Monday, September 26, 2011

Words to Live By...

As many of you know, I have gone back to college and am studying Developmental Service Work. The two-year program will give me the skills necessary to support people with physical and/or intellectual disabilities and to say that I am excited about the future would be an understatement.

I am delighted to be meeting new people - even the cell-phone toting young students who fill up the back three rows of every class. Their enthusiasm is contagious and while their dependency on technology baffles and irritates me, I admire their compassion and open, trusting hearts.

I am also delighted and amazed at how my perception of the world is changing - and rapidly. When the course began, several professors warned us that we would discover biases within ourselves that we'd previously ignored. I scoffed then, thinking that I was without bias towards people with disabilities.

I was wrong.

Despite my own best efforts, I too have been harbouring bias toward those whose struggle to fit in is 10 times worse than my teenaged-angst ever was. Until this program, I wasn't aware that the very WORDS I use to describe someone, or something, showed those biases.

"Lucy's autistic son," for example, puts the focus and the whole of my impression of Lucy's son firmly on autism's shoulders. Better I should say, "Lucy's son, who has autism," or better still, "Lucy's son."

Some weeks back, I learned that the word backwards comes from the phrase, "in the back wards" and describes where not-so-long-ago, psychiatric patients were hidden from view. Tucked into the very back rooms of asylums nation-wide, those doctors deemed "mentally unstable" were destined to spend their days roaming about, hurting and virtually forgotten. Caged.

I began to wonder which other words I use - daily, without reserve, without thinking - that might show a bias I hate to think I've had or worse, shown. I didn't have to wonder long before I realized that my everyday speech is peppered with jargon I'd be loathe to have my new teachers or classmates hear.

Idiot. Spaz. Dummy. Schizo. Gone mental. Loonybin. Maniac. Crazy. You're insane.  Retarded.

Are you cringing yet, dear reader? I am, just typing them out and these are only the words that *I've* used, not the dozens of others we listed in class one day, most of us sinking lower and lower in our seats as each offensive and derogatory word got called out and written down.

Wanna know what's even worse? I've said ALL of these words in FRONT OF MY CHILDREN.

It shames me that these are words and phrases that I, a lover of words and the keeper of little boy hearts, have used use.

Too often. Too forcefully. Too without thought-fully.

So, I have been making a clear and conscious effort to rid my speech of language which could  misinform, misrepresent, hurt or worse, do all three. When I am at school, it's easier to remember to stand guard against my own tongue. Easier, but not easy as I am opinionated and given to speech-before-thought already. But, day by day, everything is changing.

As I listen to the language modelled by my professors, all of whom seem called to this work, it gets easier.

As I feel old thought-patterns and deeply-held biases fall off and melt away, it gets easier.

As I learn about the nature of disabilities and how vast and wide and broad the scope is, it gets easier.

And while I happily shed the skin of the person I have been, I am learning so many, many things.

I am being taught new words and concepts like inclusion and people-centred  and support and responsibility and community.

My new language is called "People First Language" and I am wrapping my heart around all of it.

Interestingly, by challenging my brain to substitute a different, more suitable word for "retarded" I've been given a real chance to stretch, both as a writer...and as a human.

And as a mother.

Because once I'd isolated the hurtful words I use every day, I discovered even more of them.

I found that on average, I call Matthew a "Silly Turkey" 15 times a day. It's an affectionate nickname, you say? Well, yes, it is. Except when last week, I wrapped it in venom and spat it out when he fumbled a chore I'd been nagging him to complete.

And it's not just the words I choose, it's the way I offer them to my VERY impressionable young mimics children:

I chide and nag and yell things like, "Seriously? Do you seriously believe that YOU are right and I, your mother, am wrong?" (Insert incredulous tone edged with blistering sarcasm. Aim it at frustrated and weepy five-year-old)

Yes, he nodded, miserably. Yes, you are wrong, Mummy.

He was right.

I was wrong. Wrong in both concept and delivery.

So, a month into my new life as mother, wife and student, I have learned that...well... I have a LOT to learn.

And as always, it seems as though my children are my best and finest teachers.


We can change the world.

And you?
How do you react to learning unpleasant truths about the world?

Monday, September 19, 2011

This is NOT a post about politics, BUT...

This is not a political piece, but it does involve politics - mostly the small-town life, friendship kind. 

James Terry has been in my sphere for 20 years or more, as we attended the same high school and were - and still are - pretty friendly people. We've bumped into each other here and there over the years and I have always enjoyed our chats,had while chasing kids or loading groceries, or both.

Thankfully, with the advent of Facebook, Jamie and I have managed to chat quite often, albeit virtually. We don't always agree, but there is a genuine fondness, I think, between us. So, when Jamie decided to run as Durham Region's NDP candidate for the upcoming October election, no one was prouder than me.

(Well, maybe his mum and wife and kids, but other than that...)

I do not live in Durham anymore, and have already cast my mental vote for a candidate here in Quinte, but I am nonetheless awed and impressed that Jamie has taken this huge leap, politically-speaking.

True to form, my stand-up friend has put his money where his mouth is and instead of merely whinging about politicians and policies, like the rest of us, he got informed and then got involved. Regardless of your personal political beliefs, I think it goes without saying that if more people could find the courage to do the same, this would be a different sort of world.

Certainly, a better one.

In any case, I asked Jamie a bunch of questions recently (pepper 'em with random questions, is my motto) and he responded. And so, to honour our friendship and his foray into the political arena, I am very happy to introduce Jamie Terry: father, husband, brother, friend:

Belly: We met in high school, though I don't specifically remember how. Did we take classes together, drink together...was it YOU that I kissed that at Jackma....wait, never mind. This is a family blog.
OK. The REAL question: If you could choose, would you opt again for life in small-town Ontario or did the BIG City call to you, in your youth? What do you want for your children?

Jamie: I much prefer the old days of when I grew up in Bowmanville. I always tell people it was like Mayberry. You could walk downtown and know almost every person you passed on the street as well as the people that owned the shops.
What I want for my children is to be able to grow up in a safe happy environment. My youngest is always asking if he can go bike riding by himself and I hate having to tell him no. The fact is, the world is not the world I grew up in. But I hope that we can change that and make an even better place for my grandchildren to live.

Belly: What's the last book you read for pleasure? It's perfectly OK to admit to loving and reading the Harry Potter series. If your answer is indeed one of those books, can I please borrow Book 2? I've lost mine somewhere...

Jamie: I am currently reading "Game of Thrones" by George Martin. It is a series of four books and although I am busy with the election now, I still find some time to sneak in a chapter or two. I would like to read the Potter series myself. I loved the movies as much as the kids. So when you find your copy Liz, let me know.

Belly: Your daughter has autism. I am studying Developmental Service Work and will be learning how to support kids with autism (or other challenges) and their families. What advice do you have for me and for anyone else who might find themselves working with or for a child/person with disabilities?

Jamie: Patience and lots of it. You have to learn as much as the child does. Once we started to learn about Aspergers and Autism it really opened our eyes as to why she did the things she did. I would also tell parents that you will find that although autistic children may be "deficient" in some areas, they excel in others. In my daughter's case, she has an incredible memory and an obsession with maps and writing and drawing. She is exceptionally creative and she plays piano.

Belly: If you were to create a musical soundtrack to represent your life, what would it include? *Bonus points for anything by Journey.*

Jamie: Don't Stop Believin'! That was easy!

Belly: Since declaring your intention to run as Durham Region's NDP candidate in the upcoming election (October 6th, readers! Got that? October 6th...get out and VOTE!) how has your view of politics changed, if at all? What made you toss your name into the hat?

Jamie: My views have not changed. I took a long time to come to this point. I was not a life long NDP. But the more I looked at what their values were I found myself being drawn in. Our party's line on this election is "Change that puts people first". And to me, that makes great sense. We "the people" need change. This province went from a crown jewel to a have-not province. This is unacceptable and the NDP want to right the ship and get this province and it's people back where we belong.
My decision to run was sparked during the Federal Election in May.

(Belly: Dear Readers, I would like to think that my little piece about "How To Win My Vote" had a huge some influence here, but I digress...)

I have always been interested in politics and after helping on the campaign in May, I decided that this was it, this was my time. I truly believe that if elected I can help Durham and Ontario. Our party has put forth a platform that is aimed at those that need the help the most. This is not a shoot the lights out promise the world type platform. These are all attainable, affordable changes that have the people in mind first and foremost.

Belly: Who was your favourite teacher and why? If you could tell him/her how you feel in one sentence, what would you say? 

Jamie: This is an easy one. Mr. Bill Brunt. One of the nicest and dedicated teachers ever. He taught my mother, uncles, aunt and finally myself and my brother. He was an old school "Let boys be boys!" type by allowing rough stuff in gym. But at the same time he was dedicated to instilling academics in his students. He tutored me in math in grade 9 when I had difficulty and he sat there with me until I got it. He is the best. Every teacher should learn how to teach from Bill Brunt.I feel like a better person having been taught by Bill Brunt.

Belly: What's the hardest thing you've ever done?

Jamie: Watch my son shortly after he was born be hustled away to Sick Kids after complications. I did not know if I would ever see him alive. I still have bad dreams once in awhile about that day. That by far was the hardest thing I had ever had to do.

Belly: What do you want voters to know about you and your party's platform?

Jamie: I guess I would want them to know that our platform is geared towards the everyday working man or woman and their families. For far too long they have been ignored and now we want to help. Help by taking HST off home heat,hydro and gasoline. Put money back into the pockets of the people of Ontario. We are putting people first. That's the catch line and everything in our platform is aimed at just that. Jobs,health care, HST, you name it, it is all to put people first , and their challenges first.
As far as me? Well I am just one of you. Your normal everyday Ontarian. And I think I can bring some perspective to Queens Park, Many politicians "listen" to their constituents , but they fail to understand what Ontario families have and are going through. I think my experiences would be a great contribution in aiming the government in the right direction in getting Ontario back on it's feet.

Belly: Did you ever imagine that 20 years beyond high school, we'd be "virtually" hanging out? Seriously. Think about that for a moment - I was just a small-town girl, living in my lonely wor....wait, wait, that's not right... I guess the question is, of the teenagers we were and the people we've become, who do you like best? Why?

Jamie: Well people were different back in the old days - ha, ha! But then again I have run into some who still act the same way. I would have to say the people we are now would be who I like best. I think people like you and I have gone through many things and they have rounded us into pretty good people. Both of us have families and our kids drive us nuts and it all makes us who we are. And I think that's OK. We were pedal-to-the-metal teenagers and now we are shopping for walkers. But you have to slow down at some point and enjoy life. I for one am glad that I can stay in touch with old friends such as you, Liz.

20 years ago we would have been writing letters to one another probably, now we can chat in real time (When you figure out Facebook chat, that is) and I love reading your blogs.

 Belly: Top three things on your bucket list:

1. Red Sox game at Fenway Park
2. Visit St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh Scotland (My mother's family have a pane of stained glass in the cathedral)
3. Learn to surf.

He forgot to say, "Hang with Liz at the Cobourg Beach and buy her tea and candy," but that's OK. He's a busy dude. I am so proud of this man -a small-town boy with big dreams.
"The thing is, the decision to put your name on a ballot and go out there and be judged by the electorate is a noble act no matter what party you serve." L.R.

And you?
What are your dreams for the  future? Our country?
Any questions for Jamie?
What's on YOUR bucket list?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Liebster Love and Passing It On...

Today was enough of "that" sort of day that I let the Reds eat supper in front of the TV, didn't scrape the dishes before shoving them into the dishwasher and Windexed the toilet instead of cleaning it properly. To sum up? I'm tired.

Tired and looking to zone out after supper, when, instead of herding the children into the bathtub, I pretended to forget to turn off the TV and logged onto Twitter.

To my surprised delight, I had received a neat tweet from Elena Aitken, a fellow blogger, a published author and all-around kick-ass chick. I also, in the awesome cool way of the 'net, consider her my friend, even though we've never met. (She likes mountains, I like mountains. We both have kids, adore her novel "Nothing Stays in Vegas" and cry at country music songs. She blogs, I blog. She runs marathons, I think about running marathons. See? Kindred spirits.)

Anyhow, according to her tweet, darling Elena had virtually presented  me the Liebster Award, which is given to bloggers whose follower count is below 200,  but whom the Academy presenting blogger thinks is worthy of recognition and shout-outs. (And more readership, so sign yourself up already, dear reader!)

Turns out, Elena thinks that Life With Bellymonster merits such an award and I am mighty pleased.

Oh, and grateful.

And chuffed and can't stop smiling.

This is just one of the many, many benefits of blogging - cool friends from far-off places who share my love of words, inspire me daily and send along virtual "kudos" for no other reason than because they can.

The NEXT best part of this Liebster Love-In, is that  I now get to recommend other bloggers whose site traffic doesn't necessarily reflect their awesome talent. It's like that "send a recipe" thing, only much, much better.

Before I list "My Five", I want to first shout-out to Elena for the award and for reading my blog - your support and friendship mean so much to me. How lucky I am. Thank you.

If you didn't click on Elena's name above, do so now.  She is wise and funny and she writes a mean book. And somehow, she also finds time to run, raise kids, blog and bike. I am exhausted just thinking about all that she does, but am delighted to shove you in her multi-tasking direction. Go on...let her inspire you to create change and adventure in your own life!

Now, without further ado, I hereby bestow upon these five bloggers, the much-coveted, most beloved, Liebster Award for blogging awesomeness:

1. Annie, from Six Ring Circus, holds a special place in my heart. Not just because she guest-posted here several weeks ago, but because she writes entirely from her own heart and it's pure joy to read. This mother-of-four tells it like it is with every post, but infuses her stories about life, love and family with such humour and genuine pleasure, I "visit" her several times a week, to bask in her warmth for just a little while. Visiting Annie's blog is like hanging with an old friend - it's good for your soul.

2. Also a fellow Canuck blogger, Larry Hehn is one of my favourites. He shares funny, pithy, wise stuff over at Christian in the Rough , bringing the Bible to wonderful, vivid life without a hint of "preachy." He's a man of conviction, of grace and of God and I, for one, look foward to his musings.

3. Pam Dillon - yet another Canadian blogger. Hmm... -   is the kind of Twitter follower everyone should aspire to both have and be: she is kind, supportive, funny and is great at retweeting my ramblings, which I appreciate immensely. I also appreciate her blog, Wratwords. Don't let the rodent name (and photo) scare you off - Pam's got a wicked sense of funny and a clear, ring-true voice. Get over there already, eh?

4. You know what? I'm just gonna go ahead and keep right on loving Canuck bloggers. I didn't even realize that I read as many as I do. How awesome to find so many incredible bloggers right here, in my own backyard. Erm...well, you know what I mean.

Take Shelley Cameron-McCarron, for example. She's a travel writer and her blog pieces regularly stir the wanderlust I've never quite managed to shake. I visit Shelley's blog, Hit The Highway Smiling, when I'm feeling wistful, nostalgic for places I've never been or need to dream bigger than the glorious country she writes about. Go on...have a peek!

5. Ok, so this last blogger isn't exactly Canadian, but he's cool enough to at least warrant "Half-Canuck" status. Besides, Mark Kaplowitz lives in Albany, New York, which is close enough. At the very least, he knows for snow and ice and hockey. That's good enough for me.

What's also good is Mark's blog, Schlabadoo. Each and every post is a sentimental journey of sorts, as Mark urges his readers to "Remember When...?" I often find myself nodding and grinning fiercely at Mark's words, delighted by his keen observations and quiet humour. Read him. I promise he'll make your day.

There you have it, folks. Liebster Love, passed on.

M'wah! Belly love to all!

And you? Which under-followed blogs inspire you, make you laugh, cry, think, smile, rage  or all of the above? Share 'em here, please!

Monday, September 12, 2011

How Technology Has Completely Altered the Post-Secondary Experience

I am going back to school.

Or is it, I have gone back to school?

I am once again going to school?

Whatevvvvvvveerrer. Pffffhhhhttt....

Point is, post-secondary education is not how I remembered it and here's why:

1. Everything is different.

The chairs have gotten smaller. Truly, they have. Or my ass has gotten bigger, which can't be so.

Either that, or students have gotten smaller. They've definitely gotten younger.

 At Loyalist College, they're like, 12. I kid you not. In fact, on Day One a pretty little blond in my class mentioned her hometown, which is next to mine. Jokingly, I said that I probably went to high school with her parents, as I'm old enough to be her mother.

Turns out the joke's on me because after quizzing her, I'm pretty sure I knew her dad, many, many years ago. Meep!

2. Technology RULES!

And I don't mean that in a good way. Well, not entirely, anyway.

The cool bit:

Most of my professors upload their lecture notes to something called "LMS" which is essentially a giant, electronic cheat sheet. Connected to the college's website, LMS contains my schedule, my grades, keeps track of assignments handed in, handed back and those pending. It features lecture notes, study guides, fun little "discussions" on a class-specific message board AND there's even a live-chat option.

It's a lot like Facebook, if Facebook were a message board and we got marked for logging on.

So, if I doze off during class (due to my advanced age) I can easily find out what I missed by logging on to LMS later. Later meaning after 8pm, when the kids are sleeping, lunches are made and laundry has at least been hurled into the basement. (Not the "after-the-pub-and-hookup" later enjoyed by some of my classmates. No, no...I'm not jealous. I'm not. I'm just saying...)

The not-so-cool bit:

Phones. Oh. my. GAWD.

Everyone - and I mean, everyone, has a cell phone. And not an ancient, flip-top-gizmo like the one I last week was forced to retrieve from the depths of the junk drawer, in case the Reds' school calls.

No, sir.

 I mean, mini-computer phones, with keyboards and cameras and coffee machines and something called "Angry Birds" built right in.

Amazing little gadgets.

Now, I'll admit that I'm a Luddite and that a classmate had to show me how to turn the phone's ringer to "vibrate", but THIS kind of slavish devotion to tote-able technology is beyond me.

To steal a phrase? It's poppycock.

There is no way that anything of dire importance has occured during the two hours that we were in Psych. Memories of 9/11 aside, there is nothing that should compel any student to be available to the outside world at. all. times.

 So, turn the damned phone OFF!

And stop texting because even though you've turned off the sound, I can still hear the tapping of your fingernails on the keys and it's driving me craaazzzzyyy!!

Example: Right, smack in the middle of one professor's request that we turn phones off for her class, a cell-phone rang. That old-fashioned party-line ring, too. Loud. Obnoxious. Jarring.

(A sound that the phone's owner has likely never heard in its original form, unless visiting a museum. I wish I was kidding.)

Well, that student didn't even bat an eyelash. She merely reached into her purse without apology and - I assumed - turned off her phone. The professor continued, only to be interrupted a second time by the same phone, ringing! Again, the (12-year-old) student simply reached into her purse, utterly non-plussed.

Ask me if it happened a third time. Go on. Ask me.


 Can you freakin' believe it? THREE times that stupid cell-phone rang. DURING ONE CLASS!

And when the phones aren't stirring up lecture halls, they're being tap-tap-tapped upon as students snake their way through crowded hallways in between classes.

In the Tim Horton's line-up, no one (except me, as I always forget that I even OWN a phone until someone asks about the Reds and then I guiltily fire it up to see if there's a message) is without their phone. Side-by-side, but utterly disengaged from one another, students text rapidly, without looking up, without pausing. One-handed even.

It baffles me, this constant need to remain in contact, technologically. Even as I recognize how easy it is to become addicted to social media (Hello??? I started dreaming in 140 characters about a week after joining Twitter), this twitchy NEED  is...sad. And sort of creepy.

Seriously. When you're 12, what could you POSSIBLY have to text/tweet to your roommate that cannot wait three hours? Your BFF will likely not, like, die if you don't answer her right. this. second.

Do I sound like my mother? Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I'm recalling hearing her voice, "What could you possibly have to say to one another that you need to spend all hours on the phone, when you should be doing homework or something productive with your time?"

In any case, I feel a little better now, getting that off my chest. Thanks for that, dear readers. I really want you to know that despite my little rant, I'm positively delighted to be learning again, wandering the hallowed halls of knowledge, making friends and fitting in...

Now, if you'll excuse me, I really should study and to do so, I'll need to make some room for  the LMS site. (It's so weird, but once I've opened up Twitter, FB, my email addresses and this blog tab, there's not enough space left for the important sites - like the college "Blackboard Learning System" one.)

Oh, and I need to charge my phone for class tomorrow...

And you? Are you addicted to technology? Social media? This blog?
Share your secrets - and your best study tips -  here!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Letter to My Son...and the World

Dear World,

Two years ago, I offered you my very heart.

 Two years later, I stand, poised to hand you my soul - a little boy called Luke.

Cherub-faced and devilishly charming, Luke begins Junior Kindergarten next week and despite the years I've had to prepare you, I am not quite ready to let him go.

Luke is my youngest son, my last baby and he fills a space in me I didn't even know was empty, until he was born. He is headstrong and given to wild temper tantrums, I should warn you. But if you can see past the bluster, you will find a sensitive and kind little person, striving hard to find his own place, out of his brother's shadow.

You will hear him, World, long before you see him, especially if he is displeased. But, once the storm passes, you will be a better place because there is a sweetness, a goodness in Luke that will transform you, if you let it. He has transformed me.

These years with him have been an enormous privilege: I have been granted so much time to discover and unwrap the gifts he brings to my life and to you, World. And I am grateful. But I am also...sad. For even as we talk excitedly about school, new friendships and coming adventures, I am grieving the loss of this boy, no longer only mine.

Too, I am grieving the loss of these years  - gone so swiftly, I am utterly dazed - when a walk home from dropping Matthew at school could take hours, as Luke inspected every sidewalk crack and fallen leaf. I already miss quiet mornings when we had nowhere to be and so didn't bother to dress, but sat all day in pyjamas reading books and raiding the fridge for snacks. I ache for more time to snuggle before breakfast, before errands pull us out the door, before life beckons him - us all - further forward...and away.

Wasn't he just born?

Will he remember these moments that have made up our life together? Will he remember holding out his tiny hand and asking, "Mummy, will you dance with me?" and how we twirled around and around and around until we were both dizzy from it, but how neither one of us could bear to let go?

Will he remember how I scolded him so terribly when he ripped an entire strip of wallpaper off the wall because he didn't like the feel of it beneath his fingers, or will he remember instead that I fell apart laughing when he ate the wallpaper anyway, because he did like the way it felt on his tongue?

Will he know how much it meant to me that I was here for every single moment of his "formative" years and that I feel humbled and blessed and so lucky for it? How do I tell him, World, that without him, I would never have known the sweet pleasure of holding a child to my breast and growing him with my own body? How does one thank a child for the things that, at first glance, seemed like great sacrifices but turned out to be the most wondrous gifts?

I think - I hope - that in giving him into your care, World, that you will find a way to thank him for me. Thank him for showing me the person I could be, can be, am because he calls me "Mummy."

Give Luke great adventures, World.  Let him run with abandon and fling himself into all that you offer with joy and glee and without fear. Let him discover the value of being loud and the joy of silence and let him know what it is to be sad, but not resigned, down but not beaten, kind, but not pushed.

When I cannot be there, please give him a soft place to land.

Mostly, World, I ask that you let him know love. All-encompassing, enormous, soul-stirring love. Luke has much love to give, World, if you'll let him. If you're patient and lucky and very, very still, Luke will tiptoe in and grace you with his smile or a gentle pat and you will be both lost and then found, in a single moment.

Trust me, World. With Luke in your keeping, you will never be the same.

You will be brighter.