Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Let the Games be games

The TV commercials have been rampant in my part of the world and I can only imagine the frenzy in England and London in particular as we count down to Friday's opening ceremonies for the Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

A Facebook friend posted a link to this interesting viewpoint on the tallying of medals won by each country. It’s definitely worth a read. I read another article, which I unfortunately didn’t bookmark, that addressed the correlation between a nation’s relative wealth and its medal haul, too.

I have to admit that I’m content to watch competitions on TV, complete with commentary and slo-mo repetition, rather than fighting crowds for partial views from expensive nosebleed seats. And I’m glad that some other taxpayers are paying for all the venues this time around, as we’re still paying for ours from 2010, and will be for quite a while.

But of all the hype and advertising surrounding the Olympics, my favourite is the commercial from Tide, which is apparently the official laundry soap of the Games. (Here's the American version; I haven't found a YouTube of the Canadian version, which has a little less emphasis on red, white and blue.) Essentially the ads say that what matters more than the colour of medal you come home with, is the colours you brought with you, the colours of the country you represent.
I couldn’t agree more. I also believe we need to give more recognition to all of our Olympic athletes, medalists or not. The phrase “one of our best medal hopes” makes me shudder just thinking of the added stress that puts on the individual.

Every one of these athletes made it to the Olympics, for heaven’s sake. How far is that from what you and I can do?
Every one of these athletes made it to the Olympics, for heaven’s sake. How far is that from what you and I can do? (Okay, even further from what I can do, because I’m admittedly out of shape, but probably pretty far from what most of us can do.)

Yes, the Olympic Games are big business. No, they aren’t the purely amateur competition they once were. Yes, they need huge sponsorship to even happen.

But somewhere in all that big business we’ve lost sight of the thousands of individuals from around the world who have spent years training and striving to earn their appearance on the world track or playing field or, if they’re lucky, medal podium.

Whether they make it to the podium or come in with the slowest time in their competition, I say “Well done!” to each and every one of them. You worked damned hard to get here, and you deserve some glory. Here’s my share.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Do what you have to do

I was moved this week by Outlaw Mama’s blog about Blue Baby, and her adult understanding of her grandma’s motivation for throwing out her beloved friend.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression. They both knew how to make a dollar stretch but even so, when I was growing up in our farm family, we didn’t have the reliability of a regular paycheque (or even the guarantee of a profit at the end of the year) that many of my classmates from town had.

I was acutely aware of this as a child. Town kids had Christmas oranges in their lunches as soon as they were available in the store; my mom tried to hold us off as long as she could before buying them, because they were expensive.

The one thing in the Christmas catalogue that I longed for but feared was too expensive at $19.99 to even ask for, was only one of several gifts a classmate got from her parents. (By the way, I got it, too, to my everlasting wonder and delight. I remember looking up at Mom and asking with my eyes if it was really okay to have it. She smiled and nodded and I could feel her joy even though neither of us had said a word.)

Then my mother got a job, which I eventually grew to understand she disliked intensely. She didn’t hate teaching as far as I know, but this was one classroom with several grades. The students were not raised to respect private property, or a woman in any position of authority, and they all spoke a second language that Mom did not. It wasn’t fun for her.  

But my brothers and I started getting small store-bought treats in our lunch, and we got our Christmas oranges earlier, too. We still watched our pennies, but we knew there were a few more of them around.

Fast forward 20 years.
When my first daughter was still a baby, we were juggling bills, putting one off this month so we could pay the one we’d skipped the month before, always a couple of steps behind (obviously, still farming!). So I went to town and dropped off resumes, and ended up demonstrating vacuum cleaners (which was always my career aspiration).

When I demonstrated them at Woolco, they gave me a part-time job, too. When the man from Eaton’s found out I worked at Woolco, he complained to the vacuum cleaner company, and I lost the demonstration job. With Christmas coming, I was able to pick up more hours in Woolco Hardware and Paint (because mixing paint was always my back-up aspiration, second only to demonstrating vacuum cleaners).

Eventually I got the household bills up to date. But I still didn't buy Christmas oranges as soon as they came into the stores.

Fast forward another 30 years.

When I get too worried about money (my hangover from those early married days), my husband says to me, “It’s always worked out before; it will again.”

He’s right. I know I worry too much. Both he and I have always had a we’ll-do-what-we-need-to-do-to-get-by attitude that has resulted in sidelines, side jobs and sacrifices to make it work for our family.

Now I wonder how much of that attitude in me is a result of Mom taking that job she so disliked when farming just wasn’t paying enough no matter how hard Dad worked, way back when I was lusting after Barbie and her big wardrobe in the Christmas catalogue.

Today I was in the produce store and, after considering the price because I am still my mother’s daughter, I bought out-of-season mandarin oranges. When I peeled one and bit into a sweet section of it at home, I thought of the hard times our own family has survived and how we made that happen, and I thought, “Thanks, Mom and Dad, for showing me that you just do what you have to do.”

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Happy Canada Day!

I’ve just returned from an enjoyable and educational trip to the U.S., where I was able to connect and re-connect with lots of American and international colleagues.

But as much fun as it was, I am always glad to come home, and I appreciate it more than ever today, Canada Day.

A few of us were teasing some American colleagues at the conference* I attended last week in Chicago, giving them a quick test to see if they could attend the annual Canada Party, famous as a highlight of the annual international event.

They figured if they just added “eh” to the end of their sentences, they were in, and knowledge of hockey and Canadian hockey teams was a bonus. A few of them knew what poutine was (although I’m not so sure they could identify perogies), but when I asked one of them who won the War of 1812, she said, “The what?”

It didn’t matter – they were welcome at the party anyway, another typical Canadian attitude, along with extreme politeness and a tendency to say we're sorry (which rhymes with Lori, by the way).

It’s always seemed fairly representative to me that the Americans celebrate the Fourth of July with so much more fireworks than we do Canada Day. We’re more understated; no less patriotic, but less apt to wear it on our sleeves.

Our loyalties run deep, and are often invisible to the eye until challenged. It can take a lot to get us riled (Stanley Cup riots being the exception to that generalization), but we’re a formidable force when we decide to take a stand.

All of which (riots excepted) is part of why I’m proud to be a Canadian. That said, I think we could step up a bit more in recognizing our own brilliance and promoting our own achievements, if only so people – ourselves included – stop underestimating us.

Don't underestimate us. Please.

I’ve always considered myself a typical Canadian, and I believe I would do well to take that last bit of advice on a personal level, too.

So I’m treating this Canada Day as if it were New Year’s Day, complete with resolutions but without the overeating and too-many-seasonal-parties hangover of January 1.  

Beginning now I am going to give myself recognition for my talents and achievements without worrying that I’m bragging. I will take credit where credit is due. If nobody else will blow my horn (and why would/should they?), I will.

And I hope that somewhere along the way, I’ll stop underestimating myself. As the commercial says, I AM CANADIAN. And damned proud of it.

*For info on things we actually learned at the conference, I can do no better than to refer you to my colleague, Martha Myzychka, ABC, and her Tumblr feed.