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Essays

Your job in life

Someone asked if we are supposed to be a reflection of our parents. Oh boy. No. 

You are the product of your DNA, whether you like it or not — and I personally don’t.

I spent my adult life working to be what my parents weren’t. They were very strict with me, sometimes violent (I got hit with sticks when I didn’t behave), and not at all supportive of who I was and what I wanted to be.

They had an idea of what a good daughter should be, and I wasn’t obliging. I wanted to be an artist, and I didn’t care too much about settling down into an old-fashioned marriage. They were hoping for something much more mainstream, and I don’t think they ever understood my path.

It’s one thing not to understand your child. It’s quite another to work against who she is.

That’s what I don’t want to do, ever, with my kids. And the good news is, you can change who you are, you can change your nature.

Debbie Millman is fond of saying that music can change our DNA. I believe it. So can discipline and behavior. If you are determined to become someone different than your parents, you can.

Your job as a person is not to be anyone’s reflection. Your job is to find your path and work as hard as you can to be the best version of you there is, no matter where it leads.

Sleep, my pretties

 Shhh, don’t ask questions, trust the experts, take the pills, and be quiet.

Shhh, don’t ask questions, trust the experts, take the pills, and be quiet.

Some people I know make a point of ridiculing me for believing that nutritional supplements are useful to the human body in some circumstances. To wit, my own carcass, sort of all the time. My doctor, whom I mercifully see on an roughly never basis (not that this has anything to do with how I manage my health, you understand) has a great deal of trouble suppressing a smirk when discussing vitamins. Except of course for when I was pregnant, during which time he instructed me to take more vitamin D, omega 3-6-9, and that thing that’s supposed to prevent spina bifida. Pregnancy sure is special if it makes doctors change their nutritional advice like that.

This is the same doctor, by the way, who didn’t hesitate to prescribe two rounds of steroids to my then-three-year-old daughter who had a bad case of eczema. His pharmaceutical enthusiasm stopped at two rounds because I put my foot down and said enough with the steroids I’ll find another way. Which I did; after a friend told me of a similar problem with one of her children that was related to lactose I took all dairy off my toddler’s diet for a week. Nothing happened. So I put back dairy and removed eggs. Nothing happened. So I put back the eggs and removed gluten and in three days her eczema completely cleared up. I kept her on a mostly gluten-free diet for a while, maybe about a year, and gradually reintroduced gluten. Her skin stayed beautifully clear. Whatever it was that was causing eczema so bad the doctor feared a skin infection and prescribed steroids disappeared, never to come back. Without pharmaceuticals.

Was her eczema in her head? Maybe. It could be that this particular kid, at the age of three, had decided to play tricks on everybody after reading crackpot anti-gluten blogs on the interwebs. I wouldn’t put it past her. She’s a weirdo just like her mom, and almost as stubborn too. Or maybe there was something in those foods her little body didn’t like and just giving her system a chance to clear that something was enough to fix a problem that was threatening to become a real medical issue.

So yeah. I take supplements. For my joints, for my bones, for my skin, and the occasional iron boost. Oh, and probiotics, especially when I’m hormonal and living under the thing I refer to fondly as my Eternal Cloud of Hopeless Doom.

The little happy gut bacteria with the funny Latin names help make me less depressed and mood-swingy during those special moments in my cycle. I don’t know how, or why. But I know that they do. Possibly it’s all in my head. But hey, since that’s where my Cloud of Doom resides, I’ll take it.

You can go ahead and cackle, too. Just like my doctor and other Serious Scientific People, who laugh at me but don’t bat an eye when they hear someone’s on SSRIs or their kid’s on Adderall, or their dad’s taking Viagra, or [whatever, pick your poison the list is endless]. I read somewhere a few years back that the average Canadian filled out nine prescriptions a year. Even if you discount birth control, that’s a lot of pills.

I take none. So evidently somebody somewhere is taking 18. (That’s how math works, yes?) I don’t remember the last time I had to fill a prescription for myself. I prefer monitoring my body on mine own and so far, I think I’m doing a fine job of it.

You do your own health care any way you like, of course. But in the end, belief in Xanax is no less smirk-inducing than belief in vitamin D, if I do say so myself. And may the healthiest crank croak last.

Comment avoir "the talk" avec ses enfants

J’ai fait l’école à la maison pendant douze ans. J’ai trois filles, elles ont aujourd’hui 12, 10 et 8 ans. J’étais avec elles tous les jours pendant ces douze années à leur enseigner. Donc ce fut facile pour moi de trouver le bon moment: j’ai attendu qu’elles me posent des questions. Ce qu’elles ont commencé à faire vers l’âge de 4 ans. D’où viennent les bébés? Du ventre de maman. Comment sortent-ils? Soit du vagin (c’est près de l’endroit où tu fais pipi), soit les médecins ouvrent le ventre de la maman à l’aide d’instruments médicaux pour retirer le bébé et ensuite recoudre la maman. Comment le bébé arrive-t-il dans le ventre? Grâce à la semence du papa. D’où vient cette semence? De son corps, qu’il transmet à la maman par son pénis. Comment il fait ça? En mettant son pénis dans le vagin de la maman. (Beurk! se sont-elles exclamées.)

Ça leur a plus que suffi comme explication. Quand elles sont devenues plus grandes, je leur ai mis dans les mains des bouquins expliquant les hormones, la puberté, et le désir sexuel parce que bien peu d’enfants veulent parler de ça avec leurs parents.

Je leur ai toujours dit qu’elles pouvaient me poser des questions sans réserve. Je réponds toujours avec des faits, le vocabulaire exact, et la vérité. Ma plus vieille a voulu savoir à propos de #metoo. T’as déjà été aggressée, maman? Oui. Et je lui ai raconté l’histoire. Sans me cacher et surtout sans honte. Je lui ai dit qu’en tant que fille (et jolie de surcroît) elle allait devoir apprendre à dealer avec ça, le désir des hommes qu’elle ne désirerait peut-être pas. On en a discuté longtemps. Et elle sait qu’elle peut me parler de tout, que je ne la juge pas, que je ne critique pas sa curiosité et surtout que je ne la blâmerai pas si elle fait des erreurs.

So far, comme on dit, so good. Je ne leur ai jamais caché la vérité à ce sujet et elles savent que je suis toujours à l’écoute. La communication franche et ouverte est le meilleur moyen d’aborder des questions difficiles avec ses enfants. Et j’espère toujours pouvoir le faire de cette façon.

The problem of purpose

Nobody is born with a purpose. Some are handed one; if you have kids, you’re the parent — that’s your purpose. If someone in your family becomes ill or injured and you leave your job to look after them — that’s your purpose. Some have no choice; they are in situations where they need to hustle every single day just to keep a roof over their head and some food on the table — they have no time to worry about purposes or life goals or happiness or any of that stuff.

When you start wondering what you’re doing here on this funny spaceship, it suggests you’re in a different situation. One of relative privilege, in that you have time to think about such things. In a way you’re lucky. But maybe not. It all depends how you see it and how it affects you.

You certainly have a purpose. Everyone does. Some people’s purpose is not as spectacular or newsworthy as others, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful. Someone who chooses to devote her life to making a home for her children to grow up in has a purpose that’s at least as important as that of the best social justice advocate you can name.

You don’t see what purpose you serve. That’s a comment on your vision, not your life. Ask the people around you what they see in you. Seriously, ask them. “What do you see in me?” Just like that. Ask them to list three good things about you. Don’t do this on Facebook — do it in private. Ask as many people as you feel like. Collect their answers. This will be your first clue as to what purpose you serve right here right now.

This purpose will no doubt change or evolve with the passing years, just as you should. But whenever you find yourself stuck in a rut, not sure what the point of being alive is, do this exercise. Ask your friends to tell you what they see in you. It should help.

Go through life trying to be good and helpful to the people around you, and remember to be grateful for what you have. Your purpose may change, but it will always be there.

Never say never, especially not about this

As someone still sporting deep ego bruises for having declared Quebec separatism dead a few times too many, I humbly offer a word of caution about Monday’s election. Don’t.

Yes, the separatist parties tanked. But here’s the thing: Separatism was never about separation. It was always about identity. And that issue never dies.

Read the rest on the Ottawa Citizen website.