So, this week, for the first time ever, I wanted to burn my computer. I wanted to set it on fire, throw it through a window and pour myself a glass of champagne to celebrate its demise. I don’t feel this way during DST, when people whine about how they can no longer function because their clock changed by one lousy hour. I don’t feel this way on May 4, when an army of nerds wishes me the company of the Force. I don’t feel this way every November 12, when people start carping about keeping Christ in Christmas. I didn’t even feel this way when the Minion craze was in full swing – even though I severely dislike (and, worse, don’t really get) Minions and they were all over my Facebook newsfeed. No, what brought me to an all-time low in my experience of the digital world is the overwhelming wave of anti-Muslim memes and rants that I’ve seen over the past week. Horrible things have been posted. Things I wouldn’t say in a sound-proofed closet in an empty house, yet they were proclaimed for all to read. I won’t repeat them, because I can’t bring myself to give them voice. I will say, however, that it is not an exaggeration to observe that my Facebook newsfeed was oozing, dripping, spewing, hemorrhaging hate. So I did what I always do when I don’t like something – I said something. I said alot of somethings. At times, I was buoyed by the positive responses of like-minded people. Most of the time, though, I felt like I was standing alone against a swarm of ignoramuses, bullies, xenophobes, racists. Haters.
I have wanted to blog about this for days now, because this is BethBlog and I’m Beth and I blog. But I’ve been having trouble finding words. Usually, I use my own words. I love to write, and words come easy to me most of the time. Today, though, I can find no better words than those of Jesus Christ in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”
Today, I’m extrapolating on perfection when I add “For I was a refugee, without home, comfort, possessions, food, clothing or health …. and you opened your arms to me.”
Somehow, another year has flown by, and another Remembrance Day is upon us. I nearly lost my poppy again this year. It might just have been a time-between-purchase-and-loss record-breaker, had it not been for Ryan’s sharp eyes. I bought it on my way out of a store, wore it while driving home and discovered it missing upon entering our house. Ryan rescued it from our driveway, and I applied the crafty little eraser-chunk fix (as discussed in this post from last November). It’s still rolling with me. For now.
McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” has always been a poignant read for me (and, of course, millions of other people). “We are the dead.” So simple, so bleak. Our war-dead “loved, and were loved”, and now they are gone. A field of people has been replaced by a field of crosses. And that stirring, haunting call at the end! “To you, from failing hands, we throw the torch …. If ye break faith …. we shall not sleep ….” As the years roll by, though, I find myself thinking more of Binyon’s “For The Fallen”. This poem, though also beautiful, didn’t really resonate with me. Possibly because I felt so very far from growing old myself – to me, the young men and women who lost their life had already lived a fair slice of it. Now that I’m 35, I know that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Looking at pictures of the brave men and women going off to war, I’m struck by how young so many of them were – far too young to die. Some of them never even finished school before shipping out. Some of them had never been more than a few miles from home until they followed the bugle call across the ocean. Some of them had never been in love. Some of them were lucky enough to have fallen in love, maybe even to have married their sweetheart – but they would never experience the ripening of that love into the unbreakable, bone-deep bond that a lifetime together forges. Some of them had children, but many did not – they would never see their own eyes looking back at them from a brand-new face, would never know what it feels like to have a piece of their heart living on the outside of their body. The ones who had been granted the profound blessing of becoming parents would not be able to watch their babies grow up. They may have gotten along well with their own parents, but they would never relate to them the way you do when you’re standing in their shoes. They likely never had a chance to know themselves, either, because that takes years of experience and reflection – they just didn’t have time.
What an awful lot to give up for the security and peace of people who would never have a chance to say thank you.
“We will remember them” – because that is all we have to give in return.
After the sweet, sunny chaos of summer, fall signals the return of many things. School. Regular schedules. Healthy eating and fitness routines. People being around instead of away. Much-loved sweaters, scarves and boots. And, for me this year, volunteering at our local food bank. I volunteered there last fall, winter and spring, taking a break for summer because my children are with me on my days off when school’s out – and because we’re hardly home for more than four days in a row in July and August anyway. Though I love summer, I found myself missing my Friday food bank shifts and looking forward to getting back into them. Not only did I make a few friends there, I also learned some things:
Hunger has many faces. When people think of the food bank, maybe they think of weary single mothers or the elderly. The truth is that the people who rely on the food bank are as varied as the rest of the community. Sure, we see plenty of single mothers, but we see single fathers, too. There are also traditional families who are food-insecure, as well as couples with no children. The elderly are well-represented, but so are the young and strong. My heart is particularly squeezed by the single men. Many of them shuffle from foot to foot and look at the floor alot, and I suspect it’s because they think they have no right to be there – they don’t fit the stereotype of a food bank client, and they fear that they are being judged. You don’t have to spend much time at the food bank before you realize that there is only one thing you can predict about anybody in the queue: that they need help.
Poor people have food issues and preferences, too. When you talk about the food bank, and poverty in general, there is the assumption that hungry people will take anything they can get – and the majority of them will. However, as I’ve already said, there is as much variety among food bank clients as there is among the general population. Intolerances, allergies, diabetes. There’s one regular who asks to read the labels of everything so he can choose the items with the lowest sugar content. Many parents will only take baby foods their little one is used to, partly because it’s easier to feed the baby familiar things – and partly because they don’t want any of the food they take to be wasted. Some children have sensory processing issues, and their parents advocate for them by asking about the texture of this food or that. Many of our clients want halal meat, and to make sure there’s no pork in any of the items we’ve given them. Sometimes, it’s a simple matter of liking one food more than another – or turning down packages that have been opened, or warped cans. When this happens, there’s almost always someone muttering about how they should just take what they can get and be glad they’ve got it. This is true – and they know that. But if they can get something they prefer, or something that serves their needs a little better than other things, why not ask for it? I would, and I’ll bet you would, too.
Having things doesn’t mean you don’t have needs. “Oh, yeah, they go to the food bank – but go to their house and look at their big-screen TV.” “If she needs food so badly, why doesn’t she sell her jewellery and buy some?” “He can’t afford food, but he can afford a cell phone, of course.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard things like this, and watched as the speaker mentally patted him or herself on the back for figuring it all out, then sank back into their comfortable, monochrome existence. Know what? These trappings don’t mean a thing. Life is unpredictable, and can play rough. People who are able to buy themselves a comfortable life one year can fall on hard times the next. Expensive items can be acquired at Value Village, St. Vincent de Paul, and the Sally Ann for a fraction of their value. And some things are worth more than money. You feel better about giving someone a few cans of tuna and soup if they’ve already pawned their grandmother’s diamond bracelet, and they’ve dropped out of society by surrendering their electronics – you feel that makes them more worthy of charity? Here’s hoping that you are not at the mercy of “help” like yourself if you ever need anything.
There, but for the grace of God, goes you. There are alot of people who believe that people who need handouts are somehow inferior. They’re not as smart as the segment of the population that can pay their bills without assistance They squander their resources. They should have organized their lives better. As I said before, though, life can kick your ass in any number of ways, from any number of directions. Some people live paycheque-to-paycheque, and don’t have sick days or severance. They are one bad bout of pneumonia or one pissy boss away from hard times. Some people become disabled and can no longer support their family or even themselves. Some people have a stable situation until the breadwinner dies – and then they need help. Sure, some people end up being food bank clients because they’ve made stupid decisions. They’ve smoked, drank or gambled away all their money – or they never bothered to try making money in the first place. Here’s the thing, though: their reason for being at the food bank doesn’t diminish their need. What kind of society would condemn people to starvation for having made financial mistakes or bad calls? Not one I’d want to be a part of.
If you’re volunteering at the food bank for a warm-fuzzy, you might be disappointed. Some days, there’s lots of everything, and all the clients are happy with what I’ve given them – and I feel good when I leave. Some days, though …. not so much. One day, an eight-months-pregnant woman came in, toddler in tow. She said that she usually tries to avoid coming to the food bank because it’s tough for her to get there, but that she and her son had literally run out of food. She had dragged her weary near-due self, her two-year-old and a trolley on two buses. She was about to take the same two buses back, this time with the same now-grizzling boy and a full trolley. On top of all this, it was thirty below. I drove her home. Then, I cried all the way back to my own house. I havn’t seen her since. Another day, we ran out of damn near everything. Diapers, milk, cereal, bread, ground beef, spaghetti. Even tuna. Yes, that’s right – the food bank ran out of canned tuna. Every week some old dear asks hopefully if there’s any jam to go with the bread. There’s never any jam, ever. And not everyone is grateful – or even nice. Some people are fighting mighty battles in their head or their heart, and it takes everything they’ve got to keep existing – never mind manners or other people’s feelings. Some people are beaten down by their problems, and feeling sorry for themselves. Some people are just plain angry that they have to come to the food bank, stand in a long line and bring home a load of stuff other people didn’t want – or maybe they’re just having a bad day. I can’t say for certain that I’d accept their circumstances with grace at all times, if I were them – so I don’t judge them. On the low days, I have to remind myself that I’m doing something, and that’s better than doing nothing.
I love it. I enjoy the camaraderie with the other volunteers. I love chatting with the regulars and getting to know them. I love filling empty bags with food for people who might not otherwise have anything to eat. I like the bin of treats where I can choose a few goodies to dole out – little surprises, like a tin of salted cashews or a handful of candy or some packets of hot chocolate mix. It gives me a thrill when I finally get a smile out of someone who’s been responding to my warm greeting with a curt nod week after week. This happened the last time I was there, and it made my day. I may be handing them a few days’ worth of groceries, but what they’re giving me is something that will last a lifetime.
People who know me well will be very surprised that I’m including baseball in today’s blog post – because, honestly, I’m so over baseball. True, I’ve enjoyed attending games during our various road trips – but that’s mainly due to the exciting atmosphere of a ball park. Oh, and the hotdogs and cotton candy. The game itself kinda bores me, and people talking about it is even more tiresome. This normally isn’t a problem. My girlfriends usually don’t talk sports, and the men in my life know enough to limit it to one or two sentences when they just can’t control themselves. Now that the Toronto Blue Jays are on a dream dash in the direction of the World Series, however, I can’t escape the game or the talk, and it’s driving me crazy. (This dark confession could lead to calls for the revocation of my Canadian citizenship, but I’ll take that risk for the sake of this blog post.)
Yesterday morning, Ryan and I were sitting in the parking lot, avoiding the trek to the office by listening to a couple of guys mumbling on the radio. Ok, so Ryan probably heard them talking about sports, as it was TSN 1200 Ottawa – but I the sound I heard resembled Charlie Brown’s teacher. I perked up when I heard a voice complaining about José Bautista’s now-famous celebratory bat toss. This act has attracted pearl-clutching from a few directions, including whoever-it-was I heard whining through our car speakers. According to the haters, Bautista flipping that bat was cocky, tacky and dangerous. Personally, I don’t see it as a big deal. So it was a little reckless …. However, the man is a member of a team that just knocked out another team 6-3 on their way to the World Series. His entire country is cheering for him. This may just be the dizzy peak of his baseball career, and it is something all the little Jays fans of today will grow up talking about. In a moment like that, you don’t look around to see who might get clipped by your jazz hands – you freak out!
Justification aside, what really steams my broccoli is all the talk of role models. “Little kids who play baseball want to grow up to be just like José Bautista. What are they supposed to think of his behaviour? Blah, blah, blah …. he is a role model.” (The last two words are spoken at a volume only dogs can hear, with the regard typically reserved for Jesus, Mother Theresa and people’s grandmothers.) The problem is that he’s not a role model. He’s just a guy who’s really good at baseball. All pro sports people are exactly that: people who are good enough at their game to make a living playing it. Pop stars are just people who are (in most cases) marginally good at singing and dancing, and may know how to play an instrument passably. Actors are just …. well, actors. Politicians are …. um, does anyone really know what politicians are? Anyway, you get my drift. People in the public eye are not there because they boast outstanding character. They are there because they are famous, and they are famous because at some point they’ve outperformed somebody at something.
Fiona and Bridget are ten and eight. They are both big fans of pop music. This means they listen to material of varied quality by people of questionable quality. Sometimes, these people behave very badly. This doesn’t bother me at all. Why? Because they are pop stars, not priests or teachers or childcare providers. If they do something that requires a side-eye, we give it to them, and then we talk about it. Fiona and Bridget know that stars are only human, and that their music is what they offer – nothing more. Parents are in charge of the message and how it is received. Calling someone a role model just because they’ve become famous is silly, and unfair to a person who’s just living their life. Raise your own kids, and be a role model yourself. Let stars live their lives as they please.
There can be no doubt that many parents are becoming more and more entitled these days. They are caught (and complained about) committing a multitude of sins. (Want proof? Check out http://www.stfuparentsblog.com/ for plenty of examples, and a laugh while you’re at it ….)
A growing number of women don’t just give birth, they want to craft a birthing experience. Everyone speaking in soft tones while they squeeze out the screamer into a kiddie pool on their bedroom floor, in the presence of their entire clan – plus a few good friends and a midwife and a doula and maybe the mailman – is actually a fairly mild demand. I’ve read accounts of women attempting to give birth among dolphins because dolphins offer peace, strength and healing to the mother. Dolphins also sometimes kill other animals just for sport, but let’s not focus on the negative …. Some parents expect the whole street to hold its breath while their darling is napping. They want a posh breastfeeding lounge in every establishment larger than a gas station. A few of them will call the police if a person not attached to a child is – gasp – lingering in the park. And then there are the parents who want everyone to keep the park as clean as their own home because food on the ground might cause an allergic reaction. Never mind watching your child to keep them from eating off the ground if it’s that big of a problem – everyone else ought to work around you! Oh, and that hundred-year-old nut-bearing tree that most people love? That should be cut down (we all read that story) because acorns are, apparently, a bullying tool and a public safety issue. Some parents don’t bother to discipline their children in public, and then pull out the huffy, wounded well-I-never when someone who’s tired of their brats being brats shoots them a dirty look. These same parents also believe they can – and should – go everywhere with the little one, and that any place they go must have everything they need at all times. Like Candice Pouliotte.
Back in August, Pouliotte, her two small children and her grandparents went to Kelly’s Landing Restaurant in Manotick for lunch. She noticed there was no change table in the washroom. She asked the waitress about changing the baby on a dining room table. The waitress said she could. Yes, this happened. An adult of sound mind – who is even responsible for two other human beings – asked if she could open her baby’s feces-filled diaper on an eating surface and replace it with a fresh one. Another adult of sound mind who serves food to the public said that’s fine.
Pouliotte proceeded with the diaper change. When the understandably horrified owner, Dan Dunbar, approached her, they exchanged words and she left. Then, she returned to the restaurant to explain her position to Dunbar. I don’t know how the second conversation went, but this doesn’t seem like something you can talk someone around to. “On second thought, you’re absolutely right – the people eating lunch here probably didn’t mind smelling your baby’s scat, and it’s really not that big of a deal if I serve someone lunch on the table where your baby’s ass was resting five minutes ago.” Dunbar says he was shocked by Pouliotte’s actions.
This incident sparked fierce online debate (like pretty much everything else these days, because we all live on the internet). Speaking with the CBC, Pouliotte defended her position. “As a paying customer and being a mother, I think that telling someone to leave a restaurant to change a child is treating them like a second-class citizen or worse,” she said.”A child shouldn’t have to sit in a soiled diaper while you eat your dinner or have your lunch. I think that if any business is open during daytime hours, that this should be a standard.”
Yes, Pouliotte, you’re right – no babies should sit in dirty diapers while everyone else enjoys their meal. Thing is, though, nobody’s saying they should – what people are saying is that the dirty diaper doesn’t belong on a freakin’ dining room table. Which really shouldn’t be something anyone has to say …. And suggesting that you are being treated like a second class citizen when you are asked to take your kid’s solid waste out of a restaurant dining room is ridiculous. In fact, by changing a diaper on a dining room table, you’re actually putting yourself in a class above everyone else. Not only are you showing no regard for other people’s dining experience or the restaurant owner, but you are doing something that is unacceptable for anyone to do. The idea that any business open during daytime hours should have a change table is ludicrous. Any business? Convenience stores? Banks? Law offices? Garages? Pouliotte seems to be a master of magnification.
Ryan and I have done our share of diaper duty. When Fiona was two, just after Bridget was born, we were changing up to a dozen diapers a day. We love to eat out, and we love to travel. We have travelled extensively with our children since they were born. We have changed diapers on our laps, on the grass, on benches, in parking lots, on the hood and seats of our car, on counters next to sinks, on floors of all descriptions (houses, restaurants, malls), in doctor’s offices. I once changed a diaper on a standing baby in a closet-sized washroom in Juarez, Mexico, because there literally was no surface large enough to lay her down. Know where we’ve never changed a baby? A dining room table, public or private. Never. Why? Because that’s disgusting.
Since January 1 of this year, Ontario law has required newly-built larger restaurants to have a family washroom with a changing table. This is good news – it will be easier than ever for families to dine out in comfort. Older buildings without them are not required to install them. This is as it should be. Having babies is a lifestyle choice, and business owners should not have to carry the heavy cost of renovating their restaurant just because you’ve chosen to breed. If a restaurant owner sees enough of a need – or enough of a revenue drop – to justify upgrading their facilities, great. If not, either put up with the inconvenience of getting creative about diaper changes, or take your money elsewhere. Whatever you decide to do, keep the fecal matter off the table. Even if the only thing you care about is your child, consider the bad example you’re setting by acting like the world is your trash can.
Ok, so the title of this post is a tad dramatic. I wasn’t sleeping with Betty Friedan – it was more like serious flirting. And I’ve never thought of feminists or feminism as the enemy – though I’ve been mightily irked by them at times. I have often thought that many feminists claim to support the choices women make, but only if they are the right ones. Women fixing their own cars, renovating their own homes, breaking sporting records, building careers, getting political? That’s great! Generations of feminists are behind you every step of the way! Women enjoying traditionally feminine pursuits such as cleaning, cooking, tending flowers, crafting? Dialing back their dedication to their professional life to pay a little more attention to their children? Spending money and time to look nice not only for themselves – but possibly for a date? That’s setting back the cause of feminism – being a traitor to women! You are underachieving, and you’re a man’s dupe, to boot. I have also taken issue with the fact that, for some feminists, feminism means more than equality – it means putting men down to lift women up. And, of course, we’ve all heard the irritating stories of feminists actually becoming angry with men over offers to give up a bus seat or hold a door open.
However, I am a reader – anyone who’s spent more than five minutes getting to know me knows I love reading. And how could I resist a book that was labelled one of the “ten most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries”? My inner child has always made an effort to touch what she’s been told to stay away from. So, I bought Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique”, and dove into it. I assumed I’d disagree with Friedan on nearly everything, but a good reader suspends judgement – so I tried to keep an open mind. I found, to my surprise, that the book was well-written and contained some solid food for thought.
I had to get around a few things to really embrace the book. Friedan writes with a poorly concealed angry edge. There’s an exhausting amount of talk about sexuality and the ability (or inability, as the case may be) to achieve orgasm. She uses examples that seem extreme. Vast numbers of women who really can’t think of anything to do with themselves after their youngest child no longer needs them, so they dye their hair blonde and have another baby. Women who coddle their children so much that their boys (though they hate their mothers) can’t ever leave them and their girls have no one to look up to. Women who do their children’s homework for them so as to satisfy the academic itch they never dared scratch during their own education. Women who use the time saved by all the modern appliances to think of more housework to do. Women who have no outlet other than sex – and, sex being the only excitement, seek it everywhere, all the time. Women so shallow and insipid that, when asked about their lives, thank God for things like “two cars, two TVs and two fireplaces”. Friedan claims that she, herself, gave up academics to become a wife and mother because her date said “nothing can come of this [their relationship], because I’ll never win a fellowship like yours”. This seems like a very small thing on which to base such a drastic decision.
She shockingly compares the plight of housewives to that of concentration camp inmates in the twelfth chapter, entitled “Progressive Dehumanization: the Comfortable Concentration Camp”. She is careful to say that, of course, being a housewife is not as bad as being a concentration camp victim – but she lost me at the first mention that there could be any comparison between the two.
She seems to think that the answer to every woman’s problems is a career. In the final chapter, “A New Life Plan for Women”, many of the solutions offered to women trying to balance career and family and the home are contingent on money. Many women cannot splash out on a maid or a cook or a nanny, and higher education is financially beyond them, too – but Friedan leans heavily on these things as supports for broadening the minds and lives of women.
In spite of the hyperbole and hysterics, Friedan is generally aware of the various phases of women’s lives and how our needs change in response to these phases. She doesn’t push women to live grim, sexless, solitary lives – she offers ideas for balancing education, careers, children, husband and self. She does not suggest that only one kind of lifestyle is acceptable for women, she is advocating for choices – for women to have the opportunity to live life whatever way they wish. She doesn’t put men down. She censures women who do, lamenting that the “man-haters” distract from the true purpose of feminism and stir public sentiment against feminists. In several parts of the book, she mentions the role of men in women’s lives as a positive thing, and thanks men for supporting feminism and the women they love. She raises the idea of a masculine mystique that affects men as negatively as the feminine mystique affects women, and calls them “the other half” of what feminists are doing. She encourages women and men to come together in the common struggle for everyone’s rights.
Friedan makes some interesting points about how the concept of women’s liberation was stronger before and during the two world wars. Then, a shell-shocked world longed for the comfort of home and tradition – and women retreated from the progress that had been made to make homes for the returning soldiers. She brings together a number of threads, everything from the education of women to become wives and mothers to what she calls “the sexual sell” – the dependence of advertisers on perpetuating the feminine mystique. Think of all the ads we now laugh at, for everything from coffee to carpet sweepers – the ads featuring the doe-eyed (usually blonde) housewife with her finger in the eureka position and her face all lit up because now she knows how to get her silverware truly shiny or how to get rid of that ring around the bathtub. We think these ads are funny because it seems ridiculous to suggest that you are not living up to some standard if you aren’t taking care of your family in this way by using this product. Well, once upon a time, these ads were real – new ones being generated daily – and real women were reading them, thinking what they were being told to think, and subconsciously using consumption to become the womanly ideal these companies relied on to stay in the black.
As I was reading the book, a memory came back to me. I was working for my home town, one of those employ-a-student projects that many small towns run every summer. I was making a little under $5 per hour, as that was the minimum wage at the time, for doing a variety of jobs. Everything from cleaning the fire hall to running the community channel bingo to painting the playground to tidying up the cemetery to chopping a mountain of squid into rings to deep fry and sell by the plateful at the town fair. Only in Newfoundland …. Well, one of the things I ended up doing was helping to lay the foundation for a new building. This was hard work. Lifting heavy bags of cement, mixing it, pouring it. Even though I – and the other girls – were side-by-side with the guys every step of the way, doing everything they were doing, we took alot of teasing. The guys minced about, talking in high voices, pretending they couldn’t do this or that because “it’s a girl thing”. About halfway through the day, they switched to teasing us about being manly and asking us if they could see the hair that just had to be on our burly chests because we were doing “a man’s job”. We were concentrating on our work, not goofing off, and accomplished more than they did. They grudgingly admitted that we did a decent job before we all went home. That evening, I wrote in my journal: “It’s unfair. Being a girl working with guys on a manual labour project, you have to be twice as good as they are to be considered half as good.” This was a revelation to me. I didn’t know it at the time, but the fact that I was allowed to give this job a try was due to the efforts of previous generations of crusaders. And the fact that all the guys could do about it was tease the girls, and the fact that I was being paid just as much as the guys were …. Also, the fact that I was saving this pay to fund the science degree I was about to obtain.
Though I don’t agree with everything Betty Friedan wrote, her book reminded me that I owe a debt of gratitude to generations of feminists. For better and sometimes for worse, I am (and have always been) fiercely independent – I like doing whatever I damn well please, and heaven help the person who tries to tell me I can’t. I may not choose to do all that I can do, but I have a choice. I can vote. I can marry and divorce whomever I please. There is no career path out of my reach simply because I am female. I can be as girly (or masculine) as I want, and so can Fiona and Bridget. Ryan doesn’t have to hunt, fight or do the heavy-lifting to be called a man and respected as such. We can all be ourselves, and this is partially due to the barriers feminists – female and male – knocked down.