Seeing Differences

When I was accepted to teacher’s college, I found I’d been placed in a rather unique section of the program called Urban Diversity. I was in the 10th group of cohorts for that particular program, and it was kind of interesting to see all the different people who were in my class, as well as who, for the most part, would become my friend by the end of the school year.

The Urban Diversity section of the Education program focused more on teaching children in classrooms and schools which are more reflective of the city’s diverse population. I remember someone once commented on how “white” my Grade 6 class was, and I countered with the fact that about 80% of them didn’t speak English as their first language, which would obviously contain a different set of struggles from those who were being taught by someone of a different skin tone.

Anyway, it was cool to look at the notion of teaching each child, as opposed to teaching a classroom of children. Seeing difference, and teaching to it, was the opposite of everything I thought society had taught me thus far, but as soon as it was discussed on, like, Day One, it all suddenly made sense to me. The whole “everyone is equal” model doesn’t really work. Everyone is not equal, and punishing those who are ahead by forcing them to slow down, or leaving behind anyone who can’t keep up, is just silly, and counter-productive.

So I learned about teaching from a different perspective, compared to the other sections within the Education program, and it stressed me out. I was painfully aware of not being able to fully teach to each child, and of how things I said or did could be received by one child far differently from how it was interpreted by another. I hurt one of my best Grade 8 kid’s feelings because I stopped calling on her for a time. She thought I hated her; I thought I was trying to give other quieter kids a chance to speak. We got it sorted out, but I’ll never forget how flabbergasted I was that she could think I didn’t like her. She was my go-to kid if things ever became too frustrating because I knew she always got it. That was an important lesson to learn, and to keep learning. Because everyone is different, after all.

But it didn’t help with my non-existent teaching career, in that I never really got my feet under me and felt the confidence I would need in my abilities to run a classroom.

I can’t run a classroom. Haha

Anyway, in the Education classroom, on non-teaching days, I sat at the Table of Misfit Toys with my regulars. My friends, the other oddballs who didn’t quite fit in. We were often the most fun, and sometimes other teacher candidates would join us just because we were that awesome. I still liked almost everyone else in the room, of course. I just didn’t have much in common with them, and felt like I didn’t fit in as well as I did with my eclectic mix.

What’s interesting is what I was told later from my main guy, Marc. I haven’t seen him in well over a decade, but at the time, we were quite close, and went through a lot together, even after the school year ended. He’s a brilliant young guy, whose brain never stops working things out, and has one of the best, warmest smiles ever. It goes right to his eyes. I actually hate that we lost touch, and keep hoping we’ll just bump into one another again someday.

So anyway, Marc got into grad school, and did his Masters of Education, as well. He was, therefore, still in touch with the man who had created the Urban Diversity division, Dr. Patrick Solomon. Dr. Solomon sadly passed away some time ago from stupid cancer, but he left quite a legacy in his wake. He was the first person I met when I got to campus on Day One (he walked me to class), and hugged me on stage during our graduation ceremonies. According to Marc, Dr. Solomon confided in him once that our table of misfits, for the most part, all started off the program in the mindset/headspace of where he wanted everyone to end up. That was not only an enormous compliment, but also explained why we’d gotten so frustrated so often when we were doing the learning instead of the teaching. I was of the understanding that there was something we just weren’t getting (there was even an extra IEP for me at one point – , whereas the reality was that we’d already gotten it, but had to sit through the rest of the year not progressing while we waited for the rest of the class to catch up.

That’s not necessarily meant to come across as bragging, though I suppose it kind of is, but more to explain the fish-out-of-water sensation that I’d felt for so long, and that I knew I was capable of passing on to kids in my classes. Classes I’d never have, as it turned out, but at the time, it was a hefty weight on my mind.

It’s occurred to me in recent days that I’m feeling much that same way again now, sometimes. I think that’s why I can’t express myself in a way that anyone else quite understands. Partly because I am just not articulate, and partly because I’ve already gone through all the stuff they’re saying and trying to progress further, but I have to keep going back to the last save point, so to speak, to see if I can catch everyone else up; get us all on the same page, before I can turn the page. We just rarely seem to get there, which means I rarely go any further myself, even just in my own head.

Maybe this is part of how the internet is making us dumber. We’re exposed to more people, so we spend even more time trying to find common ground and get on the same page that we actually never get through the first chapter, let alone past it. We spend more time feeling and reacting than we do thinking, because it’s instant. Or, as fast as we can type. The fact that so much conversation is done online instead of in person means that more is misunderstood due to lack of vocal inflection, body language, and eye contact. Everything looks black and white on the page, so we’re all starting to think that’s what the world is. One or the other; all or nothing; left or right (haha CToT xo).

But it’s not. There are more shades of grey than we can even sense, and it’s exciting and invigorating to explore them, but we never do. There’s just no time, which is funny, considering how quick and automated things are now compared to life prior to the Industrial Revolution, say.

Not that I am old enough to remember that.

I do remember the 80’s, though, and parts of the 70’s…I remember life before the world was opened up to us via the World Wide Web. I remember phones with rotary dials and cords that got tangled up and stretched to shit. I remember no cable and only 3 channels via antenna. I remember going outside to play, riding my bike around town, going home when the streetlights came on, handwriting letters, and book reports and essays. I remember when computer mainframes took up entire rooms, and cordless phones were new and enormous.

I remember when everything was slower, and yet there was more time to think.

Bikes and Forts

It’s nice outside today, so I went for a long-ish walk with Mr Brodykins.  Along the way, we passed a small dead-end, cul-de-sac street where upon children played on a tire swing and had a game of street hockey on the go.  I almost paused to take a photo, as if capturing someone else’s moment would somehow preserve it in time and make it mine.

I have plenty of my own moments, however, so we carried on our way.  It did manage to conjur up my memories of some of those similar childhood antics, though.

I think, even though we also played street hockey and had swings, with us it was more bikes and forts.  It was small town Ontario in the 70’s and early 80’s, and we didn’t even lock our doors for at least part of that.  We went out to play, the whole village was our playground, and the main rule was that we had to be home before the streetlights came on.  Which we failed at on a regular basis, arguing that there was no way to know WHEN the lights would come on, so how could we know when to start heading home?

Um…because it was starting to get dark?

Anyway.

We were always out on our bikes.  And when we weren’t physically riding, there were no locks or bike racks.  We just tipped them over and left them by the side of the road until we needed them again.  En masse, usually.  That’s how we knew where to find one another.

Ramps were a big thing, too.  Anything from an uneven sidewalk to a plank leaning on a stack of newspapers would service as a means to a jump.  We destroyed so much stuff, yet still survived to tell the tale.  Remarkably, looking back on it now.

Someone not me had a Green Machine.  I’m still kind of jealous of that.

Anything could serve as a fort, too.  Blankets, of course, or a section flattened out of long grass or lilac bushes, a platform in a tree.  Playing indoors, we even used books opened and standing in a ‘v’ and lined up to create rooms and the like.  Sometimes less creative areas served as forts, as well.  Like the old ice cream trailer thingy.  Until the police got involved, of course.

Anyway.

For a while, a group of us created our own version of The A-Team.  Except without the helping people thing.  I was the only girl, so of course I was Hannibal.  The minister’s son got to be Amy.  We set up a bank account that eventually closed with something like $0.14 or something in it.  We’d had a bit more in it, but we’d decided to build a wee fire and have hot dogs.

We were pretty hardcore.

Fun Dip, Grab Bags, and the Value of a Shiny Quarter

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Guys – there’s Valentine’s Day Fun Dip!

I had no idea until I saw some at the pharmacy yesterday, and it brought back a flood of memories for me. Not so much the Valentine part, but the Fun Dip part, for sure.

I mean, I of course flashed back to those days in elementary school when we’d all bring those wee cardboard Valentine’s to our classmates, and leave them on one another’s desks. Those themed ones with groan-worthy jokes and puns on them that we’d get at the store and then have to buy a second box because there weren’t enough for everyone in the class, and then we’d have some left over that we’d intend to use the following year, but would inevitably lose in the interim. And of course at least one kid would’t be at school that day, so their desk piled up with Valentines that wouldn’t be received until whenever they were next present in class. And the pretty and/or popular kids would always receive the most somehow, and every year you tried to figure out a way to give a special Valentine to one kid in particular, without having it look like theirs was different from the others you handed out, even though they all came from the same box, and you hoped somehow they would magically notice they got a special one but that no one else would so that you wouldn’t have to be embarrassed.

Anyway…Fun Dip!

I used to love that stuff! And while I’m sure it would send me into a diabetic coma if I were to eat a package today, I think I would still love it. I remember being torn between whether to open both sides at once and alternate, or save my favourite flavour of the two for last. The danger of doing that, of course, is not having any candy stick left. I was not above using my finger to get every last grain of delcious sugar out of the packet, but still. It’s not the same when you’re not licking it off the provided stick. Or, you know, using the stick as a candy spoon of sorts.

Even in university, while watching a solid TV line-up one night, my roomies and I made a run to the convenience store and loaded up on candy during a commercial break. By the end of the night we were jumping on the couches and giggling like, well, schoolgirls. But much younger ones. Fun Dip and possibly Nerds were the primary culprits. We also made a run to Tim Horton’s for donuts before they closed for the night one time, too. Living on campus was fun, but off-campus was even funner! 😉

As children, we would often walk to Blackburn’s – the 5 and Dime on the corner – during our lunch break from school, and spend our parents’ hard-earned change on Fun Dip and a myriad of other delectable delights – licorice strings, Bazooka Joe bubble gum with those lame comics inside, chocolate bars of all sorts, those Mackintosh Toffee things that would tear your teeth out but which were sooooo delicious, those things that were…what’s that stuff inside a Crunchie bar? You know? It starts off like a golden foam but you chew it down into a hard candy-like bit? And there was spray gum, candy cracelets and necklaces – the list goes on and on. I don’t even remember what was in the rest of the store – just that candy kiosk near the front by the cash. The hardwood floors would creak under our sneakers from the moment we entered, and it always seemed quiet in there, compared to Creemore’s bustling Mill Street (the street never bustled – but inside the store was even quieter – and incidentally, that the Meat Market was run by a couple of gay guys would not strike me as hilarious until much later in life, but I digress) and Mr Blackburn would greet us, usually by name, and we’d crowd around the candy to choose what would be our one sweet prize that day.

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The most excellent selection was usually the 25-cent grab bags on the bottom shelf. Packaged in white paper bags with a staple at the top, these bags held mysteries forged of candy and plastic, and to my knowledge no two were alike. When feeling flush, the grab bag was usually what we went for, if we could. Candy AND toys?! What better choice could anyone possibly make?!

I remember once a boy in my class asked me to get him a Grab Bag, and handed me a shiny quarter, which I placed in a pocket separate from my own change, so I wouldn’t get it mixed up. I may even have carried it all the way to the store clutched in my fist, actually. I can’t recall for certain, just that I kept it separate. When I got to the store, though, there were no more Grab Bags. Temporarily out of stock. So I paid for whatever I was getting and went back to school. I gave the boy back his quarter and explained that they were sold out that day. He was mad that I didn’t get him something else instead, and I’ve felt bad about it ever since.

It actually hadn’t occurred to me to get anything other than what he’d asked for. There were so many choices, I didn’t know what he’d like as a substitute, and I didn’t want to risk spending his money on something he wouldn’t like. Of course, it was candy, so he probably would’ve liked any of it, but I didn’t consider that at the time. All I knew is they didn’t have what he wanted, so I didn’t get him anything.

Really, he should have just walked to the store on his own two feet, but whatever.

I feel like that kind of uncertainty follows me to this day. I don’t cook for people because I’m afraid they won’t like it and then they’ll be stuck with no other choice from what I gave them. I’ll eat whatever, but I don’t expect anyone else to. I think part of it comes from never having money enough to make mistakes. Like, if I get the wrong thing at the grocery store, I can’t go back and get the right thing, because there’s no extra cash to get a second item to replace the wrong first one. Giving the boy back his quarter was, to me, a better choice than wasting his money on something he might not want. Then he’d have something he didn’t want, and no more quarter, either. If I make a meal wrong or something, there isn’t extra cash – nor usually time – to give it another try and either make the same thing better or make something else entirely. I even have trouble making decisions that involve other people because I always try to anticipate what they want and work out my choice to make sure they get theirs. I know it makes me seem…a lot of not great things…but it’s because I genuinely try to make others at least content. I require less, and I’m used to not really getting what I want. I’m used to not even fully figuring out what I want, because I know I probably won’t get it, either way. Or if I do, it won’t be as good as I’d hoped.

So while I’d have been happy with Tootsie Rolls or Bottle Caps or lime green licorice strings (though grape were my favourite), I had no idea what the boy might have preferred as an alternate to the mysterious Grab Bag, and thus I returned to him his very same shiny quarter to be used another time.

Logically I know, something is better than nothing. But I also know from experience that waiting a bit longer can be better, because sometimes the something you get in the moment isn’t worth not having waited for what you really wanted in the first place.

Sometimes you might wish you could just have your shiny quarter back and get your Grab Bag tomorrow, instead.

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Generations

I’m a child of the 80’s. Even though I was born in the early 70’s, I feel like it was the 80’s that really defined me. Or began my definition, at least. The music, the TV shows, the movies…not the fashion so much, maybe, but was anyone really defined by 80’s fashion? Well, maybe acid wash.

At any rate, the 80’s were what I’d consider my real formative years. Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, The Boss, WHAM, Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams (on vinyl, of course); Silver Spoons, Facts of Life, Family Ties and V watched as it aired, until we got a VCR; Goonies, Back To The Future, ET: The Extra Terrestrial, the Karate Kid, and of course the remaining two films in the original Star Wars trilogy on the big screen. So much neon. High top running shoes. White freaking pants. Over-sized sweaters and t-shirts. Riding our bikes around town. Heading home when the streetlights came on. Walking to the convenience store/gas station at the top of town for snacks on a Friday night. Having to take a bus to high school because it was in a different, slightly larger town.

And then, once we were in high school, the world seemed bigger and the possibilities kinda endless. I did a lot of things academically in high school, but I wish I’d done more. It was really the only time you could really experiment with things and not have to commit to a whole stream of study. You could try a sport or a club or a class or other extracurricular activity and not have to make it your life. I think I mostly did stuff I already liked – music, for the most part – and didn’t really try much for the hell of it. I took a visual arts class just because I could. And joined a couple of sports teams early on, but that was pretty short-lived. Still, there was lots to do and learn, if one wanted to, and I’d say I was involved at an average level. It was high school. I wasn’t super popular, but I had a few friends and we had fun together and that’s what matters.

When I came time to start choosing what to do after graduation, I don’t remember really thinking about it very much. I assumed I was going to university, and I had no idea what for, but I was sure it’d be great. I can’t remember what I thought I was going to do…I’m pretty sure “English Major” wasn’t my end game, and I started university as a Psych major, but for the first year, that rarely means anything. I took Psych 100 and 4 other 100-level classes that were the norm. English, Philosophy, Sociology…yeah, I can’t even remember that much. Maybe I took 2 English-like courses? I don’t know. I didn’t have to declare a major in any of the things I was taking, because they weren’t that locked down. Not like being a doctor, or something, where you have to take specific courses most of your post-secondary career.

In my final year of high school, I remember my mom talking about how there were basically only, like, 2 different streams to choose from, and whichever you chose made up the rest of your educational track. But for me, at the time, the world was my oyster. I could do anything I wanted, be anything I wanted. All I had to do was choose and work for it and it would be mine.

The only real problem is I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. I had no idea. Definitely never aspired to retail, but that still leaves a lot of options. Maybe I couldn’t choose just one, out of all the things I thought I might like to do with my life.

I still have no idea, actually.

Looking back, I almost wish I hadn’t had as much choice. I mean, it’s hard to know what you’d like to do if it’s something you haven’t actually done yet. Haven’t tried, I mean. Maybe I should have done some co-op placements or internships somewhere, but in little towns, that doesn’t really come up as an option. I know I thought about going into Public Relations, which NOW would be pretty awesome, if I’d done that. I think. I’ve never done anything in that field, though, so I don’t really know. I don’t think I would have liked being a journalist, because I don’t like talking to people. I’d probably love working with animals, but maybe I just love being around them. It’s hard to know for sure, because I’ve never worked with them.

I thought it would be terrible to go through school for something, only to find that you don’t really like it, and have to start all over again.

Yet here I am, with two bachelor degrees (one in English, one in Education), and I’ve spent the majority of my adult life working in retail, because – of course. What the hell does one do with an English degree? Teach. And yet I have never found employment as a teacher, either, so…retail it is.

Those who can’t do, teach. But what those who can’t teach do? Work in retail, apparently.

I wonder how different things would be if I’d had less choice? Would I be better off? Or worse? Or just different?

I can totally just change my career at any point – or, like, GET a career. But again, what do I want to do?

I have no idea.

Does an abundance of choice end up stalling a person, I wonder? Maybe I’m still just going over my choices to see what I want to be when I grow up.

Adulting is hard.

(How’s THAT for good English talking?)

I wonder sometimes what it’s like for kids now. So much has changed since I was young. “Back in MY day…”

I had my first email address when I was in 4th year University (so 22 or 23 years old), and my first cell phone when I was 30 years old. Growing up we got 2 channels, sometimes 3 if the weather was nice.

Now I have to choose which shows to watch On Demand, because my PVR will only record two at a time. And that’s not even advanced technology, because I am broke.

I know other 80’s kids relate to the basics of growing up in that era. We all watched pretty much the same shows, listened to the same music, saw the same movies. We can smile and reminisce together even if we haven’t seen one another over the past 20 years or more.

Do the generations since then have the same kind of connection? Or does more choice create a gap in the generational experience? With hundreds of channels and even more content available online, are the teens of 2016 watching the same television shows and movies? Are they enjoying the same music and playing the same songs over and over and rocking the same silly dance moves? Will they connect with others of their generation two decades from now, based on shared memories of a time they all lived through, without having met one another until much later in life?

Will those defined by these years of multiple choices find common ground with one another the way children of the 80’s do? Or children of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s…every decade has had its common experience, at least until more recently.

I wonder if they still do? Or are we just all floating in a sea of our own choosing, connecting on many different shared experiences, instead of a few?

Maybe I should have put this much thought into what I wanted to do when I grew up, huh?