When in Cuba ….


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?


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 ….


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.


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.


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.


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 ….


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.


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 ….

Your children need sex education – so get over your ick factor and let them have it.


Because we are never out-of-reach of noise and fuss, I’m sure that you’re all aware of the province-wide flap over the new sex education program being rolled out in schools all over Ontario come September 2015. A whole lot of parents have shrugged and gotten on with their day. A sizable number of parents, though concerned about some of the program’s content, have somehow managed to keep cleaning their home and themselves, making food and participating in gainful employment. A small-but-very-vocal segment of parents are using this change in their children’s curriculum as the impetus to hop on the Crazy Train, and they’re riding it all the way to the end of the line …. Phrases like “nobody’s gonna teach my six-year-old about anal sex” and “teach math, not masturbation” and “what’s next, sex with animals” are appearing in angry letters-to-the-editor, and on placards and picket signs. I’ve read up on the new program, and given the whole issue considerable thought – and I honestly can’t understand why people are so upset about it.

In grade one, students will be taught to identify body parts – including genitalia – using correct terminology. Well, why not? Both Fiona and Bridget knew, long before they started school, that they have a vagina and boys have a penis. I remember drawing people complete with genitals when I was five (and fibbing about it, when questioned) . From a health perspective, if something’s wrong physically, they need to be able to make their guardian, and possibly their doctor, understand where it itches or hurts. To prevent inappropriate situations with other children – or worse, adults – they need to know that they own their body, and nobody else has a right to handle them in ways they don’t like. Part of taking ownership is a complete knowledge of what you own. Giving genitalia cutesy nicknames can teach children that these particular body parts are embarrassing, and therefore should not be talked about.

In grade two, the notion of respecting your body is expanded to encourage children to stand up for themselves against bullies, and to say “no” if they’re feeling uncomfortable about something. How could there be anything wrong with this? Teachers will build upon their knowledge of body part names to talk about how your body changes as you grow from an embryo to an adult. Children are observant. They see their siblings, both younger and older, growing and changing in various ways. They see how pregnancy changes their mother or aunts or neighbours. Why keep it a mystery?

Grade three discussions will center around the characteristics of healthy relationships, and how each unique personality contributes to these relationships. There will be some focus on the different kinds of relationships. At which, of course, some parents are already in a tizzy because their eight-year-olds might find out about gay people …. Know what? Your third-grader probably knows about them already. They probably have friends who have two daddies or two mommies. Fiona, when she was four, noticed two guys holding hands while walking their dog. We stopped to pat the dog. As we were walking away, she wanted to know why two men were holding hands. I said “because they love each other, like Daddy and me”. People who love each other are all over the place, and they don’t all look the same. Why not give our kids a foundation of appreciation for love in all its forms, and a language to describe it?

In grade four, children will learn about puberty and personal care. Again, I am confused as to why this could be anything but good for the kids. Kids reach puberty younger now than ever. There will be some girls in grade four classrooms who have already started menstruating – and some of they may not have anybody who will give them straight talk about it. Kids in grade four who have not reached puberty will be there any day now. Puberty can be a confusing and frightening time. Information is power.

Grade five students will see diagrams of the reproductive system, and learn to describe the processes of menstruation and spermatogenesis. Long words. Anatomy. Biology. Hardly subjects that will have the kids making out at their desks ….

In grade six, the students will have a chance to discuss things that happen to them during puberty, like wet dreams. I have never forgotten a moment from my year in grade five, sharing a classroom with sixth graders. We were learning about what our bodies were going through and our teacher mentioned wet dreams. Just to set the scene, she was so old she had taught my father when he was in grade five or six. She kept her money in her bra. She took her false teeth out and laid them on her desk to eat lunch. In other words, if anyone had every right to be a prude, it was her. But she wasn’t. This was a good thing for a sixth grader who worriedly confessed, with his face flaming, to having wet dreams. She put an arm around his shoulders and told him it was nothing to worry about, it happened to lots of boys, and if he ever had any questions he could talk to her any time. He relaxed visibly. Her frank, fearless manner took away his anxiety and made him feel normal. Sixth graders will also touch on masturbation. (See what I did there? Who says there’s nothing funny about sex education?) Any parent who’s ever caught their baby with his hand deep in his diaper can tell you that masturbation is not new ground for a sixth grader. There will also be some talk about the assumptions surrounding gender roles and expression, and sexual orientation – and how to challenge stereotypes. Learning to see others as fellow human beings, despite our differences, is crucial in a world filled with – well, differences! It’s not easy being different – but it’s alot harder if your differences are misunderstood or denigrated. Why shouldn’t we try to make classrooms as accepting as possible for all students?

Grades seven and eight cover establishing personal sexual boundaries and communicating those limits and comfort levels to potential partners, as well as the need for solid communication in sexual relationships. Also discussed are the risks of various sexual behaviours, symptoms of STIs, and the importance of using condoms and other forms of contraception if you become sexually active. Students are encouraged to consider the physical, emotional and social factors that impact their sexual decisions. The concept of sexual consent will be explored, as well.

For those who are squeamish at the thought of these sensitive discussions being held in the classroom, a reminder: thirteen-year-olds are the ones we hear about having rainbow parties, sexting, experimenting with alcohol and drugs. They are the ones who are trying anything and everything because, as adolescents, their brains are wired for pushing boundaries and risky business. Fifth and sixth graders are deep in the throes of puberty, and nature is happening to them, ready or not. Anyone whose ever watched a group of third- or fourth-grade girls swing their hair and strut their stuff knows that these kids eagerly emulate what they see and hear, and they don’t have the personal discernment to help them choose the right role models – the right role models must come to them. Many of them have cell phones or tablets – or both. They have older siblings and cousins. Children who are confused about their gender identity or sexual orientation exist, whether parents want to talk to them about it or not – and if we’re not communicating with them, we’re not helping them.

We need to let go of the notion that we are spoiling children’s innocence by talking to them about sex – because, in most cases, that innocence is already being breached daily. Sexual messages get through to them, no matter how tight the parental controls. They see ads for perfumes, clothing and shoes that feature sexy models in sexy scenarios. They listen in on adults’ conversation. They listen to pop music, which often features explicit lyrics and is accompanied by explicit videos. Even if you keep everything PG all day every day, you have no say about the radio station their bus driver plays or what their friends show them or what they see on the street. I ended up in a birds-and-bees conversation for which I was completely unprepared just last year because Fiona and Bridget rode the bus with some foul-mouthed sixth graders who were asking all the girls (yes, all the girls – even the little ones) if they’d like to have sex. Last summer, I had to answer an exhausting collection of questions about sex-as-entertainment because we used a washroom in a gas station, which contained a vending machine selling coloured condoms and cherry-flavoured lube. Klassy. It’s a dirty world. There’s nothing I could have done about those incidents, and there’s nothing you can do, either – except control the conversation when you are given the chance. So take it!

How to raise your children so they’re welcome at other people’s houses ….


When Fiona and Bridget were very tiny, the purpose of a playdate was mainly to preserve my own sanity. I’d haul my babies to someone else’s place, or welcome their babies to my place, just for the opportunity to have snacks and small-talk with a fellow cooped-up, under-socialized mother. As the girls got older, playdates became a little more annoying. I might spend time at someone else’s house, hollering at Fiona and Bridget. “Don’t touch!” and “Get down!” and “Leave the dog alone!” sometimes composed two thirds of the conversation. Other playdates were on our turf – in which case, the time would be spent cringing and flinching at every crash and smash, and trying to pretend it didn’t matter that a three-foot-tall human tornado was grinding peanut butter into the carpet, using candles as drumsticks, heaving furniture around and leaving murky face prints on every window. In recent years, playdates have become much simpler. Children are dropped off at our house to play with Fiona and Bridget while their parents do their thing, or Fiona and Bridget are dropped off at someone else’s house while Ryan and I do our thing. However, even though the kids are so much more independent and easier to keep alive, there are many moments when I find myself regretting issuing an invitation to other people’s children. At such times, I wish there was a guide to making children better playdates. Enter this guide! Because I can.

Obviously, some patterns are deeply entrenched – so it may just be too late for a few children. For example, if your child is an asshole – and, as we’ve already established, there are many – you might want to use an aggressive treatment rather than a preventative measure. However, this guide could be an indispensable tool for new parents to use as they prune and groom their darlings into people-who-are-welcome-at-other-people’s-houses – or for seasoned parents of reasonably behaved progeny to assess their kids’ performance every now and then. So, without further ado, I present a series of questions that you should ask yourself before sending your offspring to my house:

Can my kid share? Seems kinda basic, yes, but you wouldn’t believe the times I’ve had to settle a sulking (or screaming) match because one of the girls’ friends has pulled a Yertle the Turtle on the house and decided they are the ruler of all that they see. I’ve even been approached the odd time by a kid saying they want an item or piece of clothing to take home and keep. Who does that?

Can my kid play nicely? Again, kinda basic, but a small number of children we’ve hosted have trouble agreeing on an activity, taking turns, losing graciously …. I invite children to our house so that Fiona and Bridget can play with them – not because I feel like sharpening my refereeing skills.

Does my kid clean up his or her messes? Before every playdate, I tell Fiona and Bridget to make sure that one mess is cleaned up before they move on to making another. Sometimes, this works well. Other times, I will see a mess in every room, and I have to remind the girls of the rule about cleaning up behind themselves. Most of the time, our little guests will pitch in cheerfully. However, there have been times when Fiona or Bridget has reported that their friend doesn’t want to clean up the mess – completely ignoring the fact that I never asked if anyone wanted to clean up the mess, I laid down a rule that it must be cleaned up. Recently, Fiona and Bridget have become more bold about insisting on clean-up after having to deal with a few epic messes after their freewheeling pals have gone home – because this mother doesn’t pick up toys anymore.

Does my kid respect other people’s property? I don’t want a hamster-bathing station in the sink. I don’t want make-up fingerprints on every wall from the basement dress-up room to the attic. I don’t want furniture rearranged or things broken. I don’t want my piano banged out of tune. I don’t want my kitchen to become a disaster area because I gave your kid a sliced apple, some caramel dip and a juicebox. And I most definitely don’t want anyone in my bedroom …. Fiona and Bridget don’t even come into the master bedroom without permission – why are so many other people’s kids cool with waltzing into it?

Have I taught my kid manners? If I’m doling out snacks or setting up a movie or supervising a trip to the park, I want to hear as many thank-yous as there are kids present. Before I do any of this, I must first hear an equal number of pleases. Yes, I know – more basics. But these things are important to me. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t have spent years teaching them to my own kids. Having spent years teaching good manners to my own kids, I really don’t feel like putting up with other people’s kids’ bad manners.

Is my kid capable of playing without involving adults? I am not a one-woman amusement park. I have your kids over for Fiona’s and Bridget’s enjoyment and social development. I don’t always want to supervise crafting, do magic tricks, provide spa treatments or play board games. In fact, most of the time, all I want is to get through a glass of wine and a section of the newspaper. So there had better be no little people appearing to ask if I can entertain them – or, worse, to announce that they are bored. Yet this has happened more than once …. A few times, I’ve even been followed around the house by a kid who obviously exists primarily in an adult world while Fiona and Bridget played together in one of their bedrooms or the basement. This playdate is not for me!

What does my kid eat? If your child only eats a certain kind of cheese or crackers, doesn’t like most fruits, won’t eat yogurt, turns up their nose at canned alphabet or chicken soup, is only familiar with one or two types of meat and only on one type of bread, isn’t into frozen pizza …. well, maybe you should just send food with him or her. One recent visitor to our house claimed to not know what baloney is. If you want me to like hosting your kid, teach him or her to like baloney.  I am not a gourmet chef, nor even a short-order hash-slinger. I do not enjoy standing in front of my cupboard or refrigerator while Picky Pete shakes his head and says “meh” over my family’s entire food supply.

I’m sure there are more things that make or break a playdate, and I’m sure there are things that annoy the ever-loving freak out of you that wouldn’t bother me at all. I’m also aware that my own little lovelies are not always perfect guests – we’re all a work in progress. But if you give my list some consideration, it might mean the difference between greeting your kids warmly when they arrive versus breaking into a glorious soft-shoe (complete with jazz hands) the moment they walk out my door.

Melissa Abekah serves up organic meals! (And measles and mumps and whooping cough …. )


In the long, tiresome fight between people-who-believe-in-established-science and anti-vaxxers, the latest salvo to come hurtling out of Camp Ignorance has arrived: a vaccine-free daycare, right here in Ottawa. According to the National Post, Melissa Abekah’s Orléans daycare accepts only unvaccinated children. Her reason for this? She and her husband do not trust the ingredients in vaccines, and they believe that a person who receives a vaccine can transmit the disease to those around them for up to thirty days after the shot. She’s off by thirty days, but we’ve already ascertained that the Abekahs are not big on facts.

I really don’t feel like taking my battle-scarred club to a horse so long expired that it’s stiff and flyblown – but I will. If what I’m saying sounds familiar, it is. I wrote about this issue about eleven months ago:


The facts are swirling all around us, all day every day, free to all who choose to consume them. A quick trip to Dr. Google, and we are confronted with the possible encephalitis and death associated with measles, the effect of mumps on fertility and fetuses, the relentless rib-cracking pain of whooping cough, the sorrow of lives crippled and blighted by polio. The fact that these diseases were very nearly eradicated in so many countries for so many years after the advent of vaccinations speaks for itself. Combine that with the fact that these diseases are coming back to plague a new generation of children since the rise in popularity of vaccine refusal, and only one question remains: how can so many people armed with so much information continue to be so amazingly, lamentably dim?

Yet, somehow, they do. They ignore the findings of scientists and the warnings of doctors, choosing not to take simple – and, in Canada, publicly funded – precautions against their children contracting potentially damaging or deadly diseases. They talk about their right to make such a choice, ignoring the fact that their choice could have terrible consequences for their children, and other people’s children, too. And now there’s a daycare to cater to them. They are willing to take their unprotected child and put him or her in regular close contact with other unprotected children. As Ottawa Public Health’s Marie-Claude Turcotte observed, diseases will spread rapidly in such an environment.

In my opinion, vaccinating your children should not be a choice. Refusing to do so is tantamount to child endangerment, considering the frightening nature of many of the diseases addressed by vaccines. Furthermore, it does not only affect the parents or even just their children. It affects every pregnant woman, infant and immunocompromised person with whom they share a theater, restaurant, shop, bus or waiting room. It affects the small percentage of people whose own vaccinations were ineffective for whatever reason. It affects our healthcare system and those who depend on it, as we scramble for money and resources to deal with the fallout caused by the return of enemies we thought were beaten. A vaccine-free daycare is basically a petri dish providing the perfect conditions for the birth of a new epidemic, and should not be allowed to operate. There are all kinds of laws governing the conditions under which a person is allowed to provide childcare. I call on regulators to make this another one, and stop idiots like Melissa Abekah from causing another outbreak.