Wednesday, November 30, 2005

At It Again

It seems we are always, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Knowing that it will. It always does. And when it happens it is as though we're struck anew each time, with a kind of helpless despair. If I hadn't his presence at my side daily, the bloom of his comforting arms, his gentle, reasoning voice, I don't know what I would do. As it is, when it happens I cannot sleep. I wake at night, either because I'm going through an episode of post-menopausal flashing, or because my beloved has had to get up once again during the night as a result of his miserable prostate urging his bladder on to protest. Once I'm up my mind begins helplessly churning everything over and over and over. Things that seem simple during the day take on urgent meaning during the night. Keeping me from sleeping, from blissful, restful sleep.

During those hours when I toss and turn, trying, usually with success, to keep from waking him, I try to fashion reasonable arguments which might be acceptable to her. To try to help her to understand that the manner in which she is proceeding may not succeed; that she might try an alternate route. I play with the idea of telling her that she is slowly but surely squeezing the life out of us. That this simply cannot continue. But knowing that if I do relay this to her, there is too slight a chance she might understand. Rather, what would more likely result from that revelation would be her withdrawal. She has few enough resources to fall back on, and we cannot, simply can not, remove ourselves.

That she has engineered her own plight is beyond dispute, and even she will admit to it. But she sees herself as a victim. As don't we all when everything falls apart. I wonder so often how someone with her intelligence, her ability to think things out as long as they don't refer to her specifically, can be so impaired when it comes to recognizing, realizing the level of her manipulation. She is not a reasonable person, although she is, paradoxically, a reasoning person. She has a bulldozer mentality which insists that she be recognized as being in the right, always. If ever she makes the intolerable concession that she has been wrong, or has been responsible for a wrong, it must always be accompanied by her accuser's own admission of personal culpability.

Is this totally due to her ingrained, inbred personality? I do see much of my mother in her. And most certainly I deplored my mother's personality. Her incendiary, miserable personality. Our daughter is so much more intelligent, she has enjoyed so many more of life's benefits than did my mother, so why in the name of all that's reasonable has she turned out this way? In some respects her dogged belief in herself is a positive thing, her seeming indomitability will carry her through where more fragile personalities might collapse under the strain she is constantly bearing. So that's a positive thing. But we're so tired, so weary of being a partner to her thrashing at windmills. It is personally intolerable.

That she cannot think things out in a sensible, patient manner beforehand. To view beyond the very present to the possible, the very possible pitfalls which invariably lie before her. Will we never be able to? She is, after all, forty-five years old, a functioning adult, with more than her share of excellent attributes. Why is it, how is it that she has been so impaired? Her impulsiveness could be a positive thing if it were intelligently channelled. Her inability to accept responsibility, although she claims she can and does, is a dreadful liability. Her inbred belief that she is always right, and others not, is a miserable and difficult trait to control. She cannot meet a situation halfway, accept compromise.

And how someone who is so bright and intelligent, so creative and perceptive, with so much potential, could permit herself to become a victim of her own failings yet again is just beyond our understanding. So, once again she's put herself into a seemingly impossible situation. Which she, as usual, insists she will work her way out of. And she very well may, we more than hope so. However, on this trip to re-working her future and leaning forward to a brighter one, we're dragged along, helpless bystanders, but there to offer support, both emotional and material. And we're tired, tired, tired of it.

Oh, I know we're not alone in this kind of thing. It's the most common thing in the world for parents to be dragged into the vortex of their children's failed attempts, their despairs, their lifestyles-in-waiting. And what do parents such as we despair most about? That our children will not ask for advice, nor ever, ever accept our unsolicited advice, regardless of the fact that we are able to consider the situation in the round, regardless of our own past experience, either personal or witnessed. Our advice is shunned, although we're still drawn into the situation, and should we be foolish enough to insist that we be heard, we are accused of the bleakest, blackest motives. All coming down to trying to "control" our children's lives. When the truth is, our own lives are being controlled, past endurance, by the needs of our selfish children.

It's a metaphorical bed that we've made. And more's the pity.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The House Has Fallen, The House Has Fallen...?

Well, heavens to Betsy, so it has! A minority Liberal Parliament, of some seventeen months' duration, hanging on by its uncut fingernails, in a graspingly hasty alliance with the New Democratic Party. Poof! You're gone. Here today, gone tomorrow, once the Prime Minister visits the Governor-General and she, in her wisdom and as custom demands, dissolves the House.

But what, one could certainly be excused for asking has been accomplished? Any intelligent observer of the political scene in Ottawa could respond to that one: nothing. For we had a minority government, puttering along, to be sure, and now it is gone. To be replaced by, whatever else but yet another minority government. And what will it do? Why putter along, of course.

The leader of the Conservative party in Canada, or should I say, as most Canadians most certainly believe, the Reform/conservative party, has elected in a period of great unwisdom and a rattling of the dice to incite the troops, and just incidentally in the process bring onside those other disaffecteds, the Bloc and the NDP. Talk about unholy alliances, indeed. The vote was held and the House fell to a vote of non-confidence.

Is the Prime Minister the least bit perturbed about this turn of events which he certainly had very good reason to anticipate? Not that you might notice. He should be. This is an expensive enterprise for the electorate, the taxpayer, the citizen of Canada, this silly little charade, reminiscent of nothing so much as boys unhappy with the status quo, heckling, threatening, making good on their threat: my vote potential is bigger than yours, nah, nah!

Certainly it is true that the Liberals, as the old saying goes when the governing party becomes arthritic and begins to do more harm than good for the country, should be thrown out. And what have we waiting in the wings to take over and swing into Responsible Governance Mode? Not much, not bloody much. Stephen Harper, that frightingly righteous born-again? Jack Layton, that bombastic would-be thespian? Gilles Duceppe, that stiff-necked separatist? Which brings us wearily to Paul Martin, that very good friend of multi-nationals and biiiig biznis, who proclaims himself and his party Canada's salvation. Throw the bastards out indeed, and bring in whom?

The Reform/conservatives just do not sit comfortably with Canadians. They do not really and truly express Canadians' vision of themselves, their country, their place in the world. Poor Stephen Harper; he'll be looking for another job soon. One wonders will the National Citizens Coalition want him back? Jack Layton has his heart in the right place for the most part, but his head is so big it keeps shoving restraint over for showmanship. Well, so what? we've had some pretty daft statesmen in our history and we've muddled along. Trouble is Canadians are not ready for, nor will they ever likely be ready for, a governing NDP party. More's the pity, in a very real sense.

So, dammit, Paul Martin and his merry band of brigands will be back. As a minority government of course. By their truly stupid machinations the Liberal party has lost, for who knows how long, credibility and good feelings in Quebec. Without a good hunk of Quebec they can never garner sufficient votes, given the decided lack of enthusiasm for them out in Western Canada to form a majority government.

Fine kettle of fish, as the saying goes. This could end up being a miserably endless cycle of vote-and-dispatch. We end up with mediocrity in government, and perhaps when all is said and done, it's what we deserve. But, I don't really believe it, not really As for me, never having voted any way but one, I'll continue to do the same with great and grave reservations, not the least of which is that my 'party of choice' will never form a government, but can continue to prick the conscience of the majority.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Our Early Winter Ravine

The weather has been, let's see, just a trifle unseasonable. That is to say winter has come too soon. I have nothing against winter, far from it. Winter has its many charms, and we enjoy them all, just as we do those of the other three seasons. Winter offers us a very special beauty that, when first witnessed each year takes one's breath away. Of course icy winds and low, low temperatures also do the job...take one's breath away, I mean. As you doubtless inferred.

The temperature has been in the range of minus-6 celcius this past week by the time we've got out to the ravine with our little dogs for our daily jaunt. We're just slipping by that temperature range where we need to put the boots to the little guys. Their tender paws, as they are so small, require protection from the winter cold at a certain degree of chill. Thus far, we've been able to get away with their winter coats and they've been fine, although on several of the colder days we've had to lift the toy model up to walk over the bridges fording the creek, as the cold seems to be more intense there than elsewhere. But put him down and wind him up and off he goes, to catch up with his black-haired partner, almost twice his size, but still on the small side.

Most days we hardly come across anyone else walking through the ravine. Which means I'm able to remove the leash on the little one, the tiny male with the propensity to challenge any other dog he may come across in there, with the exception of those he knows and recognizes. Our female is older and wiser, and in any event was never given to these displays of testosterone-burdened foolishness.

I remembered to bring along the camera for today's stroll in the ravine, having meant to for the past week, to capture the beauty of the snow-laden trees and pathways. It is breathtakingly beautiful, to be sure. And one has a tendency to forget just how lovely, from year to year, until faced with its reality once again. Our boots crunch on the snow as we proceed, recalling memories of years past. Chick-a-dees flit about in the trees, their rubber-ducky chirps as amusing as always, and we hear the silly call of the Pileated woodpecker close by diligently chipping away, doing unlicensed damage to what appears to us to be a healthy evergreen trunk. In the distant sky the large black forms of crows send down their raucous calls.

We stop halfway through our ramble, up on the flats, past the casual group of hawthorns, to apportion small tidbits of doggy treats. Sometimes they're patient, waiting for us to gain that juncture, but today as they sometimes do, they've been leaping up at my legs, hoping to entice me to deliver the goods earlier. And each time I dig in one of my pockets to retrieve a tissue to wipe my ever-leaking nose (rhinitis, of course) they think I'm searching about in there (pockets, not nostrils, idiot) for one of their treats, and look entreatingly at me, little devils.

My husband tells me I should take a few shots where we're standing, where there is some colour to relieve the monochromatic tedium (which I approve of and he, with his painterly eye, does not). To the right, under and among the larger evergreens, stand immature ironwoods, dry leaves dangling in colourful bronze. Not too far from them, and around the bend are the beeches still clasping their leaves, very alike those of the ironwood, but definitely copper in tone. It's where we come across a middle-aged man, smiling in recognition, whose two fluffy little white dogs greet ours in passing. One, the female, wears a muzzle, as she, like our Riley, wishes nothing better than to challenge unsuspecting dogs-in-passing with a well-placed nip.
The snow underfoot makes it a little more arduous to gain proper footing, especially on the uphill clambers, and it exacts an immediate toll on me. I have to stop, panting, and rest until I feel I'm able to continue. At these times my husband, alert as ever to my needs, stops and encircles my shoulders, bringing me to rest against his solid bulk, urging me to rest a little longer. I thought the need for these frequent rests on uphill slopes was gone and done with. Back in the spring when I began the regimen of daily baby Aspirins I had experienced an almost immediate cessation of such feelings of fatigue. Now they've returned, dammit.

Because it's Sunday, and this is the day we're most likely to see other people in the ravine with their dogs, we've decided to put Riley back on his leash. He doesn't seem to mind. Button is fine without hers; she doesn't go looking for trouble like Riley. So each time we pass someone with a dog, we murmur what could be taken for an apology, explaining that our little dog is badly behaved, as we pull him away from an unwanted contact with their dog. Most people smile in understanding. Of course with people we are familiar with, this isn't necessary; Riley's predilection for confrontation is well known to them, but rarely acted out with their dogs, as he knows them.

Almost home, we come across someone we haven't seen for several months, who explains to us that his dog, a jittery female, had somehow become frightened of coming into the ravine and as a result he'd had to discontinue their constant forays in there. He was just now re-introducing her to the ravine and she seemed accepting, although she was continually barking at him to stop lagging behind. He said he was having problems getting up the hills, had to stop often to catch his breath. I commiserated, said as we were advancing in age, it wasn't getting any easier. No, he said, he wasn't feeling well, and he went on to describe his condition. A constant pain under his right ribcage, enough to keep him awake at night. His doctor had determined it was stomach motility, had given him a prescription, but he obviously needed an additional diagnosis.

Then we came across yet another occasional ravine walker, who never seems to venture too far into the ravine, avoiding those areas that require effort, but who nonetheless has come in regularly for walks with his succession of little dogs. He was, we reckoned, on dawgno3 at this point, all of whom have been named "Schultzie" to match their Schnauzer breed. The man has the look of a Scotsman, bred and true, complete with that odd, off-kilter nose and serious mouth set in a straight line of probity; the inbred actuary.

Finally, up, up the final long slope, to the pathway leading to the street on which our house and home sits. We're no longer cold, haven't been for the last half-hour or more. It's a fairly strenuous activity, climbing up those many hills in the ravine. All the more so now that the gravelly pathways have succumbed to winter's glaze.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Dumb and Dumber

What is it with people, particularly people who are reputed to be blessed with somewhat in the range of average intelligence, and certainly with the command of greater financial resources than they might perhaps deserve...? Is it not a matter of values and preoccupations, prerogatives and obligations, well yes it is, certainly it is all of that.

We have, for example, a neighbour, two houses distant from our home. Correction: two neighbours, a man and wife, and, in addition, three lovely and very young children. They, the parents, are reasonably intelligent, and it's obvious that the children will grow up to be moderately intelligent, productive members of society. Their parents care about them, it's rather obvious in the care the children are given. While I remain personally critical of mothers who leave their children off at day-cares while they pursue careers rather than render to children what is rightfully theirs: the presence of a full-time caring mother, I should have no criticism of this young mother who is indeed at home full-time with her children. And when she is not available, her husband makes every effort to ensure that he is there with the children, giving them his unconditional love and attention.

This young woman is the kind of person anyone would be glad to have for a neighbour. A friend, a daughter, a sister, a mother. So, why be critical? Why indeed. She is also the type of young woman who is fairly self-assured, comfortable with herself, an integral part of her community. She takes personal pride in knowing what is happening in the community. My husband sees her almost daily when he jogs off to the end of the street to pick up our granddaughter from the school bus stop, and our neighbour does the same with her child. She has asked my husband on occasion to bring her child home as well, when one of her younger children has fallen asleep at home and she is loathe to wake them. A good mom.

Her husband obviously makes a fine living. I say obviously because they have been able to afford a really lovely single-family home in a very nice neighbourhood, and more power to them. This young woman, apart from looking after her three children, her home, has reached into the community to do other things. I recall when I was young like her, I did likewise: I volunteered at my children's school, I did volunteer work at our local library, and with the Boy Scouts/Cubs and Girl Guides/Brownies, and I also did volunteer door-to-door canvassing. This young woman may very well do some of these things as well. But she also does something quite different, obviously being an enterprising soul.

She has met other young women like herself at play groups and other venues where young mothers are wont to gather. And from these contacts has bloomed a business. She guides other young women in a vital element of life: memories. An industry has grown, unaccountably, in the pursuit of honouring family events, memories of children growing up, holiday events, any manner of memorable occasion. It is no longer sufficient to take photographs and place them chronologically into treasured photograph albums to be handed down through the family. Not sophisticated, not interesting enough for that segment of today's families who obviously have too much in the way of disposable income.

Now, young mothers are enraptured by glitzy and ornamental albums dressed up with all manner of bits and pieces to make them truly special in their estimation. A healthy enterprise in franchising goods that enable the personally ambitious-minded among the young mothers of today has grown to the point where young mothers feel that if they're not engaged in this enterprise they cannot possibly demonstrate how adequately they adore their young, and prepare their futures. The result is that our enterprising neighbour runs workshops where she displays products the use of which enables these young mothers to produce enviable albums of memories for their families. This doesn't come cheaply.

While we live in a fairly middle-class neighbourhood, we're not all that far from people whose daily lives are rife with worries about paying their mortgages, taxes, utilities bills, children's expenses. We have a food bank right in this neighbourhood whose resources are continually being strained. It is my contention that intelligent, compassionate people, realizing that they have been fortunate through a turn in their lives to live comfortably, owe something to those among them that are not able to realize the comfort that they do. If these young mothers have so much disposable income that they feel good about lavishing it on such inconsequential items, why not direct those funds instead where it can do good for others?

Why not, why not, for heaven's sake? I'm not making assumptions here. You could very well contend that these families who are so comfortably off, spend their discretional income in ways that they wish, and also give charitably. This has not been my experience. And more's the pity. Fact is, these young women could easily accomplish the memory-valuable albums they desire on their own, with a little creative imagination, and a lot less money. Should they wish to. But there's something about doing what other people are doing, to be part of a 'smart' set, an 'in' crowd, to share in the good feelings about being able to do these things, to demonstrate to one another just how hip they are. Why not direct those feelings outward, to encompass the needs of others who cannot afford such extravegances?

Dumb, just indescribably, selfishly oblivious.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Love Psalm

He is my very own Celestial body
Orbiting me day by day
The golden gleam of his love
Warms my insatiable soul

He guides me through each day
With his unremitting love
Steers me through the pitfalls of sadness
Through the unfailing anguish
That life visits upon each of us - toward joy

He casts his shielding glow
Over fleeting concerns
And each time-engrained wrong
Making of sorrow a mere glancing blow
Offering to me in perpetuity
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

He is the earthly father
Of our children
So alike and yet unlike their father
His glow envelopes them too
At a distance they cannot perceive

We have turned the laws of physics about
I, an insignificant body in the universe
Celebrate my own, my very own
Source of light
Source of love
Source of life

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Older I Get

Seems to me the older I get the more fearful I become. Not rational, of course, but it is an emotion that I cannot control. I fear that some dread event will take away my happiness. I am loath to see my husband go anywhere without me. What if he had an accident and I wasn't there, wasn't with him? If something happened to him I would want it to happen to me, too. I cannot think of being, without him. Without him I am not. My life is so intertwined with his, I am so dependent upon him for everything, for each breath I take.

This makes me sound ultra dependent. In some ways I am dependent, but in a great many other ways I am not, anything but. Does one cancel out the other? I have my own views on so many things, and he has his. They often converge, but often enough they do not. We discuss, we argue points, we come to conclusions, we do not always agree. Having said which, this does not, in any way, occasion friction between us. At least rarely, and even then there is no real depth to it.

Of course the fact that I've had his companionship for almost all of my life has a great deal to do with the way I cherish his presence. I should explain: I wouldn't care one whit if he decided to join some kind of men's group, a club of some kind, or to venture out on some kind of interest which would by its nature preclude me. I would, actually, welcome it. I would be happy at the thought that he has embraced another interest and has decided to pursue it. He doesn't have to be around me. It is the knowledge, the idea that he is safe, that he is engaged, that he is full of his life, with or without me that would comfort me.

Heaven knows he has so many interests. His mind is never still, he is always and forever thinking, imagining, creating. If he isn't reading something, he is actively engaged in doing something. His interests are myriad, his ability to absorb concepts, to teach himself new methods, never fail to astound me. For that reason alone I would have the utmost respect for this man. His incisive mind, his cynical observations which so often result in deliberately comical conclusions amuse me no end.

His attentiveness toward me, his unfailing reaching out to ensure that I am always aware that he loves and treasures me never fails to reassure me. That he will race up stairs from the basement to turn the radio on so that I can share with him the pleasure of hearing a piece of baroque music that we love, gives me no end of good feelings. There are so many instances of his treating me as a parent does a child, reminding me of things I would surely not forget, worrying that I am not dressed sufficiently for the weather; that can be irritating. So that I know how he feels when I treat him incessantly to the same degree of stated concern. These are small irritants that we tolerate in one another in the knowledge that this expresses our concern for each other.

We are increasingly sharing the little symptoms of growing older. Instead of leaping out of bed, we enjoy staying abed, listening to the news, to classical music. We can talk, discuss things, until a sense of guilt kicks in and up we go. There are little aches and pains. He insists that I slow down when we're clambering up a hill, because I just don't have the lung capacity and the stamina I used to have. He will stop me as I labour, and encircle my shoulders with his strong arms, until it is obvious I have overcome the momentary stress.

I worry about the state of his health. He is a strong and healthy man. Neither one of us has what might be called a chronic medical condition. We do have a chronically-human condition, and that, of course, is the passing of years. We were both dreadfully, miserably taken by surprise when he was ill with bladder cancer, but the treatment he received helped him fight that misery, and he is well. Mind, the state of his enlarged prostate is an everyday problem as well, but one that we can live with, including the discomfort it affords him. I anticipate a prolonged, long life together. At least another half-century, why not? We will prop one another up. As we do, in every conceivable way.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Principal Called, Oh Dear

She telephoned mid-morning, more than a little upset to tell me that Mr. Hubbard had called. Mr. Hubbard? I thought to myself, who the hell is he? As she spoke it became clear that Mr. Hubbard is the principal of our granddaughter's school. The new principal; we were familiar with the name of the old principal. He called to ask if she wouldn't mind driving back home to bring to the school a more appropriate garment for her child. Her home room teacher had complained about the length of the skirt Angelyne was wearing. This was a skirt she had selected from Value Village only the day before, and which she had excitedly described to me over the telephone the night before, promising me I'd see it the next day as she intended to wear it to school.

The child's teacher, upon seeing her outfit that morning had instructed her brusquely to go straight to the principal's office. Evidently another one of her teachers had hauled out a rules book a week previously to show Angelyne where it said no sleeveless blouses were to be worn to school once summer was over. Another sartorial gaffe. But on this very morning it was the pleated denim skirt with the nifty little tie in the back that had aroused righteous indignation in her teacher.

No, my daughter said to Mr. Hubbard, it had taken her a full hour to drive in to work that morning, did he really expect her to return all that way to fetch an alternate garment for her daughter? If he preferred, she offered, she would telephone her mother and father, Angelyne's grandparents, and ask them to pick her up and her offending clothing from school. No, Mr. Hubbard responded, he didn't want her to miss another day from school. Angie had been absent from school the day before; she had been up during the night retching for some odd reason, but seemed fine later in the day. "Too much chicken soup" she said to me; her mother had cooked chicken soup for her which she loves, and she said she had eaten too much of it. Little does the child know that chicken soup heals what ails one, but that too is another story.

Mr. Hubbard, my daughter said, do you really think these teachers should be focusing on such incidentals, have they nothing better to do? Shouldn't they be concerned with teaching rather than zeroing in on what they perceive to be affronts to a subjective dress code which they themselves at times scorn? Her daughter was wearing opaque brown tights, the skirt was not tight, she could see nothing wrong with the outfit. Actually, Mr. Hubbard confided, he thought that Angie looked very nice. The wimp. Was he so cowed by the withering anger of a repressed female that he might not have advised the teacher that it would be sufficient to tell the child she would be expected to wear something more 'appropriate' the next day at school?

In our granddaughter's class is a little boy who has scores of problems, most of them revolving around his lack of social civility. This little boy is a reluctant bully. It is a sadly circuitous situation where the child does physical harm to other children in the class, and as a result, no one wants to play with him. He lashes out at others, in the same token, because he is left alone. Angelyne did try to befriend him, but she found him to be so burdensome that she then tried to dissuade him from friendship. He visited violence on others, not her, but he is upset and bitter that no other children see any virtue in him. He has had mini-suspensions on a number of occasions. Particularly when he has screamed pretty vile imprecations at his teachers.

There are a goodly number of children who are not particularly good students, who obviously need a great deal of attention and encouragement to reach academic expectations. One would think that teachers have more than enough to do to assist these children, to focus also on the needs of social outsiders like those who strike other children, leaving little time to sniff askew at dress code infractions.

When Angelyne came home after school with her friend Stephanie in tow, I heard about it from her perspective. Mind, I wasn't able to fully question her because her friend was over and they were just too full of the joy of life in all its unexpected permutations. They had snacks to gobble down, they had a raft of greeting card packages which had accumulated in the mail from various charities to go through, to make selections and divide between them. After which they had to practise their push-ups and X-and-O exercises, flailing and falling all over the family room floor in exuberance.

But Angie did bring my attention to her outfit, to ask if I liked it, the long-sleeved blouse bought yesterday, along with the little pleated skirt. And I did like it, and told her so. Even her grandfather, prepared to be critical of the outfit after the morning's revelations, had to admit it was very nice. I know some of the lingua franca of current society, and in this instance I would like to tell my granddaughter's teacher to "get a life". I told Angie that I was prepared to meet with her teacher, or to send her a letter informing her of my opinion of her behaviour, and Angie was horrified. "No!" she said, it's over, finished, I don't want to do anything about it, just forget it. And guess what? She's right. For the time being, at any rate.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

France's Jews

You might think that after all this time, after all the anguish, the lost lives, the world's guilt, that Jews would be able to live normal lives unblemished by constant worries about the effects of anti-Semitism. How long does one group of people have to face being the world's scapegoat? Why does the finger of blame get pointed unfailingly at Jews? For a relatively tight group of people, population-wise, Jews have given so much to the world, in science, the arts, the humanities. We could live happily without the kind of recognition that equates Jews with world domination. Jews experience more than enough difficulties trying to control their own lives, why does a demented world believe Jews could possibly be interested in dominating the lives of others?

Why, after having paid such a dreadful penalty for existence in the 20th century should we be faced yet again with the spectre of growing anti-Semitism? The very absurdity of some of the claims attributed to a Jewish worldwide conspiracy would be laughable if it were not so deadly. Having suffered so much over aeons of world civilizations where the Jew has been the outcast, the object of derision of suspicion, when will it be enough?

Have we not built upon the knowledge that human activities have accumulated? Are we not intelligent beings? Can we not distinguish the brutally fanciful from the practical reality? Obviously not. For whatever strides mankind has made in building upon the inventiveness of civilization after civilization the human brain and all of its frailties remains static, undeveloped.

It is such a mystery that a small segment of any population can be intelligent, philosophical, well-meaning enough to strive for a balanced way of life for everyone, while the larger balance of that same population remains disinterested in anything but their own perceived immediate needs. And when those 'needs' are not met, jealousy, aggression and a brutal disdain for the 'other' becomes a demonstrable habit.

Take, for example, France. The country which smugly puts itself front-and-centre as the epitome of tolerance, egalitarianism, broad intelligence. Yes, this is a cultured society, justly famed for its contributions in areas of human endeavour. In the first quarter of the last century Germany and Austria also were recognized for those same attributes. In all of those countries there has been a long tradition of genteel anti-Semitism. This was a trait which became submerged in public shame after World War II, but it surfaces from time to time, loathe to bury its ugly head for good.

Jews have lived in France, as indeed they have lived elsewhere in Europe for millennia. That's a long time in human societal evolution, more than ample time to be accepted as a valuable segment of any society, for Jews have proved their value to society time and again throughout the ages. Although Jews have not assimilated en masse in any society with which they have aligned themselves, they have considered themselves a vital part of that society, utterly loyal to the society and they have focussed on being of value within the society. A French Jew is by his/her very nature and nurture, a French citizen as thoroughly as any Francophone within France.

There are currently a half million Jews living in Paris who consider themselves to be completely and without question French citizens to the core. Among them are wealthy people with prestigious reputations in the arts, sciences, banking, business ventures. Among them also are a far greater number who live a middle-class existence, along with those who live a life of penury. All Jews. All French Jews. All reflecting in their diversity French society at large. But of late French Jews have been forced to become discreet Jews. No symbols of Judaism can be worn, no symbols can adorn buildings, lest they be singled out. Jewish children are being beaten, Jewish schools, synagogues, cemeteries are defaced, torched, destroyed. Jewish families recall the Holocaust and can scarcely believe this can be happening - again.

Within French society there exists now a large number of unassimilated immigrants from Muslim countries; some 10% of the entire population. Almost universally these immigrants live degraded lives of benign neglect and impoverishment. Substandard living conditions, substandard schools, substandard medical attention, no discernible standard of aspirations to a better lifestyle is held out to these forgotten masses. They fester in a degraded lifestyle, reminiscent of those they left behind in hopes of a better future for themselves, for their children. Resentment is understandably high, bitterness is the lingua franca of their existence. Complaints, if they are put forward, are obviously not addressed with a view to amelioration of such an untenable social situation. France is too comfortable for those who live the life of the status quo.

But, there is always a scapegoat. Always a group whose presence rankles, whose attributes, imagined or real exist as a goad to those whose lives are truly miserable, with no hope for a better one in sight. Muslim youth, born to a France which sees no value in them for its future, focus the fury of their pointless existence on the Jews who seem to them to have found success, to have succeeded in this country where their parents and they seem to have failed. The Jews were accepted, became part of the life of the country, and they have been shunted aside, with no future holding out hope for a better life for them. So they strike, and they strike again, and the French authorities, if they take notice at all, appear completely witless about a solution.

When Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel visited France in the summer of 2005, he 'invited' French Jews to come to Israel, to settle there, that the Jewish State would welcome them. Jacques Chirac, the French Prime Minister, bristled and demanded an apology. French Jews, he asserted, are French, this was their country and here they would stay. Would that it could be so. France will all too soon be witnessing a mass exodus, and that country will be the poorer for it. And Jews elsewhere? They shudder, they fear, they anticipate more of the same.

Monday, November 21, 2005

All in a Day's Work

Soon as we had breakfast on Saturday, he hauled in that concrete-heavy mound on our deck that keeps the deck umbrella from taking off in a high wind. Down he went with it, to drill a heavy lug into it, then he cut off the screw-head. He loaded it, along with a large toolbox, an electric drill, a squeeze-tube of cement, and a few other items into the car trunk. To that I added a bag of old newspapers to help start the daily fires in the cast-iron stove, and a box of chocolates, along with a pint of fresh raspberries.

Then we pulled on warm jackets for us and the dogs, and went off to our winter-white ravine for our daily walk. It was still, and beautiful. A calming place, a return to source, to the sanity of everpresent nature. A few chick-a-dees flitted about, along with a companion nuthatch. Far milder than Friday it was, and a few squirrels, black, red and also grey ones, ran about frenetically, gathering for the dark months ahead. We're still wearing our hiking boots, and will obviously have to haul out our snow boots because we're starting to glide about on the snow and ice, especially over stones and tree roots.

Right after our ravine walk we drove over to the Canadian Tire Store on 10th Line, where my husband picked up ten feet of heavy chain. Then off we went to our daughter's country abode. The snow thrower that she had agreed to let her father buy for her had been delivered on Friday evening. It's a real work horse and should help her clear the snow she'll be anticipating this winter - in the absence of plowing usually supplied by one or the other of her two neighbours who, until her partner left in the fall, were happy to oblige. She won't ask them to continue because neither has offered to. She wants to be self-sufficient, and now she will be.

She was out at the side of the house when we arrived, where the shed housing the chopped wood is kept, and in the process of transferring cords of wood from the shed to the house where she was stacking it in the little room under the back stairs for use throughout these cold days. She's been at it for a few hours, as evidenced by the neatly growing stack inside the little room with its low-beamed ceiling upon which she's already struck her head a few times in her hurry to get it all over with. Chunks of bark are littered on the stairs and on the floor of the back foyer.

Our granddaughter, alerted to our arrival by the barking collective, runs out of the house in her new boots, just now flinging her winter jacket on as she runs. The dogs, left inside the house, raise the pitch and continue to bark frantically. We get hugs, give hugs, and Angie runs back to the front door and lets the horde out. And out they stream, large and small alike, onto the snowy lawn, circling like a flock of birds up, over, around and around in their joy at release. They turn their attention to us, insisting on being noticed, getting ears rubbed, the tiny ones wanting to be picked up and cuddled.

My husband begins hauling out the prepared stand, the tool chest, the chain, the drill, and sets to work in the unsecured garage. He wasn't thrilled at the thought that the newly-delivered snowblower could be an easy target for a thief, and planned to secure it as much as possible against that likelihood. So he gets to work, and our daughter resumes her work carting the cordage into the house. I take our little dog into the house; our other, older one dislikes joining the noisy horde, and prefers to sleep this nuisance of an interregnum in her daily routine off in the car, cuddled into one of her soft beds, knowing that my husband is working just outside.

Things soon quiet down nicely, with all the smaller dogs back in the house, the three large ones still outside, loping about in the snow, throwing themselves at one another, wrestling one another to the ground to the accompaniment of joyful snarling. Angelyne takes the raspberries from me and washes them, then carefully places half into a small bowl and proceeds to spoon them into her mouth. She and her mother both love raspberries, and she has saved half for her mother.

She suddenly reminds herself that she hasn't yet had lunch. Before I realize what's happening, she has placed a small saucepan on the stove, half-full with water. I watch her extract a small plastic measuring cup from a kitchen cupboard, and carefully measure out dry macaroni. She sets it on the counter beside the stove, then takes a small plate and puts a cheese grater on it. Out of the refrigerator she withdraws a large piece of cheese from which she cuts a portion, then proceeds to grate the cheese into the plate. She keeps walking over to the stove to check on the state of the water set to boil. She washes those items she is finished with, dries them and replaces them in the cupboard where they belong.

When the water boils, in goes the macaroni, and she stirs it slowly from time to time. I have offered to help, and from my mouth streams a constant measure of advice and admonishment. To the former she responds with an "it's okay, Bub, I can manage" and to the latter she says "I know, Bub, I know". Mom, she tells me patiently, has told her all of that, Mom has taught her how to do this, Mom trusts her. I'm as close to mouth agape as I've ever been with this child.

When she is satisfied that the pasta has cooked to the right degree, she removes the pot from the stove, shuts the element, tops the pot with its lid, and slowly lets the water drain off. She takes a jar out of the refrigerator and reads its ingredients to me; a pasta sauce consisting mostly of tomato, cheese, spinach. I coo approvingly, and she ladles spoonsful of it onto the mound of pasta she had piled into a bowl. When it is a uniform consistency of pasta and sauce she sprinkles the cheese over all, asks if I'd like to try it, goes off to ask her mother if she would like some, then retires with it to have her lunch. How is it that I never suspected this child was capable of doing all of this in such a deliberate, methodical and calm manner? I feel at turns delighted and trepidatious.

I wander off downstairs to see how her mother is coming along with her stacking, and a passel of dogs follows me. Once in the good-sized family room downstairs I cross over toward the side where the door, now closed, leads to the small storage room under the stairs, and close the door against the curious dogs at my heels. My daughter is still stacking, and looking up the stairs I see others of the large containers full of wood and begin to haul them down. Hearing what I'm about, she begins to shout at me to leave off, to stop, and I tell her forget it, I'm not yet that frail that I cannot pick up something of a moderate weight.

Meanwhile, her daughter, having washed up her dishes, has gone back out to the garage to watch her grandfather, in the process nibbling at a chocolate bar she has helped herself to, post-lunch. I watch her skipping toward the garage opening, and tell her mother how amazed I am at her child's competence in the kitchen. Yes, well, says my daughter somewhat defensively, I'm a single mother, and it isn't always easy to do everything myself. No, I say to her, it's great that she can do those things. You couldn't, I said, and I certainly couldn't at that age. In fact, I said, I wasn't able to do that even when I was 18, and recently married.

Later, I sit on a sofa watching out the picture window as my husband, our daughter, our granddaughter, are all busy out of doors. All of the dogs are now inside, and from time to time one or another of them will get antsy and howls to be let out. Beside me the Australian Shepherd is sprawled over the fat arm of the sofa, and the Chihuahua sidles up beside it. The Aussie begins to lick the tiny dog's face, ears, and stomach. The grey cat sits sphinxlike observing. I have our toy Poodle on my lap, and note that, uncharacteristically, he does nothing when he sees a small grey rabbit haul itself cautiously out from under an opposite sofa, then slowly hop over to its enclosure and cage. This is a Noah's Ark, to be sure. Yet the house is neat as a pin, the carpeting is clean, and I know the energy it must take to make it so.

Finally, some hours after our arrival, my husband's tasks are completed, our daughter is finished hauling wood as the store room is now fully stacked, and we take our leave. She's told us that she has found Marijuana seeds, joints and dried plants in the small room where the water softener is, and she's put everything together, in a box, along with his other belongings, which he is welcome to pick up at any time.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

He Visits, Occasionally

Not so little now, of course, but as he's my younger brother by some thirteen years, I tend to think of him as my 'little brother'. You would definitely not think 'little' observing him. He's solid, as in thick-framed, stout, a favourite word of our father's which, to him meant well built. My brother, despite that he reminds us at each visit that he plays squash and handball daily, is not what anyone in their right mind could term well built. Fact is, if he keeps going in the stout direction it won't be too much longer before he could be termed morbidly obese. Cripes, he's a vegetarian and you'd think that alone would ensure he wouldn't pack on those pounds, but obviously not.

I was thirteen when he was born and to me fell the manifold tasks involved in looking after a baby, an infant, a young child. Little wonder then, that I wasn't lost at sea after the birth of our own children - having been through it in a sense, earlier, practising my sleeping skills on my little brother. He came in right handy as an infant when my mother forbade me to see my boyfriend any longer, because she didn't care for the reputation his father had in the community. I had protested that it was the son I was interested in, not the father - to no avail. I still saw him though, letting him know where he could find me as I took my little brother for walks in neighbourhood parks and libraries. There they are, pictured above, my little brother seen in yellow and green and my boyfriend, in the bright blue jacket and fedora.

He's a really nice guy is my brother. I don't, of course, know how people who work under him regard him, though. They might very well think otherwise. He's a botanist, a scientist, an environmentalist, and head of the biology department at his university. Since departmental heads have to do a lot of hand-holding, a lot of disciplinary work, he may very well be regarded as other than 'nice'. Sometimes I don't think it's very nice the way I hear him talk about his children. On the other hand, who among us hasn't experienced let-downs and/or disappointment in our children? Works both ways too of course.

We, for example, gave example, never pushed our children really to do anything, although we did anticipate that they would take a healthy interest in life, in the world in which they live, in their futures. Our dinner-table conversations covered just about anything you might imagine from science to politics, to sociology to world affairs, and a whole lot in between. We argued, put forth our cases, considered others' opinions, altered our own, marvelled at the fund of knowledge crammed into young heads, and celebrated parenthood.

Then, when our daughter became, let's see, around sixteen, she no longer wanted to contribute or even be a silent part of dinner table conversations. What we found exciting and liberating, she found oppressive and dull. As well as disturbingly loud. Voices raised in the exuberance of discovery and discussion, insisting on opinions being heard. Her brothers did not share her opinion and our exchanges of opinion and urgent conversations continued. Little did we really know how much our daughter disliked them until years later. But that too is another story.

How did we get here? Well, my brother and his children had rather a difficult time of family life, early family life. Their mother, my brother's first wife, the beautiful Pamela, became so utterly self-absorbed that it was difficult eventually to understand that her problem had been compounded by a troubling mental condition which rendered her effectively childlike in manner, demeanor and intelligence. They've been long separated, and their one-time day-care provider long since took their mother's place. They still talk often with their mother who is now living in another city, under constant medication, and occasionally visit her briefly in the company of their father. For all intents and purposes their step-mother did become their mother in the very real sense of the word, and to her they owe a life of normalcy.

My brother is involved in environmental enterprises, quite outside the parameters of his job, and is a member of many environmental groups which often meet in our city, so when he's here, he often stays with us. As he did last month, for a few days, so we're able to keep in touch. Last year he stopped by with a veterinarian friend who had ties to the university; they were both on their way to the far north. They stayed over with us on the way there, then came along on the way back for another few days' stay. My brother brought back botanical samples with him, and also the skull of a narwhal.

While he's here, he always likes to go out on hikes with us, and sometimes as a result of paucity of time available, or the weather, we're not able to go much further abroad than our very own ravine, which is where we ended up on this visit. It's interesting to stroll in the woods with him, though, since he's able to identify all manner of flora, trees, bushes, wildflowers that we are not, ourselves, able to recognize. And some of them are quite surprising to us. Like the presence of a native holly in the forest of the ravine, who knew?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Snow, Already!?

We do love snow. In its season. Why hurry the season? Seems to me that mid-November is just simply too soon. Glad I am that we managed, it seemed against all odds, to get everything put away safely for winter. All of our large terra cotta glazed and unglazed pots, the glider on the deck, the table and chairs there and those at the front of the house. It took me a full month to prepare the garden beds for winter, and that didn't include wrapping the holly, rhododendrons, magnolia, Alberta spruce and ornamental cedars. Nor did it include putting the snow cones on the roses. But all was done. Dammit, we did not get around to emptying the ready composter, but still hope the opportunity will present itself, before everything freezes completely. All of the stone urns that stay in place were topped with a round of plywood, and wrapped protectively, the birdbath drained and its centrepiece stored. There certainly is much satisfaction in that, that we were able, for yet another year, to get all of that done.

So, bring on the snow you say? You mean you're responsible for all that wet, albeit lovely looking snow we had today? The stuff that stayed on the deck and its stairs and had, already, good grief, to be shovelled? Listen, I can remember going right through the month of December with Christmas looming large and no snow at all. It has happened. And now that I wouldn't mind that it did, it won't. So what else is new? I love snow, it's not that. It's just that I shudder thinking of the long drive our daughter makes back and forth to her house. Not only that, but now as she's parted with her boyfriend, moving all that snow falls to her. She refused my advice to ask her neighbours to continue plowing her long driveway, reasoning that as they'd always done it previously because of their firm friendship with her former boyfriend, if they'd meant to continue they would have said something to her about it. And she wasn't about to beg.

She would get a snow blower, a snow thrower, a machine to do the work herself. I shudder at that, too. But off we went today, me and her father. Her father has been looking at the various flyers coming around to the house from Home Depot, Home Hardware, Canadian Tire, even Walmart (the dreadful, hated Walmart). Today we thought we'd look at what Canadian Tire has. She had agreed to that; we said we'd buy it and if she ever came into a personal fortune she could pay us back. Not exactly those words; she is under the impression that she will pay us back, we won't press the matter. Her father decided on a large snow thrower, and with taxes it came to almost fifteen hundred dollars. He thought it was a good buy, a reliable workhorse. We have the same make, in fact, only ours is about 17 years old, we had bought it used about 15 years ago. It too is a workhorse, as is the man who uses it.

We'd already had an earlier snowfall, several days back. So that upon that day when we had our ravine hike we were greeted by the sight of our old familiar 'winter wonderland' scene. Our little dogs wore their woolly sweaters, but it isn't yet cold enough for them to be burdened with boots. Which was fine for the larger one, but the little one didn't much like the cold wet stuff clinging to his paws and legs. I did pick him up once, for about five minutes. Then, when he was set down again they were given doggy treats, so he forgot about his misery and continued the walk on his own steam. Fact is, it wasn't long before they spotted a few squirrels, so dashing madly after the squirrels (seemingly to the squirrels' delight, evidenced by their defiant tail-snapping, safely up tree trunks) warming themselves up through their hot pursuits.

Today we were out there before the snow had accumulated, so it was mush city underfoot. Still, the snow was falling gently all about us as we proceeded and it certainly is beautiful. By the time we drove over to our doctor's office in the early afternoon the snow had decided it had to get serious and it came rushing in great sheets of white clumps toward us as we drove. Unlike the last several years when we'd arrived at our doctor's office for our winter flu shots, this time the office was almost empty, and we were in and out of there in a veritable flash. We've had this same doctor for the last 32 years. He must surely be about our age. What we'll do about medical needs when he retires is enough to make anyone shudder, given the large numbers of people without regular family doctors.

Our local newspaper announced in a column in the weekly Food section that they're running a recipe contest for butter tarts. I thought I'd enter the contest, and to that end did indeed send my recipe for butter tarts. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It's a good recipe, makes excellent butter tarts, and I'm an old hand at baking and cooking. Someone's got to win, why not me? Why me, too, since what's the big deal about winning, anyway. There are so many winter comfort foods, butter tarts being among them.

And when I changed the bed linen on our bed this morning, I replaced the cotton sheet sets with a flannel set, for warmth and comfort. Also took off the light comforter and hauled out the down-filled comforter. But when I took it out of its zipped plastic bag it smelled. Not nicely, either. Fact is, at some point last year our little dog threw up on a corner of it, and although I had hand washed that corner, I obviously did not clean it adequately. What to do? It states boldly on the label "DO NOT WASH". But I figured what the hell; I don't hesitate to wash down winter jackets and have not had any problems as a result, so I went ahead and washed the comforter. And it came out just fine, smelling beautifully, too. So, guess we're all set for old man winter. As much as anyone can possibly be, that is.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Another Day, Another Story

Children, thank heavens, have the capacity to find joy regardless of background problems. Until, one supposes, events so egregious occur that there is a breaking point and there is no longer occasion to feel joy. These two beautiful children have never experienced the kind of despair that might cause them to lose hope in the future. But they did tell me a story about one of their friends who just might be in such a situation, and your heart breaks.

Our most immediate fears of what our daughter's erstwhile partner might do when he discovered that the locks had been changed in the house they own co-jointly have not materialized. We breathe easier on that score, but there are so many facets to this worrisome event that fears erupt as soon as others are submerged. It doesn't help at all that there was a case this past week-end which occurred in Windsor, where a former boyfriend of an emergency-room nurse murdered her in the very hospital where he too worked, as an anaesthiologist. She had an 8-year-old daughter and had become part owner of a house with a divorced man. She too had decided that the relationship was disfunctional and took steps to separate herself and her child from the man. She was waiting for a peace bond to come into effect, but even that would not have saved her.

Our daughter sent a letter to her past partner's lawyer advising that she has had the house locks changed. She left a copy of the letter in her post box, knowing that her previous partner would pick it up, dropping by as he does for his mail. She conjectures that he has not yet changed his mailing address in fear that should he do so, he might somehow jeopardize the status of his part ownership in the house. This time, however, unlike the other times in her absence from the house, he did not enter. She has advised him, through the medium of the letter that he must inform her in advance if he wishes to enter the premises to remove any of his belongings and arrangements will then be made for him to proceed - with a neutral individual present as witness.

Yesterday she packed up all the foodstuffs in her kitchen cupboards that she had bought for his consumption and for his son on his bi-weekly week-end visits, and took the resulting three boxes-full over to the Food Bank. She has steadily been removing all items that belong specifically to him and replaced them with those newly-purchased by herself, unwilling to use anything that he owns, at this juncture. She had told me a few days earlier that his son, six years old when his parents separated, had been fearful of his father's behaviour immediately after separation. Now his son is thirteen, but still remembers that time when his father screamed insanely, thumping on the doors and windows after his wife had locked him out. The boy had been over for his week-end visit when the very same thing happened with our daughter, and he had been grimly silent, once again witnessing his father behaving in the very same fashion. In both instances, the women had been fearful for their safety. Would that we could always be aware of such things before, not after the fact.

Yesterday we experienced our first snowfall, an all-day event which left plenty of snow on the ground, but which overnight rising temperatures resulting in a steady rain washed away by morning. But winter is upon us and snow aplenty there will be in the near future. Neither of her neighbours, both men with strong ties of friendship to her former partner has come forward in his absence to assure her, now a single female with a child living a fairly isolated lifestyle (until the house can be sold and her portion of the proceeds used to purchase another house, of her own) that they will continue as they have always done, to plow out her long driveway after snowstorms. I have asked her to go to them directly to ask for their help, but she refuses to 'beg' as she calls it.

Instead, she has decided she will procure a snowblower. A snowblower won't do her any good, she needs, at the very least, a more powerful snowthrower. After some discussion with her she has agreed to allow her father to purchase a good quality snowthrower for her, and it will be delivered to her home. She will learn how to use it because she is determined to do so. Just one more element of complication in her already impossibly complicated life.

The two children, Angelyne and her girlfriend Stephanie, came bursting into the house as usual, after Angie's grandfather met them at the school bus stop. After their snacks, they chattered non-stop about the events of their school day; no outside morning recess due to an all-morning rainfall, so they were bored out of their skulls as a result. I heard the various names of other children in their class who are either friends and nice, or not friends and blooming idiots (my words, not theirs, obviously).

Then Stephanie's voice floated over to me from the breakfast room, as I stood by the sink in the kitchen. Their friend Brittany, one of their little clique, was not at school. Her father had just died, of a heart attack. Stephanie had said 'Dad' and I thought she'd said 'dog', and thought how odd, her dog had a heart attack. Then Stephanie said to me that Brittany's mother had died when the child was born, and poor Brittany had a simply dreadful time with her mean step-mother. This is the stuff of legend, the mean and wicked step-mother, the father who doesn't see it, the child who suffers. Surely a legend here, too? But no, both girls affirm that the mother had died, the father had re-married, now the father is also gone, and the little girl, their special friend, is alone and has no one to really care about her. My mind barely is able to take all this in, and my soul rebels against the unfairness of the life visited upon a child.

There's more, much more to the story, they tell me. The step-mother is always yelling and screaming at their friend, even in the schoolyard when she drops the child off at school. The little girl often weeps in class, and they try to comfort her. Once, the school principal witnessed one of the screaming sessions and intervened. The girls also mentioned that it became common knowledge that the step-mother was warned by the school, that if they continue to observe such treatment of the child they will contact the Children's Aid Society. The little girl's grandparents, the children said, have tried to take custody of her, but the step-mother continues to foil their attempts. Good heavens, good heavens, is there truth in all of this? The children are earnest, they certainly believe what they're telling me.

The girls babble on between themselves, and I hear them plan out a little gesture they will prepare to attempt to cheer their friend up, on her return to school. They will co-produce a card, both do the artwork, take turns penning the composition within to assure their friend that their hearts and thoughts are with her. Heads bent seriously over their work, they discuss every aspect of how the card should present itself, what they mean to convey by it. Deep in the process of creativity, they revert to their usual cheerful selves, and while still plying themselves toward the completion of the card, they also clown for my camera.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Girls!

There she is, our granddaughter, nine years old, full of fun and the enjoyment of life, sprawling all over her friend. There are dark things happening in the background of her life, where she is very aware that her mother has initiated proceedings whereby they will make a new life for themselves. This child was at first saddened by the fact that her mother's partner of almost seven years would soon be absent from her life. She has since adjusted, as children are wont to do.

Beside her is Stephanie, her best friend from school. Stephanie is a year older than Angelyne, a really cool kid, partly explained by the fact that she has two older sisters and an older brother. She has obviously selected well and patterned herself in part on what she has observed of her siblings. Angie has done likewise, patterning much of her girly behaviour on that of her friend. Some bits of innocent patterning don't have her grandmother's approval. These are slight things such as wearing sleeveless tops in winter, eschewing socks altogether (but Angie's mother warned her last night that if she continues to slip her bare feet into shoes and boots she'll be in trouble; this after her grandmother has been bemoaning the practise for the last month), and speaking an odd kind of language where 'sweet', and other expressions obviously mean something which eludes old farts like me.

The girls form quite a duo. We're really happy to see them together. They've known one another for several years, and they've slept over at one another's homes several times. They are part of a small clique of 5 or 6 girls in their class. I'm the fascinated recipient of some of the gossip, some of the wordplay, some of the action, some of the outrage that goes on amongst them during the course of a normal day in the life of 9- and 10-year-olds.

And here I thought that Angie had a stevedore's appetite! Stephanie has demonstrated very nicely for me that Angie is not at all unusual in that respect. In fact, Stephanie has outdone Angie in that department, to my great delight. Our after-school snack routine has doubled occasionally, with Stephanie's accompanying Angie home to us after school, until Angie's mother arrives after work to drop Stephanie off at her home, close by ours, and take Angie home for the day. Yesterday they had tangerines, chocolate milk, grilled cheese sandwiches. Today's menu was little dishes of fresh raspberries, chocolate milk, croissants, spread with honey. Angie's friend told us she had never tasted honey before. Angie, who always refuses to eat honey, this time plied it thickly on her croissant, along with her girlfriend.

Stephanie, by her account, has passed by our house often, not knowing it was the house of her friend's grandparents. When she first spoke to her father, calling from our telephone after school, to inform him where she was, she told him the street name and identified the house by its stained glass windows. Evidently they walk often on the street, and have noted the house before. Oddly, Stephanie repeats things on the telephone to her father, and as she repeats, she becomes impatient, until finally she hangs up the receiver. Turning to me the first time I noted this she explained that her father goes on and on, one question after another, until she yes, terminates the tedious conversation, hangs up. What?

Stephanie is fascinated by the house, and it is indeed a house which many children find fascinating. Kind of like a museum and art gallery rolled into one. Angie is more than happy to haul Stephanie around showing her every last nook and cranny in the house. That wouldn't be so bad, but Angie goes somewhat overboard and begins opening desk and bureau drawers, doors of the Japanese Shinto shrine, my many jewellery boxes. Nothing is immune from her frenetic activities geared to showing her friend that all is permitted this golden child in her second home. Her friend is fascinated, and cannot, obviously, see too much.

In one box on her Grandfather's bureau she finds a soft-sculpture piece of wearable art that her own mother had made when she was not all that much older than she is. Also in there were small hair ornaments of plastic which no one uses and which I finally yank out intending to add them to the bagful I'd placed in the bag meant for the Sally Ann. Angie's friend expresses an interest in them and I offer them to her and haul out the rest from the bag destined for the Sally Ann. She has long hair and is more than a little intrigued, and decides she would like them all. I'm only too happy to oblige, even though she begins to demur, saying she's being selfish wanting them all. What a precious child.

When Angie moves on to begin opening my jewellery boxes I indulge them for a while. They ooh, and aah over this and that, although I know that Angie is well familiar with just about everything I own. I offer a silver-link bracelet set with colourful polished garnets to Angie, knowing it's not the kind she likes, and her friend offers that she would love to have it. I had planned to offer it to her, in any event, and she is delighted to have it. As a child I would have given my eyeteeth to have such a piece of jewellery, so I'm really pleased about that. Angie keeps rummaging about and I offer her a silver ring set with a brilliant cut bright pink stone, right down her alley.

From there they gravitate to the library, because it's an overcast day and the light is better in there. I have camera in hand and would like to take a few photographs of them, and although Angie has taken to avoiding such sessions her friend is more than eager and thus is it that I am able to capture a few additional moments in the life of this child.

Love, Grandma.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

She's a Corrections Officer

We first were introduced to her (by way of her dogs which is how most people who walk their dogs get introduced to one another; through their mutual interest in the animals, their own and those of others) about a year ago, during one of our daily ravine jaunts. We liked her immediately. Liked her dogs, too. Both of them rescue animals, both somewhat elderly; the dogs, that is. She had recently moved to our area from Thunder Bay. She hadn't much good to say about Thunder Bay, and really liked the Ottawa area.

Not only the weather, she said. Inclement as Ottawa can be in our fairly harsh winters, Thunder Bay is that much more so, given its northern location. The way of life is much different there as well, rougher, you deal with a rougher crowd altogether. She was tired of it. She had been bogged down with her life and Thunder Bay, she felt, was part of her problem. She hadn't realized just how much of a problem it had been for her until she had moved, was able to evaluate the changes, and finally see how much she had detested her life there.

Never been married, she told us, but had plenty of relationships. She had a seventeen-year-old daughter, and was having problems with the girl. They had enjoyed a close, trusting and intimate relationship, until, it seemed to her, there had been a sudden, unexpected turnabout, and suddenly, it seemed, almost overnight, she had become her daughter's worst enemy in her daughter's estimation. As a single mother she had tried to do her best for her daughter. Part of her problem was realizing that she wanted a better, a more promising environment for her daughter, and for that reason alone she was satisfied with her decision to leave. Not her daughter, though, for she had left her friends behind, and missed them.

Our ravine friend is a feminine looking, very attractive woman. Sturdily built, but not overweight, really. She has dark hair, dark eyes, a wide face and a friendly smile. She seems relaxed in her personality, out front and unabashed about anything she says. She is 46, so we're 22 years her senior, both of us. Perhaps there's a parent/child element to our friendship. We don't even know her name, but that matters little. We like her, are glad to see her, and over the course of a year we've exchanged personal anecdotes, background material, hopes and disappointments.

Her two dogs surely say something about the character of their owner. They're both middling-sized Shepherd mixes. One is predominately black in colour, with long, rough hair, the other is a short-haired dog, with blonde hair. The blonde one has a very obvious inner-ear problem and its head turns crookedly at times. Both are innocent and sweet-seeming canines, friendly to the core. You almost imagine you can see their souls through their guileless, trusting eyes. They dote on their owner, trust her completely, for she has obviously given them a new lease on life, a life which must certainly have been a dire disappointment for the poor creatures until she came along.

When we speak with her of our daughter's intimacy misadventures with men, she laughs knowingly and always says it sounds like the story of her life. She too, she said, literally bounced from one worthless male to another. Finally, she said, she was in such a parlous state, feeling much as our daughter always did, that she desperately needed to have a man in her life for stability, for emotional support, that she began seeing a therapist. The treatment finally succeeded in persuading her that she could face life alone, with her child, and make do very well. And so it was for her for six years, living on her own with her daughter, and making a life for themselves. Then, she said, as though having dropped from nowhere, or heaven perhaps, she met a man who was far different from those she had known.

Her new boyfriend is different, she says. He's sensitive, kind and the most decent of beings. She can hardly believe she has this new intimate friend. It has made a huge difference in her life. He has two teen-age children too, but they live a fair distance away. They had spent the last week-end driving up to see them (I don't recall where she said they'd gone) in perfectly dreadful, seat-of-your-pants weather. We think he is also a Corrections Officer. Were glad for her. Her daughter, who back in mid-summer had left home to return to Thunder Bay in defiance of her mother is now back, living with them.

Her mother gets frequent calls from her daughter's school, whenever she goes missing for prolonged periods, when she is supposed to be at school. One of her teachers evidently told the girl that she is too intelligent to be wasting her time in high school; she should be in university where her intellect would face challenges. The trouble is, her mother said wryly, the teacher forgot to inform her impressionable, rebellious daughter that she has to get through high school, with a diploma, before she can make her way to university. They've had to set down rules, and they've had their computer set up so her daughter can only have access as a guest, cannot use MSN, cannot download anything. This has been her undoing in the past, we gather.

Her daughter's school friends come over to collect her in the morning, to haul her along to school with them. They aren't drop-outs, so she doesn't understand where her daughter's behaviour is coming from. In fact, she told us, another of her daughter's teachers had told her during a parent-teacher interview that her daughter had complained to her teacher that she herself does not understand why she behaves as she does, why she is so rebellious and resentful; it puzzles her.

Sometimes she discusses penal matters with us. It is her work, after all. She talks about some notorious cases where the protagonists are incarcerated in the facility where she works. She has a robust intelligence, and a sense of the rightness of things, of justice, and there are times when she finds our political correctness particularly galling. It's interesting to get some 'inside information' from a professional within the justice system so to speak, and not particularly encouraging, at that.

We're hoping for the best for her predicament with her daughter, who appears, she says, to be making mistakes similar in substance to the very ones that she herself made throughout her early life. She's hoping for better for her daughter. It's a heavy burden, being a parent, all the more so when one is serious about parenting, and the welfare of one's children.

Monday, November 14, 2005

What's Next?

Well, she had offered when she informed him that it was time they separated, to continue to share the house with him. They could continue to live together, amicably, she said, if he agreed, until such time as they were able to sell the house and share the proceeds so they could each go their separate ways. It would hardly make any difference to the way they were living together in any event, she figured. And he would understand that the situation was a temporary one, until they each went their separate ways. They were, after all, both half-owners of the house, although he never, ever referred to the house as anything but his and his alone. This, despite the fact that when he was in danger of losing it she gave him the $24,000 she had realized from the sale of her house. Trouble was, he wouldn't agree, and instead began screaming at her, that she was a stupid bitch, a vulture, and that it was his house and if she wanted anything out of it she would have to go to court.

Well, she did just that. Filed papers with family court. He moved out with some of his possessions, and returned to the house at intervals when she wasn't home. Taking some of his things, but also things that did not belong to him at all. Their original agreement in living together once they'd established that she was half-owner, was that he would pay the mortgage and property taxes, she would pay the utility bills, the food bills and, as it turned out she also paid for repairs, for new appliances, any new pieces of furniture.

When she had originally moved in with him he had been seriously in arrears with his mortgage payments, and property taxes, and was in danger of losing the property. Her investment had staved that event off, but now, almost seven years later he was once again in arrears in both taxes and mortgage. Over the years he had come to her to bail him out when he was in need of money and had overtaxed his credit cards, and she had obliged.

Over the years he had also steadily begun drinking more, every day. When we had first met him he had informed us that his father had died, an alcoholic. Why warning lights didn't go off in our daughter's head then and earlier heaven knows. Why, because he offered a solicitous-seeming ear to her loneliness, given her emotional support that she felt was genuine, did she ever think, without having known him for a longer period of time, that he was as he seemed? Now she flagellates herself, but in the process of this long procedure we're also flagellated - again.

When we were over on Saturday so her father could change the locks on the two doors, I once again admired the way she was able to maintain the house despite the presence of all her animals. The house is neat, clean and tidy, and colourful. It has good bones, but his reluctance over the years to do even simple basic maintenance means it is in need of some repair work. The double-glazed sliding doors are now single, because in one of the sliders one of the panes had shattered several years ago and he had never replaced it. So that now, in the winter, ice builds up over the entire surface of the door, on the inside of the house.

The vanity in the main bathroom is in need of replacement as is the sink within it, both having long ago seen better days. It wouldn't cost much (she would have paid for it) and it wouldn't be a big job to replace it. Her father had offered to do the work for them. Little things like replacing a broken handle, a door pull, a stair tread which needed to be re-glued, nothing ever got done. If it was chopping wood, it would get done, he loved chopping wood.

It made her nervous and upset that he would enter the house in her absence. She worried that he would abuse the animals, or throw them out of the house. The largest of her dogs, a Malamute-Shepherd mix rescued as a puppy from Iqaluit, cowered in the presence of their veterinarian when she had taken it for a routine visit. The dog, large as it is, tried to hide under a chair. The veterinarian was concerned, knowing this animal well, and always in the past having been greeted warmly by it. They both realized that the dog was being abused, and this could only have happened in her absence from the house.

So, the decision to change the locks in the doors, and her father obliged. Now, we're waiting and worried. What his reaction will be when he tries to unlock the doors to enter the house again in her absence. She has experienced his violent temper. Now, after all this time, she showed me the heavy, small farm implements we had bought many years ago as Canadiana antiques and given to her. Shattered, because he had thrown them. At her? I'm fearful of asking. A few other items, a small old painting we had given to her, its frame askew as a result of being thrown.

I entreated with her to go and see her closest neighbour. Living in the countryside, there are no really close neighbours as we know them in an urban setting, but this neighbour and his wife have been kind to them, an older couple. He had been there before her, of course, telling them what had happened - at least his version of it. No matter, I wanted her to communicate to them just a little bit of 'her version' so they could be alerted to potential trouble.

Now, we wait.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

His Jagged Response

Personally I cringed inside whenever I saw him with her. When we visited I always came away with a heavy heart. Her father would say on the drive home in the car that he just couldn't imagine them being intimate. As in what on earth would ever have encouraged her to pair up with him? He is the quintessential failure in the sense that he might have been endowed with some intelligence but it is nowhere to be found in his solemn pronouncements on the state of the world and social interractions between individuals. He memorizes some basic platitudes and rhymes them off in your direction. Do not delve. There are no hidden depths. Life consists of making little bonfires in the backyard, of swigging beer, of watching NASCAR or police shows, making toy diaramas of war scenes, and chopping wood. That is the height to which he has aspired, and perhaps he still has some way to go, but therein lies his satisfaction in life.

She is a beautiful young woman with a good mind, an aptitude for the continual upgrading of her knowledge base, skilled at anything she becomes interested in, a good communicator. Why on earth, why in the name of all that is worthwhile in this world we inhabit would she select such a one as he? Ah, because she feared facing the world alone. Alone - well, in the sense that she would be unpaired, without a man by her side. To which end she has proven herself capable of pairing with anyone of that gender who might pursue an interest in her, however superficial. And superficial certainly could describe all such relationships she has 'enjoyed' in her life.

I don't know what it's like, she has told me time and again. I've always had a companion, someone to share my interests my activities, my thoughts. And that is true. I have been fortunate. Perhaps I chose well? Perhaps I knew the person with whom I have shared all these years of life, before committing to that most absolute of relationships? She, on the other hand, is impetuous, impatient to attain what to her seems so elusive. Her first relationship with a young boy from her high school lasted more than twenty years, and it limped along for all of those years until she finally put it out of its misery. Then in quick succession, and I mean quick as in a matter of months she cantered from one unlikely candidate to another. To finally wind up with this unfulfilled promise of a human being.

When she finally, after almost seven years of cohabitation informed him that the relationship wasn't working, never actually did work and it was time to bring it to a merciful end, he seemed surprised, but agreed. He had offered her no companionship even in the limited way available to him. Had no interest in anything she did, was the furthest thing possible from a helpmeet. He milked her of energy, happiness, and hard-earned savings. But his initial acquiescence to her bid for separation soon changed and he snarled at her that she wouldn't find anyone 'better than him'. And although, help us all, he may be right, given her track record, she certainly doesn't need him.

He was out cutting wood with his chainsaw, and she asked him to shut it off, sheath it. He's a mean little cock-of-the-walk and she feels he's capable, in a spirit of righteous anger (which mood readily overtakes most misogynists) to do harm. She has left her daughter in the house, with the pets. She presses her point, that they need to separate, to sell the house and divide the assets. He snarls, becomes loudly abusive, and she retires to the house, locks the doors and calls 911. He smashes his fists on the doors, the windows, and soon the police cars arrive. They speak to her, then speak to him, outside, re-enter the house and take away his rifle. Upon leaving, one of the police officers warns her that this man will do everything in his power to make matters difficult for her. He advises that she file papers as soon as possible with the Family Court.

She had initially offered to continue sharing the house with him. They could continue to live together, much as they have done thus far, until they straightened matters out, sold the house. But the morning after, he packed some things, said he would be back in a while, and left. His mother, living some miles distant with another of her sons was the fortunate recipient of this new presence in her life, and no doubt she welcomed him gladly. From time to time he would enter the house in her absence (he's a postie, works a short day) to take out of the house what he wanted. Her fear was that in the house alone with her dogs he would abuse them or throw them out of the house.

She has gone through agonizing weeks of fear, of holding down her demanding full-time job, looking after her child, and her animal companions, cleaning her house to her rigid standards, driving hours from the far location of the Family Court and back again. Setting things in motion, wishing matters could be settled amicably, but knowing it would not be so. If only one could wish successfully that a significant passage of time could elapse and everything, magically, could be settled, but that happens only in fairy tales. She took three of her dogs to the veterinarian clinic for their yearly shots and the veterinarian noted how oddly her large rescue dog from Iqaluit (which she'd got as a puppy) was behaving, quite unlike its usual demeanor. When she got home, she realized that the dog was taking to hiding under chairs, something it had never before done, and which one of her other rescue dogs which had been abused in its early life, did often when she first brought it home.

Early this week she received a letter from a lawyer whom he had retained informing her curtly and in no uncertain language to vacate 'his' home, together with her daughter, her animals, post-haste. He is barely literate and it appears the lawyer he retained shares some traits with his new client. She wrote a response indicating that she was part owner of the residence (which, given the fact she had handed over $24,000 to this miscreant six years earlier when he had been in danger of forfeiting the house for non-payment of mortgae and taxes made her so) and attached legal papers attesting to that fact. She further indicated she would remain in the 'matrimonial home' until such time as it was sold and the proceeds divided, or until such time as her former partner took steps to buy out her half-interest in the home, at which time she would certainly be glad to depart.

Knowing now that when he enters the house in her absence he has harmed one of her animals, and may do so again, she decided to change the locks in the house and to that end purchased two sets of new hardware to be installed. Her father will do that tomorrow. And her mother will once again ask her to go to see her neighbours to tell them directly and personally what has happened. She hesitates for the neighbours are his friends. On the other hand, on one occasion she had gone over to one of the neighbours to seek his help in calming the anger of her former partner when he had threatened her physically. His potential cannot be unknown to them. Will they care? Winter is arriving, she lives in semi-isolation on a country road and will need to ask the neighbours if they would kindly continue plowing the driveway as they have done since she has lived there, and she would be more than glad to pay their price.

What a quagmire we make for ourselves in the wake of truly stupid life choices. How parents fear and quake in anticipation of harm coming to their loved ones. How helpless we are to turn events around when we have never been involved, and when, one must ask, will one's children be sufficiently mature to make intelligent choices for themselves? Or even, perchance, ask for the opinion, the assistance, the considered help of their parents, since they will, when things go awry, as has happened now, the parents suffer along with their children.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Why Is Paris Burning?

France has always evinced great scorn for the manner in which other countries went about their business. The French are superior, to their way of thinking, to any other country. Their culture, their worldwide success in the culinary arts, the art of the couturier, that of their world-famous artists, writers, philosophers, scientists. On that score and many others they have reason to be proud, for they have indeed gifted the world with much that is valuable. The noble aspirations of the French Revolution helped pave the way in other countries following their lead to help make the world a better place for the downtrodden.

Yet Paris is burning. This country which prided itself on its homogeneity of purpose, its securalist governance, its fabled tolerance for 'the others', made an especial national virtue of equality. Leaving aside France's colonial history, where historically it behaved no better than that of its neighbours, the citizens of France embraced the idea of fraternity, equality and liberty. After all, those are highly celebrated, very civilized virtues. Alas, humans being so severely limited by their dire inability to behave in an even-handed, even-tempered state of tolerance at all times, stamped failure on the enterprise.

France welcomed immigrants from Algeria and Africa to compensate for a falling birthrate and a need for workers to take the jobs that white Frenchmen refused; the blue collar, low paying jobs which were quite simply beneath the Frenchman. Although France loves to speak about its inclusiveness, its assimilationist ethos, it simply plays lip service to the ideal. French workers, thanks to their powerful unions and their hard-won gains, are plump with the luxury of assured jobs at assured salaries, with assured benefits and assured holiday time not matched anywhere else on the Continent. But these are by their very nature and the nature of the society exclusionist positions which are held by white, middle-class, socially-assured French. None others need apply.

French labour laws ensure the continuation of these quaint and useful traditions. Despite the fact that fully ten percent of the population of France is comprised of immigrants with an unemployment rate far in excess of white France, no one among them is eager and willing to give up any small portion of their social, employable success to offer employment hope to the vast slum-dwelling immigrant populations. So these populations simmer in anger at the vision of two Frances; one for the French French, the other for the immigrant French, extending even to the children and grandchildren of immigrants, some of whom have achieved university degrees and who still cannot find meaningful work. Because the French consider those of immigrant stock to be less equal than they, and therefore less worthy.

Of course one social element we're overlooking is the undeniable fact that, as proven elsewhere also, not all immigrant communities are eager and willing to assimilate. Particularly Muslim communities. And, in any event, it's a fact of life that not every immigrant is a good candidate for fitting into the values and choices of their adopted countries, and such is certainly the case in an egalitarian society where a Muslim population is confronted with social mores which are culturally offensive to them. Such is also the case when Muslims are confronted with the reality of the presence of a cultural religious group with whom they share a common religious beginning but whom they also abhore.

Jews have lived in France for millennia. And, alas, it is also true that France too has a long history of sly anti-Semitism; not overt, but it is certainly there and history documents it fulsomely. Yet apart from the fact of their religion French Jews are undeniably French and proud of it. These long-time residents and citizens of France have, particularly in the last few years with the growth of the population of Muslim immigrants, faced increasing incidents of brutal anti-Semitism. France claims that it values its Jewish community and the richness that it lends to French life and culture, and perhaps it does. But it has done too little, too late to eradicate the overt and violent anti-Semitism that the newer Muslim immigrants have brought with them, due perhaps partially to their overwhelming numbers. And that's another story of failure.

An Algerian paterfamilias complained publicly that the police are incapable of controlling the bitterly resentful Muslim youth. How could they, he claimed, since in his own family his 14-year-old son recently drew a knife on him? In contrast, a Vietnamese-French father complained about the lack of interest that Muslim parents display in the control of their children's behaviour. He pointed out that as the head of his family his children love and obey him, and he makes it his business to know what his children are doing, and where they are at all times. Absent responsibility in one instance, full responsibility in the other. Cultural differences?

Well, given the obvious fact that North African and Arab immigrants within France face such an uphill battle for recognition, for education, better living conditions, reasonable job offers, in short hope for the future, they certainly are at a disadvantage within the country at large. So they are, ipso facto, victims. Victims are resentful, they agitate, they speak bitterly among themselves of the disappointments they face. The young among them, likely unable to feel they are truly French, and certainly they feel little allegiance to citizenship in the countries of their parents' birth, are ripe for rebellion. In prison, where many wind up, on the street where Gangsta Rap becomes part of their culture, they're ripe pickings for visiting Jihadists.

Hey, victims are victims, right? They're easily forgiven for burning down schools, libraries, social centres, for trashing the very institutions set up to assist them. Shopping centres, subways, buses, vehicles of every description are fire-bombed. Fire fighters become targets on the job, trying to put out the insurgents-terrorists' fires. Police are mocked, the mob eludes them, slipping away through the dark alleyways they know so well. Islamist adults among the thongs of the young fire shotguns at the police. Anyone foolish enough to get in their way stands a good chance of being beaten senseless, sometimes to the point of death. These mobs are sufficiently 'educated' to be able to use communication tools of the 21st century to arrange their meeting places to sack and burn. All of this is all right, because, after all, they're only expressing themselves.

Hey, are you listening? These are your citizens of the future, France. You invited them in, gave them (however grudgingly) a place at your table. If you don't care for their manners, remember; they're your guests. Forbidding public displays signifiying one's religion didn't work, did it? Watcha gonna do now? Your neighbours are watching. Germany and Belgium are nervous, very nervous.

Get on with it, France.

Follow @rheytah Tweet