Rare rant

This weekend, we took the little ferry boat to Granville Island like we do very regularly. Zak started chatting with the driver about the upcoming closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station. The driver was outraged by the decision and this encounter left me in the same state of mind. I can understand that the government needs to cut expenses to reduce the deficit. I can understand that the public servants charged with cutting costs have an insane job to do and are often not very aware of the regional realities. But this is just ridiculous.

With the closure of the Station, the closest Coast Guard boat will now be in Richmond and will need about an hour to make it to False Creek. The boat driver was explaining how although his boat run is extremely safe, he still has to deal with the Coast Guard on a fairly regular basis. Because people apparently jump from the Burrard Bridge on a regular basis, and being the ones on the water day in and day out, the ferry drivers end up fishing them out. They used to take them to the Coast Guard Station but will now have to take them to the public dock and wait there for the police to show up while 30 traumatized kids watch the person die (his words, not mine).

I had no clue these guys had to do such a gruesome job. It makes sense: they are the first ones on the scene and I would assume they are legally required to help if they can. But I never would have thought it was such a common occurrence. He assured us their boats are equipped with large plastic tarps for that purpose.

Anyway, that is one person we talked to about this closure. How many other stories would I hear if I asked everyone I know if they have had to deal with the Coast Guard in our area? Vancouver proper is a city of 578 000 people. It is on the ocean. We need the Coast Guard.

The swimming lesson

I went with Zak and the kids to the pool yesterday for their swimming lesson. While Zak went in the water with our baby, I watched our son and his group. It suddenly struck me that 9 out of 10 instructors were male – for preschool swimming lessons.

It is unusual to see that many male instructors with kids that young. I find it tremendously positive. In a world where the extremely large majority of my son’s teachers will be female, it is even more important for him to have positive male role models. True, it’s often in physical education and similar contexts that you see male teachers. But better there than not at all. So I was happily surprised. Especially since our son is usually more comfortable around women – he’s a flirt – I find it important for him to be challenged out of his comfort zone.

But it also made me feel better about society. I read Lenore Skenazy’s Free Range Kids Blog, where she talks about helicopter parenting, but also about how paranoid society has become when it comes to kids’ safety. The two subjects go hand in hand, since it is this constant fear for children’s safety that stops parents from letting them enjoy the freedom they, themselves, enjoyed at the same age. In one of her latest entries, Skenazy mentioned an article in a parenting magazine that suggested how to react if you found out, after telling your daughter she could have a sleepover at her friend’s house, that only her divorced single dad would be there. The article suggested telling the dad that unfortunately you did not feel comfortable with the situation and would be willing to have the girls at your place instead. I found this appalling – as if all males were potential pedophiles and you had to keep your kids away from them, and from great experiences, instead of teaching your kids how to react if someone touched them inappropriately. (Not to mention that, if you really want to be paranoid, inappropriate things could happen even if the mother was in the house.)

Anyway, seeing the male swimming teachers made me feel better. They have to touch the kids! They help them climb the ladder, hold them when they’re lying back in the water, etc. And, thank God!, it doesn’t seem to create any issues with the parents.

Maybe there’s hope for the future of society?

You piece of…

I liked Justin Trudeau’s outbreak yesterday. Besides finding it deeply funny, I can totally understand how the extremely ironic situation led him to boil over. I’ve never been a big fan of Trudau, what with the hate for his father that was bred into me as a sovereignist Quebecer as well as the very annoying bilingual commentaries published on his Web sites during previous elections (if you’ve never seen them, they’re worth it… unless you are perfectly bilingual there is no way to understand anything because he starts a sentence in one language and ends it in another).

Anyway, I don’t like the guy that much because he seems too syrupy to me, too perfect to be real, the nice, cute, politically correct guy with the perfect wife, the perfect children and his father’s voice. But yesterday he made me laugh. The situation in itself is so exasperating – how many ways can Harper’s Government find to piss off about everybody else in Parliament and almost everywhere else? I am truly sick of these guys and their contempt for Parliament, for the population, for the values that Canadians are supposed to hold dear – like the environment. I am sick of their love of big business at the expense of the health of future generations.

So I feel like for once, Trudeau got it right. He expressed the feelings of a large portion of the people in Canada. I just wish I could have done it myself.

Yeah, he swore – but I say worse, although thankfully not when talking about my family. Yeah, I would prefer my son doesn’t start saying that to his friends, but he doesn’t watch Question Period. And between adults who know very well that he’s right? It might not help with the lack of decorum in Parliament. But I think we’re past that. We have lost so much trust in our government that I’m not sure this will make it worse.

And it made me laugh. That’s a start!

The Army and me…

I have talked before (here and here) about Remembrance Day and how sad it makes me that this day does not get more press in Québec. I don’t want to go at it again. But there are things I didn’t yet have a chance to say so I’ll go at it again anyway.

I grew up with a very bad opinion of the military. I was elitist. I knew nobody who was or had been in the army. My family acted like being in the army was shameful when my brother toyed with the idea of joining the Reserve. As a young adult, the one guy I knew who wanted to join the Army seemed less smart than average, did nothing but play video games, lift weights and drink, and thought the Army would be a good place to party. So I thought soldiers were all dumb people who did not know what to do with their life and were looking for a socially acceptable way to simply follow orders and not have to think for themselves.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Different sets of circumstances brought me to spend time on a military base in Comox, BC, where I met amazing military families. Then in my everyday work I was put in contact with a lot of military documentation. I discovered a whole lot of aspects of military life that I had no clue about. I came to realize that sure, there are dumbasses in the Army like everywhere else, but most military men and women join for good reasons. I’m sure these are as varied as the people who join, but many really want to make a difference in their fellow citizen’s life, they want to fight for what they think is right, they want to help poor people around the world, they want to make the Earth a more just place. What is there not to like in those values?

Are there trigger-happy, G.I. Joe types who join to find an acceptable way to kill people? Probably, although I’m sure they do everything in their power to screen those guys out. They don’t want that kind of people, because they just make their work harder. Most members of the military are nice, decent people who, yes, might have a slightly higher tolerance for adrenaline than most of us do, but who are truly passionate about the chances that are given to them, in their career, to truly change the world. One war zone, one torn country, one disaster area at a time. They must have great leadership qualities. They have to be smart. They have to adapt – or die. They are brave, of course, and willing to leave their family behind for months to do something that they believe in.

On Remembrance Day, in the past, I have mostly thought of the average men who ended up in the two World Wars with little training, knowing next to nothing of what they were getting into. I felt for them because they could be my son, they could be Zak – hell, nowadays, they could be me – being sent out to war if things warranted it around the world. But this time I feel like thanking the other kind of soldiers. Those who pick a military life, with all the difficulties that come with it, because somebody has to and they feel that kind of devotion, the need to help their neighbors. I long for peace, but I am not opposed to war in all its forms. I do believe the military serves a purpose. And I am so thankful that I don’t have to do it, because let’s be honest: I don’t have it in me.

They do. And because they do I am at home sipping tea, brutally alive with my children, while some of them or their close friends are being torn apart by Improvised Explosive Devices.

Thank you. Every day, but especially today. Thank you.

Cancer again…

I was going to post about how my daughter started walking this weekend, but first I read the letter Jack Layton wrote before his death and now I’m crying. So I thought I should talk about him instead.

I didn’t like Jack Layton that much. I’ve been voting NDP ever since I moved to BC because I couldn’t vote for the Bloc Québécois anymore and the NDP is the closest to my social-democratic values. But to be honest, their leader irritated me. I didn’t follow the last election as closely as I should have (I was moving and I had a baby), but in the previous election, I found Layton aggressive in televised debate. He was cutting everyone. He was shouting. He sounded mad. And he seemed determined to pretend that he could become Prime minister when everyone else knew it was impossible.

But he became opposition leader. True, his success was largely due to the fact that Quebeckers got sick of the Bloc and fell in love with Layton’s personality on a very popular talk show. But Jack was putting himself and his party out there. His anger was probably justified given the way things were going in Ottawa. And although I found him annoying, it seems like he knew what he was doing.

Most of all, from what I can tell and from what everybody is saying, he was true. True to himself, and honest with the public. He was idealistic. Of course, if he had managed to seize power, he may have hit a wall and been unable to lead with the same integrity as he did at the head of the NDP. It is much, much easier to make promises when you can’t realize them. But I think he truly meant what he said. He didn’t act like a careful politician. He didn’t speak the same politically-correct language. He was a breath of fresh air.

And now he’s gone. For years, I wanted the NDP to replace him because I didn’t think he would succeed. Now I think that Canada has lost a very important person. And I’m sad. He was 61, younger than my parents are. He had a 2-year-old granddaughter who won’t remember her Grandpa. That’s life. But it’s sad.

One of my coworkers lost his father last week; he is 47 and his wife is pregnant, due in 6 week, after years of IVF treatments. He really hoped his dad would meet his only grandson. It was not meant to be. Life is ironic. Life is a bitch.

Add that the fact that my neighbor’s 5-year-old is dying of a brain tumor and you might understand my state of mind. Death sucks. I have never wished harder that I could believe in God. But I don’t. I don’t want people I love to die. I don’t want to die. But it will happen. All I can hope for is to delay it as much as possible. That sucks.

Sigh. I’ll feel better tomorrow. At least I’ll try to.

A sinking feeling

This morning, something dug a painful pit in the depth of my stomach that will probably be there for a while.

One of my son’s best friends is dying. Brain cancer. The child’s parents are preparing the biggest birthday bash ever for their child’s fifth birthday because it will be the last. Five freaking years old. How can you die at five years old? How will the parents – my friends – survive that? How CAN you survive that? We found out by email. They found out recently. They are expecting not more than a year to live. It could all be over by Christmas.

Of course, selfishly, I’m thinking about how I will tell my son. The parents have requested that we keep the prognosis secret for now as they haven’t told their child. But I’m not sure how I can tell my son that his friend has this big bad disease without him asking me if his friend will die. And I don’t want to lie to him. So I guess I’ll wait before I talk to him about it, wait until the disease shows and he asks questions, or until the friend knows. Or until I am told that it would be better to tell him now. Because I don’t know what’s best: tell him now and give him something to worry about for a long time? Or wait and give him less time to grieve.

Of course, there is also the pain my friends are going through. They are away right now but coming back soon. They have a baby too, a year and a half. What a horrible situation for everyone. Their child is supposed to start kindergarten in the fall, and I assume that will proceed as planned if the child is well enough, but at the same time, what’s the point if there is really nothing that can be done to stop the cancer? I mean, if I was the parent, I would want to stop working and pull my child from school and just… I don’t know. Travel, spend time with my family, rack up some debt and take a shitload of photos. But I don’t know, because I am not in their shoes. And I am tremendously grateful for that. Can you imagine, too, introducing this child to a whole kindergarten class and impose the mourning upon those 5-year-olds? That must be an awful decision to make consciously. But then, what if the child really wants to go to school? Shudder!

Of course, it could always happen to me. And that is the other really hard thing about seeing friends decimated by illness. I can’t help but both feel relieved it’s not my son and worried it could be. Life sucks. There is really not much we can do right now, except for offer our help to make the birthday party the best-ever. We offered help, but if they don’t want to take it there’s even less we can do. They say when life gives you lemon, make lemonade. But what when the lemons are rotten?

We are planning on running in our friend’s honor at the next Terry Fox run. I’ll mention it when we form the team and maybe you can donate to the cause if you can spare a few dollars. In the meantime, I’ll go grieve… and spend some time with my healthy children. Fingers crossed.

If you know us and are worried about which friend I am talking about, please don’t comment and name names on this blog. I don’t want to name the child for obvious reasons. Just ask me.

A city in ruins

Last night we watched the Stanley Cup finals and then turned off the TV, mildly disappointed with the results. We then did our daily chores until I started noticing that the helicopters were still flying above us and that there was some screaming in the street. I checked the Internet. Oh my God! We then spent the next two hours watching live TV news feed. We couldn’t believe it. How can people riot over a hockey game? The answer, of course, if that they are not. It had nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with the presence of a big crowd of drunken people. We went to bed at 11:30, way too late, but I still couldn’t fall asleep. Only blocks from my house, people were burning cars and destroying and looting stores. I could hear helicopters, I could hear some shouting, I even heard some broken glass, which made me fear the worse, but luckily thugs didn’t make it here. Of course, my baby was then awake from 12:30 to 1:00 and my son woke me up at 2:30 before the baby was up for the day at 5:45, so I had a very short night.

In the morning, things had gotten better. We went for a walk in the downtown core, and it had actually been cleaned up pretty good. And that’s where my hope in humanity was partially restored. Thousands of volunteers spontaneously showed up as soon as the rioting ended with garbage bags and rubber gloves, and they cleaned up. By 10:00, when we were there, there was almost no broken glass left and people were scraping burnt plastic from the sidewalks. But there was still a lot to do inside the stores. So many broken windows! There were window repair and restoration trucks all over the place.

Then we arrived at The Bay, the scene of probably the worst looting. The windows were boarded up, and people were writing messages on the boards. Messages of hope: “Vancouver is better than this”, “We’re ashamed”, “We’re sorry”. I found it very emotional. It didn’t make up for last night, but people tried. I saw a photo of a lady in a wheelchair with her assistance dog, picking up garbage on the street. People tried to make things better. They showed their humanity. And that’s all we could do at this point.

I only wish people realized how easy we have it here and how useless it is to riot over nothing. Keep your energy for fighting the government. If the young people who did this used the same fervor to do something useful, the world would be a much, much better place.