Happy International Women’s Day!
You might be surprised to know that history records the first International Women’s Day as far back as 1911! Women have been fighting a loooooonnnnnnnggggg time for equality, and will continue to do so. I hate this fact, but to avoid dwelling on the negative, I will take pleasure in seeing how far we’ve come! Keep up the fantastic work, my sisters!
I’m seeing so many quotes and memes on social media today about women, and I’ve observed many of these quotes and memes focus on the word STRONG. Why is that?
Even my personal favorite: “Strong women: May we know them, may we raise them, may we be them.” urges us that being strong is the ultimate goal. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if this battle-cry is being interpreted the same way across the board.
Naturally, the physical sense of the word is a positive goal. Being physically strong isn’t just about how many pounds you can bench-press, but about being healthy. Everyone wants health for themselves and those they care about, right?
But what about being strong in other ways? How do we define that? And what about the women who don’t exude the “traditional” traits of “strength”? I use quotation marks simply because these words are so open to interpretation.
I worry that International Women’s Day is moving towards a different meaning – a celebration of society’s perceived “best of the best” so to speak. That’s not what it’s about.
The woman who doesn’t run marathons for herself or charity can still be strong simply running after her toddler at the park. Or watching Netflix marathons on TV.
The woman who doesn’t own a financially successful business or have a high-powered career can still be strong owning the responsibility to feed her children by working hard at her minimum-wage job.
That woman who doesn’t prepare kale-qinoa-chia seed-avocado crust-less pie to feed her family can still be strong asking her kids to set the table and put the ketchup and plum sauce out for the frozen chicken fingers with tater-tots her family will devour with enthusiasm.
That woman who never declares loudly “Fuck that shit!” can still be strong when she sobs into her pillow because someone hurt her feelings.
That woman who can’t be Ms. Independent-I-Can-Do-It-All-Myself can still be strong when she asks friends or family for physical or emotional support.
That woman who doesn’t kick that asshole partner’s ass to the curb can still be strong when she stays in a seemingly unsatisfying relationship for complex reasons that nobody but her really understands.
That woman who doesn’t proudly don her swimsuit while ignoring her obesity can still be strong when she avoids pools and the beach.
Nobody defines “STRONG” for everybody.
As far as I’m concerned, anyone who opens their eyes and confronts the challenges of life each day is strong, and even those who open their eyes but then decides to close them, stay in bed and avoid the world are still strong in making the decision to do just that.
If you are human and trying to live your life as best you can – you are strong.
Should women be equal with men? Youbetcha.
Should women stop being human to try to fit into someone else’s definition of “strong”?
I think you know my answer to that question.
Be you. That’s strong enough.
“Did any Black people win last night, mommy?”
This was the first question out of my daughter the morning after the Golden Globe awards. Thankfully, I could answer yes, knowing that at the age of seven, she would be content with only one actress winning a Globe, and the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement award going to a Black man.
You may be shocked that a seven year old is even thinking about such things, but representation of her race is important to my daughter, and it should be. I’ve taught her that, because I can’t give her “blackness” (forgive me for lack of a better description) so she has to search for it elsewhere – her friends, her activities, her entertainment, her neighbourhood – all of these areas of her life serve as surrogate racial models for my daughter because I can’t. I wish I could, but I knew before I adopted her the only thing I can do is teach her as best I can to watch and learn from other sources in addition to what I regurgitate for her from my own research. It matters to her to see herself, in both her race and her adoption, represented in the real world.
In the past six years, I’ve pushed through many moments of my own discomfort to try to learn about struggles that I have never experienced as a white women protected with a coat of white privilege. I’ve tried to educate myself as much as I possibly can on what white privilege is and what I, as a white person, can do to become an ally to people of colour in ways that people of colour have shared are relevant to them.
As a stay-at-home mother initially, and now a work-at-home mother, often my simplest and most readily-available form of me-time recreation has been watching movies. I love movies. Especially the season of excellent quality films following Christmas up until summer blockbuster season. For six years, I’ve obsessively watched all Oscar-quality movies, made my own predictions, attempted to see all or most of the nominated performances and then watched the award shows and live-tweeted during those shows. I’ve voiced my disappointment over the lack of diversity both in Hollywood and in the nominations and winners of the awards, but I’ve never really done much more about it; armchair slactivism at its worst. I won’t lie – I’ve loved being a part of it all and didn’t really think I could do much more than just express my disappointment.
This year, for the second year in a row, there are no Black actor or actress nominees. Nor Supporting Actor or Actress nominees. Not a single Black actor was deemed worthy of a nomination by a mostly white, male institution. Not many people of colour in general, in any category, for that matter. Yet The Academy figured they had it all balanced by contracting Chris Rock to host the show.
I’m pissed about it all.
Yet, I’m also to blame.
And so are you.
HEAR ME OUT, before you start rolling your eyes and complaining that Will Smith and his wife are just whining that he didn’t get a nomination.
We continue to support these award shows by watching them. That’s how they make money and what indirectly continues to feed the vicious circle of racism – we support movies featuring more white actors than people of colour in more white stories than stories about people of colour, we watch award shows to reward more of the white actors and actresses so they will continue to get more white parts in more white movies. What’s worse is that we also continue to complacently accept white actors playing characters who weren’t originally white.
I am not going to actively teach my daughter about racial equity with my words and then completely confuse her by exemplifying with my actions what white privilege is all about. I refuse to let her believe that it’s ok to watch award shows that disrespect the talent and effort of people of colour.
It’s not ok.
How can I look my daughter in the eye when she asks me the morning after the Oscars if any Black actors won and tell her “No, darling. There weren’t any nominated. But mommy still watched and enjoyed the show like I always have.”
I can’t do it.
I won’t do it.
And personally, I’d like to know how Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, Charlize Theron, Hugh Jackman, Madonna, and even one of the Grand Poobahs of Hollywood, Steven Spielberg, along with other Hollywood royal members are going to explain to THEIR children of colour how and why they supported an institution that doesn’t respect the efforts of their child’s race?
I can’t do that to my daughter nor can I disrespect the talented people of colour who put out high-quality work in Hollywood without the same opportunities or recognition that white people receive.
So, for the first time in my adult life, I will not be watching the Academy Awards this year.
(Those who know me or at least are friends with me on Facebook and read my frequent status movie reviews are going “WHOAAA!” right now, while the rest of you are probably going “Who gives a shit?” and that’s just fine by me.)
Going forward, I will also be choosing the films I spend money to watch with a far greater intention; I will be actively looking for movies that feature stories about people of colour, that star people of colour and are written and/or produced by people of colour.
Adopting my daughter helped open my eyes to my own white privilege and continuously forces me to confront it, own it and acknowledge it in my everyday life. I’m thankful every day for her presence in my life and I owe her and all people of colour to do what I can.
Oh sure, it may seem like no big deal to you, and in a harsh world of so many societal problems, some may be inclined to write off the importance of “a little gold statue”. Thankfully, I’ve also learned that just because something isn’t important to me, that doesn’t give me the right to invalidate its importance to others. Nor does it allow me to dismiss the greater societal issues behind that little gold statue. Everyone deserves recognition for a job well done – would we dismiss a teacher or doctor asking for equal recognition for equal work performance? Of course not. The Oscars may not matter to you, but it matters to the people who work at providing movies for entertainment. ALL of the people, not just the white ones.
My daughter knows how much I love movies and how Oscar night has been a VERY BIG DEAL for me in the past, so I’m making my stand in a way that I know is meaningful to her. I don’t expect my position to have any impact on Hollywood and their institutionalized racism, but quite frankly, I’m not doing it for them.
Oh sure, it looked romantic and amazingly supportive when Samantha’s hunky boyfriend Smith Jerrod did it on Sex and the City, but shaving your head, or worse – simply plugging a photo of your mug into the #NoHairSelfie app that photo-shops a bald version of you – isn’t really showing support for cancer patients, in my opinion. Unless your spouse or dear friend or child has expressed consent in such a personal statement, you are running the risk of offending cancer patients and survivors, like this courageous woman who just recently lost her hair. I’m not speaking for all cancer patients and I do see some of the merits in actually shaving your head for a spouse, child or close friend, to make them feel less unique in their appearance or to encourage people to donate money. I just find a mass movement of strangers trying on baldness with an electronic app really minimizes the painful layers of what losing your hair via chemotherapy feels like, both physically and emotionally. It has rankled me from the first moment I heard of it. Why do I feel I’m entitled to even have an opinion on this movement and its impact on cancer patients and survivors?
Because I am one.
At the age of four, I had emergency surgery after a fall from a swing left me with overwhelming pain. The doctors assumed I had ruptured my spleen, but instead found a kidney busted open with a previously-undiagnosed cancerous tumour that had burst on impact after my fall. My kidney was destroyed and needed removal, and in the words of the doctor who finally told my parents why they had been waiting for hours – I was a very sick little girl. Subsequent radiation treatments and chemotherapy followed, to ensure stray cancer cells that were released when the tumour burst didn’t quietly take up residence elsewhere in my body. I don’t remember much about the radiation part (except the legacy of infertility it left me) but I have vivid memories of the chemotherapy; of how the drug would wind through the IV tube and as soon as it entered my body, I would begin vomiting and wouldn’t stop for most of the day. Chemotherapy isn’t just poison for the cancer, after all.
One of my most painful set of memories of this time revolve around the loss of my hair. In today’s medical advancements, some cancer patients are lucky enough to avoid complete hair loss, but back then, hardly anyone escaped it; even four year old little girls. My mom woke me one morning and found almost my entire head of hair over my pillowcase. It had happened overnight while I slept and I still recall her trying so valiantly to be brave for my benefit, yet failing and crying in front of me. Now that I have a young daughter of my own, I cannot fathom how my mom got through all of the treatments and crying (mine and hers) and needles and vomit and worry. She deserves a medal, for sure. Also at that time (1975) wigs were not much of widespread fashion statement and were in scarce supply. My parents had me fitted for an old-lady wig that resembled the hairstyle Maude sported, minus the style. Suffice to say, wearing a wig at that age was no easy task and led to other painful situations of kids teasing me and even threatening to take my wig from my head.
Eventually my hair grew back and life went on, but those childhood experiences changed me in innumerable ways. I still have very strong reactions to seeing children who are wearing scarves around their heads, and I can’t watch any movies or TV programs where children are terminally ill. So when I saw the campaign for #NoHairSelfie and some people on social media proudly posting photos of themselves smiling with their hair electronically removed by an app, or urging their readers and social media followers to “celebrate” World Cancer Day, my reaction was visceral; I cried, I raged inwardly, shouting at them that losing your hair is no reason to grin proudly, and cancer is definitely not anything to “celebrate”.
I get the intentions, I really do. I just don’t think much thought or sensitivity was put into this campaign with respect to how it might make some cancer patients and survivors feel. My overwhelming gut response is a desire to scream at the images of healthy people pretending to be bald “YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT’S LIKE.” And they don’t. An app can’t begin to give you the experience of feeling completely abnormal and a freak of nature when all of your hair suddenly leaves your body. It doesn’t provide the fun of having constant insecurities that everybody knows you’re wearing a wig or that your wig has shifted unnaturally or that it looks fake or doesn’t suit you. All those smiling faces being uploaded into the app? They look healthy and happy. People who have lost their hair to cancer are not healthy and rarely look so. Some may be fighting their damndest to hang on to some of life’s happiness, but rest assured they aren’t happy about losing their hair or having cancer.
Even people who are “brave” enough to actually shave their real heads still aren’t experiencing the full range of physical and emotional traumas that chemotherapy often reduces its victims to. I have far more respect for those who patiently grow out their hair and cut it off to donate for wigs for cancer patients and I am baffled that a prestigious establishment with powerful public engagement such as The Princess Margaret Hospital* wouldn’t see this as a much better campaign to invest their marketing efforts with. Wigs are expensive and real hair for them is not easy to come by, even if you want to donate your own. Hair has to be a specific length and cannot have dyes or chemical treatments in it.
While I understand the #NoHairSelfie has attracted some worthy attention and awareness for cancer patients with hair loss, I still feel that if you really want to help cancer patients, donate your money, time or supportive kindness. Volunteer, fundraise, or simply make some freezable meals for the cancer patient you know in your life. These are meaningful, helpful actions that have direct impact on those struggling with cancer or survivors who live in fear of relapse, unlike posting a picture of yourself and counting your “likes” using a hashtag originally meant for REAL cancer patients to reach out and support one another. Think about your actions, not just about jumping on the bandwagon because it sounds fun and all your social media friends are doing it.
It’s Word Cancer Day. My thoughts and prayers go out to all the brave fighters currently battling for their life and health, for all the survivors who have won, and for all those who tragically could not overcome this terrible disease.
*Please be assured that while I don’t agree with the campaign of baldness, I absolutely support The Princess Margaret Hospital in their efforts to support cancer patients. I was once a patient at the old hospital and have visited the new one, and I know the world-class establishment is full of hard-working and dedicated health professionals who strive to give the best physical and emotional care to every patient they treat.
Now that the first weeks of school have shifted from excited anxiety to routine, I wanted to take a moment to welcome you back. You may be happy to be back at work, or you may not, and I get that. Nobody wants their holiday to end, and I don’t expect you to be different from the rest of the workforce in that regard.
Yet, I have high expectations of you while you are at work. You see, the most precious part of my life is now in your care again, for seven hours each day, five days a week, for the next ten months. She’s with you now more than she’s with me. That’s a big responsibility, multiplied by more than 20 kids.
Oh, I have such respect for you, dear teacher, because I know I couldn’t do what you do. I barely have the patience for my one child sometimes, never mind a full class of them! I can only imagine how hard your job must be at times, and I just want you to know that I understand if you get frustrated occasionally. I hope at those times, you have some personal coping mechanism that works for you, like taking deep breaths and counting to ten (ten times, if necessary) that doesn’t hurt a little person’s feelings or discourage her in any way.
Now, this next part may sound a little odd, but stay with me. As you begin this new year with a new class of fresh young minds to stimulate, I wish for you blindness. Yeah, I knew that would sound bad, but what I mean is — I wish for you to stay blind to my child’s gender and race. I don’t know you and as I do every year with a new teacher, I’m hoping you are the kind of person that doesn’t treat boys in the “boys will be boys” fashion, nor treat girls as less intelligent in math and science. I’m hoping you are the kind of teacher who isn’t colour-blind to my child’s race or any other child’s race but instead is fully aware of diversity in a good, positive way. I hope you notice my child is Black and are aware that sometimes other children who aren’t may use that to hurt her feelings and make her feel like she’s not as valuable as someone with lighter-coloured skin. If that happens, I hope you treat the situation with the seriousness it warrants. I hope you ensure that all children are treated with equality, dignity and respect. I’m not accusing you of doing anything differently, because I don’t know you , but I’m aware of what sometimes goes on in classrooms and on the playground. I hope you are too and you strive to do better.
I’m going to contradict myself now, as I often do, and also wish for you a special kind of vision. The kind that notices children in need. Some need a little extra attention, while some just need a hug. I hope you are a hugging teacher even though the craziness of society has deemed that as questionable behavior. Some unfortunate children may need you to keep a box of crackers and some apples in your desk so they have something to eat each day, and I hope you are the kind of teacher who notices such things and does so. Some need a little extra help with their learning, and some need a little encouragement or push to challenge themselves because they are bright but bored. I don’t deny that with so many busy little ones around you all day, every day, it may be hard to see what each of them needs individually, but I’m asking that you please try. You probably know this already, but those small people in your class? They adore you, most of the time. You have a very big influence over them, and I know you’ll want to use that in the best possible way.
In today’s age of adults without kindness or manners, I also wish for you a strict but fair sense of discipline. I am not unsympathetic to the fact that your power to teach children right from wrong is diminishing every year, but I am strict at home and I don’t let the adorable precociousness of my daughter sway me when an opportunity presents itself for me to teach her proper interpersonal skills or moral lessons. I hope you are the same, dear teacher.
In fact, I know this is a fairly unreasonable request, but I’m going to make it anyway: I hope you are the same as me, but better. I am here for you whenever you need my support and I hope you will consider me a part of your team. I know you can’t be perfect, but those little souls sitting in front of you every day? They deserve the best you can give them. So thank-you in advance for doing exactly that.
A couple of nights ago as we were driving home from dance class, I noticed the stunning remnants on my horizon of those Fall sunsets filled with smokey blue, deep purple and a haze of orange. I pointed it out to Baby Girl with my compliments.
She studied it for a moment, and responded that it looked like a bruised eye. Undeterred by her pessimistic comparison and lack of appreciation for nature, I agreed that the colours indeed resembled those of a certain kind of bruise, but informed her every colour on earth could be found in both beautiful and negative things (orange, in the kid-friendly example I cited, could be the colour of vomit or a warm sunrise) and the negative items should not prevent us from appreciating those colours in their beautiful contexts.
I was feeling philosophical and continued on preaching to her that some of the best things in life were free and right in front of our eyes, if we just took the time to notice and appreciate them, like the gorgeous hues of the sunset before us.
“I get it. Like sticks, right? Sticks from dead trees are pretty amazing and I love them!”
Yep. Exactly like sticks from dead trees.
Today, I celebrate my fortieth birthday.
Well, “re-birth day” is probably a more accurate description.
On June 10, 1975, I fell from a swing in my backyard. I was four years old.
The impact when I hit the ground caused an undiagnosed cancerous tumour growing in my left kidney to burst. I still remember the pain and having to run into my house doubled over from it, trying not to cry out because I didn’t want to disturb my sunbathing neighbour who had fallen asleep on her lounge chair.
The E/R doctors told my parents I had probably ruptured my spleen from the fall.
Boy, were they wrong.
When they operated on me, they found a kidney destroyed by cancer cells, and had to remove it immediately. I had been bleeding internally so much that I needed 24 bags of other people’s blood to replace what I had lost. (Thank-you, blood donors.)
“You have a very sick little girl. She will be lucky if she makes it,” was the first thing the doctor told my parents after they had waited three hours wondering why a ruptured spleen was taking so long to fix.
I guess I was lucky, because I did make it. I thrived. I’ve lived a full life which in my mind, is hopefully not even close to being over yet. I’ve got WAY too much living left to do still. I look at this date in my history as my second chance at life. Oh sure, I was too young then to appreciate it. I was too bitter and resentful wondering “Why me?” when I had to undergo the subsequent radiation treatments and chemotherapy to ensure the elimination of any cancer cells that strayed when the tumour erupted. I didn’t understand why I had to endure more pain and another surgery a few months later when scar tissue adhesions caused a bowel obstruction. I didn’t understand why all my hair fell out on my pillow overnight, or why the kids at school teased me for wearing a wig and tried to play keep-away with it one day. I’ve hated losing my fertility and healthy immune system all these years later, and often have felt so resentful for all of the permanent effects of that one day.
I’m not sure I understand it all even now, but I’ve come to accept that the “whys” of life sometimes have no answers and often don’t matter. The events of June 10, 1975 had a profound effect on my body and my character and it has shaped me in more ways than I probably even recognize.
I’ve learned a few things along this crazy forty-year roller coaster.
At the risk of sounding like I’m auditioning for the role of meme-creator, here are some of the more significant ones:
- Life is an amazing journey – sometimes it’s amazingly awesome, and other times it’s amazingly shitty, but those shitty times help me to truly appreciate the rest of it.
- I don’t have to be a superstar to matter. I used to worry that because I have survived so many trying times in life, I should really be doing something “spectacular” with myself. It’s only recently that I realized I am doing just that – I’m a great mother and stepmom, a good wife, a decent writer, a supportive friend and I love being all of those things. That. Is. Spectacular. Enough.
- My body is not something I need to use to impress anyone. I am still working hard to accept the parts of my body that I don’t love, but I’m much better at that acceptance now than I was twenty years ago. Anyone who has a problem with my body can kindly note the sprig of mistletoe hanging over the bootylicious junk in my trunk.
- Dying is not the worst thing that can happen to me. I’ve already lived through some stuff that I think might be worse than dying. I don’t want to die, but there is nothing I can do to stop it when the time comes, and I have no control over when that time may be, so worrying about it seems like a gigantic waste of time.
- Marriage is hard work. Motherhood is hard work. Friendship is hard work. Life in general is hard work, but DAMN, aren’t the rewards pretty fucking incredible?
- When somebody upsets or hurts me, telling them my feelings using “I feel…” statements is my best option to having my feelings actually heard and considered without the other person feeling defensive.
- Eating healthy and exercising are important. I suck at both of these, but I’d rather die ten years earlier with my mouth smilingly full of chips and cookies than eat kale and run marathons while wishing I was sitting with a plate of pasta in front of me. I don’t want to rush death because I have so much to stick around for, but balance is really about enjoying what I enjoy without guilt and respecting those I would leave behind if I wasn’t here.
- It’s ok to be selfish sometimes. Loving myself and making my own wants or needs a priority isn’t really that selfish. As I get older, the things I think I “have” to do or “should” do are becoming less and less, and that’s ok.
- I have what some would call “regrets” but I don’t dwell on them because I’ve yet to encounter a hot tub time machine.
- I don’t think forgiving someone means you have to allow them to continue doing whatever you are forgiving them for. Sometimes forgiveness means cutting people out of your life so that your hurt can heal and you can forgive and forget – about them.
- There is absolutely NO better sound on this earth than the belly laugh of my daughter. Nothing.
- Opinions are not attacks on character. Everyone has them. Sometimes they will be the same as mine, sometimes they won’t, but ones that are different than mine are learning opportunities.
- TV is overrated. Reading is underrated.
- If my kids get straight A’s, win awards, scholarships, sports trophies, etc. but are total assholes, I have failed at my work. I refuse to fail at that work.
- Sometimes natural consequences have a much bigger impact than me shouting or grounding or giving a speech.
- I live for the moments when my daughter’s arms curl around my neck and she kisses me and tells me she loves me without me having to chase her or beg her for it.
- Some people don’t like me. Sometimes that bothers me. Sometimes I truly don’t give a rat’s ass. Either way, *I* like me and that’s what matters most.
- I’ve screwed up some of this parenting business, and I will screw up some more, but I’m still a damned good mother and my kids will be just fine.
- Every day has good moments, even if it’s a really bad day.
- Every day gives me something, even if it’s just ONE thing, to be grateful for.
- I’ve learned to accept that perfection is knowing that something can still be mind-blowing and be imperfect simultaneously. Good enough is still good.
- I have been many things in my life and many people have different opinions of me, but I’m not boring. Gossip will never go away, and “You’re welcome!” to those I’ve given something to talk about.
- Change is the only way to keep moving forward in life and learning. There is always room for improvement, but not at the cost of dissatisfaction with yourself.
- No matter how bad things are, they could always be worse.
- My mom was right – I do understand now that I’M a mom.
- Nothing feels quite like someone you love caressing the side of your cheek with the palm of his or her hand.
- “Don’t sweat the small stuff” isn’t just the title of a book – it’s a recipe for life sanity. I’m not always good at this, but as I get older, I’m realizing how integral this advice is to my mental and physical health.
- If you don’t see my worth, that’s YOUR problem, not mine. I have given up trying to prove myself to anyone.
- There are all different levels of friendships, and that’s ok. Some friends are for life, some are not. Some have your back when life is kicking your ass, some don’t know what to do or say. I am trying my best to appreciate what each type of friend gives me and give back to them what I can.
- Sex is important. It’s not just to pump my ego, like I thought it was 25 years ago. It’s a physical release, but also an emotional connection.
- Actions do speak louder than words. I’m learning to listen better.
- People rarely change simply because *I* want them to. Change is truly self-motivated, but if you market it properly, some people are much more open to motivating themselves.
- Cancer sucks. I lived many years fearing that I would get it again, but now I just worry that all that negative energy will make me sick, so I try to not think about it.
- Laughing together with people I care about is my favorite soul food.
- I don’t have to stop loving someone simply because I don’t like some of their actions.
- Hate is not only a strong word, but a heavy burden to carry. Anger passes, but hate takes up too much time and energy and is rarely worth it.
- Animals are an integral part of my family and always will be.
- Love is love. There are no different kinds reserved for the “best” skin colour, sexual orientation, religion or gender. All humans are equal in every way. I am sad that this is not yet a universal truth, but I refuse to give up hope that one day it will be.
- Family isn’t only about genetics. I love mine. My parents are incredible people who always have my back, no matter what.
- Cancer fighters and survivors are amazing people. I was a kid and had no idea what I was dealing with, which makes it so much easier than what those who are fully aware of their situation must deal with. I survived through pure luck, but so many others survive by fighting with everything they’ve got. I bow down to them.