Tag Archives: family

Dear Everyone: Here’s Why I Don’t Want To Read Your Crappy Opinions On What Mothers Should Do

25 Mar

Earlier today, Lydia Lovric, a Montreal-based “columnist, talk-radio host, stay-at-home mom,” wrote a scornful response to piece from 2013 about why Sasha Emmons chooses to work outside of the home. Don’t ask me why Lovric is responding to a two year old article, because I’m as baffled as you are. I’m sure she has her reasons, such as maybe she some type of wizard who exists outside of the linear bounds of time and space; this would explain why she is writing about the evils of mothers who work outside the home in 2015.

You guys, it’s 2015. It has been two thousand and fifteen years since the alleged birth of Christ and we are still having this goddamn argument about whether or not a mother is morally obligated to stay home with her kids, should finances permit. And as much as it’s tempting to write off Lovric as a Throw-Back Thursday with outdated opinions, the truth is that the question of mothers working outside the home is still burning up parenting blogs, websites and message boards. As far as parenting wank goes, the debate about whether or not mothers should stay home is right up there with breastfeeding, circumcision and cloth diapering. Lovric is certainly not alone in her belief that women who choose to work are selfish.

There is nothing more disheartening to me than watching women tear each other down, especially within the context of parenting. It’s sad and it’s gross and it’s the purest example of internalized misogyny that there is. There’s no benefit to these discussions; they’re just endless cycles of women shitting on other women’s happiness and security under the guise of concern for The Children. What’s even more enraging is how gendered these arguments are – even when they say that it’s best for “a parent” to stay home with their kids, what they really mean is mother.

I’m not going to get into the layers and layers of privilege that have allowed Lovric to write this article. I’m not going to address her claim that “you need not be rich in order to live off one income.” I’m only going to mention in passing how fucking shitty it is to refer to a mother as “absent” because she works outside the home – I’ll just say that I know my fair share of absent parents, and I promise you they are not out there working to pay the bills and feed their kids. I’m not even going to discuss the fact that plenty of single mothers raise their kid on one income and, by necessity rather than choice, work outside of the home. Instead, I’m going to talk about how gross and oppressive our persistent cultural biases about motherhood are.`

No one ever says that fathers are selfish for working outside the home.

No one is writing think pieces about how “absent fathers” letting strangers raise their kids just so that they can pursue an enjoyable and fulfilling career.

No dads are out there penning thoughtful letters to their children about why they chose to work. If they were, they’d probably read something like this:

Dear Daughter,

I chose to work after you were born because it literally never occurred to me to do otherwise. I certainly did not consider disrupting everything I have known and loved about my life outside of the home because I decided to have kids. I do not feel guilt or shame for my decision, because why would I?

Much love,

Dad

As a culture, we have a weird obsession with women being “selfish.” Mothers especially are prone to accusations of selfishness any time they make a choice that doesn’t directly and obviously benefit their children. Even when mothers are encouraged to practice self-care, it’s often approached with the idea that feeling happy and rested will make them better partners and parents. And while that may be true, why can’t a woman ever just be happy for her own damn self? Dudes don’t need to come up with excuses for why they should be able to do things they enjoy, and women shouldn’t either.

And by the way, here’s a list of the reasons Emmons gave for going back to work that Lovric found “selfish”:

“I work because I love it.”

“I work because scratching the itch to create makes me happy, and that happiness bleeds over into every other area, including how patient and engaged and creative a mother I am.”

“I work because this nice house and those gymnastics lessons and those sneakers you need to have are all made possible by two incomes.”

“I work because I want you and your brother to be proud of me.”

So: just to clarify, Emmons is selfish because she enjoys her job, a dual income helps pay for the lifestyle her family enjoys, and she hopes that the work she does will make her children proud of her.

In what world is it selfish to love your job? What is it about women specifically that makes them terrible people if they aren’t prioritizing their children 24/7? I mean, yes of course parenting involves some amount of sacrifice, but the idea that you should only live for your children is a pretty dangerous road to go down and, again, not one that any dudes are being told they have to travel.

Lovric’s counter to all of Emmons’ selfish reasons for working includes the following:

“I stay home because although writing and radio did make me extremely happy, I knew that you seemed happier when I was around. And your happiness was more important to me than my own. And making you happy also made me happy.”

“I stay home because I want you to learn that family and love are more important than material possessions. A large home or fancy sneakers will not make up for an absent mother.”

“I stay home because I want you and your brothers to be proud of me because I gave up something I truly loved in order to put you first.”

In short: a healthy relationship dynamic between a parent and child does not involve the parent supporting their child financially by working outside the home, but does include expecting your children to appreciate the fact that you made the ultimate life sacrifice for them.

I am just so exasperated by the continuing circle of shaming mothers for whatever choices they make. It seems like no matter what, the conclusion is always “MOMS: STILL PRETTY MUCH THE WORST?” It’s the 21st century and at the very least we can all agree that we want to raise kids who are proud of us, so let’s work on building each other up us parents and caregivers and mentors instead of fighting to push each other off the Pedestal of Motherhood. We’ll all be better for it.

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On Ferguson – The System Isn’t Broken, It Was Built This Way

25 Nov

I have an uncle who was a cop.

His kids, my cousins, were around my age and when we visited our family in Québec every summer I practically lived at their house. As soon as we got to my grandmother’s house, all rumpled and grumpy from our eight hour drive, I would start dialling my cousins’ number on her beige rotary phone. I spent the whole damn school year waiting for summer, and my time with my cousins, to come; we wrote each other letters all through the dreary winter, hatching plans for new summer exploits. Life with my cousins – swimming in their pool, family barbecues, playing hide-and-seek in my grandmother’s mammoth hedge at twilight – was lightyears better than my boring life in Ontario.

Pretty much every summer my uncle would, at some point, take us to visit the police station. He would pretend that we were criminals and take our fingerprints, maybe a pretend mugshot. He would let us explore the holding cells they had at the station; I remember being utterly fascinated by them – bare blank rooms in miniature, each with its own personal toilet and sink. One time I lingered so long that he threatened to lock me in if I didn’t come out soon. I said that was fine, and asked what the prisoners were going to have for dinner. I wasn’t afraid. I had no reason to be afraid.

Like most white people, I grew up with the idea that the cops are on my side. Over and over again, I was told that the police were here to protect me. As a little kid, I was told that if I was ever lost or in danger, the first person I should try to find was a police officer. I was taught that this is the system; I was taught that the system was here to take care of me.

What I was never taught was that the system takes care of white people like me first, and everyone else second. If at all.

I’ve been trying to figure out over the past few months how white people can be so blindly outraged over the events that have unfolded in Ferguson. It’s honestly baffling that they can argue that it’s fine for a police officer to fire six shots at an unarmed man because he maybe stole some cigars and also wasn’t walking on the sidewalk. I’m in awe at the vast mental gymnastics required to believe that there’s nothing wrong with a cop shooting an unarmed man six times in “self-defence.” The same goes for white reactions to the cases of Trayvon Martin, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, and countless other young Black men who have been murdered for no reason. I’ve lived a privileged enough life that the white responses to these crimes still shock me; I know that for Black folks, these responses are just par for the course. I can’t even wrap my head around what it would feel like for this spew of racist hate to just be part of another average day – and that’s my privilege showing right there.

White people have been taught for their entire lives to believe in the system. The system is civilization; the system is democracy, the courts of law, the way the state cares for and supports us. We’ve been told over and over that the system is what allows us to live safely, free from fear. But every time something like Ferguson happens, we white folks see glimpses of how completely fucked the system is. And those glimpses terrify the shit out of us, because they shake the foundation of every bit of patriotic jingoism that’s been crammed down our throats since day one.

A popular belief among progressive white people is that the system is broken, but it’s absolutely not. It was built this way; it was built to prioritize the safety and security of white people over everyone else. The way the system works is by oppressing Black people and other people of colour. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said at a recent talk that I attended, “the machine is running as intended.” The very foundations of the American economy are based on the enslavement of Black people. Throughout American (and Canadian) history, there are so many examples of state-sponsored marginalization and oppression of people of colour. These examples continue today – just look at the overrepresentation of Black men in prisons. This is the fucking system – this is how it is meant to run. We don’t need to “fix” the system, because it’s operating exactly the way it should be. What we need is to completely overthrow it and start again from scratch.

I have friends who have Black sons, and today, as they struggle through grief and pain and fear, they are trying to figure out how to make sure that their son isn’t the next Mike Brown or Trayon Martin. They want to know what they have to tell their kids in order to keep them safe. I wish I had some kind of answer for them, but of course I don’t – both because I’m white and this is so far outside of my realm of personal experience that I am absolutely not in a place to give advice, and also because there are no answers. The only way to ensure these boys’ safety would be for them to be white – and that’s both an impossible and terrible response. There is nothing about this situation that doesn’t feel impossible and terrible – and, again, that’s me as a white person saying that, and I can’t even imagine the depth of horror Black communities are experiencing right now.

We – and by “we”, I mean white people who want to be allies – need to take action. We need to de-centre ourselves, and start promoting Black voices. We need to, in the parlance of social justice circles, take a fucking seat. We need to take a whole goddamn chair factory’s worth of seats. We need to listen, and then we need to turn around and share what we’ve learned with other white people. We need to let Black people lead, and we need to learn to be good followers. We created this broken  system, and now we need to humbly help build a better, fairer system.

Because maybe even right now my friend is sitting her three year old son down and telling him that he can’t always trust the police. Meanwhile, some white kid with a cop for an uncle is being taught that a police station is a neat place to visit and a fun place to play. The only difference between those two kids is the colour of their skin. And that is both incredibly fucked up and also exactly how this machine was designed to run.

Below are some excellent pieces by Black writers. If you are white, please take some time to go through it and educate yourself. That is our job right now. If you have any other articles (or blog posts, or videos, or whatever) by Black writers or activists, please share the links in the comments and I will include them in this list.

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates

About Ferguson, White Allies and Speaking Up When It Matters by Awesomely Luvvie 

America’s Not Here For Us by A’Driane Nieves

A Letter to My Unborn Black Son by George Johnson

Youth Are on the Frontlines in Ferguson, and They Refuse to Back Down by Muna Mire

If There Are Good Cops Out There, Prove It by Albert L. Butler

APTOPIX Police Shooting Missouri

Safety Tips for Sophia Katz

2 Oct

Trigger warning for rape

When my grandmother was eighteen and freshly out of high school, she got a job doing clerical work at Pier 21 in Halifax. Pier 21 was the landing spot and first point of contact for those immigrating to Canada across the Atlantic ocean, and my grandmother helped process paperwork. She loved her job. She especially loved learning people’s stories, poring over their forms and finding out where they came from, what their children’s names were, and what possessions they’d chosen to bring with them all the way to this strange new country. You can tell a lot about a person and their priorities, apparently, based on what stuff they believe is worth hauling across the cold, grey Atlantic.

My grandmother was only able to work at Pier 21 for a few months, though, because it was just too exhausting for her father. Why? Well, because her shift ended late (around ten or eleven at night), and the docks were considered to be a very dangerous area for women. This tunnel especially, which connects the south end of Barrington street to the waterfront, was a place that women were told to avoid at all costs:

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So my great-grandfather would go meet her every night after work and escort her home. Because that was the only way that her parents would allow her to keep the job – if she had her father with her every night to make sure that she got home safely. But eventually, this was too much for my great-grandfather – who had to get up every morning at five for his job as a stevedore down on the docks – and my grandmother had to quit. It didn’t matter how much my grandmother enjoyed the work. It didn’t matter that she promised to come straight home, to stay on the main streets, to carry a knife. Without a man to keep her safe, the trip home from work was just too risky for my grandmother.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this story lately, ever since Sophia Katz published this essay on Medium about the rape and sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of a well-known member of New York’s alt-lit community. Although Katz doesn’t give her rapist’s real name – instead, she calls him “Stan” – several other people have come forward and said that Katz is writing about the Stephen Tully Dierks, the 29 year old editor of Pop Serial.

In her essay, 19 year old Katz recounts her trip to New York earlier this year, where she hoped to make business connections with other writers and editors. Unsure of where she would be staying, she was initially grateful when Dierks, who she’d met online, offered to let her sleep on his floor. Except that it turned out that he didn’t mean his floor. And he didn’t exactly mean “sleep” either.

Dierks manipulated Katz into his bed, and then coerced her into sleeping with him. Although Katz repeatedly told Dierks that she didn’t want to sleep with him, he continued to pressure her until she did. I really don’t know what else you would call what happened to her other than rape. Here is Katz’s own description of the first time they slept together:

“Wait, Stan we can’t. Everyone just got home; they will definitely hear,” I said, hoping this was a way out.

“No they won’t. It’s fine. Let’s keep going.”

“No, I think they will. I really don’t want to if your roommates are home. We really shouldn’t.”

“No, it’s fine. We should. We should. Let’s keep going.”

“Stan [Dierks], please can we just do this later. Your walls are really thin.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes and tried to dissolve them. I didn’t want to do it later. I didn’t want to do it ever. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to leave, but I was trapped with him in his tiny, dimly lit room.

“No, we should keep going. Let’s keep going.”

He got on top of me. I began to relinquish control.

“Wait, aren’t you going to use a condom?” I asked.

“Oh, come on. Please don’t make me do that.”

“Stan I really, really think you should use a condom, please use a condom.”

“I’m clean. Are you?” he questioned.

“Yes but it doesn’t matter. Please. Come on.”

“Its fine Sophie, come on, we don’t need one. I hate condoms.”

I realized there was no way for me to win. I lay back and closed my eyes.

Katz continued to stay with Dierks while she was in New York. He continued to rape her.

Since Katz’s essay was published, I’ve seen a lot of people of supporting her, but I’ve also seen some incredibly vicious victim-blaming. People who ask why Katz didn’t fight back. Why she didn’t scream. Why she didn’t find a place to stay (while under the intense watch of a powerful, well-known, incredibly manipulative man in a city where, by the way, she knew almost no one). Why she agreed to stay with him in the first place, even though it was clear that he wanted to sleep with her. Why she stayed silent for months. Why she wrote about it at all.

People keep asking about Katz’s “common sense,” as in “why doesn’t she have any?” Because she should have known that if a man offers a woman a free place to stay, the unspoken contingency is that he expects her to sleep with him. If a woman politely tells a man that she’s not interested in having sex with them, she should automatically assume that he will rape her. If a woman does not want to be raped, she should not accept free drugs and alcohol from a man. If a woman is raped by a well-connected, much-respected writer, any negative repercussions that she might fear should never stop her from immediately fleeing his apartment.

People keep asking why Katz didn’t take responsibility for her own safety, as if rape had to be the natural and inevitable consequence of all of her choices. Because if a woman is raped by man, there is always a whole catalogue of things that she could or should have done to stop it. Always.

It seems almost certain that if Katz had decided not to take Dierks up on his offer of a free place to stay, then he wouldn’t have been able to assault her in the way that he did. What seems equally certain to me is that Katz (and all women) should not be expected to believe that any and all roads you walk down with a man you don’t know very well must lead to rape. You can say that different choices would lead to a different outcome in just about any given scenario in life – that doesn’t mean that you know ahead of time where the choices you’re making will take you. It is not Sophia Katz’s fault that she was raped. Not even a little bit. Not even maybe. Dierks chose to rape Katz, and all of the fault for that rape rests with him, now and forever.

When I think about Sophia Katz and my grandmother and, well, pretty much all women everywhere, I am just so unbelievably angry at how many sacrifices and concessions we’re told to make in order to stay safe. Don’t dress a certain way. Quit the job you love. Be careful about how and when and where you travel. Don’t walk down certain streets. Don’t go out alone at night. Don’t drink. Limit your presence on social media. Don’t be outspoken. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t send nude photos to anyone; in fact, don’t even take any nude photos. Don’t trust men, ever, in any way. And if you don’t follow these rules, anything bad that happens to you is your own fault.

I’m sad that my grandmother didn’t get to stay at the workplace she loved, and I’m even more sad that there are people who think that Sophia Katz is at fault for the fact that Stephen Tully Dierks raped her. It’s 2014, and we’re still blaming female rape victims for daring to travel, to drink, to wear short skirts, to trust men. With everything that we know about rape culture and how it works, why are we still singing the same damn tune?

On This Day In History

7 Aug

It’s my birthday, y’all. I’m 32 today.

I had a personal essay go up on Jezebel today (trigger warning for talk of suicide)

I also had a serious scholarly article about Anne Boleyn go up on The Toast.

It’s been a big day.

We drove for three hours to see my grandmother in St-Bruno, then drove three hours back to Kingston, where we’re staying with my mom for the week. I only got to chill with my Nana for about two hours, but it was one hundred percent worth it because I get to see her once or twice a year tops. My Nana is a really rad lady, in case you were wondering.

She hates having her picture taken, but here’s an awesome picture of my grandfather I found while I was there:

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Also this is how big the fucking hedge is in my grandmother’s backyard (Theo pictured for scale), so whenever I’m there I feel like I’m chilling in a fairytale forest, which is obviously something I’m into.

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I love that stupid hedge an unreasonable amount. I used to play hide and seek in there with my cousins when I was a kid. Also we turned part of it into a fort where we did secret things. And by secret things I mean played house.

We made it back to Kingston by early evening, and I paid my yearly tribute to Hiroshima. They hold a Peace Lantern ceremony here in one of the parks downtown, and the ritual of making lanterns, folding cranes and singing Pete Seeger songs has become an important part of my birthday. It’s kind of weird to feel so tied to this horrible event that happened decades before I was born, but I’m also weirdly thankful for the moments of sad remembrance on what is otherwise a happy day. The bombing of Hiroshima feels like a part of who I am, in a way that I can’t really properly articulate.

Anyway.

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Making lanterns with Theo

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The boy beside us, Yuto, made the lantern below. As you can see, there’s Pikachu and also an illustration of the bombing of Hiroshima. He was adorable and a great artist. I think that placing these two scenes side by side really makes a statement.

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Making paper cranes:

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My crane:

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The lantern procession:

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Getting ready to float them out on the water:

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Perfect.

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This birthday was one of the good ones.

On Parenting and Pride and All That Other Good Stuff

30 Jun

When I was eighteen I was pretty sure that my mother was gay.

Not that she’d ever expressed an attraction to women. Actually, she’d never really expressed an attraction to anyone (aside from George Clooney, otherwise known as Thursday Night Dreamboat Doctor Ross, although I was more of a Noah Wyle girl myself), and the idea of my mother as a sexual being seemed completely foreign to me. At that point she’d been divorced for five years, and as far as I was concerned she didn’t have sex. Or want to have sex. Ever. End of story.

But still, I was pretty sure she was gay.

See, I found this book. I was in her room, doing my best impression of an intrepid girl detective and rummaging through her stuff. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but you never knew what you might find – a nice set of fake pearls, the poncho my grandfather had brought back from Peru when she was a kid, a beat up old copy of Peyton Place. So if I happened to find myself home alone, I would often find myself carefully removing everything from on top of her big wooden chest (mentally cataloguing where everything had been so that I could replace it in exactly the same spot and she would never suspect) and then rifling through its contents. STEALTH.

On this one particular day, as I was moving her small television and our ancient Nintendo system off the chest, I noticed a book that I’d never seen before. It was called Home Truths: Lesbian Mothers Come Out To Their Daughters. Inside the front cover was a hand-written note – “Dear [my mother’s name], don’t forget – always tell the truth. Love, Gloria.”

Truth, by the way, was underlined twice.

I mean.

Come on.

What else was I supposed to take from this other than the fact that my mother had a lesbian lover named Gloria?

Like, seriously.

And I mean of course she was gay; the signs had been there all along. She hadn’t dated anyone since my father had left. She had short hair. She wore sensible shoes. How could I possibly have missed it? The fact that she’d had three kids with a man didn’t mean anything – my friend C____’s mother had come out shortly after divorcing C____’s father and was now dating a woman. They drove to Toronto every year for pride and had matching rainbow lawn chairs. Oh god, were my mother and Gloria going to get matching rainbow lawn chairs and matching Birkenstocks and whatever other matchy-matchy things lesbians have?

And then suddenly I felt really bad, because I realized that she was probably pretty worried about how my sisters and I would react to all of this. I mean, why else would she buy a how-to book? Maybe she was staying up all night thinking about whether or not we’d be cool with her being gay. Maybe she was wondering if her family would disown her. I felt guilty that I came off as someone who might have been judgmental of her sexuality, and I decided that I had to say something.  I figured I would employ my stealth skills and start a super subtle conversation that would lead her to admit that she was in love with a woman, all without me having to admit that I’d been going through her stuff.

I had my chance that evening, as she was driving me to work. Please feel free to picture me in my vile Tim Horton’s uniform, with the maroon polyester pants and the maroon and white striped shirt.

Me: Mom? I just want you to know that I love you no matter what.

My mother: Thanks, Annie.

Me: Like, no matter what. No matter who you are or whatever.

My mother: Great. Thanks.

Me: Like, I don’t care who you love.

My mother: I appreciate that.

Me: I’ll always love you.

My mother (suspicious): What’s all this about?

Me: I just mean that if you’re gay that’s totally fine and I don’t care.

My mother: Why on earth would you think I was gay?

Me: Ok, I was in your room and I wasn’t snooping, I swear to god I wasn’t snooping I was just putting something in the hamper, and I accidentally saw this book next to the tv.

My mother: … what book?

Me: It was about lesbian mothers coming out to their daughters. And your girlfriend wrote you a note in it telling you to always tell the truth. And I don’t care, because I love you even if that is the truth.

My mother: (Dies laughing)

Me: (Sulks, because I hate being laughed at)

My mother: (Dies laughing some more. Like she is crying. Tears running down her face. She has to pull over because she can’t see well enough to drive)

Me: (SUPER SULKY)

My mother: Annie, that is a book my friend Gloria put together. She gave me a free copy and signed it. That’s all.

Me: Because I don’t care if you’re gay! You can just tell me, ok?

My mother: I’m not gay. It was my friend’s book, I swear that’s all. But I appreciate you saying all of this.

Now, looking back ten-plus years later, I’m the one who’s appreciative. I feel lucky that I grew up in a country that is fairly tolerant (although oh god there is still so much room for improvement). I also feel lucky that my parents were pretty laid back and liberal about everything, and worked hard to make sure that there was at least some amount of diversity in my life. When my father moved to Toronto, he rented a place on the edge of the gay village, and I loved visiting him and going off exploring on my own – there was such a weird frisson of excitement walking around in the middle of this culture that was pretty foreign to the rest of my life. I wanted to be like the girls that I saw there, with their half-shaved heads and facial piercings and boy’s clothes. Girls who held hands and kissed in public. I didn’t know any girls like that in Kitchener.

My father took me to my first Toronto Pride Parade when I was fifteen, and I remember being absolutely enchanted by a float of men wearing nothing but tighty whities and sailor hats. They were throwing bottles of water into the crowd. I was really excited when I caught one. I brought it back home with me like it was some kind of prize.

I think a lot about how Theo will view his sexuality as he gets older. I flip-flop from worrying about whether he might be teased or bullied if he deviates from traditional masculine ideas, to panicking over the fact that he might, against my best efforts, buy into those ideas and become a bully himself. The dice seem so loaded any way you roll them – like, I want him to be who he is, and I want him to be brave and stand up for marginalized and oppressed people, but I also want him to always be safe and happy. And I don’t know if I can have it both ways. Not that it’s really up to me – he’ll have to make his own discoveries and choices about himself, and while I can try to pass on my value system to him, I ultimately don’t have any say in who or what he is.

I just want him to know that, as I told my mother, I will love him no matter what his sexuality, no matter what his gender, no matter what, end of sentence, full stop.

I just hope that he always knows that I love him and I’m proud of him.

This. Kid. He just kills me.

This. Kid. He just kills me.

How Do You Mourn The Living?

14 Jun

Tomorrow is Father’s Day.

If you’re a fairly regular reader here, you may have noticed that I don’t often mention my dad, and when I do it’s always in the past tense. He’ll sometimes come up when I write about my childhood, but other than that I almost never talk about him. He’s not dead or anything – in fact, he lives in the same city that I do. He’s just not a part of my life.

A few years ago my father became estranged from my sisters and I. There’s a lot of backstory there, but I’m not going to get into the whole thing here. For one thing, it’s not entirely my story to tell. For another, I don’t want to write anything here that might hurt anyone. So I’ll just say that there was a long, protracted leave-taking that involved a lot of tearful discussions, tentative reconciliations, and a slow, steady breaking of my heart, with the outcome of all that being that he is no longer a presence in my life.

I love my father immensely. We were close when I was a kid, and I have about a billion memories of us being hilarious and fun together. When I was a teenager, he was the cool parent and would buy me beer and drugs when I came to visit him. He taught me about existentialism, and encouraged me to read Camus’ The Outsider (his favourite book) for my big, final high school English paper. We shared a love of music, and from him I learned the deep physical pleasure – the sort of secular reverence – one experiences while placing a record on a turntable and dropping the needle into the groove. He was a great storyteller, and listening to him geek out about our family history was one of my favourite ways to spend an evening. He read to me every night when I was a kid, even once I was old enough to read on my own, and would get grumpy if my mother had to read a chapter to me while he was working late because he always became just as involved in all my favourite books as I did. He would play make-believe games with me for hours on end, something my mother, bless her, didn’t have the patience or imagination for. He was the first person to talk to me like I was a living, breathing person with thoughts and feelings of my own. We shared the same dark sense of humour; maybe we still do.

He loved me. I know he did. I’m sure that if you asked him he would tell you that he loves me still. So how do I reconcile that with the fact that he’s hurt me, badly, and has hurt many other people that he cares about? It seems impossible.

You always read about little kids who blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. I was thirteen when my dad left, and was sure that I was old enough to know that sometimes grownups just fall out of love and that’s how life is. I knew that it had nothing to do with me, or my sisters. People change, and my parents had changed in ways that made them incompatible with each other. Case closed. Time to move on.

But lately I’ve been wondering if that’s really what I believe; I wonder if I’ve ever felt entirely blameless. Because, honestly, couldn’t we have done something more? Couldn’t we have charmed him into staying somehow? If only we had figured out the perfect way to be, the way that always made him happy, then he wouldn’t have left, would he? But we could never quite suss out the secret of making my father happy. Or maybe we just didn’t try hard enough, because we didn’t know exactly what was at stake. We never imagined that he’d leave.

And then, years later, he somehow managed to leave again. And I’m left sitting here trying to pick up the pieces, trying to figure out how to live my life without him. And it’s hard.

I told my therapist that it would, in some ways, be easier if he was dead. Not that I wish that he would die or anything, just that I would know the right procedure to go through. I would wear black. I would mourn. I would recall only the happy times. I would keep a picture of him on the wall, and my eyes would well up with tears whenever I saw it. I would love him, perfectly and unconditionally, the way you’re supposed to love a parent. I would know that he’d loved me.

But how do you mourn someone who’s still alive? How do you grieve the fact that they’ve left you, when at any moment they could walk back into your life? How is it possible to feel so angry and so hurt and yet also so hopeful that things might get better? It seems totally self-contradictory. And yet, here we are.

On a more basic level, I struggle to know how to talk about him to people who don’t know what’s happened. When they ask questions about him, am I supposed to answer as if we’re still close? Or do I straight-up tell them that we’re estranged? I don’t want to lie, but I also don’t want to make anyone else feel uncomfortable. Because it is uncomfortable for other people, isn’t it? Whenever I tell someone that my father and I don’t actually talk, I always feel like I immediately have to reassure them. I’ll smile big and say brightly, “It’s fine, though! We’ll figure it out!”

But the truth is that I don’t know how we could ever figure it all out. Not at this point. We might reconcile someday, but our relationship will never be what it was. How do you grieve a relationship that can’t ever be properly resuscitated?

My father has met my son twice. The first time was on a rainy day when Theo was about four months old, we ran into my father on the street corner. He peered through the stroller’s rain shield at my fat, sleeping baby and said that he was cute. He shook his head and said that he couldn’t believe he was a grandfather. He promised to call me. He didn’t.

The second time was when Theo was two. My sister and I had agreed to have coffee with our father, and then out of the blue I asked if he wanted to meet Theo. We all went to the museum together. Theo and my father had a great old time together, drumming out rhythms in the second floor gallery, choosing favourite fish in the aquarium. Afterwards, we promised to keep in touch, to try to set up another meeting. It never happened.

These days Theo is very interested in familial relationships. He’ll sometimes refer to me as “your wife” when speaking to Matt, and he’ll call his grandmother “Anne’s mother” instead of Gran. So the following conversation was bound to happen sooner rather than later.

Theo: Who’s your dad?

Me: His name is F____.

Theo: Where is he?

Me: Well, he lives here in Toronto, but we don’t get to see him very often for a variety of reasons. But I know that he loves you very much!

Theo: … Is he not a nice guy?

Me: He’s a nice guy. We – well, we just don’t get to see him very much. But he does love you.

Because I’m sure that, in some way, he does.

At the end of the day, I’m left wondering which father is my real father – the one who sat on the floor and played dolls with me for hours and hours, or the one who didn’t just flat out didn’t respond to the email announcing my pregnancy? The answer is both, I guess, but that truth is a lot to wrap my head around.

I miss my dad.

Anne youth photo0014

 

 

Breastfeeding Revisited: Now You Are Three

10 Jun

When my son was a few weeks old, we did he requisite Extended Family Tour. We drove to Montreal to see my grandmother and assorted aunts and uncles, and then we went to Kingston to chill out at my mom’s and see even more aunts and uncles. During these visits I felt like a queen receiving supplicants – I would sit enthroned in a big, comfortable chair, my breastfeeding pillow on my lap and my son nestled against my chest. Breastfeeding back then was a bit of an ordeal – we were still using the nipple shield, which meant that in order to get Theo to nurse I had to expose my breast, fiddle around with the little silicone shield, get it firmly in place and make sure that it was airtight, and then try to get Theo latched (not always an entirely successful endeavour).

This trip marked the first time that I’d ever breastfed in public. I hadn’t planned on it, but halfway to Montreal the baby was doing that whole enraged purple-faced screaming, and it didn’t seem like the soothing bumpiness of the drive was going to lull him back to sleep anytime soon. So we stopped at a rest station, and I proceeded to the furthest, dimmest corner table to set up my boobtacular operation.

I couldn’t do it, though. I couldn’t pull out my breast, engorged and leaking milk everywhere. I couldn’t expose my nipple, red and inflamed and a little cracked. I just couldn’t.

Meanwhile, my son screamed beside me, guaranteeing that everyone in the place was now staring at us.

My mother came up behind me and said, “Just do it, Annie. Just do it. No one is looking. Just do it.”

And, clumsily, fumbling with that goddamn nipple shield, I did.

I scrunched down in my seat, waiting for one of those rent-a-cops to come over and tell me that someone had complained, that I needed to cover up, that I needed to go somewhere else. But nothing like that happened. Instead, my son finished, I packed my gear up, and we hit the road.

I had to nurse him again at my grandmother’s house (god, what is with these babies, always wanting to eat? it’s almost like they’re growing or something), and whenever I did, all my uncles would studiously look away.

“I think breastfeeding is wonderful,” said one of my aunts, “but some women seem to do it for themselves. I saw a woman on the metro the other day just sitting there with her kid hanging off her. She couldn’t have waited until she got home? When it’s public like that I think it’s more about the mother than the baby.”

The next day, when we were back in Kingston, my uncle and his three kids came over to meet Theo. They were fascinated by breastfeeding, and would crowd around me whenever I did it, shoving their heads as close as possible to my chest to get the best possible view of the action.

The youngest cousin was three, and she seemed enormous compared to Theo. Afterwards, I said to Matt, “I’m not breastfeeding him when he’s three.”

Matt, whose mother had been a La Leche League leader and who had been breastfed until he was nearly four, said, “You don’t have to.”

“Did you see how big that three year old was? I can’t breastfeed someone that big. I just can’t.”

“Yeah,” he said in agreement. “She was pretty big. I can see why that would seem weird. You don’t have to breastfeed Theo when he’s three – just do it as long as you feel comfortable with it.”

“I’m only going to do it for a year. That’s what all the books say. A year. At twelve months they can have cow’s milk.”

Because, see, I wasn’t going to be one of those breastfeeding mothers. Oh sure, I thought breastfeeding was great, and I was proud of how hard I’d fought to be able to do it, but I wasn’t going to be some kind of breastfeeding weirdo. No way.

And yet.

Here we are.

My son turned three in January, and still nurses once or twice a day – usually first thing in the morning, and right before bedtime. I’m not even producing milk anymore, but I don’t think that matters to him. It’s a comfort thing for him, and at a time when he’s going through so many changes, it’s hard to take it away from him. On top of all that, it doesn’t feel weird like I thought it would. It just feels normal – it’s  thing we’ve been doing every day for nearly three and a half years, after all. I guess I thought that there would be some magic cut-off date, at which point I would be like, “oh, ew, this is too gross to continue,” but that never happened.

I don’t feel weird when I’m breastfeeding Theo, but I do feel weird when I think about how society views me. All I have to do is look up all of the articles written about Jamie Lynn Grummet, the woman who was photographed nursing her three year old for the cover of TIME Magazine. She’s sick, she’s depraved, she’s doing it to satisfy some perverted sexual desire. Her kid is going to be fucked up. Her kid already is fucked up, and that’s why he’s still breastfeeding. She purposefully fucked her kid up so that he would always be tied to her apron strings. She is everything that’s wrong with modern parenting (never mind that extended breastfeeding has a long history in many different cultures around the world).

Breastfeeding older children (and by “older” I mean more than 12 months old) is associated with spoiled, bratty little kids and sexually deviant, overindulgent mothers. If you don’t believe me, I can easily trot out a bunch of example of this in popular culture. Peyton Place‘s Norman Page and his mother certainly fit this mother. Same with Lysa Arryn and her son in Game of Thrones. Or Christos Tsiolkas’ novel The Slap, whose titular event takes place because a bratty, breastfeeding three year old is slapped by an adult after hitting someone with a cricket bat.

Or you could look at the comments on a recent Facebook post I made, jokingly saying that I’m now basically the TIME breastfeeding mom – people reacting in disgust (as I once did) that they could never, ever imagine breastfeeding a three year old. People wondering how this would affect him as an adult, since he will probably have conscious memories of nursing (to which I replied that if they’re so curious, they can ask my husband, since, you know, he was older than Theo is now when he weaned). People saying that they couldn’t do it with their three year old because he’s too smart and too aware of the world (which is hard not to take as a dig at my own kid’s intelligence).

As a society, we are still pretty uncomfortable with breastfeeding in general, and we are hella uncomfortable with breastfeeding toddlers in particular.

But anyone who thinks it’s gross should meet my kid. My hilarious, bright, amazing-as-hell kid. My kid who snuggles up beside me and says, with an impish glint in his eye, “Can I have some mama’s milks? Can I have the left side first? Which side is the left side?” My kid who pretends to breastfeed his dolls, who says that when he grows up he wants to be a mama first and have breasts and make mama’s milks, and then be a dada and just have nipples. My kid who tried to make me nurse his Spiderman action figure the other day.

Breastfeeding gives him one certain thing in this wild new world he’s exploring and learning more about every day. It’s something solid for him to hold on to, while from minute to minute he gathers in new information that slowly but surely pulls the rug of what he understands out from under him. So many things about life are confusing and contradictory and even downright scary for him right now – how could I possibly take away something that’s not?

The answer is that I can’t.

Theo at 19 months - Photo by Diana Nazareth http://www.diananazareth.com

Theo at 19 months – Photo by Diana Nazareth http://www.diananazareth.com