#826: Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot?

(Oh my. Has it really been a year since the last post? Tsk tsk on myself. I’m going to have to get back into this.)

This one’s alternatively titled, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Friendship, I Learned From a Four-Year-Old.”

Another year has come and gone, and another Robbie Burns Day successfully pulled off. Last year, only we adults went to a Scottish pub, and I got to taste haggis for the first time. Loved it. (That, and some sort of Scottish oat-trifle-thingy for dessert. Wish I had paid more attention and remembered the name.) This year, the kids wanted to join us at a historic house/museum downtown for some live bagpiping, plenty of kilts, and a taste of the haggis for themselves (more on that in another post to come). And when the harpist played “Auld Lang Syne”, it felt like just a perfect way to wrap up January.

With every January and Robbie Burns Day come and gone, I think of “Auld Lang Syne” and its meaning about friendships. I think of old friendships gone, old friendships rekindled, and brand-new ones made. I’m proud of myself that this Christmas, I managed to send out all the cards that I wanted to send to dear friends, and sent them on time too (i.e., before New Year’s). Through the power of Skype and e-mail, I managed to rekindle friendships with some who have lost touch for years. I’m also happy that I’ve made some good new friends this past year—all from different circumstances and stages in life, but each equally valuable to me. But the auld acquaintances that are forgot and never brought to mind—these are the ones that really seem to stand out at the end of the year.

I think other people must feel like I do, that the old friendships gone are the perhaps the ones that we think of the most. Some of those friends we can say for good reason have passed out of our life. And some, we wonder, why? Whatever happened that made us stop connecting? Could we find each other again? And when I think of some past misunderstandings, slights, or miscommunication that might have ended those relationships, I’m reminded of a time when a four-year-old taught me simply what it means to maintain a friendship:

When she was four, The Girl had a lovely friend almost exactly her age, whom I’ll call “Jane”. Both very bright, happy, outspoken girls who enjoyed the same things. They were like two kindred spirits, and best of all, they had somehow managed to find each other in the small world of happy, smart, homeschooled children (who says homeschoolers don’t have friends?). I don’t even remember how it was that our two families first connected, but once we did, we all seemed to click. We spent time at each other’s home, went on field trips together, shared meals. And then one day, it stopped. Just stopped.

I remember calling and e-mailing the little girl’s mom, “Mary”. I considered her a friend, and wondered what had happened. Why wasn’t she returning my messages? Had something happened? And The Girl was worrying too, asking me, “Have they called yet? What’s going on?” Finally, one day about three weeks later, Mary returned my messages with a phone call.

“My daughter doesn’t want to play with your daughter anymore,” she started off.

“What? Why? What happened?”

“Jane says that when the two of them were throwing rocks into the creek, your daughter didn’t like how my daughter threw her rocks. Apparently, some sort of game and rules had been established, and your daughter called mine a cheater. So Jane told me immediately that day that she never wants to see your daughter again.”

Huh. Okay.

My friend hadn’t told me this unkindly. In fact, she had seemed almost apologetic; we both knew that we had highly sensitive daughters. And though I didn’t grovel to win her and her daughter’s friendships back, I did ask if she thought that it might be an overreaction on her daughter’s part, and if the two girls would want to come together to talk it over. The underlying request was, did she want to come and talk it over with me? No, she said. Her daughter had been quite firm about this: all ties cut. And so we had hung up a bit awkwardly, knowing that we two couldn’t be friends anymore either. So long. Farewell. Auf wiedersehen.*

I thought about whether I should sugarcoat it for The Girl, and how to explain that she had lost her friend. In the end, I decided that it was best to let her know exactly what had been said. At first, she suggested as I had, to call and talk it over with Jane. When I told her that they didn’t want that, I thought she’d be crushed. But she wasn’t. She looked thoughtful and said something that I wish all adults would remember:

“Well, when one friend is angry, why wouldn’t she just tell the other? They should just talk about it. Isn’t that the smart thing to do? How was I supposed to know that her feelings were hurt?”

Of course. It really was that simple.

As The Girl further explained to me, the wise thing for my friend Mary—as the adult in that relationship—to do was to have explained to her four-year-old daughter that sometimes things can be quite small; some things need to be overlooked or forgotten and forgiven when we’re talking about a friendship. (About that small grievance, The Girl said to me, “But it was just a misunderstanding! I don’t even remember saying that to her. And when they left, we hugged and she said, ‘See you soon’, so how could I know that she was mad?”)

Even now, I frequently think of what my daughter told me that day about how to fix a broken friendship. So often, four-year-olds think a lot more clearly than adults. I think of friends who seem to have disappeared suddenly. Sometimes they come back, with a brief explanation of why they had stayed away, and we work it out. Sometimes they re-disappear again for seemingly no reason, and that’s that. And sometimes, they just never get in touch, ever again.

The friendships that we legitimately lose because of some perceived wrong, those I can understand. It’s the ones that mysteriously vanish into thin air for apparently no reason at all, or the ones where no discussion is allowed—those, I don’t get. Like the four-year-old said, Why can’t we just talk about it? Isn’t that the smart thing to do?

If I could hold that four-year-old and be friends with her forever, I would. That’s my kind of friend.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* A footnote to my and Mary’s friendship: At the time of this incident, I was pregnant with The Boy. A few months later, Mary called and left a simple message on the answering machine saying, “I realised that you must be due about this time. Was it a boy or a girl? What did you end up naming the baby? I’d love to know.”

I really should have returned her call. I really should have tried, I suppose, to renew that friendship. But the last time we had spoken on the phone, our farewell had been awkward. More importantly, I really had been hurt that she hadn’t thought enough about our friendship, to let her four-year-old dictate who could continue being friends with whom. So I never did get in touch with her again. Perhaps my daughter would have been a bigger person.

For me, because of how little my friendship was valued, the brief words months later weren’t enough. There was nothing left to renew.

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Is it selfish to seek happiness, 40 years later?

“Marriage is a life-long commitment, particularly a marriage attended by religious vows [. . .]”

—Franco P. Tarulli, Williamswood, NS
Letter to the Editor, The Globe and Mail, 3 June

And it starts: The backlash against those—in this case, Al and Tipper Gore—who would want to end a marriage, for even admirable reasons. The praise for religion-backed marriage. The critique against the Baby Boomer generation, chalking everything that they do, up to “selfishness”. This letter was in response to an essay in The Globe and Mail giving the Gores a pat on the back for doing “the right thing” in splitting up, and seeking out their individual happiness—a happiness that was no longer possible within the context of a 40-year-long marriage. I usually do not enjoy Sarah Hampson’s writings (especially since the essay in which she seemed to mock people who would eat steel-cut oats as, in her eyes, an attempt to show how wonderfully satisfied they are in life.) On this one, however, I agree wholeheartedly with her and others who would say to the Gores, “Good for you.”

When a person marries, to whom should s/he feel the duty of happiness, if not to him/herself? To the spouse, many would say. But no, I don’t agree that it is wise to live your whole life for someone else, if deep down, you’re unhappy in some way. To the children perhaps, even if it means that they must live through the pretense that their parents are satisfied with each other? To parents and friends, who have an expectation that because they saw you both in love and happy once, that you should stay so for the rest of your life? Maybe to the wedding guests who had arrived with a gift of towels or a coffeemaker, and taken a few hours out of one day of their life, and expect you to stay together happily ever after? To the church, then?

Happily ever after can’t exist for everybody, whether they’re solid-American-values power couples, or just ordinary Joes and Janes. Yes, there are the rare marriages that stay rock-solid for many decades, through self-sacrifice, compromise, and a number of other wonderful virtues on the part of both partners. But then there are marriages that, despite all of that, do sour, break up, or just plain stale. It’s not wrong, in my opinion, to end those marriages, if it truly will make either one of you, or perhaps both, happier. And there’s certainly no time limit on when it’s acceptable to end a marriage.

When a couple is unhappy but has a chance to correct it, why not? And if not now, when? Should they wait until at least one of them is weeks away from dying of cancer, like Dennis Hopper? Or wait well into their 80s, like the woman who made the realisation after transplant surgery? To wait until the end of your life, or until some kind of milestone, is more damaging to everyone involved than to get out while you’re both relatively happy with each other. Al and Tipper had a chance to find happiness, even if it’s a separate happiness. That is not selfish, whether or not they are Baby Boomers. That is an honest and loving decision.

. . .

I leave this post with a quote from the most insightful commentary that I’ve seen all week on this subject, from this Feministing blog entry. Miriam Zoila Pérez puts its better than anyone else that I’ve read, and sums up exactly what I’d want to say, and which I wish most of us could have the courage to see:

The other question, which is one that I often ask about our narrative about relationships, is why does it have to be framed as a failure when a marriage ends? The questions about what went wrong display this narrative perfectly. I hate how we shape relationships around the premise that if two people don’t go to the grave together, it was a failure. How can forty years of loving companionship be a failure? Or even two years of it?

101 Things I learned after a month in British Columbia

It’s a rare and beautiful thing to be able to get away for a 30-day trip. And as much as I love my husband, it is nice to be separate sometimes, which we don’t often get a chance to be. So while he was home, holding down the fort and consoling himself with tv dinners, I was able to travel with the kids to visit my parents in BC.

In my 30 days “over there”, I learned, observed, reflected upon, and inferred a lot of things about BC life in general, and about people, work, and travel. Below is a list of my most important discoveries and musings. Not everyone will agree with me on everything, but I hope that it will provoke some thought, especially with BC—and specifically, Vancouver and the Olympics—in the spotlight right now. Here, then, are 101 Things I Learned After a Month in British Columbia.

___________________
On Travel and Transportation:

  1. No matter how carefully you pack, you’ll always forget something.
  2. If one of those things that you forgot is a laptop, it costs $45 to ship from Toronto to Vancouver, in a reasonable three business days.
  3. When you’re without your own computer, you realise just how much you rely on a machine to remember passwords and bookmarks.
  4. When you forget your cosmetics bag, you realise that you can survive on only four pieces of make-up: a mineral foundation, a lipstick, one eyeshadow that can double as eyeliner, and mascara.
  5. You can spot a bunch of Torontonians visiting Vancouver in the autumn: we’re the ones who brought along mittens, thinking that we’d need them.
  6. On that note, don’t pack a heavy coat for Vancouver in October. You’ll never use it.
  7. Carseats now count as check-in luggage. Hmm, never used to before (two years ago).
  8. When packing two kids for a month away from home, make sure that at least one of the suitcases (the regulation carry-on size) contains nothing but games, books, and entertainment items.
  9. Great things to pack to occupy an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old for a month away from home: a deck of cards; Uno; magnetic chess/checkers; one simple boardgame for the under-5 set, like Busytown; about three thick, unstarted novels; one MathSmart book; a good hidden-pictures book; a Nintendo DS with about five games; markers; crayons; and at least one blank notebook or chalkboard mat, for doodling.
  10. In-flight movies, music, and the novelty of a meal on a tray can only keep kids distracted for about three hours, before all that gets boring.
  11. For the rest of the flight, kids can amuse themselves with a simple drawing tablet or chalkboard mat. Who would have thought that old-school methods still work?
  12. On the plane, you can get away with watching only about three episodes of “30 Rock”, before the kids start demanding your undivided attention.
  13. WestJet employees out of the Vancouver airport don’t seem as friendly as remembered from WestJet experiences elsewhere.
  14. Employees—WestJet or otherwise—should refrain from discussing weekend adventures with their co-worker, when there is a client patiently waiting in front of them, ready to check in her baggage.
  15. WestJet’s in-flight entertainment is disappointing compared to Air Canada’s: the choices are fewer, and who wants to pull out their credit card to pay for more in-flight services?
  16. Compared to Toronto and Montreal, Vancouver’s morning rush-hour is actually not that bad, in terms of time spent behind the wheel.
  17. However, some Vancouver rush-hour drivers drive like they never left the slalom course behind on the weekend.
  18. As manageable as downtown Vancouver seems, it is possible to get lost for an hour, and literally drive in circles.
  19. Trying to get from Cordova St. to Richmond apparently does not involve going through Stanley Park and crossing over into North Vancouver.
  20. The Lion’s Gate Bridge is jinxed with accidents (so says a friend).
  21. Nobody should be looking down at paperwork while driving. I don’t care if you are only driving at 20 km/h. You’ll rear-end somebody in her rental car, dammit!
  22. When rear-ended at 20 km/h, there is no damage at all, certainly nothing that is noticeable and needs to be mentioned to the car rental agency.
  23. When rear-ended on the Lion’s Gate Bridge, do not stop in the middle of said bridge to take a look and settle the matter; you’ll only annoy the other drivers. Best to drive to the end and hope that your bumper is not dragging along.
  24. There’s nothing more liberating and adult-like than going through the process of renting a car by yourself, for the first time in your life.
  25. For $21/day, you really can’t beat a good economy car like the Nissan Versa hatchback or the Hyundai Accent hatchback. They get great gas mileage, and they’re not so cheaply made that they ding easily in a minor accident, like getting rear-ended on the Lion’s Gate Bridge
  26. Given the choice, opt for the Versa over the Accent. It’s roomier, and feels better built (less of that “cheap hollow plastic sound”).
  27. You can get from Richmond to downtown Vancouver, do a day of sightseeing, and come back, all on $4 of gas in a Nissan Versa.
  28. If you try really hard, you can indeed fit three humans, two bags of groceries, and six pieces of luggage all into an Accent.
  29. You can drive a—gasp—minivan and your world as you know it won’t end. And surprisingly, you won’t have a sudden urge to wear elastic-waist pants and become a soccer mom.
  30. Always spring for the $10/day rental of a GPS in the rental car. Yes, it seems proportionately steep, considering that the car itself is only twice that. But it’s worth it. And always book one far ahead, because they get reserved rather quickly.
  31. There is such a thing as overdependence on a machine. Take away the GPS, and you can feel, quite literally, lost.
  32. When you’re in trouble, a $5 map from a small gas station out in the middle of nowhere can save your life.
  33. Map: $5. Having an 8-year-old passenger who knows how to read one and navigate as you drive: priceless.
  34. Even if you’re across the street from the car-rental agency (and can actually see it!), it can still take 45 minutes to navigate one-way streets and confusing street signs to get there.
  35. Driving down the TransCanada Highway on Vancouver Island, with water on your left and soaring trees on your right, great music blaring on the radio, two happy kids babbling in the back seat, and knowing that you’re on your way to visit a high school friend whom you haven’t seen in about 15 years: life doesn’t get any better than that.
  36. Apparently, there is not yet a cell-phone ban in B.C.. Or if there is one, quite a lot of people are ignoring it.
  37. Some people can have really nice cars, but it doesn’t mean that they know how to drive them. (Yes, I know that this rule can apply pretty much anywhere, but I found it to be truer in the Richmond-Vancouver area than other major metropolitan areas that I’ve visited/lived in.)
  38. Metro Vancouver’s TransLink transit system is perhaps the most organised and efficient that you can find in Canada. (And this statement comes from someone who, until about a year ago, was a life-long user of public transit only.)
  39. TransLink’s web site has one of the best and most accurate trip-planning features you’ll find on any Canadian transit site.
  40. Vancouver’s transit system operates on a pay-by-zone system. Given the geographical size of the metropolitan Vancouver Area, this makes it slightly more expensive than Toronto’s much larger transit zone.
  41. The SkyTrain, especially the new Canada Line, is so wonderfully clean, spacious, and well-run. It’ll be interesting to see how long that lasts, once the Olympics crowd has left town.
  42. From a SkyTrain station, you can check in electronically for your airline. How cool is that, for time savings?
  43. What a great feeling, to know that you can easily take yourself and your bulky baggage on public transit to get to the airport, and the other passengers don’t mind.
  44. For the paltry amount of $45, a senior citizen on assisted income can get a public transit pass for an entire year. Very cool. (See point #70.)
  45. There’s not as much courtesy, or friendly interaction among passengers, on metropolitan Vancouver buses compared to the experience in Toronto and Halifax. Vancouver may tie with Montreal, in that regard.
  46. People don’t give up their seats on buses or the SkyTrain as much as you would like/expect them to. Again, a tie with Montreal.
  47. Asian seniors can be feisty on the bus, when they’re not offered a seat by some kid with his ears buried in an iPod.
  48. Bus drivers (in Richmond, at least) brake too abruptly to make the ride comfortable.
  49. There appears to be more friendly and engaging bus drivers in metro Toronto than in metro Vancouver.
  50. You may very well find more roundabouts on Vancouver Island than in all of Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia combined.
  51. The SkyTrain security personnel look cool and smart in their uniforms, but don’t seem willing to exercise their power. Sample exchange, upon exiting the SkyTrain:
    Security: “Excuse me, may I see your ticket or pass?”
    Teenaged boy: “Oh, um. I don’t have one. I was just about to get one on my way out.”
    Security: “Okay, but better do it now.” Then turns around and walks away.
    ___________________

    On B.C. Life, Play, and Surroundings:
     
  52. Almost anywhere you look, you can see mountains. What great surroundings in which to spend your life.
  53. The Vancouver skyline has dramatically improved from three years ago, when it was all very depressing in its pre-Olympics construction phase.
  54. The ferry ride from the mainland to Vancouver Island: indescribable in the sense of calm and quiet happiness that it can induce.
  55. The ferry ride from the Island back to the mainland can evoke in you a great sense of sadness in leaving something wonderful behind.
  56. Move to the Vancouver metropolitan area? Not at this point. But Vancouver Island? In a heartbeat.
  57. What is it about trees? You can stand under a massive West Coast specimen, close your eyes, breathe it all in, and all the troubles of the world simply . . . vanish.
  58. When walking in the woods on Vancouver Island, look out for giant slugs underfoot!
  59. This must surely be a boring job: Sitting in a booth, telling tourists on the Capilano Suspension Bridge: “Please do not shake or jump on the bridge.” Every ten minutes.
  60. Richmond and Vancouver are home to two of the most amazing playgrounds ever—Garden City and some playground in east Vancouver which we don’t believe has a name, but is the first one we’ve come across that has a mini-zipline! (And this assessment comes from a couple of playground experts who have travelled across Canada in search of them.)
  61. You can take young kids anywhere in the world, show them the greatest museums, galleries, landmarks, natural wonders . . . but when you ask them what was the best part of the trip, it almost always comes down to “The playground!”
  62. Richmond is full of wild rabbits on public property. Apparently, they come from too many people having bought them as pets, tiring of them quickly, and letting them out on the loose. Once free, they began breeding like . . .
  63. The city of Richmond is considering allowing citizens to keep any wild rabbits that they catch, as pets. And passing a by-law to ban the sale of rabbits in pet stores.
  64. The newer homes in Richmond are massive! And eerily, all pretty similar to each other.
  65. Kids like large, impressive-looking homes. You don’t have to tell them, but they instinctively know the concept of “rich” when they see it.
  66. Even in really nice neighbourhoods, petty theft occurs (and right from the front lawn in broad daylight!).
  67. People can possess the most expensive, impressive-looking electronic equipment, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to use it.
  68. On the first day of Sunday School, an 8-year-old learns the Ten Commandments. A 4-year-old learns that if you repeat what the lady says, you get candy.
  69. In 20 years, the church service has become thoroughly modernized: big screen projections and PowerPoint-like presentations. Jesus has never been hipper than now. ___________________
    On B.C. People: 
  70. The B.C. government loves its seniors (see #44). And seniors love B.C.
  71. It is estimated by the BC government that by the year 2031, 24% of the population will be over 65.
  72. It takes an 8-year-old less than a week to realise that a lot of people out here (especially in Richmond) carry the same types of handbags over and over again: “These women all have the same two logos!”
  73. “Hong Couver”—best city nickname I’ve heard in a long time.
  74. “Keeping up with the Joneses” (or in this case, the Wongs) is alive and well.
  75. There are many people who value living in an impressive, well-off neighbourhood above living where they’re more comfortable, and happier.
  76. People on Vancouver Island are more likely than mainlanders to want out of the rat race.
  77. Many Vancouverites love talking (complaining? bragging?) about the high price of their real estate, especially to strangers from outside the province.
  78. Asian people do not dine at the IHOP in Richmond.
  79. Asian people (especially in Richmond) push their way around a lot, in crowds. And I say this respectfully, as an Asian person.
  80. There are indeed quite a lot of Japanese tourists in BC. And they do indeed say “Ka-waiiii!” when they take pictures of cute kids.
  81. Coming from a truly multicultural place, you realise that there is less diversity of cultures out here than in Toronto or Montreal.
    ___________________
    On Work:
     
  82. No matter how well you plan for a tradeshow, plan on something going wrong.
  83. That two-day buffer that you put in, to offset any unforeseen circumstances, delays, and screw-ups? Make it ten.
  84. When people have bad news for you, they’ll always avoid telling you by phone, and opt instead for hiding it in an e-mail. At 6 in the morning. When they know that you’re probably already on the road, stuck in downtown rush hour.
  85. When someone says “I’ll do my best”, and they don’t, but never even call you back to tell you about it—that’s when they’ve lost your business for good.
  86. Always, always, always put everything in writing not just once, but three times. Then repeat. With three different people. In at least two different departments.
  87. Nothing makes a bad business experience more bearable than when you have the chance to tell 100 of your colleagues about it.
  88. You make a lot of friends quickly when they pity you.
  89. Standing at the Vancouver Convention Centre at 8 in the morning, looking out at the water and the skyline, can (almost) make all of your worries disappear.
  90. Vancouverites do not spend as impulsively as Torontonians.
  91. It would appear that many Toronto customers have a greater appreciation for unique artisan-made goods; many Vancouverites have an appreciation for well-known brands (see point #s 72 and 73).
    ___________________

    On Friendship and Family:
     

  92. The same friends can be so much more appreciated in your adulthood than in your teens.
  93. A friend’s laughter is something that you never forget—a sound that can take you back all those years.
  94. It’s always so great to meet up with someone else—especially a friend from high school—who’s looking for the same things in life as you: happiness, comfort, and gettting out of the rat race.
  95. No matter how hard you try, you can never convince your parents, 100%, that you’re an adult now.
  96. Pride is indeed a sin.
  97. Blood is not thicker than water.
  98. You shouldn’t have to be with people who make you miserable. Life’s too short for that.
  99. When working under the effects of anger, you can do a month’s worth of packing and cleaning in fewer than three hours.
  100. Don’t feel anxious about going to visit family. At the same time . . .
  101. Never feel guilty about leaving.
  1. There’s nothing more liberating and adult-like than going through the process of renting a car by yourself, for the first time in your life.

“Friends”, Business, and the Art of the Swipe

In the world of business, there is (almost) no such thing as a coincidence. Think it’s just a fluke that the same type of toy is coming out this season from two different manufacturers, or that several different networks seem to have the same show coming out this season? Think again. Chances are, there’s a thief somewhere in the fold. When business theft involves friends, the thought is especially stomach-churning and sad.

Last fall, I posted a personal blog about a certain friendship falling by the wayside, rather mysteriously. To put it briefly, I got a call one day from a “friend” stating that he and his wife were no longer interested in having any sort of relationship with us. After a long conversation wherein I tried to elicit some type of concrete reasons, I could get no further other than some vague words like “You should know, and if you don’t, then that says a lot about you”, and only a bit more revealing, “You do seem to act superior sometimes when it comes to your parenting style.” Superior. Huh. This, coming from a couple who once used the words “parenting gurus” to describe us, and gushed on and on about how we were obviously doing something right with our kids, because they looked up to us and wanted to emulate us as parents. Etc.. Well, this all happened around mid-October. Fast-forward to now, when it suddenly came to my attention that the wife in that couple had stolen a business idea of mine and developed it further, so that everything was in place for her to run it . . . exactly two weeks prior to that phone call.

Let’s back up a bit, and I’ll explain. In November of 2007 (and it pains me to even open up the Word document to confirm the date), I had discussed briefly with her, via phone and e-mail exchanges, the idea of setting up a series of parenting workshops, called “The Natural Parenting Workshops”. The goal was to run a series of classes or talks wherein I could share with new parents, in a circle discussion format, my knowledge of all things to do with natural and attachment parenting. I had already been giving workshops on babywearing, and friends and acquaintances would often ask me, “And what do you think about cloth diapering? Or extended breastfeeding? Or bedsharing? And how about homeschooling? . . . ” So it had seemed natural to me to expand what I was already doing in one area, to include a far-ranging number of related topics, to share with parents who are like-minded. As far as I could tell, I told her (and later, she informed him so that he could be in on the loop) that there was nothing like it out there currently.

 

Initially, I had mentioned all of this to her only because I had wanted to include her as a guest speaker on one topic—not on parenting, but on general healthy healing issues—in which she was taking a class. She being a new parent of a 5-month-old at the time, and still asking me a lot of questions, I felt that the vast contribution of knowledge would come from me, the parent of two children who had done more research. As our discussion went on, she approached me with the idea of giving the talks as “equal” partners (though she suggested in later e-mails that she wouldn’t have time to do much research on her own to add to the partnership, but could “look over” my Word documents and “help edit” what I already had). And I agreed (a bit reluctantly, though I didn’t tell her at the time) to let her in on it equally, because I knew that they were having financial difficulties, and that perhaps this business venture, with little to no investment required on her part, might help get them on their feet.

And here it was, a year later, and she was pulling the rug out from under my feet. Changing the name of the series of workshops, and now positioning herself as some kind of “wise” woman, she was going to run the whole show herself, with nary a mention to (or of) me. Even the space where she was holding it was my idea (initially when we had discussed the possibility of holding some classes in Toronto to be near her, and some classes near me, I had suggested renting this particular Toronto space owned by a friend of hers, and her response was, “Oh yeah, I’m sure that M. would let you. That’s totally the type of thing that she’d be into.”)

So all of a sudden now, it made sense to me. At the back of her (or their mind, collectively), she (they) had already been fermenting this idea of going out on her (their) own and stealing my idea all for herself (themselves). The only step left, in order to clear her (their) conscience—if that was possible—was to make a clean break of the friendship, and hope that I would never find out. Perhaps she (they) had felt justified in doing that because she (they) might have thought, “We’re in dire financial straits, and we need this more than they do.” Perhaps she (they) had thought that since I was advancing so slowly with the idea, that it was now up for grabs to whoever wanted it more and could get it to market more quickly.

 

Perhaps she (they) just hadn’t given a @#*! about the friendship at all in the first place, and was only ever in it to gain as much as she (they) could. After all, as he had put it in that friendship-ending conversation, as if to explain everything, “Well, we weren’t really friends. We just happened to know each other, and then started hanging out together.” This, from a couple who, as mentioned above, called us their “parenting gurus” and picked our brains through every parenting (and sometimes even relationship) trial and tribulation; a couple who registered as a baby shower gift, a baby sling, and when I offered them one simply as a gift, they then asked for two; a couple who subsequently received many more slings, gifts and hand-me-downs from us because we had felt sorry for them and their financial situation, and then proceeded to brag about how much “swag” they received from me. All this, but still, they “weren’t really friends”. Huh.

The funny thing is, the friendship need not have ended over that, if that was what she (they) had felt was the only option. If she had said to me, “I would like to do this on my own because frankly, we need the money more than you do,” I might very well have told them to go forth with my blessing, and with no hard feelings (okay, maybe not, but I like to think that I’m a more generous person than she is). But they hadn’t gone this route. In their mind, the only option was to steal the idea outright, end the friendship, and hope that either I’d never find out, or wouldn’t care, since there was no more friendship to speak of. And the even funnier thing is, although initially I sounded bitter over that loss, I’m so much lighter and happier now that the friendship is over. No, it’s not a sour-grapes attitude; when you have one of those relationships with people who seem to have mood uncertainties (I won’t call them “mood swings” because that sounds so PMS-ish), where one of them often is “in a funk”, so much so that you dread being around them at the wrong time, or saying the wrong thing, it’s better to end it all. A friendship where you have to literally tiptoe around someone, and in the end, it doesn’t even matter because they cut you off at the knees, just isn’t worth having. It took them taking my  idea. to let me finally see the relationship for what it really was.
. . .

The terrible thing is, this isn’t the first time that this type of entrepreneurial backstabbing has happened to me. I once had a business associate from B.C., whom I had met when she was here in Ontario on business, contact me about wholesaling my product. She loved my sling so much, that she thought she could distribute them out there along with her own product, but only if the price were right. When informed about the pricing, she asked me if I could go lower than that, thinking that as a business associate/friend, she could get better pricing. I told her that that was the lowest that I could go, to still comfortably make a profit (after all, feeding my family is more important than pricing to satisfy new “friends”).

 

She then told me to forget it, as she was out in B.C. where there were plenty of “Chinese seamstresses” who could rip my design apart, look at it, and make it for half the price that I was offering. (In the end, she never did that, and went out of business.) I held on to that e-mail for the longest time, in utter disbelief that someone would be so bold as to say to my face that she could steal my idea and re-produce them so cheaply, and that I was no longer needed in the equation.

 

So to be robbed of my idea has happened to me before. But the only difference between then and now, is that then, I saw the knife coming. With friends, you don’t see it. Back then, when I told another friend of mine, another woman in business, she and her husband expressed disbelief as well. As her husband put it so succinctly, “You’d think that being a mom, especially a so-called ‘natural-parenting’ type, she’d have a set of values and ethics that she’d want to pass on to her children.” But not so.

 

Perhaps my parenting-workshop-idea-stealing friend can look at her daughter in the eyes one day when she’s older, and tell her with no shame what she did. Tell her with no shame that this is how you get ahead in the world. Maybe “no ethics” is her new parenting style. The hard lesson, boys and girls, is that in business, ethics fly out the window, even (or especially?) if you’re a mom who has hungry mouths to feed.

 

Years ago, I bought for myself a notepad with the image below as the cover. (Those who know me well, and have seen my notepad, know that it’s totally me: most of the time caring and maternal, but at times, irreverent.) I loved it because to me, it meant, “Just because I’m a mom doesn’t mean that I have to listen to your adult whining and care about you.” I.e. my maternal love and attention doesn’t necessarily have to extend to my adult friends, who can take care of themselves. But now, the word “mom” and the one-finger salute has a whole new meaning to me, in light of how I see moms in business.

just-because-im-a-mom

I haven’t totally given up my idea of the Natural Parenting Workshops. I may get around to it again one day, even if she got out of the gate before I did. The fact that she did this to me pushes me even more to do better. My only consolation in this whole messy affair is that the type of people who steal other people’s ideas don’t get far in life. When you’re short on ideas and skills, you can only get as far as the next stolen idea. Without your own intelligence and ability to rely upon, success is limited.
. . .

As usual, I’m closing comments to this posting, but I’d love to hear anyone’s views on this. (You can e-mail me privately.) Maybe you think that I’m overreacting, and that it truly was after all, just a coincidence. Maybe you think, like me, that mompreneurs can at times be an unethical bunch. Maybe you agree that when it comes to business, there’s no such thing as a “friend”.

That’s What Friends Are For . . .

Yesterday, our family had a great day, with great new friends. While we have several great friends in our life, and have had gorgeous, memorable days with each one, the timing and setting of this particular day was particularly striking.

NL That's What Friends Are ForThis is what a great day looks like: Taking in the beauty of a 200-acre property; taking an hour-long walk somewhere, and yet, to nowhere in particular; sharing a gorgeous meal in a gorgeous home, where there is no sense of formality or awkwardness; listening to a friend strum on a guitar and sing a beautiful song that he wrote (inserting within it your child’s name ever-so-casually); opening up tunes on YouTube and singing together at the top of our lungs; easily floating from one conversation topic to another, without unfamiliarity or hesitation about how the other party would receive it; and watching all your children play together beautifully, as if they’ve known each other forever. And a great day is when you can easily spend more than eight hours with people, and never have your mind wander to something else (What should I be accomplishing now instead of sitting here? I’m worried about the mortgage and the tax payments. I’m really worried about the election next week.). When you’re not worrying about whether they’re bored with you yet, and not feeling once that you’re bored—how great is that?

I used to think that those old sayings, “Everything happens for a reason” and “When one door closes, another one opens” were so hackneyed and corny. But now, I do believe that indeed, those are among the truest words in life. You see, after a rather acrimonious friendship break-up recently, our family suddenly found ourselves in the midst of the blossoming of a couple of great friendships. Funnily enough, these were people whom we’ve known for a few months, but it didn’t take until just now, literally within the space of two weeks, for everything to just fall into place. So I do believe now, that yes, everything does happen for a reason. We needed the timing of one friendship shutting down to have our eyes opened, in order to see why that was never a true friendship, and to see what is authentic.

NL That's What Friends Are For 2True friends are the type of people with whom you find that you have so much in common, but neither party has to gush about it; the type of people with whom an easy, natural rapport just falls into place, and the conversations are light and bantering without effort; the type of people who never make you think afterwards, when you’re alone with your spouse or alone with your own thoughts, “I hope I did okay. Hope they liked me.” These are the people of whom, when you spend time with them, your only thought is, “I hate to think of leaving.” We don’t have many of these, but the ones that we do have, we have in different parts of our life, and we see them in different roles. And we hope to hold on to them for a long time.

I’m not naïve enough to think that these things will remain unchanged. Familiar with the ephemerality of friendships and good times, I know that friends can move away, and circumstances can change. But for the moment, I’m quietly content,  knowing what it feels like to spend a great day, with great friends.

Puttin’ on the Ritz

(Originally posted 9/1/2008, 4:26 p.m.)

I’m not one to show off and want only the most luxurious things in life. We live quite a simple, no-frills kind of life, actually. Yet, I do like nice, comfortable things, especially when it comes to temporary accomodations. I’ve slept in $400/night hotel rooms, and $49/night motel rooms. Although I don’t always prefer the former (and haven’t actually had those opportunities often), I’m also not always on the lookout for the latter. We don’t travel often, so when we do, I don’t mind spending somewhere in the middle; I don’t need the Ritz, but don’t give me Acme Motel, either.

On a short road trip this week, when our little family of four had to sleep in three different cities in three nights, I discovered—no, reaffirmed—a basic difference between Beloved Husband and me: He is more, er, how shall we put it, budget-conscious than I am. And I won’t say that he’s less refined, but let’s just say that little things bother him less than they do me. Little things like sticky carpets that make your feet feel grimy, or paint and grout chipped away in the bathroom. These are the sort of things that you get in cheap motel rooms.
(Okay, I have to admit though, that BH’s budget-conscious ways can yield funny anecdotes, such as the time he stayed at a cheap motel room in a small Quebec town, and when he went downstairs to ask for some shampoo for his room, was told to hold out his hand while the owner squirted it out. “C’est assez, ça?”. Thank goodness I was not there for that one.)

In Niagara Falls, ON on the first night of our trip, I would have happily settled for a middle-of-the-road establishment. Maybe not the Sheraton with a view of the Falls, like the first time we visited this tourist town in the off-season (goodness knows what the price would be now, smack in the middle of the tourist season), but a basic Travelodge or Quality Inn, somewhere in the $100/night range, conveniently on the main street. BH, however, is the type who will walk 15 minutes away in order to bring that price down, towing behind two young kids with tired legs. So we ended up in a decent motel room at the top of the street, for $69/night. It wasn’t dirty or shabby. It was well-kept by the older couple who ran it. It was also the type of place where previous lodgers must have been of the sticky-fingers variety, because we were handed our room key along with the tv remote control, such a precious commodity it was. It was sufficient. I didn’t shower here, mainly because I was too tired that first night.

The second night, in Windsor, our luck got worse. In checking hotel prices for BH, on foot, we went steadily from $129, to $99, to $85, to $64 for the night. Guess which one BH chose? Yup, this was the one with the sticky carpet. Now, I’m the type of person who goes barefoot indoors all the time, so I noticed this right away. Perhaps I’m more sensitive than my family members to carpet-stickiness—who knows? In any case, that, combined with the sagging mattress and chipping paint and grout, made this stay rather uncomfortable for me. Kids don’t mind this type of thing; they’re just happy to have the vacation experience. Budget-conscious husbands, of course, don’t mind. I did. I’m no princess on a pea, but needless to say, I had a terrible sleep. I didn’t shower here either, mainly because, well, I just couldn’t.

By the time we reached Ottawa, I was determined that I would not be in another Sticky Carpet Motel again. Ottawa, on the Labour Day weekend—this last hurrah of the summer for the live-for-the-long-weekend partying set—turned out to be absolutely packed. (Note to self and to others considering travelling to Ottawa: When going on the Labour Day weekend, as with the Canada Day weekend, book far, far in advance.) Told that “every hotel room in the city is booked” by either the partyers or the anxious parents helping their offspring get settled into university, we were satisfied to get whatever we could. So the Holiday Inn at $155/night, although considered a king’s ransom compared to the first two motel rooms, was just heavenly. I was happy that it wasn’t another cheapie motel for the third night in a row. BH was happy that there was an alternative to the $300/night Westin. And here, I had a lovely, luxuriating bath.

Such were our hotel/motel adventures on the Labour Day weekend. And by the end of this mini-adventure, I’m not going to say that I will pooh-pooh all motels. Some, like the one in Niagara Falls, can be quite decent, and if you’re only looking for a bed for one night, they’ll suffice. And the one positive thing about motels is that we’re more often than not supporting a small family business. But my only caveat with such places is to always ask to see the room first . . . and to keep your shoes on the whole time.