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

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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 ….

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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 …. )

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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:

https://nothingandeverythingbeth.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/dont-be-stupid-and-selfish-vaccinate/

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.

Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy!

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I really don’t like Ground Hog Day. It’s pointless. Here’s why: it doesn’t matter what the freakin’ rodent sees what he pokes his mangy nose out of his den – on February 2, Canadians can always count on at least six more weeks of winter. And that would be a good winter …. Usually, it’s eight more weeks, or even ten more weeks. Winter is going to be hanging around, hurting people’s skin and throwing their backs out and reeking of wet mittens, until April. You can’t beat it, you don’t want to join it, and it’s eating you alive. So, how about some good music? That’s right, it’s time again for me to present my Top 40 of last year! I did this last year, too. This year, I’m a little more experienced when it comes to compiling a music chart, and I feel more confident about the placement of various songs. Oh, and for those who like to complain that there’s no good music anymore, that’s just not true! There are plenty of great songs out there, by talented people, in many different genres. I could easily have made a Top 100. This year, I’m also offering links to all forty songs, not just the Top 10. Not sure why I did that last year, but this year I declare it to be lame. Why shouldn’t you have a link to #34 or #27 or #11?

Ryan and I listened to all forty of these songs last Friday night. He is addicted to numbers, rankings and music. This makes him the ideal audience for my display of musical narcissism. Also, there were delicious snacks and unlimited drinks ….

(Just a friendly reminder: if you disagree with the methodology of this chart, I don’t care. It consists of songs that I came to know and love in 2014, and whether they were actually released in October of 2013 is of no importance to me. Don’t like it? Make your own chart. I’ll happily listen along, and I won’t question how you put it together.)

40. “River Bank” by Brad Paisley

39. “Me and My Broken Heart” by Rixton

38. “Automatic” by Miranda Lambert

37. “Unbelievers” by Vampire Weekend

36. “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight” by Cole Swindell

35. “Amnesia” by 5 Seconds of Summer

34. “I Lived” by OneRepublic

33. “Turn Down for What?” by DJ Snake & Lil Jon

32. “Diane Young” by Vampire Weekend

31. “Young Girls” by Bruno Mars

30. “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” by Tim McGraw & Faith Hill

29. “Centuries” by Fall Out Boy

28. “Dangerous” by David Guetta & Sam Martin

27. “Guns + Ammunition” by July Talk

26. “Gotta Get Away” by Black Keys

25. “Boom Clap” by Charli XCX

24. “Problem” by Ariana Grande & Iggy Azalea

23. “I” by Kendrick Lamar

22. “Young Blood” by Bea Miller

21. “Brave” by Sara Bareilles

20. “I Wanna Get Better” by Bleachers

19. “Drunk on a Plane” by Dierks Bentley

18. “Classic” by Mkto

17. “American Kids” by Kenny Chesney

16. “Happy” by Pharell

15. “Figure It Out” by Royal Blood

14. “Talk Dirty” by Jason Derulo & 2Chainz

13. “Love Runs Out” by OneRepublic

12. “Don’t” by Ed Sheeran

11. “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea & Charli XCX

10. “I’m Ready” by Ajr

9. “Pop 101″ by Marianas Trench & Anami Vice

8. “All About That Bass” by Meghann Trainor

7. “Black Widow” by Iggy Azalea & Rita Ora

6. “Wasted” by Tiesto & Matthew Koma

5. “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift

4. “Trumpets” by Jason Derulo

3. “Habits” by Tove Lo

2. “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic

1. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars

My #1 song is infectious …. Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars are channelling James Brown with all the energy and talent – and none of the excessive perspiration. Hope you enjoyed the music! I’d love to hear what some of my esteemed readers liked among 2014’s musical offerings …. Chime in if you’re so inclined!

Now, I know why.

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We are lucky enough to live near beautiful Frank Ryan Park. It’s a large park with play structures, a wading pool, basketball and tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and many woodsy trails. There are lots of old trees that are perfect for shading a picnic. In the winter, there’s a great hill for sledding, and a rink. There’s even a small area outside the rink flooded and maintained for skaters who are not up for the rough-and-tumble inside the rink. There are hay bales tied to trees and stacked up against the fence at the bottom of the hill to protect the skulls and limbs of the kids who go blasting down the hill (well, not just kids – I’ve enjoyed a few runs myself this winter). These stand in stark contrast to a harshly worded sign placed by the city that says it is not responsible for any injuries or loss of life caused by having winter fun – which I’m fairly certain everyone ignores. I know I do ….

After school yesterday I took Fiona and Bridget there to meet some friends. I laughingly introduced my skates as “the world’s ugliest skates”. That’s an exaggeration, but they were a Christmas present when I was fifteen – almost twenty years ago – and they are definitely the worse for wear. They’re mildew-stained in places because they were stored in a damp shed for a while. They’re yellowed and smudged. The metal hooks at the top have rusted, so the laces are rust-stained where they’re not dirty grey. The blades are rusty in several spots – one crater of rust is at least two inches long. But …. I can still skate in them. So I do. When I called them ugly, it triggered a memory of my mother’s skates when she was about my age. They looked exactly like mine do now. At the time, I couldn’t figure out how they had gotten that ugly, and why she still used them. My skates were always so white they glowed, and the blades were pristine. Like Fiona’s and Bridget’s are now. Now, I know why – if your feet aren’t growing, and your skates still skate, and your kids need new skates every year because they are growing like bad weeds, you don’t bother with new skates for yourself. Now that I’m in my thirties, I’ve got answers to other whys, too ….

I know why some of my mother’s clothes were nearly as old as her skates (though, of course, not as roughed up). I vaguely remember asking my mother why she kept wearing this one particular shirt that she had been wearing for years. I don’t remember her reply to my snotty question, although it should have been something along the lines of “what’s it to you, shut up”. Now, though, I get it. You just really love some items of clothing. You don’t care whether they’re in style. Sometimes you don’t feel like shopping, even if you need a new whatever-it-is. Just like the skates – you’re not growing anymore, and you still like it – and your kids need new everything, all the freakin’ time. I have (and still wear) a jacket that I wore in high school. I have underwear that’s older than my daughters.

I know why my mother fell asleep on the couch. My mother hardly ever stopped moving. She worked shifts at a hospital 45 minutes down the highway. She kept our house so clean that, most of the time, we could have eaten off any floor without ingesting anything other than our food. She made a great meal from scratch just about every day – and we had no dishwasher. She did nearly all the laundry, and hung it on the clothesline rather than use the dryer – even in the winter. She went for long walks every day. She sewed and read novels. At the end of the day, when she sat on the couch, she fell asleep. I snickered over this regularly. I once took a picture of her sleeping on the couch, chin on her chest, and printed a copy for her to treasure. Well, karma has officially kicked my deserving ass …. I’m now a champion couch-sleeper. I go and go and go – and when I finally sit down, I crash hard.

I know why my mother lost patience with our TV habit and evicted us from the same couch. Fiona and Bridget are squirmy little people. They can’t sit still longer than 45 seconds – unless they are in front of a screen. And it is, to say the least, mildly unsettling to see twitchy, wiggly kids making like catatonics in front of a flickering square for an hour or more. The idiot box is aptly named. Though I have to admit that it makes a great babysitter sometimes ….

I know why my mother had so much face junk. I remember thinking, in our tiny bathroom in my childhood home, that my mother’s make-up and other face junk took up a quarter of the counter space. What did she do with it all? Now, I know. Because I have two shelves’ worth of face junk myself. Eye cream, day cream (both tinted and clear), night cream, toner. Mud masks. Concealer. Two kinds of mascara. About a dozen half-used eyeshadows. My face never goes anywhere naked.

I know why my mother had all those perfumes. She had at least half a dozen half-used scent bottles on her dresser at any given time. When I was a teenager, I used to buy one perfume, and use it all up. Usually, it was something really awful, too – remember Tribe? How about Malibu Musk? I had the econo-size bottle of Malibu Musk. This has inspired me to take a trip down scents-of-the-nineties memory lane ….

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NAVY_Wenhanced-buzz-7691-1379359544-2enhanced-buzz-1859-1379360046-0C77010-HI-11_large (Yes, Gender One, not CK One. Because I couldn’t afford anything by Calvin Klein.)

Sorry for the sidetrack …. Back to the topic at hand. I was using a perfume. Then I got a Hudson’s Bay gift card for Christmas, which I used to buy perfume. Then I bought one while cruising through the duty free shops in an airport during a stopover. I saw that scents were on sale at Shoppers’ Drugmart, and took advantage. Then I really just felt like a change, and rummaged through the cluttered cosmetics section of Winners …. Guess what I have on my dresser. Yep – half a dozen half-used scent bottles.

Oh, and finally ….

I know why my mother’s mouth always hung open when she applied mascara. It’s because you can’t help it! It actually takes a conscious effort to keep your mouth closed while putting on mascara …. Scientists will begin searching for an explanation after they’ve halted global warming and cured cancer.

These days, I’m the mystery – to Fiona and Bridget. They shake their pretty heads over alot of things I do. Someday, though, they’ll be all grown up, and they’ll have their own list of finally-answered whys. They’ll look up from their cluttered bathroom counter at their reflection, already daydreaming about their next nap even though it’s not even noon, and suddenly it will all make sense. On that day, I hope I hear from them – we will laugh together at the joke that’s on all of us.

Serendipity

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I adore the Saturday paper …. It’s thick and wordy, filled with all sorts of things that could not be fully enjoyed squeezed into a Monday or Thursday – things that need to be savoured under a blanket on the couch, with a fresh cup of coffee and an unfrazzled mind. A weekend mind. Yesterday, there was an article about staged proposals, complete with hired photographer who tails the couple from a discreet distance and takes a picture of the event. The fellow featured in the article not only hired the photographer, he also hired a dog. A celebrity dog named Jiff, to be exact. For $600, Jiff made a custom video for the lady, walking on hind legs while wearing a tiny shirt that read “Lauren, Jiff thinks you should marry Jeff!” For $400 more, the photographer snapped the perfect shot – the now-fiancé on one knee, bling sparkling, Lauren reaching for the box. Their engagement cost more than the clothes worn by our entire wedding party, my dress and Ryan’s rented tux included.

It seems appropriate that this article appeared in the paper this weekend, as today marks twelve years since Ryan popped the question and I said yes. Ryan had been toying with asking me to marry him, though he hadn’t decided how or when. We went skiing. He had never been skiing before, and I tried to teach him how. I did it in my usual bossy, impatient manner. He took his first run having learned very little, but possibly having decided that he’d rather go hurtling at breakneck speed down a hill than listen to my well-intentioned harangue any longer. As I watched him go, it occurred to me that he was not going from side-to-side – he was going straight. He just might kill himself. I sped up to catch him, and we met at the bottom of the hill. We almost fell over, and we righted each other as other skiers whizzed past us. He babbled for a few seconds about how his first ski run was an amazing experience and he loved it – “and I want to marry you, will you marry me”. There may or may not have been a breath between sentences. Tears of surprise and delight freezing on my face, I said yes. We went back to the lodge to call our families. Because we hatched an idea of Ryan calling my mother and me calling his parents, their first thought was that he broke something (or, perhaps, his whole self) and that’s why it was the ski lodge’s number on their display and my voice on their phone …. Brilliant. Later, we went ring-shopping, and settled on a date about seven months down the road. There was alot of work to do in a short time, but we didn’t want to put off our big day any more than we had to. A waitress at Dunn’s took a picture of us at brunch the following Sunday, which was used in our engagement announcement in the Hamilton Spectator. A photo from a previous trip to Montréal was chosen for the one that went in the Nor’Wester. We framed the Camp Fortune ski passes.

It was the opposite of staged. And I’m glad it was …. Because if any great amount of thought had been put into it, it probably would have been scotched. For one thing, we were the first of our friends on either side to even consider marriage. Ryan was 24, and I was 22. The average age of marriage of people in our generation is somewhere in the late twenties, with children following in the early thirties. We had only been together a year and two months. That’s about the length of your average engagement these days. Ryan proposed during the second half of January, widely agreed to be the most depressing part of the year. Debt. Weight. Bad weather. The holidays too far in the rear-view mirror to cheer us up any longer. Weeks and weeks of winter still to go. Every year, somewhere between January and February, I turn into my own version of Mr. Hyde. He didn’t know that then, thankfully. Then, there are personal factors …. My father had died months earlier, and I had gone home to Newfoundland for Christmas. It was the worst Christmas before or since. The only way it could have been worse would have been if someone else had died during it. I returned heartbroken, bruised, bleeding – and ready to fight with a lamp post if it had looked at me the wrong way. We argued more than once in the days leading up to his proposal. If he had taken that information as any kind of indicator, he would have run in the opposite direction. He certainly would not have asked me to be his other half. But he did, and everything since then has been the rich harvest of that hopeful, ridiculous seed. Our road trips. All those laughs. All the times we’ve leaned on each other. Fiona and Bridget. This house. This life.

I don’t have an axe to grind, or even a point to prove – which makes this different from alot of other BethBlog posts. I just want to enjoy a moment of deep gratitude for the fact that heart was driving the bus on January 18, 2003, and head took a night off. For leaps of faith. For serendipity, whispering “do it – you won’t be sorry”. Here’s to taking chances!

People were murdered for disrespectful doodles – and we’re moralizing the doodlers?

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Yesterday, masked gunmen burst into the office of a French satirical weekly and murdered twelve people. The city of Paris, and, indeed, the entire free world, is stricken by the news of this audacious attack. Canadians are feeling afresh the shock and sadness of what happened to us less than three months ago. Many are wondering what the next target will be, because we know there will be one. It’s only a matter of time.

The publication, Charlie Hebdo, prints cartoons skewering everything from politics to religion to life in general. They’ve attracted negative attention many times from many people, including a fire bombing in 2011. Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor, was unrepentant. If anything, the threats galvanized him to continue in his irreverent ways. He is quoted as having said that he’d rather die on his feet (freely saying and doing whatever he wants) than live on his knees (surrendering to terrorists by apologizing and censoring himself). He died on his feet.

I don’t need to state just how despicable this latest act of Islamist terrorism is. We all know. I do, however, feel the need to address some people’s reactions. Not even twenty-four hours after the news broke, I saw more than one person condemn the attack – and then water down their condemnation with an effete line about the wrongness of disrespecting others’ religious beliefs. This is irrelevant at best; at worst, it is victim-blaming. It is no different than pointing out that a homeowner did not have an alarm system when his home was invaded, mulling over what an abused child was doing to anger his parents, or questioning what a raped woman was wearing at the time of her assault. It doesn’t matter what Charlie Hebdo was distributing – there is not even the barest shred of justification for what happened in that office yesterday.

Papers, magazines, radio, music, TV and movies all poke fun at lots of people and things. Stupid people, fat people, ugly people, old people, celebrities, civil servants, lawyers, bums, politics and politicians – and, yes, religion and religious people. Is it nice? No. But we, as a country, have agreed that it is allowed – we embrace and support freedom of expression, even if the expression is unpopular, unkind or downright rude. If we allow any individual or group to decide what is an acceptable subject and form of expression, that freedom will be diminished. If we allow that because of fear, all of our freedoms will disappear.

When something offends you in our open and free society, there are a few things you can do. You can contact those who produce and distribute the offensive content and express your opinion of it to them. You can whine about it on social media. You can blog about it. You can take out a full-page ad in the newspaper declaring your aversion to the offence in question. You can sue. Or you can simply turn away – stop reading, listening or watching – and encourage like-minded people to do the same. These terrorists – these vicious, ignorant, ridiculous wastes of oxygen and space – decided to address it with AK-47s.

Our country has also agreed that capital punishment is not an acceptable judgement even for the most heinous criminals – even if merely thinking about their crime is nauseating and horrifying. We keep them alive on the taxpayer’s dime rather than kill them. We do not condone eye-for-eye – and certainly not life-for-insult – justice. So, please stop implying that a few cartoonists may have invited their own execution by creating and publishing impertinent drawings. It’s senseless, disgusting and unworthy of a just, free, enlightened society – much like the terrorists who killed them.