In an earlier post I quoted a piece from a book by David Sedaris called Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. He wrote the following paragraphs in response to seeing a young boy outside a store defacing a federal mail box with marker pens. A bystander held the boy until the parents came out of the store and instead of disciplining the child for his bad behaviour, the parents verbally attacked the bystander for touching their child. Sedaris was understandably appalled and described his own experience growing up in a family of six kids:
“I don’t know how these couples do it, spend hours each night tucking their kids in, reading them books about misguided kittens or seals who wear uniforms, then rereading them if the child so orders. In my house, our parents put us to bed with two simple words: “Shut up.” That was always the last thing we heard before our lights were turned off. Our artwork did not hang on the refrigerator or anywhere near it, because our parents recognized it for what it was: crap. They did not live in a child’s house, we lived in theirs.
Neither were we allowed to choose what we ate. I have a friend whose seven-year-old will only consider something if it’s white. Had I tried that, my parents would have said, “You’re on,” and served me a bowl of paste, followed by joint compound. They weren’t considered strict by any means. They weren’t abusive. The rules were just different back then, especially in regard to corporal punishment. Not only could you hit your own children, but you could also hit other people’s.”
While hitting children is obviously wrong, I find myself wondering, are our expectations of kids today wrong? The other day when I was in the grocery store, I passed a woman shopping with three children. Her young daughter who appeared to be about eight years old accidentally knocked something off a shelf, left it on the floor in the aisle and walked away. As I passed the little girl (who was wearing a private school uniform), I quietly said to her, “Put it back.”, then rounded the corner and headed off to the frozen food section at the other end of the store.
A few seconds later her mother came screaming after me that I had no right to discipline her child; who did I think I was and accused me repeatedly of being self-righteous. “My child is a good child and she knows what to do” she screamed, waving her arms at me. “Obviously she doesn’t” I replied. Then the rant started all over, who was I to be so self-righteous, and I was actually afraid she was going to strike me so I calmly walked away from her as she continued yelling at me.
The mother was wearing a hijab so I presume she was Muslim. Did I cross a cultural line or is it a generational thing? I honestly do not think I did anything wrong. But the scene hurt and embarrassed me. I generally avoid confrontational situations and when faced with the fury hurled at me yesterday I was paralyzed and couldn’t even come up with an appropriate response. I think any Boomer would have responded as I did when the child left the item on the floor in the aisle. But parenting today is more defensive. Perhaps the mother’s cultural standards are different. Was I wrong?
P.S. Returning to the same store a few days later, I found myself nervously looking over my shoulder looking to protect myself from another attack by the same woman. She certainly left her mark.
The other day as I was sorting and cleaning out my copious supplies of pricey cosmetics and toiletries it occurred to me I could open my own Shoppers Drug Mart, and I’m not proud of it. That caused me to reflect on how this insidious habit began in 1965. I was living in Willard Hall, a girls’ residence at 20 Gerrard Street East in downtown Toronto. My move into Willard Hall at the age of seventeen marked the beginning of new adulthood, when I left home and began working for the telephone company. It was a jumping-off point for small-town virgins coming to seek their fortunes in the big city. I was now exposed to sophisticated city girls who knew things—things I’d never even heard about before. This included insights into fashion and beauty that were considered frivolous and vain where I came from. Allow me a trip down memory lane with some of my Boomer friends as we remember the way it was.
All of a sudden I was living with girls who wore makeup, knew how to create amazing hairdo’s, spent their wages on the latest British street fashions and even purchased fashion magazines. My girlfriend Linda who worked with me at Ma Bell was taking modelling classes at The Walter Thornton Agency so she was particularly au courant. Linda introduced me to my first compact of Max Factor blusher with the little brush. At $3.99 it was an atrocious price when my weekly salary before taxes was only $55.00. But the effect it had on Linda’s cheekbones when she expertly brushed it across her cheeks was dramatic so I had to get one.
The influence of all the girls living at Willard Hall was inspiring. Diane, who roomed across the hall first made me aware of the importance of lingerie. After the release of Georgie Girl, Lynn Redgrave’s iconic 1966 debut movie, Nancy went on the hunt at the Evangeline store at Yonge and Carlton Streets looking for a mini-length demi-slip (bra and slip combo) worn by Charlotte Rampling in the movie. In fact, Charlotte Rampling’s character was a totem for those of us from small towns with straw still stuck to our new platforms. Was it possible that someone outside our residence was actually seeing their lingerie? Ah! The sexual revolution was happening.
By watching the other girls in our common washroom, I quickly absorbed more secrets and tricks to putting your best face forward. Beauty products were less abundant then and we were very careful about how we spent our pennies so improvisation was essential.
A few of the girls living in our residence were attending hairdressing school and came into the diningroom sporting the most incredible haircuts and trendy do’s. One particularly exotic creature, Nina was tall, lean and beautiful. Nina’s hair was coloured the richest shade of chestnut I’d ever seen and she’d bravely had her straight, shiny hair cut into an asymmetrical version of the Sassoon five-point cut that was all the rage at that time. My room-mate Liz and I had been successfully and economically cutting each other’s hair into neat blunt cuts but decided we should now throw a bit of colour into the mix. Off we went to Kresgie’s on Yonge Street where we each purchased a box of Clairol’s Nice ‘N Easy in Strawberry Blonde for $1.99. Thus began a life-time of root touch-ups every six weeks. I never did roll my hair in orange juice cans or rinse it in a mixture of sugar and water for extra holding power, but I certainly knew girls who did both.
Before long I was applying Cover Girl liquid makeup and Mabelline Great Lash mascara with the best of them. The white lipstick we used as a base for other colours of lipstick to prevent them from turning red doubled as under-eye concealer. In fact, lipstick was also used as blusher and at a much more agreeable price than Max Factor’s blusher—a 2-for. In the sixties we used Mabelline’s stubby red eyebrow pencils for shaping our brows and it wasn’t until the seventies that we plucked our eyebrows into extinction. Eye-liner came in the form of a little dry cake of Revlon eyeliner that we applied with a wet brush. Nail polish was a single bottle of Revlon’s Café au Lait with no top coat, no base coat and definitely no regular trips to the mani-pedi salon—it was strictly do-it-yourself.
The girls who were being subsidized by their parents (I was definitely not one of them and neither were my girlfriends) would wear expensive L’Air du Temps or White Shoulders fragrance. Since I could never afford such an extravagance, at lunchtime I’d zip off to the little drugstore in the office building on Edward Street behind mine where I’d generously spritz myself with pricier scents from the counter-top testers. I practically asphyxiated my co-workers when I returned from lunch in a haze of lily-of-the-valley or Persian lilac. But I did manage to scrape together the funds for the smallest-size bottle of Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew which seemed very classy and exotic.
One day I noticed the girl at the next sink in the washroom scouring her face with a sandpaper-like compound called Snap which, when mixed with water was originally designed to remove axle grease from mechanics’ hands. She said her doctor had recommended it for her acne. Naturally I got on that bandwagon too and followed it up with Bonne Belle’s Ten-O-Six Lotion, an astringent in the days before it was called toner. Moisturizer hadn’t yet entered our beauty regime. It’s amazing I have any epidermis left.
Boomer girls in the sixties washed our hair twice a week and when our bangs got oily we hit them with the giant fuzzy puff of bath powder that always sat on our dresser. As a bonus, it added volume too. We also kept a little plastic container of Nuvola dry shampoo to shake into our roots in emergencies. Nuvola was like a mixture of talcum powder and cornstarch but it achieved the desired effect. It cost $1.29 which was a bit pricey but the little plastic lavender-capped container lasted forever.
suntanning was de rigeur and we faithfully slathered our bodies in Johnson’s baby oil with a few drops of iodine mixed in to enhance the frying properties. The resulting blistering sunburns were diligently treated with Noxzema until our skin fell off in sheets. The resulting blotchy tan was not attractive but more importantly, we’re now paying for our sins by seeking out expensive laser and lightning procedures to restore our damaged skin.
Every night we slept with a partial or entire head of hair encased in brush rollers to beef-up the bouffant. Bangs were scotch-taped to our foreheads to keep them straight and in place. Blow dryers had not yet been invented so twice a week we sat for an hour or so under an inflatable plastic hood that blew hot air through a plastic hose into our rolled-up “do”. Long, luscious locks like Jean Shrimpton’s were the goal.
Back to the future—2014. How could some simple makeup essentials and a teasing comb turn into the horror of consumerism that has become my bathroom cupboard today? Looking back, I should have stuck with my original formula: wash my face and body with a single bar of Dial soap; baby shampoo for my hair; Tame Crème Rinse; set, dry hair; spritz on a bit of French Formula hair spray; touch of Cover Girl face powder to hide the sun damage; a single eyebrow pencil to fix my earlier plucking disaster; a couple of swipes of cheap mascara and we’re good to go. If I could follow that regime I’d be able to live in a smaller house and would save thousands of dollars on false promises. But what would I do with the bags and bags of products collecting dust in my cupboards. Too bad consignment stores don’t take slightly used bottles of hair products, face and body moisturizers, makeup, nail polish, cleansers, serums and toiletries.
Being a single girl back in the olden days, the swingin’ sixties was an incredible pleasure and a unique experience I love sharing with my Boomer girlfriends. Come to think of it, upon reflection, I’m pretty sure some of those Willard Hall girls weren’t even virgins.
Mornings for most of the population are a stressful time. Getting yourself up, showered, dressed, fed and out the door on time is a challenge, more so if you throw school-age children into the mix. Then, you’re faced with sitting in your car for an hour seething about the construction delays in rush-hour traffic or jamming your tender body onto the train, bus or streetcar with hundreds of other sweating, backpack-briefcase-tote-bag-toting bodies vying for your inch of standing room. I’m not without sympathy or empathy; I did it for over forty years but now that I’m retired things are different and mornings are a joy.
I can so relate to her description of at one time being the only woman in the room at a business meeting and often the youngest. That was me when I was in the corporate world of construction, dressed in a power suit I spent way too much money on and feeling very energized and involved in whatever was going on. Today’s first big decision, however, was whether to finish reading the paper, which I love doing, or sprint to my computer to write, which I also love doing. The latter won out.
I too find myself looking at younger people without envy. As a retired Boomer I’ve paid my dues, multiple times over. My five-year-plan no longer involves promotions, paying off my VISA or my mortgage, should I change jobs or not, or is this the right time to have kids? My options are almost unlimited and do not involve the whims of bosses, banks or benchmarks. Margaret, you’re so right. Nobody is the boss of me any more and retirement is wonderful. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
When I heard that my husband’s fourteen-year-old grandson had landed a part-time job working at Kernels I was suddenly filled with so much pride in him. Apart from being a good student and an active participant in Marc and Craig Kielburger’s Me to We children’s charity program, he’s now a working man. I’m of the opinion that early work for young people is a good thing. It not only builds character but it helps them understand the value of earned money versus hand-outs. These are valuable life skills that ultimately contribute to young people becoming better citizens, better partners and better people. Canada is blessed with a large immigrant population and they seem more inclined to put their kids to work in the family business or elsewhere at an earlier age than most Canadians. These students frequently become high achievers in school and high achievers as adults.
My own life as a working girl began when I was eight years old. From 1955 to 1960 my parents owned one of two local taxis in our small Ontario town.
It was my job to be home to answer the telephone when I wasn’t in school, and take and dispatch calls to my mother or father on the two-way radio. They sold the business when I entered high school at the age of thirteen so by then I already had a resume with five years experience. I also had a steady supply of baby sitting jobs charging the astronomical sum of twenty-five cents an hour, fifty cents after midnight. The summer I was thirteen and again when I was fourteen, I worked for a short time reeling yarn from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon in the woolen mill where my Dad managed the carpet department. That experience was certainly incentive to stay in school and get an education.
When I was fourteen I got a job as a carhop/waitress/short-order cook/dishwasher at the local drive-in burger joint where I continued to work part-time for the next three years until I left home. This was supplemented by my regular baby-sitting jobs and I taught Sunday school for several years. And these extra curricular activities didn’t absolve me from doing chores at home such as grass-cutting, shoveling snow and helping in the kitchen. At the age of sixteen I worked as a waitress at a summer resort off Manitoulin Island. When I finished high school there were no significant permanent jobs in our town so leaving home at seventeen to work full-time in Toronto was a given. In fact it even seemed a bit easier because there was no more homework and no working weekends, at least in the beginning.
Over the years I’ve been a clerk-typist and cable assignor for Bell Canada, a sales representative for a cosmetics company in the lovely old Eaton’s College Street store in Toronto, a secretary, receptionist, civil servant under contract to the Federal government, communications rep for a software company, deliverer of diapers and adult incontinence products for a market research company, order-taker for a courier company, self-employed marketing consultant and Corporate Marketing Manager for a multi-billion dollar company.
Nothing has ever been handed to me without my working for it. It has not always been easy but having a job from a young age made me fiscally responsible, independent and strong enough to be able to withstand all the challenges life throws in front of us. I’m always so delighted when I see young people with the initiative to go out and get themselves a job to help earn their keep. I know from experience that they’re going to do OK in life. No matter how menial, difficult or unpleasant the work may be, they’ll be acquiring valuable skills and resources to draw upon as they go through life.
My brother, who is a retired high school teacher had his share of student jobs including soda jerk and grocery boy during his high school and university days. These jobs and student loans allowed him to finance his own education and he feels that “education isn’t limited to the classroom“.
The various McJobs I’ve had over the years have left me with lifelong empathy and respect for the people who do those jobs. Fifty years after waitressing in high school I am and forever will be a generous tipper. When I’m tempted to become impatient with a retail sales associate, I remember what it’s like to be on your feet on hard floors with a smile on your face for eight hours a day serving recalcitrant customers, making minimum wage surrounded by millions of dollars worth of merchandise I couldn’t afford to buy—even with my employee discount. I have infinite respect for those blue-collar workers in factories or doing manual labour in uncomfortable conditions, again for low wages. I think of the farm workers who pick the apples I eat, clean up after the pigs that become the pork tenderloin I enjoy and the millions of service workers who work nights and weekends so that I have the privilege to shop or eat in a restaurant at night or on weekends.
It’s always fun to reminisce with other Boomers about the jobs we’ve had over the years and we’re all in agreement that we’re richer for those experiences. We compare war stories about working conditions and challenges that would be unacceptable and perhaps even illegal by today’s standards. But these experiences are what fortified us. We learned about resilience, resourcefulness, perseverance, diplomacy, money management, responsibility and accountability. And it has provided us with an endless supply of stories to share over cold glasses of wine in the evening.
Our grandchildren are now working part-time at various McJobs to build up their own set of life skills and we’re so proud of them. A friend’s grandson works in the bakery of a supermarket. We have a golf-course groundskeeper, a construction worker, a restaurant hostess and now a professional corn popper. Whatever they learn through their experiences, however insignificant it may seem now, it will enrich their lives in so many ways they’ll come to appreciate as they get older. Then, they too can share stories with their Gen X, Y and Z friends when they enjoy their well-earned retirement glasses of wine.
Science is now confirming what we’ve long suspected—that multi-tasking is not only an overrated virtue but can in fact be counter-productive. Women in particular have been brainwashed to think we should be able to juggle work, home, community and social activity balls simultaneously and efficiently without dropping a single one in order to be deemed successful mothers, wives and human beings. Well, it’s all bull crap. Multi-tasking only results in an outcome that is less than it could or should be. This realization prompted me to dig up a posting on the value of down-time that I published a few years ago. Let’s not fall for the multi-tasking myth and instead allow ourselves the time and space we need to properly manage and in fact, enjoy our lives.
Feeling uninspired? Take a nap
Leah Eichler’s Women@Work column in The Globe and Mail was a source of inspiration and affirmation better than most I’ve read in a while. Eichler maintains that we often get our best ideas when our brains are off-duty. Haven’t you ever been struck with a brilliant idea just as you’re about to drop off to sleep or when you’re walking the dog through the park? According to Eichler we should allow ourselves more down-time to allow these bursts of inspiration to emerge. Research has shown that we need quiet time for our brains to arrive at the state of zen conducive to new ideas.
I agree wholeheartedly with this philosophy. For that reason, I keep a pad and pencil on my night table and another in the map pocket of my car so I can write down these flashes of genius when they happen, or at the next red light. Fortunately I’m very good at zoning out. And to think teachers used to yell at us for not paying attention. Just think of all the earth-shattering discoveries and inventions they probably killed when we were daydreaming in school.
Multi-tasking and “busyness” are considered virtues in today’s world of 24/7 cell phones, e-mail and texting but these activities are ultimately counter-productive. Thomas Edison would regularly sit on his boat dock holding a fishing pole and line in the water, with no bait. He needed time to think. Bill Gates used to isolate himself at his cottage to free his mind for creativity. Gordon Lightfoot would check into a hotel and stay in his room for days to be free from distractions so he could write songs. And, Winston Churchill is well-known for his afternoon power naps that freed his mind from the stresses of trying to save the world from destruction.
When I was working, I always found the activity and noise inherent in daily office life to be distracting. My best ideas always came when I was doing some non-work-related activity. I needed my head to be free of clutter and my brain to be in a happy place to be truly productive.
So, with that in mind, please excuse me while I go take a nap. There are major world problems that need solving and I’m pretty sure I’m just on the cusp of finding the key to cold fusion—right after I summon up that Nobel-prize-worthy literature bubbling away in there somewhere. Maybe checking into a Four Seasons Hotel in Bali with the scent of fragrant blossoms and the sounds of surf outside my window would help. It certainly can’t hurt.
Pearl Bailey once said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and honey, rich is better.” I know I’ve certainly been poor at times in my life and it was not fun. Not having money can mean living a simple, happy, uncomplicated life but in today’s world it more often means worrying about not having enough to pay our bills, how to save for a home or vacations, or the big one, how to retire comfortably.
After hearing the young author interviewed on the radio, I just finished reading a book called “Well-Heeled – The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting Rich” by Alberta’s Lesley-Anne Scorgie. Well-Heeled is one of the best books I’ve come across for providing practical advice for young twenty and thirty-something women about how to best manage their money.
When Boomers were growing up in the fifties and sixties, credit cards were not part of our vocabulary or our parents’. Visa and Mastercard did not exist so other than Diners’ Club for traveling businessmen, everyone paid cash for everything they purchased. I clearly remember paying cash to my dentist in the late sixties ($35.00, which was half my weekly salary) when I went for checkups and cash to my doctor for piercing my ears (the old-fashioned way with a needle). We paid cash for shoes, clothes and gifts. Charge accounts at major department stores were available but of no use to anyone in our small town where there was no Eatons or Simpson’s store. We did have mail order offices for Eatons and Simpsons but it was rare for anyone to use a credit card back then. Business was strictly cash.
As a result of not having the option of charging frivolous purchases to credit cards , we were perhaps more cautious with our pennies. Boomers started working full-time in the mid-sixties and when we saw a blouse we liked, we either had to go to the bank on our lunch hour and withdraw the cash from our savings account (and banks were only open between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. back in the olden days) or write a cheque which involved the inconvenience of filling out a detailed information form and having it approved by the store manager. I remember once at the old Savette store at Dundas Street West and Roncesvalles purchasing a kitchen table. When I wrote a cheque for it they even took my picture for future reference.
I’m horrified as I watch Gail Vaz Oxlade’s Til Debt Do Us Part show on television. The show often features young couples who, despite receiving sometimes as much as $200,000.00 in wedding gift money have managed to rack up $90,000.00 in consumer credit card debt. Did no one teach them about managing money? I think the more likely cause is that parents were always there to give these young people everything they wanted and bail them out when they ran into financial trouble. I finally had to quit watching the programme as I got too frustrated and depressed watching the idiocy. Financial troubles are a major cause of breakups among young couples. It is very important to not only be smart about money yourself but to make sure your partner is on the same page.
If young women would listen to only one piece of advice it would be to stress the importance of financial independence. And the simple reason is that having a nest egg means you have options. When I was in my fifties during the recession that lasted most of the 1990s, I was broke. It was difficult to find work and it was incredibly stressful because I had no financial resources to draw on. After reading Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin I decided to give up self-employment and re-enter the corporate world. This would assure me of a regular paycheque, health benefits and a chance at building some retirement equity. It worked. But I wish I’d been more frugal in the 70s and 80s when I was blowing my hard-earned bucks on $800.00 ultra-suede power suits and silk blouses. Being able to distinguish between needs and wants is an important first step. Scorgie outlines more steps young women can follow to achieve security.
Being a financially-savy young woman is not only smart, it’s sexy. The late Helen Gurley-Brown, former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine said that one of the reasons her husband David Brown (producer of such block-buster movies as Jaws) was attracted to her was because he appreciated that she had been smart enough to own her own (used) Mercedes that she’d paid cash for. When we’re fifty years old and out of work or wanting a life-style change, the credit card debt we accrued buying that Coach handbag or “I-just-needed-to-get-away” trip to Cuba will be an enormous ball and chain around a young woman’s ankle. In Scorgie’s words, “If it’s on your ass, it’s not an asset!”
In the course of reading Well-Heeled even this old Boomer learned a few things I didn’t know, such as, you can arrange for your bank to automatically transfer the money out of your chequing account to your credit card on the same day you make the purchase on your credit card so you will have zero balance at the end of each month. That means you know exactly where you stand on a daily basis. I often get confused about my credit card balance as it’s shown on my on-line statement and when it is due. They never seem to jibe. When I got my first credit card in the seventies, I diligently kept a running list on a piece of paper in my wallet, like a cheque book, of every purchase and the amount spent each time I used my credit card so I wouldn’t have a heart attack when the bill arrived. Scorgie also provides several excellent website addresses for tracking, planning and saving tools such as Mint.com and bank websites. I plan to check out the one she recommends for calculating how much retirement income we’ll need.
Lesley-Anne Scorgie is an excellent example of what can be accomplished by young women with smart financial planning. She has guested on Oprah and other television programs as a result of her personal successes. Well-Heeled is written to get young women started on the right foot or get them back on track if they’ve fallen off the rails. If you have a daughter or granddaughter or know a young woman who could benefit from learning how to better manage her money, please get on-line (here’s the link “Well-Heeled – The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting Rich“) and send her this book. Everyone deserves to have the options and freedom that financial security can bring.