to my car, plugged it in to listen to some music and realized…that despite my absolute and complete effort to NOT partake in my surroundings, I had just survived an adventure…in the great outdoors, no less!  And despite a battered ego, I came out unscathed with a story to boot!  Perhaps it wasn’t all that bad.  Perhaps I could do it again – after all summer is virtually over and school is about to start maybe I could learn to be more of an outdoors woman?  Or perhaps next time, it can be a boys’ getaway instead…

running on dock

Charlie’s Angels…all rolled into one!

A very dear friend of mine, let’s call her Madeline, or Maddy for short, is one of a group of 5 (and sometimes 6) known for their sense of humour, perspective, inner (and outer) beauty and overall capability…she is a friend that I met once I became a mom.  And I have her to thank for the latest of my over-analytical queries…thanks Maddy.

In one of our more recent conversations, Maddy reminded me about how she always got stuck playing “the brainy one” of the Charlie’s Angels while she was growing up.  And that got me thinking about myself…and my cousins’ basement.  For as long as I can remember, my cousins’ basement was the absolute coolest place to be.  My VERY cool aunt allowed her two daughters to completely annex the basement of her house which meant that posters and magazine tear-outs covered every square inch:  Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp (circa 21 Jumpstreet), James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Star Wars and the Dukes of Hazzard (with the original Bo and Luke Duke along with Daisy, of course).  And in one corner, the absolute perfect poster of the original Charlie’s Angels:  Sabrina Duncan (the brainy one), Jill Monroe (played by the one and only Farrah Fawcett – the tough, resourceful one) and Kelly Garrett (the really pretty one akin to a damsel in distress).  And while Maddy had to be Sabrina, my cousins were gracious enough to let me be Kelly.

Kelly had long, bouncy hair, she wore the very cool bell bottomed jeans and cute tops – my version of a Disney princess – smart, with cool martial arts moves and able to handle a gun.  I could swear that without realizing, I have aspired to be her ever since (minus the gun part)!  So this got me thinking about a couple of things…first, who are the role models for our children today?  I mean, there’s the obvious:  Iron Man, Spiderman, Merida (Brave), Rapunzel, Cinderella, etc. but what if your kid’s really, really into Spongebob??!!  Are you screwed?

And then…isn’t it interesting the way TV shows always portray women in groups with one overly dominant trait or characteristic?  We already covered Charlie’s Angels, but here’s what I mean:

  • Sex and the City:  (the pinnacle of all shows, if you ask me)  Charlotte (prim, sweet), Miranda (brainy), Samantha (ballsy…in more ways than one) and Carrie (outgoing and flighty)
  • 90210 (original):  Brenda (dominant and easily swayed), Kelly (the pretty one), Donna (the comedic, not-so-smart one), Andrea (the brainiac)
  • 90210 (revival):  Annie (original main character, easily swayed and sweet), Silver (broody, philosophical, smart), Naomi (resourceful, younger Samantha), Adriana (artsy and troubled)
  • Golden Girls: Dorothy (smart and manly), Blanche (the original Samantha but super sweet and southern!), Blanche (the original naïve blonde) and my favourite, Sophia (tough)

And there’s more!  From Lipstick Jungle to Designing Women, and even Keeping up with the Kardashians!  Surely we’re a lot more complex…

At what point do we start identifying with just one characteristic?  And why are they always cute?

What if you’ve had a morning like the one I’ve had?  I need these characters to identify with:  angry, disappointed, raging, crazy!  Better yet, disgruntled, disenchanted and disenfranchised…or unmotivated, bitter and haggard.  Too much?  You be the judge.

Last night, after organizing one of the most perfect days for my two boys (playdate at a best friend’s house, surprise trip to Toys R Us, staying up waaaaaay past bedtimes and extra video game time, etc.) I had to wrestle them to bed (I can feel judgement here:  I admit, I spoiled and wound them up with all the great stuff during the day and they weren’t prepared for it to end).  Unfortunately, I was then too tired for Thai takeout, TV and QT with my cutie.

No mind, dugout seats at the Jays game on the agenda today.  So I wake up with a little bit more energy and excitement, tell Mr. Niceguy that I’m ok with both kids on my own so that he can run an errand (my birthday’s around the corner and I’m fiercely collecting brownie points!) and within moments things start to unravel…more wrestling as I struggle to get the 3 year old in a “tidy” outfit – no Angry Birds, Skylanders, monkeys or monsters, for the big game today.  What should have been a 30 second exercise took at least 10 minutes and was laced with crying, shouting, exclamations of wanting daddy, throwing, flailing on the floor…and he did all those things too!!!  Oh boy.  And there was still one more child in the house to get ready…

I take a moment to collect myself…brush teeth, wash face, moisturize…wait, what’s THAT?!  I swear I am being mocked.  Not only did I wake up with an extra bushy head of frizzy hair (which the shower took care of) but a gigantic ZIT in the middle of my nose.  And OUCH, it hurts!  It’s not even a superficial zit.  What if I’m on the jumbotron????  OMG.  Now I’m really going to start identifying with those girls on 90210…

But, I manage to put it aside. And I catch my breath.  And after a very quick 15 minutes I can actually look in the mirror, admire my quick work and say, not bad.  And in the meantime, the 7 year old gets dressed without hesitation and my little guy apologizes, unprovoked, for his earlier tantrum….could things be turning around?

I know I can be crazy.  I know I can get angry and bitter, unmotivated and disenchanted.  And I also know I can be brainy and ballsy along with sweet, naïve, flighty, artsy and indecisive.  And given the time, I can pull it together like Kelly Garrett too…and I’m not alone.  As a renaissance woman, which so many women are, we are charged with so much and if we’re going to thrive, we have to be able to play not just one or two characters, but so, so many more…

I’m feeling good, I’m feeling like Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte all rolled into one…except, when we head down for a late breakfast they both declare:  “We want to stay home today.  We don’t WANT to go to baseball!!!” @#$%.