Monday, September 27, 2010

A Short Bit About Being Alive, or Life, Death, Buses

Fall has set in and Jessie is fully engaged in all of her activities—including Propeller Dance, hip hop, music, drama, and teaching dance—in addition, of course, to school (where she will be doing a work placement at the Food Bank starting later this fall). She is managing her schedule incredibly well (although that’s never really been the issue, the problem is usually how I am managing it!), including learning two new bus routes so she could get herself where she needed to go independently while I was away at a 4-day retreat with a trip to Montreal tacked on to the end.

While not a novel observation by any means, the more responsibility she is given (where there are few to pick up the pieces—except all those neighbours and friends we have co-opted as back-ups and guides) the more she rises to the occasion. While I was away, Dan said she did a great job taking care of herself and supporting him in what he had to do. I know there were probably many glitches, and probably many snacks that might not make it on the nutritionist’s list; however, she not only survived, but felt a proud sense of stepping up to the next level.

This will probably be important as we head in to this fall, as I might be away at unpredictable times; my father (Jessie’s beloved Grumps of the two-stomach fame) was just diagnosed with cancer. While it was odd to go straight from a 4-day silent retreat to a meeting at the oncology department, Jessie’s response put it all into perspective for me. When I called her later that afternoon and shared the treatment plan with her, she was ecstatic. I tried to tone her excitement down a bit, not wanting her to hold on to magic cures (my Dad is, after all, 80 years old, and as I told Jessie, likely to die in her lifetime), trying to keep her focused on a reasonable reality.

“But Mom!” she said, as if I had totally missed the point, “Today he is ALIVE!!” That he is Jess. That he is.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who's Your Role Model?

Our constant haggling over the Jonas Brothers (okay, MY constant haggling) has had new wood added to the fire as Tanya and Nancy—Jessie’s teachers at Storefront—told her yesterday that the Jonas Brothers were not appropriate role models for a young woman of her age. She was more than slightly miffed as she shared this little piece of her day with me.

Taylor Hicks, Season 5 American
Idol winner lining up for JB tickets
I do wonder, sometimes, where she gets this tendency to fawn over TV/pop stars from and am quick and happy to blame it on Dan. Not that he would even deign to watch the show, but he is the guy who can relate to late nights watching movies on TV. His are usually in black and white and involve long-dead actors and auteurs, but that doesn’t stop me from pining the fame blame on him.

When Jessie was little, I wouldn’t even have Barbies in the house. At least not until I was forced to let one in when it came as a gift and I was obliged to welcome it as an act in our moral commitment to inclusion. Really! It was my first ethical conundrum around inclusion because all of Jessie’s friends were playing with Barbies and by denying her that experience, I risked further separating her from her peers. Of course, as all parents will tell you, things change. You let your moral compass shift slightly off true North and welcome any diversion that will buy you more than 5 minutes alone in the bathroom, or, in our case, any diversion or interest that will connect your child to their peers.

However, the Jonas Brothers, and all things Jonas and Camp Rock and Disney, are driving me to distraction and may even require some serious intervention. I’m just not absolutely sure who needs the intervention.

Do I lay down the line as to what I deem acceptable as entertainment and as a way to spend one’s time, or do I respect her choices? We have tried to lead her to other sources of joy. There is no doubt in Dan’s mind that my proclivity is toward social justice and that I see beauty in magnolias, not Miley Cyrus. Dan himself loves baseball, biographies, and jazz. Most of our family games (and we have played LOTS of family games) were of the cooperative variety; the TV shows she watched growing up were on TVO and PBS; best-loved stories were often the classics (Wind in the Willows, Little Women, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Story of Rosa Parks); and outings were usually to farms and museums and rarely to any place that had a roller coaster.

When Jessie shared her dismay (or was it disdain?) about Tanya and Nancy’s response to her chosen role models, she was taking a risk, because she knew full well my own opinion about the Jonas Brothers. So I took a moment to reflect (instead of jumping on the bandwagon), and asked her if she could explain WHY the Jonas Brothers were her role models. She came up with a pretty good answer: because they loved music, they respected their mother, they were family oriented, they were fun-loving, and they wanted to share their love of music with everyone. That, I pointed out, made sense. She grinned.

Then she thought for a while and said “Okay. Maybe I just shouldn’t share that with them. Maybe the Jonas Brothers can be my role models but I just don’t tell them that.” That, to my mind, was an interesting and thoughtful solution. And we talked about what we share with other people and how we choose the appropriate place and people with whom we share certain interests. Let’s face it. She does have a few friends (both with and without disabilities) who love the Jonas Brothers.

She was quiet for a moment and then said “But I also think of Nellie McClung, from the Famous Five (women who fought for women’s rights in Canada) as a role model I guess, and Nelson Mandella.” (I admit, this made me feel a bit better about my parenting skills.) We talked more about role models and what they mean to us and how we find new role models as we mature and meet the world in different ways. We talked about her former dance teacher and mentor, Hannah Beach, as being a role model, and Craig Keilburger (Canadian activist for the rights of children), and Alito Allessi (the founder of DanceAbility).

I also realized that since she has exited formal schooling (i.e., classes in English, Civics, Geography etc.) she is not as exposed to new people and ideas as she was. She doesn’t read the newspaper, doesn’t really listen to the news, rarely watches current affairs TV, and our days seem so filled that there is not as much time as there used to be to discuss current events or social issues. That’s something I hadn’t really thought about as we transition into adulthood, and I realized that it’s something we might need to address (although I am not sure how!).

But as I watched her process and think and be willing to consider new ways of stepping out into the world, I began to feel very proud of her. Even though she loves the Jonas Brothers, she also loves her best friends, her family, and her art. She is passionate, determined, loyal, and has an uncanny ability to believe in something even when the world is trying to force her in a different direction. She is unafraid to dance on the beach to music that only she can hear, and if only more of us were willing to do that, it might be a more interesting world. So maybe Jessie should be MY new role model.

Photo source:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day One: Back to School; Back Off!

It’s Jessie’s first day back at Storefront, the two-year public school program she is enrolled in that teaches job skills and skills for independence.

We had planned to have a first-day-back celebration with cupcakes that Dan was tasked with buying on his way home from work. In a rare fit of domesticity, I bought a chocolate fudge cake mix at the grocery store (I can only take domesticity so far) and made peanut butter icing. I was feeling like such a good Mom! Then I got an e-mail from Dance With Alana (where Jessie takes a hip hop class) that offered a series of workshops this week, before the regular session starts. I signed Jess up for the video hip hop (don’t ask me, I have no idea what that might be) and the pop and lock class (I have no idea what that is either, only I know it probably doesn’t have anything to do with breaking and entering because Alana isn’t that kind of woman).

I presume everyone reading this sees what’s coming, but I am still in the first blush of fall back to school and feeling like a generous and kind-hearted parent. Jessie calls on her way home from Storefront, excited because she has NO chores! I proudly tell her about the cupcakes. There is silence on the other end of the phone.

“But Mom,” she says quietly, “I told Dad to buy them on the way home.” “Yes, but I thought we could make them instead. Home made is much better than store bought, right?” Silence again. “Sometimes,” she replies. I try to sell her on making cupcakes but fail miserably.

Then I tell her, all excited, about the hip hop workshop. “But I don’t even know what that IS!” she says. Hmmm. I am detecting a theme here, but I try to sell her on that too. Then I just give up, put on my happy excited voice, and say “whatever!” hoping that it will all come out in the wash. “See you when you get home!”

As I hang up, I realize that I have stepped in too close, re-arranged things that don’t need re-arranging, and without even knowing it, undermined her sense of control and direction. It’s not the growing up that’s tricky; it’s the letting go of old ingrained momhood habits. Wish me luck for day 2!