a mix tape for Miss N

This morning, when there were just three fingers of  scotch coloured light stretching beneath the clouds I drove my Miss N to the airport. She was loaded with her beloved Sheepie, her travelling blanket and love notes from Mr and I. There is a new baby in our family and Miss N is on her way to visit that baby and reunite with her cousin whom she loves so much. I am not going with her for this is an extra special trip. Not only will she be travelling with her grandmother sans parents, she is crossing the border into the United States. Growing up in a border city I took it for granted that I could visit the States whenever, whether it was to shop or visit family, for Miss N growing up in a post-9/11 world it is much different. She is now the proud owner of a passport and thus will start her grandest adventures. While not quite old enough to travel on her own, the passport marks the beginnng of Miss N stretching herself out into the world. It’s pretty cool and also very nerve-wracking for this mama, even though she will only be gone for a matter of days.

Tucked into her bag of treats next to her books, new diary and princess pillow is my iPod. For the last two days I have nitpicked over each song, listening to the playlist through from start to finish to hear the flow, adding and deleting songs, rearranging the order and with a final sigh, unplugging. The compilation is my missive to her, one of love as much as it is introducing her to the music that I love.

I am not the biggest fan of children’s music, one can only listen to Sharon, Lois and Bram so many times before you cry in the corner. From an early age both kids have listened to so-called adult music, the boy received a Bob Dylan LP for Christmas last year because he was so smitten with Blonde on Blonde. The secret to choosing music for children is to pay attention to the rhythm. If Miss N can dance to it, she will love it. Anything abrasive and she tunes out. Some of the songs come from Mr and his sister, most she already knows within the first few bars and some will be new to her.

Compiling this list was fun and it has spawned a perfectly Miss N Christmas present idea, one that I’m sure she will love more than anything.

Miss N’s Rockin’ Playlist

1. Annie Lennox · Walking On Broken Glass

2. Adele · Rumour Has It

3. Cyndi Lauper · Girls Just Want to Have Fun

4. Eels · I Like Birds

5. Tiffany · I Think We’re Alone Now

6. Billy Idol · White Wedding

7. Michael Jackson · Bad

8. Eels · Mr E’s Beautiful Blues

9. Fine Young Cannibals · She Drives Me Crazy

10. The Buggles · Video Killed the Radio Star

11. Regina Spektor · On the Radio

12. Tennis · Marathon

13. Billy Idol · Dancing with Myself

14. The Ramones · I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

15. Fine Young Cannibals · Johnny Come Home

16. Nancy Sinatra · These Boots are Made for Walking

17. Adele · Rolling in the Deep

18. Black Eyed Peas · I Gotta Feeling

19. Robert Palmer · Addicted to Love

20. Kim Wilde · Kids in America

21. The Ramones · Blitzkrieg Bop

22. No Doubt · Just a Girl

23. Katrina and the Waves · Walking on Sunshine

24. Sex Pistols · Holiday in the Sun

25. Lady Gaga · Poker Face

26. Madonna · Like a Prayer

27. Queen · Bohemian Rhapsody

28. Veruca Salt · Seether

29. Bright Eyes · First Day of My Life

Miss N’s Chill Mix

1. Nico · I’ll Keep it With Mine

2. M. Ward · Chinese Translation

3. Nico · These Days

4. The Beatles · Hey Jude

5. M. Ward · Sad, Sad Song

6. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole · Somewhere Over the Rainbow

7. Doris Day · Que Sera Sera

8. Lou Reed · Perfect Day

9. Fleet Foxes · Tiger Mountain Peasant Song

10. Mia Doi Todd · Under the Sun

11. The Tallest Man on Earth · Where Does my Bluebird Fly?

12. Jeff Buckley · Hallelujah

13. Simon and Garfunkel · The Sounds of Silence (Live and gorgeous)

The question is, if you were to make a 21 century mix tape for your child, what would you include?

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a story of a girl and her bullies

A bank of windows on the far side of the room streams with light, giving life to the plants hanging sporadically across the bay. The classroom is quiet, the majority of children outside playing in the untrapped sun, laughing and shrieking. Three girls have been held back in the classroom for a session thought to be about mediation, the kind of thing that ends with apologies and promises on both sides but not much else. The teacher holding court is a formidable woman, brilliant in her field with a classroom manner to rival Agatha Trunchbull. She is quick on the draw with establishing her favourites and pulling them into a circle of giggles and wise ass smirks. A breeding ground for the cliques that become abundant in high school.

Three girls are seated in hard plastic chairs, summoned to the mediation. Two are bored, indignant their presence was needed but smart enough to keep that tucked away. Their behaviour, though abhorrent is sneaky and kept in check around the powers that be, they have already become well-versed in getting their own way and slipping out of trouble. The third girl is smaller. Flyaway hair and thick glasses, an oversized sweatshirt to round out the slender frame. She is nervous, usually the target she is wary of the mediation, unsure of revealing what it means to be her. How it feels to go home after a long day at school, alone in a classroom of thirty. This girl hates school now. She reads on the bus, the bumps and dives of back country roads give her a headache but she won’t look up. That draws attention, even though the bus is one of the few safe places free of the girls who whisper viciously and laugh loudly. The shy child is always anxious now, where she first disliked any unwanted attention she is now on high alert, waiting for the ball to drop and someone to see her, to pay attention. To point and laugh.

The quiet girl is different. She likes to read books about history and dystopias, books beyond her years but she has already devoured the standard 12 year old books by the time she was 8. She plays sports in this very athletic school but it is half-hearted and only because she fears reprisal from the phys. ed teacher for not trying. She fears a lot, this child. She didn’t before but now she moves silently in the school and thinks about disappearing, fading into a very small and insignificant speck. She thinks about hurting herself but knows she is small and not very strong which leads her back to why it’s her they have chosen.

The teacher breaks the silence.”Since H and L are both saying it’s you, that you make them uncomfortable and they are just trying to tell you that, what do you think you can do to change?”

She is serious, this teacher. That a girl who comes to school to find notes emblazoned with “I hate you!” and a laundry list of why she is so vile she must eat lunch alone, but not out of ear shot of the name-calling and jeers must be the one to change. The kind of mental abuse girls inflict upon one another, using all friends – boys and girls alike, takes on an especially mean form of bullying. The hurl of “You’re gay”, whether true or not is part of bullying much younger than you would think. This was before cyber bullying, when classes went down to the computer lab to play an assortment of games and take typing tests.

The meeting of three impressionable students and a teacher past her right to be in a classroom lasted only minutes and could be summed up as a lesson in, “How not to be such a loser and attract the bullies”. There was still enough time left in recess for news to spread through the class that there was an official, yet silent nod of approval.

···

Almost 20 years later, it is my daughter who is the popular kid in class. The other girls clamour around her, this kind girl with the different name who dresses how every kid wants to: Fashionable in an odd mix of dress up clothes, sparkly lip gloss and stomping black leather boots. Each morning we talk about the kids who drift to the edge of the playground, unsure when the other children ignore them. It just happens that a child slides away to play by themselves, but sometimes it’s not a case of shyness or unintentional exclusion. Those children, we talk about those children and what Miss N can do, because if she sees a child purposefully ignored or called a name, she knows she can do something. She can go to that child and play, her trail of girlfriends following in her wake.

Each morning I tell her four things before letting her free to school: That I love her, to learn all the cool things she can, to have fun and most importantly, to be kind. If we believe in love, then we know how to be kind.

···

 The Journal of Pediatrics published a study in 2004 that found that approximately one in seven Canadian children 11 to 16 years old are victims of bullying; once every seven minutes a child is bullied on the playground and once every 25 minutes in the classroom. That is too much. It is understood now that a teacher is there to protect children from bullying. They are not there to victimize again by asking how is it their fault, and what they can do to change another person’s behaviour in front of the bully.

Last week was Bullying Awareness Week, something that wasn’t around when I was a meek 12 year old. The “kids will be kids” mantra was a lot stronger then but there is no need for it now. A child who intervenes can stop the bullying within 10 seconds; that type of kindness is the kind of “kids will be kids” mantra we should stand behind. This is true for the majority of cases, like the time when another girl in the class finally came and sat with me and extended a bit of conversation.

Bullying is learned behaviour and it feeds on mob mentality, sucking the life and vitality out of the group and leaving only a nasty residue behind. The way we treat ourselves, our loved ones and even strangers on the bus is watched by a set of very impressionable eyes. This even extends to the bullies. They are also children, acting in deeply flawed ways but nonetheless, they are children. It is up to us as adults to show them how to move in the world, to do so with conscientious kindness.

Occupy Nova Scotia: A bylaw infraction?

packing under a watchful eye

Standing in the rain, pivoting as people rushed about under the watchful eye of police, the air filled with dismay. There is a collective outrage against our mayor this weekend, at least in the F.G. household as he pitted police, council and himself against peaceful protestors, all in a secret turn of events from which Peter Kelly is once again backpedalling (for a detailed account and fun audio of the inestimable Tim Bousquet with Mr. Kelly go here).

protecting the tents

November 11 started out fairly quiet for our family. Breakfast together and gentle conversations with Miss N about war and why we remember the fallen soldiers. For a six year old she is a very well informed little girl. When the news popped up on Twitter that Mayor Peter Kelly had issued an eviction notice on the Occupy Nova Scotia peaceful collective at Victoria Park, Mr and I quickly explained to her (and a couple of willing adults ready to hang with the kids) that we needed to leave. Now.

It seems unbelievable that Kelly, who declared it disrespectful of Occupy N.S. to remain at Grand Parade for Dignity Day and Remembrance Day ceremonies, would think it appropriate to forcibly evict under a heavy police presence only moments after the ceremonies. In short, it’s disrespectful of protestors to be present in the company of veterans but once out of sight, it is entirely legitimate to shut down a peaceful protest.

foul ball

Kelly is neatly diminishing the intent of the Occupy protest as it has manifested itself in Nova Scotia. He is, in effect, declaring that the protestors are no more than “campers defying a bylaw”. Yes, they are defying a bylaw. It’s a protest, sometimes it happens that in disrupting the status quo one breaks a bylaw.

The occupiers are not campers. The population of the movement is made up of street kids, the city’s homeless (oh, there are many), and people who are fed up with society as it stands. Before we get caught up in the “get a job” paradigm, know that significant numbers of the occupiers are gainfully employed. They are drawing attention to the disenfranchised in our society and saying enough is enough.

Thus far, Peter Kelly’s response has been to secretly shut them down and deny that it was  intentional, that as an Occupier laid a wreath down on the cenotaph at Grand Parade with a veteran, the police were on their way to Victoria Park to post the eviction notice.

His repeated denials and declaration of camping bylaws are tantamount to saying the protest is not actually a protest, it is people camping.

Let me ask you, when you go camping, do you establish a food tent to feed those who cannot do so for themselves? Do you establish a medical tent, complete with addiction services? No? Huh. Interesting, when I was there, helping to quickly empty a tent I picked up a big container labelled “med tent”. You don’t see one of those at your long weekend, beer-swilling camps.

The protestors are not petulant children. They are peaceful, non-violent individuals intent on drawing attention to the faults in our society and caring for one another in their own way. And now, they’re angry.

As I stood in the rain on Friday, my camera poised and hastily wrapped in the red bag our Chronicle Herald comes in, a woman before me wailed, “YOU CANNOT TAKE MY HOME!”. Her home.  We, in our warm houses can think it ridiculous this woman considered a tent a home, but she did. She was scared, wet and her partner had just been arrested for trying to protect their home. Intertwined with the Occupy movement have been the city’s homeless.

solidarity rally

The solidarity rally, held on Saturday was flanked by police. Occupiers were angry and as one woman pointed across Grand Parade at a particular police officer to say, “HIM! He left bruises on my neck!” and lead a chant of “What’s your name?”, my daughter turned to her father with wide eyes.

“Daddy, I thought the police are supposed to protect us and Mother Earth?”

A police officer heard her words and while he was bemused, I hope it was a gentle reminder from a wise 6 year old. The police are there to protect us and our elected officials are to uphold the law, not repeatedly defy the charter of the very city they are serving. The occupiers showed good faith when they made their move to Victoria Park in honour of Remembrance Day. It was Mr. Kelly who showed a denial of that faith when he had them unceremoniously evicted, an act which may not have even been legal. We can quibble over whether or not he said the protestors could come back to Grand Parade, it is clear that Occupiers (and many supporters) believed the square would be open to them once Remembrance Day ceremonies were finished.

The animosity Peter Kelly has created with his heavy-handed approach to Occupy N.S. has now created a situation where anger has become the focus. This is the last thing the movement needs. I do not know what the solution is, I’m not sure anyone does since so many of the issues Occupy is bringing attention to are systemic and not easily fixed. Something does need to change.

Ain’t no power like the power of the people, ‘cuz the power of the people don’t go. Say what? Don’t stop.

Additional reading:

Tim Bousquet: Occupy Nova Scotia – Who OKed the Cowardly and Shameful Act?

The Globe and Mail, Alison Auld, Halifax Occupy protesters demand mayor resign.

The Chronicle Herald, Protest targets mayor.

a matter of privacy

Last night I had an unsettling dream, not uncommon as the subconscious plays around while the body rests. In this dream someone was tweeting me and commenting on this blog (weird, I know!), the problem was that the person kept using my children’s full names, a blatant disregard for mine and their privacy. As we all know, once something is on the internet, ’tis there forever just waiting to smack you in the ass and say, “ha HA!”.

A long time ago, when I first broached the subject of blogging and tweeting, Mr and I came to the mutual agreement that I would not post any pictures of the kids’ faces or use their real names. They were, and are still, not of an age to make that decision. As their parent, it’s my duty to protect them how I see fit. Their identity is part of that. In fact, I did not post a picture of the ever adorable Miss N on my Facebook account until last June, despite maintaining an account since before she was born.*

I am sure this seems cruel to my loved ones who do not live near me, especially in an age where everyone posts every blessed detail of their life online. (At the risk of insulting anyone – ultrasound pictures creep me out. We get it, the kid is loved.) The fact is, privacy agreements are constantly changing with these social media sites. What you once thought private, may no longer be and it is really up to the individual to stay on top of it. Do strangers need to know every detail (says the blogger)? Not really. That’s why we talk on the phone with my mom and brother, use Skype and send photos.

This is not me knocking people for their own views on internet privacy. I still remember when another blogger suddenly revealed her son’s name and the fact that she had been using an alias for him. Most importantly, the reveal was at his insistence. To me, this is an ideal situation. No longer a child, he thought it through and realized he was at an age to make such a decision and I have a tremendous amount of respect for how she handled it. I also think it’s very cool when people use a “real” name for the child, instead of a nickname.

We make decisions every day meant to maintain the safety of our children, their place on the internet happens to be one of those. For now, I am only going to post pictures of the back of Miss N’s head or the Boy’s hand reaching up to snag a cookie off of a tray, because that is my comfort level with the internet. I am telling my story and they are part of it, I’m not going to reveal their narrative for them.

In doing research for a paper last semester, I discovered the issue of privacy to be one of the main contentions with “mommy-blogging” was that the narrative of the mother swept the child into it. It is true, mommy blogging is about storytelling, giving women who are in a unique (and often ignored) position the chance to use her voice. It is vital we hear the stories of women (yes, and men), so that they are not lost to the annals of time. Blogging, in its own unique way, is creating such a record of the diverse lives of the 21st century mother. As a side note, in so-called “mommy-blogging” there are limited numbers of women of colour, lgbt and adoptive mothers bloggers, if you are aware of any such blogs, sing their praises in the comments.

Just as there are many, many approaches to food, parenting, politics, religion – anything you can have an opinion on, there are multiple views on privacy. For our family, our online life is private within the crush of the public. It’s like walking quietly through a crowded market by yourself, the solitude within the many.

*Disclaimer: I did have a folder of baby pictures on my account that I deleted once FB began fiddling with their privacy settings and I felt I couldn’t trust it.