Saturday, 15 September 2012

Parenting, prejudice, and tough love

Update: When I first posted this entry, the photo was fairly new. I searched Facebook and discovered the person's name was there and had the same profile picture as the photo. She was friends with the person who replied and that profile picture also matched. I couldn't find the matching status but her profile wasn't set to public and, if I had a status making the rounds on Facebook (in not a positive manner) I'd have deleted it too. Then I found a non-grainy photo of the status, it looked real. I searched Google for final confirmation and found about 3 or 4 entries under her name. An Etsy, Twitter, and a MyLife account. I think there might have been one more. I couldn't find the age of her son but did confirm she was a mother. I didn't tag her in this blog as I was writing more to discuss my feelings on what was written and not the author of the status, but I didn't see the point in removing names and photos from the picture.

Several days ago I posted a link to this entry on a forum I frequent. That day the woman who set up the forum posted the picture on her own blog, Regretsy. Yesterday someone came onto the forum to claim the person was her niece and had been framed; she also posted a reply on my blog. I sent her a message asking her for more information but heard nothing. Thankfully Helen, the pseudonym of the woman running Regresty, was able to talk to the person who supposedly wrote this status. Her son is three years old, no where near old enough to walk home on his own with anyone. She hadn't written it.

Now comes the scary part. Within a half-hour of my blog entry, someone had already created a Facebook page, "[name]: Homophobe and Child Abuser?" with people sending her messages and threatening violence. And, remember I said I found three or four entries under her name? Google now brings up 17,500 results. Many of which show up as "Let's draw some more attention to [name] and her friend, [name]. ... How absolutely disgusting and disgraceful, thank you, [name] and [friend's name] ..." Page after page of identical listings. I got up to the 16th page before I found an entry that didn't have anything to do with her (one of those "Did you go to school with anyone named [first name] or [last name]? Find your friend here" entries). Note that wasn't where the entries against her ended, it was just where it stopped being all her. There are many pages beyond that.

I removed the reply to this post as it mentioned her by name. I have also removed her name from the picture and from my blog. I'm keeping my blog entry up but please keep in mind the photo is fictional. And, if you have written a blog about this photo and the women involved in it, please un-tag them and remove their names. They've had enough negative attention and would like to fade out of the public eye.


I have seen this picture on Facebook several times since last night and each time it makes my heart heavy. Here's a mother determined to stamp out what should be nurtured in her child; kindness, open-mindedness, and empathy. It makes me want to give both those kids hugs. Both deserve to be able to walk home with their neighbour without threats of violence.

Her friend's comment about tough love baffles me. Obviously this person has no idea what tough love is. Tough love is allowing your teenager to deal with the consequences of their actions. They do something wrong and you do not step in to fix things for them, hoping that the results will show them in a way lectures won't. Tough love involves stepping back, you are not the consequences and you don't deal the consequences. It is not an excuse to violently pass your prejudices onto your children.

The other part that confuses me is their ages. How old are they? If they're prepubescent children then how does she know this boy is gay? Is she assuming because of interests or personality? My son was uniformly described as "sweet" when he was a child. He used to bring his baby doll to school and loved the colour pink. He's 15 years old now and hanging out with his girlfriend as I type. You can't judge kids (anyone for that matter) based on stereotypes. And, if they're old enough for this kid to have actually come out, then why on earth is she spanking her son? If she is putting her hand on her teenage son's backside, I hope someone from child protective services is investigating this family.

One proud moment in my life came one afternoon when my daughter got home from school. This was back when she was in grade eight and, for some unknown reason, the school decided it would be fun to invite all the boys and girls in the senior classes to stay at school for a sleepover. It was going to be heavily supervised and my daughter was eager to attend. All the kids were talking about it. That afternoon, however, my daughter was angry. Sarah*, a classmate of hers, had confided in one of her friends that she was bisexual. On the bus ride that morning, the friend had spread that information around. Her excuse was that she felt everyone should know before the sleepover. And, of course, that information spread within minutes of the buses arrival. Daughter got to school in time to hear a group of her classmates loudly proclaim that there was no way they'd sleep anywhere near Sarah. That was when my daughter walked up to her and told Sarah that she could put her sleeping bag beside daughter's bag. She wasn't going to spend the sleepover alone.

Anyone who's had a preteen/young teen girl knows what these years are like. Sleepover central. Two days later my daughter got an invitation to go for a sleepover at Sarah's house. What does a parent do? In my home, I request to go and visit the parents. I spoke to the Mom and got a general idea of what their home was like. Squalid and disorganized but I didn't see anything that would actively harm daughter and hoped maybe the rampant messiness would be an eye opener to prod her into cleaning her own room (it wasn't). They slept over at each other's homes a few times before Sarah moved.

I allowed daughter to deal with the consequences of her actions, with support and praise from me. If you stand up for someone in front of bullies you paint a target on your shirt. Daughter learned this as vandalism of school property (namely graffiti against Sarah) quickly occurred and was blamed on daughter by the same girls who had refused to sleep near Sarah in the first place. What did daughter learn from her actions? She has about three friends now who are "out" (I'm sure she will tell me the exact number once she reads my blog) so I figure one thing was standing up for friends and supporting them.

This woman too has learned one thing from her actions, her page is no longer totally public since her status went viral (her friend, on the other hand, seems to have missed this lesson). I can only hope she's learned something as well that her son already knew, kindness and empathy.

* yes, I just picked a name at random

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The weirdest guests ever

It was almost twenty years ago and my now ex-husband T* and I were engaged. He was chatting on the phone with a friend of his when the friend got a call from another high school classmate and drew her into the conversation on 3-way. T was not impressed as he remembered the classmate as someone who thrived on drama and created it wherever she went. By the end of the call he'd decided the classmate had changed and exchanged phone numbers with her. Over the course of several months they chatted back and forth and eventually we decided to get together for a visit. Her kids were living one town over from us with her parents and she and her boyfriend visited them every weekend. They could come over for lunch... tomorrow.

This was back in the early 90's when internet was dial-up and rare and cellphones were as big as cordless phones and equally as rare. They didn't know where we lived and Google Maps and GPS devices weren't options. We settled on having them call us once they reached her parents' house to get further directions and to give us a head's up they were on their way.

T rolled out of bed the following morning, walked to the window and announced "they're here". I laughed and told him to quit joking. He ran to the closet and pulled on the first pair of pants he found (thankfully his) then said "I'm not kidding. They're walking across the street right now. I'll try to stall them so you have time to get dressed." And off he ran, pulling on his shirt as he barrelled across the living room and down the stairs.

I jumped out of bed and looked around in a panic. I was in my pjs with messy hair and unbrushed teeth, the bed was unmade, I had nothing ready, food-wise, at all. Of course it was only 8:30am and they were supposed to be coming for lunch. I pulled up the sheets and got myself presentable as quickly as possible. Finished brushing my teeth as they were walking up the stairs.

T's friend announced she was tired and needed coffee then made a beeline for the kitchen. The little girl raced right to the bookcase and started throwing books around the living room. The little boy ran for the furniture, where he alternated between trying to poke holes in the fabric so he could rip the stuffing out and jumping off the back of a chair, narrowly missing the coffee table. The boyfriend glanced around then scoffed, "This is it? Where's the rest of your apartment?" then started detailing how much bigger and better their place was.

T's friend wandered into the living room. She was wearing spandex pants and a ratty t-shirt with a huge hole over the nipple... and no bra. I spent our whole conversation alternating between staring at her feet and the wall behind her. She was heartbroken she hadn't gotten us a wedding present but was great at doing nails and had all sorts of colours and rhinestones that she could use. Wouldn't it be so cool? We'd have matching nails.

Before I could answer, the little boy announced that his sister had peed on one of our cushions... that she'd placed on a stack of my books. I raced to grab the books and asked the parents to deal with their little angels. The Mom immediately remembered that her coffee wasn't finished yet and scuttled off to the kitchen. Her boyfriend informed me it was his meditation time, then proceeded to sit cross legged in the corner with his fingers beside his head and hum loudly. Both kids were screaming by this time and jumping off any furniture they could find onto yet more of my books.

I grabbed every book and shoved them into my room then announced I was making lunch. It was 9am. I'd had some ideas for lunch but those plans had revolved around me getting up and cooking for a few hours before our guests arrived. And, by this time, I didn't want them in our house any longer than necessary. I hauled two cans of soup out of the cupboard and chucked them in a pot then tossed together a salad. It didn't seem like much of a meal so I pulled out one of those microwavable powdered sauce and cake mixes. Then I called Mr Meditation and kids into the kitchen to eat.

While I was childless at the time, I wasn't an idiot, and I'd placed the kids half full bowls of soup in the freezer to cool. The boyfriend walked in and immediately started complaining. He never bought canned foods, he made everything from scratch. He had at least twice as many spices as us and couldn't imagine cooking with that few. And our storage space, or lack thereof, he had no idea how we could function with so little space.

As I placed the bowls on the table, the boyfriend started telling us about how he'd been badly abused as a child and this had left him super macho and totally impervious to pain. Just then I put the girl's tepid bowl of soup in front of him, he knocked it onto his lap and immediately started screaming about the pain and how badly it was burning him. Thankfully he shut up when I told him the bowl had been in the freezer for the past five minutes and the soup was almost cold. T was obviously trying to stifle laughter by this point.

The soup was finished fairly quickly and I started making dessert. Once again the boyfriend complained. His desserts were all (of course) from scratch and he hated packaged desserts. He hated it so much he inhaled his helping then took seconds before T and I had a chance to get our first serving, finishing the bowl.

T saved the day. He hated to be rude but we'd been invited to a (nonspecific) family function and we needed to leave now. It was great seeing them and, oops, don't forget your purse or your son. We'd finished lunch and had them out the door before 10am.

That was the last time we ever spoke to them. Heartbreaking, I know. I'm sure she would have decorated my nails up really fancy for my big day too. Pink and purple leopard spots with rhinestones or something equally tasteful. It would have been a memory to remember.

*T has nothing to do with my ex-husband's name. It's just the key I jabbed while picking an initial.