Tuesday, 10 February 2015

An Ode To Sanity

Disclaimer: Please don't get offended because you think I am making fun of mental illness. I'm not. That's not what this blog is about, but there's always someone who gets pissed off at everything they see on the internet. If you MUST decide that I'm being disrespectful, please, feel free to get angry and send nasty comments. I will read them all, and eventually publish most of them. So if you're going to get mad, please make it as caps-locked/misspelled/badly-punctuated/completely irrational as possible. I need fodder for a future blog.

So, I'm on Facebook today, and one of my friends has posted the following status:

Just got a phone call from the mental health ward (it was a hospital phone number, as well i heard a page for someone to return back to the ward in the dack ground) he called because my number is an x and he was rather insistant on knowing what i was doing.

And all I could think was,

"That is AWESOME!"

That guy is super on the ball. I notice the shape of people's phone numbers ALL the time, but it's never occurred to me to actually DIAL them! That's like a whole new level of awesome!

And then it occurred to me that immediately figuring out the shape every time you take down a phone number might not actually be normal behavior. In fact, the more I think about it, the more not normal it sounds.

And that started me thinking....... If I think he's normal, and he's in the mental health ward, is it possible there are other things I do that are not entirely within the boundaries of 'normal'?

Since that is clearly ridiculous, I have decided today's blog will be about the totally normal shit I do all the time.

First of all, to expand on the phone number thing, I worry about people whose phone numbers are the wrong shape. I have absolutely no proof, not a shred of anecdotal evidence, and have never had my suspicions justified even by accident or coincidence, but it's awfully hard to trust someone who hides a pentagram in their phone number. I don't give them copies of my house keys or let them babysit (and cook and devour) my kids. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

I have the same problem with PIN numbers. I might be the easiest person in the world to steal from, as all the PIN numbers on all our bank cards and online accounts have to be a part of a (reasonably complicated- I'm crazy, not stupid) repeating pattern. When it's time to change the PIN, on to the next I go. If anyone ever figures it out, they will have total and unending access to all eleven dollars in our bank account, and we will be destitute. But I can't change the way I do it, because then ATM's will stress me out, and every grocery purchase will be slightly tainted.

Have you ever had someone knock on your door and drop by unannounced? (Which, by the way, IS NOT COOL- people who like order do NOT like being surprised. We prefer to schedule everything. EVERYTHING. Like even sex). If and when this happens, you can totally clean up your house in 18 seconds or less. Just put everything at right angles.

Thanks to millions of years of evolution by natural selection, the human body has adapted so that the left hemisphere of the brain is the more dominant in unfamiliar or stressful situations. The left brain is the 'logic' side of the brain, and when it takes over, it causes us to respond more favorably to order than disorder. This means that even if the object at right angles on the coffee table is a stack of books taller than you, your guest will see it, their left brain will take over, and they will interpret the space as 'clean'.* (see footnote)

It doesn't matter how much crap you have on the kitchen table. Just arrange it the way I want you to, and we'll all be much happier.

It extends to other things, as well.

I spend an inordinate amount of time making sure my eyebrows aren't all messed up. It drives me crazy to talk to someone with messy eyebrows. The sheer bedlam of it makes me cringe. I can actually feel it when my eyebrows are messed up. It bugs the crap out of me. And I assume that is all you can see while you're talking to me, because, quite frankly, if your eyebrows are all scribbly, it's all I can see while I'm talking to you. My best friends know this, and have been known to spend hours just glancing at me with messed up eyebrows and watching me compulsively fix my own. It's cruel, really.

We bought a trailer this year, which has solved one of my biggest issues. OTHER PEOPLE SHOWER GERMS. Have you ever been at a campground or in a hotel and you're completely clean and almost done your shower, and you accidentally slip a bit and touch the wall? Am I the only one who then needs to start the whole process over again so that I can get the unknown DNA off my skin? I can't be.

A few years ago, we were camping with our best friends and friends of theirs that we didn't know as well, and I went to have a shower the one afternoon. Through a series of mishaps caused by a cloth shower curtain and a strong breeze every time someone opened the shower room door, I had to have 4 consecutive showers. I was literally in the shower for almost an hour. And when I came back, the friends of the best friends wanted to know what had taken me so long. When I told them I got caught in a shower germ feedback loop, they looked confused. No one else even batted an eye. It's an actual thing.

There's lots of other totally normal shit I do throughout the course of my day, but if I told you about all of it at once, you'd think I was a nut job, so I will keep it to just these few.

So thank you, strange man with an excessive amount of freedom and the ability to make outside calls, thank you.

You have reminded me that I'm stark, raving, sane.

*This may or may not be true- when I want to convince someone I'm right, I am not above completely making up all sorts of bullshit statistics.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015


Can we just talk for a moment about uncertainty?

Every year, Liz, who is into EVERYTHING, goes on a trip somewhere. Traveling is her thing. Someday, she  plans to do it all on her own, but right now, her trips are through school, or youth group, or camp, or whatever.

For legal reasons, every time a child under 18 goes on an overnight trip, the Calgary Board of Education requires parents to attend an information meeting to cover the itinerary, risks, waivers, rules, etc.

Every time I have been to one of these meetings, it is being run by a teacher with a plan. They have written an info package containing all the required information. It is the same info package as last year, with the dates and locations changedThey have agonized over this info package. It covers every possible eventuality. They print it out. They pass around copies to every parent who signs in. They then READ the info package aloud to 75 parents in a cramped band room.

It is a brilliant, foolproof system.

But it breaks down at the end.

They have to open the floor to questions, you see.

And every single time, Helicopter Mom "X" (There's one at every meeting. All schools have them- if you don't know who yours is, it's you. If that's the case, read the following closely) stands up and looks down at her list of questions. Her daughter, skinny and pasty and timid, who has been dragged to this meeting against her will (she doesn't have to be there, but mom likes to cover all her bases), cringes beside her.

"My Suzie gets anxious and likes to check in with us every night. Is she allowed to bring her cell phone?"

Are you sure SHE'S the anxious one?

"What if she doesn't like the people she's supposed to room with?"

She's 16. She should probably start practicing playing nicely with others.

"Gravy gives her hives. Does she HAVE to eat poutine while they're in Quebec?"

Yes. It's all they serve there. Be glad she's not going to Boston, what with all those beans.

"Will the kids have supervisors with them at all times?"

They probably let them pee alone.

"She gets cranky if she's not in bed by 9."


"You say in the package that I should send between $10 and $30 a day for food while they're in Whistler. But what's better? $10? Or $30? Should I split the difference at $20?"

Figure out what your kid will eat and multiply by three. Or don't. I'm sending 7 bucks and a map to all the really good dumpsters.

"She gets headaches- can she bring her Advil? Will someone hold onto it for her and measure it out into the medicine dropper and squirt it into her mouth for her?"

Are you sure this is the right class for her? Wouldn't she be more comfortable in, say, remedial home economics? Something with a bit of a slower pace?

And the information night, which should have taken 45 minutes, caps out at TWO. AND. A QUARTER. HOURS.

Incidentally, when one of the students does get sent home from London, it's never my kid.  It's Suzie, who has been arrested in an after hours club doing belly shots off a drag queen.

Her first taste of freedom has gone right to her head and she has lost her shit entirely. She's like the uncut version of Girls Gone Wild. Her plain beige no-nonsense bra came off at Heathrow Airport and no one has seen it since. She has a brand-new 10x14 inch tattoo of the Union Jack between her shoulder blades, and a piercing in her nose. She knows the British street terms for the good party drugs, and has been all lit up on Adam since the Back Dex ran out.

Seriously. Our children are in high school. I understand that we want to minimize the risks, but at some point, we have to trust that the people supervising them know what they're doing, and our kids need to start learning to use their judgement. And we need to understand that not everything is an emergency.

Would I trust my four year old to wander the streets of old Quebec with minimal supervision? Probably not. Let the 9 year old go white water rafting in Panama? Unlikely. 
But you need perspective. If 16 year old Suzie wants a frigging aspirin, let her take it. If you can't trust her to count to 2 instead of to 250 extra strength Tylenol, she probably shouldn't be going on the trip. You have bigger problems.

Which bring me to tonight's meeting. Not the regular information meeting, which will be happening closer to the trip, but a SPECIAL meeting.

I got this email the other day:

Important Meeting Notice for Music Student Families:
The Calgary Board of Education has called a mandatory emergency meeting for all parents and guardians of students travelling to England with the music tour in April.  The CBE would like to gauge parents’ and guardians’ feelings and concerns on perceived risks of travelling to England given recent events.

                    MEETING DETAILS: Date:  Wednesday February 4 2015
                                                            Time:  6:00 PM
                                                            Location:  Theatre, Central Memorial High School

Please reply if you are UNABLE to attend this meeting.  Instructions for those unable to attend will be forwarded by the CBE through Central Memorial High School.

Oh, dear God. I can see the teaching staff cringing as I read it.

Can you imagine what Suzie's mother is doing right now? SHE HADN'T EVEN THOUGHT TO WORRY ABOUT THIS! This adds a whole new array of possibilities to her already filled-to-capacity bucket o' fear!

I know that the CBE is covering their legal asses. I know they're making sure they don't get their collective butts sued off. 97% of the parents attending this evening know it.

Oh, but poor Suzie's mom.

She and her ilk have probably already written 6 emails to the school, demanding an analysis of the statistical probability of a terrorist attack during the 10 days her daughter will be overseas, with anecdotal evidence, supporting data and referencing source material.

She has probably phoned twice to discuss whether A330's get blown up more often than 747's, and whether anyone thinks that wearing a flak jacket will get her arrested at airport security. She has made flash cards of pictures of 'terrorist types' so her daughter will recognize a suicide bomber when she sees one. She is considering starting a petition to cancel the trip altogether.

Here's the thing.

I love my kids.

But I can't worry about everything, all the time. I have to figure out what's really worth being scared about, and let the other stuff slide. I have to weigh the pros and the cons and decide what's worth pouring my energies into.

What makes our kids special, and makes them interesting, and gives them all their 'them-ness' are life experiences. If they never did a single thing I wouldn't do, they'd be me. The world can only handle one of those. Things go horribly wrong. I've seen it on Doctor Who, and it's messy as hell.

There was a possibility my daughter might have crashed the car on the way to Bragg Creek last weekend, two days after she got her license and the morning after I taught her to drive a standard. Not a big possibility, but it existed. And I thought of it. But she felt she could do it, and she's got reasonably good judgement, so I rolled with it. But the picture she took of herself, on her very first trip out of town in a vehicle under her sole control, tells me the risk was worth it.

I'm a homebody, and it would never occur to me to move to a different city to go to school with a bunch of strangers I didn't like yet. But if I hadn't let Isaiah go, my mom wouldn't get to tell me how excited she was the other day because her grandson called her just to chat and they talked for 45 minutes about his goals, and his life, and how her retirement is going. He is closer to us now BECAUSE he did something that scared me.

So, to the 'Suzie's moms' of the world, what I'm trying to say is this....

The minute we start limiting our children because of of our own anxieties, we start to cripple them. Fear wins. Uncertainty wins. The terrorists win. Whatever it is, whatever you dread deep down inside, it wins.

It's not what we do for our children that matters.

It's what we teach them to do for themselves.

And who doesn't want to teach them to soar?

* Quick note- Liz turned 18 last week. She is now of legal age, and can sign her own life away on a waiver form. So was it I that went to the emergency meeting  tonight?  Hells, no.

Fly, little birdie, fly.

And say hi to Suzie's mom for me. :D