Ah, me boys

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 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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We’ve been inflicting the pop culture touchstones of our teenage and young adult years on the boys, making sure they have a cultural appreciation of the literary and film influences that helped shape Generation X.

We were doing quite well for a while. The Princess Bride more than withstands the test of time, and Rent was well received. We’re all ecstatic that most of Monty Python’s oeuvre will soon be coming to Canadian Netflix (though eek, I did not remember The Meaning of Life being quite so, um, graphic!) It’s little surprise that since they liked Monty Python, they appreciated my reading of both the full Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (all five parts) and Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman. The music from LadyHawke was nearly unbearable, but the story is still sweet and enjoyable. I was delighted to find out that one of the boys added the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack to his Spotify playlists, and the Matrix was better in 2018 than I remember it being in 1999.

On the other hand, not everything passes the filter of a modern sensibility. We started reading Stephen King’s Christine recently, as I have been a King fan my whole life. After a few chapters, though, we gave up. There’s something distasteful in the narrator’s descriptions of the characters that feels not only anachronistic but misanthropic as well, and we just couldn’t get past it. Some of the character descriptions felt like they were pulled out the comment sections of any modern media article – full of othering and judgementalness.

While I remember most 80s movies for young people as being crass and crude (everything from National Lampoon’s franchise to Porky’s and Risky Business) I was deeply dismayed to find on rewatching that many of John Hughes’ movies could be sexist, ageist, racist and homophobic. I adored John Hughes growing up; he wrote what I thought were honest, true depictions of the teenage experience. I could, and have, waxed rhapsodic about the power of The Breakfast Club, how its angst felt like the voice of my generation, and I expected it to resonate equally with the boys. Instead, watching it with them about a decade after the last time I viewed it, I was devastated by the homophobic language, by the idea that the quirky girl has to have a makeover to become “normal” in order to be accepted, by the fact that a boy can be cruel and abusive and still get the girl in the end. Sixteen Candles was even worse – by far. How to reconcile these viewpoints? Can I still profess to love these books and movies when I can see so many troubling themes that I would not endorse or embrace in the woke world of 2018?

I had this blog post half written when I came across this article written by Molly Ringwald in The New Yorker about her concerns about these exact things. How do we reconcile our love for these movies when they are so desperately anachronistic, so out of step with modern perspectives and sentiments? In the article, Ringwald poses the very questions that I’m grappling with: “How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose? […] Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art—change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go.”

In the article, Ringwald references an interview she did with John Hughes before he died.

In the interview, I asked him if he thought teen-agers were looked at differently than when he was that age. “Definitely,” he said. “My generation had to be taken seriously because we were stopping things and burning things. We were able to initiate change, because we had such vast numbers. We were part of the Baby Boom, and when we moved, everything moved with us. But now, there are fewer teens, and they aren’t taken as seriously as we were. You make a teen-age movie, and critics say, ‘How dare you?’ There’s just a general lack of respect for young people now.”

And that made me think of the incredibly brave, ballsy, clever kids in Parkland, FL, and how they have been leading an unprecedented and delightfully subversive charge against the NRA in particular and the Trump administration in general. It’s an almost vertiginous sweep, the distance we’ve come in just a generation or two, and stunning how different the world is now. But aren’t the themes John Hughes so beautifully illustrated – of belonging, of searching for meaning, of trying to fit in and stand out and find your place in the world – still universal?

In the end, Ringwald was able to balance her affection for Hughes and her contribution to the movies with her modern perspective:

John wanted people to take teens seriously, and people did. The films are still taught in schools because good teachers want their students to know that what they feel and say is important; that if they talk, adults and peers will listen. I think that it’s ultimately the greatest value of the films, and why I hope they will endure. The conversations about them will change, and they should. It’s up to the following generations to figure out how to continue those conversations and make them their own—to keep talking, in schools, in activism and art—and trust that we care.

What do you think? How do you reconcile a modern reading of classic movies or literature, when some themes are universal but others are so deeply anachronistic that you can barely bear to watch them, let alone embrace them? From Holden Caufield to the Honeymooners, there are no shortages of cultural touchstones who could never survive a modern filter. Is it enough to say, “they are a product of their times. It’s different now,” as I’ve said to the boys? Does it even bother you?


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Spoiler Alert

by DaniGirl on March 23, 2018 · 1 comment

in Ah, me boys, Mothering without a licence

We’re standing in WalMart, of all places. I don’t even like WalMart and almost never shop there. But we’re in WalMart and we’ve just walked past several rows of pastel-coloured Easter goodies, and it twinges something I’ve been thinking about.

“Hey Lucas,” I begin, leaning down to be closer to his 10 year old ear. I don’t have to lean far. When did he get to be as tall as my shoulder anyway?

“Lucas, um, I was wondering, do you know…” I stall. Maybe I’m happier not having this conversation. But he’s watching me now, as we continue on to the back of the store.

“Well, I was wondering. You, uh, you know that there’s not actually a giant rabbit who comes into the house and hides the Easter candies and the eggs, right? I mean, you know who it is, right?” I blurt in a rush of words, still not convinced I want to have this conversation after all. What if I’ve misread him? What if I’ve just ruined this for him? Why exactly did I start this conversation?

Lucas is not, to my relief, devastated. “Yup,” he confirms, casually shattering our shared delusion. “It’s Granny!” Each year, my mother spends hours hiding treats around her place for the boys, and making up lists of clues for them to follow. Before I can clarify, he continues. “And I know that you and Dad are Santa Claus, too. I heard you filling the stockings.”

I can only nod, a lump of mingled relief and regret swelling in my throat.

So I guess that’s that. I mean, we were never very insistent on the whole Easter Bunny thing, but Santa has been a different story. The older boys have always been careful to never explicitly confirm or deny believing in Santa Claus, and I avoided asking them about it, lest I open Pandora’s box for Christmas.

It’s easier now that we can be open about hiding the candy and eggs, of course. I can even solicit the boys to help stuff the plastic eggs full of jelly beans and marshmallow bunnies after we paint our colourful eggs. And Christmas Day will be much more pleasant if I haven’t stayed up until all hours on Christmas Eve, trying to outlast them so I can fill their stockings on Santa’s behalf.

It’s the end of a thing, though. Another of the thousand little changes that mean that they’re growing up. It will be easier, but it will be harder, too. Easter candy this year is a little bit bittersweet.

Family photos by Mothership Photography


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Photo of the day: Dish pan hands

by DaniGirl on March 16, 2018 · 0 comments

in Lucas, Photo of the Day

We had a dishwasher catastrophe this week. I’d just started a cycle when I looked over to see thick, angry black smoke pouring out of the electrical panel on our GE dishwasher. It’s only six or seven years old, but it has been doing a mediocre job on and off for a while anyway, and I just couldn’t imagine ever trusting it again after spending hours agonizing over the “what ifs” — thinking of all those times you load up the dishwasher and start it up and fly out the door. Long story short, a new one has been ordered and will be delivered soon. I scored a pretty good deal, too, so I suppose the story has a moderately happy ending, except for the giant expenditure that was not in our March Break forecast.

In the interim, someone had to step up and clean the dishes. Lucky for me, Lucas happily volunteered.

Dishes

This was my job when I was about ten years old, too. We didn’t get our first dishwasher until I was 12 or so. I instructed Lucas just like my mom instructed me: glasses first, then plates and bowls, then pots and pans and utensils. Mind you, I didn’t have to worry about dropping plates or glasses into an extra deep ceramic farmhouse sink. We are clumsy folk, after all. I try not to hover, and trust that he won’t drop anything. It’s a work in progress, this growing up thing.


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I think the paths along Hogsback Falls in Ottawa are truly one of the city’s overlooked treasures. I see photographers crawling all over the Arboretum but am surprised that I rarely see family photos being taken at Hogsback – there’s a stunning variety of backdrops and perfect places for posing and playing. It’s been a few too many years since we’ve been there, though I drive past it on my commute every single day and think about stopping. We took advantage of the incredible weekend weather to go out for a wander.

Taking photos of the boys is more of an adventure than it used to be. I told them to “go over there so I can take your picture.” The posing and art direction was left up to them.

fun family photos in Ottawa

I call it “Album Cover, Autumn 2017 edition.” 😉

I think this would be an acceptable alternate cover.

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

Some of them are more willing to pose for me than others. It depends on the day which kid is in which category!

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

(Oh my heart!)

fun family photos in Ottawa

autumn wander at hogsback simon

(Yes, that’s my camera. Good thing I carry a spare in my pocket!)

Did I mention it’s been a FEW years since we were up on the lookout?

fun family photos in Ottawa

We have a few favourite spots we go to year after year. I’m making sure that Hogsback Falls is put back into rotation from now on!


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Tomato soup

7 August 2017 Ah, me boys

Sometimes, I have an anecdote that I want to share like I did back in the day, but I don’t have a photo to go with it. Despite having my own stock library of nearly 6,000 images on Flickr alone, sometimes there just isn’t a photo that goes with the story. And sometimes, I have […]

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In which the family finally meets Chef Michael Smith (!) at the Village Feast

30 July 2017 Ah, me boys

If you’re a long-time blog reader, you know that as a family, we have been stalking Chef Michael Smith for about four years now. We’ve long been fans of “the world’s tallest freestanding chef” and have been visiting his Flavour Shack in Souris every year that we visit Prince Edward Island. For my birthday in […]

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Photo of the day: the boys in Souris

26 July 2017 Ah, me boys

We’ve just returned from our annual vacation in Prince Edward Island, and I have a *cough* few photos to share. This might be my new favourite photo of the boys, taken in Souris. I might have thought, years ago, that vacationing with teenagers would have been a very different experience. We’ve just spent the most […]

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Photo of the day: First and Last Day of School 2016-2017

28 June 2017 Ah, me boys

Our annual first-and-last day of school photo is getting harder to execute – one boy finished school two days ago, and one biked off with his friends before the other was even out of school. But we still managed! We are getting quite the collection. Beloved was joking that in a few years, we’ll have […]

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