About Turning 40

Me, at a restaurant with good friends
eating 2 desserts because this is 40, bitches.
So, I turned 40 a couple of weeks ago. A few things happened, and a few things didn’t.

I did not plunge immediately into a primordial soup of self-loathing, regret, acute admission of my own mortality, or any other sort of age-related depression.

I also did not sign up for a gym, a marathon, a weight-loss program, a reality show, a master’s degree, or a divorce.

Here’s what I did: I acknowledged my birthday with a momentary crisis of the existential variety; I temporarily and passive-aggressively punished my husband for following my wishes and not making a bigger deal out of my birthday; I ate Chinese food, and I surrounded myself with people who know, love, accept me, and think I’m smart and/or funny.

Smart and/or funny has been my go-to ever since my second pregnancy at age 32, when my days of playing the ingénue  were absolutely and permanently taken off the table. You may be surprised to know that people will still accept your (perhaps delusional) role as ingénue even after you’ve had your first baby, so long as you can fit back into your skinny jeans. But by time the second baby comes around, you are simply a fat, old, tired mother. Enjoy the ingénue stage, Millennials; it’s fantastic, and fleeting.

It was fortuitous that the last book I read in my thirties (alav ha’shalom) was Yes Please by Amy Poehler, because it taught me how to be 40. It taught me that the most important words, for me, are No Thanks. Amy has a chapter about No Thanks as well. She includes a quote attributed to somebody whom I am too lazy to go fact-check, that says (and I paraphrase, I think):

‘No’ should be the end of the discussion, not the beginning of the negotiation.

This was a revelation to me. Now, it may come in most handy in my role as a mother, but the simple fact that I have the permission – the right – to say no and mean it – well, that’s what I want to be my guiding principle of the next decade.

I’ll use it judiciously, but with conviction. And without guilt or much thought, really, to how that might make you feel. If I say no, it’s because I have considered it, and I truly cannot do it. It won’t work for me, and I won’t be bullied/coerced/guilted into saying yes.


That’s the kind of thing I want being 40 to be about. There are a few other things I want 40 to be about as well, and I thought I would list them here, because the law says you can’t have a blog post without a list.


1. No thank you (see above) 
2. You do you and I’ll do me. You would never spend two hours steam-cleaning the kitchen even thought it is the most satisfying thing EVER, and I would never wear those fucking ugly pants. But we can laugh about both over a coffee. 
3. I don’t have to agree with you to like or respect you. I saw this on Pinterest, attributed to Anthony Bourdain. It’s pretty pedestrian as far as attributable quotes go, so I’m not sure if Anthony Bourdain should get credit for it in a free printable wall-hanging that uses as many fonts as it has words, but nevertheless, good sentiment. I’m not going to write-off a friend because our views on Israel, or the Paleo diet, or Chris Pratt, differ. (I may draw the line at tomato juice. That shit is nasty, and having to smell it while you drink could be a deal breaker.) (And seriously, how do you not like Chris Pratt?)
4. I don’t have to make my energy level match your energy level. I absolutely love boisterous, bombastic, funny, clever, quick people. Their energy is like an elixir to me, and if you can make me laugh, I’m yours for life. But I have spent way too many evenings trying to match wits and dance moves with people like this, and I just can’t anymore. It’s exhausting. I would hardly say that Eeyore is my spirit animal, but I’m just going to trust that if I love who you are and we are having fun, you’re ok with who I am, even if you are way, way cooler than me. 
5. Not my circus, not my monkeys. Maybe it’s that my kids are a little bit older now and I have survived the baby days, when you are so unbelievably hormonal and a righteous asshole about every tiny detail of your and every other baby’s upbringing, but there is very little I am willing to concern myself with now when it comes to how somebody else parents their children. I am the ringleader (sometimes the clown) in my own circus, and my monkeys are doing just fine. I'm sure yours are too, even if you feed them non-organic dairy products. 
6. Do I want to be happy, or do I want to be right? I want to punch myself in the face for quoting Dr. Phil, but on this, I’ll give it to him. And I want to be right. I mean, happy! I want to be happy. So yes, husband, I guess it was me who left MY keys in YOUR pocket. And yes, fellow parent council member, I guess the meeting minutes are wrong, and you never actually said you would call about the price of whole-wheat buns for hot dog day. Happy!  
7. No more guilty pleasures. I don’t mean that I’m going to stop listening to the Frozen soundtrack even after I’ve dropped my kids off, or that I’ll never watch another episode of My Teenage Wedding; I just mean that I will no longer feel guilty about doing these things. (I'm sticking my tongue out at you as I write this.) 
8. No more acting like my life is a consolation prize. I like my life. I like the way I live it. I’m no longer doing this “because” or “instead of” or “well, if we hadn’t…” I’ve been in the cornfield for nearly 3 ½ years, and it’s not better or worse than living in Toronto. It’s different. I love it, even if you can’t understand why I do. 
9. I don’t have to finish Top Ten lists if I’ve run out of things to list.  


Christmas in the Classroom: How to be equitable *and* festive

Advent calendars, Elfs on the Shelfs, parties, concerts, trees, plays – the propensity for providing our children with fun and festive activities at this time of year is both exciting and exhausting. But when we translate these activities to the classroom we add a layer of complication that could inadvertently see undue burdens being put on parents, and children being left out of the very activities that are meant to be a reward and a treat for them.

I’m not going to address the issue of religious or cultural equality here, as I will navigate under the (perhaps naïve) assumption that our teachers are sensitive enough to be culturally inclusive, and that parents are flexible enough to not look for reason to be insulted by any perceived cultural slight.

(That being said, teachers – seriously, exploring “Christmas Around the World” is not at all being inclusive, and parents, relax, just a little.)

But in the face of all the celebrations happening during the holiday season, it’s easy for issues of equity to be overlooked. And when children are forced out of activities due to socio-economic circumstances way beyond their control, it’s a concern. A few examples:

The Problem: The expectation to thank a teacher for all of their hard work with a gift at the holidays, is pretty black and white. Children (or parents) walk in with armloads of presents, lavishly wrapped, and deposit each one on the desk of the recipient. This almost always includes a child’s homeroom teacher, but could extend to auxiliary teachers, classroom helpers and office and support staff. Discussions regarding teachers gifts starts almost as the school year does, and can cause a great amount of stress, pressure and (perceived) competition.

The Solution:
  • Change the tone of the conversation: Instead of discussing what to buy your child’s teacher(s), talk about what you could provide that a teacher would appreciate, and that would show your appreciation for them.
  • Think home-made: cookies, cake mixes, art, mittens – tap into your creative streak.
  • Enlist your child’s talents: I can’t think of any teacher that needs another homemade Christmas tree ornament (or mug, or pencil holder), nor one that could possible appreciate the effort of their small charges more. Gifts made with love and attention exude those sentiments.
  • Spend your time, not your money. If a teacher is interested or involved in a local charity, offer your time volunteering there on that teacher’s behalf. Offers of your time in the classroom are also invaluable, or have your child make a coupon book for classroom helper roles your child could fulfill.

The problem: Expecting parents to pony up money so that their child can participate in a gift exchange goes against nearly every equity goal I have ever seen in a school. It forces parents to spend money or see their child excluded from the activity. And then it allows children (and parents) to compare gifts in a negative way. If you spent $15 on a gift but the gift your child received seemed much cheaper, you’d be pissed. And kids can be cruel. A permission form to participate is even worse, as you are forcing a parent to formally admit that they cannot afford this activity. The whole thing is gross.

The solution: By all means, have a holiday gift exchange. But make it one that costs exactly little or no money. Some ideas:
  • Handmade card exchange
  • Favourite recipe exchange (bonus points: teacher or eager parent makes copies of all recipes and compiles for an end-of-year book/gift for students)
  • Short story exchange
  • Cookie exchange (i.e. one dozen each to exchange)

The problem: I don’t know of any school or classroom that does not participate in some sort of food bank/toy drive/winter clothing drive at this time of year. The activity in itself is an admirable one and worth organizing. The problem is when you put some sort of goal on the drive, and attach a competition aspect between classrooms. Giving in an anonymous, “we’re all in this together” way is fantastic. Promising a pizza party to the classroom that raises the most money or brings in the most food is problematic. Consider this: a family that feels obligated to bring in a food donation or risk their child being the cause of “losing” may be the exact family that will have to access that food via the food bank the next week. A family forced to donate a toy may see it under the tree at Christmas if they rely on social assistance to help get by. Do we really have to put families in that position?

The solution:
  •  A school-wide toy/food/clothing drive organized for the sole purpose of helping others, with completely voluntary, anonymous donation that is located in a centralized place where nobody will know who does or does not donate. Full stop.

This is a beautiful, wonderful time of year if things are going well for your family. If things are a little tougher, this is can be a stressful, painful time of year. School should not be the place to add more pain or stress on a family. And don’t kid yourself – even if your child goes to a “good” school, there are families struggling in some way. Let’s encourage our schools and families to place the emphasis on opening hearts and minds – not wallets.



Pick One Thing

sharing wishes

You can only pick one thing, my sister would say, which would prompt my bargaining to begin in earnest.

What if I pick two things on this page, and skip the next page?

No, she’d say, that’s not allowed, and besides, you’ll cheat.

The Wish Book sat heavy between us, our small laps a shared tabletop as we flipped each page—wishes made, wishes still to come. My sister was right, of course; I’d never want to skip a pick on the next page, and would push my reckoning well past the toy section, the clothing section, the jewelry, until we got to the bedspreads and the game was over. Our imaginary treasure boxes were filled to bursting and we had exhausted both the pages of the catalogue, as well as the fantastical Christmas list desires of two young girls.

That we didn’t celebrate Christmas was hardly the point.

We knew that there would be no tree, no Santa, no stockings, no gift list a mile long to present to eager parents. But there would be night after night of two small girls sitting on a couch, haggling over the merits of each of us picking a different superhero sleeping bag, and whether or not we would actually share the bounty, as we assured each other we hypothetically could. That the entire exercise was theoretical was perfectly unimportant. We would often call our mother over to look at an item we were particularly excited about.

Pick one thing, she’d tell us, and maybe for Hanukkah…

So we’d scan the catalogue again and again, unaware of our place in this grand holiday tradition, focusing all of our energy on narrowing down our choice.

* * *

The snow has finally begun—snow that assures us the winter weather is here; that this time it’s sticking around. I’m busy in the kitchen with the kinds of things mothers are often busy with: cleaning off dinner dishes, emptying out school bags. I am taking inventory of the tasks and obligations of the coming week. Parent/teacher interviews, book orders due, a meeting here, an appointment there. I wonder if I will be able to do it all; if I will be able to decide what gets pushed, gets left unfinished.

Hanukkah is coming up soon, followed closely by Christmas. Lucky ducks that they are, my children celebrate both. Hanukkah is songs and latkes and the lighting of the menorah, and customs carried from my own childhood, shared in the relative quiet of our home. Christmas is a feast of family and noise and celebration, and everything I adore about my husband’s background. If my children are spoiled, it is in the very best possible way—in tradition and culture and security and love.

The chores complete, I look in on my two daughters, who sit on the couch in our living room. Their childhood is very different from mine, which makes me at once both nostalgic and hopeful. There’s a fire burning in the fireplace, and a cat grooming herself precariously close to the flames. Between the girls there lays a book, and I recognize it instantly. Not quite as massive as the tome from my own childhood, the girls flip the pages of wishes slowly, methodically.

Oh! I want that, and that one, too my younger daughter cries, but her older sister admonishes her immediately.

No, Cassidy. That’s not how you do it. Look at each page carefully, and pick one thing.

* * *

Want a wish of your own? Sears.ca has generously outfitted me with three $50 gift certificates to give to my readers! Simply leave a comment telling me a favourite memory associated with the Wish Book, or what you would buy yourself or somebody else this year from the Wish Book or Sears.ca. Winners will be drawn on Wednesday, December 10. Good luck!

This post is sponsored by Sears.ca. I was compensated for this post, but all thoughts, opinions and wishes are my own.