The Cool Kids

My darling dog is very popular. In the three months that we have had Ninja she has already made quite a few dog friends at the parks we go to and never lacks a play mate. Ninja basically has more dog friends than I have people friends.

I would be proud of her if I wasn’t so disappointed.

Now, hear me out, Dear Reader (read me out?) before you judge.

I am thrilled that my dog has the friendly disposition that allows her to make other dog friends easily. After all every person hopes their child dog will be well-liked. Ninja isn’t a bully and plays well with other dogs (I know this because the other people at the dog park always mention it).

But this never ending supply of doggy friends is turning Ninja into a snob.

The other day we were at the park and the sweetest, friendliest and most adorable Border Collie was desperately trying to catch Ninja’s eye. Together they frolicked for a bit, happily taking turns chasing each other with their tails wagging. Then Ninja caught a scent and abruptly turned away, far too busy and interesting to continue to have time for this sweet dog.

Ninja was suddenly too cool to play with her.
(I may be projecting just a little bit as this interaction was very reminiscent of my entire adolescence. And, if I am being honest, my entire adult life. I, like that sweet border collie, have never been one of the “cool kids”. Shocking, I know.)

This lovely Border Collie was already being ignored by its owner who was across the field on her phone totally indifferent to the goings on, and now she was being ignored by Ninja. The dog came over to me for a few cuddles and Ninja continued to ignore her, coming by only for a minute to step between me and this other dog in a blatant attempt to banish her and to remind me that my cuddles are property of Ninja.

It broke my heart.

Probably more than it should have.

Dear Reader, that little dog looked so dejected and sad when Ninja walked away. She rolled over in submission, did the puppy bow, and spent about 10 minutes desperate for Ninja’s attention. If she could have stood on her head to get Ninja to play with her I honestly think she would have.

I am not sure what it was about this Border Collie that made Ninja decide she wasn’t an adequate playmate, and since I can’t read minds (not even dog minds) I will be forever in the dark.

Alas, I suppose none of us can choose our kids dog’s friends.

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Why you gotta be so cool?

“Phrases You Are Permitted to Use” (or, Comforting Your Daughter: An Instruction Manual)

When I was young I fell in love about once a week, hard and fast and always to boys I had never even spoken to let alone shared eye contact with. I day dreamed about these boys as they walked across the hall in middle school, staring in a just-shy-of-creepy way and feeling that I knew them deep down to the bottom of their souls if I recognized the band name on their t-shirt.

I always knew we would click instantly as soon as I gathered up the courage to say “Hi”.

I imagined all kinds of conversations taking place between me and my rotating roster of loves, and sometimes I even wrote about them. The boy in question would always find me refreshingly witty and I would be mysterious but oh-so-very interesting and we would fall in love for real, go to prom, get married, and live happily ever after. Sometimes there would be a love triangle, tragedy nearly tearing us apart, but true love always triumphed.

What can I say, I was maybe a little strange.

But sometimes my pattern of watching from afar and writing angsty novellas worked and the boy in question actually talked to me. Perhaps because he found my stalking adorable or maybe it was just to ask me whether or not we had any homework. Whatever the reason, when it happened (which it did far more often than I bet you would have guessed) I would blush from head to toe, mumble something inaudible, and speedily walk away in whatever direction was available, even if it was the opposite of where I wanted to go.

And then the highlight? I would go home and watch Gilmore Girls with my Dad, dissecting every moment of the encounter and asking him what he thought I could have done different (“Not run away for a start!” was usually his response).

Naturally this caused some memorable moments between my Dad and me, usually because he said the wrong thing and I ended up frustrated and feeling weird (probably because I was weird more than because of anything he said). It was our ritual.

Then one day in grade 10, to curb these instances of misguided parental advice, I wrote a list of “Phrases You Are Permitted to Use When I Am Upset” and gave this to my Dad.

The list is actually quite impertinent and apparently amused my Dad a great deal.

It also didn’t work as he continued on saying things I should be hearing instead of things I wanted to hear. The jerk.

Still, these chats with my Dad were a big part of my teenage years and I am very grateful for them.

So, without further ado, I give to you dear reader “Phrases You Are Permitted to Use When I Am Upset” (please note these still hold up today).

Phrases You Are Permitted to Use

The Elephant Fort

I was not always the most well behaved child growing up.

Shocking, I know, but it’s true. Sometimes I could be downright mischievous (though never truly “bad”). And though I’ve never been a good liar (honestly, I’m terrible at it) I can be quite good at avoiding the truth (I blame this on my writer’s blood).

There is no greater example of this than my Mother’s Elephant Figurines.

When I was five I was playing in the house with my then best friend, Theo. We were pretending to be explorers and were scouting the house for places to hide from The Bad Guys (always capitalized, never actually named). Of course the perfect spot just happened to be my parent’s living room behind the couch. After all, the couches had a semi-floral print which kinda worked as a jungle and it was far away from the babysitting kids who all occupied the family room. The only problem was we were completely exposed from the top. The Bad Guys could just look down and find us in an instant.

So naturally we had to build a fort.

We grabbed one of the green blankets (obviously green makes the best tree top canopy) and set to work. At first we tried a sloped fort, with the blanket just hanging off the couch and touching the ground, but it just kept slumping in and didn’t work at all. Then we tried anchoring it with He-Man’s castle.

That also failed.

Finally, frustrated by the failures, I spotted the perfect anchors. My Mother’s elephant figurines, perched perfect and waiting on the windowsill right by the couch. Theo was nervous but I insisted. They were brilliant, heavy enough to hold down the fort and small enough that we didn’t have to move things around on the windowsill.

And then everything went to hell.

I don’t know if Theo stood up too quickly or if I accidentally hit the blanket while gesturing wildly but whatever the reason the fort collapsed and with the falling blanket came the elephants, gravity pulling them quickly to the floor where they hit He-Man’s castle and then bounced on to the vent, breaking in several places.

We both stared in shock and a bit of terror.

Theo just turned and looked at me. Clearly I was going to have to fix this.

I whispered harshly at him to stand guard and I headed calmly into the family room for supplies, knowing exactly what needed to be done. I returned quickly, sweat across my brow and eyes darting nervously, listening for my Mom to see if she was going to check up on us soon.

Armed with white glue and a grey Crayola marker I performed an expert surgery, putting the larger pieces of the elephants back together and colouring in the chipped surfaces and white lines. It was remarkable.

We folded the blanket, put the elephants back on the windowsill, and vacuumed the spot (the sound of the vacuum alerted my Mom, but I told her I was playing Cinderella, a game I often played) before calmly heading back downstairs to play with the Lego. We didn’t discuss the elephants for a long time.

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See if you can spot the glue lines.

Our forgery wasn’t discovered until more than a year later when my Mom had actually inspected the elephants (either brought on by Mother’s intuition or just trying to show them to one of her friends). By then the grey Crayola markings had faded a bit and a smidgen of clear glue was visible along the leg of one of the elephants. At first my Mom was furious and when she asked me directly about the elephants I just couldn’t lie (not for lack of trying).

I confessed completely, telling her everything about the fort, the devastation, and finally the repair job.

Her anger faded away.

How had I, a very young child, managed to repair these elephants so well that the damage went so long without being discovered? They had endured multiple dustings and several instances of repositioning and no one had noticed a thing.

My Mom was in awe.

To do this day she still displays the elephants proudly, eager to tell friends and family about their destruction and repair.

Still, I never used another one of my Mother’s collectibles to anchor another fort.

The Spy Network

My Mom is an incredible person. She is able to make friends anywhere and has an ease with people that I have always admired. Whenever I talk to a new person I try to channel my Mom’s comfort and friendliness. (This rarely works. I usually just stare awkwardly while trying to remember what my Mom said to the cashier that one time and then things just go downhill and then I laugh to myself in the uncomfortable silence. Sometimes I’m weird.)

Because of her ability to make friends anywhere and everywhere my Mom knows and is known by a lot of people. This was not always a good thing.

Growing up my sister and I occasionally got into trouble (surprise!) and one summer we were grounded after being very bad indeed (I actually don’t remember why we were grounded, but I’m sure it was Julia’s fault). It was the end of the summer and my Mom’s birthday was nearly upon us. As we were stuck inside the house we came up with a great plan to escape and head to the mall. My Mom was out for the day and we had planned everything perfectly. So, Mission Impossible Style, we climbed the fence and made our way to freedom.

We were only gone an hour, stopping at unusual stores and making unusual purchases. Both of us were giddy with the success of our mission and we made our way back home stealthily, taking a trail to avoid the road. Our good mood lasted until the evening when my Mom called us both upstairs using her Stern Voice.

Not only did she know we had escaped the house, but she knew what stores we went to and what we had bought in each one. At least three people had called her from the mall to let her know what we were up to. My Mom’s friendships had turned into a full-fledged spy network.

First she expressed her disappointment at our dishonesty (which is way worse than being angry) and then she told us her confusion. Why had we gone here? Why had we bought this?

To which Julia and I responded “Happy Birthday, Mom.”

Our escape got us another week of grounding, though our reason for escaping (to buy Birthday gifts for our Mom) was commended.

Still, apparently breaking the rules for a good reason still counts as breaking the rules.

PS. Happy Birthday, Mom! I’m glad I’m old enough now that your spy network no longer spoils your birthday surprises. Love always, Sammie.

Un-Leashed

After my Ugly Duckling post I have decided to once again take a break from picking on my Dad. This time I’m going to pick on my Mom.

I absolutely adore my Mother. She is smart, funny, and everything that I admire. (It also helps that she was the one who let me quit soccer and sea cadets – take that, Dad). As I have gotten older I am better able to appreciate a friendship with my Mom. Whether it’s our hours spent watching McLeod’s Daughters (why would Alex marry that harpy? And who does Sally think she is, just showing up with that baby!) or our drives down to the beach to watch the herons and judge other beachgoers, my Mom and I have a very special relationship.

It is because of our special relationship that I do not hold any grudge regarding the story I am about to tell you.

Living on the West Coast we often went to the beach when I was growing up. My brother and sister would run in and out of the ocean ignoring the frigid temperatures of the pacific ocean in the way that only children and surfers can, splashing and playing and genuinely having a wonderful time. In the early days, when I was really young, I was unable to join my siblings as the waves can be quite strong and my family did not want me to drown or be sucked away into the Pacific Ocean where I would inevitably join a new mermaid family. To prevent me from following my playmates into the water my parents had me on a leash. It fit around my wrist and was rainbow and awesome and I loved it despite its freedom restricting ways.

Man, I really loved that leash.

One afternoon when my family was leaving the beach we were standing around my parent’s car (a white Pontiac with red seats). Mom and Dad were talking by the open trunk and David and Julia were talking off to the side, leaving me to amuse myself. The leash had been removed and I remember being really bored.

I wandered over to my parents, still talking intently, and peered into the trunk.

And that’s where I spied it. My leash. The bright rainbow colours called to me and a smile spread across my face. I stood up on my tippy toes, leaned forward and reached in, my fingers almost touching the colourful edges. I was so close.

And then my smile fell, my hand clenched on air, and my feet lowered to the ground tears streaming down my face all the while.

The trunk had started to close on my head, guided by my Mom’s hand (she had not noticed me leaning into the trunk). After her initial attempt at closing the trunk (which obviously didn’t work as my head was in it) she pushed down on it a second time hoping this one would catch, only to be stopped by my scream (and the screams of my brother and sister who had chosen that moment to start paying attention to me again).

My Mom was devastated and probably cried more than I did, scooping me up into her arms and kissing my tender and abused forehead.

I honestly don’t remember if it hurt a lot (I was probably only about three or four) but I imagine it startled me more than anything. Still, this is a very happy memory for me as I was rewarded with a double scoop ice cream treat paid for by my Mom’s guilt.

It really is the little things in life.

As an aside, feel free to blame any spelling errors or grammar mistakes on this tragic head injury I received as a child as opposed to thinking I am just lazy and love commas. Thank you. SMRP.

The Ugly Duckling

As is the case with most sisters there is a healthy amount of competition between Julia and me. She has always been more charismatic and fun (lately earning the moniker of “Fun Aunt” to my brother’s children. Bitch.) and I have always been more … well, more like me.

When we were young the chief source of our competition was our looks. Every young girl wants to be pretty and Julia is an incredibly pretty girl. Her personality shines through and men and women alike have always flocked to her. She has an ease of character I’ve always admired (and been more than a little jealous of). I, however, only recently came into my looks.

This youthful competition reached its peak when I was around 13. Boys that I had mad crushes on were only interested in me as a way to get closer to my sister and I was exceptionally sensitive about it. One day this competition turned into a full blown argument, which we then brought to the Ultimate Authority (my Dad).

Both of us were frustrated after nearly an hour of arguing over who was prettier and we ran downstairs to my Dad who was on the computer playing FreeCell, ready for him to settle the situation. Now, as the daughter who went out of her way to spend time with my Dad, grocery shopping on Sundays being one of our many Daddy-Daughter outings, I was pretty confident that he would at least comfort me in the way that only Dads can do.

“Dad!” Julia and I demanded in unison, he glanced over but continued his game. “Which of us is prettier?” I asked, turning to glare at my sister.

Without missing a beat and with zero hesitation my Dad responded. “Julia,” he said, still playing his game. Julia managed to look both smug and horrified at the same time, happy to be declared the prettiest, but also sad at my reaction which was to burst into tears that quickly escalated into full blown sobs.

My reaction is what made my Dad finally shut down his game and turn to look at me, also horrified at my response to what he thought had been a purely academic question.

Dad quickly explained that while Julia was the prettier of us I was something better; I was unusual looking. (This made me cry harder. What 13 year old girl wants to be unusual? And who on earth would believe that unusual is better than pretty?) He then went on to tell me the story of the Ugly Duckling who was only considered ugly because she didn’t look like any of the other ducks.

This temporarily stopped my sobs, but only so I could exclaim in absolute horror. “You think I’m ugly?!”

Dad blanched. This conversation was definitely not going the way he intended, and he was quickly learning that pre-teen girls are not always the best at rational conversations. “But you’ll be beautiful one day” he tried comfort me.

I cried some more, pausing occasionally to ask him why I was ugly. Dad kept trying to salvage the conversation, going on to explain the differences between unusual and ugly and using examples of actresses who were not conventionally pretty but were still more beautiful than their pretty counterparts. The conversation peaked when he finally told me “I would grow into my looks one day.”

At the time this was extremely traumatic, but now that I have in fact “grown into my looks” I can appreciate what my Dad was trying to say. Though Instagram filters can occasionally help me join the ranks of pretty girls, I really am more unusual looking than anything else. My eyes are strangely shaped and my nose (the same one that works great on my brother and sister’s faces) just doesn’t sit right. But still, my face is completely my own and it works.

I am unusual looking and I like it that way.

Youthful Mantra (or, If It’s Already Done You Can’t Get In Trouble For It)

I literally spent my entire childhood living by the mantra “If it’s already done you can’t get in trouble for it.” I know now that these words aren’t true and, to be honest, it probably took me far too long to figure that out. But overall I regret nothing (except for that time I permanently disfigured my sister, but life goes on).

One of the most significant moments where this mantra came into play was when my Dad awarded me a small patch of the backyard to plant my very own garden. This was going to be a project for the two of us, a cool Daddy and Daughter thing that we could look back on for years to come.

I was elated. I loved spending time with my Dad and the idea of having my own garden made me feel more sophisticated (not an emotion that many 7 year olds pursue, but I have never been “typical”).

The day after finding out about my new garden my Dad went to work like any normal day. It was summer and Julia and I were both looking for something to entertain us. I told her about my new garden patch, bragging in the obnoxious way siblings do. Julia wasn’t too impressed by the garden idea, though she did perk up when I told her the spot had already been chosen.

I took her outside to my spot, a small patch of dirt about 2 feet by 2 feet, ready to be nurtured.

“Gardens are lame” my 9 year old sister told me, hands on her hips with the gleam still in her eye, assessing the area.

“Oh.” I’m not going to lie I was a little crushed at her matter of fact statement. All dreams of sophistication went down the drain. Everyone knows you can’t be sophisticated and lame.

“But we could dig a pool!” Julia, the Porter Family Water Baby was thrilled at the prospect. Our very own pool! And though I waffled at first, wondering what Dad would think when I told him that our Daddy-Daughter gardening time was going to be cast aside so Julia and I could swim in the back yard, it only took 11 words to convince me we were making the right choice: If it’s already done you can’t get in trouble for it.

With our mantra in mind we set about digging, using both Dad’s real wooden shovels and our plastic beach ones. It took nearly the entire day but it was fun work and we didn’t mind. We didn’t give much thought to where we were piling the extra dirt; though Dad’s other plants probably didn’t appreciate the extra soil being dumped on them. And we definitely didn’t worry about the fact that we were digging up a lot more than my allotted gardening space (if it’s already done you can’t get in trouble for it).

By late afternoon the hole was dug and Julia and I excitedly started to fill it with water only to be confused and disappointed; no matter how much water we poured in, the hose on full blast, the water kept disappearing. This was something the ‘Magic School Bus’ hadn’t covered yet (we didn’t realize the water was being soaked up into the ground).

Muddied and discouraged, we took turns standing (it was too small to properly move about) in the hole in the quickly disappearing dirty water, trying to salvage our morning joy.

And that was when my Dad came home.

I’m not sure what prompted him to go into the backyard so quickly when he arrived home, whether it was that sixth sense parents possess or if he just wanted to say hello to his plants, but whatever the reason it quickly became clear that our mantra was shit.

The damage was already done, but we were definitely in trouble for it.

Dad turned the hose on us to get the worst of the mud off, silently fuming as Julia and I waited in the fear of kids who knows they’ve done something terrible. We started trying to explain what we were doing, both believing that if he could only see the dream we’d been working towards he’d not only be less mad, but he’d also explain to us how to stop the water from draining into the ground. We stopped almost as soon as we started, both tripping into our own silence. Dad was clearly not in the mood for explanations.

He marched us inside all the way to the bathroom and that was where he let us have it. Dad was never one to yell, but the anger in his voice was worth more than any shouting would have been. His garden was so incredibly important to him, and we’d ruined it without even asking for permission. Dirt and mud were everywhere, smoothering the plants like a Rotorua mudslide. I tried to explaining that he had given me the spot to garden but that was quickly interrupted.

“To garden! Yes, I gave you a spot to garden! Not dig to China!” Dad took a deep breath, ready to start a new tirade. And then he coughed. And then he sputtered. He leaned against the counter, a look of pure surprise covering his face.

Julia and I were terrified: had our mischief caused our Dad to have a heart attack?

Dad hit himself in the chest, coughing one more time. “I swallowed a fly.” He said in way of explanation.

All gravity was lost. Julia and I erupted into giggles, nearly crying in laughter. Dad had swallowed a fly.

Dad must have known that the room was lost to him as he didn’t continue with his tirade. With as much dignity as a fly swallower can muster, he made his way back into the backyard and spent the rest of his evening trying to repair the damage, burying our plastic shovels in the process.

I assume the plastic shovels are still there, about 3 feet into the ground, left for another family to one day find.

And for the record, we never did get in trouble for the attempted pool. It’s the only time in my life that I have ever appreciated flies.