Staffer’s Notebook: Take me to Paris


Staffer’s Notebook is where I put emails that are way too long, or none of my business, or ideas no one wants to hear about. Glen Gower is my long-suffering boss and the person most likely to receive “I wrote you a 1200-word reply, wanna read it?” in response to a simple question. Sometimes he says yes. Sometimes I send it anyways.

Subject: Paris… Sigh

Hi Glen,

Some time ago (or so) I mentioned the Square du Temple in Paris as an example of a great public space. Today we received an email critical of public art in transit stations in Ottawa. It reminded me of Paris. Everything reminds me of Paris.

As a kid my mom took us back to France often but we never stayed in Paris. Two years ago, I took Éloïse and Marie to France for a family reunion. Since it was their first trip abroad, I decided to play tourist before joining my parents in Brittany. I was always interested in urban design and the secret sauce that makes greatness. My travels to Europe as a child and young adult formed my outlook on density, public transit and art. I wanted my two teenage daughters to experience the smaller footprint of life in a large European city and take that experience back with them to Ottawa, like I did growing up. I took a ton of pictures of public art, gathering space and (of course) transit.

Here is a short video I took in the Square du Temple. It’s about 15 seconds long and doesn’t have much sound: I was trying to capture the feel of the place.

This park is located in the Marais neighbourhood of Paris, a hipster shopping district and former Jewish quarter. The girls and I bought bread, cheese and saucisson at the nearby Marché des enfants rouges — the oldest food market in Paris, created in 1615 — and took our “dinner” back to the park. Once there, we shared a moment with local residents and passers-by. The square is one of the 24 city parks designed and planned by Charles-Eugène Haussman, the prefect of the Seine charged by Napoleon with a massive urban renewal project. Haussman was ousted by critics for extravagance but his vision survives in the spirit that still animates Paris today. The garden in the Square du Temple contains 70 species of trees, some of them exotic and requiring special attention by skilled gardeners. Maintaining the park costs money and the park is not generating any revenues. It serves its purpose as a place of refuge in a densely built environment. It’s beautiful for its own sake.

Paris, like any city in a mature democracy, can no longer put one person in charge of transforming its image at any cost. But the spirit of making art and culture a set piece of any major project lives on. Many public projects in Paris have been commissioned to world-class artists and architects to reinvent and interpret. The Louvre Pyramid comes to mind as do many lesser-known transit stations.

We came to the Square du Temple through the “Arts et métiers” metro station, another public space worthy of a Google search if you are so inclined.

This station is named after the museum of “Arts et métiers” which translates to “crafts and trades”. It is lined with copper panels and was inspired by steampunk esthetics and the Nautilus — Jules Verne’s legendary submarine in 20,000 leagues below the sea. Unlike most metro stations, advertising is not allowed in this station. Portholes dot the walls and display sketches of some of the museum’s exhibits. The station is a work of art. Commissioning the art cost money and the station is not generating revenues through advertising. It’s a public transit station that serves its purpose as a transit station and as a work of art. It’s beautiful for its own sake.

I was reminded of this station during our chat about what our transit system says about our priorities. I said that Ottawa was a City of “good enough”. This is not a value judgement on the morality of being visionary or conservative, it’s a statement about Ottawa’s distinct personality as an agglomeration. I struggle to imagine Ottawa City Council, or the residents who elected it, supporting a kind of artistic vision for transit stations that makes them worth visiting in and of themselves and not just something to pass through. And yet, that ability to think bigger than “how do I get to work?” is part of the secret sauce that makes every corner of Paris worth discovering. I planned our Paris visit around landmark public transit stations, public spaces and public art. The two pictures below are another example of public art adorning a transit station.

We are a practical city. We don’t plant flowers that require a gardener’s care. Our vision for Ottawa Beyond 2036 is to be the “most liveable midsize city.” I wonder if this is not setting us on a path of un-remarkability and damning us to obscurity. Do we want to be a city where people merely live or do we want to be a city that people seek out? Do we want to be “survivable” or “desirable”?

I see “liveable” as a subset of a “desirable”. Liveable speaks to those who are already here. Desirable makes our city attractive to those who are not here yet. The difference between liveable and desirable may be an existential one: do we want to be a city looking inward or outward? Do we want to grow in stature and meaning or do we want to stay cozy within our small-town self-perception? When I listen to Stephen Willis talk about Ottawa Beyond 2036, I hear hopes for a city looking both inward and outward: a city caring for its own and shining beyond its limits. When I listen to the public, I hear wishes for a city that is safe and predictable in scope and ambition. Safe is unremarkable. It will keep our city sprawling, our zoning unequitable, our transit unreliable, our roads wide, our sidewalks missing and our children in our basements.

The best we can hope for by playing it safe is to make the wrong things better or maybe start doing the right things poorly. Doing the right things well will require vision and a will to match.

 

Object Writing


In his book Writing Better Lyrics, songwriter Pat Pattison recommends the practice of “object writing” as a way to improve our writing technique. Strong writing skills liberate us to express our unique creative ideas, not only in songwriting but in every form of creative expression. Creation is a deep dive into our senses and memories to retrieve gems buried in the sediments lying at the bottom. The deeper the dive, the better our senses, memories and experiences have mixed and integrated each other. Object writing is a diving technique by which we focus our senses on a object and describe it using all our senses: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch, adding to it the organic feel of the whole and the kinesthetic sense, the sense of relation of the object with the world around us.

I took up the practice of object writing last year when I started reading Pat Pattison’s book and I got stalled at chapter 1. Today I added a new “Poetry & Photography” category to my blog to catalogue the writing exercises suggested in Writing Better Lyrics. The first-level end goal is, of course, to write lyrics I am not mortified to share, leading to the second-level end goal of finding a musician willing to put them to music. Writing Better Lyrics has helped me improve my creative writing in general and it’s my hope that more regular practice will help me speed up the process of putting ideas to paper.

I got pregnant in university


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I got pregnant with my first child at 21, during the summer following my first year of law-school. I remember walking to the pharmacy in a daze. The pharmacy ran pregnancy tests for $7. That was half the price of the home pregnancy kits!! I soon understood why anyone would prefer paying the extra $7 to get a pregnancy result in the privacy of their bathroom. The pharmacist said: “It’s positive.” I said: “Positive means I’m not pregnant right?” But I knew. I had seen my busty profile in the window of the pharmacy walking-in. I knew for sure.

Despite a few tell-all signs of pregnancy, I had visited a walk-in clinic a few weeks earlier asking for a throat swab. I thought I had strep throat because I was craving popsicles and I was always on the verge of throwing up. I told the doctor: “I have cramps, my periods are 2 weeks late, I’m nauseous all the time. Could this be strep throat?” So he did what any doctor with a clue about the birds and the bees would do: he took a throat swab. That test was negative.

As I was walking out of the pharmacy, I was counting the months on my fingers to see if I could finish my second year of law school. I was due April 17th, during exam week. Well, it wasn’t that bad I thought, I’ll be able to finish my year and write my exams.

I went through my second year of law school pregnant. I was sick as a dog. I have two vivid memories of doing law school pregnant: one where I am uncomfortable, sitting in the lecture hall’s plastic chairs. My regular pants are getting too small. They are riding up my legs and digging into my waist. This is after Christmas, I am almost 20 weeks pregnant and thinking I will either buy pregnancy clothes or kill someone. In the other memory, I am wriggling my way across an entire row of plastic chairs during a lecture on civil proof to go throw-up. I made it.

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I made arrangements with the Dean to write my exams after my due-date. I thought that writing exams 3 weeks postpartum would be better than 40 weeks pregnant (pro-tip: it’s not). On my last day of classes, I took the bus back home and someone asked me: “When are you due?” I said “Next week.” That evening, I went to the hospital in labour. My daughter was born with the sunrise the next morning.

What would I say to the young woman finding herself pregnant in the middle of her university education? First, you can do it. It won’t be easy but you can do it. Don’t expect understanding, a red carpet or a special parking pass. You will be facing harsh judgement coming from your peers, your teachers and the administration. Few people will give you favours unless they have to by statute or regulation. Remember those who go the extra mile for you: someday, you will extend the same generosity to someone else.

You are pregnant now, soon you will deliver. Delivering a child will give you a sense of perspective, a new understanding of what truly matters. Being a mother will empower you. This feeling of empowerment will seep through every aspect of your life and give thrust to your studies as you face the challenges at hand. You will take that Queenship of the Universe with you back to University and beat the crap out of your degree.

You will face harsh and underserved judgement. Some people think that getting knocked-up is never an accident, that you should have known better. Some people will not know what to say in the face of an unplanned pregnancy. Many people will look at you with a mix of contempt and pity and ask: “You’re not keeping it are you?” as if you would be announcing a pregnancy you were about to end. Some women, and that’s what took me the longest time to accept and understand, will be angry at you. They will shun you for putting a face on something they thought was impossible. In hindsight, I have accepted that these women were suffering more than I was. But it was so hurtful at the time, feeling like pregnancy made me a leper, an uncool, an outcast. Know that this will not last. For the community of cool that you are losing, there is an equally sleep-deprived — if less fashionable — community of parents ready to embrace you.

You will come out smarter on the other side. You will be working harder when it’s no longer just your ass on the line. You think you will have less time with a baby on your hip but don’t underestimate the time it takes your peers to manage their social life. Motherhood will focus you and give you a new appreciation for what matters: both in small and in big things. You will focus on the essential and perform with surgical precision. You will start your end-term papers as soon as you get the course outline and write 2 pages a day until it’s done. End-term all-nighter cramming sessions are a thing of the past. You will work around it and discover a better, more mature way. Baby will force you to take breaks, sometimes entire days off, and your brain will thank you in your report card.

You and your priorities will change. Don’t sweat the student stuff. I wasted so much mental energy worrying about my inability to take part in moot-court competitions, out-of-town placements, student exchanges and fancy articling jobs in the best Montreal firms. In the end, I graduated with no desire to join the law firm rat race. I oriented my career on a different path. And that’s ok.

Try not to get caught-up in the latest baby gear must-have and other parenting fads. They are costly and unnecessary. A baby’s needs are simple: babies need care and affection. Breastfeed, sleep in the same room, buy a second-hand stroller and a good baby carrier. At some point you will need a second-hand high chair. Financially-speaking, I was fortunate to have a boyfriend-now-husband who had a stable job as a junior military officer: our income was small but reliable and my parents were taking care of my tuition. It will be difficult enough to make ends meet without trying to keep-up with the older, richer, Joneses.

Finally, don’t get angry if academia doesn’t give you any freebies. Just deal. Be a honey badger. The workplace won’t give you any freebies, so you might as well get used to it early.

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Large Family Eating: The Thanksgiving Edition Cont’d


Last week’s post was all about our favorite Thanksgiving Recipes and this week’s post will not be too much different: we literally ate leftovers all week. Instead of showing you the warmed-over version of what I cooked, I’m giving you the pictures from the day it was served. It looks a lot better that way.

I am still blown-away by how generous people were to our family after my miscarriage a month ago. I’m emphasising it because we’ve had meals prepared for our family for a month now and… How can I say this… It’s been eye-opening and humbling. I have never brought a meal to someone who has miscarried. I remember once dropping something off at the house of an acquaintance who had recently miscarried. It was on recycling day and her curb was covered,I mean covered, with empty pizza boxes. It was as if my family had kept all the pizza boxes for two years in the garage and suddenly put them out to the curb. I remember thinking (yes, I am that aweful of a person) “Really?” It just seemed so extreme to me. In the back of my head, the thought that maybe someone was taking advantage of the situation might have reared it’s ugly head. Now I can tell you: yes, really. A dear friend who sent us a gift card for M&M wrote in her card to expect a complicated miscarriage to have the same footprint as a full term pregnancy. I’m starting to believe it. Long story to say: people have been feeding us, people are absolutely amazing, it is as appreciated as it is needed.

Thanksgiving has marked the end of my post-traumatic love fest with comfort foods. Now is the time to get serious with health and wellness, starting with cleaning-up my eating. My eating is pretty clean already and I am researching to what extent claims that gluten and dairy can worsten a thyroid condition may be trusted. Separting the wheat (ha!) from the pseudo-science is an extreme sport, let me tell you. I’d love to read your experiences with food elimination and if you were successful in turning-off the little voice in your head telling you that there is no medical basis to gluten sensitivity. I’m so eager to feel good again and I’ve received such confusing and inappropriate care from my doctor that I feel like any twerp on Facebook with a made-up degree could sign me up for a kool-aid retreat if it promised results.

Collage_Thanksgiving Bread

I made Artisan Bread. I’m not very good at it, especially at getting the crust just right. I love how the kids all made turkey sandwiches right off the bat. As they say, leftovers are the best part.

Collage_Thanksgiving veggies

For veggies we had lettuce, cranberry apple orange sauce and boozy squash. Oh and sinful Brussel Sprouts, with cheese, bacon and onions. My husband made mashed potatoes and we researched on Google why mashed potatoes get gluey. Answer: overcooked and overworked. Turns out potatoes are fragile little things. You need to gently coax the starch out lest it comes out galloping and turn your mash to glue.

Collage_Thanksgiving squash

Collage_Thanksgiving turkey

Once we were all turkeyed out, we went for a walk. You know the nice thing about being completely wiped-out-of-shape? You can take a 4km slow walk and you’ll feel like you just run 12km.

Isn’t my country road absolutely stunning?

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What’s for supper? Vol. 4: More muffins and spaghetti sauce


What did we eat this week?

MONDAY


Monday was Labour Day. My husband took the children to visit family but it was David’s turn to process our family’s friendly virus. I took a pass and stayed home with the sick and the underage. We had chips and ice cream for supper. Yes we did.

TUESDAY

Remember the Thai squash soup with coconut and shrimp I made last week? I usually buy a second bag of shrimps to add to the leftover (because there is soup leftovers but never shrimps). Then we have a second round of squash soup.

WEDNESDAY

Collage_Spicy peanut pork

Last weekend I mentioned making Spicy Peanut Chicken (with pork) in the slow cooker. I warmed it up on Wednesday and we ate it with fresh corn. My 9 year-old son announced that he was thirsty so I asked him to go get the water jug for the family. Without missing a beat he told me, very matter-of-factly: “No, I’m just going to get water for myself.” Err, no buddy, please bring back the water jug for the family, said I. “Ok then, I’m not thirsty.” he replied. “You can still get the water jug please. Which led to him saying no, me taking away his plate until he came back with the water jug, and he stomping away to get said water. Friends, if you wonder how we can raise such self-centered children in a family of 11, imagine if we had stopped at 2! Believe me, the world is a better place because we have 9 and it’s not because we are superior human beings. Pride runs strong in that gene line.

THURSDAY

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Spaghetti sauce day. My children and I are not fond of chunks in our spaghetti sauce. I like to put all the veggies and herbs in the food processor and give them a whirl. I don’t puree them to soup level but I find that along not having chunks, it mixes-up the flavours nicely. This specimen has red bell pepper, cremini mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, fresh herbs from my potted garden (basil, chive and parsley), dried oregano and sage. I saute the veggie mash in olive oil, add an entire Costco pallet of tomato sauce and 3kg of ground beef. I stir until the meat is all separated and let it simmer forever. Add salt and pepper to taste et voila. That day, I also made orange cranberry muffins and oatmeal chocolate chip muffins. Our homeschool had to be on auto-pilot and we didn’t get around to do history and science. Note to self: you can’t cook up a storm and homeschool at the same time. I use this recipe for the cranberry orange muffins. I use frozen cranberries instead of fresh and it works fine. Just a note about the streusel topping: it’s a simple mix of sugar and orange rind. I prefer to put the orange rind in the muffin batter. The streusel falls apart when freezing anyway. On a more positive note, sugar mixed-up with orange rind and left to sit on the counter for a day can be eaten with a spoon or melted over a candle and shot-up your arm, oh my goodness, someone make it stop!!

STILL THURSDAY

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When I did a Whole 30 back in January I had to stop eating pasta. I discovered zucchini noodles and I actually prefer them now to pasta. I don’t have a veggie spiralizer so I use my veggie peeler and peel the zucchinis until I am almost peeling the tip of my fingers (sometimes I do.). Lucas enjoys chopping the leftover zucchinis with a big knife. As an aside, I used to pay a whole lot of money so my kids could do just that at a Montessori preschool. Which brings me to homeschooling preschool: stop worrying already!! If I got a dime every time a stressed out mom asks about a preschool curriculum, I could retire happy. Preschools need a curriculum because they are accountable to their clients. Preschool is just life. You need to live with your children and engage with them positively. Read to them, snuggle with them, let them help with cooking if you have the patience to do so. Take them outside and show them the dirt: here’s your preschool curriculum.

Back to the zucchini noodles… I slice an onion or two in very thin slices, smash some garlic and saute everything in olive oil with salt, pepper and dried oregano, then I cover for a while to let it steam a little. Zucchinis lose their water like nothing else so 6 zucchinis is barely enough for two adults. Unless they are the giant ones that neighbours leave on your doorstep.

Collage_znoodles with sauce

 

 

 

 

 

FRIDAY

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My teenage daughter announced that she would make crepes for supper. I said: “Fine!” She used the recipe from Ricardo but I prefer Josee di Stasio’s recipe. I usually quadruple it — that would be 4 cups of flour and a whole dozen of eggs — add beer to the milk and keep it in the fridge in an air tight container. The kids will make crepes for breakfast, snack or lunch using the batter all week.

Et voila, this is it for this week. I’m sparing you the weekend because it ended-up in take-out pizza.

 

Homeschooling Questions: Working with different ages, grades and interests


The second question that appeared in my homeschooling questions post on Facebook was how to teach multiple children, with different ages, needs and interests. Just like everything homeschooling, my answer will reflect my family’s dynamic, attitudes and hopes with regard to homeschooling. I think that it also reflects my family’s situation: we have 9 children aged 19 all the way down to 17 months. Day-to-day, our homeschooled children are in grades 10, 9, 4 and 1 and we have 3 preschoolers aged almost 4 — the twins — and 1.

 

As a parent, your “education” personality matters to how you will handle different children with different interests. What is your vision for your homeschool? When you think about your homeschooling do you envision yourself reading to your children in a field of yellow flowers? Do you see yourself in a modern classroom? Do you see yourself in a one-room schoolhouse in 1930?

 

My friend Lindsay just started homeschooling and blogs about it at http://www.myfourcrowns.wordpress.com In one of her recent posts, she shared a tour of her new homeschool room, you can see it in all its awesomeness here. Other than Lindsay’s impeccable taste, what can you tell about her homeschooling personality from reading her post? Well, for one, she has a dedicated homeschool room in her house. She has desks in it, and a map and a whiteboard. It’s well organized, it looks crisp and inviting. I know from chatting with Lindsay that she toyed with the idea of having a homeschool uniform. And the picture of her desk shows printed copies of the Ontario curriculum. Whether she ends-up sticking to the curriculum or not is irrelevant: the presence of the documents on her desk suggests that she likes rules, structure and direction. Heck, being able to paint navy horizontal stripes suggests some serious ability to plan, focus and follow through. All these details point to a very distinctive homeschooling personality. We all have one. I also have friends whose house shows no outward signs of homeschooling, other than children. Their children learned to read around age 8, several have not seen anything resembling a math course manual before they were 14. Their learning is happening organically and creatively, at the rhythm of the family’s life. How you handle teaching multiple children will also be rooted in your homeschooling personality.

 

My homeschool and my laptop reside on my kitchen table. We designed our house with a view to have the kitchen table serve as the nerve centre of the whole homeschool operation. My vision of the homeschool is something akin to a one-room schoolhouse where children of different ages, abilities and interests work more or less on the same topics at their own levels. If you look at my homeschool book shelf you’ll see “The Well-Trained Mind”, “Designing your Own Classical Curriculum” and “The Charlotte Mason Companion.” I find that the classical curriculum lends itself well to working with children of different ages and stages as long as you approach it with flexibility.

 

In practical terms, I gather all the children at the table in the morning at 8:30am. We are Catholics so we always start the day in prayer. We say a prayer to our Guardian Angels for guidance and a morning offering. I check-in with the teenagers who are mostly working on their own via online classes and assignments. We iron-out kinks, they tell me if they need help with this or that and off they go. After the teens are off, I set-out to work with the elementary school aged children. I compare our groove to a ping pong match where I will give David some work, then help Sarah while David does his work, then give Sarah some work, then help David, and so on. While I am doing that, I’m also making sure that the twins are not destroying anything. I can reasonably expect about one hour of sit-down, written work in the morning. That’s when I stack-up writing-intensive work such as French, English and math. Because my children struggle with writing and are almost exclusively auditory learners, we can learn a lot by reading on the couch. We do history, science and religion on the couch through reading and retelling. I am also adding a literature reading of a book related to our history subject (currently Ancient Egypt). In terms of academics, I do not follow my children’s interests. For instance, we are all learning about Ancient Egypt in history, natural science in science and going through the credo (what we believe) in religion.

 

Here is a bullet-point list of things to consider when teaching multiple grades. The take-home message of these bullets is “transitions may and probably will kill you.”

  1. Be ready. Children don’t wait. In the evening, I like to prepare the books and notebooks the children will be using the next day. I talked about using spiral bound notebooks to keep track of the children’s work. The notebook are ready. This way, if David is ready to start and I have to go change a diaper, he can start on his own. Having our books ready on the table minimizes the time wasted looking for things.
  2. Be predictable. Having predictable routines help the children know what’s coming. I find that it helps with focus and continuity. As a parent, it also helps me remember what’s coming next and minimizes the time spent thinking “Ok, now what?” Because that’s all the time the children need to start a fight or set something on fire.
  3. Feed the children. Regular snacks and body breaks ensure that I don’t lose whatever small attention-span my children have. If I stay ahead of the curve foodwise I can minimize inattentiveness and tantrums.
  4. Stack transitions. Since transitions can and will kill you, try to keep them to a minimum by doubling-up. Try to work on one subject until snack time for instance, so the subject transition and the snack transition happen together.
  5. Be focused. It took me a while to understand that I couldn’t write a blog post or check Facebook while homeschooling. Any inattentiveness on my part multiplies with the children.
  6. Don’t squander your best work time. My children work in the morning. It takes a really big deal for me to schedule an activity or running errands in the morning. Try to adapt your schedule to your children as opposed to adapting the children to the schedule. Trying to homeschool after lunch is always a disaster.
  7. Know your limits. I couldn’t homeschool four different grades. We registered the high schoolers with Mother of Divine Grace School so I could focus on the little kids. Whether you seek help by getting a cleaning service, tutoring or a babysitter, realize that housekeeping, schooling and childcare are all jobs that people get paid full time salaries to perform. If you can’t cram it all in a 24h period by yourself, give yourself a pat on the back: you’re normal.

“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.