Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mini Feminista

Feminism.

In my early adult formative years, feminism took on a decidedly negative connotation. Almost always paired with "radical", feminism brought to mind groups hairy arm-pitted, bra-burning women chanting anti-man slogans.

In the early 1990's, I met a woman at a cocktail party and mentioned in passing that I was not a feminist. She asked me how I could not be.

So I looked up the definition in the Oxford English dictionary and found this:

"Noun, the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of sexual equality"

She was right. How could I (or anyone) be against that?

So I started to think harder about the position of women, the opportunities for women and the nature of women, in particular they being the gender that (so far) gives birth to children.

And so I developed what I considered to be a gentler brand of feminism. Women and men should be equal. But they are not the same. Men don't give birth, and that means men and women, while equal, are different.

So my take on feminism is that women and men as equals should be entitled to the same opportunities. In fact the world will be a better place when there are far more FEMALE heads of states, scientists and military brass. And far more MALE kindergarten teachers, stay at home Dads and nurses. Every walk of life would benefit from the different perspectives brought by having good participation from both genders.

But I do not see it as a sign of weakness when a woman chooses as her career to stay at home with her children. It is not a sign of weakness or subservience to her husband. It is what some family units choose to do.

I married in my later thirties and had been a lawyer for over a dozen years and so the question arose over whether I would change my surname. Many see this as a feminist issue "why would you take the name of your (male) husband??" I failed to see how keeping my (male) father's name instead of taking my husband's name was taking any kind of feminist stand. Maybe if I changed my last name to one made from the first initials of my mother, grandmothers and great grandmothers, that would be something to stand on principle about.

In the end, I took my husband's name. I was something of an anomaly in legal circles. I was told that it was "charming" "quaint" and "old-fashioned". I chose to do so because I only wanted to have one name. Many of my friends are known as one name at their children's school, another at work and everything in between with family and friends. I just wanted one name. I figured the short term pain of switching my ID and changing my signature line on my letters at work was worth it. Other choose to keep or change their name for a variety of completely valid reasons (special connection to the family name, disconnect with family name or the way the name sounds).

But I was adamant on one point: I was no "Mrs." In general I am called by my first name. I see no need to be a Mrs. In court, women are referred to as "Ms". I failed to see why a woman's marital status need be broadcast by a title, especially when a man's is not.

And don't even get me started on "Mr. and Mrs. Joe Doe".

Which brings me to why I titled this blog "mini feminista". We attended the wedding of our Nanny (A) last weekend. Nanny has chosen to change her name. The (very young) MC introduced the couple a few times as "Mr. and Mrs. Joe Doe", which of course made my skin crawl.

On Monday, I casually mentioned to S that Nanny would have a new last name. She asked me if Nanny would have a new first name too.
"No", I chortled, "you'll still call her A", thinking how silly 5 year olds can be.

She replied, "But at the wedding, they said 'Mrs. and Mrs. Joe Doe' so I thought she would be Joe now."

I have never been prouder.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mama Bear

We live on the side of a (small) mountain with plenty of forest so we see our share of bears. Or at least evidence of them: BBQs are tipped, gates are broken down and garbage cans are upset (which people continue to leave out days before garbage day despite repeated warnings to the contrary).

This is not to say we live in a wild nature reserve, it's just we coexist with the bears. The prevailing wisdom is eliminate the attractions (accessible garbage, stocked bird feeders, laden fruit trees, dirty BBQs) and give the bears space when you see one and they won't bother you.

Unless it's a mother bear protecting her cub. Then, the mere presence of a dog or human near a cub, may raise the ire of the mama bear and the docile BBQ licker will turn ferocious.

Turns out, I'm a Mama bear as well.

Last week, the kids were playing in the playground after school, as were many others enjoying the mild spring weather.

As we drove off, J says to S, rather matter-of-factly, "why were those boys making fun of you?"

S responded equally matter-of-factly "I don't know. They called me a plum."

Alarm bells go off in the Mommy brain.

I know the boys they are talking about even before they describe them. I had seen them interacting with some girls in J's grade and I was not impressed. they were talking in a disrepsectful tone. I didn't really pay attention to what they were saying, but I noted they were probably in grade 5, and wondered why they would be at the playground when all the other kids were pretty much kindergarten to grade 2.

A few probing questions, doing my best to keep the conversation matter-of-factly, and S did not understand what the boys were saying. So I asked the obvious "if you didn't understand, then how did you know they were making fun of you?"

"They laughed".

J Boy added "Mommy, it's true. I didn't hear what they said but I did hear them laugh, and it's that laugh people do when they are making fun of someone".

"Yeah, like this Mommy." S did a perfect imitation of the mocking laugh that most of us know all too well.

I seethed as we drove home and felt the urge to hunt down the reprobates and belittle them. I started to think of the most cutting things to say with the sharpest tone. Show them what it feels like to be made fun of.

I composed emails in my head to be sent to the principal and parent advisory council demanding action, sanction and apologies.

S is FIVE years old. Those boys were DOUBLE her age. Did 'pick on someone your own size' not mean anything anymore?

And then I caught my breath.

This would not be the last time someone said something mean to one of my kids (and no doubt, this was not the first). I would not be able to write letters or seek out the perpetrators each time, even if that would do any good. And my retaliating with an acid tongue, would make me no better, and probably worse.

They needed to be equipped.

"I feel sorry for them". I said to the kids.

"Why?"

"Because they were making fun of a kid way younger than them. I don't think they'll get along at school and at work when they grow up if they make fun of people."

"Yeah, they're bad", one of the kids added.

"Well, I don't think they're bad, but they didn't show very good character."

We were home now. I turned toward them and looked them both in the eye and said with great emphasis:

"It does not matter what they say. It does not matter when other people say mean things. We are family that loves each other. We have friends. Mean words can hurt our feelings. But it does not matter."

I think if I say that a few more times, maybe they will really get it. And a few hundred more after that for me to get it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Professional Development

In our school district, each school gets 6 days in which the teachers professionally develop themselves. This has been around since the dawn of time, or when I was a kid. Back then we called them "P.D." days. Now we are much more evolved and call them "Pro D" days. Last Friday was the last of this school year.

On these days I have to navigate alone (as in, Husband gets to get up early and go to work) the fine balance of kids who want to have a fun and special day. Why a fine balance? How hard can it be to have fun with the kids?

One kid, I know will be bored before breakfast and to him "fun and special day" means doing something completely new and different, like building a hotel in our backyard or at the very least creating a new invention that will required dragging out odd bits of yarn, broken toys and especially rocks, which despite my persistent proclamations that "rocks don't belong in the house" are perpetually littering the interior landscape.

The other one will happily sit down in front of the TV before breakfast and to her "fun and special day" means never dragging her carcass away from the TV except for cupcake breaks. Sure, she'll occasionally want to mix things up by say, putting (clean) underwear on her head.

And so began the last Pro D day of Grade 2/Kindergarten. I had suffered a case of the sniffles through 3 days of work and so asked the kids to let me "sleep in" until 8:30. On a school day, of course they need to be severed from their bedsheets with dynamite, but I know that the teachers wickedly must implant something until the kids' fingernails at school that makes them rise with the chickens on days off of school.

I made each child raise their right hand and repeat after me "I promise ... to let Mommy sleep in ... no matter what." They both made the vow.

To hedge my bets, I put out a cereal bar for them to eat so they wouldn't lack for sustenance in the morning. Because I wanted to leave nothing to chance, I also put out Easter chocolate.

The only thing that would have better ensured success was if I had turned down the volume on the TV which was set at just below a heavy metal concert. The family room is located directly under our master bedroom and the TV is most unfortunately, placed directly below the head of our bed.

So I did enjoy a "lie in" as the Brits would call it but not even a wink of sleep after the cartoons were blasting into my head. Nonetheless, a great start to our day.

I was quite pleased that upon my entry into the Pro D day fray, the bored one was eagerly pouring through a craft book realizing at 8:30, and the long day stretching ahead, that he would require some form of entertainment. Husband and I are always pleased at this kind of display of coping skills as we fear our son will be age 40 and texting us in our seniors' home rocking chairs that he is bored at work and did we have any diversions for him?

So as I'm making my coffee I start getting the "can we do this craft today Mommy?". A complicated craft is a grand idea and, to my later regret, I encourage it. "Why don't you read me the list of things we'll need and I'll tell you if we have it".

Fortunately over her 3 years with us, Nanny has accumulated in our basement an impressive cache of craft supplies. So the first hour of our Pro D day is spent with this kind of quality interaction:

J: Do we have craft foam?
Me: Yes.
J: Do we have coloured paper?
Me: Yes.
J: Do we have colourful buttons?
Me: No.
J: Not that one.

As a means to allowing Mommy to enjoy her coffee and check on the Facebook status of her 112 closest friends, I suggest they start bookmarking the ones that they like and later we can decide which one we want to do. They did this with surprisingly little friction.

Then quite out of the blue J says to me "You said garlic bread is healthy, right?"

I'm working on making a Scrabble move on Facebook so don't take proper care to give him the right answer.

"I said Garlic chicken is healthly". Wrong answer.

"YOU TOLD ME GARLIC BREAD WAS HEALTHY." [SOB] "NOW YOU'RE SAYING IT'S NOT HEALTHY" [SOB SOB] "IT'S IN THE 'OTHER' CATEGORY??" [THRASHING AROUND ON FLOOR]

J is learning about the food groups at school and "other" group is not in any of the healthy ones. So candy is not protein, dairy, grains of fruits/vegetables and so falls in "other". And he has taken a serious fancy to garlic bread, the kind that comes dripping in butter.

I try to undo my serious miscalculation "Bread is in the GRAIN group, it's not in the OTHER group!!! And you need to eat grains. So it's part of a healthy meal". I know from experience that if I now proclaim garlic bread to be healthy, he will want to eat that and that alone for dinners into eternity. So I need to choose my words carefully.

It's too late, he's sequestered himself in the hall closet and kicking the walls. Something I know that requires two things to resolve: passage of time, and carefully timed and worded distraction.

So the Girlie Goo and I endure a few hundred rounds of "GARLIC BREAD ISN'T HEALTHY" and then when I notice the intensity dropping a little and it's possible to get a fraction of his attention I say:

"Do you want me to make you some garlic bread with your lunch?"

He sniffles and agrees and we all cuddle on the couch and watch some cartoons.

Next up on the Pro D day agenda is S's soccer class. She is beside herself that her brother will be watching her. Most of her activities are when he is in school so this is a rare treat. J earns my undying gratitude when he enthusiastically displays his keenness at seeing her play soccer.

Now J Boy is not known for his ability to sit for 60 solid minutes on the sideline of a 4 and 5 year old soccer class. So I bring a snack for him, a very lame handheld game he's been favouring lately and an I Spy book. The class has not even started when the J Boy tells me he's bored. I start him on a snack and instruct him to give some thumbs up to his sister as she starts kicking a ball.

In 5 minutes he's tired of the entertainment I've chosen. I had figured that we would have to tour around the rec centre a little before the hour was up. But I thought it might be after the soccer kids were at least done their warm up.

Very curiously, and to my surprise, he spent the last 55 minutes of the class, watching a roomful of 1 to 4 year olds in the other half of the gym playing on climbing toys. I'm at a loss as to what was so fascinating. It may be that he was really just trying to work out some questions he had on nuclear fusion and needed some space on his own.

We came home for lunch and I made garlic bread to go with chicken nuggets and potatoes for lunch.

And then came the great craft debacle. We quickly decided that the kids would make their own bulletin boards. It was a project that was complicated enough to enjoy but not so complicated that it couldn't be completed in an hour. And then I knew they would spend plenty of time filling their bulletin boards with treasures.

First step was to choose a fabric remnant. Not to use the work "remnant" is to suggest that I actually do something with fabric such that I have remnants left over. What I do is occasionally go into fabric stores and buy some fabric, forgetting that I don't own a sewing machine and routinely avoid even darning socks by taping them up or just throwing them away. So I have a half dozen kid-friendly flannel fabrics to choose from.

Because I thought that J might think the choices were too babyish, I did bring out one bona fide remnant from an ill-fated attempt to make a tiny curtain (which was done without any actual sewing).

J immediately chooses the navy curtain remnant. S chooses Bob the Builder until I point out the one with hearts and teddy bears and then she shifts her choice to the latter.

Problematically, the remnant is a little small, I think, to fit on the foam board I have. I actually have one foam board with I'm planning on dividing in 2 to make the 2 bulletin boards. So I secure J's commitment to this navy fabric.

Before we get very much further he realizes that the fabric is far too small for the entire foam board. I remind him that we are cutting the board in two. I point out that if we cut one side a little smaller, his navy fabric will be big enough. He agrees. I go so far as to lay out the fabric and show him where I will cut the board. I make solemn eye contact with him as he agrees to the plan.

I proceed to cutting the foam board (the only one I have) and as I'm making the last cut he asks "who is getting the bigger one?". Alarm bells.

"Remember, you'll have this one [careful not to use the words 'bigger' or 'smaller'] as it fits your fabric perfectly?"

Kaboom.

After much gnashing of teeth, the J Boy lays out his demand "I WANT THE BIG BOARD!!".

S, the peacemaker: "I don't mind having the small board".

J is determined not to make it easy: "I WANT THE BIG BOARD AND THAT FABRIC".

The impossible.

So we go several rounds of thrashing, tears and screaming always to be confronted with reality. None of the options I came up with were acceptable:

1. Make a smaller board today with preferred fabric.
2. Use the smaller board to display one very special thing (kilometer club ribbons?)
3. Make a bigger board with a different fabric.
4. Another day, go to fabric store and CHOOSE a special fabric to make another cool bulletin board.
5. Use the preferred fabric on the preferred larger board, but it will be cut in two and a seam will appear, which would be hidden by a ribbon.
and finally
6. Make a completely different craft.

The presentation of options was punctuated by my storming off in disgust, which I admit in hindsight, did not contribute to a mutually satisfactory solution.

Eventually the J Boy agreed to solution 3, but was then greeted with the news that we did not have enough ribbon to do the craft just like the book shows. He was unhappy with any further divergence from the script.

It was then that I started on another art project, making a picture using toothpicks, rice, macaroni and fruit loops. After demonstrating the good fun, J Boy took the bait and started forming his own picture. S also joined in and I thought we could all quietly conspire never to utter the words "bulletin board" and "craft" in the same sentence again.

Then J Boy brought it up and all of a sudden had forgotten about all of his hard fought objections. He is fine with a different fabric, and does not want any ribbons at all. He denies he ever made a fuss and is questioning why I have not allowed him to do his craft?

So I suggest we clean up the macaroni and fruit loop project so we can get to the bulletin board project and J says "Mommy, can't you just make them for us?"

And after 3 hours of back-and-forth, I realize that most of the day is gone, and we no longer need the craft project to fill the afternoon. The afternoon is gone. And so I make the bulletin boards which I kind of enjoyed almost as much as they enjoyed filling them?




Friday, April 17, 2009

Easter Bunny

Easter. We celebrated sacredly, secularly and familially (you should know by now, I like to make up words).

Sacredly we hosted a Seder Supper for interested congregants from our church. Though I'm sure we did not abide by all the Jewish traditions we appreciated the great symbolism of bitter herbs, unleavened bread and enjoyed 4 sips of grape juice instead of 4 glasses of red wine, in a bid to be responsible hosts.

We celebrated the Risen Christ at church on Easter Sunday and then the kids hunted for Easter eggs in the lobby of the church in the intersection of Jesus and the Bunny.

Familially, we had a family dinner on Friday night at my older bro and sis-in-law's home and we had my niece and nephew for a sleepover on Saturday night and into Easter Sunday morning, which of course included the annual visitation of the Easter bunny, which brings me to the subject of this blog.

The dilemma, on which I expended far too much mental energy and precious time, was just how to negotiate the Bunny situation in light of our guests, aged 5 and 4. The Bunny has certain traditions in our home and J Boy is rather sensitive to these and to be honest I worry about the magic evaporating. It's not an egg hunt and the baskets don't just contain chocolate. New socks and presents are part of the deal.

After great deliberation, I figured the best way was to get our kids to wait to hunt for their baskets until after our guests left. Little Bro and sis-in-law were to pick the kids up after church and since we'd be at church for a pancake breakfast early, I didn't think it would be to hard to wait and the cousins no doubt would have baskets waiting for them at home.

I was a little nervous about how the J Boy would cope as he has not really embraced the whole concept of delayed gratification.

I floated the trial balloon one day after school: "I thought we might look for our Easter baskets after church on Sunday instead of when we get up. Your cousins' baskets will be at their house and we don't want to make them feel badly".

This may be a good time to mention that Husband and I are also lucky recipients of baskets at Easter. The Bunny brought them one year just for fun and not at all intending that it become part of the tradition, but the kids did not forget that bit of generosity on the part of the long-eared one and so he's committed to it ever since.

Back to my trial balloon. J Boy was not at all phased per se by the delayed pleasure on Easter morning. He did have an alternate solution.

"But won't the Easter Bunny know to bring their baskets to our house?"

I so have this, I think smugly. "Well the Easter Bunny brings the baskets to the children's HOMES, so the Bunny will bring their baskets to their house."

"But at Christmas Santa knew that we would be at Oma and Opa's house so why wouldn't the Easter Bunny know that our cousins would be here?"

Stumped as usual by a 7 year old. Santa did find us at my parents at Christmas. I could not really come up with a credible answer that didn't sound too out there. Easter Bunny is on a different communication grid? Easter Bunny does not have a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer so it takes him longer to get around and he can't accommodate changes in location? That was too much, even for me.

I chose a tried and true parenting tactic: ignoration (another made up word. I should publish my own dictionary). I just ignored all questions and just gently reminded the kids now and again that we would hunt for our baskets after church. I did promise that Mommy and Daddy would buy some chocolate eggs for the kids and the four of them could look for those before church.

J came up with a new objection. "What if we accidentally find our baskets when we look for the eggs?"

"I'll make sure I don't hide the eggs near any baskets"

"But then you might find your basket when you're hiding the eggs and it will ruin the surprise for you!"

"How about we hide the eggs OUTSIDE. The Easter Bunny never hides our baskets outside."

"But won't the chocolate get dirty and wet outside?"

Ignoration.

When the day came, we were all up and out the door before 8 so no one remembered (including me) about the chocolate eggs. J Boy started asking questions about when they could search for their baskets on the way to church and asked about every 8 minutes for the next 3 hours.

J wanted to look for his basket immediately upon returning home from church. We were expecting bro/sis-in-law very soon after our arrival, but I was not sure that J could wait even an extra nanosecond. So I came up with a McGyver'ed solution to the whole basket deal.

"I heard that sometimes when children are visiting, the Easter Bunny leaves them mini-baskets of chocolate!" I said enthusiastically.

"Oh that's great!!!" J Boy, bless his heart, embraced my parental proclamation. "We can all look for our baskets!".

Thank goodness for extra bread baskets hanging around. And a healthy dose of wilful blindness.

What Do You Do ...

... on a warm April day after school? Crack out last years popsicles, which apparently have a long freezer-life!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Then and Now

This week marked the anniversary of my birth. I won't say what anniversary it is, but will say that the number rhymes with smorty-smeven. I admit as I careen closer to the number that rhymes with smifty, I do feel a need to look and feel "young". So I got highlights, new glasses and re-committed to exercise and good health.

I try to consider birthdays to be neither too big nor too little of a deal: neither something that requires pomp, circumstance and unbridled pampering, nor something to to ignored, glossed over or denied.

It was a busy week so no time family celebrations but I did sneak in a lunch, a coffee and a glass of wine with various friends. I also had 25 Facebook friends send me good wishes, received a couple emails, some cards via snail mail and several phone messages. Tomorrow, I look forward to my birthday breakfast with my family. Next week dinner my family with dine with my parents and a nice evening out with Husband awaits us when planets and calender permit. I am still enjoying pink roses from a celebration a couple weeks ago with Husband's family.

I feel very loved. And blessed. Even if I am smorty-smeven.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spinning

Our little personal trainer is responsible for me getting yet more exercize. As if the occasional Pilates session in front of the TV and doing grocery shopping isn't sufficient. (Well I have been playing a little soccer lately too.)

S insisted on taking a soccer class on Friday mornings. I decided that I would go to the gym at the rec centre where the soccer class is. Nothing too remarkable about this as Husband has no doubt tired of me resolving to exercize during the kids' activities as I always threaten and never make good.

I then discovered that a spinning class was scheduled for exactly the same time as S's soccer class right across the hall. I took it as a sign. I've spun a little here and there over the years (like many years ago) and know it's an awesome workout for the very fit. Which I am not.

Which is why I decided the heck with signs, I am not doing a spinning class. I needed to have a little more leg strength and endurance before I accomplished that feat. I did not cancel my workout. I decided I'd do a little cardio and some resistance training while S was on the soccer pitch.

I dusted off my workout clothes, purchased 2 years ago in the (false) hope that new duds would resusitate my exercize routine. I was thrilled when I put them on this morning and I did not hear the stitches ripping. In fact, the few pounds (very few) that I lost recently, made me feel pretty good. I would have worn the matching top but I didn't have my armpits shaved so I found a black t shirt.

Any glee over perceived un-fatness in exercize pants was short-lived when I discovered that my fanny belt, for water, keys and if needed nitroglycerin tablets (okay not really) was too tight. By at least an inch. I do have work to do.

Off to the rec centre. I boldly bought an 11 visit pass and committed myself to at least 10 more workouts. I discovered when I got there that the spinning class had room. (You have to phone ahead to reserve a bike so I didn't expect that I could get in, even if I wanted to). I took a spot.

I got S settled in her class and got a bike at the back of the class that looked like it was set at the lowest setting, for my just over 5 feet frame. Not that I couldn't somehow sort out how to adjust a bike, but I did not want to expose myself as spinning rookie.

I was exposed very shortly anyway.

We started off with a warm up. Some stretching and light spinning. I can handle this. We upped the tension on our bikes and I thought I bet I can do this for 45 minutes. I mean, it's hard but I am willing to push myself. I'm working up a sweat, pushing on those pedals and it feels good. Spinning is hard.

Then I heard the instructor say "this will be our recovery, from when we're working hard."

Suffice it to say, I impressed even myself by finishing the class and being able to walk out of the room under my own steam. I may be standing alot (or lying down) over the weekend, but hey I feel good.

I thanked the intructor and told her I hadn't spun much in years. She told me it will take about a year to be able to do it full on. I was thinking more like by bathing suit season. Sigh. I guess Rome was not built in a day.