Motherhood is the gift.

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In case you have just emerged from a lifelong coma, let me share something with you: Mother’s Day is a big deal, y’all! We’re talking spa day big. Diamonds big. Weekend away big. You guys, there is simply nothing that shows adequate appreciation for Mom – chauffeur, chef, maid, nurse, psychiatrist, tutor, playmate, confidante, cheerleader, bankroller and everything else that is really important and would cost mega-money to purchase (but you don’t have to purchase it because Mom is such a flippin’ saint that she does it all for free). So, dig deep …. or Mom will know you’re a complete ingrate who never thinks of anyone but yourself. Of course, she knew that already, because she knows everything about you.

The above parody, as silly as it sounds, really isn’t far from the commercials that air in early May every year. Mothers are such an emotional hot-button, companies know they can wax as nauseatingly gooey as they like, and the general public will play right into their hands. Apparently, many mothers have consumed the Kool-Aid, too – the days after Mother’s Day are just behind the days after Christmas and Valentine’s Day when it comes to filing for divorce. Before Mother’s Day, many mothers hit the net, stating that they want everything from a boozy night out with their girlfriends to a star named after them, whining about the paltry efforts of their children and significant others to make the day special, grimly predicting that Mother’s Day will be just like any other day for them. After Mother’s Day, they come back to complain that it was just as they thought it would be, and that next year they’re buying their own present.

Mother’s Day has been special to me since the day our lovely Fiona made her sharp-eyed, squalling debut. I usually get flowers from Ryan, sweet little handmade whatevers from the girls, and a bucket-of-fried-chicken picnic in the park (I loves me some KFC). This year was no different. Ryan gave me a beautiful bouquet of orange roses, and Bridget chipped in with her allowance because she couldn’t think of a present herself. Fiona gave me a pea plant she planted herself in her classroom, in a decorated pot. I received some nice cards, too. I also put in an order with our two little lovelies. Breakfast in bed just doesn’t work for me, because I am almost always the first one up – and I don’t want anything to do with food until mid-morning or later. So, I told Fiona I wanted her to make me an egg – she fries them just the way I like them. I asked Bridget for a slice of cinnamon toast, because that’s her specialty. I wanted it with a side of fresh fruit, and I wanted it served at ten – not the ass-crack of dawn. I got what I wanted, and ate every bite while two pairs of earnest, eager brown eyes watched my every eyebrow twitch. The KFC picnic has been postponed due to the chilly wind and threat of rain on Sunday. That’s ok; I’ll probably appreciate it more after work one day anyway. These things are nothing big, but I love them. Little gestures of appreciation for my role in this family make me smile, year after year. If they’re all I ever get on Mother’s Day, I’m blessed. I don’t need anything big, because – honestly – when it comes to Mother’s Day, motherhood is the gift.

Yes, being a mother is hard. It’s alot of work, and sometimes it’s utterly thankless. Cleaning a house that is about to get trashed any minute now. Preparing meals that someone always has to complain about. Eating yours cold because you spent mealtime feeding the baby or cleaning up a mess. Laundry – the amazing self-replenishing mountains of laundry! Cutting toenails. Wiping spills, noses and asses. Holding them still while a doctor jabs them with a needle filled with a substance that will keep them from contracting terrible illnesses. Administering foul-tasting medicine you know they need. Being woken up from your badly needed sleep to brush away tears and fears. Trying to keep siblings from destroying each other. Doling out punishments, and ignoring the knots in the pit of your stomach as you listen to them wail. Patiently assisting while they sweat over their homework. Reassuring them, again and again, that the playground bully is wrong – they are worthwhile and intelligent and beautiful. Insisting that they take responsibility for household chores and pets and their own bad habits. Staring down their nasty attitude when they get just a little too big for their britches. Seeing the accusation in their eyes when you choose not to rescue them, in the hope that they’ll learn to rescue themselves. Saying the same damn thing, day after day after day. Sometimes, it feels like you’re shovelling snow in a blizzard. In fact, when their children are very little, alot of mothers confess that all they want for Mother’s Day is to be left alone for more than five minutes! I was one of them, I don’t mind admitting!

But being a mother is also a profound privilege. You are their safe place, their first frame of reference. They have tracked your eyes and voice since birth to understand the world around them. You are all they want when they are sick or hurt. You witness not only their obvious firsts, like steps and words, but also the first time they share voluntarily or recognize that someone else is having a bad day and offer a hug. You are the test subject for everything from their first cartwheel to their first cuss. You get all the questions, from why-is-the-sky-blue to why-did-Grandpa-have-to-die to where-do-babies-come-from. You are the recipient of bouquets of dandelions, sparkly rocks, spontaneous (if, at times, sloppy) kisses. You teach them how to cook a balanced meal, how to clean a bathroom, why you should not leave wet clothes in a plastic bag for more than a day. You share your stories with them, and enjoy their reaction. You hear their take on the world, day after day, because with you they are simply themselves. You soak in their tears and cheer with them over their victories. Until they die, they will hear your words and feel your arms encircling them, whether you’re there or not. You don’t need all that stuff. What you’ve got is beyond price. Happy Mother’s Day, all day, every day.

Can we give a child soldier a second chance?

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In 2002, Omar Ahmed Khadr was just fifteen years old when he tragically changed the course of several lives. In the midst of a firefight in Ayub Kheyl, Afghanistan, he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier, medic Christopher Speer. In the same skirmish, Omar was severely wounded. He was captured by the Americans, charged with various war crimes, and held at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade. After nearly a decade of imprisonment and torture, he pleaded – and was found – guilty. We know all about him – because he’s not just any underage war criminal. He’s our underage war criminal. He was born in Canada, to Canadian citizens of Egyptian and Palestinian origin. He spent his childhood bouncing back and forth between Canada and the Middle East, attempting to settle in Afghanistan just in time to be swept up in its conflict with the United States. Young Omar joined the war effort against America, and has paid a heavy price for it. He was repatriated to Canada in 2012, and this week he was set free on bail. His freedom comes with a number of conditions, from a nightly curfew and an electronic tracker to restricted internet usage and supervision of all contact with his family.

For many Canadians, the name Omar Khadr is synonymous with evil. To them, he’s a lost cause – a terrorist who murdered one of the good guys, a threat to our peace and stability, deserving of a lifetime wasting away in a chamber of horrors like Guantanamo Bay. For many other Canadians – myself included – he’s one of us, and deserving of better than what he’s been given.

For one thing, he was a young offender. He was a teenager. Think about your teen years for a moment …. All of us did stupid things when we were fifteen. Some of us did illegal things, and some of us did awful things. A teenager’s brain is not like an adult’s brain, which is why they are treated differently by the justice system. Under Canadian law, to which he is entitled as a Canadian citizen, he should have been tried as a child. Many young Canadians commit terrible crimes. The ones who are under eighteen, like Omar at the time of his capture, are given special consideration by the law. Juries and judges consider their upbringing and circumstances, and usually hand them lighter sentences than they would receive if they were older. Their names cannot be released, because we want them to straighten up and fly right, without the burden of notoriety. They are given a chance to learn from their mistakes and change for the better. For another thing, Omar was heavily influenced by his family, and thought he was fighting for them. Like many young people, he had a limited world view shaped by limited experience – and his elders took advantage of that to use him as fodder for their war machine.

Even adults in Canada who commit heinous crimes are often given a chance to reform. There are armed robbers, rapists and murderers here in Canada who have spent less time in jail than Omar, and their crimes were committed independently – as adults in a free and peaceful country. Are they entitled to more leniency and goodwill than Omar?

Did he do something horrible? Yes. He took a life. It may not have been the first one, either. He took Christopher Speer from his wife and two children, and everyone else who loved him. He spent years being punished for it. He was fifteen when he lost his freedom; he’s just now getting some of it back at twenty-eight. He has apologised repeatedly for what he did, and is asking other young people to stay away from the influence of terrorism and seek education. He has denounced jihad, and intends to live a peaceful life. He is thankful to Canada for setting him free, and has promised to prove that he is a good person. This will be much easier for him to do if Canadians give him a second shot – if we extend a hand in welcome and good faith, rather than turning our back on him and writing him off.

A good-news story about aboriginals! (my take on the reserve system and why it needs to be scrapped)

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Do we have a caste system in Canada? Many Canadians would be shocked at the very idea, because this is Canada! We send aid all around the world, and welcome newcomers of all kinds! Our healthcare, welfare and parental benefits are generous. Education is free to all! True …. but, in my opinion, a caste system exists. People can be forgiven for forgetting; in most of Canada, members of the lowest caste are invisible. Most of them are neatly tucked away in the wilderness, many of their communities accessible only by boat or plane. Oh, sure, we hear about them from time to time. Usually bad news. Kids huffing gasoline. Women going missing at an alarming rate. Angry warriors blocking roads and burning vehicles. I am talking, of course, about aboriginals. The people who were here before Europeans arrived. The people who were murdered, infected and starved into submission, then parcelled out to remote tracts of land unwanted by their conquerors. For decades afterwards, the Canadian government’s primary involvement with aboriginals was throwing money at them and stealing their children to populate the infamous residential schools.

Cue the righteous-but-resentful indignition …. But they get free housing! Free glasses and dental care! Tax-free gas and smokes! Free university education! Never mind that nearly half of them don’t graduate from highschool anyway, therefore saving grumbling taxpayers oodles of money. They also are more likely to commit suicide, and even if they live a long, full life, it’s shorter than the average Canadian’s. More savings! Their teen pregnancy rate is higher, but don’t worry – even though residential schools no longer exist, we still get alot of their children. Despite representing only about 4% of the Canadian population, their children make up roughly half of the children currently in foster care. Natives are also over-represented in Canada’s prisons. They are more likely to die violently than other Canadians, and more likely to be abused or abusive before they do. Which brings me to a soapbox I’ve occupied for years …. Reservations don’t help aboriginals, and the reserve system should be abolished.

Conditions on reserves are often little better than third-world. Think about Sheshatshiu. Kashechewan. Attawapiskat. All the money the Canadian government gives them never seems to be enough to buy a better standard of living. Natives on reserve are treated like wards of the government. Sure, their housing is free – but it’s not theirs, nor is the land it sits on. And none of the people footing the bill would ever want to live there. Neither did aboriginals, but that’s where they ended up – because that’s where the brand-new country of Canada put them.

Yesterday, as usual, my beloved Saturday paper arrived at my house. Thick and wordy, solid, filled with enough content to chew on for an entire weekend. In this particular paper, there was a rare thing: a good-news story about Canadian aboriginals, happening right here in Ottawa. The article began with the experience of an Inuit woman, Lynda Brown, who moved to Ottawa as a child. Her mother was informed that she could not send her child to school in “slippers”, so Lynda took off her mukluks and started claiming Chinese heritage to avoid the shame of admitting that she is Inuit. Fast-forward to today, and Lynda Brown is proud of her identity and culture. She wears a t-shirt that says “Lifelong Urban Inuk”. The article goes on to describe how this change came about. Ottawa is home to roughly 3,000 Inuit, the largest population of them south of Nunavut. Ottawa is also home to an Inuit health centre, daycare, kindergarten and after-school program. Not only do Inuit children receive the usual standard of education, and help with their homework, but they also learn about their culture. They are taught in both English and Inuktitut. They learn traditional drumming and dancing, as well as throat-singing, and how to play traditional Inuit games. They play with the classic toys your average Canadian knows and loves, but also with traditional Inuit toys made of stone, bone and skins. Inuit people are living in Canada’s capital city, with all kinds of people – not just other Inuit. They can buy properly priced groceries instead of $28 jugs of orange juice – and they can buy traditional Inuit foods like char, seal and whale. They can travel wherever they want without the expense and hassle of leaving a remote area. They can train and apply for a wide array of jobs – not just what’s available in Iqualuit and surrounding areas. Their children are able to play soccer and learn ballet, to visit libraries and museums and parks. In short, they are learning how to be both proud Inuit people and fully engaged Canadian citizens.

Are there problems in Ottawa’s Inuit community? Of course. Their levels of addiction, prostitution and family problems are higher than the general population – but significantly lower than that of their fellow natives who live on reserves. And, as they continue to take advantage of what’s always been available to the rest of us, I predict that the gap will narrow. Perhaps we can even hope for its closure. I wish our Inuit neighbours great success, and I hope that, someday, all aboriginals will be able to do what they are doing. Only when aboriginals leave their reserves and join Canadian society, fully recognized and enfranchised, will we be able to proudly say that Canada doesn’t have a caste system.

When in Cuba ….

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To anyone who put their entire existence on hold waiting for my next post …. I’m back! (Oh, and that should be everyone! Right? Right? Hey, are those crickets ….?) I was in Cuba for a week. Warm, sunny, salty Cayo Coco. After living in God’s freezer for months, it was heavenly. It was an adventure for our whole family. For one thing, since our car isn’t waterproof, we couldn’t take one of our epic road trips to get there – so we took our first flight together since 2009. Fiona was three and Bridget was one when we flew to Newfoundland for my brother’s wedding, and we were so traumatized by the horror of flying with two toddlers that it has taken us six years to gather the courage to do it again. For another thing, Fiona and Bridget had never been south of Miami – never mind a tropical island. There was a little reef on the left side of the beach where we saw schools of beautiful fish, and a huge red starfish. Pelicans skimmed the water just a few feet away, scooping up the unlucky critters swimming too close to the surface. They had also never experienced the lavishness of an all-inclusive resort.  We all sharpened our limited Spanish a little with the servers and staff.

Needless to say, we had all looked forward to this trip. The day we told the girls we were going, 54 days before take-off, they squealed, squacked, squeaked and squeeed. (Not a word, you say? Well, it is now.) Then they made a countdown chart. Sadly, they started at the wrong end, so every time they crossed out a number they had to subtract the number of crossed-out numbers from 54. Taking a sunny vacation and practicing arithmetic – how’s that for multi-tasking?

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I was just as excited as they were, and Ryan was almost there, too (he’s not big on heat or swimming – but he loves a chance to take off on an adventure as much as any of us). At times, though, it seemed that our excitement was rivaled only by the zeal with which people set out to dampen it.

Oh, Cuba – don’t expect good service, they’re all on island time. Cuba? Bring snacks; the food is awful. You’re going to Cuba – you’ll enjoy yourselves, but it’ll be a step down from any other island you may have visited. Bring toilet paper, and just close your eyes whenever you use the washroom. Well, at least Cuba is cheap …. Just remember, you get what you pay for.

Many people were excited on our behalf, of course, and celebrated the news of our impending escape from the latest ice-pocalypse with us. Thank you, all you rays of sunshine! You know who you are. However, as everybody knows, negative voices last longer in our minds than positive ones, and I was really getting annoyed by all the Eeyores around me.

Well, now that I’ve returned, I’m here to offer my opinion (the only one that matters in the world of BethBlog): Cuba was wonderful. We swam in the ocean every day, between bouts of lounging on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. The pools were large and just the right temperature to be refreshing without being chilly – and they were very clean, considering that they were used by droves of sweaty, sunscreen-coated people every day. There was a show every night, presented by a crowd of very talented (and beautiful) young people. Latin dancing, a Michael Jackson tribute, a couple of pool parties. The sexy man / woman competitions were just plain cheesy, and probably would have been deeply embarrassing had the participants been sober. The last show, though, was spectacular. It was performed in the pool. The women danced on the shoulders of the men, who were standing chest-deep in the pool. They danced on the back of a woman who was being held by a row of men. They formed pyramids and dove from the top. Then, they sashayed out of the water and danced some more, poolside. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy. Those smiling girls can dance on their smiling wet colleagues, but I can’t get through a week without breaking a glass ….

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The lobby, bars and restaurants were all nicely decorated and breezy. The piano bar piano, though badly out-of-tune, was tickled by a very fine player. In fact, we bought Masai’s CD. The CD was recorded using an in-tune piano, which showcases his skills nicely. The resort staff were friendly and affectionate, and many went out of their way to make sure we were having a good time. If I ordered wine at any of the restaurants, my glass was never empty for more than five minutes. Some of them remembered my drink preference from day to day, and would greet me with a playful “hola, vino blanco”. They treated Fiona and Bridget especially well, telling them how beautiful they are, pinching their cheeks and patting their heads, crafting flowers out of paper or palms for their hair.

And – are you ready? Ok. There really wasn’t anything wrong with the food. In fact, I ate something different every day, and found a few favourites I returned for over and over. The omelette bar, pasta bar and pizza bar were great. The buffet offered a dizzying array of desserts at lunch and dinner. There was a restaurant on the beach, with a view of the ocean, that served tasty pizzas. There was an Italian place, and a Japanese place, with fixed menus. We liked the Italian place so much we went there for two of our six dinners. The Japanese place offered show-cooking. Chopping and tossing meat, and giving us a chance to catch it on skewers, drawing a picture on the grill with eggs, shaping a mound of rice into a heart, sending flames three feet into the air. The end result was enjoyed by our whole group.

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There was a beer garden, open 24/7, serving burgers and hotdogs, and hand-cut fries.The hotdogs were as good as any you’d order in a ballpark. The last two days of our stay, the beer garden served beer-battered fish so tender and flavourful that everyone ordered seconds. There were beach-and-pool-side grills serving ribs and chicken. There was an ice cream shop painted in bright colours, from which the girls ordered many cool, smooth treats.

Were some things not-so-great at Hotel Playa Coco? Sure. The public washrooms were, at times, atrocious. To be fair, though, they were being used all day every day by a whole lot of entitled (and often drunk) tourists who didn’t feel any sense of ownership or courtesy. Most of us clean up after ourselves wherever we are, but it’s tough to keep up with the ones who don’t. Depending on where you ordered a coffee or drink, it might take the servers a while to come back around to you – but they always did. I never went without anything I asked for, and they were always aware of time, and apologetic if I had to wait longer than a few minutes. The jerk who ran the wine bar tried to overcharge us, arguing about the number of glasses consumed by our group. This was settled, and we moved on. On the last day, we ordered a shuttle to take us and our luggage to the lobby. It took forever (and multiple pestering phone calls and desk visits) to arrive. We set out with our luggage ourselves, and were quickly helped by two resort employees voluntarily. However, this isn’t unique to Cuba – I’ve been bilked in many parts of the world, including right here in Ottawa, and I’ve been helped many times by kind people who really didn’t have to. There was very little orange juice. You might get a glass of it at breakfast, but you probably wouldn’t. Milk was served warm. The cheese – all the cheese, even the cheese slices placed on my burgers – had an odd smell, taste and texture. Not necessarily bad, but odd. The seafood was more adventurous than what you might see at a seafood buffet here – there was a tray of some creatures that looked like tiny octopuses, complete with heads.

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The shrimp still had legs and eyeballs (much to Fiona’s delight). Ryan ate a piece of black pudding, and described it as “taking a shot of blood”. In Cuba’s defence, it was labelled black pudding – he was warned. The ketchup tasted a bit like very mild salsa. The fruit selection was not conventional – slices of guava featured heavily, as did prunes, dates and dried apricots. The bananas were tiny, and very sweet. They looked awful on the outside, but we learned not to judge a banana by its cover. The watermelon seemed to consist mainly of seeds. No apples, no berries. A few times, Fiona and Bridget turned up their noses at the food, or said they wanted “real” insert-item-that-disappointed-them here. I had to gently remind them that we were in a different country, and we should take it like they make it – and that, even though it wasn’t what we were used to, it was still real. Once or twice, I threw in the fact that it must be annoying for the servers to see us tossing out things they could never afford (yeah, I went all Mom on them). They ate a wide variety of foods, and thought most things were just fine.

Here’s the thing: travelling is supposed to expose you to new things, broaden your mind. It’s supposed to be memorable, throw you out of your comfort zone – and make you appreciate home, too. You’re not doing that if you’re insisting that everything be just the way you like it everywhere you go. Why would you want someone else’s closest attempt at what you like, if you could have what they’ve honoured as their culture, and perfected, instead? When in Rome (or, in this case, Cuba), eat the guava and weird cheese, and wash it down with pineapple juice or (if you prefer) Cuba Libres and Cristal cerveza. No, you won’t like it all – but now you’ll know that, rather than just assuming it, and you’ll never forget how you learned it. You have the rest of your life to drink orange juice.

If you find yourself washing the floor today, it’s Meghan Trainor’s fault.

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Another day, another feminist flap …. As if calling tennis players “sweetheart” weren’t bad enough, now we’re faced with Meghan Trainor’s evil attempt to throw all women back into the forties when they were nothing but kitchen hands in cute dresses waiting for their hunky hubby to come home with flowers. How on earth is the human race going to be able to withstand this crippling blow to our enlightened civilization? For those who havn’t heard it yet, “Dear Future Husband” is Meghan Trainor’s newest single. It’s a frothy little doo-wop confection laying down the terms between the singer and any man she marries. You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShlW5plD_40.

Seconds after the video joined the long parade of internet offerings, people started complaining. There was this whiny manifesto from one mother who declares that her children will not be allowed to watch the video, because Meghan Trainor and the men in the video are subscribing to classic male and female roles. Then there was this piece of self-righteous drivel about how songs like “Dear Future Husband” “force unhealthy relationships” because they romanticize outdated gender roles. There have been many angry tweets along the lines of “thanks for sending us back five generations” and “nothing she writes is a feminist anthem”. This Evening Times article features a tweeter accusing Trainor of being a robot created to “reinforce the patriarchy through sexist propaganda”.

Why are all these people so upset over a pop star’s song and video? Let’s look into the anti-feminist charges being laid against Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” …. Here are the complaints I’ve read so far: the video features Trainor scrubbing a floor and burning an apple pie, goofy men trying to please her in various ways, and lots of colourful fifties decor. Trainor sings about wanting her man to tell her she’s beautiful, take her on a date, buy her flowers and a ring, and treat her “like a lady”. In return, she will buy groceries (and “what you need”), and give him kisses and “special lovin'”. She admits she can’t cook, but mentions her musical talent. She playfully says she’s always right, so he shouldn’t even bother to disagree with her – and that they’re never going to see his family more than hers.

I have thirty-four years of experience being a woman, and knowing women. Guess what: lots of women scrub floors. If you have a floor, it needs to be washed on the regular. This is not a political statement, it’s a household chore. (A chore that, I admit, has not been performed recently in my house – hey, spills provide traction. I’m looking out for my family here!) Some women scrub floors for a living. I guess they’re really letting down the feminist front. Every woman I know loves to be told she’s beautiful, and welcomes tokens of affection like flowers and dinner out. And, yes, many women have chosen – or will choose – to accept a ring from a man, and embrace traditional gender roles. I guess we didn’t get the memo. We owe feminists everywhere an apology for blasting them back to the dark ages by living our lives the way we want to.

Wait a minute – isn’t that what feminism is supposed to be all about? Women living their lives the way they want to, with no justification other than that it’s what they choose? Maybe the perma-bunched-panties crowd I quoted above should leave other women alone and go write their own feminist anthem …. Meghan Trainor’s fluffy, sugary pop is what she wants to produce, and it should be her choice. Feminists should defend her right to it, but not many of them will – because, too often, people like the ones I quoted above make feminism more about conformity than choice.

In defence of the handcuffing of Daniel Ten Oever ….

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I’m fairly certain most Ottawa readers, and possibly many readers from other parts of the country – and the world – know about Daniel Ten Oever. He’s the nine-year-old autistic boy who was handcuffed at St. Jerome Catholic School after smashing a toilet tank lid and then throwing chairs around the principal’s office. I first heard about him through this Ottawa Citizen article on February 20. His parents, Dan Ten Oever and Stephanie Huck, are understandably upset over the incident. The account of the school and the police officer differ slightly from Daniel’s version of the story, but it has been agreed by all parties that Daniel was engaging in destructive and dangerous behaviour before being handcuffed.

Mr. Ten Oever and Ms. Huck are demanding all records regarding the school’s interactions with Daniel, and have refused to allow him to return to school until they receive and review the records. They are considering legal action. They are supported by the parents of an eleven-year-old boy who was handcuffed after the same behaviour, throwing a chair, and the parents of a fourteen-year-old boy who was charged with assault after attacking his principal in the hall of his school. He ran at the principal, and hit her with enough force to knock her over. He was approaching her aggressively a second time, while she was still on the ground, but was re-directed by the vice principal. He fled the scene, and later was coaxed by his grandfather to get in his car and come home. They are joined by a pair of heavy-hitters, both emotionally and legally: Restoring Justice, a group focused on creating public awareness on institutional child abuse, and Autism Ontario. Restoring Justice has already begun calling on parents of children with disabilities to come forward with any questionable treatment of their children by schools.

This whole story, and many other similar stories – heartbreaking. I feel sorry for Daniel’s parents, and all the parents like them, who struggle to give their children with special needs the care and education they require. I feel sorry for their beautiful boy, who faces a lifetime of trying so hard to understand and be understood – and every other Daniel out there. But, no matter how many times I think about the events that have led the family to this point, a question remains: what else could the school and the police have done?

St. Jerome has considerable experience dealing with Daniel. School staff have been trained in non-violent crisis prevention. Daniel somehow slipped out of their control, and they did what anyone would do when there is potential for a person to injure themselves or others: they summoned the help of the police. Restoring Dignity claims that the staff was improperly trained in de-escalating crises like the one Daniel was experiencing. How can they make this statement if they were not there to witness the staff’s attempts to help Daniel? Autism Ontario claims that “bad behaviour” by autistic children should not be “punished”. The police had no knowledge of Daniel’s issues or history. They obviously could not sit down for a heart-to-heart with people who know Daniel while the child raged and broke things and posed a threat to himself and others. Their first priority, in any situation, is to secure the environment. The restraining tools at the disposal of police officers? Handcuffs. They were not punishing Daniel. They were trying to keep him, and others, safe.

Fiona is nine. She’s small for her age, and has arms like Olive Oyl. But, if she wanted to, she could cause alot of damage. She could grievously injure a very large adult, if she were bent on it. What if the staff of St. Jerome continued trying to contain the situation until Daniel, or some other person, was injured? What if the police had arrived, attempted to calm him through other means, and were unsuccessful – resulting in tragedy, whether of small or large scale? I have a feeling that Daniel’s parents, Restoring Dignity and Autism Ontario would be singing a different tune – though no less angry or litigious.

I am not ignorant. I know that police officers are only human, that there are good cops and bad cops, that there have been – and will be – many cases of inexcusable police brutality. I know that some officers swagger around with their badge like it lifts them above the law. Bringing those people to accountability is important. But that’s not what happened here. A frightened, confused, disabled nine-year-old – and the people around him – needed to be safe, and the police were there to do it. The groups raising money to bring legal measures against the school and the police should consider putting that money into autism awareness and research, and increasing specially trained school staff numbers. That’s what will really help Daniel.

Today, I’m using the internet to complain about how the internet affects me.

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Last Friday, I composed and sent an email. An hour went by. No response. Two hours. Three. The rest of the day. It’s now Sunday. Crickets. Logic says that’s no big deal. Maybe his internet connection is down. Maybe he’s away, and doesn’t bother with the internet when he’s away. Maybe he’s given up the internet for Lent. A part of me that didn’t exist before I had access to the internet, though, is mystified and frustrated and feeling somewhat rejected. Why has he not written back? Why, why, why? It’s been a whole bloody weekend! This is a sensation that I would never experience if it weren’t for the fact that we’re all connected, all the time. I don’t have a name for it, so I’ll call it “crickets angst”. Definition: mounting anxiety caused by receiving no response to your message; crickets angst escalates quickly. It is particularly strong when the non-responder is a person known for responding quickly, or a good friend or family member.

Crickets angst is closely related to the feeling I get when I put up pictures on Facebook and no one comments or even “likes” them. I start to wonder if, for some reason, nobody saw them – so I check the security status of my pictures. No, it says friends can see them. My news feed shows activity by various friends who normally respond to my pictures. Then why has nobody commented? These pictures have been available for twenty minutes already! Are my pictures boring? Am I boring? Well, kind of! Why would people be interested in dozens of pictures of the same person in different clothes with different backgrounds, day after day after day? Who needs to see a picture of what I ate at a restaurant everyone’s been to? A decade of Christmas trees? They’re beautiful, but they all look the same (well, except for the one we had in 2012 that probably could have been seen from space – lovingly christened tree-hemoth).

After years of surfing the net, I’m more impatient than ever. If a page takes more than five seconds to load, I start jiggling the mouse. I hit the refresh button obsessively. I right-click on things – not sure why. Maybe to reassure myself that the mouse is still working? I draw mouse-pointer circles around various images on the screen. Sometimes I pound the enter key or the space bar. I can barely contain my annoyance that what I clicked on is not in front of me right now. If my internet connection is down, I immediately start thinking of all the things I can’t do. Can’t check my bank account or pay bills. Won’t know if someone’s sent me an email. Might miss an invitation. Can’t look things up. Can’t upload pictures. But it’s been ages since I last uploaded pictures! (“Ages” being, of course, a few days.)

Sometimes I have to steel myself while scrolling through my news feed, because – without warning – a disturbing image pops up. It could be connected to a news item about a bombing or a plane crash. It could be one of those ridiculous urban legends – “Girl uses a new skin cream – you won’t believe what happened to her face!” Then there are the highly suspect stories at the bottom of so many websites I visit, accompanied by photos of melting celebrity faces and double-iris eyeballs and that guy with a deep dent in his head (I think that one’s about sports injuries). I never read those stories, but they are continuously offered to me. Sometimes there’s just too much sadness. Missing or abused children. Prayers and virtual candles for the dead. That horrible poem about a teenager who gets in a car with a drunk driver. It’s not even well-written, but it makes the rounds again and again. Everything has to be taken with a whole packet of salt, never mind a grain, because so few people actually take the time to verify what they post.

Youtube offers solid proof that people are desperate for celebrity status in any arena. Guy chugs four litres of milk. Girl shaves head on a dare. Burping contests. Stripping teenagers. Dancing babies. Goofy pets. Rants about everything. How-to videos for everything from hairstyles to home improvement to opening a pomegranate (saw it, used it, it works – just ignore the comment about cutting the top off the pomegranate and “scalping it …. the way an Indian does a human being”). Everyone who ever thought they could sing well, singing their collective hearts out, hoping to be discovered. Most of this stuff is useless, some of it embarrassing, but sometimes I find myself watching it anyway. How many hours have I wasted on Youtube? I hope I never have an answer to that question, because it would almost certainly be depressing.

Without the internet, I would never have had to have a discussion with Fiona and Bridget about what constitutes “appropriate content”. I howled with laughter when Ryan, who regularly checks the search history on our computer, showed me that someone had searched using the term “wiggling privates”. However, I managed to keep a straight face during the conversation that followed.They broke a household rule and then tried to hide it, so they lost their internet privileges for a week. Having an internet connection is like having a window on the whole world, with thousands of different views. Many of these views simply should not be seen by children, and constant parental vigilance is required. My parents never had to deal with this! If I wanted to know about sex, I had to have an older brother with a stash of dirty magazines under his bed – or a cousin with a book with a plain brown paper cover. I had neither, although I did have a friend who didn’t mind asking her mother …. er …. sensitive questions. Now, it’s a simple matter of waiting for your parents to leave the room for a few minutes, and typing any term in a search box. Boom! Pages and pages of links appear, whichever one you choose loading in seconds at the single click of a mouse. If it’s even that tough. Many children have their own device that goes wherever they go, and minimal supervision. They have to be taught how to protect their personal information and how to avoid buying things by accident around the same time they are taught to read and write. If your child has an email account, you will, at some point, have to explain what Viagra is or why anybody would want a penis enlargement or that they really shouldn’t contact Kandy Bottom for a good time. Maybe even all three.

If it weren’t for the internet, I wouldn’t have that eerie sensation of somebody’s-watching-me whenever I log in to any account. The ads used to be generalized. Now they’re frighteningly well-tailored to my taste. Stores I love. Dresses that are just my style, sexy shoes, body jewellery, books by my favourite authors, music by my favourite artists, clever lunch box time-savers, kids’ outings and camps, all of it available in my area. I’m sure I’m not the only one who buys more junk because of the internet. You can turn off your radio or television when the commercials become too obnoxious, you can toss out the flyers stuffed into your mailbox without a glance, you don’t have to pick up the phone. But if you, like most people, use emails to keep in touch and do your banking online, you cannot avoid the temptation of just-what-you-always-wanted, dangling in front of your screen-scalded eyes.

On the other hand, because of the internet, there’s less of something I love: the printed word. Newspapers are becoming slimmer as more and more of their content is contained on their website. If I subscribe to a newspaper, it’s because I want a newspaper – not a stupid bar code to scan with my smartphone so I can spend more time online. Magazines are pulling the same trick. If you buy a magazine, you’re mainly paying for glossy ads – you have to visit the magazine’s website to access many of the articles and photo essays. And e-books …. Well, e-books are breaking my heart. There’s something about the weight of a book, the smell of ink, the dry rustle of turning pages. Reading is a tactile experience. Not a virtual one. Not for me, anyway.

I know it’s only a matter of minutes before someone pokes their nose in here to point out that, without the internet, I would not have this blog. The internet offers so much entertainment. It gives me a simple way of connecting with people who are dear to me, but far away. It makes banking, business and shopping easier. It’s an excellent educational tool. Tutorial videos have saved me money on cleaning and small repairs. It’s provided me with ideas for crafts and recipes and party games. And, yes, I can use it as a platform to say whatever I want. But I sometimes wonder if I might be a better human being with a better life without it ….