5.31.2012

Your child's education: If you don't pay, don't expect to get a say


This week, Today’s Parent asked its readers if they were planning on paying for their kids' education. Some said, Yes, absolutely, I already have my RESPs started and some flat out said, No way; if we pay, they won’t feel the need to work as hard. My friend and todaysparent.com’s Managing Editor, Nadine Silverthorne, has a very well thought out plan – they will pay for half of their kids’ education up front, and upon graduation, will give them back the other half. I like this solution, as it encourages her kids to work before school, but ensures that they won’t be totally saddled with student loans afterwards, should they have to supplement with them.

However, I was a bit dismayed by the many voices echoing the sentiment that they would not be paying for their child’s education at all. It’s one thing if a family cannot afford to pay for their child’s education – I completely understand, and came from those circumstances myself. A child usually knows well that the family is in that position, and (resentful as they may feel about it, because yes, sorry, but that is a possibility) knows that student loans are probably in their future.

But flat out saying that you won’t be paying because you feel your child will take it more seriously if it’s their money?

That won’t happen.

Because here’s the thing – kids go to university now at 17 or 18 years old. Even if they have been babysitting since they turned 12, had a part-time job since they were 15 and never, ever spent a penny on themselves (that sounds like a fun youth, thanks mom and dad), they won’t have enough to sustain themselves through university. Even if you pay their rent. Even if you give them an allowance for groceries. It just won’t be enough. And 17 and 18 year olds are not known for their stellar decision-making abilities. Keep that in mind, too.

So your kids will have no choice but to get student loans. Hopefully they’ll be able to, because student loans (at least in Ontario) take into account a parent’s ability to help a child, so if you make ‘too much,’ your kid will get very little. If they don’t get enough in student loans, they will (I promise) accept the credit cards being offered them all over the campus. The credit card companies are counting on it.

Possibly, your kid will also need a part time job. Fine, I don’t think that’s such a hardship. I worked full-time hours all through full-time university, because I had to pay my own rent, groceries, books, transportation, etc., which my student loans didn’t cover.

Your kids will probably get through university or college without your help. But, that they did it without your help will be painfully obvious to them. That means, the decisions they make are theirs alone, and don’t expect them to respond to your concerns or even your input. 18 year olds that are on their own don’t need their parent’s permission to take, drop or fail classes. They don’t need your permission to move out of residence and into a shady apartment, or to spend their summers gallivanting across the West Coast with friends. You didn’t pay, you don’t get a say. Keep that in mind.

Also keep in mind that it takes more than just lip service to ensure your child’s success. It takes some practical planning. I feel like I was totally expected to succeed, but really had no practical help in achieving that success. I think I’ve managed it, but it took many, many years and many, many bumps in the road. And it was a struggle.

And I simply don’t want my kids to have to experience that particular struggle. I want them to go to school, to do well and to have fun. I’m not saying that I will pay for everything – I won’t. I will expect them to have part-time jobs before university and maybe even during university, but this is how I think of it: school will be their job, and I will be their employer. So, as long as they do their job well, I will keep paying. There will be expectations, and there will be consequences to not meeting those expectations. I will not relinquish my financial support – or my vote in how my money is to be spent – as long as those expectations are being met.

I want to see my children happy and successful, and just saying that I want that, but not supporting them in their quest, won’t get them there. They will need my money, and I’m hoping that they will be motivated by the expectations I attach to providing it to them. And that they will graduate, loan-free, excited and prepared for the next phase of their life.

In fact, I’m banking on it.


5.22.2012

Finding Community


our last summer

One of the biggest considerations when we were deciding whether or not to move to the cornfield was leaving our neighbourhood. We lived in a neighbourhood that had been built for soldiers returning from WWII, but was really established by hardworking immigrants and blue-collar families that moved in more than 60 years ago. There were plenty of good schools, neighbourhood parks, community meeting areas, shops and restaurants, yet was laughably lauded, year after year, as an ‘up and coming Toronto neighbourhood.’ What that meant, of course, was that the nearest Starbucks was two subway stops away, and that you could still purchase a house in the area for under half a million dollars.

We lived across the street from the elementary school, 30 houses away from the library, the civic centre, and the summer farmers’ market, and two blocks away from the not-quite-gentrified major street, subway, another farmers’ market, splash pad, and another playground. If we couldn’t walk to anything else we needed, we could certainly bike there.

But what became the biggest draw of our neighbourhood, and so, the biggest consideration when we were talking about leaving, was the people. After seven years in our house, we knew every neighbour on our street. We ran into school-friends and their parents everywhere we went. The shopkeepers knew my kids by name. I had a wonderful group of friends whose children mine had spent all of their years so far, with. In other words, we had a community.

It was hard to leave, and for nine months now, we have been slowly wading into the waters of this new town, searching any and everywhere for signs that we belong here. I scan the faces of the parents and children in the schoolyard so that, should we run into them at the park or the movies, we have someone to say hello to.

We have been moving back into a circle of friends that my husband left almost 15 years ago, a circle that has grown and changed; whose dynamics I never knew and must now become familiar with. We rely on the friendship and assurances of relatives most of the time, who take our hand and urge us forward, assuring us that the waters are calm, and kind.

If there is an event in town, we attend. If there is a field trip for the class, I volunteer. Small talk comes easily for me, and at the first sign of openness in a common setting, I engage with strangers. I try to put aside all of my insecurities surrounding being the new girl, try to be myself without tapping into what may be seen as big city bravado. Try not to be condescending enough to think that it even exists.

My children have been begging us to go back to Toronto for a visit, to go back to ‘the park,’ the one that they had spent nearly half of their life in. And I know what they are really asking for – for the familiar; for a place where they can go to run around with kids they know, to feel known and safe and to be part of the landscape they always felt was home.

I had been feeling terribly guilty for taking my children away from that: away from a place where the adults stand in a group, chatting, laughing and craning their necks to see if the child that just tumbled was theirs. A place where the kids gather and disperse according to whatever game they have devised; a place where cold drinks and kisses are doled out when needed; a place where childhood memories are indelibly formed, then recalled annually, in growing turbidity, for the rest of their lives.

And then, this weekend.

being fancy on the front lawn
Unremarkable in so many ways, yet a turning point in our journey towards belonging in this new place.

First, a birthday party for our newly-minted seven year old, attended by all who had been invited. Despite my fears that nobody would show up – they didn’t know us, how could they trust their child with us, maybe birthday parties weren’t the norm here – a house full of happy girls took up most of the afternoon.

Then, a brief respite before heading off to a barbeque, where we knew almost everybody, but nowhere near as well as they knew each other. It didn’t take long to relax and enjoy ourselves, thanks as much to the flow of conversation as to the flow of beer.

But the kids.

The kids, a dozen or so of them, almost all the same age, running and laughing and gathering and dispersing as they devised new games, running back to their parents for cold drinks and kisses as needed. And my girls, so happy to be surrounded by this group of children, in a big backyard full of the things that kids need to be happy – that is, a slide to climb on, a tree to hide behind and a friend to chase after. And the parents, in a group, drink in hand, chatting and laughing and craning our necks to see if the child that had just taken a tumble was ours.

Once the sun had descended, the sparklers were lit; little kids were steered away from the faces of others, little fingers were inevitably blistered. And once the sparklers had had all burnt down, we gathered our kids and our lawn chairs and walked through backyards down to a clearing by the creek, where it took six of the men to set up the fireworks and start the show. All the while my big city sensibilities were drumming through my body and I truly had to work to resist the urge to shout, ‘Wait! Stop! Isn’t there a bylaw against this sort of thing!’

And the kids fell fast asleep in the car on the way home, and Chris and I talked about what a great evening it had been, how close to his own memories of childhood this day had become, and how good it was for the kids to have been able to run around with other kids, happy and familiar and feeling secure, knowing intrinsically that they were part of a community.

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5.15.2012

Kids Say the Durndest Things



Whenever we walk into a store, my four-year-old asks if we can head to the 'kids ection.' I always tell her that we will if we have time, to which she always inquires, 'After the grocery ection?' I never correct her speech or her pronunciation of things, as this kind of cute doesn't last, and it amuses me so. I also have never told her that the princess' name is not actually Jazzbert, and if you tell her, I will cut you.

My older daughter, just turned seven, is clear and concise in her speech and easy to understand. An enthusiastic storyteller, she spends much of her time writing missives, drawing pictures and narrating her dolls' actions. She also comes up with some classics, both in her eager attempts at spelling, and her plot devices. For instance, according to her recent Mother’s Day card, my favourite food is ‘brownees’ and she loves me best when I am ‘baking cockees.’  I’ll take it.

So of course, when I read this post at Bunch, I almost fell over laughing. And then I totally stole the idea, ran downstairs with a notebook, and quizzed my own kids. It was a fun experiment, but I did initially make two mistakes while conducting my experiment: Number one, I tried to talk to them while The Wild Kratts was on. I actually prefer the Kratt brothers in non-cartoon form, but my children are smitten. I had to wait until the show was over and their eyes became unglazed before they would really play ball. The second mistake I made, was to allow my seven-year-old to answer first, as it meant that the four-year-old would just parrot whatever her big sister said. So I wised up and asked the four-year-old first, knowing that the seven-year-old would never want to give the same baby answer.

The results were nowhere near as eloquent as in the Bunch post, but amusing nonetheless, and motherhood is about nothing if not getting your children to amuse you.


Kids Say The Darndest Things

Where there's smoke, there's ...
(7) Fire. 
(4) Fire. 

A penny saved is ...
(4) A baby elephant?
(7) A letter. Definitely a letter. 

Two's company; three's ...
(4) A freezer.
(7) Two plus one.

Strike while the ...
(4) Baby elephant is eating leaves. 
(7) Whatever you're trying to strike is not moving.

It's always darkest before ...
(4) The sunset.
(7) The stars come out. 

Never underestimate the power of ...
(4) Electricity.
(7) Why are you doing this, mom? This is too hard. I don't even know what 'underestimate' means! 

You can lead a horse to water, but ...
(4) You can't go under its butt. It will kick you.
(7) I don't think you can lead a horse mom. I think you have to lure it to the water, then tie it up.  

Don't bite the hand that ...
(4) You eat with. 
(7) Could bite you back. 

A change is as good as a ...
(4) Baby elephant.
(7) Barbie. 


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5.09.2012

New Naot Shoes and a Giveaway for Canadian Readers!

This weekend, me and the huz celebrated our tenth anniversary with a four-day mini-break in Chicago. Just us! Without the kids! It was the longest we had ever gone away without them, and it was really good. We ate at some superb restaurants, looked at some gorgeous buildings, learned about the local history, and walked around historical neighbourhoods. And when I say, we walked, I mean, we walked.

I'm guessing we clocked 25-30 km a day, literally from sunup to way beyond sundown, through neighbourhoods and museums, over bridges and rivers, stopping to check out cute stores, eat or take refuge from the intermittent rain. And I walked it all in brand new, never-before-worn shoes.

I know! It's a gamble, right? Well no, not when your brand new shoes are from Naot.



These are my new Jennifer Flip-Flopsicles(tm) - cute, huh? They were unbelievably comfortable, thanks to Naot's renowned footbed engineering. Featuring cork over a layer of natural sponge latex, these shoes absorb shock, moisture and, as I already said, over 25 km of daily pavement pounding. My foot probably hasn't had time to yet become moulded into the cork (seriously one of the best features of Naot shoes - like a footprint in the sand), but that did not make my little Jennifer's any less comfortable.

Because I am a lucky, lucky girl, Naot also sent me another pair of shoes that were perfect for our  evenings in Chicago. Going through the Naot catalog is an exercise in pure joy for me, but choosing my shoes can be a painful exercise - I want them all! So usually I browse for a few days, constantly changing my mind about which shoes I'll pick, and in the end, it is the shoes that I simply can't get out of my mind that win. This season, I went for these beauties:




Gorgeous, right? These are Naot Prestige sandals (I got them in Brushed Black/Slate). They looked amazing with everything I wore, from skinny jeans to flowy skirts, and, according to my husband, were quite sexy. I was a little bit worried at first, as I am not a very graceful woman and to me, these qualify as high heels, but I had to pick them. I needn't have worried - they're Naots! Of course they are comfortable, and of course I could walk in them. They are dreamy to wear, thanks to a pillow-like footbed, super-soft leather upper and adjustable straps. I love wearing these shoes. They make me feel amazing, and I think women should always feel that way about their shoes.

I want you to feel that way about your shoes as well, so I have a pair to give you! I chose a pair that I absolutely love, and I think are the pretty darn close to the perfect summer shoe.





These are the new Panama sandal, featuring everything I love most about Naots - the cork and latex footbed, real Italian leather upper, adjustable straps for a perfect fit, and adorable styling to ensure that you never mix up your comfortable shoes with your grandma's. These would look cute with pretty much any summer outfit, and I guarantee that they will be comfortable from day one, whether you are chasing a baby or catching a bus.

To enter, simply leave a comment telling me where you'll wear your new Naots this summer! 


Contest details:

- The winner will receive a Naot gift card for the full retail value of the Panama sandals. This gift card must be redeemed at a Naot Footwear Retail Store, with locations in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. 

Winner must have access to a Naot Footwear Retail Store. 

- One winner will be randomly picked.

- Contest closes Sunday, May 20 at 11:59 EST. Winner will be announced on Monday, May 21, 2012.

Disclosure: This contest is being offered in cooperation with Naot Canada. I am a proud partner of Naot, and receive complimentary product from Naot in exchange for my partnership.

**Winner winner chicken dinner!**

A huge congratulations to Rebecca of Playground Confidential, winner of the Naot Panama sandals! Woot!

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