Just sayin’


I am lucky enough to have a wide variety of Facebook friends yielding a wide variety of status updates. I’m an easy going kind of girl. I don’t preach on Facebook, I’m more the kind who plays well with others. I use my Facebook page as my own little joke with mixed results. I come across as a bit of a clown. Which is fine until I post an update about spearmint toilet cleaner making my toilet smell like it
just went to the dentist at the same time a friend posts a very moving tribute to Holocaust victims. Both posts appear side-by-side and I look like an idiot. I avoid getting into debate or heated exchanges on Facebook because the format leads too easily to misinterpretation. It’s like email on steroids. Everybody doesn’t share my good Facebook manners unfortunately. Recently, I have been submitted to a few rants on Quebec’s protesting students. I have so far kept my resolve to remain uninvolved but please allow me to use my own little piece of Internet real estate to vent a little. I won’t cross post this entry on my Facebook page…

The province of Quebec has been in the throws of massive student protest for the last month or two (or three) in response to a government proposal to increase tuition fees by 75% over 5 years. Quebec students pay the lowest tuition fees in Canada thanks to generous subsidies from the Quebec government. Even after the tuition hike, Quebec students will only pay 17% of the value of their post-secondary education. I don’t think I’m going on too much of a limb by saying that the province of Quebec is heavily indebted and badly governed. Whereas choice among political parties span the left-right continuum in the rest of Canada, in Quebec you choose between independentist and federalist options. If you feel, as most Quebecquers do, that the federalist party needs a time-out, your only option is to vote for the independentist party. 40-odd year of sovereignty politics has left good governance in the province of Quebec in shambles, assuming it was good to start with (it wasn’t).

As I was explaining to my oldest daughter, Quebec students are well within their rights to protest the fee increase. Quebec residents may have the lowest tuition fees in the land, they also pay the highest taxes. Sure it spends more than it rakes in but I have some sympathy for those who balk at getting less bang for the same fiscal buck.

On the other hand, no matter how much wishful thinking you can squeeze, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Whether your high income tax is paying for services you are getting today or for those your parents got on credit over the last 40 years, a day of reckoning is unavoidable. You may feel it’s unfair but the money spent by your parents was also spent on you. I have great memories of growing-up attending free nature walks, free museum visits, learn in classes with 15 children and so forth. And every time I cut a $800 monthly cheque to my daycare provider, I have a moment of wistfulness for $5 $7-a-day daycare. But you can afford it or or you can’t. The Quebec government (along just every Western democracy) couldn’t.

I believe that there is room for government support of higher education as long as the numbers add up. The argument that the state has a duty to fund higher education because it leads to higher earnings leading to higher tax revenues sounds good in theory but look where it got Quebec. In spite of massive government investments in education and learning since the 70’s, it still spends way more than its highly educated citizens pay in taxes. What is lacking then from the debate on tuition fees is not arguments in favour of higher education — by now we know what they are — but a debate on the realignment of Quebec’s spending priorities. For once, I’d like to hear students chant about what they would like the government to cut in favour of funding their post-secondary education. Give it your best shot: there is plenty of inefficiencies, face-palms and head-desks in the Quebec spending portfolio. Daycares? Pensions? Healthcare? All of the above? Why not raise your parents’ taxes?

Which brings me back to my Facebook friends. If you want to post status updates about the egregiousness of raising tuition fees from lowest to lower, you should make sure that your updates are grammatically correct and do not contain too many spelling mistakes. Because it makes you look like you need a better education not a cheaper one.

Just sayin’

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I haven’t worked a day in my life


Yesterday I received a call from someone at Sun News Network asking if I would give a short interview on why being a stay-at-home mom is hard work. It was to be in response to some comment made by someone about Ann Romney, the wife of Republican leadership hopeful Mitt Romney. Ann Romney stayed home to raise her five sons and all she got was this lousy t-shirt saying “I haven’t worked a day in my life”… or at least, that’s what the Democrat woman who should not be thought, perceived or otherwise considered to be tied to Barack Obama’s reelection campaign said.

In the end, the interview did not happen. The producer decided to go with the “opposite point” which I think means a stay-at-home mom who will give an interview about how she hasn’t worked a day in her life. Or maybe a working mom who thinks she has it harder than Ann Romney. Fair enough.

I found that quite funny because I am, to most people, “the opposite point.” I am on maternity leave which makes me both a working mom and a stay-at-home mom. But even on a more stricter understanding, I have seen both sides of the work-home balance. To most, I am an odd animal. Too stay-at-home for the working crowd, too working mom for the stay-at-home crowd. In the Mommy Wars, I am foe to all (although I prefer to think of myself as friend to everyone).

That whole episode about whether stay-at-home moms do real work made me laugh because when you talk to women who prefer to work outside the home, they will usually say that they need to remain engaged, stimulated, they need the challenge of work to avoid turning to mush. I stayed at home for 10 years while having my first four children. Then I went back to law school to get a Master’s degree and went to work after graduating. Now I am on maternity leave with three little ones under 3. I’m not convinced that work is a challenge compared to raising children at home. As I wrote to a Facebook friend who commented on the issue:

I used to look forward to the end of my mat leave* so I could get (a) more money, and (b) a lunch break. I guess I must have missed something.

(* I’m not looking forward to the end of my mat leave, it was just for effect.)

All mothers work hard, whether they work at home with their little ones or outside the home. What is often missed by the critics of the working mom (aren’t we all?) is that the quantity of housework doesn’t decrease because mom works outside the home. The working mom, while she doesn’t suffer the minute-by-minute aggravation of dealing with young children, has the same mothering/homemaking requirements as the stay-at-home mom. She just has a lot less time to accomplish them. This is a hard-learned lesson from being a working mom and one I will gladly share with you.

When I decided to return to school, I did so because I wanted to hit the workplace. My law degree was dated and I was coming out of a pretty rough time personally. After 10 years at home with my children, a combination of factors and people in my life — most well-meaning, others not so — had led me to believe that I was a rather lousy mother. Not cut out for this. I went back to law school and I excelled. My husband stayed home for the first year of my studies and we found an amazing caregiver for the second year and onward. Including my graduate studies, I have been working outside the home for 6 years.

What I realized was that even with an amazing husband who pulls well above his weight around the house, the job of a mother changes very little despite the time spent out of the house. I still had to cook, and clean and make sure that homework was done and that laundry was cycled. And while my children were mostly fed, clothed and up-to-date in their schoolwork (minus a few close calls), once all the basic stuff was done I had very little energy left to be a good mom. A patient mom. An upbeat mom. A listening mom. An understanding mom.

Who has it worst? Being a good mom is hard work, period. Working mom or stay-at-home mom, we all have 24h in our days. Now that I am home full-time, I can do housework, cooking and cleaning while the children are at school, between the demands of my three little ones. Now that I am no longer trying to clean-up our act during the weekends when the children are coming and going, I have more flexibility to do unimaginable things with my kids, like taking nature walks or just chatting. Moreover, I’m not nearly as grouchy when they drag dirt in. So who has it harder? It depends how you fill your 24h. Being a good mom takes time, but I know people who can do in a day what I can hardly do in a week. Work obligations compresses the time available to raise raise children and generally running the home show. In that sense, working moms have a greater challenge than stay-at-home moms. On the other hand, if it wasn’t for stay-at-home moms, how many school activities would never happen? Working moms owe a debt of gratitude to their stay-at-home colleagues who make the school/neighborhood/community world go round.

It’s not how many hours we have, it’s how we fill them.

Random Bullets


Pour mes lecteurs francophones: voici un ramassis d’articles de journaux qui ont attiré mon attention cette semaine.

Here is a random list of news articles that grabbed my attention this week: (and speaking of newspapers, these warning labels are too brilliant not to mention)

  • Wondering about the state of maturity? Of all the sound arguments in favour of delaying massive cuts to the federal public service during a fragile economic recovery, the Public Service Alliance of Canada chooses to be remembered with this one: Stephen Harper hates me. Nice one PSAC, real mature. In fact, it’s such a childish and emotionally-stunted way of spending your union fees that my 14-year-old son, upon seeing this picture, said in a commercial announcer’s voice: Introducing decreasing maturity! Ranging from toddler to man-child! Note to John Gordon, National President of PSAC: when a 14-year-old thinks you’re immature, it’s time to call your office.
  • Speaking of man-child, I hate to give a dead guy — or his grieving relatives — a hard time but for crying out loud! 8 children with 5 girlfriends at 27, two of them born of the same girl on the same year when he was 15? This guy should have been a sect leader!
  • Still wondering about the state of maturity? Read this piece about Jonathan Leblond, an inspiring young man. His victory-over-tragedy story is inspiring not only for his courage in the face of danger but for how he overcame what would have left many in shambles. I never met Jonathan in person but his path crossed mine at work. I was moved and inspired by his wisdom then, not even knowing what had happened to his family. Reading this piece made me thankful for the twists of fate that make us encounter extraordinary people through ordinary circumstances.
  • And finally, are you worried about the erosion of civil liberties and privacy in Western societies? Do you have concerns over government bills such as bill C-30 which you probably haven’t read and wouldn’t understand anyway? Me too. When Someone in government tells me that those who have nothing to hide shouldn’t worry about online privacy, I wonder “But how will I know if I have something to hide?” I bet you that Jessie Sansone didn’t know he had something to hide until he was arrested, strip-searched and had his children apprehended by Children’s Aid.  This article on the Sansone incident by John Robson should send chills up your spine. I would drop the Twittering about what may happen and start worrying about what’s already here.