These (Not Very) Happy Golden Years

I went stateside on Saturday. Purpose of the trip? the Customs guard asked my father, who was driving. Shopping, the weary man replied, gesturing at my mother in the front passenger seat.

These trips don’t happen often, but when they do, they’re generally bittersweet.

We live an hour away from a border crossing. The agents there are pretty chill, despite the job they’re tasked to do. One was wearing his sassy pants the day my daughter and I were on a road trip by ourselves. Purpose of the trip? he asked. Shopping in St. Lawrence County, I said. Why? he replied, and I am still stumped for the right words to describe the expression on his face, a combination of not-quite disdain, leaning more towards amusement.

My earliest childhood memories begin in 1976. I was four-going-on-five, and Little Egg Harbor Township Elementary’s Lisa Simpson, had there been an animated Simpsons family to watch on television back then. We stayed with my grandparents in their home for the school year, and then we moved back to Canada, to our unsold home in east-end Ottawa.

Most summers, Christmases, Easters, and March Breaks were spent in South Jersey. We also spoke to our grandparents on the telephone for at least an hour once a week in those pre-Internet, pre-smartphone times, and as a result we never lost touch with what, for me, was home.

A drive south on Route 37 in Northern New York is a sociologist’s report come to fruition. Prosperity and poverty co-exist, on awkward display, at literally every other house or piece of unworked land. And in my heart I know it’s no different anywhere else we might go on the East Coast. (I’ve never been west of Pennsylvania, so I can’t speak to what’s happening out there personally.)

These are the times that try men’s souls, quoth the Founding Father Thomas Paine. We’re a long way removed from the days of publishing pamphlets to get our messages across, but if this blog o’ mine is going to have any purpose, I will have my say on politics and policy on both sides of the border.

It has always astounded me that people who live in such abject poverty saw in 45 (I refuse to address him by his name) their saviour. It may well be, to paraphrase a post on my Twitter feed this morning, that when they listen to him, they hear their own beliefs and biases writ large; but a year and a quarter in with his administration, and from a socio-economic point of view, I’m pretty sure tax cuts for the rich weren’t what the majority of the electorate was after.

Now, more than ever, job losses are a typed announcement taped to the doors and windows of failed businesses. My parents and I spoke at some length with our waitress at a soon-to-be shuttered Friendly’s ice cream shop in DeWitt, NY as we ate our lunch and paced ourselves through dessert sundaes for which lesser trips were taken. She already has two other jobs, but she needs all three to support herself and her family. We’re usually 20% tippers, but she got that and a couple dollars just before we left.

I’m seeing a shift from capitalism to corporatism, and I don’t like it. Am I guilty of encouraging this shift, some might say, by shopping online? Yes, but I don’t do it all the time. We as a Western society are stuck in a chasm born of so-called opportunity, convenience, and ease of use, and I’m at a loss as to how we get out of it.

This is what I do know. John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas was onto something when he composed the lyric “all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey.” He was singing about the bleakness of winter, but a month into spring in 2018, in a country I dream sometimes about moving back to, it is a vastness that only an open eye can see.


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.

This is Forty-Six, Checkpoint One

keep calmand get a M.PPAIt’s Friday the thirteenth and touch wood, nothing sinister has come to bear on me and mine. My sole complaint, really, is that my half and half lunch – half basmati rice and half garlic potatoes, with a touch of garlic mayo spooned in – from the shawarma place across the street was just too small. Which means it was that good.

I did a thing the other day. It is scary and exciting and will lead to Bigger and Better Things. How about a realistic retirement plan? Or waxing my little grey cells, as to ward off early dementia? And enhanced credibility as a role model, as a grandmother in her work-force prime?

I applied for graduate school.

I chose a Master’s program in Policy and Public Administration. Part-time studies, beginning in September. Twenty-plus years as an office assistant have brought me to this place. Heaven help me, I want to spend the next twenty years of my public sector career writing and updating policy related to human resources and the workplace. The Phoenix pay system might be enough to keep me hyper-venting to retirement and beyond, but we shall see.

Welcome to forty-six, Dear Self. Our mantra? Burn, baby, burn.


In Ontario, Sex Ed Is A Hot Button Campaign Issue, But Here’s Why It’s So Much More Than That And Should Be Left Alone

It is a truth often painful for parents to acknowledge: our children, lawt help us, will one day reach an age of their choosing and become sexual beings.

The sex-ed curriculum implemented by the Ontario Liberals in 2015 may not be perfect, but for many kids it’s better than not hearing about the mechanics and implications from their parents. Not every parent is like me, who stood up at the kitchen table armed with condoms and bananas, eliciting embarrassed laughter from my older kids.

The if we don’t tell them and hopefully they remain ignorant approach is foolhardy and presupposes a level of immaturity that sells kids short. They will figure it out, purity rings and waltzes with their fathers be damned.

If you want to protect your children from the dangers of sex, here are some suggestions:

1) Teach your sons and daughters not to commit sexual assault. That no means no, regardless of when their partner says it.

2) Teach your sons and daughters that they have the right to say no to any act that makes them uneasy or uncomfortable.

3) Teach that sexual abuse from anyone, priest, parent, relative, or other predator; is wrong. Make sure your children know they can come to you when something happens, without further physical or emotional abuse from you.

4) If you can’t be that person in your child’s life, then someone else will. And it’s going to happen either in the classroom, or on the school yard. As the adult you need to choose wisely and out of fairness for your child that honours his or her autonomy and personhood at every age.

5) And while by no means an afterthought, if your older children don’t know the names Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd, to mention just two, then they probably should.

Ultimately, however, this post is my plea and call to arms, that little is done to tamper with the current programming in Ontario’s elementary and secondary schools, by whoever forms the next provincial government.