All posts for the month September, 2011

Only Your Mother Knows for Sure

Published September 27, 2011 by megdedwards

We live in a man’s world, and any man that disputes that fact is not a man that understands a woman’s life.

When my husband was recently in Halifax with our 19 year old daughter, they walked around at night, on any road and through empty dark school yards.

He recognized that she would never have walked through those dark paths by herself or even with another girl. He remembered that when he was 18 and left home he did not fear stalkers, window peepers, rapes or attacks.

I agreed with him and reminded him that I live with that fear instilled in me as well, even though I have lived with it so long that I barely recognize the effect.  I keep my mind open to the possibility that a misogynistic man may have his eye on me; alone on a country path, or when I hear an odd sound, it is in the back of my mind.

Omnipresent fear; we are cool and calm on the outside, but like rabbits we live with escape plans.

I think it is a man’s world precisely because it is women who hold the power of reproduction. Men recognize that it is an inherent weakness not to be entirely in control of the reproduction of the species, and they act out in frustration.

In an offensive attack, men keep us defensive, fighting to protect our right to work and bear children, or choose when we have children. Horror movies are an example of effective misogynistic propaganda created to keep women afraid.

But when it comes down to it, women hold the power of whether the species continues.  We bear the children and we live longer.  We know who the fathers of our babies are, and we can control whether the lineage of an individual man continues.

I remember when my very first boyfriend suddenly realized that women held that power. He had just read that scientist had discovered a way for eggs to reproduce themselves. “But then, you wouldn’t need us”, he said in astonishment.

Right, I thought, that’s true. And even now, women have their quiet manner of holding the reins.

While helping my adopted brother search for his birth family we have come across a wall of secrets and obscured information.

Even though I respect my brother’s need to know his background, even his right to know, I am impressed by the power of the matriarchy and their ability to create their own history (the feminist  word ‘herstory’ might be appropriate here).

We know only what they tell us, and they aren’t telling us much.  ‘Who is my father, where is my father?’ he asks.   And they reply, he is far away , too difficult and expensive to get DNA testing, but believe me that was your father and you were my sister’s baby, grandmother’s baby, your mother’s baby.

When I cast my imagination back to the time of his birth I picture women colluding in the protection of each other and their collective babies. Was a baby removed to protect him against a depressed mother or a violent father?  Was a baby, or twin babies, born by one sister and handed to another sister, or their mother?

Of course, a close family of women can close ranks. They create a fiction, a story that will hold up as long as they all stick to it. After all, the ultimate aim was to protect and care for the children.

My brother’s birth family never meant to lose him. And when my well -meaning middle class Mom, living in the zeitgeist of the sixties and thinking she was helping a lost baby, pushed through the paperwork and sped up the process,  she adopted a baby that was meant to go back to his birth family.

When my brother and I met his family we were greeted with love and affection. But photos had disappeared right out of photo albums, leaving holes in the weathered pages.  In the corner of an Instamatic photo that had been missed, my brother found his ‘father’ holding a sweet baby and looking seriously into the camera. Behind him is a formidable looking woman, the grandmother and matriarch, now deceased, who held the reins.

In my brother’s family, the women are strong and controlled, the men more likely to be given to emotional outbursts.  My brother sees himself in everyone, split out in a kaleidoscope vision of selves.

I see his likeness to his brothers and sisters but I also see my brother’s likeness to the remaining matriarch, who has the same strength and self-control that has been central to my brother’s survival and success in his life.  Like his Aunt, my brother is optimistic, hardworking and confident about his abilities.

He may never find out who his mother or father really were. But in bringing my brother back to his original family I know that hearts have healed. Women were worrying about their lost baby, and now they see a strong man with a happy family life and his own thriving business.

My brother tells me that the maternal mitochondrial DNA test is tricky in that it will only tell you that you have found a maternal DNA line, and not explicitly who your mother is. I am beginning to think it does not matter. All the women in his family cared for him and wanted to protect him.

Women know who fathered their babies; we may choose to protect a child from the knowledge of their father or we may feel a child is safer removed from a home. This is how women hold the reins.

If we are lucky in love, then we can honor the father of our children with the gift of children named after him. When it came to the last name debate with our children, I knew that I wanted the children to be named Behar. I remember thinking that I didn’t need them to have my name (my father’s name) because I knew they were mine.

I wanted to identify the babies as my husband’s children.  Behar is a great name; it is the name of the man that I chose to father my children.

My Dad Died

Published September 21, 2011 by megdedwards

My Dad died.

A universal experience, and yet the pain is so personal.

We all come to a stage in childhood when we realize that we are going to have to live without our parents and it comes as a terrible revelation.

Then as an adult we bury our fear of death and pretend that we can live with it. We might even imagine that the death of our parents will free us of the emotional baggage we carry around.

For those who have not lost a parent yet, let me warn you that it is as bad as your childish mind dreaded.

I left my Dad at the hospital, looking past the mask forcing him to breathe, and into his large startled eyes. I said, ‘I’ll be back in the spring’.  He nodded.  He had his wife there, and my older sister. He was either going to die or get better; my children needed me so I was trying to believe he would get better.

When I got the call that he had died, it felt like my heart was ripped out of my body. My hands were glued to my face, covering the grimace of pain on my face.  I was wretched.

I felt like tearing my clothes in some sort of medieval ritual, I cried and cried. It was irrevocable. He was gone, a moment that I had always dreaded in my still childish heart.

My heart and mind were full of my Dad. I could picture his physical body, and I could conjure him in my mind. His tanned forehead and expressive eyes, his thin soft hair that he kept swept back so that it would not annoy him, his shoulders, and chest, even his gently acrid body odor.

His long fingers, rubbing his eyebrows in resigned irritation at being stuck in the hospital, the pain he had in his thin high-arched feet. I could see and feel and smell him in my memory, so physically.

While at his bedside I felt for a moment as if I was his mother, watching the beeping, blinking machines track his breathing just as I did with my son’s asthma attack. I felt his mother’s soul slip into my body and love her child.

I had been his child, held in his arms as a baby, and held his fingers offered on a walk to kindergarten. He had watched me grow up and tenderly offered advice and help from a respectful distance.

I heard his voice and saw his gestures and longed to see his corporeal self but he was gone forever.

I wept in the Zellers, I wept at the local church’s Christmas choir, and tears flowed in yoga. I became a sea of mourning with calm days in between.

One time I told him in my mind, “Dad, I am not feeling  at all well, I think I am depressed” and he laughed lightly, the way he would, and smiled and said, “This is it, Meggie, this is life, this is all you have”. I felt reprimanded, and I knew he was right.

Then I had a lovely dream. Dad and I were on a field, far away from everyone else, and he was trying to remember a song and dance. We were both trying to remember the lyrics, and he was doing a soft shoe dance. We both came up with a rhyme to the last line, which I can’t remember, and then we leaned into to each other, bending at the waist, as if this was part of the song’s choreography, and kissed each other lightly on the lips.

When I woke up, I was filled with joy. It is the only time in my life that a dream has woken me in the middle of the night, not from a nightmare, but from pure happiness.

My Dad and I were similar in character, and close in spirit. Ultimately I knew that his dying could not separate our minds or our psyches. There is a world out there that is beyond the material, and I acknowledge it.

I realize now, two years later, that Dad lives in me.  Not symbolically, living on in my teachings or philosophy, but he is actually part of my cell structure and I know he is there.

When I am enjoying feeding the birds, as he did, I share it with him.  He is with me, alive, enjoying the world around us.  I feel his spirit within me, and I am comforted.

I sent him a paperback copy of The Metaphysical Poets when he was first in the hospital, and when the hospital room was cleared the book came back to me, with a corner of a magazine page marking this sonnet by John Donne:

Death be not proud, though, some have called thee

Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,

For, those, whom think’st, thou dost overthrow,

 Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill mee;

From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,

Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,

Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.

Thou art Slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,

And poppie, or charms can make us sleepe as well,

And better than thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,

And death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.

Maritime Baby

Published September 18, 2011 by megdedwards

Our third child Maud was born in the Maritimes.

My pregnancy was spent breathing in the magically healing stink of the marshes on a low tide. She has seen horses in the field across the road all of her life, and swam in the sea every summer.

My husband and I moved to the county about 10 years ago, maybe not coincidently, we bought our old house by the sea one month after the 911 tragedy.

Sometimes we feel as if we are speaking a different language from those that have lived here all their lives. We are considered city folks by our country neighbours still, but the longer we stay the deeper our roots grow.

My eldest daughter jokes that our family is like an immigrant family who still carry the accent and body language of our home country (in our case, Toronto). Her younger brother has a foot in both countries, but her little sister belongs here and needs no translators. With her easy confidence and relaxed attitude, she is our passport to the rural world.

Every Saturday my little daughter and I head to our local market in Sackville, New Brunswick, where we get the weekend Globe and Mail, have breakfast at Mel’s and buy a selection of vegetables, fruit, pork, beef, eggs, bread and buns from our friends and neighbours.

This sunny and festive Saturday the market was also hosting a multicultural fair so I had curried chicken for breakfast and haflal (I am not sure about the name but it is a porridge of semolina wheat and sweet milk that is delicious). Maud had a waffle and then we decided to head to the Fall Fair.

I have taken the children to the small but still terrifying rides at the country midway before, with the spooky carnies and pink candy floss, but I had not crossed the road to discover the country fall fair.

We made our way to the Doncaster Farm, a working farm nestled behind the highway on the outskirts of town, and found a fall fair full of farm animals, live music and hay piles.

The sun began to warm up the cool fall day and the air was sweet with hay and flowers.

Maud and I declined the chance to milk a cow (I heard a joke once about the bravest man in the world being the one who discovered that cow’s milk was good) but did listen to the old timers playing great bluegrass, get lost in the cow maze, take in a pony ride and watch the last part of a wood cutting competition.

Burly farm boys competed to see who could throw an axe into a target, and I did hope that the boys would not throw the two bladed axe into the crowd by accident.

Then the teams had a competition to see who could build a fire and get a pot of water boiling faster. That was entertaining, and impressive. Once the fire was going the men took turns blowing on the fire, turning their heads away from the fire to gather air, and then blowing on the fire in tandem.

Finally they had a relay in which the men had to cut through a large log while standing on it, and then proceed to other bizarre but manly tasks. I was alarmed to see the young man closest to us flinch in his task, take a quick look at this foot, and then continue with his chopping. He had just chopped into his foot.

He finished the relay, but not surprisingly, did not win. After the competition he sat down in the back tent, had his foot bandaged, and was soon out in the crowd signing autographs on pieces of sawed wood for little children.

I am no longer at the fall fair with an ironic grin. I have friends here and I know the children. One day my little daughter may date one of those sweet tough farm boys.

Our third child was born here, she is from here, and everyone knows it.

Home Schooling Works

Published September 9, 2011 by megdedwards

Home schoolers are an odd bunch. You have those that chose to home school so they can challenge their child more than in the school system, and those that chose to home school to reject curriculums and testing.

Some kids are at home because they have emotional or intellectual issues, and some are there because they are involved with music, sports or the arts and don’t have the time for school.

People choose to home school for so many different reasons that I have given up assuming that I will have anything in common with another home schooling parent.

In our family we are ‘unschoolers’ who do not follow a rigorous schedule but do follow grade level supplementary work books. I know home schoolers who do a lot more work than us, and those who do a lot less.

Ultimately, no matter how different the style of home schooling, the results are pretty similar. Home schoolers almost always decide to go to school at some point, they get along really well with their siblings and they are all as smart and capable as they ever were going to be.

Home schooling is actually just an extension of how you parent. In our case we like to give our children the ability to choose. If they don’t want to go to school, they don’t have to, and they can if they want.

Although you might think children would give you mixed messages on this, we have found that they are quite clear. It is either, I am ready, let’s go, or no, I want to be at home.

I have been asked numerous times, by those who are clearly critical of our style, whether going in and out of school is upsetting for the children. I can say unequivocally, it is fine. When our kids say, this year I’d like to go to school, off they go. They have not missed any important information, and they adjust to the schedule and the social scene right away.

The teachers love home schoolers, because they want to be there and they enjoy learning, and the other kids at school could care less whether a kids was home schooled.

How enlightening to discover that the all-important curriculum that drives the poor teacher’s every move is actually just a hodge podge of information that they can pick up in a week!

Our three children are, respectively, in the second year of college, in Grade 9, and the youngest, at home. The child at home loves every second of it, just as the others did.

My utopian vision would be to have a ‘free’ school in my community. The children could go to the school in a casual manner, without the ‘punctuality and attendance’ emphasis so important to the school system at present (and only created to train the next generation to work in factories).

My most severe criticism of the school system is that they treat children like animals or nascent criminals. I believe that if the schools treated children with more respect and dignity, the children would behave better. And if we gave the children more freedom, every single child would be more cooperative and get better results from their studying.

That is my opinion, what is yours?

Learning to Read

Published September 7, 2011 by megdedwards

Once my children start reading they are very good readers; they love to read and they have excellent comprehension. But they don’t read at a precocious age. I think seven is the average age.

If you are in the New Brunswick school system and your child is not reading at four or five years, you will find the school labeling your child as a problem reader.

I have had to sit down teachers and tell them that I am not concerned about reading at that young age.

Many educators in the home schooling field believe that a child will start reading and writing when they are ready, and if you try to push the sequence you may lose out on some invisible but essential progress of cognition.

From my limited experience of teaching three very different children to read, the first step to a child learning to read is passive. They love to be read to, not just because they can relax and look at the pictures, but because they are hearing the language and making sense of storytelling. The magical art of communication is broader and more complicated than mere reading, and that is what they are thinking about when you read to them.

The second step is story telling in their play. Every child has told me at least once not to listen to their play because they want to be free to create stories with their toys. I love the sound of their storytelling but I keep busy doing other things as voices and dramas are created in the corner of the room.

The third step is ‘play writing’. When they are ready they will start taking the letters that they know and putting them on paper. I remember my son’s drawings at about 6 years old often having voices in bubbles saying “No” or “Oh”. And both daughters, at about the same age, chose to string many letters together so they look like writing, but are basically nonsensical. First daughter even started with ‘fake cursive’, pages and pages of detailed scribbling she called her ‘thesis’ after her Dad’s work.

My anecdotal experience tells me that they won’t see the letters on the page as something they can comprehend until they start playing with writing themselves. My youngest just started that and I am sure I will see some progress on reading now. She knows the letters and can sound them out, but up until last week she would pass her eyes right over them. She’d rather guess from the pictures, or tell me in a firm voice, “No learning right now, just read”.

The anxious New Brunswick school system and education board seem to be laying the illiteracy problem on the backs of four year olds. They seem to feel that if they can teach four year olds to read then the entire adult population will follow. It is a backwards proposition because literacy would not be a problem if you could get the majority of the adult population loving books and reading.

But I certainly don’t believe you will get a classroom full of eager readers by shoving it into their fearful minds at four years. Learning to read is too important a stage of education to be pushed down a child’s throat like medicine. It is an evolutionary step that allows the child to move into the abstract world of symbols. It changes the way the child’s brain works, and the way she sees the world.

Recognizing your own Madness

Published September 5, 2011 by megdedwards

I was never officially diagnosed with anxiety/depression but once I was deep in, it seemed like the proper descriptive name.

Unexpected surges of adrenalin at any time of day would leave my body exhausted and my nerves frayed. And then, the less I was able to sleep or eat, the more exhausted and shaky I became, leaving me feeling emotionally depleted, or depressed.

I saw my doctor, and decided not to take the anti-depressants, I read a book about adrenaline gland exhaustion, and then I went to my good homeopathic doctor, Dr. Ravi Kancharla, to help me regain my health. He did and I am so grateful every day for a good night’s sleep and a good appetite and calm digestion.

Probably quite a few of your friends, or you yourself, have been diagnosed with some sort of mental illness.  We all have mood swings and sleepless nights sometimes. But when your moods and thoughts take over so that you can no longer enjoy life, and you are battling your symptoms every day, then you want help.

You may spend a certain amount of time wondering whether the problem is external; is it my job, my housing, my partner?  But your health may or may not be regained by changing your scene.

It could be that a bunch of conditions may have converged all at once, medical conditions or accidents that have exhausted or depleted your resources and too much stress without a break. And then, ‘kapow’, you are waking up in a sweat needing to throw up, or feeling unable to lift your head off the pillow in the morning.

Once I was healthy again I recognized that much of what I went through was just an exaggeration of weaknesses that I have had all along. My digestion goes when I am exhausted, and I become super sensitive to irritants and I might even have trouble sleeping occasionally. But in the case of the full blown attack, I was just more exhausted than I had ever been before.

It was a tough few years but it wasn’t all bad. Now I really know what people are talking about when they refer to anxiety or depression, I don’t have to pretend to understand.

I wonder if acknowledging your own weaknesses and your own personal madness and accepting it, is necessary to survival.

We all know people who seem quite mad but are happy and productive. Then there are those who seem fine but are actually suicidal. I am suggesting the difference is that the one mad person has accepted his madness, and the other is questioning his own mind.

“You know”, said an old friend of mine when I told her about the nude modeling post, “ You are a little bit crazy”. And I replied, confidently, “Oh, I know, I accept it, I come from a family of mad women”.

A Painful Topic, really, Painful

Published September 3, 2011 by megdedwards

A Painful Topic, really Painful


While we were in the park yesterday my little one said “I don’t like any games when I am lying down and someone is standing over me because of this” and waved her hand delicately over her crotch area. I said, “Oh, I see”.  She continued, “I don’t really like to say the words”.

A few years ago my youngest child told me that two boys, three times her age and size, were sexually assaulting her. The assaults were painful, strangely adult in mature, and, by the time she told me, becoming more bold and bizarre.

She had begun to show signs of stress, like clinging to me and sometimes screaming when she was alone and heard a strange noise. I didn’t know what was causing the behavior, and only put it together when she told me about the abuse. During the next year she would hide under a table when someone entered the room.

Our family’s nightmare experience with the shock, betrayal, stress, social workers, police interviews, medical sexual assault specialists, lawyers, and crown prosecutors, is over now, except it is not really ever over.

I can’t help but worry. Children keep so many thoughts to themselves and I don’t want her to ever think it was her fault.

Any parent reading this will surely feel the inchoate rage I felt when I realized my innocent baby of four years had been assaulted in my own house.

But you may be surprised to hear that not all friends and family reacted with empathy. We had a range of reactions from skepticism to outright criticism: they were only kids themselves; I should not have let the kids in my house; we should think of what the other family is going through; is she telling the truth?

From neighbours that reaction was painful, from friends it was unacceptable, and from family it was outrageous. Some relationships have been altered forever.

I guess all we wanted was an equally strong expression of outrage and disgust.

But I understand that it is hard to talk about sexual abuse, and I realize that I have learnt, in the most painful lesson ever, that I may have responded to abuse revelations made to me in the past with less outrage than I should have.

During the crisis we found the most empathetic and sensible reactions were from professionals like nurses, social workers and police, and from adults who had experienced sexual abuse as children.

I never really understood knew how pernicious sexual abuse of children was, and how rampant. When it happened to my daughter I saw it for what it was: a cruel assault on someone weaker.

The sexual element and the fact that it is often done by someone the victim loves or trusts, makes the crime even more destructive. It has a corrosive effect that can continue to burn and dissolve the heart and soul of the victim long after the act.

And this is magnified but our cultures inability to talk about the crime or charge the offenders.

I want my daughter to feel righteous indignation; I want her to feel like the boys are the ones who should be ashamed. And mostly she does.

I don’t want her to be quiet her on the subject, even if it makes people uncomfortable. She has told teachers and friends, and I hope she always feels empowered by our actions against her attackers.

Her experience is a reality that she shares with more school children than she realizes.

Labour Day and Rose was Born

Published September 1, 2011 by megdedwards

Rose Dallas Behar Sept 1  2011When I held my new born daughter Rose in my arms on a sunny Saturday 19 years ago I was suffused with happiness.

I remember thinking I had joy flowing through my veins.  I felt as if my body was creating an ecstatic yet calm energy. I’ll never forget the feeling of sitting in my bed with my new born baby.

We had a pretty blue room at the back of our apartment on Dovercourt Rd in Toronto, with a door onto a fire escape. The sun was pouring in and it is possible that I could hear the Labour Day parade in the background, making its way down King St to the exhibition.

I labored quietly through the night, the midwives rushed to our apartment at 6 am when we finally called them, and Rose was born at 9 am.

Part of my ecstasy was created by anticipating this pleasure for many years.  Even as a child I had dreamed of looking after a baby.

By the time we had Rose, Joe and I had been together for about nine years. We did not settle our careers and save for a house or anything sensible like that.  We worked at crappy jobs and saved money to study and travel. We lived like every day was a party.

If I became moony about children Joe would sensibly argue that our life would change dramatically once we had children. But my driving force had the earth and the universe behind me. My need to have his baby was instinctual and without reason.

When Rose came into our lives we were the poster parents for our friends, we bundled her up and took her out with us wherever we went.  Joe worked on his Phd, we traveled to England, and I worked at freelance writing and waitressing.

She was the type of baby you could take to a fancy dinner party, an eight hour flight, or a conference in which you expect her to color when you write notes. She was such an ‘easy’ baby that she tricked a lot of my friends into having kids.

Now 19 years later, I have what my Dad always referred to as my ‘happy little family’. And when Labour Day arrives in Halifax we are going to take Frank and Maude (a child every five years makes parenting so much easier) and drive down to celebrate with her and buy her a legal drink.

The whine and drone of the bagpipes will catch our throats, as they always do, and the joyful gathering of working people celebrating their lives will remind me of sunny days, my first little baby and the parade at the end of our street on her birthday.

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