Gender-Free Kids

There was an article in The Star on Saturday about a Toronto couple who is keeping the gender of their new baby a secret because they don’t want the child growing up with any gender-imposed limitations or expectations. Only the parents, siblings and midwives who delivered little Storm know the child’s gender. They want the child to decide for his/herself when or if to reveal his/her gender.

Storm also has 2 older brothers (Jazz and Kio), who everyone has always known were boys, but who have always been allowed to choose for themselves what they want to do with that information.

The boys get to decide how they want their hair – Five-year-old Jazz likes to wear his long in 3 braids. Two-year-old Kio likes his curly hair about chin-length.

They choose their own clothes and their own toys. Jazz likes pink, loves to paint his nails and wear sparkly jewelry. Kio likes purple. Both boys are usually mistaken for girls. This apparently upsets Jazz because he wants people to know he’s a boy.

I have no problem with letting kids make choices. I’m a big fan of child-led parenting, but that doesn’t mean the kids are in charge of everything. I think you still need to parent. You need to establish some sort of schedule – mealtimes, play times, quiet times, bath times, bed times. You need to make healthy food choices for your kids. You need to establish boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

And, to some extent you need to give some sort of guidance on how the kids present themselves in public. Firstly, because you want to make sure the dress for the weather. Secondly, because part of parenting is guiding your kids so they will establish a healthy relationship with the culture in which they are living.

That doesn’t mean your kids have to be little clones of all the other kids. That doesn’t mean they can’t push some boundaries, be individuals and express their personalities. For instance, if 5-year-old Jazz likes to wear pink dresses, that’s great. But if he’s also upset about getting mistaken for a girl and about other kids not wanting to play with him, maybe Jazz’s parents could explain to him why this is happening and suggest that if he wants to fit in more there are ways of achieving that.

It’s all very well for parents to have a non-conformist philosophy and rebel against cultural norms, but, while they think they’re letting their kids choose everything for themselves, they are also imposing their own philosophies and choices on their kids.

Is Jazz really choosing pink for himself or are his parents, ever-so-subtly, perhaps even unconsciously guiding him in that direction to prove to the world how nonconformist they are?

Storm’s parents are forcing Storm’s brothers to keep their sibling’s gender a secret. They’re not allowed to refer to Storm as he or she – they have to say “Z” instead. When changing the baby’s diaper in public, they hide in closets so no one will accidentally see.

What sort of impact will all this have on Storm in the long run? And on the two brothers?

In my experience, gender identity is not something you can impose on a child or free a child from. Nor can you protect your child from cultural gender expectations and biases. I get that these and many other parents want their children’s identities to based on who they are, not what gender they are.

But pretending gender doesn’t exist? That can’t be healthy either, can it?


Duty and Doodie

A while back we had a sometimes-heated discussion here about child support. Most people seemed to agree that both parents had an obligation to financially support any offspring they might be responsible for producing. But what about the other way around?

Should adult children be held legally responsible for financially supporting elderly parents who are unable to support themselves for whatever reason?

In British Columbia, Ontario and many other provinces in Canada, parental support statutes are still on the books.

These laws are rarely invoked since most children, whose parents are in need, voluntarily support their parents. However, there’s a case before the BC Supreme Court right now of a 71-year-old woman (Shirley Anderson) who is suing four of her five children for parental support, in the amount of $750 per month, from each child.

Before even hearing any of the facts of the case, right away, most of us are going to assume there is something seriously wrong with the relationship between Shirley Anderson and her kids, since she’s having to take them to court in order to get them to help her financially.

One son (the one who is not included in the lawsuit) is only not included because he can’t be located, having spent most of his adult life in and out of jail.

Shirley Anderson has been estranged from her all of her kids since they were teenagers. The youngest claims he was abandoned at the age of 15 by his parents All the kids agree that that they had lived in a “harsh and brutal household”.

Since the lawsuit started, 11 years ago, the kids have been paying Shirley Anderson $10 per month each, as per the temporary court order. None of the kids are particularly well off. They’re middle-class people with families of their own, trying to save for their kids’ educations and for their own retirements. They are determined to fight this lawsuit, no matter what it takes. They’ve been representing themselves in court since they couldn’t afford a lawyer, but, earlier this week, a fancy lawman stepped up and offered to represent them for free.

BC Attorney-General Mike de Jong is recommending that the entire parental support law be taken off the books like it has been in Alberta.

Though we certainly don’t have the whole story here, on the surface it seems pretty clear that Shirley Anderson should go piss up a rope —  as they say in legal circles.

But there have to be cases where the parental support law is necessary, wouldn’t you think?

Let’s say I get old (use your imaginations) and Stephen Harper decides to confiscate all our public service pensions (like he’s threatened to do). And maybe I’m too sick and/or feeble to work. And maybe instead of all my love, devotion and affection being returned by XUP Jr., she grows up to be a sociopath who cares for no one and nothing but herself.

Of course, she becomes enormously successful (as sociopaths are wont to do) but wants nothing further to do with me because I cramp her style. Should she be legally obligated to provide me some sort of financial support or should I have to fend for myself?

My example may be a bit extreme, but this not an impossible scenario (for other people – not me). There could be many reasons, aside from horrible parenting, why a child does not voluntarily support a needy parent. Maybe a spouse is resisting the added financial burden. Maybe the child feels he would be depriving his own children in order to support the parent. Maybe the child is holding a grudge over something relatively minor (I never had a birthday party) and this is his revenge?

What do you think?

And what about Shirley Anderson? 

Shirley Anderson’s lawyer says, “The case is not about what kind of mother she was… the duty to support and assist an elderly parent transcends everything else.”

Does it?

Soon, a whole bunch of us will be old and a whole bunch of us don’t have a secure pension or enough savings to see us through our old age. Nobody can afford retirement residences anymore. The cost of living keeps going up.

Do our children owe us, no matter what kind of parents we’ve been?

And if we’re going to make parental support relative to whether or not we’ve been good parents, who is going to make that call?


When I was 17, I ran away from home. My best friend’s parents were kind enough to take me in until school was finished. But as soon as my last exam was written, they started hinting broadly that perhaps it was time I got both a job and the hell out of their house.

So, I moved in with a girl I met in a coffee shop in the wee hours one morning after the bars closed. Her name was Robin and the whole idea of us being roommates had disaster written all over it from the very beginning.

Robin was a very old 19. For one thing she was DIVORCED. At 19.  (Which sounds even crazier from where I’m sitting now than it did from where I was sitting back then.) 

For another thing, Robin was probably psychotic.

She would have episodes where, for no discernable reason, she’d suddenly completely freak out and start screaming and throwing and breaking stuff and threatening violence against herself and others. Fortunately (or unfortunately) she usually did this when I had people over. 

Robin never did any cleaning.  Never. She’d just leave her dishes where she happened to be when she ate off them. She dropped her clothes wherever she took them off.  If I said anything she’d say, “Hey, I don’t care what the place looks like. If you want it clean, you clean it”

When she ran out of clean clothes, she’d “borrow” mine (without asking) — including my underwear.  Sometimes I had to look for my clothes in her room. It was really scary in there. The underwear I let her keep.

She also “borrowed” my food and my money if I was careless enough not to lock it up somewhere.

She’d bring home strange men from bars. Sometimes she’d bring home two or three and go to her room with one of them and “leave the rest for me.” I had a good lock put on my bedroom door.

One day while I was at work, Robin moved out. She took all her stuff and most of mine. I never saw her again.

I lived on my own for a long time after that.

Over the years, however,  I had four more roommates – two female and two male. Both of the female roommates were great. The males were more like relationships than roommates so those situations were all tangled up with stuff outside of sharing accommodations, so they weren’t quite so great in the long run.

Which brings me to the roommate I have now. Let’s call her “Jr.” She may be the second worst roommate I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong — she’s a lovely, lovely person – but she kind of sucks as a roommate.

She pays none of the bills, for instance. Ya, that’s right. I pay ALL the bills and pay for all the groceries and toiletries – I even pay for transportation, vacations, school, electronics, some of her clothes, and pretty much everything else.

But, since she hardly makes any money, I don’t really mind paying all the bills. The worst part is that she’s really, really messy.

Her room is 2-feet deep in clothes and who-knows-what else. I don’t know how she manages to emerge from there each day looking immaculately groomed, coiffed and dressed.

I don’t have to look at her room, so that’s not so bad. I keep the door closed and hope nothing ever escapes from there. But she’s just as messy in the rest of the house. For instance, her bathroom is also the main bathroom and the one that guests use. So it would be nice for it to not look like the toilets at Cleetus’ Highway 12 Gas-Up ‘n’ Go.

I ask, I tell, I beg her to keep that bathroom clean. She keeps telling me it is clean and yet it really, really isn’t. Does she just not see the green stuff growing in her toothbrush holder or the dark ring around the inside of the tub?  I don’t understand.

And she can just walk through the kitchen to turn it from tidy and shiny to sticky and smeary. Let’s say she makes a peanut butter sandwich. There will be a trail of crumbs from the toaster, across the counter and down to the floor. There will be peanut butter and jam on the fridge handle, on the cupboard doors and on the cutlery drawer. Sometimes even on the stove though she doesn’t, as far as I know, need the stove to make a peanut butter sandwich.

The knife will have an entire sandwich-worth of peanut butter on it still and will be stuck to the counter. The plate, I will find somewhere in the house —eventually. Or it, along with a stack of other dishes, will re-appear during the Annual Cleaning of Her Room Event.

And she never re-fastens the lids to anything. After using the peanut butter or the jam or the juice or whatever, she just gently places the lid on the jar. So the next time I go to take something out of the fridge, I end up holding a lid. The jar and everything in it end up all over the floor.

I’ve tried paying her to do the weekly cleaning in hopes that it will help her recognize what a pain it is when you don’t clean up as you go along. But I soon realized that things were actually getting dirtier when she was responsible for the cleaning. I’d pull dishes out of the cupboard that still had actual food on them – not streaks or crusty spots, but puddles of ketchup, smears of egg and once I even found a French fry on a plate stuck to some gluey ketchup.

I give up. I’m tired of arguing about it. I think it’s just easier to do it myself and then grumble and blog about it.

How is/are your roommate(s)??

Have you ever had a roommate from hell?

Any innovate ideas on how I can get mine to pitch in?

Pinocchio Parents

One thing I vowed never to do as a parent – and probably the only parenting vow I’ve been able to stick to – is to never lie to my child.

Parents lie to their kids all the time to protect them or shield them from ugly realities or even to make life more fun for them.

My parents mostly lied to us to scare the living crap out of us; or maybe for their own amusement. Fear of punishment from them apparently wasn’t enough of a deterrent for us. No. They made up elaborate stories to reinforce their rules.

For instance, when I first started school, part of my route home was a dirt path along the side of the lake in back of another farmer’s field. This seemed like a fun place to me – especially the little old bridge I had to cross. So, naturally, I would dawdle along this path.

As most kids find out, dawdling is a cardinal sin. My parents soon figured out why it was taking me so long to get home. Coincidentally, that very evening, my dad “read” me an article from the newspaper that said there was a mad killer loose in the area. The mad killer was especially fond of slicing young children to bits. And — they were pretty sure he was living under the bridge in that farmer’s field!


The next day I couldn’t bring myself to go anywhere near that bridge and instead of going to school, I just spent the day on the beach. At least, I thought I’d spent the day on the beach. Really, I just futzed around for a while, ate my lunch, got bored and went home when I figured it must be the end of the day. It turned out be be barely mid-morning.

My mum walked me to school. She had to drag me, kicking and screaming,  across that bridge. She tried to tell me if I walked over it really fast there was no way the mad killer could get me. I didn’t believe her.

When I didn’t come home after school by late afternoon that day, my mum had to come out and find me. I was cowering in the field. I wouldn’t cross the bridge. Who would? No one in their right mind, that who.

That night, my mum and dad tried to pretend that there was an article in the paper that said they’d caught the mad killer, so the bridge was safe for kids again. So I could go to school tomorrow by myself.  “Hurrah!” the parents rejoiced.

But that seemed a little too convenient to me and I didn’t believe them.

Then they tried yelling at me. But that didn’t change my mind either.

I offered to take the longer route to school, which meant an extra 10-minute bike ride, all of which was along a road.

They said I was being ridiculous.

I said I didn’t care and that I was never crossing that bridge again.

I ended up taking the longer route.

There was a lot of other stuff like this they lied to me about. Most of it worked out better for them that this example. Their stories seemed to make me behave and do what they wanted me to do. There were stories that made me eat the things they wanted me to eat. There were stories that made me go to bed when they thought I needed to go to bed. Most of these lies didn’t have such overtly dramatic consequences as the mad killer under the bridge story – but a lot of them freaked me out nevertheless.

I think kids process information a lot differently that we do. Parents think they’re telling their kids a harmless fib in order to keep them safe or innocent, but by the time that fib has worked its way through a little person’s mysterious brain, you never know what that mysterious little brain is going to create out of that harmless adult fib.

During the average childhood, a parent will tell their child about 3000 “white lies”, according to a UK study.

What do you, or have you, lied to your kids about? Did the lie(s) have any interesting consequences?

What about your parents? Did they lie to you?

Common Parenting Lies

  • Santa/Tooth Fairy/Easter Bunny
  • Rover is living on a farm now
  • Grandma is living on a farm with Rover
  • You can be anything you want to be
  • You’re beautiful/smart/talented/the best
  • Looks don’t matter; it’s what’s on the inside that counts
  • Sitting too close to the TV will make you blind
  • Mummy and Daddy were playing grown-up wrestling
  • It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, its how you play the game
  • We’ll see
  • Maybe later
  • If you keep playing with that thing, it’s going to fall off

Things I Used to Think About

Once when I was about 8 or 9 I asked my mother, “How old are you when you stop liking candy?” I never saw (or noticed) my parents or any other grown-up eat candy. I figured grown-ups had lots of money and could do and eat whatever they wanted to and since they chose to eat stuff like vegetables and lentils instead of candy, they must not like candy. To reinforce this logic, I also noticed that I liked candy less than my younger siblings, ergo I must be well on my way to being a grown-up.


I used to think that if someone would just sit down and explain to criminals that what they were doing is wrong, they would stop doing it. Because no one would deliberately do something wrong. So, making them aware of the rules ahead of time seemed a lot more efficient than packing them in jail after they’d already stolen something or hurt someone.


While stubbornness is not usually one of my failings, no one could convince me, as a child, that dogs came in any other colours aside from brown and black. I guess I’d only ever seen white or grey dogs in wintertime and believed they were just covered in snow.


The little blinking signal lights inside our car were a great mystery to me. The only thing I could figure was that the car somehow knew where we were going and flashed that dashboard light on the right or left to tell my dad which way to turn. I plagued him with questions about it, but he just made up even crazier stories about the magical properties of the automobile.


I used to think that when you went somewhere by airplane that “they” only packed you into the plane and sent you up in the air so that “they” could rearrange things on earth so that it would look different when you came back down. I don’t know why this seemed more logical to me than the idea of actual other countries.


One of the first jobs I ever applied for after I graduated university was as a copywriter for an ad agency. The woman who interviewed me (let’s call her Alice) was exceptionally nice and personable and started the interview with some friendly chat.

Alice mentioned my dimples and how when she was a child she was obsessed with wanting dimples. Alice pointed out that she was very tall and broad for a female, even as a child, and she used to think that dimples would make her cuter and more adorable.

I told her that I thought having dimples made it difficult for grown-ups to take me seriously sometimes because I always looked like I was smirking.

Alice smiled and said, “It’s funny that you said “grown-ups” because I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you’re a grown-up.

I must have looked completely stunned at this revelation because she burst out laughing. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that I could be a grown-up. It was the first time that the idea that I might be a grown-up had ever entered my mind.

I didn’t feel grown up. I mostly still don’t feel grown up. Often, when I’m with older people or even people my own age or even sometimes people younger than me, I think of them as grown-ups. I usually do not feel like a grown-up. But, I don’t feel like a kid anymore either.

I feel too wise and comfortable and responsible and tired to be a kid; but I don’t feel serious or established or rich enough to be a grown-up. I’ve never done a lot of the things that most grown-ups have done.

I know lots of grown-ups and I wonder if they feel like grown-ups. Some of the people I grew up with are now grown-ups and sometimes that’s kind of a scary feeling – like a “left behind” feeling.  Most of the time I’m okay with it though.

What’s your definition of a grown-up? Do you feel you are a grown-up? When did you become a grown-up? If you’re not a grown-up, why not?

PS: I got that copywriting job and Alice said it was because I was so shocked that someone had called me a grown-up.  Alice was a great interviewer and maybe even a nice person in real life, but she was some kind of freaky nutbar of a boss. Her madcap antics drove me straight into the arms of the federal public service.

Bowl of Cherries Syndrome

Okay, so this little elementary school student in Toronto brings home a report card with all “Cs”. The parents are livid and complain to the school. Then the kid enters a spelling bee and DOES NOT win! Now the parents totally freak out! They start writing nasty notes and letters to the school about the school’s alleged discrimination against their son. The school tries to explain the situation as best they can in this face of total lunacy, but their reasonableness cuts no mustard with the parents.

So then the crazy parents enlist the aid of a couple of friends and the four of them start an all-out campaign of harassment against the school and all the people they think are responsible in the school for their son’s less-than-stellar academic achievements. They send death threats. They print up and distribute posters threatening to blow up the school. They threaten to shoot three of its staff. As a warning, they shoot out the school’s windows with pellet guns.

The school hires extra security, transfers the threatened staff members to another school, installs a security camera and has police patrols on the school grounds. Eventually charges were laid against three of the four idiots.

I thought this was an interesting article because lately I’ve read several blog posts by parents who are upset about something that’s happened to their child in school or camp or daycare. (Not that I’m equating these way OTT people with normal parents who are just looking out for their kids)

I’ve been in situations many, many times over the last 16 years where I’ve felt like marching into a school or into a day camp or over to some other kid’s house and giving them some hell.

Because, dammit, these are our precious kids who we’d love to wrap in cotton wool and who we want to protect from any unfairness or harsh words or sadness or hurt or disappointment. Our hearts break when they come home all weepy and tell us that everyone hates them. Or that they didn’t get picked to be Student-of-the-Week…again.  And we’re as furious when our baby worked really, really hard on a project and is so damned proud of herself and ends up getting only a “B” and other kids, whose parents obviously did the project for them, get an “A”. Or when some puffed-up summer day camp counselor won’t let your 6-year-old go to the bathroom for an entire afternoon because it isn’t “convenient” for her.

We don’t want our kids to learn the “life sometimes sucks” lesson because we can’t bear the helplessness of not to be able to make everything perfect for them. We desperately want to fight all their battles for them. But we can’t.

Of course there are times when we have to step in – when our child is in physical or emotional danger. But the rest of the time, I, personally have found it best to let my kid decide.

She comes home and tells me whatever horrible thing happened. I ask lots of questions (Because most of the time there is a lot more to the story than the initial headline). I commiserate with her and make sure she knows I’m on her side. Then we figure out what to do about it.

In cases like the camp counselor bitch, this is a good time to reinforce the “standing up/speaking up for yourself” credo. If you have to pee, by god, you tell her you have to pee and then you just go. If there are consequences, send the bitch to me.

In other cases, after we’d finished talking about things I’d ask my daughter what she would like me to do. Should I send a letter? Should I go talk to someone? Make a phone call? I’d explain what I would say or write and what I’d hope to accomplish and 99% of the time my daughter would then say, no, it’s not important. Or she would decide she’d go and talk to the teacher or kid or whoever herself. As long as she knew I had her back, she felt pretty good about fighting her own battles.

In 16 years I think I only stepped in maybe 3 or 4 times and those were almost always times when someone else’s parents had already stepped in and my kid was outnumbered.

So, although there’s a hell of lot of stuff kids have to deal with these days that we never did; in some ways they also have it a lot softer than we did. We failed classes and even entire grades (gasp). We got detentions and lines and were made to stand in corners and some of us even remember The Strap. Other kids could bully, tease and harass us mercilessly and we’d have to suck it up. Other kid’ parents, the neighbours, shop keepers, teachers, prettty much anyone older than us was allowed to give us hell and even a good smack sometimes. Our playgrounds were made of steel and concrete. We had no helmets for anything. We wandered around alone until the street lights came on. We never had “play dates” and would have gotten beat up if we’d suggested such a thing. We had to do our projects with a pencil using the dusty, out-of-date Encyclopedia Britannica.

And when any adult gave us heck or did something to us we thought was unfair or mean and we were silly enough to come home and complain about it, we’d get another dose of heck from our parents and then we’d be forced to go and apologize to the other adult.