Saturday, October 27, 2012

Impatience is not a Virtue

Sad to say, but I am not a patient person. I am a 78 on a turntable made for 33 LPs (let the young people try to figure that one out); a Mazda Miata in a bicycle lane; a gazelle in a world made for hippos. (Well, maybe a very small, somewhat chubby gazelle.) I live my life at warp speed, partly because I have so much to do, but mainly because I like to go fast.

Because I expect to zip about, I tend to underestimate how much time it will take me to do anything, and attempt to cram way too many tasks into any given stretch of time. One way I cope with my over-expectations of productivity is by multitasking. For example, I put the kettle on to boil for tea, and rather than stand there and wait for it to boil, I go do a quick task like like water the plants or go to the bathroom and then come back and make the tea. While I wait for it to steep, I wipe down the counter. When I arrive at work in the morning, the first thing I do is turn on the computer. Then I take off my coat and boots and upack my briefcase. That way I don't have to wait there doing nothing while the computer powers up. I do work related reading in the doctor's office waiting room, do mental calculations while driving, and measure my distance walked and calories burned using a phone app while rushing between meetings.

I also am habitually late, as I routinely underestimate how long it will take me to get from point A to B. Pausing to turn on the phone app when walking, or mentally rehearsing my upcoming speech while driving do not have a postive impact on my tardiness.

I also hate to wait. (This is where the impatience comes in.) Therefore I attempt to estimate precisely how long it will take to get somewhere so I won't have to waste time waiting once I get there. But because of my optimistic assumptions about how quickly I will travel, I tend to underestimate the time I need, and arrive late. My kids will attest that I was always the last parent to arrive to pick them up from school. I would wheel into the lot in a great cloud of dust or snow and see them standing there forlornly in the empty schoolyard, waiting. However, when I attempted to reform and get there early, I would end up waiting endlessly in the lot until every other parent had left, and then they would finally come dawdling out of the school. Their perspective was "Mom's always late; why hurry?"

So, this afternoon I went out to do a couple of errands. Okay, to tell the truth, it actually was quite a long list of fairly complicated tasks, and some of them involved getting to certain places by a certain time (e.g., I had to get to the bank before it closed). The second thing on my list involved going to a postal outlet. I had to mail some things and also renew my change of address to redirect our mail. I got in line behind an elderly man. He was very slow to complete his business. My impatience kicked in. Finally it was my turn. I paid for my package of envelopes, bought the stamps, and gave the clerk my items to mail. Then I began to fill out the change of address form, and discovered that I could no longer recall my old address. I pawed through my purse but nothing in it still had my old address on it. I had to leave, drive home a few blocks away and get my address book and return. I raced past cars moving at the speed of turtles. By this time it was 1:08 PM, and I had to be somewhere on the far side of town by 1:30.

When I returned to the postal outlet, the desk was vacant and it took a long time for someone to come out of the back. It was a different clerk, a very slow, methodical one. She slowly typed the information from the form into the computer, hesitating painfully over the spelling of our names. After a great of typing and staring at the screen, the system did not seem to be accepting the data. She asked me for the address notification form, which I had left in the car. Gracelessly, with a great exasperated huff (dragon breath) I said I would run out to the car and get it, and run I did. I came back with the form in hand feeling a little embarrassed about how rude I had been, and explained to the clerk that I had to be somewhere shortly and was in a hurry. It was now 1:23. More slow typing and screen-staring. I watched the minutes roll by. 1:24. 1:25. 1:26. Finally, I was allowed to sign the document, pay, and leave. It was 1:29. The whole postal outlet experience had taken 45 minutes and I had expected it to take five.

I know my impatience seems ridiculous in retrospect. I managed to get everything that was on my list done. I probably should not have even tried to accomplish so much in one short afternoon. But the experience left me feeling grumpy for hours.

I am most regretful about the uncharitable thoughts that I had about the old man, the slow-moving drivers, and the methodical clerk. Probably the excursion to the postal outlet was the highlight of the old fellow's day. It was a chance to have a few friendly words with someone. Someday I will be that little old person, moving slowly because of arthritis, and lonely for a bit of conversation. I have good quality studded winter tires, but probably many of those drivers don't and they were just doing the right and safe thing by slowing down. And that postal clerk was just doing her job (although I do suspect that Canada Post has a plot to torture customers by providing excruciatingly slow service; slow service at the post office seems to be the norm, not the exception). Okay, scratch that. I do not feel regret about my thoughts about the postal clerk, only about my own rude behaviour.

Impatience is not a virtue. Probably I should learn to be a little more zen. I need to learn to live in the moment without them being grumpy moments. I could take up meditation or yoga...but I don't have time. I just have so much to do.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Childhood Bullying: We All Have a Part in Stopping It

Few of us have lived lives untouched by bullying. Most of us have experienced bullying in childhood, perhaps as the one who was shamed and ostracized by peers, as one who publicly said hurtful things to demean someone or who was physically aggressive towards other children, or as someone who stood by cheering on the bully or even just silently witnessing bullying without speaking up for the victim. In the wake of teen Amanda Todd's suicide along with online documentation of the years of peer bullying and cyber stalking that she experienced, childhood bullying is the topic of the day. It is my hope that, rather than looking for someone to blame for Amanda's very sad death, instead each of us reflect on our own past experiences of bullying and harrassment and indentify what we can do, as individuals, to reduce bullying.

Bullying is complicated and not always easy to recognize. It can masquerade as teasing, indignation about someone else's behaviors that are perceived as inappropriate, or as getting back at someone for a perceived wrong. Often fear is at the heart of it. The bully might have been bullied or abused himself/herself, or feels inadequate in some way. To avoid becoming a bullying victim himself/herself, the bully leads others in victimiizing someone else. Those who stand by silently or egg on the bully often do so in fear that if they speak out, they will become associated with the victim's perceived negative qualities and become targets of bullying themselves.

Intolerance for differences as well is at the heart of bullying. Racism, sexism, and lack of tolerance for sexual preference, disabilities, differences in physical appearance (such as being overweight or dressing differently) can elicit peer bullying. Bullies select victims who can be easily dominated: children who are smaller or weaker, children who are new and without a group of friends to stand up for them, and children who do not have high social status.

I have experienced and witnessed bullying as a child growing up, and have seen my siblings and my own children be bullied. In some cases, I responded appropriately, and in other cases I wish that I had acted differently or more promptly.

I grew up in a very caring and supportive family. However, child rearing practices were different back then, and "teasing" was a constant element of our growing up years. The teasing was not gentle, but malicious and hurtful. Name calling was a central element of it. We called each other mean names to show anger and scorn. These were derived by rhyming our names with an undesirable person in the community, or the similarity of one of our names with an embarrassing TV commercial. Friendships with children of the opposite sex were derided. For example, I was taunted with the refrain, "Gideonloves X!" throughout my childhood. Similarly, one of my brothers was taunted and humiliated using of name of a little girl with whom he was friends when he was three years old. The actual sources of the names for name calling seems trivial now, but the taunts were hurtful at the time, and I think the teasing has had some long term consequences on our self esteem and relationships as adults. As well, because our parents participated in the name calling rather than stopping it, it felt to me as though there was no safety net at home. Finally, the name calling bled over into our school and social lives, and had consequences in our peer groups.

When I was about nine, a new boy started school in my class. I came home and told my Mom about the new boy and confided that I thought he was really nice. This is what initiated the taunt "Gideon loves X!" When my siblings were annoyed with me or wanted to provoke me, they would shout this out, often in front of my school friends. School peers began to take up the refrain, and taunted both me and the boy. I would respond that I didn't like X; I hated him. This went on throughout my elementary school years. Fortunately for me, at school I had many friends and they mobilized to support me. Fortunately, X was also a popular boy with many friends. In those days, "boys chase the girls" was a common school yard activity for preteens. (If they caught us, they would kiss us, and this was considered by the girls to be disgusting.) We turned the game around into girls chase the boys. It would start with one of X's friends shouting "Gideon loves X!" or a similar taunt. Then a gang of girls would chase him and try to kick his ankles, while he tried to run away, and other boys defended him or tried catch us and kiss us.

I realize that this sounds very amusing and innocent, in retrospect. However it has a darker side. In leading a gang of girls and trying to catch X and his friends and kick their ankles, was I being a bully? Or was I defending myself against bullying? X was innocent of any wrongdoing. I engaged in my actions as a form of self defense against the taunts of my peers and siblings. But what impact did it have on X? I have often agonized over this. Later in our teen years, X and I did become good friends, but I don't think I ever explained to him why I was so mean to him when we were younger. I lost touch with him many years ago, but I have heard that he has become quite a bitter person, and his life has not gone that well. X was very bright and talented, with tremendous potential to contribute to the world. Did I, in some small way, impact his self esteem or contribute to the choices he made in life because of the way I treated him? X also struggled with being overweight as a child. Did he believe that I was picking on him because of that? I wish I could turn the clock back, or at least have the chance to explain to him now that I always liked him and to apologize for my hurtful actions.

In other ways in my childhood, I stood up to bullies many times. Because I was the oldest child in my family, I took on the responsibility of protecting my younger siblings from other children. Around age eight, I remember chasing a whole gang of children out of our yard brandishing a ski pole because they were being mean to my little brother and making him cry. A few years later, I used to walk my brother home from school to protect him from a boy who would otherwise follow him out of the school yard and beat him up. My siblings also used to protect me from other children's aggressive acts.

In junior high school, there was a gang of large, violent boys who used to beat up on smaller boys whenever teachers weren't looking. For example, I remember witnessing them stuffing a boy head first into a garbage can. Although I was afraid to intervene directly, my friends and I fetched a teacher, and I also told my parents.

As a parent myself, I did not model or condone cruel teasing in the family. I tried to teach my children to be inclusive and tolerant of people who were different than them, and to provide the opportunity for them to have friends of diverse backgrounds. I encouraged them to stand up for friends who were being teased or bullied and for each other. If I overheard my children's friends say things about peers that were racist or otherwise derogatory, I spoke up rather than listening silently (even though it might have embarrassed my children). When they were bullied themselves (and they were) I tried to make sure they knew that they could tell me about it, and that I would actively support them. I have spoken with the parents of children who bullied my children at school, and with teachers and principals. I have sent children home from my house and told them that they were not welcome to return unless they changed their behavior, and also talked with their parents. I also allowed children who were friends of my children to sleep over at my place many nights and weekends when I suspected that they did not have a safe place to go home to (but also ensuring that their parents knew where they were).

I know that my children experienced incidents of bullying that they did not tell me about, or only told me after it had been going on for quite awhile. Parents cannot protect their children from all bad experiences. It is everyone's responsibility to be aware of the signs of bullying and its potential consequences, and to take action rather than standing by. School personnel can provide bullying awareness programs and create school climates where bullying is not tolerated. Young people can report verbal, physical, and online bullying to parents, teachers, or other responsible adults. Adults can provide good role models to young people, by not engaging in racist acts, physical aggression, demeaning verbal attacks, or consumption of online porn, and by intervening when they see others doing those things. We can vote for parties that have a good record of funding social safety nets like women's transition houses, antipoverty programs, and aboriginal programs, and of providing support and proper funding to schools. We all can make a difference by the daily choices that we make.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Planting Tulips in the Dark

As I began to write this piece, I considered whether to title it "Have It All and Have It Now" or "Planting Tulips in the Dark" or maybe both: "Planting Tulips In the Dark: Having It All and Having It Now." It's really about both things, you see, as the reason I am planting tulips in the dark is because I must have it all and have it now.

Let's back up. Tonight, I found myself out in the garden around seven o'clock in the evening, digging up the dry soil and planting twenty tulip bulbs in the dark. These are bulbs that really needed to be planted before the hard frost which could come any day now. I bought them in a fundraiser at work, and I have had them for a month, languishing in my office and then in my kitchen.

I could not plant them earlier today when the sun was shining down on the trees with their leaves all golden and orange, and the temperatures were unseasonably warm, because I was at work. On a Saturday. At work.

I needed to attend a morning event, and then I stayed on into the afternoon to complete some tasks that needed to be done before Monday morning. I had planned to do those tasks on Friday afternoon, but I had to leave work early and come home as I had a migraine headache. I think the migraine was triggered, in part, because I had such a busy week at work, 12 and 14 hour days, and all of them quite stressful. The week was so busy because I had taken two days off to make an extra long weekend at Thanksgiving, and therefore got behind on my work.

Thanksgiving was wonderful. I had my three grown children visiting for the long weekend, and also my oldest grandchild. (I say "oldest," because on the Saturday of the long weekend, one of our other daughters gave birth to a baby boy, so now we are the happy grandparents of two little boys.) I cooked the whole big turkey dinner for the family and we had some friends over as well. We also made a number of excursions to sights in the area.

So this what I mean about having it all and having it now. I have a great job - very complex, challenging, and time consuming - as well as a wonderful family and now also two grandchildren. I love to cook for them and for friends, and spend time doing things with them. As I noted in my last post, I am also trying to squeeze some time in to take up painting again. And of course there's the garden, which has had a minimum of care and attention from me this year.

But with any luck, I'll have some fabulous red and yellow tulips blooming in the spring. If it wasn't so dark out, I'd go and dig up my potatoes. A deep freezing frost could be upon us any time now.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Painting Again

After eight years of not touching paintbrush or canvas, I am painting again! I moved to a new community earlier this year, and it is an artsy kind of place. Two weeks ago, the city hosted Art Week, and I attended the Art Walk -- essentially a self-guided tour of galleries, mini exhibitions, and artists' studios that were opened to the public for a couple of days. At one studio, I found out that they had an opening in their Thursday night art class, so I signed myself up.

It is not the instruction that I am interested in so much as the motivation that comes of having something scheduled into my day that I have already paid for. I know myself well. Left to my own devices, I will not paint at home, even though I have a lovely easel, all the equipment, and even a perfect room for a studio.

So tonight, I left work early (but not early enough), raced home and gobbled down some turkey soup, and gathered my painting equipment that Rob spent over an hour digging through moving boxes to find. (He is a wonderful person.) I took a quick snapshot of our backyard with my iPad, and rushed to town, late, to join the class. I felt so nostalgic as I unpacked my oil paints, my palette knives, my brushes, and my paint shirt. Mixed in with the equipment, I even still had the had the palette of dried paint blobs left from my last painting, so many years ago.

I laid out the composition and did the under-painting tonight. This is what it looks like so far:

And here is the photo that I was working from:

I feel happy to be at the easel again.