More Proof of Humanity (a.k.a. #NaBloPoMo Day “2”)

It’s Transgender Awareness week, in addition to being Post-Election-Hate-Crime-Hyper-Awareness week. I’ve decided that during this month of posting, I’m also going to keep my eye out for Proof of Humanity, i.e. when people do stuff that shows their compassion for other people, in spite of the forces that seem determined to quash tenderness among Earthlings.

Today I was fortunate to attend the Level 2 workshop offered by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust (of which I attended Level 1 last year). Again, some amazing discussion happened. It was calming (though emotional) to be in a room full of educators doing their sincere best to learn to be better allies and/or advocates.

non-binary-comic-glittery-heart

I’m going to share a few things we saw and discussed today, in brief only. Being in Level 2, we got to go a bit deeper on certain topics, including non-binary gender identity. This brief TED talk, by a brilliant Canadian named Ivan Coyote, is so direct, so simple and beautiful, and so sad. It made many of us cry today – but more importantly, it made us think and care.

Then there’s this charming person with a smiley, loving take on LGBTQ+ labels that you know belies the painful struggles in their past.

Then, for all of us who are sick and tired of monolithic gendered toy aisles at the store, a rant from a very small person who feels the same way.

Finally, I am fiercely collecting the bits of proof that diverse, progressive people are going to continue to care about each other instead of fearing each other, despite global pressure to freak out and reject all kinds of otherness. I loved this quote from Stephen Marche in The Walrus last week, regarding Canada’s status as “the last country on earth to believe in multiculturalism”:

Canada’s relative position of strength—if that’s how you can describe not being overwhelmed by loathing for others—should not render us complacent. Quite the opposite. Right now, while we are not in the darkness, we must make multiculturalism work. We must make it work better and we must make it work for everyone.

The story making the rounds today about the multicultural kindness-fest for a guy on the Toronto subway just fits the bill perfectly at this moment.

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A Little Faith in Humanity from Remembrance Day

Hi, lovely di-hards.

It’s been an emotional week, n’est-ce pas? Right around this time last Tuesday, there was a disbelieving dread building on my Facebook news feed. I could hardly bear to look at the actual stats. My daughter had strep throat; we all slept badly, and felt ill the next day – on so many levels. It was an Armageddon-y gloom.

And though that has not really gone away, there have been things to remind me that humanity is still kinda cool.

peace-dove-and-sign-png

I ran the Remembrance Day assembly last Friday, and as such spent several hours of the preceding Thursday creating an iMovie of my Grade 4 FI class’s collaboratively-written peace poem. Listening to their little-kid voices reading, line by line, words like “It’s friends and family and coming together for love/By calm, planting, and happiness” and “Humans are meant to be free and to walk… give love, help others,” and then all their voices together saying, “And stop war.”… It helped. It was comforting in a deep way.

I think we teachers are in the privileged position of seeing the best and the worst that kids have to offer. We are both jaded and optimistic – sometimes both these things, several times a day.

There had been some worry about behaviour during this assembly, since there were issues with noise level during the last assembly; the kids who were presenting had their feelings hurt by the not-so-focus of their schoolmates. And I have to say, it’s a thing. Many of us teachers are frustrated, constantly having to remind students that you don’t just yap all the time when it’s not your turn.

So for Remembrance Day, when there are usually quite a few community members present, there had been a lot of preparatory discussion in classrooms. The principal issued a reminder before classes came to the gym.

And then the kids blew our minds. They. Were. So. Quiet. Coming in, listening to each presentation, waiting in between… Even the wee kindergarteners. The minute of silence after the Last Post was incredible. A whole sea of kids making almost no sound. (I saw one child trying to distract his classmates with silent silliness, and they just ignored him. I was amazed.)

The last part of the assembly was the playing of “One Day” by Matisyahu. It’s a sad-but-happy song, and most of the kids know and love it, having learned it in Music class last year. When the song began, they were still incredibly quiet, unsure if they should sing, but gradually we could hear their voices joining in and getting stronger – and only with respect. It was this perfect rising tide of youthful hope. I know most of us adults got tears in our eyes at the sound. I couldn’t even look out at the kids, they were so beautiful at that moment.

If you want, try listening yourself, and imagine hundreds of sweet childish voices singing “When negativity surrounds, I know someday it’ll all turn around.”

Makes you think it really will.

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P.S. I’ve decided I’m going to try NaBloPoMo again, but changing the dates. There was no way the first two weeks of November were going to work, so I’m starting today and will be attempting to post every day through December 15th. See you tomorrow!

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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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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 19: Questions excellentes

Today at school, we talked a little bit about Paris. I showed my Grade 4s and 5s that little boy and his dad – not just because the vocabulary (très, méchant, gentil, fleurs, maison, etc.) is right on point, but because when they see a child, they instinctively relate.

Two days a week, I have a group of only nine Grade 4s for the last period of the day. Often, it’s my favourite group. Grade 4s in Core French class are well-known to be the most excited about it (the novelty is alive), and although this group has a couple of very busy boys, they are also usually sweet and enthusiastic.

When I occasionally put aside the speaking of French in class, it’s usually in order to hear what they have to say about the social issue at hand; usually these moments arise from the French songs we listen to, but today it was the news. Frankly, I was very impressed by their questions and insights, and how most of them really listened and responded to each other. For a lot of it, I was simply listening.

Where did the terrorists come from? What made them so angry? If the parents teach their kids to be angry and to want to kill people, where did they get it? What is the violence for? Is it for fun? Or does someone make them do it?

We talked about racism and prejudices and wrongdoing on different sides, and the cyclical nature of violence. It may sound heavy for Grade 4, but they knew all the worst parts already, and obviously wanted to talk about it.

One of my favourite parts was one little guy, the most overt keener in the group, not quite nine years old yet, who is never afraid to call the other kids on it when they’re being immature. When a couple of kids began to get silly, he said to them, “You’re making a joke out of something that’s really serious. How would you like it if a terrorist came to your home and killed you? That’s what happens to people.” He is such a sharp little guy, with astonishing perspective on things. Makes me wish I could know and teach him when he’s seventeen or twenty-one and really taking on the world.

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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 11: Thought, Empathy, Peace

IMG_2818
This is what I’m wearing this year. Just to be clear.

Today I’ve been grateful for the teachers who put together our school’s Remembrance Day assembly. They made the effort to be thoughtful, to include the past and the present, to respect without glorifying, and to make peace the focus.

I’m grateful for the students who obviously have pondered the discussions that happen on Remembrance Day, who have already started to be critical thinkers and develop their wisdom.

I’m grateful for the Grade 6 boy who was tearful at the end of the assembly today (as many of us were), not only for being open about emotion but also for giving his classmates the chance to be compassionate.

I’m grateful for the feeling of community that always brings us in close on November 11th.

I’m very grateful for moments of silence, and that silence is our answer for how to show reverence – and that even the little kids, in a brimming gymnasium, seem to feel it.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 4: The Cabinet, etc.

Today, I’m so grateful for our new government.

trudeau's new cabinet

Remember how I said, a couple weeks ago, that I’d decided to be optimistic and allow myself to be excited about the new PM and his MPs? Well, I can tell you now: being hopeful is FUN. Way more fun than cringing and waiting for things to go wrong(er and wronger). Telling the niggling doubter-voices in the back of my mind to shut the bleep up is fun too.

And I have to say, Justin Trudeau is making optimism really easy. Before he was even sworn in, he was doing cool things. Now that he’s officially our Prime Minister and has chosen his cabinet ministers, I’m truly impressed with the number of his actions that have made me go, “Brilliant! How did no one do this sooner??

Highlights of that list:

  • Inviting not only the provincial premiers but the federal opposition leaders to join him at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. How do you show you’re serious about environmental cooperation and innovation in this vast and varied country? THIS IS HOW.
  • Changing the name of the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. A seemingly small thing, and yet in light of those people who are still in denial about it, not small at all.
  • Changing the name of the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (so “us and them”) to the Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. (Carolyn Bennett considers herself “Minister of Reconciliation.” YES.)
  • Opening up the grounds of Rideau Hall to the public for the swearing-in ceremony. A great metaphor for the governmental openness that has been promised.
  • Appointing a family physician as the Minister of Health – I guess I don’t know if this has been done before, but when I look at this appointment, it suddenly seems like a no-brainer.
  • Appointing a First Nations leader as Minister of Justice. This is so fitting and makes so much sense.
  • Appointing a cabinet with some actual cultural diversity.
  • Appointing many people who are smart and knowledgeable people first and politicians second (or barely). In a time when lots of people are feeling disenchanted with politicians, what better way is there to change the way the game of politics is played – or better yet, throw out the game board and get down to the business of improving Canada?
  • Instituting gender parity in the Cabinet. This one is, when you think about it, so ridiculously obvious that one must ask oneself: what took us so long?? Trudeau showed today that no, these things don’t take time (or any other dumb excuse), they just take someone with the clarity and decisiveness to do it – someone who recognizes that the way we’ve been doing this forever is actually bullshit and represents neither our country nor our times – therefore, there’s no need to perpetuate the status quo. DONE.

I also loved watching those little Inuit girls throat-singing at the ceremony. So focused on their song, and then breaking into giggles. To me, that’s respecting cultural tradition and thinking into the future – and also not taking ourselves too seriously.

Anyway, I could go on, but the point is, I am having a lovely time being thrilled at what has happened in our new Canada so far. And I’m full of gratitude for the whole refreshing phenomenon.

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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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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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