Children’s Issues

All posts in the Children’s Issues category

I missed you but I was busy thinking

Published December 2, 2013 by megdedwards

portrati of meg by frankI have gone through a quiet stage. I even hesitate to write in my journal.  Sometimes I feel tired just thinking about putting my thoughts into writing.

But I don’t feel bad or sad at all. I am cruising. I am thinking.

I remember talking with an American cousin of mine about whether natural birth changed the character of the person born. Did the painful and intense process of going through the birth channel make the person different compared to those that were born by opening up the belly and emerging directly into air?

She said something about ‘pra sess’ and I did not know what she said at first but then I recognized the American accent and the word ‘process’.  Now whenever I am thinking about the concept of ‘process’ in  psychological  development I say ‘pra sess’ to myself.

I am ‘pra sessing’.

My Mom died last spring on March 1 st.  I am still thinking about that and what it is like to go forward without a mother for the rest of my life. It did not  happen before time, in fact it happened at a natural time. It all happened very naturally.

Of course, I am shot forward in my head to my death and how many years I have left in my ‘back pocket’ as Mom put it to me one day as I sat in the sun on the phone, and waited for the school bus.

I still cry over missing my Dad. He died five years ago on December 15th. I realize now that his death really broke my heart. I was in such pain I actually felt physical pain in my heart and limbs.  I don’t know why it was so much more painful except that it was more sudden. And he had made he me feel less lonely in this world. Always.

During that time of physical exhaustion and mourning, two adolescent  boys, emerging from sort of squalid childhood hidden behind middle class conventions, sexually assaulted my baby child. We fought back, we protected her, we survived the police, social workers and general ignorance around this issue. 

So here I am, five years later, seriously aged but extremely grateful. In this seemingly short span of time my oldest daughter has grown up entirely and my middle child is turning into a man. My baby is no longer a baby. My marriage is stronger than ever. 

After more than a year looking for work I have given up. The final piece of the puzzle was handed to me when my youngest said she wanted to ‘home school’ again. After a day or two to ‘ pra sess’ I jumped in with my full mind and heart.

We are having a blast of full on love and joy every day. We do crafts and cook and clean. We walk and skate and swim. We talk and dream. Math sneaks its way in with no stress or anxiety. We learn as we go. 

I know that I allowed this time with my other children and I see that my life patterns don’t change. Having a baby at 40 meant extending my type of parenting for another 20 years.

I need to adjust, tighten the belt on the budget, and think about writing for money again!

My Mom moves through me. I feel her enjoyment with my domestic bliss. My Dad smiles on me too. They nod at each other, from their distant peaks,  like faulty Greek Gods, united in their pride.

 

There is always time to dream, write and paint

Published October 2, 2012 by megdedwards

My sister and I home schooled our kids, hardcore. We did not hesitate to leave behind the current public school curriculum and grade testing.

We taught our kids to read, think, play and explore without anyone telling us how to do it.

Although our Mom never home schooled I think that our confidence in taking over the education of our kids came from her.  I bet our Mom would have home schooled if she thought she had a choice.

She was a very active and busy mother always teaching us details about plants or trees or about art, literature or politics as she cooked and cleaned.  She taught us how to be brave and explore new experiences and places.

My sister and I came from the same home, in a sense. Although she had the young mother who gave dinner parties for her CBC producer husband and sometimes drank martinis with the neighbours and I had the divorcee who rented rooms and smoked pot with her lover, we had the same creative and energetic woman running our lives.

She was not one of those moms that dreaded summer and the return of the children from school.  In the summers we lived in a cabin in the woods by a lake where there was no running water or electricity. We ran in the woods and played in the water and let our imaginations guide our play.

She read aloud and got out paints and games when it rained. She herself was always creating: painting cool designs on our rowboat, illustrating little stories, or sketching our portraits as we played. And when we all left for school in the fall, she actually missed us.

We had a bit of a bohemian mother, but she was competitive too, and not one to be left out of society.  She would put on her best skirt and jacket, a Vogue pattern she sewed herself, when she had parent teacher meetings.  We had porridge every morning and pulled on our sensible boots over our sensible shoes and walked to school on our own. We went to school every day and we were expected to do well.

I did not like school, and as far as I can tell, my sister did not like it either. But in those days one just went to school. The first few years of school were just plain torture, but I toughened up and my shyness was conquered mostly by grade three. It may have been good for me, I don’t know. But when my first child said she did not want to go I accepted her opinion.

As a parent I liked being free from the arbitrary rules of an institution and I loved leaving her little brain to develop without grading or peer- pressure.  She dreamed, decided what she wanted to learn, pursued her own projects and charged forward. It was a beautiful sight.

It is true that some kids fair better on structured schedules than others. Some kids like the constant socializing of school, and some kids really enjoy structured school learning.  Not all children thrive in home schooling. But my overview is that children benefit from free play and unhindered exploration especially between the ages of four to twelve years.

Presently I have two kids enjoying school (mostly) and my sister has an empty nest. In the last eight years or so we have both being pursuing education for its own sake, just for fun and because we like to keep engaged. I finished a long distance certificate in Library Studies and she is a few essays short of a MA.

What we have discovered about ourselves is that we tend to be very good at working for grades and the approval of our teachers. And what we find irritating is that we cannot seem to apply that same discipline and energy to projects of our own choice.

We need someone to say, ‘do this thing, and then hand it in and I will tell you how good it is’.  And frankly, we are embarrassed by this characteristic that seems so deeply ingrained by our parents and the school system.

We are shocked and disgusted by our Pavlovian response to approval. Right now, as our dynamic and powerful Mom is gracefully traveling to the other worlds, with cryptic comments and magical hallucinations, we are left examining who we are and what we should do with ourselves that best expresses her lessons and her rich teachings.

As we step into the world without our mother, I think we want to fulfill some of the artistic gifts that Mom and Dad have given us.  Our mother was a good painter and filmmaker, our father was a good actor and playwright.  When they were young they may have had dreams.  But they did not pass on those dreams. When we dreamed of being a writer or artist, we were quickly brought to earth.

Ironically, it was often pointed out that good art was produced by people who worked hard.  My Dad told me when I was a twelve year old poet that good writing was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I wondered why he told me that and concluded that he must have thought I was not hard working enough.

Now with so much of my life behind me, and so many dreams buried by hesitant living, I think that the best thing you can say to a child is that they do in fact have the talent to do whatever they want. Hard work is the easy part. Believing that you can produce something of value is much harder.

It is possible that the best part of home schooling is being free of the crushing judgment of others. And now that we are older women, my sister and I need to home school ourselves. We need to be the parents we wanted, so we have formed a bond of unconditional support.

If we can ask our children to believe in themselves, the best thing we could do is be a good example.  Our parents did not pursue their artistic dreams, and may have crushed ours by their attitude.  My sister and I have inadvertently been following the same path and need to remember that what we really want is to play without judgment and to explore without fear.

There is always time to dream, write and paint.

The Long Form Census and Moi

Published February 8, 2012 by megdedwards

I had an unsettling visit from an elderly Quebecois woman the other day.

She was a small woman with very practical winter clothes, and her hands and skin were very dry, like her frizzed out hair that was tied back in a strict bun.

I could tell she was a practical woman who believed being super clean was more important than moisturizers or wrinkles. She was perfectly pleasant but I felt that she was proud  to be controlling her normally judgmental nature.

I had invited her to come to my house, but with some reservation. She said it would take 2 hours, ‘2 hours!’ I exclaimed, to fill in the long form census. She had already been at my house twice, leaving notes from Statistics Canada. I called her back and made an appointment to see her.

Even then I thought, what is this, is this really less intrusive than filing out a form? She told me it was important for the government to have this information in order to make decisions about funding. I knew that. I never felt that the form was an invasion of privacy.

I decided to do the interview although generally I don’t give strangers two hours of my time.

The morning of her visit I forgot she was coming. It was 9 am and I had just poured a bath with lavender oil in it and was heading up to the bathroom when I saw a car pull up. I was filled with chagrin but tried to pull it together. I invited her in and explained that I had forgotten she was coming and she started to pull out her computer and explain, again, the benefits of the long form census data collection.

When she began to read from the computer, having trouble pronouncing the words because of her strong French, and I could smell my bath and also my underarms, I said gently but firmly, “Please do not read all the information, just assume that I understand”.

Then she asked me the names of the people in the house and began to pick out the letters on the keyboard one by one.  I took some very deep breaths and said, in a quiet voice, ‘Isn’t this a bit ridiculous, compared to me just filling out the form myself?’ She explained that they picked the houses randomly so that they had no information about the inhabitants and had to actually physically visit the house.

It took her an hour to drive to my house and I realized now, by the speed of her speech and her typing, why the form took two hours.  I knew that I had invited her and I knew I had to pull it together and be more pleasant.

I made a pot of tea and then I excused myself as best as I could. I explained that I had to go to the bath that I had just poured and I would be right back.  I justified this by acknowledging that I would be better tempered if I followed this plan, and I knew that she was already out on a day’s pay and had no other place to go that day.

I ran upstairs, had a quick bath, pulled my hair back, put on some proper clothes and whipped back. The ordeal was far from over, for both of us.

I did manage to convince her to just ask the questions without the preamble, but when it came to the relationships within the family I became short tempered again. Is Frank the son of Joe, yes, is Rose the daughter of Joe.  Just assume we are one nuclear family, I said, with only one father and one mother, and answer all the questions with that in mind. Are you the mother of Maude?

Then we moved on to my education and things deteriorated even further.  In answering what level of education you have, you can’t say just tell her, you have to look up a list of options in another pamphlet and say, for example, D.

Then I had to explain that I was getting more education and she said, “Yes, lots of education, but no job”.  She dipped her head after that, in an involuntary shudder, realizing that she was not supposed to chide the suckers who actually agree to fill in the form.

Part of me wanted to defend myself, ‘but I only just lost my job last spring, and I may get a new job soon, I am waiting to hear…’ But another part of me wanted to throw her tiny ass out in the snow so I just looked at her. “Have you worked for the government for long”,  I asked. She said she had come from Quebec so that she could be nearer her daughter and her grandchildren.  “That’s nice”, I said.  The English/French divide had hit the moment she walked in,  with the natural superiority that many French hold for the English.

The census continued inexorably. What came next was how much money I had made in the previous year, which turned out to be absolutely nothing. I felt like telling her how she had caught me just after I lost my writing job, but I didn’t. I felt like telling her that in the last year so much more had developed in my head and in my writing than money, but I couldn’t.

I was beginning to get a feeling of my worthlessness, which was seeping into my bones while my head intellectually denied any part of it.  How many hours did I spend on my work? That is hard to say considering it was after caring for my family but also a huge part of my day.  How would I describe my work, what was the most important element of my work, or what part of my work was the most important?

I said, after a pause to think, “Looking after my children”. She paused, hesitated, made a sound as if to argue with me, and then said, “Oui, d’accord”. At least on that we could agree.

Then she left for a snowy drive back to Moncton and a pat on the back from her boss for getting one more person on her list, and I worked on my essay for my last class in Library Studies and cleaned and made food and prepared for hungry kids and their many stories when they returned from school.

To be quite honest, the experience left me a bit  depressed but writing about it has helped.

 

 

Baby Photos for blogger ‘saveeverystep’…

Published January 17, 2012 by megdedwards

Here is a page or two from my baby book for Helen Spicer at

http://saveeverystep.wordpress.com/author/saveeverystep/

The Life and Death of Jackie

Published October 20, 2011 by megdedwards

Jackie was my Mom’s best friend and was always in our lives, sort of swinging around the outside of family events like a satellite for as long as I can remember.

She worked as a nurse, and then got her MA and taught nursing. She was a calm, practical person, who was great in a crisis or just out for a nice lunch.

She always remembered what was happening in your life, she showed interest in  other people without looking like she was following a polite protocol, she told amusing anecdotes about her life but never complained or ever showed self pity.

She was present when the family was still together and we had happy raucous Christmas parties and long summers at the cottage.  She remains part of our childhood memories. She had no children of her own, so we were hers by proxy; she  accompanied my Mom along the path of parenthood with a sense of fun and adventure.

My Mom first met her in the sixties during a night class in art history. Mom was older and married but they became fast friends, talking a mile a minute all the time. Jackie was tall, 6.2 possibly, with long black hair and piercing blue eyes. She always dressed carefully and was incredibly poised. I secretly thought of her as 99, the sidekick to Max in Get Smart; graceful, well mannered, lady like.

She was there when the whole family moved to Clinton, N.Y., feeding Mom cigarettes on the long drive while four kids were packed in the back of the VW bug (I was stashed in the boot with blankets).

Jackie was there when my sister Kate was hit by that bullet in Clinton, and Jackie was there when my father found out about my mother’s boyfriend, and returned in a drunken heartbroken state.

Jackie had come to support my Mom. I remember watching them from the kitchen window as they sat having a drink in the backyard. Jackie was trying to maintain a calm atmosphere and Dad eventually broke that social convention, calling her names, something I have never seen him do before.

After Dad moved out, Jackie lived with us in the old family house. Jackie rented a room from Mom while she was separated from her husband.  I enjoyed the fun feeling of a friend in the house, as I see my kids do when I have an old friend visiting.  I was studying  Grade 9 history and British royalty while Jackie was studying for some nursing exams. We commiserated in the kitchen.

I loved having her there, she made me feel safe.  When I had difficulties with my Mom’s impulsive and competitive nature, Jackie stood strong. She was still Mom’s best friend and said so, but she was also my supportive friend.

Over the years she attended my children’s birthdays and went out of her way to buy me little presents and take me out for lunch. She was the absolute best person to talk to when you had a problem; her area of expertise in nursing was psychiatry.

When I was in shock and pain upon discovery of my youngest daughter’s sexual assaults, her response was to be outraged, angry, even unforgiving.  No one had given me the permission to be as angry as I was; she raged for me. I will never forget how grateful I felt, and relieved.

We had a few long talks about sexual abuse when she was in palliative care with pancreatic cancer.  I learnt that Jackie’s  Mom, who had tortured Jackie with unpredictable cruel, critical rages, had been sexually abused as a child by Jackie’s grandfather.

She quoted the Bible, which is not often done in our house, to emphasize her point; the sins of the Father shall be visited upon the son. She meant that the sins of sexual abuse continue to poison the family in unexpected ways.

She sent me a short story she had written a long time ago, called Bitter Black Tea, about an especially painful week visit with her mother in England. In my heart I connected her health break downs with her visits to England with her mother.  She did not deny the connection when I mentioned it in the hospital.

When it came to dying, Jackie was supremely organized. She talked about it openly with her loving husband Paul, who she did end up staying with, and her doctors. They were impressed with her ability to face death. She planned a living wake in one of their favorite pubs and she made Paul promise to go for counseling and not drink more than beer, and get out a bit.

The only time she ever cried with me was during one of our calls when she was in palliative care.  She said the only reason she really did not want to die was because she did not want to leave Paul. And her voice cracked.  Far away and trying not to cry myself, I told her that Paul would sense she was with him, and she would be able to comfort him that way. I hope that is true.

I never cried when I visited her in palliative care, and even when I hugged her good bye on my last morning in Toronto, she was controlling, “Go now Meg, you have to make your plane, and you have a loving husband and children waiting for you”.

She told me that she needed to be able to talk about herself and that she did not want to cater to other people’s moods on her deathbed.  But even so, our chat ranged all over, just as if she was not going to die at all. We had such a lively talk about family history and she was sitting upright in the bed, with her morphine unit attached directly to her body.

“Oh, you made me realize something, now that is really interesting”. She was thinking, her bright eyes searching ideas in her mind, her long white fingers at her mouth.

This is how I remember her, engaged in ideas, excited about our conversation, sitting up straight with her long legs stretched out, her bright eyes snapping, her long white hand at her mouth; beautiful, alive, analytical and in this world.

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.

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?

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