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My Son is Graduating Next Week. But Please Don’t Tell Me How Nice or Polite He Is.

It’s June 2021. Holy crap how did that happen? June is always an emotional and busy month but this particular June brings with it an important milestone – my 18 year old son is preparing to leave his childhood behind and walk across a stage into a new phase of his life.

As every parent would say, it happened both in the blink of an eye, and at the same time in hours and days and years that sometimes felt like they would never come to an end. I do believe the word bittersweet was created for times such as these.

Graduation is such a time of reflection.  Of celebration. Of reminiscing. Well wishers are all around and we welcome each and every congratulatory word.

Except maybe two.

‘Nice’ and ‘polite’.

And right now you may be thinking what in heavens name is she talking about? But bear with me.

To me, those two adjectives have become such broad, blanketing monikers ~ they have little meaning to me anymore. And perhaps that’s unfortunate.

But it seems that whenever I hear of over privileged, highly educated, narcissistic young males being held accountable for something inexcusable or appalling or even criminal they did, I always hear someone from the public stand up and say “But he is such a nice, polite young man. Think about his future.” (Anyone remember some of the male Dalhousie Dentistry Students’ behaviour a few years back that garnered some comments such as these when expulsion was raised?)

So instead of sharing what a nice polite young man my son is, instead maybe tell me one of the following:

Tell me how well rounded he is.  

Tell me he is an athlete who has never been the best, but is tenacious and never gives up on the court or on the field.

Tell me he cheers loudly for his teams and teammates, with vigour and encouragement.

Tell me he is imperfect.

Tell me how he is a gatherer. How it’s important to him to create experiences for him and his friends.

Tell me he is hard working.

Tell me he has jumped to conclusions.

Tell me he has always been full of school spirit and walks the hallways bouncing between clubs and activities.

Tell me about his work as Co-Chair of Respect for Diversity and for PLAYAS in his school. Tell me about the relationships he built and the behind the scenes work he did as part of a team to bring this work to the student body.

Tell me he has made mistakes.  Because he has.  Little ones and big ones.  At home, at school, with his friends. I am always amazed at people who say things like “my child would never”.  If we think our child ‘would never’ they probably ‘have’. Five times over. And if we raise our children to feel like the sun rises and sets on their perfectly coiffed heads, or maybe in fact raise them to not make any mistakes at all in the safety of our family nest – how will they learn to make mistakes out on their own? Yes my son has made mistakes.  He will make more. I just hope that the learnings he had while making them under our roof will carry him through to adulthood better for the world.

Tell me how he goes out of his way to speak to you when you come into his place of work.

Tell me he is kind. Kind is vastly different from nice. It is. Kind seeks you out. Nice placates you.

I really want to absorb that last sentence. I believe it so whole heartedly to be true.

Tell me he is generous.

Tell me you see that he values equity. 

Tell me how he anonymously sticks candy in his friends’ mailboxes who are having a hard time.

Tell me he has said ‘I’m sorry’ and also ‘I forgive you’ when he has had misunderstandings with people in his life. I’ve heard him.

But also tell me that for the bigger things, the real and deep things that affects how he feels valued by others, tell me that he does not forgive easily or quickly. It’s something he has to work on. (It’s actually something we both have to work on).

Tell me he made a difference in your life. 

Tell me he made you smile or laugh.

Tell me he stands up.

Tell me he is sensitive.

Tell me he is sometimes too quick to emotion and has lashed out when feeling hurt. None of us are just one thing.

Tell me he is incredibly diligent at keeping in touch with people who have moved away in his life.

Tell me he is often too sarcastic.

Tell me he is grateful. Not only that he ‘says thank you’ but that you can feel he is actually grateful.

Tell me he wants to be involved in everything.

Tell me he is flawed.

Tell me about his work with Childhood Cancer Canada.

Tell me he wants to make a difference.

Tell me he tries.

Tell me he talks to everyone.

Tell me things I don’t know about him.

Tell me about any and all of these attributes.

But please, again, don’t tell me he is nice and polite.

I have heard about those boys in the media. The boys that say and do all the ‘right’ things for their counterparts and people of authority to see.

I have also met those boys. I have seen how slick and aware they are of how others see them. I have seen them hide and be excused from behaviour that others wouldn’t be. I have heard the nicest and most polite young men say the meanest of things when they believed no one was listening. I have heard them tell of tactics to get popular, to get likes, to become top of the school social chain that makes me cringe and want to re-define what people think of as mean.

All while saying their pleases and thank you’s.

In my opinion, the nice and polite boys are sometimes the boys who become the over-privileged-take-what-I-want young men in this world. The ones people excuse with statements such as ‘boys will be boys’.

So no. “He is so nice and polite” means little to me.

Tell me all the other things. Both about my kid and about yours – the positives, the not-so positives, and the learnings.

Because we are sending them off into the world now. To find their way on their own. To be the men they are going to choose to be.

And nice and polite isn’t going to cut it.

Nor should we let it.


There’s a Pole in a Town

I live in a tiny hamlet in the countryside, and I drive to work every day to a town only ten minutes away. It’s the town I am so blessed to work in, play in and have my children go to school in.

My drive to work is one of the best parts of my day. I get the privilege of driving past some incredibly beautiful sites that fill me up as I start my morning.

Apple orchards and vineyards. Eagles soaring. Donkeys grazing. Little local cafés and Mom & Pop shops with chalkboard signs out front. Patios filled with happy people. 

And, of course, a pole.

Yes. You heard me. 

One very specific cement pole.

It’s not the pole itself per se, but more what it’s a canvas for.

On it, about four feet up from the ground, are six brightly coloured strips of tape, each one placed above the next. Purple. Blue. Green. Yellow. Orange. Red.

That’s it.

Tape on a pole.

And I love everything about it.

It is clear.

It is simple.  

It is so utterly perfect in that simplicity.

Aesthetically it is bright and bold and beautiful, on dreary days and on the sunny ones.

There were no policies involved in this tape.

There were no bylaws or hoops to jump through.

It is nothing that is scheduled to go up – or to come down. No calendar is involved for a certain day, month or week. You don’t post it or remove it.

It is ever-present.

Nobody voted and nobody debated.

There was no ceremonial raising of anything.

It just … is.

And to me its presence seems to whisper something both subtly and yet somehow boldly at the same time. 

To me it seems to say “Welcome. This is who we are.”

It seems to say it even stronger than the perfectly landscaped official-town-designated welcome sign as you enter town limits.

This pole is at the start of the downtown core and to me THIS is where I see “the proof” of a community. It’s there it seems real.

I love driving and walking past that pole. It makes me proud to work in this community. To have my child go to school in this community. To have both my children play and be present with their friends here.  

It is – for me I guess – the simplest things – the quietest things – that sometimes speak the loudest.

So yes. There is a pole in a town. That is, I will say it again, utterly perfect in its simplicity and presence.

My Potentials

I’ve been aware the last six months or so how much I am surrounded by potentials. 

Note that’s potentials with an ‘s’. (Although I also like to think I’m also surrounded by potential without an ‘s’, this isn’t what I’m rambling about today).

This is instead about potential friendships. Those ones that seem to have exponential room for growth, but never quite get off the ground.

I was reminded last night, as I sped into a restaurant full of laughing, talking, gorgeous women how many friendships in my life have never been explored to their full potential, but are waiting there, just on the edge of ‘acquaintance’, for a little TLC to take them to the next level. Friendships that I feel, no … that I know, could be great.
Unfortunately though, these women, these potentials, don’t naturally fall into the same circles I am in. The very sad but very real factor of convenience is not there. Most often if they have children, their kiddos aren’t the same age, so we are not on the edge of the soccer field together, or in the same school, or experiencing the same growing pains. Some of them are in a very different field of work, and travel a lot for their careers. Sometimes these women don’t live in the same area, or even the same Province for that matter. Sometimes the promise of a friendship began but we moved away from each other, and we now stay connected in a somewhat removed way on Facebook, but are always thinking “what if”?

And do you know how there are some people you meet who you feel an instant connection with? Well I have felt this with all of these women. Every single one. And maybe if only we had met at a different time in our lives, or under different circumstances, we would be joined at the hip. But we didn’t. We are, for better or for worse, firmly rooted in our present world.

I would love to be hopeful and say I will push through those obstacles and logistics and inconveniences, making time to explore all of these potential friendships, but time is a most precious commodity with work and family for all of us, and my hope is probably not based in reality right now.

There are however a handful of these women whom I do work hard to become more connected with. We have lunch dates two or three times a year, and relish every ounce of connection and shared time we have with each other. But we do it in an almost a bittersweet way, I think. Knowing that when we leave the restaurant our lives will not intersect in the way we long that they would, therefore leaving us both recognizing what could be, and wishing for just a little bit more.

I do hope that as life becomes less full, as the kids grow up and there are only two schedules in the household and not four, that some of these friendships will flourish and grow. That time will allow for road trips to their homes in PEI, or long evenings of dinner and drinks on their decks only kilometres away. And maybe our circles will then grow a little closer together each year, intersecting just a little bit more, and turning those ‘potentials’ into regular ‘pillars’ in my life.

Here’s hoping.

‘Busy’ is Not an Emotion.

Over the last few years, and most especially the last few months, I have taken notice of something that has become very interesting to me.

I can’t tell you how many times I meet a colleague, a friend, an acquaintance or even a stranger, and I will ask “How are you?”

And more often than not their answer is … you guessed it … “I’m so Busy”.

In this crazy world we live in that hardly comes as a surprise does it?  We are all running in five different directions wishing for extra hours in the day, extra days in the week, and extra months in the year (especially ‘this’ time of the year).

I get it.  I really do.  I’m busy too.

But here’s the thing.

“Busy” is not an emotion.

You see … the question I asked was, “How are YOU?”

And let me be clear.  When I’m asking how you are I am not asking how many basketball, curling or hockey games your kid had today.  I am not asking how many deadlines you have at work this week or how many volunteer commitments you have on your plate this month.  I’m not asking about your list of things to do, nor am I asking about how many miles you have driven in the past 48 hours.

I am asking about YOU.  About how YOU are.  As a person.

I know many of these things certainly impact on how you are feeling … about where you are emotionally … but they are not YOU.  These things on your checklist and on your fridge calendar and on your blackberry … they are not you … they are not how you are … and they are certainly not emotions.

Maybe you are overwhelmed.  Perhaps you are at your wits end.  Perhaps you are ready to cry you are feeling so buried by everything.  Or maybe you are thrilled with how busy your life is.  Maybe you are fulfilled and overflowing with gratefulness about how many rich and rewarding experiences you are participating in right now in your life.

Either way … THAT’S what I want to know.  Say that.  Own that.  But don’t say you’re busy.  Busy is not an emotion.

Busy is the easy way out.  And somehow it has become what we, so called good parents and good citizens of the world, are ‘supposed’ to say.  If we are busy, well then our life must be very important and fulfilling.  If we are by contrast not busy, how can we possibly be leading a rewarding life?  If our kids are not doing six difference activities how can they possibly be growing into amazing young people?  (She writes with heavy sarcasm).

But that’s not what this post is about.  Right now in my life our family happens to be in fact very busy.  We have two kiddos in middle school who want to be part of every opportunity going, we are two working parents and we have pretty robust social lives with friends and extended family.

But “busy” is not how I choose to define myself.  “Busy” is not who I am.  And it’s certainly not a status symbol of any kind in my life.  I admittedly look forward to March when I am less busy … but this is the life we, as a family, have chosen for the months of September to March.  I try and recognize my “busy” for what it is … and I try not to complain about it nor do I wear it as a badge of honour or glorify the fact that my life right now may happen to be busy.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that words matter.

I know we don’t always express ourselves as well as we could.  I can’t tell you how many times I wish that I had the perfect words for a grieving friend or an awkward situation or the perfect answer for a difficult situation.

Our words can’t and shouldn’t be perfect.  But maybe we can be more thoughtful about them sometimes.  Because they are how we portray ourselves in the world.

So the next time someone asks you how you are … remember what the question is … that maybe they really do want to know about YOU and how you are feeling … not about your to-do list.

And then if you still want to say busy, then by all means, shout it from the rooftops … but at least be thoughtful about it and don’t use it as a crutch, a glorification, a go-to, an excuse …. or an emotion.

Because it’s not.