Tuesday, November 30, 2010

kid fears

'Be careful what you wish for.  It's a pretty classic and pretty apt expression.  I've always wished that Boy-o had a bit more fear.  Because he was born totally, completely and utterly fearless.  Which meant I had to watch him a lot more closely than lots of other parents I knew had to watch their kids, lest he scale the roof with a pillowcase for a quick skydive or something of the like.  But these days, I've caught myself thinking of those days a bit wistfully.

We have reached, it seems, the age of fears with Boy-o.  He came home from school just devastated because he'd been (accidentally) terrified by his beloved teacher at gym-time (she was just as devastated) during an innocuous game that the class plays together quite often.  The next day, he didn't want to go to school (a first).  And the following day, a friendly wave from a librarian had him wanting to leave.  And then there's the dark.  Dragons.  Crocodiles.  Fires.  Monsters.  Being alone.  Worries about the safety of characters in books that leave him in a puddle of tears.  Suddenly - the whole world seems to have jumped out at Boy-o, all big and real and scary. 
Developmentally, this seems to be right on track... after consulting my developmental experts (and yes, that's Facebook folks), my friends' kids of comparable ages all seem to be experiencing these same onslaught of fears.   And it does make sense.  Firstly - near four year olds are becoming much more aware of the big world around them.  Secondly - the big world around them is, in actuality, a scary place with scary stuff and scary happenings.   We parents spend so much time trying to keep our babes in a world-sheltering bubble for as long as we possibly can, so I'm feeling a bit sad that the world has started poke holes in that carefully constructed childhood security. 

So then, what to do to help Boy-o live in a real world with real fears?
  • Talking about fears as they arise, encouraging him to name the fears, exploring how everyone has fears, that it's natural and normal, etc.
  • Avoiding the news, or L. talking about her work in front of the kids (which we're pretty careful about anyways).
  • Reading books about fears and ways that people deal with them (I'm planning another blog just devoted to kid's books on this subject matter). 
  • Using certain tools to help ease fears or worries - worry dolls for nighttime worries, getting a dreamcatcher for nightmares, favourite snugglies, night-lights, etc.
  •  Avoiding the concept of bravery as being fearless, and exploring the idea that bravery is actually doing something that you know is actually right for you (like going to school as opposed to say, jumping off the roof with a pillow case) even if you're afraid, and bravery is asking for help when you are afraid.
  • Making clear distinctions between what is real and what is imaginary.  Though it's been fun to explore ideas like monsters and fire-breathing dragons in books, these ideas are clearly fear-producing now.  SO - we've had to begin to make clear the fact that dragons and monsters and aliens only live in our imaginations.
  Anyone have any other ideas that have worked with their scared tykes?  I'd love to hear 'em.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Erica Jong and Parenting Politics

People are getting all bent outta shape, it seems, at Erica Jong's recent article in the NY Times, which is critical of the institutionalization of particular uber-child focussed forms of parenting, such as attachment parenting and green parenting because of the immense social, emotional and political pressures these currently reigning philosophies, particularly in combination, puts on mothers.  So let me just say this.  I mostly agree with her.  I've thought these same things many times.  And, I feel it's worth noting that when I read attachment parenting gospel by William Sears, I frequently found myself wondering exactly how much of the attachment parenting he espouses is actually, you know, done by him.  Was he busily typing up his attachment parenting credos with babes in slings snuggled down against his naked chest, kangaroo-care-style, in between boiling and pureeing fresh organic foods and changing zillions of cloth dipes?   It seems to me this isn't too bloody likely (though I'm sure he's a lovely parent and am not trying to say otherwise.  Never met the guy).  But like Jong, I find the more strident end of the expectations  of attachment parenting particularly onerous (and sometimes downright annoying). 

However, I also balk at a perspective, feminist or otherwise (ahem Erica Jong), that tells mothers they're being oppressed by their own choices.   (Because you see, we are being duped by ye old patriarchy).  I balk at this because, many times over, I have felt accused by various feminist critiques of parenting of being a dupe to conservative political ends.  Now - I'm not saying patriarchal BS doesn't play into the formation and espousing of particular parenting philosophies - of course it does, 'cause that's the particular teapot we're steeped in.  But the converse assumption that lurks in Jong's perspective is that those attachment, green, cloth diapering,babywearin',  food-making, helicopter parenting, co-sleeping, livin-for-kiddie's-needs-above-all-else folks are doing it wrong.   In this way, Jong's perspective is no less onerous on mothers than that of Sears - both might tell us we are somehow parenting wrong.  Sears would say "think of the chldren!" and Jong would say "think of yourself!" but really, they're both kinda telling us what to do (and what not to do).  This push-pull of philosophies only adds to the exhaustion (and pressure) on parents to do "the right thing," whatever that amorphous thing might be.   In August, I posted a blog railing about the very thing, called "The Professionalisation of Parenting."

I think adhering to particular parenting philosophies (any of them) is ridiculous.  A great blogger response to Jong's article and the backlash to it can be found over at parent dish on Katherine Stone's cleverly titled blog "If Mama Ain't Happy."  (http://www.parentdish.com/2010/11/24/stop-capital-punishment-say-no-to-official-parenting-philosophi/).  Stone argues, much the same as I did in August, that the expectation to somehow adhere to some perfect parenting philosophy, no matter what that philosophy is, creates undue anxiety and pressure on parents. 

We need to stop reading the parenting books.  Stop.  Put 'em down.  Or at the very least, we need to learn how to take the opinions therein (as well as the opinions of well, or not so well,-meaning others) and take with us what works for us and then throw away the rest.   We need to stop comparing ourselves to others parenting styles (who baby-wore the best, breast-fed the longest, whose babies slept the est and when and how, who co-slept or didn't, home-schooled or didn't, fed their kids organic snacks or didn't, let their kids 'free range' or didn't, made their own playdough or didn't, blah, blah, blah etc. etc. etc.)  Take what's useful, what feels right for you, and just let the rest go with a resounding BUH-BYE.  The best parenting advice anyone ever gave me, was to throw all the advice I got right out the window and follow my heart.  It seems to be working alright so far.

So - going right back to Erica Jong's article.  I will choose to 'take' the parts with me than I like - the critique of parenting philosphies that put undue pressure on women to be picture-perfect parents - and I will choose to say Buh-Bye to the part that insinuates some of the choices I have made (which are along attachment-y lines) are wrong and dupey.  Cause I'm a pretty thoughtful person, and a pretty thoughtful mama and a pretty fierce feminist to boot.  

Jong finishes her article proclaiming: " We need someone to say: 'Do the best you can. There are no rules'."  And I couldn't agree more.  I'm just not 100% certain that Jong's entire article (which I will again stress that I mostly agreed with) espouses that excellent closing sentiment.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Kidlit #4

Just in time for the festive (read: shopping season) I've compiled yet another list of fabulous kidlit to feast upon.  (Okay, so mainly I compiled it because I just can't stop myself and I have a terrible addiction to finding fabulous books for smalls.  But there are worse addictions, so whatever.)  I've started off with my/our top five alphabet books (there are so many out there to choose from, so they have to work hard at distinguishing themselves - but these five fit the bill!), and then morphed into general bookery fun.  Enjoy (or ignore - whichever suits your fancy).

1.  Lucy Goes to Market: A Magical Alphabet, by Sanchia Oppenheimer with gorgeous illustrations by Imogen Clare.  A beautiful, alliterative alphabet book - really, really, unusually lovely.   (And especially perfect for people who know a Lucy).  (MacMillan Children's Books, 2009). 

2.   AlphaBETTER by Dan Bar-el and Graham Ross.  A really fun alphabet book with a twist.  The book description on the back jacket reads: "26 kids find out what happens when the alphabet refuse(s to cooperate."  It is a fabulous description of a fabulously wonky alphabet book.  And even better, while this alphabet refuses to cooperate, the 26 kids featured sure don't!    (Orca Book Publishers, 2006).

3.   LMNO peas by Keith Baker.  A group of funny, eclectic peas take you through a funny, vibrantly illustrated alphabet.  (I seem to be on a bit of an alphabet kick lately, apparently!)  (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2010).

4.  The Handmade Alphabet, by Laura Rankin.   This is an alphabet book inspired by and illustrated with sign language.  Each letter features a different shape/size.colour of hand depicting the corresponding sign.  Boy-o is currently in love with the idea of signing, inspired by a classmate who signs, and this book is a current favourite.  (Penguin Young Reader Group, 1995).

5.  The Artful Alphabet, by Martina Jirankova-Limbrick.   As self-described, this is a beautiful, artful alphabet.  Each letter is a fairy-tale inspired feast for the eyes, with many lettered words and images for children to discover and delight in.  (Candlewick Press, 2003).

6.  Not All Princesses Dress in Pink, by Jane Yolen (yes, of the How Do Dinosaurs Love to _______ fame). Honestly - the writing is itself is alright, but the message and images of spunky princesses doing spunky non-pink-esque things make it worth a look and then some. (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2010).

7.  Russell the Sheep by Rob Scotton.  Good lord, that sheep is damn cute!  The illustrations alone make this sweet read about a sheep who can't sleep worth your while.  (HarperCollins, 2005).

8.  Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman.  Gilman's adaptation of a Jewish folktale about a blanket specially  made for a boy by his grandfather, and the blankets' many incarnations and transformations, is beautifully told, beautifully illustrated and just plain lovely to read.  (Scholastic, 1993). 

9.  Cornelius P. Mud ARE YOU READY FOR BED?  by Barney Saltzberg (see also C.P.M.: Are You Ready for Baby? and C.P.M. Are You Ready for School?).  This book seriously cracks Boy-o up.  It is a simply written book about a young pig running through his bedtime routine - but the silly illustrations are what will have your tot in stitches.  (Candlewick Press,  2005).

10.  Giraffes Can't Dance  by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker Ross.  Follow Gerald the Giraffe as he learns that everyone can dance if they just find their own special music.  Sweetly told with lovely illustrations.  A great read for any child who worries about not being good enough (at anything).  (Scholastic, 2001).

11.   A Porcupine in a Pine Tree: A Canadian 12 Days of Christmas, by Helaine Becker.   A Canadian take on The Twelve Days of Christmas, complete with dancing mounties and squirrels throwing rocks on the curling rink.  Cute, funny, and fabulously Canuck.  (Scholastic, 2010).

12.  My Heart is Like a Zoo, by Michael Hall.  I always love it when I find a book that appeals to both of my kiddos.  This one does.  It is a simple book totally illustrated with hearts.  Girlio loves to look at the animals, and Boy-o loves to find and count the hearts each illustration.  Throw in the fact that the book helps with feelings articulation, and you've got yourself a winner.  (HarperCollins Children's, 2010).

13.  The whole darn Charlie and Lola series, by Lauren Child.  "I have this little sister Lola.  She is small, and very funny."  And so begins all of the adventures of brother and sister tag-team Charlie and Lola.  Lola is funny, and I quite enjoy reading her dramatic woes and silly shenanigans, as told through the eyes of her ever patient brother Charlie.  (If you, like me are put off by most things Disney, while these books have the Disney logo on them, it's because Disney distributes the books for North America (they are British), not because Disney has sticky fingers on the writing of them.  The added bonus of these books are, they are paperbacks and very reasonably priced (great for stocking stuffers :)

14.  For fans of Dennis Lee who have littler littles, some of his wonderful-est stuff is now available in boardbook format!  You can get The Dreadful Doings of Jelly Belly, Alligator Pie, Willaby Wallaby Woo, The Rocking Chair, Silverly Silverly/Goodnight, Goodnight, among others.  The illustrations by Nora Hilb are too die for, and Girlio counts them among her very favourite books.

Happy reading!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

movies, princesses, boy and girls


I read the aforelinked blog by Melissa Silverstein sounding off on Disney's recent announcement that it will no longer be making movies about ye olde fairytales with great interest (and I must admit, no small amount of enthusiasm).  I have griped and kvetched (two of my very favourite-est activities ,JYYV) Disney's Princess-ification of girl culture with great gusto in the past.   But Disney's announcement is of course, a bit of a double (possibly triple or quadruple)-edged sword, as the blogger rightly notes. 

For starters, Disney has decided that to be competitive, they don't want to be making movies that just appeal to girls (mm-hmmm - you read that right).   There are a number of problems with that last sentence.  1.  Girls = not profitable.  2.  Princesses = just for girls.  3.  Boys and girls clearly cannot enjoy the same kinds of movies, because they are so, like clearly and fundamentally (and programmably) different. 

And for another, as Silverstein cleverly points out, this may mean that in the future, there will be precious little screentime for girls in kids movies.  Period.  Because apparently, girls are only princesses.  Except for when they are very peripheral (like the cowgirl bit part in Toy Story) or love interests (whatever that girl car's name is in Cars or Dory from Finding Nemo or the dead wife from Up or the female reporter from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and so on and so forth and so on and so forth).

Now don't get me wrong here - I don't have a problem with princesses in general.  Really.  Yes.  For serious.  Princesses ain't so bad.  What I have a problem with is Disney's presentation of fairytale princesses in a way that's designed to make us feel like they are empowered, strong characters when in fact the movies are filled with evidence to the contrary.  There have been a few kick-ass princess flicks that I actually rather enjoy.  Shrek, for instance.  Mulan - not half bad, though too scary for my kiddos.  There may be some romance happening, but these girls' aren't shrinking violets, spending their days pining, plotting, giving up their homes, families, freedom or selling their souls to fall in love with Prince Charming (who in one case, is actually her captor.  Yup -that's right - 'cause felonies are sexy, baby). 
It can't be so difficult to come up with a movie that appeals to all kids, that doesn't involve shrinking violet girls or 'to-the-rescue' boys.   How 'bout looking to the vast and amazing (and current) children's literature to find ideas for the big screen.  How 'bout putting some Robert Munsch-ness up on the big screen?  The Paperbag Princess, anyone?  (Or some other cool blue-jeans and tiara wearing kick-ass Princess who does cool stuff and, as she  (or he!) is a child, isn't looking for an immediate love match).

How 'bout some kids of all genders doing awesome, fun, age-appropriate adventures?  There are a wealth of really great kids' stories out there just waiting to be told. But I guess movies are more about margins and marketability these days than great storytelling and inspiring protagonists. (Too bad, though).

I am sorely tempted to take Boy-o to see Tangled for his birthday, so I can witness firsthand Disney's attempt at kids' movie gender parity...  Could make for some excellent blog fodder, I suspect.  (Wouldn't it be wonderful if they made me eat my words? C'mon Disney, I dare ya!  Make me eat my words!!) 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Car-Baby

Guilt.  Guilt.  Guilt. 

Our weekday began as usual, as our caravan of kids (Girlio, Boy-o, and his classmate set off on our half-hour (more in bad traffic) schlep to school.  And, because it's such a hike home, Girlio and I hang out downtown running errands or hitting the library, bookstore or indoor gym before getting back into the cat to get Boy-o and head 'er back home.  But as Girlio and I were stuck in our fourth traffc jam of the day trying to get to the library for fun-time, I was struck by this overwhelming sense of craptastic guilt about how much time this wee small babe of mine will be spending in the car this year.

We had strong, solid reasons for choosing this school, because it was clearly the best choice for Boy-o.  But we hadn't really factored in how much of an impact this choice would have on Girlio, who gets in and out of her car seat an average of 8 times every morning.  (Guilt. Guilt. Guilt). 

I try very hard to make our morning adventures fun.  We try to keep the errand mornings down to only once per week, and focus the rest of the time on things she will also enjoy.  But the fact remains that this wee girl spends too much time in the car.  Way too much time.  (Guilt.  Guilt.  Guilt).

When Boy-o was his sisters age, I spent all of my waking time, feeding, nurturing, playing, and engaging with him.  Sure - we went grocery shopping and ran errands, but he didn't spend four mornings a week in the car.  And now, my joy at watching him simply flourish at our chosen school is tempered by the fact that Girlio is not getting the time, the attention, the engagement she deserves.  (Did I mention that I feel guilty about this yet?)

And yet - our options for changing this routine feel fairly limited.  I don't feel comfortable sending Boy-o to a public school in our area, for reasons I've already spoken to ad nauseum (I do like the beat that particular horse, I know).  We can't in any way, shape or form afford to move closer to our chosen school, though this is clearly an area I covet.  Boy-o can't ride the bus, and even if he could, it would feel like shooting my right foot to save the left one.  Doesn't make sense. 

So what then?  This is the struggle of having two kids, when their needs sometimes feel (and sometimes are) so different.  We continue to do the best that we can, with the resources we have.  I will keep on struggling to make those 8 (and eeek, sometimes more) car transitions worth Girlio's while.   I will keep buying lottery tickets.  I will keep my eyes and ears peeled for better, closer school options. 

And in the meantime, I'll keep feeling guilty.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Put this on the map.


Check out putthisonthemap.org, a documentary and call-to-action underaken by a group of 26 Seattle queer youth.  It is inspiring, engaging, ground-breaking, action-taking, and thought-provoking.    And they will say it far better than me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

the smoking gun

Boy-o pokes his head in from outside.  "I've got a gun," he says, brandishing his green plastic rake.  "But it's not a dangerous gun.  It's not to hurt people.  I won't hurt people.  I'm looking for elephants and rhinos... or maybe hippos."  And then, later on, trying to appease me, he announces: "I've turned my gun into a guitar, Mama."

Up until heading off to school, we've mostly avoided the issue of guns in our house.  We don't use them, we don't watch anything with guns in it, and we've laid down a pretty hard and fast 'please don't give our kid toy guns for a gift' rule to all who know us.   Wifey and I feel pretty strongly that guns are not toys. Because shooting at people isn't funny, isn't fun, and certainly isn't a game, especially in our increasingly desensitized to violence (and the impact of violence) world.

But since the start of school - guns have increasingly become a part of Boy-o's lexicon and play.   We've told him what guns are.  We've told him that some people believe that toy guns are fun to play with, but that our family's values say that even pretending to hurt people is wrong.  But they still show up from time to time in play, as with his garden rake above.   We try not to dwell too much on the issue when it crops up, other than to gently repeat (once only) our feelings about hurting others, even in pretend.  This part, he obviously gets, if the conversation that started this blog is any indication.  But the lure of the forbidden is always strong, so we try very hard not to overload our little dude with our gun-hating feelings. 

We were at a birthday party on the weekend for one of  Boy-o's classmates, and he received a toy gun for his birthday.  (I have to sneak in a little WTF?! here, because I personally think that's a hella innappropriate gift for a schoolchum of your kid.  Some of the parents didn't seem to mind, some, like me were clearly uncomfortable with the idea.)  

And it got me to thinking:  what would I do if Boy-o received a birthday party gun-gift (after throwing up a little bit in my mouth, naturally).  While I'm a gun-hater and make no bones about it - I also don't think taking a birthday gift away from a child makes sense either.  While talking to one of the other similarly philosophied parents there, she mentioned that her son had been given a birthday gun against her families' wishes and values. She chose to let him keep it, and though he played with it non-stop for three days, it pretty much didn't get picked up again afterwards.

I honestly don't know what I/we would do if this situation arose.   But it obviously is something we need to consider further, given birthday season is just around the corner for us, and we are newly armed with the reminder that not all parents feel the same way about guns as we do. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A note on "It Gets Better"...

Awhile back, I posted a link to Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign, which was created in response to the rise in queer youth suicides (in the U.S. in particular) due to bullying and homophobia.  I posted the link because I thought, and still think, that the effort is pretty inspirational.  But even as I posted it, even as I cried watching the accounts of people overcoming terrible hatred and intolerance, something about it rubbed me the wrong way. 

Others have recently, rightly I think, critiqued the racial, gender, and class privilege involved in the idea that life magically gets better for queers in their post-school years.   So let's be clear - it does not get better for everyone.  It can certainly get a whole lot easier for white, middle-class, queer folk (and some critics feel, particularly male queer folk) who identify and live in the gender they were born into.  For say, an Aboriginal, two-spirited person born as a woman but living as a man, perhaps not so much with the better. 

Please click here http://gu.com/p/2y5bz for Jasbir Puar's critique of the IGB campaign - it is certainly well-worth the read.

Though I'd like to say the above is why I had that niggling "I-love-this-but-something-doesn't-feel-quite-right- feeling', I'd be lying if I did (though I certainly am glad that people far smarter than I thought to bring it up).  My feelings about the campaign can be summed up as this:

1.  Most of me loves it.  I think it is a heart-felt response to a heart-breaking issue.  I think it is bloody hard to know what to do, in the immediate sense, about the recent spate of queer suicides and about the continuing problem of bullying (to queers and to all others perceived as 'different').  So bravo to Dan and Terry (and others) for being able to create a medium that has the capability to reach a large mass of folks with an uplifting message.  We have a desparate shortage of uplifting messages in the world and they are a certain salve for the soul.

2.  What the above smarter-than-me people wrote.

3.  And then, my niggling feeling:  The campaign, though uplifting, is a whitewash.  What I mean by this is, even with all of my gender identity, racial and class privilege, even I know that it doesn't get that much better, or that much easier.  At least not in my experience.  Even being a queer white woman with a lawyer wifey and two same-race kiddos (so basically being the queer Cleavers or Seevers or Keatons or whatever your favourite perfect lookin' TV family is), I still find it hard to be queer.  To be singled out.  To have to come out all the fucking time.  To be afraid each time I do it.  To deal with people's awkward silences or "ohhhhhs" or confusion or ignorance.  To have to explain to the check-out clerk or bank teller or electrician that my kid's didn't get those beautiful blue eyes from their father.  To watch the news about the queer woman out with friends, who could have just as easily been me or my wife, who was brutally queer-bashed by a teenager.  To watch the news about the police who did nothing about it.  To have well-meaning but still ignorant questions about queer life, how I made my babies, sex, my relationship lobbed at me.  To worry non-stop (and I mean non-stop) about what this difference-hating world will do to my kids.  To listen to media debates about whether my marriage is a devaluation of straight marriage or whether or not I or people 'like me' should be allowed to adopt or foster children.  To watch the media coverage about fun stuff like the United Nations allowed queer-hating countries to vote on whether or not we should be killed.  To be stressed out every time we want to travel or cross a border with our kids about whether and how we will be hassled.  And on and on and on it goes.  It doesn't ever really stop and we don't ever really get used it. 

So - in my experience - it does get easier, as we develop ways to cope with the stressors of living in a homophobic world, especially if we have access to some form of queer community and as we are able to surround ourselves with loving, caring folks.   

But it also doesn't really ever stop being hard.  Homophobia and heterosexism makes life feel shitty sometimes.  It makes me fearful and anxious and wary and put stress in my life that the real Clevers and Seavers and Keatons don't have.  It just plain ain't fun.  I know this makes for a shitty soundbyte. 

But that's the truth from where I'm sitting.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I'm O.K, You're O.K...(but my kid's a rocket scientist)

I just read this lovely kids book called:  The O.K. Book, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld.  I was so impressed by it's simple, yet direct message that I think it should be required reading for all kids (and all of those kid's parents). 

The O.K. Book takes young readers through a series of activities that the protagonist is o.k. at, while simultaneously depicting the protagonist having fun doing them.  Gasp!  You mean we can just be ok at things and enjoy them anyways?  We don't have to be great at everything?  We don't have to be great at anything?  We can just, you know, be?  Fabulousness, I tell you.

In the age of rampant parental over-achieving through their children (I'm picturing over-lesson-ing, over-activity-ing, writing-essays-to-get-our-kids-into-Ivy-League-preschools-that-give-littles-hours-of -homework-so-they-become-the-next-Einstein-ing, pageant-entering, blue-ribbon this-ing and that-ing), this book's   message is actually kind of radical.  

Hey kids - you can just do stuff for the fun of it, and to heck with having to be great at everything all of the time.

Hey adults - your kids can just do stuff for the fun of it, and to heck with your expectations of them heading through the doors of MIT after graduating high school Summa Cum Laude at the age of 14.  (First of all, that kids' life sucked.  Hard.  And secondly, no kid actually wakes up one day and says, "I know, I want to have no friends, no fun, and head off to college so young that not even the best fake ID will buy me a beer.")  

As the book rightly explains, we all get really good at something eventually.  But we have our whole lives to figure out what that thing or things are. 

Kids don't need to be the most graceful child in the room in order to love their way their bodies feel as they wildly twist their bodies in gleeful dance.  Kids don't need to score the game-winning goal (or any goal for that matter) to enjoy playing the game.  Kids don't need to be Picasso or Georgia O'Keefe in order to take joy out of artistic expression.  They don't need to win the race in order to love to run.  They don't need to be A students to 'get somewhere' in the world.

The O.K. Book does a great job of reminding us that we have all the time in the world to be really great at something - and in the meantime - we can just enjoy the journey and experimentation that comes along the way.

I'm O.K, you're O.K., and no one has to be a rocket scientist.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

reflections on blogging

I love my blog.  Really.  Usually.  Okay, mostly. 

Oddly, perhaps, I sort of think of it as 'my place to go' in the world.  When I first started blogging 14 months ago, I was a stay-at-home mama in desparate need of blowing off some steam, having a place to sort myself out, a place to reinvigorate my intellectual (and snarky) self, whom I was really, really started to miss.   It was also a place where I didn't have to worry about coming out all of the time, where I could be unabashedly queer and equally unabashedly mama, without having to worry about other people's perceptions about the diametrical opposition of those two identities.  A place where I could be unabashedly feminist and unabashedly stay-at-home mama, without having to worry about other people's perceptions about the diametrical opposition of those two identities.  All my 'selves' could come out to play, so to speak.  My own space in a cluttered mama's life, focussed mainly (too often?) on the needs of others.  And a space I didn't have to worry about tidying up, to boot. 

When I first started out, I'm not sure I ever really thought about whether other people would or could read and/or connect with what I'd written, connecting with readers (both known and unknown to me previously) has been one of the most marvellous parts of blogging.  Fast forward almost a year.  I've written 188 blog entries.  And since I installed a site visit tracker four months ago, just shy of 8000 visits have been made to the blog.  (Can I say holy shit?!  It's nothing by super-famous blog standards, but by my standards, it's pretty mind-blowing).  People started to comment on some of my posts, or talk to me about things I'd blogged about, which has felt, and continues to feel, fantastic.  I started to feel, I don't know, a bit like I had a job, a role, a place outside of (yet not completely so) raising kiddies and keeping the homefires burning.  And then, I even got nominated by some (fabulous) readers for some bloggy type awards that I didn't know existed (but I sure do now and it's really freaking exciting.)

But there's been a few moments of downside about my time in the blogosphere too, mostly (and wholly unsurprisingly), in the forms of niggling fears and self-doubts - particularly as the blog gathered a bit of steam and found some readers here and there.  It's not about the readers themselves, who have largely been awesome.   (I have yet, knock wood, to get any really negative feedback, other than the feedback that I'm too 'negative.')  It's more about the pressure I feel to live up to some kind of blogger ideal. 

Most of the really great blogs I read (the ones that top Babbles list of mommy bloggers or are likely to win things like blogger awards) are done by people who somehow blog (and blog well) every day.  For  real.  Every single one.  (How they do this?  How do they find the time?  Are their toddlers running around climbing the shelves and playing with knives?  Are their preschoolers plotting world domination?  Because that's what my smalls get into when I'm on the computer, which, in case you were wondering, they deeply, deeply resent - and they aren't even old enough to read the damn blog yet!) 

One of  my great frustrations about blogging is that I don't have enough time to write the way I'd like to.  I try very hard to scramble together thoughts when the kids nap - which often results in a less thought-out than I'd like, typo'ed blog.  And then there's the irony of the fact that if the kids don't nap at the same time, I have to ignore them periodically in order to blog about my life as a parent, which doesn't exactly qualify me for mother-of-the-year.  Anyways - and those other famous, fantastic blogs have advertisers, advertise themselves, and likely know how to design their own webpage, which are artsy and lovely and link-y and all kinds of cool.  When I get stuck in the land of comparisons, when I get freaked out about not living up to people's expectations, about not having time to write like I want to, about being nominated for awards I don't really feel worthy of, I lose the point of why I started this out in the first place.

The other day when I was having a mini-melt-down (you could call it a tantrum and not be too far off) about the fact that I had to choose between having time to run and take care of my body, or having a blog, and taking care of the rest of me, L.  (in one of her rare I'm-gonna-rap-my-knuckles-across-your-forehead-moments) replied to me:  "Sounds like great fodder for another blog!"  Mmmm-hmmmmmmm.  I don't need more fodder for blogs - what I need is more hours in the day.  Or one of those super-awesome-free Nannies.

Ah well - anxieties about not measuring up aside, overall - this blog has been a life-saver.  I mean this rather literally.  It started out as a diversion, and it become a process that reminds me often, if not daily, that I am more than my job, that I am more than a mom, that I am more than a wife - but also that I love my job, I love my kids, and love my wife.  

And that's no small thing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

provider anxiety

Everything is breaking in our house.  Okay, maybe not everything (though it sorta feels that way).  The list just seems to keep getting bigger.  Our computer is dying.  Our walls and ceiling are cracking.  It's winter and we're feeling the drafts again.  We kinda need a new furnace, but have our fingers crossed it makes it through another winter.  Our entire electrical circuit keeps shorting out everytime we use the dryer.  (And we use the dryer, you know, a lot!)  Our desktop computer takes about 20 minutes to turn on and crashes almost everytime we download pictures (which is why I haven't posted a shot of my spanky-new purse).  Oh - but I can't download pictures anyways, because our camera is broken.  You have to stick your tongue out and wiggle the cord just so to get my cellphone to charge.  Girlio broke the IPOD dock, and Boy-o stuck quarters in the cars' cd player. My treadmill is stopping in the middle of a run.  Yup - breakage is everywhere. 

So why don't we just replace things?  Get them fixed?  Deal with it?  Because, of course, we're broke.  Paycheck to paycheck (with a little bit of overspend in there.)   Money is tight.  And December brings the one-two punch of Boy-o's birthday and Christmas.  Shazam!

And lately, the money crunch is starting to get to me.  I have provider anxiety.  You know, 'cause my paycheck isn't getting any bigger, or put more properly, my paycheck isn't getting any more, well, existent.  So I guess the real crux here is that I have anxiety about us being broke and me not, you know, being able to fix it, as they say. 

It's a real struggle, sometimes, to figure out what the best thing to do is (for our whole family, not just for me).  The cost-benefit analysis always seems to come out a 50/50 split.  I could try to go back into the workforce, but there are so, so many complicating factors that even contemplating that option seems dizzying: 1. Boy-o's school does not have a daycare, and we have to drive him across town to get there.  2.  I would be hardpressed to find a job that made putting both kids in daycare full-time financially worthwhile, and 3. I'm not sure the zigging and zagging to and from schools and daycares and grocery stores, and the constant time-crunch of having a family with two full-time working parents is worth the added benefit of having slightly more money.  And then the biggest complicating factor of all.  Sometimes I think I might want to start working outside of the home.  And sometimes, I really, really, really, especially don't.

And yet, the anxiety about money, making ends meet, having extra, etc. persists.  And though I recognize, of course, that the work I do is of value - it does not provide us with any economic benefit (unless you count me being an extra 'dependent' at tax time.  Oh how I loathe being termed a 'dependent' - just sayin'), which is perhaps the most frustrating part of all.  I work my heiny off most of the time ('cept when I'm slacking off blogging, naturally), and it does nothing to further my family's economic outlook.   Makes a mama-bear want to roar a bit now and again.  

(Note:  if anyone wants to look at some really neat explorations of the economic importance of at-home labour, you should check out feminist economist Marilyn Waring's book "If Women Counted," or the full-length NFB documentary "Who's Counting?", which argue essentially that mainstream economics ignores the necessary contribution of at-home labour in its analyses).

Until a decision gets made one way or the other about me 'going back to work' (another expression I loathe - 'cause I'm working my arse off now, but anyhoo), we ponder other ways to tighten the pursestrings.  How to get back to the basics, abolish the credit card, revisit a cash-based existence, shop more carefully and buy less, possibly explore cheaper schooling options for Boy-o (emphasis on possibly here.  It would have to be a pretty damn special public school for me to go public here in Redneckville), and, the most important thing: continue in our quest to be independently wealthy via buying lottery tickets and hopin' for the best...

And in the meantime - if it ain't broke, we won't fix it... and if it is broke, well, we probably still won't fix it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Friends and Neighbours

The kids and I, despite being rotten sick all week, ventured out via wagon to mail an important letter (to Santa, natch!).    I was hoping to make a swift (under 10 minute) trip to the mail-box and back, let all of us air out our sinuses and get some fresh air.  Alas - it was not meant to be - as we ran into "drunk Jenny" (and yes, the name has been changed to protect, well, the drunk), stumbling along the sidewalk attempting to walk her dog.   I should mention here, that the moniker "drunk Jenny" is actually a rather fond one - Jenny is very sweet and was very welcoming when we moved to the neighbourhood.  The problem with 'drunk Jenny' (again, other than the constant drunkenness) is that it's really, really tough to find a segue in which to leave the conversation.  And sometimes, you have to actually, well, leave when she's still talking.  I know - it sounds terrible, but I've discovered that there actually often isn't another way to do it.  Anyhow - one of the funny things about good old Jenny is that even though we've talked, oh probably more than twenty or thirty times, and even though she's met both kids repeatedly, she frequently has no idea what their names are.   But the funny thing is, she just seems to pick some names out of the air and bestow them.  She gets the adult names right, though L. and I are largely interchangeable, but the kids names - right outta thin air!  

On this day, the kids were - wait for it - Dick and Mary.  Yes indeedy.  (You night ask yourself what self-respecting lezzie would name their kids after a highly popular slang for penis and Christ's virgin mother, respectively - I know I did.)   She chatted away to us, exclaiming over had "Dick" was getting so grown up, and how she hardly recognized "Mary", and so on and so forth.   Boy-o looked confused as hell, Girlio refused to make eye contact, and I spend a good chunk of time trying not to guffaw.  As always, the conversation dragged on, so I made the mistake of trying to exit by saying that we were off to mail our Santa letter to the North Pole, which lead to, it appeared, drunk Jenny working up to letting it slip that there was no Santa Claus.  Oh Jeez - social graces or not, I hightailed it outta there - Jenny still chatter/shouting after us, shouting something along the lines of it not mattering about our Santa letter, he probably wouldn't bring anything anyways.  Sigh.  Oh drunk Jenny.

As we made our escape and were safely out of earshot, Boy-o, who hasn't generally said anything about these run-ins with drunk Jenny, turned to me and said: "Mama?  Who are Dick and Mary?" 

Me:  "That's a good question - buddy.  I think Jenny gets a bit confused sometimes."

Boy-o:  "Like that stuff about Santa?"

Me:  "Yeah - she didn't seem to know Santa very well, did she?"

Boy-o "That's okay - she was a bit wobbly..."

Me:  "Yes, she certainly was."

And so ended the debrief of our chance meeting with drunk Jenny; our belief in Santa's magic (and the need to take wobbly people with a big grain of salt) safely intact.  Whew!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

This ain't no ballet tu-tu!

I am making Girlio a tu-tu for Christmas.  It's not a ballet tu-tu.  There are a number of reasons for this.  1. I don't like the ballet.  I've never liked the ballet (traditional ballet, at any rate). . . I find it too rigid looking, and kind of, well, prissy,  (I know - I'm horribly uncultured) 2.  I want to feed all the ballerinas of the world a great big collective cookie,  3.  I used to work with teenagers, a few of whom were young ballet dancers, who were actively encouraged by their instructors to take diet pills.  Though I recognize that lots of other forms of dance may also encourage small-bodiedness, ballet is by far one of the worst offenders.  4.  And should either of my kiddos ever come up with a burning desire to become a ballerina - they're likely SOL.  I'm a huge boned fat chick who used a 6 foot 4", 220 lb donor to become pregnant.  This does not bode well for the making of ballet-bodied children.   5. I don't actually buy this 'every girl has an inner ballerina' business. 

So - in general - the ballet is not something I want to steer towards.  (*Yes, I love dance. Yes, the children will be encouraged to dance.  Yes, the children will take dance classes if they like.  They just won't be ballet class.  They'll be creative movement classes, exploring all of the amazing ways bodies can move to music, as opposed to instructing a particular, 'proper' way one's body should move to music.  I know that's not everyone's way - but it's mine*). 

So - getting back to the tu-tu.  It's going to be red and black tulle on red ribbon (says the woman at the fabric store uncomfortably, 'um those are interesting colours for a tu-tu..."),  and with any luck I'll be able to find matching pirate-esque striped tights to go underneath.  And a skull-and-cross-bones tee.  This ain't gonna be no ballet tu-tu.  This is going to be a pirate-y, punk-rock, riot-baby tu-tu.    I cannot wait!

(and if I ever manage to fix my camera, I will post of a picture of the little riot-baby tu-tu).

(I should also note that I'd make one for Boy-o too, but this one will be adjustable, so he can wear it too if he likes.  Also, a friend offered to bestow upon us her son's discarded black tu-tu, should he ever desire a tu-tu of his very own).

Friday, November 12, 2010

Continued confessions of a slacker mom

I'm not really all that much of a Type A, really.   I used to be.  When I was a student, and an outside of the home worker, I was the best of the best.  Overachiever.  Totally detail oriented.  I worked my ass off and tried my damndest to get it just right.  But my stay-at-home mama personae seems to more like, I don't know, is there a type Q?  (It's somewhere pretty far down the alphabet chain, at any rate).   I don't have a just-so house, I'm usually running behind or forgetting something, or both, the kids are almost never stain-free and/or clean-faced (nor am I), and I'm totally okay with coming in second place (or, like tenth).  Or maybe forgoing the race altogether.   I'm more than okay with the fact that the Jones' do it better.  Good on the Jones'!

I do wonder though, how my working personality has changed so much with my roles?  Is it the monotony of doing the same repetitive tasks over and over again, resulting in a bit of, you know, soul suckage?  Is it the lack of external value (and hence validation) attached to the work I do?  Is it the fact that over time I've come to realize that the housework is essentially useless because it last -2 seconds, so my energy is better spent ensuring the children make it through the day a but stimulated and well, unmaimed?   (Or all of these things in combination?)  Whatever the reasons, it's clear that I'm a slacker mom.  There is no overachieving going on behind these walls, other than the attempts to provide stimulating, fun activities for the childrens once in awhile.  (Again - I emphasize once in awhile, because 1. I think children are generally way over-activitied, and 2. this provides me with a nice excuse to let them do their own thing/let them watch too much tv when I need to). 

Here are some examples of my slackage:

1.  The house is a mess.  Again.  Still.  There are dirty dishes on the counter.  And baby food all over the kitchen floor which sticks to my slippers as I walk.  The children are napping at the same time.  A reasonably achieving mom would take the time to deal with the mess so she can, you know, interact with the kids when they wake from their naps.  Me - I make tea.  And then I blog.  Or check my facebook.  Or both.  This is my unpaid break in my unpaid day.  And there ain't enough sticky in the world to make that floor worth washing on my break.  (If cleanliness is next to godliness, it's actually possible that I might be Satan, or at least a close devotee.) 

2.  I don't make beds.  Ever.  Not ever.  Nope.  Never.  (What's the point, I ask you?)

3.  Sometimes, I fill the sink with dirty dishes and sudsy water and let Boy-o wash them. Who says child labour can't be fun?

4.  I cannot recall the last time I picked up a vacuum cleaner. 

5.  We may soon have a contest to name the dust-bunnies. 

6.  I don't mind cooking, but I HATE meal-planning.  Hate.  Hate.  Hate it.

7.  I let the kids watch TV when I want an extra break or want to finish a blog.  As I've previously mentioned, unlike many granola parents I know, I don't think TV is the enemy.  In fact, I kinda think of it as an comforting friend.

8.  I don't like to play.  I'm not a player.  There - I've said it.  The cardinal sin of parenting.  I don't like to get down on the floor and play.  I'm a bad, bad mother and a bad bad person.  Don't get me wrong - I like spending time with my kiddos.  I'll set up art projects for them, or fieldtrips, or watch them play dress-up, or engage in a game of tag or building blocks now and again.   And I love to have a kitchen dance party or a nice long chat or story read with my smalls.  But I'm not, you know, in love with hunkering down to play all day long.  (Which is but one of the reasons I want to clobber people who tell me that I'm so lucky to be able to stay home and play with my kids all day.  Seriously, people!)  I'm not even sure, pseudo-grown-up, serious child that I was, that I even liked playing when I was a child.  That's just me.  (That's why I'm rocksteady and my wife is the rockstar.  She plays, I kiss boo-boos, it all comes out in the wash).

9.  Potty mouth.  Potty mouth.  Potty mouth.  "Mama!  Did you just say "JEA-ZUZ?!" or alternatively, "MAMA! Did you just say "FACK?" 

10.  KD.  Yum.  And it's got cauliflower in the noodles now.  So whatever.

Now - though I shouldn't have to say it, I will (because some Pollyanna somewhere will be reading this going, "Doesn't she even like kids?" or "Why doesn't she just go back to work then," or something equally annoyingly, cloyingly, Pollyanna, I'm-A-Better-Housewife-Than-You.   I love my kids.  I love my life with my kids at home (except for the days where it starts to suck out my soul, but work outside the home jobs tend to do that too, if memory serves).  No job is consistantly fulfilling, and all jobs get complained about.  (Blah blah broken record blah blah).  Most stay-at-homers probably are a better housewife than me.  And I'm all kinds of okay with that.  The mechanics of household maintenance are not skills that have ever felt natural to me, and that's not likely to change any time soon.

I'm just not a Type A anymore.  And I don't think that being a proudly slacker (potty-mouthed, dirty-housed, non-playing) mama makes me a bad mama.  I like to think that what I lack in on-the-ground-household-maintenance-skills, I make up for in thoughtfulness about the social, cognitive and emotional growth of my smalls.  And - my slackness makes me a happier and saner mama (which my kiddos really benefit from). 

And, as an added bonus, it gives me a little something extra to be smart-ass-y about.  And you all now how much I loves me some smart-ass-y-ness now and again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

oh dear

I have a great many things to say.  But I'm sick and thus can't say any of them. 

(Except to wonder why it is when Boy-o usually sleeps for almost 2 hours and is super slow for an hour after he wakes up, that today he sleeps for 1/2 hour and wakes up asking to go directly to the park?  And when I tell him I am sick, he says:  "but all you have to do is drive me, Mama!"

Is this day over yet?

Monday, November 8, 2010

My purse...

I just got a purse.  It's kinda a big deal for me.  It's silly, perhaps, to focus on the purse, but for me it's symbolic of something a little larger than the purse itself. 

It all started when I went out with a friend to the Art Gallery awhile back.  I was getting ready to go, and two things happened.  1. My son laughed at me while I was getting dressed up to go, and exclaimed: "Mama!  Why are you wearing Mommy's grown-up clothes?!"  and 2.  I realized that I had no freaking purse.  I could choose to take my lipstick, wallet and keys in a gargantuan red, food stained diaper bag, or an equally giant grey knapsack, which was full of sand from a recent trip to the park.   You might say that it was something of an "aha! moment."  Clearly - I need to focus a bit more on myself and my, you know, grown-up needs.   So - I now have a purse.  It's a snappy purple Lug bag - and it's all mine

I've been told that, apparently, you can tell a lot about a person (and their life) by what's in their purse.  The following is a list of the contents of my brand spankin' new purple purse:

1.  pink wallet with green pen drawing on it (a la Girlio) (1)
2.  crumpled diapers (2)
3.  wipes, half dried out
4. empty tupperware snack containers (2)
5.  lid to tupperware snack container that will fit neither of the above (1)
6.  myriad of loose pennies
7.  crumbs and goldfish (enough to cobble together a small meal if ever stuck in a wilderness survival situation)
8.  to-do lists, half-finished (2.5)
9.  month old shopping list (1)
10.  OB tampon, still in plastic, but covered in teethmarks (1)  (ahem, yes, in a pinch, I occassionally let the child teeth on a tampon- What of it?!)
11.  lipstick, mushed at the tip from Boy-o's over-enthusiastic attempts at moustache drawing (1)
12.  granola bar, half eaten (1)
13.  expired coupons (3)

*I can't believe I almost forgot to check the pockets*

14.  cell phone (dead as a doornail) (1)

Okay.  This exercise has taught me two very important lessons:

1. Maybe the purse isn't quite mine-all-mine yet, and 2.  you really can tell a lot about my life from the contents of my purse.

(but at least it's a darn snappy-lookin' purse).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

kids and community responsibility

We went to the Humane Society this afternoon, where Boy-o proudly handed over his twenty dollars to "help the animals have a place to live or get fixed when they get hurt." 

For a few months now, we've been collecting and keeping the recyclables that we pay a deposit for.  Initially, L. and I decided to start doing it because it would be another small way to save a bit of money here and there.  But this morning, as we were getting ready to take the bottles and cans to the depot, we hatched a different sort of plan.  We would take the money we got back from our trip to the depot and let Boy-o decide on an organization he would like to donate it to, creating an important lesson (one of many, I hope) about community responsibility and social privilege.

When we explained the plan to Boy-o,  by saying that we were so lucky, that we had each other and our kitties and enough to eat and a warm cozy house full of toys to play with and books to read, but that not everybody was as lucky as we are.  We asked if he thought he'd like to use the money we earned from returning our recyclables to help other people, and he (big hearted child that he is) thought it was a great idea.  Next - how to decide where to give the money for our first homemade bottle-drive donation, without completely overwhelming him...

We narrowed it down to three choices:  We could help people who didn't have enough food to eat or a place to live and donate our money to a homeless shelter; we could help buy stuffed animals for kids that were feeling sad and getting help from Mama's organization (*the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton has a great need for new stuffed animals for kids who are received counselling services at SACE), or we could help animals that needed a place to live or needed to get fixed after being hurt, and give our money to The Humane Society of Edmonton.    Boy-o immediately chose to help animals, and off to the Humane Society we went, his twenty bucks clutched firmly in hand. 

After dropping off the money and checking out the new Humane Society and its super-cute occupants, we headed home.  Boy-o was unusually quiet, so we checked in to see where he was at after the day's activities.  "It made me feel really happy in my heart," he assured us.  "Next time, let's give the money to people who don't have a place to live."  I'd be lying if my heart wasn't working overtime right then at that moment...

Even though today's project was a great success, I am hyper aware that it is a bit of a tricky thing to try and instill ideas about social responsibility in the small set. There is a pretty fine line between not telling kids enough about the world, and telling them too much. While I don't agree with sheltering kids from the fact that there are many things in need of fixing in our world, I also don't think it's right to overwhelm them with too many details about social problems.

Yet, even at the age of three, Boy-o knows peripheral information about various kinds of social problems. For example, he knows that there is too much pollution in our world, and that this hurts the earth. He is aware that some people (and animals) don't have a place to live. He's aware of this fact in large part because he's noticed homeless folks and I'm not prepared to lie about it. He knows that his mommy works in a courtroom with people that sometime use pushing and hitting to try and solve their problems, and he knows his mama volunteers on a crisis line because sometimes people get sad and need someone to talk to - and so on and so forth.

But the slippery slope of him knowing these kinds of things, even in such vague generalities is we run the risk of having kids who are overwhelmed with the immensity of change needed in our world and filled with anxiety.  So we also need to be talking about and demonstrating that there are concrete things we can do to build and rebuild community, to help people in need, to make change where we can.   I hope that this project will be a way to introduce the need for community engagement and also reinforce the idea that we can all do something to help make change, in big or small ways.

Morning after the time-change...

It is hard to get fussed about the baby being up at 5:30 a.m., when:
1. it's really 6:30 a.m. and thus a 'sleep-in,' and;
2. she's grinning at you, reaching up her arms and chanting "happy, happy, happy!"

Saturday, November 6, 2010

How to talk about racism


Click this awesome and fantastic link about how to call people on racist BS.  Watch and share, far and wide :)


I woke up (really grumpy and really stinkin' early) to this email:

"I just wanted to let you know that A Queer Family Grows In Redneckville has been nominated in the Family & Parenting, Feminist, and LGBTQ categories of the 2010 Canadian Weblog Awards!

This is a new, juried competition with public nominations. The shortlists of nominees will be announced on 1 December 2010, and the finalists will be announced on 1 January 2011. If you would like to show off your nomination, grab a button for your website and spread the word.

Congratulations! "

I knew this was coming, because my really kind nominee let me know ahead of time.  And yet it still feels like my birthday and Christmas all rolled into one.  (Thanks Erica - I'm feeling far less grumpy now).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Say What?!

A few nights ago, my daughter was sitting in her highchair eating supper.  Well, okay, refusing to eat supper.  Until I hand over her "baby" to play with.  She wouldn't eat her supper until I let her hold her dolly.  When I finally handed over the goods, she cradled the doll, kisses its plastic forehead (and then promptly threw it on the floor and proceeded to eat).

The doll, Stella, was actually Boy-o's.  Sort of.  He never even gave it a sidelong glance.  Not one.  (Perhaps, like his mama, he thinks those little plastic face dolls are freaking weird).   Plastic doll creepiness aside, I encouraged doll play (with that and a nice soft, cuddly boy doll), and he pooh-poohed every last bit of encouragement.  So Stella (and baby boy doll) sat in the corner, untouched until baby-sister came along.   I did not, I repeat NOT encourage baby sister to play with Stella.  (Why you might ask, would I encourage my boy and not my girl towards playing with dolls?  Because, in short, I believe that boys are socialized against the instinct of loving and nurturing towards others, where girls are completely over-socialized towards caring and nurturing for others. 

While I won't discourage Girlio from doll play, neither will I go out and buy her the pink baby doll with pink baby doll furniture.  Anyhoo...)  And yet, play with it she did.  One day a few weeks ago, Girlio came upon Stella.  And what did she do?  She promptly picked up baby Stella, pronounced it  "BayBeee" and nestled her gently in her arms.  And then didn't she reach down and pop a sweet, slobbery forehead kiss on that doll?  Sure did. 

Best intentions aside, Girlio has already learned to nuture.  And  Boy-o?  Well, the nurturing bit is a work in progress. 

So in this instance, anyways, the score thus far seems to be:

Gender-f*ck parenting - 0, Rest of the world - 1. 

(But ya'll know I'll keep trying :)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

To Donor or not to donor, Part II


We (I'm talking as a culture here) are all pretty darned hung up on biology.  On some level, we really do seem to believe that our biology is what defines who we are, particularly in the context of our families.  We have many cultural narratives which speak of the tragedy of 'not knowing our roots' and what we really mean by such expressions is not being able to trace our biological line.  The very first thing people say of a baby (right after, is it a boy or a girl?)  is "who does she look like?" or  "Oh, she has so and so's eyes."  Or "Oh he totally looks like his daddy."   These assertions are, in part, due to (and also reinforcement of) our prizing of genetic connection over all others. 

So what is it that 'roots' us? What is it that defines a person?  What is it that defines a family?  While clearly there isn't a consensus on this issue, hence lawsuits by folks like Olivia Pratten, who I've spoken of previously.  Pratton is the child of parents who had fertility struggles and conceived her with the use of a sperm donor.  She is currently suing the BC government to change the legislation enforcing the anonymity of sperm donors.  Angela Campbell and Robert Leckey's article "Parentage is about more than DNA" in Thursday's Globe and Mail continues the scrutiny on Pratten's case and the issues surrounding it.  I am happy to say that I found it far less offensive than the article explored in To Donor or not to donor, Part I.  (In no small part because, you know, they didn't compare me to a rapist or war criminal or child stealer.  Anyhoo...)

As one might guess from their article's title, Campbell and Leckey challenge the notion put forward by Pratton and others that their biogical donor creates half of who they are, arguing that this is both a scientically wrong and socially driven idea:  "all humans have 99 per cent of their DNA in common. A parent and child share slightly more, 99.5 per cent."   

They continue on to note:

"The rhetoric of genetic connection risks erasing social bonds between parents and children. It implies that identity results from genetics. And the idea that genetic origin makes people who they are devalues diverse means by which people form families. Consider adoptive parents or parents who conceive through assisted conception. They may be gay or straight. Such parents are not mere caretakers of someone else’s genetic heritage. They contribute to their child’s identity."

*and after reading that paragraph, I heard the proverbial choir of angels singing*

Campbell and Leckey also point out some potential troubling features which could arise from the lawsuit - asking if children of donor insemination have the right to identify their anonymous donors, would the reverse also hold true?  Would donors then also have the right to trace their 'children'?  Is a donor's right to privacy to be held in less regard than a child's right to know the identity of their donor?  These questions are all valuable and worthy of further consideration. 

I don't doubt hat some adopted children and some donor-conceived children, like Pratton, feel like they are missing knowledge about 'who they are.' And I certainly don't mean to minimize feeling of pain or distress that has arisen for some around this issue.  But I do spend a great deal of time wondering how much of this feeling of a 'lack' is innate, and how much of this is due to our cultural insistance that a shared biology is the most important element of family, of history, of our rootedness.

Whatever the reasons behind the distress experienced by some kids who don't know their genetic ties, in the end, I strongly believe that we need to change our system in Canada to allow for donors to be "willing to be known" or anonymous (as I also believe is their right if they wish).  There must be a balance of rights for both donors and children of assisted reproduction.  For me, this sort of legislative change would be the best and fairest possible judicial outcome. 

I am also hoping though, that this case makes possible changes that go beyond the scope of government and judiciary.  I, like the authors of this article, would like to see a growing awareness of (and a shift away from) our cultural reliance on biology as the be-all-and-end-all of identity.  We are made of, and influenced by, so much  more than our chromosonal make-up.  Families are made of, and grow out of, so much more than "having so and so's eyes" or the attribution of personality quirks to one biological parent or another.  I'm sure every one of us has people who are non-biologically related whom we find just as much a part of our family (or more a part of our family) than those we are biologically related to.  Moreover, a biological connection to one's parents does not guarantee children a safe, loving and healthy childhood, nor does a lack of biological connection guarantee the reverse.  

I will support my children in whatever feelings they may (or may not) have about being born through the assistance of an anonymous sperm donor.  I will do this because it's my job to support them to the best of my ability in whatever paths and twists and ups and downs their lives take.    It's our job to try our best to support our kids without regard for how we feel about the paths they choose.  *Because that's what a parent does.*  I hope that someday the laws in our country might be changed so that if they and their donor wanted to meet, they could (though this might feel pretty strange to me, and undoubtably to their mommy as well).

But I will never, ever budge in my insistence that our cultural dependence of the bonds of biology is anything other than totally bunk.  I flinch, both inwardly and likely also visibly, when someone refers to my children's "biological father."  Jeezuz.  My children don't have a father, biological or otherwise.  Their donor (this is the term to use, folks) will never be and can never be their father.  Not in any way.  Not at all.  That's just the way it is.

If parents are born - it is through the process of being a parent, (and all of the joys and turmoils that process entails) - not by reason of sharing a few extra chromosomes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

This will take just a second of your time...

Iranian authorities could kill Sakineh Ashtiani today.

This July, a global outcry saved her from death by stoning. Now, the Iranian government has issued execution orders based on trumped-up charges -- and she could be killed within a day. We have only a few hours to get world leaders with influence in Iran to do all they can to save her life.

International pressure is the only way.   

Please follow the link below and sign your name to the pre-written email.    That's all it takes.  If you feel like taking an extra second, share the above link, or make a phone call on Sakineh's behalf.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

To Donor or not to donor... Part I

I know I've been MIA for a few days.  I've been busy delving into the news coverage surrounding the recent court challenge brought on by BC woman, Olivia Pratten, who is suing to find out the identity of the sperm donor used to conceive her.   I'll likely be talking about this here and there as more coverage comes up...

To say that I have conflicted feelings about this case, as well as the rhetoric being used to discuss it, would be a serious understatement.   

Let me start by saying that overall, I think that Canada needs to change its assisted reproduction laws.  The United States already makes it possible for donors to choose whether or not they are willing to be contacted when children conceived using their sperm reach the age of consent.  Like with adoption, some donors want this to be an option, and some do not.  Donors do not have any financial obligations towards genetic offspring, nor could they sue for custody, as far as I am aware.   In Canada, it is not legal for donors to be anything other than completely anonymous, which is my opinion, is just legislative laziness. 

Should either of our kiddos feel a glaring hole in their lives because they can't meet their donor, I certainly would want for them to be able to do that, because what I want most in this world, more than anything else, is for our kiddos to be happy, fulfilled, secure in themselves. 

HOWEVER (and this however is big, bold, underlined, and italicized because I mean it very, super, extra, incredibly, and emphatically) the rhetoric being used to discuss this case is very disturbing and unsettling to me.  Like, causing me to lose sleep kind of unsettling.  

One article, which I couldn't even bring myself to look at was titled: "Do you know who my Daddy is?" which makes me want to punch someone's lights out 1) because it invokes the voice of my children to make its point, which I resent the hell out of, and 2) because as I had previously expounded on, a donor is not a fucking daddy, people. 

Another article, linked here, I really wish I hadn't read.  The author, Margaret Somerville, compares both adoption and assisted reproduction to residential schools, invokes rape as a metaphor, and compares my sweet babies, who couldn't be conceived any other way, to the making of designer children made from the DNA of beautiful people, and then terms them "genetic orphans".    You may get the sense, while reading this, that I think Margaret Somerville is a special, special kind of person.  And you will be correct.

I cried while I read it.  I cried after I read it.  I'm close to crying right now while I'm typing.  

Here's a few of the gems from Somerville's piece:

"Donor conception may be a completely avoidable human tragedy in the making, one for which we might be holding a truth and reconciliation commission at some future date, when offspring ask, as some are already doing, “How could you have done this to us? How could you have allowed this to happen?”

Is donor conception the 21st-century version of the wrongs we now recognize we did to some children in the 20th century? Are we repeating in a new context and in new ways the terrible errors and grave injustices that occurred with Australia’s “stolen generation” of aboriginal children, the United Kingdom’s “home children” sent to Canada and other British Commonwealth countries, and the “scoop” of native children from reserves into Canadian residential schools and white adoptive homes, all of which deliberately separated children from their biological families."

I'm not even sure I can adequately detail the levels on which this article is deeply, deeply offensive.   So for starters, let's chat a second about her logic.  In comparing donor conception to the aforementioned tragedies, she is missing the point that said tragedies involve children were stolen away from their families.  Families who were busy raising them - who knew them, who loved them, who were emotionally tied to them - who had an existing relationship.   One might surmise a child stolen away from their adoptive family or a donor-assisted family in such a circumstance would similarly suffer to a child taken away from their biological family.  It is not the shared set of chromosomes that makes the severing of the above mentioned families a terrible ordeal - it is the loss of family itself, whatever its make-up or origins. 

And a truth and reconciliation commission?  For serious?  Really?  No, really?

My children, and my participation in creating them, are a completely avoidable tragedy?  Wow.  Um, okay.

You would think that Ms. Somerville couldn't possibly get more offensive.  But then you'd be, you know, wrong.  Later on in her article, she asks:  "How will the child feel knowing that their genetic parent sold – and that their social parent bought – what is (as one donor-conceived woman put it) “the essence of [their] life for $25 to a total stranger, and then walked away without a second look back? What kind of a man sells himself and his child so cheaply and so easily?”

*and just when you think it could not possibly get any better*

"An argument that is used to support donor conception is that the child would not exist otherwise and, therefore, should not complain. One young donor-conceived woman, confronted with this argument, responded, “If I were the result of rape, I would still be glad to be alive, but that doesn’t mean I or any one else should approve of rape.”

Whew.  So - I've bought the essence of my children's lives and I'm akin to a rapist.  Super.  Super.  Super.   I'm just gonna head out back and shoot myself now.  

And then, there's the reference to the donor walking away from 'his child'.  Not so, friends.  Sperm does not equal parentage.  I've said it once, I'll say it a million times.  I love my donor, bless his heart, for spoofing in a cup for us and others like us.  I don't know if his actions were selfless, and I don't know why he did it.  (I do know, incidentally that it wasn't for 25$, because he's a well paid, well educated fellow).  His actions allowed my partner and I to become parents to two of the most beautiful, funny, little characters I had ever known.  His actions were and will always be a gift to us.  To reduce those actions to child abandonment is really quite crap-tastic.

I haven't missed, nor should you, the fact that Somerville uses these salacious quotes from children conceived through donor sperm.  I am not naive enough to believe that all children conceived through donor sperm are hunky-dory with it 100% of the time.  However, the term "vocal minority" is a term for a reason.  And kids who are a-okay with being conceived via donor insemination or other forms of assisted reproduction don't sell papers.  You get my drift here?  

Margaret Somerville masquerades as an ethicist at McGill University, but I think is more likely a poorly disguised poster child for right-wing christian theological dogma, (sperm is the essence of life?  Sperm?  hmmmm).  To say that her logic is flawed would be another one of my understatements of the day.   On top of this, she is a fear-monger.  I wouldn't have been so affected by her words if it weren't for the fact I'm hyper aware that my kids-  these beautiful, loved and incredibly wanted  children - will have to face up to ignorant crap from bullies like her in their lives. 

And I like to keep track of what we're up against...