Raising a Daughter in Scary But Hopeful Times

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with an old friend whose family was expecting their third child: a daughter, after two sons. [Actually, I started this post more than a month ago, and as it happens, said daughter was born TODAY, early this morning! So read on, in honour of wee baby EC’s birth day.] This friend is from a two-son, no-daughter family himself. He said, “I should pick your brain sometime about how to raise a girl. I’ll have no idea what I’m doing.”

I’d like to say that I have all the answers, since a) I am a daughter and b) I have a daughter I’ve managed to get to age 5 relatively unscathed.

jean-jacket-mom-daughter
And we’re jean jacket buds.

Let’s see:

  1. Always wipe front to back
  2. Don’t over-clean and irritate those girl parts
  3. Keep a close eye on her interactions with her big brothers, because it’s easy for big brothers to abuse their power without realizing it.

Annnnd… that’s about the only straightforward advice I have. As soon as you’re past the diaper stage – and sometimes while you’re still in it – other things that differentiate raising a girl from raising a boy get sticky and complicated.

Once upon a time, I was a girl. (Still am, in some ways.) I was always happy and proud to be one, and never wished I were a boy – girls are the best! I was fortunate to have many strong, wise, smart female role models in my life, including my mom, my aunts, and my grandmothers. Also, I grew up between two sisters (with a brother as well), and my best friends were all girls (past about age 5).

Now I’m a grown-up woman, and I still wouldn’t trade that for anything. There are lots of awesome and basically magical things about being a female human. That being said, I have come to understand a lot more about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the status of womanhood today, and the breadth of the progress we have yet to make. I’ve thought and read and discussed a lot about what feminism means to me now, as a mother and as a teacher. Often, the process makes me mad, and always, it makes me feel fiercely protective of my little girl.

Obviously, girls, like all children, are individuals. The main things you can justifiably say about “Girls” as a group are not about their personalities, hobbies, habits, or tendencies. They are about the ways society sees and treats them. In my career I have taught literally hundreds of girls between the ages of three and eighteen, observing and getting to know them in many different contexts.

Here are a few thoughts that I hope will be helpful – or they may just confuse things worse than ever. But I think they’re important.

Pretty is as pretty does

The wish to be physically appealing is extremely powerful. I believe that this is partly instinctive, but mightily reinforced by the media. Society teaches girls and women that making themselves pretty should be their top priority.

Not too long ago, it was our duty to be pretty for men. Nowadays, it’s ostensibly for “us” – the company line is that it’s empowering to feel beautiful. Frankly, this is often true. Most women I know do feel most confident when they know they look good. I’m sure most men are the same.

Where the empowerment argument falls down is that the standards for women are flat-out ridiculous. As in, the consumer engine is all up in our appearances, down to Every. Single. Detail. Not just the quality of our hair and the state of our toenails, but everything in between, including the consistency of our breasts and the look of our vulvas. (And when I mention hair, I mean ALL the hair, in EVERY place.) There is no part of the external female anatomy that is exempt from society’s opinion.

And the expectation is perfection, literally. Women’s products are designed to minimize or conceal “imperfections” – or even “correct” them, as though every unique quirk of our bodies is a MISTAKE. I feel the outrageousness of this as I write it, but sadly, it’s no exaggeration. Society’s collective sense of entitlement to judge female people on and by their looks is inescapable and crushing. The engine never stops, because there are people making obscene amounts of money off of women feeling bad about themselves.

Tiny girls are able to love themselves and their appearances naturally and abundantly. Sean was worried at one point because AB loves to admire herself in the mirror, strike cool poses and so on – is she too focused on her looks? Will she grow up vain?

But this time of a little girl being able to enjoy her reflection without self-judgment and criticism is fleeting. Due to the above phenomenon, a girl’s self-esteem is often extremely fragile. I was already worrying about whether my body was good enough by the time I was nine (ballet class did not help in that regard, even though I adored ballet) and I fretted about my crooked teeth as soon as I got them, which was even earlier. Every insecurity a girl can have is promptly and thoroughly validated by the media. I watch my daughter enjoying her beauty, and it squeezes my heart. I know all too well the self-consciousness that creeps in, so soon, on young girls.

So here’s a quandary: do I tell my daughter she’s beautiful to reinforce her confidence, or treat appearance as unimportant so that she will focus on her character and skills? (The internet is all over both sides of this argument, BTW. It’s no help.) Personally, I try to do both. I tell her she’s beautiful often, because I can’t pretend that Beauty isn’t an issue. She IS beautiful, and she will need this knowledge-ammo to fight off the counter-messages. Plus… we all know it feels good to hear that. (She tells me I’m beautiful too, with sincerity and delight, usually when I wear a skirt or something pink – or any outfit she chose for me.)

[Here is a wonderful blog post about a mom who learned, for her daughters’ sake, to agree with them that she was beautiful. This had a big impact on me when I first read it, back when my own daughter was baby. Since then, I try very hard not to be self-critical in front of my kids. And in general (though that’s harder).]

We also talk about her character on a regular basis, discussing almost every day what makes a good friend, how much we learn from hard work, what courage looks like, and other traits we want to foster. I only use the word ugly when we’re talking about certain behaviours (which could be another whole post). I want her to know deep down, as she grows, that in real life, inner beauty is the greatest determining factor of overall beauty.

Nurturing is for everybody

Society may have been telling girls that we want to play with dolls for generations, but it’s not out of the blue. The nurturing tendency among girls is not solely a learned thing. As my daughter already knows, girls are born with all their eggs already in place in their bodies (in fact, AB seems quite proud of this). It makes sense that certain instincts come with them. Even in families trying hard to avoid gender-norming their kids, you often have tiny toddler girls pretending to be mamas (and tiny toddler boys who freak out with excitement around construction equipment). Many’s the kindergarten girl I’ve seen taking a random object – like a block or a chalkboard eraser – and mothering it.

I guess it’s not surprising that so many of the vocations dominated by women – child care, education, nursing, veterinary medicine, home health care, social work, not to mention parenting – are those in which the nurturing instincts are an asset. I am proud of the skills and accomplishments of these women, as well as those of the women who pioneer in male-dominated fields, who deal with chauvinism every day in order to pound their boots on that glass ceiling.

At some point, my daughter will have to contend with all this. Particularly divisive are the many perceptions that complicate a woman’s choice to mother – or not. “Parenting isn’t real work”… “Working mothers can’t fully succeed in their careers”… “A woman isn’t a real woman until she’s a mother”  and many more, often in conflict with each other. For now, though, I encourage my daughter to nurture (as well as to build things, play with trucks, and so on) – and I encourage the caring tendency in my son, too. We all need comfort and care, at every age. The world needs more nurturing, always, from everyone.

little_girl_puppy

Pink is STUPID… Or AWESOME

I looooved pink when I was little girl. Then, around age 12, I went off it and didn’t start to enjoy it again until I was an adult. That’s partly because I came of age in the 90s – grunge and pink didn’t mix well – but partly because I saw it as a dumb, girly colour. Which is awful. I hate that I internalized that message for so long. Pink is fun. It’s happy.

It might also be a little bit of a trap. When my daughter was born, I didn’t want her to feel like she had to choose pink as the be-all and end-all of everything. But of course, people love to buy cute pink clothes for girl babies (and they are adorable). Although I dressed her in all the colours, as soon as she began choosing for herself, she overwhelmingly chose pink. These days, purple and turquoise (thanks, Frozen) are also really popular, and she loves multicoloured things… But nothing can sway her love of pink.

The part that makes a protective parent mad is when you go to the toy section of a department store and find your totally-pink aisle and your zero-pink aisle. As though there’s no middle ground, for anyone. Really?? In the 21st century?

Here’s a question I can’t answer: is it good that they’ve started making “girl” Lego? Because it seems like you shouldn’t have to – Lego is for everyone (with strong and able fingers). But then… I’ll be honest. I probably would have done lots more fine-motor play-building if I’d had more colours and shapes to work with. When we gave AB a Lego set with all sorts of colours (including pink and purple and turquoise) and lots of random wheels and windows and funny parts, BOTH kids got really excited and built like crazy. More variety = MORE FUN.

[On the topic of pink, dolls, and many other very pertinent things, I highly recommend “Cinderella Ate My Daughter“, by Peggy Orenstein, to be read by EVERYONE with girls in their lives.]

little_girl_art_paint

No means No. Except when it doesn’t.

Girls start out quite knowledgeable about their physical boundaries. Society blurs that line for them, however, from a very young age. There are a million insidious messages about how a woman should be, permeating a girl’s psyche as she grows. We should be kind, gracious, altruistic, polite, agreeable, generous, accepting, and friendly. All great qualities – I aspire to them myself, and encourage them in all the children I know. The problem arises when they are so  ingrained, to the exclusion of other qualities, that they affect a girl’s protection of her boundaries.

Even in 2018, there are potent forces telling girls and women to avoid being confrontational, defensive, or inconvenient. I see ALL THE TIME our tendency to sacrifice ourselves and enable other people – sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad. On the one hand, you have the professions I mentioned earlier in which women care and give every day in extraordinary ways. On the other hand, you have millions of women becoming recipients of unwanted sexual attention, language, and/or contact, from men who exploit that politeness, friendliness, acceptance, and the desire not to make a fuss or be a pain. And please don’t misunderstand: I do not blame the women. This stems from the burden of centuries of misogyny.

[Here is an excellent article about sex from a woman’s perspective that I honestly believe every woman who’s ever been sexually active, no matter how good her sex life may be, can relate to on some level. And here is a post I wrote when AB was a toddler about managing the complexities of the physical relationship between her and my son.]

My Hubbibi and I have had many earnest conversations about the word NO, especially regarding our kids. I know that sometimes no doesn’t really mean no… Sometimes kids screech and giggle “no” during a physical game when they actually enjoy it and want to continue. BUT. I don’t think it’s up to me or anyone else to decide which Nos are real and which aren’t. Not even if parents (for example) traditionally have that leeway. Some words MUST mean what they say. I always tell students: “When someone says stop, you must stop.”

If “Stop” and “No” are open for interpretation, how does a person make herself clear? If people feel entitled to construe another person’s “No” however they like, then you have… well, you have the status quo. You have #metoo, in its millions.

Don’t even get me started on the folks who object to the new Ontario Sex Ed curriculum that finally takes on consent. Keep kids in the dark about sexual health and of course they will be blindsided.

The Herbivore’s Dilemma

To take the above idea even further, girls learn young that the dangers they face can be grave indeed. Consensus says that girls aren’t safe by themselves. Young boys are in a similar category – all children have to be careful of “stranger danger” – but as we get older, the understanding deepens for women. It is an extraordinarily strong (and trained) woman who is physically able to overpower your average adult male. In the Survival Game of reality, female humans are the Herbivores – for their whole lives. Depressingly, this is a biological and statistical truth. We are the prey. We are always aware of it. It is part of our everyday existence to avoid situations that leave us vulnerable to predators.

In my mind, this is the most deep-seated reason why so many women had a profound emotional response to Wonder Woman. We vicariously walked with her right into danger, and just dealt with it like a BOSS. The idea of being unafraid, of knowing you can protect yourself and your people… That’s the dream. it’s huge.

little_girl_joy

I wish it were unnecessary, but I will be teaching my daughter everything I know about personal protection. [Here is a pretty good article that covers many of the things I learned in a personal protection workshop I took a few years ago. We also learned how to put up our “fence” – guarding hands – and say loudly and aggressively, “Back off!” and if that doesn’t work, “Back the f*ck off!!!” Haven’t shared that with AB yet, but apparently it can help a lot.]

Contradictions, Hypocrisy, and Injustice

Last year at OELC iArts, it was my privilege to have an in-depth discussion with our group of Dance Majors, based on the question “What bugs you about the way society treats girls?” These junior high students know what’s up. They are angered by the impossible standards of beauty, and the way that all forms of media prey on their insecurities.

Even more, the double standards in their daily lives are infuriating. Boys get away with all kinds of things that girls can’t. Boys can, for example, wear basically whatever they want. Girls are not allowed to violate the dress code – it’s distracting (to boys) – always the girl’s fault… but short shorts are IN. It’s impossible to be fashionable and adhere to the dress code. Girls reported being made to wear random lost-and-found shirts to cover up visible bra straps – but god forbid they should propose removing the bra to solve the problem. Already, in Grade 7, the sexualization of EVERYTHING involving girls is rampant.

There’s a lot of unfairness. And a lot of pain. The unspoken expectations, the things that are just easier for boys, the things boys – and men – feel entitled to say and do around and to girls, the things that society says girls need to care about, the things it won’t let them do…. It’s a LOT.

Furthermore, the mixed messages start right away, and never stop. Girls can do anything boys can… but in reality, they are not treated the same. Girls should do everything in their power to be pretty, but they should not care or even really be aware of it. Women should own their sexuality, but not TOO much. Women should act more like men when they lead, but if they do they’ll be called cold and heartless – and people will still feel entitled to comment on their appearance.

As a family with two living children, a boy and a girl, things are sticky sometimes. Double-standards and mixed messages have to be dealt with, often on the fly as they come up. I try to be as honest as I can about how things are, within age-appropriate limits. We discuss how people grow up with different ideas about how to treat others, and then we think together about what we believe is right. My kids are already pretty thoughtful and astute people in many ways, and have some wise things to say. They know that we will never shut down their questions or invalidate their frustrations – and that we will love them no matter what. We hope that’s enough.

little_girl_smiling

Dilovely, didn’t you say “Scary But Hopeful”?

Okay, right. I acknowledge that this started out as parenting advice and became a feminist Di-atribe. (And I almost apologized for it, then backspaced. Because raising a daughter to live fully in this world = FEMINISM. No apologies.)

Yes, my understanding of, and frustration with, the status quo for women has grown with every year that goes by. It seems like, in this day and age, in a country like Canada, we should be over the silliness. Over the stupid beauty standards, the antiquated attitudes, and the misogyny so deeply embedded that some people don’t even see it. At times, it feels like we haven’t come nearly as far as we should, given the work that has gone into dismantling the patriarchy. Sometimes it even feels like we’re regressing.

However! I am also very grateful to raise my family in this place and time. Here and now, I do feel safe most of the time, and my daughter does too. Girls attend school – at all levels – in numbers that couldn’t have been imagined a century ago. We explicitly teach about consent. The pay gap is a household topic of conversation. The Prime Minister’s latest budget focused heavily on improving the lives of women. The Cabinet has gender parity. Awesome female heroes are more and more visible in movies and TV shows – and in real life too.

[If you need inspiration, news, resources, book lists, blog posts, or anything else to learn about girls or help girls learn about themselves, please mine the riches of A Mighty Girl. It is an absolute treasure trove and will make you feel better about the world.]

I’m grateful for the campaigns that mainstream companies are working on, because although they’re not without difficulties, they are highly visible and they do seep into the public consciousness. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has done some good work, bringing up issues mothers and daughters need to consider. And the original #likeagirl video made by Always consistently makes me cry.

Particularly the moment where a smiling teenage girl acknowledges she doesn’t have to accept “run like a girl” for its connotations. She says, “I would run like… myself,” putting both hands over her heart. She does know her worth, but the world tries hard to rob her of this. The woman asks her gently, “Would you like a chance to re-do it?”

Yes. Girls would like a chance to reclaim their self-compassion and take loving custody of their own value as people, please.  YES.

This can happen. The world is shifting. There may be a sexual predator slash nincompoop currently terrorizing the White House, but I’ll say this for him: he (unintentionally) rallied millions of women to take louder, stronger ownership of their feminist ideals. This is helping to put feminism where it should be: as the mainstream, default position for ALL non-misogynist humans. The #metoo movement has swelled past its banks on the power of women knowing they can’t let others just get away with shit anymore. Complacency is not an option.

I am also comforted by the knowledge that we have sisterhood to draw upon. We can bring our daughters into the fold as women who know the profound power of our bodies, hearts, and minds. We understand the strength of unity. The variants of our tenderness are blessings, sources of energy and healing. We know that daughters and mothers and sisters, joined with our allies, are already in the process of uplifting this chaotic jumble called humanity and making it better.

And there are lots of fantastic fathers out there, raising daughters with their own hearts and minds open to who those girls will become.

I am sincere when I say that I feel real optimism for our girls. It is truly exciting to be part of this new wave. We are in it together, all the daughters and all the sons, feeling the thrill of a changing, learning, evolving humanity.

We’ve got this.

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Photo credits, in order: 1. Auntie Beth, 2. Bess-Hamiti, 3. pikauisan, 4. yohoprashant, 4. cherylholt, 5. skimpton007. Photos 2-5 via Pixabay.

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The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline – Two-Minute Book Review

My sister gave me the award-winning The Marrow Thieves for Christmas, knowing how keenly I feel about Indigenous issues. I was about a quarter of the way through when I heard a snippet on CBC saying that Jully Black would be defending this book for Canada Reads! So I felt cool by association (with Canada’s national bibliophilic geek-out). Jully and The Marrow Thieves made it through the first day’s vote… I’m rooting for them to win!

Title: The Marrow Thieves

Author: Cherie Dimaline

marrow-thieves-cherie-dimaline

Other works by this author: The novels Red Rooms and The Girl Who Grew A Galaxy, and the short story collection A Gentle Habit, as well as the story “Seven Gifts for Cedar.”

Recommended by: My sister, I guess! And maybe the Governor General, considering that The Marrow Thieves won that award for English-language children’s literature in 2017.

Genre: Futuristic dystopian forest-trekking YA fiction.

Main characters: Frenchie (the narrator), and the cobbled-together family of fellow fugitives he travels with, including leader/Elder Miigwans and love interest Rose.

Plot intro: After the climate-change apocalypse, most North Americans have lost the ability to dream, and are hunting Indigenous people for their bone marrow, said to restore dreaming.

Opinions: I first heard about this book during a carpool, from a guy who kinda liked it but was rather dismissive. Since I found most of what he said during the ride to be arrogant and/or wrong, I had a hunch it would be a great book. 🙂 And I was right!

A quotation I liked: Most of my favourite moments in this book would be spoilers. I will say that Dimaline writes beautifully, treading the unlikely line between imagistic poetry and careless teenage speech. Also, this book contains what might just be the sexiest non-sex scene I’ve ever read.

What sticks with me: How much I want to shift this future. Not just the environmental catastrophe part, though of course I’m hoping we can avoid such collapse. And I’m not worried that the bone marrow harvest will actually be a thing. But Canada – and Turtle Island in general – are at a turning point right now, in which all of us need to understand what Canada did to Indigenous Peoples, so as not to repeat history. Not just residential schools, but extermination and marginalization of all kinds, the Sixties Scoop, the current child apprehension crisis, and of course the racism that has lasted from the moment of first contact to the present day.

Recommended to: All of us sharing this continent – but especially Canadian youth. We can take Indigenous-Canadian relations somewhere new and better.

To sum up: Gorgeously written with joy and tragedy, suspense and humour, and a lot of love for its beautiful characters. (I gave it five stars on Goodreads.)

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Dear Students on Social Media: How Do You Manage?

Hello, young folk. If you are a student in high school or university, have a smartphone with one or more social media accounts, and are passing your courses, then let me say: my hat is off to you. If you are excelling, then I am fully impressed.

social-media-apps-old-fashioned

Here’s why. I am kinda old. Specifically, I’m thirty-nine, not so many months away from forty. This means that I was young in a different time. I was already in my 20s when Facebook became a thing. I was several years into my career when the first iPhone came out.

Before that, there was just email. And even that didn’t really get going until I was in university. I did my first emails in crowded computer labs on campus, on terminals with only amber displays. When I moved into a house with my friends, we had dial-up internet that would disconnect when someone picked up the phone. (Of course we all shared a landline because none of us had cell phones.) I did all my school research… in BOOKS. I didn’t even have access to a computer of my “own” (a laptop borrowed from my dad) until I did my Masters degree. It was as heavy as a dictionary and looked like an attaché case.

When I was in high school, there wasn’t even that stuff. We had a family desktop computer on which we could type things, make birthday cards, and play Wheel of Fortune (yes, Vanna White was amber and each of her applauding hands was three giant pixels). Social media was… um… the phone. Attached to the wall. The kind where someone could pick up the extension in another room and yell at you to get off the phone already.

Relating all of this, I feel ancient. The funny thing is, if you get to be thirty-nine years old, you will realize how short a time span it really is. And my age places me in a uniquely-positioned generation – young enough to be inclined to use social media, but old enough to remember what it was like before such platforms existed. (In fact, HuffPost says I am a “Xennial” – of the micro-generation born between 1977 and 1983. I am VERY SPECIAL so you should keep reading.)

These days, knowledgeable people are always saying things like, “Devices are the way of the future. Get used to it. There’s no use fighting it. Kids will have to know how to do everything on screens, might as well get them started now.”

I can see why people say this. The shift has been swift and thorough. A lot of my own life is conducted via either my smartphone or my laptop. With my teaching, committee work, and group-based hobbies, not to mention my social life, the ability to communicate online is very important. My students, likewise, are expected to start typing at least some of their school assignments and navigating the internet by the junior grades (4-6). I’m sure that you, the young adults, use your devices for all sorts of very valid reasons, both academic and social.

But then there’s device-use so pervasive that it’s like breathing: i.e. alternate ways of being don’t even enter the picture. Last year, when the Toronto District School Board blocked Snapchat, Instagram, and Netflix for its students, many were aghast; some claimed the grinding-to-a-halt of social life, communication in general, and even some school assignments. (Srsly? Netflix for school assignments?) And then, of course, many started using VPNs to get around the security.

I found this very upsetting.  Not the VPNs – that’s just ingenuity and problem-solving at work. But I pondered the stress + distraction level inherent in smartphone use, and thought to myself, How on earth do they get anything done?

As I said, my generation straddles the pre- and post- microcomputer eras. I can tell you these things for sure about life since smartphones and wi-fi:

  • large chunks of my life are spent on email;
  • my inbox is an overflowing source of stress;
  • the internet has shortened my attention span;
  • my smartphone has shortened it still further;
  • the combination of stress and lack of focus have made me less nice and less effective at LIFE.

I wish I were exaggerating or kidding here, but I’m not. My inability to concentrate through the entirety of an article, even one I’m choosing to read for interest, is VERY OBVIOUS to me. My brain thinks of other things to wonder or do or check, or my phone interrupts me, and I can’t/don’t ever finish. And this is with very few of my notifications turned on, and I’m already avoiding half of the typical social media apps. This distraction, I’ve recently realized, makes me grumpy.

When I was in university, my brain was different. And thank goodness it was, because I honestly don’t think I could have made it through with the brain I have now. I definitely couldn’t have researched and written my 75-page paper for my Masters in French lit. That required a huge amount of focus that I honestly no longer possess.

Am I sad about my brain? YES. My brain does not want to be all distracted and flighty. It was happier when it could sink into an activity and be fully present the whole time. (Hence the grumpiness.)

That’s not all that occurs to me when I ponder your situation. The other thing that makes me sad is the thought of anyone’s social lives being so dependent on smartphones that they feel disempowered and unmoored without Snapchat and Instagram.

Because none of that is real life.

Somewhere, deep in your soul, you know this. Interaction on social media feels very real when you’re immersed in it – and unfortunately, the damage and pain it can cause is all too real. But online communication is not what being a human is about. It is too affected, too manufactured.

We all know that selfies are highly contrived. They don’t show the true beauty of the subject. Prepared, positioned, posed – they don’t look how we really look. (One more reason I could never survive in the millennial habitat: I’ve never been particularly photogenic, but I’m terrible at selfies. I just get annoyed.)

In the same vein, text conversations are nothing like in-person conversations, because  they are not spontaneous. It’s too easy to pick apart and analyze every word – both as sender and receiver. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good text conversation and some well-chosen emoji(s), but that can never replace a face-to-face exchange. They are two completely different forms of communication.

The immediacy of social (im)media is also false. We know we have to tweet things RIGHT WHEN THEY’RE HAPPENING or no one will read them… If I haven’t commented on that photo instantly, it’s no longer relevant… If I break my Snapstreak, I will have failed… And if I don’t have dozens of Likes on my post within the hour, it falls off the radar. NO. Nothing that is of real value in life expires that quickly. The urgency is fabricated.

Things people say in online forums are also not real – because people are meaner online. I don’t know why this has to be true, but it is. When sitting with a screen for company and nobody to look in the eye, people (even people much older than you who are raising kids and should absolutely know better) say unconscionable things to other human beings. ALL THE TIME.

All of this is not real human life – but it can become so. The stress and lost social skills are catching up with us. Like Spiderman’s Venom, our unintentionally evil alter egos are slowly staining our true souls. The rudeness, the non-filtering, the self-obsession – it’s all bleeding into everyday life. Just this morning I was walking behind a teenage girl, accompanied by a teenage guy, on their way to school, and heard her yell super-bitchy-like at a motorist (who was waiting to turn right because the pedestrians had the right-of-way), “Just GO!! Sheesh!!!” like there could be nothing more insufferable than someone who abides by the rules of the road and/or uses manners.

Folks. There’s no excuse for that. If we leave our manners behind, we can no longer call ourselves civilized.

I’m not saying our app-filled devices have no place in the real world. I know social media is (are) fun – obviously that’s what hooks us in the first place. These gadgets are also helpful, convenient, and sometimes very efficient. It’s true as well that there are meaningful, important, and even beautiful exchanges that happen on those same platforms. But I am of the pre/post generation, so I can tell you this from personal experience: REAL LIFE IS BETTER.

When I was in high school and university, there were lots of things that brought me genuine joy. For example:

  • Playing music or singing with a group of friends
  • Getting hard-earned praise from a teacher on an assignment
  • Dancing my butt off to my favourite music
  • Talking to a boy I had a crush on
  • Seeing friends or family that lived far away
  • Being a good listener for a friend who needed me
  • Finishing a job I worked hard on
  • Cuddling a pet
  • Running with all my strength to reach the frisbee/soccer ball
  • Getting a handwritten letter from a loved one (this kept me alive when I went abroad!)
  • Seeing something truly beautiful that moved me
  • Hanging out with little kids and hearing them say cute things
  • Laughing so hard I could barely breathe
  • Being outside on a gorgeous day
  • Spending time with friends and family and remembering why I loved them.

Those are essentially the same things that made me happy as a child – and they are same things that make me happy now. They probably sound quaint and/or cheesy, like a meme that makes you roll your eyes. But they’re REAL. The happy chemicals that flood our bodies when we do these things are the ones we’re meant to have, the ones that make us healthier. The chemicals we get from playing Candy Crush (or whatever) are unnatural, because those games are designed to overstimulate and create an addiction.

I know that we can have reasonable online facsimiles of things on that list. We can Like beautiful images online, make someone else smile with a picture or a comment, watch those cat videos that make us laugh really hard. I have had all of those experiences on social media. But it is not the same. Humans were built to be with their people. To be close to them, to hear each other’s voices in the air between them, and to see each other’s expressions change in real time.

To those who say we should just lean in to tech because it’s inevitably going to take over, I say: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. My deep feeling is that someday we will look back on this era as one of disease. Addiction to gadgets and apps is like alcoholism – the actual content in moderation is not that harmful, but when you’re constantly consuming, your system is overloaded and becomes ill.

There are many studies noting a correlation between screen time and declining mental health, especially among young people not so different from you. If you look it up, you might be stunned at the number of YouTubers who have died by suicide in the last ten years. (Or it might be no surprise at all – but still a tragedy.)

And I’m not sure you ever really had a choice about this. Your formative years have been shaped by social media, and at this moment, it’s just how things are done. As easy as it would be for me to advise, “Reject the insanity of social media! UNSUBSCRIBE! FIGHT THE POWER!” I know that’s not something easily done, and probably not what you want. No one wants to ostracize oneself. High school and university are hard enough without putting yourself outside the hive.

Of course, I’m lucky. As a grown-up, I’ve realized that Being Yourself actually does exist. There really does come a time when (as long as your job allows it) you can invest your time and energy in the things and ways of being that matter to YOU. It’s very liberating to say, “I’m almost forty. I don’t have to keep up with the latest fashions/hashtags/Top 40/Netflix originals, because that’s not what life is about. I can wear/listen to/watch/care about what suits ME.” Peer pressure has much, much less influence on my adult life than it did on my youth.

But as I try to navigate the current tech-driven world in a conscious way, I am starting to resent how much of my time corporations are deliberately taking from me. I recently followed my husband’s advice and unsubscribed from almost every organization that was emailing me things – including many things I signed up for on purpose – because they are OVERWHELMING.  I swear there were like twenty different things – and lots of those were emailing me more than once a day. Come. ON. When I thought about it, it made me mad because that is MY TIME I’m losing. Even if I never open those emails, they take time to delete and/or they obscure the messages that matter more (i.e. messages from real people I actually know).

Along the same lines, my husband recently made the radical move away from his smartphone to a flip phone, because he knows he’s too susceptible to the tricks companies use to hook us. Lots of research goes into the colours and animations that draw us in most and make it so that we can’t leave our phones alone. Our quality of life goes down because we’re not present – we’re not fully listening – we’re not able to give our full attention to anything. And our poor children have to deal with distracted parents. No wonder kids are forming habits of talking really loud and repeating themselves.

If you’ve read this far, you are an inspiration and a rock star. I don’t think I could have gotten through this whole rant (if I hadn’t written it).

I have had several conversations recently with my generational peers, and we agree: we are worried about your health. If you can stand a few more words, I’ll leave you with this advice, from the Xennials to the Digital Natives:

  1. Make sure you’re aware of when you’re being manipulated, and decide for yourself if it’s worth it. Know that each of the social media platforms is competing with you for your time and attention, which are extremely valuable. Do they deserve it? Be certain that you’re using them, and not vice versa.
  2. Make sure you having lots of really real life, as an antidote to the digital world. Put your phone out of reach for a while. Play some soccer in the mud. Be a sympathetic listener for someone having a rough time. Get together with friends for old-fashioned board games. Hug a person you love. Be real more often than you are digital.
  3. Don’t be on your phone in class. I know everyone’s doing it, but trust me. No human can take in knowledge properly while on their phone.
  4. And if you haven’t already, please turn on NightShift on your iPhone, or install f.lux (or Redshift, or Sunset Screen, etc. etc.) to make the light from your device a warmer colour that won’t strain your eyes and keep you awake WAY past your bedtime.

Thank you for reading, and very best of luck to you.

Now here’s one brilliant piece of online art to make us all feel better. *insert ironic emoji*

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Related Posts:

Butterbeer Recipes to Complete Your Gryffindor Evening

Here’s one way to spice up a chilly, post-holiday  evening in January that might otherwise be a bit melancholy: BUTTERBEER. It’s all part of this complete Gryffindor Evening that you, too, can have for just one monthly instalment of candles and squashy pillows. Let your Harry Potter geek flag fly.

butterbeer
Tempting, despite my terrible foodtography, no?

I’m not trying to make you jealous. I did not realize how epic our Gryffindor Evening was going to be this year until it was already in progress. Last year, Auntie Beth and our friend Matt came over one night, and I made soup and biscuits, and we built a fire in our fireplace in case someone needed to call on us using Floo powder, we pillowed up the place like a Gryffindor common room, and Beth made some hardcore Butterbeer (and I think there may have been some excellent Muggle beer as well). That was pretty great.

This is what our common room – er, living room – looked like this time around. SO COZY. Pretty sure that’s a book of spells on the table and Wizard Chess on the shelf below.

But THIS year, Beth and Matt took things to a whole new level. I made soup – it was taco soup, which was fun because of all the toppings, but not at all topical. (Harry and the gang literally NEVER eat taco soup for some reason. Whatever, it’s delicious, we’ll call it a substitute for steak-and-kidney pie.) Little did I know Beth was going to bring draperies to festoon the living room – she actually hung golden curtains from the rods –  not to mention custom lighting… And this all in addition to the cozy blankets, requisite squashy pillows, and Butterbeer.

And Matt outdid himself as well. After dinner, wearing his “Books turn Muggles into Wizards” T-shirt, he gave the kids Hogwarts-themed word search and crossword pages, and hosted Harry Potter trivia (some of which was quite challenging!). But the most amazing part was the multicoloured potion shots (some kid-friendly, some firmly adult) that he lit on fire and made all sparkly-crackly, using the magic of overproof alcohol and powdered cinnamon. BLIMEY.

How gorgeous is this potion.

So now, it is my privilege to bring to you TWO very different recipes for Butterbeer. You’ll know which one you want to try when you read them – though I can attest that they are both scrumptious. (Unfortunately, my own Butterbeer recipe – cold version – has been lost to the vagaries of parent-brain.)

Auntie Beth’s Zesty Butterbeer:

  • Put a shot of caramel sauce in the bottom of a large mug. (If you want extra wow-factor, make your own caramel sauce like my wholehearted sister – see recipe below.)
  • Add a couple of shots’ worth of REAL ginger beer – you know, the spicy kind.
  • Add a shot (or two) of your favourite whiskey. (Canada makes a lot of good ones, just sayin’.)
  • Fill the rest of the mug with hot apple cider.
  • Top with real, barely-sweetened whipped cream.
  • If you’re going to take a picture of it, add a cinnamon stick in the hopes that it will distract from the fact that you haven’t finished clearing the table are a stickler for the gritty reality of life in photography.
  • Enjoy!

Skye’s* Velvety Butterbeer:

  • Melt 2 teaspoons of honey and 1 tablespoon of butter together.
  • Add 1.5 cups of milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
  • Heat in microwave or on stovetop until hot enough for you.
  • Mix in 1 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste), 2 teaspoons hot chocolate powder, and 1 ounce of butterscotch schnapps (or Irish cream if you want, or butterscotch syrup for the virgin version).
  • Enjoy!

*It bears mentioning that Skye is a woman who knows how to host a Harry Potter-themed event. Pre-motherhood, she once hosted an all-day HP movie blitz, with her own chocolate frogs and other amazing HP snacks of which I wish I had pictures. (I think there were only 5 HP movies out at the time… A similar event would need a whole weekend at this point.)

And there you have it! Even if you aren’t technically a Gryffindor, ANYONE can enjoy a Gryffindor Evening based on delicious beverages.

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P.S. In case you were wondering, though, SINCE my Pottermore fall from Hufflepuff to Slytherin (and ensuing drama), I attended a Hogwarts science event last year in which an ACTUAL SORTING HAT actually sorted me into Gryffindor. I’ve decided I’m just gonna be a quadruple-agent.

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P.P.S. Oops, here’s the homemade caramel recipe (you can use cinnamon instead of almond if you prefer):


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The Dilovely New Year Questionnaire for 2017

Hi, Lovelies! And HAPPY NEW YEAR. Farewell, 2017.

Off to a cold, cold start in which I have not gotten enough fresh air because I did’t want my skin to fall off… But as of Saturday night, thanks to some quality time spent with my sis and a friend and many little jars and baggies, my spice drawer is looking unusually spiffy. And milder temps started TODAY… We all got through our first day back with a minimum of trauma… So on balance, 2018 is looking good.

spice-jars
Not Pinterest-worthy, but comforting nonetheless.

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?

MeSean: Adult Adventure Week at Wilderness Tours on the Ottawa River! Not as risqué as it sounds… or maybe it is! If you consider whitewater risqué. (Two days of rafting, one day of cycling, and one day of sea kayaking… ’twas amazing. That we were still alive at the end.)

E: Saw whale poop at the Royal Ontario Museum, rode on an elephant at the African Lion Safari.

AB: Saw the longest worm in the world at the ROM, rode on a pony at the Safari.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions?

Me: I did not manage to stop using the snooze button. I did, however, use my massage benefits several times, and it was awesome. (It’s been several months now since my last appointment, and my neck is wondering sadly what happened.) Also, I did Bullet Journal like a BOSS (more on that later).

Sean: Yes, lost 20 pounds and still going! Lots of reading (not sure if it was MORE)… and shall be rebroadcasting the screen time resolution in 2018.

E: I did get my green belt!

A: I do go to a creative dance class!

3. What is your resolution this year?

Me: Be a paragon of calm in the mornings. Or at least some reasonable example of calm. I can do this. I know it makes a huge difference to the kids when I manage it – and this morning I did! (The kids were late to school, but… Worth It.)

Sean: Reach goal weight, live life more in the present (and less on the internet).

E: Get better marks than in Grade 2.

A: Get a horse. It can live in our yard, or maybe on the patio.

4. Did anyone important to you die?

A dear family friend and former member of our Friends’ Meeting. Also Malcolm Young, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Adam West, Chuck Berry, Bill Paxton, and especially Gord Downie.

5. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?

Me: A family planner/calendar – and we have it! It’s going to solve everything.

Sean: Really good health.

E: More time making pizza in Roblox world.

A: A horse like Spirit!

Cute AND organize-y.

6. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Me: Teaching at OELC Intermediate Arts twice in one season; persisting through all four rounds of my first sweat lodge; cycling 35 km in one day – and not getting off to walk ONCE.

Sean: Losing 20 pounds – and sticking to my new eating lifestyle!

E: Getting into the Black Belt Club at Tae Kwon Do.

A: Learning all of “Bonjour l’hiver” at school.

7. What was your biggest failure?

Me, Sean: You could say that we’ve finally unpacked… but we still haven’t put most of our art up on the walls.

E: I failed to go back to Tae Kwon Do this fall, because the studio is not offering classes anymore.  🙁

A: I failed to get to school with any seconds to spare, basically every day. Sometimes this was because my socks were failing to sit perfectly on my feet, or my pants were failing to come to exactly the right position at my ankles.

8. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Me (E, A): The two-month cough seems to be finally winding down, knock wood.

Sean: The Diabetus, Type 2. But it’s okay, I’m in the process of kicking its ass.

E: The usual grievous injuries about five times a day.

A: I slipped off the rock into the water at Camp and got bleeding cuts (but I was very brave).

9. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

MeSean: Trump; extremists/racists/misogynists/mass shooters; Harvey Weinstein et al.

E: Mummy and Daddy, when they make me do chores.

A: Mummy and Daddy, when they don’t do my bidding.

10. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Me: TransCanada putting an end to the Energy East pipeline, attendees at the Women’s March in Washington.

Sean: Those who spoke up in the #metoo movement; Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.

E: Mine, when I committed my TKD Forms to muscle memory.

A: Mine, for the mornings that I woke up as Sweet Daughter (not Screechy Savage Daughter. Those mornings don’t bear writing about).

11. What did you get really excited about?

Me: My new Grade 1-6 Dance/Music teaching job! (Yes, I still do Core French. I will probably do Core French for eternity. It’s fun too.)

Sean: Rafting trip!

E: Going back to North Carolina! 

A: Being a vampire for Halloween! I JUST LOVE HALLOWEEN! (Picture this last said with a plastic-fang-induced lisp, skipping along dark evening sidewalks, with fake blood dripping from a joyful smile.)

12. What events from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why:

Me, Sean: Solar eclipse, apocalyptic flooding of so many places.

E, A: The burning of the outhouse at Camp.

All: Getting to know and love Uncle Dave on his visit from up north.

Burning decommissioned outhouse. You probably didn’t know this was a thing. YOU’RE WELCOME.

13. What political issue stirred you the most?

Me: Canada 150 controversy, Rohingya refugees. National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Sean: Alabama’s special election, Jagmeet Singh becoming the first Sikh federal party leader.

E, A: The elimination of screen time on school nights.

14. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Me: PARAGON OF CALM.

Sean: Pushups.

E, A: That thing I’m doing when you tell me it’s bedtime.

15. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Me: Procrastinating on going to bed.

Sean: Making excuses.

E: Homework.

A: Putting my clothes away.

16. What do you regret?

Me: Not getting regular massages for the last decade.

Sean: All the wasted hours on the internet.

E: Every mistake I every make with a pen. Deeply, excruciatingly.

A: When I’m mean to Mummy and Daddy. But then I forget and do it again.

17. What decision are you glad you made?

Me: To accept the Music/Dance job at my school. SO. MUCH. FUN.

Sean: To go off the recommended ketogenic diet, and to read and follow The Starch Solution by John McDougall.

E: I hardly ever get to decide anything. I just wish I were a grownup so I could do whatever I wanted!!

A: Changing my mind at the last minute to be a vampire for Halloween instead of ANY OTHER THING.

18. How did you spend Christmas?

All: With people we love, all kinds of family. So very fortunate. (Sean even shared our two weeks off due to shutdown! Very exciting.)

19. What song will always remind you of 2017?

Me: Scars to Your Beautiful by Alessia Cara, Believer by Imagine Dragons, We Are Giants by Take That, The Greatest by Sia, Asa by Bry Webb.

Sean, E, A: The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota by Weird Al. (Not a new song, I know. Sean played it for the kids one time and they quickly became obsessed.)

20. What was your favorite TV program?

Me: North & South, Downton Abbey, The Blacklist, Ripper Street, The Crown.

Sean: Stranger Things, Mindhunter, The Crown.

E: I’m not really into TV. I like to race sea-doos, build block homes, and make pizzas on my screen time.

A: Spirit!

21. What was the best book you read?

Me, SeanAll The Light We Cannot See. Hands down.

E: All my series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dog Man, and Captain Underpants. 

A: I loved having Beverly Cleary read to me (Ramona books and Emily’s Runaway Imagination).

22. What was your favorite film of this year?

Me: Coco. And Spiderman Homecoming a close second.

Sean: Thor Ragnarok, Spiderman Homecoming.

E: Lego Batman.

A: Coco.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Me: 39, had delicious dinner made by my sisters, hung out with friends and family. And got to go on the 40th Birthday Rafting Trip even though I’m too young!

Sean: 40, stayed home from work to take care of my sick daughter. And the rafting thing (five months later)!

E: 8, had my friends over to my house, played some crazy games with my friends at the park.

A: 5, had my first party with school friends, got our faces painted, and dipped ALL THE THINGS in hummus – even the popcorn.

24. What new thing would you like to try in 2018?

Me: PARAGON OF CALM. (If I say it enough times, it will surely come true.)

Sean: Four new songs on my guitar.

E: Proper swimming lessons. (Not completely new, but haven’t had them since toddlerhood.)

A: Proper swimming lessons. We both start on Wednesday!

25. Whom did you miss?

Always Sebastian.

26. Who was the best new person you met?

All: Our awesome new child care person and her family.

Me: The whole Summer iArts crew.

E, A: Uncle Dave!

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016:

Me: Don’t underestimate the difference a seemingly small gesture (or the lack of one) can make to a person going through a rough time.

Sean: Make sure you’re well-hydrated on a long, unaccustomed bike ride. Also, don’t feel guilty if you shun social media.

E: I don’t actually have to freak out about EVERY SINGLE chore I’m asked to do. Just sometimes, to keep ’em on their toes.

A: My friend Isabelle got diabetes. She got them in Florida, where there are lots of diabetes. Also, my dad got his diabetes from eating HP sauce.*

28. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

Throw a little love till the world stops hurting… Keep on, keep on, keep on truckin’…

This is last year’s song lyric, but I think it still applies. And if you are looking back and going, YIKES, 2017, weren’t you supposed to be better than 2016? then go read this list. It helps.

***

*AB schooled us once at the dinner table when we were talking about diabetes. We said there was no Type 3, and she said “Yes there is! The kind you get when you’re pregnant!” *jawdrop* [Of course!!] The HP sauce thing is because Sean avoided it while on keto, due to sugar content. Those associations get made so firmly, based on so little.

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16 Things About Pixar’s “Coco”, Mexico, and Death

We took the kids to see Coco on the weekend – just as much for us as for them. Here are some notes (avoiding  spoilers, don’t worry).

coco-movie-miguel-dante

  1. We all loved it. Even with the high expectations I always have going into Disney/Pixar movies these days, they still impress. They are consistently worthy of the big screen, too.
  2. It’s not scary, in case you’re wondering about taking your kids. There’s the one moment when you’re like “Yikes! Lots of skulls!” and then everyone quickly gets used to the dead folks and it’s all cool.
  3. I had somehow managed not to know anything about this movie until a week or so ago, when I heard Anthony Gonzalez (who plays the 12-year-old protagonist, Miguel) in a CBC interview on Q. He’s (recently turned) thirteen, and just seems like the most earnest little cutie you’d like to hear on the radio. Sings like a wee Mariachi angel. (Even when crying, which is quite an accomplishment.) Aware of his talent but not obnoxiously so – and full of gratitude for the success he’s had. He began the audition process when he was nine years old, so he’s obviously learned something about patience and determination, too.
  4. Coco was released first in Mexico, and in time for Día de los Muertos. Appropriately.
  5. The movie is voiced by an all-Latino cast, and they do their own singing. Did you know that Benjamin Bratt can sing? I did not (I actually didn’t even know he was Latino, having not seen him in much), but was happy to find out.
  6. Imagery, imagery, oh-so-fantastic imagery. I have always loved the way Disney and Pixar go ALL IN with the beautiful details of cultural artistry. Land of the Dead? WOW. Obviously a ton of thought put into the visual feel of… everything.
  7. I adore listening to even the little snippets of Spanish in this movie. Makes me wish I had someone to practice my Spanish with. And I was thrilled to realize that the soundtrack (as streamed on Apple Music, anyway) has all the songs as sung in the English version, followed by ALL the Spanish versions!! YAY!
  8. The singers in the Spanish soundtrack for Coco are different, except for Gael García Bernal (who plays Héctor). This version’s Miguel is played by Luís Ángel Gómez Jaramillo. His voice is just as sweet (and stunningly similar) – and he also happens to be adorable.
  9. On that note (ha), the music is great. Exhilarating, actually. (Tons of thought and research put into this too.) As a person who deliberately finds Latin music to listen to when I need some musical/mental sunshine therapy, I relished every song. The kids loved them too and have been singing them at home. A child’s off-key-yet-earnest warbling of “Our love for each other will live on forever!!” is rather charming. (See below for AB’s renditions.)
  10. The big song, “Remember Me”, was written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez – who also wrote “Let it Go” and other faves from Frozen. So you can imagine. (Other songs are by Germaine Franco and Adrian Molina and are wonderful also.)
  11. The one song that is sung only in Spanish is “La Llorona” (“The Weeping Woman”), a Mexican folk song about “the ghost of a woman who lost her children and now cries while looking for them in the river, often causing misfortune to those who are near or hear her” (according to Wikipedia). This song is like Cohen’s Hallelujah – it has one jillion verses so anyone singing it has to just pick a few.
  12. As usual with Disney/Pixar, I cried watching this movie. A couple of times. You’ll know which moments if you see the movie. I sit there thinking Seriously, Pixar?? YOU ARE DELIBERATELY DOING THIS TO MAKE ME CRY. LOOK AT THOSE TINY HANDS. But I still love it. Being moved to tears is something a soul needs every so often. And Pixar is great at grabbing themes that speak to so many of us: loss of loved ones, sorrow of parting, difficulties of aging, passion for art, and the highs and lows of being part of a family.
  13. I really appreciate the apparent facility of this movie in talking about death. Whatever one may personally believe about the afterlife and whatnot, it makes total sense to me for death to be seen as the part of life that it is. Not something to shield the kids from. Not something to fear, although we take the sadness into account and share it. It’s just the way things are.
  14. I’ve never celebrated el Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, November 1st), but I wish we did. (Maybe we could? I do know some gringos who do…) What a great concept, setting aside a day to think about our loved ones who have died, and to feel the connection that is still there – simply through love and memories.
  15. I don’t know whether this movie includes any deliberate in-your-face defiance in terms of Mexico and its people/language/music/beauty/cultural significance, etc. versus those particular “pro-wall” Americans… but I sure felt it. As the movie ends (with the song “Proud Corazón”, a statement in itself), it’s all “Annnnnd Mexican awesomeness FTW.” *mic drop* (Or possibly *guitar drop*.)
  16. If it sounds like I’m gushing about Coco, so be it. It’s my prerogative to be childishly exuberant and uncritical on my own blog every once in a while, right?

coco-movie-land-dead-muertos

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P.S. Just for interest, in case you don’t already know, I wanted to mention the big watery underground hole with the natural skylight that Miguel ends up in at one point in the movie; it’s called a cenote. It’s a natural sinkhole that forms when limestone bedrock collapses underground. I gave Sean a nudge when we saw it – we got to go into one in Mexico once. They’re tourist attractions, as you can see by the photo below. (Surrounded by tiny children who will eagerly sell you picture postcards of them.)

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Tragic Follow-Up to a Five-Year-Old’s Birthday

You know how everything old is new again? How marketers realized that all the kids of the 80s are having their own kids and will pay good money for things that make them go Aw man, I used to have one of those!!

Well, I didn’t, as it happens, have any of these particular items, although I wished I did. (And I think they’re from much earlier than the 80s, given the age of some of the Archie comics we had at home that contained this very ad.)

sea-monkeys-retro-ad
Image via mentalfloss.com

AB was given a Sea Monkey aquarium, along with a little sachet of eggs, some water purifier, and some powdery sea monkey food, for her birthday. It was just like this one, except blue. (Notice that the sea monkey family portrait has not changed.)

sea-monkeys-ocean-zoo

Both kids were pretty excited. We followed all the instructions to the letter, and sure enough, a few days after we’d put the eggs in, there were super-tiny creatures propelling themselves around the aquarium! So cute! They did not have head-crown-thingies that we could discern, and they were nowhere near as nonchalant as the ones in the ad, but still… Cool stuff!!

The big problem was that the instructions don’t go past the first feeding. You’re supposed to wait five days after you put the eggs in there before you feed them, and the instructions make it clear that if you overfeed them THEY WILL SUFFOCATE. But does that mean you feed them every five days subsequently? Or does the schedule change? I turned to the internet for advice, and determined that we should wait at least a few days between feedings. We did our best.

I don’t know what went wrong. Within a week or so, there were only a couple of moving sea monkeys we could find… and then, only one. And then… a still, still tank. There were pathetic moments like when the kids stirred them (like you’re supposed to) and said, “Look, they’re moving around!” or when there was absolutely no movement and she figured, “Let’s just feed them anyway in case they’re only sleeping.”

We were sad that they were dead. Eventually, AB reached the Acceptance stage. This is what she wrote, in tribute.

[That’s pronounced “Sea Monkey-zuh” like when you REALLY want someone to know that it’s plural.]

It was right around Halloween, hence the gravestone savvy. (Actually, there was a rough draft of this picture that had “RCR” on the gravestone – she couldn’t remember what it was supposed to say, and that was her best guess.)

This reads (in the intended order): “To Sea Monkeys. I love you. You died and I did a surprise.”

This picture itself is the “spris”. Surely the sea monkeys are somewhere in the heavenly ether, smiling at their happy likeness.

On a lighter note, you can see that AB has finally reached that stage where she wants to write stuff and isn’t afraid to spell words any which way. Which is AWESOME; I adore this stage. It’s like seeing them learn to talk all over again.

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P.S.: I meant to add this to the birthday post, but it segues nicely from sea monkeys. Ever since last spring, AB has been obsessed with the monkey bars. We are lucky at the school because they have lots of bars to climb on at different heights – the kind of structures that have been removed from most playgrounds for some reason. AB does all kinds of tricks on a set of parallel bars and I can just see her little muscles working hard.

And when she crosses the ladder-style monkey bars, which she finally learned to do near the end of JK, her determination is palpable. Her eyes get all steely with focus. And her hands, which are still sweet li’l five-year-old hands with dimply knuckles, have gotten all callused on the palms, as if she were moonlighting as a construction worker. It’s pretty awesome altogether.

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 5: Dance

I’ve saved Dance for last in my 5-Day Artist Challenge, because my relationship with dance is both of utmost importance to me, and hardest to describe. (So hard, in fact, that apparently I had to wait for ages, forget that I still had never finished the post, and pick it up with renewed fervour.) You may have forgotten, in all this time,  about the Café Bakery of the Artist Challenge, but it’s official. Writing is sourdough, Drama is French toast, Visual Art is sandwiches, and Music is cookies. Therefore: in thinking hard about what the Bread of Dance would be, I’ve decided that it’s flatbread.

Seems counter-intuitive, maybe, but this is how anciently foundational I know dance to be. Flatbread has existed for thousands of years. It is essential to cultures all over the world. It is as sacred as communion wafer, and as celebratory as focaccia pizza. Flatbread is important whether you have everything, or almost nothing. It can be crisp or soft or stretchy, or basically whatever you need it to be. It’s tortilla, it’s naan, it’s lavash, it’s chapati, it’s matzo, it’s pita, it’s roti, and so on. And any of those types can be consumed in simplicity, or filled with all kinds of delicious details.

communion-bread-sacrament
Communion bread via tvo.com
foccacia-pizza
Focaccia pizza via gratednutmeg.com

And another thing: flatbread is very often round, like the dances in so many cultures. A circular creation that underpins and supports many aspects of culture. I make this point because for me, dance is not just a joy, but a necessity. It is not just a practice, but a basis for community.

It always makes me sad to know there are those who believe they can’t or shouldn’t dance. I’m lucky to have been encouraged in dance ever since early childhood. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have that instinct squelched. The urge to manifest a rhythm or melody, to let yourself be literally moved by the music, especially for young kids, is a powerful one.

The Groove movement, made known to me by my amazing Dance co-facilitator at OELC iArts, insists that we can ALL dance. That if we think we can’t, all we need are few building blocks to help us find our own style. That, and a safe space to move. Dancing is for everyone. It counts whether you’re dancing with thousands at a rock concert, or by yourself in your bedroom. We all need that whole-body thrill of letting the music become part of us.

My dance journey has been through many phases:

  • Dancing as a preschooler, wearing whatever dancey costume I could get my hands on, in our living room with my sisters – mostly to dances by Brahms or Dvorák;
  • Taking my first ballet classes, realizing I would not wear an actual tutu or pointe shoes for many years, but still adoring how sublime I felt doing it;
  • Taking up figure skating as well and loving the transfer of dance onto ice;
  • Going through puberty and suddenly being less-good at both these forms of dance (where being petite – not to mention short-waisted – is a huge natural advantage);
  • Attending Wilfrid Laurier University and taking ALL the dance classes offered (i.e. ballet, jazz, hip-hop, modern, swing, jive, and Latin);
  • Attending the University of Toronto and joining the Only Human Dance Collective, which gave me more experience in everything, plus Irish and African and – finally – bellydance.

The meet-cute between bellydance and me occurred while I was working on my Masters in Toronto. The hip-hop class I wanted to sign up for was full. I thought, Hm, I’ve never tried this! I was hooked the first time I saw my teacher do a maya. I couldn’t wait to learn how to do that.

Once I began learning, I fell straightaway in love. It was all so fascinatingly beautiful. And finally my body had found a home. Finally it could be itself – long waist, large ribcage, prominent butt, funny-shaped feet and everything. Finally I was teaching it to do things that felt natural.

Since then, I have discovered that bellydance, in Ontario at least, is not just a hobby but a community – one full of diversity, creativity, and caring.

This past November, the dance troupe I belong to presented its biennial professional show called Mosaic. In this show, bellydance techniques are fused with all kinds of other dance techniques to create wonderful, unique choreography. There are a dozen of us who form the main troupe, and we worked really hard to bring the visions of our choreographers to life.

There is no way to adequately describe the rush you feel when combining the satisfaction of a job well done, the joy of movement, the exhilaration of performing in front of an audience, and the bond of a loving community working their tails off together. I am incredibly grateful to be part of it.

Here is a piece we did in November. It took the most work of any of our pieces, because it required the most intricate synergy. It is chock-full of empowerment symbolism. No performance is perfect, but we are proud of this one.

Here is another piece that we did at the previous Mosaic two years ago. This is a favourite piece of the troupe in general because it’s so much fun. I adore it because it makes me feel like a kid: whooping and hollering, being unabashedly noisy with an instrument, animating a big swishy skirt, and especially dancing the big circle at the end where we skip and gallop – just pure candid joy.

Now my daughter is taking creative dance classes, and she loves them. Her excitement when she emerges from the studio is a sign that she is getting the joy I wish for her. And both my kids, when we put on music at home and just boogie down, have fun and smile more afterwards. It’s a shot of happiness to the body and soul.

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All The Light We Cannot See – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: All The Light We Cannot See – A Novel

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Author: Anthony Doerr

Other works:  The Shell Collector,  About GraceMemory WallFour Seasons in Rome

Recommended by: This was a book club pick, but it was also one that my book-savvy husband had heard great things about. Also, the fact that it won a Pulitzer recommends it rather well.

Genre: Historical fiction, World War II drama

Main characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl; Werner Pfennig, a German boy.

Opinions: Our book club was divided. One member came to the meeting calling it “brutal” because she’d just finished it and spent a good chunk of the end of it crying. Some thought it was hard to get into, but good after a while. Some thought the language was too flowery, and some don’t really get into historical fiction much.

I think I was the only person there who love love loved it. The writing didn’t feel flowery to me, just gorgeous. The author skilfully made every character real and human – even the heinous ones. The two main characters are particularly beautiful, and the way their lives gradually converge had me totally hooked.  I read considerably past my bedtime on many occasions.

A quotation I liked: My very favourite moments, the ones I had to go back and re-read, would be too long, and are spoilers anyway. But there were so many lines full of wisdom or insight that I found exquisite. For example,

“There is the humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That’s how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane.”

What sticks with me: Fascinating portrayal of a blind person’s perspective – the sounds, smells, and strategies. But even more, the depth of feeling, rendered with zero melodrama. Lots and lots of writers have placed their stories during WWII, so you’ve gotta be good to make sure your story hasn’t been already told in some form, and that it’s worth telling. This one made me feel the same way Atonement did: very sad, but uplifted by so many forms of love. Moved by humanity’s capacity for beauty, even during the ugliest times in our history.

Recommended to: War buffs, gemstone buffs, Jules Verne buffs, marine biology buffs, and those who don’t mind a heartrending story in the service of love.

To sum up: I will definitely be re-reading All The Light We Cannot See when I have the chance.

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The Couple Next Door – Two-Minute Book Review

Our book club read The Couple Next Door only a few months ago, so I clearly remember how I felt about it.

couple-next-door-shari-lapena

Author: Shari Lapena

Other works: Things Go Flying, Happiness Economics

Recommended by: Book Club, and several people I heard discussing it on the radio.

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Main characters: Anne and Marco Conti, and their kidnapped baby daughter Cora. And some iffy neighbours and in-laws. And a world-weary detective.

Opinions: The book club was divided – some found it quite engaging and exciting, and some found it annoying. I have to admit, I am one of the latter. I wanted to like it; after all, the author is a Canadian English teacher, yay! Good on her for writing a very successful book. Listening to other reviews, people are like, “It’s full of twists! I couldn’t put it down! Page-turner from start to finish!” I, on the other hand, was like, “It’s full of gimmicks! I couldn’t relate to any of the characters! Cringeable writing from start to finish!” I didn’t hate it – it wasn’t boring – I finished it with no problem. I did want to know what happened. But honestly, if you’re planning, as an author, to wrench readers’ heartstrings by featuring a missing infant, you need to back that up with grounded plot lines and realistic parents we can care about. (In my opinion.) In this case, it felt like plot-twist experimentation, as in, “Let’s see if they’ll swallow THIS one!” Especially at the end.

A quotation I liked: Sorry… nothing that moved me. The writing was part of my problem with the book in general – I couldn’t make myself stop noticing the awkwardness of a third-person narrative in the present tense.

What sticks with me: That awful idea of coming in to see your baby – and her being gone.

Recommended to: Readers who love a surprising, suspenseful plot and don’t mind so much about underdeveloped characters.

To sum up: I’m not a fan of The Couple Next Door, but you might be!

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