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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Some time ago my brother and sister-in-law were up for a visit from their home in New York, and we sat in the living room bull-shitting about this and that. Not sure how the subject came up, but my sister-in-law joked to Megan, about me, “We call Brian the lazy brother”. Offended? No. Hurt? No. It was pretty awesome, actually. I am pretty much satisfied with my level of accomplishment, and actually pretty glad that I am not an all-out achievement-seeker. I like to rest. I like to lie back and laze. I like to lie in the bath and read books. And sometimes – often, actually – I like to sit on the couch at watch the walls for an hour or so at a time, doing and thinking absolutely nothing. (more…)

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Lots of babies being born these days. Over the past six weeks or so, no less than seven people I know have had or are due to have brand-new gorgeous babies to welcome to the world. And that’s exciting to me, cause I love babies and I love to see new parents celebrate and find this whole new joy and love. Welcome, to all of you, to the very best of the world.

My own baby ain’t so little any more. A teenager now, and well on the way from the last of childhood to the meat of adolescence. It’s a time of pride in who she has become, a time of remembering that little girl who is, in a very real sense, gone, and a time of reflection on my relationship with her, my role as a parent. There is much to be thankful for. But also much regret and a whole lot of struggle with inadequacy. (more…)

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Well, since for the longest time I have either written nothing here or only come on to rant about what’s pissing me off, it is so so good to be finally back and writing something joyous. (more…)

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Relations of Class(rooms)

My daughter is in her last years of elementary school, moving on to high school next year, a transition which brings with it much excitement and anticipation, and also a good deal of trepidation. Is she ready? What will her teen years bring? How the hell do I parent a teenager? What will all that normal angst and frustration and teen resentment mean for her relationship with me and with Meg, who has only been in the always-tricky step-parent role for a year or so?

I’ve been reading books, chatting with other parents, trying to sort out as much of this as I can in my own head, talking to Meg about it all, and making some extra effort to maintain closeness and security and trust in my relationship with Mica before she hits the teens full-on. She’s still a little girl in many ways, less precocious than some of her friends, alternating between child and adolescent by the day, the hour, the minute.

Of late, though, it has been one particular transition/ decision point that has occupied most of our thoughts. Where to send Mica to high school? With whom? For what?

Not a simple question in this day and in this Canada. No longer is it the case that all kids everywhere simply walk down the block to the local school. No longer is it the case that there is a necessary correlation between neighbourhood and educational institution. No longer is it the case that the class divide in education is a simply matter of public versus private. Things are a whole lot more complicated for a whole lot more people – parents and children.

Here in BC, a number of years ago the province expanded what are called “district programs” in the public school system – specialized, targeted educational programs designed to give more choice and specialization in the public system, and to encourage in public schools some of what had previously only been offered in the private system. Not only French Immersion, which has a longer history, but also science and technology, other languages, sport and athletics, Montessori and and so on and so on. And the one that has shaped Mica so far – Fine Arts.

The year Mica began kindergarten, a new program was introduced for the first time – a Fine Arts program within the public school system, located in East Van. Some twenty-odd kids (going up 30 kids in later years) would be enrolled, and would move forward through school as a single class. They’d do all the basic curriculum, but a full 30% of class time would be devoted to the arts – dance, music, theatre and visual arts.

Well, that sounds promising, doesn’t it? After all the cuts to programs, something new, something local, within the public system, that offers some serious arts education. And a cohort model, too, in which they stay together as a unit year after year, so the kids form long-standing relationships and have a place of comfort and familiarity rather than the anonymous institution that the public school can so often be. We were sold, and had high hopes. But it didn’t take long for the cracks to emerge.

From the beginning, it became clear that while the school itself was diverse and reflected its community in terms of incomes, culture, ethnic backgrounds, family status, the Fine Arts program was something else altogether – virtually all-white, virtually all intact nuclear families, and a significantly higher income profile than the school at large. Surprise? No. All that was entirely to be expected. But I confess, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about that reality, or its implications.

Parents from the Arts program were vocal about resources for their children, were proficient at negotiating grants and contests to bring extra resources to the school, had strong fund-raising networks, and largely took the position that anything earned by their efforts should go exclusively to the Arts program. After all, they put in the time to support their own kids’ education,  and wouldn’t bother if the pay-off wasn’t there. This was the common refrain, and the school bought it, celebrating the profile and extras for the Arts program and doing little to address the schism that was emerging from the start.

On the kids’ side, similar tensions. Arts kids stuck together and a palpable snobbishness developed within a couple of years. The kids in the main school – drawn from the local neighbourhood – spoke openly about those Fine Arts ones who think they’re better than everyone else, and expressed significant resentment at the resources and public attention showered on the Arts program. Teachers, even, began to be split on the matter, those in the core school angered at the money flowing to Arts classrooms while they struggled to buy pencils and paper.

For a couple of years, I went to Parent Advisory Council meetings, I ranted about the inequities and the sense of entitlement, and with the few others who joined me I was encircled, isolated, shunned by a significant number of parents from the Arts program. But I never once seriously considered taking Mica out and putting her in a regular classroom at the local school. Why? Her friends, certainly – didn’t want to drag her from a place and people she loved for my politics. But also, some of what fed that exclusivity was still attractive to me. Kids together year after year. Classes in dance and music and theatre and art. Access to performances in-school and out. There was lots of value there, and I didn’t want to give it up. In short, because of my own place of privilege in the world, my kid had access to a kind of education most didn’t. And though I knew that also would imbue her and her friends with an ever-greater sense of entitlement and a skewed picture of her community, I didn’t want to give up on what was good.

Maybe that was the wrong decision. Maybe not. But, whichever it was, it was to some extent a selfish decision, and to a great extent a decision rooted in my own privilege. No denying that.

So, now high school looms ahead and we faced all the same issues. Mica wanted to leave the Arts program, and we were ready for her to leave. But for what? Local East Van high school? Perhaps. But of course, among her cohort at school the question was not a specialized program or not, but which specialized program for the remainder of the school years. And for us, too, the same old questions and issues. A 2000 kid high school is so big and so anonymous. The cohort system in these targeted minischools provides such a safe place, such lasting friendships, such close relationships with teachers. We obviously don’t want to lose that.

So the conversation began – what programs are available and where? In our neighbourhood, all the local schools have district programs – one arts-based, one focused on leadership and civic engagement, one focused on philosophy and literature, one on accelerated learning, and on and on and on. We studied them all. We went to info meetings. We weighed the pros and cons.

But what was clear was the legacy of entitlement we had instilled in these kids by giving them access to specialized learning programs. Mica and her friends all spoke of the schools they would go to, the extra things they would get to do. Never did it cross their minds that they could be denied admission, that most kids didn’t even get these choices, that most who applied would get turned down, that what they expected as their right in schooling was a tremendous privilege that only further exacerbated social inequities.

We talked about it alot. Meg and I and Mica had many conversations about the issues involved, and we did our damndest to remind her that if she applied for these programs, she was one kid among many, that most don’t even get the choice, and that any local school would be a good, safe place to be. We talked alot with Mica’s mom, who had some of the same questions as us but was very worried about the big anonymous school as an option. And at the end of the day, we still had to battle the contradictions of our own feelings. The importance of local neighbourhood schooling. The importance of teaching Mica that her community is a much more diverse place than she’s seen in her own classroom. The value in learning to negotiate diversity. The horrible exclusivity and entitlement underlying every such program – whether french immersion, Montessori, or specialized district minischool. Versus the value of a small cohort, the chance to be less anonymous to parents, teachers, peers. The extra focus on her own educational needs that such a program provides. The ability to maybe start high school with a few of her current friends. Contradictions and tensions.

At the end of the day, we settled on a deal. Apply for two minischools, but both housed in schools in our own community. If those didn’t pan out, she’d go to a local school, and we’d consider issues like where her friends were going in determining specifics. And, of course, she got accepted into her first choice. And so did many of her friends. So next September, Mica and 8 or 10 kids she’s known for many years start high school together, their little group set to comprise a third of the incoming class in the minischool. She was super-excited. We were proud of her and the work she did on her application. We were pleased the school was local, and lots of kids from the neighbourhood would be going to the same place, even if not to the same program. And we took some solace in the fact that the isolation is not complete, a few classes each year being taken with the scho0l at large, and a complete integration in grades 11 and 12. We all felt OK with the choice. We all felt that there’d been some compromise, some good discusion, and a happy ending.

But still, when all is said and done, we decided for privilege. We decided to support the special access Mica has by virtue of her family’s educational and class position. We decided that the pros of entitlement outweighed the cons. We decided to alter the terms of exclusivity, not abandon them. Because immersion in the real world of public schooling does have its costs. It is more anonymous. There is more chance to fall through the cracks. There have been serious cuts. There are less extras. There is less attention from teachers who are overworked and stretched too thin. And it ain’t easy to choose between the real-world life lessons a child needs to learn and the special opportunities that are available to some select few. It ain’t easy to decide which course is best for the child. Oh, I know clearly what is best socially. I know clearly that these kinds of programs only further split the public system into an underfunded core and a semi-private top tier. But it’s hard to ignore the other side when it’s your own kid. It’s hard to walk away from the benefits of privilege. Real fucking hard.

Schooling. Child-rearing. Community-building. Lots to negotiate, lots to struggle with, and lots of compromise on all sides.

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I am writing now, for the first time, with a pair of reading glasses across the bridge of my nose – not the result of the slowly-diminishing eyesight one expects at this age, but surgery on some crazy early cataracts I developed. My eyes generally had worked fine, but as the cataracts grew over , it became increasingly hard to see anything but a white haze. That, thankfully, is gone now, but I am left with an artificial lens which cannot see clearly at close range. Takes some getting used to. But I am certainly glad to have the sight back generally.

Much new in the little world of my own head these days. Have been working like hell to get our basement suite finished so we can have full use of our own home – something that in recent weeks has been weighing ever heavier on my mind as well as Meg’s. But we see an end in sight, and are expecting – or, more to the point, will be insisting on – having that space occupied next week so we can finally get everything organized and make a place that is just ours.

My own anxiety has broken, which is awesome, and I am once again in bliss-land on the home front. So so nice. Woke this morning from a dream I did not remember, but overwhelmingly feeling thankful for Meg. Y’know, all of us find challenges in our relationships – often, if not mostly, not because of the relationships themselves but because of the shit we bring with us – the lingering insecurities and doubts that seem to pop up periodically. And it is easy, when those are active, to become fixated on them and overlook what is real. I certainly feel like I fell into that space for a week or so there. And so today was so glad to wake particularly thankful, and particularly aware of all the adjustments Meg has made in order to be with me.

In particular, I’ve been thinking about child-rearing, because it is the time of year that we need to shuffle agendas, manage schedules, and generally sort out how daily life will look for the next few months. That involves a good deal of negotiation with my ex, and means that for a time I am pretty much entirely consumed by Mica’s schedule, Mica’s plans. And Meg? She is awesome through it all.

I was thinking, as I woke this morning, what a huge adjustment it is to go from single life to not only partnership but to life with a child, and that being with me has meant that Megan be willing to re-make life expectations and life realities to accommodate step-parenthood. So easy for those of us who are parents to forget that what has become simply the norm for us is something profoundly new for our partners. And how important it is to remind ourselves now and then what our past choices mean for those we love, and how much those people must take on. Tension with exes. Regular periods in which we become entirely consumed by something in our kids’ lives, and zone out of relationship-land. Constant feelings of in-between-ness, as parenting-life and partnership-life sit not always-comfortably together, and regularly compete. Tasks and outings disrupted by lessons, homework, birthday parties etc. As parents, we just get used to this, and eventually it comes to simply be what we expect. But for those who take this on in order to be with us, it’s not second-nature but change, and that’s hard. And th fact that someone makes that change for us is pretty fucking incredible, and deserves to be acknowledged and appreciated.

Anyway, Meg is awesome, and she and Mica have both gone above and beyond in their efforts to adjust to a new family and a new living arrangement. And today, for some reason, I am simply very very aware of that, and super thankful for both of them. Today, I am not taking for granted all that they both do to make this work. Today, I am focusing on appreciation.

In other news, it’s back to work, and not as bad as I anticipated. A wedding this weekend for two of the loveliest people I know, which I am super-looking forward to, and a tinge of dread as the event is also likely to involve some requirement to engage with bits of history I don’t especially want to engage with – as is always the case with gatherings such as this. I am song-writing, and reviewing old stories and poems as I consider submitting to the judgement of publishers, inspired by Meg’s recent move in this direction. And getting excited about the year to come, and all that is in store for us – John Prine with my great love, a Motorhead weekend with some of our favourite people, an unexpected but very welcome visit from the much-loved and much-missed Red Chris – and  garden and outdoor space and travel and more.

A rough August, but a pretty damn good September on the horizon, it seems to me. A time of hope and appreciation, with a home that’s all ours, a kid entering her last year of elementary school, and a feeling that the world is full of possibility and potential. Not bad. Not bad at all.

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Finding Home

Holy fuck it’s been crazy. For months now I’ve been waiting for my house to sell so Meg and I can find a place of our own, a little house for she and I and Mica to make home. We had a quick offer, and the deal fell through. We waited and waited and did countless showings and felt like things would never happen and got super-stressed about the constant moving back and forth and being stuck with a home we didn’t want and couldn’t really afford. If only, we thought, this house would sell, all would be clear and easy.

Then, of course, my home finally did sell. And with a move-out date of April 22, we started to focus on finding a new place for ourselves. The one on Charles we had previously offered on had fallen through when someone else stepped up with  cash in hand, so we were back to hitting the pavement. Lots of open houses, lots of viewings, lots of trips to the bank to talk financing options. Finally found a place about 10 days ago that seemed to solve it all.

Long story. Meg’s written about it here so I won’t bother with a re-cap of my own. But basically the house was falling apart, the sellers hadn’t bothered to warn us or the realtors, and we spent $500 on an inspection that killed the deal in minutes.

Back to square one. And with all this stress, and the prospect of being out of my own home in short order and nowhere to go, we both got real tense rel quick. After a day or so of simple panic and anxiety, we finally worked through our parameters for the new home – Meg moved on neighbourhood boundaries, I moved on price limitations, and we checked the listings again.

Lo and behold, a whole lot of stress and a little compromise from both of us and we found yet another possibility. Raced off to view it, fell in love, offered that night. Made the deal, hit the bank yet again, organized a new inspection and now will be finally lifting subjects this evening. Yes, that’s right. We have a new home.

Cute little place, with some gorgeous features including an awesome mosaic in the downstairs bath and an incredible master bedroom complete with in-room soaker tub. Completely unfinished basement so we can fix it up to our own specifications without too  much difficulty. Mica loves it, I love it, Meg loves it. A great location, on one of East Van’s nicest and most quiet streets, walking distance from Mica’s mom, close to friends of Mica’s and friends of ours, and still only 15 minutes walk from the Drive, the WISE Club, and the delis and small grocers of Hastings Sunrise.

Yeah. Finally. And it’s fucking perfect.

Lots of stress still, as we spend the next few days racing from bankers to lawyers to realtors to get all the paperwork done. But we know, this time, that it is all coming together. Our financing is approved. Our deal is made. Our inspection was great. And we have a super-quick move-in date – April 11, meaning some fast work now to get organized but only a few short weeks til we start the home-building for real.

Stressed. Busy. But so so happy.

Here’s pics of the new digs.

Whew!

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Y’know, there is so much to celebrate, so much to live for, so much to love and to appreciate, to savour and to revel in.

There is also, however, capitalism. And even on an individual, day to day level, capitalism fucks with us and fucks with all that is good and decent in the world.

The simple things that make life good – tasty food slow-cooked with wine and conversation; time to move and work your body and breathe deep and feel yourself get stronger; space to love slowly, to love playfully, to enjoy your partner; room to spend with a kid not doing anything but simply being together, making that open space that kids need to talk; mornings to sleep late, wake slow, taste coffee and cream. Music and literature and reflection and art. These are not great demands, in the grand scheme of the universe. But damned if capitalism doesn’t undermine them all.

The last few days I have really felt the conflict of demand and desire. Exercise, writing time, music, visits with friends once or twice a week – seems pretty reasonable. But Meg and I have been finding lately that these don’t happen unless we formally schedule them. Which means earlier risings, more hectic daytimes, later dinners. And which means, too, that nothing comes naturally, organically, but all is turned into yet one more task in a workday that starts before the office and ends long after.

Funny, that. Capitalism doesn’t simply turn our economic activity into work. It turns much of living into work as well, establishing such an order to the day that even those activities that start with  ‘I want to’ soon morph into ‘I have to’. So it’s a bit of a conundrum – a life organized around work does not offer the openness of time and space to allow art, exercise, play, sex, community, conversation to simply arise organically. If we want those things, we need to make them happen, by making them another thing in the calendar. But the very act of scheduling what should be lived takes its toll on those activities, changing the way we relate to them and changing, then, something core to those activities themselves.

Drag. Capitalism indeed. All life as economy, all life as work, all relationships – including relationships with our bodies, our minds, our human-ness – as tasks to be managed. But as much as this is troubling, as much as this frutrates and srresses and overwhelms, it is just as clear that we cannot simply refuse to schedule. Because writing and song and games and movement and love and community are all so integral to us. And I am not prepared to let them fall away simply because I am unwilling to live with the fact that they must take on a discipline and an order I would prefer to avoid.

Yeah, capitalism sucks. How disheartening that such fundamentals of our humanity –  time for loved ones, basic physical health, the raising of children and the building of community – have all become subordinated to labour, and now become things to be chased and nailed down rather than moments of everyday living. But I’m not giving them up. We’re not giving them up.

Sometimes even things that feel like tasks are worth fighting for.

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