It’s Monday, and the 2018 Climate Conference in Poland (COP24) is in full swing. Seems as good a day as any to talk about the Apocalypse. I’ve been hesitating on this writing, because I understand that a blog post about the world as we know it going down in flames is… a bummer of sorts. But I need to share some things with you.
I think we humans are trained to expect the Apocalypse to be beyond obvious. We are excellent at denial. Unless we can actually see a meteor hurtling towards us, or a tidal wave engulfing the Statue of Liberty, we will act like everything’s business as usual.
But seriously, isn’t it getting harder and harder to dismiss how badly we’ve f*cked things up, as a species? It’s biblically disastrous out there. The world is a fury of burning and flooding at the same time. Humanitarian crises are so ubiquitous and interminable that they become background news. Conscious bigotry has never been stronger. In the US, there are now so many guns that kids are getting killed by stray bullets, inside their own homes. And with all of our knowledge and progress, there are still innumerable humans who think we can afford to throw garbage around – both literally and figuratively.
This post has been brewing for a long time, but especially since October when I started working with my Grade 5/6 class on our Remembrance Day assembly contribution.
This class is a relatively small, calm group of kids who live in a nice, safe, pretty neighbourhood. The average income around here is very healthy, as is the proportion of highly educated parents. It’s a tight-knit community, very supportive. I’m lucky to teach at my school, and this group of Grade 5/6s is frankly lovely.
The sad part is that, as a group, they are not optimistic. They don’t think the future is rosy. They live their lives and have fun and get silly and run around, but they don’t see their adulthood as an exciting realm of possibilities. They’re not even sure how much adulthood they’re going to get. One girl has already sworn off of having children, because she doesn’t want to inflict the world on them.
These are 10- and 11-year-olds. They are smart, they think a lot, and they can see that we’re in dire straits.
We began talking about Remembrance Day from the perspective of why we commemorate it. Most of these kids have not experienced war first-hand, but they understand that they wouldn’t want to. They are grateful for sacrifices others have made – that their families, for the most part, have not had to make. They can imagine the awful things people have gone through. They want to show respect.
But… what has all the suffering been for? Has it earned us the peaceful world that so many humans have imagined and wished for?
Is the world at peace? I ask my students. No, obviously not, they reply. They know that wars are still happening all over the world. They also know that peace is about more than a lack of wars, and that even our part of the world cannot be called peaceful. Not right now.
We started writing about it. Here’s a list of things they worry about, in their words. (I’ve alphabetized for your convenience.)
Why the World is Not At Peace:
expensive child care
low income rates
not proper rights
people being mentally unstable
people not believing you
police getting off easy
It’s no wonder that anxiety and depression form the latest children’s health crisis in the western world. (And this list doesn’t even mention water supply, the issue I think is most likely to screw us all for good.)
When I was a kid in the 1980s, I worried about a lot of stuff too. (Most of the same stuff, actually. Things haven’t changed as much as I hoped.) I knew the world was dangerous and not within my power to fix. Sometimes this knowledge loomed large over me, and I struggled. But I never felt hopeless. I never stopped planning for a good – better – future.
Folks. IT IS NOT OKAY WHEN KIDS LOSE HOPE. They are built to be hopeful creatures, and they deserve to be. And we need them to be.
I think a lot of the problem stems from kids’ knowledge, confirmed every day on every branch of social media, that adults are not only human but A) a lot of them are assholes and/or idiots and B) they don’t know how to fix things. The whole role model situation is a total snafu. If you can’t esteem the available leaders, then nothing and no one is safe.
Although I was shocked at the cynicism of the discussion we had, I did my best to lift things up a bit. Yes, it all seems overwhelming and insurmountable. We talked about the value of attitude, of small steps in the right direction, of cumulative effort. When everything seems doomed, it’s better to do something than nothing.
Here are some ideas they came up with to improve things:
check in on people
don’t vote for Nestlé
fix the government
have a better attitude
have better laws
help people with no food
help places with no good water
kick out Trump from presidency
make a treaty
meet in the middle and try to figure it out
more homes for the homeless
more school safety
more women’s sports on TV
proper jail sentencing
ride a bike
vote for better candidates
we can share the money
I love how simply these things are put. Some of them truly are simple and feasible. And of course many of them are dauntingly complex and subject to infinite interpretation. Things like “fix the government” and “proper jail sentencing” could be debated until the end of the world.
Here’s one so meticulous it made me laugh:
show people what they’ve done over the years in a slideshow but adding every little detail in public
And another that didn’t make me laugh at all, because I know it was seriously written:
last resort leaving Earth and live on the Moon
As though we’d be any better behaved on the moon. Sigh.
Right now, Sir David Attenborough is doing his best to tell changemakers that THIS IS SERIOUS AND REAL, ALREADY. As did Mark Ruffalo and Cher and co. in the Liberatum film “In This Climate” and Leo DiCaprio in his film “Before the Flood.”
These UN climate change conferences have been going on since 1995 (hence “COP24” – 24 years of talking about this problem and watching it get worse). In October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told us the outlook was considerably worse than previously thought… And we talked about that for a few days – and moved on.
It feels like forever that people have been saying We need to do something, we need to fix this as other people deny the whole thing… And here’s us, as a species, still squabbling about stupid stuff, as though selfishness and hatred were sustainable options.
This is not fair to the kids. Sean and I know that our children are taking in practically everything we say (when we’re having our own conversations – not when we’re asking them to do things) – and it’s a huge burden on them just knowing things about the state of the world. They fret and worry, and we try to say less when they can hear us. It’s not that we want them to be oblivious, but at six and nine, they need time to build up the good anticipation that will help them to persevere as the shit continues to hit the fan.
On the bright side, things we do to change the world for the better are often overlapping and symbiotic. They can improve many layers of a situation. As Rebecca Solnit pointed out ofter the IPCC’s announcement, climate action is human rights. There is still a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario for our species on this planet, and we owe it to everybody to shoot for the latter.
I promise that my next post will be less depressing.
It’s my blogiversary this weekend! Technically yesterday – November 3rd – it was nine whole years since my first blog post ever. About which I said nothing to anyone. I barely knew what a blog was, but I was inspired by my sister blogging about her experiences in Europe, and had also read some blog posts by another friend who wrote about random things, very briefly, and made blogging seem so… feasible.
Man, things were really different back then. Sean’s and my marriage was only four years old, and my teaching career barely older. I had one wee babe. We had a little house on the opposite side of town (and had barely even thought about school catchment areas). Emi and our friend K still lived with us. My whole world was my baby and family at that point. And it was such a joy to spend basically all of my time and brain power on one tiny, squishy-cheeked human that I loved unimaginably – who also happened to be a pretty easy customer.
I remember how much I wanted to get parenting right (LOL!), and how everything my son did was special and amazing. I also remember that my first several blog posts were written sitting in the glider in E’s room, just being near him as he slept.
I had no inkling, while writing those first blog posts, that this blog would still be alive nine years later – because of you. If you hadn’t been reading, imparting legitimacy to my words, it would have been hard to justify this therapeutic but self-indulgent hobby all this time. Thank goodness you were there. I could not have predicted that blogging, through your compassionate readership, would become a lifeline of solace when Sebastian died. Nor did I imagine that I would one day write a post that would be viewed over 50,000 times in a week, or that I would have readers who would insist to me that my blog was important – to folks other than me.
These days, I sometimes wrestle with myself about what to write. Not for a lack of ideas, but for a lack of clarity. Part of me feels that I should go back to my origins of writing whatever I feel like, whenever, even if it’s insignificant and random… Because that’s how this all started – as an excuse to write stuff. “Just write… and see what happens.” The other part of me feels like I should only write when I have something truly meaningful to say, and time to polish it properly, out of respect for you. I mean, what right have I to assume that you want to read my arbitrary woolgathering? There are already plenty of bloggers – and commenters, and tweeters, and Facebookers, etc. – out there who blather.
The truth is that this blog’s steady readership of lovelies is not large. It’s not like I’m proclaiming to the masses. I would love to know what you feel is worth reading in an age of overwhelming internet noise. So if you’re reading right now, please feel free to weigh in about… well, anything you want. (Requests?… Pet peeves?… Guest posts??) I am very, very grateful to you for reading, and it seems only fair that you should have some input. If you want it. I’ll accommodate it as best I can (in my inconsistent fashion).
Anyway. Thank you, as always, for being here. Thanks for reading, and nudging, and commenting, and sharing, and being part of this li’l community with me. I will always be grateful for you. [Insert whole rainbow of heart emojis.]
Did you know that my daughter has been married for almost two months? She’s a romantic, but she needs no extravagant proposal. In fact, she doesn’t even need a groom.
Back at the end of the summer, she drew the above picture on our white board, with great attention to details like rings and gloves and such. She told us that she would be marrying a boy she likes from her school (Lorenzo – he couldn’t’ve had a more romantic name if she’d made him up). She added “Wedding Today” on a Sunday at the end of summer, and got dressed up fancy.
She was really happy and excited. She did ask at one point, “Could we go pick up Lorenzo?” but I’ve never seen this kid, much less met his parents/gotten his number/found out his address. Fortunately, she didn’t seem that perturbed that he wouldn’t be there for the wedding. There wasn’t even really a ceremony (which would only have served to make the groom’s absence more noticeable – who needs it?). She liked wearing her sparkly shoes and Tinkerbell dress and feeling special for the day. She was celebrated and congratulated heartily by all who were present.
Ah, the glory of it all.
Soon afterward, she began work on her first book. It wastes no time with preamble (or writing word order, at least on the first page).
“One day two lonely people crashed in the night. It was love at first sight.” And the rest is history (and more legible).
[It seems worth mentioning that both my kids write on much more mature themes than I did as a child. As you may know, my masterwork Rainy Day Cindy had no romance in it whatsoever (although there were some decent present-giving moments). Nor did it have the kinds of heisty hijinks E likes to write about (superheroes with animal sidekicks fighting evil scientists – more on that later). Mini-Di just followed Gilbert Blythe’s advice and wrote what she knew. More or less.]
I’m pretty sure that this manuscript is not done. I, for one, have many questions and will need some more instalments. I feel like Lorenzo’s behaviour in this book could take a dark turn, as it seems a little stalker-y; but then, maybe he’s just showing perseverance to be rewarded. In the meantime, I’m pretty proud of my kid’s word choices and indomitable spelling.
Tomorrow, September 30th, is Orange Shirt Day. In schools, we will commemorate this day on Monday by donning orange and discussing with our students what it means. “Orange Shirt Day” recalls the beautiful, brand-new, bright-orange shirt that was taken away from Phyllis Webstad at age six, on her first day at Mission Residential School in 1973.
My daughter also happens to turn six tomorrow. She, like Phyllis, was proud to be starting grade school this year, being in Grade 1 – and also with a carefully-chosen outfit. I walked her to school through our own pretty neighbourhood, to a school that is full of compassionate educators who work hard to create welcoming classrooms, and to teach inclusion and character development. She had a complete nutritious lunch and a nice jacket for the chilly weather. When she got home that day, she declared: “I LOVE Grade One!!
I try to imagine taking my child – or being forced to let her go – to a school far away, where I won’t see her for many months. Or even years. I try to imagine her staying at that place where she is underfed, underclothed, expected to speak a language she doesn’t know, made to do manual labour, punished frequently and physically, and forbidden to speak to or even acknowledge her brother. And can’t see her parents at all. It is too awful to contemplate for long.
I often think about this, especially since visiting the Mohawk Institute Residential School and having the privilege of hearing survivors speak about their experiences. It’s a chilly, forbidding place. Thousands of children learned misery between its walls.
Below is what I wrote, compulsively, after my visit to the Mohawk Institute almost a year ago. I know this is not my story, and my voice is not an important one in this discussion. I can only say that I’m haunted by this tragedy, in a tiny shadow of the sorrow and trauma plaguing so many, and this is how I begin to process. (Thank you, Emi, for helping me clarify these thoughts.)
Maybe you were one of the tiny ones
And you cried every day
In your scratchy clothes and hard shoes
So the bigger kids hoisted you
Atop the lockers so you could cling
To the hot water pipe
Warm like your mama’s arm.
Maybe you arrived hearty
so you were picked
to slug your friends in a dank
with unholy cries and money
Maybe you weren’t a fighter
so you were picked
to be summoned to the rumbling
boiler room where no one
would hear the sinning sounds
from their faraway numbered beds.
Certainly you were strapped
for drudgery unfinished
that apple you picked for your sister
especially for your tongue
impertinent to theirs.
Of course you hungered
after every meal on and on
and for rhythms
sun in your lungs
a soft hazy nest.
Perhaps you crept – shinnied – fled
streaked through the trees
but landed in the hole
in the wall under the stairs
and the salt they gave so your cheeks
would look plump.
Perhaps you died
in a narrow bed, lungs clouded
in a struggle, wounds streaming
in the woods, limbs like stones
reaching for your ancestors
or perhaps you lived with your broken
spirit tolling as the pieces
fell and kept falling
you collected what you could
and wear them every day
shards piercing your scars
wondering if someday sorry
might mean something
Thanks for reading today. You can learn more at Where Are The Children and We Were So Far Away. You might consider donating to Indspire. And if you haven’t watched/listened to The Secret Path yet… although Gord Downie was not an indigenous voice, this work is a valuable access point for those who understand best through music. And of course – please consider wearing an orange shirt on Orange Shirt Day.
Do you ever ask yourself if you’re happy? Have you figured out what happiness is in the first place? Do you believe it to be achievable?
Ostensibly, happiness is what everyone wants, but there’s a lot of debate about what that looks like, and whether it can last, and how you know when you have it, and whether you even appreciate it when it’s there for the taking.
Sean and I have talked a few times about when/whether we’re happy. Not in terms of our marriage – we know we’re happy to be a unit. And not in terms of whether we should be happy – we are so fortunate in life, we surely have access to all the puzzle pieces needed for happiness. But day-to-day, in general, are we actually happy?
Perhaps the more pertinent questions are: what are those puzzle pieces? and which pieces really count?
You’ll be glad to know that I found the answer for us all – at the donkey sanctuary.
Essential Requirements for a Contented Life. Right there on the wall of the Learning Barn, complete with grommets.
Looks like a simple enough list… but I’ve been pondering it and I’ve come to see that it is actually profound.
You see, I’ve been fretting as summer comes to a close, because of a feeling of incompleteness. I’m a teacher – I get more time off than any other profession – how could I possibly be discontent?? What kind of ingratitude is that?
I had a fun summer – spent two weeks staffing at Camp NeeKauNis (with kids), visited with family and friends, picked berries, cleaned out the garage with Sean, purged a bunch of stuff, visited Story Book Park and Wild Waterworks and the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada with the kids, visited Niagara-on-the-Lake with my hubby to celebrate our 13th anniversary, attended my school board’s two-day Learning Fair, took an Elementary Choral Conducting course, painted my son’s new bedroom…
Very productive, with lots of fun things in it. So WHAT IS MY PROBLEM?
I think the problem is my mindset. As you know, I have a robust guilty conscience. Naturally, I feel guilty about my teacher’s summer, since my husband gets the same ridiculously insufficient amount of time off per year that most Canadians in the workforce get. So I feel the need to get tonnes of sh*t done every day, to justify my summer… And also to make less for him to do, so that he feels at least a little more relaxed.
It ends up that I don’t feel relaxed – except for the times that I schedule in relaxing activities. And as you may have noticed, I did not blog all summer – for the second summer in a row. Why? Because it never got to the top of my To Do list. Because I feel weird about prioritizing it. Same goes for the other artistic projects I have started in the last three to six years: they don’t ever get to the top. Even though I know they provide me with happiness, on a deep-heart-level.
This makes me bananas.
I mean, I’ve read Big Magic. I know in my brain that I’m supposed to DO CREATIVE THINGS, unapologetically. That it’s valid to make time for art, even – or especially – when life is crazy. And nobody likes that person who works constantly and suffers on purpose and then complains about it. It’s just that… there’s so much other stuff that needs doing.
When we went to see the donkeys on Labour Day weekend, it was a beautiful, peaceful day. Those donkeys, although they’ve been through hardships, are great at chillin’ and soakin’ up the love at this point in their lives. Happiness is all around. We feel it and it makes us smile. It’s time to learn from their paradigm.
What was on that list again?
“Do I have enough of the right kinds of food to eat?” Hmm. The “right kinds” of food, they say. Am I eating stuff that’s actually food, or is it actually modified/hydrolyzed/hydrogenated/blah blah blah? The more I pay attention, the more I see that what I eat affects my mood and energy level dramatically. (It’s amazing, in fact, how many of us ignore this direct causal relationship.) Sean and I are eating mostly plant-based nowadays, and we both feel a lot better when we’re on that track. And yet I still ignore it quite often. Silly human. So, Dilovely: eat what makes your body happy (as well as your mouth).
“Can I get away from wind, rain, sun, and snow?” Yes, our home is more than adequate. I can’t deny that there were moments this summer where my productivity suffered due to our lack of air conditioning… But not many, considering. And in the winter, I think every day about how lucky I am to have coziness as an option, thanks to my home.
“Do I have access to fresh, clean water to drink, even on the hottest and the coldest days?” YES. I’d like to take this moment to express my gratitude for the water. I am so, so thankful that I live in a place where water comes right out of the taps and is safe to drink… And this same place has countless beautiful rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams that support so much life. It is an abundance of riches that we ALL need to protect… Because water is also the most important thing. Period.
Space to move and exercise
“Do I have enough space to move around, in keeping with my biological needs?” To me this says: GET OUTSIDE. Run around. Get some fresh air like your mama toldja to. We never regret having gone outside, especially to get some exercise. Our biology needs it.
Freedom of choice
“Am I allowed to make choices about how I live my life each day?” Whoa. This question is deep. Have you ever read a book set in a place where citizens are super-oppressed and/or fear for their lives? And then looked at your own life and marvelled at how you can freely go to the grocery at 10:30 pm or meet friends for coffee wherever or have a university education and a job even though you’re a woman or take your kids to the park without worrying about gunfire? It’s good to be acutely aware, sometimes, of how free one’s life is.
But also. On a daily basis, I (and I’m sure many many others) box myself into a state of near-constant obligation. I brought myself here by freedom of choice, but if I were making thoughtful choices about how I live my life each day, wouldn’t I, I don’t know, blog more than once in three months?
Of course, lots of us, a lot of the time, have a lot of things happening in our days that we wouldn’t choose, but still have to deal with. In that case, I’d argue that the other points become even more important.
Proper social context
“Do I have the opportunity to live with my own kind, and relate to them as I would in my natural environment?” Humans are social animals – we need to have peeps. We need to be with them, relate to them, in person, authentically present. And for the introvert animals, we also need to have times without so many peeps. Neither of these things is too much to ask.
Mental and physical stimulation
“Is there variety where I live?” This one makes me think, too. Do I do the same thing day in, day out? I know Sean and I both have those moments when we feel that drudgery – although Sean perhaps a bit more than I, because my job is never boring. We need to exercise our brains, do different things, challenge ourselves, get into the flow, feel alive. This also is not too much to ask of our modern, civilized lives.
Boom, there you go, the contented life in a nutshell. Do you have one?
Dear lovelies. I’m afraid this blog post is not as thoroughly-crafted as some… it doesn’t have the cohesive arc I wish it to. Probably because I’ve been trying to get it done for over a week, ha. You’ll have to forgive my rustiness; it’s been a while.
But I do like what this list does. It makes me think about what is ESSENTIAL in life, and what I already have to be grateful for. Donkeys don’t do any unessential crap. If we humans could cut down on activities that are both A) unnecessary and B) don’t make us contented or bring us happiness, then we’d be living more like the donkeys. That’s an idea worth pursuing.
Recently, I had the chance to catch up with an old friend whose family was expecting their third child: a daughter, after two sons. [Actually, I started this post more than a month ago, and as it happens, said daughter was born TODAY, early this morning! So read on, in honour of wee baby EC’s birth day.] This friend is from a two-son, no-daughter family himself. He said, “I should pick your brain sometime about how to raise a girl. I’ll have no idea what I’m doing.”
I’d like to say that I have all the answers, since a) I am a daughter and b) I have a daughter I’ve managed to get to age 5 relatively unscathed.
Always wipe front to back
Don’t over-clean and irritate those girl parts
Keep a close eye on her interactions with her big brothers, because it’s easy for big brothers to abuse their power without realizing it.
Annnnd… that’s about the only straightforward advice I have. As soon as you’re past the diaper stage – and sometimes while you’re still in it – other things that differentiate raising a girl from raising a boy get sticky and complicated.
Once upon a time, I was a girl. (Still am, in some ways.) I was always happy and proud to be one, and never wished I were a boy – girls are the best! I was fortunate to have many strong, wise, smart female role models in my life, including my mom, my aunts, and my grandmothers. Also, I grew up between two sisters (with a brother as well), and my best friends were all girls (past about age 5).
Now I’m a grown-up woman, and I still wouldn’t trade that for anything. There are lots of awesome and basically magical things about being a female human. That being said, I have come to understand a lot more about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the status of womanhood today, and the breadth of the progress we have yet to make. I’ve thought and read and discussed a lot about what feminism means to me now, as a mother and as a teacher. Often, the process makes me mad, and always, it makes me feel fiercely protective of my little girl.
Obviously, girls, like all children, are individuals. The main things you can justifiably say about “Girls” as a group are not about their personalities, hobbies, habits, or tendencies. They are about the ways society sees and treats them. In my career I have taught literally hundreds of girls between the ages of three and eighteen, observing and getting to know them in many different contexts.
Here are a few thoughts that I hope will be helpful – or they may just confuse things worse than ever. But I think they’re important.
Pretty is as pretty does
The wish to be physically appealing is extremely powerful. I believe that this is partly instinctive, but mightily reinforced by the media. Society teaches girls and women that making themselves pretty should be their top priority.
Not too long ago, it was our duty to be pretty for men. Nowadays, it’s ostensibly for “us” – the company line is that it’s empowering to feel beautiful. Frankly, this is often true. Most women I know do feel most confident when they know they look good. I’m sure most men are the same.
Where the empowerment argument falls down is that the standards for women are flat-out ridiculous. As in, the consumer engine is all up in our appearances, down to Every. Single. Detail. Not just the quality of our hair and the state of our toenails, but everything in between, including the consistency of our breasts and the look of our vulvas. (And when I mention hair, I mean ALL the hair, in EVERY place.) There is no part of the external female anatomy that is exempt from society’s opinion.
And the expectation is perfection, literally. Women’s products are designed to minimize or conceal “imperfections” – or even “correct” them, as though every unique quirk of our bodies is a MISTAKE. I feel the outrageousness of this as I write it, but sadly, it’s no exaggeration. Society’s collective sense of entitlement to judge female people on and by their looks is inescapable and crushing. The engine never stops, because there are people making obscene amounts of money off of women feeling bad about themselves.
Tiny girls are able to love themselves and their appearances naturally and abundantly. Sean was worried at one point because AB loves to admire herself in the mirror, strike cool poses and so on – is she too focused on her looks? Will she grow up vain?
But this time of a little girl being able to enjoy her reflection without self-judgment and criticism is fleeting. Due to the above phenomenon, a girl’s self-esteem is often extremely fragile. I was already worrying about whether my body was good enough by the time I was nine (ballet class did not help in that regard, even though I adored ballet) and I fretted about my crooked teeth as soon as I got them, which was even earlier. Every insecurity a girl can have is promptly and thoroughly validated by the media. I watch my daughter enjoying her beauty, and it squeezes my heart. I know all too well the self-consciousness that creeps in, so soon, on young girls.
So here’s a quandary: do I tell my daughter she’s beautiful to reinforce her confidence, or treat appearance as unimportant so that she will focus on her character and skills? (The internet is all over both sides of this argument, BTW. It’s no help.) Personally, I try to do both. I tell her she’s beautiful often, because I can’t pretend that Beauty isn’t an issue. She IS beautiful, and she will need this knowledge-ammo to fight off the counter-messages. Plus… we all know it feels good to hear that. (She tells me I’m beautiful too, with sincerity and delight, usually when I wear a skirt or something pink – or any outfit she chose for me.)
[Here is a wonderful blog post about a mom who learned, for her daughters’ sake, to agree with them that she was beautiful. This had a big impact on me when I first read it, back when my own daughter was baby. Since then, I try very hard not to be self-critical in front of my kids. And in general (though that’s harder).]
We also talk about her character on a regular basis, discussing almost every day what makes a good friend, how much we learn from hard work, what courage looks like, and other traits we want to foster. I only use the word ugly when we’re talking about certain behaviours (which could be another whole post). I want her to know deep down, as she grows, that in real life, inner beauty is the greatest determining factor of overall beauty.
Nurturing is for everybody
Society may have been telling girls that we want to play with dolls for generations, but it’s not out of the blue. The nurturing tendency among girls is not solely a learned thing. As my daughter already knows, girls are born with all their eggs already in place in their bodies (in fact, AB seems quite proud of this). It makes sense that certain instincts come with them. Even in families trying hard to avoid gender-norming their kids, you often have tiny toddler girls pretending to be mamas (and tiny toddler boys who freak out with excitement around construction equipment). Many’s the kindergarten girl I’ve seen taking a random object – like a block or a chalkboard eraser – and mothering it.
I guess it’s not surprising that so many of the vocations dominated by women – child care, education, nursing, veterinary medicine, home health care, social work, not to mention parenting – are those in which the nurturing instincts are an asset. I am proud of the skills and accomplishments of these women, as well as those of the women who pioneer in male-dominated fields, who deal with chauvinism every day in order to pound their boots on that glass ceiling.
At some point, my daughter will have to contend with all this. Particularly divisive are the many perceptions that complicate a woman’s choice to mother – or not. “Parenting isn’t real work”… “Working mothers can’t fully succeed in their careers”… “A woman isn’t a real woman until she’s a mother” … and many more, often in conflict with each other. For now, though, I encourage my daughter to nurture (as well as to build things, play with trucks, and so on) – and I encourage the caring tendency in my son, too. We all need comfort and care, at every age. The world needs more nurturing, always, from everyone.
Pink is STUPID… Or AWESOME
I looooved pink when I was little girl. Then, around age 12, I went off it and didn’t start to enjoy it again until I was an adult. That’s partly because I came of age in the 90s – grunge and pink didn’t mix well – but partly because I saw it as a dumb, girly colour. Which is awful. I hate that I internalized that message for so long. Pink is fun. It’s happy.
It might also be a little bit of a trap. When my daughter was born, I didn’t want her to feel like she had to choose pink as the be-all and end-all of everything. But of course, people love to buy cute pink clothes for girl babies (and they areadorable). Although I dressed her in all the colours, as soon as she began choosing for herself, she overwhelmingly chose pink. These days, purple and turquoise (thanks, Frozen) are also really popular, and she loves multicoloured things… But nothing can sway her love of pink.
The part that makes a protective parent mad is when you go to the toy section of a department store and find your totally-pink aisle and your zero-pink aisle. As though there’s no middle ground, for anyone. Really?? In the 21st century?
Here’s a question I can’t answer: is it good that they’ve started making “girl” Lego? Because it seems like you shouldn’t have to – Lego is for everyone (with strong and able fingers). But then… I’ll be honest. I probably would have done lots more fine-motor play-building if I’d had more colours and shapes to work with. When we gave AB a Lego set with all sorts of colours (including pink and purple and turquoise) and lots of random wheels and windows and funny parts, BOTH kids got really excited and built like crazy. More variety = MORE FUN.
[On the topic of pink, dolls, and many other very pertinent things, I highly recommend “Cinderella Ate My Daughter“, by Peggy Orenstein, to be read by EVERYONE with girls in their lives.]
No means No. Except when it doesn’t.
Girls start out quite knowledgeable about their physical boundaries. Society blurs that line for them, however, from a very young age. There are a million insidious messages about how a woman should be, permeating a girl’s psyche as she grows. We should be kind, gracious, altruistic, polite, agreeable, generous, accepting, and friendly. All great qualities – I aspire to them myself, and encourage them in all the children I know. The problem arises when they are so ingrained, to the exclusion of other qualities, that they affect a girl’s protection of her boundaries.
Even in 2018, there are potent forces telling girls and women to avoid being confrontational, defensive, or inconvenient. I see ALL THE TIME our tendency to sacrifice ourselves and enable other people – sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad. On the one hand, you have the professions I mentioned earlier in which women care and give every day in extraordinary ways. On the other hand, you have millions of women becoming recipients of unwanted sexual attention, language, and/or contact, from men who exploit that politeness, friendliness, acceptance, and the desire not to make a fuss or be a pain. And please don’t misunderstand: I do not blame the women. This stems from the burden of centuries of misogyny.
[Here is an excellent article about sex from a woman’s perspective that I honestly believe every woman who’s ever been sexually active, no matter how good her sex life may be, can relate to on some level. And here is a post I wrote when AB was a toddler about managing the complexities of the physical relationship between her and my son.]
My Hubbibi and I have had many earnest conversations about the word NO, especially regarding our kids. I know that sometimes no doesn’t really mean no… Sometimes kids screech and giggle “no” during a physical game when they actually enjoy it and want to continue. BUT. I don’t think it’s up to me or anyone else to decide which Nos are real and which aren’t. Not even if parents (for example) traditionally have that leeway. Some words MUST mean what they say. I always tell students: “When someone says stop, you must stop.”
If “Stop” and “No” are open for interpretation, how does a person make herself clear? If people feel entitled to construe another person’s “No” however they like, then you have… well, you have the status quo. You have #metoo, in its millions.
Don’t even get me started on the folks who object to the new Ontario Sex Ed curriculum that finally takes on consent. Keep kids in the dark about sexual health and of course they will be blindsided.
The Herbivore’s Dilemma
To take the above idea even further, girls learn young that the dangers they face can be grave indeed. Consensus says that girls aren’t safe by themselves. Young boys are in a similar category – all children have to be careful of “stranger danger” – but as we get older, the understanding deepens for women. It is an extraordinarily strong (and trained) woman who is physically able to overpower your average adult male. In the Survival Game of reality, female humans are the Herbivores – for their whole lives. Depressingly, this is a biological and statistical truth. We are the prey. We are always aware of it. It is part of our everyday existence to avoid situations that leave us vulnerable to predators.
In my mind, this is the most deep-seated reason why so many women had a profound emotional response to Wonder Woman. We vicariously walked with her right into danger, and just dealt with it like a BOSS. The idea of being unafraid, of knowing you can protect yourself and your people… That’s the dream. it’s huge.
I wish it were unnecessary, but I will be teaching my daughter everything I know about personal protection. [Here is a pretty good article that covers many of the things I learned in a personal protection workshop I took a few years ago. We also learned how to put up our “fence” – guarding hands – and say loudly and aggressively, “Back off!” and if that doesn’t work, “Back the f*ck off!!!” Haven’t shared that with AB yet, but apparently it can help a lot.]
Contradictions, Hypocrisy, and Injustice
Last year at OELC iArts, it was my privilege to have an in-depth discussion with our group of Dance Majors, based on the question “What bugs you about the way society treats girls?” These junior high students know what’s up. They are angered by the impossible standards of beauty, and the way that all forms of media prey on their insecurities.
Even more, the double standards in their daily lives are infuriating. Boys get away with all kinds of things that girls can’t. Boys can, for example, wear basically whatever they want. Girls are not allowed to violate the dress code – it’s distracting (to boys) – always the girl’s fault… but short shorts are IN. It’s impossible to be fashionable and adhere to the dress code. Girls reported being made to wear random lost-and-found shirts to cover up visible bra straps – but god forbid they should propose removing the bra to solve the problem. Already, in Grade 7, the sexualization of EVERYTHING involving girls is rampant.
There’s a lot of unfairness. And a lot of pain. The unspoken expectations, the things that are just easier for boys, the things boys – and men – feel entitled to say and do around and to girls, the things that society says girls need to care about, the things it won’t let them do…. It’s a LOT.
Furthermore, the mixed messages start right away, and never stop. Girls can do anything boys can… but in reality, they are not treated the same. Girls should do everything in their power to be pretty, but they should not care or even really be aware of it. Women should own their sexuality, but not TOO much. Women should act more like men when they lead, but if they do they’ll be called cold and heartless – and people will still feel entitled to comment on their appearance.
As a family with two living children, a boy and a girl, things are sticky sometimes. Double-standards and mixed messages have to be dealt with, often on the fly as they come up. I try to be as honest as I can about how things are, within age-appropriate limits. We discuss how people grow up with different ideas about how to treat others, and then we think together about what we believe is right. My kids are already pretty thoughtful and astute people in many ways, and have some wise things to say. They know that we will never shut down their questions or invalidate their frustrations – and that we will love them no matter what. We hope that’s enough.
Dilovely, didn’t you say “Scary But Hopeful”?
Okay, right. I acknowledge that this started out as parenting advice and became a feminist Di-atribe. (And I almost apologized for it, then backspaced. Because raising a daughter to live fully in this world = FEMINISM. No apologies.)
Yes, my understanding of, and frustration with, the status quo for women has grown with every year that goes by. It seems like, in this day and age, in a country like Canada, we should be over the silliness. Over the stupid beauty standards, the antiquated attitudes, and the misogyny so deeply embedded that some people don’t even see it. At times, it feels like we haven’t come nearly as far as we should, given the work that has gone into dismantling the patriarchy. Sometimes it even feels like we’re regressing.
However! I am also very grateful to raise my family in this place and time. Here and now, I do feel safe most of the time, and my daughter does too. Girls attend school – at all levels – in numbers that couldn’t have been imagined a century ago. We explicitly teach about consent. The pay gap is a household topic of conversation. The Prime Minister’s latest budget focused heavily on improving the lives of women. The Cabinet has gender parity. Awesome female heroes are more and more visible in movies and TV shows – and in real life too.
[If you need inspiration, news, resources, book lists, blog posts, or anything else to learn about girls or help girls learn about themselves, please mine the riches of A Mighty Girl. It is an absolute treasure trove and will make you feel better about the world.]
I’m grateful for the campaigns that mainstream companies are working on, because although they’re not without difficulties, they are highly visible and they do seep into the public consciousness. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has done some good work, bringing up issues mothers and daughters need to consider. And the original #likeagirl video made by Always consistently makes me cry.
Particularly the moment where a smiling teenage girl acknowledges she doesn’t have to accept “run like a girl” for its connotations. She says, “I would run like… myself,” putting both hands over her heart. She does know her worth, but the world tries hard to rob her of this. The woman asks her gently, “Would you like a chance to re-do it?”
Yes. Girls would like a chance to reclaim their self-compassion and take loving custody of their own value as people, please. YES.
This can happen. The world is shifting. There may be a sexual predator slash nincompoop currently terrorizing the White House, but I’ll say this for him: he (unintentionally) rallied millions of women to take louder, stronger ownership of their feminist ideals. This is helping to put feminism where it should be: as the mainstream, default position for ALL non-misogynist humans. The #metoo movement has swelled past its banks on the power of women knowing they can’t let others just get away with shit anymore. Complacency is not an option.
I am also comforted by the knowledge that we have sisterhood to draw upon. We can bring our daughters into the fold as women who know the profound power of our bodies, hearts, and minds. We understand the strength of unity. The variants of our tenderness are blessings, sources of energy and healing. We know that daughters and mothers and sisters, joined with our allies, are already in the process of uplifting this chaotic jumble called humanity and making it better.
And there are lots of fantastic fathers out there, raising daughters with their own hearts and minds open to who those girls will become.
I am sincere when I say that I feel real optimism for our girls. It is truly exciting to be part of this new wave. We are in it together, all the daughters and all the sons, feeling the thrill of a changing, learning, evolving humanity.
My sister gave me the award-winning The Marrow Thieves for Christmas, knowing how keenly I feel about Indigenous issues. I was about a quarter of the way through when I heard a snippet on CBC saying that Jully Black would be defending this book for Canada Reads! So I felt cool by association (with Canada’s national bibliophilic geek-out). Jully and The Marrow Thieves made it through the first day’s vote… I’m rooting for them to win!
Other works by this author: The novels Red Rooms and The Girl Who Grew A Galaxy, and the short story collection A Gentle Habit, as well as the story “Seven Gifts for Cedar.”
Recommended by: My sister, I guess! And maybe the Governor General, considering that The Marrow Thieves won that award for English-language children’s literature in 2017.
Genre: Futuristic dystopian forest-trekking YA fiction.
Main characters: Frenchie (the narrator), and the cobbled-together family of fellow fugitives he travels with, including leader/Elder Miigwans and love interest Rose.
Plot intro: After the climate-change apocalypse, most North Americans have lost the ability to dream, and are hunting Indigenous people for their bone marrow, said to restore dreaming.
Opinions: I first heard about this book during a carpool, from a guy who kinda liked it but was rather dismissive. Since I found most of what he said during the ride to be arrogant and/or wrong, I had a hunch it would be a great book. 🙂 And I was right!
A quotation I liked: Most of my favourite moments in this book would be spoilers. I will say that Dimaline writes beautifully, treading the unlikely line between imagistic poetry and careless teenage speech. Also, this book contains what might just be the sexiest non-sex scene I’ve ever read.
What sticks with me: How much I want to shift this future. Not just the environmental catastrophe part, though of course I’m hoping we can avoid such collapse. And I’m not worried that the bone marrow harvest will actually be a thing. But Canada – and Turtle Island in general – are at a turning point right now, in which all of us need to understand what Canada did to Indigenous Peoples, so as not to repeat history. Not just residential schools, but extermination and marginalization of all kinds, the Sixties Scoop, the current child apprehension crisis, and of course the racism that has lasted from the moment of first contact to the present day.
Recommended to: All of us sharing this continent – but especially Canadian youth. We can take Indigenous-Canadian relations somewhere new and better.
To sum up: Gorgeously written with joy and tragedy, suspense and humour, and a lot of love for its beautiful characters. (I gave it five stars on Goodreads.)
Hello, women and women-lovers! It’s been 2018 for two-and-a-half months now. Feminism in North America seems to be enjoying an all-time high (#metoo, #timesup) and an all-time low (#POTUSisamisogynistharrasshole) (yep, just coined the term “harrasshole” this moment, you’re welcome) simultaneously. How confusing and invigorating for us all!
For those times when you feel like we still have one foot (plus maybe several more toes) in the Dark Ages, here is a whimsical glimpse into the true horror of the status of women on this continent less than a century ago.
(My brother found this gem, from the Montreal Standard dated December 5th, 1931, insulating someone’s wall on a renovation. Which is clearly where it belonged, barricaded into invisibility and pocked with rusty nail-holes.)
Wait, WOMAN is the loser? Are you SURE, Ursula Parrott? Well, yes, in fact. She is very sure. (I don’t know about the illustrator, though. That dude looks pretty self-satisfied in his fancy vest and checkered napkin… But there is something wistful, maybe even melancholy, about those ladies staring into space. Are those his wives? A wife and a mistress, forced to have tea together? Or are they spinsters upon whom he charitably bestows his company? Cat + knitting would suggest spinsters. Plus the article does not mention polygamy.)
The writer of the article, Lillian G. Genn, gives us a frank intro:
Spinsters of yesteryear have always appeared to us as sad, pathetic creatures who could only view life from a shelf. Given the chance, there wasn’t one who would not be glad to exchange places with the footloose, heartloose bachelor women of today who are free to stray in green pastures with the men. In fact, there are many who believe they enjoy life more than those who have followed the connubial path and are hemmed in by its responsibilities.
By contrast, here is the wisdom of Ursula Parrott, herself, minus the parts of the paper that had been lost to the ravages of time. (I’ve also included a few comments from the Dilovely peanut gallery. Which is me. And I’m colouring those comments teal for your reading pleasure.)
“The spinster woman was at least allowed the comfort of growing old. But the woman today must strive to keep herself young. She is constantly in competition with younger women, whether it is for jobs or for social favors. She can’t afford to let her waistline go or the wrinkles come, or she will be hopelessly out of everything.” [Huh. Sadly, I’d say that this is still true – the expectation of youth is there, the fear of aging is there, whether you’re married or not.]
“Woman’s primary need is for stability and permanency. The lives of the unattached women are in an emotional turmoil because they have not found this satisfaction. The future that faces them is more insecure and uncertain than it was for the spinster who had the family behind her.” [Don’t dudes want stability and permanency? I know a few who do, but back in the Great Depression, perhaps stability was a fetter to the dashing young men waiting in pogey lines.]
“The fact that the young woman of former days had her life charted for her and she knew what her place was, whether as spinster or wife, gave her some distinct advantages. When a man showed an interest in her she knew that his intentions were definitely matrimonial. [Since she couldn’t possibly just be interesting.] Once married, she devoted herself to her husband and children. There was little else for her to worry about. [Except the zero choices available to wives of the patriarchy.] No matter what adventures her husband had on the outside […] was to protect her.” [Ah, the good old days when a man’s adventures were nobody’s business but his.]
Something about how bachelor women want nothing but [***] to live life to the hilt, regardless of the cost. To them any path is better than the conventional one. They derive no pleasure in being faithful to one man. [Maybe that depends on whether the man himself is pleasant.]
“But this type of woman is in the minority. Most women, after a romance or two and a job or two, want the stability and security that marriage gives. They still regard the wedding ring as the grand prize of life. Temperamentally they are more adapted to the role of wife and mother than for anything else.” [And here my mind goes straight to those times when I am temperamentally not so great at my mother role. Like when I yell at my kids. I am clearly an adaptational disappointment.]
“If a woman is sure that what she wants is marriage, it is foolish for her to experiment. She should wait for a husband and not take risks. Of course, what has complicated the situation is that economic conditions are forcing men to defer marriage until after 30. A girl, after waiting a while, begins to feel that she had better take what she can until she can get what she wants. [Could this be a veiled reference to the fact that women actually have their very own sex drives?] Since people are more tolerant about pre-marital affairs, there is nothing to prevent her from indulging in one. In some instances she may soon terminate the affair. But what if she finds that she has become emotionally dependent upon him? She waits from year to year with vague hopes that it may culminate in wedlock.
“Finally she finds that all she is left with is the freedom to experiment again. But now she hasn’t the freshness nor the confidence. It is possible, too, that by that time her contemporaries have married and her best chances for marriage have gone. [Ack. So many ways to keep a woman down by demandingFRESHNESS.]
“A woman’s love is deeper and it lasts longer. When she says ‘I will love you forever,’ she means forever. When a man says it, he generally means it for the time being. [It is important when you engage in any relationship with a man to understand that it is his prerogative to change word meanings and generally make shit up, like he’s playing Balderdash.] That is an important reason why woman should not try to play a man’s game. She hasn’t the emotions for it. [Balderdash does make me cry sometimes.] She can’t shift easily from one affair to another. Intellectually she may be very modern. Her principles may be modern. But her instincts are the same as they always were. She can’t modernize them.”
Here, Miss Parrott pointed out, is cause for conflict. For the modern man, finding women his comrades and playmates and coworkers, has become less interested in marriage. He doesn’t have to lead a girl to the altar to have her companionship. He can date up girls of social equality and is free to leave them whenever he pleases.[Ha! If he can ever find this mythical woman of social equality.]
“Why should he marry,” the novelist observed, “when woman has nothing to sell in the marriage market but what she has already freely bestowed? What is his gain? [The knowledge that he has tamed one wild freewheeling spinster?]Consequently, woman, because she cannot play a man’s game without getting her emotions hard hit, now finds that her new freedom has only given her the hot end of the poker. [Hard-hitting metaphor, Ms. Novelist, combining the Hearth and the Sex in one!]
“If men were as modern in their principles as women; if, too, they were trained to the idea that feminine independence does not free them of their responsibilities in life, then the equality for which women fought would have gained them some advantages. [Aha. So Ursula does have some ambitions for feminism…]
“But even at that, we cannot get away from the fact that true equality between man and woman is impossible. Each is a totally different human being, with different desires, ambitions and needs. It is ridiculous, therefore, for women to strive for equality. The phrase has no more meaning that the old question: ‘Are women inferior or superior to men?’ [Oh dear, I spoke too soon. Could it be that our Ursula has reason to be jaded? (Yes it could. Read on to find out!)]
“The woman who wants to be treated as an equal is, in reality, declaring to men: ‘Do not be chivalrous to me. Do not remember that I am emotionally more intense than you. Treat me as though I were a man.’ But woman at heart does not want to be treated as a man. She is hurt when any man takes up the idea literally. What is more, to insist on identity is to ignore the biological and psychic facts. A woman may have as good a mind as a man, but it is a different kind of mind. Her values in life are different. She will, for example, always be more interested in the appearance of her dinner table than in politics.
[Currently analyzing Dilovely’s womanliness based on appearance of dining table. Outlook is not good, people.]
“However, the banner of equality having been raised, the modern woman must carry on, regardless of how she feels about it. She already knows that many of the things which the feminists once thought would be for woman’s good have proved to be boomerangs. But she cannot retreat. The conditions of life have changed too much. [Curious about these boomerangs! What were they in 1931?]
“Meanwhile, men, having found equality to their advantage, are making the most of it. They would be foolish if they didn’t. Perhaps they have lost their feeling of importance and strength in this world, but, freed from responsibilities and restraints, they are finding life easier. There is little today that they owe a woman. [And we want to be OWED, dammit!] It isn’t any wonder that more and more men are flocking to the banner of equality.”
The question was raised here that if women covet matrimony more than anything else and they want its security, why do so many of them rush into divorce? Why the sad wails from wives?
“There are several reasons,” Miss Parrott replied. “For one thing, women are more restless today. More impatient. Then, too, marriage, like everything else, has fallen into a chaos of experimentation. If it doesn’t suit, take a chance and try another. Don’t narrow your life by devoting yourself to one person. And so, restlessly, women go from one marriage to another without any definite idea as to what they want. It is, of course, typical of human nature not to be content with what we have….’ [It is worth mentioning at this point that Ms. Parrott was, in December 1931, on her second marriage.]
[…] as soon as he has her, he will turn to someone else. [I don’t like the look of this half-sentence. Is she saying that the husband is bound to stray? Probably those effing instincts again.] The same is true of the woman. When the wedding is over, she slumps down on the job of trying to hold her husband. She becomes careless of her appearance and sits around the house in a sloppy fashion. [OMG she’s right. I am totally doing this RIGHT NOW.] She doesn’t bother to listen to his jokes. She either loses him because of her indifference or she leaves him because she believes someone else is more desirable and will do more for her. [Which one befell Ursula??]
“Formerly a woman couldn’t walk out on her husband. Not only because she would lose caste, but because she was so tied down with responsibilities to her family and her home. It is certainly easier for a woman to leave a two-room apartment, with possibly only one child, than the old kind of homestead upon which she was economically dependent.
“The result is that women get divorces for the most trivial of reasons. They forget how much they still have to gain from marriage; they forget that it is easier to get a man’s breakfast than it is to support themselves. They forget that it is easier to spend his money than to earn their own; they forget that marriage offers security and comfort in middle age. They are really perfectly mad to procure a divorce before they have done their utmost to make a go of the relationship. [Nothing I can say will improve gorgeously awful bluntness of that one.]
“The pathetic part of it is that so many women actually do regret the haste with which they broke up their marriages. And, if it happens that they do not marry again, they spend the rest of their lives regretting their action. At least, when a man has taken a step that he regrets, he philosophically puts it out of his mind. But not a woman. She will dwell on that regret to her last day. Her freedom to experiment with love and marital affairs seems to give her cause for one regret after another.” [Good thing our Ursula managed to avoid this by securing herself another marriage. Or did she??]
Turns out that Ursula Parrott is a very conflicted figure to read about. Between Wikipedia and Cladrite Radio, I have gleaned a few things:
that she was the author of nine novels and stories that were made into movies during Hollywood’s golden age;
that she made between $8 and $10 million (in today’s dollars) with her writing;
that her first book, “The Ex-Wife,” was based on her personal experiences after the end of her first marriage;
that she was married and divorced four times in total, and had one son;
and that she died of cancer at the age of 57 or 58, single and apparently in poverty.
So when this article was written, she was already a successful author, but would become much more so – and her love life would also greatly increase in complexity.
How tragic that this outspoken and talented woman, who believed herself biologically needful of stability and permanency, experienced very little of such things in life.
My conclusion is that being a woman in the 1930s must have been full of swift social changes, frustrating and confusing contradictions, and the mistreatment, misogyny, and double-standards that we still struggle with today.
Hats off to your success, Ursula, and deepest condolences for your demise.
Hello, young folk. If you are a student in high school or university, have a smartphone with one or more social media accounts, and are passing your courses, then let me say: my hat is off to you. If you are excelling, then I am fully impressed.
Here’s why. I am kinda old. Specifically, I’m thirty-nine, not so many months away from forty. This means that I was young in a different time. I was already in my 20s when Facebook became a thing. I was several years into my career when the first iPhone came out.
Before that, there was just email. And even that didn’t really get going until I was in university. I did my first emails in crowded computer labs on campus, on terminals with only amber displays. When I moved into a house with my friends, we had dial-up internet that would disconnect when someone picked up the phone. (Of course we all shared a landline because none of us had cell phones.) I did all my school research… in BOOKS. I didn’t even have access to a computer of my “own” (a laptop borrowed from my dad) until I did my Masters degree. It was as heavy as a dictionary and looked like an attaché case.
When I was in high school, there wasn’t even that stuff. We had a family desktop computer on which we could type things, make birthday cards, and play Wheel of Fortune (yes, Vanna White was amber and each of her applauding hands was three giant pixels). Social media was… um… the phone. Attached to the wall. The kind where someone could pick up the extension in another room and yell at you to get off the phone already.
Relating all of this, I feel ancient. The funny thing is, if you get to be thirty-nine years old, you will realize how short a time span it really is. And my age places me in a uniquely-positioned generation – young enough to be inclined to use social media, but old enough to remember what it was like before such platforms existed. (In fact, HuffPost says I am a “Xennial” – of the micro-generation born between 1977 and 1983. I am VERY SPECIAL so you should keep reading.)
These days, knowledgeable people are always saying things like, “Devices are the way of the future. Get used to it. There’s no use fighting it. Kids will have to know how to do everything on screens, might as well get them started now.”
I can see why people say this. The shift has been swift and thorough. A lot of my own life is conducted via either my smartphone or my laptop. With my teaching, committee work, and group-based hobbies, not to mention my social life, the ability to communicate online is very important. My students, likewise, are expected to start typing at least some of their school assignments and navigating the internet by the junior grades (4-6). I’m sure that you, the young adults, use your devices for all sorts of very valid reasons, both academic and social.
But then there’s device-use so pervasive that it’s like breathing: i.e. alternate ways of being don’t even enter the picture. Last year, when the Toronto District School Board blocked Snapchat, Instagram, and Netflix for its students, many were aghast; some claimed the grinding-to-a-halt of social life, communication in general, and even some school assignments. (Srsly? Netflix for school assignments?) And then, of course, many started using VPNs to get around the security.
I found this very upsetting. Not the VPNs – that’s just ingenuity and problem-solving at work. But I pondered the stress + distraction level inherent in smartphone use, and thought to myself, How on earth do they get anything done?
As I said, my generation straddles the pre- and post- microcomputer eras. I can tell you these things for sure about life since smartphones and wi-fi:
large chunks of my life are spent on email;
my inbox is an overflowing source of stress;
the internet has shortened my attention span;
my smartphone has shortened it still further;
the combination of stress and lack of focus have made me less nice andless effective at LIFE.
I wish I were exaggerating or kidding here, but I’m not. My inability to concentrate through the entirety of an article, even one I’m choosing to read for interest, is VERY OBVIOUS to me. My brain thinks of other things to wonder or do or check, or my phone interrupts me, and I can’t/don’t ever finish. And this is with very few of my notifications turned on, and I’m already avoiding half of the typical social media apps. This distraction, I’ve recently realized, makes me grumpy.
When I was in university, my brain was different. And thank goodness it was, because I honestly don’t think I could have made it through with the brain I have now. I definitely couldn’t have researched and written my 75-page paper for my Masters in French lit. That required a huge amount of focus that I honestly no longer possess.
Am I sad about my brain? YES. My brain does not want to be all distracted and flighty. It was happier when it could sink into an activity and be fully present the whole time. (Hence the grumpiness.)
That’s not all that occurs to me when I ponder your situation. The other thing that makes me sad is the thought of anyone’s social lives being so dependent on smartphones that they feel disempowered and unmoored without Snapchat and Instagram.
Because none of that is real life.
Somewhere, deep in your soul, you know this. Interaction on social media feels very real when you’re immersed in it – and unfortunately, the damage and pain it can cause is all too real. But online communication is not what being a human is about. It is too affected, too manufactured.
We all know that selfies are highly contrived. They don’t show the true beauty of the subject. Prepared, positioned, posed – they don’t look how we really look. (One more reason I could never survive in the millennial habitat: I’ve never been particularly photogenic, but I’m terrible at selfies. I just get annoyed.)
In the same vein, text conversations are nothing like in-person conversations, because they are not spontaneous. It’s too easy to pick apart and analyze every word – both as sender and receiver. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good text conversation and some well-chosen emoji(s), but that can never replace a face-to-face exchange. They are two completely different forms of communication.
The immediacy of social (im)media is also false. We know we have to tweet things RIGHT WHEN THEY’RE HAPPENING or no one will read them… If I haven’t commented on that photo instantly, it’s no longer relevant… If I break my Snapstreak, I will have failed… And if I don’t have dozens of Likes on my post within the hour, it falls off the radar. NO. Nothing that is of real value in life expires that quickly. The urgency is fabricated.
Things people say in online forums are also not real – because people are meaner online. I don’t know why this has to be true, but it is. When sitting with a screen for company and nobody to look in the eye, people (even people much older than you who are raising kids and should absolutely know better) say unconscionable things to other human beings. ALL THE TIME.
All of this is not real human life – but it can become so. The stress and lost social skills are catching up with us. Like Spiderman’s Venom, our unintentionally evil alter egos are slowly staining our true souls. The rudeness, the non-filtering, the self-obsession – it’s all bleeding into everyday life. Just this morning I was walking behind a teenage girl, accompanied by a teenage guy, on their way to school, and heard her yell super-bitchy-like at a motorist (who was waiting to turn right because the pedestrians had the right-of-way), “Just GO!! Sheesh!!!” like there could be nothing more insufferable than someone who abides by the rules of the road and/or uses manners.
Folks. There’s no excuse for that. If we leave our manners behind, we can no longer call ourselves civilized.
I’m not saying our app-filled devices have no place in the real world. I know social media is (are) fun – obviously that’s what hooks us in the first place. These gadgets are also helpful, convenient, and sometimes very efficient. It’s true as well that there are meaningful, important, and even beautiful exchanges that happen on those same platforms. But I am of the pre/post generation, so I can tell you this from personal experience: REAL LIFE IS BETTER.
When I was in high school and university, there were lots of things that brought me genuine joy. For example:
Playing music or singing with a group of friends
Getting hard-earned praise from a teacher on an assignment
Dancing my butt off to my favourite music
Talking to a boy I had a crush on
Seeing friends or family that lived far away
Being a good listener for a friend who needed me
Finishing a job I worked hard on
Cuddling a pet
Running with all my strength to reach the frisbee/soccer ball
Getting a handwritten letter from a loved one (this kept me alive when I went abroad!)
Seeing something truly beautiful that moved me
Hanging out with little kids and hearing them say cute things
Laughing so hard I could barely breathe
Being outside on a gorgeous day
Spending time with friends and family and remembering why I loved them.
Those are essentially the same things that made me happy as a child – and they are same things that make me happy now. They probably sound quaint and/or cheesy, like a meme that makes you roll your eyes. But they’re REAL. The happy chemicals that flood our bodies when we do these things are the ones we’re meant to have, the ones that make us healthier. The chemicals we get from playing Candy Crush (or whatever) are unnatural, because those games are designed to overstimulate and create an addiction.
I know that we can have reasonable online facsimiles of things on that list. We can Like beautiful images online, make someone else smile with a picture or a comment, watch those cat videos that make us laugh really hard. I have had all of those experiences on social media. But it is not the same. Humans were built to be with their people. To be close to them, to hear each other’s voices in the air between them, and to see each other’s expressions change in real time.
To those who say we should just lean in to tech because it’s inevitably going to take over, I say: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. My deep feeling is that someday we will look back on this era as one of disease. Addiction to gadgets and apps is like alcoholism – the actual content in moderation is not that harmful, but when you’re constantly consuming, your system is overloaded and becomes ill.
There are many studies noting a correlation between screen time and declining mental health, especially among young people not so different from you. If you look it up, you might be stunned at the number of YouTubers who have died by suicide in the last ten years. (Or it might be no surprise at all – but still a tragedy.)
And I’m not sure you ever really had a choice about this. Your formative years have been shaped by social media, and at this moment, it’s just how things are done. As easy as it would be for me to advise, “Reject the insanity of social media! UNSUBSCRIBE! FIGHT THE POWER!” I know that’s not something easily done, and probably not what you want. No one wants to ostracize oneself. High school and university are hard enough without putting yourself outside the hive.
Of course, I’m lucky. As a grown-up, I’ve realized that Being Yourself actually does exist. There really does come a time when (as long as your job allows it) you can invest your time and energy in the things and ways of being that matter to YOU. It’s very liberating to say, “I’m almost forty. I don’t have to keep up with the latest fashions/hashtags/Top 40/Netflix originals, because that’s not what life is about. I can wear/listen to/watch/care about what suits ME.” Peer pressure has much, much less influence on my adult life than it did on my youth.
But as I try to navigate the current tech-driven world in a conscious way, I am starting to resent how much of my time corporations are deliberately taking from me. I recently followed my husband’s advice and unsubscribed from almost every organization that was emailing me things – including many things I signed up for on purpose – because they are OVERWHELMING. I swear there were like twenty different things – and lots of those were emailing me more than once a day. Come. ON. When I thought about it, it made me mad because that is MY TIME I’m losing. Even if I never open those emails, they take time to delete and/or they obscure the messages that matter more (i.e. messages from real people I actually know).
Along the same lines, my husband recently made the radical move away from his smartphone to a flip phone, because he knows he’s too susceptible to the tricks companies use to hook us. Lots of research goes into the colours and animations that draw us in most and make it so that we can’t leave our phones alone. Our quality of life goes down because we’re not present – we’re not fully listening – we’re not able to give our full attention to anything. And our poor children have to deal with distracted parents. No wonder kids are forming habits of talking really loud and repeating themselves.
If you’ve read this far, you are an inspiration and a rock star. I don’t think I could have gotten through this whole rant (if I hadn’t written it).
I have had several conversations recently with my generational peers, and we agree: we are worried about your health. If you can stand a few more words, I’ll leave you with this advice, from the Xennials to the Digital Natives:
Make sure you’re aware of when you’re being manipulated, and decide for yourself if it’s worth it. Know that each of the social media platforms is competing with you for your time and attention, which are extremely valuable. Do they deserve it? Be certain that you’re using them, and not vice versa.
Make sure you having lots of really real life, as an antidote to the digital world. Put your phone out of reach for a while. Play some soccer in the mud. Be a sympathetic listener for someone having a rough time. Get together with friends for old-fashioned board games. Hug a person you love. Be real more often than you are digital.
Don’t be on your phone in class. I know everyone’s doing it, but trust me. No human can take in knowledge properly while on their phone.
And if you haven’t already, please turn on NightShift on your iPhone, or install f.lux (or Redshift, or Sunset Screen, etc. etc.) to make the light from your device a warmer colour that won’t strain your eyes and keep you awake WAY past your bedtime.
Thank you for reading, and very best of luck to you.
Now here’s one brilliant piece of online art to make us all feel better. *insert ironic emoji*
Here’s one way to spice up a chilly, post-holiday evening in January that might otherwise be a bit melancholy: BUTTERBEER. It’s all part of this complete Gryffindor Evening that you, too, can have for just one monthly instalment of candles and squashy pillows. Let your Harry Potter geek flag fly.
I’m not trying to make you jealous. I did not realize how epic our Gryffindor Evening was going to be this year until it was already in progress. Last year, Auntie Beth and our friend Matt came over one night, and I made soup and biscuits, and we built a fire in our fireplace in case someone needed to call on us using Floo powder, we pillowed up the place like a Gryffindor common room, and Beth made some hardcore Butterbeer (and I think there may have been some excellent Muggle beer as well). That was pretty great.
But THIS year, Beth and Matt took things to a whole new level. I made soup – it was taco soup, which was fun because of all the toppings, but not at all topical. (Harry and the gang literally NEVER eat taco soup for some reason. Whatever, it’s delicious, we’ll call it a substitute for steak-and-kidney pie.) Little did I know Beth was going to bring draperies to festoon the living room – she actually hung golden curtains from the rods – not to mention custom lighting… And this all in addition to the cozy blankets, requisite squashy pillows, and Butterbeer.
And Matt outdid himself as well. After dinner, wearing his “Books turn Muggles into Wizards” T-shirt, he gave the kids Hogwarts-themed word search and crossword pages, and hosted Harry Potter trivia (some of which was quite challenging!). But the most amazing part was the multicoloured potion shots (some kid-friendly, some firmly adult) that he lit on fire and made all sparkly-crackly, using the magic of overproof alcohol and powdered cinnamon. BLIMEY.
So now, it is my privilege to bring to you TWO very different recipes for Butterbeer. You’ll know which one you want to try when you read them – though I can attest that they are both scrumptious. (Unfortunately, my own Butterbeer recipe – cold version – has been lost to the vagaries of parent-brain.)
Auntie Beth’s Zesty Butterbeer:
Put a shot of caramel sauce in the bottom of a large mug. (If you want extra wow-factor, make your own caramel sauce like my wholehearted sister – see recipe below.)
Add a couple of shots’ worth of REAL ginger beer – you know, the spicy kind.
Add a shot (or two) of your favourite whiskey. (Canada makes a lot of good ones, just sayin’.)
Fill the rest of the mug with hot apple cider.
Top with real, barely-sweetened whipped cream.
If you’re going to take a picture of it, add a cinnamon stick in the hopes that it will distract from the fact that you haven’t finished clearing the table are a stickler for the gritty reality of life in photography.
Skye’s* Velvety Butterbeer:
Melt 2 teaspoons of honey and 1 tablespoon of butter together.
Add 1.5 cups of milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Heat in microwave or on stovetop until hot enough for you.
Mix in 1 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste), 2 teaspoons hot chocolate powder, and 1 ounce of butterscotch schnapps (or Irish cream if you want, or butterscotch syrup for the virgin version).
*It bears mentioning that Skye is a woman who knows how to host a Harry Potter-themed event. Pre-motherhood, she once hosted an all-day HP movie blitz, with her own chocolate frogs and other amazing HP snacks of which I wish I had pictures. (I think there were only 5 HP movies out at the time… A similar event would need a whole weekend at this point.)
And there you have it! Even if you aren’t technically a Gryffindor, ANYONE can enjoy a Gryffindor Evening based on delicious beverages.
P.S. In case you were wondering, though, SINCE my Pottermore fall from Hufflepuff to Slytherin (and ensuing drama), I attended a Hogwarts science event last year in which an ACTUAL SORTING HAT actually sorted me into Gryffindor. I’ve decided I’m just gonna be a quadruple-agent.
P.P.S. Oops, here’s the homemade caramel recipe (you can use cinnamon instead of almond if you prefer):