Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday

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Three

Nina turned three in January. And three is. kicking. my. ass. The terrible twos are a crock compared to three.

I am living with a “three-nager.” Nothing, absolutely nothing, gets done without a fight. Bedtime stinks. But potty-training is catching on like gangbusters. Sometimes she tries to put her coat on backwards and I laugh because some nights I think both of us need straight-jackets. Not only is she developing some very specific preferences, but she will tell me (ad nauseam) what is wrong with the bad things. My cooking (“not tasty”), bedtime (“not fun for me”), hair-washing (“I want to be dirty!”)…She has a little BFF, who will be going to school in September. I’m dreading it already.

And yet there is a scary level of emotional intelligence and sensitivity. A desire to be a “good girl,” for me to be happy, and to share how she feels at varying decibels. Last week as I was snuggling her in bed, she turned to me for the very first time ever, exclaimed “guess what?”

I was giddy with excitement as I cried “what?”

It turns out that “what” was that her friend fell on her bum, and then got up. But with those two words I was rocketed forward, to a time when we will converge at home after school and work and talk about our days. When the “what” will be something bigger and more grown-up. Maybe a problem at school, trouble with bullies, or a fight with a friend. And I realize that the wonderful thing about three is that I still have a little more time when the biggest news will be about someone falling on their bum. And where she will snuggle up to me after sharing her news, still believing that Mummy can fix any problem, still little enough that a kiss cures all things.

Guess what? I think I can handle three a little longer.

#winning

“You let her win!”

“If you let him win he will never listen to you.”

I don’t know who started using this kind of language. I don’t know when parenting became a competition, a contest. But I know that in the brief period that I have been a mother, I have been told countless times that I’ve let Nina “win” and that she won’t respect me if I keep doing that. I don’t believe that the people who’ve said this are malicious. But I also don’t believe that my daughter and I are adversaries. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of parent I want to be. And I still make plenty of mistakes.

But I have come to a realization about power.  About the different ways that power can be wielded and what it can do to people if it is used inappropriately. Abusing power erodes trust, damages relationships, and creates wounds that don’t ever really heal. I am humbled daily by the power that I have as Nina’s mother, the way that she trusts me and looks to me for comfort. The way that she asks questions and believes what I tell her. The way that she absorbs the tone of my voice and my mood and gives it back to me. I have plenty of opportunities to use this power to instill fear, to correct her or to embarrass her. I have the power to do things that she will remember forever and that will shape the kind of person she becomes. 

When someone tells me that I have let her “win” at something, I wonder exactly what it is that I have “lost.” Because if there is a winner, there also has to be a loser.

Last night Nina was being an epic butthead. Throwing papers around and tearing up the living room. My husband looked at me and said, “what do I do?” I said, “hug her.” And he did. As he held her, he shook his head. “When I asked her if she wanted a hug, she said no. But then she came to me anyway.” This is exactly why I don’t want to be the winner. Because at the times when Nina seems most deserving of heavy-handedness, when I would be most expected to exert my power, what she needs more than anything is softness.

Fear, intimidation, and shame are powerful. There’s no denying it. I have felt the terrible pain of power being used against me, and the thought of inflicting that kind of pain on my child is sickening. But trust is also powerful. Comfort – not material, but the feeling of being secure – is not a prize to be given only to the strongest competitor. It isn’t something that any child should have to win.

A year in review

The year is swiftly coming to an end. I cannot believe that it is December, which is the same thing I say every December around this time. It seems as though year-end is a time to look back and count blessings.  Here is my list of notable shtuff that happened in 2013.

1. Amilynn had a baby! My friend Amilynn is so very suited to being a mom, and I am thrilled to see pictures of her little guy on Facebook and hear the progress reports. Cameron is a lucky dude to have such awesome parents. I can’t wait to meet him and nibble his little baby cheeks!

There are so many new babes coming in 2014! New life is so humbling and hopeful. My personal “deadline” for expanding my brood is 35, so 2014 is a loaded year for me. I’m quite certain that I am done having babies but sometimes when I’m with Nina, if she is being particularly clever or funny or affectionate, I think about having twice as much of this joy and I can’t think of anything I want more.

2. I’m having a tawdry affair with Netflix. So many oldies, so many documentaries, and original programming! Orange is the New Black is awesome, and I cannot wait to see the next season. If I had realized I would have to wait so long for season two I would have watched it in smaller doses so it would last longer. (Or at least I tell myself I would have.) And someone finally gave us new episodes of Arrested Development! I know a lot of purists were not thrilled with it. I know it wasn’t perfect, but I love Jason Bateman. I would do terrible things to that man.

3. I adore my daycare provider. She is awesome and I am grateful for her every day, because she takes care of the most important person in my world. She is gentle, reliable, and an absolute gem. She opens the door when Nina wants “one more hug” before we leave for home. I think it is safe to say that leaving your child is almost always harder on you than on them, and having a good sitter can help take a little of the sting away.

4. What a year for Malala Yousafzai! That girl has balls. She is one of the most powerful people in the world right now, because she knows the value of educating girls. The Taliban is so scared of her that they tried to kill her, but she has returned even stronger than ever. Educating girls and woman will improve their lives and the lives of their families, and will in turn improve their communities, onward and upward.

Girls all over the world are doing some rad things – in science, social justice, art and pop culture. I can’t wait to teach Nina more about all of the amazing things girls can do.

5. Pope Francis, a pope who doesn’t inspire a blind rage in me. He might just be the breath of air that will bring the Catholic Church back to life. He doesn’t get caught up in the issue of individual sin. Each person will have to deal with the consequences of their sins at the end. In the meantime, what about the church, the people, the community? What about what treating people like you want to be treated?  Finally a Pope who cares more about the church as a whole than about what people do in their bedrooms! I think that Catholicism has been so mired in judgement that they have completely missed the spirit and intent of faith: to bring people together, to support one another, and to forge a community. I’m excited to see him tackle the issue of women in leadership.

6. RIP Nelson Mandela. The thing that most inspires me about Nelson Mandela (and there are so many things) is his ability to forgive. It is so easy to hold a grudge, against an old neighbour, a former spouse, the person who cut you off in traffic. I don’t wish to diminish the importance of taking responsibility when you’ve wronged someone, or wanting to be validated when you have been wronged. But forgiveness is special because it is about you, not the person who has done wrong. And forgiveness can be given even when the other has not asked to be forgiven. I believe that Mr. Mandela understood forgiveness in the most profound way, because he forgave people who took away 27 years of his life. And his forgiveness freed him to do incredible things. To negotiate the end of Apartheid. To become the first democratically elected president. He taught us about service to others, and about understanding things that are bigger than ourselves. He changed the world. And he will be missed.

7. My kiddo got through the “terrible twos” and we all survived. I am forever amazed by how quickly she learns things. She knows her alphabet, she can climb the ladder at the park all by herself and put on her boots (on the right feet!), and use a fork and spoon like a pro. She has embraced the fun of the swimming pool and the snow hill.  Every day she tells me You make me happy and I love you, and (my favourite) I like you.  She has a mind like a steel trap and a seemingly endless capacity for love. Our mission for 2014? To conquer the potty.

8. My nephew was born in May of this year. He is the toughest little bugger I’ve ever met. He was born at 30 weeks and he spent almost 4 months in the NICU. He continues to grow and thrive. He has started smiling, which is so damn cute it makes my ovaries hurt. If I had my druthers I would spend one day a week just snuggling him and smelling his sweet baby head.

9. Friends and family.  They are not necessarily many, but they are great. A text, an e-mail, a card, or even a smile, can turn a day around. My husband and I celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary on December 11th. My friends do awesome things like knit belugas for me to give Nina (because “Baby Beluga” is her song, in case you didn’t know) and listen to me vent and give good advice and listen to me vent some more. They tell me I’m awesome when I don’t feel awesome at all. As an introvert, and a person who is not naturally good at making new friends, I have been blessed to somehow find new friends and build friendships in spite of myself.

10. I got a Level C in French oral proficiency! This probably doesn’t mean much to anyone outside of the Canadian Public Service, but it was kind of a big deal for me personally. Trying to cram all that stuff into my already overworked brain was hella hard. I’m hoping that it will mean good things for my career in the coming years.

Cheers to 2014. May it everyone find success and joy, however you define them.

Poor souls

Bear with me here. This is going to sound contrived, but I can’t believe how much I have learned about me since I started examining myself with my daughter’s eyes. I have always been, and continue to be, pretty naïve. Not stupid, in the sense that I know how to pay my bills and read a bus schedule and come in out of the rain. But in this world I often feel like a lamb trotting to my own slaughter.
I generally assume the best about most people until I learn otherwise. Which means that I have been disappointed by people so very many times. Once in awhile I have an immediate bad feeling about a person or situation. I can’t always put my finger on what irks me. I do trust very strongly in my gut feelings, and I have been proven so chillingly right about people on a few occasions that I even impressed myself.
Because Christmas is fast approaching, I joined a group of peers in “adopting” a needy family for the holidays. Here is the rub – based on the very limited information we have gotten about these folks, they don’t look like the typical needy family. While they meet the criteria of having one child under 18, the other kids are older. And many group members are feeling quite…unfestive about the whole thing. I’ve heard the explanations being given by people who don’t want to donate. They keep trying to explain to me as though I don’t understand where they are coming from. I get it. I’m not stupid. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I hate how we, as a species, have all become so cynical and hard-hearted and devoid of compassion.
The group was connected with this family through a legitimate charitable organization. The situation is that they are low income now, and their claim has been reviewed and confirmed. It doesn’t mean that they were always low income. There are a lot of ways that people find themselves in a bad spot – an unexpected illness or accident, sudden loss of employment. In 2008, a lot of very comfortable people lost everything. EVERYTHING. Their jobs. Their cars. Their houses. People went from eating steak to eating food in dented cans from the food bank. Not because they were bad, or because they deserved it. But because many of us are a just a few paychecks away from hardship ourselves.
It is also possible that both parents could both be employed and work very hard, doing the crappy jobs that we don’t want to do (scrubbing toilets, mopping floors) and making minimum wage, which isn’t enough to live on and house a family of six. Ottawa is an extremely expensive city to live in, and I doubt these people are kicking back watching a big screen TV while we pay for their Christmas dinner.
The reality is that any one of us could end up in this situation at some point in our lives, and I sure as hell hope that people treat me with compassion and decency if I do. That is why I opt to give these people the benefit of the doubt.
Post-secondary education is so fucking expensive. That means students from lower income families likely get OSAP and work part-time to cover the rest of their expenses. Living with their parents might be the only way that they can afford to get an education. Even living at home, education is extremely expensive – tuition, books, bus passes, school supplies, etc.
Many young people are in a situation where if they don’t get an education they will end up working for minimum wage and never rising out of poverty (in which case they will collect benefits as a low income person and spend their life hearing about how poor people “soak the system”) or they have to borrow and scrape to get an education, with the intent of becoming contributing members of society after graduation. They’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.
We live in a country where we have all signed a “social contract” stating that we will support our communities and the people in them, and this includes some forms of charity. We pay it now (ie. supporting families like this one) or we pay it later (ie. benefits for lower income individuals because minimum wage is not a living wage.) If you are educated and upwardly mobile, there are plenty to places to live where people wouldn’t piss on each other if they were on fire. Anyone is capable of Googling that shit and finding a place where you can pretend that other human beings and their suffering don’t exist.
Most of us usually only hear about these families on Christmas. They have to live with their circumstances all year around, even when the donations have dried up. I don’t believe that most people are so greedy or lazy that they would apply for assistance that they don’t need, and I don’t have enough information to make that assessment myself. That is why we go to organizations that have the means and expertise to check it out for us. If we make an agreement with an organization to help, we are not entitled to pick and choose who we want to help. If I donate money to the Mission for someone’s Christmas dinner, I don’t get to say “only give that dinner to a child” or “only give that dinner to a veteran.” I donate my money, and trust that the Mission will do their job. I hope I never have to spend Christmas dinner at the Mission feeling ashamed and unwanted and I don’t envy them for eating my donated food while I enjoy Christmas with my family. At the risk of being controversial, to think that a poor person would gleefully eat donated food or sleep in a homeless shelter in lieu of having a stable job and a grocery bill and place of their own is pretty fucking twisted.
No one should be forced to donate, but I don’t think that anyone is entitled to pass judgement on complete strangers and then use it as an excuse not to contribute if they can. Are people only needy when they look like the people on those World Vision commercials, with the swollen bellies and flies on their faces? How dare those of us who are comfortable, well-employed and mostly importantly VERY LUCKY, judge people we don’t know and decide based on a few facts that they don’t deserve help.
A good part of all of our circumstances is luck. We were lucky to be born in a certain country, in a certain city, to comfortable and fortunate families, to have access to resources and educations and employment opportunities. And we all (I’m sometimes guilty too) take it for granted that we “deserve” these things. The implicit ethical message there is that others who are suffering do not deserve them. I’ve never had to decide between food and heat, or diapers and formula. I don’t go to bed cold or sleep on bare floors or on a cot in a homeless shelter. I don’t shiver on sidewalks all day long.
The bottom line is that I am choosing to treat these people the way that I would want to be treated if I fell on hard times. I’m trying to teach Nina to be gentle and generous and have compassion, and I’m choosing to believe that some people in our community genuinely need our help. Why are we so quick to spend $5 at Starbucks on a squirt of high-fructose corn syrup and 85 cents worth of steamed milk, but the thought of donating to the same amount to needy strangers seems so very costly to us?
I know that people abuse the system. OF COURSE THEY DO. I’m naïve, I’m not blind. I can read the fucking newspaper. But I’m not talking about the people receiving the donations here. I’m talking about US, the givers. About what kind of lessons we are teaching our children when we behave this way. I don’t want Nina to grow up believing that people are fundamentally dishonest or dishonourable. I don’t want her to be cynical or hateful. That it is ok to clutch our money, our resources, in white-knuckled hands because someone might, maybe, possibly, on the off chance, not need it as much as they claim they do.
Even though I have been cheated at times, I don’t feel cheated. And because I’ve given people the benefit of the doubt, I am filled with memories of grateful people that I have helped over the years. People who might some day pay it forward because of the kindness that was shown to them. I have hope that even if I didn’t get to enjoy my gift firsthand, someone’s life is a little better for it.
I’m sick of being called a “bleeding heart” for believing in something as basic as sharing what little extra I have and helping my fellow man. I know that I risk being ripped off. I know that some people, over the years, have taken advantage of me and my willingness to help. I don’t help people just for them, I also do it for me. So that even when the world seems like a hopeless cesspool of greed and decay and lying and stealing, I know that I have helped in some small way. So that no matter how bad things gets, I can still look in the mirror and feel my own humanity. And most importantly, be someone that my daughter can be proud of.
Like I said, I don’t think that anyone should be forced to donate. People are free to keep their money. But judgement is judgement and prejudice is prejudice, and I’m calling a spade a spade.
The world is full of assholes, but I won’t be one of them.

Name, your adventure

Nearly everyone has a story about how they picked their child’s name. For some it was the only name both partners could agree on. For others the name has some kind of sentimental or historical significance.

My father (May he rest in peace) claims that my parents put names on a dartboard and hoped for the best. He also said one of the other choices was “Petulia.” I was never entirely sure whether my father was fucking with me, but ultimately I ended up with a name that had no family history, and no middle name to boot.

As a child, I used to make up middle names for myself, because it seemed so cool to have a middle name.

When I found out I was pregnant we immediately started talking about names. We didn’t know the sex yet, so we had two lists. Thank goodness that we didn’t have a boy, because no boy’s name could be agreed upon. My husband agreed to Homer (which I still love), but I know that he would have changed his mind once the time came to make it official. I was hugely relieved when the ultrasound tech told us it was a girl, only so we could put the boy names aside!

For girls, I had a long list. A very long list. Eleanor, Maude, Rose, Tilda, Margot, Leah, Anna, Halle, Allegra, Lucinda, Edith, Agnes, Agatha, Gwendolyn, Iris, Rosemary, Amelia,Vera, Ilsa, Madolyn, Kiernan, Poppy, Elizabeth, Raquel, Beatrice, Goldie, Esme, Rita, Emmylou, Cate, Caroline, Florence, Ophelia, Daria, Fiona…

Ted was stuck on Margaret, which just didn’t appeal to me. It was so versatile, he kept telling me. She could be Maggie or Margie or Meg or Peggy!  I wanted to name her Frances, after my mother (isn’t Franny a cute nickname??) but it was immediately struck from the list because a guy named Francis shot my husband in the eye with an arrow when he was fifteen. Can’t make this shit up.

The name at the top of my list was Dagny. Ted hated it. I loved it, and I couldn’t tie my shoes by myself anymore, so it stayed on the list in sympathy. I started using it as my password at work. I tried it with all of the possible middle names. I Googled to make sure that there wasn’t a notorious serial killer named Dagny that I had never heard of before. Over time, Ted grew to accept and even maybe like Dagny a little.

In December 2010, we went to see “The Black Swan” starring Natalie Portman. I’m a pretty big NP fan, and I liked the director’s previous work, so I had been looking forward to seeing it. I told Ted he didn’t have to come with me because it might be a little weird and he might not like it, which made him insist on coming along. We both loved the movie, and Natalie’s performance as Nina. (And later, so did the Academy.) I immediately added Nina, in teeeeeeny letters, to the short list.

When Nina was born, she had a head of dark hair and olive skin, a lot like my husband’s. I felt like Dagny was a blonde girl’s name, so I immediately went back to the short list for something more suitable. I think the baby had three different names before finally settling on Nina. In the recovery room, she was Tilda. On the first night in our hospital room, she was Rose. For about three minutes, when the nurse was ‘strongly encouraging’ me for the hundredth time to sign the OHIP paperwork, she was Maude. And Ted was still calling her Dagny.

I could not believe the pressure from the hospital staff to pick a name so that you could complete the provincial health insurance papers! Prince Charles wasn’t named for almost a month, and he is the future heir to the throne of England, for Pete’s sake.

The mom that I roomed with in the hospital could not decide on a name for her son. On her last day in the hospital, she grudgingly signed the papers with a name her husband had chosen, and she confided to me that she hated. I thanked my lucky stars *again* that we didn’t have to pick a boy’s name.

Finally I decided on Nina. Ted didn’t like it. Mostly because he had spent so many months getting used to Dagny and he didn’t understand what had changed my mind. Even now, he rarely calls her Nina but refers to her as “Nin” (ryhmes with “kin”.)

Nina has turned out not to be dark-haired or dark-skinned after all, so Dagny probably would have worked out fine. I’m still very happy with Nina, and I hope that when she grows up she likes it as well.

And if she doesn’t like it, I can point out that at least it didn’t come from a dartboard.

The Princess and the Hoe

I am a feminist. Not an “I’m a feminist but…”

I unbashedly declare myself a feminist even though it is the sort of declaration that is often met with a raised eyebrow or a knowing sneer. Because when you are not afraid to admit you are a feminist, everyone knows what that means, and the ugly words that come along with it. Lesbian. Hairy. Ugly. Dyke. Man-hater. BITCH.

That kind of reductionist thinking is unfair and problematic, but the trove of feminist writing on the interwebs has given me more perspective on the unfortunate stereotypes swirling around all things “feminist.” I have learned that not all feminists are created equal, that there is so much intersectionality in the movement that it makes my head swirl, and lastly, there is a line of fundamentalism that I will not cross.

I believe in the right to equal pay for equal work and access to safe and affordable birth control. I believe that we need to do something, as a species, about the disturbing regularity with which girls and women are being raped, beaten, trafficked, and murdered all over the world, and the way that rape is being used as a tool of war to inflict the maximum amount of suffering on the enemy.

I believe that we need to step away from all of the plasticky, artificial, and photoshopped images and start rethinking the way we regard women’s bodies and their right to physical privacy.  I try to read a variety of feminist voices so that I can understand the issues facing women with lives different from my own, but some that are similar to mine as well. An article caught my eye just the other day, called “Why Drag Queens Are Better Role Models Than Disney Princesses.” I read it. And I was disappointed. The very first paragraph stuck in my craw.

Feminist mom resolved that her twin daughters would not grow up to be “hoes.” First of all, what a hateful word that is – “hoes.” How does one recognize a hoe? In their appearance? In their behavior? How would a parent prevent that? Where will they draw the line, and will their mother abandon them if they don’t grow up to meet her self-righteous standards? The one thing I can guarantee that this writer’s girls will be, if they follow her lead, is judgmental.

If I hadn’t already been so disappointed by the first paragraph, I might have laughed knowingly when she described her “horror” at realizing that her daughters loved the Disney princesses. Admittedly, I am not comfortable with Disney princesses, Barbies, Bratz, or anything of their ilk. I didn’t play with them as a child and I never fantasized about being a princess. I hate their pointy little feet that are permanently molded into the shape of a high heel, and I hate their frozen smiles.

But that is my deal. If my daughter goes through a princess phase, I will open up the conversation about princesses and what they represent, and I will let her make her own choices. Disagreement with the state of the world does not, in and of itself, relieve us of the responsibility of discussing it with our daughters. Pretending that princesses don’t exist doesn’t make them go away. Should all good feminists be jamming play hammers and trucks into their daughter’s hands?

Isn’t feminism about choice? Why does being a feminist mean that pink is no longer a legitimate choice? Do girls who like Disney Princesses all grow up to be “hoes”? I don’t believe that making sure your child doesn’t grow up to be a “hoe” is a realistic parenting goal. Let’s not underestimate our daughters’ ability to weigh the messages presented and decide what kind of women they want to be.

I still firmly dislike the division of toys into boy and girl sections. Especially when the girl section is dripping with fake rhinestones and maribou and gaudy pink plastic. Not only because it puts little girls into a single box, but because it does the same to little boys.

It is important to tell our daughters that their bodies belong to them, and that no one else has a right to access their bodies without consent. It is important for our daughters to be self-reliant, to be able to pay their own bills and take care of themselves. But to pretend that we all sing Kumbaya and get along? What a shock the real world will be for little girls raised in a feminist bubble. Princesses might be a fantasy, but so is a world where there isn’t so much work left to be done.