No child wants to be different. To be taunted for something you can’t change.
I wanted dark hair, like everyone else. Instead, during childhood, I had flaming reddish hair. “Reds” was the kindest of my nicknames.
I loved playing — boisterously — with my sisters and friends. Suddenly, I was struck with childhood epilepsy, and — over several years — would have to frequently retreat to quiet spaces. While my friends played, I read books, kept a journal and sometimes wrote little stories.
I grew to love reading and writing and — thank goodness — my family nurtured this love. I read so well that my mother and grandmother sent me to read the Bible and newspaper to elderly patients in the local infirmary.
It was my first “job” as a volunteer, but a weird role for a small child. I didn’t want to do it at first. I wanted to be out playing, like the other children.
How was I to know that the very things that made me odd would also make me strong?
That having reddish hair in childhood would strengthen my empathy towards “different” people, persisting long after my hair colour had gradually darkened on its own?
That having epilepsy — being forced to slow down and read — would nurture my love of stories and words and expand my view of the world outside our small village?
That all of it, even reading the news to elderly people, would help prepare me for rewarding careers in television, community service, and — more recently — in publishing?
If I could, I’d tell every child in the world:
Don’t hate the things that make you different. Love them. Because the very things that you’re teased for, even excluded for, will provide some of your greatest strengths.
See the teasing and strange looks as proof that you’re wonderful.
It’s painful now, I know.
It’s hard to believe now, I know.
Try to believe it anyway.
Dedicated to every child who feels different, including a very bright young girl with purple glasses whom I recently met.
Interior designer Valerie Rowley and her husband Chris took a big risk in 1993 when they bought their future home. For one thing, the countryside house north of Toronto was quite run-down.
“We immediately saw the potential but we hadn’t sold our existing house and it was during the recession. So did we play it safe and wait? Nah! We bought it and just fervently hoped our other one sold (we were up against another bidder so really had no choice).”
The other house sold, in the nick of time.
Looking at the house today, you wouldn’t know all the work Val and Chris took on. “We virtually rebuilt the interior of this home. And made the garden almost from scratch – unless you count the few scrubby six-foot cedars that we inherited. It took many years which is why we feel we have so much of ourselves invested in it.” Val’s favourite interior spaces are the kitchen and sunroom. “The sunroom is full of light all year round. It’s also where I raise my vegetable and flower seedlings, grow watercress, herbs and salads through the winter, take cuttings of summer geraniums. To have this area full of pink, salmon and red blooms through the snow season makes the monochrome of winter bearable.”Favourite outdoor spaces? The garden is an important part of “home” for Val and Chris. “Luckily, Chris enjoys physical work a lot more than I do, so it’s a good partnership. I grow things and prune and he digs holes and chops down branches. And we have a young weeding lady who is also a budding opera singer!”In late summer and early fall, there’s the harvest. It takes work. But as you can see from Chris’ smile, it’s work they love doing. They plan to keep doing it for as long as possible.
Many people today are drawn to houses that look like they belong in a glossy interior design magazine. Valerie, an interior designer, and her husband Chris, a TV producer, didn’t do that. They bought a run-down place and worked hard at it for 20 years. Today, for this couple, this place is — quite simply — home.
“I guess because everywhere I look, what I see is immensely satisfying to me,” says Valerie. “The flowers (growing, not cut) that I always have everywhere, the artifacts that Chris and I have accumulated from numerous foreign countries over the years, the carefully chosen furnishings and the general knowledge that we have constructed a home that is very personal and comforting to the two of us. It all works.”
“We have no intention of leaving,” says Val, “ until we physically can’t handle the work it entails – and it does entail work!”
“It’s about staying as healthy as one can as one ages,” says Val. “I think it’s important for everyone to realize life doesn’t have to stop when the wrinkles and aches and pains start. “
Author MT McGuire is one of my favorite bloggers. That’s partly because I never know what MT will write about next. Or how.
Like the time she went metal detecting and found “a strange um…. thing.” Well, with an opening like that, don’t we just need to press on, to figure out what the um… thing is?
One day she’s unearthing an 800 year old object and the next she’s breaking your heart with her worry about her parents’ health.
“My Mum was 80 a few months ago.She told me, gently, that her father didn’t survive to see 81 and I had a horrible feeling that she was telling me she thinks she mightn’t be around for long. And I think this is the root of it all. That my parents are knocking on, and soon they won’t be here. And I want their last years to be happy, and for life to be kind to them, and while I think they are happy, I know they are struggling.
So I suppose I’m just scared.”
That ability to confront both the weird and the deeply moving may help explain the appeal of MT’s K’Barthan Trilogy.
She describes the young adult fantasy series as: “Above all else, a romp. If it makes people laugh, then — to be honest — anything else is gravy. There are bad jokes, silly names, an unspeakable baddie, flying cars, flying car chases, exciting fights and a smattering of romance. But I’m hoping there might be the odd universal truth buried in there somewhere, even if it’s only by mistake.”
MT McGuire’s self-description? “A 45 year old who still checks inside unfamiliar wardrobes for a gateway to Narnia.”
Any luck with that? “None yet.”
One day, I checked MT’s blog and discovered a wonderful old building where she and her family lived while her father was housemaster of Gibbs House, at Lancing College in Sussex, England.
Here’s how she describes it:
“Miles and miles of corridor and a couple of enormous rooms (you know, bed in one post code, wardrobe in another) and a couple of tiny ones just big enough to fit a chest of drawers and a bed, on each floor. You have the spare room; the dormer up top (horrible room, we thought it was haunted – so we kindly put our guests there – phnark).”
Lancing was definitely not a “normal” environment for a young girl, since it was mostly a boys’ school.
“If your life is not like other people’s you end up with an alternative perception of what normal is.”
You also learn to see things that others may miss.
“There were always the lads who were having a hard time at home. They were the ones my parents were extra kind to and for whom they went the extra mile. I never knew what was going on in these boys’ lives but there was something unmistakable in all of them. So, I guess I developed an eye for people who were hauling baggage which has helped a lot with the characterisation in my books – not to mention day to day life.”
So – back to the pictures of Lancing College. They reminded me of another fantasy series — the Harry Potter books. And sure enough, Lancing was the producers’ first location choice.
“The school was offered a lot of money to be the ‘film-Hogwarts’ but declined. The headmaster at the time said that it was a place of education and not for Hollywood. He is a charming and mild mannered man. I wonder what on earth they must have said to him to get such an uncharacteristically pompous rebuttal.”
Today, MT, her husband (“McOther”) and young son (“McMini”) live in another old building (above, built in 1800).
She loves it, despite the fact that the plumbing and heating systems and the plastering need repairs. MT says it’s like owning a 1960’s Rolls Royce.
“Sure it needs a bit of care and tinkering but it’s like living in history and it’s so beautifully made. The banister rail is beautiful and the doors and the floors are lovely. The look and feel goes with our furniture, which is mostly family stuff, generations of hand-me-down antiques and some nice modern things McOther and I have bought.”
Comfort matters. “I like a well cared house, but not too neat. It has to look lived in or it makes the guests nervous and then they are far more likely to spill stuff and break things. Well, OK — I am, if I’m your guest. It may be different for normal people.”
For MT, home is a place, but, above all, it’s the people who love and understand you.
“Someone as well as somewhere to come home to. When I was a kid it was my parents and brother. Now, it’s McOther and McMini. Unless they are in it with me it’s not a proper home. I guess they are my home in many ways.”