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Frida

22 Oct

On Friday night, Matt and I went on a For Real Date to see the Frida & Diego exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Frida Kahlo is probably my all-time favourite painter; I have literally been counting down the days until this show opened.

I have friends who know a lot more about galleries and exhibiting art than I do. They make intelligent remarks like, I wasn’t thrilled with how this collection was curated, or, I thought the lighting in the third room really brought an interesting tone to the whole show. I hope you’re not here to read anything like that, because I honestly know very little about how galleries should or shouldn’t display art. On top of that, I’ve been waiting at least ten years to see Frida’s works in person, so the AGO could probably have held the show in a dank basement room lit by a single 60-watt bulb and I would still have been thrilled.

The Frida & Diego exhibit is an assortment of Kahlo and Rivera’s works, often juxtaposed in interesting ways. The first room is filled with paintings from Rivera’s days as an art student in Madrid and Paris; they’re neat because you can clearly see the time he spent dabbling in Realism, Cubism and Post-Impressionism. That being said, although his early paintings are clearly technically very good, for the most part they aren’t terribly interesting or different.

Three of Rivera’s earlier works

The second room is more still more Rivera, and includes a reproduction of one his most famous murals, The Arsenal, starring Frida as a communist bad-ass distributing weapons to the people.

Finally, in the third room, we begin seeing some of Kahlo’s work. I dragged Matt from painting to painting, drinking in the familiar scenes and pointing out details that I was noticing for the first time. I began to look at the dates of the paintings, trying to slot them into the narrative of her life, and in doing so  I was struck me was how young she was. I mean, I’d always known that she’d died young, but for the first time I realized that she’d been painting masterpieces when she was younger than me.

Frida was born in 1907 (although she often gave her birthdate as 1910 in order to coincide with the beginning of the Mexican Revolution), and was the third of four daughters born to Guillermo and Mathilde Kahlo. Frida’s father came from a German-Jewish background, and her mother was of Spanish and Indigenous descent; Frida was fascinated by her parents’ history, and her own mixed heritage would come to play an important part in her art. In 1927, at the age of 20, she already considered herself to be a professional painter. She married Diego Rivera in 1929.

Her seminal painting Henry Ford Hospital, which depicts a bed-ridden Kahlo shortly after a traumatic miscarriage, dates from 1932. I kept looking at it and thinking, she was only 25 when she went through that. She was only 25 when she painted that.

Henry Ford Hospital, 1932

Kahlo’s 1932 miscarriage (which was the second of three that she suffered) was by no means the first time she’d experienced pain or hardship in her life. At the age of six she was stricken with polio and, although she made a near-full recovery, for the rest of life her left leg remained smaller and weaker than the right. Then, at the age of 18,  she was riding a bus that collided with a tram car. She suffered massive injuries, including three breaks in her spinal column, a shattered pelvis and multiple other broken bones. She was also skewered by a steel handrail, which pierced her abdomen and came out her vagina. She later told her family that the handrail took her virginity (totally untrue, by the way).

Her boyfriend at the time, Alejandro Arias, described the scene of accident to Kahlo biographer Hayden Herrera in gory but also hauntingly beautiful terms:

Something strange had happened. Frida was totally nude. The collision had unfastened her clothes. Someone on the bus, probably a house painter, had been carrying a packet of powdered gold. This package broke, and the gold fell all over the bleeding body of Frida. When people saw her they cried, ‘La bailarina, la bailarina!‘ With the gold on her red, bloody body, they thought she was a dancer.” – Hayden Herrera, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo

Frida suffered from the effects of that accident for the rest of her life. She underwent 35 separate surgeries in an attempt to repair the damage. The handrail had gone through her uterus, leaving her unable to carry a baby to term; this was especially heartbreaking, as Frida wanted almost more than anything to have a child with Diego.

Part of the reason that Kahlo wanted to have Rivera’s child is that she thought it would bind them together in a way that marriage on its own couldn’t. Diego was a known womanizer, and continued to sleep with other women even after he married Frida. Deeply hurt by Diego’s infidelity, as well as her own inability to carry a child (which would have been Rivera’s fifth, as he had four others by past wives and mistresses), Frida began to have her own affairs with both men and women. Throughout the rest of her life Frida had dozens of lovers, including, purportedly, Josephine Baker and Leon Trotsky.

The fact that both Frida and Diego had numerous love affairs over the course of their marriage (which lasted from 1929 until 1939, then resumed in 1940 and lasted until Frida’s death in 1954), and the fact that both of them slept with women, makes the AGO’s juxtaposition of the two portraits of Natasha Gelman, one each by Kahlo and Rivera, all the more interesting.

Kahlo’s portrait of Gelman, 1943

Rivera’s portrait of Gelman, 1943

In Kahlo’s portrait, Gelman is unsmiling, even stern, while Rivera’s version of Gelman is languorous and sensual, a small smile playing on her lips. Kahlo’s Gelman seems matriarchal, perhaps even a bit masculine, with a square jaw and intently serious gaze. Rivera’s Gelman, on the other hand, takes on a more traditionally feminine appearance, both in the softness of her face and the curve of her hip and leg. Simply put, Kahlo’s version of Gelman looks like a fucking awesome boss lady, and Rivera’s looks like someone he would want to sleep with.

I’m no expert, but I feel like these two pictures say a lot about how Kahlo and Rivera view women, both in general and as prospective partners.

It was also fascinating to see a selection of works by Kahlo that were inspired by her miscarriages hung alongside a series of paintings by Rivera depicting mothers of young children. I can’t imagine how heartbreakingly difficult it must have been for Frida to know that Diego had children with other women; how at times she must have felt inferior and defective because she could bring another “Little Diego” into the world.

Frida Kahlo – Frida Y El Aborto

Diego Rivera – Maternidad

One of my favourite parts of the exhibit was the room that contained media by other people of Frida and Diego. There were photographs on the walls, and a black and white video of the couple was playing on the large screen. Of all the photographs that were included in this show, my favourites by far were those taken by Nickolas Muray, Frida’s former-lover-turned-good-friend.

Nickolas Muray – Frida In The Dining Area Coyoacan With Cigarette

Nickolas Muray – Frida Kahlo on White Bench

In many of Muray’s pictures, Frida is looking straight into the camera. Her gaze is intimate, disarming; her eyes bore into you, and it seems like she’s just about to speak. In some of the pictures, her mouth is quirked into a half-smile, as if she and the viewer share some kind of inside joke. No one else really understands, her expression tells you, no one but you and I, that is. You feel complicit in something, but you’re not sure what.

The video was just as wonderfully intimate as Muray’s photographs. In it, Frida and Diego are shown at home, in the courtyard of Casa Azul. In their every movement, their every look and touch, their tenderness for each other is evident. At one point Frida reaches out to take Diego’s hand and place it on her cheek; her expression when she feels his palm against her face is like that of a cat sleeping in a puddle of sunlight.

On the whole, the show is wonderful. My only issue with it (aside from the fact that several of my favourite Kahlo pieces are missing) is the subtitle, Passion, Politics and Painting. The advertising done for the show, which includes the slogan, “He painted for the people. She painted to survive.” makes it seem as though the politics were all Diego’s and the passion all Frida’s. Even within the exhibit, there is much attention given to Diego’s political activities, and only a few brief mentions of Frida’s membership in Mexico’s communist party.

To say that Frida wasn’t political is a mistake; she was deeply political, and on a very personal level. The way she dressed was political, as was the way she behaved, not to mention her art. In a time when the Western culture and its concept of beauty was beginning to take over Mexico’s cultural landscape, Frida, in many ways, turned her back on it and embraced her Mexican of her heritage. She traded the European clothing of her childhood for traditional Spanish and Indigenous garb. She refused to alter her unibrow, and, in fact, accentuated it and her mustache in her self-portraits. She was known to be unfaithful to her (equally if not moreso unfaithful) husband, and took women as lovers. Perhaps most importantly, she painted and talked about things that no one had ever publicly discussed before: things like miscarriage, infertility, sexuality, violence against women and infidelity.

In many ways, she started conversations that we’re still having today.

Plus, how can you think someone is not political when they paint this on their own body cast?

Kahlo’s Body Cast with Hammer & Sickle and Fetus

I wish I could explain to you how and why I love Frida so much. I keep starting sentences and then deleting them; all the words I pick seem fumbling and wrong, the emotion either overwrought and clumsy or woefully lacking. Even the things that I’ve already written here seem stilted and lifeless, which is the opposite of what writing about Kahlo’s life should be.

I guess that the best thing that I could say would be this: Frida had a really hard fucking life, but instead of backing down, she took all of her pain and heartache and turned it into something beautiful. She lived and she worked and she loved and she challenged and she pushed and in the end, I think, she won.

***

Frida died of a pulmonary embolism in 1954, at the age of 47. I mean, 47. Fuck. She was so heartbreakingly young. Shortly before her death, she wrote the following in her diary:

I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return — Frida”

I hope that wherever you are now, Frida, you are joyful. I hope that you’re finally free from pain. Most of all, I hope that Diego is there with you.*

Frida and Diego ofrendas

The exhibit closes with a pair of ofrenda depicting Frida and Diego. An ofrenda is a type of Mexican home altar, most often built for el Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). An ofrenda typically represents a dead family member, and is honoured by the living with traditional offerings of food and flowers. On October 24th, Mexican artist Carlomagno Pedro Martinez will construct an ofrenda in the gallery space; visitors on that day will be given art supplies and encouraged to contribute drawings and words to Martinez’s work. The installation (along with the entire exhibit) will be on display until January 20th, 2013.

*And that he’s, like, hanging out with you and not busy macking on angels or whatever (I am JUST SAYING, okay?)

p.s. In case you weren’t sure how I felt about Frida Kahlo in general, and this exhibit in particular, here is a visual aid for you:

Mark McNairy, I Can’t Even

15 Oct

Mark McNairy, the man who designed the Manifest Destiny shirt for The Gap, tweeted the following on Saturday evening:

(He has since deleted the tweet, but fortunately a few people were able to get screen grabs)

When I saw this, I turned to Matt and said, He must not know what Manifest Destiny means.

I mean, he can’t know, right? There is no way that I can live in a world where a white American dude just posted publicly on the internet that the systematic oppression, destruction and abuse of North American Aboriginal peoples happened because white people are the FITTEST. I can’t possibly live in that world.

See, this is where my own wilful ignorance kicks in. When writing about issues like this, I try really, really hard to be fair and objective. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and do my best to offer an unbiased, balanced perspective on issues that trigger big emotions in me. I tend to assume that everyone has good intentions, but they just get bogged down by misuse of language, or lack of information. When someone says something as glaringly racist and offensive as the above, my brain just can’t process the fact that they might be serious.

What does he even mean by fittest, anyway? Is he referring to the Aboriginal peoples’ lack of immunity to diseases such as smallpox that were endemic in most European populations? Does he mean the fact that said members of the European population had guns when they arrived in North America while the indigenous peoples didn’t? Does he think that by swaggering onto this continent and declaring everything they saw as theirs, our colonial ancestors are somehow more fit? Does he think that the North American Aboriginal peoples are where they are today because they just haven’t worked hard enough?

If that last one is the case, I would like to paraphrase the first sentence of this article: If wealth and being  was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, the members of the First Nations populations would be millionaires.

What I want to do right now is call this McNairy fellow up and ask him if he’s aware of what he’s saying, and if he’s thought about what the fallout from his careless remarks might be. I want to point out that he owns his own (eponymous) business, and, as an ambassador for this brand, he needs to be aware that everything he says will have an impact on his business’ success. I want to reach through the phone, grab him by the shoulders and yell, What the hell were you thinking?

Of course, the questions that I really want to ask are the ones whose answers I’m not sure I can handle

What I need to know the most is whether Mark McNairy cares about how hurtful his remarks were. I need to know if he’s thought about what it would be like to grow up in the grinding poverty and inhumane living conditions of many of the First Nations’ reserves, only to be told by a white man that you are there, on that reserve, because of survival of the fittest. I need to know if he’s thought about what it would be like to see the name of the philosophy that led to the attempted genocide of your people splashed across a t-shirt, and then see the man responsible for that  shirt taking to Twitter to defend it. I need to know if he’s ever thought about anything outside of his existence as a privileged white man.

I am afraid to know what McNairy’s responses would be to these questions. Afraid, yes, but still brave enough to hear them. Because I will never be able to overcome my own wilful ignorance, my smiling, apologetic naïveté until I am forced to look at the naked truth.

I can’t possibly live in a world where people say things like this, except that I do.

I Hate Hallowe’en

12 Oct

I have a confession to make. It’s not a super-secret-feelings confession, or a oh-my-god-politics-feminism-whatever confession, or anything cool like that. It’s this: I hate Hallowe’en.

Everyone I know loves Hallowe’en. They start planning their costumes weeks, even months in advance. They have parties and events lined up for October 31st, and often begin celebrating several days before. They glory in the chance to be someone else, to go out and see friends, to gorge on candy, and above all to have fun.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m sitting alone, uncostumed and super jealous.

I can’t remember the last time I had fun on Hallowe’en. Maybe it was sometime in university? Maybe high school? Maybe kindergarten? Who can say, really. I haven’t even bothered dressing up for the last few years. When someone starts to tell me about their awesome costume ideas, I just glower at them. When they tell me about all the fun parties they’ll be attending, I pointedly say that I have plans to stay home and do my nails. I am the Hallowe’en equivalent of a grinch, whatever that might be.

Part of the problem is that I’m not sure how to do Hallowe’en as an adult. I guess I’m just not sure what the point of the holiday is? I mean, yeah, you get the chance to be someone you’re not, which sounds great, in theory, but never seems to work well for me in practice. My costumes always end up being half-assed, uncomfortable and too obscure, so that I spend the whole day adjusting my hair/dress/tights/whatever and explaining over and over who or what I’m supposed to be. Parties always end up being too big and filled with people I barely know or don’t know at all, which is kind of a social nightmare for me.

On top of all that, I have some kind of Hallowe’en curse that means that something shitty always happens on Hallowe’en. The most memorable one was the year my ex-boyfriend kissed me on the dance floor at a bar and, when I asked for an explanation, promptly fled. Being the rational person I am, I followed him. This resulted in me running around Halifax’s North End at midnight dressed as Jackie O., yelling that he would have to talk to me eventually so he might as well just turn around and get it over with.

I hate Hallowe’en.

This year, Matt and I have been talking about doing costumes again, but really, what’s the point? We’re not doing anything on the 31st other than taking Theo out trick-or-treating and then stealing all his candy afterwards. Matt will dress up for work because they have some kind of contest, but I will probably just bundle my grinchy self up in a giant sweater and when people ask me who I’m supposed to be, I’ll yell that I’m dressed as an exhausted yoga teacher/mother/writer who can’t get her shit together.

All joking aside, I feel like this is something that I can (and should) overcome, possibly with copious amounts of booze and candy corn. I’m hopeful that having a kid will remind me of why I used to love Hallowe’en so much – I really want to start enjoying it again, I swear. I want to be out there having just as much fun as the rest of you, but I think I need help.

For those of you who love Hallowe’en (so, basically all of you) – what do you get out of it? Why do you dress up? Any tips on how to stop being such a killjoy and start getting into the spirit of things? Most importantly: what the hell should I dress up as?

Dressed up as Frida Kahlo in 2006, which is the last time I bothered thinking up a Hallowe’en costume

Bullying Part III (or, all hail Margaret Atwood)

10 Oct

This will be the final instalment of my totally unplanned Bullying Trilogy (seriously, it started out with me just wanting to talk about clothes).

After I made my last post talking about how I was bullied in my teens, my friend Audra asked if I’d read this 2011 article from New York Times, Bullying As True Drama. In fact, I had read it when it first came out and hadn’t really given it much thought. Re-reading it, though, I found myself nodding and muttering, yes, yes, yes under my breath.

So much of this article hits home for me. This part, for instance:

Many teenagers who are bullied can’t emotionally afford to identify as victims, and young people who bully others rarely see themselves as perpetrators. For a teenager to recognize herself or himself in the adult language of bullying carries social and psychological costs. It requires acknowledging oneself as either powerless or abusive.

Or this:

While teenagers denounced bullying, they — especially girls — would describe a host of interpersonal conflicts playing out in their lives as “drama.”

At first, we thought drama was simply an umbrella term, referring to varying forms of bullying, joking around, minor skirmishes between friends, breakups and makeups, and gossip. We thought teenagers viewed bullying as a form of drama. But we realized the two are quite distinct. Drama was not a show for us, but rather a protective mechanism for them.

And especially this:

“Teenagers want to see themselves as in control of their own lives; their reputations are important. Admitting that they’re being bullied, or worse, that they are bullies, slots them into a narrative that’s disempowering and makes them feel weak and childish.”

Like I said in my last post, bullies can smell a victim. The minute that you admit to yourself or to others that you’re being victimized, then I guarantee you that, barring serious intervention, the bullying will get worse. To make matters even more difficult, many kids (and adults) don’t realize that they’re bullies; this behaviour is so ingrained in our culture that it seems downright normal. I’m certain that most of the kids inflicting “drama” on others have, at some point, been on the receiving end of “drama”. To them, it’s an unpleasant but ultimately unavoidable part of life.

We also need to realize that the ways in which bullying happens have changed; it often occurs online, or through texting; it’s not always public. This, then, is where I think David Dickson, chairman of the Bullying Prevention Initiative of California, really misses the mark with definition of bullying as happening, “typically in a social setting in front of other people“. That definition certainly doesn’t hold true today; in fact, I’m not sure that it’s ever been accurate.

One of the best literary instances of bullying that I can think of is the torment that Elaine Risley goes through at the hands of her so-called “best friends” in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye. Though all three of her friends are party to the bullying, few outside of that group know what’s happening. In fact, Elaine is pretty clear about the fact, were she to tell anyone about being bullied, she would feel as though she were breaking some kind of sacred code:

“Whatever is going on is going on in secret, among the four of us only. Secrecy is important… to violate it would be the greatest, the irreparable sin.”

A few adults in Elaine’s life seem to have some inclination as to what’s going on; she hears the mother of one of her friends saying that she deserves to be bullied because she’s a “heathen”, and, several years after the bullying occurs, Elaine’s mother makes a vague reference to the girls giving Elaine a “bad time”. Those instances aside, none of the grown-ups seem to know or understand the severity of what’s happening. The three girls are at Elaine’s school, and one of them is even in her class, but none of the teachers seem to notice that anything is amiss with their relationship; even her peers see only a group of “best friends” and nothing more.

Based on all the above, I wouldn’t say that Elaine’s bullying is public; in fact, her tormentors are very careful to maintain the façade of friendship that they’ve built up. Does that mean that it’s not bullying?  Elaine is certainly emotionally, mentally and physically scarred by what she’s going through; not only are her self-confidence and happiness eroded to the point of non-existence, she also begins experiencing symptoms of severe anxiety such as fevers, stomach aches and tendencies of self-harm (among other things, she begins biting her fingers, and pulling patches of skin off her lips and the soles of her feet).

Another important thing to note is that, much like the girls mentioned in the Times article, neither Elaine, her friends, nor the adults in her life ever use the term bullying. Instead, they use euphemisms like giving her a hard time. At one point Elaine’s mother even tells her not to let the other girls push her around, and not to be spineless, as if that’s any kind of helpful advice. So the message that Elaine receives both from her “friends” and the adults in her life is that the way she’s being treated is her own fault.

This, then, helps explain why, when the balance of power shifts between Elaine and her “friend” Cordelia,  Elaine begins to bully her back. While Cordelia spent most of grade school bullying Elaine, Elaine turns around and spends much of high school treating Cordelia equally terribly. In her mind, though, she’s not a bully; she can’t be, because, in Elaine’s eyes and the eyes of the world, her “friends” from elementary school weren’t bullies either.

At one point, when things are at their worst, Elaine’s mother says to her,

I wish I knew what to do.

And that, that right there, is often the hardest pill for both adults and teenagers to swallow – the fact that when bullying or “drama” occurs, the adults involved often just don’t know what to do.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that part of the reason teens started using the term “drama” to sort of re-brand bullying was the realization that, possibly for the first time in their lives, the adults around them had no clue how to stop them from hurting. So the term “drama” isn’t just a protective mechanism for the kids themselves; it’s also their way of protecting their parents and teachers, a way of reassuring them that it’s okay that they have no idea how to help because it’s nothing, just drama, and their help isn’t needed.

Matt and I were both bullied when we were younger, and because of that we’ve talked extensively about what we would do if Theo was ever bullied. I would like to say that we’ve come up with an awesome plan but, really, we haven’t. If things were ever to get really bad and Theo were to express a desire to change schools, Matt would prefer to go ahead and do that, whereas I would rather that he learn to work things through with his peers rather than running away. Of course, Matt doesn’t know what he would do if things were equally bad at Theo’s new school, and I have no idea how Theo is supposed to learn to rationally work things through with a bunch of hormonally-crazed teenagers.

I think, though, that at the end of the day that Times article has it right; instead of focussing on the “negative framing” of bullying, we need to work towards teaching our kids what healthy peer relationships look like and how to be good digital citizens. We need to teach our kids empathy and the ability to recognize when “drama” has gone too far. We need to find ways to empower our kids instead of making them feel weak or victimized.

I know, I know, this is a lot of talk without a lot of substance to back it up, but hey – I’ve hopefully got a few more years to figure it out. And while I’m teaching Theo how to be a smart, confident, independent person, I’ve got him to teach me how to be a thoughtful, wise and effective parent. So far, I think we’re both doing a pretty okay job.

Failure Is Easy (And Sometimes Success Fucking Sucks)

4 Oct

I did a teaching demo today for the owners of a local yoga studio. It was an amazing opportunity – their space is beautiful, they have a ton of teachers that I love and respect on their schedule, and it’s walking distance from my house. I’ve known the two owners for nearly a year, and they’re wonderful women – both are amazing instructors who have a quiet, gentle presence that would put anyone at ease.

Needless to say, I was fucking petrified.

I started out by nervously giggling my way through a short interview, and then spent a few minutes fumbling around with the audio system, trying to get my music to play and hoping that the trembling in my hands wasn’t obvious. I’d planned and reviewed the sequence that I was going to teach, so fortunately I didn’t forget it or anything, but my voice had gone strangely squeaky, and I could tell that my breathing was shallow. After a few minutes, though, I hit my stride and started to feel more confident. After all, I teach several times a week, right? I know how to do this.

Right?

Afterwards, they smiled at me, and told me what a lovely teaching voice and style I had, mentioned that I’d given excellent cues and had clearly been well-trained, and finally said that I had a beautiful practice.

Even a three-year-old could have heard this but coming a mile away.

But, one of them said gently, we noticed that you didn’t look at us. Do you ever walk around the room while you teach? Do you ever offer adjustments?

I do, I do, I stammered, I mean, maybe not as many adjustments as some other teachers, but I can do them. I mean, we learned how to. And I can walk around the room while I teach. We did focus on that in our training. Walking, that is, around the room, and not just demonstrating the poses to the students. It was something my teachers talked a lot about.

It must have been hard to teach to us, said the other, it was probably overwhelming to teach to the two owners of the studio.

I was totally nervous, I said. Didn’t you hear my voice shaking?

It was the sort of thing I knew I shouldn’t have said even before I said it, but then it came out anyway.

They talked to me a bit longer about the importance of connecting with your students, of having a relationship with them, and of maintaining an awareness of what’s happening in the room at all times. I said a few thing that probably sounded like feeble excuses. They thanked me for coming in, said that they had no immediate spots available on the schedule, but would keep me in mind for the future. I thanked them a little too profusely for having me in to demo for them (because it’s an honour to even be asked, right?) and then rushed out the door.

I don’t know which reaction to criticism is worse: to tell yourself that what other people see is wrong, that they just don’t understand what you’re trying to do, that they’re the ones with the ones with the problem, not you, or to do what I did, which was to tell myself that I’d flat out failed.

The thing is, they were right. I didn’t look at them while I was teaching. I probably don’t connect with and engage with my students enough. I do need to get up off the mat and walk around the room more often.

I could have said to myself that I would work harder, that I would take workshops on how to give adjustments, that I would get better and be the best teacher possible. The problem with that line of thought is that it seemed overwhelming and exhausting. I was tired just thinking about it.

It was easier to tell myself that I’d failed, that I was a bad teacher, that I should just give up and move on. It was easier to blame myself for not being prepared enough, for not thinking to look at them often enough, or even for scheduling a demo like this before I felt fully confident in my skills.

Failure is easy. Failure means that I get to give up, relax, not be so hard on myself. Failure means that I get to spend more time at home with my husband and son, and less time improving myself. Failure, somehow, means less anxiety.

Success, on the other hand, can be totally scary. With every success comes the idea that you need to build on it, keep the momentum going, continue to grow bigger and better every day. And success, of course, makes every little failure seem all the more bitter.

Every time I write something on here that elicits a reaction from people, that ends up being passed around on Facebook, or generates a lot of comments, I feel like my next post has to be even better. And then if I go a few days without posting anything that gets a big response, I feel like I’ve lost it, whatever it is: the ability to write, maybe, or to communicate effectively, to touch people.

A few things, though:

1. Every post I write doesn’t have to win the Nobel Fucking Prize for Bloggers

2. I am still just getting started as a writer who is writing things for other people, and not just scrawling messy feelings in my diary.

3. I am still a novice teacher; I just graduated in June for Pete’s sake

4. Who the hell is Pete, anyway? Is it Peter like the apostle Peter, the one who became the first Pope?

5. I really hate that dude.

I am a good teacher; I am also a good writer. I have innate talent in both of those areas (I mean, if I do say so myself). BUT (did you see that but coming?), innate talent will only get you so far. The rest of the way to success is hard fucking work. It’s hard work, and the road is never smooth – every time I succeed, it will likely be followed by a few failures, and it will be a while before I get to the point where I feel like everything is settling down and working out the way I want to. Maybe I never will. See? Fucking scary.

People like to say that failure is not an option, except that it totally is. I could totally pack up my yoga mat and go home. And I could justify that decision a million ways: teaching was wearing me out (true!), I felt like I wasn’t seeing my family enough (also true!), I wasn’t sure how to improve or move forward (double true!). Failing would be easy.

But I don’t want to fail.

I don’t want that to be the lesson that I teach Theo.

I don’t want that to be the lesson that I teach myself.

So if you’ll excuse me, I will take my lovely voice, my excellent cues and my beautiful practice and go work on learning how to properly walk around the room. It’s going to suck at first, and I’ll probably screw it up the first few times I try it, but I’ll ride that out and see it through until I get better. And I will get better, because I am a smart lady who can figure this shit out.

My child, even though I am a stupid misogynist and it’s totally my fault women can’t be priests, I will pray for you.

A Few Meditations On Being a Feminist Parent

25 Sep

My kid has a tractor obsession. Like, he goes bananas any time he sees one of the damn things. This bit of information will, hopefully, help explain why I found myself at the International Plowing Match And Expo on Friday with Theo and my mother.

The plowing match was held not far from where I grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, and was filled with men who looked like this:

The pipe is my FAVOURITE PART

It was basically a whole day of mingling with old white farmer dudes, watching people use old-timey plows and admiring farming equipment. In a way, it was oddly comforting, or at least comfortingly familiar – I feel like a lot of my Kitchener childhood was spent around old white farmer dudes, so seeing their mutton chop beards and dingy overalls definitely gave me the warm glow of home.

Anyway, Theo basically had the time of his life. There were so many dang tractors at the show; there was even a tractor square dance. I kid you not. I bought Theo a toy tractor, which he promptly named Go and hasn’t put down since.

That night, after we got back to Toronto, I went over to my friend Caitlin’s place to help her pack for an upcoming move. Afterwards, I texted Matt to let him know that I was on my way home, and asked how Theo was doing.

The response I received was less than encouraging:

Bad. He just threw up.

Theo spent the rest of the night throwing up, and part of Saturday. Weirdly, he seemed totally fine in between bouts of vomiting – he would get ‘er done without much fuss, then run off and go about his business. He was fine all day Sunday, so we brought him to daycare this morning.

Unfortunately, Theo-the-puke-machine turned into Theo-the-poop-machine this afternoon. Which means that one of us has to stay home with him tomorrow.

So here’s where things get tricky: as Theo’s mother, and the person who has been his primary caregiver for, oh, pretty much his entire life, I feel like I should be the one to stay home. But I won’t be, because, as a person who has recently joined Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Club Of Serious Grown Ups And For-Real Feminists, I have to, you know, go to work. Matt’s job is in some ways more flexible than mine, and it was easier for him, in this particular instance, to take the time off.

This made me feel guilty. Because, really, doesn’t a sick baby need their mother most of all?

I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt lately. Granted, we’re only about two and half weeks into Theo’s daycare career, but I’m frustrated that I’m having so much trouble ironing out the bugs in our schedules. The hardest part is that I feel like I barely see him.

In a perfect world, I would only have to work two evenings a week, and would be able to pick him up mid-afternoon most days. In the real world, I’ve had to jump at a few subbing opportunities that have come my way (the first rule for new yoga teachers being Make Yourself Available), and I often find myself coming home before going to pick my kid up so that I can get a bit of housework done before Hurricane Theo returns.

I guess that what it boils down to is, what’s most important to me right now: being with my kid every moment that I’m not managing the studio, or trying to balance my Theo time with my building my career as a yoga teacher time? More and more often, I’m finding that building my career is winning out.

Why? Well, I spent the first nineteen months of Theo’s life devoting the vast majority of my time and energy to his well-being. I’m glad that I did, because that was what worked best for me and my family. But now that Theo is older, and really beginning to assert himself as his own person, daycare seems to be a really good fit for him. He’s excited to go, and he often talks about his friends there: Ella, Anand and Eliana have all come up recently in conversation. Oh, and my favourite, Jonah, which Theo pronounces “Gonad”.

It’s not that Theo and I didn’t have fun when we were home together, but I’ve realized something: this is a tough age for me. I don’t mean that Theo is difficult to be around, or that he’s throwing terrible tantrums (not yet, anyway), but I often find myself unsure of what he needs from me as a mother these days. When he was a tiny baby, it was easy to know what he wanted: me, and plenty of it. When he’s older, and we’re able to have proper conversations, I think I’ll find that easier, too. But this stage, this in-between I-need-you-but-don’t-need-you stage, is tough.

I have a hard time knowing when to inundate him with talking and singing and general in-your-faceness, and when to just let him play quietly. I feel like I spend so much of our time together chasing him away from things he’s not supposed to be touching, and trying to convince him to do whatever it is I want him to do. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I think that being in daycare for a good chunk of the day makes him more eager to listen to me when he does get home. And instead of spending my time half-assing my way through housework while he desperately tries to get my attention (or dragging myself through it late at night, after he’s gone to bed), I can get it done quickly and easily while he’s not there.

And then there’s the whole work thing: these early days are important for networking, and I need to build a reputation as someone who is eager to work, and able to pick up classes on short notice. I’m creating a foundation for what will hopefully be a solid career. This is something that will, someday, benefit not just me, but Theo, and Matt, and any of our future kids too.

And, finally, it’s becoming increasingly important for Theo to learn that it’s not just mom who’s the solution to all of his problems. As Matt spends more and more time with him, Theo is learning that his father can be just as much of a source of tenderness and comfort as his mother can. He is learning that the world is much bigger than just one person and her boobs, and that people other than mama can be relied on to fulfill his wants and needs. The more time he spends apart from me, the better Theo is becoming at communicating just what those wants and needs are.

You guys, Theo is growing up.

I guess that what I ultimately want to say here is that being a feminist parent is about balance: learning to balance your kid’s needs with your own, and figuring out how that will shape your life. It’s about realizing that you, as a mother, do not need to be the be-all-end-all of your child’s life. You can learn to share the responsibility. You can figure out when to step back and say, I’m going to focus on myself for, like, five minutes and my kid will be just fine.

Most of all, it’s about accepting the fact that you have needs, too, and your kid does not always trump those needs, no matter what some magazine or parenting blog or conservative politician wants you to think.

Now, if only I could beef up Theo’s immune system and get him to stop bringing home these daycare bugs, I would be totally set.

An Open Letter to Nicola Kraus (or, another day, another angry-making article)

18 Sep

Dear Nicola Kraus,

So! I understand that you have discovered the one single method of parenting that works for everyone and you are proselytizing this fact via the Huffington Post. Well, that is good news! Please, tell me more!

No, but seriously: I find articles like yours incredibly difficult to read. Not only is the tone rude and condescending, but the content is full of assumptions and misinformation.

First of all, let’s talk about a few personal pet peeves that I have with regards discussions surrounding attachment parenting:

1. Dr. Sears did not come up with attachment theory. John Bowlby did. Doctor Sears may have popularized the idea and coined the phrase attachment parenting, but it’s a concept that’s been around since the 50s.

2. I bet that you actually practice attachment parenting, even if you don’t want to call it that. In fact, I guarantee it.

The basis of attachment theory is this, which comes from Bowlby’s seminal 1951 work, Maternal Care and Mental Health:

… the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.

Keep in mind that in the first half of the 20th century, women were getting a lot of not-so-great advice form doctors. They were told to put their babies on a schedule as soon as possible, feeding them only every three or four hours instead of whenever the baby was hungry. They were advised not to pick up their crying babies for fear of spoiling them, and there was also a pervasive belief that crying strengthened the lungs. I have a friend whose grandmother was instructed to wheel her infant son out into the garden every day and let him cry for half an hour. While her baby cried, she would sit at the table and weep because she hated it so much. But she still did it, because her doctor had told her to.

Attachment parenting, by contrast, suggests that you respond to your baby’s needs in an appropriate and timely fashion. Which, I am guessing, is probably something that you do.

Breastfeeding, cosleeping, babywearing, etc. are not necessary for attachment parenting. They’re tools that can help form a bond between parent and child, but they aren’t by any means required. Your friend Dr. Sears says the following:

AP is an approach, rather than a strict set of rules. It’s actually the style that many parents use instinctively. Parenting is too individual and baby too complex for there to be only one way. The important point is to get connected to your baby, and the baby B’s [his term for the set of tools mentioned above] of attachment parenting help. Once connected, stick with what is working and modify what is not. You will ultimately develop your own parenting style that helps parent and baby find a way to fit – the little word that so economically describes the relationship between parent and baby.

So even Doctor Sears says that you need to go with what’s best for you and your family.

I guess that what I really want to say with you is this: I’m happy that your kid is a great sleeper. I’m happy that you found a method that works for you. But what you should realize is: every child and every family is different.

For instance, my kid? My kid is 19 months and still sleeps in my bed, which I’m fine with. He didn’t end up there because I had romantic ideas about forming a bond with him. We have a crib for him. He hated it.

From just about day one, my son point-blank refused to sleep in his crib. He would fall asleep after nursing, I would swaddle him back up and gently (so gently) lie him down in his crib. Within ten minutes he would be screaming. I tried everything – waiting until he was deeply, deeply asleep to move him, putting him down when he was drowsy but still awake, keeping his spot in the crib warm with a heating pad – nothing worked.

On top of that, I was struggling with postpartum depression in the early months of his life, which was made much, much worse by my lack of sleep. Even if I had been comfortable with the idea of letting him cry it out (which I wasn’t), it would have meant several days of even less sleep. The idea of that would have made me cry, except that I already spent most of my time crying.

Once my son started sleeping in my bed, I found that it actually helped with my anxiety. For one thing, it was easy for me to check on him during the night to make sure that he was still breathing. It also made nighttime feeds easier – they were no longer this big production of getting him out of the crib, getting the nursing pillow in place, feeding him, then getting him back to sleep, putting him back in the crib, etc. Once he was in my bed I literally just had to roll over to nurse him and then roll back over once he was done.

The way that my husband and I parent isn’t for everyone. I get that. I try to be respectful of the way other people raise their children, and I think that by and large I’m pretty successful. As long as your kid is healthy, happy and well-fed, I think you’re doing a bang-up job. I would really appreciate it if you could extend me the same respect.

Oh, and by the way? When you let a 12-week-old cry it out, you are not teaching them to self-soothe, you’re teaching them that no one is coming to comfort them (and, by the way, there’s a world of difference between those two concepts). Science is behind me on this one. Science is awesome!

I totally agree with you on one thing, though – parenting is really fucking hard. The hardest part is that you have no idea what you’re doing, and you have to make important decisions on the fly while operating on little or no sleep. But the thing is, everyone is trying to do their best working with whatever they’re given. So why are you making people feel badly about the way they parent, when you already know that they’re doing their damnedest? How is your judgment and condescension helpful in any way? Just a few things you might want to think about.

Anyway, for the record, I don’t think that attachment parenting has made my kid clingy, or, you know, overly attached. In fact, I think the opposite is true: he’s so confident in our bond, so certain that I’ll be there to help him when he needs it, that he feels totally comfortable running off and doing his own thing. He’s happy to take off without looking back, because he just assumes that my husband or I will be close behind him. Because we always have been.

Sincerely,

Annabelle

p.s. You should maybe advise all of your sex-deprived friends to try getting it on in rooms other than the bedroom. The living room couch or the shower are two good suggestions. Tell them to be creative! If they really want to fuck, I’m sure they’ll find a way.

Theo, trying to claim the whole bed for himself