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 them 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 who’s 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!