A Crap-Free Book Fair

I love books — their shape, their smell, their weight, their stories — so much so that if someone were to ask me what my favourite thing about parenthood is, I would have to say — hands down — reading to, and with, my children. I read to them when they were babies who weren’t yet able to hold their heads up, I read to them when they were toddlers who would park themselves on my lap for book after book after book. I read to them when they were older and would snuggle beside me, sucking their thumbs, rapt with attention. And even once they were beyond all that, I read with them, reading the same books they did, once they had finished with them.

So it was a natural fit, when the time and opportunity came, that I would volunteer in the school library, and work at the annual or semi-annual Scholastic Book Fairs. But while I have always loved working in the library, I can’t say the same about the book fair experience.

Now, don’t get me wrong: the idea of a book fair is enough to cause tremors of excitement in a bibliophile, and Scholastic does do a terrific job of getting inexpensive books into the hands of children, an endeavour no one could reasonably object to; however, unbeknownst to unsuspecting and newbie parents, book fairs also have a dark side …

(Why yes, thank you for noticing … I am fond of hyperbole 😉 )

The dark side? Scholastic’s not just selling books. They’re also selling crap.

Time for yet another aside:  my husband hates — with a passion — the word crap. I don’t know why. Other words — actual swear words — don’t seem to bother him to the same extent that crap does. I, on the other hand, think that crap is an extremely necessary word, so much so that if it weren’t in the English lexicon I would have to coin it, just like my nine-year old son and I had to coin clunderwear (clean underwear). So I know I may be running a risk here — I may offend other haters-of-the-word crap — but in my defence, it’s sometimes the only word that fits.

(Aside Number Two: My nine year-old son has just read this tale-of-woe over my shoulder, and it’s his opinion that I’ve way overdone it with the word crap. Now, if you’re at all familiar with the kind of creature a nine year-old boy is — if you have a son or nephew, or know a neighbour boy of this approximate age — you’ll completely understand me when I say that if he thinks I’ve overdone it with crap, then I have absolutely, without a doubt, majorly overdone it with the word crap! Off to the thesaurus I go…)

Now, if you have children who have gone to a Scholastic Book Fair it’s likely you’re already familiar with the junk I’m talking about: pens with huge fluffy bits or stuffed animal heads at the top; top-secret UV pens equipped with battery-operated flashlights; calculators shaped like feet; ornate hard-plastic-encased pencil sharpeners that shred but don’t sharpen. The erasers … Oh. My. Gosh … The bewildering assortment of erasers! The 12 inch-long whips that are supposedly erasers; the humongous erasers for Really Big Mistakes; the erasers shaped like i-pods or trucks or robots. Do these things actually erase? Who knows? I’m sure the kids aren’t going to risk it.

That’s just a small sampling of the novelty items available at a Scholastic Book Fair. Making things worse, a large portion of this plastic crap is further crapified by being packaged in tiny plastic sleeves. You know, because apparently the items are of such high value that they must be individually wrapped and kept pristine. Yes, the novelty section at a Scholastic book fair is a plastic manufacturers’ dream-come-true.

Of course, I’m looking at all this with adult eyes. What do the kids think? Well … they love it! You should see them! They positively swarm over it, picking and choosing, the popular kids selecting the item du jour and the kids further down the social pecking order having near-conniptions about getting the same sizecolourshape. It’s like a small-scale anthropological study of Keeping Up With The Joneses painfully at play. Priced to sell — from 50 cents to a buck or two — who among them can pass it up? Sadly, I’ve seen kids spend the entire ten or twenty dollars their parents have enclosed in an envelope or plastic baggie — in all likelihood completely expecting to see a book come home — on this dross (thank-you, thesaurus…). And whenever this has happened, whenever I’ve rung someone through who’s juggling enough junk to open a Dollarama, I’ve asked the child, “Are you sure your mom or dad is going to be okay with you buying this kind of stuff? Wouldn’t they rather you buy a book?” and the answer is always, “No, it’s fine; they won’t mind.” And you can try — goodness knows I’ve tried! — to lead the child to a book at that point, but once they’ve got their hands on that loot it’s hard to dissuade them.

(I wonder what the parental response is when the child gets home? Are they as bloody-ticked-off as I would be? In my mind, this is like sending a child to the corner store for a loaf of bread and having them come back with a bag of candy).

Okay, so if the kids love this sort of stuff, if it makes them happy — and if I, as a volunteer, don’t get yelled at by an irate parent — then why should I be such a Scrooge about it? Perhaps you’re thinking, Ah Marian, calm down. Don’t get your knickers in a twist! Let the kids have fun! It’s just a little bit of junk! It’s just one book fair!

To which I have to emphatically respond, But it’s not just one book fair!

Unfortunately for me, my mind doesn’t see one book fair; my mind sees them all. This scenario is being played out at schools all across Canada and the US. I don’t see one book fair’s worth of robot erasers, I see mountains of robot erasers. I see factories in China spewing chemicals, using our precious —  and finite — oil to make thousands of these things. I see container ships crossing the ocean, trucks ferrying them across the continent — energy expended at each and every step of the journey — in order to deliver boxes filled to the gills with items that serve absolutely no long-term or meaningful use.

And what happens to all this rubbish? (I mean after annoying the teachers all afternoon (“put that away!”) and causing angst and jealousy in students suffering from woulda coulda shoulda buyer’s remorse). They’re largely forgotten. They’re forgotten, left to languish in our children’s lives — taking up space in their desks, in their bedrooms — as useless clutter, until eventually, one of two things is likely to happen:

  1. The item ends up in the landfill; in perhaps a thousand years it’ll break down to smaller bits of plastic.
  2. The item ends up in the ocean, where it breaks down into minuscule bits of plastic water-borne confetti, the bane of existence for aquatic life.

Really, I think the Onion sums it up very nicely:

http://www.theonion.com/articles/child-entertained-for-5-minutes-by-plastic-toy-tha,36249/

The funny thing (not haha funny, but sad funny) is that in all my years of working book fairs it never once occurred to me that we had a choice. I honestly thought I had to simply grin and bear it: Scholastic sends us the crap, therefore we must sell the crap.

And then last spring several events converged, and no longer willing to stand silently by and let the status quo rule, I approached my fellow parent-volunteer and our part-time teacher-librarian, and made a suggestion about our upcoming book fair: how about we simply hold back the novelty items; how about we simply not put the junk out for sale? To my surprise, and great relief, they agreed. And at that book fair we sold books. Just books.

(Well, okay, full-disclosure: books and bookmarks. My protests against the plastic-coated bookmarks (my own kids have bookmarks but never use them, preferring scraps of paper instead) was judged too extreme).

I have to say I did have a few worries. I was certain we’d make less money, and that as a result, we wouldn’t be able to buy as many books for the library. But no, it was one of our most successful book fairs in my time at this school, and when the time came for our fall book fair, two weeks ago, it was a no-brainer: of course we weren’t going to sell the junk. And the best thing? The kids didn’t even seem to miss it: only two or three asked if we had any erasers or what-not; the rest seemed to be happy just buying books.

It may be a victory, but really, it’s only half a victory. Yes, we did steer kids to books and we kept the rubbish out of their hands. But the junk still came. When our librarian asked Scholastic if it was possible to opt out of getting the novelty items shipped to us, to have only the books shipped, they refused. I understand their point of view: they don’t want to be worrying about which school wants a crap-free book fair and which school doesn’t; every school gets the same stuff, whether they want it or not. And this unfortunately means the whole factory-in-China-using-our-oil-spewing-chemicals-shipping-across-the-ocean-trucking-across-the-land scenario still happened. The only thing I can hope is that somehow word will get out. If more schools refused to peddle Scholastic’s junk, if more schools simply sent it all back, unsold, then eventually, they would get the picture, and the factory-in-China cycle will slow down and stop. After all, isn’t that Economics 101?

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Gezellig

Well … there’s nothing quite like happening upon the hard-hitting environmental website Grist and reading the headline, “5 Terrifying Facts from the Leaked U.N. Climate Report” to make me think my next post, in which I planned to wax on about cozy homes, is, well, nothing short of inane and fatuous.

So I have to admit I didn’t read the article on Grist.  And no, I’m not going to provide the link.  In the first place, I don’t think I have the capability —

(Okay.  Tell me — please? — that I’m not the only one whose brain has just chimed in with the deeply modulated phrase that preceded each episode of the 70s TV series The Six Million Dollar Man:  “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man.” )

Moving right along — trying to pretend that bizarre aside didn’t just happen — to the second reason I’m not going to provide the link:  if I’m too scared to read these terrifying facts, why on earth would I provide them to unsuspecting others?  I have to be honest:  after sinking into a weeks-long depression after reading Bill McKibben’s Eaarth this spring, I’m not sure I want to know any more.  Quite frankly, the more bad news I hear, the more I just want to hunker down in my home, keep my loved ones close, and hope for the best.

Hmmm … hunkering down in your home.  Well — if ever there was a segue to gezellig — that’s it.

Pronounced heh-SELL-ick — with that charming but difficult to emulate guttural roll at the beginning and end — gezellig is a Dutch term which loosely translated means cozy or comfortable, and while it can be used to describe a comfortable space (for example, a “homey” house is gezellig), it can also be used far more broadly than that. Sharing coffee and conversation with a dear friend in a quaint out-of-the way shop?  Gezellig!  Reading a book curled up in your most comfortable chair, a cup of tea by your side?  Also gezellig.  And for me, working through a pile of ironing while listening to Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café on CBC radio …

Really?

Yeah, I’m kinda weird that way.  (And for those who don’t get the Canadian reference, an approximation would be Garrison Keillor and Lake Wobegon on NPR).

Gezellig is a word I heard often growing up.  My mother emigrated from The Netherlands to Canada, met my German father, and began raising a family.  Our home — an uninspiring 1960s box of a bungalow — was a little bit of Holland in our lower-middle-class subdivision.  It was filled with minimalistic European furniture, table runners and embroidery and potted plants and books, and from the outside it was immediately obvious (well, obvious to fellow Dutchies, that is) that it contained a Dutch woman because hanging in a valence across the living room window were the typical lace curtains seen all over The Netherlands.  And while it didn’t quite match the feeling you get in a true Dutch dwelling, I have to give my mother points for trying.  Really, how could a newly-built cookie-cutter house in a bland suburban neighbourhood possibly compete with cobbled streets, with tidy brick houses older than Canada itself, with tiny well-tended gardens whose abundant greenery came from effortlessly breathing the mild and humid sea air?

Cozy spaces are something I’ve always had a hankering for, and home, for me, doesn’t feel right unless certain elements are in place.  There’s got to be a sufficient quantity of potted plants and books, wooden surfaces have to be softened by linen or cotton runners, and our old and worn kitchen table has to be covered with a tablecloth (which, to be clear, would be necessary even if the table were shiny and new; to me, a kitchen table simply needs a tablecloth).  A few pictures here and there — all of which have to be either loved or infused with some deeper meaning (or give me a blank wall instead) — and the house feels like home.  Cue the sigh of relief as I walk in the door…  In my mind, the best part about gezellig is that it’s a state that’s completely unhinged from style; it’s entirely obtainable by anyone with any space.  Not only are interior designers and a copy of Better Homes and Gardens unnecessary, they may even be more of a hindrance than a help.  After all, gezellig isn’t dependent on the latest-and-greatest; gezellig is in the heart and mind and eye of the beholder, and while a designer can certainly make a beautiful home, it won’t necessarily follow that it’s gezellig.

But while I yearn for coziness, and while I strive to create that feeling in our home, there’s a huge part of me that simultaneously battles and belittles that need.  After all, I berate myself, isn’t it rather small-minded to spend time fussing about a tablecloth (a tablecloth!) when there are people in the world who don’t have enough food to eat, let alone a table and a pretty tablecloth to set it out on?  And isn’t the process of making a home, an endeavour which often includes painting and buying furniture, and which can even extend to no-holds-barred renovating, more or less at odds with a green lifestyle?  I sometimes — even nearly four years removed from the fact — think of the eight garbage bags which are sitting in a dump somewhere, filled with the wallpaper scraps my husband painstakingly peeled from nearly every room in this house prior to the rest of us joining him on his latest work relocation.  Those eight bags occasionally gnaw at me, and in many ways they’ve become a testament to my first-world privilege and hypocrisy.  I’m painfully aware that millions of people in the world would gladly have taken this house just as it was, in all its wallpapered and worn hideousness, and here I am, claiming to care about the environment, and yet — faced with the prospect of living in a house with an off-the-chart ick factor — I simply couldn’t do it.  The weight-off-the-shoulders relief as the dingy and un-cleanable was carted away was positively palpable.  And as I look around this house (formerly known as “that” house by realtors) and see how it’s slowly been transformed into our home, I feel both proud and guilty over what we’ve accomplished over three-plus years.  Am I a hypocrite or am I being too hard on myself?  I don’t have an answer to that question, and to be honest, I’m a bit nervous putting it out there.  While I’m not seeking absolution, I’m not particularly keen on condemnation either.  What I’ve come to, in the course of three weeks of hemming and hawing over this post in which I attempt to explain why gezellig is part of this blog’s name, is the rather unsatisfactory acknowledgement that this is an argument of degrees and relevance.

We all have to live somewhere.  I’d venture that the vast majority of us in North America fall somewhere in the middle between opulence — overblown narcissistic luxury — and nothing — sadly, a park bench and newspapers. The fact that our first-world middle-ground is a third-world country’s opulence is — as absolutely cringeworthy as it is to write this — largely irrelevant.  Now, please don’t misunderstand:  I don’t mean irrelevant in that it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter; on the contrary, it matters enormously.  In my opinion, the inequality on our planet, and within our societies, is one of our greatest shames.  We as individuals should recognize that; we should be thanking our lucky stars every. single. day. for having the good fortune to be living in Canada or the US (or Europe, or Australia; you get the picture).  And if we can somehow work to alleviate some of the inequality (and there are many forms of inequality from which to choose) I think we should try our best to do so.

So when I use the word irrelevant, it’s only in the sense that unless we choose to live in the woods — homeschooling and off the grid — these pre-existing cities and neighbourhoods are by default our homes.  Our desire, four years ago, to live near my husband’s office, to be in a particular school district, to be close to certain parks and amenities, dictated the neighbourhood we would live in and the house we would buy.  It’s the simple fact of dreams bumping up against reality.  No matter the fact that I really would have preferred something smaller (not that this house is large by North American standards), something newer (so we could have simply moved in, unpacked our belongings, and called it gezellig), something older (because really, my dream is to live in a quaint little character house with dormers and a tiny Dutch garden to match), something whatever opposite to what we found … all of that was irrelevant.  These were our options, and it was a matter of choosing or going home and turning down the job.

So while I’ve reconciled myself with relevance, I find I still struggle with degrees:  in a world of inequality, in a world being shaped by a changing climate, what exactly, on the scale of needs versus wants (with respect to home), is acceptable?  If you think too hard on the matter (and clearly I have), if you’re going to wax philosophical and attempt to be responsible — with money, with the environment, with societal inequality — it’s altogether likely that you’re going to find yourself sucked into a vortex of indecision.  After all, one can reasonably argue that everything — every. single. thing. beyond the basic needs of food, water, shelter, and clothing — is superfluous.  So if those are the thoughts swirling around your brain, then how exactly do you make a decision to replace your worn living room carpet with hardwood?  The only answer I’ve come up with is that you have to close your eyes.

(There’s a reason there’s been such a long stretch between Grey and Gezellig.  This has been a difficult piece to write…)

So how does all this philosophical meandering tie in with gezellig?

I have to admit to being biased.  The Netherlands, a country I’ve had the good fortune to visit on numerous occasions while growing up, and twice as an adult, is one of my favourite places in the world.  If it’s a matter of relevance and degrees, I would argue that the Dutch, with their love-of-all-things-gezellig, have it right.  Or at least, more right than we do.  We in North America seem to have lost touch with the concept of enough.  We have the space to spread out, to build big and opulent; we spend our days living to work in order to fill those cavernous spaces with things we don’t need; we take our coffee in paper cups with plastic lids, delivered through a drive-through window and set into one of the eight cup holders in our over-sized vehicles, and then we drive into our garages without acknowledging that we have neighbours. The Dutch, on the other hand, seem to live large while living small.  The Netherlands is a tiny country with a large population, after all.  They live in small homes, cheek by jowl, and if they’re known for their tolerance it’s likely because there isn’t room for anything else.  They bicycle everywhere, sit at sidewalk cafés and sip coffee from cup and saucer, fork cake from a plate using metal cutlery, and while away hours visiting, valuing the camaraderie of friends and family.  Do they wonder at the privilege of eating cake while others are starving?  I honestly don’t know.  I’m sure some do; others likely don’t give it a second thought.  Do they calculate their coffee’s carbon footprint as they sit there drinking it?  Given the fact that a huge portion of their country is below sea level, that a rise in the oceans would be catastrophic for them, I imagine that a fair few must be thinking of it.  But are they eschewing the coffee and sacrificing their gezellig moments in the hopes of staving that off?  I don’t think they are. And maybe that’s the rub:  beyond the basic needs of food and water and shelter, isn’t it everyone’s desire to have comfort and camaraderie?  Perhaps the argument can be made that the pursuit of spaces and activities which convey the feeling embodied in the word gezellig — the need to be cozy and loved and secure at the end of the day — is the very thing that makes us human.  Perhaps that need stretches as far back as humankind goes.

I’m no anthropologist, so it’s very likely my imaginings are far from factual, but bear with me as I paint this picture: you’re out all day hunting and gathering, hoping you’ll be lucky enough to catch or simply happen-upon your next meal.  You’re in a constant state of vigilance, because at any moment some hulking beast with unimaginably sharp teeth and claws could jump out from the bushes and drag you or your mate or your children away, you and/or yours becoming their dinner.  Imagine your relief at the end of the day, when you and your family — hopefully with full bellies — finally get back to your cave.  Perhaps you’ve acquired the knack of taming fire and your shelter is guarded and warm, perhaps there’s a domesticated wolf close at hand … I bet if they had the language to frame that feeling, that sigh of relief as they sat in their caves and peered out at the dark and dangerous world at their doorstep, and felt comforted and safe and together, they would have called it gezellig. And maybe, in the midst of all the scariness in the world — climate change, war, political and social unrest; all things we have little or no control over — the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our children is to cultivate (and be incredibly grateful for) a safe space to call home at the end of the day.  Nothing too big, nothing too opulent, nothing that rudely demands privilege and a bigger-than-necessary piece of the global pie; just something that’s enough, just something that’s gezellig.

———————————–

Oh, and look at this:

http://grist.org/living/36-bits-of-good-news-to-cure-your-ocean-blues/

It’s a link!  Whaddya know!  It seems I do have the capability!  It’s a bit of good news from Grist, and I have to say that a world has just opened up before this hapless, mainly inept blogger…maybe my next post can even include a picture…

Grey

A few weeks ago, my nine year-old peered intently at me and said, “Wow…Mom…you’ve got a LOT of grey in your hair!”

(Can I just say that even after 18 years of parenthood the painfully close scrutiny and bluntness of children still has the power to make me cringe?)

“Yes, I’m turning into Gandalf,” I joked.

There was a moment of bemused silence, during which my brain back-peddled frantically:  why on earth would the bearded and elderly — and decidedly male! — wizard from The Lord Of The Rings be the first example of greyness to pop into my mind?  (And now, with the clarity of hindsight, I’m hoping against hope it’s not prophetic, that I won’t one day look in the mirror and see a bearded and elderly woman).

“Gandalf-ini,” I amended.  “Or would it be Gandalf-ette?”

Thank goodness for Word Geek.  She’s defused more situations than I can shake a stick at.  Subject railroaded, we turned to the matter of Sam and Frodo, who were currently (in our summer read-aloud) picking their way through the marshes with Gollum.

So yes, Grey.  According to societal standards, I am “letting myself go”.  We’ve heard it all before, so I’m not going to dwell on it — the fact that a greying man is distinguished, while a greying woman is — well — not.  And yes, yes, absolutely yes, it’s an unfair double standard.  In other ground-breaking news, the sky is blue and water is wet.

The grey started sneaking in when I was in my early thirties, announcing its arrival in the midst of my well-behaved dark brown hair like an uninvited and obnoxious guest.  Now, if I had been like the vast majority of women, the situation would have been handled like this:  I would have gone to my hairdresser, bemoaned aging, and simply continued on with whatever dying and highlighting I had already been doing.  The problem?  I had never before dyed my hair.  I had watched, in my younger years, as peers experimented with Sun-In, moved on to highlights, made eye-popping changes from brown to blonde, from blonde to jet black, and it had never — not even once — occurred to me to follow suit.  (I did have a few horrific perms (thanks, Mom!), but that’s another story).  So when the greys showed up, I did the only logical thing I could think of:  I got rid of them.  Each morning, I parked myself in front of the mirror and plucked each. and every. offensive. strand.  This continued for quite some time, until, after repeated warnings from my hairdresser, and before a long-delayed trip back home to see extended family, who would see how much I was aging (because apparently they were all frozen in time /rolls eyes/), I succumbed and booked the appointment.

My hair dresser assured me that the semi-permanent colour would simply fade away in a few weeks, and that it wouldn’t result in a tell-tale streak on the crown, but as I sat there during the long procedure, I have to confess I felt a little sick.  First, mentally, that I was doing this, that I had to spend an as-yet-unknown amount of time and X dollars, and that I wasn’t entirely sure what the finished product would look like.  But secondly, I also felt sick physically:  the fumes of whatever concoction was in those small plastic bottles was NOT agreeing with me, and there was a burning sensation on my scalp.  I could almost feel myself starting to panic (yes, I don’t mind, go ahead and say it:  Wimp!).  I did manage to make it through without embarrassing myself, but when all was said and done and I looked in the mirror, my first reaction wasn’t, Oh, wonderful, it looks great!  No, my first reaction was, Who is that?  My hair was dark and flat, the chosen colour fairly close to my natural hue, but not an exact match; the natural highlights, which I had never before noticed, completely obliterated. I left feeling rather ashamed, feeling like a fraud.  *Everyone* would know that I had dyed my hair.  The fact that I was certain that *every* other woman dyed their hair did little to comfort me, but after a few days I got used to it and felt less self-conscious.  We made our trip back home (where I’m certain everyone noticed, although only one person commented on it), the colour faded as promised, my greys returned, I did more pulling, and then I repeated the whole procedure.  But as I sat in that chair the second time, trying not to feel ill with the fumes and the burning, I wondered if it was more than just nerves; I wondered if I was having an allergic reaction (because, apparently, that’s a real possibility), and I thought, I can’t do this anymore.

So while that particular avenue may have closed, I still wasn’t ready to quietly accept the grey.  Wasn’t I too young for this?  What if someone — horrors! — mistook me for a grandma?!  Unwittingly, I had stepped into the great vicious-cycle-of-a-treadmill that seemingly all women are running through.  We start going grey, we look around, we see that no one else is going grey, we assume we’re the only ones, and we dye our hair.  The only ones not dying their hair are the ones who are “letting themselves go.”  Where’s their sense of pride? we wonder.  And what’s next?  Going to the supermarket in curlers?

Okay, so salon dye wasn’t going to work for me.  Enter Plan B:  Henna.  Our local natural foods grocery store stocked several varieties, and after weeks of hemming and hawing over shade and brand, I worked up the nerve to purchase a box.  I took it home and read the instructions, which, if I recall correctly, went something like this: mix powder with water; apply dye to hair, being careful to avoid contact with skin or clothing as it can stain; wrap head in plastic garbage bag; let sit several hours.  Unconvinced of the ease of all this, and wanting to be certain nothing untoward could possibly happen (remember, I’m a hair dye wimp), I decided to do a Google search.  As it turned out, this was either a big mistake or a life-saver, because what I came up with was a host of henna horror stories:  things going terribly wrong, hair turning violent shades of red, tsk tsk tsking professionals having to be called in to remedy hopeless situations.  Completely daunted by what seemed to be a thoroughly dicey procedure, and knowing there was no throw-caution-to-the-wind soul residing anywhere inside me, I shoved the box to the back of the bathroom cabinet and embarked on Plan C:  acceptance.  I was going grey whether I liked it or not.

Plan C:  Acceptance.  (Also known as Embracing Your Age, Defending Your Right to be Grey, Blaming Your Kids). There was one (one!) mother at my children’s school who did not dye her hair.  (And who was decidedly not letting herself go).  She became my new role model.  This woman looked amazing. She had stunning silver hair, cut into a stylish bob.  She had perfect skin, she was smartly-dressed, she positively oozed self-assurance.  I brushed aside the inconvenient fact that I was neither beautiful nor self-assured, and that I was in no stretch of anybody’s imagination stylish.  Someday, I was sure, I would look like her.  I have a long way to go:  over the years, the grey has moved in, steadily buying up more and more real estate on my scalp, and I’m currently at that awkward stage of grizzled half brown, half grey.  I’ve reluctantly come to accept that this is me.  I look around my nine year-old’s school, knowing I look older than the other mothers, but also thinking — rather defensively — I am older than most of the other mothers.  I had him at 37, after all.  And while I walk him to school, alongside mothers bringing their first-borns to kindergarten, mothers who could possibly be two decades younger than me, I think of our daughter, newly ensconced in her dorm at university.  After 18 years of parenthood, perhaps a few wrinkles and grey hairs are fitting; perhaps I’ve earned them.

So I’d love to end this here, on this positive note.  (And I’ve certainly droned on long enough).  But because I strive to be real, and in the spirit of full-disclosure, I have to fess up:  remember my fear of the dreaded grandma comment?

Sigh…

1)  I was coming out of a store in the month of December, several years ago, a box of Star Wars Lego in my hand (bagless, of course) and the woman manning the Salvation Army bucket commented on what a wonderful present it was, and asked if it was for my…

… wait for it …

GRANDson.  

!!!

(I had been digging for change in my purse, and I came *this* close to simply walking away).

2)  A bizarre conversation, about a year ago, in which a teacher I had never before spoken to stopped me in the hall at school and (referring to my 15 year-old) asked if ______ was my son.  I confirmed that he was, to which she replied, “Oh, yes, I thought so.  And you also walk another little boy to school, don’t you?  I see you every morning, walking a little boy to school, and I think Oh, that’s so kind of her to walk that little neighbour boy to school! 

“Um, yeeesss,” I said, completely floored, searching for words.  “That’s…my…other…son.”

When I related this conversation to my friends, they said that rather than assuming the worst, that this teacher had looked at me and surmised from my grey hair that I was too old to have a child that young, I should instead pin the conversation to the obvious:  this particular teacher is simply an — (I’m not going to say what they called her; you can make your own assumptions).

So there it is: Grey.  While I accept it, I do have to say I would love it if I weren’t mostly alone.  Is it selfish of me to wish that others join me?  I sometimes notice my friends’ hair, see their grey roots in the days before they trundle themselves off to the hairdresser.  I don’t say anything, but I wonder if they’d like to get off the mill, if they’d be willing to simply accept their natural colour, to stop spending the money and time, to quell the fear of aging.  I recognize the fact that if they’ve been dying their hair *forever* then that is their hair colour; they wouldn’t feel themselves without it, but … if we all recognize the inherent unfairness surrounding societal expectations and aging, if we all rail against it, then perpetuating the problem does nothing to solve it. If we all did it, if we all stopped colouring our hair, the cycle would end.  Women would be allowed to be real, just as men have always been allowed to be real.

/  types more slowly, stays very quiet, patiently waits, strains ears hoping to hear murmurs of assent, shouts of Hell, yes, enough is enough!  /

*crickets*

Ah well, it was worth a try 😉