Sunday, November 30, 2008

Better Barney than Tarantino

It's no secret that maintaining some semblance of cool as I wade further into the mire of parenthood is somewhat of a priority for me: it's right there in my sidebar after all.

But there is one area in which I know I am destined to remain on the non-cool side of the fence, hopelessly old-fashioned and stubbornly dogmatic.

And that area involves violent and crime-ridden television shows, movies and video games. You see, my current plan is to yield as much of my parental might as possible to shield Graham from these types of media. And my plan is borne of an often-refuted, decidedly uncool, but nonetheless steadfast, belief that it's harmful for children, and indeed adults, to be exposed to them on a casual basis.

I got to thinking about this whole subject a few week back when I read this post over at Immoral Matriarch in which Maria says she has no compunctions about allowing her two young girls to watch a variety of mature movies. And all the commenters agreed with her and talked about how violence can provide teaching moments and how it's fine for kids to watch pretty much whatever they want if you watch it with them and the real harm comes when parents try to act like control freaks and shelter kids from the world, etc., etc., etc...

Well, I adore Maria (and I have photographic evidence to prove it) but I'm calling bullshit.

Full disclosure: I work in the film and television industry as does my husband and almost everyone I know. I had a small role helping to administrate SAW IV and SAW V and am peripherally involved in SAW VI which starts shooting in March. Rob interviewed for a key position on SAW V at a time when we desperately needed to pay our mortgage and while he didn't get the job, it caused us really examine our views on the impact of increasingly violent movies on our society. I have even had a variation of this conversation with one of the producers of that franchise. And while I don't think anyone is talking about letting kids watch SAW (Maria certainly was not!) I bring this up only to illustrate that the issue of violence in the media is one I have examined at length from a variety of perspectives.

And this is what I think: I think violence and human suffering has permeated mainstream television and film to the extent that we barely notice it anymore. I do not think exposure to it will turn an emotionally-healthy person into a serial killer, but I do think that it has the capacity to desensitise people to horror and to human suffering and I think that the impact of that over a generation or two is completely unknown: I fear it is not good.

I am sure that a good parent (and I presume we are all good parents) can indeed find teaching moments in the latest blockbuster, but what exactly does that prove? Every damn thing in the world can be a teaching moment. If Rob decides to rob a bank tomorrow you can be sure I'll find a way to turn it into a teaching moment for Graham: that doesn't negate the fact that my child has been unnecessarily exposed to something negative and unpleasant.

Mainstream television and movies are not produced in order to facilitate learning for you or your child, they are produced make money and I don't think movie producers are best qualified to teach my child about the dark side of human nature or anything else.

Does this mean I'm shielding my child? Hell yes it does. I'm a parent: it's my job to shield my child from things I believe he doesn't have the maturity to contextualize. Graham is a typical three-year-old and yesterday he told me he plans to marry Horace: I'm pretty sure he's many years away from the ability to absorb and put into context any graphic depiction of man's inhumanity to man, however much of a reality it might be.

It's possible that you allow your child to watch movies and films intended for mature audiences because they are startlingly mature for their age. But I suspect the more likely reason is that it's simply easier and more convenient. It's easier because they're bugging the hell out of you and all the other kids are watching them. It's convenient because you watch them and you don't get enough time away from your kids to be able to watch them yourself.

And I get that, I really do.

And I don't think it makes you a bad parent by any means, but let's call it what it most likely is: an acquiescence to the rigors of parenting, much like the chocolate and cartoons I let Graham enjoy at 9:30 a.m. this morning. It may not be dangerous, but it's not the healthiest choice either.

And finally, call me old-fashioned if you must, but letting kids watch violent films and television does not make a parent more honest, enlightened or evolved than uncool fossils like me who choose to shelter children from it.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

The cutest island

As far as I can tell, Graham is not destined to be a social butterfly.

And that is fine, obviously.

Because he's not shy and I'm not worried about him being shy anymore. In the last several months he has moved beyond shyness (and I've moved beyond worrying about his shyness) to what can only be described as indifference.

Or maybe contempt.

My boy is not a joiner. And perhaps he gets that from me, but it is still just a little disconcerting to see him, at the tender age of barely three, roll his eyes and smirk when other children his age gather together to sing and clap and listen to stories and do normal things that, you know, normal three-year-olds enjoy!

Just last week his babysitter confirmed my experience at every playgroup we have ever attended.

"He plays alongside the children, but he doesn't like the group stuff at all. It's strange because I know he loves to sing and dance, but as soon as everyone starts singing or dancing together he gets really uncomfortable, almost like he's embarrassed."

You don't say?

At the playgroup we frequent, Graham is happy to play alongside children and even takes a marginal interest in them and what they are doing (especially if they have a toy he wants, but that's another story).

But when the group activities start? When everyone comes together in that age-old symbol of unity, the circle? When the thin, off-key, but nonetheless heart-burstingly-sweet voices of his peers fill the air?

Graham purses his lips into a half smile, widens his eyes and glances around, as if in disbelief.

"We need to go now mommy."

At first I always resist and try to get him to follow my enthusiastic example: I lean forward in exaggerated breathless anticipation or merrily sing or clap or stomp or do whatever damn thing the other kids and parents are happily doing.

But Graham always tilts his head and looks at me with a smirk and an expression that I swear borders on pity.

"We need to go home mommy. Now!"

And suddenly his smirk makes me feel a little self-conscious myself, what with my bad singing and my child's abject refusal to play along and the wry, pitying glances of the parents of all the future prom kings and queens whose bright and shiny faces reflect their common rapture.

"He's just not a joiner," I offer.

And then we get the heck out of there.

Nope, I don't think Graham is destined to be a social butterfly.

Should I commence worrying that he is destined instead to be a lone wolf or, worse, a jaded, cynical hipster?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Won't you please vote for my mommy?

Look at that face.

Can you believe how shameless I am, exploiting it just to try and get people to vote for me in the Canadian Blog Awards?

I know, me neither!

Anyhoo, did I mention that Don Mills Diva has been nominated for a Canadian Blog Award for Best Family Blog?

It's true and I'm extremely thrilled and immensely flattered and would be ever so grateful if you would see fit to cast your vote for my humble site.

Just click here:

Scroll down until you see Don Mills Diva, click on the circle beside it and hit the Vote button at the bottom of the page.

All joking aside, I have been humbled by the support and the community I have found in the blogosphere and this nomination is truly the icing on the cake - thank you all for reading.

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Don't start cooking Thanksgiving dinner until you read this!


LeeAnne has outdone herself guys and I'm not even kidding.

She has put together an entire Thanksgiving dinner menu that incorporates all kinds of quick fixes and time-saving tricks that add up to a whole lot more time for you to relax and enjoy the holiday. There's even a handy-dandy shopping list!

Check out her handiwork over at Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews...

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Riding out the recession in style

As much as I might proclaim myself a diva, I've never actually been the kinda girl to spend a lot of money on the accoutrements of beauty.

If something doesn't make a statement, it just seems pointless and by that logic, fancy and expensive makeup, creams and lotions have always struck me as the ultimate waste of money - especially since I can buy the cheap stuff at the drugstore and splurge on something like this.

Anyhoo, with the markets headed south and the chill of recession upon us it seems like my frugal way of thinking is actually in style. Lucky for you, when it comes to advice I've always been the generous type.

Click on over to my Shooting for Hip column at Better Than A Playdate for my best tips on how to look posh and pinch pennies at the same time...

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Four ingredients away from heaven

About two weeks ago we went for dinner at Peter and LeeAnne's and I tasted a little piece of heaven.

Well, actually it was a fairly big bowl of heaven. It was a soup so delicious that I abandoned any pretence of pride and immediately commenced begging for the recipe so I could share it with you.

Luckily LeeAnne took pity on me and e-mailed it the next day. It's incredibly easy and it's over at Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews - Enjoy!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reconnecting with Grace

I had not had any meaningful contact with Grace for almost 10 years when I picked up a message from my university alumni office about two and a half years ago.

My old journalism school roommate was trying to track me down. Could they forward my contact information to her?

Of course they could! I called back right away, excited that Grace had taken the initiative to reconnect, something I had been meaning to do forever. I left a message and asked for a return call so I could get Grace's details as well.

I never heard back, from Grace or from the alumni association, and after a few weeks of happy anticipation, the idea of reconnecting got pushed to the back of my mind once again, filed away on the list of things that I absolutely would get around to, one of these days.

Until last night.

I was playing idly on the computer and Grace's face popped into my mind. This time, instead of just thinking "I really must look her up" I typed her name into a search engine and waited, happy and pleased that I was finally following through on something that had been nagging around the edges of my psyche for so long.

The first link I opened was her obituary.

My former roommate and dear friend died almost exactly two years ago after a painful battle with Lupus. The disease struck in 2002 when her first and only child - a son - was 10 months old. It included serious muscle inflammation and weakness that within months saw her hospitalized and essentially a quadriplegic.

Grace fought tooth and nail to recover and reclaim her life, I read. In 2003 she published a book about her struggle with chronic illness, dependence and her experience as a patient. In 2006, just months after she attempted to contact me, she succumbed to the disease and a myriad of resultant medical problems.

She was 37.

And so, after crying my eyes out for a little while I did the only thing I felt I could do: I bought her book.

It's due to arrive in 5-7 business days and when it does I will curl up with it on the couch. And through my tears I will finally stop putting off what I have been meaning to do forever, though I will do it in a manner I never, ever expected.

I will reconnect with Grace.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Let him eat cake

There were 20 loved ones at our home on Sunday celebrating a very special birthday.

There was music and merriment and tons of presents and a swimming pool heated to 88 degrees Celsius.

And yet yesterday when I asked Graham what, precisely, was his very favorite part of the party he didn't hesitate for a second before replying.

"My Backyardigans cake."

That single-minded devotion to cake? He gets that from me.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Chill pill anyone?

Is it just me?

Or did the whole Motrin controversy that blew up over the Internetz this weekend give you a headache too?

Here are my two cents:

The ad was kinda lame and silly
The ad was no more lame and silly than 98% of ads out there.
The power of the momosphere need not be unleashed on every damn thing that's lame and silly.
Power is always more effective when wielded judiciously.

And also? At the risk of becoming extremely unpopular...I often think bloggers tend to hitch their bandwagon to the latest Internet "controversy" in hopes of increasing their on-line profile.

And I think that's unfortunate because it ultimately makes us all look lame and silly and, worse, it runs the risk of diluting our admittedly awesome power.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

I'll be over here ducking the rotten fruit.

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Putting a positive spin on the holidays

I don't think there will ever be another Doctor Seuss.

He is the unchallenged master of rhythm - all types of rhythm - and when another author attempts to write in a similar fashion, it's natural, if admittedly unfair, to draw comparisons. It's not easy to make words trickle off the tongue in a manner that will enthrall young readers and unfortunately that was abundantly clear when I settled in to read three books the Parent Bloggers Network recently provided for me.

Click on over to Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews to read my review of the latest offerings from Positive Spin Press.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Calling all Canadian foodies!

If you're a Canadian and you love food, then you know all about the President's Choice Insider's Report.

The product line that revolutionized grocery shopping in this country celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and LeeAnne was at the launch of this year's Insider's Report in Toronto earlier this week.

Click on over to Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews for LeeAnne's thoughtful and thorough rundown on the latest food trends for the holiday season and beyond...

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The dawn of three*

I think that I shall never see,
Anything as lovely as my boy at three.
My heart is stirred by how he's grown,
But shaken by the time that's flown.

* Not to be confused with the dawn of two,
which was, incidentally, pretty darn awesome as well.
Also? The winner of the eebee's adventures series of books is finally up
over at Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews. Check it out!

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Code 11

Graham recently decided he is too big to ride in the grocery cart when we shop together.

And I don't tolerate screeching very well, so last Thursday evening at our massive local Superstore after hearing "I want to walk!" approximately 20 times in 10 minutes I lifted him out, cautioned him to stay by my side and resigned myself to accepting his help pushing the cart.

Despite my constant nagging, he ran ahead and lagged behind and momentarily disappeared from view a few times over the course of our errand, but it wasn't until I was paying for my groceries that I realized he had been out of my sight for more than a few seconds.

I wasn't overly worried to be honest. Doesn't every mother in the world have a story about the time their child wandered off in a public place? You know how it goes: "I freaked out. I got hysterical. When I finally found him I didn't know whether to laugh or cry." Surely Graham was right around the corner.

But he wasn't.

I started to walk up and down the aisles calling for him. Every time I turned a corner I expected to see him: but I didn't. After just a few minutes I started to trot, not walk, and yell, not call, for him.


And then I was running and screaming at the top of my lungs and people were staring but I didn't care. Up and down the aisles I raced.


He wasn't there.

A store employee approached me and asked me to describe Graham and his clothing. I did, down to every last detail. I vaguely heard a voice over the intercom, "Calling all staff, Calling all staff!" and noticed more employees fanning out along the aisles.

And all of a sudden, I realized there was no guarantee how this story would end. It hit me that both the happy stories and the heartbreaking ones - the horrible ones illustrated by weeping parents and solemn police officers - all start the same way.

They all start when a child goes missing.

That's when I started to hyperventilate. I tried to keep calling for Graham but I couldn't speak. A sympathetic shopper tried to calm me, but everything seemed blurry and I could feel panic taking hold.

Graham had been missing for almost 15 minutes. My head swam with the realization that this story's ending, my story's ending, could very well be one that made total strangers put down their newspaper, brush away tears and clutch their children closer. I started to sob.

"M'am, he's here! M'am!"

I turned and there he was. Graham was holding the hand of a middle-aged man in a store uniform and looking sheepish.

"He was in the audiovisual department watching a movie."

And I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

So I did both and thanked everyone profusely and scooped him up in my arms and kissed him and chastised him for leaving my side.

And I thanked God for giving me a happy ending and a story that ended like almost everyone else's: a story to be recounted to other knowing mothers with the appropriate mixture of exasperation and humour and gratitude and reverence.

Reverence because the experience, no matter how cliche, taught me a few things.

It taught me that my confident and capable exterior will crumble in an instant if I fear my son is in danger.

It taught me that Graham is not too big to ride in the grocery cart when we shop together.

And it taught me that at our local Superstore, Code 11 indicates a missing child and precipitates a lock down of all exits.

But that knowledge, of course, is something I could have gone to my grave without knowing.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

She bangs

It's a big decision in a woman's life.

In my case it was a decision that repudiated more than a year and a half of determination to change, to move forward and embrace a more grown-up and sophisticated version of the Don Mills Diva.

But in the end I just couldn't do it. I couldn't resist its siren call: the lure of the hairstyle I have returned to again and again for the last dozen years...

*Well, obviously my title gives it away...but you should still click on over to my Shooting for Hip column at Better Than A Playdate and check out the photos...*

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Amazing Baby

Forget about how cute your kid is.

The next time your little one struggles to master a milestone, look past the adorableness of their efforts and really consider the finer details of the science behind how the mind and body are developing.

Amazing, isn't it?

I have written before about how I am spellbound by the technical perfection I see evidenced in my son's growth. I find the complex systems that come together with such precision to allow him to master speech and movement and a million other things both incredibly moving and endlessly enthralling.

And I think that's why I have been similarly enthralled by Amazing Baby by Desmond Morris, a new book that explains the scientific side of a baby's development and illustrates its explanations with more than 250 photos of such heartbreaking beauty, I was left fully convinced of the miraculous nature of life.

Check out the rest of my review of Amazing Baby over at Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Say hello to my imaginary friends

According to my husband I spend a lot of time with my imaginary friends.

You know, the ones I meet on the computer; the ones he fears may actually be depraved serial killers who live in their parents' basements and plot our demise, as opposed to warm and welcoming mothers (and fathers) who live lives similar to ours and genuinely care about us and our family.

He worries, he really does.

So Rob? This one's for you...

This photo was taken at a fabulous Mommy Bloggers dinner last night. (Thank you Johnson and Johnson). That's Catherine (and her camera shy boy Jasper) to the left of me. I sat beside her on the plane ride out to San Francisco in July and we didn't stop gabbing the whole time.

Huddling in front there is Katie, the girl in whom I've confided a fair bit over the past year because she has faced some problems similar to what we've faced. It's been quite a comfort because she gets it, you know?

Beside me, on the right is Karen. Remember we ran into her at that fall fair a few weeks ago and she recognized you first even though she'd never met either of us face to face? Anyway, I've been trying to meet up with her for months because I just knew we would click: I was right.

Finally on the far right is Chareen. She knows our sister-in-law LeeAnne (who writes recipes for me here) and has even tried her incredible squash soup, the recipe for which I keep meaning to post. They often freelance for the same magazine and she was at a party a few weeks ago where our niece Cailey played with her daughter the whole time.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say, to my husband and to anyone else who questions whether it's possible to forge real relationships with people you meet on the Internet is...yes.

Yes, it is possible, probable even. Because yes, the people you meet through blogging are real people. Yes, they have kids and jobs and husbands and joys and sorrows and stress that is similar to your own. Yes, they care about you and your family, just as you care about theirs.

And no, none of the ladies pictured are actually depraved serial killers.

At least, I don't think they are.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

The evolution of blogging

After blogging for almost 15 months now I sometimes fear that I have become incapable of allowing a single thought, no matter how inconsequential, to go unexpressed.

If it seems that the writing in this space has been lighter, fluffier and more inconsequential lately, please forgive me. I seem struck by the notion that perhaps there is value in holding things to my chest, in just letting thoughts swirl around in my brain so the weak ones eventually die a natural death, as opposed to beating every one of them to death and exposing their mangled corpses here on the internetz.

In days past blog posts were everywhere. I never left home without my camera and delighted in Graham's antics not just for the sheer joy of them but also for the fodder I was already imagining they would provide. Every tiny notion that popped into my head, every fleeting question and flash of insight was seized and tortured until I had extracted all of its secrets and every last breath of its essence.

I was like a mad gardener, heaping fertilizer (sometimes literally, alas) on every kernel, determined to make it blossom into a piece of writing . I nurtured every tiny seed so carefully that they inevitably flowered, though I rarely allowed myself the luxury of critiquing or learning from what I had managed to create.

Some of the results, if I do say so myself, were quite lovely.

But there are times when I cringe just a little at the narcissism implicit in my ongoing compulsion to tweak and broadcast my navel gazing to the world. And I wonder if basking in the feedback my writing has generated has become just a little too addictive.

I am a parent who has always felt strongly that a child's daily life need not be over scheduled or over analyzed. I believe that every activity need not be a means to an end, every conversation should not be fraught with meaning and that constantly turning daily decisions into "teaching moments" is tiresome and unnecessary.

And yet here I am. Ouch! - the irony hurts.

At the end of the day, I guess my love affair with this blog is a love story just like every other.

During first six months I was breathless with excitement. I thought about DMD constantly and couldn't wait to put the day away so we could settle into our exclusive evenings together.

For the next six months I strove to keep up the excitement. People were noticing me and it was wonderful, but it also caused me to labour over what had previously been effortless. I checked my traffic stats at least daily and investigated a million and one cheap fixes to keep things fresh - social networking sites, memes, etc. etc.

Fifteen months in I've become tired. If a relationship's meant to last, it shouldn't feel like so much work. I have said before that I believe in the poignancy of the mundane and I do - I believe that the beauty of everyday life provides endless fodder for inspiring writing.

But it is exactly that belief that causes me to not want to work quite so hard at documenting it. My life is beautiful: I don't need to slap high heels and makeup and a pretty dress on it and trot it out every night so all the world can see and applaud.

I am not shutting down Don Mills Diva, though the thought has crossed my mind lately. I have, however, decided to write less often and let my muse, not my sense of obligation or my stats, dictate when it's time to post.

I cannot continue to maintain this site with the frenzied passion of a new lover. I can only hope the relationship between my readers and I is mature enough to survive the inevitable evolution of our affair.

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