Cooking in the time of Covid-19: Dear Logan,

Dear Logan,

We have been home doing our part to stop the spread of this deadly virus and keep each other healthy. Today, we have been home for 53 days. We are doing our part to keep our family safe as well as preventing the spread of this virus that abruptly ended life as we know it. This virus couldn’t come at a worse time for young people like you who are on the brink of so much growth and change. You have always had to fight to get where you want with your passion and now it seems you have to wait and be patient just a bit longer. I struggle to understand why things happen when they do and I try to ground my belief that things do happen for a reason, but this virus occurring now, has me frustrated and my heart aches when I think of how it has interrupted your and your brother’s life. I think if it were just Dad and me, I wouldn’t feel so frustrated, angry and disappointed at the timing of this virus. If it were just Dad and me I wouldn’t care that I was home for 53 days. But, I look at you, son, and you are patient, resilient and you are finding ways to utilize your time and be happy. You also keep us happy around here and once again, you have earned the right to be called pure joy. Some days are better than others and cabin fever does show up from time to time but for the most part, we have all been okay while stuck at home.

I wanted to let you know that including all these recipes on my blog is primarily for you. If people try our recipes and learn to cook as well, that is just a wonderful sharing bonus, but this is all for you. You have embraced using this time together to learn to cook and take yet another step to independence. I have gotten to know you better during our time in the kitchen. I have always known you but finding out more about who you are becoming has made my heart full. You are ready to head out and forge your way in the world and I cannot wait to see the coming chapters of your life unfold. I hope you have a long and happy life, filled with as many experiences as you can gather. I hope you see thousands of places, eat thousands of dishes, swim in many oceans and lakes and embrace many cultures. I wish you joy and peace and the strength to stick to what you believe in and get back on your feet when life knocks you down. I want you to tap into the reservoir of our support, belief and love for you when we are apart from each other and know that when we do see each other we will re-fill that reservoir with every hug, kiss, smile, kind words and laughter. It is a pleasure to cook with you, to teach you and to learn from you. It is reassuring to know you are independent and capable of taking care of yourself. You can call me, text me or video chat with me anytime you want, but I think more often than not, you will refer to the blog for anything you need to know about the dishes we have taught you. This blog, in all it’s virtual locations will be here for you now, for when we are not available or able to help you and it will be here long after we are gone. I think I can safely say this blog will be here not just as a reference for cooking but for comfort and will serve as a a bank full of beautiful memories we have created together.

We love you Logan and we are so grateful and honored to be your parents. You are an incredible gift of love, light and life.

**********

Last Monday’s dinner was part of what I call phase 2 of learning to cook. In phase 2 we cook the dishes we have learned for the second or third time. So far he has done lasagna twice, shepherd’s pie twice and has done chicken and broccoli pasta twice. For Monday’s dinner, he prepared chicken and broccoli pasta for his dad and did a shrimp variation for us. This is how he he did it:-

First, Logan cut up the chicken, seasoned it  with oregano, salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder and put it in a pot of olive, a little Worcestershire sauce and a little water. He covered the pot and let the chicken cook on medium low heat for 10 minutes, reducing it to low heat for 15 – 20 minutes until the chicken is thoroughly cooked but tender. Once the chicken was cooked, he turned off the burner and set the chicken aside.

Next he boiled the water for the pasta (with a little olive oil and salt in the water). While he waited he rinsed the shrimp and seasoned them. Logan chose, salt, pepper, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, fresh garlic and diced onion.

Once the water came to a rolling boil, he put in the pasta of choice which was rigatoni and boiled until al dente. He drained the pasta, rinsed it and set it aside. Next he cooked the broccoli in a teaspoon of butter until it softened a bit and turned a brighter green.

He added the pasta to the pot and folded in the Alfredo sauce  and some freshly grated Parmesan and left on low heat.

 

Lastly, he cooked his shrimp in a separate pot (only because we were doing two versions of the dish – otherwise he could have cooked the broccoli with the shrimp. Once the shrimp turned light pink, Logan added the juice of 1/4 of a lime, stirred and set aside.

He added some of the broccoli pasta Alfredo into the pot with the chicken to make Tom’s dish and then added the shrimp into the remainder of the pasta and broccoli Alfredo.

Once the meals were plated, he topped them with some Parmesan and black pepper and served.

When a dish is made right and is tasty, it satiates you and leaves you wanting for nothing more. Since the pandemic it has been difficult not to snack but generally I eat and stop when I am full so often I will have one big meal a day with  two very light ones. If I am hungry, I eat.The second time he made this dish (and with a variation) it tasted even better. He is learning so quickly and so well that I forget I am teaching him. I give him the freedom to season how he wants to and the freedom to choose how great or how fine he wants to cut his ingredients. He makes me so proud when he tastes the food as he cooks it, cleans as he cooks and puts ingredients away while he waits on the food as it cooks ….and….he smells his seasonings and in a short space of time has learned to flavor meat by eyeballing how much he thinks he needs to make his food tasty.

If this is round 2, I can’t wait to taste round 3 of these fabulous dishes.

Stay well, wash your hands keep 2 meters between yourself and strangers and hang in there, This too shall pass.  ~Daniella and family.

 

Cooking in the time of Covid-19: Logan declares Meat Monday – Tonight he tries Steak Frites

Wanting to learn his way around the grill, it was Tom’s turn to teach Logan today. Like baking, I am not in love with cooking outdoors. I like eating it, but it’s just not my department. Tom does it splendidly and I am happy to let him do it as he is so much better at it than I could ever be. He also wants to make sure Logan remembers grilling with him. We don’t have daughters so this is a real father/son thing. We always want to do right by our kids. We always want to give our kids what our parents couldn’t or just didn’t give to us and tonight my husband gave his son a memory. As they grilled steaks for the first time, I heard them laughing and talking and I could see how special this time was for them.  I introduce to you, THE PLAYERS at the grill:-

LOGAN – TEENAGER LEARNING TO COOK BEFORE HE LEAVES THE NEST WHENEVER THAT IS, CONSIDERING THIS PANDEMIC

and this guy …DAD WHO ALSO GOES BY TOM….Can you imagine grilling with people with these expressions? Expressions that are quite normal for them on a daily basis….

Here is what the grilling action was like – the goal – medium …maybe medium/well…

HERE ARE THE MARINATED STEAKS I GOT AT MY BUTCHER’S  

                                   EVEN SOME FLAME ACTION HERE 

MEANWHILE IN THE KITCHEN I WAS TRYING SOMETHING NEW:-

We usually use our air fryer for making fries. No oil is used and it is a healthier way to make light crispy fries. However, as usual, the things that are not as good for you always tastes better. Yearning for a little “bad for you”  I decided to find a way to make fries in oil with a light crispiness.

Cut up a couple large potatoes – for our family of 4, I washed 3 but they were so large, by the time I cut 1, I realized I overshot so I cur up 1 1/2 for the family’s dinner and the rest I cut up and put in the freezer for another time.

 

Next, boil a pot of water. Season the water, or not but when it comes to a boil, add your cut potato and boil for 5 minutes. Any longer and you will have mashed potatoes. drain and rinse in cold water and set aside for all the water to drain. In a large bowl, mix together equal parts of flour and potato flour. Season with seasoned salt, garlic powder, chili powder and black pepper or whatever seasonings will make your fries taste best to you. Toss the drained fries in the seasoned flour mixture making sure each fry is coated properly. Then, heat some oil in a pot. Tom has ruined this iron pot of mine by poorly frying  food in it over the years. It is now known as the fry pot. Once the oil is hot, put in the fries, portions at a time and with a strainer spoon or a mesh ladle, gently stir occasionally to prevent fries from clumping.

Cook until the fries are golden brown. Drain on paper towels and salt them before transferring them to the plates. These fries can be kept warm and crispy in the oven at about 300 F but tonight, the steak landed on the plate and seconds later so did the frites.

Here is Logan’s steak, accompanied with my fries for Meat Monday’s Steak Frites. The meat was tender, juicy and the fries were light and crispy and the food was enjoyed by all. Adam’s portion was picked up after his run and we three settled down to a great meal and some fun conversation. Nothing like family dinner and soon, there will just be dinner for two, Use this time at home to teach your teenager to cook. Enjoy the slower meals together. Enjoy not having to head out to somewhere after dinner. Lockdown is hard but being ill,or dead is worse. Stay home. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. This too shall pass ~Daniella and family.

 

 

Cooking in the Time of Covid-19: Logan Declares it Butter Chicken Friday

Butter chicken is a good dish for Logan to learn because it is simple to make, quick, flavorful and nutritious. Since we are in a pandemic lock down it was a little difficult to get all the ingredients we needed to make the sauce. So, we had to improvise. I bought a bottle of butter chicken sauce and added to to it to enhance the flavor and to thicken it as we found to be a little too liquid. So before we get into Logan’s cooking, here is the recipe I usually use for the sauce:

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 1/2 cups chopped onion

2 garlic cloves chopped

2 tbsp garam masala

2 tsp paprika

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tsp kosher salt

2 cups diced tomatoes

3/4 cup heavy  cream

2 tbsp butter

Chopped cilantro to garnish

Method: Cook the onion and garlic in the oil until fragrant. Add the diced tomatoes (canned is fine) and simmer in a covered skillet for about 8 minutes. Once cooled, pour into blender and blend for a few seconds and return to skillet. Add in the cream and the seasonings and simmer for another 8 minutes. Add the seasoned cooked chicken and let it all simmer in a covered skillet for 30 minutes on medium-low heat.

Here now is Logan’s preparation:

Wash chicken breasts with water or lime (Washing chicken before we cook it is something we do as Trinidadians. If you don’t want to wash your chicken then so be it). Cut chicken into smaller pieces and put into a bowl. Add 1/2 cup of onion and 2 chopped garlic cloves and set aside.

 

Next he measured out 2 cups of Basmati rice, washed it and put in a pot with 2 1/2 cups of water and brought it to a boil. He added a couple smidgens of vegan butter to the water to help the rice stay light and fluffy as the water evaporated.

Next he put a table spoon of oil in a skillet and heated it and cooked the chicken pieces, onion and garlic. Once the chicken began to turn white, he added the bottled sauce, a pinch of salt, cumin and black pepper. He stirred in a tsp of tomato paste, a pinch of paprika, cayenne pepper and a pinch of cinnamon, just to boost the ready made sauce.

i

Stir in a tablespoon of cream, cover the skillet and let it simmer for about 20 minutes on Medium – low heat.

Once the chicken was thoroughly cooked and tender, Logan garnished with chopped green onion as we didn’t have cilantro. Pandemic lock downs force us to be creative and improvise but that’s okay because the most important things are that the chicken is properly cooked and the meal is tasty. The butter chicken smelled like Heaven making us all very hungry indeed and when we tried it, it tasted even better than it smelled.

Serve Indian Butter Chicken over rice or with naan bread and enjoy.  Stay home. Teach your teen to cook. Stay safe and bon appetit.  ~Daniella and family.

 

Cooking in the Time of Covid-19: Logan Declares it Butter Chicken Friday

Butter chicken is a good dish for Logan to learn because it is simple to make, quick, flavorful and nutritious. Since we are in a pandemic lock down it was a little difficult to get all the ingredients we needed to make the sauce. So, we had to improvise. I bought a bottle of butter chicken sauce and added to to it to enhance the flavor and to thicken it as we found to be a little too liquid. So before we get into Logan’s cooking, here is the recipe I usually use for the sauce:

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 1/2 cups chopped onion

2 garlic cloves chopped

2 tbsp garam masala

2 tsp paprika

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tsp kosher salt

2 cups diced tomatoes

3/4 cup heavy  cream

2 tbsp butter

Chopped cilantro to garnish

Method: Cook the onion and garlic in the oil until fragrant. Add the diced tomatoes (canned is fine) and simmer in a covered skillet for about 8 minutes. Once cooled, pour into blender and blend for a few seconds and return to skillet. Add in the cream and the seasonings and simmer for another 8 minutes. Add the seasoned cooked chicken and let it all simmer in a covered skillet for 30 minutes on medium-low heat.

Here now is Logan’s preparation:

Wash chicken breasts with water or lime (Washing chicken before we cook it is something we do as Trinidadians. If you don’t want to wash your chicken then so be it). Cut chicken into smaller pieces and put into a bowl. Add 1/2 cup of onion and 2 chopped garlic cloves and set aside.

 

Next he measured out 2 cups of Basmati rice, washed it and put in a pot with 2 1/2 cups of water and brought it to a boil. He added a couple smidgens of vegan butter to the water to help the rice stay light and fluffy as the water evaporated.

Next he put a table spoon of oil in a skillet and heated it and cooked the chicken pieces, onion and garlic. Once the chicken began to turn white, he added the bottled sauce, a pinch of salt, cumin and black pepper. He stirred in a tsp of tomato paste, a pinch of paprika, cayenne pepper and a pinch of cinnamon, just to boost the ready made sauce.

i

Stir in a tablespoon of cream, cover the skillet and let it simmer for about 20 minutes on Medium – low heat.

Once the chicken was thoroughly cooked and tender, Logan garnished with chopped green onion as we didn’t have cilantro. Pandemic lock downs force us to be creative and improvise but that’s okay because the most important things are that the chicken is properly cooked and the meal is tasty. The butter chicken smelled like Heaven making us all very hungry indeed and when we tried it, it tasted even better than it smelled.

Serve Indian Butter Chicken over rice or with naan bread and enjoy.  Stay home. Teach your teen to cook. Stay safe and bon appetit.  ~Daniella and family.

 

Cooking in the Time of Covid-19: Baking an Old Favourite from the Naparima Girls School Cook Book.

You know a recipe is a well loved tradition in your family when the page of the cookbook you are using is stained  and kind of crispy and a little yellowed.

  I am not sure if this is still a thing, with technology being so easy but I don’t know a Trini cook who does not own a Naparima Girls High School Cookbook. I have the edition with the bright pink cover and I know there was another fancier edition since then but I am in love with the one I have so I never felt the need to upgrade.

    Whenever I doubt myself about a recipe and I can’t get a hold of my mother, I refer to this book. Before the internet and when the only way to get anything on line was by e mail, I referred to this book. When the kids were toddlers and I wanted to cook for them using recipes from home, I used this book. I remember a lentil pie I made for Adam and then again for Logan when they had those little peg teeth and I was so happy they devoured it. I had large monster babies, both 10 lbs plus at birth and I wanted them to develop a taste for my heritage cuisine.This book, especially in the middle of winter, and especially when I was far away from my Toronto based family, gave me comfort and pride and confidence to cook some dishes from my homeland that I never tried make.  Nothing makes an expat feel happier and less lonely than something from their mother country that they can eat. And so, I cooked and these toddlers grew up and from the moment they started school, theytook their mother’s cooking to school in the array of textures and colours, rarely taking sandwiches and never taking anything from a can to school in their lunch boxes.

Tonight I realized with all this cooking, I did not yet make a banana bread. I made cookies (from the packaged dough) and pies (with filling from the can and the ready-made pie shells) but not banana bread. I will begin by telling you I prefer cooking to baking. I don’t have the precision or patience for baking and will happy refer anyone to my friend Ronnie, or Leslie and even my husband Tom, when it comes to information on baked goods but I do enjoy making my Naparima Girls banana bread. So let’s begin.

Here are the ingredients:

And here is the method:

I am planning to do the banana bread muffin style. Now, bear in mind I mentioned I am an impatient baker and over the years I have found some shortcuts in the mixing of the ingredients and baking time – hence the muffins as opposed to prepping a loaf pan for a solid loaf. I do suggest you follow the recipe for best results but what I have done does work. You will see that I put the mashed bananas and eggs, salt, sugar ( I use brown sugar)  and baking soda and baking powder (my addition 1 teaspoon) in a bowl.

         

I added the lime juice and zest (my addition as I like to use all of an ingredient if I can) and the milk and fold it all in. I also omit nuts, partly because I did not have any that would work and I usually add a pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon because I love the taste.

         

I use 1/2 cup of vegetable oil instead of butter and really mix it in. Once the batter is all blended (I like to blend by hand but feel free to use an electronic mixer)pour it into the papered muffin tins place into an oven pre-heated to 350 F and bake for about 45 mins. Separating the batter into muffins allows them to bake in less than an hour so check them during the baking process so they don’t burn.

     

And there you have it, plus a pumpkin pie that Logan was craving. Give this recipe a try and enjoy for breakfast or lunch or a snack warmed with melted butter or jam of your choice. Stay Home. Stay safe. Try new recipes. Teach your kid to cook. ~Daniella and family.

 

Hover, Hinder and Somehow Interrupt My Day.

I’m 52 years old and I am beginning to live in world that I am struggling to understand. It’s not because of technology or anything like that. I am happy to advance in the age of smart devices. What perplexes me the most is the devolution of parents and parenting. My children are almost adults and maybe I should not have an opinion on this but it is hard not to when it is all around me. Much of the next generations are being raised in a manner that is making them incapable of doing anything on their own. They have no boundaries, they are always the centre of attention (mostly when they are unremarkable) and they have no regard for others. They also have little to no coping or problem solving skills and no manners and it is sad and very concerning that they are indeed our future. Now you will probably say that my statement is unfair so let me re-iterate, I said much of the next generations. Certainly not every child is like that but I urge you to look around and observe and you will see, many children have the behaviors I’ve described.

Earlier this morning, I stopped for a young woman and her toddler to use the cross walk. I was not in a hurry and she was with a really little child. She proceeds to cross with the child and I realize she is not holding her hand. The kid is really young so her gait is slow and wobbly. As the mother gradually moves ahead of the child, she doesn’t realize the little one is sitting on the cross walk. Oh yes, bum planted firmly on the asphalt and she ain’t moving.  The mother walks back to the child and begins to talk to her, never acknowledging that there are now 3 cars waiting on her and her child to cross. I took myself back to when my boys were toddlers. If someone motioned for me to cross with my toddler, I would have scooped him up in my arms and crossed the street. Once I was safely on the sidewalk, I would have put him down (my boys were heavy) and taken his little hand in mine and led him safely to the car. When did parents stop reacting like I would have? When did we stop holding a toddler’s hand? And when did we think it was okay to negotiate with a 2 year sitting on a cross walk to get up and get moving? That situation this morning was unsafe, inconsiderate to the three waiting drivers and stupid. I have no problem acknowledging children, listening to them and explaining things to them but there are times when a child has to be told what to do, when they have to be picked up and have their hand help to keep them safe. I finally drive by and she motions for me to roll down my window and she tells me that the little one is at the age when she chooses to walk. Okay…I have no problem with giving kids a choice. They can choose whether they want to wear the blue or the yellow pajamas and they can choose a bedtime story but they cannot choose their bedtime. They can choose to have an apple or a pear but they cannot choose candy instead. Children are children because they need to be parented. They need to be guided and they need to be taught. We love our boys. We are friendly with our boys but we are their parents, not their friends. We speak to them with respect and we expect that respect in return. We speak openly to each other but there is a distinct difference between the way they address us and the way they address their friends. There is a clear, healthy divide between us and our children are no worse for it. The 20 year old, lives on his own and though autistic, runs his own life and his aides, his father and I support the way he chooses to live. The 17 year old still lives at home, and needs our permission to borrow our cars and go to parties and have friends over in addition to all the things a teenager needs permission to do, have or attend. My husband and I are still the authority figures in our home and our son at home respects our guidance, our home and property.

The cross-walk fiasco over, I am sitting in the exercise studio monitoring the participants. Through the glass wall I can see the participants of three in a row toddler dance classes. These classes are designed for ages 2 -5 and cost parents way-too-much-plus tax for the session which consists of ten 30 – 40 minute classes. I have noticed over the weeks that none of the participants are ever on time for the first class which starts at 9 am. Then there is at least 10 minutes of crying or screaming and kids running out of the class into their parent’s arms who carry them back into the class time after time, the drama only ending when the parent stays in the room with the child. Those who don’t go into the room, are glued to the glass tapping it and waving to their now distracted child. Then there is the parent that goes into the class suggesting alternate dance moves and specific music requests of the teacher. My close observation of these humans makes me understand the high turn around of teachers for these classes.

The second class of participants arrive about 15 minutes before the first class begins and they are allowed to spread their toys all over the floor outside of the class which is also the walkway to the studio where I’m sitting. I watch in awe as adults and seniors coming into the workout studio gingerly navigate their way through a spread of dolls, miniature cars, Lego and  a version of Pick up Sticks with no attempt from the parents to clear the path for others, no telling their kids to move into a corner so that others can get by them, no apology for taking over the entire walkway. One child not interested in the toys on the floor, is finding joy in spilling water from the drinking fountain all over the floor because the obstacle course created by the spread of blocks isn’t challenging enough for the adults and seniors to navigate. Excuse me for a moment while I go to the utility room to retrieve a mop to clean up said child’s mess. And in case you were wondering, I’m not mopping the floor. My children didn’t spill the water.

……Okay, I’m back. The water is being mopped by the child’s father and the precious angels have gone into class and there is a repetition of the running in and out of class to mummy and daddy.  Oh dear, one father just got a premeditated back hand to the face and he is responding by hugging his child who continues to strike him. Wow. I have no words.  One little girl from the previous class is playing with the Lego on the floor as her mother tells her over and over that it is time to go. The child screams a loud shrill “NO!” Mom, holding a baby just smiles and waits and repeats her request to leave. I think they are going to be here a while.

Call me archaic but I think in addition to laying down some guiding rules and some consequences for their actions, we also need to give children a chance to grow and be independent and to learn from and be guided by other people. They don’t sit beside them all day at school so why are they in the dance class with them? Children need a chance to fail so that they will have a chance to succeed. They need to learn that mom and dad can leave them to learn from someone else and that they will be fine until they return for them. There are three parents right now doing the dance class with their child. Three parents who look like they can use a break, so why aren’t they taking one?

The classes are over and the little darlings have gone. The custodian is shaking her head as she mops up the sticky spots of juice and picks up the fruit roll up wrappers off the studio floor. The hallway looks like a tornado came through it and so does the gallery to the pool where the siblings of those taking swimming lessons are left to run wild and wreck the place.

I don’t know what books, or websites these new parents are reading nor do I know who is giving them bad advice but here is what I know –

It’s okay to take the weekend back and empty a trunk of toys on the floor and let your kids play. It’s okay to play with them for a while then walk away and let them play on their own. Having a friend over or going to play at another kid’s house is a healthy activity.  Video games in moderation isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact some kids develop excellent hand eye coordination from playing video games. Whatever happened to Saturday morning TV? That used to be a great thing. I remember many winter mornings when Thomas the Tank Engine and the Clone Wars made for a cozy time indoors. When the shows were over many hours were spent by our two little boys creating their own versions of the stories they had seen  in our basement with all the make shift costumes, props and noises of children at play. Very often there was a sign that said “keep out” or “kids only” that let us know that this was their parent free time to pretend and we respected that.

Maybe we can go back to keeping things simple. You know how little ones get a fancy present and they are more interested in the box? It’s because kids are simple people. No need to make things with them over complicated. My husband and I didn’t get suckered into expensive toddler classes that pretended to promise cognitive and motor skill development. We knew these skills were important but our kids got all that stimulus at home and eventually at school and through sports.

Parents, it’s okay to give yourself a break from your children. Learn to take turns. Both parents and kids don’t have to be everywhere together all the time. From time to time we did take our kids shopping or to run errands with us but there were also days when we took turns staying at home with them while the other parent did the errands and such. Alone time is good for mom and dad and kids have a lot of time ahead of them to go shopping when they are older and more tolerant of crowds, noise and other stimuli. To keep our sanity we knew it was not possible for both of us to be present at all times at our children’s’ activities. We did not all have to go to the store all the time. We took turns going to the gym and to church. We gave our boys boundaries. We told them “no” and they learned to be disappointed and they learned that disappointment passes. They learned to be in a class or an activity without us and today at 20 and 17, I have 2 happy, independent, generous and polite young people (one with autism) with jobs, commitments and responsibilities and they are turning into very respectable men of whom we are extremely proud. I look at our autistic son (who has his own apartment going on three months now) and I am thrilled to see that all my instincts were right. Nothing in any book about parenting ever applied to him and I am so grateful he is a part of our family because having him made us better parents and it allowed us to raise him and his brother with our minds wide open without getting caught up in this overprotective, micromanaging, coddling style of parenting that seems to persist.

I once asked my 17 year old how he felt when I dropped him off at Kung Fu when he was 5. He said sometimes he felt a little scared that I was leaving him but Sifu didn’t allow other parents to linger and no one cried for their mom or dad and he didn’t want to be the baby that did. He said, me not being there helped him focus on Sifu and the moves he was being taught. He said he learned how cool it was to stay quiet and be still and focus on the move he was about to do. He said he liked learning stuff without us there so he could surprise us by showing off his moves when he got home. He also told me he always knew one of us would come back and pick him up and he never felt that we would forget him. He also said, when he was little he sometimes felt like everyone was a big kid – better than him, bigger than him and faster than him (he was a short, stocky little thing who is now a lean 6’3″) and that learning to be in a Kung Fu class with mixed ages and heights made him feel like a big boy; made him feel proud that even with his size, he could sometimes take down someone much bigger and taller than he was. He said it made him confident and taught him that if he tried his best, he could take on anything. He does not practice Kung Fu at the moment (maybe he will get back to it one day) but that activity combined with all the other sports and activities he participated in allowed him to learn from other people and given him skills he would not have developed if we were constantly by his side.

By trying to be all inclusive parents, trying to be the perpetually positive parents trying to make life perfect for your kids, you’re setting them up for failure. Isn’t it exhausting doing everything in your power to make every moment of every day a successful one for your child? Take it easy parents. Say “no” once in a while and hold your kids accountable when it comes respect and give them rules and boundaries so they can actually successfully live in society. Loving them does not mean doing everything for them and giving them their way all the time.. By hovering over them all day, you stifle their independence and creativity. Helping them every step of the way does not set them up for the bump in the road that will make them stumble. If they don’t stumble and fall they will never learn to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and try again. I know it’s hard to not jump in and help them every chance you get but what you are actually doing is hindering them and making them unprepared for that roller coaster journey that is life.

Finally, be considerate of others. Your children are lovely and all children are gifts but they are not lovely gifts to everyone. My children are grown. I put in the years with the sleepless nights, the worry, the teaching, potty training, the feeding, healing, reassuring …all the verbs that go along with parenting and even though they are grown, I still am concerned for them and concerned about things I cannot control. But I know my husband and I have put in the time and work and love and all I can have now is faith that they will make the right choices and that they will be safe. My husband once said, parenting is 50%what you teach them and 50% what they do with it and we need to give them the chance to exercise their 50%.I don’t have little children anymore and the few kids I know between the ages of 1 and 12 have really great parents with a strong, admirable parenting styles so when a poorly parented child comes into contact with me it usually leads to an inconvenience to my day somehow. I don’t want to be subjected to poorly parented kids, yet I am on the daily with the hovering, over helping and hindering parents everywhere I go. Because I don’t need to hear you negotiate with them at the top of your lungs, I grocery shop listening to music through earbuds. I don’t appreciate them running around my grocery cart, randomly stopping and starting, yet you let them crash into my cart anyway. I don’t always want to have a conversation with your kid who can barely talk. I am a complete stranger. Why would you let your child wander around talking to complete strangers in an arena? I am there to watch my son’s team, I don’t want to miss the game because your child whom I don’t know, wants to talk to me. And for the love of all that is right and just, please don’t allow your child to linger in the entrance of a busy store. Don’t let them play with the doors and don’t let them lie in the aisles of the grocery store. No one enjoys that…plus, it’s unsanitary.

Dial up the discipline and tone down the hovering and path paving. Prepare your child for their path. Do not prepare the path for your child. Keep it simple and it will be special. Sign your toddler up for less activities and let them enjoy being active through play with their friends, with you and on their own. Take the time to breathe, Mom and Dad, guide them, teach them and take more time to enjoy them. You don’t need to take them to organized classes when they’ve barely learned to walk. Kiddies are simple beings. Don’t make raising them more complicated than it needs to be.

 

 

Surviving the Loop the Loop – The Prodigal Wallet.

When Tom and I renewed our vows on our 10th anniversary in 2007, he talked about the incredible ride we were and still are on and that the only way to truly enjoy a ride is to not know what is coming and sit tight and ride it out when it goes chaotic and random. Well, we only know chaotic and random and this year certainly we endured many loop the loops on the ride that is our life. We’ve had a lot of experiences that created new feelings; new ways of doing things; looking at things, that I suppose, took me by surprise. There was not a lot of time to write this summer but on Labour Day weekend, with one day to go before school started, I sat in my little home office, in front of my old friend Laptop, my fingers retrieving stories I had tapped out about our wonky family life. This is the story I wrote about Adam’s lost wallet in May 2018.

Today went down hill when we realized Adam’s wallet was missing. I usually have stuff they can grab from the fridge or freezer that they could warm and take for lunch but it’s been a hectic work week and I remembered Adam had 5 bucks in his wallet and I decided he could buy his lunch at school, since there was nothing he really liked in the fridge that he could take with him. Court was working with him lately to try and make sure he checked for his wallet and his phone to teach him how to be responsible for his things and she thought it was secure in his coat pocket when she dropped him off after the movies.

My autistic teen does not really get the seriousness of losing his wallet and at times, has a really sketchy short term memory, so getting the clues needed to piece together where it might be, was for this mother, quite stressful. We retraced steps and even called the police to see if anything was maybe turned in. The only place left to check was the theatre but when school is on, there is no staff on site until about 3:30 pm. The mental weariness of knowing I had to cancel his bank card and then looking up the procedure of cancelling his ID card and health card numbers just started to swirl inside me like a tornado and then I, the non-crier started to sob.

“He’s not ready,” I cried to my husband. “He’s never going to be ready and if we are not here to help him who will really care? Who will turn every stone looking for his wallet? Who will try and get the clues out of him and who will look up what to do and make the calls?”

My patient, patient husband, kissed the top of my newly grey haired head and told me simply,”Someone will,” He told me that as capable as Adam is, he will always need help with the fine tuning and that losing the wallet was a good lesson for us because when it happens again (and it will) at least we know what to do and this experience will help us figure out ways to lessen the number of times something like this would occur.

So, while Tom held down the fort at work today, I worked from home and also worked on cancelling Adam’s bank card. I decided I could at least prevent someone from accessing his account but would wait on cancelling the other cards until we checked the movie theatre. Let me just tell you that losing your wallet is one thing when you don’t have special needs, it is a complete gong show when you do. Last year, in the fall when Adam was still 17, I set up his new bank account so he could collect his ODSP* the following year upon his 18th birthday. It had to be a joint account because he was still a minor. I set up accounts for each son and all was well. Now that Adam is 18, I was not able to cancel his card even though his account is a joint account with me. He needed to call in himself. After explaining that his autism would make that scenario difficult, I finally got the bank to at least freeze the account until we could cancel the card. They struggled because the millennial on the phone did not have a field on his computer screen that could help him make allowances for exceptions like Adam. No word of a lie, that was what I was told. I suggested he maybe ask a manager to help him figure out a way but he was a millennial too (not to knock them all) and said if there was no field on the computer screen, there was no way. Adam had to make the call. I started laughing this insane cackle. Adam. Adam had to make the call. Adam, who HATES talking on the phone, especially to people he doesn’t know. Well, the whole family had to be in on that because it takes 3 people to help Adam get through scenarios that other people could navigate with ease.

When the boys came home from school, Adam made the call. When asked his full name he answered John Adam James and he also added “I’m looking for my wallet” to which the person on the phone said ” Oh, I just need your name at this time,” to which Adam said, “John Adam James and I am still looking for my wallet,”.  The rep realized that this was the point in the script that called for that thing called human empathy and he said that he understood because losing a wallet happens to everyone. It was a sweet attempt because it was clear to him now that I was not bull shitting when I said talking to Adam was not going to be easy.

Adam proceeded to give his date of birth and his address however when it came to remembering the branch where the account was set up and what the answer to the security question should be, Tom had to whisper so he could answer correctly as I was not allowed to “coerce” him. Then by process of elimination they needed the card number and the boys accounts are joint with me so we had to read out the other two card numbers to isolate Adam’s. I read mine and Logan read his and had a blast taking his turn with the guy because by this time Adam was antsy and scripting quotes from movies and it had become significantly louder in our house. Adam is talking, Tom is trying to settle him down so Tom is talking, I am just laughing and Logan is well,”Loganing”.

“You ready for my information, Sir?” he began.  “Listen up because it’s getting loud. That’s what it’s like living with autism. See, this is what we were trying to explain to you. He can’t answer you alone. That’s just the nature of the beast. You would have had an easier time talking to Mom,” he said, as polite and jovial as always, schooling all the while.

Fast forward, we got the card cancelled, ordered a new one and a new PIN all before we found the wallet at the manager’s office at the movie theatre when they finally opened. For all the absurdity, I was disturbed to know that those who have no voice, those who struggle with conversation, those who need and have advocates, still in many areas of our daily lives, still have no voice. Losing a wallet is an inconvenience for us but a disaster for them. If my son had been non-verbal, how would I have been able to cancel his card? I learned too that for his ID card and health card and any government issued card, he would have to go in person to fill out the form and sign his name. Easy enough for Adam with a bit of help for the form because he does read and write and can sign his name but what about those who can’t?  If upon getting these important documents one can see that a person has a disability, why can’t the powers that be, find a way for those who can’t speak or write to skip the usual formalities and get straight to the matter of protecting them from identity theft and fraud? They need help getting these documents in the first place so they’d obviously need help when they are in situation regarding a lost or stolen wallet.

Today, formality and strict regulation was ridiculously humorous for a few seconds and then it became downright irritating and painful for my son. It took almost half an hour to cancel his bank card over the phone because a customer service rep was only able to stick to the one way of doing his mundane job. I could hear how flustered he was getting trying to speak to my son as if her was just another customer. But Adam isn’t just another customer. Adam is representative of the now 1 in 45 persons diagnosed with autism and he is one of many persons who struggles with verbal communication. Sure he can speak but he cannot conceptualize things the same way we do. Things are different for him because his brain is wired differently and he lives in a world that has evolved tremendously in many ways to incorporate people like him, but it is also a world that is also as inflexible as it was 40 plus years ago.

The day, however, was not completely stressful. We found the wallet with the 5 bucks and all his cards inside. It was reassuring to know kind, honest people still exist. I hugged the movie theatre manager tightly and she hugged me back saying she had never met anyone so grateful to find a wallet. Adam had to go to Tim’s for a frozen raspberry lemonade with Logan to settle himself after his stint on the phone and did not come with us to claim his wallet. To be honest I was prepared for a struggle to get it back if it was indeed found, because he wasn’t with us but the manager came out, asked me what colour it was, who it belonged to and what was in it and presto! She got the description, she realized we must have been his parents and we didn’t have to sign anything. She understood our situation and she made a human decision. She didn’t worry about formalities or rules. She was just happy to return the wallet. She was happy to help. Most times, that’s all people like Adam and parents like us need.

On the ride back home Tom glanced at me and said the most wonderful thing I’d heard in a while. He said, “You know you gotta love being a parent when something great happens to your kid and you feel fantastic! It didn’t happen to you, it happened to them but you just feel great! Today we lost a wallet and it took us down a worrisome road where we questioned if Adam was truly ready for independence and for better or worse, he spoke to a stranger on the phone and answered many of the questions without our help . And while we were stressing over his wallet, we received great news about Logan. Watching Adam’s big smile when we returned his wallet was like watching him look at me for the first time all over again. Just a feeling of pure joy, you know? We got great news about Logan and we found Adam’s wallet intact. Nothing beats being a parent when you have a day like today!”  Ever the optimist, I dare say, he’s so perfectly, completely correct.

 

 

Turn Off Your Damned Device and Get Some Sleep!

My husband and I were getting ready for work the other day and we were tuned in to a morning news/talk show. As usual there were various segments, a cooking segment, a travel segment, an interview with a Canadian author, an interview with a financial person, a political pundit was on and then there was a woman with a sleep pack who was insisting that this is a must have in today’s world because we are kept awake by the blue light from our electronic devices. We paused the TV and scooted back to the fluffier segments and we noticed a pattern. People love to be told what to do. We love to be led on by gimmicks and we have no problem literally buying into this mumbo jumbo and lining the pockets of these gurus looking to capitalize on their 15 minutes of fame.

In one morning, viewers were shown the fastest, most nutritious and most colourful and friendly March Break foods that “busy moms” can prepare for their children. We were shown various coloured mason jars (available at the dollar store or is you wanted something fancier you could look for them at Michaels’s or Bed Bath and Beyond (oh,yes) where we could put our latte money and splurge at the end of the week as a reward to ourselves for not blowing our money on frivolous things. (Yeah I know, eh?) We were shown the most mentally stimulating toys for kids (all electronic, mind you with that evil sleep stealing blue light) and my all time favourite that day, the essential sleep pack.

Before I get into my analysis of the ridiculous, let me give kudos to anyone able to rip us off by tricking us into thinking and believing their products are so vital to our well-being. If the trendy, frivolous gullible can fatten your bank account, then so be it. People, please, why do we think that we need to buy a sleep pack that has 8 parts to it? There were specially tinted shades for the blue light, a lavender oil that you can put into the mist generator so that the steam will give off a soothing scent sure to lull you to sleep.There was a mask/blindfold thing to put over your eyes and headphones that plugged into the sleep sounds audio machine along with a two tubed rubber thing to stick up your nostrils to allow easy air flow to prevent snoring, and oh yes, it came with a cooling gel pillow. So for just $380.00 plus shipping, handling and taxes, you could buy your way to sleep. How about this for free? Turn off your device 45 minutes before you are ready for bed, shut your curtains and go to sleep. Remember reading a book with paper pages and going to sleep? I know some people have real sleep issues but for those of you who really don’t (and you know who you are) just be disciplined enough to not have caffeine before bed time, shut down your device and your day and get some rest.

 

 

And Moms, how is it that every new generation of mothers is so much busier than the one before? How is it with the invention of washing machines and dryers and stoves and microwaves and air fryers, food processors, blenders, juicers, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, slow cookers and one cookers, mothers have become busier than mothers who had to make food from scratch, wash by hand, wring clothes by hand and hang them to dry on a clothes line? How is it that with the vacuums and fancy Swiffer’s and robot vacuums we are busier than mothers throughout the generations that did not have devices like these to help them about the home? For Moms who work, how is it different from when mothers from past generations worked?  What are new Moms doing that eat up so much more time than generations past? I mean, how long is play group?

 

 

 

Why is it that we need a pack, a book or a guide to figure out how to make special, fun and colourful food for our kids? And why do we have to put so much effort into the presentation of their food to make it colourful and pretty so that they will eat it? Why not teach your kids to cook and prepare their own snacks safely and cleanly over March Break? It won’t take very long to teach them and they will develop a great skill and a sense of independence.

My point is simple. With such an advanced state of existence, with so many devices that help us do so much, why do we need to be told how to do the simplest things? Why is everything an issue, a hurdle or a problem? Make a variety of food for your kids and don’t freak out if they don’t like something. We all have things we like and dislike. In my house, all I ever asked was that my family taste something before deciding they didn’t like it. My boys eat pretty much everything.They have things they don’t like and that’s fine but I cook one meal for the family to share because I am not making something different for each of us. If you take the drama and the power away from food, kids will eat and if you set the example of eating good nutritious food, that’s what they’ll choose.  By the way, you new Moms out there, we are all busy. People are busy and dare I say there are people out there in the world who don’t have young kids who are busier than you. Parenthood doesn’t make you busier than anyone else. I raised a very energy consuming, time and emotionally consuming kid with autism and there were and still are many people busier than me. Get a grip, get organized and whatever you can’t do one day, do in another. We make our lives harder than it needs to be in a time when so many devices make it so easy. And for God’s sake if you are tired, shut off your device and get some damned sleep.

Human-Kind

My son was not well at school yesterday.  When his teacher called to tell me he was feverish and sleeping in the quiet room, my heart sank.  It sank for him because yesterday was a day of the long awaited fulfillment of plans.  He was waiting for almost a year to go to a concert in Kingston with his support worker and friend, Lindsey, and the rest of the family was heading to Toronto to see a dress rehearsal at the National Ballet for my birthday. But that’s family life. Things are planned and plans change and we chalk it up to bad timing or bad luck or what have you. The James family day of artistic appreciation was taking a big hit.

My husband, eager not to disappoint (Tom is big on birthdays and hates to disappoint us) asked me to call around and see if (a) we could get Adam to a doctor to maybe have him quickly checked out (Adam is autistic so on the rare occasion when he is ill and it seems significant enough we like to get him checked out as he sometimes does not explain his symptoms properly) and (b) see if someone could stay with him while he rests in bed or (c) see if someone would go in his place and he would stay with Adam.  Willing to pull the plug on all of it (I am not big on making a fuss over my birthday and I am okay with disapointment), I compromised and called around to see what I could do.  The doctor said it sounded just like a cold was coming on or a flu and if he was the same the following morning to bring him in. Everyone else I called was going to this concert so I decided to fold and called his teacher to tell her Tom would pick up Adam from school and bring him home.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, Mr. Adam, now 18, insisted on coming home on his bus.  He absolutely did NOT want his father to pick him up from school. He was willing to take an Advil and come home on the bus AND he was going to the concert. I could hear him vehemently stating his case, so to avoid a lengthy argument, we let him come home on the bus. By the time he got home, he had a big speech all planned that involved telling us in every which way he was going to the concert.  He was not burning up, he had a bath and as per the doctor’s suggestion, I gave him a Tylenol to go along with the Advil he’d had a bit earlier. He was perked up. He dressed as per Logan’s style suggestions in a light t-shirt, with a bluish hoodie, a black boxy jacket and his grey joggers that Logan gave him for Christmas. He ate a sandwich as a snack and showed me he’d eaten all his lunch at school and he was listening to the band he was going to see through his headphones.  He was going and THAT WAS THAT.  When a child who has never really been able to decide much for himself looks you in the eye (a thing rarely done by autistic persons) and puts his foot down regarding his own life, you have to respect it.  I had to respect his judgement.  He is 18 and is finally able to do what we have been waiting on for so long which is for him to express himself in a clear and well thought out fashion.  Against all of my maternal instincts, I agreed with his father, brother and teacher and with Adam and he went to the concert and we went to our show. After all, I remember taking the Comtrex back in the day when being at the party was of utmost importance to me. It was not easy to get to go out when I was younger and living at home with John and Angela. It is the same for Adam. It isn’t easy for him to go do a lot of stuff on his own and I can only imagine how frustrating it is for him to be stuck with Tom and Daniella when he knows people his age have so much more freedom. Mind you,Adam has a lot more freedom than most people with autism his age but there is always room for more because he has had a big taste of it , so who am I to stand in his way when I opened this door to his possible freedom for him? I have to respect his needs and decisions even if they are hard for me to do so. Should he have stayed home last night?  Most likely, yes, but I am not him and he REALLY wanted to do this and he got to do it even though it was miserable. He had full control of his life for a night which is after all, the point of growing up, isn’t it?

When Lindsey checked in with me, everything was good. She sent a photo of them smiling. They had eaten and had arrived at the venue. There was nothing to worry about as he was fever free and was smiling and happy. Around 7:30 we were involved in something going on before the performance when Logan noticed the Snapchat on his phone going off. He chose to ignore it at first but the Snaps kept coming. It was his friend from hockey and school whose mother also happens to work with us. Checking out the messages, he smiled and said that his friend just said he saw Adam heading into the concert.  A bit later on, the same friend Snapped again to tell Logan that he wanted him to know that Adam was throwing up in the tunnel of the arena and that he wanted to let him know in case his helper did not tell Tom or me. Of course, Lindsey had her hands full at the time and did text me a short time after and said that all was okay and though she offered, Adam was insisting he stay as long as he could and that she would pull the plug after a few songs.

Here is where the human kindness comes in. We (mostly I) worry what will happen to adult Adam when we are not around to look out for him. Not yet capable of being 100% independent, Adam is probably at around an 80% capability of independence right now and will to my best guess top out at about an 85%.  He may surge to 95% and prove me wrong, which will be fantastic but from what I know now, he will be able to live semi-independently, in that he may need support when it comes to getting to places on time, being mindful of his schedule and with his purchasing ability to a degree. I do not have this worry over Logan. But what this story proves to me, is that I have less to worry about than I thought because some of the people in this little town which I moved to kicking and screaming (I am more comfortable in cities), may not be perfect for me but is is for Adam. I have had neighbours and friends call me to tell me that they had just seen Adam walking over at place X and they wondered if that was okay and if I knew he was out of the house. At the time, Adam was on his way to work or practice and they had not known that he was at that point of independence and it was very reassuring that people (adults) do know him and want to make sure he is safe. What was the icing on the cake for me last night was that it was a soon to be 17 year old youngster who saw Logan’s brother and not only was happy to tell him that he had seen Adam, but was concerned enough to contact Logan again when he saw that Adam was not well. In an age of Millennials who barely speak words, (which is ironic because one of the biggest goals with Adam was to get him to communicate with words)  Tristin, at 17, showed the human kindness and concern I hoped Adam’s peers would show towards him and us. So many people turn a blind eye. So many people keep to themselves. So many people do not make time to connect with good friends, old friends or make new friends, it is nice to see that a teenager – someone who is a part of the most criticized group on the planet – was able to show such basic human kindness and therefore maturity which has been lost on many Millenials. Tristin used the same device teens are criticized for using excessively, to Snap his friend and let him know about his brother because he knew it was the right thing to do. The human kind thing to do.

Lindsey was as usual her wonderful human kind self.  Some of the support persons we had when Adam was younger would have bailed and brought him home and insisted we come home or would not have agreed to take him and give it a try. I already was loaded with guilt and “if only’s” and she did her best to put me at ease. She is also very keen on treating Adam age appropriately and respecting him as a young adult who can make wise decisions and choices. Adam tried to stay for a few songs but he ended up sleeping with his head rested on her shoulder before she woke him and skipped out of the venue and brought him to her home where she put him to bed. She told me how sorry he was that he got sick in the tunnel and that everyone was looking at them (which is an extremely rare thing for an autistic person. Since when does Adam care what people do or think?) Lindsey told him he did nothing wrong and it just happened and he was not to worry about it or worry about the people who were watching because it was none of their business, to which Adam replied “Yeah, $%^% them!” in between hurls. (Well he is 18, he has ears, has internet access, loves you tube and goes to high school – hence the answer, lol)

How fortunate and blessed we are to have put together such an amazing team for Adam in what are the most important years of his life as he launches into adulthood. We had been exposed at times to fantastic people who personally supported Adam as a child and many who were fabulous in the rough teen years, and now on this springboard upon which we stand as we prepare to let the world have our boys and let them fly into this unknown (to them) phase of life called adulthood, I couldn’t ask for a better team.  We have a great young male role model in Sebastian. In Courtney, we have a perfect just -a-year-older peer who teaches Adam how to be and in Lindsey we have a friend who is practically family. She has been with Adam and Logan from the time they were 9 and 7 when she was their teacher, then their tutor and now just a great support worker for Adam and I trust her so much that she is included in much of the decision making when it comes to Adam’s future.

There is so much to still worry over. The world will never be ideal no matter how easy it is for us to make it ideal for everyone by just acting out of love and human kindness. It is reality and we must accept it because we aren’t doing enough to change it. My worry however, is far less than it used to be because in this little town in which I have not found my groove, there is a groove for our Adam. As much as I love the city and Adam enjoys being in the city, a groove would have been much harder to carve out for him there. In fact, it would have been close to impossible and it would have been frightening to think of all that he would be vulnerable to in such a large, busy environment. I know my younger child will fly far from the nest. He has a lot of me in him and he will not settle in one place for a very long time and I understand why. But I am satisfied that my older child will thrive in an environment that is home to kind humans of all ages who are decent and good. The stories about Autism are not always uplifting. Autism is difficult. Autism is puzzling. Autism is isolating to the person and their family. Autism can feel like a life sentence that no one signed up for. Today, my story is one of hope for not just people with autism, but for all people. In spite of my weariness. In spite of my worries. In spite of my frustration. In spite of all the road blocks in this journey with Adam. In spite of my life, I have hope in humankind and this 51st birthday will be one to remember as the birthday when I felt in my heart the kids are going to be just fine.

 

 

Raising Boys in a #metoo Moment in Time

*This commentary is my personal opinion on my blog that I have chosen to express after conversations with my son and some of his peers. I believe in men and women being respectful to one another and I know this is possible between the sexes. I was prompted to write this because I am worried that many innocent men (including my boys) are open to having their lives ruined by wrongful and perhaps malicious accusations. You are also entitled to your opinion but obscene remarks will not be tolerated and will be reported.

 

Speak to a teenager about the things that go on in their world and you are propelled to places and things you never knew could exist. In the Caribbean when a teenager was a fast mover people would say.”Yes she self she so hot up. she and he go get theyself in trouble, oui!” or “Who he? He too mannish for his age! Cyah tell him nothing!” But it’s not just the world that pertains to teenagers that stuns me, it is all of it.

Oh, my goodness the times in which we live in are head shaking times.There is much to be proud of and fascinated by as there is to be disturbed about and I worry for my children. I worry because their father and I put so much into raising them to be good, kind, respectful, young men and though I know they are moving along the right path ( they are not perfect by any means), there is nothing that will protect them from things that my grandparents would have ever imagined happening in the world. From drugs to child pornography, to sexual, verbal and physical abuse, drinking and driving, being high and driving, to the possibility of being shot or stabbed at school, bullying, suicide, bullying due to sexual orientation, having no help and no hope, self harm, low self esteem, cutting, eating too much, eating too little, eating detergent pods, cyber crimes, terrorism… the worrisome list is far too long yet there was just enough room to squeeze in one more concern to me, which is my boys’ exposure to women in this world who will have no problem lying and hiding behind #metoo in order to hurt, shame and ruin them. Should this happen to them, even if they are proven to be innocent of false accusations, their good reputations will be tarnished and the damage could very well be irreparable and they would have to literally live life in the shadows.

We get a lot of compliments on our sons and how respectful and well-mannered they are. My boys are the ones who hold the door open for everyone. They will re-introduce opening a car door for a lady before getting into the car themselves.  They know how to dress appropriately and they stand when a woman arrives at or leaves a table and they take their grandmother by the arm to make sure she is sure-footed as she walks. In spite of all this, they are still wide open to malicious accusations of women who boldly and happily taint the whole premise of a movement that is significant to women as well as men worldwide – a movement that gave victimized women a voice and finally put inappropriate, twisted men in the eye of the law and behind bars for their despicable deeds. But these days there seems to be a witch hunt on ALL men and as a mother raising boys in the midst of a #metoo movement, I am frightened that anything they may say or do can be held against them and their good character.

I talk my head off. I talk every day, guiding, advising, teaching right from wrong. I have never talked more because I have teen sons and i have a limited amount of time to instill in them as much dignity, etiquette, accountability, respect, pride, self-worth and self-respect as I can. Their father and I parent them at lease 95% of the day and as exhausting as it is and as much as we would love to stop talking, it is our responsibility to them, to our family, our community, country and the world to raise them right. So for all you mothers of daughters who aren’t really paying close attention to what they are doing because you have to work, or you have problems or whatever your reason is for being unaware of their behavior and their whereabouts, I want to suggest you raise your daughters similarly to the way my mother raised me – you know the old school way all our mothers raised us before the smart phones.

It may be considered old-fashioned but not everything that is old is useless. I was raised to be strong, to have confidence in myself, to face my fears and learn from my mistakes. I was surrounded by love and I knew I was worth everything. My mother was instrumental in making be believe that I could do anything if I put my mind to it and while she never disallowed me to do something because I was a girl, she insisted I act like a lady.  Acting like a lady meant having respect for myself so that others would respect me and if they didn’t I was to say and do something about it because again, I was worth everything and I was loved. I was raised to know there was nothing I ever needed to hide from my parents and that led to me being comfortable enough and open enough to tell my mother (with whom I was quite close when I was a teenager) anything and very often it was her advice, her wise words that helped me get over many of the hurdles that accompany the roller coaster that was, is and always will be, teenage life.

My mother taught both me and my sister that we could be beautiful without feeling like we had to expose our bodies or try to come off as sexy all the time. Fortunately, I was never overly developed so pulling off sexy was really difficult for me and I actually felt sexiest (and still do) when I dressed for me – when I dressed to suit my mood and was comfortable with the way I looked and felt. I was never comfortable having the world see all of me all the time. My mother taught her daughters that less is more and that it was nice for people to see you without makeup and perfect hair from time to time because when the occasion did arise when we needed to dress up, our look would be different and refreshing. “Always surprise people,” she would say. “Never let them see you always dressed to the hilt. Let them see the different sides to you – the different moods and different styles. Never work hard to look perfect every day because if you are just yourself, your true inner beauty will shine through. She also told us to never to do anything to a boy that we would not want done to us. Never lead a person on if you are not interested in them beyond friendship and learn to take rejection. She would say, “Not everyone will be attracted to you and no one has to be your boyfriend because you want him to,” And one of the most important thing my mother gave to me and my sister is the ability to be alone. Being alone does not mean lonely, unwanted or unloved. It simply means that it is possible to be comfortable enough in one’s own skin to be single. Never rush into a relationship just to be in a relationship. Better to have no person in your life than the wrong person.

I have no idea what is being said to some of our young women today, but it isn’t right to slap a young man on his bottom and comment on said bottom, knowing that he can’t (or better not) say or do anything back to you. I know it has been said that a woman should be able to wear what she wants and no one has the right to look at her, or touch her or interpret her outfit as an invitation for sex, but if you squirm your way into too tight shorts that look more like panties than shorts, isn’t is true that you were aware of how it would look or feel. By choosing an outfit such as this aren’t you absolutely intending to reveal yourself so that others may look at you? Let me give you the answer – yes…yes you are. I was not a perfect teenager and of course I did things here and there for people to notice me but for the most part, I did not sell my butt cheeks on a daily basis. Now, I know you might be thinking, “well, you are a Trini and you have played Carnival just like everyone else, so how you could be a hypocrite so?” I have a response for that too. I played Minshall mas twice, (so you know I was clothed) and the other three times I played bikini mas with Harts and with a band that was called Poison. Trinidad’s and Brazil’s Carnival have been skin shows for many years now. My young cousins (20 somethings) play mas and they pay plenty money for their pretty but yes, brief costumes. Even so, they trend to the more clothed end of the bikini spectrum and they don’t behave like “Jamettes”*.  Mind you, no woman (or man) wearing anything revealing or tight has a right to be inappropriately touched or harassed. Absolutely not.  There is a time and place for carnival (Carnival costumes aren’t going to get any bigger anytime soon), there is nothing wrong with wearing your bathing suit on the beach or at a pool. It is perfectly normal to do something or wear something that makes you feel sexy and all women should embrace their bodies proudly. What I am talking about is my son and his friends seeing girls underwear everyday under too short kilts and because they change in the hallway and not in the ladies room. I am talking about groups of 8 to 10 girls hovering about boys at certain parties not moving until they all kiss all of them. I am talking about girls as young as grade 5 and 6 wearing the equivalent of volleyball shorts to school in the summer and painted on leggings in the winter while boys get in trouble for wearing muscle shirts. If they are not allowed to wear muscle shirts to school (and I wholeheartedly agree) then why do the schools turn a blind eye to the girls’ attire. I suppose if the teachers say anything they could be accused of looking at the girls or judging them and who wants to open any of the many can’s of worms surrounding our children based on political correctness. Good God, how frightening it must be to be a teacher, especially a male teacher these days.

I have cousins and friends with daughters who are lovely and I am not just talking about their face or their bodies. They are lovely because they are polite, they know that looking sexy is not for church, or school or the grocery store and they have boyfriends and friends who are boys who they respect and who respect them in return. They have no problem chatting with adults and they are mannerly and polite and they have a sense of humour and a sense of responsibility. I find these young ladies rare and refreshing and I hope when the time comes, my boys choose partners who have these qualities. My point is, it’s a two-way street. Let’s teach our boys to be gentlemen. Let’s encourage them to be multi-dimensional with many interests. Let’s teach our girls the same. Let’s teach our girls not to abuse #metoo. Teach them to not belittle what it stands for. #metoo is a very important message and if it is abused or tainted in any way, it will fade and what we (men and women) have worked so hard to bring to the light will be swept away into the darkness.

My friend’s 13-year-old son already knows a guy in his school who got into an argument with a girl who circulated revealing photos of herself and because he told her she was behaving like porn star, he got suspended and nothing was done about her or her risqué photos. That suspension will be on his school record forever all because a girl and her friends in spite of her behavior cried out harassment and #me too. My sons tell me they are not ready to date (I can’t say that I blame them). My one boy with autism, likes being around friends but so far has shown no interest in having a girlfriend. It is clear he likes girls and he has had a girl he was close friends with but we have drilled the privacy and hands to himself speeches into his head and so far so good. My other son is wary of dating because he is concerned that if he gets involved with the wrong girl, she can say or do anything to call out harassment and he could be in huge trouble. He’s chosen to be hyper focused on school because he is hyper focused on his sport and good grades are pre-requisites for continuing to play on his team. They also are both keen about making money to buy the stuff they want so they are also focused on their part-time jobs. I do hope if they choose to date, they end up with intelligent, funny, self-respecting and respectful girls who have big dreams and drive because my boys deserve good people because they are good people and anyone who ends up with them will be getting the kind of person the world desperately needs.

I promise as a mother of boys to do my best to raise them to treat your daughters with kindness and respect and will hold them to being decent and gentlemanly around your daughters so please if you haven’t already done so, mothers of girls, please discourage them from using the movements that strive to protect us as cheap weapons against good boys.