October 22, 2009

Lambs in Wolves' Clothing

I love clothes. I can't afford to act on that love very often with my budget, so I have become more of an observer of the latest fashion trends - which is why I was flipping through a Vogue magazine when waiting in the checkout line the other day. I came across a Dolce and Gabbanna ad, and I swear the scantily clad models draped provocatively across each other were no more than fourteen - at the most. I know what fourteen year old girls look like. They still have that childish roundness to their cheeks, underdeveloped breasts, and skin as smooth as the baby's bottom they still have. Auchhh! I growled disgustedly as I flipped through the magazine. I saw more little girls modeling rich women's clothing and couldn't help myself - I said out loud, "So this is what all the fourteen year olds will be wearing this season. Lovely." The woman in front of me turned around and smiled, shrugging like there was nothing to be done about it.

I guess I am feeling sensitive. My eldest daughter is turning thirteen soon. Fortunately for her dad and I, she cares more about horses than boys at present, but what she wears is starting to matter quite a lot to her - she is my daughter after all. She's also growing tall and slim and looks good in skinny jeans, but that's no reason why she and girls not much older than she should be modeling grown-ups' clothing. Honestly, it's cute when five year olds play dressup in their mother's shoes, lingerie, and jewellery, but it ceases to be funny when fourteen year olds do it. Sure, they might look technically better in our clothes than we do - I'm willing to admit that, and I'd lend my daughter my sweaters if I they fit her - but somehow they just don't look...right.

I think clothes should honour the person wearing them. Gaping necklines and see-through silk don't honour a fourteen year old girl who is just barely beginning to be aware of what it means to be a woman. When I see those ads I want to grab those models and pull a t-shirt with a cute slogan and a picture of an owl over their heads, rip off the stillettos (or whatever), and shove some electric blue hightops on their feet instead. (Hopefully, that's what they do wear when they aren't modelling.) I'm at the age now where I honour my shape by draping it in 'structured' jackets and A-line skirts, because that is what I feel dignified in. There was a time when I could wear pretty much anything - and I did, but I just don't have that body anymore. It took me just as long as any other vain woman to realize it, but that's where I'm at. If I dressed like a fourteen year old, I would just look silly.

This body has produced four children. It has been stretched, pushed , prodded, poked, hooked up, sucked on, and wrung out - four times over. On a good day, especially after a good session of yoga or a long run, I think I look pretty good for what I've been through. Fortunately, there are plenty of clothing stores that market to women of a certain age and stage(mine), and their models reflect that. I could make a pretty long list of these retailers if I wanted to, but what I am criticizing are the big-name fashion designers, like the ones who advertise in Vogue - they are the ones using children as coat-hangers. They are the ones who set the tone for the world of fashion. Mid-pubescent gangly girls with dewy skin and doey eyes sell clothes I guess, but they aren't even close to representing the women who will actually buy them - and that's a disservice to real women, and young girls, everywhere.

October 19, 2009

The Dancer who Rattled the Boards

A couple of weeks ago an Irish band called 'Rattlin' the Boards' was playing at the Harrison Memorial Hall. I like Irish music in general, anything from traditional fiddle tunes to The Waterboys and The Pogues - and as anyone who knows me will tell you I love to dance - so Vern and I decided to go. The hall was packed, and extra seats had to be placed at the back. Concerts at this hall are rather special: it holds only about 200 people and the organizers set up large round tables, covered in rose coloured tablecloths that warmly glow with the fragmented light of candles set in stout vases of wavy glass. Each table seats eight people and at a sold-out concert, especially, the atmosphere is festive and cozy.

Vern and I, as volunteer ticket takers and part of the clean-up crew, sat at the very back for the show. I had dressed warmly because it can be a fairly cold job standing in a doorway taking tickets and handing out programs on a windy fall evening by the lake. After we could fit no more people than the fire department allows in the hall, we closed the doors. The music started and it didn't take long before people were up and dancing in the area in front of the stage. I spotted my friend, Marilee, who I can usually count on to dance with me (Vern likes to dance, but Celtic music isn't really his thing) and went up to join her. Marilee even knows the proper steps; I just sort of fake it and let my Celtic roots see me through. Among the several dancers, I noticed a teenage boy enjoying himself immensely. I recognized in him the features of Downs Syndrome, and for some reason it made me really happy to see him hopping up and down with great abandon. After I, in my light sweater and woven silk scarf, became entirely too hot to keep on dancing I went back to my seat. The boy, however, stayed up on his feet, and I think, danced every dance, no matter the tempo. The band announced a five-minute break, which they said would be twenty minutes in Ireland, and we volunteers took the opportunity to bus the tables and get ourselves a drink.

The lights flickered indicating the break was over. The band started again and we die-hard dancers rose, including the teenage boy. The band announced a series of reels and each song was progressively faster than the one before. Before long I had to sit down again, dripping with sweat in my long sleeves, and one by one everyone else left the dance floor - except for the boy. He jumped around, he twirled, he raised his hands in the air like a highland dancer in plaid shirt and jeans, and as the floor cleared, he expanded his routine to fill the space. I stayed at the back but stood so I could see him better. The dancers up front stayed to the side and also stood, watching the boy. The music rose with him and carried him away. He was flying. He was joy. He was - a true dancer. The tears were running down my face and I'm sure I was not the only emotional one in the crowd. The reels finally came to an end and the crowd, many on their feet, cheered and whistled in appreciation. "A free CD to the best dancer in the house!" cried the band's fiddler into the mike as he rose to shake hands with the boy. More cheers. The boy smiled with all his might and took a bow.

The band played on and the dance floor filled once more. We all danced again, including the boy and my husband. Rattlin' the Boards played one of the longest encores I've ever experienced, the tempo rising a notch with each new tune, but all the dancers stayed with it until the very end. We were all flying by then.

October 9, 2009

I Agree With Charlie Brown

The other night in Pricesmart, in the forefront of the Halloween candy display, I noticed a full shelf of imported cookies in tins and boxes. They weren't decorated in a Christmas theme, but it was pretty clear the store had brought them in as a first hint of the looming, (did I say 'looming'? I meant 'coming') Season. Beside the shelf of cookies was a cardboard stand full of Christmas cards, which I thought was fine for October 9, if someone needed to mail cards to relatives in some far off place like an undiscovered village deep in the Amazon Rainforest or the International Space Station. Last weekend, in the ever-shameless Superstore, we were greeted with a sign declaring: HALLOWEEN COSTUMES 25% OFF, while over in the seasonal display area, the Halloween stuff was already being pushed rudely aside in preparation for the piles of the more lucrative Christmas paraphenalia. I suppose that means the Thanksgiving things were out in July, but I must have wilfully ignored them. (I have also recently observed that the traditional holiday decorations are cross-pollenating: one can now buy Easter tree decorations and Thanksgiving crackers - the kind that go 'bang' when pulled, not the kind you eat). Don't they know that we parents are just trying to deal with one holiday at a time?

I'll admit I felt differently as a child. When I was little the Sears Wish Book would arrive in early fall and my brother, Stephen and I would pore over the pages, make fun of the ultra-serious male models in turtlenecks and satin smoking jackets, and mark all the toys and games we liked. We'd lie in bed at night asking each other what we wanted for Christmas and dream of air hockey, Easy-bake ovens, and velveteen skirt and jacket sets with lace collared blouses (at least in my case). I'm pretty sure it was mid-November when I would break out the 'Radar the Happy Reindeer' record. I'd sit in my dad's big green chair with heater and massage feature, listening on earphones to the story and music (the earphones were considered a great peace-keeping invention in our house.) After all, looking forward to Christmas is half the fun of it, but really, there are limits!

Is it truly necessary for the malls and shops to break out the Christmas decorations before Remembrance Day? It never hurts to be organized with one's shopping and preparations, but can't we do it on the sly instead of being so damned obvious about it?; ie. if I see something I think would make a great gift I will probably buy it and store it away in my hidden cache, but I don't need to be surrounded by tinsel and animated plastic Santas to do it. I mean, by the time Christmas is over I'm sick to death of hearing Elvis' 'Blue Christmas' while I shop for bread, milk and toilet paper. I would be the first to vote for a law against PDC's (Public Displays of Christmas) until December first.

My family and I spent this Thanksgiving with some very good friends at their farm. Since the day promised to be fine, we opted for a mid-day meal followed by a walk in the fields. It was wonderful to spend the morning cooking and the afternoon, after a huge turkey dinner followed by dessert and coffee, out in the fall sunshine. We first walked to the salmon spawning channel where the last of the coho struggled and splashed, next we walked to the second furthest field and spotted a big black bear enjoying the furthest field's grass. We watched the bear for a few minutes until it seemed to notice us, then headed south towards the house. We admired the row of sugar maples, all yellow and glowing against the deep blue of the mountains, we hunted for and dissected owl pellets in the cedar grove, and picked all the pumpkins in the farm's patch and loaded them onto the wagon. Back at the house we did the dishes while the children nibbled on pie and leftover potatoes, and then home we went, our bellies too full for anything resembling supper. And the best part? We didn't think about Christmas even once.

October 5, 2009

Thoughts on Turning Forty

While I had several ideas for this post, one glaring and obvious subject kept popping into my head: I turned forty last week. Before last week, when I was still in my thirties, no one could tease me about getting older like they can, and do, now. For the first time on any birthday, I received cards and messages to do with aging, and friends already in their forties welcomed me into their decade with great enthusiasm, as if to say, "Ha! Now you are one of us!" It all feels a bit strange, but I'm sure I'll get used to it.
Entering middle age is an interesting subject to ponder. It is possible that I have now lived half my life and it feels as if something is kicking me gently from behind and whispering into my ear that I'd better get serious about whatever it is I want to accomplish. No more messing around and making excuses. On the other hand, it doesn't do to get all ambitious when my circumstances haven't changed overnight like my age has. I still have a family of growing children to look after, a hard working husband to encourage, and everyday work to do. As my oldest friend says, we can only take the opportunites that present themselves. I'm not about to go and sign up for a bunch of self-help seminars or anything. I prefer to take life as it comes, not force it. That being said, I do think it is time to watch less t.v. and read more, to write more regularly, to cook and eat better, to make more of an effort in the house and garden, to be in more frequent contact with family members and old friends, to give more, but to rest when needed, and become less distracted - in short, to do more of what genuinely matters to me and much less of what doesn't. I have noticed a rising calm in my soul over the past year as I prepared to live in my new decade, and I feel ready for these 'improvements'. I have looked at my life and seen so much good in it, and I feel extremely blessed. It would be wrong not to want to simply build on that for this next phase. My daughter's piano teacher has a little tiny pillow on her sofa that says, "Life is good." That about sums it up and I'm too tired from celebrating to expand on that thought any further. Until next time...