It went something like this:

**ring ring**

Hello?

DaniGirl! It’s the Universe calling. Long time, no chat!

Universe, you old dog star! It has been long time! What’s new?

I’ve been having a grand time telling Stephen Hawking how the universe ACTUALLY works, and I think it’s safe to say I have literally blown his mind.

Ha, I can imagine! I don’t suppose you’d let me in on it too? Wait, nevermind. I can wait.

I can assure you it’s worth waiting for. So, hey, I wanted to talk to you about this thing with your teenager.

Uh oh. Which thing?

You know, the gender fluidity thing. About him being non-binary in his gender identity.

Oh that! Yeah, that’s been a parenting adventure for sure. What did you want to talk about?

I’ve been watching it all unfold, and it looks like it has indeed been an adventure for you. It’s been about two years since he started talking to you about it, right?

About that. He says he’s known since at least Grade 5 that he didn’t fit into what felt like “normal” male gender identity, but it wasn’t until he heard about our incredible friend Amanda and her wife Zoe and her daughter Alexis that he began to have words for all the things he understood about himself on an instinctual level.

Words like trans and non-binary and genderqueer and Two Spirit?

Yup, those ones. He says that Two Spirit is what he most closely identifies with. He feels a male and a female aspect to himself, or in his words, hears a male and female voice in his head. But Two Spirit is a term that’s particular to Indigenous culture, and has very specific cultural context that just doesn’t work for non-Indigenous people. So, we’ve settled on gender fluid and gender creative.

Does that mean he’s gay?

Not at all. Sexual orientation is who you want to sleep with, who you are attracted to on a physical level. Gender identity is about how you perceive yourself, your internal sense of self as male or female or a blend of both — or neither. It can be aligned with your biological sex or not.

So he’s transgender?

Well, being trans means that there’s a disconnect between your biological sex and your gender identity, so in a way, yes. But he doesn’t feel like he is exclusively male OR exclusively female, and he still feels connected to his male identity. He just wants to explore the female part of his identity as well.

That doesn’t sound so bad. The teenage years are all about experimenting with identity. Does he want to use different pronouns or change his name?

Not so far. We talked about using “they” as a singular, non-binary pronoun, and he said he considered it but that it felt like a lot of work, and a big inconvenience for everyone around him, so he’s happy enough to keep using his male pronouns and his given name.

Have you taken him to a doctor or a psychologist to discuss this?

Well no, we haven’t had to. When he first started talking to me about this, I admit that my very first reaction was to think of this as a problem that had to be managed. But over lots of conversations, reading, and research, we’ve realized that his gender identity is not a problem that needs to be fixed, it just is what it is. Really, what difference does it make whether he’s wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt or a bra and makeup? He’s still the same witty, smart, perceptive kid he’s always been. And he’ll be happier if how he looks on the outside matches how he feels on the inside – we don’t need a doctor for that.

So he wants to wear women’s clothing?

Sometimes. It’s part of his expression of that female aspect to his gender.

And do you think that’s a good idea?

What I think is a good idea is supporting and loving my child no matter what he wears or what his gender expression is. I love that he’s so comfortable with himself and the space he occupies in the world that he feels comfortable wearing a dress in a world that says boys don’t do that. He’s got this subversive streak, so is this related to that? Maybe. I mean, it’s all just a part of who he is, and if society isn’t completely on board with the idea of gender fluidity yet, it’s society’s problem to work out.

Are you worried that his peers, and society in general, will not be accepting of his non-binarism?

Yes, yes I am. It’s my biggest concern in all of this, that people will be cruel and hateful. Here’s the thing, though: he doesn’t care. He’s been thinking about this for two years, and been taking small steps like wearing shirts that are cut in a more feminine way, and leggings with boots and a long tunic. Some of the kids have looked at him askance and a few have teased him, but he saw it as their problem, not his. He’s got this. I wish I had his courage and poise.

I’ve noticed that kids and teens these days tend to be open-minded about gender than their parents’ generation.

I noticed that, too. I mean, kids can be assholes to each other for sure, but on the whole, I think Millennials and my kids’ generation are much more open-minded and accepting of concepts like being pansexual or trans or genderqueer than my fellow Gen Xers and the Boomers. I think being gay in the 80s is a lot like being genderqueer in 2018, and I’m hoping that in 30 years, being non-binary is just as normalized in society as being gay is today. Did you catch what he said about pushing boundaries?

Which time?

Ha, yes, he does love the concept. This one stuck with me, though. It’s actually what inspired me to finally write about this on the blog. He said, “Someone’s got to push the boundaries to see how far we can go.” I admit, over the past couple of years, I’ve had a few times when I wished it wasn’t my child who was on the pushing edge – but he is, and here we go!

Sounds like you’ve become pretty comfortable with all this now?

Mostly. I mean, I’m fine with him expressing his gender in whatever way he feels comfortable, and he’s convinced me that he’s not anxious about being “out” about it, so I’m trying not to be. It’s funny, five years ago I barely knew what the word transgender meant. Now I have half a dozen trans friends, a couple friends parenting trans kids, and a non-binary kid of my own. I’m working full time as the LGBTQ2+ Network coordinator for my department, and I have been facilitating training on LGBTQ2 inclusion in the workplace. Talk about becoming an accidental advocate!

If you’re thinking of yourself as an advocate, why have you been waiting so long to write about this?

You know, I’ve been wondering that myself. We’ve been talking to our family and friends a bit at a time, but he’s a private, introverted sort of kid to begin with, so we’ve been taking everything in small steps. My strongest urge is to protect him, and protecting his privacy seemed a part of that. I’ve said before, as the boys get older, their stories are no longer mine to tell. But by NOT talking about it, it’s beginning to feel like we’re hiding it, and that it’s something to be discussed in whispers, which is not at all the case. He wants to spark conversations to normalize the experience of being non-binary, not suppress them like it’s something to be ashamed of. So we’re going to the mall to find a bra that fits him and if someone doesn’t like it, that’s their problem to manage.

It sounds like you’ve got this figured out!

Well, yes and no. We know we love him and support him no matter what, and we know letting him be his most authentic, whole self is the only choice. It’s the rest of the world we’re a little worried about, and he knows it might be a harder road being out as gender non-conforming. But he’s thought about it, he acknowledges the risks, and he wants to express who he really is. How could we not support that? And we don’t want to seem like we don’t support him by not talking about it, you know? So let’s normalize it by talking about it.

Good luck with that shopping trip, DaniGirl. You’ve always got some sort of adventure going on, don’t you?

We sure do, Universe. We sure do. Tell Stephen Hawking we miss him!

Will do, DaniGirl. Until next time!


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We’re back with more stories! In case you missed it, the adorably amazing Christine Hennebury and I have been playing a game that we’ve recently opened up for anyone who wants to play along. Each week, I take or choose a photo and share it with the players, each of whom use it to craft a piece of flash fiction. We’ve moved to a bi-weekly schedule to accommodate the madness of June and what I hope will be a lazy summer break. I like how this week inspired a lot of the players to riff on the theme of relationships, and quirky ones at that!

Photograph of a rocking chair on a porch

Worth the Wait
by Christine Hennebury

“I’ve heard that’s all she does, just rocks in her chair and watches the road. She’s waiting for him to come home.”

“Ah, well that explains it then. I heard that he was getting released this afternoon. They must be inside.”

“At their age?”

“What does their age have to do with it?”

“Um…ah…I…”

“Listen, why don’t we finish painting this porch another day?”

“Yeah. Good plan.”

__________

Click through to read:
The Old Rocking Chair
by Gal Podjarny

__________

Sunday Morning
by Mimi Golding

He picked up her knitting that she had left on the porch and moved to the rocking chair.

Holding her last project in his lap, he looked out across the veranda, his mind drifted to the past, to the images of her working the garden, her apron filled with the bounty she collected for the soup pot. With it came the memory of scent, of the aromatics cooking in the morning’s bacon renderings.

Chubs, their skinny marmalade barn cat, rubbed up against his legs, bringing him back to the present.

“Woman! Get me a beer!” he shouted over his shoulder.

And that was the last thing he remembered.

__________

Untitled
by Bob LeDrew

The rocker was moving. By itself. Again.

He looked over. Just the wind. A strong breeze making its way around the house, finding the objects that could be moved, leaving those to heavy for its ephemeral power.

But it was pleasant to imagine otherwise. That had been her rocker, as this was had been, and still was, his. It hurt to sit there alone. But it was also necessary. He needed to experience the pain, over and over, like a tongue poking at a gapped tooth’s absence, like a teenager, cutting herself to feel the pain as familiar.

He sat because if he was going to be reminded she wasn’t alive anymore, he might as well dive into her absence, to drown himself in the pain that her death had brought. One man, sitting on a porch, with an empty rocker rocking. Out of balance and asymmetrical, like the rest of his life since the day he’d come back from the hospice with a large paper bag full of her few personal items.

The rocker rocked. It was a beautiful day, and the wind coming around the house cut the heat of the sun nicely, vinegar to the sun’s sweetness.

And then he heard the wind whisper his name.

Want to get in on the game? Write your story and leave it in the comments, or leave a comment and I’ll add you to the list!

Read previous stories here:
The school bus: A photo-story collaboration
The workshop: A photo-story collaboration
The gate: A photo-story collaboration
Perspective: A photo-story collaboration
Patience: A photo-story collaboration
Anticipation: A photo-story collaboration
The Plan: A photo-story collaboration


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We’re trying to eat more thoughtfully these days. I still like Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” My brother has been trying to follow a mostly vegan diet for a while now, and while I don’t think I want to give up meat entirely, and I know for a fact I don’t want to give up dairy and eggs, it has made me think about including more meat alternatives in our weekly meal plans.

It has not gone unnoticed. A week or so ago, one of the boys walked into the kitchen and eyed a few pots and pans full of a new recipe I was trying out. “Is there any meat in this meal?” he asked with not-so thinly veiled suspicion, and a very slight linguistic thump on the word meat. One week I had so many misses in a row that I stopped on the way home from work one day to pick up hot dogs and Doritos for dinner by way of apology and to mollify the masses before they started a revolution against the cook.

And then, I crossed a line. I admit in hindsight that it was a mistake, but give myself high marks for optimism. I thought I could pass off veggie dogs for “real” hot dogs. Spoiler alert: epic fail. Epic. But more about that in a minute.

It actually took me a bit to find veggie dogs. I don’t know where they hide them in my regular grocery store, and I had to ask for help finding them in Farm Boy. (If you don’t learn your lesson in my cautionary tale, you’ll find them in the dairy aisle.) So I pick up a pack and I know the name brand is one that I’ve seen folks speak poorly of, but there’s only one brand available and I figure I’ll give it a whirl. I take a look at the ingredient list and I’m troubled. First, it’s about 50 ingredients long. Second, I can identify very few of them as actual food. So now I’m conflicted. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” But you never know if you don’t try, right?

The minute I tear open the package, I know I’m doomed. There is no. way. these are going to masquerade as regular hot dogs. The texture is… wrong. The edges where they pressed together in the package are too hard and the corners too sharp. Hot dogs should not have sharp corners. But the grill is preheated and everything else is ready to go, so I forge ahead.

The situation does not improve. They don’t behave like hot dogs on the grill. I’ve had turkey, chicken, beef and pork variations of hot dogs on the grill, and these don’t cook like any of them. They don’t FEEL like any of them.

Not Dogs - veggie hot dogs

So I figure maybe if I char them real good, it will hide the “not dog”-ness of them. And then, to my dismay, they don’t really char evenly so much as develop carbuncles.

Not dogs indeed.

Not dogs - close up

Well, I’m in too deep to quit now, so I serve them up. I’ve let Beloved in on the secret, but casually deflect the boys’ questions about the provenance of the not-dogs. “Is this a new kind of hot dog, Mom?” and I nod, traitorously ambiguous.

And then I take a bite of one and it’s – wrong. So wrong. I mean, I am not a hot dog or sausage purist by any stretch of the imagination, but I know for a fact I should not have to work that hard to get through the skin of the wiener and the texture is… wrong. A level of wrong even I cannot overlook. And they’re utterly flavourless. The boys have been taught not to be overly critical, and if they don’t like something, their feedback should be along the lines of “this isn’t really to my taste” as opposed to “ewww, gross!” I would have forgiven them if they transgressed, but their comments are carefully equivocal: “I find the texture a little offputting” and “are you sure these are hot dogs?”

The asparagus I’ve grilled to go with the not-dogs disappears quickly. Buns are picked off and eaten. Nobody reaches for a second helping. When I confess later, the boys are outraged in a hilarious and understandable sort of way. This experience has become a bit of family lore that I suspect will stay with us.

And so we learned. Yves brand, at least, is “not to our taste”. I’d be willing to try again (shhhh, don’t tell the boys!) if you have a favourite brand of veggie dogs or sausages that mimic at least a little bit more closely the experience of an actual hot dog or sausage. And, ideally, have more actual food bits in the much shorter ingredient list.

I’ll have to bide my time, though. That’s okay, I can be patient and ply them with real hot dogs until their sense of trust is re-established. I’m in for the long haul.


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Over the years I’ve developed a fondness for photos of random things, photos that beg you to ask the question “why?” Lucky for us, the question “why” makes great inspiration for flash fiction. Each week, I send a photo to a growing list of players, and they riff on it with a piece of flash fiction. Here are this week’s contributions (be sure you click through to read the ones hosted elsewhere, too!)

Stories by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Triumph
by Christine Hennebury

Leaving the bus in the field was supposed to be lesson to us, but, for years, we all walked to the high school without complaint, rain or shine.

Back then, while the rest of the world was getting more and more connected, everyone showing up in each other’s pockets all the time, our town had slammed the gates shut.

Not literally, of course, people could still come and go as they pleased, but no one in town had access to the internet. No one had smart phones. The Council had decided that those things weren’t good for the town, especially for the children, so they passed a by-law against them.

If Lorne hadn’t needed to see a specialist in the City, we might never have known about the talks. He brought a poster back for us all to see, a free event with speakers from all over the world. Big thinkers, big ideas.

Once we saw it, we knew we had to go.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to steal the schoolbus to drive us all to the City, but I know that Jenny drove. She knew how it all worked because her Dad drove the bus every morning before heading to his shop.

There were only 14 people in our high school, we didn’t even fill up a whole row in the auditorium. We drank in each speaker’s words like we had spent our lives in a desert. We chattered excitedly the whole way home. We were going to do things, we were going to make changes.

Jenny got us safely there and most of the way back but about 10 minutes outside of town, we saw Sheriff Rolfman’s car parked across the highway. Since she didn’t think she was going to be able to stop in time, Jenny veered off into the field. The momentum carried us pretty far, and the bus got firmly stuck, but none of us were hurt.

We were all grounded for weeks but that just gave us more time to think.

Leaving the bus in the field was supposed to be an extra punishment, something to drive the lesson further home, but, for us, it was a sign of our triumph and we reveled in it.

__________

Click through to read:
Planting
by Lynn Jatania

__________

Click through to read:
The Magic School Bus
by Gal Podjarny

__________

Untitled
by Mimi Golding

We were parked out in the middle of the field. It was a lark.

We sat there for hours, sitting in the very back, where all the bad kids sat, where you get the highest heights when the bus wheels fell into those deep pot holes and then climbed out again.

The hours passed. Talking to him was so, utterly, ordinary. His speech was like listening to a water fall.

The dew fell on the bus as night time enveloped us.

We told each other our stories well into darkness and stars.

Feel free to write your own piece of flash fiction and add it in the comments, or post it on your own site and link back to it in the comments. If you’d like to join in, leave a comment and I’ll add you to the list of players. There’s no obligation – drop in and out when you can. You can read previous stories here:

The workshop: A photo-story collaboration
The gate: A photo-story collaboration
Perspective: A photo-story collaboration
Patience: A photo-story collaboration
Anticipation: A photo-story collaboration
The Plan: A photo-story collaboration


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Help me, sophisticated travels of the blogosphere! With two months left in the year-long adventure of planning our trip to London and Paris this summer, we’ve arrived at the time for some tough decisions. Today’s debate: carry-on versus checked luggage.

I’m an inveterate over-packer. Nearly two decades of motherhood has made a good boy scout out of me; I like to be prepared. I’m also reasonably organized, and a pro at the jigsaw puzzle of fitting all the pieces we need into our mid-size car and rooftop luggage rack for a road trip. Airline travel, though, is a whole different ball of packing tape.

On the one hand, I can see the merit of packing for carry-on only. It’s quicker, more streamlined, and nobody wants to lug a giant suitcase through the Tube, onto the EuroStar or through the RER in Paris. With carry-on bags, we don’t have to worry about bags going off on a different adventure (although with a non-stop outbound flight, I’m reasonably confident this is not much of a concern.) We could probably fit everything we need into five carry-on bags plus the personal bag you’re allowed to have on the flight. And the boys are getting to an age where managing their own bag is probably an important life skill.

But.

My first problem is that we don’t actually HAVE five carry-on bags. I think we have one, maybe two. The boys can use their school backpacks for their personal stuff, but I’d still need to beg, borrow or steal at least a couple more carry-on bags.

Second, I think while five carry-on bags are manageable in a plane, it seems like it would be awkward everywhere else, like in taxis and on subways and whatnot. The more bags we have, the more chance for error. Two big bags are much easier to keep track of than five little ones, even when each boy has been exhorted to manage his own bags. Yes, I realize I’m micromanaging. It’s what I do.

Third, am I ready to deal with the restrictions of carry-on luggage? We don’t travel a lot, so I don’t have travel-size anything. I almost lost my 20 year old pocket knife in Mexico when I accidentally forgot it was in my purse and had to pay an extra fee to turn my purse into checked luggage or forfeit it. It just seems more – complicated.

Fourth, don’t laugh at me, is that I’m bringing at least one camera body, at least two lenses, and a MacBook – and that’s just me. Hell, that’s one carry-on right there!

We’re not overly nomadic, staying in one place in London for a week and then moving to Paris for a second week. And, we have laundry available at both places, so we can pack on the light side and probably fit everyone’s stuff into one or two larger checked bags, which I picture as being vaguely easier to wrangle than five carry-on bags.

Who knew this would be harder than planning for a month of travel for one with nothing but a backpack, nearly 20 years ago?

Thoughts or advice for a newbie overseas travellers in a large family?


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We have three players this week in our ongoing photo-story game. Each week, I toss out a photo to a group of players, and whomever has the time and/or inclination sends back a story inspired by the photo.

I find it interesting that these stories have varying vibes of darkness and melancholy, despite the bright sunshine streaming in the window. Is this a melancholy photo to you?

Done
by Christine Hennebury

I have the feeling that I’m done here.

I’m not finished, it’s not complete, but I am done.

Sometimes you have to recognize that you aren’t the one who will finish it. You can do your part, take it so far, and then you leave the tools for someone else.

I thought about putting everything away, leaving it all very tidy, but that seemed a bit too cold, too distant. I wanted to leave somewhere for them to start.

Even if they are just tidying up. By touching the tools, the wood, the bits and pieces of a project in progress, they can feel their way toward the next step.

I wish I could see them learn but that’s not how this works.

We do what we can and then we leave enough for them to find their way, just as we found ours.

It’s not complete but, but somehow, it is whole.

__________

Click through to read:
The Workshop
by Gal Podjarny

__________

Walter
by Mimi Golding

She put the tools down, looking over her progress that she had made.

Time for that Gin and Tonic, she thought, as she picked up the glass of liquid pain relief. Care was needed to craft the intricate design. Thoughts kept drifting, “Would it be good enough?”

“Bah!”, she thought to herself. That self-criticism was Walter talking again. Walter, her so-called black dog of depression that followed her everywhere. Her loyal companion, always shadowing her actions, nipping at her self-confidence.

“Walter, I don’t have time for you today” she said, as she finished off her beverage, turned towards her work and picked up her tools. “Time to crank up the jam!”

Feel free to write your own piece of flash fiction and add it in the comments, or post it on your own site and link back to it in the comments. If you’d like to join our little cabal, leave a comment and I’ll add you to the list of players. There’s no obligation – drop in and out when you can. You can read previous stories here:

The gate: A photo-story collaboration
Perspective: A photo-story collaboration
Patience: A photo-story collaboration
Anticipation: A photo-story collaboration
The Plan: A photo-story collaboration


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The gate: A photo-story collaboration (Now with more players!)

6 May 2018 Creative licence

Well this is wickedly fun! If you’ve been following along, for the past month or two, Christine Hennebury and I have been playing a little collaborative photo-story game. I send her a random photo, and she riffs on it with a piece of flash fiction. Last time, we invited others to join us and LOOK […]

4 comments Read the full article →

Photos of the day: Five things that make photographers happy

4 May 2018 Mothership Photography

Dawna and I have worked together on and off for more than a decade. While I’ve bumped about here, there and everywhere, she’s worked in the same building most of that time. So when she accepted an offer for a new job recently, she asked if I would be interested in a little lunch-hour photo […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Perspective: A photo-story collaboration

25 April 2018 Creative licence

Are you ready for the latest installment of the ongoing photo-fiction game that Christine Hennebury and I have been playing? Each week, I take a photo and send it to her, and she uses it as inspiration for a piece of flash fiction. We’re enjoying it so much that we’re inviting others to play along […]

3 comments Read the full article →

Patience: A photo-story collaboration

11 April 2018 Creative licence

This week, I tried to throw Christine Hennebury a curve-ball in our ongoing game where I send her a photo and uses it for inspiration in a piece of flash fiction. Joke’s on me, as I think this is her best story yet. The last line totally left me wanting to know what happens next! […]

4 comments Read the full article →