Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembering Nichola and All of Our Canadian Soldiers

Today we will take our children to the Remembrance Day ceremony in our community. We have taken our children to Remembrance Day ceremonies, or have watched them on television, each year since they were babies. My husband and I believe it is important, it is our duty and our right as Canadians, to remember and honor the many Canadian soldiers and civilians who have given their lives to defend our freedoms and the freedom of people far away.

When I was younger, Remembrance Day brought to mind my grandfather, PJ, who served in France during the Second World War. I also heard stories of a great uncle, a pilot who died serving his country in WW2. As new university student, I used to have lunch with my grandfather every week. From time to time, the door bell would ring, and my grandfather would have a visitor, a wizened old soldier friend who would drop by just to talk. My grandfather was very discrete about what happened overseas during the war -- I wish he had told me more. I suspect there was a great deal that my grandfather did not want to talk about.

As we do each year, today we will tell our children the story of Nichola Goddard, a young Captain and soldier who served her country well in the Afghanistan War. Captain Nichola Goddard of the 1st Regiment of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery was the first Canadian woman to die in the Afghanistan War; she was killed in a grenade attack in the Panjwaii district, west of Kandahar city, on May 17, 2006. My husband and I will share our memories of Nichola's joie de vivre and courageous leadership, of her family, of her wedding to Jason that we attended when I was pregnant with our first son, and the return of her body to Canada.

In Tim Goddard's words, Nichola died too young, but she died doing something she believed was important, something she was good at, something she loved doing, and surrounded by people she enjoyed and respected. Nichola talked about helping the children of Afghanistan, and through her parent's tireless support, a legacy has been started: Light Up Papua New Guinea. Nicola's father Tim has served this country well by reminding the Prime Minister, and those in the military who make such decisions, that Canadian citizens have the right to openly and publicly welcome our dead soldiers home [here][here].

On my way to work yesterday, I was listening to Stuart Maclean's Remembrance Day Concert on my iPod with tears pouring down my face. It wasn't exactly just sadness I was feeling, although I was sad; rather, I was overwhelmed by gratitude, love, compassion, empathy, sympathy for the soldiers and their families -- these emotions literally welled up and overflowed as the bagpipes started playing. I found myself chanting a prayer over and over:

Thank you God for the men and women who fought to protect our freedoms.
Please God, protect those brave and courageous soldiers who still fight for the freedom of those who are oppressed.

We will pause and stand in silence before, during and after the 11th minute, of the 11th hour, of the 11th day, and remember.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pink Technology is a Dumb Idea

For my 65th blog post, I choose to reflect upon my mixed relationship with the color pink.

Pink Ribbons
I like pink ribbons. Not to wear, per se, although these are fine for baby people or animals. My affinity for pink ribbons comes from the connection with breast cancer and research. My mom, an aunt, a good friend, a doctoral student -- fortunately, I know women who have had this dreaded cancer who have survived. Still, my aunt died of breast cancer at the age of 42. To me, a pink ribbon symbolizes a woman's triumph over breast cancer, or her death from it -- pink ribbons bring to mind both hope and remembrance. At the same time, I am troubled by the feeling that I am a pawn in a much larger, more crass marketing pitch when I buy my pink daytimer and pens, and see rows of pink ribbon candies, &candles, &t-shirts, &slippers, &pyjamas, &coffee mugs, &bbq lighters, &kleenex, &key chains, &gardening tools at the store. So, while I am touched by the symbolism of pink ribbons, I can also appreciate Samantha King's important critique of 'pink ribbon politics' in her book, "Pink Ribbons, Inc".

On wearing pink
For most of my adult life, I cheerfully avoided pink - perhaps this is an unexamined, and deeply buried throwback to my mother's despair over the many, many holes in my white leotards as a girl. Eventually, she stopped putting me in dresses. In the past 7 years, though, I have gradually added more pink items to my wardrobe. Rather than expressing a particular affinity for the color itself, I believe I have gravitated towards pink because of the increased number of boys in my family. Allow me to explain...

I am a tomboy. Lucky for me, I had a father who nurtured my interests and believed girls could and should do anything. I learned to ice skate before I started school, and received a leather ball glove for my 7th birthday. While I was growing up, my father taught me how to use the tools in his well stocked, carpenter's garage. Since before kindergarten, I have sawed wood, hammered nails, turned screws and glued bits of wood together for fun. I took automotives in high school, and for a time I believed I would become a mechanic. Dad gave me a Craftsman Toolchest when I got accepted into the auto mechanics program at the local technology institute. It was a significant milestone to be trusted to back the crew cab into the garage - I still love backing up using my side mirrors, though now I drive a mini-van. Even though my path did not end up in mechanics, I still have that rolling, red toolchest in my garage, and it is full of tools. I still feel a familiar and certain satisfaction when working with tools and materials, building things, fixing things, hanging up Christmas lights, painting fences, and so on. Dad praised me plucking feathers from the ducks he shot; I enjoyed helping him eat the ducks while my sister and mom cringed. I had an N-scale train, and set up a tiny track inside of the H-scale train that my dad built. While I had long, blond ponytails and attended brownies and girl guides with dozens of female friends, I also loved playing soccer and kick-the-can with the boys at recess and after school. Snapshots from my tomboy childhood are in black and grey, but definitely not pink. Baseball uniforms, snow pants and sturdy clothes suitable for crawling around in the garage and the garden are on the darker end of the spectrum. My mother dressed me in colors that were easy to clean.

Long after working in hospitality, going to university, becoming a teacher, completing graduate school in educational technology, and several years after becoming a professor, the tomboy became a mother to two boys. While I was pregnant, I wore my first pink since babyhood - it was a maternity blouse I inherited from my sister. Once my first son was born, I gradually started to react to the higher levels of testosterone in my home. After my second son was born, I was clearly outnumbered. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the testosterone, I like to joke that I started to wear pink as a defense mechanism! As the boys grow and do more boy-like things, and become more shaped by the gender discourse on the playground, I feel the need to remind all three of my boys that girls can do anything, and they can sometimes do it better. And, I am not joking. Both of my children play stick sports on ice, and both are on mixed teams, and have a mixed set of coaches - still, it is an uphill battle to counter-act the stereotypes that exist on the bench and in the change room.

Pink Technology is Dumb
As part of my exploration of pink, the tomboy in me takes issue with the "pink technology" marketing ploys targeted at women (and children, come on... what is with a Barbie computer??). Pink DS, Pink CD players, Pink iPhones are just plain dumb and devoid of any reference to relevant research, a sampling of which can be found here (1998) and here (2009). Read this neat "anti-pink-tech" post by Belinda Palmer: Technology: Is it different for girls? My favorite quote, "Technology brands must put an end to these clumsy marketing strategies and put money and time behind understanding how real women in the real world engage with technology. Women are no longer the second sex. We are the more profitable sex."

I rely on technology as part of my professional and academic life: a cell phone, an iPod, a laptop for travel, a work desktop and a home desktop and wireless network. At home, four people share three computers, six gaming systems, multiple sound systems and DVD players, and three televisions. Although I have ovaries, and have recently enjoyed wearing more pink, I would NEVER buy or carry around a pink computer. The companies that Belinda Palmer refers to will never get a dollar from me. I suspect that many professional women, who have money to spend on technology, have earned their salaries by competing with men; a good number of these accomplished women are not going to be wooed by pink when they buy their tools of the trade - they will look for function over form.

I am a female academic working on a campus with a 65 to 35 male to female ratio in the professoriate. While I have chosen a pink theme for my blog, and enjoy throwing on a pink scarf from time to time, I would never open a pink laptop in a meeting with my education, engineering or medicine colleagues. It would simply feel ODD. Part of me would wonder whether the male professors perceived the "pink computer" as a sign of female superficiality, or weakness (hapless female who needs protection); Worse, pink might convey a lack of academic and research rigor, a lack of seriousness or commitment, a frivolousness not welcome in the hallowed halls of academia. Nope, the tomboy in me thinks tools -- function over form -- and I believe it is much better to stick with straight-forward stainless steel, macbook white, dell-black. My one concession to form is the green case on my mac laptop (meant to convey my higher consciousness about the state of our ecosystem... Not! It is just my favorite color).

Pink History / Herstory
I am not a gender scholar, feminine theorist or history researcher. However, as a final inquiry into pink, I hunted around a bit and found this interesting little tidbit in google answers: it appears that the feminine association with pink, that has been a heretofore unacknowledged and deeply buried theme in this tomboy's life, is in fact a multi-layered and has an interesting history, part of which is that pink used to be for boys and blue for girls. So, even with pink, there are many shades of grey.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Doing our part to train the next generation of consumers

As I was slapping together three "teddy bear" peanut butter and "squeeze jam" "smart bread" sandwiches this morning, I reflected on how the media has influenced our children's diet. It used to be that in response to the KFC commercial where the mom heroically brings a bucket of dinner home, I would chirp sarcastically to my husband, "Yeah, right -- there is a 'good' mom". Back when we had one baby drinking breast milk, I swore my kids would not grow up on KD and hot dogs; we planned to feed our children a healthy and wholesome diet. Now my kids know "Taco Tuesday" and "Toonie Tuesdays" might mean greasy take-out before hockey practice. Yum! My kids love pizza, mac and cheese, and hot dogs. Thankfully, my children will also eat cooked and raw veggies, massive loads of fruit, whole wheat everything, and a range of meats and proteins. They also ask for sugar coated, marshmallow infused breakfast cereal that a manic leprechaun sells on TV, along with other amazing items.

"Mom, buy that kind of shampoo, it will make your hair thick and shiny" said my 4.5 year old as we cruised the aisle.

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Mooooom, its on TV" he sighed, as if I was the most clueless parent on the planet.

In the next aisle, my oldest son gets excited and points to a certain box of cereal with a tiger on it, "Mom, get that one... it tastes GRrrrrrreat!!".

While sitting with my children watching some television, I listen as my son mimics the announcer who is demonstrating a food chopper: "Time for a handheld breakfast, just start with your boiled egg, one chop, and then add a pickle and ham. ... You are going to like my nuts...".

Both of my children sing along with several commercials for junk food and know the jingles for a range of items we would never consider buying. Should I be worried when they chant the themes for cartoons on Treehouse and RetroTunes? When they list the toys they can get with a happy meal at McDs or Burger Thing? I do worry that our children's TV exposure to market savvy media, along with the "what have you got?" school competition at recess and lunch, and our own desire to make them happy, have slowly affected some of our healthy household buying habits at the grocery store.

As I pop the PBJ into the SpongeBob and Lightening McQueen tupperware containers, I take a big bite of my own sandwich and wash it down with my double milk Tim Horton's coffee, and wonder whether this is an issue to spend much more time worrying about.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On being a Canadian and a Hockey Mom

I wonder, as I drink my first coffee of November before 6 am, how many of my colleagues in the professoriate are also awake and getting ready for a 6:45 hockey game? Maybe a handful. I also wonder how many got to go trick or treating with a super hero, a rock star and a hippie last night? Perhaps a very lucky few.

Truly, I find myself humming the "I am Canadian" song and thinking of a Tim Horton's commercial (the one with the dad and his dad sharing a coffee at hockey) as I get the two of us ready to drive to the arena:

I know this place is where I am,
No other place is better then.
No matter where I go I am,
Proud to be Canadian!

Envy me all you like - I totally get it.
Pity me and you just don't get it.