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.

***

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

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Dear Jian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were you thinking all this time?

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

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

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

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

Ugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed,

Dilovely

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

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Killing the White Poppy

As always, humans are up in arms about stuff right now. The thing I’ve been reading about today is the white poppy.

Image from torontosun.com
Image from torontosun.com

Traditionally, the red poppy is worn to remember and honour war veterans, both living and dead. In the past, I’ve worn a red poppy to indicate that I am thinking prayerfully of soldiers, like my grandpa, who did what they felt they had to do, and experienced things no human should have to experience, in the pursuit of an end to conflict.

Every year on Remembrance Day, I also think about the others who have made (and continue to make) sacrifices in times of war. All those who die or are broken or see their lives torn apart. They are innumerable.

That is what I understand the white poppy to be about: the recognition that peace is the goal. That war equals tragedy. Lest we forget.

In the past few years, I’ve been aware of another belief: that by honouring those other people, the civilians, or by expressing the wish to make peace a priority, I am disrespecting the soldiers and veterans.

I am not wearing a white poppy… because I do not want my message to be mistaken.

The “I Remember for Peace” campaign at Ceasefire.ca has elicited many heartfelt messages from people who wish to respect soldiers and veterans and also honour their pursuit of peace. Inevitably, there are people who feel it’s appropriate to add messages like these:

“White poppies are bull shit and everyone involved in this should be shot.”

“wear a white poppy? expect a white loogy in return for spitting in the face of every soldier who sacrificed their blood on the battle fields so you can have the rights and freedoms you enjoy today. I will gladly spit in the face of anyone I see wearing a white poppy and I will be encouraging others to do the same.”

Incredibly, these people believe that they are showing respect. I am not wearing a red poppy this year because I know these people are wearing them. Again, I do not want my message to be mistaken.

Every year since I’ve been blogging, I have posted on Remembrance Day (and Veterans Day). This year, I am giving the floor to veterans. Even so, I know there will be people who read this and want to spew ugliness over it. I’ve decided that tomorrow, I am just going to be silent, and show my respect that way.

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The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

– Douglas MacArthur

Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar. And still there are things worth fighting for.

– Norman Schwarzkopf

I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.

– William Tecumseh Sherman

An honorable Peace is and always was my first wish! I can take no delight in the effusion of human Blood; but, if this War should continue, I wish to have the most active part in it.

– John Paul Jones

No one hates war like a soldier hates war.

– Tommy Franks

War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

We know how to win wars. We must learn now to win peace…
– Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers

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Oh, Rob. *Sigh*

Ford
Image from cbc.ca

Dear Rob Ford,

When you were elected as mayor of Canada’s largest city, all my Torontonian friends were aghast. They never thought you’d make it in. Having lived in Toronto for a couple years myself, I had to agree that you seemed pretty incongruous: Toronto is, after all, known for its diverse, savvy, cosmopolitan character, and you simply did not seem to reflect that. But hey, obviously you had enough voters. Who am I to argue?

I admit that I felt bad for you, that time you made a resolution to get fit and, um… failed. We’ve all had those times when we didn’t measure up to our own dreams for ourselves, and I’ll give you kudos for trying so publicly.

Suddenly, I could picture you as a high school kid, the kind who masks social insecurities by being a boor and drinking too much. It seems you never really got over that.

I heard your apology speech yesterday as it happened. Again, and rather in spite of myself, I felt pity for you. You did sound truly sorry (that triple “sincerely” really drove it home) and I’m sure it was all very difficult for you.

Also, I’m glad you admitted you were ashamed, that you’re an embarrassment, because that’s the first step to admitting there’s a problem with you. The question is, what took you so long? How were you not ashamed earlier? How were you not embarrassed by getting called out for those city buses you commandeered for your football team, for those pictures of you reading-and-driving on the Gardiner, for swearing on camera, for getting drunk in public, or for all the times you cut out early or didn’t show up for important events?

I didn’t actually see you fail to stop for a streetcar, and I don’t actually know if the sexual harassment charges hold true, but as a public figure, you must know that none of that matters. We’ve all lost count of the number of times your name has come up on the radio, followed by a report of sleazy/unprofessional behaviour, and we’ve rolled our eyes, thinking “How the hell is that guy still in office??”

Then we thought you were finally done for when you went on trial for Conflict of Interest. It felt like the one-jillionth strike against you, in a world where three strikes is usually enough to take you off the field. Honestly, I have no idea how you managed to wrangle your way back to the mayor’s chair from that one.

Furthermore, I don’t know why you wanted to. I simply don’t get why you think this mayor job is for you. Generally, when a city needs a mayor, one starts with UPSTANDING CITIZENS. I don’t mean to be uncharitable, but you simply ARE NOT ONE. Anyone who uses a “drunken stupor” as an excuse for smoking crack has a wacked-out idea of what it means to be a respectable person.

You have, in the past, lashed out at the media, saying “Show some respect.” (I can’t deny they’ve hounded you.)  But you neither show respect nor inspire it.

You apparently want to “regain the trust” of your constituents and “continue the work” you’ve already been doing. But seriously, there is no way to regain the trust at this point. It is gone. And as for continuing the work, I have to ask: does the amount of work you’ve done for the city even come close to the amount of time wasted on all the stupid shit you’ve done?

So why do you want this gig? Are you showing up some former bullies? Is it sheer pathological doggedness? Maybe it’s all a joke, just to see how much you can get away with and still hold onto your post? Or perhaps you’re being paid off by the federal Conservatives, to make them look less evil. After all, who cares about gross Senate overspending and Harper’s warmongering and duplicity – at least they don’t smoke crack!

To be frank, I’m not even sure what you love about Toronto. If you don’t like streetcars or cyclists or immigrants or refugees or women or Pride or homeless people or journalists, then you’re in the wrong city. You could definitely find football teams in towns more suited to you.

The bottom line is that, as mayor of Canada’s largest city, you represent all of us to a degree – regardless of whether any of us want you to. Thanks to you, in this way, we ALL look like idiots and we are ALL a laughingstock. And that is not okay.

Please, don’t be that obtuse, untrustable boyfriend who refuses to see he’s being broken up with. You do not need this job. You need help. You need to fix yourself before you can fix anything else. And I’m afraid Toronto’s just not that into you.

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Are police officers supposed to be scary?

If you’re Ontarian, or even Canadian, you’ve probably heard about Sammy Yatim, the 18-year-old who was shot dead by police a couple weeks ago on an empty Toronto streetcar. You’ve probably heard that he was armed with a knife, that he was acting threatening, and that he was shot at nine times. (Eight of the shots are said to have hit him.) And you’ve almost certainly heard that Constable James Forcillo has been charged with second-degree murder in Yatim’s death.

In the car with my four-year-old, a piece came on the news about a protest being held by the families of people who had been killed by police. (This kid has really started listening to the news, and often comments on what he hears.)

“Killed by police?” he said. “The police don’t kill, they rescue.”

That’s verbatim. Broke my heart.

So I commenced an awkward explanation: police officers carry guns, and sometimes when they’re on duty, they use them… and guns can kill people, so sometimes that happens.

He thought about that. “Mummy, I never want to meet the police in person.”

“Oh, honey, you don’t have to worry if you meet a police officer. They’re not going to hurt you. They’re here to keep you safe.” I reminded him that his Uncle R is a police officer and a really nice person – that most of them are.

But he insisted: “I just don’t want to meet them.”

It makes me think of the little kids at my school who cried with fear when the police officers visited. Mind you, there are children who cry and dramatize over any old thing (my own almost-kindergartner included), but it still seems sad. There are local officers who come to the school to talk about bicycle safety, and they’re always lovely and sincere, and yet some kids are scared.

 US_Navy_060830-N-8907D-010_Officer_Diane_Branch_with_the_Chesapeake_Police_Department_takes_children's_fingerprints_during_the_Ident-a-Kid_program_held_at_Naval_Medical_Center_Portsmouth

I still remember the time a police officer visited my class when I was a kindergartner myself. He wore a blue shirt and had a fancy hat, and mostly I remember his shoes were very, very shiny.

My husband and I were recently discussing this topic. Sean has been both a corporal in the Canadian Armed Forces and a correctional officer in an Ontario Detention Centre. He knows some things about uniforms and weapons and boys’ clubs and the psychology of violence. I asked his perspective on all this. This is what he had to say.

I think it’s right that the officer was charged with murder. I read that 15 officers have been charged with murder since 2008, all acquitted. The charge has never stuck to any of them, but the consensus is that the video evidence is overwhelming in this case.

It has been true forever that there’s an omertá* feeling within police departments all over the world. It’s disconcerting, especially in a democracy, that people who are given, by society, the goal of protecting society, and the right to use deadly force when necessary, can abuse it with impunity. Of course, because we’re human beings, there are bound to be times when deadly force is used inappropriately, but there need to be consequences for that, just as there are for anyone else who uses deadly force inappropriately.

But within the police department it seems there is a different standard. Let’s say I – a normally law-abiding citizen – used deadly force on someone who was going to rob my house. In Canada, I would be charged with murder. (Maybe not in the States, I’m not sure, because their gun laws are crazy,** but in Canada I would be charged with murder.) And a police officer would come and arrest me.

But if a police officer kills someone who appears threatening, no other officer goes up and says “You just committed a crime, you’re under arrest.”

In the Yatim case, there were six officers there. It is supremely obvious from the video that the constable acted way outside legal use of force precedents. So in any other situation – if he had been a civilian – the police officer nearest would have turned around and arrested him for murder. But in this situation, even though all of them were there and they all witnessed it, none of them turned around and said “Whoa. What are you doing? You’re under arrest for murder.”

Why not?

If we give you that responsibility, you need to uphold it. It’s a big thing. You’re paid well, you’re given this massive responsibility and the power that goes with it, but you need to understand that if you go into that kind of work, you’re going to be held up to a particular standard, or at the very least, the same standard as the general public.

Police officers are not soldiers. Soldiers are ostensibly in combat zones surrounded by potential enemies. A police officer is not. But we’re getting into this mentality of the “war on crime”, the “war on drugs”, etc., and many police officers I think have that mentality of going into a war zone, of being surrounded by bad guys who are out to get you, and that’s simply not the case in a place like this.

But if you see everyone as a bad guy, of course you’re going to shoot the kid with a knife. On an empty streetcar. Nine times. Absolutely ridiculous.

I think that if he’s found anything but guilty, there are gonna be riots – as there should be. We cannot allow police officers – those to whom we give the power to use guns – to kill other people casually in the course of their duties. We cannot allow them to utilize that force without major consequences if it’s not done properly.

There’s no excuse for this. The kid was cornered on an empty TTC car. Nobody – not the officers, nor any member of the public – was in any danger. So there was zero reason to do this. NONE. The situation would have been different if he’d visibly had a gun out; then yes, the officers could reasonably say they didn’t know if he would point it at them and fire. But it’s a knife. I mean, by all accounts it was a little jackknife. For God’s sake. He probably couldn’t even throw it at you and do any harm.

Why couldn’t those six officers just wait him out? It seems to me, whenever I see videos of police officers nowadays, they no longer seem trained to deescalate. They actually seem trained to do the opposite. They always seem to talk to people in this overly authoritative voice, not quite yelling but very strong, and to present themselves as bigger than they are, and they sort of move forward as a group, deliberately intimidating.

And in certain situations that’s warranted, but it seems they use these tactics in every situation. And that’s not cool. It’s not their job. And that’s the thing that police officers need to realize. Their job is there because the public allows it. The scariest thing would be – and we seem to be heading in this direction – a feeling among police officers that they have a right to be here, whether the public says so or not. And that cannot ever be the case. Because that’s how fascist states and police states come into being. As soon as a police force realizes “Hey, we’re the only ones around with guns, so we can do what we want,” then you get Egypt. You get Syria.

{I asked him his opinion on the weapons used by police officers in Ontario.}

They carry way too many rounds. First of all, it’s heavy – I’m not sure why you’d want to carry all those rounds – and second of all, it’s completely unnecessary. Just like the all-black uniform, the hip holster. Again, it’s part of this uniform that looks intimidating and scary: “We’re here for business, and our business is kicking ass and taking names…” and this sort of macho B.S.

And yeah, it’s totally unnecessary. We’re not in Beirut, we’re not in South Central L.A. Even there, I’m not sure how necessary it is. But certainly in Toronto and Southwestern Ontario, all the places I grew up, it’s not necessary. You’re never getting into a firefight where you’re going to fire all – whatever it is – fifteen rounds in your pistol and drop a mag and slap another one in to fire fifteen more rounds.

Unless you like to fire nine rounds into lightly armed young boys… in which case, maybe you do need all those rounds.

The key here is awareness and training. Officers need to be trained to deescalate situations. I was actually commended a number of times as a jail guard, by my captains, because I wasn’t the type of guard who went in, chest out, looking for trouble, wanting an inmate to say or do something so that I could come down hard on him. I learned how to talk, how to deflate potential trouble. I don’t know, maybe other guards thought of me as a wimp or something, but my goal and job there were to always have things as peaceful as possible. And that meant not being macho. Not having an attitude of “I’m gonna kick your butt.”

Police officers seem scary now in most situations. They don’t seem approachable or friendly anymore. The “serve and protect” motto seems to be rarely remembered. I would not approach an officer in Toronto and ask for directions somewhere, even though that’s what people used to do all the time. You’d look for a friendly neighbourhood police officer if you needed help. But nowadays, I don’t know. I would be intimidated and I wouldn’t want to do it.

2010_G20_Toronto police
Another occasion when use-of-force went haywire: Toronto Police and Ontario Provincial Police officers near the intersection of King Street West and University Avenue during the protests surrounding the G-20 Summit in Toronto in 2010 – from Wikimedia Commons.

I have so many questions. Is there really an increase in police violence, or does it just feel that way right now, since there was also a fatal police shooting (of Steve Mesic) in Hamilton this past June? And we still freshly remember the Taser death of Robert Dziekanski – and the investigation that seemed to go on and on, but also featured police overreaction. Do we just hear more about it because now every other person (at least) has a pocket video recorder?

In this CBC article on the police’s use of force in Hamilton, it’s said that violent crime is down, but use of force is up. Assuming that’s true, is there a good reason for it? Do we actually know which came first? Is the visible use of force effective in deterring crime? Are would-be criminals less likely to mess with authority when officers look more forbidding?

Certainly my husband would argue that meeting machismo with machismo leads not to calm, but to desperate behaviour – particularly violence.

I watched the video of Sammy Yatim’s shooting for the purpose of writing this post. What I saw was fear. Police officers who yelled at the nervously shifting figure on the streetcar from their phalanx position on the sidewalk, pointing their guns in an urgent stance, as if they were expecting a small army to exit the vehicle and attack. Then three shots. Then six more. All from the same side.

There was nothing about that group of officers that conveyed a feeling of control, of calm, of “We’ve got this,” even though there were six of them dealing with a single kid. They should have felt complete confidence to simply walk in and do their job.

Everybody knows you don’t put guns in the hands of twitchy, nervous people.

Is it true that police officers are feeling more fear? Is it because guns and gang violence are infiltrating Canada to a greater extent? Or is it because of the “war” terminology that’s been all the rage, especially since 9/11? Is it because of that new SWAT-team look that someone somewhere in some government decided was better? Are insidious expectations changing outcomes?

Does it suck to be a police officer in this position? How are you supposed to be the friendly neighbourhood police officer AND a soldier in the War On Everything? How are you supposed to serve and protect the public as well as intimidate and subdue the enemy? Those are totally different people skills.

Or maybe all this has to do with a few isolated incidents, and there is really no issue at all.

I have great admiration for police officers. I know I could not do their job. I couldn’t hold up to the stress of being faced every day with the most troubled and needful members of society – and being expected to know what to do with them.

I don’t know where we are headed, or how worried we should be. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

***

* I had to look this up: “As practiced by the Mafia, a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to authorities.”

**Reminder of how crazy those American gun laws actually are: today I was asked to sign a petition to ban guns in Starbucks locations across the U.S. What the what?? People bring their guns to Starbucks??? NOT A JOKE, apparently. (And it makes the customers nervous. No shit.) No offense, Yankees, but we Canucks can’t process this. At Starbucks up here, we’re like, “Wear a shirt and shoes, please. Have a lovely day.”

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A Review of All Things Misérables

So I finally got to see the new Les Mis movie in mid-February, when it had been in theatres for a month and a half.

les_miserables_movie_poster
Just learned this awesome word: “oscarisé”. This director has been previously Oscarized. Way to go, Tom Hooper.

This is rather a travesty. I’m a musical geek. I could sing you most of the soundtracks for about a dozen different musicals.* I was also a French major; I studied much French lit, loved the Romantics, and I’ve even been to the Victor Hugo museum.

As you can imagine, this movie gave me a lot of feelings.

First, some back story. (Victor Hugo would want me to include this.)

Dilovely’s first exposure to Les Mis in any form was on a visit to family friends in Toronto. She was about 11. This family had the piano music for the Schönberg-Boublil-Kretzmer musical, and the dad was playing it while another friend, a girl around my age, swished her long skirt around and sang “Master of the House” and “On My Own”. She knew all the words. Mini-Di wished she were like this girl: confident, knowledgeable, able to sing in front of people. And the music… it was compelling. There was obviously great drama behind it.

It was the spring of 1990 when a copy of the Original Broadway Cast Recording, with Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, came into Mini-Di’s household, via her aunt. It was a home recording, on cassette tape, of course.

She and her sister Emily became totally obsessed. ‘Twas in the days before lyrics.com (or anything .com), so Em transcribed the lyrics by hand in a little spiral-bound notebook, and Mini-Di read them and listened for the parts she couldn’t get. They knew every word – and every inflection, every quirk of accent, every nuance of instrumentation. They were of an age where they understood the concepts of poverty, prostitution, homeless people, revolution, and death – but only superficially. Suddenly this story, with its gorgeously sad music, was making tragedy real.

Soon, Dilovely would see the musical live at the Royal Alexandra Theatre – twice – and receive a Les Mis T-shirt for her birthday.

Fast-forward ten years. [That’s a Hugo tactic too.] In 2000, Dilovely was in France, having finished her French degree during which she was, inevitably, moved by Victor Hugo’s poetry. That year, the musical version of Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris was a wild success in Paris, starring Canadian Pierre Garand (a.k.a. Garou) as Quasimodo.

Dilovely found a copy of Les Misérables in the original French at Dunkerque’s Virgin Records store: two hefty paperback volumes totalling 1,948 pages (not counting appendices). She decided to make it her Everest.

Cosette-sweeping-les-miserables-emile-bayard-1862
“Cosette Sweeping” by Emile Bayard, 1862.

She spent over three months reading this chef-d’oeuvre (in between teaching and gallivanting), with her French-English dictionary close at hand. She adored it. She cried frequently over the story. When it was over, she mourned its finishing and missed the characters terribly. They had become family.

As you can imagine, she was rather stoked to find out that there would be a new movie of Les Mis, the first to incorporate the music from the musical, and the first movie-musical to use live (rather than pre-recorded and lip-synched) singing by the actors. She anticipated great things.

Then, poor Dilovely wasn’t sure she would even make it to see the movie in theatres.

It ended up being almost a covert op: get baby to sleep just in the nick of time, leave the house in a hurry to arrive less than two minutes before the opening scene, keep phone in bra for whole movie in case of emergency text from Auntie Em, return home as swiftly as possible once the movie is over, before baby remembers that she doesn’t know how to drink from the bottle. (She was chewing on the nipple happily enough when we came in, so it was better than nothing.)

So, here are my thoughts as a francophile/Les-Mis-devotee.

Firstly, A Note About The Book:

To be honest, after I’d read Les Misérables, I returned to the musical’s soundtrack and found it lacking. The book is incredibly rich, teeming with history both real and imagined.** Every character, major or minor, is endowed with a superbly crafted, heart-wrenching personal history. And Victor Hugo knew what he was doing; though I haven’t been able to find it for you, I remember reading a quotation from him in which he admitted that he strove to evoke powerful emotions in his readers – something on the order of “If y’all don’t cry reading this book, I’ll eat my hat,” but in erudite, Romantic French.

It was gratifying to see the movie and realize it recaptures some of the depth that was lost in the stage play.

General Notes:

  • This movie thoroughly impressed me: the performances, the singing abilities, the method acting, the sensitivity of the adaptation, the sound mixing (bonjour, Oscar!), the makeup (Oscar again), the costumes, the set design, the overall vision.
  • This movie contains some of the most raw acting I’ve ever seen. And I don’t mean raw as in under-done – I mean naked, harrowing, bare-your-soul-to-the-camera acting.
  • The main actors are apparently all Les Mis geeks, for whom playing these roles is a dream come true.
  • Their dedication to their roles is remarkable. For example:
    • Hugh Jackman drank no water for 36 hours prior to filming his convict scenes, to achieve the “gaunt” look;

    Film Religion

    • Eddie Redmayne sang 21 takes of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” to be satisfied with his work, even though the director was happy with take #12;

    eddie redmayne empty chairs at empty tables

    • and Anne Hathaway had them actually cut off her real hair, on camera.

    anne-hathaway-haircut-les-miserables-fantine

  • Sean, without previous exposure to the music, was not as thrilled with the movie. There were many scenes where he felt it would have been better if they’d spoken the dialogue instead of singing. I think that’s an unsolvable issue with movie musicals: when you put them onscreen, it’s just kinda strange that they’re singing. The same is true of Rent: when it’s a movie, you expect them to speak their dialogue, not sing it.
  • To combat this, I recommend listening repeatedly to the soundtrack until it’s part of the fabric of your being. Then it doesn’t seem incongruous at all.
  • While watching, I had occasional glimpses of how the movie might seem to an outsider, how it could be perceived as maudlin. I mean, the pathos is so thick you can chew on it. But that’s part of why we love it. I believe Hugo would have approved.

Comparison to the Stage Musical (spoiler warning, if you don’t already know the story… but who doesn’t?):

  • I noticed every time the music differed from the soundtrack in my head – alternate lyrics, more delicate instrumentation, and lots of abridged songs. (“Dog Eats Dog” was all but eliminated.)
  • The grit and sordidness of the time and place really come through on film. From the dizzying nosebleed section of the Royal Alex, you can’t fully appreciate how filthy everyone is. (Teeth especially.) On a movie set, one can achieve truly repulsive squalor. “Look Down”, “Lovely Ladies” and “Master of the House” are outstanding examples of this.
  • Similarly, the intimacy of film allows for plot subtleties that aren’t possible in stage format. Suddenly certain realities are clear:
    • Fantine’s dawning acceptance, as her hallucinations dissipate, of the fact that she is dying and must give up care of her daughter;
    • the poignant youth and naïveté of the students;
    • Valjean’s jealousy and panic when he realizes Cosette will not always be his;
    • the gendarme’s regret after shooting Gavroche;
    • the pathetic haphazardness of the barricade, and indeed the “revolution” as a whole.
  • I loved the new song, “Suddenly”, sung by Valjean when he takes little Cosette into his care. This was one of the book’s plot points missing entirely from the musical: rescuing Cosette completely changes Valjean’s outlook and priorities. His love for her is immediate, intense, beautiful, and drives basically all of his subsequent actions. He is fiercely protective and fearful at the same time, as parents are. I was very glad they reincorporated this element.

Specific Notes:

  • The opening scene blew me away. “Goosebumps” doesn’t remotely cover it.
  • Hugh Jackman made me cry, especially in the Soliloquy at the beginning. I loved almost every aspect of his performance.
  • My only quibble was that I wished “Bring Him Home” were more wistful/delicate. But it’s, like, one of the hardest solos in the world, and he sang admirably.
  • Anne Hathaway made me cry multiple times, even though her character lasts for less than half the movie. I’m glad she won the Oscar.
  • I’d been warned that Amanda Seyfried as Cosette sings like a Chipmunk. I understood the reference immediately – it’s true that her vibrato is very trembly and the part is written super-high – but her pitch is right on and I thought she did a good job overall.
  • I was also warned that Russell Crowe as Javert was the weak link. I can’t disagree; his singing – especially his consonants – were tentative where they should have been full of conviction (no pun intended). His performance was lacklustre. But again, his pitch was good, and his duet with Jackman was solid – especially the low note on “Monsieur le maire, you wear a different chain” – so I forgive him.
  • Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter as the Thénardiers were appropriately gaudy and repellent, although I didn’t love Sacha’s constantly mutating accent. But I guess accents are his thing.
  • Eddie Redmayne is totally endearing as Marius. Earnest and freckly and boyish. He completely won me over with his delivery of the line, “I’m doing everything all wrong.”
  • Colm Wilkinson! Was in it! As the Bishop of Digne. I didn’t even recognize him – or his voice – while I was watching… so I guess I’ll have to see it again.
  • I appreciated the parts that recreated certain stage moments, like Valjean’s burdened silhouette in the sewer, and the angle at which Enjolras dies. My inner geek-self was tickled. (If you’re thinking, Um, Dilovely, what other self do you have? then yeah. Touché.)
  • I also appreciated the bits that gave us information from the book that was not in the stage version; for example:
    • we get to see the elephant statue that, in the book, is home to Gavroche and a bunch of other urchins.
    • we also catch sight of young Cosette’s doll that looks like a bundle of rags tied together; readers know she has wrapped up a little lead knife to be her doll. (I KNOW – how heartbreaking is that??)
  • I was confused for a moment by the enormous barricade that appears in the finale, with the whole cast singing atop it. I guess it’s probably reminding us that less than 20 years after the end of the story, in 1848, the French people would rise up for real and force King Louis-Philippe to abdicate – using a MUCH bigger barricade.

Notes on Revisiting the Story After Many Years:

  • As my understanding of the world increases, this story seems more and more relevant – and sad. There are people all over the world who still face tragic circumstances like those in Les Misérables, even though as a species, we should know better.
  • Fantine’s story touches me more now that I’m a mom. The idea of being obliged to give my child to someone else to look after and just hoping for the best, yearning for her all the time… Furthermore, knowing I’m going to leave the mortal plane and never hold her again… Just awful.
  • Hugo’s own story also hits home a lot more. His firstborn son died in infancy, and his second child Léopoldine drowned at age 19, shortly after being married. He knew all about pain, and also about passion, and politics. And he observed poverty all around him – the conditions he describes in the Les Misérables were not imagined. No wonder it’s an amazing book.
  • I need to read it again someday, even though it would probably take me… an embarrassingly long time.
  • And if you enjoyed the musical or the movie or even just the plot, I highly recommend reading it yourself.

***

  • BONUS Factoid/Recommendation:
liberty-leading-the-people-1830
La Liberté guidant le peuple, by Eugène Delacroix.

This is one of my favourite Romantic paintings, commemorating the July Revolution of 1830 in Paris. The little boy right beside Lady Liberty is said to have inspired Hugo’s Gavroche. I fell in love with this after seeing it discussed on video by Sister Wendy, and later had the privilege of seeing it at the Louvre. Sister Wendy is amazing and so is the painting.

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*West Side Story, Showboat, Cats, Evita, Les Mis, Joseph, Miss Saigon, Assassins, Falsettos, A New Brain, Once On This Island, Rent, Parade… Sisters, what am I forgetting?

**For example, there is a section entitled “Waterloo”, a gruesome 70-page depiction of battle and its remains, related to the story only as historical context – and a vehicle to introduce Thénardier in the last few pages. I wrote a paper on it, about Hugo’s manipulation of time, during my M.A. That’s how much I love Hugo.

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Dilovely’s Extra Oscars 2013 + Defense of Seth MacFarlane

Might as well make a tradition of the Extra Oscars! I know it’s two days later so in Internetland, the Oscars are ancient history. But whatever. I have this thing called a baby. She sabotages my deadlines, dudes.

I do watch the ceremony almost every year now, thanks to Karissa’s parties that make it all worthwhile. It was a really fun evening. I think that if you’re going to watch the Oscars, you need to have lots of delicious snacks and some friends around. That way you can be in a good mood and enjoy the show – and not take it too seriously. MOTL (below, in fact).

First, the actual Hollywood-Related Extra Oscars:

  • Best Dressed: Jennifer Lawrence, even though the dress proved problematic, and Jennifer Aniston. I like pretty skirts.
Jennifer Lawrence 2013 oscars
Jennifer Lawrence
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Jennifer Aniston
  • Honourable Mention: Helen Hunt, who famously wore a dress from H&M for its green cachet (made entirely from sustainable, and some recycled, materials).
helen hunt oscars 2013 h&m gown
Helen Hunt
  • Worst Dressed: Halle Berry (I think she’s awesome but I didn’t like the robot look) and Anne Hathaway (oh, nipple-darts, you are not attractive).
halle berry 2013 oscars
Halle Berry
oscars-2013 anne hathaway
Anne Hathaway
  • Most Surprising Dress: Salma Hayek. No cleavage showing WHATSOEVER.
salma hayek 2013 oscars
Salma Hayek
  • Strongest Shoulders: Kristin Chenoweth. She’s so tiny it’s almost ridiculous, so no matter who she’s interviewing, she has to hold the mike way up.
  • Best Name: Quvenzhané Wallis. Names don’t get cooler than that. It doesn’t hurt when they belong to 9-year-old acting prodigies with serious moxie.
quvenzhane-wallis 2013 oscars
Quvenzhané Wallis
  • Best Song About Boobs: Seth MacFarlane, We Saw Your Boobs. Okay, it was the only song about boobs. But we, in the room, chuckled. People have been complaining that this silly little song was offensive, but because MacFarlane pre-acknowledged that it was, I personally took it to be a mockery not of women who’ve been topless in films but of men(‘s obsession with boobs). It’s possible I also got a kick out of it because I happened to have my boob out at the time.
  • Best Spats: Channing Tatum. Okay, they were the only spats, as far as I could tell, and he only wore them for his dance number. But seriously, there aren’t enough spats-wearing gentlemen these days.
charlize theron and channing tatum dancing oscars 2013
Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum
  • Best Surprise Talent: Charlize Theron is a lovely dancer, and Daniel Radcliffe can totally sing. Maybe you guys already knew those things, but both were pleasant surprises to me.
  • Best Earrings: Norah Jones, singing Everybody Needs a Best Friend from Ted. Dress was good too. And hey, might as well mention that the singing was spot-on.
norah jones oscars 2013
Norah Jones
  • Best Tie: Sound Editing. (Get it?? Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall tied for Best Sound Editing. Haw haw.)
  • Best Klutz: Jennifer Lawrence. Kristen Stewart was in the running – she apparently had crutches backstage because she’d “stepped on glass” at some point, and opted to hobble for her presentation instead of using them. Her heart was clearly not in the whole experience. Jennifer Lawrence, despite falling up the stairs to accept the Best Actress Oscar, managed to be gracefully self-deprecating (seeing the audience standing for her, she said, “Thank you. You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell, and that’s really embarrassing, but thank you.”) Love her.
  • Best Joke: Christopher Plummer’s intro by Seth MacFarlane. The camera swung with the spotlight over to the doors, where Mr. Plummer did not appear. MacFarlane announced, “Family Von Trapp!” with the perfect fanfare from Sound of Music. While it may be hackneyed to refer to the movie around Mr. Plummer, well… The S of M is dear to my heart. So I dug the tribute-joke.

Okay, segue into mini-Diatribe. As mentioned re the Boob Song, the Twitterverse and Internetland in general are all hating on Seth for his hosting job. He predicted it himself (that is, he had Captain Kirk come from the future and tell him he was going to be the worst host ever). People are saying they should bring back Billy Crystal. Two responses from me:

a) You’ve forgotten how bad Billy was last year. I mean, I love him, he’s a funny guy, but last year… even our good-natured group found him very unfunny.

b) I don’t think Seth was that bad. Maybe I was all high from getting out of the house for the evening, but I took his jokes in the most positive light, and it wasn’t that hard to do.

People are all “He’s racist and sexist! He’s homophobic! Shocking and offensive!!

Firstly, let’s keep in mind that part of the job description for an Oscar host is to be politically incorrect, to jokingly cross the lines of appropriateness. Can you name a host who hasn’t? And if there ever were one, people would jump on that person for being wimpy and boring.

Secondly, he is not homophobic. He is, in fact, a well-known and vocal supporter of gay rights, including gay marriage. If there were jokes that sounded homophobic (I personally don’t recall any), they were not intended as such.

Thirdly, about the racism. He joked to Daniel Day-Lewis about his staying in-character on and off set: “If you bumped into Don Cheadle on the studio lot, did you try to free him?” Maybe I’m being thick, but how is this racist? Don Cheadle is black. Lincoln was against slavery of black people. I actually think that’s a very interesting, even insightful, question. What would Lincoln think of today’s civil rights situation in America?

He joked, regarding Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Salma Hayek, that “they get up on stage and we have no idea what they’re saying, but we don’t care because they’re so attractive”. You could take that as racist. Or, since the statement is so obviously untrue (with respect to language, not attractiveness), you could take it as a nod to those same actors for being critically acclaimed successes in more than one language – and even a little jab at the monolingualism of most of America.

People got up in arms about “I always thought the actor who got most inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.” Our party groaned along with the audience, but come on. The play on words was a little bit funny. Seth acknowledged the groans with, “So, 150 years and it’s still too soon, huh?” Good point. Yes, we know Lincoln’s assassination was a tragedy. Joking about it serves the same purpose as gallows humour: sometimes you have to make light of things that suck.

Even the jokes that failed with the audience could be given the benefit of the doubt. There was Seth’s comment on Django Unchained: “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.” I agree that this joke isn’t in good taste, but domestic brutality needs to be talked about; sometimes we joke just to get an issue out and give it airtime. And after all, “unthinkable violence” is strongly condemnatory language.

I admit I didn’t enjoy this one: “For all those women who had the ‘flu’: It paid off. Looking good.” This may have been an attempt to address Hollywood’s unhealthy preoccupation with thinness; if so, it was clumsy and fell flat. But I do think it’s important to bring up. Hollywood’s female actors as a group are TOO THIN. Period.

FYI, I’m not a particular fan of Seth MacFarlane. I barely knew who he was before Oscar night. In all honesty, I’d rather have Jon Stewart or Ellen Degeneres back to host. But it irks me when people get unnecessarily hatey. Why are you watching the Oscars if you’re in such a bad mood?

It’s the same with Anne Hathaway – people were all a-Twitter with how she’s insincere and overeager and blah blah blah. Whatever. She’s a human, and I don’t see why she deserves such nitpicky bullying. People will pick on any random stupid thing and get internet validation for it. Anne Hathaway did an amazing job in her nominated role, and she fully deserved to win. And I don’t think she comes off as insincere; could you do any better on the Avenue of Awkwardness that is the red carpet?

Bottom line: if you’re jaded and humourless, you should probably do something else with your Sunday night.

Now, our personal party Oscars:

  • Best Co-Hosts: the kids. Karissa is the hostess with the mostest, but I also appreciated that her five-year-old daughter made absolutely sure we had napkins and her three-year-old son filled in for E by giving my baby a kiss when we arrived.
  • Best Potluck Dish Name: Finger Lickin’ Chicken Lincoln Wontons, by Krissy. Just say that to yourself – it’s fun. (For the record, my flourless chocolate cake, dubbed Cocoa Unchained, did get a couple votes.) (Hey, attendees, if you’re reading this – could you put your dish name in the comments so I can remember them all?)
  • Best Celebrity Detective: Carrie, for identifying the most magazine-cutout celebrity smiles and bodies AND answering the tie-breaking question.
  • Trivia Winner: technically Karissa, but since she was host and thereby ineligible, my sister Em (Oscar trivia rookie) got the next best score.
  • Most Flabbergasting Trivia Fact: How many times do you think John Williams has been nominated for his movie scores? Twelve? Eighteen? Twenty-five? No. Try forty-eight.
  • Highlight of the Evening: finding out, through the subtleties of trivia, that our friend Meg is expecting! YAY!!
  • Best Dressed Guest: Skye’s Baby G, with his necktie onesie. Even without pants, it works.
  • Best-Behaved Baby: Normally Baby G would take this category too, because he’s basically the best-behaved baby on the planet, but he had a couple of uncharacteristic bouts of screaming, so I’m going with Baby A (a.k.a. mine). Of course, I paid for this… dearly. She was in great spirits all evening, snoozing on-and-off, getting passed around and flirting with my friends, until abruptly she was not fine anymore (two presentations before the end of the show). This leads to…
  • Worst Parenting Decision: goes to Dilovely, for allowing the overstimulation of my daughter. She was up every hour that night. Not restful for anyone. Lesson learned.

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Too much to say, too little to say

wooden angels in newtown connecticut

Sean asked me yesterday if I blog to try to “make sense of the world.”

Yes. Absolutely. That has never been more true than now.

I also blog because, as I know from keeping a diary for so long, it helps a lot in painful moments. It’s a way for me to remove a piece of what’s making my mind hurt, look at it from a small distance, not quite so close to my heart, and begin to let it be… if just a little bit.

I know there’s an overabundance of writing on the topic of Newtown, but I am compelled to add to it anyway. This week, I can’t write a normal blog post about funny things my kid says, or Christmas preparations, or teacher politics.

Because this week, when I think about teachers, I can only think about the educators at Sandy Hook – the ones who never expected to lay down their lives in the course of their jobs, and the other ones who, from now on, will always wonder when they might have to. I’ve only read two news articles about the shooting, but they were enough to brand forever on my brain the thought of a teacher shot dead while shielding her tiny students with her body.

I don’t know how you ever teach again, after surviving a catastrophe like Sandy Hook.

This week, when I think about kids, it’s worse. Obviously, I think about my children all the time, but now there’s this underlying horror with too many strands to put my finger on… I look at them, my vivacious three-year-old son, my wide-eyed baby daughter, both so beautiful it makes me ache, and I feel guilt-gratitude-tumult-terror-overwhelminglove…

… and I wonder… How do I deserve these beautiful children… How could I have brought them into this messed-up world… What would I do if something like – what would I do if – what would I…

… Oh God. And I can’t wonder any further.

It might sound like a strange thing to say, but I’m thankful that Sebastian died the way he did. If I had to lose a son, it’s a blessing to feel sure that he didn’t suffer, never had a chance to be scared or alone or even to cry. His was the most peaceful death possible.

Of course, I know this doesn’t death-proof my other children.

There is no word for how crazy it is to me that pro-gun types are advocating more guns right now. The idea of guns in an elementary school is so, so wrong that my brain can’t even process it. People actually dare to make the argument that if the teachers at Sandy Hook had had access to their own guns, not as many people would have died that day. This may be mathematically true (maybe), but guns in school classrooms is a tragedy unto itself. And let’s be realistic: there’s no way those guns wouldn’t do harm, and most likely unnecessary harm.

As a Canadian born of pacifist parents, my mind is boggled that anyone could possibly believe anything contrary to

MORE GUNS = MORE DEATH FROM GUNS.

It’s already proving to be true in Canada, even though we have no “right to bear arms”, and we don’t generally have the cowboy mentality toward guns that is common in the U.S. We are still utterly shocked and outraged when someone opens fire in a public place in Toronto, but the frequency is increasing: our gun problem is growing. As more illegal firearms enter the country across the border, more people get shot. Period.

It’s common knowledge that the majority of gun crimes are committed by males. I don’t disagree with people who say it’s because society puts too much emphasis on male toughness of a certain kind, but I think it’s deeper than that.

It’s scary: somehow, little boys seem hardwired to think guns are cool. I noticed it while teaching kindergarten last year: young boys – even the quiet, gentle ones – seem to gravitate toward games involving guns. They’ll turn almost any inanimate object into a gun – to “shoot bad guys”, of course.

My father, who, along with my mother, transplanted himself decades ago to a new country to avoid being obliged to kill people, has admitted that he ate puffed wheat as a kid solely because it was “shot from guns”. (So ironic that it’s “Quaker”.)

My own son, with no toy weapons and zero violent TV or video games in the house, has been known to say, “Guns are cool,” and, if we allowed it, would do plenty of pretend-shooting.

If I were to see him do that that right now, I think I would burst into tears.

To me, this is the greatest argument for gun control. Wherever this “manly” urge to shoot stuff comes from, it’s far more likely to reach fruition if there is easy access to guns. Add mental illness into the mix, and obviously, it’s deadly. Since neither the urge nor the illness is going to be eradicated, it’s the third ingredient that has to go.

The other question that I can’t get out of my head is: Why is this so much worse?

I remember the massacre at Ecole Polytechnique in 1989 – the one that deeply shocked our nation, and spurred much tighter gun control laws, along with discussion of childhood abuse and mental illness. It filled us all with fear and incredible sorrow. I also remember Columbine, and Virginia Tech. And I know that countless innocent people die violent deaths every day in countries filled with war and terrorism. On the same day as the Newtown tragedy, sixteen people died from a car bomb in Damascus – which was forgotten by news sources almost immediately.

Why does this awful event haunt me – and all of us, it seems – so much more?

Not just because it’s still so raw. Not just because it was so unexpected, so appallingly incongruous in that little town. Not just because a massacre in America is so much rarer than a car bombing in the Middle East.

I think it has to do with how easy it is to put yourself into the scene. I saw pictures of those parents, rushing to the school to find out if their children were safe or dead, powerless to stop the world being ripped from under their feet… and they could be me. I think of those traumatized teachers and students, and I can’t help picturing the faces of my own wonderful students and colleagues at my school. They could be us.

And then. They were so young.

The murder of innocents is almost impossible to take.

On Easter Sunday in 1997, I was eighteen years old. I sat in silence at Quaker Meeting in my hometown, reeling from the news of the murder of two-year-old Zachary Antidormi, remembering the Dunblane school shooting a year before, feeling like the world should be ending, and composing this poem in my head.

Light is in everything
But a shadow fell upon a woman
at a moment
Blade in hand she slayed Innocence
and God was not in that knife.
Baby Angel of momentum growing
    now impossibly stopped.
This is a shadow where anguish is complete and
Innocence hides.

Light is in everything
But a darkness possessed a man
on a morning
A score of bullets tore Innocence
and God was not in that gun.
Tiny Spirits of energy flowing
    now indelibly cut.
This is a darkness where heartbreak is real and
Innocence cries.

Your words     life      rebirth       hope        spring      chances
fall alien on my ears like a sick joke

Tell me God needs little students and maybe
a little guard to help them across
    but not
that God’s hand wields knives and machine guns.

Remind us how to find Innocence
    somehow
because that is where God’s Light lives.

We are in the darkest time of year, in our corner of the world. Hannukah has just ended, Christmas is almost here, and we are filling our homes with light, warding off that darkness.

As Hawksley Workman wrote, “the darkness defines where the light is.” When I lost my son, I suddenly understood these words. At the awfulest moments, humanity’s love can be a very powerful thing. It plunges into the hole with you, and gradually, it can help you climb out and stand up again.

Humanity’s love being sent to Newtown right now is immense and beautiful. Let us find ways to be part of it.

newtown-memorial

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Dear Ontario Teachers

Dear colleagues,

I know I haven’t written about what you’re going through in a long time, not since the post that unexpectedly deflowered my blog three months ago. I want you to know that it’s not because I’m ignoring what’s going on; I think about it every day. (Well – and I did have that baby, too, so my daily priorities are often more nap-and-poop-related.)

I’d like to be able to say, “I wish I were there at school with you!”… but it wouldn’t be true. Not just because I’m delighting in my offspring at the moment – although that’s a big part of it.

Mostly it’s because I’ve been imagining being in your shoes right now, having to participate in work-to-rule, and I know how I’d feel. The stress would be eating away at me. Although I don’t presume to speak for you, I’m sure a lot of you must be feeling stressed.

If I were teaching with you right now, it would be a constant source of frustration and guilt to know that no matter what I did, I would be letting someone down: either the students and their families, or the union and my co-workers. That’s the reality of work-to-rule. People hate it when we disengage from extracurricular activities. It’s a tough situation to be in while trying to focus on the best ways to captivate the minds of a roomful of kids, this close to Christmas… especially if you have an overactive guilt reflex (which I do).

I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I know that if I were teaching right now, in moments of fatigue and strain, I’d second-guess myself and my situation.

There would be times when I’d see kids’ disappointed faces and think, Do I HAVE to do what my union says? Is it THAT important?

Then I would go read Bill 115, and realize that I do, because it is.

The right to organize trade unions for collective bargaining is a fundamental human right, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Bill 115 says No, actually, forget rights and negotiations: YOU WILL DO AS THE MINISTER SAYS. You can produce a collective agreement identical to the one she presents, or she will “impose a collective agreement”. Seriously. How can you even call it a “collective agreement” when there is nothing collective about it, nothing agreed to? Laurel Broten, along with the Liberals and Conservatives who helped pass Bill 115, are apparently exempt from the UDHR. That is a scary precedent. If this kind of autocracy is allowed to persist, the Employment Standards Act – which applies to all working Ontarians – will be meaningless. (So if anyone reading this still thinks it’s about the money… sigh… then I’m afraid you’ve been brainwashed by McGuinty.)

Still, even knowing how regressive Bill 115 is, if I were teaching, there would be times when I would overhear parents’ understandably frustrated remarks – even comments about us holding the kids ransom, using them as pawns, depriving them – and think, Do we really have to do it this way? Is this the only option?

Then I would think of the Queen’s Park Rally for Education, and the countless other rallies organized by teachers, students, and supporters in the last several months, all of which seem to have gone unheard… I would consider all the written protests, the letters and petitions and votes that remain unacknowledged… I would keep in mind that last February at the Provincial Discussion Table, three bankruptcy lawyers represented the government and there was no actual opportunity for discussion – and that when union reps were in talks with the government last month, it was the latter who abruptly ended things. All of this tells me that work-to-rule is not the only option; but this situation calls for us to use as many options as we have. We wouldn’t be here if any of the earlier objections had prompted the government to repeal Bill 115.

Of course, parents want their kids to have everything. We want that too, obviously, which is why we do all those activities in the first place. I believe most of us would far prefer to still be doing them. But the children’s right to field trips does not trump our right to collective bargaining. So I’ve vowed to disregard words like “pawns” and “ransom” and “deprived”, because I know there is nothing malicious or underhanded about this job action. (Unless people want to direct that language at the Minister. THAT would be valid.) Also, I’m ignoring parents who say we are “not letting the students” play sports or do drama or what have you, since we have forbidden nothing. That’s Ms. Broten’s territory.

queens park rally for education
Queen’s Park Rally for Education

If I were teaching right now, there would be times when the general public opinion – the rampant vilification – would weigh on me. I might wonder, Is my union really representing my best interests? Would it be better if we just dropped it?

Then I would give my brain a shake and remind myself: no, Bill 115 is not a fight we should drop. Our union representatives are doing their job by making sure that we, the members, know this. They are also doing their job by asking for more than they actually expect to get in negotiations: that’s the nature of bargaining. They know the contract inside and out, and keep high ideals in mind. This is how, over the past several decades, they have negotiated many necessary improvements to working conditions in schools. We know the budget is tight right now, and compromising on contract points during negotiation is something we can do. Giving up the right to negotiate is NOT.

The government portrays us as unreasonable in the midst of the mess they created, despite giving us no opportunity to be reasonable. They have obscured their role in this standoff and everything that led to it, knowing that we would have to resort to measures that affect children (we’re teachers… everything we do affects children). Colleagues, I’m sorry you’re bearing the brunt of this. It is sad that the alienation strategy has indoctrinated so many people – but we don’t have to internalize it. We know we have support from each other, and from other critical thinkers, in spite of it all. We’ve all talked to parents who, despite the fallout of work-to-rule, understand and support what we’re fighting for.

If I were teaching right now, there would be times when the haters – the ones who go beyond complaining, who spit venom in the form of ignorant suppositions and really nasty language – would get to me, and I’d feel like crap. This did happen when I wrote that other post: at first, it was exciting to try enlightening some web trolls, but the vitriolic content (not to mention the effort it takes to be educative, diplomatic, and civil when responding to these people) wears a gal down after a while.

What made it worthwhile was discovering that many of you found the post encouraging at a time when you needed it. I’m very, very thankful for that.

If I find myself discouraged by the antagonism, I take a deep breath and remind myself: this viciousness has nothing to do with me, as a person. Haters will be haters. Trolls will be trolls. Some people will always be hostile to us. Some people have chips on their shoulders and feel the need to unload their bitterness on the web or in the Op-Ed section, where they can be anonymous. As teachers, we have taught kids with those kinds of anger issues, and know that they are usually in need of help.

I want to remind myself, and all of you who could also use the reminder: You are a good human. You try hard. You work hard. You teach, to the best of your ability. That is what matters.

Dear colleagues, I’ve realized something while writing this, and you probably have as well: in spirit, I am there with you. This mess sucks, and it’s obviously far from over, but I’m with you for as long as it takes. Good luck, and bon courage. And happy holidays.

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A NOTICE TO POTENTIAL COMMENTERS:

This not a news source. It is a personal blog, written by a teacher. Please don’t expect it to be unbiased.

You are most welcome to leave comments. Mature discussion is great.

Please be aware, however, that if you use inflammatory language and/or make arguments based on wrong assumptions or inanities (especially if they demonstrate that you have skimmed this post, seen that it’s pro-teacher, and decided to rant irrelevantly), I’ll delete your comment. I’ve already taken too much time to respond to people like you over here, and I’m done. I have a baby to feed.

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The Ladies of Election Day

Here we go, Americans: the Day of Reckoning. I hope you’re on your way to vote – or have already done so.

According to the Chicago Tribune, lots of voters wait until Election Day to decide whom their ballot will support. That seems so strange to me, in a country with what is essentially a two-party system, with wildly differing candidates.

As I see it, if you support the Republicans under Romney, there’s no way you can support the Democrats under Obama – and vice versa. Either you blame Obama for stuff that’s occurred during the last four years that you consider bad, or you credit him for stuff you consider good.

It’s not really my place to weigh in on the American election (even though I know who I’d vote for – and can’t imagine doing otherwise). Frankly, I’m fairly disillusioned up here in Canada, where we’re currently living under the sneakiest, most underhanded Prime Minister in history. I don’t want to talk about that guy either.

What I’m wondering today is what those two women are feeling – the ones who are poised as potential First Ladies for the next four years.

Over on BlogHer, shortly after the big presidential debate, I read posts by each of them, talking about their husbands and the campaign trail. It’s pretty interesting reading. Naturally, each woman speaks of her man with esteem and love, vouching for his character and her faith that he can fix things. I hope that all of this is sincere, but I can’t help wondering if these women would like to say things they don’t say.

Ann Romney has battled multiple sclerosis and cancer. She writes that Mitt is her hero, and that he has always stood by her during the tough times. She also writes: “I have to admit, though, five years ago at the end of the last campaign, I told Mitt I would never do this again. Mitt laughed and said, ‘Honey, you say that after every pregnancy.'” (The Romneys have five children.)

Mitt and Ann Romney campaign
Mitt and Ann Romney

This has been a vitriolic, exhausting lead-up to the election. Is there part of Ann that wishes her family weren’t having to go through all this? Has the presidential race turned out to be more than she meant to sign up for? Does she ever worry about how things will be if her husband actually becomes the President?

Michelle Obama writes very proudly of her husband’s election priorities, as well as his accomplishments thus far. She also mentions that the night of the debate was her and Barack’s 20th wedding anniversary – a big milestone.

michelle obama campaign debate
Michelle Obama

When you’re the First Lady of the United States, do you ever get to show frustration at the inconveniences that must be part of that role? Does Michelle ever wish she could just go back to being normal? Does she feel that the man she married has changed in ways she doesn’t love? Does she secretly kinda hope Barack will lose, so that she can, in some measure, have her husband back?

I’m sure that each of these women feel just as passionately about the outcome of this election as other engaged voters do: they want their candidate to win, because they feel strongly that he will help her country the most.

But, to be blunt, I think I’d hate being a First Lady. I mean, I get exasperated when Sean works extra hours unexpectedly and it infringes on our plans; I also treasure my freedom to disagree with him. And for that to be our business only. I have no desire to be nationally – much less internationally – recognizable and famous. I could probably adjust to the adoring masses’ adulation of my husband (eventually), but I’d be severely uncomfortable with the vilification that would be just as inescapable. As a borderline introvert, I’d be drained meeting and chatting graciously with so many strangers all the time. And I really don’t think my fashion sense would pass muster with the critical public.

It must be really tough. I don’t envy Michelle or Ann at all. But I hope, for each of their sakes, that they love their roles – and their husbands – as much as they seem to.

It’s gonna be a crazy, difficult day for both of them, no matter what happens. I’m wishing them strength… and some relaxing, quality family time some day soon.

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