Boing

There are a lot of posts and memes going around right now about how much we Gen Xers are showing quarantine/social distancing who’s boss. At the risk of sounding like a crotchety member of the older generation, it’s true. In our day we had to play with pet rocks for chrissakes!

Sometimes it feels like the kids of today have it all.

And by all, I mean things like devices that cost hundreds of dollars and provide endless hours of fun and excitement. When I was a kid, it was mind-boggling to have, like, Atari. (We never had Atari.) Even a game as low-budget as a Wonderful Waterful was pretty entertaining. (And honestly, I don’t know if we actually had one of those either.)

Remember these? My dentist used to give me and the sibs these to play with while he tortured treated us. My kids get to watch whatever they want on Netflix at the dentist.

Back in the heyday of the 80s, when you went over to a friend’s house, you played outside in the backyard. Completely unsupervised of course. My brother and his friend used to light GI Joes on fire using cans of Lysol spray to incinerate them.

But I digress. Back to the backyards. Many people had a swing-set. Usually one of those ordinary aluminum ones that threatened to come out of the ground if you got the swings going too fast. Others had fancier ones with monkey bars and slides.

If there was no play structure, then you just picked dandelions or did cartwheels in the grass or something. We really, really did have to make our own fun. Okay, sometimes there was a sprinkler to run through as well.

Occasionally though, you’d go to someone’s house and – wait for it – they would be in possession of the most fun, the most dangerous piece of backyard apparatus that existed. The trampoline.

It was such a rarity that I only remember jumping on one a few times in my childhood. Maybe I was just running with the wrong crowd. Naturally, there were no safety nets or padding on the springs. Without doubt, those things were the cause of any number of cranial injuries or broken limbs.

Somewhere along the line though, someone got smart about trampoline design. Now, you will basically never see one without netting around it. And you will see a lot of trampolines because everyone seems to have one. Not having one is also okay, because you can just go to a trampoline park, another amazing thing that didn’t exist in the 80s.

Last year, our lack of outdoor fun became a bone of contention between the husband and I. I decided I wanted to buy a trampoline for our very small, urban backyard. I’d put aside some money and wanted to spring for (groan, I know) a compact, quite expensive trampoline. Fun and safety together. My husband was more inclined to allow our children to play with rocks or dandelions.

My kids were not going to have the kind of deprived childhood I had. Although I knew it would pretty much fill the backyard, I did it. I bought it, it was delivered, and my husband put it together with only a modicum of complaint. (He deserves kudos for assembling it for us despite the weather, which if memory serves was a very sleety kind of rain.)

He thought that they would lose interest in it after a couple of weeks. But a year later, those dire predictions have yet to come true.

The trampoline is, along with ice cream, keeping everyone sane right now.

This terrible photo was taken through the back door, because it was probably 4 degrees outside. T-shirt weather!

“Go outside and jump on the trampoline for a few minutes,” is a phrase the kids have been hearing a lot of over the last few weeks.

What’s keeping you sane?

Juicy

Now that we’ve all got all the time on our hands, it’s a good moment to dust off that juicer that’s been suffering neglect in your cupboard. I’ve had this baby below for, probably, sixteen years.

Breville makes a durable juicer. Circa 2005?

When we’re going through health-kick phases, it lives on the counter, so that everyone knows what kind of a**holes we are when they come into the house. Otherwise, we keep it in an annoyingly inaccessible cupboard, making daily use impossible.

It’s back on the counter now! Because if the Internet has taught me something, it’s that celery juice can cure anything if consumed in the correct quantities.

Juice doesn’t have to be that hard. It doesn’t need to taste like grass to do you good. I usually just throw a bunch of stuff in there with carrot as a base. (Because cheap)

In these crazy times, food waste has become a cardinal sin. Making juice is also a great way to use up fruit and veggies that have gone a bit past prime.

Carrots, apples, etc. Whatever you want, really.

The biggest bonus of all is watching your children consume nutrition in a glass without even arguing, as beets = pink.

The other day, the kids and I made a juice, and then used the pulp to make muffins. I know, I am amazing.

I’ve made these before, so had a recipe in mind, but it was similar to this one.

The reality check of all this healthy living is that I ended up standing in the kitchen for two hours, making juice and cleaning juicer parts. And making muffins with a child on hand who wanted to “help” but basically spilled every ingredient before storming off in tears because Mummy is mean.

Stuck in the house though, what else have I got to do except clean up messes that my kids make? What are you doing to safeguard your health? Celery juice? 😂

In Uncertain Times

Hemingway didn’t say this exactly, but whatevs.

I normally roll my eyes at inspirational quotes, but there are times when they are just necessary, am I right?

Friends. I know.

I know that we’re all reeling from the turn things have taken, world-wide, over the last few weeks. And if you are fortunate enough to be in a place that COVID-19 has yet to invade, take a deep breath, and know that things may soon change very quickly for you too.

Or they may not.

That is the one given in life, its extreme unpredictability. In Toronto, two weeks ago, we were all humming along, going to work, school and play and touching every single thing in the world without wondering how long coronavirus can survive on a given surface. Now we are all figuring out how social distancing works. We’re isolated in our houses with the kids, squirting our home-made hand sanitizer over every available surface. And wondering how long the toilet paper will last.

We can only guess what the future holds. Right now, the media isn’t helping us. Yes, access to quality information is important, but each day that we spend glued to our newsfeeds, watching the case numbers tick ever higher, is a day that we’ve lost to fear.

I know how you’re feeling. I’ve read all the articles and I’ve had all the anxiety. I’ve woken in the night wondering if I do, in fact, already have the virus.

So, my family, like everyone else, are trying to figure out a new routine. A new way to be when our options are limited. This is hard for the Gen Xers and the Millennials. We’ve spent our lives with nothing BUT choice, opportunity, and freedom and now, as the economy tanks, we’re left wondering what the hell is going to happen next.

There are a lot of people in a lot of need right now. Many who don’t know where their next paycheque is coming from or how they’re going to feed the kids.

Despite my own anxieties, I know that, for now, I’m in a safe place. We’re not on total lockdown. We have enough to eat. We’ve got 20 rolls of TP stocked in the cupboard.

So I’m thinking about the things I can do to help. How can I help my own family? How can I help to keep small businesses afloat? How can I help to feed people in my community? (Please let me know in comments what your thoughts are!)

There was a time when we were the ones who needed help. Almost 10 years ago, my oldest, my son Bean, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. He went through an incredibly difficult chemo regime, which ended with three rounds of bone marrow transplant. From September through to January of the year 2010 – 2011, he barely went outside, in fact was confined to an isolation room at Sick Kids for months on end.

I was free to come and go, somewhat, but he had to stay, and we had to keep him safe. Safe meant no germs, no interactions with people. It meant sanitizing every single object that went into his room. Washing Duplo in boiling hot water and soap and wiping every piece of a jigsaw puzzle with anti-bac wipes.

Those days were very long. And very hard. Many people told me to take it “one day at a a time.” Which felt like such useless, bullshit advice. There is no other way to live your days. But the meaning is this: Just get through today. Just focus on the positives. Try not to dwell too much on what may come, but accept the gift of the now.

And we were given so much help. People were generous and true.

So those are the lessons that I’m remembering in this time of terrible uncertainty. Each day:

  • Health: Do something that is good for you, and for the health of your family.
  • Beauty: Find it anywhere you can. Create art.
  • Connect: Keep connecting with your friends. If you can go out, do a wave-by of someone’s house. Set up video chat for your kids and their buddies. Do an old-school phone chat.
  • Routine: Set up a daily schedule and stick to it.
  • Help: Figure out how to support those in need.

We humans are terribly resilient. We’ve survived famines and wars and disease. We’ve adapted and changed and grown. We will get through this too, though we don’t know what the world will look like on the other side of it.

Be well, my friends. Courage, my loves! ❤️❤️❤️

Love is Love: A Story in Three Parts – II

Part II

Karamo. Tan. Jonathan. Bobby. Antoni.

If these names are not familiar to you, I kindly suggest that you rush off to Netflix and binge-watch the first 3 seasons of Queer Eye. I’ll wait.

Back? Let’s just enjoy this for a moment.

The Fab Five

Like pretty much everyone, I guess, I’ve been a bit obsessed with Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot over this past year. I’ve always loved a good makeover show for that promise of transformation: Your style was dismal and your house was tragic, but now we’ve fixed all the things!!

And Queer Eye hits the mark, every time, not just on those superficial things like fashion, design, and guacamole, but it actually manages to dig deep into what drives people and what’s damaged them too. The people on the show have suffered serious losses, and genuinely need help to find their way forward. And often these transformations take place not in urban areas, but in small-town USA, where the Fab Five are uniting formerly un-united areas of America in the era of Trump’s special brand of hatred.

Sure, there are times when the show is a bit too perfect and on the nose. We know when Karamo gets serious that it’s time to reach for the Kleenex. We’ve been conditioned, we know.

Everyone cries when Karamo hugs them. There’s just no getting around it.

For me, though, there was one episode of Season 3 that stood out: Episode 5. I didn’t just cry; I wept, big, copious tears.

The star of this episode is Jess. She’s a young, black, lesbian woman who was disowned by her adoptive parents at the age of 16 after she was outed by someone at school. At 23, she was struggling to find her way in the world, alone, without the guidance and support and love she might have expected from her family.

Early in the episode, she says, “I was hoping that despite all the stuff I heard as a young girl at church, they would realize, ‘Hey, that’s my kid, so of course I’m going to love them.'”

While I watched, immediately the thought of Joe (See previous post) and that conversation from all of those years ago popped into my head. Do people STILL really disown their kids for coming out? In 2019? The sad answer to that is yes.

Tragedy befalls all humans. We have no choice in the matter. We lose people in so many ways, to illness, age, horrific accident. But to CHOOSE this tragedy is something I can’t wrap my head around. To choose to never see your beloved child again, to make them homeless and family-less in one fell swoop: it’s a huge act of cowardice. When the truth is, that we have choice in whether or not we question the precepts of a religion.

In the course of my deep dive into everything Karamo and Queer Eye, I came across this conversation:

This is Karamo Brown and author Tara Westover of Educated fame discussing family, love and change. This is a good watch. As you may know, Tara was raised by survivalist Mormons in rural Idaho, and was never sent to school. Despite growing up in a family with extremely radical views, she went on to study at Cambridge, though in the process of gaining an education, became estranged from her family, as they couldn’t accept the ways in which her perspective of the world have shifted.

She tells Karamo:

When I went to Cambridge I had appalling views about gay people. I did. I’d grown up with them, it was what I’d been told, and I went to Cambridge and I was spewing these things, and someone took an entire night and argued with me about it. If someone hadn’t talked to me, seen me as a human being, a complete person, and said, ‘I don’t know why you think this awful thing, but I think you’re more than that,’ I never would’ve changed my mind.

And Karamo’s response:

Connecting with other people, taking a moment to empathetically listen to them, to challenge them to grow is what we can do, to share our stories and to make sure that we find common ground.

All of those years ago when I met Joe, I didn’t have the right tools to try to shift his perspective, as Tara’s friend did for her. I hope though, that now, as an adult, when I try to educate my kids about the world, I’ll teach them to keep questioning, not just others but themselves as well. Holding a rigid space for your own beliefs doesn’t permit empathy for other humans and their experiences.

At the end of the day, it’s all about love. We want love, we want support, we want empathy.

Karamo Brown

Naturally, I was curious about what happened to Jess after appearing on the show. A lot, as it happens. Some very kind people started a GoFundMe to send her back to college, which now has collected over $90,000.

Her Instagram is amazing. She looks beautiful and is having lots of adventures. She had this to say on one of her posts: “I am just so grateful for you all. Thank you for letting me into your hearts and accepting me with warm arms. Thank you for showing your children my story. I am happy to start that discussion. I am happy to let my struggle be the catalyst for change and acceptance. That’s why i did it.”

I’m wishing everyone in the LGBTQ+ community in Toronto a happy and safe Pride Weekend!

Love is Love: A Story in Three Parts – I

Part I

Our story begins, long ago, on a train platform. It is dark and chilly, because it is just before dawn, on a fall morning in 1998. This train station is in eastern Germany, and there are three people there waiting for a train to take them to Prague. 

Two of those people are me and the good friend I was travelling with.

Ye olden fashions of the 90’s.

The other person was an American guy. I’ll call him Joe. Joe asked us if he was on the correct platform to catch the train to Prague. In my memory, he is wearing a cowboy hat, but it’s possible this is a mental embellishment. Once we realized we were heading in the same direction, we fell in together as young travellers so often do, and my friend and I joined forces with him and eventually the group of friends he was heading to meet. Adventures ensued, but those are not what this story is about.

Train rides give you long, meandering hours to talk with people, and as we rattled along on that post-communist beast that lurched from side to side, we three talked of many things. Where we were from, who we were, where we were going. We were all from North America, we spoke the same language, and we were the same age. We had common ground, and later, we also had red wine, so the conversation flowed.

As the day went on, I began to understand though, that our world view was worlds apart. He mentioned in passing that he was Christian, which meant that he went to church, asked himself what Jesus would do, and would not say “Goddamnit” in polite company. He was, overall, what many would call a “good kid.” He was friendly and open in that American way that other nationalities mock, but are secretly jealous of. He’d probably been raised by good people in a middle-class American household. Like so many the world over, perhaps like all of us, he’d been raised with Christian beliefs and had never been taught to question those beliefs. They just were.

For me, religion was undefined, I had attended church as a dutiful child but stopped going many years before.  I did say Goddamnit and Jesus Christ and worse. I, too, was a good kid, struggling to be better. But I’d also grown up in Toronto, and as anyone who’s spent any time here knows, Toronto is a liberal place. It’s a city where the cultures of the world live side by side and try to get along. A city where we are free to vote as we like, dress as we like, and marry whom we like. It’s a city that is covered in rainbows just now to celebrate Pride Month.

Rainbows fly to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community in Toronto

In the course of this hours-long meandering chat, James said something that disturbed me and has stuck with me for all of these many years.

He told us that he didn’t know anyone who was gay. I remember smiling and saying that most likely, he just didn’t know that someone in his circle was gay yet. He insisted that this was so, and then added that, in any case, if one of his friends or family came out to him, he would have to stop speaking to him. Forever. My friend and I were incredulous. What do you mean, even if it was your best friend, or your brother, you would stop speaking to him, really never talk to him again? 

Yes, he said simply, without a trace of remorse. He explained that according to his faith, homosexuality is “wrong” and everyone knows that. So it was a given in his world, if someone came out, they would be shunned and that would be it.

Jesus Christ and Goddammit I thought to myself.

We spent some time talking in circles, my friend and I trying to convince our new buddy that his views were intolerant and bigoted. She and I fancied ourselves as open-minded arty types, so very liberal, yes? CERTAINLY we could talk him round to our way of thinking with a few incisive arguments.

In the Toronto world we lived in, any declared religion was viewed with skepticism at best. In our circle of friends and acquaintances, poeple were freely experimenting with sexuality – some were coming out, some were not. Some were on the fence and others were refusing labels altogether. In other words, there was a great spectrum of behaviour around sex and attraction that was deemed normal. While definitely not perfect, Toronto was a safe space for many to be authentic and live without fear of being victimized.

Ultimately, we couldn’t convince Joe. Some things are so deeply engrained, that it takes more than a couple of hours of idle chit-chat to chisel them away.

The train pulled into Prague. And when we parted, we were friendly, but not friends.

This conversation happened over 20 years ago, but it has stuck, because that was one of the first times that I remember meeting someone who so openly expressed homophobia and defended his position.

I thought that the world has moved on since then. But has it?

Stay tuned for Part II