Her Bad Mother

Friday, February 15, 2008

Blades Of Glory

If there was any doubt that my daughter is, indeed, Canadian, this should settle it: she has, at the age of two, decided that she wants to be a hockey player.

(She also wants to be a princess, which she does not see as posing any contradictions to her hockey aspirations. She will be, she informs us, Princess Hockey. That's a whole 'nother post.)

She has to learn to skate, first. We're working on that. She's picking it up pretty quickly, except for the part where she keeps insisting upon leaving the rink to find hockey sticks, and real hockey players:

Which I would probably find more interesting if I were patriotic enough to get enthusiastic about hockey and hockey players. But I'm not. My Canadian-ness stops somewhere between maple syrup and Broken Social Scene. So. The toddler-wants-to-be-a-hockey-princess thing? Only cool inasmuch at it represents an interesting implosion of gender expectations. And, perhaps, inasmuch as it compels my husband to don hockey skates and flex his butt-muscles. Otherwise, I'd have to say that I'd rather she take up violin. Which she could totally do in a hockey outfit. And I wouldn't have to freeze my ass off and drink bad coffee at an ice rink.

I joke. I love that she wants to play hockey in a tutu. Subverting princess-ism and hockey machismo all in one go. Now if we could just get the boy, when he arrives, to aspire toward cowboy-violin artistry, or ballerina-firefighting, we'll be a post-graduate gender studies seminar.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Confession of the Green Pickle Martian

It was sometime in the very early eighties, in that time when, if you lived in the suburbs, the seventies still hadn't ended. I was in grade school - grade four, specifically - and I was about as awkward as they come at that age: tall and skinny and shy and cursed with a coarse mass of wavy dirty-blonde hair that my mother tried to keep tamed in pigtails that looked more like rough shipping rope than the shining plaits that I hoped for. I was always made to stand in the back row with the boys for class pictures. I was always ignored. I was always picked second-last for sports teams, even though I was a really good athlete, skinny legs and all.

Getting picked last was an honor reserved for one unfortunate Greg Appleby, nicknamed Greg-The-Egg for his large and indisputably egg-shaped head. I didn't properly appreciate the social buffer that he provided for me at the time - I was new to the neighbourhood, and the school, and all I knew was that a) some of the kids were really mean, and b) they were meaner to Greg-The-Egg than they were to me. I was grateful, of course, for his existence, which meant that I was only ever a secondary bullying target, but I didn't appreciate that the buffer he provided was a tenuous one, and I certainly didn't appreciate the possibility that he might have been a useful ally in efforts to survive the social jungle of Miss Myhill's grade four class. So I always hung back when the mean kids were teasing him, pretending to not hear the taunts, and I was always very careful to never, ever be seen anywhere in his proximity, lest the bullies turn their attention to me.

Which, of course, they inevitably did.

It was the day that I decided to come to school in my favourite outfit. This particular outfit was a real prize - a two-piece pantsuit of bright, Kermit-green satin with a shimmery orange roller skate decal across the back that I ordinarily reserved for the spontaneous roller-dancing performances that I sometimes staged for my parents and sister in our carport (favoured soundtrack: Blondie's Heart Of Glass) - and for some reason that I cannot for the life of me recall, I decided to indulge in a little sartorial daring and wear it to school one sunny Monday morning.

The schoolyard response was immediate.

Look at the fuzzy-headed pickle! Whatcha wearin', Fuzzy Head? What are you, Fuzzy, a martian? A green pickle martian?


Their words were not, by today's standards, obscenely cruel, but to say that those words rang and burned in my ears would not only be a lazy turn of descriptive phrase, it would be understating the aural and psychological experience so dramatically as to render it meaningless. Their words, and the fear and shame that they inspired, scorched my heart and burned into my psyche: I can still hear the precise intonation of their taunts, the nyah-nyah-nyah-NYAH-nyah rhythm - a sing-song rhythm that you could skip to, if you were in the mood for skipping, which I emphatically was not - as clearly as if those kids were still standing two feet away from me. I can remember wishing - and can still feel the visceral, gut-pulling force of that wish - that it would just stop just stop just stop now, that the taunts would suddenly cease and that the children would just fall away, as though drawn back like a curtain, so that I could just go inside and disappear inside my head until lunchtime, at which point I would go home and make up some story for my mother about why I had to change out of my beloved outfit and into something a little less Xanadu.

And I can remember wondering where Greg-The-Egg was. I can remember wondering if he was nearby - I knew, somehow, that he must be nearby, listening, and I knew that he would be feeling the same generalized gratitude for whatever green-satin-disco miracle had caused the bullies to direct their venom toward me that I had long felt toward him - and I can remember wishing, hard, that wherever he was, his glasses would suddenly fall off or that he would pick his nose or that he would do something, anything, to draw everyone's attention away from me, away from me and back to him, back to where, I thought, meanly, terribly, that it belonged. I remember, clearly, feeling my heart turn in on itself, feeling it turn sad and dark and ashamed. And mean. I remember wanting the tables to be turned on everyone there, starting with Greg-The-Egg. I remember feeling small, and mean.

Because here's the thing: despite the romanticized image that we sometimes see in TV or film of the virtuous geek nobly withstanding bullying, picking up his broken glasses and placing them defiantly on his nose, being bullied doesn't make one a better person. It doesn't, in the moments that it occurs, fertilize an inner core of strength and dignity and compassion that will grow into some noble sensitivity that is made manifest in generosity of spirit and consideration toward all others. It hardens the heart, makes it tougher, makes one crawl into herself and build a great stony wall around all of the emotional wiring that is tucked away back there and then hide there and peer out at the cold, scary world suspiciously, cowardly. Sure, I grew up - I think - into a good person with a caring heart and a better-than-average capacity for compassion, but those few intense experiences of being bullied didn't contribute to that character development. Rather, the things that did contribute to the development of my character - the constant and well-demonstrated love of my family, the abundance of humor in the home that I grew up him, my parents' unwavering example, etc, etc - enabled me to overcome the emotional injuries that I sustained through that year and a half or so of being bullied, of being frightened, of feeling, so much of the time, so powerless. It was, I think, the love and support that abounded in my home that prevented the wounds of bullying from scarring over into kind of intractable toughness, or into some permanent burden of shame or fearfulness. (I remained the scapegoat of that schoolyard, alongside Greg-The-Egg, who I never did befriend, for the rest of the year and much of the following summer - sometimes being pushed around on the playground, sometimes being followed on my walk home and taunted with childish threats, always being shunned and teased - until we moved away.)

So when someone says, I'd like for my kids to be bullied and teased; it's good for them; it builds character, I recoil. Sure, it's good for children to experience disappointments, and to learn that things don't always go their way and that the world is not always a warm and welcoming place, but those kinds of lessons can come from sources less extreme than the experience of being bullied - of being targeted for humiliating attack, of being hunted and tormented in any degree. No child should ever, ever experience that - and no parent should ever tolerate it being visited upon their child or visited by their child upon others.

I expect that my child will experience all sorts of hurts and disappointments - I want her to experience some hurts and disappointments - and I expect that it will take some effort on my part to maintain my parental composure as I witness these. But I never want her to feel the hurt and the shame and the insidious, creeping meanness that comes with being bullied. Never. if that makes me over-protective, I don't care.

This Green Pickle Martian has never forgotten that schoolyard.

Monday, February 11, 2008

In Which My Dignity - Such As It Were - Finally Plummets Headlong Into The Abyss

WARNING: this post is not for the squeamish or the faint-of-heart, or for anyone who clings stubbornly to the entirely misguided idea that I am in way or in any kind a noble or dignified creature. If, however, you have a strong stomach and you long to point fingers at me and cackle 'ha-ha-ha-HA-ha,' this post is for you.

My doctor, bless her overfunctioning heart, had the grace to look sheepish when she said, "we're going to need to do another full examination."

Me: "Again? Because I distinctly remember having to take my pants off for an examination last month. And I took the little vials to the lab myself, when I went for my blood test. I never forget a blood test."

Her: "I know. But I don't have any lab results recorded for you, and I can't figure out what happened."

So we had to do the test again. Which meant, of course, the discomfiting indignity of having one's insides probed and prodded when they're at their most sensitive. And this without the benefit of flowers and chocolates. Not that I regularly receive flowers and chocolates as an accompaniment to internal probing, but one always hopes.

And then I bitched about it publicly. Why does my doctor keep sticking her hand up my parts, I asked? And why, I continued, in bad temper, does it bother me, especially after one difficult pregnancy, during which there were umpteen internal probes, and all the complications of this pregnancy - apart from lost lab results - that have required undignified leg-spreading and belly-baring and reception of needles? Why have I not been able to keep my chin up as it all goes down, and is it really my problem that I can't cope and who says that I need these tests anyway and to whom do I submit my complaints?

I was still feeling testy (no pun intended) a week later - just this past weekend, actually - as I rummaged around in my bag for yet another piece of paper with doctor scrawl that would send me to my next (mercifully radiographic) test. Stupid doctors, I grumbled to myself. Gotta get me a midwife, or maybe just some nice older lady with a bucket and a tarp, a copy of A Prairie Home Companion To Birthin' Babies and maybe some warm biscuits.

Then my hand brushed against what felt like a tube, or a vial, and then against something that felt like a little container in a medical-grade plastic baggie. And then, I think, I may have actually gulped audibly.

Was it possible - under some god-forsaken scenario known only to pregnant women with hormone-addled brains - that I had been carrying around the materials swabbed out of my body during a gynecological examination - in, granted, medical-grade storage bits, but still - in my handbag FOR OVER A MONTH?


I had. I had neglected to take those little vials and bottles with their nether region innard scrapings to the lab. And had been carrying them around in my handbag for WEEKS, oh my hell.

So it was that I had to slink down the stairs and ask my husband whether he had any idea about how to safely dispose of medical waste. And then empty and fumigate my purse and wash my hands, like, six thousand times (medical-grade storage baggies and all that, but still) and then rinse out my lightly vomited-in mouth. And then go sit and contemplate the final and complete annihilation of my dignity.

And then recount it for you here. Because if one's attachment to one's dignity is held only by the merest thread, one might as well give it a snip and send it on its way for good, and be done with it.

Contents of HBM's bag, under ordinary circumstances: be very, very grateful that I did not have the presence of mind or the total disrespect for the memory of my dignity to take pictures of the contents in their last incarnation.