Category Archives: Parenting

Scary Stuff

It must be something in the water out there. After judging the term “early-school-leaver” to be a more appropriate (re: sensitive) label for the high school dropout (a slur, said they), the Calgary School Board has taken another giant step into the Dark Ages.

Two of its elementary schools have banned scary costumes, including weapons, violent imagery and masks of any description, from in-school Halloween celebrations. In fact, the staff have neatly hijacked the occasion from its relatively harmless pagan origins, and recast it as a “caring” assembly. Lo!

Don’t get me wrong, caring is important, but if they were going to shoehorn it into an occasion, surely Valentine’s Day or Family Day would have been more appropriate. Or they simply could have chosen a day at random during the school year. What difference would it make, unless you are a crackpot whose veins are coursing with politically correct righteousness?

I’ve met the type before. Some years ago, parents and staff at my daughter’s private school petitioned to ban witches and ghosts, because they promoted the occult. That mob even objected to black crayons in the classroom—the preferred colour for all things evil. It was our cue to rescue our little one from the clutches of PC evil.

But you don’t have to look very hard to find comprehensive studies showing that children are not only attracted to all things “scary,” but in fact use the experience of being scared to help them develop into sane and sensible adults. In other words, we need to be scared as part of our early development. It’s not for nothing that the horror genre, in all its mediums, is most popular with young people. As adults, we already know how frightening the real world is, so we lose interest in it, as a stimulus—substituting red wine to dull the fear.

If a boy dresses up as King Arthur, wearing crown and sword, is he promoting violence or honour? Evil or chivalry? If a girl dons a witch’s costume, is she accepting or promoting the occult, or is she is merely dressing up? Is the Fairy Godmother’s star-tipped wand a weapon? God help the poor child who wants to be Spiderman for a day!

It’s only the grownups who read more into it, which is a shame for those Calgary children who will be denied the opportunity to celebrate Halloween, and forced instead to talk (or listen to talk) about “caring.” Once again, the public school system demonstrates that it knows little about education, or children. A little superstition might just help these school leaders stop over-thinking things, and permit the children, one day a year, to be children. The real “scary” stuff is misuse of political correctness.



Gimme a Slice of “Occupy” With Ice Cream

There was a time when kids had a reason to protest. Remember the Sixties? Not only a pointless war (arguably the first, really), but also a burning need to excise the last vestiges of slavery from North American society (with marginal success). It’s still hard for an old codger like me to remember that Sammy Davis Jr. was not permitted to stay in the glitzy Las Vegas hotels he performed at, to sold out crowds and international fame, because he was black. The very thought that such a thing could have happened during my lifetime outrages me to the point where I want to march downtown and stage a protest…

There is no shortage today of pointless wars (pointless, unless you are in the oil business). Iraq. Afghanistan. Libya. Waiting in the wings: Iran, Syria, Canada. There is the never-ending issue of whether or not Palestine should exist; or Israel, depending on your stripe. There is the ongoing debate about the accuracy of global warming science. There is the G20. There is British Petroleum, which was permitted to drill deep holes in the ocean floor without a plan for plugging the hole, in case of an emergency. So many things to raise the hackles, get the blood pressure up. So many legitimate causes for complaint and protest…

So what is this new global movement, begat in NYC, called Occupy [your location]?

When asked what they were against, as they blocked traffic in downtown Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street protesters shrugged for the cameras and announced that they would get back to us, once they figured it out. The most anyone could get out of them was that they opposed the rich getting richer while the poor got poorer.

T’was ever thus, dear souls. Might as well protest the unfairness of a rose that smells like a rose, while the turd smells like…well, shit. Why should the west get all the sunsets? It’s just not fair.

The significant aspect of this movement, as it spreads around the free world like a flash mob tweet, will appeal chiefly to anthropologists, many of whom will no doubt make their careers on the study and analysis of today’s youth, and how helpless they are. Yes, young people are demonstrating, literally and figuratively, how dependent they are on the grownups to spoon feed them the answers—a technique that earned them a B+ at public school. They just can’t seem to figure it out for themselves, and I don’t believe they are faking it. They really, truly don’t have the gears to figure it out.

Which explains why a crowd is gathering in downtown Toronto, as I write, calling itself Occupy Toronto, sporting no leadership of any description, and, as far as observers can tell, nothing specific to be against. The only thing they have agreed on is that it may or may not be in their best interest to communicate with the police, although a cynical few are convinced the cops will beat them up, no matter what they do.

Of course, getting beaten by the cops and thrown in jail was a badge of honour, back in the days when protesters protested about something. I mean, if you feel strongly about something…say, the proliferation of atom bombs…then you will enjoy your beating, knowing that you’ve touched a nerve, made your point, perhaps even encouraged change.

What will this group achieve? I think they’ve already achieved it: mild ridicule. We won’t be too hard on them (which has been the problem from the start). They’re just kids, after all. Grown up kids, who can’t find jobs, unless a parent can get them an internship at the office. Yes, times are tough, jobs are hard to come by. But I have a suspicion that most of these protesters’ parents would be more forgiving of these young adults who show no inclination to move out of the parental home, if only they would select one of the genuine issues to protest, instead of tweeting each other about roses and sunsets.

Good luck, kids, and remember: your parents can’t do your homework forever.


School For Sale: Needs a little TLC

Headline: Ban school fundraising.

I get it. I have a child in grade eleven. That’s roughly, um, eleven years of non-stop fundraising, in and around my household. In elementary school, the students were required to fundraise, but forbidden from soliciting door-to-door. This could be seen as sensible from a security standpoint, but the financial reality meant that the term “fundraising” was essentially a back door into the family’s wallet, including aunts, uncles and grandparents. Magazine subscriptions and boxes of processed chicken breasts were a small but delicious compensation. (I confess: I am obsessed with my Food & Wine magazine. Thank you, Athabasca Public School.) So, another way of looking at public school fundraising is this: family donations. Or this: school fees. At least with the former, it’s a pay-what-you-can scenario. The latter is a prix fixe.

Social Planning Toronto believes the fundraising should stop, or, failing that, the money should be pooled, and then distributed equally amongst the schools. A nice idea, in a unicorn-infested world.

Here’s the reality check. How hard is a student (and her well-heeled family) going to work at fundraising for the Rosedale Public School, knowing that most of those bucks are going to fund a field trip for some poor schlep from the wrong side of Avenue Road, at Kipling Collegiate Institute? I dare suggest many of those Rosedale families will simply decide to save the donation and take the family to St. Lucia for March break. Again. After all, don’t they donate to charities every year? It’s good for the taxes. Oh, and it’s a good deed, too. Still, enough is enough, they will say.

And those students living in the poor neighbourhoods, well, there will be even less incentive to fundraise, knowing those rich bastards will be filling in the holes. About time those rich bastards contributed something to the world. High on their horse, those rich bastards looking down on us, mocking us with their Jaguars and iPhones.

Of course, an objective observer might note that the overwhelming disparity of funds raised between schools—a divide that, for the most part, runs even with socio-economic boundaries—is a lesson for all students on how the real world works. Once they graduate, these students will learn that wealth generates opportunity. Better universities; exposure to travel and culture; advantageous relationships with business leaders through family connections; and so on. Sure, there are plenty of examples of the ambitious kid, rising from the muck of poverty and oppression and, in many cases, bigotry, and making a success out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Hard work and gumption cannot be undervalued. The exception, not the rule.

Back to Social Planning Toronto’s idea. Throwing all the loot in a pot and distributing it equally might give those students a misleading impression of how the real world works. At the risk of sounding cynical, very little about life is fair or equitable. And is it not the educator’s job to prepare our children for the real world? Warts and all?

So what, you ask, is my big fat idea? Now that I’ve laid out all the problems, what is my brilliant solution? Maybe it’s not brilliant, but it’s obvious. More money has to trickle down to the schools, so that fundraising in unnecessary.

Whoa! Now who’s galloping through the daisy fields on the back of a unicorn?

Listen: I’m not saying we should pay more school taxes. We give them enough money. But it’s a bit like sending donations to relief organizations in Somalia. Somehow, only 5 cents of every dollar ends up in the dusty village. The rest pays the administration, gets blown on fact-finding tours, business lunches, advertising, golden handshakes, and, naturally, an undisclosed amount goes the way of corruption. There’s the real world in action. And I’m sad to report, this model fits the school board perfectly.

The modern school board is a juggernaut of waste and corruption. Like most government bodies, it is bloated and inefficient. It’s preposterous that it should cost billions of dollars to administer our schools. And it’s despicable that the people in that administration feel that any and all cuts must be made at the school level, without a thought to slashing their own office budgets or salaries or benefits. This decision is political, not practical. I say, shut the whole thing down! Hire twelve reasonably intelligent people to sit down and come up with a simple plan for operating our schools, using the funds at hand. I doubt it would take longer than a week for them to come up with an outline that will get them started. It’s not rocket science.

While I believe our children should be taught how to manage money, both at school and at home, I agree that the fundraising needs to stop. It puts an unfair burden on many families that can’t afford it. It forces the poorest families to add even more things to the list of things their children will be denied. And it’s not necessary, if only the school boards would put the money where it’s needed, rather than where it suits them.

Now, excuse me, while I go feed my unicorn.

I’m a Big, Fat Anarchist

This sudden, unbidden realization came to me as I was reading a National Post report with the heading: Parents should lose custody of obese kids. For reasons that I had to mine deeply for, my automatic response was, No, they shouldn’t.

Maybe I’m wrong. Protect the little children. That’s what everyone says. At least, that’s what the media says that everyone says. Well, the media says it. So it must be true…

In any case, this assertion was made by esteemed Harvard man, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist. “Put ’em in foster care,” he shouts, from the steps of the Capitol Building, arms aloft piously. (Okay, I made up the “steps” bit, but still…) “Improper feeding practices” and failing to provide a “physically active lifestyle” amount to neglect and child abuse, says he.

And he’s right, to a point. By the codified standards of our society, these things could be judged as abuse. But abuse comes in many forms. What do you call it when a parent exceeds the speed limit in the Caravan while little Johnny is strapped in the back seat? Attempted abuse? I mean, it’s a fiery accident waiting to happen, man. What do you call it when a parent won’t permit a child to play in the yard because the media tells him the child will probably be abducted by some bearded deviant in a trench coat if he does? Abuse? What do you call it when a parent takes no interest whatsoever in his child’s life, at school, in the playground, behind the arena? Abuse? Neglect? Does doing nothing constitute abuse? When my grandmother babysat my sisters and me, we were forced to watch Lawrence Welk on the only television set in our house. Definitely abuse. Brussels sprouts on the plate? Might as well give me the strap. Oh yeah, in grade four, I got the strap because another boy beat me up in the hallway. I should have sued someone. If they’re still alive, maybe I’ll Google them, sick my lawyer on them. Or just slag them on Facebook.

Yes, the world is full of dangers for a child, and thanks to a set of arbitrary (or media-driven) rules and laws and ideas, set down by a hodgepodge of mildly retarded bureaucrats, politicians and celebrity doctors, everyone snitches on everyone.

Little known fact: The German organization called Gestapo was, in terms of numbers, a relatively small group that relied mostly on the public to do its dirty work; which is to say, neighbours snitching on neighbours, friends against friends, that guy you work alongside, the one who never says much but always looks a little shifty, well…next thing you know, the paddy wagon pulls up and someone gets taken for a ride.

Remember the mom who got arrested for smacking her child’s behind in the K-Mart parking lot? Probably not, unless you’re old, like me. But it happened, and someone snitched, and the cops came and arrested her, and took her child away, at least temporarily. Gestapo tactics, clear as day.

Anarchists seek to diminish or abolish authority in the conduct of human relations. If you read it twice, it starts to sound less like a threat and more like good common sense. Go ahead, read it again.

Parents are imperfect beings, and, like snowflakes, are utterly unique. Which means, every other parent, plus all those annoying people who have not procreated successfully yet, thinks you are doing it wrong. And the problems arise when a specific law picks on a specific flaw in the parenting technique. Where are the lines drawn, and should there be lines anyway? That’s where anarchy comes into it.

Don’t tell me how to raise my child. I’m doing the best I can, with what I’ve got, so please just leave me alone.

I don’t want bedlam in the streets. (I leave that to hockey fans.) The same fundamental rules should apply to any person, man or child. No child should be physically assaulted or molested. No human should be physically assaulted or molested. The wrongness in that is clear, by any civilized standards. But when they (and, by they I mean, the mildly retarded bureaucrats, politicians and celebrity doctors) start plucking random threads out of the fabric, and then call it justice, the whole thing starts to fall apart and look tatty.

Fat kids are fat for more reasons than the parents who give them junk food. Public schools no longer require gym class in the elementary years. They’ve reduced extra-curricular sports to a watered down goo. They don’t even let the punters run in the hallways, which at least would have been good for them. Public recreation centers are shutting down, due to lack of funds. Pools have closed. Rinks have closed. Parks have been corrupted by “concerned” groups who fear little Johnny might crack his skull if he climbs something, so it’s all rubberized and roped off, and boring boring boring. Little league sports are for the rich, these days. Hundred bucks for a hockey stick? Fohgettaboudit. Doctors cram kids with pills because it’s easier than giving them something to do with all that energy. And, yes, there are all those screens to distract them from the real world. No argument there.

Taking a child out of the family home because he’s fat, and putting him in foster care until his parents graduate some parent-training classes, is wrong. As a witness to the horrors perpetrated by the Children’s Aid Society, I can safely say you will be merely dumping little Johnny out of the proverbial frying pan. Might as well lock him in a closet with a Catholic priest. (sorry…currently ducking bolts of lightning—ed.)

Why single out the fat kids? Because obesity is the most current “issue” in the media. And we have a right to be concerned, for all the reasons the media repeats ad nauseam. But the parents, for all their perceived faults, are too far down the chain to take sole blame for Johnny’s condition. They’re probably fat, too, because of all the outside societal factors that contribute to and encourage obesity.

As a newly minted anarchist, I believe that humans and families have a right to be left alone to succeed or fail on their own merits—physical assault and molestation notwithstanding. That’s the way of the natural world. Some fish swim faster than others. Too much plankton for lunch, Charlie? Shark is gonna get ya.

I grew up in a world where I could ride a bicycle without a helmet and climb a tree and make the merry-go-round spin so fast that we all went flying off, willy-nilly. I survived that hazardous childhood relatively unscathed; a few didn’t. That’s the natural order of things. And there were fewer fat kids in my school, which is why we picked on them. As far as I know, none of them got placed in foster care because of their size. I’m sure their parents were doing the best they could, with what they had.

Maybe it’s time to leave parents alone, and perhaps target the real culprits of this obesity epidemic. For the sake of arbitrariness, lets start with Denny’s restaurant. Can anyone say Super Grand Slamwich (calorie count: 3050 per serving)? Not that hungry? Settle for the Hashbrowns with onions, cheese & gravy (3820 per). Go ahead. Abuse yourself. But leave little Johnny at home. Remember, the people are watching you.

Cousin It

Remember Genderless Baby, the poor kid who made the local news lately because her parents didn’t want anyone to know she was a girl? Researchers have discovered the source of this parental “illness”: Sweden.

I had mistakenly assumed it started with the original Addam’s Family and their neither-boy-nor-girl cousin named…what else…It. But apparently the epicenter is a pre-school in Sweden called Egalia, where a comprehensive policy of gender neutrality is the main thrust. No blue for boys, no pink for girls. No Tonka trucks for boys, no Barbies for girls. No him or her. A class of It’s, run by It-iots.

Flash forward 15 years:

Two hundred young adults, roaming the streets and bars and churches of Stockholm, hair a shoulder-length bob, skin depilated to a smooth sheen, dressed in androgynous green jumpsuits, named for plant life instead of biblical icons, searching for love in all the usual places. What are their chances for success? Pretty much zero. I suppose they could stick together, marry each other. But imagine their own children’s confusion; no Mum & Dad for those kids. It & Theotherit.

Jesus God, what has mankind come to?

In the real world, gender serves a fundamental and specific purpose. To deny it or hide it is completely misguided. Of course we don’t want gender to be a source of prejudice or discrimination—which it often is, even in today’s enlightened world—but the solution is to teach equality and tolerance, whether it’s gender, race, religion, body type, eye colour…you get the idea.

Michael Jackson tried to hide his true colour, which was black, by bleaching his skin white. He gave himself Caucasian facial features. He fashioned himself as an androgyne. His voice was ambiguous. He wore just enough makeup to make people wonder. Nobody was fooled. No amount of cosmetic surgery could change who he was.

Same goes for gender. In the simplest primal terms, we need to be able to identify each other’s gender if we are to propagate our species (population control is another topic). This school, and the families who buy into its philosophy, are only setting these children up for a different brand of abuse and discrimination, as the general public tries to figure them out.

Kids will naturally gravitate to the things that interest them, be they dolls or cars of rare shades of puce. Whether the influence is genetic or environmental is irrelevant. What matters is if and how they are taught tolerance, equality, kindness. Protecting them from what is perceived to be “negative” influences only fails to arm them with the proper tools to analyze and cope with these influences. It’s too bad these so-called educators feel they can cram this crackpot notion into the children’s heads, instead of allowing the kids to develop their own ideas and philosophy, through trial and error, and through exposure to all the various realities in life. Including the basic reality that humans are made up of boys and girls. No classroom can make that reality go away.

Thank Heaven For Little Gurls

Headline: Little Girls Reveal Their Fears of Getting ‘Chubby Wubby’

Be afraid, be very, very afraid, little girl. If you live in my town, you may be at genuine risk of the dreaded condition.

I have a teenage daughter who is definitely not at risk. Her diet consists mainly of home-cooked meals, made from scratch. There is very little processed food on her table. She hasn’t even asked for McDonald’s in years, which her parents take as a positive sign. Occasional Chinese takeout is a treat for which we all suffer an overdose of sodium, but enjoy nonetheless as a rare guilty pleasure. In our house, there is no dieting, no talk of dieting. We are not vegans, nor are we organic fanatics; we simply eat a balanced diet in relative moderation. And it shows on our daughter, as she has developed into a beautiful adolescent who shows no signs whatsoever of chubbiness.

But she has many friends who are not so fortunate. If they aren’t already on track to obesity, diabetes, depression, low self-esteem, they are at least poorly nourished. I know, because I have had the misfortune of cooking for these impossible eaters, these kids. I don’t eat eggs. I don’t eat potatoes. I don’t eat seafood. I don’t eat tomatoes. I don’t eat mushrooms. You get the idea.

To be fair, my little one does not like mushrooms; nor did I, until I was an adult. But it’s pretty depressing to watch her 15-year-old girlfriend intricately pick out and eat each individual noodle from my world famous Penne Mediterranean, after first painstakingly scraping every molecule of red pepper, garlic, feta and sundried tomato from the surface. It’s not depressing because I worked so hard to prepare a healthy and delicious dinner for this guest (foolishly thinking that “pasta” would be a no-brainer for even the pickiest eater), it’s depressing because that friend had clearly never eaten a red pepper or sundried tomato or feta cheese before, and we all know there is nothing more frightening to a picky eater than the “unfamiliar.”

“What do you eat at home?” asks my wife, making it seem an innocent inquiry.

Pizza (cheese). Spaghetti (chef Boyardee). Taco Bell. Hamburgers. Cake. Again, you get the idea. None—and I mean none—of these friends has ever eaten a piece of fresh fish, pan fried with sage brown butter. Few are ever served salad or vegetables at home. Asparagus: just say no! The things they willingly eat come from a box, or are delivered to the front door.

Asks my wife, as she lights the candles: “Does your family also sit down at the dining room table for dinner every night?”

After a nervous laugh: The dining table is covered in old newspapers and cardboard boxes. I eat in my room, or in front of the TV.

It’s not their fault. It’s not solely the public school board’s fault for serving vats of poutine in the cafeteria (although they should know better). It’s their parents’ fault. Nutrition starts at home. If the parents don’t understand and practice good eating habits, their children have no chance. And it’s no surprise that so many of these kids are Chubby Wubbies, smaller versions of their obese, diabetic, careless parents.

There’s hardly a place now for the old favourite pastime of “picking on the fat kid.” The fatties outnumber the skinnies in today’s playground. Of course the media is still skinny-obsessed, which only adds stress and worry to these little girls, who are already fighting a losing battle on the home front. They start smoking at twelve because their mothers say that smoking curbs the appetite. And even though it has not worked for their mothers, they start dieting at thirteen because everyone and everything around them tells them they are fat.

It’s not news that today’s little girls are preoccupied with their weight, and are afraid of becoming Chubby Wubbies. By the time they graduate from kindergarten, so many of them are already overweight. And even though they still feel the natural childish urge to mock the fat kids, the mockery is half-hearted. Kettle and pot.

We can blame the fashion industry, the fast food empires, the uncaring school boards, the government (for which we blame most things), but to address these little girls’ fear of the dreaded Chubby Wubbies, one needs to look no further than the kitchen table. Parents have to make just a little effort to feed their kids properly and healthily; it’s their parental duty. Too many get a failing grade. God help the little girls, and boys.

And by little, I mean young.

Oh Baby, What Are You?

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t dream of telling another parent how to do her job. In the case of Kathy Witterick and husband, David Stocker, because they have elected to publicize their parenting “experiment” in a prominent newspaper, I reserved the right to make my opinion known.

What is this “experiment?” They have chosen to conceal the gender of their third child, Storm—at least, I suppose, until the gender manifests itself physically, making Storm’s gender obvious. In other words, sooner or later, the child will develop either breasts or an Adam’s apple. In the meantime, even the grandparents and other close relatives are left to wonder.

Why? you ask. Here is what Mr. Stocker says: “If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs.”

Hm. I’ve gotten to know quite a few people in my fifty-odd years, for a variety of reasons: business, friendship, romance, proximity (ever been stuck at a campsite with your parents and been forced to play with the obnoxious brat at the next tent because he was the only kid for two hundred miles?), and I’ve not once had to ask what was between a person’s legs. Not to mention that such a question would be monumentally rude. Okay, I understand Stocker didn’t mean the question was being asked aloud; I get it. But he doesn’t seem to understand how humans operate. How did he come to be married to Ms. Witterick if he didn’t ask himself, at some point, what was between her legs? Did he just close his mind and hope for the best? Talk constantly about the weather during their courtship, cross his fingers on his wedding night and hope it didn’t turn out to be a “Crying Game” moment?

In matters of romance, gender has mattered a great deal to me; but once I was assured I was dealing with a girl, the “getting to know you” bit was not strictly focused on what was between her legs; all that came naturally, later (sometimes). And how did I get that gender assurance? Well, if it wasn’t obvious by dint of apparent breasts, hair and fashion, shoes (deserving a separate category from fashion), voice, first name (sometimes), and perhaps her seeming interest in me…taking all these things into account together, I could often tell if I was dealing with a female human. If, after all that, I was still unsure, I would most likely withhold any romantic advance until further data was collected. In all other relationships, gender has been largely irrelevant to me.

Since Storm is still a child, the romantic scenario is some years away, and will presumably come after (s)he has been “outed,” genderly speaking. For the moment, it’s easy enough for Storm to deal with this secret. (S)he is a baby, and so does not have an opinion, so far. But what will happen when (s)he is in kindergarten, or, heaven help {it}, grade seven? Other children are cruel and merciless. If it isn’t hard enough growing up, now (s)he will have to contend with constant harassment from peers and relatives—those who aren’t in on the deal.

Storm’s parents call this, “a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation.” Well, it’s their freedom and choice being applied here, not Storm’s. Yes, there is gender prejudice out there in the real world. In business, women are still discriminated against. If Storm is, in fact, a boy, he will face very little gender discrimination in his life, in Canada, anyway. But for any developing child, gender is firmly connected to self-image, and ultimately to self-esteem. Children are rarely discriminated against because of gender; they are discriminated against because they are different. Storm’s parents think they are protecting {it}, when they are actually setting {it} up for a painful childhood filled with tension and ridicule. Even Storm’s two brothers, among the few who know the truth, will suffer a constant onslaught of questions about their sibling. They, too, will be victims to this folly.

This experiment is doomed to fail. With any luck, these misguided parents will see the light before it’s too late, for the sake of their children and the rest of their family. In any case, it will be impossible for the seven people who know Storm’s gender to keep the secret for any length of time. That, regardless of gender, is simple human nature, thank heaven.