Hard


Re-blogging this beautiful post for my readers on Holy Week.

Kisses from The Cross

“In the world you will have trouble and suffering. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

Numerous times over the last month and a half, I’ve told myself to write. I’ve sat with a blank page in front of me, going nowhere. I told myself that people would get bored, they won’t stick around waiting for more posts. Hurry up and write something. But the problem is that I don’t know what to say any more that I haven’t already said over and over.

Watching Gemma suffer, living it daily, is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. It’s the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. I often go back in my mind to the days, and the hours leading up to her birth, wondering if I had done anything differently, would things be different now? I see children her age, learning to walk and talk…

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“I was spanked as a child and I turned out fine”


A Facebook Friend (who is also a blog reader, hi!!) recently posted this meme on her timeline:

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As a result of spanking or in spite of it?

Hitting children is not new and the world has kept on turning, I’ll concede the point. But I always get a chuckle when people claim that despite something “they turned out all right” . From politicians to policy-makers, business and community leaders, from the smallest to the largest units, people “who turned out fine” are having the babies, making the decisions and overall having a direct impact on the world we live in.

The numbers are in and can we really pretend that “we turned out all right”? Whether you lean left or right, it’s hard to argue that everything is all right with the world today. As a society, we’ve been unwilling to care enough about the consequences of our purchase decisions to pay for their actual cost. From environmental degradation to sweat shops, if our wallets are happy, we’re content to let “others” live with the consequences of our actions. We have a hiccup of remorse when tragedies like the Rana Plaza put us in front of our lifestyle choices but not enough to change anything. That would require sacrifice. And sacrifice is hard, especially when it involves others. We like the kind of sacrifice that get us ahead somehow. Like saving money, or going to school. Paying $200 for a pair of ethically sourced shoes? What’s in it for me?

Any minute increase in the price of gas  or electricity sends us writing to our MPs. Heaven forbids we should pay the actual cost of our endless thirst for energy. We want the SUV and the soaring two-storey windows in a sub-polar climate, how are we supposed to have this without energy subsidies? We subsidize the rich and the poor equally in the name of an infantile understanding of fairness. We hate to pay taxes, yet expect Cadillac entitlements on a K-car budget. Let the others pay the taxes. We shake our heads in contempt at governments’ willful blindness on debt, deficits and quantitative easing, yet we run our personal spreadsheets according to similar principles. We vocally take financial institutions to task for raking-in record-breaking profits while doing the same thing with our personal money. Let them share the banks’ obscene profits but not those of our favorite sports and entertainment personalities. We elect tax-cutting governments, then turn around and require social services. We suffer from a collective inability to be consistent with our political and economical beliefs. It’s all about me: my money, my entitlements, my job, my lifestyle, my stuff. We lean left when the State giveth and right when the State taketh away. We are unable to see that our day-to-day decision-making reflects that of the world leaders and financial planners we so adamently denounce for their self-serving ways.

We were spanked as children and turned out all right, yet incidences of mental illness and addictive behaviours are soaring, not only amongst ourselves but in our children as well. School yard bullies and victims grow into workplace bullies and victims. We profess zero-tolerance as harassment and belittling reduce our neighbours and colleagues to rubble. We reach deep into our reserves of righteous indignation when a child dies at her own hands but we look the other way when the hazing happens in our own backyard. How many parents of bullies were spanked as children and turned out all right? How many bullies have grown out of attachment voids passed down generations? Meanwhile, social and medical academic litterature has been linking addictive behaviours to unmet attachment needs since the ’70s and we keep spewing nonsense about “turning out fine.”

We are not fine. Our marriages are not fine. We are unable to put others’ wellbeing before our own, even when research consistently shows that children are wounded even by the most amiable of family breakdowns. Whenever someone declares that they were spanked as children “and turned out fine” I always want to start a game of 20 questions: oh yeah? How’s your relationship with your teenagers? How many relationships have you left? How’s your relationship with your boss? Your colleagues? Authority? Your faith? Are you still with your spouse? Is it possible that the voids in your life might have been left by unmet attachment needs? Would you entertain the idea that being hit by your parents might have had an influence on your inability to persevere through challenges or — the opposite — to leave abusive relationships?

We suffer from that psychological condition known as “respect for others” which causes us to share heartwarming viral stories about disabled people beating all the odds while we terminate our disabled pregnancies in ever increasing numbers. With the growth of prenatal diagnosis and the expectation that “the government” will take care of our medical needs, the primary care of physically and mentally disabled people has become a matter of choice. We call ourselves tolerant, fighters, believers. But when our turn comes to rise above, accept difference and take a chance at love when love is scary, we refuse. Today, 9 out of 10 pregnancies of children affected by Down Syndrome are terminated. Our psychological condition known as “respect for others” doesn’t extend to our own children, which we are not quite ready to love unconditionally. We tolerate difference only in the most limited sense of the term: to allow the existence of something that we do not necessarily like or agree with. We celebrate difference on the outside but on the inside we believe that the disabled life is not worth living. 

In a recent ad for a radio segment on Alzheimer’s disease, the announcer declared: “Alzheimer’s: first it robs you of your memories, then of your physical abilities, and eventually of your dignity…” Does it really? Is the indignity of the aged and the ill such an accepted fact that we no longer pretend to respect them? Our psychological condition known as ‘respect for other’ is an exclusive club where the “other” worth respecting is young, healthy and suitably well-off. The poor and the downtrodden need not apply: we’re so full of “respect”, we no longer have room for compassion. 

So stop with the memes already and go hug your kids. Your parents’ smacks are not genetic, you don’t have to pass them down a generation. Let’s see if love can build a better world than spanks have.  

 

A keepin’ it real post: How my children sleep 


Sleep. What can I say about it? We all need it. Nobody gets enough of it. If you are like me, your sleep deprived brain is running laps trying to figure out what you can do to get a better night of sleep. After all, isn’t everybody else getting great sleep? We buy the books, and the contraptions, we hire the consultants. Amber teething necklaces, woombies, and these special hammocks that are supposed to replicate life in utero. We stop eating dairy and gluten, we start eating dairy and gluten, it must be pork, eggs, or onions. Is cabbage supposed to be good or bad? Should I start or stop drinking? Once you’ve been eating nothing but water and plain mashed potatoes for a month, you start wondering if it couldn’t be the water… And all the while, your friends and families keep telling you about all the babies who sleep so well and you wonder where you went so wrong.

I get messages seeking sleep advice on a weekly basis. From these exchanges with harried parents, I have concluded two things: (1) People lie. All the time. And (2) People forget. Which is good news, no?

People lie when they describe their own child’s sleep. Or at least, they omit crucial details. Like saying that your “Baby slept through the night at 3 weeks” when what you mean is that your baby only woke-up to nurse and not to chat for 2h. Or that by “night” you mean from midnight until 5 am (which is still awesome in my books but can lead a tired parent to believe that you mean a real night, like 8pm until 6am). Or the most egregious lie of all, that your baby “just slept” when what you mean is that you sleep trained him with the 4 months sleep regression. Some babies do sleep solid nights from birth. Those are unicorn babies. Awesome but not normal.

People also forget. Those are usually the people in the “grand” category, whose own sleepless nights are 20 or 30 years removed. They just remember the sweet smell and the soft spots and firmly believe that their own children said please and thank you from birth, ate all their spinach, and of course, slept like angels.

And here you are tired parent, wondering how you are failing your baby, your marriage and yourself. Convinced that you are rowing alone, lost in the duldrums of sleep.

You’re in luck! Here I am. Tired mother of 9. I have the grown kids and the little kids and I haven’t slept well since 2009. I had the naturally good sleepers and the horrible sleepers and I’m here to tell you: how your baby sleeps (or not) has far less to do with your parenting skills than you think.

It always puzzles me how we like to Hum and Awe at birth weights, how they are all different, and don’t you dare send a birth announcement without that key piece of statistics and yet, when it comes to sleeping and eating, we expect our vastly different children to comply to some made-up matrix of when and how. Children are not machines (neither are you). They have different bodies, different personalities, different life experiences  — yes, pregnancy matters, as does their early days and weeks — that are reflected in their sleep patterns and attachment needs.

Babies’ sleep patterns often seem directly opposed to our welfare as parents. This doesn’t make much sense from an evolutionary perspective, does it? Since babies’ survival depends on their parents, one would think that their primary needs would be better aligned with ours. But are they? After all, we as adult often share our beds with another adult. And we wake-up at night to pee or even to snack sometimes. We often watch tv later than we should because we simply can’t go from up to down on a dime. Yet we expect our babies to sleep on cue, alone, and without waking-up. It often occurs to me that we demand better sleep from our babies than we can achieve ourselves. We’re funny that way.

Are our babies misadapted or are we? If you are not entitled to a maternity leave, you might be back at work within 3-6 weeks of giving birth, at a time when your baby needs several — sometimes cluster — small meals of breastmilk every 2-4 hours. Are babies broken or is expecting mothers back at work within 6 weeks delusional? If you have a maternity leave, you are probably hoping to work-out that baby fat, socialize and complete these projects you’ve been putting-off since you got pregnant. Or take a university class and start a business. Instead of seeing mat leave as allowing us to care for our infants, we see it as personal development months, free from the shackles of work. Well, about those shackles…

If you are a stay-at-home mom, you probably expect to be back in the swing of things, organizing and attending activities. The isolation of the modern homemaker is forcing us to be everything to everyone in our family, without the help of a village of older mothers, aunts and grandparents whose sleepless nights are far and gone. Our children can no longer busy themselves with little neighbours, they need us to entertain, stimulate and socialize them while the neighbours are in daycare and preschool from dawn until dusk.

Here’s the rub: we could align our primary needs with those of our infants but our modern lifestyle and expectations prevent us from doing so. The fitness classes, playgroups and doctors appointments run us ragged when we should be napping with our babies. Our expectations that babies should not “take over our lives” lead us to stubbornly insist that baby sleep in his own bed, in his own room rather than keeping him close. We live in fear of preventing maturation and individualizations, of waking-up one day with a nursing, co-sleeping, college student. We fight our babies every inch of the way and wonder why we are so tired. That’s why. Your life is the problem, not your baby. Try to manage your expectations rather than your infant and see if it helps (it should).

Today, I want to share with you how our babies sleep. So next time your spouse or your mom exclaims: “This is not normal!!”  you can say “actually, it is”.

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This is a picture of our master bedroom (in March 2015). The baby sleeps in a crib beside our bed. We have two crib mattresses for middle-of-the-night visitors. We push the crib mattresses under our bed during the day.

Our baby is almost 11 months-old and still wakes-up twice a night to nurse (sometimes more, never less). He slept through the night from birth until 4 months. At 4 months, he started waking-up once. Around 6-7 months, he started waking-up twice. Around 9 months (and cutting 6 teeth) he started waking-up all night. Now we’re back to nursing twice overnight. He goes to bed around 7pm, wakes-up to nurse around 11pm and again at some point in the night. I don’t know when because I don’t have a clock in my room. I ditched the clock when the twins were babies. Seeing how often I woke-up made me angry and resentful. Instead of managing my babies, I managed the clock. Believe me, it made it easier. When Damien wakes-up, I grab him from the crib and nurse him side lying in my bed. Then I plunk him back in his crib.

At some point during the night, the twins (3.5 years-old) come into our bedroom. Ève is usually grouchy. She needs to cuddle-up with us in bed. She will usually go back to sleep between my husband and I and I will put her on the cot on the floor when the baby wakes-up to nurse (a queen bed is crowded with 4). Lucas just stumbles into our room and crashes on a cot on the floor and goes back to sleep. 3-and-a-half is a tough sleep age here: Sarah just left our room at age 5 and now the twins are here. By the time they are done, Damien will probably be replacing them. Round and round we go.

I remember when my older kids were little, everybody was concerned about “returning the kids to their rooms” and “getting them used to sleep in their beds all night.” People discussed whether they should lock their bedroom door and let the children cry at the door. Anything but having a child in your room.

We tried all these things. Now, when someone suggests that I cut this crap out, I know that this person has sleep to spare. I don’t. Here’s a secret: If some parents tell you that they close their bedroom door or walk their child back to bed throughout the night, it means that they are not as tired as they say they are. You need to sacrifice sleep to listen to your child howl at your bedroom door or walk him back to his bed 200 times. I know, I used to do it. Now I need sleep. And sleep means letting my children do whatever they need to do to to go back to sleep.

That’s what our nights look like. Because I don’t have a clock, I don’t know how long a stretch of sleep I can get. My guess is 2-3h at the most. And you know what? I’m not as awesome as I would be on a full night. I move slowly. My writing is not brilliant. My house is never completly under control. I’ve been trying to host a house warming party since December and I just can’t, I’m too tired. We do barebones homeschooling. My husband does groceries on his way back from work because I don’t have the wherewithal to take 4 young kids shopping and remember what I’m supposed to buy. I have a lot of professional and personal ambitions sitting on the back-burner until I can focus on things beyond immediate care and feeding of myself and my family. I don’t sit on boards, I don’t volunteer. To everything there is a season.

This is the season for digging your head in and plowing through.

Ontario’s new Health and Phys Ed curriculum: this is not a cafeteria


The roll out of Ontario’s new Health & Physical Education curriculum (better known as “sex ed”) has caused a flurry of activity on my Facebook feed. I feel blessed to have friends and acquaintances on every side of this issue but it makes Facebook commenting a bit of a mine field. Try as I may to post nuanced positions, the reality is that social media is a not a friend of nuance. That’s why I have my blog: so I can annoy everybody — from left to right — at the same time… But only if they choose to read me.

This? That's me in my natural state.

First, let’s get the elephant out of the way. I am a practicing Roman Catholic. As a matter of religious doctrine, I believe myself — and that handsome guy I make kids with — to be my children’s primary educators. This means that the responsibility to choose what my children learn falls squarely and unequivocally on my shoulders. The decision to send my children to school or to keep them at home is a religious right, or should be. Many Catholic parents oppose the new sex ed curriculum because they see it as an usurpation of parental authority and their role as primary educators. Not, take note, because they are afraid of the real names of their genitals or what they are used for. In fact, many of us wish teens would learn more about how their reproductive systems work. More on that later. 

I am a Catholic parent but I am also a citizen. I live in a democracy which is — as Sir Winston Churchill reminds us — the worst form of government except for all the others we have tried so far. When Premier Dalton McGuinty announced the new and improved curriculum a few years ago, the outcry on the eve of provincial elections caused the hasty retreat of the controversial new elements. The new Premier Kathleen Wynne promised to reintroduce the curriculum and is showing no sign of backing down. The people who have elected her are reacting with a collective shrug or, as a Facebook friend of a friend wrote: “I’m so glad they’ll be teaching consent.” Because really, how else are young men and women supposed to learn what a consensual sexual relationship is unless they learn it in school? My point is that the people who elected the Ontario Liberal Party are generally happy with the curriculum changes, either because it reflects their own values on health and sexuality or because they don’t care. The parents currently storming the barricades are not those who elected Premier Wynne. Is it a surprise to learn that she is not sensitive to their plight?

As my friend John Robson explains very well in this short video, the provincial government is in the business of teaching civics and morals. You may argue that the government should limit itself to value-neutral academics such a reading, writing and arithmetic but this would be a theoretical exercise at best: the Education Act spells the role of the school system in shaping values and morals very clearly. You’re in for a penny you’re in for a pound: once your children are under the auspices of our state-run education system, the system makes the rules. And that includes the rules about dating, mating and reproducing (or, preferably, not reproducing). As Justice Deschamp wrote for the majority in the 2012 case pitting Quebec parents against the Quebec government over the contested Ethics, Culture and Religion (ECR) curriculum (emphasis is mine):

Parents are free to pass their personal beliefs on to their children if they so wish. However, the early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society. The suggestion that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government’s obligations with regard to public education.

Yup. That’s right. While this decision refers to a different curriculum in a different province, it does a good job of highlighting the highest court’s sentiment with regard to parental rights in education. I have heard many people, several teachers themselves, argue that the school had to teach sex ed because the parents weren’t. That’s not true. The Ontario education system has to teach sex ed because matters of civics and morals are part and parcel of its mandate. You might argue that this does not correspond to your idea of civics and morals but you ascribed to that vision when you registered your children in school. Remember that dotted line? Your name’s on it.

In an address at the Maryvale Academy Gala last January, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast  tore into Kathleen Wynne’s new Health & Physical Education curriculum calling it a “seizure of parental authority”. He said (emphasis mine):

“We know that the proposed program threatens the fundamental right of parents to educate their children in the moral dimension of sexual behaviour (…). Parents are best qualified and have the greatest interest in working with their own children to handle this serious topic at an age and developmentally sensitive time,” he continued. “More notably, parents have the fundamental right to do so―a right the Province appears willing to usurp without due consideration.”

(You can read the entire address here.)

Willing to usurp? The Province is not merely “willing to usurp” the role of parents as primary educators, it’s obligated by law to do so. As for the fundamental right to educate children in matters of morals, this is a right that is not recognized by law. As the Supreme Court clearly stated, that right stops at your front door. Some of my Facebook friends who support the curriculum updates shrugged: “It’s a great curriculum. Those who don’t agree just have to opt out.” Believe me, as a parent who had to pull an anxious child out of Health & PE:

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I had to collude with my daughter to find out exactly when to pick her up. Had my daughter not been a willing participant, I would have had no way of knowing when the Health component of the PE class was being taught. Then she would be marked as “absent” — which adds up on her report card — and still expected to write the Health & PE test, failure to do so would also show on her report card. I was glad to give my daughter an occasional break from “Health” but on the whole, she still had to learn the stuff and write the test. Opting out? Not exactly. And here’s the difficult lesson of my post so far: you can’t really opt out of Health & PE even though you have a theoretical right to, as per the Education Act. You have to opt out of the system. We took our children out of Health. And French, math, science and history too. We homeschool. You’re not happy with the extent of government encroachment on your role as primary educator? Your options are: (1) change the Education Act; (2) force the rolling back of the curriculum by electing a government that supports your vision; (3) take your children out of public school. I’m sad to inform you that the happy middle where you get to send your kids to school to learn things you want them to learn at the exclusion of those you don’t like is not an option. Sorry. This is not a cafeteria.

Education is always political. Remember what they say about the hand that rocks the cradle? Well, if you don’t, the Provincial government does, as does Canada’s highest court. There is no such thing as a value-neutral sexual education class. The term “safe sex” is not value neutral. Neither is “risky behaviour”. When I helped my grade 8 daughter study for her Health exam, I learned that Natural Family Planning was also known as “the calendar method” and had a success rate of 30%. This kind of misinformation is not value-neutral.

What your children learn in school is always political. It may look neutral if you share the values promoted in the curriculum but your comfort is only as safe as our democratic system: someday, the tables may turn. After all, the social conservatives — be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish — are having all the babies. Do you think Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar are raising feminists and allies? Doesn’t this make you a little squirmy about the world your 1.3 children will grow into?

Believe it or not, I am not losing sleep over the so-called graphic content of the new curriculum. My extended family has a few same-sex married couples and a transgendered woman. I have dear friends of all colours of the rainbow. Gender fluidity is a fact of life in my family. The mention of masturbation in grade 6 and sexually transmitted diseases and co-related risky behaviours in grade 7 are not phasing me in the least: by then, my children had long been exposed to them in the school yard and especially the school bus. Our bus drivers always listened to mainstream pop radio, where hip hop songs are way more explicit than anything their gym teachers could dream-up. Honestly, your children’s innocence is only as safe as that of their peers.

If anything, I wish the curriculum taught more about how babies are made! I had a conversation with my daughter a few years back while she was texting a friend. Both girls had received the best sex ed the school system could provide. A friend had had unprotected sex during her periods and wanted to know if she could get pregnant. Both thought that ovulation happened during menstruation. So here we are, giving our teens all the information they need to have safe sex. All the information except how babies are made. 16 year-old girls are having unprotected sex without the foggiest clue of when they are fertile. Great. Have we thought of letting kids figure out how to masturbate on their own and teach them how babies are actually made instead? Just a thought.

Nobody should be complaisant about the government’s mandate to teach sexual education. You may be fine with the current state of sexual education but if you — like me — live in a democracy and enjoy the perks of political freedom, you may very well find yourself on my side of the barricades one day. And I promise that I will still be there with you.