04 12 / 2013
Published St. John’s Telegram, Dec. 3, 2014
One of the best things about being a parent is hearing and seeing the new ways of looking at the world that children bring to your life.
An idle question about a play some friends did years ago while in high school led to a query about the five stages of grief (or death and dying) that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross articulated, and then we were off and running in a discussion on some of the ways those five stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — can be used to explain much of our response to what happens in our world.
(Yes, we have some deep conversations in my family.)
This past Sunday was the first of Advent, the four weeks leading to Christmas, that Christians mark each year.
That it was also December 1 was not lost on me. I couldn’t have forgotten if I tried: the papers, the radio, the television, and the Internet are full of countdowns, all of them seemingly designed to induce panic about readiness.
I’m not comparing death and dying to the whirl of emotions of pre-holiday planning, but it did occur to me that Kubler-Ross had created a handy rubric that could be applied to the holiday season, and over the past two decades, I have seen quite a few people move through those steps.
Denial – Social media is full of commentary from people who are putting their fingers in their ears and going la-la-la as others chat cheerfully about the holiday plans. To be honest, when I was in my 20s, I really thought people who didn’t do anything for Christmas until the last minute was a myth until one year, I had to wait for a pick up on Christmas Eve and our meeting spot was the mall. I was bemused by the hordes out shopping, not for a deal, but for the adrenalin rush of finishing their list. But as one friend is fond of saying, denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Anger – Last week it was American Thanksgiving, an event that ranks higher than Christmas in that country’s holiday schedule, but it too has its share of drama and angst, of sturm und drang. Whether it is debating where to eat dinner, what to have for dinner, whose turn it is to take Grandma to church, or getting wound up when someone steals your parking spot or takes the last must-have toy off the shelf, there’s a fair bit of anger and its companion, resentment accompanying the holidays. Sadly, based on what I have read and seen, quite a few people stay in this stage.
Bargaining – I think we’ve all been there and done that. I’ve known many parents who have moved heaven and earth to get something dearly prized by their child. The deals which happen are amazing and would probably put Wall Street bigwigs to shame for their sheer elegance. One year I had a flood that took out my basement. Contractors were few and far between and I found myself at the beginning of November looking at concrete and studs and wondering if I would actually have walls and a floor before Christmas. Many were the bargains made so that by December 20, the celebrating could begin in earnest.
Depression – Remember what I said about the drama that accompanies holidays? You would never say it to look at the pictures on the blogs, the advertisements, and the catalogues. The clash between the representation of reality and the lived experience is the source of most holiday depression, say those who work in the mental health field. The expectations that are created are often unrealistic, and frequently unachievable. For those who have experienced losses, Christmas and other big religious celebrations such as Hanukkah for example, tend to remind people of what is missing instead of focusing on what still remains.
Acceptance – While Kubler-Ross argued that the stages were not sequential steps, and that people moved through them in various ways, it seems we almost always come to acceptance at the end regardless of how we have walked those steps. That year I had the flood? I decided I didn’t need to do half of what I had planned; I ditched some things and made up new ones to deal with my new reality. When you take charge of your priorities, rather than them take charge of you, life is easier and more peaceful in my experience.
Four of the five stages may be looming on the horizon, but it doesn’t have to be. In our household, we look forward to 12 days of joy and keeping it really, really simple. May the holidays be what you want them to be.
28 11 / 2013
Published Tuesday Dec. 20, 2011
Not long ago, I remarked to a friend that in a place like Newfoundland and Labrador, you can always find a way to be connected to one another. If it’s not through family, it’s through work; if it isn’t work, it’s through school, and so it goes. Here in this place we call home, it’s not six degrees that separate us, but perhaps only two or three.
One of the benefits of being connected on so many different levels is seeing life through different experiences and cultures. The positive emphasis on diversity is evident from the kinds of things my child talks about on arrival home from school and which are quite different from what I learned and saw when I was in school years ago.
While we were part of a thriving and active immigrant community, today there is just so much more, from food to music, from celebrations to rituals. And yes, religious beliefs and practices are more obviously part of the mix.
Growing up Catholic meant seeing things from a very different perspective than if one were Jewish or Muslim or Hindu. Thankfully my child is growing up learning in detail about other cultures, customs, and practices, in part because our own community of friends and colleagues is more diverse as the circle grows wider, but also because we have created more spaces in our community in which to share and explore what this means.
A few years ago a kind friend gave me a lovely book for my son about Hanukkah. Children get small gifts throughout the eight days, leading to the mistaken assumption that Hanukkah is a kind of Jewish version of Christmas. In reading it with my son, I was inspired by the meaning and symbolism of the Menorah and the eight nights of celebration and contemplation.
Thus began a new tradition between my friend and me: each night of Hanukkah, I send her a wish (rather than a gift – we both have too much stuff already!) to mark her religious celebration and to celebrate our friendship. This time of year, when the days are shorter and the light is in scant supply, we need all the brightness we can get and honouring both works very well.
While I think of particular wishes for my friend, I think many of them are ones we would all like, so here you go:
- May you have strength and support to carry you when you need it.
- May you have a light heart and lots of laughter to lighten your load and brighten your day.
- May you have an abundance of what matters, especially a generosity of spirit.
- May you have peace and serenity. We should all be the oil that calms rough water.
- May you have perseverance because we need to see clearly and with determination.
- May you have respect as it lights the way to understanding.
- May you have the gift of faith: when we have faith, what we imagine becomes possible.
- May you always have hope. Hope is the tiny candle flame pushing back at the dark; it’s the arms outstretched giving a hug to thaw a heart numbed by pain; it’s the kind word that says we will face fear together. To live with hope is to live knowing you are not alone.
Best wishes to all in this season of joy and all the best for the new year ahead.
19 11 / 2013
Published Tuesday Nov. 19, 2013
I had to pinch myself on the weekend to make sure I was awake. I had come across an article and I was sure I was like Rip Van Winkle in reverse, having gone back not 20 years but at least 40 in time.
The reason for my disbelief was an article that examined critiques of the wardrobe belonging to the prospective nominee to head the US Federal reserve, Janet Yellen.
Goodness me, it seems in favouring black suits, Yellen has committed the unpardonable sin of dressing in a boring and dowdy manner.
Never mind that lots of men have a uniform approach to dressing and are praised for it. Lucia Graves of the National Journal cites Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs as powerful and famous men who are or were noted for, respectively, their blue-grey suits, Facebook T-shirt and black turtleneck/jeans combo.
Their lack of variety in fashion is a signal of how smart, busy and important they are. They don’t waste time on picayune details like what to wear, or wondering if the flowered tie seem to forward for a business lunch with a new investor.
Such inanities don’t concern them, oh no, and isn’t it amazing how much they get done when they routinize the small decisions so they can focus on the big ones?
And yet, Yellen follows a long line of women, including Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in recent years, who have been praised or vilified for their fashion sense. The fact that they may be the biggest financial, political, scientific, or socially advanced brains in the world matters not a whit.
As Graves notes, Yellen is about to become the keeper of the keys to the world’s most influential piggy bank. The fact that she wore the same dress, or something quite similar on several occasions, is not likely to reflect on the U.S. economy no more than Obama wearing the same colour suit every days is going to change the path of U.S. foreign policy.
The fact is you can’t win for trying if you are women of power working in what was long assumed to be exclusively male spheres: politics, economics, justice and diplomacy.
I still remember the comments made after a federal status of women minister was participating in a local event. “Goodness,” said one observer, “you’d think she’d choose something nicer.” Not five minutes later I overheard another tutting: “Look at her all dressed up like a stick of gum! She thinks she’s some fancy.”
The fact is if you dress appropriately (and I use that term advisedly as the goalposts on that adverb move every day), you care too much. Wear clothes that aren’t the latest fashion, or don’t seem to have a spark, then you clearly don’t care enough.
As it is, after much pondering, given that we can always deflect attention from the meaningful aspects of a woman’s work by commenting on what she is wearing, what’s really happening is a challenge to Yellen’s place not only in a man’s space but to her seeming appropriation of what has been a male tradition: the uniform suit.
Taking apart the resistance to Yellen’s approach offers another look at the interpersonal dynamic we see between men and women in the workplace. Years ago John T. Molloy, the fashion consultant who recommended women wear business suits including ties, led the way to the concept of power dressing.
While Jobs and Zuckerberg may have been mocked on occasion for their casual and consistent mode of dress, it wasn’t ever done in a way that called into question their decision-making ability.
For Yellen, I think the critiques of her style and that of other women, do challenge their authority and their ability to wield power.
In the 21st century, it’s well past time we did away with such ridiculous notions. How women, or men, lead should not be dependent on their fashion sense.
— Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant. Her power suit is limegreen. socialnotes at gmail.com
Photo credit: Martha Muzychka
05 11 / 2013
Published St. John’s Telegram Tuesday November 5, 2013
Children can be refreshingly honest. They haven’t yet acquired the veneer of politeness that comes from parents insisting on manners, consideration, and decorum.
Don’t get me wrong; I think manners are essential. Politeness is the oil that ensures our social interactions run smoothly: listen while others are speaking, don’t interrupt, give others a chance to share, and if you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.
And yet, over the past week, every time I have seen Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Mayor Rob Ford in the news, I have been seized with a powerful urge to shriek like a child: “Liar, liar, pant’s on fire!”
It boggles the mind that the leader of our country and the leader of our largest city can stand up before the public, their constituents, and state baldly that they have not done wrong or they have been misunderstood, or that perhaps there were mistakes, but what’s most important is their commitment to the people.
People do make mistakes; after all, we are human. Sometimes we take the wrong path; sometimes we do the wrong thing. There are consequences to every decision, and if we make the wrong one, we have to wear it and deal with the fall out.
Except in these instances, we have had several months of repeated denials that anything illegal or ethically suspect has occurred. The obdurate stance of these leaders has been shored up by a strategy built on denial, deflection, or dismissal. It didn’t happen, it’s someone else’s fault, or it’s irrelevant when we have so much more important things to do, like manage a country or run a city.
Mayor Ford has now been exposed for what he is really: a leader without a moral compass, who believes that even if he has done wrong, he is still the right man to navigate the municipal priorities.
Nor can Stephen Harper hope that Ford’s troubles will cover up the Senate shenanigans that illustrate much of what is wrong with his leadership. Much like a fine veneer covering up inferior or poor quality wood, the Prime Minister’s facade of moral uprightness has hidden a foundation of self interest built on a very narrow political point of view.
I have been reminded again and again of Han Christian Andersen’s story about the emperor whose vanity and short sightedness led him to walk through his city naked in the belief that he was clothed in fine robes until a child stated the obvious.
That one line “the Emperor has no clothes” clearly embodies the Quaker value of speaking truth to power. Today, the principle has been adopted and integrated in most ethical codes as the duty to speak when illegal or unethical behaviours are contemplated or implemented.
In fact, those voices are now getting louder. Last week, all four papers in Toronto called on Ford to resign. The weekend news feed was littered with commentaries decrying Harper’s behaviour, some even going so far to label him a liar when the inconsistencies contained in his statements were compared and found to represent competing versions of reality.
Sadly, the current missteps and misdeeds of Harper and Ford are not isolated examples in our political landscape. A closer examination of the issues shows the cause to be primarily one of entitlement, that they are somehow, by virtue of their position, to be exempt from the rules.
Roman emperor and soldier Marcus Aurelius said “a man should be upright, not be kept upright.” Perhaps it is time we cleared out the rotten foundations propping up these guys and begin building anew using the precepts our communities value instead: fairness, transparency, accountability, respect, and honour.
22 10 / 2013
Published Tuesday October 22, 201 St. John’s Telegram
Scanning the news after the weekend, I’m reminded there are many times when simply reading the news headlines these days requires patience and fortitude.
Bishop Desmond Tutu’s observation that the media’s headlines are God’s to do list notwithstanding, it is still unnerving to read about issues that are preventable or modifiable.
The weekend headline that police had picked up no fewer than six drivers for drunk driving on the weekend, including three involved in collisions, both astounded and enraged me.
Let’s think a little about this. The average car weighs about two tons, or 4000 lbs while the average pickup weighs about three tons. That’s a lot of heavy metal to be driving with compromised abilities.
Despite ongoing education campaigns by groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) and increasing spot checks by police on long weekends, drivers behaving badly are a continuing trend.
In fact, recent reports show that drunk driving has been joined, and in some cases has been surpassed, by distracted driving as a leading cause of accidents. Transport Canada data shows that over a four-year period, there’s been a 17 per cent increase in fatal crashes where distracted driving is identified as the cause.
We have had a lot of chatter about cellphone use while driving, and quite a few jurisdictions, including this province, have introduced legislation making cellphone use while driving illegal. However, while handsfree options have reduced the fiddle factor, there is research to support any phone use while driving is a serious distraction.
Like drunk driving though, we may not have a true picture of the effect distracted driving has on drivers. Researchers suspect this data is underreported by as much as a third. It isn’t always clear whether drink, phone use, texting, or even fishing around for a CD, or one’s purse/briefcase is a cause. One education campaign in Ontario focuses on all the ways a driver can be distracted, including reading a newspaper, applying makeup, or reaching for toys to soothe an upset child.
What we do know: depending on the area, between 30 to 80 per cent of collisions are the result of distracted driving. In Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, distracted driving is now the number one cause of vehicular accidents. In Ontario, distracted driving has passed drunk driving as a cause, but speed is still the number one factor for collisions.
In this province, driving is a way of life. People take to the road for travel, for work, and for leisure. Sometimes we can delay our road travel if the weather is poor, but if you have to go to work, not going in is not an option.
And yet, on every bad weather day, we are bound to read, hear or watch a report on how someone somewhere has been injured or killed, frequently because the drivers have not reduced their speed to account for weather and road conditions. Given the research, we can also suspect that distracted driving may also be a factor in these events.
When I first learned to drive, my driving instructors and my parents impressed upon me the need to respect the machine for which I was now responsible. As this weekend’s headlines show, there are quite a few people who have forgotten the power of the vehicle they are driving.
Not infrequently, I have been heard to mutter when seeing a particularly spectacular example of bad driving, “it’s your funeral, buddy.” These days, I’m more likely to add, “just don’t take me with you.”
Because the statistics are clear: the funeral that is likely to result may be yours or mine as the collateral damage of drunk and distracted driving increases.
Photo copyright Martha Muzychka, 2013 Do not reproduce without permission.
14 10 / 2013
Published St. John’s Telegram Oct. 8, 2013
Halloween is fast approaching, and children every where are planning their costumes. It’s part of the fall tradition.
Once schools settles into a routine, and the obligatory considerations for Thanksgiving have been put in place, it’s all about dress up and the candy haul.
These days more adults are getting caught up in the dress up excitement as various bars and pubs plan their misnamed Mardi Gras events.
I have seen some clever costumes over the years. My favourite has been the one created by two different women who dressed up as as ovens because, you guessed it, they were pregnant and had “buns in the oven.”
Not long ago, at the urging of the resident teen, I took a run through the new Halloween store in town. I was not surprised to see the usual takes on fancy tarts, super heroes, zombies and vampires, but more than a little disappointed to see costumes for Native Americans and Spanish señoritas.
What really threw me for a loop was the display at the back of the store. It depicted a mental asylum, complete with various patients engaging in a series of grotesque and horrifying acts. in fact, the whole display makes a mockery of the dreadful conditions people with mental illnesses were forced to endure for many years before change in treatment and approach was implemented.
Back about eight years ago, the Halloween Haunted House fundraiser featured a scene set in an asylum, and mental health advocates challenged its depiction of mental illness both as entertainment and for its contribution to stigma. The mental health community worked with the Haunted House sponsors and the scene was removed.
However, it seems that memories are short and reminders of how negative, misleading, and disrespectful representations of the disenfranchised hurt individuals are once again necessary.
Much has already been written by anti-racism theorists and educators about the misuse of national dress as a costume for Halloween, or even everyday wear. This past summer, for example, we saw the trendy clothing store H+M, as a result of public pressure, be forced to withdraw from sale around the world their take on aboriginal headdresses.
Quite rightly, aboriginal people had protested this appropriation. But we know things can be different. The resulting media coverage revealed how other retailers have now contracted with aboriginal artisans and crafters to profile and to create original and appropriate works of fashion and craft for sale to the world at large.
While traveling recently, I came across an article in the British press highlighting actions by British retailers Asda and Tesco to remediate their reputation after offering for sale adult sized “psycho ward” patient and “mentally ill” costumes.
Quite a number of prominent British leaders, sports stars, and other celebrities expressed their outrage, noting such costumes contribute to stigma, shame, and misunderstanding. The costumes have been withdrawn from sale, and both retailers have agreed to make significant donations to a mental health charity.
Perhaps we might see something similar happen in our own community. It would help go a long way to challenging people’s views of mental illness and mental health.
Photo credit: Martha Muzychka
14 10 / 2013
Photo credit: www.cbc.ca/nl
Published St. John’s Telegram September 24, 2013
When one of my friends, a Newfoundlander now living in the U.S., found out there was a shortage of Fussell’s tinned cream in St. John’s, she posted this comment to her friends: “Something akin to a national disaster.”
While there is, for sure, a tongue in that cheek, let’s not lose track of what for many of us is a very important consideration.
Namely, I’ll be rotted if I can’t get my hands on a few cans of Fussell’s in the next couple of months. The British cream is a Sunday staple for a lot of families; for me, it’s all about the baking and it is a key part of our Christmas celebrations.
Here’s the deal. Canada, being Canada, has a quota system in place to limit how much of certain dairy products can be imported into the country, purportedly to protect the domestic industry.
In particular, Fussell’s is considered a specialty cream, and what the typical consumer is up against is known as a TRQ. (Never, ever underestimate a bureaucrat’s opportunity to create an acronym.) TRQ stands for tariff rate quota, and as that implies, there’s only so much tinned cream to go around.
I looked this up on the federal government’s website, and if I’m reading it correctly, the amount of “specialty creams” that can be brought into the country is 394,000 kilograms, which sounds like quite a lot, until you figure out how much cream that means per person, per year.
Sure, some people never use this stuff, but for those of us who do, we know how precious it is.
Last year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we had what I will call the Great Fussell’s Panic. You see, I need several cans of Fussell’s each year to make cherry cakes. I make three for my family, but I’ve been in the habit of making a bunch to give away to friends as gifts.
The problem was not fully understood when it presented itself. When a routine shopping trip found nothing in the supermarket, I didn’t think much of it. The weeks leading up to Christmas are pretty hectic for a lot of bakers.
My husband volunteered to check another store. Then another, and another, and so on. We eventually got an explanation: there was only so much tinned cream to go around.
I’ll never forget the rush of excitement when we got a tip that a stash of the stuff had been spotted at the Dominion store over on Blackmarsh Road. We were able to find enough to get us through Christmas, and I learned something about human nature. When something is scarce, and everyone knows that fact, you feel inclined to gather and protect that commodity when you see it.
Don’t worry: I did not hoard my Fussell’s. (The same restrictions apply to a similar imported product made by Carnation.)
My pantry does, though, feel a bit barren at the moment without it. Friends have offered suggestions for replacements, such as a bottled type of clotted cream, and I guess I may have to adapt.
But the broader question remains. If we can have free trade on a great many of the products that leave our country (and many which come into it), why on earth are dairy products considered so special? Are these the sacred cows I’ve been hearing about?
Having lived in Ottawa, and having paid attention to federal policy for many years, I know perfectly well that Canada’s dairy industry is a powerful lobby, particularly from its power base in Quebec. I don’t doubt for a second that the restrictions on these products - which include specialty cheeses - are connected to this political reality.
I guess I wouldn’t mind so much if there were a domestic product that had the same thick, delicious dollop that I get from a can of Fussell’s. (A little does indeed go a long way.)
The fact is nothing like it on the domestic market, which is why there’s a fuss here at home. In the meantime, my Christmas baking is still several weeks away, and I’ll cross that creamy bridge when I come to it.
10 9 / 2013
Used with permission. Photo Credit: Malin Enström
Published St. John’s Telegram Tuesday September 10, 2013
There’s not a woman I know in my circle that hasn’t been affected by breast cancer one way or the other through family and friends, through colleagues near and far, and of women old and young.
Since the late 80s, when I began working with a nurse whose worldview expanded my own into new and challenging directions, breast cancer has been on my agenda for action – for self-care, for support, for advocacy, for prevention, for education, and yes, for fundraising too.
I have written in previous columns about “pinkwashing” (selling products colored pink to raise awareness), about the movement to Think Before You Pink, about the powerful Pink Ribbons film challenging all the ideas we have about breast cancer and its cause, and about apologies and lessons from the Cameron Inquiry looking at the failures in the breast cancer testing process.
I have also written about body image in real women and in cartoons, on television and in film. I have written about empowerment and decision making, about taking care of ourselves as something to make first on to-do lists.
I even wrote about the continuing value in breast self examination, despite some fairly deep and critical research studies suggesting it doesn’t help, because I firmly believe that when we focus on learning what normal looks and means for our own bodies, we will learn to recognize when it changes and when we have to go further for help.
I still remember when I saw an image that struck me and my colleagues with such raw power and beauty that we were left speechless. It was a black and white photo of a woman nude from the waist up, her arms outspread to encompass the whole world in her being with this incredibly detailed tattoo of a tree of life growing, embracing, transforming her body and her mastectomy scar in one giant act of defiance.
Last spring, some 20 years after I saw the first photograph, I saw pictures that reminded me again of that moment. It was a series of photos taken by Malin Enström in collaboration with breast cancer survivor Sondria Browne. Browne had started a blog, called The Rising, in which she described the process of gathering the raw edges of her self that needed mending and rebuilding after experiencing her breast cancer diagnosis, surgery, treatment, and recovery.
Browne writes: “Sometimes, even words were not enough to articulate or express what it is to have a part of you taken away. I looked for an alternative expression for my experience and found it through photography. I asked Malin Enström to take pictures of me as I am now, spirit intact, to show the world that cancer could not take my essence. The pictures reflected exactly that and helped me gain acceptance. With the reality of the disease in each frame, ever present was hope, resilience and courage. I wanted to share this gift with other women.”
The result is One Out of Nine, an art project that provides astonishing revelations in its finely rendered, documentary approach. And it is coming to the Leyton Gallery in November 2013. Enström notes in the fundraising appeal she and Browne have started to support the exhibition that the images of 12 women between the ages of 31 and 82 are “intended to reveal a personal side of breast cancer and the scars that come with it, be they on the outside or on the inside.”
Our culture is inundated with images of breasts, almost all of them sexual in nature and showing or using breasts perfect in size, shape, and form according to current fashion. Rarely do we see breasts that don’t fit that profile; the exception was a calendar that was published for several years called Breasts in Canada dedicated to expanding our visual library of breast imagery in a society that focused exclusively on purported perfection. As Enström and Browne state: "Every scar has a story, every story has a scar."
One Out of Nine goes beyond that. These women invite us to look and to see hope; they ask us to move past our assumptions and to embrace their scars and the life stories they embody. These women have staked a claim on life that is both unsettling and empowering. Most of all, they have shown us, in that space of normal long seen as forbidden territory, something profoundly beautiful thrives.
To learn more about One Out of Nine or to support the exhibition, visit:
To read more about Sondria Browne, visit her blog http://sondriab.blogspot.ca/
27 8 / 2013
Last week, the Fraser Institute, the conservative think tank, released a new report declaring that the costs of raising a child in Canada had been overestimated, and that it was actually cheaper today than ever before.
Economist Christopher Sarlo says that the annual cost of raising a child is about $3,000 to $4,000, with the former cost arising from parents being especially frugal and careful about unnecessary expenses.
So what are the essentials? Sarlo details food, clothing, shelter, recreation, personal care, household supplies, and school supplies, but excludes daycare because most parents have no daycare costs.
Let’s look at some numbers, shall we?
- According the last Canadian census, there were some five million children in 2011.
- In 2012, there were 1.92 million kids under the age of four.
- On average, more than 70% of women with children aged three to five work outside the home.
- Recent estimates suggest we need 1.4 million childcare spaces, leaving about half a million kids without need of childcare by someone other than a parent.
- Today in Canada, there are 12 licensed spaces available for every 100 kids. That leaves 88 in the care of their mothers, relatives, home based daycares, and/or other arrangements.
It is unrealistic to exclude childcare from any calculation of the costs of raising children. The Fraser Institute study is predicated on two assumptions: one that it is women will look after children, especially if we’re talking a family with two parents, and second, if childcare is needed, it will be provided to families on an unpaid basis by family members.
The second big thing to emerge from Sarlo’s calculations is that he has failed to take into account housing and food costs, both of which have been rising steadily in the last five years. If we take the median cost offered by Sarlo at $3,500 per year per child, we have an average weekly cost of $67 per week, or $9.60 per day.
Let’s look at infant costs. Leaving aside any other major considerations around breastfeeding and bottlefeeding, about 50 per cent of Canadian mothers breastfeed. That means bottlefeeding moms are spending about $2,000 for the first year on formula even with the free samples and coupons. Breastfeeding moms tend to eat more and they also tend to buy more nutritionally dense foods so they may have a higher grocery bill for their needs.
Then you have to factor in diapers. Disposables for a child for one year will run you about $1,500, again assuming you take advantage of sales and coupons. Even if you choose to cloth diaper, you still have the outlay plus the laundering and the electricity that uses. Those costs are a little more challenging to figure out, but one site I looked at suggests between $900 and $1,000 per year.
So with just diapers and food alone, baby’s first year runs between $3,000 and $3,500. We haven’t even looked at clothing (and yes, many moms have organized clothing swaps to reduce those costs, but you still buy some, even second hand), the equipment (car seats, cribs, strollers, toys, books), and so on. (My biggest cost when my child was an infant was heat. I prefer a cool room, but with a January baby in the house, our heating costs went up.)
As children grow, their interests and their needs also expand. Early childhood development specialists note the importance of early stimulation on child development. Relegating books, toys, recreation, music, art, dance, sports etc as minimal costs is shortsighted. We’re not talking about high end costs, because more people are turning to libraries and community centres for borrowing rather than buying, but even Brownies or Cubs will run you $150 a year, especially once you include the uniform, special events, and so on.
And I don’t believe costs go down as children grow. If anything, they increase. Any parent of a pre-teen will tell you that food alone is a significant factor - how many of you have joked you need to buy a cow for the milk? Depending on where you buy it, a healthy active child will likely go through $20 of milk or more a week, and that will run you about $1,000 per year.
The bottom line for me is that this study is flawed. It is based upon a time and a set of values that are long gone. It fails to take into account the reality of today’s parents. You don’t have to be as rich as Croesus to raise your kids well, but it does take money, and I think the investment, even at responsible, even frugal, levels is worth it. The problem is the Fraser Institute has set the bar too low, and kids, and our country, will be the ones who lose.
13 8 / 2013
This is the time of year when you can see perfection in a berry: a raspberry that is wondrously red, a strawberry with a taste that reaches your nose before your tongue, an early blueberry that tells you the fruits of the season will be running for a while yet.
August is an unusual time in my house. It’s a time of laziness, of relaxing both muscles and schedules, of putting up your feet so your toes can be tickled by the breeze wafting through the screen doors.
That’s the first feeling. There’s another seasonal feeling, though, at the other end of the spectrum for pacing, but not (happily) for mood.
When I see lusciously fresh fruit now, my first inclination is not necessarily to savour its flavour, but to capture it for posterity. As my friends and family know, I love the joy to be had in canning, or bottling, all manners of jams, jellies, pickles and sauces.
This is the time of year when conflicting ideals come into play. This past weekend, I was content to let the sun warm my limbs as I stretched out, sipped some coffee and indulged in a delicious book.
At the same time, I know that the clock is ticking on the window when some things can be made.
Take salsa. A few weeks ago, the unthinkable happened in our home: we ran out. Sure, a short drive to the supermarket would get us a bottle of salsa, but we haven’t bought one in ages, largely because we haven’t needed to. Last year, I kind of got carried away, and put up a variety of salsas, some spicier than others, as well as a salsa verde that was a favourite.
I guess we thought those bottles would last forever … but they did not. Well, now is the time of year when I love tomatoes the most, and I can practically smell the mixture of vinegar, savoury herbs and sweet tomatoes that come with a salsa preparation.
That’s just the start. A friend invited us over to pick her raspberries and red currants, an offer too good to resist. The annual bounty is more than she needs, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to fill a bucket or two with what might otherwise go to waste.
In past generations, canning (the name has stuck, even though cans are not actually involved!) was a way to prevent anything from wasting. With freezers, family habits changed and canning maybe seemed old-fashioned.
Somehow, it became trendy again, and while it may or may not be a fad for some people, I’m there for the variety, the quality, and the control I exert over all my ingredients.
I’m also there for the wonders of opening a bottle months from now. One of my moments of revelation came when I made a batch of pesto, and could not get over the startlingly intense green scent of garlic, fruity olive oil and basil that emerged when I thawed a jar in January when fresh basil is rare or not worth buying.
I’ve relived the pleasure of summer by opening up a bottle of cherry pie filling in the depth of winter; I’ve remembered a crisp autumn afternoon by cracking open a jar of blueberry jam for toast on the most miserable spring morning; and I’ve delighted in giving friends chutneys for their Christmas and other holiday feasts.
This point in August is when we desire most to make time stand still, or at least slow down. The air is warm, the mood is right, the sun is a joy … and we know it’ll all be over too soon. But with my best efforts, I will have captured all that and more in my beautiful bottles.
Maybe that’s why it’s worth it to pull myself into the kitchen, and to do something that makes this time of year truly last.