Who Am I Really? My Ancestry Journey

Since my mum died, I’ve had so many times where I’ve wondered something about our family history and then came to the gut wrenching realization that I really have nobody to ask. Before she died, my mum was struck by idea that she was the last of her generation who really had a lot of the old information, so she pulled out a pink school notebook and started to jot down some notes. I was thrilled. After all, I’ve always had an interest in genealogy and loved when my great-grandma would tell stories about our relatives. They were probably all a complete crock, but it was still fun and it triggered in me a deep desire to find out what the truth was.

Then a couple of weeks ago I decided to purge a bunch of papers from the house because if I didn’t do it, we would be living on a pile of old bills and school notices and I don’t want to end up on an episode of the show hoarders. I had a panic when the pink school notebook wasn’t where I thought I had carefully stored it (ie. stuffed in a drawer with a bunch of other “important” papers). I swore to myself that if I found it, I would get the ball rolling on the whole ancestry thing.

Cut to the next morning and I realized that I had indeed put the notebook in a safe place – filed in a drawer of my filing cabinet in an unmarked folder. I really have to stop convincing myself that I don’t have to write shit down and that I’ll just remember it. Seriously.

I opened the book and was immediately depressed. No dates. No places. Just lists of names and practically no information at all on my dad’s side. This may be more difficult than I originally thought.

So, off I go to Ancestry.ca and within 5 minutes realize that I’m going to have to fork out the huge fee for an international membership. Toronto being the hub of immigration that it is, people are sometimes surprised when I explain that my maternal grandparents were both born here but let me tell you, in the genealogy world, that’s like a drop in a bucket. So, off to England I had to go. But not at all for the reasons that I expected.

Turns out the first leads I got were all on my dad’s side. Huh. Wasn’t expecting that. We never had a good relationship. He was an alcoholic who only really stopped drinking after my sister and I were out of the house. His father was quite old when my dad was born and his mother, who lived with us when I was little, was not a very nice person by all accounts. Still, the severely dysfunctional side seemed to be winning out so off I went.

Three days and 480 years later it’s safe to say that I’m a bit stunned. Who knew my dad’s family had such strong genes? I’m finding folks from the 1700s who still lived into their 70s and 80s. Seriously? The paternal side of his family has some truly scary staying power but now I’m itching to follow his mother’s line because there is one question I need answered. The nose. I don’t have it but my dad and my sister both do. It is a strong nose and, along with his pitch black hair, not a very Scottish look. It comes from my grandma on that side but all I know is that she was Scottish. Like, sang me songs in Gaelic when I was little, still had a brogue until the day she died Scottish. Methinks there’s an interesting tale to tell somewhere down the line.

Now I’m waiting on my sister to dig up the old records which are all stowed at her place. I’m hoping it will give me some hints and I can get a move on with other branches of the tree. I’m afraid I’m addicted but since I already finished the entire new season of Orange is the New Black, there’s nothing else to feed my crazy obsessive side, so it’s all good. I’ll let you know what I find out if it’s anything worth telling. All I know at this point is that I come from a line of apparently incredibly fertile farming folk in Norfolk, England. Boring but still kinda cool.

 

 

Enter the Tweens

My little Monkey is not so little anymore. He turned 11 this week and is proudly announcing to all who will listed that he is now a tween. To be honest, the tween attitude started about 6 months ago, but I’m not telling him that.

Mini Me is 14 now and he outgrew me about 4 months ago, which is not that insignificant since I’m 5’8″ when I stand up straight. His teen years came with hours locked in his room and deep sighs when we ask him to do anything. They also came with a stubborn refusal to wear anything but sweat pants and t-shirts or to do anything with his hair. That I can live with. The lack of showering on the other hand… His friends are all the same so I just shrug and roll with it.

Monkey is going to be a very different kind of teen, I can tell already. The last week I have been enlisted every morning to put a bright green streak through the front of his hair – which, I may add, hasn’t been cut in about 5 months. He’s going to be one of those scraggly haired kids who experiments with crazy dye jobs and develops a distinct and unique sense of fashion. He also still loves to bathe so I’m calling that a win.

As different as they both are, I love this time in my parenting career. I see my friends with really young kids and I do not feel at all wistful. I love being able to pick up and just go anywhere with them. I love that they have the freedom to make their own arrangements with their friends and that my house is becoming the hang out hub. I laugh with the cashier at the grocery store about the amount of milk and number of chip bags in my cart. I can just shrug and say “teens” and they laugh knowingly.

They have important opinions now and we can talk about the world. Mini Me brings home ideas that they discuss in class – much deeper stuff than we were dealing with in grade 8, let me tell you. Racism, slavery, misogyny, homophobia. I love to see his brain wrap around ideas of social justice and acceptance in a deeper, more philosophical way than when he was younger. He sees the shades of grey now and it’s inspiring.

Monkey has just joined the Anti-Trump Alliance at school. Not an official organization, of course, but a little society created by two of the Muslim students in the school yard where apparently they talk about the evils of the Orange Menace. I guess with about a 50% Muslim school population, and a good majority of the rest coming from pretty left leaning households, the Trump issue comes up a lot. Monkey fulfilled his membership pledge by naming 10 things he didn’t like about Trump – in writing – and them generously designed their club logo. I am loving it.

My biggest regret about these years? How quickly they seem to go by. I know that everybody tells young parents that the baby years seem endless but that they really go by in the blink of an eye. No way. Those baby years WERE endless. I still have back problems from dragging my boys around and not for one minute do I lament about changing another diaper. It seemed like I had young kids for AGES with all their tantrums and toys everywhere and no sleep.

But these years, with all their independence and interesting thoughts and doing chores and easy outings – these years are flying by. And maybe it’s because I realize that we are in the final stretch. Mini Me starts high school in the fall and that’s only 4 years away from University and potentially moving out. Monkey only has one year left in the school that has been a second home this family for so very long.

Realistically, I know that they probably won’t be gone when they finish high school. Living in Toronto and taking into account the number of amazing colleges and universities here,  the chances of them doing post-secondary here are huge. But they MIGHT move away. And they may never move back. When I think of that, my gut clenches. Forget babies. Can’t they just stay tweens and teens forever?

The Nerdiest Time of the Year

Fan Expo has once again come to Toronto. If you wander around downtown near the convention centre, you are going to see scads of people dressed as super heroes, science fiction characters, and Doctor Who (because he deserves a category all on his own.). Muppet and Monkey went off this morning with a skip in their step. Mini Me, true introvert that he is, didn’t want to face the crowds. That may change when he earns more appreciation for the girls in skin-tight Harley Quinn outfits. But, I digress.

In our house, we lovingly embrace the words nerd and geek. Muppet is a geek of long-standing – a true blooded Dungeons and Dragons playing, science fiction reading nerd who somehow convinced me to hang a mounted movie poster of the Matrix above our living room couch in our first apartment. It has now been relegated to the basement man cave along with the video games and Nightmare Before Christmas collectibles.

How did I, a woman who always swore she couldn’t stand science fiction, get tangled up in this geeky web? Turns out I was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

I grew up on the original Star Trek series and I loved it. I think I had a little girl crush on Captain Kirk. When Muppet and I were first dating, we watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer together and I was hooked. The pretty girl chasing the monsters for a change? Sign me up! Then came Doctor Who and Christopher Eccleston and Rose and… Well, that was that. I earned my nerd membership later in life than many, but the Dalek sitting on my desk as i write this speaks volumes.

The kids were exposed to all things nerdy pretty much from the womb. Muppet read Lord of the Rings to Mini Me while he kicked away happily inside me. His first toys were Star Wars action figures. Monkey’s favourite stuffed animal as a baby was a promo toy from a video game.

Now that Mini Me is 13, he joins his dad and all of his friends for their Nerd Nights – role playing games that are taken very seriously and played while consuming Twizzlers and Cream Soda (blech!). It gives them something to bond over and all of Muppet’s friends welcomed into their fold with patience and love. Monkey is not there yet, but as a kid with ADHD, the patience it takes for the games just escapes him by about 7pm. He will get there, though.

Being a nerd is different now than it was when I was younger. Nerds fully let their flags fly and the internet means you can always find somebody who shares your likes/obsessions/hobbies. You don’t have to feel alone. Better yet, there are more nerd girls than ever before. Nerd love is possible. I’ve seen it.

I may have been a late-comer to this whole nerdy geeky world, but I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it now. Nerds and geeks are some of the most kindhearted, accepting, open-minded people you could ever meet and there are much worse things that I would hope for my kids than to be a part of that world.

Not So Little Anymore

My Monkey turned 10 in May and with that came the realization that I’m not the mum of young kids anymore… and I love it. It’s a different stage in my life and my family’s life and I have to say that I am rocking it so far.

With Mini Me being 13, there is a whole different level of responsibility he has taken on. He’s off right now walking his brother to the local pool for swimming lessons where he will wait around for the half hour and then walk him back. I don’t have to go. I am, in fact, sitting in my PJs having a coffee and writing instead. What? It’s pure luxury.

Of course, I’m paying Mini Me to do it but it’s worth every penny. He wants his own computer. I want quiet mornings for the 9 days the class goes on. It’s a win win.

I think Muppet and I have come to the realization of this new stage in life slowly. Sure, Monkey has been walking himself home from for a while now and yes, Mini Me is in grade 7, but sometimes it’s difficult to see what’s right in front of you.

We started slowly with leaving them home while we went shopping. Nobody wanted to come with us, so we wandered off on our own. There was a stop at Starbucks and a leisurely stroll through Home Depot. Exciting, I know.

Then came a date night. Sure, we were home before bedtime but we went to a restaurant, had a nice meal, and then even snuck off for gelato afterwards. Monkey chastised us when we got home for being out so late (9:30pm) but it was totally worth it.

As we were strolling along between dinner and desert, we ran into 3 families who were out with their kids and they all joked about out child-free state but I could see that look of longing in their eyes. We just smiled and kept walking, hand in hand.

When I meet new people and they ask if I have kids, I no longer hear the “oh, they’re still little” or “you must have your hands full” refrains. Now I get the sympathetic head shake for parenting teens and tweens.

I know that I’m probably in a golden time before Mini Me actively starts pursuing girls and where Monkey is still a mixture of childish and surprisingly mature. Nobody is dating or yelling “I hate you” yet. They’re happy for us to go off on our own as long as we still have some family game or movie nights and dinner is still on the table. But, you know what, I’m loving every minute of it.

Kids Are Mean

In my family, we pride ourselves on preaching the value of being different. In a household (and extended family) full of what could best be described as “quirky” individuals, we all get along just fine. But then sometimes the outside world comes along and rudely reminds us that being different is still something that is to mocked – a reason to be shunned.

Monkey is 10 now and its been a year and a half since we had his ADHD diagnosis. His was a pretty typical type of ADHD, with emotional rather than physical impulsiveness and an inability to stay focused unless it was something he was VERY interested in. He is doing unbelievably well on his meds and noticed the improvement so much that he demands his pill every morning before school.

Of course, being an ADHD kid who is also a bit quirky and a huge nerd has made him a target for some of the kids at school. He isn’t being beaten up or picked on necessarily. He has lots of friends and loves to run around and play outside with them. Where he has run into trouble is with kids mocking and devaluing the things he loves. Let me explain.

I may have mentioned before that Muppet makes video games for a living. He works for one of the major gaming companies in the world and his work is not only fun and rewarding, but lets him travel to places like San Francisco, LA and Paris. Pretty sweet.

So, like any boy his age, Monkey wants to be just like his dad. And honestly, he has a pretty good chance at pulling it off. He has natural artistic talent, an ability to create original structures out of Lego that blow my mind, and a creative mind that loves thinking of stories and scenarios. Recently he made a functioning gumball machine out of Lego.

He loves to play video games, of course. When he was 8 he created the entirety of Sponge Bob’s Bikini Village in Minecraft. He also created a functioning amusement park in the game with rides and attractions. He built houses with functioning rooms, giving thought to their livability. This kid has talent.

But, he also likes to talk about what he’s been doing to other kids and here’s where the problems start.

Imagine a mocking 10 year old boy voice.

“All you do is play video games.”

“Why would you spend all that time to do Lego?”

“Why do you spend all your time watching Youtube?”

“Who cares about that stupid game?”

He’s also a cautious kid who likes to think things through. This is the kid who only told me weeks later that he left the neighbour’s backyard and came home in a huff because the boys he was playing with were running their fingers through flame from a lighter they found as some kind of initiation into their backyard club.

“You need to be more brave.”

“Don’t be such a chicken.”

“See all these scabs on my knees. They didn’t hurt AT ALL.”

“Suck it up.”

We all know that kids are mean. That little boy bravado starts at an early age and it’s rough on the kids who don’t conform. What I would dearly love is for the parents of those kids to hear what their kids are saying. I want them to talk to their kids about the value of not following the crowd and how brave it is to do your own thing. I tell my own boys that all the time.

My kid has talent and I think he has the skills to do exactly what he wants to do in life. Devaluing his love of video games comes from that blanket idea that “video games are all evil and pointless.” I get that.

Maybe I would be the same way if I didn’t live with somebody who has obviously found his perfect job and who has intelligent discussions about how to make the industry more female friendly and less violent. It may interest them to know that our own kids aren’t allowed to play the very games that Muppet makes because we both strongly believe that those ratings are there for a good reason.

I would like them to know that creating video games takes artistic talent, knowledge of math and spacial relations, programming, creative writing abilities, a talent for narrative, and attention to detail that would astound most people. My kid has all those skills and one day he’s going to kick ass at whatever he wants to do. But for now, he’s just a 10 year old kid dealing with the mean, thoughtless words that come out of other kids’ mouths.

Social Media Parenting Perils or How My Child Got Scolded on Facebook

I may have mentioned in the past that I live in a neighbourhood very unique to the big city. We had a community organization, do street parties and fund raisers, our children play together on the street, and many of us parents know each other. Some of my best friends are the ladies who live on my street. With all this community togetherness, however, comes a downside. I have come to think of it as the Facebook Group of Nosiness.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to having a community Facebook group. It’s great when you’re looking for a recommendation on a good contractor or selling off the toys your children have outgrown. My issue is how some people have begun to use the site to air their grievances and to just generally vent. It has led to some rather amusing posts mind you. Like the time somebody decided to go on a diabtribe about the number of outdoor cats wandering through her backyard. I checked to make sure it wasn’t my cat she had issue with, then promptly ignored it all but I have been told that the thread had well over 100 posts and turned rather ugly by the end.

This weekend, things got a bit personal though and it had me longing for the days when it wasn’t quite so easy to air your dirty laundry.

My little Monkey has recently turned 9 and has been enjoying all the freedoms of playing outside unsupervised with his friends for quite some time now. With over 60 kids on our street aged 16 and under, there is never a shortage of kids to play with and since Mini Me has become a surly tween, with all the sulking and Minecraft playing that accompanies it, I am glad that Monkey has so many kids who can occupy his time. He loves to be outside running around and never gets into trouble… until now.

Since spring has finally arrived, we have been letting Monkey go to the park which is up the street and around the corner, with his friends. I am insistent that there should always be an older kid going along, but this weekend I made a tactical error. He asked if he could go to the park with two other boys his age and one of the older kids to deliver some outdoor toys that the older boy wanted to leave up there for the neighbourhood kids to use. There’s a fair collection of old dump trucks, play kitchens, and riding toys that people have contributed in the past, so I was fine with it.

Imagine my surprise when I went onto Facebook later that evening to see a post by a parent I don’t know describing my son’s little posse and their reprehensible behavior. It would seem that the older kids were launching these big toys off the top of the climbing structure in the presence of the park’s toddlers. Great. She went on to describe their appearance and what they were wearing, and commented that she did say something to them, but then she felt the need to go on Facebook and describe the incident further, saying that she wasn’t sure where the kids lived but she hoped they would be taken to task.

And you know, I would have been fine if it had been left at that. It was the ensuing comment thread that had my hackles up. About 10 comments had come in already, tracking the boys’ progress home and identifying them as living on our street. There were also several comments from parents about how their children would never do such a thing, how disrespectful they were, and a call to post the photo of the boys that the parent had taken of them – in order to describe them better, she said.

Now I was pissed.

I spoke to Monkey right away because honestly, I have never seen or heard of him doing anything like that. As far as the 9 year old boys of my acquaintance go, he’s a pretty passive kid. Loud, energetic, and willful sure, but never destructive of his own property let alone anybody else’s. He also loves little kids and is very careful around them, so I found it very uncharacteristic that he would do anything that could potentially hurt a little one. He was puzzled when I asked him what happened at the park and didn’t seem to really understand when I pushed further and asked if people were throwing around toys. As it turned out, he was a witness to what his friends were doing but said he didn’t participate himself. Why didn’t he speak out? He just “wasn’t that kid” who could say those things to his friends. He quite rightly pointed out that any time he has spoken up he has been told bluntly “you tell me what to do.” Sigh.

What he did or didn’t do was really immaterial by this point. It was the online witch hunt that upset me. Monkey was mortified when I told him how I found out about it all and couldn’t understand why somebody had to post something like that on Facebook for the whole neighbourhood to see. It had me thinking the same thing. The kids had already been told off by the parent at the park and in fact, she mentioned that several parents were watching it all happen and never said a thing. I applaud her for telling them off. But why take it to social media? Why open up the incident for a huge group of people who could now judge my child and his friends? Why the need to track them down and determine where they live?

It made me long for the days when kids could do stupid things and be told face to face by an adult that it was not okay. Where an isolated incident remained isolated. Where a kid could be marched home and made to stand there and be held accountable for his actions by a concerned bystander who just wanted to make sure things were put right and deliver a face to face apology.

In the end, I posted to the thread that the incident had been addressed, grounding had happened and the witch hunt could be called off. I left the thread and never went back to see what became of it. I figured that if the same group could go on for hundreds of comments about stray cats, who knows what they could do with this one.

I’m going to use this incident as a learning moment for my kids. They are still young enough that they don’t use social media themselves and they don’t understand the power of it. I want them to understand that what you put on social media is out there for all to see and you can’t take it back. If you choose to vent, you had better think about the people you may be offending, or hurting, or embarrassing. You need to think of the impression you are presenting about yourself and about other people. These are powerful tools and even though my little run in this weekend is very minor, it has also made me mindful of what I put out there. Lesson learned.

Long Weekend Hangover

For those of you not located in Canada, you may not know that we just celebrated Victoria Day. Being the good former colony that we are, Victoria Day is a celebration of our former Monarch’s birthday which has now devolved into an excuse to shoot off fireworks, have a BBQ, drink beer, and generally kick off the summer season – despite the fact that we often have to attend said fireworks still wearing our parkas and mittens.

In our house, it’s also usually Monkey’s birthday weekend. He turned 9 this year and we spent the weekend surrounded by his friends and our family, too much food, and some awesome cake.

It’s the kind of weekend that I both love and dread. Having a house full of 8-9 year old boys for most of Saturday afternoon was loud, to say the least, and it always grates on my poor introverted, quiet-loving nerves. But, Monkey’s friends are just so damned cute. Everybody got along and at one point there was a herd of boys running up and down my street dressed in variations of every former Halloween costume that I keep in our Tickle Trunk (any Canadian over the age of 35 will get that reference). We had an Indiana Jones pirate, a Jedi Captain America and some other creative choices that defy description. They’re at such a great age where they don’t care what anybody thinks and it’s all about having fun and seeing how many chips they can stuff in themselves in a 3 hour period.

Muppet outdid himself once again with an amazing Plants vs. Zombies themed cake and actually got some of the kids to sit still long enough to do a Zen Garden themed craft to take home. For my part, I kept them fed and alive and only suffered a little bit of guilt over the amount of sugar they all ingested before I sent them home to their parents.

Saturday night Monkey had one of his friends sleep over and despite my best efforts, they were still laughing and giggling and farting in his room until almost 11pm. What I didn’t expect was for them to be up at 5:30am raring to go. Being the good parents we are, we sent them to the basement to play video games so that we could get some more sleep before the descent of virtually every family member on our house Sunday afternoon. We figured that we needed to be well rested in order to deal with Monkey’s inevitable meltdown that was going to come at some point that day from lack of sleep and too much excitement.

The family started arriving around 2pm and it was the usual chaotic hubbub. My favourite part is always being able to sit with my mum while she knits and we catch up on life. After her cancer diagnosis last year, and given her limited mobility caused by arthritis, I am realizing that these moments are going to be gone some day, so I’ve learned to just sit quietly in the chaos and spend time with her.

The BBQ burgers were great and there were more cupcakes. Muppet’s parents set a new personal record by being 4 1/2 hours late to the party, which is a whole other topic for another time. The expected meltdown came when poor Monkey got shot in the forehead by a Nerf dart which led to hysterics of epic proportions but thankfully there was the promise of presents to soothe his (and our) frazzled nerves. The sniper was eventually identified as my 12 year old nephew, and I was just grateful that Monkey wasn’t taken down by his own brother. Cousins can be forgiven, brothers… not so much.

Everybody evacuated by about 9pm and I beat a hasty retreat to my friends house for some backyard drinks to celebrate yet another, more grown-up birthday. We tried valiantly to ignore the fact that the temperature was dropping rapidly and finally gave up at 1am when we realized that there was frost forming on the ground.

Monday is always a day to clean up the carnage of the weekend around here. The promise of fireworks in the evening is always my favourite part. Our neighbourhood association puts on an amazing show every year and I always get such a warm, fuzzy feeling when I see everybody gathering, buying bags of popcorn from the concession, catching up with friends, kids running around and dancing with sparklers. It’s such a precious sense of community in such a big city.

Now it’s Tuesday and the kids are off to school. I’m still in my pyjamas, nursing my second cup of coffee and feeling perfectly content. The weekend was chaotic and loud and stressful at times, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way.