It Can Happen Here

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I apologize that I’m publishing such a downer of a Valentine’s Day post, but I watched the video for One Billion Rising and felt compelled to comment on it.  But I’ll back up a bit.

I’ve been volunteering for a local women’s shelter, My Friend’s House.  I serve on the Board of Directors (and several sub-committees) and even though I’m new to this work, I’m finding it very fulfilling.  For one, it’s a great way to give back to my community.  Two, it’s a cause I really believe in.  We are doing good work.  And three, it is necessary work.  Unfortunately, there is a need for this shelter.  It is never empty.

I live in a lovely community.  It is on the shores of beautiful Georgian Bay.  There are ski resorts nearby and affluent people vacation here.  Even more affluent people retire here.

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A lot of people have a picture-perfect image of Collingwood in their minds, and that image does not include domestic violence.  When I joined the board, another new member expressed his initial surprise that there was such demand for our shelter and for the outreach services we provide to victims of abuse.  Collingwood just doesn’t seem like that kind of place.  Unfortunately, every place is “that kind of place.”

And, as Canadians learned this week, domestic violence can happen to any kind of person.  On February 7, 2013, Senator Patrick Brazeau was arrested for domestic assault and sexual assault.  His alleged victim has not been named due to a publication ban.  I will resist the urge to delve into a discussion of Senate reform (Could we start with term limits? Is that too much to ask?) and stick to my point.  Domestic violence is not something that happens to other types of people.  Patrick Brazeau’s arrest should remind us that this type of violence can, and does, take place within every stratum of society.

This brings me back to One Billion Rising, the awareness raising campaign organized by Eve Ensler.  One Billion Rising urges women to come together to fight gender-based violence.  The video  is slick, unnerving and moving.  My initial reaction was that women coming together and dancing doesn’t accomplish much, and that this video would likely go the way of Kony 2012.  But I’ve changed my mind, and I’m hoping that this movement, at the very least, inspires women and girls who may bristle at the word “feminist” to come together and support one another.

But I really hope that this campaign helps people realize that gender-based violence is not a women’s issue.  It’s a human rights issue.  And in the same way that it can happen anywhere, to anyone, it will take all of us coming together to stop it.

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From Strain Theory to Strained Peas

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I’m a stay-at-home parent.  That’s a bit odd for me to write, because I don’t think of myself as a stay-at-home parent.  I think of myself as a college teacher.  But I had a baby sixteen months ago and I haven’t taught a college course since before that baby was born.  Hmm.  Is that cognitive dissonance?

I’ve been struggling a bit with my role as a full-time mother.  It’s not that I don’t love being home with C.  I do.  And I appreciate that I’m fortunate enough to have the means to stay home with her.  She’ll only be little once, and I have the rest of my life to work.

But sometimes, when I think about my former life, I feel wistful.  Because even though teaching was often difficult, stressful, and frustrating, it was never dull.

I’ve taught a variety of courses (Sociology, Political Science, English, Research Methods) to a wide range of students, but my favourite experience was always teaching Criminology to Policing students.

Photo via Simon Fraser University

As a Criminology instructor, I was fortunate enough to meet a Forensic Anthropologist, who investigates suspicious fires and skeletal remains.  He has some grisly stories to tell.  I’ve worked with a detective who has served in every policing branch you can imagine, from Homicide to Guns and Gangs to White Collar Crime.  He has even gone undercover.  Some of my colleagues worked on very high profile cases, like the Bernardo case.  I’ve spoken with the investigator who elicited the murder confession from former Colonel Russell Williams.

I now spend a large portion of my day building block towers and reading Barnyard Dance*.

I realized recently that I still needed to work and to give back, despite my decision to stay home with my daughter.  I’m not going back to teaching right away, but I have found a way to contribute that, I think, would work for a lot of parents in my position.  I joined the Board of Directors for a local non-profit organization.

This is why I think volunteering on a Board of Directors is a great idea for parents in a similar situation:

1) The hours are parent-friendly.  Meetings are usually in the evening and are typically held once (maybe twice) a month.  This is quite manageable, even if you have young children at home.

2) Giving back to the community is important.  It also sets a good example for kids.  I want C to be a responsible, involved citizen one day.

3) It’s a way to keep some work-related skills up to date.  It can combat the dreaded baby-brain that sometimes goes along with stay-at-home parenthood.

4) It’s a small step toward making the community a better place for the next generation.  This was always important to me but it has become even more so since having C.

I realize that not every stay-at-home parent is able to make this sort of commitment, but if you are, please consider it.  It’s a great way to give back.

*Barnyard Dance is an excellent book, the first 250 times you read it.

My Good Deed Went Unpunished

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I’ve been struggling with this blog lately, for a few different reasons.  Firstly, the baby has been sick, she’s been teething, and I haven’t been getting much sleep or free time.  But more importantly, I’ve been trying to figure out what I want this blog to be.

At first, I thought this would be a good place to document my efforts to keep some balance in my life while looking after my baby daughter.  Pete and I have managed to do some biking, some banjo picking, some cottaging, some camping, and lots of other fun things we used to do before C made her debut.  I have to admit that it’s nice to keep a little record of our lives during this time, because it goes by so quickly and it can be such a blur.  I’m sure I’ll look back and be grateful that I’ve written these posts.

At the same time, blogging can feel self-indulgent.  I’d like to be blogging about how I’m contributing, in some way, to making the world, or at least my community, a better place.  I’ve always volunteered, and I’m beginning to think that I should direct some of my extra energy toward something positive and productive.  I’ve considered a few different options.

I’ve been mulling this over for the past few weeks.  I really want to be making a difference.  I want to set a good example for C.  The culture she is growing up in can be so narcissistic and I’d like her to be a generous, empathetic little person.

This was all in the back of my mind the other day when I went out to Dairy Queen to get blizzards for Pete and me.  Pete would probably like for me to point out that we have Dairy Queen about twice a year (the last time was on two-for-one blizzard day, which was crazy).  It was about 6:30 pm, but it had been extremely hot that day, and was still quite warm.  I pulled into the parking lot next to an orange car and when I looked inside, I could see that someone had left their dog inside with the windows up.  The dog seemed fine, but he was panting.  I went inside, looked around at the other customers, and hoped that when I went back outside the car would be gone.  But when I got my blizzards and went back outside, the dog was still there, in the car, with the windows still up.  I considered my options.  Go back inside and let the staff know?  They were all teenagers running around trying to take orders, and I didn’t think they would be able or willing to do much.  Ask around to see whose dog it was?  That was a bit confrontational, and the thought scared me a bit (there were a few rough-looking characters in there).  I decided quickly to just check the doors of the car, in case they were unlocked.  The front door was, in fact, unlocked, so I opened it quickly and tried to roll down the window for the dog.  The dog jumped into the front seat and for a split second I thought he would either try to attack me (he was a big guy and I was in his territory) or try to escape.  The window didn’t roll down easily, since it was a pretty old, rusty car.  I managed to get it down a bit and quickly closed the door again.  I jumped into my own car and as I did I saw a man set down his order on a picnic table near the restaurant and start to walk towards our cars.  I’m not sure whether he saw me close his car door, but he gave me a very intimidating look as he walked toward me.  My heart was racing.  I didn’t look away, though.  I stared right back at him.  This was a scary, scary-looking guy.  I quickly started the car, drove off, and vowed that I would never do anything like that again.  It was stupid.  I put myself at risk.

I’m not sure if there is a moral to this story or not.  I tried to do the right thing, but that poor dog is still living with that man.  I didn’t save it.  I put myself in harm’s way, and for what?  I’m sure that guy didn’t learn a lesson about animal care that day.  He didn’t have a Disney-esque change of heart and decide to do right by his dog from now on.

I’m hoping that the lesson I’ve learned is that there are many ways I can make a difference that don’t result in a frightening showdown in a Dairy Queen parking lot.  And I’m hoping that I can blog about those things here.  (I do realize that blogging about them is still self-indulgent, but hey, baby steps.)  Whether I’m able to do so mostly depends on C, and those pesky teeth of hers.