Calling for Love in the Age of Global Bullying

The dust is settling. We know it’s not just a bad dream. The unthinkable has come to pass. That Trump dude is now the US President-Elect… and I think I’ve figured out why.

I don’t mean why in terms of the Electoral College (which I make no claim to understand), or in terms of voter turnout (though there’s never been more strident proof that votes do count), or even in terms of the popularity of the two candidates.

Nope, I’m talking about the overarching, cosmic reason why Trump had to win. It’s because he and his supporters could not have reasonably handled a loss. Winning is their only chance to learn something.

My Hubbibi, in the golden days of Before the Election, used to say, “What’s he gonna do when he loses? He bases his whole life on being a winner! His head will implode,” and things to that effect. We know that the whole Trump side was completely prepared to learn nothing from losing, because they would bask in the vitriolic certainty that the system was rigged.

I don’t want to talk about Trump himself, or his supporters. We have all borne witness, for seemingly ever, to the kinds of ugliness they were zealously proud to broadcast and to validate in each other. But we can all envision the shape that ugliness would have taken, given “LOSING A RIGGED ELECTION” as a reason to explode. I’m confident that it would have been awful. That people would have reacted in deeply regrettable ways. And ol’ Donald would have kept on being himself.

Right now, great swathes of people around the globe are grieving about this. Little kids, even. Here in my town, lots of my students are talking about it, expressing desolation and worry. (One greeted me first thing in the morning with an only-slightly-joking “Mme Stephens! We’re all gonna die!!”) None of us, anywhere, is unaffected by this.

It’s painful mourning. I have been grieving especially for the compassionate, intelligent, critically-thinking, inclusive, rational Americans who are now to be represented by a man who purposefully epitomizes the very worst of American stereotypes. To you, I offer deepest condolences that you have to say goodbye to a president you can be proud of, and exchange him for the winningest loser of all. I’m sorry you’re obliged to be in the petri dish of his attempts at leadership – because, for good reason, we are picturing a grotesque macrocosm of his f*cked-up Twitter feed.

And here’s where the learning opportunities happen for Trump’s supporters. This guy’s potential for screwing up is that much more epic when he’s President, as opposed to just a regular megalomaniac. And I have the openness of mind to imagine that it might even be possible for Trump himself to learn something of the world outside of his man-cave of a mind. At the very least, they’ve learned that the election wasn’t rigged after all.

One of the reasons kids are so destabilized by this mess is that they’ve been witnessing, as we all have, for months and months, a person who behaves like a bully. On every front. Now that person has been rewarded for his behaviour – in the most grandiose and public way. It goes against everything they know to be right.

But, at the risk of clichéing, I want to remind us all that this is an opportunity. We can follow Hillary’s lead. As a presidential candidate, and in her pivotal, closely-observed role as first woman in that position, she has been an admirable role model in every way Trump has not. She has comported herself with dignity, grace, reason, compassion, and insight, remaining unflappable and even keeping a sense of humour throughout the degrading and interminable campaign process. Her concession speech brought tears to my eyes when she addressed herself to the little girls watching, because there was so much love in her words.

We can do this too. We can stand up to bullies. We can be evolved role models. We can do love. We can remember that the citizens of America, and people in general, have very little to do with the Donald Trump. That he does not actually represent you or us. We represent ourselves, and we must do so with the most enlightenment possible.

Here are some things kids are learning, in spite of characters like Trump:

  • Use your words – the best ones you can.
  • Listen carefully to understand. Don’t interrupt.
  • Take three deep breaths when you’re upset.
  • Lashing out doesn’t solve things.
  • Being mean is not okay.
  • Reach out to someone who needs your support.
  • Include others.
  • Take turns.
  • Be generous when you can.
  • Say you’re sorry when you’ve done something wrong.
  • Good manners are important.
  • Try to understand how others are feeling, especially when you disagree.
  • Be kind.
  • All people deserve consideration and respect.

Most of us know about these simple things. They are things that lift us above our baser instincts and set us apart from other animals. They can be difficult concepts for people who live in filterless, unexamined immaturity, but the rest of us can help them get there.

In a way, maybe we should have seen this election result coming, what with ISIL and Brexit and rampant gun violence and viciously unbridled internet trolling. It’s as if our species is having a personality crisis, at a time when it really seems that we should be beyond this. We should be civilized by now. We have these big brains. We can transplant delicate organs. We build structures that reach the clouds. We take pictures of the surface of Mars. We have computers in our pockets that can access all the world’s information – but kindness still eludes us.

There are hard times ahead. It will take the most brilliant hearts in the world to get us through. Let’s be the example, and train up as many of those loving, shining souls as we can.

sunset-hands-love-woman

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5-Day Artist Challenge Postponed Due to Hogwarts Sorting Incident

My dear dance friend Mary nominated me, well over a year ago, for the 5-Day Artist Challenge on Facebook, in which you post a photo or so every day for five days, along with some interesting information or anecdote, to share with others the role of art in your life.

I did not manage to do this at that time, despite my best intentions. I forget what silly thing sidetracked me.

Because really, what’s more important than art? Art is bread for the soul – EVERY kind of bread: the white, the brown, the seedy, the fluffy, the cheesy, the crusty, the glutinous AND the gluten-free. I profoundly believe that we all need art to live.

This post was supposed to be Day 1. But I just have to tell you something before I start. I’m reeling a little, for two reasons that have nothing to do with the title of this piece.

Firstly, my beloved MacBook just came back from the shop. It had a several-days-long medical episode in which it was only sometimes taking a charge, and then it stopped charging altogether (!!) and went deep into computer-sleep. And then the good lad at the repair shop (their designated “Mac guy”) made it work again.

Everything seems back to beautiful normal in laptop-land… except that at least two almost-finished blog post drafts are GONE. Including a lengthy comparison of Stratford and Niagara-on-the-Lake as weekend getaway options. Disappeared! Except for this one partial title: “5-” Which frankly I could have managed to remember anyway.

Skye: I swear that this is true.

So that’s a bit traumatic. But EVEN WORSE.

My second shock has to do with Harry Potter. As you know, I am a Level 5 Harry Potter Fan with a tendency to geek out on the subject, sometimes at the expense of a small child. I just finished reading the entire series to one-and-a-half of my children (i.e., my 7-year-old listened avidly to every word, and my almost-4-year-old was asleep for at least half of it). It took us many months, and although I know there are those who would judge me for reading all seven books to such young’uns (believe me, I did not take the exposure lightly – I did fret about certain themes, and very occasionally edited small things out), my kids were great about it. They loved it, and I loved it. (So much that I did voices – WITH accents.)

Such an amazing story. It just gets better with every reading. The kids were almost never scared, and E took everything in stride. When we finished the series, he immediately asked, “Can we start at the beginning and read it again?” And to be honest, it’s been handy being able to refer to HP when questions come up about difficult things (war, politics, love, death, bullying, etc.).

I also, of course, bought The Cursed Child and read it (to myself only) after we finished The Deathly Hallows. (I haven’t told E we own it, otherwise he’d insist on hearing it, and I just don’t fancy reading a play aloud to him.)

harry-potter-cursed-child

And I enjoyed it, especially the quirkiness of the new characters, although it felt very weird to read it as a play, and without Rowling’s unique voice. I’ll have to mull over and re-read to know how I really feel about it.

But anyway. Back to my trauma. My identity crisis.

I mentioned in my geek-out that I’d been sorted into Ravenclaw a couple of times, but that was years ago and I don’t even remember how. Then I became a member of the beta version of Pottermore, where they have an actual genuine virtual Sorting Hat, and I was sorted into Hufflepuff. When you become a Hufflepuff, you learn all the things that make Hufflepuff life so great, and I really did relate to it, and embraced the identity.

Then, just recently, after I started reading HP to the kids, I got curious to see if I’d changed over the years, and did another test on gotoquiz.com – the one with “all possible questions” – and it sorted me into… Gryffindor. That was a shock to me – not unwelcome, exactly, but startling to say the least. Was it possible that I’d gotten braver with age? But I said to myself, this is not Pottermore. The only way to know FOR SURE is to get re-sorted on Pottermore, because it’s the real deal.

I finally did that today, with my newly happy laptop, doing my best to consider each answer carefully and honestly. Because this is crucial. And what did I get?? Effing Slytherin. I still can’t believe it. Seriously, friends, is there ANYTHING dark about me?? Other than the fact that I do actually rather like snakes… What am I missing? Where did I take this turn?? (It’s probably The Cursed Child‘s fault, come to think of it. It’s trying to teach me a lesson.)

If you ever see me sacrificing my friendships for the sake of my ambition, just smack me, please.

Because this is an emergency, just to keep me from tossing and turning all night, I just did the “shockingly accurate” Buzzfeed quiz for hybrid houses. Good ol’ Buzzfeed. Now I can go to bed. Not sure I can ever go to Pottermore again, though.

huffleclaw hogwarts sorting test
Does this seem more Dilovelyish?

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Staying Pretty

No need to adjust your screens. Yes, I’m posting again THE NEXT DAY, what??

It’s because I just read a post on Facebook by my aunt, who is sick of looking at Trump’s obnoxious mug. Reading it, I realized I am also sick of it. He was making me wince internally every time I saw links to my own blog post… and that will never do. My blog wants to be pretty (even when it deals with un-pretty topics like the apocalypse).

So in yesterday’s post, I’ve replaced DT with an adorable pig meme of my own making, so we can all enjoy its cuteness. And for good measure, I asked myself, What world leader is pretty enough to grace Dilovely’s pages? (And with very longs odds to be caught up in the global tax fraud crisis?) This guy, obviously. You’re welcome.

trudeau hey girl
Yes I do, Justin. Don’t stop.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 17: Grateful for #LoveOverFear

Yesterday, after a weekend of global shock and grief and feverish discussion over the Paris attacks, a Toronto woman was attacked from behind by two men while on her way to pick up her children at school. They pulled violently on her head scarf, took her down and beat her up. They accused her of being a terrorist and told her to go back to her country.

The woman is Muslim. THIS IS HER COUNTRY. She was born here, attended the same school her kids now go to.

The men are white. They’re also doing a great job of appearing cowardly, bitter, ignorant, immature, and bigoted – not to mention violent. They obviously think this is “their” country. What they’ve done, quite neatly, is aligned themselves with the terrorists. I’m not sure they will have picked up on the irony, though.

What I’m grateful for today is love. This woman and her family are surrounded by a community that has come together in support and caring, because that’s what they’re about. They understand a few key things:

  1. Muslims do not equal terrorists.
  2. Acts of hatred do not benefit anyone, including the perpetrators.
  3. You can’t fight hate with more hate.

love over fear

Once upon a time, I lived in France. I loved it there. I love French history and culture and language, I love sharing things I have learned with my students, and I miss so many wonderful people that I met while I was in France.

I was distraught, to say the least, to hear about the attacks.

But on one level… I wasn’t completely surprised. In 2001, segregation and disparity between white native Français and non-white immigrants (mostly from north Africa) was quite hostile in some areas, and it was unexpected and upsetting to me; from what I’ve heard, relations have only gotten worse since then. When I found a video of the La Marseillaise to show to my students last year, I cringed at the recent YouTube comments from French people who champion the lyrics about watering their furrows with the impure blood of the enemy, in connection to Muslim immigrants. I thought, It’s 2015. What’s wrong with you? So I have been uncomfortable about the “I Stand With France” thing.

Let me be clear: I absolutely stand with those French citizens who actually believe in Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, and live accordingly, peacefully, with all those who call France home. Many, many of them do. I also stand with all of those people who lost a loved one, and those who experienced the physical and emotional trauma of those senseless, monstrous acts of violence committed in Paris. This should never have happened. My heart is with these victims.

But my heart is also with countless victims of terrorism from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Ukraine, Pakistan, Afghanistan… and on and on. It breaks my heart that there are still so many humans on this planet who believe that blowing apart other humans is an acceptable way to convey a message.

I know the world’s military forces are in high gear. I know people are more full of anger than ever. I know the Islamic State fundamentalists are committing evil and must be stopped. But I can’t help thinking that every time we react with more slaughter, we’re cutting off the head of that jihadist hydra, helping radicalize more people, doing exactly what terrorists are hoping and expecting we’ll do.

I always feel like I sound naïve, even foolish, when I talk about love that includes not bombing the hell out of irrational terrorists whose goal is propagating fear and mayhem.

That’s why this video filled me with gratitude today. This is what we need to see in 2015. In this climate, it’s rational and revolutionary.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 6: Antibiotics

first-aid-hi

Today’s official gratitude is for antibiotics, and for the medical system we benefit from.

Last week, E’s foot was hurting. Not such a rare thing. Then after he persisted complaining, we looked at it, and it had a puffy red patch. It was clearly hurting him to press on it, and he was starting to limp a bit.

By the time we made it to the doctor’s office the next afternoon, the red patch was much bigger and poor little E was definitely walking funny. The doc diagnosed him with cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the inner layers of skin. We don’t know how he got it, but we do know you don’t mess around with it. In rare cases, it can spread deeper and become necrotizing fasciitis. Ack.

So E just finished a week of antibiotics. This is after a round of similar meds a few weeks ago for a bit of pneumonia – one for which he had to take clarithromycin, which I have to say is the most disgusting, gritty, vilely bitter substance we’d ever tasted, even with the “mint flavouring.” E was an absolute trouper about it… and then when he found out his new medicine for the cellulitis was the pink fruit-ish flavoured one, he was overjoyed.

Anyway. I know antibiotics are controversial, and that they have side effects, and that we are possibly headed for a situation in which the infections that stopped killing us so much when antibiotics came along will go back to killing us again. That won’t be good.

But I can’t deny that when I hear my child coughing in the night and it sounds awful, or when I saw how suddenly that red spot had spread… I’m just really glad I don’t live in that time before antibiotics, when presumably a mom would just have to make poultices or tea or whatever, and hope for the best. When parents would hear that coughing and know that it might very likely be the death of that child.

I’m also really grateful to live in a country with socialized medicine. When these conditions cropped up, we didn’t have to think, Can we afford to take him to the doctor again? We didn’t have to wait until things got desperate, just hoping and hoping he would get better on his own. It is invaluable to have the choice to be proactive or pre-emptive about a health problem, without having to budget for it. (Thank you, Tommy Douglas, Lester B. Pearson, et al.)

Plus, we really like both our family doctor and the nurse practitioner at the clinic. They are great, wonderful with the kids, and all about preventive medicine and healthy lifestyle. Grateful for that, too.

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An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau

Canadian Flag Election 2015

Dear Justin Trudeau,

Congratulations on sweeping the country. I can’t deny that it was pretty exciting to witness something new, and rather surprising, happening on Monday night.

It’s hard to describe what a relief it is to be rid of Stephen Harper’s government, but I think you already get it. You know – and successfully campaigned on the fact – that large numbers of Canadians (even certain Conservatives) have felt demoralized, betrayed, beleaguered, and in some cases personally attacked by Harper’s actions over the last ten years. You say we are tired of cynicism and negativity, and speaking for myself, I can say you’re right. I am. I’m also tired of alienation, corruption, disdain, underhandedness, suppression, discrimination, degradation, secrecy, and embarrassment.

The problem is, we’ve gotten so used to it all. You can see it in the post-election journalism, as well as social media: even now, with Harper gone, many Canadians seem unable to comment with true optimism. There’s this knee-jerk tone of condescension in the discussions of your “hopey-changey” promises – people would rather speak sardonically from a place of disillusionment than be so gullible as to believe the promises of a politician.

I do not vote automatically for a particular party. I do my best to know what the platforms are and what the leaders have to say, looking for progressive and holistic ideas, knowing that party positions on issues can change with the times.

During the last few months, I received campaign emails from Liberal, NDP, and Green parties, and I’ll be honest: your team was the one asking for the most input. Over and over, you said, “Tell me what matters to you.” You made it very easy for voters to express their wishes and needs.

And ultimately, you became the rallying point for the anti-Harper movement. I think it was relatively easy for people to rally around you, for many reasons. I remember talking with my husband about you when you first became leader of the party, and how you had the je ne sais quoi of the Trudeau factor. Although you have not banked on your father’s legacy, there is something kinda epic about electing the son of one of the most famous and controversial Prime Ministers – and Canadians – in history. (As much as we don’t want to be caught getting excited here, people do love a dash of the epic in life.)

Also – and I mean this positively – you’re brand-new. Despite the implications of your name, you are young enough to have been legitimately uninvolved in the scandals that plagued the last Liberal government when it went down.

I also think Harper did the opposite of what he intended when he kept saying, “He’s just not ready.” Young people heard that patronizing tone, no doubt familiar to them, said, “Too young? HA,” and went out to vote in record numbers. I can’t deny that you have a lot of relatable traits for a voter like me, and your youth is one of them.

Justin, here’s the thing. I like a great many of the things you’ve said.

I like the way you talk about investing in clean energy, and finally getting us on the international bandwagon regarding climate change.

I like the respect and compassion you use when speaking to and about all Canadians, including Indigenous peoples, franco-Canadians, Muslims, women, low-income families, new Canadians, and many others who have been maligned and/or marginalized for the last decade – or longer.

I like that you seem determined to prioritize communication, cooperation, and transparency for and between all levels of government.

I like that you realize there are many Canadians who care about more than budgets and taxes. (Seriously, I tried listening to Harper’s concession speech, and I couldn’t even finish; I’m so damn sick of hearing him talk about money, to the exclusion of everything that makes Canada what it is.)

I like what you have to say about the importance and power of Canada’s arts community.

I like your support toward CBC/Radio-Canada.

I really, really like that you promise electoral reform. Wouldn’t it be great if you were the Prime Minister who finally made every vote actually count?

But I do also worry. Your task, when I look at it, seems insurmountable. It’s well-known that you can’t please everyone, but politicians have fallen down trying in the past. Your goals in particular, given the mess you’ve inherited, sound very lofty. It’s hard to move past years of citizens and sectors being pitted against each other.

And I worry a bit about your status. Obviously, you know that many Liberal votes came from the anti-Harper camp, meaning that people are counting on you to be Not Harper. When I think about Bill C-51, the Keystone XL Pipeline, the TPP, and Big Oil lobbying, it makes me worry that you might be A Little Bit Harper. And you have a majority, so if you were at all Harperish, you could run with it. (And then all the people who say “Liberals are just Conservatives in disguise” would have a valid point.)

See? I’m doing it too. A habit of jadedness. I hope I’m wrong about all of that. You did say REAL CHANGE. Canadians have agreed with your mandate, and they’ve sent you in to fix things.

After such a long slog, I just want to be excited and hopeful about Canada. I want to be proud of my country, and inspired by its leader. Therefore, I have decided to believe you. I hereby believe that you really have been, and will be, listening to Canadians, that you sincerely want to make the changes you say, and that your earnest talk of hope and togetherness and caring and diversity and beauty and progress is for real.

Because in all honesty… I love that stuff. Those are the words and ideas that make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and that make me teary-eyed when I see them in action, especially in my children and students. If this is naïveté, I’m going to embrace it. Pessimism never did get much done. Underneath the disenfranchisement, I am an optimist, and I know Canada is special. It’s an amazing place filled with great people who do great and amazing things. You can enable us to do more of those things. We can be a thrilling example of a wide, sprawling nation, characterized by multiplicity at every level, that not only functions peacefully but leads.

Good luck, Justin. It won’t be easy, and we can’t expect sweeping political changes to go smoothly. Canada isn’t perfect, but it’s awesome. As you say: better is always possible.

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How Not To Be A Douchebag: “FHRITP” and Other Issues

shawn-simoes-douchebag
Zero tolerance.

Ever have the feeling that, as a species, we’re moving backwards? That we’ve had some dark, shameful times in our collective history… and that this is one of them?

That’s how I feel right now, thinking about the guys who yell obscenities at female (or sometimes male) reporters on live TV, under the mistaken – and tragic – impression that it’s funny.

My husband, having watched the famous video in which CityTV reporter Shauna Hunt called out her hecklers on live TV a couple of days ago, referred to the men as textbook douchebags. I can only agree. (The term is dead-on, since douching is also a bullshit practice invented by a man and designed to make women feel like lesser beings.)

I will also state, with vehemence, that I approve of Hydro One’s decision to fire the douchebag who was their employee, and MLSE’s decision to ban multiple douchebags from attending their sports events. Sure, these men were off-duty, and sure, they didn’t invent the catch-phrase “F*** her right in the p***y,” but they deserve to be made an example of. Why? BECAUSE BEING A DOUCHEBAG IS UNACCEPTABLE.

It’s a scary trend in this part of the world: there seems to be an acceptance, nowadays, of pervasive obnoxiousness – at levels that no modern, civilized human should have to endure. What is the point of having such big brains if we use them in the service of assholery?

We, as a society, need to quit wasting our resources discriminating against women, black people, aboriginal people, gay people, and differently-abled people, and start focusing that time and energy on discriminating against douchebags. You want to watch soccer and hockey games live in the stadium? Fine – buy a ticket and DON’T BE A DOUCHEBAG. You want to get paid over $100K working for a government institution? Great – show me your qualifications, which must include expertise in NOT BEING A DOUCHEBAG. Is it so much to ask?

Perhaps there needs to be a test. Because really, most people who are douchebags are not that subtle about it; it shouldn’t be hard to weed them out. How about this: if you can’t pass the non-douchebag test, then you don’t get your Decent Human license. And of course, you’d need a Decent Human license to get a job, drive a car, board an airplane, eat in a restaurant, use the same washrooms as the Decent Humans…

I’m getting carried away.

The tricky part is, the DBs themselves seem to be the ones who have trouble recognizing the phenomenon. What if you simply haven’t realized that you’re a douchebag, and you’re just innocently living your douchebag life? Let’s try these self-queries, based on the Douchebag Textbook.

Do you have a tendency to:

  • yell obscenities at reporters/athletes/sports fans/pedestrians/motorists/other members of the public who are unlikely to respond?
  • think that saying random, graphically misogynistic things on TV is hilarious?
  • speak rudely to cashiers/servers/flight attendants/other people in the service industry just because you can?
  • drive way over the speed limit, run reds, and dodge in and out of traffic for no reason other than speed?
  • punch people when you’re mad?
  • vandalize others’ property for fun?
  • toss garbage on the ground because there is no trash can within a one-foot radius?
  • believe that your opinion trumps other people’s opinions on everything?
  • do the minimum amount of work you can get away with?
  • swear a blue streak in front of children?
  • make/laugh at jokes that denigrate groups you are not part of?
  • write repetitive malicious comments anonymously on the web?
  • tweet judgmentally on issues you know nothing about?
  • think the world owes you?

If you answered yes to one of these questions, chances are good that you are a douchebag. If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, it’s basically a sure thing. If you answered yes to ALL of these questions… please stop reading my blog. You’ll get douche-schmutz all over it.

So, if you’re a confirmed DB, what can you do about it? I can’t claim to be a recovering douchebag myself, but I did once accidentally cut off a cyclist who then called me a stupid bitch, so I know a thing or two.

Here are a few tips, based on the Douchebag Textbook:

  • Don’t be shitty to people. I know it’s hard to believe, but decent humans actually manage – on a daily basis – to avoid treating others like crap.
  • Stay away from other douchebags. If all your friends are arrogant cretins, tempting you with scumbaggish behaviour, what chance do you have at recovery?
  • Try a new hobby that will take you out of your DB zone and distract you from your cravings for punching/swearing/demon-speeding. Consider mindfulness meditation, watercolour painting, flower arranging, zumba… Just make sure you start out doing these things at home alone, so that if your inner douchebag rears its ugly head, it will have no victims in sight.
  • Keep a journal of your progress. Did you wait your turn on the road instead of cutting off other drivers? Did you restrain yourself from mocking that person you thought looked ugly? Did you have a mature thought about genitalia? Write it down! Those small triumphs are crucial steps to leaving your miscreant self behind.

I hope these tips can put you on the road to recovery. Once you have your Decent Human license, then you can move on to the advanced work of Actual Kindness.

Next up: DBs Part II For Parents – How Not To Raise A Douchebag!

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Anti-Rape Training Begins at Birth

daddy and kids

My firstborn son E is an extremely cuddly kid. He has always wanted snuggles and hugs and kisses, in good times and in bad. It’s great for me, as his mom, to know I can calm him by taking him in my arms, even now that he’s five; and honestly, I’ll be heartbroken when he decides he’s too big to snuggle.

When E’s baby sister was born, he fell in love with her almost instantaneously. Naturally, he wanted to kiss her silky cheeks, put his face right next to hers, and get his arms right around her warm wriggly little body. ALL THE TIME.

My daughter is a snuggly one too, but in a very different way. She wants hugs and kisses – but only on her terms. Even as a tiny infant, if she decided she was getting over-nuzzled, she’d screech and flail her arms in self-defense.

Right away, we had to start coaching E: “That’s how she says ‘No.’ She’s telling you that she needs some space.”

These instructions got more and more specific:

  • If she screams, it means No.
  • If she pushes you, it means No.
  • If she hits you, it means No.
  • If she thrashes around – as far as you’re concerned – it means No.

Often, he really didn’t want to take that No for an answer. “But… I wanna kiss her!”

So, at three-and-a-half, he was being told, “It’s not about you. That’s her body. It doesn’t matter what you want: she gets to say what happens to it.”

These words, as you can imagine, have a tendency to make my brain jump ahead a decade or so, when they will be even more relevant… which is a little scary.

The teaching is not just for him. I also want her to feel confident that the boundaries she sets for herself are valid.

It was really hard, when she was a newborn, to moderate my own instinct to cuddle her every time she needed soothing; sometimes it was what she wanted, but sometimes it would make her extra-furious. Her cues were actually very clear, but it still took me a long time to get used to following them, after the habits I’d formed with E.

Now that she’s two-and-a-third, if she gets really angry about something, we all know that she needs her space. She will tell us when she’s ready for physical comforting. She’ll rage around on the floor (or wherever), and eventually she’ll say, “Can I have a hug?” or, heartbreakingly, “Can you make me happy?”, which we’ve learned also means she’d like to be snuggled.

And E knows that he is expected to ask permission to give her kisses and hugs. He often does say, “Can I please have a kiss?” Nonetheless, he’ll sneak ’em in without consent as often as he can get away with it. And we know this because if he tries it and she’s not in the mood, she’ll shriek and whack him one.

E will cry, “She hit me!” and I’ll say, “Were you in her space without asking?” If the answer’s yes, then we’re in the grey area of our “No hitting” policy.

Here, my imagination jumps again to the teenage versions of my kids (not that I’m ready for that world… but it’s gonna happen). Yes, we are teaching our children that hitting each other is not the way to solve conflicts, but if there were a boy touching my sixteen-year-old AB in some unwanted way, I hope to God she would have the conviction to make her boundaries clear. If she someday feels she has to scream or scratch or hit someone who’s not taking No for an answer, then I absolutely want her to do it.

{Side note: Reason #297 Why I Love “Frozen”: Boy actually asks girl permission to kiss her. Groundbreaking in its genre.}

Especially since having a daughter, I’ve often recalled an anecdote from a friend about her little girl and how she and her husband bribed her to give her uncle a goodbye hug. It was kind of a joke, in which the daughter was happy to score a jujube, but they later decided to stop the practice. If she was getting a “no” feeling from an encounter, she should have the right to decline hugs.

I now find myself thinking along these lines in situations I never considered before. For instance, when you ask a toddler for a hug and get refused, it’s almost automatic to pull an exaggerated sad face so that the benevolent child will take pity on you and give you a hug. And to be honest, AB loves that game – she likes to deny her Daddy kisses, and then grin and say, “Can you cry?”

But dammit, you know there are teenage boys out there pulling sad faces and hackneyed “it-hurts-if-we-don’t-go-all-the-way” bullsh*t on inexperienced girls – and it works often enough. Guilt is a powerful tool, if not a legitimate one.

I even sometimes get touchy about those moments when there’s a crazy tickle-fest and I hear an uproarious “No! No! Heeheeheeheeheeheehee!! No!” Yes, I KNOW sometimes No kind of means Yes. I trust my husband to know the difference between happy screams and had-enough, when it comes to our kids.

But part of me feels like ANY physical contact should immediately cease the moment the words “No” or “Stop” come into play. Because those words mean what they mean, for good reason; is it really up to someone else to interpret if that’s a “real” No? That’s a dangerous road. Furthermore, if you don’t actually mean No when you say it, you’re diluting its purpose.

I don’t want to risk subtleties and implications being lost on my wee kids. We need to use the words we mean, and mean the words we use.

I probably sound a bit paranoid. Or maybe a lot. It’s not that I want my daughter to freak out whenever someone touches her, or my son to worry about every gesture of affection he wants to give. But if the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby fiascoes have taught us anything, it’s that some people have very warped ideas about consent – what it looks like, and whether it’s necessary. And it’s also been made clear that rape culture is alive and well in North America in 2015.

Yesterday I was reading about a petition launched by two Grade 8 girls in Ontario, advocating for the provincial Health curriculum to include lessons on consent (above and beyond the “Feeling Yes, Feeling No” stuff in the primary grades). Apparently, there was outcry by certain conservative parent groups when expectations around consent were proposed by the government in 2010 – as is the case whenever the Ministry of Education proposes talking about sexuality as if it’s real and relevant to kids.

Any time there’s pushback from parents about sex ed, it confirms for me that it’s still absolutely necessary – and in this case, that more is needed. The topic of consent is crucial.

What an amazing thing, for two young girls to take this initiative and understand its importance. Better yet, it worked. Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the changes to the curriculum earlier this month. (To those who are outraged that their objections – the ones that made McGuinty back down – didn’t work on Wynne, I say: suck it up. Your kids will know about this stuff one way or another. Times are changing.)

As for my household, I want to be clear: it’s full of hugs, kisses, snuggles, and general cuddliness. That aspect of our lives is really important to both my kids: they are both very attached to their goodnight and goodbye hugs and kisses, with each other as well as with us. (And AB is only content with proper hugs, no half-hugs: “I need my arms around his back!” It’s adorable.) I’m optimistic that both my children will find themselves in physically and emotionally safe, affectionate, and satisfying relationships (MANY years from now).

And until then (please, please), may their awareness of personal boundaries protect them both from harm, and from harming.

*To read about the curriculum changes, please click here.*

*If you are interested in signing the petition to reinforce the support, please click here.*

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Dear Jian Ghomeshi: you inspired my list of heroes. Now what?

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Dear Jian,

In March 2013, I was inspired to write a blog post entitled “Living Canadian Heroes.” I had been moved by the interview I’d just listened to on Q – the one you had with Stompin’ Tom Connors, replayed on the occasion of his death.

I remember thinking how often we talk about Canadian heroes who are not alive – how it’s somehow easier to call someone a hero once they’re gone, and how we should be celebrating those people who are making Canada better every day, right now – people who represent Canada with integrity, thoughtfulness, respect, and skill.

You have been one of my Living Canadian Heroes for a long time. That blog post is still sitting in my drafts, for myriad reasons. Now, I am feeling frankly disillusioned about it.

I remember talking about you with my sister one time. She wasn’t a huge fan of yours – thought you were a bit pretentious or conceited or whatever. I defended you: “But he’s AWESOME. He can interview anyone, and he’s knowledgeable about everything, and he asks amazing questions, and all kinds of people just open up to him, and plus Moxy Früvous, hello?? He’s a CANADIAN ICON.”

When the news broke last weekend that you and CBC were breaking up, I was genuinely upset.

I have been struggling to write about it ever since, but I’ve been paralyzed, watching the hope/grief scale tip inexorably toward the side where you are actually an asshole.

At first, like all your fans, I wanted to think that the CBC had made a mistake. I thought: There is no Q without Jian.

But then, I deeply love my CBC Radio, and I have always trusted it to do its research. Back when you were a teenager obsessing over Bowie, I was a wee nerdy kid already listening to Ted O’Reilly on “Stories and Music for Children,” Jay Ingram on “Quirks and Quarks,” and Jurgen Gothe on “DiscDrive.” That connection was there long before you were, and it remains.

All the same, I wanted to believe your Facebook post, so seemingly earnest (except I wanted to forget your use of the word “jilted” – a distinctly un-classy term, for you). My first impression was: who gives a crap if he’s kinky in the bedroom? Not my business, and after all, BDSM is a notoriously misunderstood form of sexual expression.

But somehow, I couldn’t find the conviction to make a comment of support.

As more opinions poured in, I wanted to remind folks – aren’t we supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? Still, I couldn’t write about it –  because something was off.

Then, more and more stories, more women coming forward, more supporters backtracking. Loyalty fizzling. Worst-case scenario looking increasingly plausible. The sleaziness that was, apparently, common knowledge in the national arts industry was shocking to the rest of us suckers… but somehow still believable.

At this point, the scale has tipped. Now, I’m finally able to write, even though it’s all been said. Even if what I write here is now irrelevant or over-discussed, I have to process this for myself.

At the risk of sounding maudlin: it feels like we, your international audience, have been cheated on. The evidence looms large that the person we thought we knew and loved has been doing slimeball things for who-knows-how-long. We’re reeling, wondering how we could have failed to see it. We’re realizing our entire history with you is tainted, and we’re questioning whether all our memories involving you are valid or even worth keeping. There were moments where we hoped it could still somehow turn out to be just a big misunderstanding, or even a bad dream.

But at this point, I don’t see how any kind of “misunderstanding” conclusion could fix this. This kind of chronic violence can’t be blamed on a misinterpretation of BDSM, or a false inference of consent. This isn’t just a bunch of “jilted” women getting mad and conspiring against you. Those who have gone public are not the vengeful connivers you describe; they just want your audience to know that there are many cats to exit the bag.

What were you thinking all this time?

Maybe you thought what you were doing really was fine. A delusion of that magnitude, superimposing enjoyment over the pain of your sexual partner, is a serious health issue. A case of hyperinflated ego that has squeezed your brain, perhaps, resulting in galactically stupid behaviour.

Maybe this is an addiction, a mental health issue you’ve struggled with. But in that case, wouldn’t a reasonable person seek help? Wouldn’t there be remorse?

Maybe you knew it was bad, and you didn’t give a shit. Or felt you were untouchable in your stardom. Which surpasses the “asshole” category. That kind of duplicitous depravity is actually filed under “evil.”

Your unsuspecting former fans will not be able to brush this off for the sake of your past work. Because unlike Sean Penn, Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, Sean Connery, and any number of other celebrities who are still popular despite violent track records, we didn’t know you were in the acting business. Your popularity was based on you being, ostensibly, you.

Ugh.

It sucks that you were so great at your job. You really could converse with anyone – you talked to Joni Mitchell, Mike Tyson, Taylor Swift, and Justin Trudeau with equal grace. You were eminently knowledgeable, intelligent, adaptable, insightful, charismatic. A champion of all the right things. I was proud to have you represent us all, as one of the most recognizable public broadcasters Canada has ever had.

I hate that if I ever hear one of your interviews in future, I will be listening for deceit and misogyny, and thinking about how your oh-so-listenable voice must trigger ugly flashbacks for a lot of women.

And Moxy Früvous… oh. God. You will not destroy The Gulf War Song or Fell In Love for me. And breaking into “your” version of Green Eggs and Ham is all that gets me through that confounded story some days. Even if you were already a reprobate in your musician days, you sure could sing one-quarter of a beautiful song. I hate that you have befouled those songs, and betrayed your bandmates.

At least, not unlike the shooter in Ottawa, through your dishonour you have provoked a useful conversation in this country – this one about rape culture and violence against women, still all too pervasive, even in Canada.

And at least we can be confident that the CBC will find someone brilliant – and decent – to replace you. It was a relief to find out that your opening essays – which have awed me on many occasions – are not actually written by you. A lot of extremely talented people contributed to your success, and will continue to do so with someone better. (While you try to get a date on some other continent.)

I can now assuredly say that I’m looking forward to it.

Signed,

Dilovely

P.S. I was really sorry to hear that your dad died. Now, I’m just hoping it means he was spared the knowledge that his son is not one to be proud of after all.

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Why Teacher Incentive Pay and Standardized Tests Don’t Help Kids

 

Climb-that-TreeThe Fraser Institute, a Canadian public-policy think tank, has just released a study recommending something called “teacher incentive pay”, based on student achievement. The idea is, teachers would be paid bonuses based on high scores in their students’ standardized test results. This, they say, is key to Canada staying competitive on the world stage.

I always have to laugh – without humour – when the Fraser Institute comes up with something to say about public education. I’m sure they work very hard and do lots of thinking and research to come up with their Studies and Findings and Recommendations; what they lack is a real grasp on the reality of the public school world – dynamics between students, parents, educators, and knowledge.

Here’s what I agree with from the study:

  • We teachers need to help students excel.
  • We need especially to help students with difficulties do the best learning they can.
  • Raising children with solid knowledge and skills is good for Canadian society.
  • Literacy and numeracy are vital skills for all children.
  • It is not ideal that mediocre or bad teachers are paid on the same scale as good or fantastic teachers.

Here’s what I don’t agree with:

  • That standardized test results are an accurate reflection of student abilities and learning, and
  • That standardized test results have anything to do with teacher excellence.

Let’s first look at what’s wrong with standardized tests.

In Ontario, standardized tests were introduced by the Harris government in 1996. Since then, students are tested in math and literacy in Grade 3 and Grade 6, in math only in Grade 9, and in literacy only in Grade 10. Students must pass the Grade 10 literacy test to graduate from high school.

I get why EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) testing seems desirable. The school system is publicly funded; naturally, parents and other taxpayers want to know that their dollars are going to the best use possible.

It also looks good for the government to be able to point to rising test scores and say “Look! We are doing things right! WE ARE ACCOUNTABLE.”

It’s a nice thought, that student abilities and learning could be monitored in such a neat, encapsulated way.

The issue here, as with all standardized tests, is that they are purported to measure “student achievement” – and they don’t. They measure only how those students performed on that particular test on those particular days.

Standardized tests do not reflect what students really know or can really do.

This is partly because, when you administer a standardized test, the setting is unnatural. The first time I scribed part of an EQAO literacy test for a Grade 3 student with an IEP (Individual Education Plan), and was taken aback to read the rules. I was to write down what the student said, including whatever punctuation he remembered to ask me to put in. For the writing section, I was allowed to read him the questions, but I was not allowed to say anything else. Not even small talk to help him feel at ease. If he forgot something, I couldn’t remind him by re-reading. I could not answer any questions he asked me for clarification. I could not even silently turn a page for him if he was looking at the wrong question.

Sure, for students who do well on EQAO, it demonstrates that they can answer those questions. That’s great for them.

But for students who are naturally nervous about being tested, it’s the perfect situation to send their anxiety skyrocketing – whatever their skill level. For students whose minds go blank when the pressure is highest, it’s a nightmare. The fight-or-flight response kicks in so they literally can’t think.

And for those students who struggle with math, reading, and writing, it’s a good way to invalidate the gifts they DO have.

It doesn’t feel anything like the kind of learning we work hard to foster in classrooms every day.

That’s the weirdest part about EQAO. It comes from the provincial government, the same body that provides teachers with the regulation curriculum documents spelling out the knowledge and skills at the provincial standard for each grade level. But the two enterprises – curriculum and EQAO testing – reflect completely different philosophies about education.

The curriculum documents are regularly reviewed and revised, by educators in the system, based on new knowledge about the ways kids learn best, and new perspectives on evolving subject matter. They have changed hugely over the decades, and classrooms have changed with them. The expectation for learning today is much more inclusive, hands-on, exploratory, and real-life-based than it once was.

Most teachers are happy to use and endorse the curriculum documents. The approaches that are set out – and expected, by the government, to be used – are all about finding the different teaching and learning techniques that will eventually engage every child. And helping students remember what their strengths are.

It’s called differentiated instruction: knowing your students, knowing their learning styles, and getting them the tools they need to show you the best work they’re capable of. It’s recognizing that if little Liam has some extra time and less pressure, he’ll produce much better work. It’s noticing that when Sophie has her math manipulatives in front of her, she can do fractions with no problem.

Standardized testing is the antithesis of differentiated instruction.

It’s like saying to teachers, “Take all that work you did to personalize your approaches to different kids – and chuck it in the toilet.”

It’s like saying to kids, “What you’re actually capable of doesn’t matter. What matters is being good at tests.”

Yes, the stuff being tested is important. That’s why we’re already teaching it every day.

Let’s remind ourselves: tests are artificial situations. In life, testing itself is basically the only time you’re expected to produce large amounts of information or solve problems alone, with no chance to ask questions, check facts, collaborate, or research.

As standardized testing becomes more prevalent in Canada, it’s skewing things. Parents are starting to use EQAO scores to decide where to buy a house. Even better, the aforementioned Fraser Institute, in all its self-important wisdom, issues “report cards” ranking different schools, so parents can handily refer to those. The Institute is cagey about what the rankings are based on, but admits it relies heavily on test scores.

By the Institute’s own admission, rankings cannot include data on things like fine arts, trades training, and citizenship – because there is no data on those.

Because most of the things that make up the vitality of a school are not measurable.

Back to teacher incentive pay. Doesn’t it make sense to use financial rewards to motivate teachers to do their very best teaching? If kids do well on the tests, doesn’t that show that the teacher taught them well?

Yes – maybe. There’s a decent chance that children who get high test scores had a good teacher. But there’s just as high a chance that a low-scoring class had a good teacher. Perhaps even higher.

When you place so much value on an isolated piece of high-pressure output by students, you are failing to take into account the broader learning and teaching arcs of students and teachers. Teachers know well that student performance varies widely depending on the year, the month, even the day. And though the Fraser Institute would like to gloss over this, things like parental education levels, household income, and family work schedules do factor into test scores.

Let me put it this way: would you want your yearly bonus to be affected by whether someone else’s children had eaten well/slept enough/taken their meds? Should you forfeit pay because you teach kids who have a cold/whose parents were fighting that morning/who experience test anxiety/who are learning disabled/whose attention span is desperately short?

Actually, I’d say it’s the opposite. Ask any teacher: the years they work hardest, the years that most deeply plumb their reserves of creativity and patience, are the ones where they teach the most children with those high needs. It’s exhausting, overwhelming work. Especially in classes of thirty kids.

When you really think about it, in a society that supposedly values innovation, it’s bizarre that we put so much stock in standardized tests. As we know, the U.S. is obsessed with high-stakes testing, and many districts use teacher incentive pay. This has, indeed, raised test scores in certain areas. It has also encouraged teachers to “teach to the test” – i.e. gear classroom instruction to revolve around what they know of previous tests – which you’re not supposed to do. But if your job is to improve test scores, then… teaching to the test IS doing your job, isn’t it?

It’s no wonder that, as the authors of Freakonomics point out, teacher incentive pay has also resulted in many instances of teachers cheating, in many different ways. Obviously, this does NOT improve student learning – but it does improve test scores.

Here in Ontario, the bigger a deal people make about a school’s high ranking or test scores, the more those teachers feel obliged to make sure their test scores stay high. If they want to please the crowds, they naturally feel compelled to teach to the test.

So. Are we teaching according to the students we have, or the test we have to give them? Because they are not the same thing at all.

Time to recap. What’s the really big issue here? What are standardized tests and teacher incentive pay trying to accomplish?

Improved student achievement. (Reminder: test scores and actual student achievement are two completely different things.)

What changes could help us attain real improvement in student achievement?

If you were to ask the teachers who spend each day with the students, we would have no trouble telling you – because improving student achievement is our daily goal. You would hear: smaller class sizes and more professionals on the ground.

If you’re looking to use money to help kids learn, change the ratios of teachers to students. The bigger the group, the less likely it is that one teacher can give every child the help he or she needs.

If you especially want to help the students with the most difficulties, hire more EAs (Educational Assistants), CYCs (Child Youth Counselors), OTs (Occupational Therapists), Special Ed teachers, and ESL teachers, so that those professionals aren’t spread so thinly that they barely see each child they are supposed to help.

I’m absolutely confident that if I could poll teachers in Ontario, they’d say they would much rather have those changes than incentive pay.

And if your goal is to help every child learn… then standardized tests are a big old waste of money.

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