Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Gender Bending

Okay, so there is this daycare in Stockholm, Sweden called Egalia, where they've decided to try this crazy social experiment to try eradicate "stereotypical" gender roles in boys and girls. They have carefully analyzed and designed all the aspects of the toys including colour and made sure that there is nothing stereotypical about them. They don't use any language that refers to "he" or "she" or "her" or "him", everyone is referred to as "friends" and they've even invented a new pronoun that didn't exist in the language previous to this so that they can refer to everyone in an gender neutral way. And there are no fairy tales on the shelves. In fact according to reports nearly all the books on the shelves focus on homosexual parents, single parents or adopted children. They claim to be doing all this to even out the playing field for girls. Apparently at that age level they think girls' toys are under valued and boy's toys are more valued and so they want to change this perceived inequality.

(I wonder if they've considered the research that shows that boys are being left behind in the classrooms because schools these days cater so much to girls. In fact if you look at university graduation rates women outnumber men and the rates of boys dropping out of school far outnumbers the girls who do the same.)

Now, I've met women and I've met men. I've met women who used to be men. But I've never met anyone who claimed to be or even wanted to be Neuter. The fact is that down to the very cellular level we are male or female. I recently read a book that goes into these differences in detail (and as a side note I think every mother with a son and every father with a daughter needs to read this) called Why Gender Matters, by Dr. Leonard Sax. In it he outlines the most current research that is being done to study sex differences between boys and girls, men and women. Did you know that a trained researcher looking at a segment of brain under a microscope can tell you whether that brain belonged to a man or a woman? Our very neurological structure is different. And that whole thing about the language centre of the brain being on the left side only applies to men; women who suffer a stroke on either side of the brain have effects to their language capabilities equally, regardless of which side it happens on. These are things that aren't socially engineered.

These differences between the sexes exist regardless of how we feel about them. In fact our sex is central to our identity. It's usually the first thing we learn about any given person. It necessarily informs the way we relate to each other. As we grow from children to adulthood we need to learn how to relate appropriately to members of both sexes. Things can get very confused otherwise!

The centrality of our sexual identity is why I've always held that crimes of a sexual nature are the very worst crimes that can be perpetrated on anyone, because it attacks the person on the very level of their identity. Who they are at the core of their being and the role that they are given to play out in society is attacked. But we live in a society that is topsy-turvy in many ways.

We need to value each sex equally, but "equally" does not mean "in the same way". The women's movement has focused largely on workplace equality and birth control. I think it was just in the last year that "the pill" turned 50, and there were special interest groups who held large parties to celebrate the milestone, but given that big pharma is largely in the hands of men, I always wondered why women were so gung-ho to jump on board and be experimented on. It has always struck me that one of the most wondrous things about being a woman is the ability to actually gestate new life within us. Apart from the fact that it takes two to start the process it is women who carry on the progeniture of the species. I think men are scared by and jealous of this to a degree on a subconscious level. Consequently I think we've been sold a bill of goods thinking that that ability needs to be curtailed.

For those of you who know of C. S. Lewis, you may be familiar with his Cosmic Trilogy. In the third book, That Hideous Strength, he lays out a concept that I found to be fascinating. He asks the reader to consider that masculine and feminine as we know them on earth are but mere shadows of true masculinity and femininity. That, at the level of our immortal souls, true masculinity and femininity are even more pronounced and wondrous than the way we experience them here on earth. What if that is true? What if we don't know the true extent of masculinity and femininity and here we are trying to reduce it even more and getting further away from our true fulfillment as people.

What I'm pretty sure of is that as long as the proliferation of the species relies on a relationship between men and women, there are going to be differences in the way we relate to male and female from the cradle to the grave, and that's not a bad thing.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

From Tartan to Tomatoes

So I'm sitting here on a nice cool evening, enjoying a temperature that's actually comfortable for a pair of track pants, hang on ... There I'm back now. Seeing as it was cool enough I figured I would actually go and put on a pair of yoga pants and my housecoat and get cosy before penning this post.

It's been a crazy couple of weeks! Last weekend we went to Fergus, Ontario for the Scottish Festival and Highland Games. Our daughter was competing in the highland dance competition there on both mornings and so we decided to make a vacation of it and camp out there from the Thursday to the Monday. Now, we are tent campers. However because we were also going there to spend time with good friends we decided to book a serviced site that would normally be used by people with a camper/trailer. In the long run this turned out to be the much better option anyway as the tenting area tends to be where all the bagpipers camp and as we were later informed by more seasoned attendees of the Games, depending on who wins the competition and where they're from, the piping can start up at about 2:00 in the morning!

We had a great time there and our daughter did really well for only her second competition, placing and bringing home medals for 5 out her 6 dances! We are so proud of her, not only for dancing well but also for her sportsmanship and grace under pressure. We had our fill of all things Scottish - well, not the haggis, but I'm okay to give that a miss! It certainly seems that no one can party like pipers and we thoroughly enjoyed performances by the Mudmen and the Rogues. We also had a chance to spend time with friends we've seen too little of in the last few years and had a great time with the collection of campsites all our party had booked together so we had a hemmed-in place for the kids to play safely.

After we'd been home for two days my parents came to spend a few days with us which ended up being providential as it is tomato season. "What?" you may ask. Well seeing as we are so Italian (not really but it's fun to say so) we have made it a tradition to can our own tomatoes in the fall. The thing is that it's a very limited time frame when you can do so. Last year we missed it and we had to spend the year eating store-bought tomato sauce. There's about a week at the end of August or beginning of September when you can go to the Italian supermarkets and get tomatoes by the bushel basket, but you have to be there early or else all the Nonas get there first and you get nothing! And If you happen to not be near an Italian grocery store that week and you miss it altogether then you're also out of luck. So luckily, Geof (the TPSI Dad) happened to be driving through Woodbridge last week and discovered that the tomatoes were out so that decided what we were doing the next day!

Now what I really want is to be temporarily adopted by an italian family at tomato time and see how they do their tomatoes because I have heard stories of them doing up to 50 bushels of tomatoes in a day to supply the whole family. That is a production line I want to see! We can barely get through five and as it is I'm proud of that much! We put one bushel away in the freezer to use whole in soups and stews for the winter and we canned four bushels, getting about 60 litres of sauce out of the deal. It's not a huge cost savings when you consider that you can get tomato sauce for $.88/750 ml when it's on sale, and it's definitely labour intensive, but there's nothing like it for the taste of pure fresh tomatoes all winter and knowing exactly what went into them - nothing other than tomatoes! It's also a great family activity with all the kids taking turns at the different stations, washing the tomatoes, stirring the pots, pouring tomatoes into the hopper of the "tomato machine", (I used to call it a food mill, until all the Italians I asked about to find one just kept giving me blank stares) pushing through the pulp to get the skins and seeds out. It makes for a great family day. However, while also caring for a young baby four months old and with an eighteen month old toddler underfoot it can be a crazy time so it was great to have my parents here as my Mum was able to help with lots of child care and tomato chopping! I've now finished processing all the jars in a boiling water canner and they're all tucked away on the basement shelves.

Now I just have to get myself in gear to get through all the other tasks on my summer to-do list before we settle down to our first year of homeschooling all the kids. If I'm good I should just be able to manage it, by the grace of God! And I'm sure it will provide lots of fodder for this blog!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

From Time to Time

A friend of mine asked me (tongue in cheek...I think) to blog about "time management, the mom's version", which I have to admit I'm still struggling with myself, but I figure its a good place to start. Perhaps if I blog about it I'll give myself something to live up to and then I'll get on track! Just kidding, I already have a system of sorts, but it just requires that I keep coming back to it after I stray (which I do frequently!).

So, you may think that the mom's version of time management is about how many machines you can get running at once, to automate your life as much as possible: let's see, if I start the washer, then the bread maker, then the dishwasher, I should have time to fold yesterday's laundry and prep for dinner before I need to change the load, start the dryer and then get the dishes put away and take the bread out - but then time-of-use billing came in for hydro and messed up that system! So while I still do some of that figuring in my head before starting out on a list of tasks, I'm lately trying to focus on doing things in baby steps, in small manageable chunks, the Flylady way.

For those of you who don't know Flylady yet, I urge you to check her out at www.flylady.net. When we were recently on our family retreat I happened to mention her to some of the women present and we all erupted in a chorus of praises for this resource! I was thrilled to be among people who also appreciated her help, because although I know cognitively that we all struggle with household management and juggling the time with family and work or other outside obligations, it always feels like my own dirty little secret that I don't have it all together yet, and that I still struggle with basic household STUFF that needs to get done. Must be more of that "women's guilt" thing!

Flylady's basic premise that I've gotten is that you can do anything for 15 minutes at a time, and that you need to take baby steps; that biting off more that you can chew is the major cause of our failures as we strive for Perfection - which we all know is very elusive (read "impossible" although I keep hoping I'll stumble into it one day).

This translates into some very specific, concrete things that can save time in your day to day life, building routines that become habit. Flylady has many of these, but I've only managed to adopt a few so far, and not perfectly by any means. For instance a daily "swish and swipe" of the bathroom can do wonders! A quick wipe down of the counter top and the toilet followed by a quick swish with the toilet brush to keep things smelling fresh, and the bathroom just doesn't get as messy as it can if I leave it for a whole week to end with needing a big scrub. The other task here is to wash the shower down quickly while I am in it! Flylady says "soap is soap", which is true, so whatever soap I'm using on me, once I've scrubbed me down, I give the tub a once over with the same stuff. And now my shower never needs a big scrub because it stays in better condition generally!

Another thing that I do is have everyone presort their laundry. We have 3 hampers, one each for whites, darks, and colours, and everyone puts their own stuff in them. Then I generally run the machine at least once a day with the kids putting away what I've folded. Then Flylady has the whole house divided into "focus zones" so each week of the month you address a different area of the house, and keep it covered in a rotation.

Now I have to admit that I don't follow it religiously. And having my own quirks I just can't take all the advice there as is. I tried, really I did. But when I tried to add one thing at a time to my routine, I just fell off the wagon entirely. So I built myself a full scale routine (which Flylady says not to do!) and jumped right in. That way if I get 50% of it done I still feel like I've gotten something accomplished and I'm encouraged to keep going, whereas if I miss doing the one thing I was supposed to learn to do then I just beat myself up! So take the routines and make them work for you with your own quirkiness, and find what works best for your family situation.

The other thing that I'm learning is, kids are often able to do things earlier than we give them credit for and derive a sense of value from contributing to the running of the household. Yay for child labour! A ten year old is quite able to push the buttons that start the washing machine, a seven year old can operate the rice cooker very well and kids as young as two or three can put their own dishes in the dishwasher, just to name a few examples. All of this contributes in some small way to give you a few more moments here and there that can add up to enough time to take up a new hobby, like knitting! (Still progressing on the hat, I'll keep you updated as I go!)


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

New (Ad)Ventures

So the past week has been somewhat crazy as weeks go, we came home from a week long family retreat, attended the funeral of my husband's aunt, had the four older kids enrolled in a day camp, had numerous business tasks to attend to and had a friend visit whom we haven't seen in around five years or so. And in the midst of all that I picked up a new hobby!

At our retreat we met some truly wonderful people and some of them happened to be knitting. Towards the end of our stay there the mother of the knitting family graciously agreed to give me a lesson, despite the many other things that she had to do. And lo and behold I picked it up quite easily! I suppose if I'd really thought about it I would have realized that there is nothing inherently difficult about something that so many people seem to do easily while watching tv or engaging in conversation, but I just seemed to have a mental block there previously.

Now knitting is something that has long struck me as a mysterious art as I had previously only really known how to crochet. Crochet just seemed simpler to me because you only need ONE implement. The introduction of a SECOND tool and the requirement that BOTH hands be making seemingly crucial movements always steered me clear. I had done some elementary knitting as a child of five or so, but my memory of that is almost completely wrapped up in not understanding the mystery of casting on and trying to wrap my head around the seemingly impossibly intricate way my mother wanted me to hold the yarn. On reflection I don't know if this was really my mother's focus, or if it was just what I focused on in my melancholic attempt to get things "right".

But back to the week at hand. I came home inspired. I really wanted to begin creating something immediately however I lacked the tools of the trade. So after a brief stop at a craft store that was beautifully air-conditioned on a sweltering hot day, I became the proud owner of a pair of circular knitting needles! I knew that if I didn't begin soon to practice what I had learned I would forget it all so I wanted to jump in right way with just getting the technique into my muscle memory.

And so I began to swatch away, knitting and purling and knitting and purling and generating a bunch of stitches in a swatch that was soon going to leave me bored to tears. I needed inspiration. I needed a project. In the midst of this I remembered a crochet project that I had wanted to attempt some years ago that I never got around to, but which I had all the materials for, so I used the knitting inspiration momentum to crochet myself a small shoulder bag and I finished it in two days! Meanwhile I was thinking about what I could do as an introductory beginner knitting project. I needed something easy enough that I wouldn't get discouraged but inspiring enough to keep me going and something which looked like it could be completed in a reasonable time frame.

On a seemingly unrelated note my hubby and I have been making an attempt to get more active so we went out for our morning walk as usual Saturday morning. I then made the completely uncharacteristic suggestion that we take the kids out and go hiking on one of the local trails that we've driven past a hundred times and never stopped at. And so we had an impromptu adventure hiking with the kids, seeing all kinds of insect life, and picking wild raspberries and blackberries along the way, with some great photo ops as a bonus.

Later in the day I decided to take the same kind of initiative and just dive into a pattern. Now, I know all you knitters out there were smiling inwardly when I earlier said that I became the proud owner of knitting needles. And now I know why. I bought them without knowing what I was going to knit! And I didn't know how crucial that was! I looked at lots of patterns I would have loved to do , but I had the wrong size needles or the wrong size circle or both for all of them. I finally settled on a pattern that looked smart (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely!), it's a classic World War II watch cap. And indeed my needles are the wrong size (but only off by one) and the circle is also the wrong size, (but it's manageable) and so I happily began my first ever knitting project with left over yarn that we happened to have lying around the house. I have about four inches of knitting done so far and if it turns out well, it may be a Christmas gift for someone (but I can't say who!). And I'm thoroughly enjoying my new venture.

The Guilt Women Feel

Why do we beat ourselves up so much? What is it that makes us question ourselves and doubt the wisdom or validity of our choices? I've got no answer to those questions really, but some thoughts on the subject. I think I'm finally coming around to feeling less guilty as I grow and accept myself more, but still guilt raises it's ugly head every once in a while. And then there's the defensiveness that arises when we see someone doing something that were afraid we should have done instead of what we chose to do.

For the most part I'm speaking of the choice women have to make as to whether to go into the workforce as working mothers or stay home with the kids. It isn't really a decision that comes up for men, or one that women have faced for centuries on end. I think it's predominantly a decision that has faced women in the post WWII era when women entered the workforce en masse to fill in for all those men away fighting the war.

We seem to constantly wonder if we've made the right choice. If I stay home, am I wasting my education, letting go of my dreams, subverting my ambitions, showing my daughters a weak form of womanhood dependant on someone else, hiding from the world? If I go out to work, am I losing out on my kids lives, leaving them to strangers to share their "firsts", being materialistic, putting my needs ahead of my kids, spending enough time with them? There's no end to the questions we can ask ourselves! And then if we start to accept the decision we've made we can feel guilty for being happy in it when we know others are still so wrestling with the question!!

We decided early on that I would stay home with the kids and so I haven't entered the outside workforce since our first child was born. We made that decision as I came to the end of my first and only maternity leave and the time was coming to make the jump to daycare. It seemed so formidable both emotionally and financially. We came to the conclusion that we would make it work for me to stay home and be with the kids. I'll admit I felt the guilt of the cultural programming for some time. I had a university education, surely I should be using it! Then as other women began to say how lucky I was that we managed for me to stay home, I felt guilty for enjoying that "luxury" while they apparently felt envious of me. Then I recognized that they felt guilt for leaving their kids behind in the mornings as they went to work to provide for them.

I'd say that now, I've come to terms with my decision. I'm completely glad I chose the way I did and as we are about to embark on a year of homeschooling, I know there's no way I could have tried this out if I was working full time. Of course now that we have seven kids its also easier to justify even to those who might say I've made a poor decision; the cost of daycare for four kids aged four and under must be staggering! I can't even imagine what that would be per month!

I recently had a reassuring conversation with a close friend who confided that she had been berating herself for doing something she was sure I didn't do as a mom. I laughed and assured her that I had recently been thinking that she handled that very same situation much better than I did, and that I was afraid my kids were missing the benefits of what I supposed was her approach! It reminded me that we really need to forgive ourselves more.

It makes me ponder how much of our time is spent on guilt instead of enjoying and living the decisions we've made. So I have decided to consciously let go of the guilt. I've made the best decision for me and my family that I can and I'm trying to live it out to the best of my ability. I will be a better person if I do this without any baggage and instead give my kids an example of living without regrets and with the knowledge that I'll have more room for joy and the creativity that feeds my soul.