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Five is fabulous. Bold and kind, surprisingly good at sharing. Five loves his people, all of us. And I love Five and all his many, many ways. I continue to feel enamoured by this kid and so glad to be his Abba.

Five goes to kindergarten. Which is day school, like a big kid, with a back pack containing all his things. He climbs up three flights of stairs with his tiny classmates, and the amount of his life that happens away from us steadily increases. He still tells us lots about it, but we seldom see his classroom, and I'm not always sure which adults correspond to which kids. Five is very definitely growing up, which is great and terrible. We pack Five's lunches everyday, and Five likes onagri, grapefruit, tiny cheeses, cucumber and red pepper slices, organic, gluten free seed crackers and a little bit of something sweet. He prefers to approve his lunch before it is packed away, and will give helpful suggestions if it is not yet acceptable.

Five is clear about what he wants, and what you should want, and is happy to tell you all about it. Five likes to pick out his own outfits, and may try on several outfits before choosing the one that is perfect for today. This might happen in the morning, but if he wakes up in the middle of the night, he might get dressed then and go back to bed ready to start the day. Most outfits include stripy leggings, but like all things, this can change. Five considers cold weather an affront to his fashion sensibilities. This morning Five charged me with the fashion crime of failing to provide red and white striped socks. I was accused of this in the shower, and was expected to produce new socks immediately. I failed.

Five wants to help with the driving, and will call out all the road signs he recognises. We'll never miss a lane ending, or a deer crossing again. Five is not enamoured with a road trip - he would prefer to fly and is not at all sure why that can not always be arranged. While most airlines think children should be 8 before they can fly as unaccompanied minors, US Airways thinks 5 is fine. Gulp. US Airways thinks he's old enough to handle direct flights alone. Five agrees. Back on the ground, if we are driving, Five never misses a pit stop. He's very interested in the machines that dispense small toys and candy. He'd like to buy several. At every stop.

Five is genuinely helpful, and able to do so much more. He is willing to get things for people, load the dishwasher, pair socks, feed the dog and more. Five likes to care for other people. He'll offer to get you a blanket if you are cold, or a drink if you look hot. Five offers sweet and tender suggestions, and really wants to look after people. He's very happy to share whatever he's got, even if it is a tasty treat - if Five has something good, he'd like you to have some too. Five is also very concerned about animals. He worries about extinctions, and always wants to help animals. He will stand up to bigger kids who are not being kind to animals, and will get help if he can't deal with the situation alone. Instead of gifts at his birthday party, he's planning on asking friends to contribute to animal protection.

Five is aware of more mainstream media than ever before - he's requested a minions themed birthday party. He enjoys a movie, and is particularly fond of Frozen, The Sound of Music and Star Wars. He likes a movie in a movie theatre, and thinks 3D movies are the best. He's quick to offer a snuggle if we are at home, and once the snuggle has been agreed to, he'll ask for a snuggle and a video. In the car, Five listens to the radio - as in intently listens and will ask questions about whatever is being talked about.

Five loves games. He was an avid member of chess club at his school in the fall, loves Connect Four, Labyrinth, and an assortment of card games, but he's almost always happy to be introduced to a new game. He is coming to terms with the notion that we expect him to clean up his games afterwards, although he thinks this is terribly unfair.

Five is the lord of small things. The above mentioned toys from pit-stops, rocks, Lego mini figs, buttons, coins, things he finds on the street, stickers, more things he finds on the street, scraps of paper, small things in general. Five continues to cultivate and curate a large collection of small things. Rocks continue to hold a special place for him, as do fossils, and if you asked him to pick a future career, he would probably say geologist or palaeontologist.

Five loves an adventure. That little person who use to joyfully sing out "We're going somewhere!" still loves going. He's happy to investigate new places, climb new climbing structures, go out for a meal, to a museum, an art gallery, whatever. Five loves a live show - all the better if it is a musical. Five thinks that Neil Patrick Harris is amazing and is disappointed to not have seen him live on stage yet. Five has not forgiven his parents for going to see Neil Patrick Harris without him. In our defence, it was Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and it was not kid appropriate.

Five continues to like strong flavours. He considers The Cheese Boutique an excellent destination and wants blue cheeses, strong cheeses and cheese with an edible rind. Now that I'm drinking beer without alcohol, Five's had a few sips and thinks beer is great - although not as good as kombucha. He was actually so excited about kombucha the other day that he sang about it "Kom-bucha-bucha-bucha-bucha yay!".

Five would like you to know he never sleeps. Never, ever. He is never tired, and he never sleeps. If he has to lie in his bed and rest, he would like to do so snuggling his alien. We actually have four identical aliens. At least two, and sometimes all four are always missing. Aliens don't stay still.

Five's favourite holiday is Halloween, which is almost always too far away. He has grand plans for next year's costume already, and wants to collect things to help put it together. Five can write words - not just his name anymore, but other words, and sends love notes to people he cares for. Living with Five is like living in a constant math quiz - he's very busy figuring things out with numbers and shapes all the time, and prefers it if the adults are too. Five is also full of questions - a drive to school might include questions about plate tectonics, outrage about poverty and questions about infinity.

Five is many, many things.

How has The Small changed? You can compare with four, three, and one. I know, I know he was two, I just did not manage to write a damn thing for his birthday that year. You can bet I am contributing to the therapy fund for that one.
Apparently I wrote most of this post back in August of 2015. I did not manage to finish it then. Then the school year started, and I was back to work, and The Small Person started kindergarten. I became pregnant, got sick, went to hospital, went to hospital again, went to hospital a third damn time, had surgery and began recovering. Just before I was well enough to go back to work, My Tender Beast had surgery (not the same surgery) and since then has had a series of surgical complications. It's all been very bad for writing around our house. This afternoon, stealing a moment from my burning to do list to write, it seemed to make sense to finish this post before writing a new one. So, uh, sorry if it seems out of date.

The Small and I spent the weekend at Blue Skies. We left on Thursday, and returned late Monday, and it meant that he and I had some intense time together. I was nervous about camping as just a twosome, but I need not have been. We may have been two, but we were two in the middle of a large village.

After I brought two cart loads of gear down to our spot (The small riding in the cart both ways) I had to go back and move the car. The Small decided he was not interested in getting back into the car, and our new neighbours said he could stay with them, and he seemed pleased with that plan, so I left him there, with strangers. When I came back he had a snack from our food bin, and one from each of two neighbouring cam sites.

Blue Skies remains my favorite music festival, and it lives large in the imagination of The Small too.

Earlier this year, we had received the gift of a s'mores kit. Back when I was a kid you had to buy the ingredients seperately and sharpen your own stick with a knife, but now, apparently, everything comes as a kit. The Small was excited to make s'mores. Late Friday night, we stopped at a communal campfire to do this. I roasted the marshmallows (because he was afraid he would burn them) and we assembled s'mores. He was disappointed. Still there was magic. In this case, the magic came in the form of a skilled hulla hoop artist who also stopped by the campfire. Her hulla hoop was lit, all around, with bright lights and she performed a mesmerizing dance for us. S'mores might be meh, but the dancing was brilliant.

Over the weekend I thought a great deal about children who are told not to talk to strangers. That's never been our rule, but The Small hears it often, strangely enough, most often from strangers (cautioning him not to speak to other strangers - you know, the ones who are bad dangerous strangers, not like them). The adults in our family talk to strangers, kind of all the time. We help strangers, we receive help from strangers, we make new friends, we get directions, we share what time it is. Talking to strangers is a way of making new friends and new connections in the world, a way of helping other people, and frankly pant of my work at My Tender Beast's as well. The line between stranger and person one is getting to know seems so mushy to me. What makes a person a stranger? What makes them safe? How is the small suppose to figure this out? Our rule is "Talk to strangers, but don't go with anyone without a parent saying it's okay first."

In August, The Small and I and The Teenager spent a weekend camping among strangers. Or we started the weekend camping among strangers, and made neighbours and possibly friends. At the end of the weekend, as one family was leaving early, they asked if we would give one of their teenagers a lift home the next day, and we did. We introduced her to our favorite maple syrup farmer, our traditional chip stand, and by the end of the ride she'd become one of The Small's babysitters. Because while we don't need more strangers, often you can make friends and neibours out of strangers, and we do need those.


Getting pregnant really isn't the goal

Warning: This is not a happy post. This is a sad and disappointed post about miscarriage. I still want to share, but you don't have to read it. Do what you need to do for you.

That said, if you don't read this, please don't ask me about this. I am writing this here in part so I don't have to have lots of in person conversations about it.


Today I am seven and a half weeks pregnant. For those unfamiliar with "pregnancy math", this means I conceived about five and a half weeks ago, and have know for sure I am pregnant (as in been able to get a positive pregnancy test) for three and a half weeks. Seven and a half weeks is 19% of forty weeks, all of which sounds seriously on our way. After that last post about waiting, this sounds good - right?

Except it's not good. Because, as it turns out, getting pregnant isn't the goal. Growing a baby is the goal, and getting pregnant is just an early step in that direction. This pregnancy isn't going to grow a baby. I know miscarriage is common, that the first trimester is prime time for miscarriages, and this doesn't mean anything at all about the possible success or viability of a possible future pregnancy. The thing is, this is not about a possible future pregnancy. This is about this pregnancy, this one right now, that I had got excited about, that I was nervous about, that was and is real, and that won't result in a baby. Right now, possible future is not really much consolation for a crappy right now.

All that nausea and exhaustion and not drinking over Pride? All that being too exhausted to see Fringe shows? That was an investment in the future, and sometimes, investments don't turn out. This time, no baby.

I am trying to find consolation in the idea that getting pregnant twice in six tries is actually pretty good. It's pretty good at any age, and frankly great at almost forty. I'm trying to find consolation in the idea that my body clearly is trying hard to nurture and grow this pregnancy - even if the pregnancy is not doing it's own growing. Apparently my body is stubborn and determined, which should be a shock to exactly no one.

We are not sharing this with our small person. He is so excited about the possibility of a baby. He believes that he "turned our hearts" to make us want a baby because he wanted one so much. Earlier this week he started grilling us on where a new baby, if we have one, might go to school. He thinks a new baby should go to his current school, and he had a whole plan and a number of warnings for us about what we will need to remember and pay attention to. He did not know we were pregnant, although he does know we are trying. We're not going to tell him we're unpregnant. We will tell him when/if there is an actual baby on the way. It's very important to me that other people not share any of this with him. When I was eight, Heather Patterson knew more about my mum's pregnancy, and the sex of the coming baby, than I did, and I felt so betrayed. I'd had a big argument at school with her where she insisted the baby would be a girl, and I insisted that we did not know yet (because that's what my mum had told me). She so lorded it over me that she knew and I did not, and I felt so betrayed. So, it's very important to me that our small person hears about possible baby news from his parents.

As a further note on how excited the small person is, he once, months ago, come to the fertility clinic with me, where I explained that it is a place that helps people make babies, and that I was going to check on how my eggs were growing. He immediately told me that he is going to go there when he is a grown-up so he can have a baby too. Over two months later, at dinner with company, he turned to me and asked "Abba, how are your eggs doing? You know, the tiny eggs that are inside you, how are they growing?" The Small Person continues to be a tiny detective and is on the case.

If you know me in person, please don't ask me about how this is going. I'm sharing here, in part because I can do so on my own terms, when and how I want to. I'm not ready for every dog walk, every trip to the grocery store, any possible trip outside the house to be an opportunity to talk about miscarriage. Thanks, but no. I really do appreciate the love and support other people give our family. I appreciate the encouragement, prayers, community, friendship - but please, not in person or by phone right now. E-mail is great. Notes are welcome. This does suck, and I appreciate other people honouring that this is a loss and we're sad, but it really helps to be able to have a little control about how that happens.

If you are pregnant, or newly pregnant, or have recently had a baby, if you want to share, please do. I like babies, I like people having reproductive control over their own bodies. I can celebrate your success, joy and good fortune. It's not going to make this harder for me, this is not a competition and it's nice to have things to celebrate.

I'm going to need a little down time, but after that, I'll be in boxing class, in the sauna at the gym and drinking scotch (not all at the same time) because those are things pregnant people can't do, and I'm going to enjoy them now, and hope that I am giving them up again soon, but next time, for longer.


Trying to get pregnant is a giant game of waiting around for the right moment to rush. First you wait to ovulate. You count the days, you measure, you interpret, you wait. Then there is a brief moment of rushing, of inseminating (although that too involves waiting). And then you wait to see if anything happened. If hopes are growing. The waiting is punctuated with more waiting - waiting at the fertility clinic, peeing on sticks and waiting to see what they say (ovulation: yes or no?, pregnancy" yes or no). Waiting and more waiting. We are most certainly expecting, expecting good news, expecting the end of this waiting and the beginning of another. There is absolutely nothing to report, except that we are waiting.

We started this game of waiting in December. And we are still waiting. We are patient people, we remind ourselves. In the waiting we talk with each other, we build possibility, we buoy each other up, we talk with mouths full of love, we entertain hope, we feel frustration and sadness. There is togetherness, planning, tenderness, and other good things in the waiting. We imagine what might be, and then we imagine other possibilities, then we imagine some more. In waiting, it feels like you should be prepared for any possibility.

I pray, and I think about how praying for a baby must be one of the oldest prayers. Is praying for the weather to change older? I don't know. I pray, and I think about generations of people who have prayed, prayed for fertility, prayed for a pregnancy, prayed for a safe delivery, prayed for a baby. Two months ago, in the mikvah I came up out of the water, and the song on my lips was the Magnificat "My soul, magnifies the lord, and my spirit rejoices in G-d my maker. For he who is mighty, has done great things, and blessed, is the Lord..." It's the prayer of a Jewish woman, grateful for her pregnancy, praising G-d. Alright, yes, now it's heard almost distinctly in a Christian setting, but the Magnificat comes directly from Jewish tradition.

I think about how all this waiting is driven by hope. Is it audacious to hope for another small person? Our Small is damn fabulous, might the gracious thing be to just celebrate that? But I don't think hope or fertility are zero sum games. My luck does not come at someone else's expense. My loss is not someone else's gain. And strangely, in months that end with "better luck next time" I am learning to value what I have more. Wanting more does not devalue what is. I love the Small and the Teenager fiercely, celebrate them both, and feel well loved and supported by My Tender Beast. I think about friends and extended family and friends that have become family, and we are already very rich. I am determined not to let a desire for more stop me from celebrating what is. So far, I am revelling in what I have.

In the waiting I act like I am pregnant. I quit coffee in November. Alcohol only in the pre-ovulation part of a cycle, and then not after. I do pick and choose what of the other food behaviours are in or out. So many cultures have such different advice, and it is often contradictory. My body, myself, no food policing please. I act like I am pregnant and keep well hydrated, and engage in regular moderate exercise. I am trying hard to have this body be a place I want to be, because I feel like how can I invite someone else to grow here unless I feel at home here. This too is getting better. My body is strong and able to do many things, I hope in time, this.

In the waiting, Google is not my friend. It promises all manner of things, including to help predict what is happening, or to interpret what is going on. Mostly what it serves is the experiences and opinions of other people also playing the waiting game. No more, no less. Each if them with their own experiences, true, but I am not trying to get any of them pregnant, and bodies can be so varied. There are few absolutes, few guarantees but time, and so little useful well collected data. I try not to pay attention to what's happening between ovulation and what has so far been the "better luck next time" moment. Sometimes being tired is just being tired. Sometimes what you want to eat is just what you want to eat. Sometimes I wake to pee in the night because I am well hydrated. The internet people are more than willing to offer to tell you what symptoms they had when they were pregnant super early on. What they don't say, is that many of them had exactly the same symptoms when they were not pregnant. Google wants your time. It does not offer much in return.

In February, briefly, it looked like we had graduated from this waiting game to the next, from the getting pregnant waiting, to the waiting for a baby waiting, but like a game of snakes and ladders, one can go up and down. We are back to the getting pregnant waiting.

So, I am inviting people to join us in our waiting. If you are willing, to toss your hopes and prayers in with ours. Love is good too. It seems like a good idea. If you have blessings, we'd like them. perhaps it takes a village not just to raise a child but to create one. We would like our villages' love.

If this works, there will be more waiting. I know pregnancy too is a waiting game. And then, then there are many other games, and so little time in which to wait.

Eight Kilometers to Away

I am away this week. Away, away, away. I packed up my clothes, a week's worth of food, books, my computer and my toiletries, loaded them onto my bike and I peddled off. Writing it, it seems simple, but to this parent, with a full-time job, grad school and a dog, it feels immense. This week, this gift of time and quiet, is a gift of the Toronto Arts Council, Artscape and my family. The TAC provided the money, Artscape is providing the space, and my family is helping me believe that a week of writing, alone, with time and quiet to think is something I can have. They are all helping me believe that my work has value, and they are investing in my writing, what I can create in the world through words. I'm feeling full of gratitude.

So, time. Riding the ferry over to the island was like a journey into winter - there was only a slender pathway of open water, and even that was crowded with ice. The sound of ice hitting the hull made the ride over interesting, and when the shelf was big enough you could feel it lift the boat and shift it just a little. On the island side I rode off the ferry, and along the outer side of the island. Four kilometers on this side of the ferry ride, four kilometers on that side, and eight kilometers feels like it is very far away.

Time feels like such a gift. Time to play with ideas, to rub thoughts together and see what comes of them, to walk, to ride, to take in sun, snow, ice and waves. I am liking this so very much. Not that I don't like all of the everyday things, but one can like one's lot and still enjoy respite. I will also like going home to my people, and my good dog and my comfy bed where the snuggles rest on Sunday. But right now, I am indulging in quiet.

I'm enjoying rediscovering my own rhythms - when I wake and when I sleep if left to my own devices. I'm enjoying eating the foods I want to eat - because living as a family means compromise between all of our food ways. Alone I eat more leaves. I brought more leaves and more fresh vegetable that was expected and had to engage in creative stacking to fit it all in my part of the fridge. I'm thinking about how we all eat at home, and how we can all get more of our individual preferences without cooking separate meals for each of us. I'm enjoying morning prayer - something that does not happen at home because I do not make time for it, and am thinking about how to build that in. I'm missing swimming, but enjoying being able to get up from my work, sometime in the afternoon when my body wants to move and the sun is bright, and going outside. For an hour. To just move. It was stunning to stand on the end of the pier, looking out at the lake, as the waves crashed in, alone today.

Sunday I will come home, but I have another precious day and a half to work on my book. It's better than this blog post, I promise, but it is perhaps sucking up all my good words.

Just-turned Four

In the last week the small person turned four. The Teenager made cupcakes, we all sang, and having been celebrated by his Wallace grandparents last weekend, he is spending this weekend being celebrated by his Bergman grandparents. This year, he will celebrate his birthday at school, slightly late, by bringing in 750 bouncy balls. He was inspired by this video. His teachers have said he can bring in lots of balls, but they have no idea what's coming. His birthday phone schedule was epic - all manner of family called to sing to him and celebrate him. Just-turned four remains fiercely loyal to his people, all of you, and was delighted. He talks about people often, asks to call, asks to Skype, and in the last week started bringing home handmade postcards from school with notes on the back. If you love him, Just-turned four loves you right back.

Just-turned four announced that now he is four he will have another new name, but we have to guess what it is.

Just-turned four cares about others. He worries about sick friends and family members, and shares advice on how to take care of others. He was very careful to ask about bringing the balls to school because he was concerned that a younger child might put one in their mouth and choke. Just-turned four chose a Chaunnuka present for me and tricked me into buying it (I thought it was for him). This charms me.

Just-turned four is both startlingly independent, and hates to be alone. If there is a snuggle or a hug he wants to be in the middle, although some times, a request to "snuggle on the couch" turns out to just be an opening to ask for a video. Just-turned four would like to watch Dinosaur Train. He'd like to watch an episode with you and then talk about it. Just-turned four has learned a huge amount about dinosaurs from these shows. He almost certainly knows more about dinosaurs than you. Unless you are cousin E. Inspired by Don on Dinosaur Train, Just-turned four now has "A Collection". Just-turned four's collection is extensive: shells, fossils, beads, rocks, seed pods, random things he has found, plastic insects, geodes, bits of glass. Just-turned four has a shelf full of his collection, and two draws, and a fabulous treasure box, and two bags. Just-turned four would like to have more bones in his collection, but his big people will not allow him to bring home everything he finds on the street.

Just-turned four is interested. He wants to know how things work, where they come from, he wants to peer, touch and smell. Just-turned four has a hypothesis. About everything.

Just-turned four is a rules lawyer and a champion negotiator. Just-turned four prefers to fly. "Driving takes too long" he explains, and also, driving is boring. Just-turned four is looking forward to being five, and being able to fly as an unaccompanied minor.

Just-turned four has no interest in sleep. He is not tired, he is not sleepy, and he does not want to go to bed. Just-turned four is a master at not sleeping, and will try to stay up as long as he can. Sometimes the big people want to go to bed before he does. Sometimes he falls asleep while insisting how not tired he is.

Just turned four likes art. He likes the opportunity to create, and to make beautiful things. He is very interested in beads, and beading, but will use other mediums too. Just-turned four is handy with scissors. Really handy. Almost all his art is trimmed these days into a shape he finds most pleasing. Just-turned four writes more than he draws these days. He brings home paper from school covered with letters. He writes his name, clearly and in block capitals, but then he fills the page with other letters. Just-turned four knows all the letters of our alphabet, and all the numbers, although some times one of the teens goes missing, and he thinks the number after "twenty-nine" should be "twenty-ten". He is clear that what he creates, both letters and pictures is art, and that it should be hung on the wall for all to admire.

Just-turned four loves hockey. Loves, loves, loves, hockey and is sure he knows how to play. Anytime there is a small piece of ice anywhere he wants to skate on it in his boots to practice and in preparation. He has a backyard hockey set of two nets and two sticks and he'll play that for hours with considerable skill. On a recent weekend, he and I watched a Ryerson Rams game, and he explained to me high sticking, and several other rules. I have no idea where this love or this knowledge comes from.

Just-turned four still loves a salmon and avocado hand roll, and will eat five in a single sitting if allowed. He prefers to go out to a restaurant for dinner than eat at home, and if we are going out he would like to be able to choose where. If allowed to choose where, he most often sends us to T and T, Sashimi Island or Guu. At home broccoli, salmon and macaroni cheese might be his pick. He does not like spicy foods, is seldom a fan of soup, does not want onions, and seldom mushrooms. Just-turned four has just come around to salad.

In the last week we have toured two possible schools for Just-turned four for next year this week, and as we discussed them over dinner, Papa shared that one of them has "a rolling start". Just-turned four declared that he should definitely go to that one as we are not very good at mornings. We are not very good at mornings, particularly Just-turned four, who would like to stay up until eleven, and then sleep in until ten.

Just-turned four is full of joy and conversation, full of interest in the world. We are delighted by him, and so glad of him. We look forward to our next adventures.

How has the small person changed? Here's three, and one, apparently I was so busy with two that I did not write something up for it. I should probably put $10 in the therapy jar for that.

What we tell other people

We're at the Biodome in Montreal, and The Small Person and I head to the bathroom. The Small Person refuses to come into the men's with me, insisting he is a girl. I decide it's fine for him to go into the women's, although I'm not prepared to go in with him. He goes in, and I sit down on a bench outside. Not two minutes later a woman sticks her head out to ask me if The Small Person is a girl or a boy. I respond she's a girl, and the woman goes back in, and even helps the small person wash her hands. In that bathroom, I stand up for the small person and whatever her chosen identity might be.

We're at the border, in the car, and the Homeland Security Officer asks me to lower the back seat window so he can see our small. "What's your name?" asks the dude in the uniform, and our small person answers "Julia Kerparsnip". "Julia Kerparsnip" is not the name on the small person's passport, and so, after we have cleared this all up, and we are across the border and away, we have a conversation about how there are some places that we just have to be whatever it says on our I.D. It feels like such a trans conversation, but not one I had expected to have before The Small Person was four.

We're visiting with Great-grandmother R in Baltimore. It's lunch time, and The Small is entertaining most of the residents. One person, across the table is delighted with her, and keeps complimenting us on what a "great little girl" we have. We thank her. The aid argues with her that The Small is a boy and then turns to us to support her argument. She is not pleased that we will not back her up on whether our small is a girl or a boy. Really, everyone is delighted, why does she care to disrupt the delight with this?

We emerge from a bathroom stall in a men's room in a gas station in rural South Carolina. The Small and I have been in the stall for a long time, and have been chatting. Part way through, Papa came in to see if we are okay (we were). When we emerge, I help The Small wash his hands. A total stranger claps me on the back and tells me what a great big brother I am for being so patient with my little brother and helping him out. The small clarifies that he does not have a brother. The dude claps me on the back, and says "well uncle then, you're doing a great thing." I don't correct him, and we head out to the car swiftly to avoid further conversation with him.

Names and genders, genders and names, bathrooms and borders. Apparently we are all playing. Certainly we are all learning the rules, whether we like them or not, and figuring out which ones we need to play along with, which ones we can bend, and which ones we can break.
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

Becoming a parent is for me an exercise in compassion for my parents. As a child I failed to understand how constant children are. I failed to understand how much my parents might have their own interests and desires. They were my parents, and I understood them in relation to me, not in relation to their own needs and desires. Parenting is increasing my appreciation of my own parents.

I'm a parent of a queer and trans variety, and I spend considerable time thinking about parenting. Perhaps, more honestly, I spend considerable time engaging in acts of parenting, and sometimes, if I am up early, or if the small person actually consented to sleep, or if I am driving, I think about parenting: how to do it, what it means, how not to do it, how to do it better, what I am teaching through my parenting. I am imperfect in my parenting, and I try to remember that the goal is not just to "do the best I can" but to be "good enough" for the particular small person I am parenting.

So, having a small window of time when I am neither in school, nor working for one, otherwise know as the winter holiday, I have embarked upon reading about other queer parents, as seen through the eyes of their children. Between Toronto and Montreal I read Fairyland, by Alysia Abbott, leaving Montreal, I started Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter by Alison Wearing, and arriving in New York I saw Fun Home the musical, based on the book by Alison Bechdel. There are literally thousands of miles still to go on our vacation - feel free to leave suggestions of what else I should be reading.

I'm struck by the similarities - both Alisons search for clues in their childhood memories that their fathers were gay. Wearing writes that her father loved making pastry at home, was an intellectual, and sang songs from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas on the street. By this assessment, my father is also gay. Bechdel too describes her father's intellectual bend, a love of opera, and in his case, an intense interest in home restoration. Alysia Abbot and Alison Bechdel are both writing about deceased fathers, which I think gives them a certain amount of license - each of them are now the sole owners of their stories, while Alison Wearing is writing about her father who is still very much alive - although that alone can not account for how poorly crafted Confessions is in comparison to the others. Both Abbot and Bechdel write about their relationships, they use like "we" and "us". Wearing mostly writes about herself, her's is a book about "I" in which her father makes very brief cameos.

To add a final similarity, they are all, roughly speaking contemporaries, and my contemporaries. It makes me wonder if my interest in all three is about my age and life stage, of if there is a broader cultural force at work.

Fun Home was deeply satisfying. My queer self grew up with Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel's comic that ran from 1987 to 2008. By the time I came out, anywhere, it already was. It modeled a world I wanted, centred around friendships, chosen family and a bookstore, it included people of a wide variety of sexual orientations, queers choosing to raise kids, trans people, and all manner of geeks with glasses. Some times I was Mo. Some times I wanted to date her. Some of the women I dated were very Mo-like. With Fun Home, Bechdel turns inwards, and writes explicitly about her own childhood, her closet gay or bisexual dad, her figuring out her own queerness, her mother performing theatre, and the funeral home in which they all live. I loved Fun Home as a book. I also love Fun Home the musical. It's clever, and beautiful, and hard. Seeing medium Alison sing about her first relationship with a woman "I'm changing my major to Joan" is delightful, and yes, pretty much exactly how I remember the heady early days of discovering sex and love. Seeing small Alison sing about seeing a butch delivery person and recognizing both something is desirable, and something that she wants to be, was a relief. When the world is so full of messages that children should romanticize heterosexuality, it feels emancipatory that a small person can sing on stage about something outside of heterosexuality. It's been extended again (for the fifth time) and I understand why. Go see it. It was what I needed in so many ways.

Fairyland is engrossing. While Alysia Abbott does not identify as queer, of gay, she grew-up culturally queer. For her, Fairyland was a magical time in San Francisco, before AIDS, when her childhood was full of happy men. It's a difficult read, in that she writes about hard experiences, including her father's struggles with addiction, and her being left to fend for herself far too often and far too young, but she writes about them beautifully. She acknowledges that her dad was struggling to meet his own needs, as well as hers, and their relationship feels complex and loving. It captures her experiences, and a particular point in time beautifully. It was a pleasure to read.

Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter is an overwritten insult. Clearly someone told Wearing that good writing uses lots of adjectives, and she took that to heart, adding adjectives in all manner of places, whether they are needed or not. It would be far more honest to call her book "Confessions of the child of divorced mother" - her mother being far more present both in her childhood and the book than her father, although "Confessions of a Narcissist" or "A Childhood of Unexamined Privilege" would also work. Wearing opts for a homophobic title, complete with a glib paragraph claiming that she doesn't mean fairy in a homophobic way so it's all fine. Except that her book is full of her own homophobia, and as a person who is not "a fairy" nor a part of fairy culture, it's not her's to use. If you feel compelled to read any of this book, the section titled "How He Saw It" is the one to read - Alison's father is by far the superior writer.

And from here, now, as a parent, what would I write about my childhood relationships with my parents?  Earlier this spring, I read Andrew Solomon's Far From The Tree which talks about what happens when children become part of a horizontal culture to which the parents do not belong. He began the research behind the book spurred on by his experience as a gay son of straight parents, thinking about their differences and distance. He expanded this to other identities. It helps me think about how my queerness, my Jewishness, my vegetarianism all brought me into cultures that are foreign to my parents, and gives me a greater willingness and ability to contemplate what these cultural differences meant and mean in our relationships.

I parent. I hope to be good enough to the small person I care for. I wonder how he will tell this story.
So in my spare time (you know, outside of work, and parenting and going to grad school) I agreed to give a short talk for Queer Ontario, for their Greg Pavelick Memorial Public Forum in Education. Since then a number of people have asked me to share my talk. Here it is:

Only Cisgender Children Go Through Puberty: The Invisibility of Gender Independent and Trans Youth In the Health and Physical Education Curriculum

Background on the Curriculum
Currently, Ontario has the dubious honour of having the oldest sexual health curriculum in Canada. In Ontario we are still using an elementary curriculum from 1998, and a high school one from1999/2000. I’m only going to address the elementary (K-8) curriculum here.

Many people in Ontario remember that in 2010, an updated elementary curriculum was released, received significant negative media attention from a small number of groups on the Christian right, and was then withdrawn. While the vocal critics claimed the curriculum had been sprung on them without consultation, it was in fact the result of a two-year process of gathering evidence and best practices. Consultations had been conducted with “thousands of experts, parents, and for the first time, students themselves. In addition, the original version of the 2010 Health &Physical Education curriculum has the support of many different religious groups, administrators, principals, public health professionals and parent groups.”[1] One of the biggest frustrations is that in Ontario we know what an update could look like – but we don’t have the update. It’s like the once and future curriculum. In some ways this is great as we can point to a possible update, and in other ways it is terribly limiting – it’s hard to call for inclusion of things that were not included in 2010. And while 2010 is a significant improvement over what we have now, we need better still.

The 1998 Curriculum
Returning to the one we have, the overview of Growth and development in the 1998 curriculum states that:

Growth and development education is more than simply teaching young people about the anatomy and physiology of reproduction. For example, growth and development education focuses on an understanding of sexuality in its broadest context – sexual development, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, abstinence, body image, and gender roles. Acquiring information and skills and developing attitudes, beliefs, and values related to identity and relationships are lifelong processes.[2]

Which sounds expansive, but the challenge with the curriculum is sometimes less about what it says than what it does not say. Many of the curriculum expectations are vague and leave the interpretation to individual teachers. And while it’s appropriate to give room for a teacher to use their professional judgment, the vagueness of what is said is well beyond “leaving room for professional judgment”. In addition, a study released this year by People for Education found that across the province, only 45% of elementary schools have a Health and Physical Education specialist  (someone with specific training) – so in the majority of schools, there is a vague curriculum being taught by someone who is not a specialist in this subject area. Additionally:

  • particularly in issues of sexual health, individual teachers may fear parental criticism if they don’t have clear direction and be more conservative in their teaching.

  • 10% of LGBTQ students who responded to the Every classroom in Every School study reported hearing homophobic comments from their teachers daily or weekly.

  • 70.4% of all respondents reported hearing homophobic comments from peers daily.

  • and 22.5% of trans respondents reported hearing transphobic or gender policing comments from school staff sometimes or frequently.

Comparing to what might have been, 2010:
Measuring the number of times different words appear in both the 1998 and 2010 curriculum turned out to be a surprisingly effective way to give an overview of what is and is not talked about.

1998 Curriculum 2010 Curriculum
“homophobia” 0 1
“gender identity” 0 18
“transgender” 0 1
“vagina” 0 11
“penis” 0 5
“same-sex” 4 7
“relationship” 9 102

Please note that while “same-sex” appears 4 times in the 1998 curriculum, every time it is in reference to same-sex education, and how you might want to use that for aspects of human development. At no time in 1998 does it refer to same-sex relationships.

After the preamble, the word “relationship” appears only 9 times in the 1998 document.  The next time we read the word relationships is in the grade four expectations:

  • identify the characteristics of healthy relationships (e.g., showing consideration of others’ feelings by avoiding negative communication);

  • identify the challenges (e.g., conflicting opinions) and responsibilities in their relationships with family and friends;

Interestingly, the students who identified challenges in their relationships with family and friends in grade four, are not expected to develop strategies to address these challenges, until the following year, when the grade 5 curriculum states that students should be able to:

  • identify strategies to deal positively with stress and pressures that result from relationships with family and friends;

In contrast, in the 2010 curriculum, the word “relationship” is used 102 times, and is first mentioned in the curriculum section in grade one, where students are asked to “demonstrate the caring behaviors that are found in healthy relationships.”

Considering all this, what’s remarkable to me is that a 2011 study of students found that only “45% of students did not feel that sex education classes adequately addressed topics of a sexual nature that they had or expected to encounter”[3]

Certainly, in my experience of working with high school students, I have yet to meet a high school student who would tell me that their elementary experience of health education was adequate. Most have described it to me as being just the biology related to reproduction.

But you said you were going to talk about gender independent children and trans youth!

So, the current curriculum is failing to meet the needs of Ontario students. OPHEA, the largest Provincial Subject Associations for Health and Physical Education knows this and is publicly calling on the government to address the “urgent need” for an update before fall 2013.

45% of students were willing to tell People for Education that they know the current curriculum is inadequate. In the same study, “students report that their sexual health education doesn’t focus strongly enough on building skills related to different types of relationships for all students, personal experiences, positive sexual health and sexual emotions.” This matches the conversations I have had with students.

So, if the curriculum is failing all students, and students and teachers know this, why talk about the gender independent and trans ones? Simply because we matter too, and because we attend Ontario schools.

While there is no population data about how many gender independent and trans students there might be in Ontario, in the US, in GLSEN’s Playgrounds and Prejudice Study, 8% of grade 3-6 students reported that they “do not conform to traditional gender norms”. So for 8% of elementary students, this is about them. For a greater number of students, it’s about someone in their extended family, or a friend. For all the rest, this is going to help prepare them for the rest of their lives, for the trans and gender independent people they will meet. Including trans and gender independent people benefits those who feel seen and affirmed by such inclusion, but it also benefits those who learn more about the diversity of humans.

What might inclusion look like?
The Supreme Court Decision in Chamberlain v. Surrey District School Board No. 36 clearly stated that it is the work of education to prepare children to live in a world greater and more diverse than their homes. It reinforced that tolerance is always age appropriate. It specifically talked about the existence of gay and lesbian people and that it was appropriate to teach kindergarten students that gay and lesbian people exist and are deserving of dignity and respect. It is, by extension, always age appropriate to teach that gender can be understood and expressed in many ways, and that all people, of all gender identities and gender expressions deserve respect and dignity.

Additionally, since 2012, gender identity and gender expression are explicitly included as protected grounds in the human rights code. As I like to remind people, the human rights code supersedes the education act, so there are now explicit protections for diverse gender identities and gender expressions in schools. Let’s have a Health and Human Development that reflects that.

  1. Acknowledge we exist - all of us, including LGBTT2IQQA people.

  1. Acknowledge we have existed and continue to exist, here and now, in history, and across cultures.

  1. Acknowledge that we are all deserving of respect and dignity, and that diversity is normal. Being less common does not make someone abnormal.

  1. Teach that sex does not define gender. Teach that everyone has a sex, a gender identity, a gender expression and a sexual orientation, and that there are multiple possibilities for each. In age appropriate language for young children, that might mean teaching “there are no rules for who is a boy or girl, or both, or neither”, and “there are no rules for what a boy, or girl, or someone who is both, or someone who is neither, can do or be.”

  1. Teach that development of one’s gender identity is a life long process, beginning at birth. Teach that while one’s gender identity can change over time, those changes come from inside and can not be externally imposed.

  1. Teach that building health relationships is everyone’s business, no matter what their sex or gender. This is true not just for big R romantic relationships, but all manner of relationships.

  1. Don’t address students as boys and girls – that greeting tells some of us we do not matter. Don’t talk about body parts as “girl parts” and “boy parts”, use specific and accurate terms.

  1. Teach that everyone has the right to feel good in their body, and control who, if anyone, touches them. Teach children to talk about their bodies proudly, and with confidence.

  1. Challenge and address gender stereotypes. Phrases like “the weaker sex,” are slurs that only serve to teach girls and boys how they are expected to behave.

  1. Let femininity be fabulous. Don’t mock boys by calling them girls, and don’t let others do this. Celebrate femininity.

  1. Let masculinity be tender. Teach that there are many ways to be a man, and that not all of them are masculine. Teach that strength does not come from scaring or defeating others.

  1. While we are talking about physical education, make sure that everyone has access to safe change rooms. Make sure that students understand that policing other people’s gender is not appropriate. Make sure there are single-user accessible spaces for people to change.

So, how do we do this? How do we help build and implement a better Health and Physical Education curriculum in Ontario?

The easy answer is do something – because many of us have been doing nothing. We need to be loud and clear that what currently exists is not enough, and not meeting the needs of students. We need to be loud and clear that we are ready for more. When it is released, and vocal parties are loud in denouncing it, we need to be vocal in support – particularly those of us who are parents. We need to connect with others calling for more and better – like OPHEA and support their efforts. We need to target the Ministry of Education, not individual teachers or schools, because the change that is needed needs to be Ministry lead. And we need to stay rooted in the research that tells us that knowing about human bodies and human relationships allows children to better understand themselves, advocate for themselves, report abuse if they experience it, be more accepting of others, and make better choices.

Since the event in September, OPHEA has launched a crowd funding campaign to have an updated curriculum launched. You can contribute here. You can read more about their advocacy here.

[1] OPHEA Sexual Health Education in Schools Across Canada document (p.5.)
[2] The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8 Health and Physical Education.
Ministry of Education and Training. 1998. p.10.
[3]Ontario Student Trustees Association/People for Education. (2011). OSTA-AECO 2011 Student & Parent Survey Analysis & Results. Retrieved from www.peopleforeducation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/OSTA-P4EStudent-Parent-Survey-Final-Report.pdf

One's Entire Life on the Internet

Sometime last week The Teenager were having dinner. As part of my work, I'm creating activities about Cyber Bullying and recruited some real world help from The Teenager.

She said, that the big rule for her, is "Don't say anything on line that you would not say to the person's face in real life." She applied this to mean and to snarky comments, but also to Facebook status memes that attempt to pressure people into commenting on your status and then to post it as their status.

She said, "Imagine you are at a party, and someone walks up to you and says: "Hi - friendships are very important to me, I always love and honour my friends because they are the most important people in the world. If you really love your friends, give me a hug and turn around and say this to everyone else too." - it sounds like emotional blackmail, like they are needy and controlling, and you probably would not want to be friends with them." I too hate these memes, and suddenly liked the idea of imagining you were saying your Facebook status out loud at a party. Of course, you have to think about who is at your party - I keep my Facebook profile wide open, and so I know everyone, including my parents, other relatives, co-workers and young people - it's kind of like a wedding there, complete with wedding crashers. I didn't have an open bar at my wedding, and we did not let just anyone have the mike - similarly, not everyone can post to my Facebook wall. Sure, anyone can see anything, but I want to be able to control the content.

The teenager also has some strong feelings about the "never post pictures"  advice and the "imagine what your future employer will think" advice that many adults dole out to teens about how to behave on-line. She went on to say that she had lived her whole life on the internet - she got a Facebook account when she was 13 and that employers are going to have to recognize that people who were on line at 13 will exhibit some jeuvenile behaviour. She's right. We expect juvenile behavour from young people, and we need to recognize that learning how to behave and have relationships (all kinds) on-line is an extension of learning those skills in real life. We expect that young people are learning, and we allow them some latitude. I think there are some things to avoid, and I have occasionally let her know if there is something that I am concerned about. She also said that anyone her age should have their Facebook locked down tight, so they can control who sees what. For me there is a balance between letting young people make their own mistakes and learn from them, and being available to help them do the learning and resolving part. Tight security controls, with some trusted adults in the mix.

I got stuck on the line that "she had lived her whole life on line".

I argued that actually she had not lived her whole life on line - but The Small Person has. The Small Person was expected on line, here, on this blog, and on Facebook; mine, my partner's and those of other significant people in the Small Person's life. We posted pictures of The Small Person when he was all fresh and new. We continue to write about him and talk about him. He continues to come with us to conferences, where he wants to introduce himself to people and delights in making new friends. Last night he played "chairing the meeting" at home, which should tell you a bit about his world. He began by announcing the agenda. He tried to not end the meeting as a tactic of stalling bed time. I do think about The Small Person reading all these things we have written about him. I think about his future friends, and their parents, and others reading it, and I work hard to make sure what I write is always kind about all the people he knows now and will in the future.

I keep thinking about what does it mean to have lived your whole life on line?

I think about who has the power to curate his on-line image, how that is shifting, and how that will continue to shift. While I did not ask his baby-self for permission to take pictures, or to post them on-line, I always do now. There was an outfit he wore a week ago that I wanted a picture of, and he did not want photographed - and thus I have no evidence of it. I think about this as modeling consent. Sometimes he asks me to share a photograph, and whether he asked me to share, or I asked him and he said yes, I usually read him the comments. This feels like the work of media literacy - I can teach him that one should always ask before taking a photograph, and that if asked, it's okay to say no. I can teach him that one should ask before sharing a photograph, and that again, it's okay to say no. I can teach him choices about who an image is shared with - do we text it to one person? a small group? or post it on line? I can teach him that people will see things that are posted on line, and help him think about the implications of this. At three and a half the most advanced technology I could operate was my Fisher Price toy record player - he can use the ipad fairly independently. His experience of technology is and will always be different than mine, and yet my job is to best prepare him for his future in the unknown. As a parent, I hoping I'm not messing it up too badly.

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