Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Me, the most highly qualified high school drop-out ever

I never finished school. Ahem. The long and brutally honest version of the story involves me being whisked away in the night from real live monsters to a turbulent world of shelters, hand-to-mouth living, a new name and identity. Think The Thompsons episode of The Simpsons, but without the splendid rendition of Little Buttercup from The Pirates of Penzance.

In such circumstances, secondary education becomes secondary.

The sanitised version of the story is that I lost my way, and through hard work and blind luck made it into an Alan Sugar type thing, but without the millions (there's still time, though, so fingers crossed!)? This is the version most people get - the more honest story leaves them shifting from foot to foot, unsure about whether they need to give me a big hug or run a mile in the other direction.

More on that later.

Tara's theme for The Gallery this week is Education, so I've dug around to find a picture of me from my school days. Here I am about to turn 9, looking pretty much exactly how I do now, but with what for me counts as "dead straight hair".

I was the shortest person in my class by at least a foot, but was a seriously quick little thing on the soccer field and a fearless player. My best subjects at that age were Spelling, Art, and French.  In gymnastics I was mediocre at best, but always enthusiastic, and was one of the few who could shimmy up the rope to the gym's ceiling. I played shortstop on our school baseball team, and when we won, our coach (a.k.a. the Cool Girl's step-dad) treated us to chocolate milkshakes.

I was a Patrol at school, meaning I had to leave class early to don my reflective uniform and stand in the road to help the little ones cross safely.  My School Patrol team got treated to a pancake breakfast at McDonald's by our local police officer, Constable Finney, for our outstanding work. Really.

I was a Computer Tutor, my years of writing ridiculous 3 line programs on my Commodore 64 having finally paid off. 


I had a temporary crush on pretty much every guy in my class except the one with the pet sticks and the one who had that icky too-short-shorts mishap at Track and Field Day. I thought Corey Hart was the bee's knees, and used to perch on top of the monkey bars at the bottom of my school field with my friends listen to his debut album on Ryan's bright yellow Sony Walkman.

I loved school. It was my life. So being torn from school and one step short of living rough was really not for me.

So my mum pulled out all the stops and tried to get me back into school. We struggled. At age 16, in my neighbourhood and with my background, the teachers assumed that my poor grades demonstrated that I would never amount to anything. In French schools, my F in English meant to them that I must not know how to speak English properly... "If she can't even speak her own language, how will she be able to function in French?". Never mind that the F was because my A+ paper (on Oedipus Rex and not How To Speak English) never made it onto my report card, or that I had been at French schools since age 4.

Despite the risk that our new location and identity would be discovered, she contacted one of the staff from my previous life, who then managed to produce a possibly slightly fudged transcript. And off to school I went. An Italian school this time, and where I was read to in English by the teacher, and where I was forced to "learn" basic french grammar that I had been using perfectly since age 7.

I lasted 2 weeks.

Seeing my anger and frustration, my mum somehow managed to convince a local college to take me on. So there I was, aged 16 and 2 months, with a measly 21% in Maths and even worse grades in Physics, and never having finished high school... starting my first day in Health Sciences at Dawson College in Montreal.

I graduated with Honours two years later, and with Distinction from my Biochemistry degree three years after that. And with stellar performance in my Bioinformatics and Management certifications after that. I guess that makes me the most highly qualified high school dropout there is!

So was it bloody hard work and blind luck? I don't know. It could have gone either way. Had I gone along the path I was headed at age 9, I would likely have been your typical small town girl, and probably a teacher. Had I continued along the path I was headed at 15 and 16, I would likely have ended up like so many others I met along the way, in a life of addiction, poverty and despair.

But just the right breaks at the right time, and here I am.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

It's all for nought!!

The kids and I had a busy day today, with lots of little treats and special adventures... we had a peek at the extension that the builders are just finishing off this week, we opened a stack of Mads' birthday presents and cheered over each one, we read our brand new picture books, and coloured in our new colouring books.

Afterwards we zoomed up the hill to find a present for a friend, and the kids helped me choose a birthday card and a card for my cousin's new baby, then had a scrummy lunch at Giraffe with friends. Afterwards they dressed up as fairies with pretty little dresses (even Danger Boy) at a friend's house and twirled around the room.
We skipped all the way back home, then had a lovely snuggle on the sofa to watch the beautiful Princess Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, and shared some toffee popcorn, a rare treat in our house! 

Later, Danger Boy helped me make cheesy pasta, and set the table all by himself.

I was pretty pleased with myself, thinking this is the sort of day that the kids will remember forever.
In walks Daddy... "so, what you have guys been up to today?"... and in chorus:

"NOTHING."

Friday, 11 March 2011

My family holiday in London

It's not every day that you get to treat yourself to a holiday in your own city. I say my own city - what I mean is my adopted city. I moved to London on the last day of April, 2000. I'd never been to England, or even Europe before and had no idea what to expect. My knowledge of Britain was restricted to the hundred or so times I watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail and countless episodes of Mr Bean with my big brother. When on Day 1 I found myself stranded in central London amid thousands of rioting anti-capitalists I had a bit of a shock to say the least!

The most bizarre thing was that I barely noticed the protesters - the roads had all been closed, so there were no cars anywhere in sight, and I was awestruck by the architecture, the juxtaposition of ancient stone buildings with shiny new ones with their almost daring use of colour and glass.

I fell in love with London, and over the next couple of years I spent my free time exploring all the hidden nooks, sprinting up the 317 steps of the Monument to take in the view, and running along the South Bank and through the City with a smile on my face.

Somewhere along the line the endless tube journeys, then grime, the overcrowding and the rain got to me. I forgot all about the London I had fallen in love with.

Last weekend I had the most incredible opportunity to rediscover that magic, with a mini weekend break on the South Bank for our family. I really want to pass that opportunity on to someone else, whether it'll be their first time visiting London, or a rediscovery like mine.

For your chance to WIN a free weekend break in London with your family, all you need to do is head over to my Facebook Fan Page or my website and share an embarassing parenting moment by midnight tonight! There are bonus entries for sharing the competition on twitter, facebook and your blog.

While you think about your embarassing moment, let me show you some photos of our little holiday...

Day 1
We wandered across Millenium Bridge and then explored the South Bank. The kids were absolutely captivated by the street performers, especially a young dancer / gymnast called Alan M Francis, who performed a mind boggling side-flip over a line of children. The picture is of him flipping over 4 children. I've posted a You Tube video of him flipping over 10 children. Wow.

Mads and Danger Boy on the South Bank
The kids amusing themselves for free for about 15 mins!!
Amazing side-flip over line of kids by street performer Alan Francis
Preschoolers captivated by this street performer's limbo


We stayed in a studio room at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge - easily the most beautiful hotel in London. It's a purpose built hotel, lovely and spacious, with breathtaking views. I cannot tell you how incredible this place is - you have to see it for yourself.

Running around the lobby of the stunning Park Plaza Westminster Bridge
Check out the view from our lift lobby!

Check out the view from our bedroom!

and the view from our living room! Wow!
Oh yes, and another view from our bedroom, looking over to the right
For dinner we headed to Yo Sushi, where we ate about a million pieces of sashimi, and where Mads tried her first ever salmon nigiri, carefully selected from the conveyor belt. Danger Boy liked his comfy space pod-style highchair and loved the mixed katsu platter and plain rice they made especially for him.

enjoying an excellent dinner at Yo Sushi

Mads trying salmon nigiri for the first time ever

In the morning it was pouring with rain, so we sprinted the 100 metres or so to the London Aquarium. We had bought our tickets online in advance so didn't have to queue up! The kids easily spent an hour looking at the stingrays - they look a bit like that stretched-face character from Doctor Who.

I got a kick out of my ticket for the London Aquarium and am saving it for that next tantrum-filled day. I wonder who or what they'll trade my child for.


Next, we met up with Nana and Grandad for a scrummy lunch at Giraffe, and then headed on to the London Eye. Danger Boy was fascinated by this unique aquarium and by the London Eye 4D experience.



Back at the room, we did a little London-themed colouring, and got a real laugh out of London's ridiculous road markings...



Next it was time to visit the Imagine Children's Festival on the South Bank - we missed the shows, but the kids had a lovely time exploring the colourful exhibits in the Clore Ballroom.

Imagine Children's Festival - cool decorations!
Danger Boy enjoys the Childrens Festival in his own way

Want a magical family weekend break in London too? Make sure you enter my competition before midnight tonight!!!

Remember, you can get bonus entries just for sharing this image on your blog or on Facebook. (but tell me you've done it!).