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Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

Been on a bit of Jesus thing lately. Thinking about religion, considering the role it plays in our understandings of the world, its function as an ethical code, a yearning for something more, a mark of community boundaries and so on. And generally considering the importance that religious symbols and religious communities have had at various time in my life. (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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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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What Little Girls Are Made Of

It’s December 18, and my little girl is 11 years old today.
As I write this, I have just laid out all the newly-wrapped presents, called to sing to her – and woken up her mom in the process – and I wait to head out in the ice and snow to Burnaby Mountain for meetings.

Mica’s 11. Wow. And I can see so clearly now that the little girl years are done, and she’s moving into a new place. Just a short hop to adolescence, and I can see it already in her words and attitude, in her growing sense of individuality and her changing interests. And as sad as that sometimes makes me, it’s also very exciting, and I realize how proud I am of this kid.

When Mica was younger, I feared the pre-teen and teen years, imagining all the turmoil and pain and stupidity of my own life. And I’m sure some of that still lies ahead. But I also can begin now to see what this kid will be, who she is as she comes into herself. And she’s a kid who is caring, a kid who is confident and not afraid to speak her mind, a kid who is beginning to understand racism and power for herself, a kid who is asking interesting questions about the world and about human relationships.

Last week was report card week.  I looked it over, and the marks are fine. But what really struck me as most special was the teacher’s commentary. Mica is a joy in the class because she always works to ensure everyone is included in activities. Mica is particularly able to weather negativity around her without dwelling on it. Mica is well exceeding expectations in her ability to understand racism.

Y’know, this is the shit that matters to me as a parent. This is the stuff that tells me who this child is in the world when she goes out there on her own. And I couldn’t be prouder that those three concepts – inclusion of the community, positivity in her relations with the world, an understanding of power – are the three that her teacher sees in her and selects for comment.

It’s a funny time, that bridge from the child-years to the teen-years. Last week, I saw my kid and 15 more too-cool-for-school girls turn into five-year-olds again when they hopped onto a carousel at Heritage Village. This week my little girl asks her mom about some pretty sexually-explicit terminology and takes the answer all in stride without any discernable discomfort. Last week she snuggles up against me on the couch, her head on my chest like she did as a toddler. Yesterday she danced with a boy for the very first time.

It’s all bit overwhelming sometimes. It’s all a bit dizzying, as I watch this transition happen, as I notice how minute to minute the little girl comes and goes as the teen-to be makes more regular appearances. But I am mostly just feeling so so good about it. About Mica. About my ability to parent her through these next years. About the relationship developing between her and Megan. About the strength and optimism this child has shown over a very difficult year of much change and many hurt, tense, adults.About the family we are building with Megan, and Mica’s openness to that.

Happy birthday, kiddo. You have no idea how much you are loved. You have no idea that in writing this my eyes fill with tears and I can’t imagine anything better than you.

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A Not-So-Little Girl

Another school year. Grade six. How the fuck that happened, I don’t know. Certainly doesn’t feel like I’m any older, but all of a sudden here I am with a kid who’s moving past childhood to pre-adolescence.  Scary.

On the other hand, it’s looking like Mica’s finally got just a solid, good teacher – something that I pretty much gave up on some years ago. And that makes the return to school a whole lot better.

I find, though, that I am thinking alot about the growing-up process, about responsibility and safety, about confidence and autonomy. Kids today – at least urban kids of a certain class whose parents can afford to either be home with them or pay for child-care – live in a different world than even I did at that age. On the one hand, there’s a whole other media-blitz that surrounds them and that introduces them to some really inappropriate shit far too early (yes, that’s me sounding like an old man!). But on the other hand, they are coddled and protected and infantilized far more by parents afraid to let their children see and confront and adjust to the world as it is.

And I count myself in that group, too, without question. I have certainly been loathe to send Mica off into the world on her own too early, content to let her be a little girl for as long as she could, content to make sure I was always there at her side so she needn’t face anything she wasn’t entirely ready to face. And while there are times and contexts in which I think that was and remains the right choice, I also now find myself with a kid who is all of a sudden a pre-adolescent, who all of a sudden seems of the age that she should be more autonomous and confident in her autonomy, and yet who has never had to take the steps that build that confidence.

So….what all this means is that, suddenly, I find myself concerned with helping her along that path, dedicated to finding small ways for Mica to begin to step out into the world on her own. In practice, that means formal deals around chores for allowance. It means starting to experiment with walking home from school alone – today was day one of this test, arranged to be a day she was bringing a couple of friends home so it was alone without being alone. It means looking at posibilities for going to camp over the next year or so, and having a few days away from any parental figure. It means leaving her home alone for short periods – first twnety minutes, then half an hour, then an hour, and so on – so she begins to know that she can do it, and I begin to know that she can do it. It means focusing less on entertaining her every moment we’re together, and more on making the best of times to connect while also increasing the amount of time and space that she has to fill herself. It means stepping into new kinds of movies, new kinds of books, new kinds of music – some of which she finds on her own, some of which I introduce to see where it goes.

Yeah, it’s all very new, all very tentative still. But an important time, I think, and one that I am feeling it’s quite important to encourage and develop as much as possible over the next year.

Easy? No. I have my own fears to confront. Mica has hers, and I need to help her through them – that interesting mix of wanting autonomy so bad but being a bit afraid of it, too. And Mica’s mom is not quite at the place I am – understanding that Mica needs to grow and start expanding, but less inclined than I to just get up one day and have her try something new.

So, all in all it promises to be a year of some transition, a great deal of growth, and no doubt a succession of minor crises as well. But that’s OK. In fact, that’s probably just what we need. Cause it won’t be long before this kid is entirely adolescent. It won’t be long before she’ll need to make her way around the city on transit, head off to do things with friends, take up activities independent of her mom or dad. Am I ready for it? Some days, yes, others no. But do I need it? Absolutely, Cause my kid needs it to become first a teenager and then a young adult who feels strong, capable, confident, and knows how to deal with the world around her – what to expect, and how to handle the unexpected. Wow. Tough task.

And I thought helping her learn to read and add and subtract was a challenge….

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Last night, I was supposed to be amid 10,000 denim- and leather-clad headbangers, screaming, singing, and generally rocking out with Rob Halford, icon of queerdom in heavy metal, and his bandmates, icons of metal more generally. Judas Priest.

Alas, it was not to be. With my ex moving out last week, and me moving upstairs next, and a very full summer-schedule overall, these few days became the only opportunity to get Mica over to visit my folks for a few days and to arrange Meg’s meeting of the parents.

Instead of breaking out the leather, stepping into Dayton’s, and reaching back into the closet for the tightest and most torn-up jeans I can find, I entertained myself with a bike-ride along a country road, a scurry 35 feet up a tree to retrieve a child who climbed too high too fast, a few hours with a country-folk band on the beach, and a sunset over the lagoon while kids splashed and played in the old pipes that connect wetland to ocean.

Not the day I was planning a few weeks ago, but a good day nonetheless. And while I’ll admit to pangs of regret and a yearning for crunching guitars and operatic odes to rough sex around about 9:00, I was pretty damned content. Meg had changed plans last minute and was on her way up to join us a day earlier than expected, and knowing that I’d have my girl with me for the night was easily enough to compensate.

It’s been a challenging time for us lately, as you’ll know if you read Meg’s blog regularly. Not a bad time. Indeed, last weekend was simply awesome, as I wrote about here. But a challenging one, as we increasingly work to integrate our time with family time.

That means we need to manage a child’s schedule, and her mom’s, in a way we haven’t before. That means Meg needs to get used to even more shifting ground in the hows and whats of planning. That means I need to shift my sense of family from me and my child to me, my child and Megan. That means Mica needs to adjust herself to a new adult in her life while processing her mom’s move and a new home at the same time. It means all of us are stepping into a new place – a new set of relationships, a new set of expectations, a new version of ‘family’ that is only just beginning to be made.

A while ago I wrote here about a conversation with Megan in which we discussed this process as similar in some respects to the arranged-marriage. And I still think that holds. But we’ve moved from theory to practice, from the abstract to the concrete, and that’s not an easy walk.

Still, we do pretty well, for the most part. Meg and I both feel loved and cherished. We have loads of fun and awesome conversations and great alone-time. We are enjoying cooking and sharing meals, and both getting healthier than we have been, and finding we support each other well in that process. And Mica’s handling all the transitions incredibly well, articulating what she needs when she needs it, talking about what’s hard sometimes, but still stepping up to make this process successful.

Yeah, it’s got its moments of anxiety and tension, and we’re all struggling with our insecurities and expectations as we merge lives. But I’m hopeful through it all, because there is so much more love than hurt, so much more laughter than sadness, so much more promise than fear.

And this weekend, through all of this, missing a metal show ain’t the end of the world. There are many more concerts to come, many more opportunities to feel my ears bleed. And sunsets like this one, with kids swimming and warm salty air and a lover on her way…these are pretty damn precious.

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