Black Friday is great if having stuff is what makes you happy.

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Any two countries that share a border will inevitably share other things. Good things like resources, talent, ideas, solutions, recipes. And bad things, like criminals, nuisance species of plants, bugs and animals, outbreaks – and, in our case, Black Friday. It was never a thing in Canada until recent years. I remember the first few tentative ads and sales, and the odd company publishing a flyer devoted to Black Friday deals. It started small. But It didn’t take long to find firm footing here ….

For the past week, a solid third of the radio commercials I’ve heard are for Black Friday events. Every second page of the newspaper features a Black Friday ad. You’re going to be blown away by these rock-bottom prices! You’ve never seen deals like these, and you might never see them again! Black Friday is not just Friday – these sales start Thursday and last all weekend long! They end just in time for Cyber Monday. Which is a handy little contingency for anyone who didn’t manage to buy enough over the weekend. Kind of like Boxing Day, a back-up plan for those who didn’t get enough for Christmas.

Defenders of Black Friday often say that it helps them save money on Christmas presents. This is true for many shoppers, but – from what I’ve seen of the event – there’s nothing even remotely Christmassy about it. People start lining up in the middle of the night, staking their spot in the hopes of being the first to plunge their greedy paws into piles of electronics, toys, clothes and household goods and grab as much as they can carry. They trample each other – people have been crushed to death in pursuit of cut-price merchandise. They come to blows over the last of the $10 food processors, $7 cardigans and $5 Monster High dolls. It takes a special level of obtuseness to link Black Friday madness with God becoming man in his humblest form – a baby born in poverty, to a low-class family, in occupied territory, who would one day be buried in a donated grave.

Tomorrow, news sources will report either massive retail success, or disappointment if the expected crowds didn’t show up. Next week, there will probably be an appeal from local food banks because the winter is coming and the shelves are bare. A week before Christmas, the Salvation Army will report that it has not received enough donations to help all the needy families on its list. The Mission will serve Christmas dinner to as many as they can, but some will be turned away when they run out of food. Perhaps these charities would be more successful if we bought less for ourselves and more for others. But, hey – it’s Black Friday, a great new Canadian tradition! Look how happy it makes everyone!

Excuse me – I spilled some sarcasm on my keyboard. Seriously, try to find a smile in any of these pictures. No matter how much stuff we manage to gather around us, we’re still the same on the inside: rich in stuff and poor in spirit.

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Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be assholes!

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Needless to say (but I will say it, because I have to say all the things), anyone who’s lived among other humans has encountered, is dealing with or will meet at least one asshole. Because they’re everywhere …. Tailgating, then angrily revving up to pass you whether it’s safe or not, then squeezing in front of you. Just so they can get wherever they’re going a minute faster. Cutting in line at the grocery store, then feigning innocence when you say “excuse me, I was in line already”. They know damn well what they did – they were just hoping you wouldn’t have the cojones to call them on it. Pitching a fit at the DMV because they don’t have the required paperwork with them, while the people in line behind them roll their eyes and sigh. Five minutes on the website would have told them everything they needed to know, but they’d rather spend fifteen minutes berating some poor schmuck who has no control over the rules and cannot escape the asshole’s rage because this is her job. Monopolizing the teacher well past their allotted ten minutes, knowing that the teacher has twenty other sets of parents waiting to talk to him. Because, of course, there’s only one child who matters: theirs. Stealing from the office kitchen. They make the same salary as everyone else, but they somehow feel entitled to a free coffee, or even someone else’s sandwich. Neighbours who clear their driveway by dumping the snow onto yours. People who don’t flush. I. Can’t. Even. with the people who don’t flush.

I always knew of the existence of assholes. What I didn’t know is how early they take their first steps down the path to full-blown assholery …. until I became a mother. Fiona was all of one year old when a kid at least three years older than her snatched her pail and shovel at the playground, declaring that he needed it and she wasn’t old enough to use it anyway. At about the same age, two years later, Bridget was discovered by a sadistic little girl who – though older, taller and heavier – insisted on riding her, horsey-style, while she wailed. No matter how many times I pulled that brat off her, it was inevitable that I would have to do it again before the playgroup session ended. I can’t count how many times both girls have watched longingly while some kid hogged the swings, pretending oblivion to the fact that other kids wanted a turn. Nearly every time we’ve visited a McDonald’s, I’ve cringed while watching small ones jostled and toppled by kids who are old enough to know that they should be more careful – and, in some cases, too old to be using the play area anyway.

The most bountiful source, by far, of assholes has been school …. There was the girl who slammed Fiona’s head against the school bus window, and ripped the tassel off her toque. The boy who took Fiona’s beloved cowboy hat from her and danced around with it high in the air while she cried. This is the same boy who, horrifyingly, stuck another kid’s finger in the pencil sharpener and shaved off a layer of skin. Cue the theme from “Psycho”. The girl who, when asked if Fiona could join her group, let her eyes slide around, counting the kids already involved, then protested that Fiona was one too many because this was a game for seven. The boy who knocked Bridget down from behind, causing her to skin out both palms and both knees. The gang of sixth-graders who plagued the schoolyard last year, teasing younger kids about everything from the toys they were playing with to their hair colour, until the principle blew his stack in front of all the students and ordered the jerks out of his school (he earned my respect that day, and – presumably – the love of every underdog from junior kindergarten to the top). While we’re talking about sixth-graders, the sixth-grade boys who thought it was funny to ask the little girls on the bus if they’d like to have sex. This was confusing and upsetting for kids who, of course, didn’t even know what sex is. Who does that? The girl who just had to tell Fiona that she shouldn’t be wearing her Mario-and-Luigi shirt for her school picture. (I asked Fiona what this girl was wearing that was so special, and she couldn’t remember. But she has never forgotten how this girl made her feel.) The girl who heard Fiona humming and said “um, no offense, but you can’t sing”. Did she wake up that morning with the goal of trampling somebody else’s joy, or was it a random act of cruelty? (And why is it that, whenever someone says “no offense”, they follow it with something that couldn’t be anything but offensive?)

Then, there is what might just be the worst …. A disabled man – we’ll call him Jack – working as a helper at the after-school program the girls attend has been moved on to a different program. Why? Because the kids made fun of him, lied to him about the program rules, and openly defied him because they knew he was powerless to do anything about it. This upset Fiona, as she is fond of Jack. It confused Bridget. I didn’t know what to say. I tried to put a positive spin on it, saying that maybe Jack would be happier in a program where he is respected, treated well and can contribute properly. Neither of them were buying it. Finally, I just said “you know, I’m going to be honest – some kids are just assholes”. Bridget protested that she never disrespected Jack or teased him, and I said “exactly – because you’re not an asshole, and if I ever find out that either of you has become one, I will make your life very difficult indeed”. This wasn’t news to them; they already know that. So what’s wrong with these other kids? What’s wrong with their parents? Being a jerk shines through just like being sweet – I don’t see how they could be ignorant of their children’s atrocious behaviour. How can there be so many little assholes out there, making other people miserable? I don’t know. I’m frustrated, and sad for both my children and the assholes. Their world is supposed to be better than the one I grew up in, but I’m pretty sure it’s worse.

And now, because I teased you with my title – well, if you’ve got good taste in music, I did – here’s Waylon and Willie. The song is accompanied by charming pictures of cowboys, and children who want to be cowboys, and none of them look like assholes. Maybe it’s time to change the song. Go ahead and let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Don’t know what the economic prospects look like for that particular career choice, but if it makes them happy …. Just don’t let them be assholes. There are more-than-enough of them already.

Update: Just today, at the after-school program, a girl told Fiona that she couldn’t play in the snow fort with her and some other kids because her name is “ugly”. None of the other kids stood up for Fiona, who cried. Presumably none of them wanted to have their names called ugly. How timely. Thank you, little asshole, for illustrating my blog post for me, and giving me another reason to post it. 

Thank you.

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Every November, without fail, I buy a poppy and lose it the same day. Sometimes, this happens more than once. One year, it happened four times. The pin is an unreliable method of keeping the poppy attached to me. This year, a friend told me to try sticking a chunk of an eraser on the end. It worked. After buying and losing the first poppy, the second one I bought has been with me for days. This year, too, a little pin fastener was included with some of the poppies for sale. I bought poppies for Fiona and Bridget, and – thanks to the fastener – they’re still wearing them.

The poppy has always been a powerful symbol for me. Years ago, it seemed to me that everyone wore them. I remember when they were green in the middle. Now, they have a black centre – and there are white poppies, too. I see less of them than I used to, but there are still many. Poppies are simultaneously beautiful and sad and hopeful. The sight of them piled on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the Remembrance Day ceremony is deeply moving, and heavy with the collective memories and sacrifice and sorrow of all those whose lives have been affected by war.

When I was a child in rural Newfoundland, Remembrance Day stood out to me because, at 11:00 a.m., for two minutes, everything stopped. This never happened any other time of the year, and those two minutes seemed endless. Sometimes, we were listening to the radio, sometimes we were watching the broadcast from the war memorial in Ottawa. Now I live in Ottawa, and most years I don’t try to jostle my way downtown and back – but I still watch it on TV. The faces of the veterans, struggling for composure in the chilly November wind, broke my heart every year. They still do.

I don’t have anything new to say about poppies, or Remembrance Day, or war. I just want to take this moment to honour our soldiers. Those who have fallen, those who are still standing, and those who are still fighting. You traded your security and peace for ours. Thank you.

In praise of great girlfriends ….

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I discovered the joy of girlfriends relatively late in the game, compared to many women I know. I was a tomboy for most of my childhood, and I still am in some ways. I liked some of the same things other girls liked, and I was as much a victim of eighties eyeshadow and big bangs as any of my female peers – but I couldn’t play their games. The preteen you’re-my-friend-now-you’re-not-and-she-is misery. The evaluation of a girl based on the brand of jeans she wore, and how many pairs she owned. I knew more than one girl whose hoard of jeans topped their age. This confused me, as there are only seven days in a week. Being included in groups when they needed an extra girl, and being dropped if there was one girl too many. Watching intelligent girls act stupid so guys would lean over their math textbook or chemistry notes to explain something, and catch a whiff of their perfume. As much as I wanted a boyfriend, I couldn’t bring myself to hide my brain. And the gossip …. I was fortunate to have learned early my Dad’s philosophy on gossip: if people have nothing better to do than talk about me, imagine how boring their own lives are. I had one or two really good girlfriends until I went to college. There, I found two or three more. Now, at 34, I have several. Why? I don’t think I’ve changed that much. I still like alot of the same things, though I’ve picked up a few new interests along the way. I’ve learned to delay judgement when meeting people, and maybe that gives a few more women a chance to become my friends. However, I suspect that the biggest factor in the upswing of girls in my life is that the games aren’t as popular. While some bitches are bitches-for-life, most of us eventually mellow and mature. Life has a way of knocking you around and forcing you to dig through the bullshit you’ve manufactured to find the essence of yourself – the strength of character you need to keep your head above water.

Just last week, I went out with Kathy, Cara and Blue, three solid girlfriends. We talked our way through several bottles of wine, did some not-too-shabby amateur painting, and laughed. Oh, how we laugh when we get together! What elicits a chuckle when I’m alone turns into a teary-eyed, open-mouthed, gasping-for-breath roar when we’re together. I am grateful for their friendship, and that of a handful of other lovely ladies. I’m even grateful the next morning, when I’m questioning the wisdom of having friends whose …. er …. lust for life equals mine. Also, friends who know that the real food groups are wine, chocolate, and poutine …. I recently found myself wondering what makes a great girlfriend, and I came up with a list (as my esteemed readers know by now, I loves me some lists).

Great girlfriends know your life. They know the names of the players in every drama. They know who to dislike, and who to cheer for, and why. They know where the bodies are buried, and how they came to be that way. You don’t have to set the scene for them, you can just get right to the point.

And even if they’ve heard it before, they’ll listen again. Every disappointing stand-off with your kid starts and ends the same way. Every argument with your sister features a few standard button-pushing lines. You’ve had the same beefs with your job and your co-workers for years. Your pet peeves are familiar territory, too. Every bad day has more-or-less the same list of flaws and fumbles. But a great girlfriend will let you rant, rationalize, forgive and step back from the ledge as if you’ve never done it before. At no point in the conversation will a bored or impatient heard-this-before expression cross her face.

They hear what you don’t say. If someone asks me how I’m doing, and the answer is “shit-tacular” but I don’t feel like getting into it, I’ll say I’m fine. Most people won’t even wait til the word “fine” has fluttered out of my mouth before moving on. I can’t get away with that if the askers are my girlfriends. They will stop what they’re doing, raise their eyebrows and give me the “really” look. They wait patiently for the façade to crumble and fall away, then gaze without judgement on what I’ve been trying to hide – and offer a hug that makes all my problems a little smaller. When I tell them what’s not fine, I don’t have to try to explain why – they can hear that, too, because (like I said) they know my life.

Great girlfriends are not afraid to argue with you. They won’t let you make excuses for assholes, even if the assholes are people you love. They’ll tell you if your mother should mind her own business, or if your boyfriend should be treating you better. They won’t let you martyr yourself – they are not afraid to confront what’s unfair in your life, and make you recognise it, too. A great girlfriend will tell you that you shouldn’t be the only one who attempts to empty the trash cans in your house, and to stop doing laundry for your college-aged kids. If your boss is being a jerk, they won’t just shrug and say “whatcha gonna do”. They’ll remind you you’re worth more than that, and help you come up with ideas to improve your work situation. They don’t shy away from telling you how they would handle your issues. If you’re doing something that won’t help, or not doing something that will, they care about you enough to nudge you in the right direction. They won’t just smile and nod as you grapple with the tough stuff, they shout encouragement and pointers from the front row of the bleachers. The only sacred cow for great girlfriends is your feelings. They treat your heart like it’s made of glass. (Love that song? Me, too – you’re welcome.)

They know you’re juggling lots of balls (or swords or torches, depending on how you feel). They are not demanding or jealous. Sometimes, life takes everything you’ve got, and you can’t be everything to everyone. If you’ve just scored a promotion, landed a man, bought a house or had a baby, you’re going to be preoccupied and busier. Your true girlfriends are not going to whine about you not calling as often, or not being able to come out and play. They know you need time to let the chips fall and the dust settle, and they’ll wait until you come back around. When you do, they’ll buy you a drink to celebrate your return.

Great girlfriends build you up. They know your cake mix and your hair dye came in a box, but they’ll praise your goodies and your ‘do anyway. After you’ve dropped the ball, they’ll tell you they admire how you carried it until the drop and the way you scooped it back up. They don’t dredge up the moments you wish you could bury, they hand you a shovel and then get to work with the one they brought for themselves. They don’t pour scepticism on your big plans, even if they know that these plans coming to life and a snowball in hell share the same chance. You will not walk away from a chat with a great girlfriend feeling worse than you did before.

I guess I took the long way around to the following statement: I have been blessed with great girlfriends, and I am so thankful for them. You know who you are …. This one’s for you.

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