The Great Break-In…

I was reading a lovely story about children in Italy in the 1950s. It was all about their trials and tribulations of growing up in poverty and it focused on how they made their dreams come true through scholastic endeavours. The main character, a young girl, talks about how she wanted the boys to like her. She noticed that these males would only be nice to her when a test was coming up. They would only hang out with her in order to be able to borrow her school notes. This got me reminiscing about one particularly interesting summer day during my youth.

It was a Saturday. Growing up as a Croatian in Canada, my parents ensured we were surrounded with our Croatian heritage. We went to church on Sundays (mass was said in Croatian). We attended weekly choir practice a(all songs were in Croatian). We were part of the tamburitza musical group where we played Croatian songs from the various regions of Croatia. Later we became part of the kolo (dance) group where we performed dances and sang songs from varying Croatian regions. All things Croatian. That was us! If satellite tv had been available then (maybe it was?) we would’ve been watching Croatian tv as well. So, it was no surprise that we attended Croatian school on Saturday. What were we learning? Why all things Croatian of course! We learned all 30 letters of the alphabet. We learned to conjugate Croatian verbs. We sang songs (in Croatian). We learned the history and geography of: Canada. NOT! All Croatia, all the time. We were the most Croatian of all Croatians outside of Croatia itself. Yes, we were loud and proud, but also confused.

You see, depending on where your parents came from in Croatia you ended up speaking a different dialect at home. So, those from the Northern area of Croatia had village-speak words that were a mixture of Croatian with German (due to German occupation). Those from the south had a cocktail language mixture of Croatian and Italian (yup, Italian occupation). When we got to Saturday heritage school we were suddenly surprised to realize that we had to learn our home and native tongue again because we had no idea that we weren’t actually speaking pure book-version Croatian.

Thus, it came as no surprise that there was the need for hardcore studying when final test time came around. It was also no surprise that I, the teacher’s pet AND super-student suddenly became super popular and was asked, nay begged, by many to sit beside them. My tests were usually 100% accurate. During my grade 6 year I had to share this desired attention with my competition; a boy. He also aced everything. Ah…I pictured us getting married and having brilliant children. (*swoon*) Note: growing up as a female Croatian during this time, it was important to keep your eyes peeled for the perfect mate: smart, church-going, and naturally…Croatian. It was during this month of June, this end of school year June, that IT happened. the Great Exam Heist of 1980-something.

It was a sunny day. Actually, it was a swelteringly hot summer day. We had our scholarly class held in a off-shot educational box called a portable. My class had already been hard at work writing our final exam when the recess bell rang. The teacher had ushered us out of the oven-hot classroom to go play outside. She locked the door to make sure no one would try to get into the class. Little did she know that a plot had been hatched.

I oftentimes wondered why the person(s) who came up with this ingenious plan could not find the fortitude to put this much effort into studying as they did in finding a way to come up with this dare-devilish plan. So much effort and planning. It was genius! But could it be pulled off?

Our recess break lasted a total of 30 minutes. As we shuffled out of the room that was located in the portapack (a group of portables stuck together with a hallway) we groaned knowing that we would be stuck outdoors in extreme heat and humidity. It was the end of June and it was a hot one! As our teacher headed purposefully toward the main air-conditioned school building, I was approached by one girl to come meet her outside. She said there was already a group waiting there for us. She was one of the cool kids that never hung out anywhere near my brainy self. I was way too uncool to be seen publicly with her fashionista self. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hang out with the cool kid. I followed excitedly.

As we exited the portapack into the extreme sunniness of the great outdoors, I saw the rest of my class standing around chatting excitedly. There, in the middle of this kerfuffle, was my future brainiac baby daddy. (We would have such brilliant children. Einsteinish even). The cool boy in our class nodded to the fashionista and the meeting began.

“You two are the smartest in the class. How close are you to finishing your tests?” Brainiac and I both looked around wondering why we were there and why they were actually speaking to us. We didn’t say anything. “How many pages of the exam have you finished?” I was actually too afraid to speak. Why was cool boy talking to me? “I have completed the whole exam,” said my future baby-daddy. He looked a me (**swoon**). “Me too,” I replied. “GREAT!” exclaimed cool kid. It was then that his mental genius of an idea came pouring out his mouth, all our classmates listened intently.

MASTER PLAN: “We have 25 minutes until recess is over. The window to the portable is open. We get long-legged skinny joe here and hoist him up through the window into the room. He grabs your test (pointing to me) and your test (pointing to smart-boy-future-baby-daddy) and passes them over to us. We write down the answers. Then twiggy boy puts your test papers back on the desks, makes his escape, and we all win!”

There was a lot of high-fiving and cheering as this plan was given the Classroom Seal of Approval. Me and my future genius-baby-daddy (**swoon**) looked at each other. My mind was reeling: What if a teacher on duty sees? What if we get caught? My parents would KILL me! My smarty parts male counterpart had a different thought.

“That’s cheating,” he declared. (**swoon**) My Einsteinish non-boyfriend was so honourable. Like a Knight of the Round Table.

Cool Kid put a hand on his shoulder and declared that what he would be doing was a noble deed. The teacher was mean. She hadn’t given us enough time to study. The exam was too hard. He was helping his fellow man. It was the last test of the whole year and wouldn’t he do it just this once?

I listened intently. I didn’t really need to listen. I had made up my mind. I had NOOOOOOOO problem at all having them steal my test and use my answers to pass this exam. I wanted to be liked. See, my grade 6 self had no problem being bribed by praise. LIKE ME! That was all I wanted. Even if it meant doing the unthinkable thing of cheating. It was fine by me.

“We’re running out of time!” someone yelled.

“Fine…” murmured by co-hort in smartness. He looked beaten. His moral compass had been broken.

Me? I was whoot whootin’ excitedly. This was craziness! Could we pull it off? Would we get caught? We might, but then it was a whole class of kids that would get in trouble. Safety in numbers, I figured.

Skinny kid was hoisted up and into the portable. It took a bit of desk pointing to figure out which desks contained my and my future spouses exam papers. Our tests were passed out through the window quickly by Lanky Lenny to Cool Kid and the frenetic copying began. Someone had the idea to let one person read while everyone else wrote the answers:

1 is A / 2 is C / 3 is C …. 8 is TRUE / 9 is TRUE / …. 22 is RIJEKA (river in English)….etc.

DING DING DING DING DING!!! The recess bell rang

F***!! yelled Cool Kid. He grabbed Boney Benny and hoisted him back into the room. The rest of us went inside the portapack to line up by the door. We were nervous. What if he didn’t get out in time? We saw the teacher approaching. We heard a THUMP noise and then a loud “OH SHIT!” It was at this time that my daily mantra popped into my head, “my parents are going to kill me.”

The teacher unlocked the door and let us back into the room. She reminded us not to talk to each other as that would be considered cheating and we would all fail the test.

“My parents are going to kill me…my parents are going to kill me….my parents…” was all my brain was playing over and over in my mind. I sat down at my desk and tried to act natural. I dropped my pencil. My eraser bounced off my desk and off down another aisle. Typical clutzy me.

Five minutes before the end of class, the teacher told everyone to put their writing utensils down and then she walked around and collected all of our papers. I was sweating so much. I hoped my guilty nervousness was not showing through. It was over. After collecting my school bag and heading out the door, I had never felt such fear and excitement and such a sense of coolness as I had experienced that day. It was over…or so I thought.

The following Saturday, our strict teacher glowered at us as we entered our classroom. We took our seats and sat chatting happily as it was the last day of school. We had finished grade 6. Hallelujah!

“I have your final exams here,” she said, pointing to a stack of papers on her left. “It’s interesting how well you all did,” she continued. “So many of the same answers as if you could see each other’s papers….” she paused for effect as she stared down at each one of us. No one breathed. No one said a word. I tried not to blink as I thought, “my parents are going kill me”. Her demonic stare kept sweeping from one side of the room to the other. No one flinched. No one admitted anything. We were a collective group of cheaters and we were standing united.

“Anna,” she said loudly as she held up a test paper. Anna went up to get her exam. “5,” said the teacher. (note: in Croatian school, marks went from 1 to 5 with 5 being the best and 1 being the lowest grade).

“Tom,” she snarled as Tom Cool Kid went up to get his paper, “5-” she said coolly as he smirked, his outstretched arm grabbing his paper.

The class average was 5-. An historical feat. She knew something was up. She knew there must have been a way that we had cheated, but she couldn’t prove it.

To this day, I consider this my Mission Impossible in life. Oh, don’t get me wrong, cheating is horrendous, and cheating just to get accolades and atto-boys for 3 hours if nothing to be proud of. The reason why I love this part of my life is because it showed me that people can put aside their differences and work together as a group in order to achieve a final goal. It’s like any government:

You will cheat to get your desired outcome

You can put aside your differences in order to achieve your final goal

If you find a common tyrant you can get good people to go against their usual values

Hot, summer days are not a good time to hold exams

Close the windows on the classroom. You never know what kind of hooligans you actually have in your class.

The Last Mile or…850 Metres to School

I am a survivor of my childhood.  With all the helmets, and helicopter parenting going on nowadays, it’s a wonder that I am still alive to share any stories of my childhood.  Perhaps I am one of the lucky survivors.  Today I will share with you the terrifying tale of a specific part of my childhood.  Luckily, no child in this day and age in North America, will have to survive this kind of ordeal.

My mother had (and has) a green thumb.  No, not gangrene.  For those of you unfamiliar with this term, it means she can take any flower or plant (dead or alive) and make it blossom and grow.  When we moved into our new “forever home”, my mother decided that it would be wonderful to have dahlias in front of our house.  My mother loved them.  I dreaded them.  Why?  They were the perfect hiding spot for my sworn insect enemy…the grasshopper.  Foliage and insects were to be my yearly springtime horror story.


As a child who had just moved into a new neighbourhood, there were already many challenges that I had to deal with.  New school.  New friends (or lack thereof).  New teachers.  Every spring I would walk out my front door, look to my right and see the tall, green, leafy dahlias with their perky red flowers; they were taunting me.  They knew they harboured my repulsive flying insect enemies.  I would take a deep breath and prepare myself for the attack.  My mother would be behind me in the doorway yelling at me to hurry up so I wouldn’t be late for school.  What did she know.  There was going to be a volley of insects flying at my head ready to blind me with every step.  It would take precision and trickery to fool my flying enemies.  My plan of action:  One step forward and two steps back.  I remember taking one step forward and, as I was taking my “two steps back”, IT would fly out of the dahlia bush.  Sure, this took about 5 to 9 minutes to accomplish my trek, but my head would not be permanently scarred by grasshopper kamikaze.  Mission accomplished.


Oh, the trials and tribulations of walking to school.  Directions were not an issue.  All I had to do was turn right out of my driveway and keep walking until I got to school.  No problem there.  However, there were some challenges I experienced along the way.  Here are but a few:

  • RABID DOG:  I would be walking to school and see a dog.  It was a ferocious dog.  There was no owner walking with that dog.  Its teeth were bared and ready to sink its jaws into my neck and rip me apart.  (Ok, I have a flare for the dramatic.)
    • Usually, I would see the dog and cross the street.  If, perchance, it decided to follow me, I would point my index finger at it and yell loudly, “Go home!” as my mother had taught me to do.  Not sure why it understood me, but it would usually just meander away.
  • UNEVEN SIDEWALK:  I was one of the lucky (unlucky?) kids who didn’t have to eat lunch at school.  I could go home for lunch!  Ok, I’ll be honest, I loved coming home for a yummy hot meal.  However, as attention spans go, I was always a dreamer and it took me longer to get home than most obedient children.  By the time I got home, my mother was fuming and force-feeding me so that I would get back on time.  On parent teacher interview day, I was lectured and pre-reprimanded about being home on time for lunch.  That day I ran home and totally missed seeing the lump of dirt that was suddenly on the sidewalk and WHAM!  Face first into the lovely cement sidewalk.  I made it home on time!  I also made it back to school on time too.  Kudos to me!  My unpopularity became even more pronounced with the appearance of a bandage across my nose.IMG_3082
  • STRANGERS IN CARS:  I remember being lectured about not talking to strangers.  I got in big “doo-doo-ka-ka” when a strange lady in a car stopped beside me as I was walking to school.  Why?  Apparently “stranger lady” was my aunt’s friend coming to visit her and she was trying to ask me for directions.  (Note:  never ask me for directions.  I really have no idea where places are, what streets are called, and basically, I usually don’t know where I am.  There.  You’ve been told.)
  • BULLIES:  When my brother was old enough to attend the same school, he decided that he wanted to tell the local bully off.  My sister job was to protect my younger brother.  One day, it got so bad that Mini-bully-boy picked up a big, gargantuan rock and threw it high up in the air to annihilate my baby bro.  What happened?  I stepped in to block the rock and it landed ungracefully on my big toe.  What happened next?  I limped for several weeks.  My toe nail fell off after turning completely blue / purple / green / yellow.  Oh the rainbow of pain!

Remarkable isn’t it.  I walked through snow, wind, sleet, thunderstorms, humidity, and grasshopper skies.  I walked all the way to school.  Not once, but twice a day!  Oh sure, I had an umbrella.  I had winter boots.  I had a winter coat.  I also walked the last mile…or 850 metres.  Uphill.  Both ways.  And I survived.


Us seems to be a very short title, but I believe that sometimes less words are more integral in describing a thought than a run on sentence  full of adjectives, adverbs, nouns, verbs…and nothingness. This two letter word is so full of meaning and definition. It is a concept and way of life that I am finally beginning to fully understand.

We begin our lives as wonderful, dependent, little bundles of cuteness. Some babies are born into loving families. Others are born into dysfunctional families. In the end, there is a beginning. We emerge and grow and learn. Some lessons are taught to us and others we discover on our own. Life lessons. The world is our educator. In most cases we are taught to find our perfect soul mate so that we can live happily ever after.

Poor girls, we try so hard to find Prince Charming everywhere we look.  We can overlook the flaws in order to have someone to hold us and take care of us. Right? Heck no. Nowadays we want the handsome Prince, but he had better know how to wash dishes and do laundry and make  dinner. We are very busy women folk. Not to mention adding child  bearing and raising that child. Who’s going to do all that?

Fast forward in life…career woman,  make dinner, make lunches, attend meetings, get stuck in traffic, driving children to and from school and after school?  Dance or karate or baseball or soccer.  Grocery shopping, clothes shopping.  Hang out with significant other. Who? Oh yeah,  I remember you.

I remember when we used to jump into the two door sedan and just go driving. (Can’t do that now because gas prices are so crazy and we  have a mini van not a cool sporty vehicle). Remember when we would go out for dinner and just talk about nothing. (Dinner out now means going out when we get a coupon in the mail and then talking about bill payments or house renovations). Remember when it was just the two of us? Us.

I remember the early dating days. Money? We were lucky if we had 40.00 between the two of us. We would talk for hours. We would write little notes and letters to each other. There was no texting or e-mails.  It was pen to paper and it was beautiful and thoughtful.  Little things were monumental. A cup of coffee, ready-made, and nice and hot when I woke up. Sitting around on the balcony of our rented apartment and just enjoying the view.  Beautiful.  Calm. Quiet. Some music playing softly in the background.  Bliss.  Us.

Us then became extended us. Children and elder family. Family obligations. Us went from having no furniture to an apartment overflowing with stuff. Suddenly Us took a back seat. Everyone and everything else was more important. Keeping children happy was number one. There were bills to pay and items to purchase. There were future houses and mortgages. New / used cars to be purchased as old ones fell apart.  Schooling and weddings and grandchildren. Work became the most  important thing because money is needed to pay for everything. We were ships in the night….literally…since we ended up working different times of the day. What happened to Us? We talked about date night and once a year, for our anniversary, we could count on that, but otherwise, Us became a non-existent thing…until tonight.

Tonight was special. Tonight you created magic. You decided to cook up a beautiful meal. I came home and did not have to prep anything.  We sat around and talked. Not about bills. Not about renovations.  Not about anything that adults would deem important. We talked about the sky and the perfect weather. We talked about your shopping spree at the grocery store and how meticulous you were in picking what you thought I would enjoy most for dinner. I was your primary concern and nothing else mattered. I want you to know how much I appreciated that and love you for it. My meal was excellent. The flavours were invigorating and the company was my favourite part. We sat outside. Just Us. The two of Us.  I realized more than ever tonight that in the end, we are in the “Us” part of our lives. The children are grown and living their own lives.  Taking care of elders is no longer part of our responsibility. All we are left with is Us.  You and me, as was before, but newly modified.  Husband and wife, grandparents, friends and lovers.  Another new exciting stage of our lives.

I love you, my other half of “Us”. Thank you for making tonight a special time and a special memory for me. I enjoy being able to date you again. The serenity and peacefulness. The non-drudgery of everyday life.  The laughter (including piggy snorts…my specialty).  You refocused my perspective and helped me don my rose-coloured glasses that I had misplaced.  Living in the pink is a pretty nice place to be.