What A Parade!

After twenty years of Santa Claus parades in our west Ottawa community, we finally made it out to this year’s as a family.

There was a vast array of floats, representing local merchants, service organizations, schools, and faith groups. We also got a smile and a wave from Dylan Black, who was walking with the Boom 99.7 Jump 106.9 float.

And, of course, Santa.

Photos: Victoria Vernell

What Has Happened To Hallowe’en?

When I was a kid, Hallowe’en was the holiday of holidays. Yes, Christmas was important,  but short of sporting an ugly sweater, opportunities to dress up in costume were few, unless you had parents who put you in cheap felt elf outfits for posed portrait photographs.

My three children are a young adult and two teenagers now, but with the addition of my granddaughter to our family in 2016, and two Hallowe’ens since, I will continue to lace up my sensible walking shoes and go door to door bearing an old pillowcase as a back-up candy sack.

What hasn’t gone unnoticed is the number of children who still do old-school trick or treating. Private parties and “Trunk or Treat” events are the new get your spook on. In the community groups on Facebook I belong to, 20 or 25 costumed kids constituted a successful evening of mini-candies distribution. We’re even making exceptions for properly outfitted teenagers. Put in the effort, and ye shall be rewarded. Full-size chocolate bars will never wane in popularity, and people giving them away are not shy about telling you where to find them (street names only, though, thanks).

As the parent of a disabled child, I also see the good intentions behind the Blue Bucket meme that was going around Facebook. My son has difficulty making himself understood at the best of times, and he likes to wear a full face mask with his Dracula/Harry Potter mash-up outfit. Alas, cherished allies, he chose a ratty, plastic Chapters/Indigo bag instead.

Look, there are a few things about Hallowe’ens of yore that I can do without, slutty nurse versions of Alice in Wonderland and Rockets candy among them. At the risk of sounding like a moon-eyed nostalgia tribe-leader, though, how do we put the harmless, outdoor fun back into October 31?

#MyFridayFive, Issue 1.3

My Friday Five

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by – Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

And in my case, even those that are self-imposed.

But I’m here now, and look! It’s actually Friday!

So. What’s been going on?


Not a headline, but something I need to get off my chest.

I struggle with chronic pain.

Sometimes I walk with a cane. This past Monday was no different. I took my fifteen year old twins to the Canada Science and Technology Museum because it was the last day of The Art of the Brick exhibit, and I had yet to see it.

A selection of photos I took are posted to my Instagram, which you can find here: Whovian On A Budget. It was during my first attempt to snap a photo with my phone, keep from dropping my cane, and wrangle my son, who has ADHD and developmental delay; that someone older than me and in discernibly better physical condition suggested that I was in the way and better move, so that she could take a picture of the same sculpture that caught my eye. As we moved through the gallery space, reactions from others to our presence did not improve.

This is goddamn 2018. Do I really have to apologize for being disabled, and for daring to take my son out in public? Yes, I am fat. Maybe it is the cause of my leg and hip trouble; I don’t know, and here’s the thing: you are not one of my doctors. I don’t want to hide at home. Why should I? It’s going to take every remaining ounce of resilience and class I have not to take my cane and shove the tip up the ass of the next person who thinks I’m needlessly taking up space.

Here’s a suggestion for Nathan Sawaya, the magician behind The Art of the Brick: would you be willing to construct a sculpture of a mother and child, or a father and child, to properly acknowledge people who look like me and my son, who enjoy the escapism of a museum and a day out? I believe it’s needed.


Now, for the headlines:

1) Actor Burt Reynolds Dead At 82 (Various sources)

Reynolds never shied away from poking fun at his foibles and career missteps. I really liked his Emmy-award comedy series “Evening Shade,” which also starred Marilu Henner. Edited to add: Then, as I traipsed through the Twitters, I was reminded he was a lousy husband who beat both of his wives, and not much better as a father. I have no time for that.

2) Inquest Confirms Cranberries Singer Dolores O’Riordan Died From Drowning (Various sources)

A damned shame. Dolores O’Riordan was a brilliant singer and songwriter. It was not her time to go. May you continue to rest in power, Dolores.

3) Girl Hospitalized After Getting Ears Pierced at Claire’s: Doctors Dug Earring Out with ‘Scalpel’

This isn’t the first horror story of an ear piercing gone wrong at a Claire’s store. Claire’s and other inexpensive jewelry stores can’t even guarantee that their products are genuinely hypoallergenic.

The safest place you can go for this sort of thing? A really good tattoo shop. Mark my words.

4) Jet hand dryers ‘aerosolise’ E. coli and other harmful bugs, scientists warn

This, unfortunately, isn’t new news. Nor is it fake. I’m pretty sure this was proven during the “Down and Dirty/Earthquake Survival” episode of MythBusters in the spring of 2013. Paper towels for dry hands!

5) Colin Kaepernick’s Nike Campaign (Various sources)

Dear Nike: Just keep on doing it.

action air balance beach

Photo by Rafael on Pexels.com

Douchebaggery and Entitlement (Or, It Must Be Thursday)

timelapse photography off water fountain

Photo by Gabriel Peter on Pexels.com

Tis a week before pay-day, and I’m bored with reading about the Duchy of Sussex’s charm school dropout side of the family. So I decided to catch up on what everyone else has been tweeting about, financially important things you should do before age 35.

I should have saved twice my salary. *Cue a bitter fountain of tears*

I am actually one of the Canadians who can’t even manage to save $500.

It should be easier than it looks. I don’t have student loan debt. I live with someone whose annual income is on-par with mine. But I’m 46, and still have kids at home, teenagers at that, with cell phones and the need for new clothes and groceries. Aye, the groceries.

Never mind the consumer debt. I got out of it once; it was nice. Did I mention the teenagers? Or, despite subscribing to online newsletters about responsible spending and saving, and making the effort, I still can’t quite get there? I do everything online. No cheques. No overdraft protection. Always try to avoid bank fees where possible. Cash only.

I have an 18-month-old granddaughter. I like to help out. The amount spent there isn’t garish by anyone’s standards. If I see a deal on diapers, or a book or a toy that combines fun and learning, I’m on it. She’s been eating what her parents eat, by and large, for a while now, which keeps the spending on baby and toddler food to a minimum.

All this said, I get angry when I hear about grown-ass men who have to be forcibly evicted from their parents’ home, where they contribute nothing, not even civilized conversation. Get a hair cut and get a job, ya damned hippie. Be a decent example to your son.

And then there’s Kevin Federline. Due to his overall irrelevance since 2008, following the nuclear meltdown of his marriage to Britney Spears, he’s had primary custody of their two sons and enjoyed monthly child support to the tune of $20,000. Now he says he needs three times that amount. I smell the smell of a man who’s been using one ex-wife to pay for the children he has with other women, which he should be ashamed of, frankly. Ya, ya. Nobody wants you when you’re down and out, right Kev? Oi! Hair cut! Job! Go get ’em.

It pisses me off when I see the 1% being stupid with their money, and still managing to come out ahead. Damned right I support increased taxation on the wealthy, even though I will never see any of it come back to me in the form of child tax benefits, since I owe the government money for the foreseeable future.

This reminds me to call my son – he’s 21 – and tell him to get on with opening a Registered Retirement Savings Plan. His contribution limit isn’t that steep. I don’t want him to look back at age 35, or even 45 or 65, and wonder where all the years of savings went.


Spinning The Wheel

Even at this physical distance, I am still trying to process what happened in Toronto this week.

As the mother of two sons who have diagnoses on the autism spectrum, and equally the mother of a daughter, and a grandmother of a lovely, sharp female toddler; I may well be stumped for the right words, too.

Marc Lepine. Elliot Rodger. Alek Minassian. The misappropriation of the term incel.

At the risk of overstating the obvious, Western culture really hasn’t learned a damned thing or made the tamping down of misogyny a priority. Who, or what, can we blame? This is a world that welcomed a perverted parasite to the Oval Office with open arms, and everyone else who can see the emperor for the naked criminal he is are no closer to evicting him, try as they might. He’s all about his base, and it continues to be a dispiritingly strong one.

I also think parents still aren’t talking to their children about consent and entitlement in personal and romantic relationships. Look: it’s never a bad time to do it. And a child’s level of ability, or disability, shouldn’t even play into it. I am signed on to take a workshop next week on the topic of sex and disability, to help me bring my younger son up to speed, in a way he will hopefully understand, but I know there will be a need for remediation based on his personality, if only to remind him to keep his hands away from the front of his pants in public.

It is also incredibly important to keep top of mind that autism did not rent a cargo van and mount a sidewalk this week. Autism is not facing ten counts of first-degree murder and thirteen fourteen counts of attempted murder. Autism does not leave a breadcrumb trail of YouTube videos and a lengthy manifesto rife with vitriol towards the women who turn it down for sex. Autism does not radicalize itself.

We need to start with that, and prioritize conversations about mental health, generally, at home, at school, and in the workplace. Places where people gather, as a matter of course, on a daily basis.

And, since the personal is also political, we must reclaim the base. I am surprising myself by agreeing with Kanye West: self victimization is a disease. No one’s interests are served when it’s the practice to mollycoddle people who routinely behave badly and have learned that there is no real, lasting consequence for it.

If it is my job to teach my children how to get along in the world, why are so many others not out there doing the same? It’s time to get real.

It’s time to replace blame with basic human kindness. It’s time to turn the wheel.

A Mighty Fine Night Out

Sometimes the best things in life come to a person simply by being in the right place, at the right time.

For me, that happened to be while I was sitting in the cafeteria at work at noon-hour yesterday, checking my smartypants phone for messages while sipping my cream of broccoli soup. (This detail is important, because I want to assure myself as well as anyone else who may read this that not everything I have eaten lately has been pure crap. Ha.) Lo and behold, a charitable organization I have supported in various ways in the past, Children At Risk, was given a batch of tickets to last night’s Roger Daltrey concert at Scotiabank Place to distribute to its members. There were some left over, which were offered to other families of autistic kids through the autismsupportOttawa Yahoo! group. It did not concern me in the slightest where the seats were located. All I could think about was my 13-year-old Asper-dude, and how much an opportunity like this would completely rock his world in all the best possible ways. Something my ex-husband and I were successful at achieving together as parents, was keeping our children exposed to a wide variety of music. That, my friends, is the only explanation for a 13-year-old whose musical palate ranges from The Beatles to Culture Club to Metallica, and many esoteric points in between.

As it turned out, I was able to get four tickets for, get this, floor level seats. All we had to do was show up at the venue at a certain time, and look for a very tall man holding a sheaf of printed e-mails. Well, that, and I promised the Executive Director that I would renew my membership with Children At Risk, because the work they do is wonderful and necessary for local families of children who present all across the autism spectrum.

Guilty though I may be for openly mocking The Who for their endless run of “farewell concerts” in the ’80s and ’90s, I still kept a place for them near the top of my concert bucket-list. (A full Genesis reunion, anybody? Peter Gabriel says he’s up for it….) Pete Townshend no longer tours due to his hearing-related problems, and Keith Moon and John Entwistle have both long since left this earth, but Townshend’s younger brother Simon fills the guitarist’s role quite nicely and there is a definite physical resemblance between the two.

Anyway, last night DH, DD, DS13 and I were witness to a performance of the rock opera Tommy from start to finish, with oodles of psychedelic images, beginning with storks and fetuses, streaming on a video screen behind the band – and you know what? It worked seamlessly with the music. I tip my hat to whoever was responsible for the design. The audience was smaller than what I would have expected, given that Roger Daltrey is a rock n’ roll deity who provided the likes of Robert Plant with any real competition; at a reported 2,500 people, with most of them at floor level or in the 100-level seats. I don’t think anybody kept to their assigned seating last night, as even I (shy as I am) got as close as I could to the stage and stayed (swayed? Yeah, I danced, and I know Daltrey was watching) there; and I am told by DH, who heard it from one of the security guards, that Daltrey absolutely wanted it that way.

The show moved from Tommy to a random smattering of Who classics, including “Behind Blue Eyes” and a neat re-imagining of “Baba O’Riley” (familiar to the current generation as the opening theme song to “CSI: NY”). Daltrey told the audience that his throat surgeon wanted him to “sing something low” during his concert run, so we were also treated to a medley of Johnny Cash classics.

The show as a whole ran long (clocking in at over 2.5 hours), but only in terms of time – Daltrey could have gone on all night, it seemed, and anyone possessed of greater stamina than my DD would have more than happily obliged him.

#NoMoreBullies – Remembering Mitchell Wilson

("Supplied Photo" to The Toronto Star, Sep 25/11)

This is Mitchell Wilson.

At the age of 11, he had already borne the pain of losing his mother to cancer three years previously. He was living as fully and as courageously as he could despite a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy, a disease most of us never have to think twice about, except perhaps during Labor Day Weekend, when our local firefighters are out in the community on street corners collecting loose change in their helmets for a cure; and the annual Jerry Lewis telethon is aired on TV, preempting end-of-summer sitcom re-runs.

An encounter with a bully in November of 2010 changed everything, literally. To help keep him mobile and strong, Mitchell would take walks outdoors as often as 6 times per day. It was during one of these walks, armed with an iPhone belonging to his dad so that he could listen to music, that another 12-year-old child swarmed him single-handed, smashing Mitchell’s face into the pavement and breaking some of his teeth, all for the sake of acquiring that very iPhone. After that incident, and following further harassment from his attacker’s friends, Mitchell’s strength and will began to deteriorate dramatically, to the point that he stopped walking. In addition to dreading a return to school three weeks ago, he had also been served with a subpoena to go to court on the 28th of September to testify against the kid who’d attacked him for his father’s iPhone. Mitchell tied a plastic bag around his head in his bedroom, where his father found him on the first day of school, suffocated.

I read parts of this story several days ago, and I have been seething in anger ever since. The trigger point, apart from the fact that I am the mother of disabled children who have also withstood their share of bullying, was learning that the Crown plans to drop the charges against Mitchell’s attacker because Mitchell is unavailable to formally identify him in court.

I’m angry because in the fall of 1978, or thereabouts (my long-term memory falling far short of what it used to be), a boy named Anthony decided to act on the taunts of our Grade 1 classmates and shoved me face-first, from behind, into a stretch of rocks and other debris during lunch recess while we were all running to the playground. I was a kid who was sensitive, awkward, shy, and walked on my toes. In the school office, I remember being given a glass of lukewarm salt water with which to gargle and rinse out the blood that had seeped into my mouth. The physical scarring from that incident is still evident on my forehead and cheeks, and I can remember that my mother took down our bathroom mirror so that I wouldn’t have to see the damage to my face. I don’t remember anything of consequence happening to Anthony. I do recall that our teacher, Mrs. Fuder, asked me what I had done to cause him to trip me. I hadn’t much cared for her prior that incident, and liked her even less after that. In the years of cruel taunts and schoolyard scraps that followed, only the location of the school and names of the bullies would change. Small wonder then that by the time I reached high school, I was a shy, anxious mess who was more than happy to blend into the background after my parents allowed me to switch from the local Catholic school board to the public board. I won’t say that it did get better in high school, because in many ways it didn’t, but I did find some solace by becoming part of the group of other “misfits” my age. Certain aspects of the social anxiety that began in my childhood still linger to this day. I am 39 years old, with an adult diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, a stress-eater par excellence, and trust issues two miles long and 10 miles wide. I have spent far too many of the last 20 years living my life motivated purely out of fear. Fear of never being truly “accepted.” Fear of spending the rest of my life alone.

So, in a sense, I know all too well what Mitchell Wilson was going through. I look at his picture at the top of this post and I just want to reach in and tousle his hair to make him laugh, give him one more moment to feel like the wonderful, handsome boy he was, before all that was taken away from him by the selfish act of another child. Now that I am striving to become a person who no longer dwells on the past, it wrenches me to be writing about Mitchell in that very same tense. He should be here. People say that the bully didn’t take Mitchell’s life. While that may be technically true, since the bully didn’t physically enter Mitchell’s bedroom armed with that plastic bag, that bully should still be made to bear some responsibility for Mitchell’s death. As should the bully’s parents, since they created that monster, be it through indifference or sheer negligence.

I took this picture on Friday with my smartphone, after going out for a bite to eat with my sister and brother-in-law and the baby (a friend’s) they are caring for; and during the entire drive home I kept trying to piece together in my mind the various excuses for sorry-ass behaviour that have apparently created a world where the bar has been set (too) low for the accountabilities of parents and children.

Mitchell Wilson deserved far, far better than society’s lowered expectations. If it takes a village to raise a child, then every single one of us must learn to do better by our children, period. As a starting point, our current notions of what is acceptable, or who is expendable, must absolutely change.