Wednesday, June 26, 2013

We Are All The Same

I have tested this out thousands of times.  I've talked to women and men both under and over 85 years old, I've spoken to numerous teenagers at all different ages and levels of maturity.  I've also spoken to people on holiday from all over the world, and I have come to one conclusion; we are all the same.  

The title is not a statement about cultural mores, style of dress, food choices or even musical tastes, this is about what seems to be a common thread in all of the people I have met.  It is a desire to be heard, appreciated, understood and respected.  

When I was going to university, I sat in my local coffee shop (hence the blog title) and did my schoolwork there for a change of scenery from my home.  It wasn't long before people in the neighborhood started coming over to talk to me.  I definitely have "one of those faces" that invites people over, even when my head is buried in a book!  

There's a mid-40's lady I'll call "Janine" (not her real name out of respect for her privacy) who tells me how I'm "the nicest Black person" she's ever met, because I take the time to talk to her honestly, in spite of her problems. Janine is depressed, gentle, profoundly insecure, kind hearted, and schizophrenic.  She dresses in outrageous colour and style combinations like black leggings with a textured effect all over them paired with a hot pink A-line tank shirt that's not quite long enough with a huge sherpa-type bolero jacket over it (even when it's too warm for a jacket), with a dated, large, light-pink silk flower clip in her hair on one side of her head and short grey boot.  She's been stuck in an on again-off again emotionally abusive relationship with a guy I'll call "Jim," who is an alcoholic with a manipulative personality, for about four years.  But she's got "such sexual chemistry with him" that she can't let go. That's one story.

On another day, I was studying some French homework (my degree is bilingual), and three teenage boys came into the coffee shop and sat down directly across from me, talking to each other in happy, but non-obtrusive tones.  You could tell at a look that the three were really good friends and I put my head back down to my work, after they were settled.  One of the boys with a nice face and brown hair, put his feet up on the seat in front of him.  I thought nothing of it; the place was not busy at that time and he seemed to be acting like a teenager to me. 

Unfortunately, the feet-on-the-seat was a problem for an older woman sitting exactly halfway between my chosen table and the double table where the boys were seated but off to my left and their right by about two table places.  For some reason I can only relegate to racism, the White lady said to the boy with his feet on the chair, that he "looked like he was on a flying carpet."  I looked up at her too-loud-to-ignore statement and then I realized that the boy she was speaking to was just the slightest possible bit darker in his complexion than his friends.  I didn't even notice, and this woman took it upon herself to point it out unprovoked.  Who says bullcrap like that?  To date, it is the most bizarre comment I have ever heard! 

The guy's two friends were red-faced and enraged in an instant.  I sat there with my mouth open, slack-jawed and at an utter loss for words, staring at him apologetically.  The guy sat up straight, looked at the woman and said: "Why would you say it like that?  Why wouldn't you just complain about my feet on the chair?  Why would you say that?  What you said sounds racist."  The whole time he was speaking, you could tell that he was trying to come to terms with what he (and everyone else who was listening) thought he was hearing.

"I am not a racist!  I am not a racist!"  Said the woman emphatically, but it was far too late.  A terrifically negative message had been conveyed utterly. 

The guy's friends were having none of that and started saying things like (I swear this is a real story I was witness to): "Do you have the charges?"  Friend "A" said, "Yeah, and I have the wires."  Friend "B" said.  Playing up an unfortunate stereotype to throw salt in the rude woman's face.  

The only reason I mention this story at all is because of the boy who was the hapless victim.  In a little while, all the hullabaloo calmed down and the boys talked in subdued tones, sadly.  When they were ready to leave, the targeted boy got up, walked over to the woman at a fair distance from her table and did something surprising; he simply said "You have a good afternoon, Ma'am," and he and his friends went outside for a (well-deserved) smoke.  

I was in complete awe at the level of character and class this 17-year-old boy displayed in the face of ugly bigotry.  His respectful attitude brought into even sharper relief the grotesqueness of this woman's conduct.  His name is "Adib" and he is a Lebanese-Canadian.  I saw him a handful of times after that incident.  Whatever work I was doing, I always set it down for five minutes to talk to the boy who had earned my respect.  

Those are only two of hundreds of stories.  I have spoken to so many people, in fact, that I have made good friends out of the coffee shop's staff.  I guess some of it has to do with me, in a way.  I am inherently respectful.  I treat everyone I meet with dignity, regardless of the fact that they may or may not have an issue.  I don't think we are supposed to judge people for their differences, I think that we are supposed to celebrate them.  

As altruistic as I sound, I hardly think that I am a saint.  When the time comes to answer and atone, I hope that I am "judged by the content of my character" (to borrow the quote fragment from Dr. M. L. King Jr.) and not by some trite behaviour at challenging times in my life, or worse still, because of something superficial over which I have no control.

Amanda Marshall said it best: "Everybody's got a story."  I have proved those words true thousands of times.  After all of the wonderful conversations and spiritual connections that I have had with veritable strangers, gently buried in behind the stories of pain and transformation, one thing is always true, if you peel away the exterior, we really are all the same underneath.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How Do I Handle MY Kids?

I've made several references to them, but I've never actually spoken about them directly.  In a general sense, I love most children. In that vein, I think that my kids are the most fascinating people I have ever met.  I have two sons.  As a personal preference, I do not want to put their names on a public site, but I can comfortably call them "E" and "J."

E is 11 and at the end of grade 6 while J is 7 and at the end of grade 1.  E has a comprehension problem with numbers and J is very emotionally reactive which can lead to significant physical components to his behaviour.  So, while I was in university, I was also parenting two kids with diverse issues.  It was absolutely challenging.

Early on in my "mothering" life, I decided that I was the parent and that they were going to listen to whatever it was I had to say, or was instructing them to do.  It was non-negotiable and not flexible based on who whined the loudest.  In all honesty, the number one thing I hated as a parent was whining.  As soon as the whining started, the answer to every question became a unilateral NO.  The louder the whine, the more adamant the "no."

Because both children have an "issue," I learned that the best way to deal with them is to be as consistent as possible.  Anything less than consistency resulted in children who were out of control and who behaved as though the rule of the day was anarchy or chaos.  Part of that consistent attitude, manifested itself in set bedtimes, set wakeup times, and very clearly articulated acceptable types of behaviour in public.

In some form or fashion, I think that all parents end up teaching their kids the standard of behaviour that they are comfortable with.  I just chose to do it directly (actually telling them everything that is reasonable in public and everything that I will not accept) with both of my boys, because they understand the purpose better.  I have spoken to a few  psychologists in my time (that's what my degree is in), and there are various opinions on how effective it is to explain the logical outcome of something a child has done or said, to that child.  E has a greater grasp on nuances at his age, so I generally have to explain less things to him.  J seems to be more of a concrete, or hands on child than his brother is, so he needs more explanation.

I often use myself as the model person because it avoids blaming the child (even where he may be wrong), and since I have two delightful "Mama's boys," if the end result of the child's action is a negative one, and I present myself as the person who receives the negative effect, then it does have an impact.  They never want to see anything bad happen to Mama, even hypothetically.

In situations where it would be logical to use a child, I will select a child younger than they are (a younger cousin), or smaller than they are (a baby they know), to demonstrate how badly their words or actions would be received.  Kids are not stupid and if you treat them with a measure of dignity and expect them to be decent, loving human beings, they will generally rise to the challenge.  They aren't aliens or a sub-species, they are younger, less knowledgeable, inexperienced people.

With me, I've heard that "boys will be boys" expression since I was a child and it is only now as a parent that I understand that to mean; any behaviour that I would not otherwise tolerate from anyone.  For example, running up and down in public.  I expect them, whether they are bored or not, to maintain a reasonable amount of personal decorum.  But that starts at home.  I do not like screaming and obnoxious behaviour at home, so seeing it in public from them is much less likely (or virtually impossible).

The other concept that old adage refers to, is the propensity for boys to physically fight.  For the answer to this one, I have to go back to when I was a child.  Just imagine being a single parent in the 1970s...

My mother was extremely strict and yet, full of love, but very old school.  My brother and I were not allowed to fight at all.  If we even had raised voices talking to each other, she was ready with this old heavy leather strap (that my father had made exclusively for spanking children) and we both got a few good shots on our backsides and she would conclusively end any fight we were having, everytime.  The line was: "There are enough wars in the world; there will be no fighting in my house."

The end result of her corporal punishment, is that my brother and I grew up with an aversion to fighting.  Now, let's revisit my boys.  I have chosen a different route.

Last year in the summertime, I chose not to hit my boys anymore (yes they got spankings when they were younger) because, E was very big (almost my height)  and J freaks out if he thinks I'm going to hit him, even if I only intended to use my hand.  So I had to find another way to convey the same message, without using hitting.

I tried "time-out's" but they don't work.  I have also tried taking away privileges, but that only works some of the time.  Rewards can work too, but they also only work with certain things.  So, what do I do?

I humiliate my kids.  Well, that's not entirely accurate anymore.  I used to humiliate them for a while, but now, the fear of humiliation is enough to curb behaviours that I do not like, nearly instantaneously.  I can hear some people saying: "That's terrible!"  Well, it would be terrible, if it didn't work.  As it stands, my boys understand how to speak to me, at home and in public, what tone of voice to use, that being in a store does not mean that they will get ANYTHING at all, and that if they try to challenge me in public, I will have them standing at attention facing a can of beans as I call attention to any passerby the fact that they are in time out in public because they are not listening to me.

People get so embarrassed when their kids make noise in public (whining and screaming etc.)!  Well, I have no problem making more noise than my kids, so the end result is that everyone is staring at them and THEY get embarrassed.  Strangely enough, when they are causing the disruption, they don't feel embarrassed, but when they are not causing it and they just get to watch everyone staring, they don't like that at all! 

I advocate nothing for anyone to try, but my kids both know, that if they try to act up in public, I will literally ask complete strangers to stare at them: "Look at this child!  He's not listening to me, but maybe if you asked him nicely he might listen if you tell him to be quiet!"  It works like magic every single time!!!

I know there's still someone out there, maybe a few of you who are up in arms at the prospect of embarrassing children to get them to stay in line, but ask yourself this: how many people have you seen in public with kids out of control and running up and down like they are ferrol?  Honestly, those kids are NOT my children now, and have NEVER been my children.  Even when they were toddlers they knew that was not acceptable behaviour.  Children understand very well and from a very young age if you are consistent and follow through with whatever you say the discipline will be for a transgression.

If you are not into hitting kids, and all of the things that "experts" suggest you do, have only limited success rates, then to avoid behaviours that you do not want or to deal with them should they arise, you have to find something that works for you.  With my boys, this works.  They're still kids and cheeky and funny and expressive.  I would never squash who they are, just the actions or traits I do not want. We laugh hysterically far more than I ever raise my voice.

There's an expression I know though: I don't feel no way.  It's origin I'm not entirely certain about, but many people, especially with parents of West Indian origin, will know what it means.  For everyone else, it literally means: I don't care what anyone thinks, but it's more than that too.  It also means; I don't have any problem expressing how or what I feel.  Another expression that works in conjunction with that is: I don't play.

That last one is much more basic, but to be clear, it means: I do not joke when it comes to unacceptable behaviour.

So, between I don't feel no way and I don't play, my guys understand where the line in the sand is in public, but what about at home?  Guess what?  It works here too!  The children are old enough now that they do not like to look foolish in front of each other!  If I draw attention to some bad behaviour; the 7-year-old, who looks up to "big brother" does not want to seem immature.  The 11-year-old, who enjoys being looked up to, does not want to look silly in front of his "little brother".

My little boys rarely fight, are very affectionate with each other and with me and generally are quite good.  Everyday is a new day and presents new opportunities to be loving and kind with one another, and that is what I aim to do.  How do I handle my kids?  The very best way I know how.  And it shows through them.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

AMA Said: "Fat Is A Disease"

Have you heard this?

I heard this on a news radio station this morning: "The American Medical Association has made the decision to classify obesity as a disease."  Are you freaking kidding me?  I am considered overweight or obese.  I do not need a medical doctor telling me that it's a disease because that means that I now have a licence to go through food like an auger goes through dirt!

Let's look at this from a doctor's perspective, before I rip it a new butt orifice.

For people who have emotional or psychological issues related to eating, this is an excellent thing. It now gives doctors access to insurance-related resources like psychological or counselling help, to deal with the issue and not its symptom; the obesity.  There are also a few approved medications that can aid weight loss that are highly cost prohibitive; those might now be more accessible for people who sincerely wish to change.

Unfortunately, most people who do not have an underlying medical reason for weight gain, are overeating in some capacity: too much quantity, crappy quality of food, or too much snacking. This "disease" identification can actually "justify" overindulgence in the minds of many people.  Scam artists come in all shapes and sizes too!  What stops an obese person from claiming sick benefits because of his/her "ailment?"

I understand the reason why the AMA did it.  Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. and Canada is hot on the trail.  Basically, we eat too much and we do too little.  It's not rocket science.

Honestly, I do not need some doctor giving me some line about fat being a disease.  Fat is not a disease!  My children would be horrified if they heard me talking like this, but I have to call it for what it is and lying to someone else about being "plus size" or "voluptuous" is all well and good, but lying to myself is stupid.

I don't think that I'm ugly or unattractive: I speak well, carry myself well, and dress like I care about myself. There is nothing wrong if I simply want to look better. But that's "me."  I know a lot of overweight people do not feel the same way about themselves.  It's useless being unhappy with how you look, unless you at least try to change it.  Nobody is going to be happy about you for you.

Life is so painfully short.  Personally, I have wasted so much time worrying about what other people think, lamenting all of what I thought was not right with me or inadequate about me, and blah, blah, blah, it goes on and on. And it is pointless!  I gained NOTHING by thinking I was incapable and EVERYTHING by thinking that I can do more!

There are no words to express how much I resent a doctor telling me that I am NOT RESPONSIBLE for my health and fitness.  The hell I'm not!  Why are we all so laissez faire?  Why aren't we passionate about our lives and ourselves?  Why do we need a doctor to give us all an easy out?  I can think of nothing worth having that is easy.  A simple garden requires near DAILY tending.  That's not raising children, or keeping a life partner happy, or finding and maintaining a job.  That's just a garden.

So, I get why the AMA did it, but this idea was NOT well thought out.  I see numerous potential abuses and significantly less advantages.  I hope this disease recommendation comes with some serious addendums so that insurance companies don't start judging the validity of disease identifications and picking and choosing what they will and will not cover to a greater extent than they already do.  That serves no one.  Fat doesn't need a stamp of approval, or a blanket band-aid, it needs a comprehensive, multi level approach dealing with all the factors contributing to it on an individual basis.  And only for those people who actually want the help.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Less Than the "R" Word

Where are you from?  

It’s an innocuous enough question in a city like Toronto.  Everyone is from somewhere else, right?

What if I am not from “somewhere else?”

As a non-white person, I am accustomed to the question, and it does not offend me.  What I do not understand is the “expectation” that some people continue to have in 2013.  If I am not “white” I “must” be from somewhere else.  

Another thought in that line comes from the lack of validity of the answer “I was born here”.  That response usually garners: “but where are you really from?”  I have never understood why my parents’ origin, a country I have never lived in and am utterly removed from, is a more valid answer than the country of my birth. I'm not "really" from the country I was born in apparently.

What does Canada lack that makes others think that?  Should I reply: "my mother's womb?" Is that answer specific enough?

Generally, I think that people understand that this is a nation literally built on immigration and therefore the pride one feels for their place of origin is high compared to whatever they feel for the country in which they have decided to reside.  The obvious point here is that most people, who choose to leave one country, usually move to one they think is in some way better.

Living here was not a choice I made; this is where I was born. To compound that fact, I literally grew up with my mother (who has lived in 4 different countries on 2 different continents) repeatedly telling me that "Canada is the best country in the world." It should come as no surprise then that I am just as proud of my country of birth as most other people are of theirs.  I am a Woman of Colour; I am Canadian, final answer.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Thanks Everybody!

This is just to acknowledge my readers from around the country and around the world!  Hello to fellow Canadians, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany and la France!

I look forward to readers from even more places!  This is MY blog and people from everywhere are WELCOME!