Chimps, Chumps, and Trump

I sure have been asking a lot of my anti-depressants lately.

In my part of the world last month, people desperately sand-bagged their home against floods, doomed to the forces of climate change. Like those sand bags, this tiny pill has had a big job to do lately to hold back the despair that keeps pouring in.

A terrible suicide bomb in Kabul got very little attention in the news. Ninety people, who had been shopping, talking and laughing, coming home from school, thinking about work or wondering what was for dinner, were killed. Where’s the outrage? The Facebook memes? How terrible would it be to lose someone in that blast and realize that it barely registered in the west? Maybe the first step in combating extremism is to treat our Muslim allies like we treat our western allies when there’s a crisis.

Before I had a chance to publish this post, there were two more terrorist attacks, one in London, and one in Iran. I’m sure you heard much more about one than you did the other.

The Paris accord was ONE WEEK AGO and we’ve already moved onto other topics.

It’s troubling, but not surprising, that the US pulled out of the Paris accord. Anything that sticks it to the straw-man, liberal “other” that Trump et al have so effectively set up, is tossed to his supporters like chunks of raw meat to the baying masses. More than half of Americans, including some prominent business and political leaders, and the rest of the world just shake their heads, regroup, make a plan b.

The news cycle is constantly dominated by every new thing Donald Trump says or does, and he’s always got fresh material. I’ve got news for you; the man loves to be shocking. He likes to disrupt. What do you do with the disruptive student in your class? A disruptive child inappropriately seeking attention? Hint: you don’t reward the behaviour by giving it lots of attention. Granted, the hearings that are going on right now are definitely news-worthy, but we need to focus on the bigger picture and not get sucked into the drama.

Let’s just all stop being held hostage by a toddler’s giant id, shall we? While it’s hard to accept that the US isn’t going to be everyone’s cool big brother anymore, we need to suck it up and move on. They’ve got their own shit going on, and a lot of smart people who are dealing with it. It’s time to tear our eyes from the wreckage and focus on what’s ahead.

The world has some very big problems. We are an evolved, intelligent species capable of great innovation, and we are capable of solutions. I’ve often said that the real leaders don’t go into politics because they’re too busy leading. We have people who understand that humans can’t thrive without taking care of the entire ecosystem. I had the incredible pleasure of meeting Dr. Jane Goodall in person this spring at a private event in Toronto. She is a remarkable human being, environmentalist, feminist, and humanitarian. If you’re curious, you can read the birthday blog I wrote about her here:

https://janegoodall.ca/our-stories/happy83birthday/

I was a little awe-struck and had absolutely nothing intelligent to say to her. I hope she didn’t mind.

Jane

Dr. Goodall’s work is based on evidence and a lifetime of research. Her institute invests time, labour, and money into helping communities near chimp habitats so that both species can thrive. She opened her talk that night by saying “If there are any climate change deniers in the room, I suggest you leave immediately.” She’s also 83 years old, and like my little pill, we’re asking an awful lot of her these days.

The Paris Accord has her feeling pretty down:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jane-goodall-trump-executive-order-climate_us_58daa028e4b07634059f9a0e

Just for fun, and because JG is so awesome, here’s an article about how Trump reminds her of a dominant chimp:

http://thehill.com/blogs/in-the-know/in-the-know/296460-jane-goodall-compares-trump-debate-style-to-chimpanzees

We have an incredible resource and wealth of research in Jane Goodall, and the work of climate scientists advising us that we need to change, immediately. We have people like Stephen Hawking, who understand pretty much everything. We have the Dalai Lama, who understands peace. We could convene a council of environmentalists, climate change scientists, experts on peace, motivation, history, and violence, extremism, religious and cultural leaders, First Nations, who were eco way before it was trendy, and our young people, who are tragically left out of these discussions and yet are inheriting all these issues. I don’t mind if world leaders are there too, but I don’t think that theirs should be the only voices since they represent other interests (primarily their political careers) and don’t necessarily prioritize peace or the environment. We could make adjustments to political structures to reward politicians for long-term planning.

We could, but we don’t, because we keep waiting for our elected officials to save us.

Right now, our youth are the canaries in the coal mine, gasping for air and dying of despair. My hope is that if we build hope back into the equation, we can shore them up to be stronger, better leaders than we are. We could challenge our current and emerging leaders to come up with some radical solutions that don’t start with the economy as the sole driver, but rather the longevity of the planet and our peaceful co-existence on it. We could consider peace and the planet as one issue. Dr. Goodall has warned that when resources become scarce, conflict will increase.

We could present radical ideas to the political leaders, who could consider them in the context of their peoples’ interests and their own geography and economy. We could ask people what they’re willing to do, what changes they can make for the good of us all. We don’t need everyone, nor a one-size-fits-all solution, but we need progress, a critical mass, and some really good leadership. If we succeed, this coming shift will be more significant than any of our previous major societal shifts. If we don’t, the economy will be the least of our concerns. Over the past 2000 years, we have been moving away from an agrarian lifestyle towards technology. Now we need to use technology to move us back into balance with the land.

We have industry leaders who understand that the economy and the environment are co-dependent, and that there is a future in investing in green energy. We will need their talents and energy as well.

We need womens’ voices to be heard. We need to hear from our LGBT communities, because they understand how to organize movements, and from our draft-dodgers and aging hippies, who were the last people to give Mother Earth a really good orgasm.

We need less societal narcissism and more collective movement. We need people who actually care about the future of the planet driving the policy. Let all the crazy tweets float by, unremarked. Constant attention just feeds the beast. Stop engaging, stop trying to convince that small minority of anything, and redirect your energy into something useful. Pick an issue. Work with others to work at it. Check out Roots&Shoots if you’re stuck for ideas. Many hands make light(er) work. Support companies that support the environment.

And while we’re at it with all the saving the world and such, let’s stop distracting our young women by constantly yanking away the carrot of impossible beauty standards. Let’s worry less about the length of a girl’s shorts and containing her sexuality and more about harnessing the power of her brain. They have better things to do. We’re better than this.

When the US cut funding for maternal health programs outside of the US, other countries rushed in to fill the void. The Paris accord isn’t much different. We all just need to work a little harder and stay focused on the task. Yes, Americans will benefit from our efforts, and a handful of them won’t deserve to, but that’s ok. We can work with the majority who want to fight climate change, and let those who believe that climate change is a hoax/that God is coming to save us/ that it’s not worth doing anyway to focus on themselves for a bit. The rest of us need to focus on the planet.

Thanks for reading, now get to work!

PS—anyone who needs a book to read and wants to learn more about the perils of avoiding action, might want to check out this book:

https://www.amazon.ca/Willful-Blindness-Ignore-Obvious-Peril/dp/038566902X

 

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Dear US friends

It’s a dark day for many of you, as it is for many of us Canadians. Judging from the size of the pit in my stomach, I can only imagine the waking dread in some of your households this morning, whether you are a member of the LGBT+ community, a newcomer, visible minority, a deeply disappointed woman, or a decent person who cares about human rights. Overnight, your country has become a hostile place for many of you, and I’m very sorry.  

Go ahead and eat a donut or two and hunker down for a bit if you want to. 

I did not see this coming. I really thought there would be enough smart people who would see through the charlatan to out-vote the ones who would put their own self-interest first. I lived and worked in the US for a few years. Like many Canadians, I treat the border as a dotted line, popping down to the States whenever I can to sight-see or visit family and friends. I can honestly say that there are a few states I may not visit again for awhile, but I am in no way writing you off. I know lots of you are thinking you’d rather come here (enough of you that you crashed our immigration website last night) but I really think you should stay put because you’ve got lots of work ahead of you. Your country and the rest of the world are going to need you in the next four years.  We need your leadership and innovation. Canadians weren’t kidding around when we decided to #tellAmericaitsgreat.

How this happened will be talked about at length by people much smarter than me. Dr. Jane Goodall analyzed Trump’s behaviour and compared it to that of a dominant male chimp. http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2016/09/19/trump-reminds-jane-goodall-of-male-chimpanzees-shes-studied/ 

Malcolm Gladwell suggested that a price was being exacted for 8 years under Obama, a fascinating theory called moral licensing.
http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/malcolm-gladwell-us-election-the-national-trump-clinton-1.3838449 

As a sensitive, empathetic sort, it makes me want to cry furious tears when bad guys triumph. 

What I personally learned from this election:

-hatred for women in power runs much deeper than I’d previously thought

-people would rather elect a misogynistic, racist hater than have a woman for a boss

-when confronted with Trump’s many misdeeds, many people, astonishingly including some women, shrugged it off with a “oh, he doesn’t meant that” (I’m afraid he did)

-people can forgive a man who cheats on all his wives, but not a woman who’s husband cheated on her

-there are many people willing to look the other way while the rights of others are dragged backwards 30 years as long as they are getting what they want.

It would be one thing if voters had prioritized a policy position over his misogyny, but they frankly just didn’t care. I can’t think of any policy platform that I would find so important that I’d be willing to overlook his disgusting comments, but he didn’t even have to bother with one. People don’t care that he’s a pig to women, because in this narrative, women don’t matter beyond their ability to support, amuse, decorate and please.  

Peace is fragile. Civility is fragile. When people perceive that their resources are being threatened, both peace and civility erode.  

We can’t just blame the uneducated. There were educated people who voted for Trump too, and there were systems in play that allowed him to get this far to begin with. Celebrity culture for one. We treat celebrities as though they breath rare air; they exist outside of social and moral conventions, and we assign their opinions far more value than is deserved. We equate notoriety with accomplishment.  

On the other end of the spectrum, we have denigrated the institutions in which we used to trust. Lower church attendance and a greater reliance on online information and social media have resulted in a society that doesn’t understand or doesn’t trust authority, and the basic, longstanding structures that support collective knowledge and will, whether it’s journalistic integrity or democracy. We saw the first cracks in the old shared knowledge model with the debate over vaccines. The anti-vaxxers were ignored at first by a majority that assumed such a ridiculous, unscientific argument would burn itself out, and yet here we are a decade later dealing with outbreaks of preventable diseases, and mired in a new communication paradigm that insists that we hear from both sides of the argument, as though either side is of equal weight and reliability. We need to learn from this. We can no longer assume that logic and proof will bear any weight. 

So, what now? First, once you finish your donuts, it’s time to put those pants-suits back on and keep being the bad-ass bitches that came out in droves to support Clinton. It’s time to mobilize, to build bridges with other communities fighting for their rights, and to make a lot of noise. It’s time to get behind our young women and girls to demand better of the Republican party. It’s time to call ourselves feminists, without explanation or apology. Spread peace. Reach out to your neighbours. Google Positive Space and see if you can start a small movement in your workplace, today, to make sure LGBT+ people feel included. Be the change. 

One final thought. I realized during this campaign, that I didn’t know anyone who was voting for Trump (that they were willing to share with me, anyway). I tended to avoid the pro-Trump propaganda and watch news sources that supported the Trump-as-anti-Christ narrative. It’s a real problem that there are so many angry, disenfranchised people, a much bigger problem than can just be swept away as racism. I find myself wondering if this could happen here in Canada. There are some vocal Canadians supporting Trump, and Manitoba has the highest number of Trump supporters. What are the sociological tectonic plates that have been shifting around and causing all this pressure to build? Sometime in the next four years, we need to figure that out and do what we can to fix it. It’s time for the grown-ups to talk.

 

Friend-iversaries

I have travelled to Manitoulin Island every year since well, forever, for the August long weekend. On the island, it’s called Haweater weekend, and it’s a homecoming for all the eaters of hawberries, which is basically no one since you only ever see hawberries in jams and jellies in the various gift shops, and only tourists buy those jams.

IMG_1747.JPG

You don’t have to do anything hawberry-related to enjoy Haweater. It’s just a bunch of fun festival stuff, beer tent, powwow and some fireworks. It’s the island, people, not NYC. My sister in law is weirdly crazy about fireworks so we always go, and it’s become a fun family tradition.

I’ve stomped all over Manitoulin and I’ve yet to come across some enchanted meadow of hawberries, however, poison ivy, and the now-ubiquitous herbaceous asshole wild parsnip, are limiting my meadow romps (and cutting way down on my comfort levels with nature pees), so maybe the hawberries are all over the place just out of reach.

And nhawberry_jellyow I feel silly. Just did a quick Wikipedia search and realized my northern bias. I’ve been looking for hawberries on the ground, like wild blueberries, and hawberries actually grown on hawthorn shrubs, which are quite tall. The berries served as the only food source for the pioneers who settled on the island, hence the haweater label. Winters on the island are pretty tough to begin with. Throw in some sour berries as your only food source and you’ve got a recipe for some real misery.

Also, the Latin name sounds like a disease:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crataegus

But I digress. This post isn’t about botany, it’s about ceremony. Anniversaries, specifically. On Haweater weekend, my husband’s family gathered at the cottage to celebrate his parents 50th anniversary. It was just like my in-laws, lovely and low-key, with lots of great meals on the deck followed by someone opening another bottle of wine to accompany the long conversations. Fifty years is a significant accomplishment. Trevor’s brother and his wife are coming up on 25 years. Trevor and I will have our 18th anniversary soon, on the same weekend that we will celebrate his parents with extended family and friends. There’s some real longevity and stick-to-it-iveness in this family, and mine as well. My parents have been married for 46 years.

While we were busy adding up the years spent together, I realized that this September marks another important anniversary date for me, although not one that Hallmark typically covers. It’ll be twenty years since I started my Masters program at the University of Waterloo, where I met two people who would become life-long friends.

My parents were moving me into the graduate students residence. It was my first time away from home. My dad was fretting about how we could possibly stuff all the clothes I’d brought into my tiny dorm closet. A friendly house-mate introduced herself. Before she left, my mom said, you should really try to get to know that Rebecca, she seems like a really nice girl. Rebecca told me later that watching my dad grumbling down the hall, trailing a black feather boa from an overstuffed box made her think we should definitely get to know one another.

My mom was right (it’s annoying how often that’s true). Rebecca and I, despite having only lived in the same city for that one semester at grad school, have remained very close. We are looking forward to our annual cottage week with her and her family in August, where we throw seven kids and a dog into a small cabin and have a blast.

Rebecca is the master of long-term friendship, and referred to me for about ten years as her “new friend.”

A few weeks later, I met my friend Rosanne. We were both taking a truly awful literary criticism class. I didn’t get to know her really well until the winter term, when we were both hired as co-op students at federal government jobs in Ottawa. The gravitus of the work environment meant non-work time was like recess. We would play a game of elevator chicken where we’d work all kinds of goofy dance moves and see who could go the longest before putting on a deadpan expression when the doors opened to let others on. To this day, we bust a ridiculous move wherever we are when we hear a good tune, to the embarrassment of our teenagers.

We never did find out whether there were cameras in the elevators, but the commissionaires were always very friendly with us.

We wondered about proposals, if and when they might come (they did, for all three of us, at the exact right time). I was with Rosanne the day she met her husband Mario. One of my first conversations with Rebecca was about how we each had a serious boyfriend and were talking marriage. I met Joe the same week hauling Bec’s futon in his white truck. We were so honoured to be godparents to their beautiful daughter. These four people are family to us as well.

We attended each other’s weddings and the births of our children. There’s an incredible amount of comfort (and short-cuts) in having friends who have known you through all the stages of your life. These women have been there through thick and thin (I’m thick; they’re both annoying thin), sickness and health. We never stood up and promised to be there for each other, but we managed it just the same.

Anyone would be lucky to have one friend like Rosanne or Rebecca; I’m unbelievably lucky to have two, not to mention all the extra awesome people these two bring along with. Their terrific kids and husbands, plus additional friends, generously shared. So, I’m reflecting on my blessings, the friendship of these wonderful people, having our older generation with us and spending time with them, as well as getting to know the younger generation, like my new niece and the lovely young ladies my nephews have brought home.

numbers

And if any young people are reading this, and don’t mind a bit of advice, be good to your friends. They are life’s gold.

Mostly just wishing these wonderful people a very happy friend-iversary. Here’s to twenty more.

Let’s Stop Wrecking Hockey

Although we would normally divide-and-conquer the usual weekend gauntlet of two kids in hockey, one in gymnastics, my husband is away on a business trip so it was just me and the boys last weekend. I adore my boys and love spending time with them, so tried to embrace the challenge while also wondering whether I’ve become the mom in the Canadian Tire commercial (everybody in the car! everybody out of the car!). Also, some very sweet friends stepped in to help with Elliot, giving him lunch and getting him into his gear when I was at Mac’s tournament game. Hockey friends are the best.

In case we hadn’t had our fill of ice with -30 temps and six arena times, it warmed up a bit so we threw in a Family Day Rideau Canal skate for good measure, covering the full 15.6 km. Although it was very crowded, I only knocked down one person, who had the misfortune of skating backwards into me while I was moving full steam ahead. Mac gave me heck but I really can’t see how it was my fault since I was looking where I was going.

IMG_3369

I was especially proud of Elliot, who at age seven covered the distance like the hockey-playing boss that he is.

Elliot is at the very beginning of recreational hockey, in our league’s IP (for introductory program) level. IP is structured to teach kids the basics but is entirely focused on fun and making sure kids love the game. IP is the time-share sales presentation of hockey. Look how much fun your child is having! Look at these parents laughing in the stands because the kids are so darn adorable! Have a Timbit!

On Saturday, my son’s friend skated for what seemed like an eternity in a slow-motion breakaway, unbothered by the defenseman who has a little crush on her, and finally scored. The fans went wild cheering for her. Technically, she was on the “other team” but it didn’t matter. She’s a great kid, we could see the Herculean effort it took to get the puck in the net, and we knew how excited she was, so we were excited too. I remember when my oldest was in IP thinking that all those stories of horrible hockey parents must be about parents in leagues in other towns, because look at all these nice people enjoying all these wonderful kids.

I’m sorry to say that those parents weren’t far away, they were right there, in our league, working on their own A-games of sideline coaching and reffing as the kids got bigger. After a quick stop at home to collect my late-riser, I went directly from Elliot’s feel-good game to Mac’s tournament game. Mac (he’s called Malcolm more often these days, but is still Mac to us) is 13, which means he plays at the bantam level. He’s always played rec because he does lots of other sports, and is a great musician too. While he enjoys hockey, it’s never taken over his life in a way that suggested to us that we should be encouraging him (and frankly, spending tons of money on extra ice time and camps) to try out for competitive. He’s a consistent, respectful and positional team member, and he fits very nicely at the Rec B level where he is placed each year. He’s also right around the age where his sport, and all sports, lose about 70% of their athletes, and we’ve started talking about which of his other activities might eventually overtake hockey.

If or when he does move on, we’ll be fine with it because we know he’s a busy kid with lots of talents and options. As long as he stays active and fit, we don’t really care which sports he chooses. According to this article from the Globe and Mail about the impact of terrible sports parents, our laissez-faire attitude might place us in the minority.

For many young athletes, the end result of all this bad behaviour is that they lose their love for the game – the dropout rate peaks in early adolescence in all competitive sports. “Imagine if 70 percent of the customers who went to Tim Hortons walked out one day and said: ‘I am never going back,’” Hyman says. “In youth sports, we seem perfectly satisfied with this result.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/why-does-watching-kids-play-sports-turn-so-many-ordinary-parents-into-rampagingmaniacs/article27491200/

Why are we losing so many kids right at the age when it’s been shown that sports can help keep them out of trouble?

http://www.livestrong.com/article/291502-do-sports-keep-teens-out-of-trouble/

What I’ve observed in my many years as a hockey parent is a steady decline in the focus on fun, with a steady increase in pressure to perform as my son moves through each level. In one day this weekend, I travelled between the two extremes. The little guys got pats on the back and a re-telling of their glory moments in the dressing room while enjoying a juice box and a rice krispie square.

In addition (thankfully) to some solid coaching and post-game dressing room encouragement, the big guys got a parent who yelled instructions from the stands for the whole game, because everyone knows that games are won by armchair coaches, and a few others who just yelled a never-ending critique of the kids. The refs, young guys themselves, got an hour of invective and criticism, which in my opinion was reflected in our team’s penalty minutes. Our team was not catching any breaks.

I can’t even imagine yelling at an IP game that way. You’d be run out of the place. So why do we allow it for our older kids?

Leaving the arena after our second loss, I overheard a dad walking behind me vowing to give his son, who would “know what he did” the silent treatment during the ride home. What? Seriously? You know what my son got after the game? A hug and a pop and a “good game son, you played well.” They lost the game, but they played really well, and who cares anyway?

I should have said something to that dad. Why didn’t I say anything? Maybe I could have spared that kid a horrible ride home. Or maybe I would have made things worse.

Somehow between age 7 and age 13 some parents morph from “way to go! you really tried your best” to “you owe it to me to do everything I said on that ice or else I have no son.” You know what I’ve never seen? I have never seen a parent scream at their kid during a practice scrimmage. Granted, I try to avoid practices, and when I have to attend, it’s with my nose in a book, but my ears work just fine. I don’t hear parents sideline coaching or howling in outrage if their kid takes a hit or trips over a stick. They’re playing their own teammates, it makes sense that you wouldn’t scream at a kid who’s parents are sitting right beside you. But I have seen coaches from the same club get into it from their respective benches, and parents shout down players from the other teams populated with their kid’s classmates, friends, and former teammates.

There’s a weird thing that happens to some parents during the excitement of games that allows them to see the other team as enemies to be vanquished, instead of their children’s peers. Here’s the thing. It’s not enough to look out for your kid. If you love hockey (or any other sport) you have to care about all the kids playing it and you have to care about the integrity of the sport. That means not cheering for a cheap shot, because that was someone’s kid. It means holding back on applause and cheering when your team is up by more than five goals, because that’s someone’s kid in the other net and he’s having a miserable game. It also means being respectful to the refs, especially when they make lousy calls, because that’s someone’s teenager and they could just as easily go work at Best Buy where they are much less likely to be verbally abused by crowds of angry parents (the Christmas season excepted).

I used to think it was asinine to introduce touchy-feely practices like not keeping score. Hockey is by nature, competitive, and I felt there was nothing wrong with winning and losing. I still think kids learn more from losing than winning, and it’s unnecessary to insulate them from a loss.

Now I feel differently. A few years ago, after a few concussions (one following a deliberate cheap shot) I decided not to return to my hockey league. I signed up for women’s shinny and have never had so much fun playing hockey. As with Elliot’s hockey, no one keeps score. Everyone brings a dark and a light jersey, and we just sort of figure it out as we go. I always know how many goals I get, or not, and I track my incremental improvements, but I honestly have no idea who “wins.” It’s great exercise, I feel like I spend the whole 90 minutes smiling and joking with my teammates, and I look forward to it each week. I’m not saying all hockey has to be shinny, but maybe we need more of it. It has really changed my mind about the value of playing for fun. Our outdoor rinks are packed on the weekends with kids and teens playing hockey just for the hell of it. No one keeps score, and more importantly, no adults are hanging over the boards telling them what to do.

It makes me think  that when it comes to our teens, we might do best just to shut up and get out of the way. Maybe then we wouldn’t lose 70% of them to their phones and video games right at the time when sports could really help.

Since it kind of wrecks the game for me when parents yell and complain/criticize, I asked Mac if he can hear what’s going on in the stands, and whether it affects his game. Really, if my kid is fine, that’s what matters. He says no problem for him, it’s hard to hear and he doesn’t pay attention anyway. The friend who helped me out with Elliot pointed out that anyone who has ever played hockey knows that the glass turns all external sound into one dull roar, and that the armchair coaching dad is really just trying to make sure we all know he’s a hockey expert, and the only one present. It’s an interesting theory.

Here’s my theory. If you play hockey you know how hard it is. You can’t just “take the puck” if it’s out of your reach or the other guy is faster. Digging in the corners consumes massive amounts of energy. Your attention is on many things at once, and you make a hundred small decisions each shift, which may or may not pan out. It’s not easy.

I love watching the bantam boys play. It’s fast, physical hockey, and they’re at the age where most of them have developed some pretty amazing skills. I passed on the parent-player shinny game because I was a bit intimidated by their size and abilities relative to mine. In my opinion, the purpose of rec sports is fun, fitness, teamwork and sportsmanship, and to develop enough skills to have access to that sport when you’re older. That’s pretty much it. If you’re ruining the game for your kid by living vicariously through them instead of putting on some skates yourself, you’re violating your key task; to help them love a sport enough to want to keep doing it when they’re your age.

Interestingly, a gymnastics dad pointed out the complete absence of obsessed, overinvolved dads in boy’s gymnastics. His theory is that there are few, if any, dads who wanted to be gymnasts themselves growing up (men’s gymnastics being only the seventh most popular sport in Canada, less when you separate boys from girls) so no risk of parents living out their dreams through their sons. From what I’ve observed, the same isn’t necessarily true for some girl gymnasts and their moms.

This blog and other articles suggest you limit your comments to “I love watching you play _____.”

http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/the-only-six-words-parents-need-to-say-to-their-kids-about-sportsor-any-per

I feel like my kids can handle some discussions about off-sides and how to get physical in the corners. The dog is another story. She can’t handle any kind of physical confrontation, no matter how staged, between the people she loves best, so we’ve had to eliminate hands-on demos, but I make a point of asking first if they’d like some feedback. The only time any of my kids experiences a silent ride home is when they’re too tired from playing to say much.

I had a great moment when Mac came out of the dressing room, grinning and chuffed because he’d scored a goal and been named game MVP. He may be taller than me now, but he’s not so big.

 

 

 

 

Dear Sudbury, Love Kari.

The past visits us.

Each time we look back on a chapter of our lives, we look back with different eyes, kind of like noticing a piece of an old photograph you’d overlooked before. When I was younger, I looked back on my teenage self with disdain, retroactively critiquing all the ways that I was a giant jerk face. Now that my son is entering the teen years, and the children of my close friends are moving into their final years of high school, I can better understand how vulnerable that age is, and forgive myself for sometimes being overly exuberant. It helped to have coffee with a high school friend who reminded me that even if I was a little loud sometimes, I was also funny and energetic.

My son moves up to Bantam in hockey this year, and I signed him up for some spring hockey to get him used to playing with the bigger kids. Some teenage girls stood next to me (I moved several times and they were always within ear-shot), wearing belly-revealing shirts that were way too flimsy for the cold arena and no coats, giggling over the boys. Puck bunnies? Already? Didn’t they notice the tall girl on the ice with something to prove, knocking the boys over and drawing penalties? They were like a sign-post letting me know what is just around the corner. One in particular was loud and irritating to my grumpy ears, but her friend found her hilarious. I am sufficiently self-aware to know that I was that kid for many adults.

It’s funny that in the exact moment when my future is starting to take shape, I’ve been gifted with several opportunities to think about the past. Last week, I attended a service for my friend’s grandmother, an absolute peach of a woman who lived to be 98 and died deeply loved by all those who knew her. Since I like to gather up stories of other people’s well-lived lives like little burrs on my pant legs, I loved hearing about her life; a tough early start, lots of grit and getting by, loyalty, grace and humour. She’d had troubles, and they were part of her story, but they didn’t define who she was. The stuff that people remembered her by was so much bigger and brighter than the moments when the sun was behind the clouds.

She was the sort of person who made everyone else in the room feel better. There are basically only two types of people in the world: those who make others feel negative, and those who make others feel positive. You can’t be one or the other all the time. We all have bad days and good days, and sometimes a bad day can stretch into a year, but you can do a whole lot worse in life than to try most of the time to be the latter. I was lucky to meet my friend’s grandma a few times. If I had to assign her a colour that matched her personality, I’d give her the bright, sunny yellow of lemon meringue pie.

We talked before about the words that we choose. After I wrote that post, I visited New Orleans where I spent a day touring old graveyards. I was really struck by the practicality of those late Victorians and their ability to distill a whole life down to heartbreaking bare essentials. Beloved. Missed. Cherished. One weathered stone to tell a one-sentence story in absentia, “I was here. I was loved.”

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And also, this awesome individual who knew how to keep things to herself.

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In his wonderful book, “Callings,” Gregg Levoy talks about the importance of consulting one’s own death from time to time.

For similar effect, I also visit ruins whenever I can, for they, too, are skeletons of a sort. When I travel, I prefer going to places where they abound: the crumbling walls of stone fortresses…the broken rim of a volcano whose eruption destroyed an entire civilization–anything to remind me that every castle, like the sun, goes down…Ruins…have to remind you that all your greatest efforts, all the greatest efforts of even hundreds of generations of men and women, thousands of years of human history, will yield nothing absolute, nothing that will last, and that the great thing, the real accomplishment, is building your house in full view of the volcano. (Levoy, p. 32)

On his advice, I keep memento mori in my home office; Levoy’s is an x-ray of his own battered skeleton after an accident. I have a model of a dinosaur skeleton, and a trilobite fossil. I also have my own baby picture, to remind me that the idea of “me” to which I’m so attached is also quite fluid.

A few weeks back, when spring was struggling to break through, the whole province was wrapped in a collective blanket of befuddlement when results of a nation-wide survey listed the people of Sudbury, Ontario as the nation’s happiest.

I’ll let you in on a secret. People in Sudbury love it there. They don’t live there because it hasn’t occurred to them yet to relocate to Ottawa or Toronto, as many in those cities assume. They know that they’re free to leave, they just choose not to.

I grew up in Sudbury and still visit several times a year. My family and my husband’s family live there. It’s a great place to grow up. While Sudbury’s reputation as an ashy ruin of mining was once deserved, there are lots of hidden gems.

Sudburians are insanely outdoorsy types, and the northern landscape is a total playground. Instead of swim lessons, my aunt taught all of us how to swim in Rock lake, starting with trips to the neighbour’s raft and working our way up to the island. We picked blueberries for breakfast and were allowed to fish in the smaller boats, unsupervised. In the winter, we skated in the yard, rode the trails on the snow machine or quad, climbed trees equipped with our pocket knives, or built epic forts. We were almost never inside. As a young adult, I got up very early in the summer to row in Lake Ramsey. If we forgot our water bottles, we could just nip a drink from the lake. Everyone in Sudbury either owns a cottage (called a camp if you’re from there) or knows someone who does.

I badly wish that I could whisk all of today’s helicopter parents back in time for one day in my childhood so they could see how awesome it was to grow up like that, but that’s a topic for another day.

I love the north for its ability to show my kids what my own childhood was like. They love visiting their grandparents at their lake house and getting muddy on the quads with their grandpa or just heading out to fish whenever they feel like it.

We also take our kids to Manitoulin Island every year. If anyone wants to time-travel back to 1975, I recommend the Cup and Saucer trail. A few years ago, we took our Niagara friends and their kids for the first of what is now an annual hike. Their teenage daughter peered at the battered sign at the trail-head warning people not to hike during hunting season. “When is hunting season?” she asked me with wide eyes. “Don’t worry,” I reassured her, “It’s not now.” “But how do you know?” “Because I’m from here.” “How is anyone supposed to know that if they’re not from here?” she argued. Fair point. “I’m not sure, but I know we’re good.”

Should I be alarmed that Google offered up “cup and saucer deaths” as the second most-popular search?

cup and saucer

We then proceeded to scale the same ladder up the rock face that was there when I was a kid, just as slippery with moss and with rung spacing not compliant with any building code in the world. We directed the kids away from the crevasses, stationed adults at the cliff edge, and left with seven exhilarated children in need of ice cream.

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I can’t wait to return this summer, especially now that the past has breezed past my ears a few times to call me back. I’m coming home soon Sudbury,
Love, Kari.

The words we choose

Vaccines have a serious PR problem. No, they weren’t photographed canoodling with the anti-virals. Neither were they replaced by a younger, sleeker version with more bells and whistles. After 100+ dependable years on the job (different vaccines have been made available at different times),  there are many Canadian parents who would gladly give vaccines their walking papers, with no severance pay, and are basically doing just that by refusing vaccinations for their kids.

It’s like when Gotham suddenly decides Batman is a bad guy. If Batman was vaccines, he’d be full of all kinds of gravelly-voiced protests, such as, “I was trying to help you, you idiots. I can’t work like this. I’ll be in my bat cave.”

So many parents have fired vaccines, in fact, that we’ve seen quite a few measles outbreaks in Canada in 2014/2015.

I’ve included a few links in case you want to read about it yourself, but you probably won’t. The subject is all over the news and impossible to avoid. Here’s the argument in a nutshell: those who are pro-vaccine worry that herd immunity is getting dangerously low. We are worried that these kinds of outbreaks will get more common, and that we’ll see a resurgence of illnesses joyfully declared eradicated by the World Health Organization in the seventies. Those who are against vaccinations, who worry that vaccines cause autism and other problems (even though this has been unequivocally disproven) argue that measles are no big deal and they’re not going to throw their child under the bus for some dubious greater good. Some have even suggested that children and society would be much healthier without vaccines, blaming the vaccines for illness.

http://globalnews.ca/news/1806757/toronto-public-health-investigating-measles-outbreak/

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/measles-case-in-ottawa-prompts-public-health-warning-1.1356643

http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/b-c-measles-outbreak-reveals-vulnerability-of-unvaccinated-children-1.2585457

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-measles-cases-linked-to-disneyland-outbreak-1.2953336

Like I said, a huge PR problem.

Many years ago, when I was in university, people used to bust on us English students all the time. Hell, even my own Dad wondered more than once how I could possibly need one degree, let alone two, studying a language I’d mastered by the age of three. Despite any misgivings he might have had, he still graciously packed up all my stuff into his truck and moved me into the graduate student’s residence at the University of Waterloo, muttering to himself about how I was never going to cram all those clothes into such a tiny room. A feather boa was spilling out as we dragged everything down the hall past the room of my soon-to-be bestie. She told me that’s when she knew we were going to be friends forever. My mom knew it too, and made sure she’d secured our acquaintance before she left me on my own for the first time in my life.

But I digress.

Obviously I wasn’t learning how to speak English during those years. I was learning how to use language, how it works, is stretched, pulled, and allowed to rest quietly. How a single, simple slogan can inspire a country to gird its loins and tough it out a bit longer. How assigning certain other words to a group of people can empower others to exclude and abuse them in terrible ways.

Words are powerful. Words matter.

CBC Radio had a great discussion the other day with journalists from around the world about using the word terrorist (as opposed to militant or another less-loaded choice). The panelists were in agreement that journalists should label violent acts aimed at civilians as terrorism, and the perpetrators of such crimes as terrorists. The only point on which they differed was on when it was appropriate to do so. One panelist felt neutral language was key until the facts were properly sorted, but they all felt there was no value in downplaying the act itself with neutral language.

The words around the vaccine debate have really heated up this week. There was a heartbreaking post on social media from mother Jennifer Hibbens-White, who received a note saying her infant son may have been exposed to measles at his doctor’s office near Toronto. If you haven’t heard of this family, they suddenly lost a five year old daughter a few years ago to a rare blood infection. I think both sides could probably agree that they have suffered enough.

Just so we’re fully clear, my kids (and us) are fully up-to-date on our vaccines. I have an autoimmune disorder and can’t afford pointless assaults to my immune system, and I love my kids and don’t want them to die or suffer from completely avoidable icky diseases. Life’s just better when you’re not sick. Maybe I’m biased because I married a really smart one, but scientists have consistently made our lives better. Wear glasses? Got yourself a nice, shiny filling instead of a shot of rye and a hammer? Not planning to have one baby a year for each of your 30 fertile years? What’s that? Had your appendix out? The antibiotics cleared that little indiscretion right up, did they? Pretty much anybody from any other time in history, and plenty of developing nations today, would trade places with Canada in a heartbeat.

Up until recently, I no sooner would have felt compelled to establish my belief in vaccines any more than I would my belief in gravity. It just seemed so obvious, what was there to discuss? There certainly wasn’t any wiggle room with either my mom or the family doctor when I was a kid. As kids, we used to compare our small, shiny, matching arm scars. The pro-vaccine side has started to take notice and speak up now, but for many years vaccinating was such a default position no one bothered to defend it.

Neither was there any debate from the grandparents. Ask anybody who has lived long enough to experience disease outbreaks first-hand and they’ll tell you, baffled, that vaccines are obviously fantastic. I heard one older lady ask, “Hasn’t this generation ever walked through an old graveyard? There are entire sections of children who all died of outbreaks the same year.” We visited an old cemetery in Tadoussac, Quebec years ago. There was a section for young kids who had all died in what can only be assumed to have a terrible winter for the town. Some families lost more than one child.

I listened to an older lady talking about life as a student nurse before vaccines. An outbreak of polio took away her friend’s mobility and robbed her of an upcoming marriage. She spoke of the children in her care dropping away each nightfall. Her anguish at being unable to save them was still there, sixty years later. She said when her mom heard a vaccine had been found, she wept with relief. Modern science to the rescue! We’re all saved.

That’s a far cry from where we are today. It’s become quite fashionable to dismiss anything the older generation has to say about parenting. Maybe it’s because the pace of change has been so dizzying we can barely keep up ourselves, and assume that they can’t either, but I can tell you it is very instructive to speak with someone who has first-hand knowledge of life before vaccines.

Unbelievably, the Higgens-White article attracted its share of haters from both sides. Keywords from the pro-side: science, evidence, greater good. Keywords from the anti-side: my choice, my child, my right.

Here’s a sample:

“No one should be bullied into vaccinations by a doc or ped., it’s a very personal and individual choice.”

“I think people are immunizing their children out of fear! Pushed on us by the media. Have you not read any of the ingredients in these vaccines? Vaccines suppress our immune system! Immunize your baby and they will never have a strong immune system.”

“This whole ‘anti-vaxxer’ problem is not that every idiot assumes that their ‘opinion’ is as important as anyone else’s opinion. It is. The problems is that no one’s OPINION is as valid as a someone else’s FACT…the anti-vaxxer’s (and almost all Fox New/Sun New Network) viewers…don’t understand the science, but instead of doing a little research, they fall back on the failed belief that they are entitled to an opinion on the matter which in the absence of knowledge on the subject is simply foolish.”

My goal here isn’t to convince any anti-vaxxers to vaccinate their kids. Let’s face it, anyone inclined that way would have stopped reading at the point where I announced that we’re all vaccinated.

As a language person, I’m curious about the argument, and what it might take to persuade people to vaccinate.

So far, the science side has been completely unsuccessful in convincing the anti-vax side. No amount of proof, evidence, or studies has swayed them one bit, and actually some surveys have suggested that trucking out the evidence has the opposite effect, causing the anti-vax side to become even more entrenched. I think it’s fair to say there are some serious trust issues. All it takes is for one personal anecdote to circulate online about someone’s cousin’s kid’s somebody-or-other having an adverse reaction to a vaccine and we’re back to square one.

Let’s say for the sake of argument we take disease prevention as a common goal both sides can agree upon. Let’s prevent infectious disease. Seems simple, right?

Could we even establish that common goal? Anti-vaxxers don’t believe that outbreaks are serious; that side-effects and even death can occur as a result of these diseases; or that vaccines don’t cause other problems. Increasing numbers are convinced that not vaccinating is the only path to wellness. They think they are doing the best job possible protecting their kids, so arguing that they should vaccinate to protect their kids isn’t working.

A couple who have opened a daycare (in my town) exclusively for non-vaccinated kids, say that allowing vaccinated children into their care could pass viruses on to the other children, something they’re protecting against by only admitting unvaccinated kids. Ottawa Public Health was quick to point out that vaccinated kids don’t pass infectious diseases to non-vaccinated kids, and that more importantly, if one child in their care contracts measles, they could take out the whole group. The couple indicated that they don’t trust the ingredients in vaccines. They also provide organic food.

http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/02/09/ottawa-daycare-promises-vaccine-free-environment-for-kids-public-health-is-not-happy-about-it/

The pro-vax side thinks there is only one way to prevent infectious disease, and it’s not with more organic kale.

If we forget about establishing common ground, we can set a reasonable goal to convince as many on-the-fencers as possible to vaccinate to increase herd immunity to non-outbreak levels (which is what many doctor’s offices are currently doing) and put some small fences around those who refuse. In persuasion, there are carrots and there are sticks.

Carrots in this context would include everything that’s already happening; reputable information sources (all major Canadian newspapers and governments) are urging parents to vaccinate. Doctors are addressing concerns with patients. Supporters are getting more vocal on social media, I suspect along with a corresponding rise in unfriendings. While a few pediatricians in the US have refused to treat unvaccinated patients, the more common approach seems to be to maintain access to these parents by using gentle tactics. Probably a smart approach, but one that will take awhile to show results.

Sticks would include measures that pinch in some way. I had heard that a ski resort in the US has refused to admit anyone who does not provide proof that they are vaccinated. I wasn’t able to find any supporting articles so I don’t know whether it’s true. It seems like a crazy idea until you consider that kennels have been doing this for years to prevent outbreaks. How can we have a higher standard of disease prevention for our companion animals than for our children?

The pro-vax side could try to discredit Jenny McCarthy, but I doubt that would have any impact. They know she lacks credibility and I suspect the anti-vaxxers would welcome an opportunity to distance themselves from her.

A few months ago, I read “I Am Malala.” One aspect of the book that really struck me was the lack of centralized leadership and organization in the Taliban. They as described as a bunch of poor young men very loosely arranged around a few points of shared ideology, each of them expressing that ideology in whatever way they see fit.

Similarly, the anti-vax movement neither has nor requires central leadership or a spokesperson to be effective. Social media has made it very possible to fuel movements through sharing of personal information that then morphs into facts and science on the sole basis that it exists online. It’s like that old shampoo commercial, “I’ll tell two friends, and you’ll tell two friends, and so on.”

The other connection between the Taliban and vaccines is that the group is credited with derailing the eradication of polio, which was well underway until Taliban soldiers started shooting doctors and nurses delivering vaccines. Vaccines got on their radar when the CIA used an undercover agent posing as a doctor delivering polio vaccines to try to figure out where they’d stashed Bin Laden. Many Pakistani children have paid the price for that decision. Of 128 polio cases worldwide last year, 99 were in Pakistan.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/07/28/330767266/taliban-in-pakistan-derails-world-polio-eradication

The anti-vax movement doesn’t need Jenny McCarthy. The shadow side of social media is its ability to keep rumours alive that would have died long ago. Years ago I wrote a paper on how the internet fans paranoia by giving those who would otherwise be the lone voice in their town the ability to form communities with all the other lone voices. Many voices equals more legitimacy. My paper was about alien abduction, but it’s possible to wade deeply into any number of conspiracy theories online. By the end of my research, I was even starting to feel a little paranoid. We have not yet figured out how to address on a policy level the infectious nature of this kind of information.

So what other sticks do we have? Some have suggested we don’t allow unvaccinated kids into school, which we can’t do because parents are required by law to send their kids to school after age six or provide proof of home-schooling, and because I think it’s better to avoid pushing these families away from general society.

I was remembering when the boys were little how stressful and difficult it was to find quality childcare, and thought, what if all the daycares refused to admit unvaccinated kids? Then I saw this article about the daycare mentioned above. So much for that approach.

http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/02/09/ottawa-daycare-promises-vaccine-free-environment-for-kids-public-health-is-not-happy-about-it/

Sadly, I think what will have to happen for the tide to turn back towards some good solid herd immunity is for some kids to get sick and suffer and for people to remember that these are terrible diseases. A combination of social media, stories like that of Hibbens-White, and some gentle pressure from educators and doctors will hopefully help convince a few, and every little bit counts. What does everyone else think? Is there another solution here? Will social media be effective in turning this problem around?

On travelling light and keeping my mitts on

winterlude4

Our family loves Winterlude. From the time our eldest was born almost thirteen years ago, we’ve never missed a year. Our third son Elliot was born in January and attended Winterlude that February, bundled up Canadian-baby style; snug in a warm snowsuit with his back against a sheepskin. He went for his first skate on the canal at four weeks old (don’t worry-we didn’t put skates on his feet until he was two).

Funny little artifact from this pic: that’s an actual camera hanging around my neck. Anyone remember those? Also I still have that toque, and it’s still my favourite. We look rather cold! Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The jacket Mac is wearing in this picture is the one Elliot wore yesterday. With three sons, it pays to be frugal.

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Winterlude is a very important three-weekend festival in Ottawa, an opportunity to entice visitors to come when the weather is not at its most hospitable. Winter festivals are common in northern cities, and are timed to fall mid-way between Christmas and spring, giving everyone’s winter-weary and seasonal-affected souls something to look forward to and a reason to bundle up and get outside.

We usually try to time things so we miss the big crowds, but this year the kid’s schedules meant that early Sunday of opening weekend was our only chance to go. While there was still a lively crowd, the tourists haven’t really started to roll in yet and I think many Ottawans were holding out for temperatures milder than -31 with the wind chill. If you don’t know what wind chill is, you obviously live in a place where you don’t need to know so good for you and don’t bother looking it up. It was a cold and brilliantly sunny winter day. Everyone was warmly dressed and we enjoyed about three hours of outdoor fun before the kids started asking for beaver tails.

winterlude5 winterlude2 winterlude1

I can always count on my boys to live large in these situations, and they didn’t disappoint. They zip-lined (bigs), skied (youngest), slid down snow hills on tubes, and ice hills on butts (with the whole family). As we were leaving, a busker co-opted Owen into sitting on his shoulders for a unicycle ride, impressing me with his ability to size-up a compact yet apt, older child through many layers of clothing.

busker1

This guy was a great busker. I must have been distracted because I forgot to turn my phone sideways. I did note with some pride though that I got/laughed at my first French joke.

In short, it was a great day. At one point, it was just me and Trevor, standing off to the side while the kids played. Younger families were all around us, wrestling with kid’s mitts and pulling sleds through the snow, many of them exasperated.

I said to Trevor, hey do you notice how easy things have gotten for us? Remember when we used to have to schlepp all that stuff? We didn’t bring anything but ourselves this time. I don’t even think I handed out a Kleenex. In past years, my hands would have been frozen from having my mitts off while I attended to the kids. Except for to take a few videos on my phone, they hadn’t come off at all.

Somehow after years of struggle, we’d landed in the golden zone of parenting. Our kids still like spending time with us, but parenting them has gotten so much easier, in ways that we can only notice by looking back to where we used to be. We even had time to pose for this picture while they were busy playing. A nice volunteer took it for us (she had to take her mitts off, so thanks to her for that).

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I ran into a friend a few weeks ago. I was wearing a new outfit that I quite liked; cream pants and a cream sweater with a forest green coat. My friend, who has young children, complimented my outfit, and then added wistfully, “wow, can you ever tell you have older kids now. I wouldn’t even attempt that outfit.” The white coat I’m wearing in the first picture was an overly optimistic purchase that almost always had boot marks on the side from carrying the kids. These days, I can wear pretty much what I want and not worry about hand prints and boot smudges.

I enjoyed my kids very much as babies. I was thrilled when a friend handed over her sweet baby boy for some snuggles at the arena this weekend, but I’m not sad that mine are growing up. Overall, I’m pretty content these days. It’s nice to have days like we had on Sunday, all of us having fun together and everyone more or less just managing themselves. And I got to keep my mitts on! If only I could figure out how to lace their skates at the outdoor rink without freezing my hands. I’ve hit level expert on all things winter outdoor fun, but that’s one piece that’s still missing. If anyone else knows please tell me!

Here’s a few more from the way-back machine. That’s my mom, my kid’s wonderful Nana, pulling a small Owen on his sleigh.

Feb06 070 Feb06 069 Winter 2005 014Feb06 067 Feb06 062