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05/26/2011

Blame Canada

A few weeks ago a note came home from school, coolly informing us that current kindergarteners would be out of school for two days in May, to allow the upcoming class to visit and familiarize themselves with the school. Nowhere on the official calendar did this interlude appear, so I was surprised, and I confess it: I get a little squirrelly when the school starts throwing around official-sounding phrases like, "Jesus, would it kill you to care for your own kid for a couple of days, lady?" Therefore I did the obvious thing and overreacted. I planned a trip to Montreal.

A couple of years ago Charlie and I took a trip together, a quick flight over to Ohio to pick up some furniture from my parents' house and then a much longer slog home in a U-Haul. My time with Charlie was fantastic, but the 14' truck was frankly kind of a dick, so I remembered those 750 miles with ambivalence. But to Charlie, it turns out, it was all good: a hotel pool, carte blanche with the snacks, and my mostly undivided attention -- mostly, because I did occasionally break into his conversation with an expletive or two while I wrestled the truck through, like, one-lane mountain passes and rickety rope bridges and over roiling volcanoes and shit.

But we'd been thinking about how nice it had been to have a couple of days with each other, so we did it again. At the Biodome I watched Charlie vacillate between an assumed hauteur -- That for your frisky tamarins. I distinctly remember being promised there'd be unicorns -- and bursts of untrammeled enthusiasm. Seeing his incredulity when I spoke French, I showed off a bit and inevitably came a cropper one morning when I accidentally asked our serveuse for another cup of René Lévesque was the son of a whore, cream and sugar, ess vay pay. We basked in the history and immersed ourselves in the vibrant cultural life of one of North America's oldest cities. Haaaa, psych, no, as if: We swam in the hotel pool.

But the highlight for us both was a trip in a jet boat. The boat buzzes down the St. Lawrence River, plunges crazily through the Lachine Rapids for about 20 minutes -- crazily, as in GIANT WALL OF WATER HA HA HA HA OH GOD NOT THE FACE WHOOOOOOOO HA HA HA IT'S PROBABLY GOING TO KILL US ALL HEE HEE HEE HEEEEEEEE THERE ARE TROUT MATING IN MY SINUSES AGGGGGGGGGGH ohIhopewedothatagain -- and then buzzes back to the dock just as you start to notice exactly how wet your underpants have gotten. Luckily we'd been advised to bring a change of clothes, including underwear, because by the end we were indeed soaked to the skin, despite three layers of Polarfleece, a waterproof jumpsuit, a life vest, and a poncho. If you happen to find yourself in Montreal, and if you enjoy thrill rides and inhaling ice-cold quarts of river water -- wait, no, metric and French, I meant quelques kilomètres de Celine Dion thumping her chest as if the entire Parti Québecois were lodged in her windpipe frigide -- do check out Saute Moutons [noisy auto-loading video].

And that plug was unsolicited and uncompensated, unless you count the fact that after the ride, when I declined, with a squawk of laughter, to purchase this photo, they kindly gave it for free:

Sautemoutons
Now doesn't that look like fun?

Every once in a while I get the opportunity to do this, to drop everything and appreciate my kid. Oh, on a busy day I can take five or ten minutes at a time, focus solely on Charlie or Ben, and sustain myself with it, sure. Tune out the inessential garbage of our everyday lives for just long enough to reaffirm the whole point of the inessential garbage, the chores, the discipline, the count-to-ten-to-keep-my-patience: to make what's precious possible. But to do it for a couple of days at a time, when my only jobs are to keep my child alive and to delight in him -- well, merci, Montréal, pour le Cirque du Soleil freaks me right the fuck out parfaitement merveilleux.

...

Okay. I have fifteen minutes to devote to the latest linkbaity sensation: the Canadian parents who have decided not to reveal their baby's sex, as a way to change the world a little when it comes to the way we think about gender.

And mostly I think it's just goofy, the kind of story where you double-check your browser's location bar to be sure you're not reading the Onion. Part of me, however, appreciates where the parents are coming from, if not the way they're getting there; yes, we are fucked up when it comes to our tendency to fall back lazily on gender norms, even -- maybe especially -- at our children's earliest age. But another part of me is irritated by what seems like the parents' eagerness to talk the talk, without a corresponding willingness to walk the walk.

The baby doesn't concern me much. Instead I keep thinking about five-year-old Jazz, one of the baby's older brothers, a kid who wears his long hair in braids and likes to wear a poofy pink dress.

Jazz was old enough for school last September, but chose to stay home. "When we would go and visit programs, people — children and adults — would immediately react with Jazz over his gender," says Witterick, adding the conversation would gravitate to his choice of pink or his hairstyle.

That's mostly why he doesn't want to go to school. When asked if it upsets him, he nods, but doesn't say more.

Now, I know we can't know the entirety of it, but it doesn't sound like anyone was truly harassing the kid; it sounds more like the kind of getting-to-know-you stuff children do. If this is true, why was the parents' response to keep him out of school rather than engaging the issue productively? Why not teach through these difficult moments, rather than absenting yourself from them?

I should say here that I disagree in principle with making a child a mouthpiece for any particular political or social agenda ("some people believe" notwithstanding). But assuming that Jazz's inclinations truly are pretty-princessy, well, don't you then owe it to your kid to show him how to broker these encounters? And if you're not willing to work actively to change the world in this most basic of ways -- by helping your kid learn how to be comfortable with himself in a society that's sometimes hostile, by helping other kids learn how not to perpetuate the problem -- well, don't you forfeit whatever moral high ground you're claiming by grandstanding about a baby's sex?

I guess I just mean that I'm all for changing the world, as imperfect as it is, but I'm also strongly opposed to refusing to equip kids to live in it. Forget what Storm's carrying around in (s)he(is)r(ie')s diaper; that is what bothers me about this story.

What do you think?

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