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