Sunday, January 18, 2009

Late Bloomers...

Michelle Obama, the soon-to-be First Lady of the United States turned 46 yesterday. That means she's a handful of days older than I am. I will be 46 in, well, a handful of days.. She is a lawyer, social advocate, working mother, and about to be co-pilot of the United States (sorry VP-elect Biden...). I wife and working mother. I'm a late bloomer.

According to Wikepedia, a late bloomer is:

The term late bloomer has several distinct but related meanings:

  • The term is used metaphorically to describe a child or adolescent who develops more slowly than others in their age group, but eventually catches up and in some cases overtakes their peers, or an adult whose talent or genius in a particular field only appears later in life than is normal - in some cases only in old age.
There is a link to other sections of the same article that deals with writers, specifically. Apparently, it's not uncommon for writers to be "late bloomers" which is comforting, because I'm having a "jeez, I'm almost 46 and what have I done" moment.

This little foray into introspection was triggered, not by Ms. Obama, but by a blast from my very distant past in the form of a fellow Wilder Penfield-ite who had found my website and contacted me. Gary e-mailed me this week. He's been a busy lad since we were classmates at Wilder Penfield in the 1970s. (since I just confessed my real age, there's no point in being coy about when I was in grade school, is there. ) He is now a math prof at the University of Ottawa, publishing papers on topics that baffle me...and cause me to break out in a sweat and hives at the mere thought of formulae...I remembered him immediately, have a vague recollection of a fairly significant crush on him and will now be making a trip to my mom's to look at my old school things that she still has, including class pictures. No, I will not be posting them, unless to prove my assertion that I have always been a geek, I just dress better now.

I am a late bloomer. I started Grade school in grade 1 rather than kindergarten because we moved. Friendships are built in Kindergarten, and my mom, who is very private and still has only a handful of friends she's had since her teens, was not very good at encouraging her painfully shy, introverted, bookloving, solitary and insecure daughter to make friends. I loved school because I loved to learn...but the social aspects of school were torment for me. I especially dreaded that quintessentially female rite of passage...the sleepover...because I was inevitably the kid who fell asleep early (confession time...I didn't fall asleep, I pretended to, and how does that adage go...eavesdroppers hear no good of them...) and was ridiculed and picked on by the other little girls. Little girls can be heartless and cruel. Little boys settle things with fisticuffs; girls use emotional and psychological warfare....calming breath, calming breath...I didn't know how to cope and spent a great deal of time wandering the schoolyard alone, unless I happened to be the girl with the skipping rope...and then I was popular until recess ended.

I started high school in Grade 1o rather than grade 9 because we moved...and I was smart. I attended a private Catholic girls' school in Dorval, QC for grade 7-8 (which is first and second year of high school in QC, because grade 7-11 is high school, and then there is 2 years of CEGEP before university) Queen of Angels Academy was an academic school, an entrance exam was required and the school only accepted 50 young ladies a year...competition for top marks was fierce. I maintained an average in the high 80s. We were exempted writing a final exam in any course that we had over 85% in, and I wrote one final exam (math) in 2 years...and I think even then my average for that subject was in the low 80s. To this day, I remember walking into that class for the final and hearing "Lisa is writing a FINAL?" like I had just posed nude, ran naked through the chapel AND gotten a tatoo. I only had 1 close friend at QAA. I remember walking the corridors at recess and lunch alone...a lot.

When we arrived in Kitchener, I was supposed to start Grade 9. One look at my academic transcript, and the principal bumped me into Grade 10, and Grade 11 for French. The only things that St. Marys and QAA had in common were uniforms, girls-only (then) and Catholic. They were diametrical opposites. It was okay to be smart at QAA-in fact, it was expected. At St. Mary's, the emphasis was more on sports and school involvement, or so it seemed to me. It was not okay to be smart. The all-boys school, St. Jeromes, was across the street, and the schools did silly things like allow the boys to buy flowers on Valentine's Day...and have them delivered to home room. In reality, maybe only 2-3 girls actually got flowers...and 28 of us felt like lowlife scum. (I never got a flower...)I remember my friend Clare got 2 flowers one year...I bet she doesn't remember...but I do.As the words to the song "AT 17" by Janis Ian (1975) so eloquently stated:
"To those of us who knew the pain of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called when choosing sides for basketball..."

I survived high school...barely. I was suicidal by the end of it. My only salvation was my twin discoveries of theatre and music. I hung out with the "theatre crowd", mainly boys. We were smart, we read (and understood) Thoreau for fun, listened to Springsteen, and didn't really fit in at either school, except with each other. A number of that group are still my close friends.

I found myself in university. I completed my undergrad in French and Political Science (double honours) (and a few years later, my MA in Poli Sci) and found out, especially in Poli Sci, that it was okay to be smart again. Many of my classmates have gone on to become professors, lawyers, successful businesspeople, Hollywood screenwriters etc Poli Sci is not a discipline for the faint of heart, because the future lawyers like to debate...everything. Being able to hold your own in an intellectual debate (although I still make it a point never to get into a battle of wits with an unarmed person...) was essential, and a quick wit and sarcastic take on the world stood me in good stead.

Since university, I have been a customs inspector, French supply teacher, grad student, teaching assistant, manager of a call centre, administrative assistant, collections officer (aka debt collector), customer service representative, legislation analyst, compliance consultant and a writer and editor. If I had been paying attention, I could have skipped straight to the "writer" part, because I started writing when I was about 10 years old, after reading "Anne of Green Gables" and deciding if she could write, so could I. I also remember saying in QAA days that I wanted to be a writer.

Late blooming applies to all aspects of my life. I didn't marry until I was 35, and became a parent at 42, at a time when some of my friends are becoming grandparents. Many of my friends are sending their offspring to university; I'm getting ready to register mine for junior kindergarten. I didn't really learn how to make friends until my 40s. I'm still working on that, and I'm only now accepting the person I am and my unique strengths and abilities.

I can own the label of late bloomer. I am not a lawyer, or first lady or university professor, although in the case of lawyer and professor, it is by choice rather than ability. I had the smarts; I didn't have the inclination. I am a fiercely loyal friend, a daughter, a daughter in law, a wife, a mother, a writer and an editor. I am a singer, a choir member, a crafter, a reader and a creator of books and poems. Maybe it's taken me this long to be comfortable with who I am and to build on it rather than tear it down. If late blooming means that I can use all of that "experience" to write great novels, (and I'm being pulled to write YA novels-all that unresolved teen angst) then so be it. I may bloom late...but bloom I will.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Confessions of a Clutter Junkie

Every parent has moments when they feel like the worse parent on earth. Some of these moments are monumental, like the time my husband sat helpless a foot from our daughter as the tricycle she was riding tipped and broke her leg in two places before he had a chance to react. In the vast scheme of things that I will encounter as a parent, my recent plummet into crappy mother regions was not on par with the first broken heart, but it still left me feeling inadequate and useless. You see, I lost my daughter's report card for swimming, and had to send her back to a new session without her report card to prove that she'd graduated from Bubblers to Floaters.

We had the report card before Christmas. My in-laws remember looking at it just before Christmas when they babysat so that we could attend my husband's work social. My husband and I clearly remember a conversation about stashing the report card in our daughter's swimming bag so that it WOULDN'T get lost in the pre-Christmas panic to hide the clutter. I vaguely recall placing said report card in said location...and now have no idea where it is.

I have always been a stacker. From the time I was small, I filed my things in piles. It drove my "packer" mother crazy (Packer-noun-someone who places things away in drawers or cupboards. Whose desk and dressers are pristine, coffee tables free of magazines, mail, bills or clutter...she starts to twitch after about 20 minutes in my home) and she once threw out all the notes for an essay that I was working on because she thought it was junk, because it was in a pile on the floor near the garbage. Like any stacker, I can lay hands on anything on my desk in seconds because I know what is in every stack on my long as no one moved them. The company I worked for instituted a "clean desk" policy, so that all the piles of paper had to be cleared from our desk every night....Packers rejoiced; stackers cleared out the bottom drawer of filing cabinets, lifted our stacks FROM the desk TO the drawer at night, and then reversed the procedure in the morning, complying with the spirit if not the letter of the dictate...My stacks were under control...until I married the Clutter King.

My husband is an Uber-Stacker and has a genetic predisposition to hang onto things. When 2 stackers marry, chaos and clutter can result, and factor in a small house, a small child, 2 cats and a ton of toys, books, crafts, yarn, tools and other miscellaneous stuff...and the results aren't pretty. My husband will move my stacks to look for things that should be in his stacks...the cats will knock OVER the stacks...the kid will move the get the picture. I no longer know what is in the stacks...and chaos results.

The added piece to this is that my daughter must have been a squirrel or a magpie in another life. She loves to stash her treasures...but never in the box that they orginally came in. The Mr Potatohead case became the new home for the plastic menagerie. The Barbie box holds the tea-set, and who knows what treasures I'll find in her Dora backpack...She also moves her treasures periodically, so even if I think I know where to locate's often been relocated when I go looking for it again. I've put a moratorium on removing game pieces for Shoots and Ladders or Candyland, after Backpack went AWOL for a number of months and we had to substitute Lumpy. Diego went missing 3 times in 12 hours..until Mommy dropped the boom and issued the moratorium.

Our house has been out of control for a few months now, and persistent health challenges have sapped my strength and allowed the dust bunnies to stage a coup and take over the house. My husband arrived home on Boxing Day with a Grind and Brew Coffeemaker...and a Robot Vaccuum. He was wise enough to give me the coffeemaker first, because the vaccuum was "to help me keep the house clean"'s one of those vacs that drives around the perimeter of the room in concentric circles, sweeping as it goes. It's a wonderful plan in theory...but you have to pick UP all the stuff from the floor first, and that's a full time job in our house. "Spot" as I have called the vaccuum, and flat out refuse to learn how to operate it, is no match for a 4 year old with playdough and Barbie shoes...

I know I have to get a handle on the clutter and the chaos. I'm overwhelmed by the enormity of it...but it has to be done. The mere thought of tackling my daughter's room leaves me shaking...but it's a small room with too much stuff and it needs a thorough sandblasting. If I approach it from the standpoint of a treasure hunt, maybe it will go better, or I'll try the "set the timer for 1 hour and see what you can accomplish" method of clutter busting. That MIGHT get me in the door...about a foot.

I know the report card will materialize eventually. I have to tackle the clutter shortly because I need to find all my tax documents, which are currently in hidey holes because I didn't have time to file them before Christmas. If I tackle the clutter, it will make things easier on all of us, so I need to square my shoulders, take a deep breath and if I can only find the broom and dustpan.