Friday, June 17, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Governator

and Congressman Weiner
and Chris Brown
and Tiger Woods
and John Edwards (the politician, not the guy who talks to dead people)

Your recent shenanigans have provided me with many teachable moments with my 13 year old daughter that I could not have scripted better. Seriously.

One of the biggest challenges facing the parents of teens in this technological age is dealing with  what our kids put out there on internet.

Some of my friends have elected to completely shut off their children from any internet access. No Facebook. No Youtube. No email. Whether or not their kids are logging in on the sly, I cannot say but this strikes me as reactive and not terribly useful longterm.

Eventually kids grow up. They reach 18, graduate from high school and move out. The parental ability to set boundaries and enforce consequences for choices ends then and all we can hope is that something we taught them sticks. The World takes over in the consequence department in a way that parents cannot even dream of. Those consequences can be life altering and long-term.

Forbidding kids to have an on-line presence reminds me of the town where I grew up, when I was growing up there. My hometown is one of the officially 'dry' towns in Canada. Liquor licenses are a non-issue and there is no liquor store. Rooted in the community's strong Mormon legacy, drinking is not just frowned upon, it is pretty much outlawed. [Drinking coffee is similarly sanctioned but I, as a true rebel, delighted in taking my thermos of coffee to the weekly Student Council Meetings when I was in grade 12.]

Now, here's the funny thing. Outlawed as it may be, alcohol is available for the asking. One of my friends father's ran a 'bootlegging' business, bringing in beer, wine and liquor from a nearby city and re-selling it to members not only of our community but also to the large aboriginal population on the Reserve that abutted the town. Roadtrips across the American border into Montana contributed to the thriving economy of a 'wide spot in the road' town less than 50 kilometers to the South. American beer was popular in my old stomping grounds long before 'importing' became popular and brands began to span the world.

One phenomenon that happened often was running wild after high school by many of my devote Mormon classmates. Moving away from home to work or to attend college without a parental supervisor was a double whammy for many. In a city where alcohol is a part of life on a daily basis, kids grow up watching the adults in their lives making choices. Whether the choice is yes or no, it is made on a regular basis -- at restaurants, dinner parties and other gatherings. For the most part, this was not a regular part of my classmates world. I can recall going to dinner with a friend and her parents and when the server asked Mom and Dad if they would like wine with their dinner, the NO was dished up with a look of righteous indignation at even being asked the question.

Anyway, suffice to say that for young adults who had rarely, if ever, seen examples polite refusals of alcohol to suddenly be thrust into the wonderful, wacky world of being an undergrad -- well, it was a recipe for bad choices. The 'no' muscle had not developed. The 'be polite' muscle was overdeveloped. More than few of my friends spent much of their first few years of post-secondary education in a daze. Granted, most of them returned to the fold sometime around their 21st birthday (remember, in Canada drinking age is 19 everywhere except Alberta where it is 18).

So, what does this have to do with the internet and philandering politicians and other public figures? Plenty.

Those parents who believe they can protect their children by keeping them away from the World Wide Web are not only naive, but also setting up their kids for failure in many ways. It is only by controlled exposure to what is out there that our kids learn to say yes and no with their own conviction (not conviction borrowed from their parents or friends). It's kind of like getting your kids inoculated against small pox, exposure to a small amount of cow pox boosts their immune system and the deadly virus cannot set in and kill them.

Having larger than life examples of 'what can go wrong' is a wonderful teaching tool. All of the goof ups of the past few years have helped me open up a dialogue about real world consequences of private choices. Once the Pumpkin quit giggling herself silly about the Congressman's name, we were able to talk about not only how foolish it was for him to take and email those photos but also about how male hormones can make even the most educated, responsible adults behave stupidly. I think the discussion ended with something along the lines of: "So, Pumpkin, if a grown man, with as much to lose as he had, was willing to let himself be overwhelmed by hormones, can you imagine how little control and/or sense a teenage boy has? . . Yes, you are correct, less than none."

Tiger Woods opened a discussion of the importance of not only honesty and fidelity but also of the importance of making sound choices when selecting life partners.

The Governator. . . well it was a wonderful blend of fidelity issues and attitude. When he stated he didn't get the big 'problem' with his behaviour, both of us were stunned. I suppose if he had a spouse who was okay with such choices, there would not have been any harm. But even a Canadian with limited education in U.S. political dynasties knows that Ms. Shriver would be sensitive to sexual dalliances. Clearly he didn't check with her before hand to see where her personal tolerance level sat.

So, my child has an online presence. I (and her other parents) monitor randomly. She hasn't unfriended us on Facebook and she shares with me links to music, videos and stories she finds interesting. The dialogue is something I treasure. If I can slip in some 'life lessons', well, that is just a great bonus.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sweating with the Yogis

Anyone who knows me, knows I am NOT an athlete. Never have been; never will be. I have tried any number of fitness programs over the years -- Spa Lady, aerobics classes, weight lifting, mountain biking, swimming, Curves, yoga and, very briefly running. In the last couple of years, I have accepted that my fitness abilities are best suited to walking my two canine units, short-term yoga classes and the occasional adventure in virtual sports on the Wii.

Now, the reality is I am approaching 50 and I would really like to be around long enough to see my now teenaged daughter produce a grandchild or two (in the far, distant future). I also want to be healthy enough to spoil the said grandchild and return it to my dear daughter.

My elder sister who has ten more trips around the Sun than I do started doing 'hot' yoga about three years ago. Shortly thereafter she started proselytizing like a recently reborn Christian just back from an encounter weekend with Billy Graham. Like most of my family members, I rolled my eyes and figured she had clearly cooked her brain in the yoga class.

I had concluded several years ago that my view of exercise is like my view of sex and spirituality. It is a private matter and I am most comfortable pursuing it in privacy. I have never been into performance in any of these pursuits. Quite simply I like to sweat and to pray in private.

So, when I moved to Calgary several months ago I was surprised to discover my new residence is less than 10 minutes from a hot yoga studio that is affiliated with where my sister goes in Edmonton. Before I moved I had attended a yoga class and found that I was comfortable working on my flexibility and strength with a small class. Practice and not performance being the philosophy behind the class.

After several weeks of trying to find a yoga class near my house with a schedule I felt I could manage without driving myself crazy to rush home and get to class after work, I was slightly frustrated. At many studios (and particularly the ones in my neighbourhood), classes were run on a set schedule where it was necessary to commit to a specific time each week. Anyone with a child knows this is hard to maintain. Add to that I now have something that occasionally resembles a social life and things get dicey. How do I find a place where I can bend and twist on a regular enough basis to get some good out of it but that does not tie me to a schedule?

On a lark, I decided to check hot yoga studio's class format. Well, it is essentially set up with all classes being 'drop in'. It also featured a "$20 for all the sweating you can do in one week" introductory offer. Seemed like a good idea so I scoped out the class times and emailed my dear sister to get her advice on 'sweating with the yogis' etiquette.

Take a towel. Just like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- always have a towel and DON'T PANIC. Actually, two towels are the best idea. One large one to go on top of your yoga mat, which will get as slippery as an eel in a canola oil plant. Without a towel for traction, just standing upright on your mat is a challenge. A smaller, hand-size towel is good to have to wipe the rivers of sweat off your face during class. Both towels will be drenched by the time you are done.

Remove all make up before class. Seriously. This is not a time for vanity and not removing eye make up has a couple of undesirable outcomes. First, rather than giving you an attractive, doe-eyed look, the profuse sweating will result in a goofy raccoon-eyed appearance. Second (and more important), melted mascara and eye liner will be washed into your eyes by sweat. You will experience excruciating pain and you will cry.

When I arrived for my first venture into the land of sweaty bending, there were more than a few other people waiting for the class as well. I was comforted to see that while a few of them looked like refugees from a dance studio, there were more than a few who looked like normal (read "slightly fluffy") people.

Clothing choices ranged from the latest from Lulu Lemon to Costco brand yoga wear to t-shirts and shorts. Everyone carried a water bottle and the requisite towel or two.

After shedding my outer layer of sweatshirt and track pants, I eased my way out of the dressing room wearing yoga shorts and a top I'd picked up at Winners. Upon entering the yoga room, I found subdued lighting, a slightly rubbery floor and several people already quietly laying on their mats and relaxing. I found a spot near the back of the room and rolled my mat out lining it up with the stickers on the floor designed to keep rows straight.

As I rolled out my mat and covered it with a towel, I was surprised by the temperature in the room. Hot yoga is practiced in heat of between 35 and 45 degrees Celsius, or 100 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps my internal thermostat has gone wonky in my advancing years, but it did NOT feel terribly hot to me. In fact, given my druthers, I would gladly keep my house close to the temperature in the studio.

I am now several weeks into regular attendance at hot yoga. I can almost balance on one foot for more than a millisecond and there is a definite improvement in my flexibility.

Yes, I think I've found my 'sport' is non-competitive, calming and warm.