Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Hard Times for Schools

A little over two weeks ago I attended the 30th anniversary reunion for my high school graduating class.  It was amazing, emotional, and enlightening.  I thoroughly enjoyed touring the old school, seeing the stained-glass windows over the main entrance that I had helped to put together, and speaking to many people that I hadn't seen since graduation.

One of the servers that night at the pub where the main party was held turned out to also be a graduate of the same high school from four years ago.  I was told that he said, "I was looking through your Grad Yearbook, and I can't believe how many clubs and teams you guys had. The school didn't have any of that when I was there.  We got the football team back but that was it.  You guys were pretty lucky."

We certainly were lucky.  I remember so many activities and teams from my time there.  There was intramural football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, field hockey, and track.  Student clubs included board games, chess, computers, cooking, debating, Tae Kwon Do, and theatre.

Unfortunately, a succession of cutbacks at all levels of government have forced many schools to stop holding clubs and raising sports teams.  Even the better-funded schools are struggling.  Last year, one of the city's most prestigious private girls' schools closed due to declining enrollment and lack of financial support.  Another is going co-ed next year in order to prevent the same.

Our daughter's grade school depends on parents and volunteers for almost everything.  There's no full-time librarian or school nurse.  The classes hold regular bake and craft sales to finance their activities, and twice a year there are big fundraisers where the kids have to sell boxes of chocolate or coffee around the neighbourhood.  The school can't even seem to afford to repair its flagstaff and fly the flags that it ought to.  Every single school I ever attended proudly flew the Canadian and provincial flags out front... but our daughter's school can't.

How sad that education has been relegated to the bottom of the well.

Monday, 29 June 2015


Having a child with a mercurial temperament who potentially might have ADHD and/or autism is very difficult to deal with, even more so for other children who might not understand.  Our daughter wants to socialize and have friends but doesn't seem to retain any understanding of the "rules" for doing so even though both my husband and I have patiently explained on multiple occasions how she should behave.

I do feel sorry for her.  She was anticipating being invited to a friend's birthday today, and spent the entire day indoors waiting for a phone call that never came, despite the fact that I called them twice and left messages.  Other friends who had previously invited her to their birthdays did not do so this year.  The last two years that I've hosted birthday parties for her, only a fraction of the invitees showed up - the rest never even bothered with an RSVP.

There's no doubt this happened because of her behavioral issues.  It has caused us all no end of frustration and disappointment.  It has also disappointed me in the respect that so many people can't or won't understand how to get along with her.  I'm tired of always having to be the one to reach out and call her "friends" to arrange play-dates.  If these people don't bother to call or return messages it's clear that they want little to do with her.

She's an intelligent girl and she knows that she's being ostracized.  But she often can't help behaving the way she does, which just makes things worse.  It came as no surprise that at a recent doctor's evaluation we were told that she was immature for her age, because she does tend to get along better with kids younger than her.

Unless we can get her to truly understand what she needs to do and how she needs to behave, she will forever be on the fringes of society.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

America vs. Canada

There has been an image going around Facebook of a map of the U.S. that has been divided up into "nations".  It includes the southern part of Canada as well; Quebec has the appelation "New France", Ontario has been lumped in with the American "Midlands", and the Maritime provinces have been made part of "Yankeedom".  The image is attached to an online quiz entitled "Which of the Eleven American Nations do You Belong In?"

Um. No. Just... NO.

A friend of mine, a fellow Canadian and a school teacher, has written a terrific rebuttal:

Ontario is not, in any way, politically, culturally, historically, linguistically, part of "Midlands".

Case in Point: There is no real correspondence between our political systems, values, or scope, and yours.  Your two-party representative system is narrow and crabbed and skewed to the right.  We have more parties with more of a spectrum of policies.  The first question [in the quiz] omits any of those options and mistakenly and simplistically lumps our Liberals in with your Dems and our Conservatives in with your Republicans.  It ain't that simple.

Our Liberals still maintain some of the leftover resonances of classical liberalism - so they are tied to the business community in a much more clear and open and unapologetic way than any Dem Pol could ever be.  Our Conservatives do have a grafted-on reactionary element that could, if you squint, look like a Tea Party... Just not as loonie.  The Religious/Social element of the party is withering on the vine.  Our Conservatives stand in support of single payer health care, not the kludged together ACA that Americans have had to settle for.  We have a government directed health system.  You have government mandated insurance markets.  Big difference.

We have a bona fide Socialist Party that has a very good chance of winning the next national election.  In Ontario the leader of the provincial Cons, a social conservative, marched in this week's Gay Pride Parade.

Our version of "Fox News" up and died last year.  It was widely seen as a joke.

Case in Point: The Great Lakes Vowel Shift.  Check out the accent in Buffalo and Detroit, now check out the accents across the rivers in Niagara Falls and Windsor.

Case in Point: Gun Culture.  We have about 1/4 the guns per capita than you do.  One would expect that we would have 1/4 the per capita gun fatalities/gun crime.  Nowhere close.  Chicago has 400-500 gun deaths a year.  Toronto, about the same size, has fewer than 60.

We do not have a death penalty, and no one has been executed here for 50+ years.

Case in point: Political Culture.  Winter teaches us that we can make noise all we want that we are rugged individualists who can build it all on our own... but reality is that we are all in this together. Our founding documents based on 300 years of colonial experience and an appreciation for winter, mention our summit values as "Peace, Order, and Good Government".  Yours are "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness".

Case in Point: History. Your country was founded on the violent overthrow of one faction of Bourgeois land owners by another faction of Bourgeois landowners.  In that way you all were inculcated with the mistaken belief that something vital and important was exceptionally changed, and that such illusory changes can be made through violence.

Canada was founded by French colonists and explorers who were too late to get to the good bits, British Loyalist refugees from American ethnic cleansing, and Native Peoples who somehow survived the wars between them.  We were founded by Fur, Railroad, and Resource interests as a collection of company towns.  A bunch of losers in a place we didn't own.

But something funny happened. We too tried armed revolt, but all that taught us was that we weren't as good at it as the Americans seemed to be, and the aftermath taught us that the real strength wasn't in direct armed resistance, but in political pressure.  We have slowly discovered our own strength and our own directions.

Case in Point: Immigration.  We have a higher percentage of our population being first generation immigrant than you do.  And the gap is getting bigger.  We also eschew any talk of "melting pot" and encourage people to keep their culture and language.

This image might have some information on American reality, but leave Canada out of it.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Medical Journey

Normally I don't like to air private family matters, but since many people I know have had positive experiences with writing about their journeys, I will endeavour to do so as well.

People who know me on Facebook and/or have read my previous blogs know that we've been having difficulties with our daughter, whom I refer to as "Missy".  Since she started school she has been noted as having difficulties in socializing with other kids, and keeping focused in the classroom.  At first this was attributed to the fact that she was raised at home instead of going to daycare, although I had made efforts to get her to play with other children her age.

Her Kindergarten and Grade One teachers reported that she was occasionally disruptive in class, and had a habit of throwing a tantrum or otherwise freaking out when something unexpected happened or if she didn't get her way.  We decided then to look into having a psychologist evaluate her, knowing that our nephew had a similar problem and it took several years to get him the proper treatment.

We formally began the process with the school at the beginning of her Grade Two year.  After numerous observation sessions and filling out of forms, we finally had a meeting with the school principal, Missy's homeroom teacher and teacher's assistant, the board's speech pathologist, and a child psychologist.

Missy's speech and academics are average or above average for her grade level, so that's not an issue.  Preliminary indications are that she has some form of ADHD and/or autism.  Getting a formal diagnosis and treatment for such however, will be a long and at times frustrating journey - if what happened with our nephew is any indication.

We took the first step this past week, only to end up several steps backward.  After we saw a pediatrician for another evaluation, he recommended a child psychologist, who unfortunately turned out to be on maternity leave until January.  The psychologist's office referred us to a clinic, who told me that they only take patients who are students at McGill University.  The clinic suggested calling the Children's Hospital.  The Children's asked us to send in our referrals by fax (Seriously? Who uses fax any more?) and wait for them to call us.

So we're back to Square One unless our "inside agent" at the Children's (we know someone who works there) can help get us back on track.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Gun Culture

Today's shooting in Charleston SC has, as such events often do, brought out all the armchair experts and discussion groups, each giving their own spin on what everyone should consider a national tragedy.

What we know is that a mentally unbalanced young man who habitually posted racist diatribes online somehow got a gun (some sources claim it was given to him for his birthday) and sat in a black church's Bible study session for an hour before slaughtering almost all of the attendees.  As he did so, he reportedly yelled "I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country."  Nine people died, including the pastor, who also was a state Senator.

The man's family is firmly declining to give interviews.

A visibly shaken and tired President Obama said, point-blank, that violence like this "doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency."  Statistically, the United States has the highest number of gun-related deaths per year of any industrialized country.

Yet there are still those who believe that they must protect their Second Amendment rights at all costs.  They purchase military grade semi-automatic rifles, have their own children take firearms lessons, insist that everyone from airplane pilots to schoolteachers should have a gun for "protection", and even go so far as to disobey the established gun control laws; all backed by the powerful lobby group called the National Rifle Association.  There's currently a movement in Washington State whose motto is "We Will Not Comply" - relating to a state law which requires gun owners to submit to background checks.

The authors of the Second Amendment originally intended it for keeping "a well regulated militia" in case of attack, because the country had just fought a revolution at great cost.  Even the Preamble to the Constitution states "...establish Justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense".

There are enough guns in the U.S. for every single man, woman, and child.  That is not for the common defense.  And that is certainly not what the founders of the country would have wanted.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015


Within the last two months our daughter "Missy" has been increasingly resistant to any form of discipline for unwanted behaviour.  When confronted with the problem she will talk back, refuse to accept the discipline, claim that it was somebody else's fault that she behaved badly, or avoid the situation altogether by running away and shutting herself in her room.  It's clear that she has no respect for either of us.

We've had her evaluated by school officials and the evidence points to ADHD.  That give us something to educate ourselves about, so that we can learn how to better manage Missy's moods and give encouragement and correction accordingly.  But we still need to adjust our way of thinking, because the kinds of discipline or punishment that worked for us 40 years ago won't work for Missy.

But what is true discipline anyway?

Science-fiction author David Gerrold wrote: "In real life, discipline is an artificial construct; useful as a way of achieving goals, but not necessarily the goal itself.  In real life, authority is an artificial construct; useful for creating and maintaining productivity in institutions of various sizes, but not the sole channel of human interaction.  And in real life, attempting to treat others as if they are part of your self-defined authoritarian world-view is self-destructive."

My husband's view is that the family is not a democracy; what the parents say goes, end of story.  Yes, children need boundaries but when enforcement of those boundaries is too harsh or too lenient, it can create a backlash that causes resentment all around.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Money or Respect

For almost a year, police officers and other municipal employees in Quebec have been wearing camouflage pants or other non-standard leg wear to protest the provincial government's reforms on municipal pensions.  According to the government, the pension plans carry a collective deficit and are not sustainable in the long term.  Municipal employees are accusing the government of breaking faith with previously-established contracts.

The situation came to a head last week when a former Premier of Quebec passed away, and the officers who worked security at the state funeral were not wearing their full uniforms.  This resulted in a public backlash, with many saying that the officers were extremely disrespectful to have done so.  The mayor of the city of Montreal has stated that he has had enough and will lobby the government to pass legislation to force municipal workers to get back into uniform.

It's difficult to say if that would be going too far.  The Superior Court of Quebec effectively granted the workers the right to wear the pants as a means of protest, because they have no mandate to strike.  Any further action by the government would be seen as changing the rules to suit themselves.  No matter what contract has been negotiated and agreed upon, no matter that it is legally binding, the government can just create a law to void the contract.

On the other hand, the original contracts were unsustainable from the get-go.  As an example, Montreal firefighters had a pension plan that effectively paid them full salary when they retired after putting in more than 25 years of service.  In order to safeguard this arrangement, eighty firefighters retired en masse in June of 2014 because they didn't want to lose money that they felt they were entitled to.

It's a tricky situation, especially when it's being underlain with disrespect on both sides.  The way some see it, the government is eroding the things that built our country and way of life: the right to disagree, negotiate, protest, strike, and be heard.  Are we living in a free democracy or in a totalitarian state?  Politicians seem to have way too much power, when we as a population should be telling them what we expect of them.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Huge Frog Tales

Some stories are just too unbelievable to be true.  We all know at least several old wives' tales or wacky web tales.  But I have a story that I call the Huge Frog Tale.  I was reminded of this at the reunion of my high school graduating class that I attended this past weekend, when someone - I don't remember who - asked about the frog pendant that I was wearing.  I didn't get a chance to relate the tale to the asker, so I'm writing it here for folks to enjoy.

Way back before the Internet became widely accessible I was a member of what was called a Bulletin Board System or BBS for short.  These were personal computers connected to a phone line via modem, that outside callers with a similar setup could phone in and contribute to discussions on various subjects.

During one such discussion I mentioned that I was a collector of frogs.  Someone mistakenly thought that I actually had real frogs in some sort of a terrarium setup, and I had to correct him by telling him that I actually collected porcelain figurines.  Upon seeing this, a forum member named Rob who was a real joker said "Frogs say Ribbit, horny toads say Needit, but when a 2000 pound frog speaks, everyone listens!"  Another member named Phil added to the joke by saying that I had an invisible 2000-pound frog named Nathaniel as a pet or guardian, who would stomp on anyone who dared to mess with me.

A number of years later I was having a rough time personally as my first marriage had broken down and I was experiencing anxiety attacks.  I had a good friend named Tammy who was into new-age spirituality, paganism, and that sort of thing.  At some point I told her the joke about the 2000-pound frog and she seized upon it, saying that it might help if I had a physical representation of that idea.  So she gave me that frog pendant, and I called it Nat.

Since then I've worn Nat whenever I've been out of the house for long periods of time, or when I travel somewhere.  I don't really need the emotional crutch any more since it has been thirteen years since the divorce went through and I'm now happily remarried.  But it's still a pretty pendant, and a good story.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Mental Health

We had a meeting today with the main players: hubby and myself, the school principal, homeroom teacher and teacher's assistant, the board's speech pathologist, and child psychologist.

Our daughter's speech, comprehension, and academics are average or above average for her age, although there are still some areas that require work.  Her biggest problem is her difficulty with peer social interaction, particularly in larger groups.  She either avoids it altogether, or she will be too blunt or disruptive until other kids will react negatively toward her, which feeds her anxiety to the point of meltdown.

Preliminary testing shows she most likely has some form of ADHD and there are also some hints on the autism spectrum. We've sent a referral for a professional medical evaluation but who knows how long that will take, given the slow Quebec provincial system.  In the meantime we now have some tools and strategies that will better enable us to help her.

I admit there have been times that I've felt I've failed at parenting. There have been days where I've been reduced to tears because our daughter refused to listen and was blatantly disrespectful.  Time-out doesn't work.  Removal of privileges doesn't work often.  I use corporal punishment only when absolutely necessary but even that doesn't make her understand that what she's doing is unacceptable.

However after this meeting my husband and I now need to educate ourselves on how to best deal with the situation, because what we often think of as the "standard" parenting approach isn't sufficient.  We can't compare our daughter's behaviour to our own at that age.  It's not fair to her and doesn't take her idiosyncrasies into account.

Friday, 5 June 2015


If you're a woman of child-bearing age living in the state of Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, or Indiana: Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Anti-abortionists in these states, and at least 30 others, are using the legal system to twist the laws around in order to enable the prosecution of women who lose their babies due to accident or miscarriage.  Not to mention, stripping all women of their rights to determine how their pregnancy should proceed.

2010: An Iowa mother-to-be accidentally fell down the stairs in her home, went to the ER and expressed concern to a nurse about her baby.  The attending doctor called the police and she was arrested for attempted murder of her unborn child.

2013: A pregnant Wisconsin woman was detained at a drug treatment facility against her will, despite the fact there was no evidence she was using drugs while pregnant.

2013: A woman in Indiana suffered a miscarriage at home.  Frightened by the possible negative reaction of her family she attempted to hide the dead fetus.  She was promptly put on trial for murdering the baby and now faces years in prison.

There are more examples that are just as chilling.  What is wrong with this picture?  We are in North America.  We are not in Iraq or Saudi Arabia where women are subject to every whim of the male members of their families.  We are no longer in the nineteenth century.  Women have worked hard to be allowed access to higher education, to be eligible to vote, to receive a fair wage.  Why do American women now have to fight for control of their own bodies?

It's for the same reason that women in many other countries are not allowed to attend school.  It's the reason that women in certain professions have to work twice as hard as the men to get ahead, and often endure many forms of abuse in the process.  Many men are too afraid that women will become more powerful and usurp what they feel is rightfully theirs, rather like an "old boys club".

We've had enough of this medieval nonsense.  There are currently twenty-four countries that have female heads of state and there have been many others in the past.  Even the United States stands a good chance of electing its first female President in a year or so.  It's time for these backward men to deal with it.

One final message for the anti-abortionists who call themselves "pro-life".  All you want is for the baby to be born.  You don't care what happens to it or to its mother afterwards.  You don't care about whether that baby gets adequate medical care, nurturing, education, or anything.  Just as long as it gets born.

That's not pro-life.  It's pro-BIRTH.