the cheeky goat

parenting. feminism. philosophy. family.

birthdays, goals and another year

Your birthday marks the beginning of a new year for you. Forget New Year’s resolutions. You have to share the energy and the general crappiness that comes with others knowing your goals (or sharing in the chutzpah needed to carry them through and that’s exhausting and ultimately defeatist) because you went and drunkenly made these resolutions that are just absurd come the light of another day. But, with your birthday, the impetus to establish yourself is yours alone (save for all those other people who share your birthday – like Milton Berle or Bill Cosby). Forget New Year’s resolutions, everyone makes those just to break them.

Your birthday is yours, a new beginning and you can embody that smidge of new wisdom you have by revelling in your new number and the newness of the year. It’s like buying a new pair of sparkly sneakers and the promise you make to never, ever get them dirty. That first puddle you step in is going to be hard, but that’s part of living and you’re trying.

I am 30 now and have been for a couple of days. I have two children with another one one the way and it’s high time that I grow up. Establish some goals and do the things I’ve always said I would do. It’s the beginning of a new year and it’s all mine.

My 20s were altogether tumultuous and a mixed bag of what can only be described eloquently as, WTF. Like most of the nerdy, booky types of the world, there has been The Next Great Idea banging around in my head for the last couple of years and it is ridiculous to just keep it all tucked away in my grey matter. It’s just brain shenanigans, really. I’m not going to mess around with bold proclamations of publishing by my 31 birthday because I believe it will be a great accomplishment just to get the damn thing finished by next year, but there you have it.

Happy birthday to everyone else who shares my birthday.

the belly, the body and aren’t you huge

I’ve been trying for a little while to get my thoughts organized on the matter of growing larger, particularly in light of being told every day I’m huge (no shit – I’m 6 months pregnant and 5 feet tall, exactly where does the weight go?) and the ensuing media storm around Jessica Simpson’s pregnancy weight gain with such vile descriptions as “fat”. Getting bigger I can handle, when one is a Turducken it is to be expected as the baby needs somewhere to go. With my kids, it is straight out in front of me, at least by a foot and that is where all the weight I gain throughout this pregnancy will stay. From behind, I do not look like a turducken. At the market a couple of weeks ago, a wine seller came to ply his wares to me … until I turned around and nearly knocked him over because he was standing too close. What I cannot stand is being told constantly that I’m “just soooo big”, accompanied by gestures usually reserved for describing the girth of Santa Claus. The incessant comments about My Body. The words can be couched around “the belly”, making it more of an inanimate thing, rather than a significant part of my body. The fact remains that when you are pregnant, you are public domain and ought to accept the comments with more tact than the person giving them.

At no other time in a woman’s life is it appropriate to comment so intimately on a woman’s body than when she is pregnant (obviously, I mean to her face – we can all be a catty bunch). There is a certain degree of decorum surrounding our public interactions and one of those is that it is rude to point at someone’s body and give your opinion, unless you are a medical professional, and even then a doctor has tact.

My thoughts have been a jumble lately around why it bothers me so much to have someone, from across a room or other public space, point and exclaim, “The belly! IT’S SO BIG! LOOK AT YOU!” or actually call others to come and look at me as if I were a damn sideshow freak. I take care of my lady ‘stache, thank you very much. Oh, maybe because IT’S MY BODY YOU ARE STARING AT, so thanks.

Women’s bodies are constantly under scrutiny, for being too thin, too fat, too beautiful, simple, mousy, flabby, pasty, too dark, too light… anything and everything (check out this post). I do not know why it changes from passive aggressive talking around the woman where she may or may not hear to when you are pregnant and it is said to your face, perhaps because people have this concept that a pregnant body belongs to the community because it is not just the woman but also a future generation in there. This has as much to do with norms as our own beauty insecurities. By pointing out that I do not have the body I used to have, and will likely never have again (only a proximate guess at it), the commenter and myself are fitting ourselves snugly into established beauty rules that are archaic, crappy and ought to go, but that also dictate that there is a standard and neither one of us is fitting into them, so we might as well be miserable about it.

There is a beauty standard and not one of us really knows what it is, but we sure as hell can tell you what it is not. Everyone.

Hey Canada! (a blog tour and review)

A few months ago I received a bright and shiny edition of Hey Canada!, a quintessentially Canadian travel/adventure book for kids by Vivien Bowers. The premise of the book is that it is a blog written by cousins Alice and Cal as they travel across the country with their grandmother, hitting all the highlights Canada has to offer. The blog format translates only so well onto hard copy but the effect is that Hey Canada! is an incredibly fun and colourful adventure/reference book about Canada and the kids (Alice and Cal) certainly add a personal element.

Boy has recently discovered his daddy’s old comic books and he delighted in “Cal’s Historical U-Turn” comics that appear sporadically throughout the book. When our copy first arrived we immediately flipped through to Nova Scotia (of course) and then the scattered provinces that are home to family. I like the “reference” quality of Hey Canada!, the index and plethora of information is fantastic and came in handy when Miss N asked “What’s a Manitoba?” the other day.  Hey Canada! is not just a reference book filled with history and facts, though I have referred to it as such. It’s also an adventure book as the kids and Grandma keep losing Cal’s stowaway hamster and the cousins get into the usual kid-type shenanigans. The conversational tone lends itself really well to reading a chapter a day, each devoted to a province or territory, over the course of a week or two. Both Cal and Alice are well-drawn characters full of personality  and this comes through with the various “tweets” from Cal, his comics and Alice’s narration.

There is a really good mix of illustrations by Milan Pavlovic as well as bright photographs, some of which are instantly recognizable, such as the vivid Newfoundland jellybean houses set against the grey sky and Sudbury’s Big Nickel (which I saw on a road trip with my mom and brother when I was a child!). Hey Canada!  is a new way of exploring Canada on paper, it stirred memories for me and my kids were able to form connections to their country. The book would make a great addition to any classroom or home (I know a certain teacher who will be getting my copy).

Many, many thanks to Tundra Books for allowing me to participate in the blog tour (blogs acros Canada are taking part!). For a complete list of all the blogs taking part in the tour up until the big day on Sunday, go here. Also! There is a giveaway contest over at Goodreadsthat you should really check out! The contest ends in two days so in the words of Boy, “scoot, scoot skedaddle” over there and win yourself a copy.

library day: Fancy Nancy! Evolution! {kids’ book recommendations}

Wednesday morning is our official Library Day. It’s also the day we pick up our CSA and while that is a fun task for about five minutes as we pick through the box to see our favourites or make a note of what we’re googling later, we break up Wednesday with a trip to the library. Sometimes there is an activity, like the incredibly noisy Songs ‘n’ Stuff, which you’d think the musically inclined Boy would like but it’s really just 50 under 5s with jingle bells jumping around but other times it’s just Boy and I and a few other kids to play and poke through books.

Libraries are an invaluable resource. Boy (and Miss N) always want to take home all the books so we have a standard two book limit because otherwise it is impossible to find them all to return. I always feel guilty plucking a book off our shelf at home only to find the “Property of Halifax Public Libraries” stamp on the inside cover and knowing we borrowed it an embarrassing amount of time ago. I practically grew up in libraries. My Saturday afternoons with my dad were spent at the U of W’s Leddy, the downtown Windsor Public Library and during the week I wandered into the small library in the equally small town where I went to school. The hush and smell of books, thumbing through each page. It’s another world for quiet kids like me who have always read the book but never saw the movie based on the book, who have picked through all the books on the shelf and need to order books from the another library (remember the card catalogue?). I helped my dad set up the library in his church though I’ve now forgotten most of the codes. With his help I’d memorized most of the standard codes for the Dewey Decimal System. I was a different kind of cool as a kid.

And now, I share that love with my kids.

This week, we borrowed:

Born with a Bang: It’s told from the viewpoint of a very eager and earnest Universe and explains the birth of the Universe, from nothingness to now. It’s a bit advanced for Boy (who is 4). Miss N has flipped through it but I would recommend it for kids a bit older than these two. It’s interesting and the science seems sound but it’s very long and the mystical quality of the Universe “speaking to you” isn’t terribly interesting because I don’t really think the Universe is a puppy desirous of that much attention.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story: Gorgeous pictures and perfect for a child Miss N’s maturity. She was engaged immediately and the pictures that take the reader from single-celled organisms to now. There are constant parallels to what the organism had then that matches what we have now. An excellent beginning to talking about evolution with kids.

My Brother Charlie: So heartfelt and honest, it’s told from the perspective of Charlie’s twin sister who loves him and wants to protect him always, even if he is difficult because of his autism. Our immediate lives have not been touched by autism but that does not mean we have to ignore its presence in the great wide world.

Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique: Now Miss N wants her own Fabulous Fashion Boutique so she can earn some more money for her iPod. Such a cute story and Fancy Nancy is such a kind hearted little girl, she really does remind me of Miss N (who loves her too).

Curious George Plants a Tree: Precocious. Who can resist Curious George? Not Boy who wanted to borrow every single Curious George book they had. I’m sure it’s touted as an Earth Day book, but really? You can plant a tree anytime and value the environment any time of year.

Until our next trip. What’s your favourite kids’ book? What would you recommend we borrow next time we visit? What would your littles recommend to Miss N and Boy?

on moral reasoning

Recently, I had a post featured on BlogHer (this is the link for the BlogHer article), a very interesting experience that garnered many responses, some good and some bad, at least from whatever your vantage point may be. The post had the misfortune of being renamed in (what I think) is a most inflammatory manner in order to drum up controversy and snag more readers – hoo boy, there were certain people who missed the point of respecting other’s views and that I don’t believe fierce religious dogma is for children because they could only focus on the fact that the children were not going to other’s churches. There was a small contingent who wasn’t quite sure how we, as non-religious parents, could hope to teach our children tolerance and morals (my favourite from the Facebook feed was the “I’m so tolerant I’m calling you closed minded and will name-call”).

Miss N has reached an age where we have started talking about the “why” of what we do, we are making connections between the rules and why they exist. Every morning we walk together to the bus and it is a time just for us, mother and daughter to talk without little brother distractions or the call of kittens. One morning this week she was admiring the newly formed buds on the trees, gently poking at their edges and pointing out the flowers she recognized (there are many – her green thumb would make my grandfather proud).

Miss N: It’s a lovely morning, Mommy. I like that tree the best. (And she pointed at this gorgeous tree that I think is a Hot Pink Crabapple tree.)

Me: It is, honey. I think that’s my favourite, too. Why do you suppose they grow, the trees?

Miss N: Well, I know the builders make the roads and houses and stuff. The trees and plants grow because we need them for oxygen.

Me: But what if we weren’t here? Why should they grow? A super long time ago there weren’t people living here in Canada but there were trees and all kinds of plants and animals.

Miss N: Hm. I know that one day this baby tree, (she pointed at a young Maple Tree), will grow up to be really big and that’s what it’s supposed to do if we let it.

Me: So, it’s part of what it is? To grow and live?

Miss N: I think so, but I don’t know.

Me: Think about it, honey. Have an awesome day and have fun at school.

With that, we left it. Her schoolbus had arrived and she hurried away, oversized book bag bumping against the back of her legs and ponytail swinging. The idea of  intrinsic value is a pretty weighty subject for a six year old but at its heart is discovering that the world does not necessarily exist just for our use and benefit. The world can exist with our without us but because we are, in so many ways, straddling the border between being part of nature but also outside of it, I believe it is important that we do not take nature for granted or our position so close to it.

Later that night I was telling Mr about the conversation I had with Miss N and he smiled. That afternoon he was outside with Miss N and Boy when Boy found a slug he was intent on squishing, for no other reason than it may be fun to squish something smaller than him. It was Miss N who stopped him with a simple, “Why?”.

“Because I want to,” he said.

“But why? It’s part of nature. Everything is part of nature. Just like us, would you want to be squished?”

Through Twitter I’ve been having some very interesting conversations with other non-religious parents about how we teach our children when we do not have a religious framework to establish a moral structure. The common refrain has been “the golden rule”, that the most basic way for everyone to get along in the world is to think about how we want to be treated and extend that to others. The golden rule transcends many world cultures and beliefs because the notion of positive reciprocity is one that we can all identify with because it puts each one of us in the position of another. This is the basic essence of not just morality but also respect, that we can learn respect from something as inconsequential as a slug in the garden.

dressing the pregnant belly

Pregnancy is such a fun time. Bloating and increasing middle area girth means that all those cute clothes that are neatly folded in your dresser or going to remain neatly folded in that same drawer for some time to come. After my first child I was devastated to discover that no matter how hard I tried, my old pants would not fit me. My (still rather) narrow hips had widened just enough that I had to pack all those jeans, skirts and dress pants in a big black garbage bag and haul them off to Goodwill. Let’s not lament the clothes we will find irrelevant but figure out how we’re going to look cute now.

Back from a casual walk in the park with Mr and hanging with a kitten. Neither one of us can see my feet.

I started showing early this time around. Mr has said I should stop telling people I’m less than 5 months along, it freaks them out. Let this be a lesson to you, once stretched around a nearly 9 pound human, stomach muscles are not going back and they will gladly take any opportunity to boomerang out again. I was left in a quandary. I had donated all my maternity clothes because I didn’t need them anymore.

Surprise, surprise.

It didn’t take too long (read: I was 8 weeks and showing) before my jeans were uncomfortable, as in, I felt like it was 10 minutes post-Christmas dinner every time I ate, breathed or drank a glass of water. I needed to do something.

Leggings and long skirts as cute short dresses it was. I never got around to buying belly bands but I did score some maternity pants at a new-to-me clothing sale. I bought one pair of jeans and one pair of capris. I am loathe to buy them new because they are ridiculously expensive.

‘Tis not impossible to maintain the cute while pregnant. Long shirts from Mr with a belt cinched above the belly function as a dress, paired with leggings and it’s cuteness. Skirts with a plain band (think A-line, no zippers or buttons) worn as a dress are tops. I know the rule is “no leggings as pants” but are you really going to tell a pregnant woman she’s making a fashion faux-pas? I don’t much care if your bum is covered or so tight the leggings are see-through. And, tights should never, ever be worn as pants, which I have seen. That is tacky.

Mind you, I’m short and this style works for me but it was a way for me to start reusing some of the clothes I already had without busting my already broken bank account.

kids activities: easy crayon stained glass windows

I know that last week I featured a crayon activity but that’s because reusing crayons is very cool and we have a million nubs of crayons. I’ve been meaning to make stained glass windows (or, in our case, mobiles) for a while. The main drawback to this craft is that it can be adult-intervention heavy. To keep the kids interested and save your sanity, use a pencil sharpener to transform the crayons into flakes instead of a paring knife like I did.

Stained Glass Heart

You will need

wax paper

crayon shavings

iron

two older dish towels you don’t mind redecorating with splashes of colour

yarn*

How

I shaved an entire box of crayons, this was probably not necessary as you really don’t need that much. It’s very important to keep the layer of shavings thin, the melted wax spreads and if it too thick, you can’t cut the wax paper into shapes and sunlight cannot get through. This effectively ruins the whole point of making stained glass anything.

1. On a decent-sized sheet of wax paper (waxy side up), spread a thin layer of crayon shavings. To keep relatively mess free, do this      on top of one of the dish towels.

2. Play with colour. You’ll be surprised at how the colours will mix together.

3. Sandwich the crayon shavings with a second piece of wax paper, this time waxy side down. Cover with the second dish towel.

4. Iron on a low setting. A friendly reminder that you should be doing this, not your child. Pretend it’s a shirt – move the iron around slowly, this will spread the colours.

5. The reveal: Pull back that dish towel and have a look. Cover and go over any areas that still have lumpy crayon messes.

6. Allow to cool and cut into shapes. Miss N spelled her name, Boy did aquatic life.

7. String on the piece of yarn and hang in a window.

*I tried fishing line for Boy’s mobile and it didn’t work, the pieces of the mobile are too light to weigh down the line and it ended up twirling and making a mess so I had to restring it on the yarn.

a month-long awareness extravaganza

May is Speech and Hearing Awareness Month. It’s also Sexual Assault Awareness and Skin Cancer Awareness Month. I understand the initiative behind awareness days and months, it gives educators and regular people a reason to talk about different issues and keep them in the forefront, but if you listen to incredibly loud earphones, park in dark alleys and bake yourself to a crisp every other month of the year, the point of May’s awareness initiative is lost. Those promises you make to yourself and your family needs to carry through for the rest of the year. Not just today or until the end of the month.

The true intent of these awareness months is that we make life changes and sometimes those are really difficult. Do you know what else is difficult? Coping with hearing loss. PTSD from a sexual assault. Chemo. If that feels extreme to you, life is extreme. We all have this concept that it could simply not happen to me, it’s someone else’s problem. Well, sometimes it’s not someone else’s problem. Life is not a feel-good, inspirational movie starring Queen Latifah and Ryan Gosling’s ex-girlfriend.

I have written before about what it was like to learn Boy has unilateral hearing loss and it does not change who he is but it will have a lasting affect on his life. Roadie for a metal band is not a viable career option for him, not unless he wants to expand that hearing loss to both ears. The precautions we take with protecting his hearing (watching for signs of infection, keeping noise at an acceptable decibel) are actions we should all be taking. Once you lose your hearing, it’s not coming back, not without some very serious intervention. Be wise about it.

respecting other’s beliefs – life as an atheist family

There seems to be this idea that atheists are just wayward people without any beliefs or morals who just don’t know any better. A couple of summers ago Mr and I were walking with the kids down Spring Garden Road and a very earnest young man came up to us and started shoving pamphlets in our hands. In response to Mr’s “No thanks, I’m an atheist” he said, “I’ve never met anyone who didn’t believe in anything before”. There are a lot of things I believe in. Love. Family. Honesty. Gravity. Kindness. Nature. Science.

Recently, a few of Miss N’s friends have been sincerely inviting her to church. The one that made me angry? Not at the child, mind you. She is doing what her Sunday School teacher and parents have told her to do, but they added the clincher of a treat bag if you are new to the church. Yup. They’ll bribe your children all the way. It may be called a gift by the person who thought of it, but it’s similar to the toys given out by McDonald’s – it’s not enough to sell french fries, there is the extra bait of a toy that will break in three days. I understand why these children feel it is imperative to invite Miss N to church, it is a fun place where they sing songs, eat a snack and talk about the underlying fear of what happens after you die. These children love Miss N and even though they can’t quite articulate it in this way, they think we’re failing Miss N and her brother by not taking them to church.

This part will be touchy for people who do not believe the same as we do and I respect that, I’ll raise my kids and you can raise yours. I do not think religion is for children. I think that they should be exposed to the beliefs of all people and while I will tell my children “this is what Mommy and Daddy believe” I do not expect her to believe the same thing. I’ll ask Miss N what she thinks and she has some really amazing thoughts on the matter, but I will not tell her she is wrong if she disagrees with me about the big beliefs. I do not tell her she is going to hell if she does not believe as I do, that she ought to live in fear for the people in her life who do not because it is unfair to expect a child to live like that. It is not right to speak in absolutes with children because they will believe anything and everything you tell them and they are still developing the cognitive ability to sift through the logic of some claims. Case in point: Boy honestly thinks Batman is a viable career choice (after Miss N encouraged him to come up with a back up plan, he’s settled on police officer/Batman).

Many people don’t understand that atheists have a belief system and that we are just somehow lacking and need to be led to “the right way”. There are a lot of right ways in the world, it’s what makes our world so awesome and awful at the same time because so many of us are walking through the world with blinders on. I am very proud of Miss N that she tells her friends that she has her own beliefs and their church is not the place for her – it’s like school for people who believe in their god, it’s not really our place. Our church is in the museums, in our garden and at the art gallery. Our church is when we come together as a family at the dinner table (every night) and we talk about the world we live in and how we can treat one another with respect and kindness in our daily lives. Miss N asks a lot of big questions, about where humans come from and what others believe. As part of our “lesson in respect” I don’t say that people of other faiths are liars or wrong, I preface it with “Hindus believe… Christians believe… Some people believe…” because it is not my place to judge you for your beliefs. I only ask that you don’t do the same to me or my children.

speaking with our hands

Boy and I are back at it, learning ASL. He has absolutely perfect hearing in his left ear but we finally received confirmation this spring that his right ear is just there for show and to keep his head from looking lopsided. There is no indication that he will lose the function of his left ear (especially since we don’t know what happened to his right) and he has adapted so well that it’s simply amazing. However, we are working with him to learn American Sign Language because a second language is so valuable to kids and when I try to speak French it is kind of like Joey from Friends.. (“Je m’ blah blah blah”), though I can read it.

We’ve been going at our own pace, using the awesome videos from My Smart Hands and this fab video below from Patty Shukla. I’ll often hear Boy wandering around the house, humming Patty’s songs and practicing the signs from this video. We start each lesson with two songs, one from Patty and the animated My Smart Hands Alphabet. I really like this alphabet song for two reasons. One, it features “zed” for “z” and it does the letter sounds as opposed to “a is for apple”, that way Boy can get a sense of the letter sounds.

An unexpected benefit of us learning ASL, particularly the alphabet, is that it has helped Miss N with her spelling and when they are writing letters and stories and need help spelling the words, I’ll say the letter and do the sign for it. Two birds, one stone and all that.

I’ve included Patty Shukla’s song of commands and basic words, Boy’s favourite from this video is “come here”. Imagine that, he always has something to show us.

 

My goal is that we will be fluent and at some point I would like to take a formal class with Boy (and Miss N) but for right now, this is working really well for us and there is a little less pressure on the kids. Plus, they’ll have their own secret language. At this year’s holiday concert, Miss N flashed me the “I love you ” sign from the stage, and I’ll bet there was no one else – or at least few- who noticed or knew, but I did.