Tag Archive | school

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

The High School Reunion: Words to strike fear in the heart of some and instill joy in others, and for me evoking a confusing combination of anticipation and dread.

Grad comment title

My yearbook photo and comment. Text reads “On High School Reunions, Happiness, and the Road Less Traveled.”

I agonized over whether or not to go to my high school reunion this weekend. From a purely logical perspective, there were compelling reasons not to bother. Most of the people I was close to then I’m still in regular contact with now. The rest of my graduating class are for the most part very nice people but as we were fairly indifferent to one another in high school, I can’t imagine that having changed now…and in the cases where that has changed, it feels vaguely disingenuous – You’re hugging me? We hug now? Okay... <awkward>

I know I’m being unfair to the many of my classmates who actually are genuinely happy to see me and catch up. The bigger issue is that this whole reunion thing, in my irrational and emotional brain centre (let’s call it the “emoshgula”), is all tied up with all the internal and external markers by which we measure “success” in life.

I went to an all-girls’ private school that prides itself on its students’ measurable achievements both during high school and after graduation. The currency of success during my high school career was high marks, and with those I was flush. Much to the chagrin of my math and physics teachers, I took my academic prowess and poured myself heart and soul into Bachelors’ degrees in Child Studies and Social Work (Click here for appropriate sound effect).

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I then turned down early acceptance to an MSW program in order to become…horror of horrors…a stay-at-home mom (again, this requires a sound effect). In that world of titles and initials – Dr., Esq., M.Sc., Ph.D., Patron, Benefactor – Karyn Pickles, SAHM doesn’t feature highly in the alumni communiques.

***I’m going to interrupt myself for a moment for a very brief discussion of privilege. In this post I am describing, from my own perspective, the world that I inhabited in my middle and high school years and that, to a lesser extent, I still inhabit. It is a world of enormous privilege in which each and every one of us carried a huge invisible backpack containing, among other things, the knowledge that 1. We had the means to attend the university of our choice, as long as we produced the necessary grades; 2. Those grades would be reasonably easy to achieve with the extra help and tutoring available to us; and 3. Our university applications would be supplemented by the rich extracurricular offerings the school offered, ironically bolstering our chances of earning the scholarships that most of us didn’t actually need. It is a world that is unfamiliar to the vast majority of the North American population, let alone the world. This is not to belittle my fellow graduates’ hard work in earning those prestigious titles, but to acknowledge that we were very fortunate to have the head start and freedom to choose the paths that we did.*** <climbs back off soapbox>

Where I have found myself in life is for all intents and purposes the antithesis of everything that my high school prepared and expected me to do. It doesn’t even register on their scale of success because they have no rubric for joy and self-fulfillment.

The trouble is that while I know that I wouldn’t change a thing, as soon as I walk through that high arched doorway, all my self-confidence drains away like Bastian passing through the gateway to the Fountain of the Water of Life. (This is a obscure reference but it’s oh so very fitting. Here is a link to a really trippy website where you can clear up any confusion or just close your eyes and be transported straight back to the 80’s. You’re welcome!). I passed under that archway and was immediately once again the introvert who used cutting humour to hide the fact that she had zero self-esteem, and I giggled self-effacingly in response to questions, and answered, “Well, y’know, I have my 2 kids and I’m kind of a mommy-blogger…” twirling my hair like Cher in Clueless (okay, if we’re honest, I was more like Tai, pre-makeover).

Afterwards, as I exited the highway and head for home, that confidence came rushing back and I regretted the lost opportunities to reconnect as my authentic self. Even more than that, I was furious with myself for being so dismissive of my life choices when what I should have said was,

“I’m doing great! I have the two most amazing kids. I’m on a couple of boards of directors and I’ve really gotten into community theatre and music. I work from home and write a parenting blog (here’s my card!) and I’m just venturing into selling some of my handmade clothing and accessories (you should definitely check them out)! Funny, eh? It sure isn’t the path I would have imagined for myself [an undisclosed number of] years ago, but I couldn’t be happier. So what are you up to these days?”

I included 3 quotes in my graduating yearbook comment:

“Love is something if you give it away…you end up having more”

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less trodden by, And that has made all the difference.”

and “Second to the right, and straight on ’till morning.”

Grad comment

Full text reads: Senior- Chamber- Double Quartet- Sr. Choir 93-98, England 94 & 98. “Love is something if you give it away… you end up having more.” All my Love to my family, friends and [redacted]***. It’s been a year of beginnings, and endings, and other strange and wonderful things. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less trodden by, And that has made all the difference.” Bye [school name], it’s time to fly — Second to the right, and straight on ’till morning.

They may have been cliched****, but at the risk of sounding sappy (TOO LATE, SCREAM MY LOYAL READERS!) boy howdy, did they all prove true.

~ karyn

*Yes, I did misquote Robert Frost. I apologize. I’m as upset as you are.
**No, I did not misquote J. M. Barrie. “Star” is implied but not included.
***If there are any teenagers reading this, please take this one absolutely crucial piece of advice: I don’t care HOW much you love him/her. DO NOT mention your high school boy/girlfriend by name in your yearbook. You’ll be splitsville by Thanksgiving. I know, I know, not YOU two. You are TOTES soulmates just like R-Patz and whatshername, or Taylor Swift and One Direction, and you’re going to be together forever. Still, just to be on the safe side, leave out the name. Say, like, “My one [sparkly] true love,” or something. Just trust me on this one.
****NB: Of 112 grads I was the only Robert Frost that year compared to 3 “shoot for the moon ’cause even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”***** on one page – that was an unfortunate coincidence of alphabetical order.
*****Yes, of course I counted.

Molly-Moo’s First Pun

You may have noticed this already but we have a bit of a…punning…problem here at Team Pickles. About a year ago I wrote about my proudest mommy moment – when Ben made his first original pun – and now it’s Molly’s turn.

Molly pun-master

Molly in her typical week-day attire. Caption: Beneath this unassuming exterior beats the heart of a true pun-master.

For a while last year Molly was wearing dance leotards to school, until her teachers asked me not to send her in them because it presented difficulties when it came to bathroom time. Soon after, Molly put on a leotard again in the morning and I said, “Molly, you have to change. What would Miss Sally-Jesse-Raphael* say?” to which Molly replied, “She would say, ‘Molly-Moo!’ and then she would say, ‘That’s awful!’”

Naturally this turned into a running joke, sometimes incorporating puns such as the following:

Ben’s: “Molly, what would Miss S-J-R say if you brought your breakfast to school?” “I don’t know!” “She would say, ‘Molly-Moo! That’s waffle!’”

And my: “Molly, what would Miss S-J-R if you brought a piece of string all tangled up to school?” “I don’t know!” “She would say, ‘Molly-Moo! That’s knot good!’”

Tonight at dinner, Molly floored us with, “Hey! What would Miss S-J-R say if I brought this knife to school?” “Uh…” said Ian and I.

(Knife? Knife? WHERE could she possibly be going with this?)

“She would say, ‘Molly-Moo!’ *dramatic pause* That’s not KNIFE!!”

I’m so proud!

~ karyn

*Not her teacher’s real name.

It only takes a spark

Grinning Ben - logo

Grinning Ben on a train (Where else?) – Caption reads “What if you knew your next words could crush his spirit?”

I had that conversation with Ben this morning. You know the one – that conversation that every parent dreads. The one where you have to tell your child that you will support his or her choice…but

Ben graduated from his beloved Montessori School this year and is going off to grade 1 in the fall at a new school. After a lot of soul-searching, research, and discussion, we decided to put him in French Immersion, which means being bussed out of town, instead of our local English school. The combination of an excellent Montessori education and Ben’s innate gifts means that he will be entering grade 1 at an advantage, reading and writing fluently and with an understanding of basic math, and Ian and I have been very concerned that without something to challenge him, between boredom and his natural…uh…exuberance, he could be a real behaviour problem.

We toured his new school and met the principal in the spring, and Ben is super-excited about it, but the fact remains that he is going to be thrust into a completely new environment, knowing no-one and with no safety net of teachers or friends who already know him – And when it comes to Ben, there’s an awful lot of him to know.

Which brings us to The Conversation. Ben has been trying to decide what kind of backpack to get for school. He just got an Angry Birds pencil case for his birthday and he had planned to get a matching backpack, but this morning he told me that he was reconsidering and was thinking about Thomas the Tank EngineEnter the Moment Of Truth.

What would you have said?

Ben LOVES Thomas. Ben HATES superheroes. Ben’s world view is one of friendship and beauty and kindness, not anger and fighting bad guys. In Ben’s world, if someone is “bad” it’s because they are feeling left out, and all you have to do is show them that they are loved and then everyone can be friends together. There’s no evil to fight. There’s no punching or yelling or explosions. The ugliest, the very worst word that Ben can name is “hate.” The most hurtful thing that Molly can do is call him “Bad Ben” – and then he pretends to cry and says, “You hurt my feelings,” and she apologizes and they hug and make up.

He is my sensitive, kind, loving boy who appreciates everyone for their own unique qualities and would never hurt anyone on purpose, and who feels every hurt so very deeply, whether it is being teased himself, seeing a classmate in distress, or even losing a piece of a craft kit to a restaurant garbage and weeping bitter tears over “Little Axle’s” imagined pain at being tossed into the dumpster.

Butterfly grave (2)

Ben places flowers around the dead butterfly at the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory

And he wants to bring a Thomas backpack to Grade One, where he will walk through the door on the first day of school, smiling confidently, into what I imagine to be a towering mob of larger-than life cartoon villains brandishing Spiderman and Sponge-Bob Squarepants gear and laughing at my little boy.

What would you have said?

My heart hurt just thinking about it. Do I get the Thomas backpack and hope for the best but imagine the worst, where that first day of school leads to a year of my beautiful, sensitive, loving, giant-hearted little boy being broken down, losing that amazing spark of wonderfulness that makes him who he is?

Or do I have The Conversation – the one where I have to destroy that innocence and tell him that there are people in this world who want to hurt you; who won’t respond to “That hurts my feelings,” with an apology and a hug but rather with a cruel laugh and continued taunts. Would my words be the splash of cold water that snuffs out that spark anyway?

What would you have said?

As gently as I could, I explained. “Remember, bud, how sometimes your friends at school would say that some things, like some shows, were baby things? When you go to your new school, you’re going to meet a lot of new friends, and some of them might be like that too. And I know that you are strong and brave and that you would be okay even if people did tease you, but I know that sometimes if people tease you it makes you feel sad. I’m a little worried that if you got a Thomas backpack, that’s one of those things that kids at your new school might tease about. I was thinking that Angry Birds is a good idea for a backpack because it’s something that people of all ages like, even grown-ups, so I don’t think that anyone would tease about that. But it is your decision, and I know you love Thomas and that you would be okay even if people teased you because YOU know that Thomas isn’t a baby thing.”

Ben’s face fell, and my heart broke.

But I should have known that nothing…NOTHING can diminish that amazing spark that makes Ben Ben, and after a few seconds that spark fired up Ben’s insatiable curiosity and need to know more – more – EVERYTHING about the topic at hand.

“You mean like when Daniel* says that Diego and Thomas are baby shows? And when he told me and Eddie that he wanted us to spend Christmas in the hospital? That’s bullying, isn’t it? Mommy, why ARE some people like that? Why do they bully other kids?”

“I think it’s because sometimes maybe they feel little, and doing things that make other people sad or feel little makes them feel a bit bigger or stronger. And there’s also a thing called ‘peer pressure.’”

“What’s that?”

“Well, it’s when people see other people doing something, they do it too because they want to be like the rest of their friends. They don’t want to feel like they are they only one not doing it. That’s why sometimes if someone is bullying or teasing, other kids might do it too, or might not help the kid who is being teased because they are afraid that if they do that, they will end up being teased or bullied too.”

And then suddenly a little bit of that spark rubbed off on me and I had my stroke of brilliance: “But you know, bud, there aren’t just bullies. There are also heroes.”

“What do you mean?”

“A hero is a kid who is brave and kind and helps the friend who is being bullied, even if no-one else is. Remember when Daniel was calling you little, and Joey put his arm around you and said, ‘I think you’re big’? Joey was being a hero.”

“Yeah! And I did that for him another time!”

“Right! And that’s a way to you peer pressure to do good things. If someone starts out being a hero, and being kind, and making other kids happy, the other kids will want to do it too. And then the peer pressure will get everyone to want to be kind to other people.”

“I’m a hero with the little ones. Like when Molly hurts herself, and I run and get her ice – I’m being a kindness hero! You know, ‘To speak kindly is better; to think kindly is better; to be kind is best.’ We practiced writing that on slates at the pioneer school…

…Kindness Heroes! We can be Kindness Heroes!

Butterfly camera - hero

A butterfly perches on Ben’s camera at the Butterfly Conservatory. Caption reads “This is what a HERO looks like”

And that, my friends, was the moment I realized that I didn’t need to warn Ben about anything. He already gets it WAY better than I ever could, and he and his Kindness Heroes are going to change this world.

~ karyn

*Names have been changed.

A Passion for Compassion

I heard once that the a sociopath is someone who is born without empathy while a psychopath is someone who uses empathy to his/her advantage. In one of my university social work class there was an intense argument about nature versus nurture – Is empathy innate or learned? As I recall, I took the innate side of the argument then but I’ve since changed my tune. I believe that empathy can and should be taught starting at a young age.

Making friends

Baby Ben and my nanny Carol (Carol is disabled from a brain aneurysm and mostly non-verbal)
©PicklesINK 2012

The Oxford Dictionary defines empathy as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” and Wikipedia notes, “One may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience compassion.” I think of empathy as the ability to recognize how another person feels and compassion as the drive help them feel better. Both empathy and compassion have been important parts of my life and I feel that they are two of the most crucial interpersonal skills I can pass on to my children.


Photo of two boys standing on a bench looking at a tree
©PicklesINK 2012

I have a lovely friend who is a much more of an attachment-parenting, Dr. Sears-reading type than I am, and I remember on one of our earliest playdates thinking, “Wow, she’s got it so together – she talks to her kids about their feelings when they misbehave  and never raises her voice with them!” As it turns out, at this same time, she was looking at me and thinking, “Wow, she’s got it so together! She doesn’t mess around when her kids misbehave and they listen to her when she uses her ‘mommy’ voice!”

One of the things I learned from this friend and incorporated into my own parenting style was the use of the word “kind” when I praise my kids. There is an awful lot out there about the pros and cons of praising your children (read for yourself: I just Googled “pros and cons of praising children” and it’s like a table-tennis match – “Praise your children!” “Don’t praise your children!” “Dos and don’ts of praising your children” “Are we setting our children up to fail?” etc.). I disagree with the extremes on either side (perhaps the parents who chant, “WOW GOOD JOB!!” 18,000 times a day and the people who read and write articles accusing those good-jobbers of manipulating their children and creating “praise junkies” should be locked in a giant arena to fight it out so the rest of us can get on with life).

The middle ground is:

  1. Yes, we do use praise to “manipulate” our kids. It is one of the tools that we have to teach our kids to act appropriately and be productive members of society.
  2. True, too much empty praise sets kids up for disappointment (“But mommy, you told me I was a great hockey player and I DIDN”T EVEN SCORE A SINGLE GOAL!!”).
  3. Praise is the most effective when it is specific and descriptive (but sometimes we parents are busy and distracted and the odd, “Good job!” never hurt anyone).

I was thinking recently about how I use the word “kind” and I realized that the reason it appeals to me is that it fits that third criterion as it is much more specific and descriptive than the usual “nice.” “Nice” is something you just happen to be whereas “kind” describes a choice that you have made to make another person feel good. When I use it I usually pair it with a description of the other person’s emotions – “It was so kind of you to share your cookie with Molly, Ben. Look how happy that made her!” or conversely, “Oh dear, Molly – that was not very kind. Look how sad Ben is because you snatched his toy.”

A tool that I use (that this friend admits borrowing from me in return!) is that when someone has been hurt, I ask Ben and Molly to apologize and then to ask the injured party, “Are you okay?” and if the answer is “No,” to ask, “What can I do to help?”

Helping hand

Papa lends baby Ben a helping hand climbing up
©PicklesINK 2012

There is a lovely program called Seeds of Empathy that has been in place at Ben and Molly’s school for many years (you may also have heard of its older sibling, Roots of Empathy, which works with school-aged children). These programs introduce a baby to a classroom as a “Teacher” to foster empathy and compassion in the children over the course of the program year. A trained “Family Guide” helps the children to observe the baby’s development and label his or her feelings.

Ben and Molly hugs

Cuddles for Ben and baby Molly
©PicklesINK 2012

The other day, Ben shared one of those everyday 5 year-old boy heartaches that makes my inner mama-bear rear up on her hind legs and start pawing the air the:  “Mommy, Daniel* called me a baby. He said that Diego is a baby show and I shouldn’t watch it because that makes me a baby…and that made me feel little and I don’t like feeling little.” He paused for a few seconds and then added, “But then Joey whispered in my ear, ‘I think you’re really big.'”

Photo of polar bear
©PicklesINK 2012

This mama bear wants to find Joey, his parents, and the Seeds of Empathy creators, buy them several bottles of wine, and dole out hugs all around, because empathy and compassion are clearly thriving in that classroom!

The outcome of all this so far is that although their impulse control (or lack thereof) frequently gets the better of them, if either Ben or Molly does something that upsets the other they’re often comforting each other before I have a chance to say, “What happened, guys?” – which in turn makes me feel pretty good!

~ karyn

* Names have been changed.