Being back in school is challenging. Academics are HARD, yo…at least for me! There’s a whole-lot of learnin’ to do and keeping on top of everything isn’t easy. Luckily the part where I love what I’m doing makes the study load feel a little lighter. It’s tough, but kind of in a good way because I feel I’m being pushed in the right direction.

I’m also being stretched emotionally, which is something I didn’t necessarily expect. Our professors don’t just give us factual information, they make us get all introspective and work on ourselves. Seriously! The faculty have this bizzarro philosophy that self-awareness will help us become better, more compassionate professionals. Whazzup with that?

Here’s an example. Sexuality educator and counsellor, Reece Malone (from Winnipeg! Canada represent!) led a seminar on gender variance and diversity. Before his workshop, I’d assumed that I was a super-cool, mega-enlightened kind of gal who didn’t have any trouble embracing the reality that not everyone’s gender is defined their genitals. But then Reece came along with his brilliant teaching that forced me to go beyond the rational, think-y part of my brain. He made me examine my emotions and gut reactions. And it became pretty obvious pretty fast that as much as I want to be the person who’s totally fine if her little boy decides he wants to be girl, I’m not quite there.

Below is an assignment our class was given. In bold are the prompts from Reece, followed by my answers. Doing this exercise forced me to face the reality, that I definitely have some prejudices around gender identity.

(Warning: This gets kind of long. Bear with me, okay?)

When I meet a person on the street whose gender is unclear to me, Iimmediately feel flustered. Despite my intellectual beliefs, I often find myself scrutinizing their face and body, looking for clues about their gender. I have to consciously remind myself that a stranger’s gender is none of my business, has no effect on my life and to stop staring.

If someone I’ve known for a long time told me that they used to be another gender, I…react differently depending on what they look like. If their body or presentation has characteristics of another gender, I might be less startled. I’ve had this experience with a few long-time acquaintances and my first thought was something like “Ohhhh…it all makes sense now.” But someone whose look is completely in line with my concept of what a person of that gender looks like, might surprise me with their confession.

What I do when I am talking to a student/client/person whose gender is unclear to me, isif I don’t need to know, I generally don’t ask and I try to avoid making any gender-specific references in our conversation. If I think gender will be relevant or it becomes relevant in the conversation, I usually share my preferred pronouns in the hopes that it will encourage them to do the same.

When someone says they are neither male nor female, I…become self-conscious about the language I use around gender. I begin to think very hard about certain phrases I tend to use like “opposite sex” or “boys and girls”. I try not express to that person how awkward I feel, because I feel that’s my issue, not theirs (but I worry that they pick on my awkwardness anyway). I also feel guilt. I wish I was as accepting emotionally as I am in my head.

What I think about the statement “people are neither men nor women” is…that isn’t true. I think ignores the identities of people both trans and cisgender who feel very strongly that they are men or they are women. I believe men and women are the genders that are validated and acknowledged in our society and I believe we need to create space for all the other gender identities that exist, but there are people who are men and women.

If a friend wanted to have genital surgery to present more as a woman I…would ask them how I could support them. I love my friends and I want them to be happy. I honestly don’t feel that surgery would bother me. I think I’d be most concerned that they felt loved and accepted and I’d want to make sure they knew that I cared for them.

My reaction to a trans person who does not “pass” as the gender they are presenting is…that it’s fine. I don’t have to prove that I’m a woman. They shouldn’t have to prove their gender either. It is likely I will slip and use the wrong pronouns, so I’ll be apologizing a lot!

If my parent told me they were going to start to present as the opposite gender than I had known, I…would be really surprised. I think my first impulse would be to tell them that I loved them. Knowing my parents, they’d be deeply hurt if they thought I no longer cared for them. I’d be afraid that they would experience rejection from other people in their life, so I certainly wouldn’t want them to feel any from me. That having been said, it’s hard to imagine my mom as a dad or my dad as a mom. I’m fairly certain I’d also be sad. I’ve known them both my whole life, so to watch such a significant part of who they’ve been for me change or disappear would be really tough.

My current thinking about the reasons some people are trans and some are not is…I’ve never thought about it. Being cisgender, I’m rarely challenged to think about why my gender is what it is. Now that I am thinking about it…I still don’t know. I’m not sure that I personally feel a great need to seek out a “reason”. I just feel it’s important that I learn to sincerely accept people as they truly are.

I think the relationship between being trans and mental health is…profound. I can only imagine the emotional pain of living with an identity that many people don’t understand, acknowledge or accept. I also guess that the continual threat of rejection, or worse, violence could cause severe stress. Because many in our society refuse to embrace gender diverse people, I can understand why they are at greater risk for mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression and have a much higher rate of suicide. That is part of the reason I feel so strongly that I need to keep working on my own prejudices and to take part in whatever work needs to be done to create a trans-inclusive society. Everyone has a right to be who they truly are and to thrive with that identity.

The first time I met a trans individual I felt…ashamed. During the first few encounters, I thought they were a man who was coming on to me. I didn’t like the attention and kept my attitude cool and distant. Eventually she confessed that she was biologically male and transitioning to female. She had identified with me as another woman and was trying to reach out. The shame came from knowing that I had pulled away from someone who simply wanted friendship. Once I realize what was happening, I also felt a bit of pride that she wanted me as a friend. Despite my early behaviour we did eventually become pals.

When someone tells me they may be trans, I question…I don’t know that I question, but I’m curious as to what they are feeling. I sometimes ask, “How are you feeling?”

If my child tells me that his/her best friend may be trans, I think…That I need to speak with my son, find out what his understanding of trans is and help explain anything he’s confused or concerned about (assuming I have the answers). I would also tell my son that he should ask his friend what name/pronoun they like, to use that name and model the behaviour by doing the same thing myself.

I think people who…react violently towards transpeople, refuse to use a person’s preferred name/pronoun, who ask questions about a person’s genitals or how they have sex, who claim that gender identity is inappropriate to discuss with children, who ask “are you a girl or a boy?”, who make disparaging comments about trans identities, who refuse to work with or hire trans people, who insist that trans people conceal their true identities…are transphobic

When I was younger I thought trans people were…women who were born men and had penises. The first depiction of a trans person I ever saw was in The Crying Game and for a long time, that was my only point of reference. I assumed there were also men who were born women and had vulvas, though I had never heard of or seen any. I don’t think I knew surgery was an option, beyond maybe breast implants for women.

If my child came out to me as a trans woman/man, I would initially feel…excited. I love my son and I wouldn’t trade him for anything, but before he was born I always dreamed of having a daughter. So I think my very first thought would be, “Yay! I have a little girl!” But I would very quickly start to worry. I would worry about how best to supporting her and helping her navigate her new identity. I’d be terrified about the bigotry she could face and how it would affect her self-worth. And when she was older, I would worry a lot about her facing violence when she was out in the world.

If my partner came out to me as a trans woman/man I would initially feel…concerned. My partner is the most important person in my life. I know how much he loves me and I know how frightening it would be for him to reveal something he thought might end our relationship or worse, drive me away. I know he’d need support. I think my first impulse would be to reach out as his best friend. But with time I would probably be angry. I might feel like I had been cheated out of a husband. And I think I would be profoundly sad. I love my partner the way he is now. If he came out as trans, I’d feel like I’d lost him even though internally she was the same person. Finally, I think I’d feel guilty. Because with any other person in my life, I think sooner or later I’d be able to accept the change and love them all the same…but I’m not sure that I could do that for my partner.

If my brother/sister came out to me as a trans woman/man, I would initially feel…I don’t have siblings, so I honestly don’t know. I’m thinking about how I would feel if it were my best friend, who’s been in my life for thirty years. I think I’d be surprised but of all the people that are close to me, I suspect that would be the easiest coming out for me to accept. But with time I would…probably feel a lot of responsibility towards them. I might become a little overzealous in my attempts to be supportive. I could totally see us having a conversation where I’d start asking about their transition, their feelings about their transition, what I could do to help their transition and they’d turn to me and say, “Shut up! What Not To Wear is on!”

Yeaaaaah. I doubt I’ll be winning the Nobel Prize for gender acceptance any time soon. But at least now I know where some of my prejudices are and I can think more clearly about how they might affect other people and how I can work to change my attitude. Hopefully that will make me a better educator and maybe a nicer person.

I invite you to consider some of the Reece’s prompts – they’re great food for thought. And if any of you are so inclined, go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments.

 

By Summer Skyes 11 (OMG Ikr lolUploaded by JohnnyMrNinja) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Summer Skyes 11 via Wikimedia Commons

An interesting article  from Daily Mail Online popped up in my Facebook’s stream a while back, called Experiment That Convinced Me That Porn Is The Most Pernicious Threat Facing Children Today. The subject porn and youth, something that illicits strong opinions among caregivers and educators. The idea that porn can have negative effects for younger viewers is a common perspective. It’s also one that I don’t entirely disagree with, although I certainly don’t think it’s the worst thing to ever could ever happen to a kid EVER.

At any rate the title sounded ominous/sensationalist enough that I was curious about the nature of the “experiment”. What was the methodology? Who was conducting the experiment? And what was the outcome that had convinced author, Martin Daubney – a former skin mag editor – about the unequivocal danger posed by pornography? But by the end of the introductory my curiosity was replaced by big time skepticism:

The moment I knew internet pornography had cast its dark shadow over the lives of millions of ordinary British teenagers will live with me for ever….Before me were a group of 20 boys and girls, aged 13-14. Largely white, working class children, they were well turned-out, polite, giggly and shy. 

I had trouble with the way the issue was framed. “Good” kids vs. sex. Goodness in this case being demonstrated by the students’ general whiteness and not-being poor. I guess it’s okay, or at least expected that ethnic kids from low-income families be exposed to pornography?  Only when it infiltrates the sweet ranks of society’s most valuable children should we sound the alarm bells.

Right under this paragraph is a picture of the author, his wife and his very young son who looks three, maybe four years old. The grown-ups look concerned verging on frightened. The kid is nine kinds of adorable, with blond curls and a pursed-lipped smile. And I can’t think it’s a coincidence that the editors chose this photo to lead the article. You have the words “Children” and “Porn” looming over the head of this cutey-cute little person and whoa! Suddenly, porn does seem pretty threatening!

The subjects of the actual experiment are a group of 13 to 14 year-old students. Teenagers. I do think that it’s necessary for adults to be aware that youth today have unprecedented access to sexually explicit material. A kid has with a smartphone they can see porn. And not just the commercially available stuff. Snapchat and other apps have made sending sexy selfies super-easy. I don’t think it’s necessary for us parent-types to panic. But I think we need to be aware that there’s a high likelihood our kids will be exposed to more sexual content at an earlier age than most of us were.

Under instruction from a sex-educator, the youth are asked to write down the terminology they’ve picked up from porn. The lists are pinned on the board and according to the article, there are words that none of the adults know. This shocks the grown-ups. One of the terms is “nugget”. (Full-disclosure: I heard the term for the first time very recently and it did shock me. It’s slang for a porn performer – typically a woman – who doesn’t have arms or legs).

Daubry goes on to report:

But the more mundane answers were just as shocking. For example, the first word every single boy and girl in the group put on their list was ‘anal’.

Daubry explains that he hadn’t heard of sodomy at that young age and he’s deeply troubled by the thought that some of these  youth may have a) seen it, b) may want to try it.

I was still annoyed by the sensationalism, but I can understand the alarm.  It seems to be pretty common for adults to feel thrown when they discover that the kids in their life are more sexually knowledgable than they assumed. I was a pre-teen when my peers and I started flipping through romance novels to find the sex scenes. I heard guys talk about a stash of Playboy or Penthouse they’d unearthed from the basement or their parents bedroom. We started hearing terms like “blow job” and giggled when someone explained what it was. This started when were ten, eleven, twelve. I don’t think any of us were ready to have sex yet  – I certainly wasn’t –  but we were old enough to be curious.

Now that I’m a parent, I look at my son. He seems so very young. It’s hard to fathom that the talks about sex – not just “these are your body parts/this is how babies are made” talks – might start happening in just a few years. I think it’s totally understandable for us grown-ups to have an initial freak-out. THE KIDS ARE WATCHING WHAT?!! But I think the next step is to get it together and figure out what to do next. If my kid does find himself amongst a group like the one in the article, here are some things I hope I remember to bring up:

  • What do you think about the fact that amputees are being referred to here as “nuggets”? How might it make that person feel? What message does that send about people with disabilities? What do you think about the fact that people with different bodies can and do have sex?
  • Do you know the differences between having anal sex in real life and the way it’s shown in porn? Do you know why it’s important to use lubricant? Do you know reducing your risk of infection with barriers? Do you know why communication with your sex partner is super-important here.
  • Let’s talk about why you’re watching this. How did you find it? Airial Clark a.k.a. The Sex Positive Parent had some great advice around kids discovering porn. Ask them if *they* think this is material is appropriate for their age. Remind them that the performers are real people, adults doing adult things. How do they think the people in the movie might feel if they knew kids were watching? How would they feel if a grown-up was naked or tried to have sex in front of them?
  • It’s also an opportunity to find out from kids what they find compelling about the material. Because it may not be what you think. It’s an opportunity to talk about the difference between porn sex and sex-in-real life.

Daubrey does have some follow-up conversation with some of the youth after the class. He finds the ensuing conversation “horrifying”, saddened that these kid’s expectations around sex have been shaped almost entirely by pornography and shocked by some of the content the teens have been consuming.

These kids were balanced, smart and savvy. They were the most academically gifted and sporting in the school. They came from ordinary, hard-working households. This was not ‘Broken Britain’.

Once again, folks – sex is for bad people. Who’s bad? Kids who struggle in school. The one’s who come from weird, poor households. The ones who are “broken”.

Most of us become curious about sex long before we feel ready to engage in partnered sexual activity. Sexuality isn’t something that suddenly kicks in on our 18th birthday. It’s with us all of our lives and it develops over time. When I was a kid, my friends and I didn’t look at novels, or Playboy and unscrambled pay-per-view because we wanted to run out and do those things. We just wanted to know what it was about. We were trying to understand.

Youth today are curious too. They’re seeing more because there’s more material and easier access to explicit content than we had at that age. Unfortunately, that isn’t something that we can change. I knew more about sex at a younger age than my parents had…and they probably knew more than their parents. Depending on our kids’ ages and situations, we can limit their exposure to porn for a time. But at some point they’re going to get on the Internet. And if they want to find porn they will. And I think the best tool we can give them is a whack-ton of real-world information about sex, so that porn isn’t the only influence.

Daubrey does conclude with cursory call for parents to teach their kids that  that real sex “is not about lust, it’s about love.

So, I agree with the spirit but I don’t love the phrasing.Lust and love aren’t mutually exclusive. And personally I’m not interested in judging the rightness or realness of  people’s sex based on how much of either is involved. I want to teach my child to  honour his own ethics when it comes to sex. I want him to understand their options when it comes to safer sex and if it applies, contraception. I want him  to understand why respect, consent and care for our sexual partners is essential. I want them to know that sex isn’t about being normal and doing what everyone else is doing, it’s about doing what feels good, what feels right for the people involved. And yes I will try to teach him about love and lust, just not as an either/or proposition. And finally, I will try my best to teach him to look at media with a critical eye, so hopefully he can distinguish between reality and a carefully crafted performance.

The very last sentence of Daubrey’s article tells us to communicate with our children.  “By talking to them, they stand a chance”.

At least we agree on something.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a reboot of a entry I wrote for my old blog back in September of 2010. It’s not about sex but it is very personal. I’m reposting it here as it’s directly related to a new entry coming later in the week.

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Yesterday…I got my hair did.

I have a standing appointment every eight weeks to have my hair washed, trimmed and relaxed.  If you’re unfamiliar with the intricacies of black people hair, relaxing is a chemical process that breaks down the bonds of my super-kinky, naturally nappy hair, leaving it straight.

If I had a recent picture of myself with my hair au naturel, I would post it.  But such a photo does not exist. I’ve been processing my hair for well over twenty years now.

Left to it’s own devices, not only is my hair intensely curly, it’s impossibly thick, has a coarse texture similar to that of synthetic furniture stuffing and left unbraided, prefers to point up rather than down.

As a child, I hated everything about my hair.  I hated the thickness that could obliterate lesser combs.  I hated the ordeal of having my head scrubbed every Saturday morning with the special “for-black-people” shampoo that smelled terrible, followed by two hours of pain while my mom combed out the extensive net of knots that had formed.

Young and nap-tural!

But most of all, I hated that my head was topped by stiff plaits when my friends had long, soft, easy hair that actually moved as they did.  Back then I would have gladly traded a limb in exchange for a long, swingy ponytail.

Because I’m female, because I’m black and because I live in the part of the world that I do, having healthy hair-esteem is a challenge. When we very little my cousins and I would put yellow blankets on our heads to simulate the free-flowing blondness we saw in commercials and re-runs of Charlie’s Angels. I was in my twenties, before I saw ad for hair products that included a woman of colour shaking her glorious mane with slow-motion vigour.  And even then, her hair was as straight and silken as her Caucasian compatriots.  The marketing mantra of desirable female hair has been basically then same my entire life: Long. Shiny. Bouncy. In it’s natural state, my hair is exactly the opposite of this.

When I was a girl, white people were baffled and fascinated by my hair.  I remember a woman, a stranger,  actually fingering one of my nappy braids and saying, “It doesn’t even feel like hair.”  That sucked.

It also sucked that while white women regarded my hair with insensitive astonishment, black women – primarily members of my own family – perpetuated “good hair” myths with a vengeance.  Once I hit about ten, the pressure to tame my fuzz and do “something” about my hair was ON!

“You can’t run around looking like some African wild-child,” one aunt-admonished me.   (Side note: Try-Not-To-Seem-Too-African was a driving force amongst my grandparents’ generation of Black West Indians).

I also got, “You’d be pretty if you did something with your hair.”  And the most direct criticism from a family friend, “Your hair makes you look ugly.”

My mom tried her best to counter all the hair negativity.  But my mother’s natural hair texture is a lot looser than mine and much more in line with conventional standards of beauty.  So every time she tried to instill me with a sense of pride in my nappy head, I’d look at her wavy, long, bouncy, shiny hair and think, ‘What the hell to you know?’

Fro-licious!

By the time I was eleven, I succumbed.  I began badgering my parents until they conceded to let me have my hair relaxed.  My mom took me to a salon on a Friday after school.   I was so excited when we arrived, I ran inside and practically jumped into the beautician’s chair.

Relaxer is a cream made of standard conditioning agents, fragrance and an assload of sodium hydroxide.  When the stylist  first applied to my head it felt goopy and kind of cold.  After a few minutes it started to tingle.  Then it kind of started itching.  And then…it began to burn.

I didn’t cry that first time, but I came close.  I was chanting the f-word very, very quietly (Mom within in earshot) and contemplating running to the bathroom and putting my head in the toilet. Finally the stylist ushered me over to the sink, hosed my head down with cold water and put me out of my misery.

 

Why would anyone do this to themselves? I wondered.  I decided that had been my first and last relaxer, because only an idiot would willing subject themselves to that type of pain of a regular basis. Then the stylist turned me around to face the mirror.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.  For the first time in my life, I had “normal” hair.  It was loose and straight and shiny and it moved! It was some sort of hair miracle!  I could not stop touching it.  The minute we got home, I tied it back and started shaking my head around like a pony-tailed fool.  The kids at school went crazy for it.  White people left me alone!  Black people nodded approvingly!   Pain? Who cared? What was 20 minutes of scalp torture when compared with unprecedented social acceptance?

Like so many black women before me, I came to fully embrace relaxer or, “the creamy crack”, as it’s wryly referred to.  Relaxer gave me the ability to experience ponytails and approval.  But there were negatives. You can’t really get relaxed hair wet, which meant wearing covering my hair in various plastic caps in the shower, when I swam and on rainy days. I had to go back to the salon every few weeks to get my roots touched up. At best it was a very painful process. Much worse were the few times I sustained chemical burns on my scalp.

I briefly broke my addiction to the creamy crack the summer after eight grade.  I wanted to swim without having to wear my granny-looking bathing cap.  So I had my hair cut short and let my ‘fro return. I was actually kind of okay with the whole thing for about five minutes. Then high school began.

I went into ninth grade full frizzy fro and NO ONE was having that!   Within a week, the popular black kids were calling me “Buckwheat”.  The popular white kids picked it up. By October, I’m pretty sure most people thought that was actually my name.  One day during art, two of my classmates decided to dump an entire tin of blue powder paint on my head.  Another kid cried out, “Hey! Buckwheat’s black and blue!”  Everyone laughed.  Even the teacher kind of chuckled for a second before he remembered that he had to pretend this wasn’t cool. (After sentencing the paint-bombers to detention, he pulled me aside and kindly suggested that perhaps I could avoid such incidences in the future, if I tried harder to fit in and look like the other students).

That was it. I felt isolated and traumatized.  My hair was not my crowning glory.  It was the bane of my existence.  Not long after, I was back on the creamy crack.  I have been ever since.

I lived many, many years, well into adulthood, simply accepting that my

natural hair was bad.  I’m not sure when I began to rethink that.  I do know that it took a long time before I decided  that my hair is just my hair.  It’s not bad.  It’s not good.  It’s just a bunch of dead protein strands coming out of my head.   The marketing, the gawking, the names, the pressure…it’s all just a remnant of a bunch of oppressive, Euro-normative crap.  I know this.

Because I know this, I have to ask myself, “Self, why do you still relax your hair?”  The answer…because generally speaking, that Euro-normative crap is still the basis for our standards of beauty.  And the truth is, I’m afraid of what it means to defy those standards…at least when it comes to my hair. I don’t want people gawking at my head and fondling my strands like I’m one woman petting zoo. I don’t want to constantly defend my tresses to family members. I don’t want to be mocked or painted blue again. There is a part of me that wants to go back to my natural texture, I’m afraid that I can’t do it in a non-provacative way.

My straight hair is a total concession to The Man. It pretty much violates my feminist and anti-oppressive beliefs.  I imagine there are those who see my hair and judge me as lacking the courage of my convictions.   I certainly judge myself that way, at times.  Casting directors have occasionally cited my hair as a barrier to getting film and TV work.  American producers prefer relaxed hair; however they prefer the long, luxurious look of a weave.  Canadian producers, like a little kink; however, it’s typically a longer, looser curl than I can achieve.

The thought of fighting the fight of race and gender on a part of my body I can’t even see unless I look in the mirror is wearying.  I hope someday I’ll find the resolve to ignore the ignorant but I have to admit that I’m not there yet. If relaxed is what it takes for people to relax for the time being I’ll do it and hope that eventually, I’ll it myself straightened out.


It’s International Women’s Day. In honour of the occasion this week’s question is:

Who are the amazing women in your life?

I feel blessed by the abundance of super cool gals in my life. Each deserves a blog post of her very own and if I had the time to write them all I would. For now, I’d like to give a special shout out to the women of my family. Wonderful people, each of whom has helped shape me and sustain me as I stumble through this obstacle course called life.

My mom. My chattiness, my love of bright colours and my need for control all come from her. Sometimes we butt heads but at the end of the day it’s the little things – like her support of this blog – that let me know she’s always on my side. I love you, Mom. Without you none of this would be possible – literally.

My mother-in-law defies every stereotype associated with the role. She is warm, smart, honest, supportive and a ton of fun. She managed to build an impressive career in education, while has raising three exceptional, accomplished children. She is a tremendous role model and one of my dearest friends.

My sisters-in-law are pretty impressive gals too. The older is a doctor, the younger a lawyer. My “big sister”  is kind, funny and good everything from medicine, to mothering, to writing and words (she kicks my ass at Scrabble every time!). My “little sister” could run the world and we’d in very good hands. She’s brave, strong and loving. Their girls are very, very lucky to have these women as their mothers.

And speaking of those girls…let’s talk about my nieces. Four women-in-the-making. Four BIG loves in my life. Not only is my twelve-year-old niece a gifted athlete, she’s also kind, responsible and an all-around beautiful person. The eight-year-old is feisty, spirited and perhaps most clever kid I’ve ever met. My three year old niece is a charming, little storyteller, eager to regale the world with tales of all kind. And the one year old is an adorable baby muffin with bright eyes and a smile. They are the four best girls an aunt could hope for.

And Steph. The sister of my soul. We’ve been together since we were seven years old. She’s my oldest friend, my best friend and she knows me in a way that no one else can. When The Bean was born, I asked her to be his godmother. Though neither of is religious, I couldn’t think of anyone better to be my child’s moral guide through life. Steph’s sense of fairness, justice and equality are tremendous. She reads all the books. She knows all the sports. And you can tell me there’s a better best friend out there…but I won’t believe you!

Now it’s your turn. Tell me about the wonderful women that make your life awesome! The comments are open. Happy IWD, everyone!

Aaaand…we’re back!

As I mentioned earlier, The MoMs, The Green Bean and I took a quick trip down to San Francisco.  Spending time in the Bay Area is always a pleasure, but we also had much business to take care of, namely scoping out neighbourhoods, looking at homes and meeting the locals.

By now, many of you know (and the rest of you have probably guessed) that come June, the family and I will be leaving Ottawa and moving to San Francisco!

Actually, it looks like we’ll be moving to Berkeley, where a slightly less expensive rental market will afford us an extra bedroom for guests. It’s a pretty happening city in its own right and a short BART ride away from its sister across the Bay. We spent the bulk of our time Berkeley this week and the friendly people, bountiful markets and vibrant night life were seductive indeed.

Why the move?

I decided several months ago that I wanted to continue my career as a sexuality educator. To do so, I knew I’d have to further my education. After a lot of research, discussion with colleagues, discussion with mentors and discussion with my family, I decided to I would apply to begin graduate studies in Human Sexuality this fall. The program that best suited my needs was the The Insititute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, located smack dab in the middle of San Francisco.

The family I and briefly considered the distance option, which would have meant travelling from Ottawa to San Francisco for two to three weeks at a time, every four months. It was doable, but the more The MoMs and I thought about it, the more we realized that that much time apart was going to heap a ton of extra stress and work onto both of our shoulders – something that neither of us wanted.

What we wanted was to spend more time with each other and with The Bean. We wanted a break from some of the obligations that have us both a bit bogged down. The MoMs’ brother and his family recently made a big move to Australia. It was a risk leaving their very established life behind, but the fresh start has done them a world of good. The MoMs and I began to wonder if a new beginning might do us good too. Both of us love San Francisco. Nice weather and the opportunity to be outside in sunshine year-round would undoubtedly be good for the Bean. The MoMs could work there. I’d have access to some of the best sexuality resources and experts in the world. The more we thought about it, the more we realized heading out to California was a no-brainer. So we’re going.

The plan as it stands now is to go for a least a year. I have very strong attachments to Ottawa – especially the family of friends I’ve made in the almost fifteen years I’ve lived here. I also see that there’s a real need for sex positive resources in our city. Eventually I’d love to come back and continue working as a sexuality educator here in the capital. We’ll see what life has in store.

So that’s the jam. There’s a triple-long list of to-dos to get done before we pull up stakes. While part of me is champing at the bit to start this new adventure, I know the next few months are going to race by and I know I’m going to miss the shit out of Ottawa once we go. So I will enjoy the time I have left here, while I look forward to a new set of experiences and the chance to cross item number 8 of my 40 Before 40 off the list!

Every Friday I ask you a question of the week. You can answer often, occasionally or not at all. If you have something to say but you’re feeling shy, you’re always welcome to comment anonymously.

Have you ever had an animal intrude on your sexy times?

Growing up, I had a cat named Pudding. While the name was evocative of a soft, gentle soul Pudding was in fact, a big, black territorial brute.  He was ruthlessly possessive of his turf and his people. One day, I was in our basement getting cozy with my then-boyfriend on the couch. Pudding the Cat was curled up on the nearby La-Z-Boy. To the uninitiated visitor he appeared to be sleeping but I knew he was doing feline surveillence, keeping an eye and both ears fixed on the intruder that was kissing me.

Eventually the smooching led to some handsy business. I was into it. Pudding The Cat was not. Despite being well into his senior years, he made a deft leap from his lurking spot over to the couch. He stalked over to my boyfriend, glaring at him with menace.

“I think you’ve made an enemy,” I told my partner in second base.

“Nah,” my boyfriend replied “I don’t think so. I’m good with animals.”

“Well he’s not good with people. Let’s just go up to my room.”

He was never one to back down from a challenge, that old boyfriend of mine. He was convinced his good-with-animal ways could appease my affronted pet. He reached out with one hand and scratched Pudding behind the ear. (Note: In my memory that gesture happens in slow motion, while I cry out “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”)

What happened next was an angry cat screech and a blurr of black as Pudding went ninja cat all over my boyfriend. Working with alarming efficiency, Pudding was the victor after only ten seconds of combat. My poor ex was bleeding from a dozen scratches to the arm.  Satisfied that the sexy mood between us was good and dead, Pudding gave a final glare before running upstairs to pester my dad for table scraps.

“I hate your fucking cat,” my boyfriend growled.  I couldn’t blame him. But I had warned him. Pudding the Cat…not good with people.

 

Aaand…we’re back!

Life took my best laid plans to scale back my blogging and turned them into a full scale hiatus. On the bleak side, I was plagued by a brutal flu, followed by a less intense but super-icky cold. Worst of all was the sudden death of a beloved family member just a couple of days before Christmas.

But the holiday hasn’t all been sickness and sad. The MoMs and I managed to pull together a pretty swank Christmas dinner, complete with prime rib roast and a successful first attempt at Yorkshire puddings. We went for our first family snowshoe through Gatineau park. I’ve also got some pretty exciting plans for the new year in the works…but that’s a subject for another post!

Right now I’m just glad to be back writing in the adorkable realm. And since this will be my final post of 2012, I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at my ten most popular posts from this past year, before taking the plunge into 2013!

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

1. My Favourite Things: Elvgren Pin Up Girls

2. It’s Not You, It’s Me. Well Actually, It’s Them

3. My Favourite Things: The Lelo Smart Wand (Video Review)

4. Plight of the Topless Woman

5. My Book Report On 50 Shades Of Gray

6. Why I Don’t Oppose Sex Selective Abortion

7. My Favourite Things: 50 Shades Of Snark

8. My Favourite Things: Dr. NerdLove

9. Sorry, But…

10. Princesses Are People Too. Why Kate Middleton Had Every Right To Be Topless.

 

 

It’s been a rough week parenting-wise. I’ve reached new heights of frustration and hit uncharted I-have-NO-idea-what-I’m-doing lows.

I’m just a woman who loves her child. Some days, like today, that doesn’t feel like enough.  I’m reposting this entry to remind myself that it is.

I love my child.  I loved him the first time I held him and every moment since.  This is not the confession. It’s a fundamental fact of who I am.  I will love my child until the day I die.

Motherhood is hard.  That’s an accepted fact.  But what I find difficult – more than the actual work of raising my child – are the conventions and expectations that exist around being a mother.   I don’t have many “Mom” friends. By which I mean,  I have friends who are moms but motherhood isn’t the basis of our friendship.

When The Bean was a baby, I attended a few play groups. I found they were difficult for me.  First of all, all of the adults were women. That’s not surprising  ut for whatever reason I’m often uncomfortable in gender-segregated groups.  I also found had a strong need to focus on something other than my much adored baby.  At the play groups, the conversation revolved almost exclusively around the babies and the work of parenting.  Again, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  That was our common bond.  And parenting is hard.  I understood the need to compare notes on feeding, sleep schedules, vaccinations etc…but I didn’t want to.  I wanted to talk about anything else.  I wanted to be distracted from minutia of baby care, not immersed in it. But I didn’t know how to say that.  Not without disparaging the needs of the other women.  And not without sounding like a bad mother.

Once I took the still infant Bean to the playground in the suburb where we used to live.  Another woman, also with her baby, remarked that she had often seen me out and about in the community by myself.   She commented on my apparent comfort in leaving my baby with The Man of Mans (who at the time worked from home 4 days a week, to facilitate a more equitable parenting arrangement).  I assured her that The MoMs was as capable and loving a parent as anyone could be.  She chuckled and said something along the lines of fathers and their bumbling good intentions being inferior to mothers and their precision parenting.  It was clear from her tone, that I was expected to laugh in agreement because hahaha, men are SO clueless! They can’t take of babies or change toilet paper!

But I didn’t laugh.  It wasn’t funny and it wasn’t true.  Instead, I replied, “I wouldn’t have had a baby with my husband if I didn’t trust him to take care of it.”   My playground companion was thrown.  She thought for a moment, then said, “Hmmm. Maybe you’re just not as attached to your baby.”  It was clear from her tone that she hadn’t intended to be cutting…but what she said eviscerated me.  I was devastated. I was furious.   I loved my son.  I had never worked so hard or committed myself to anything or anyone with such devotion.  But because I was the mother, interests and activities outside of that role were cause to call my love into question?

I wanted to scream.    I felt nauseous, cold and I could feel hot tears of rage stinging behind my eyes.  When she saw my reaction, my playground critic did some frantic backpeddling, explaining it was self-criticism, an admission of her own overprotective nature.  I was angry enough that I felt I might hit her.  “Don’t talk to me,” I told her.  I took my child and went back home.

I’ve been wondering lately if my reluctance to speak honestly about mothering with other mothers stems from that one bad experience.  The “Mom script” , which is how I think of it, demands so much.  It hard…hard in different way from the “Dad script” which seems to imply that men are naturally inept at parenting and thus praised effusively for any involvement.  Interestingly, I find I often related more easily to other father. My personality is similar to my dad’s. So is my parenting style.

The truth is, The Mans of Mans is a much more detail-oriented parent than I am. He also more of a planner and more organized.  Meanwhile, I tend to wing it a little more.  I don’t totally buy into the notion that being a mom is something I can do “right”.  I know I’m smart.  I’m reasonably sensible.  I’m loving. I have  financial and personal resources at my disposal should I need them.  Many a decent person  has been raised with a lot less than my son has.   So while marketing copy tells me that as a mom I should work in constant pursuit of smiley, sunshine-y parental perfection, it’s too exhausting and so very not-me. I have to cross my fingers and hope my standards of “good enough” suffice.

I admit I didn’t breast feed.  Those who understand the circumstances generally accept my decision not to do so.  But, I have to confess, even if it had been possible…I still might not have chosen do it.  It’s not meant as an indictment of any person who does.   Formula feeding with its lesser antibodies and admittedly cumbersome preparation meant The MoMs was an equal feeding partner.  My son got to bond with both his parents and we each got eight hours of uninterrupted sleep on a regular basis.  I’m a restless soul.  Having the physical freedom to leave my baby, kept me happy and energized during those arduous early months.  My son —  and perhaps this is just a stroke of tremendous luck — has a pretty sturdy immune system nonetheless.

I don’t deny the claims of breast milk is best. I just don’t parent like that.  I’m so familiar with the notion of  mothers who give endlessly of themselves for the sake of their children.  I’m not that mom.  Mothering has effected me in some soul-altering ways, but it didn’t change my fundamentally selfish nature.   I will never deny my son anything he needs from me…but I won’t deny myself if I don’t feel it’s necessary.

I work. I go running and I go dancing.  I go to the theatre. I cram a lot of fun into my life, even if that means I have to stay up very late to do it.  I see my friends as often as possible.  I send my son to pre-school, to his grandparents, I hire babysitters.  I’m very comfortable exposing my child to a community of caregivers.  I feel great taking time for myself.

I confess I’m relatively lax on the application of sunscreen and the educational merits of his toys.  We spend a lot of time outside, but I have no issue parking him in front of the TV with an age-appropriate show when I need to get shit done.   I’m happy when he eats nutritionally balanced meals, but I’m not terribly concerned when he doesn’t.  I confess to losing my cool.  I confess to losing my temper.  I feel bad, but at the same time I expect it of myself.   I almost never read parenting books or websites. They generally serve to undermine my faith in my own instincts.   I encourage The Bean to take risks, run freely around playgrounds, cut vegetables alongside me.  I draw the line at life-threating/altering risk but I want him to do things that can and do result in falls, scares, bumps, cuts and other unpleasantness.  Life is shitty sometimes. I want him to learn how to deal.

While I sometimes feel nostalgic for his baby days, I’m thrilled at his growing independence.  I’m certainly not wishing his childhood away, but every step he takes away from me and towards self-reliance feels like an affirmation.  Someday, he won’t need me at all.  My dad once told me that the day I moved away from home, he was very sad, but tremendously relieved.  “Once I knew you could take care of yourself, my biggest responsibility as a parent was over.   I could relax and enjoy watching you live your own life.”  Now that I’m a parent, I totally relate.

Sometimes, I’m afraid to talk to other mothers.  I’m afraid of being judged as inferior, uncaring.  I’m afraid of asking questions that might seem judgmental or intrusive.  It’s a sensitive subject.  In that way, I’m as typical as any mom I’ve met.  Maybe one day I won’t be.  Maybe one day, I’ll be able to trade notes with the great moms at the playground, secure in the knowledge that a pretty good mom is the best I can be…and that’s totally okay.

Originally posted December 14th, 2010

 

On Saturday I will be 37. And while that’s clear evidence that I’m growing older chronologically, I still look forward to my birthday with child-like (or more accurately, childish) excitement.

I’m jazzed about this birthday but I’m also aware that my 40th is tantalizingly close. I have to admit I’ve been looking forward to hitting that milestone for a long time.  Assuming I still have health, love, family and friendship in my life, making it to forty definitely feels like  accomplishment. And I’m almost there! Almost, but not quite.

I see the big 4-0 in the distance. But I must remember that life is journey and I should enjoy the ride. I should also eat fewer fortune cookies, because I’m starting to sound like one. Basically, I’m excited about turning forty but I also want to be excited about the three years before that happens.

So…

I’ve made a list. My 40 Before 40.

Long time readers of this blog and its predecessor, Adorkable Thespian, may remember my 101 in 1001. It was a list of 101 things I would attempt to do in 1,001 days. My time on that list expired a couple of weeks ago (If anyone is curious, I completed 58 of the 101 items). So this seemed like the perfect time to gear up  and ride out my thirties with a new set of goals.

The 40 Before 40 is a  list of forty things I hope to do before I celebrate my fortieth birthday. Will I achieve them all? Unlikely. Will I have fun trying? Hopefully.  As with the 101 in 1001, I’ll likely post about my progress as I check certain tasks off the list. I’ll begin on Saturday when I will attempt to bake my own birthday cake.  It all wraps up November 2nd, 2015 – the eve of my 40th birthday!

Here we go…

NADINE’S 40 BEFORE 40

1. Bake a cake from scratch.

2. Make a coconut cream pie for my dad.

3. Perfect a French fry recipe.

4. Co-host a Passover seder.

5. Get a non-ugly, non-holiday themed apron.

 

6. Go to grad school.

7. Earn my Master’s in Human Sexuality.

8. Live in San Francisco.

9. Attend a SAR.

10. Become an AASECT certified sexuality educator.

 

11. Write a book.

12. Speak at a conference.

13. Run my own sexuality workshop/seminar.

14. Plant a vegetable garden.

15.Don’t kill the vegetable garden.

 

16. Teach The Green Bean to ride his bike without training wheels.

17. Take The Green Bean to an San Francisco Giant’s game.

18. Take The Green Bean to lunch at Shopsy’s.

19. Run the National Capital 5K with The Green Bean.

20. Compete in a duathlon.

 

21. Go cross country skiing.

22. Go downhill skking.

23. Skate the length of the Rideau Canal.

24. Master backwards roller skating.

25. Learn to skate-jump.

 

26. Learn to make my own burlesque costumes.

27. Perform in a burlesque show outside of Ottawa.

28. Take a burlesque class/workshop.

29. Attend the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto.

30. Visit The Museum of Sex.

 

31. Visit The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

32. Visit Danielle in Seattle.

33. Visit Corsica.

34. Rent a cottage and relax for a week.

35. Take some yoga classes.

 

36. Organize my closet.

37. Consign some unwanted clothes.

38. Get a pair of beautiful yellow pumps.

39. Have a new family portrait done.

40. Plan a celebration for my 15th wedding anniversary.

 

 

 

It’s Fall! Woo! Or to put it more accurately: It’s fall. Woo?

As a lifelong sun worshipper, I’ve always had issues with autumn. September means that summer is over and deep-freeze of winter is looming. It’s the longest possible time before the scorching weather I love returns so I’ve spent most of my life having a shitty attitude towards the whole season.

This year, I’m trying to change my outlook. Fall may never be my favourite season, it’s still got it’s good points. Fall means beautiful folliage and tea-drinking weather. The mosquitos are gone and the morning light no longer wakes me up before 6 a.m.  Thanksgiving, Hallowe’en and my birthday are all on deck.  Not too shabby.

Fall’s cool temps also mean the return of fun wardrobe staples. Sweaters. Tights. Boots. And Jackets. Blazers and jean jackets are a great option for days that begin as cool crisp mornings and develop into bright, mild afternoons.

Jacket: True Meaning. T-shirt and Jeans: Old Navy. Boots: Dr. Scholl’s. Bag: Bentley

The blazer yet another eBay score, snagged just a couple of weeks ago. It’s reminiscent of my beloved Banana Republic Coat; however the orthogonal tweed pattern is subtle enough that it kind of reads as a solid. I wore this to yesterday’s Consent workshop. I hoped that the structure of the jacket would imply competence and the marshmallow peep yellow would signal fun…or barring that, tastiness.

Jacket: Old Navy. Dress: Target. Necklace: Forever 21. Shoes: Chinese Laundry.

Just because I’m trying to improve my attitude about fall, that doesn’t mean I can’t also be in denial about the end of summer. It’s not over until it’s over. And while the calendar says it’s over today for me the season ends when I flip my wardrobe. Jean jackets like this one let me extend the use of my warm weather frocks until the last possible moment.

 

Jacket: RW & Co. Dress: Zara. Boots: Dr. Scholls. Custom Necklace: Silver Hand Jewelry

The other day, I came home from a long day of work and rehearsals and The Man of Mans handed me a box. Inside was the nameplate necklace pictured above – a beautiful piece of custom work by our friend Chris Manning! I guess technically it isn’t a nameplate, per se. That’s okay. If I’m ever forced to join a witness protection program  or enroll in spy school, I won’t be Nadine anymore. But no matter where I go or what I do, I’ll always be adorkable.

In other news, the family were in Fredericton for Rosh Hashanah this week. We stayed with The MoMs’ sister and her family and on our second day there, my brother-in-law brought us all out to one of his favourite camping spots by the water to cook-out, canoe…and fish.

I might become a fall-lover yet!