Category Archives: security

How I First Learned About Money

money, working, first jobs, allowance, chores, babysitting

Creative Commons by cupwire.ca

CBC Radio One was talking about allowances today and whether they’re good or bad, or should be allowed. As a child, I was one of four to a working class family. We didn’t have a ton of money, or at least that was the way it always came across. I wasn’t given money that I can remember and maybe as a small child I was, so that I could learn how to spend it and count it out. Or maybe I learned about it in grade school. I actually can’t remember any specific lessons about money.

But…by the time I was six or seven I had my first job. It wasn’t a paper route but it was selling Regal Cards, a mail order company for Christmas and birthday cards, door to door. They’re still going strong Probably the cuteness of being a little child helped me sell those cards but I was working early on. My mother didn’t believe in letting us shirk any duties and she’d grown up a Depression Era child so making your own way was part of the game. We may have been lower middle class but my siblings and I were richer in goods than my mother had been at that age.

After Regal Cards, came babysiting, when I was old enough. I babysat for the people across the street and for a while had a job babysitting on Saturdays for a woman who worked. A full day of entertaining a two-year-old who wouldn’t sleep if the didn’t have his bottle (and threw it over the balcony one day) was more than I could take and I eventually quit. But the fact is I was familiar with working and being paid for it probably since I was seven. I opened a savings account between the ages of 12-14, where my mother had to come with me because they weren’t used to kids with bank accounts at that age. Now, every kid can get a bank account. I had a chequing account just a few years later.

In between all this I asked my mother, probably around the age of 13 or 14 if I could receive an allowance. By this time my two older siblings were out of the house and it was just my brother and me. We already had chores to do, such as vacuuming, mowing lawns, shoveling walks, washing dishes so it’s not like the bribe of money made us do the chores. The threat of grounding or being spanked made us do the chores. However, my mother had started working so she was less diligent about such things. But when I asked for that allowance I was pretty much told it wouldn’t be fair to give it to one and not the other, and because my brother never did his chores I was punished for his chaos.

By the time I was sixteen I was working in a movie theater, my first real job with a regular paycheck. I had that job for a

ju jube, candy, working, movies, entertainment, first jobs

Ju Jubes from charlieschocolatefactory.ca

couple of years, until art college. It was a great job for a teenager. We could sneak in to watch some shows at the slow time. My girlfriend also worked there with me and we’d pick out the choicest popcorn to eat. Sometimes we’d order a pizza slice or two from Stromboli’s next door and dip the thick puffy crusts in some butter we had poured off. We’d count the ju-jube bags and buy the ones with the most red or black ones and we’d buy the Twizzler bags that had the highest count. Something only teenagers could get away with.

I was definitely buying most of my own clothes by the time I was 16, with little if no cash from my mother. So I learned the value of money from a very young age and I learned how to save. After all, I put myself through college, no savings from relatives. But back in those early days, yeah, an allowance would have been nice.

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Filed under consumer affairs, Culture, family, memories, security

How I Almost Became a Prostitute

prostitution, welfare, poverty, unemployment

Creative Commons: Diego3336 Flickr

The Occupy Movement has got me thinking about we, the little people, those who drudge out our days to pay the bills, with very little extra and sometimes having to choose if it will be getting a tooth fixed or getting tires on the car. How voiceless are we in how things run? Well, we vote in our representatives, if we vote, but many of us know that you can’t represent all of the people all of the time. In fact, most political systems break down after one-two hundred people. We have no true democracy and while we all have a vote we are definitely not heard nor represented equally.

One example of being the voiceless 99% was when I ran up against bureaucracy while trying to be trained in a presumably more lucrative position. I had a three-month full-time course in an apprenticeship program to be a script supervisor in the movie industry (that’s overall continuity and more). Apprenticeship programs were paid for by the government so I had no course costs. However, I couldn’t really work during that time. All of the other people in the course (around 16) had either a spouse to support them or they could get unemployment. I couldn’t because I’d been freelancing for years, where the federal government doesn’t let you pay into unemployment insurance. My freelance income just paid my monthly bills; hence why I was taking this course.

I had very little saved money but as a freelance copyeditor there were two publishers in New York for which I would edit one to two manuscripts a month for them. With one from each of them I would have just enough money to get by while I finished the course.

Three months doesn’t seem a long time but halfway through the first month, the first publisher changed their focus and went into videos. The second publisher went into receivership at the end of that month. Suddenly I had two months to go and no money. I scraped through the second month but December was coming and I had no way to pay rent, let alone buy much food. I instituted the end-of-the-world diet. I didn’t buy any food at all and used up the stores in my place. In a way it was interesting to see how long could I survive on fresh produce, then frozen foods, then canned and dried goods.

But I still couldn’t pay the rent. So I went to Welfare. Now I had once before in my early 20s been on welfare when the economy dived, I couldn’t find work and times were dire (and I had roommates). It was no fun whatsoever, and slim pickings. So here I went, down to the office, filling in forms galore to see if I could get $300 to pay my rent (my rent was more but that was what I needed to pay the rent). It turns out, because I had about $3,000 in retirement savings plans I was not allowed even $300 that I said I would repay. Instead, the brilliant of our government is to have you use up al of your retirement savings now so that when you hit old age, you can go live under a bridge, become ill and run up more costs for the government.

Not only is there no such thing as a free  lunch but there’s no help for the self-employed. I’d have to be a full-on welfare recipient, unable to work and possibly dealing with addictions to get the money. So what could I do? I had no money to pay my bills, my car payment, my rent or for food. I was trying to finish the course and not drop it. I was desperate and seriously thought of prostitution as the only way I could make ends meet. I had no job, no recourse. I determined where I could stand; I wasn’t far from the area where they stand, I could dress badly and where little. I could charge…something. Maybe I could be a call girl, have them pick me up, place an ad in the paper. I imagined scenarios in cars and back alleys. And…I just couldn’t do it.

Lucky for me I had good friends and family. Without ask, people sent me money and my landlords gave me a half month’s rent as a Christmas gift. I bought no one a present that year, but somehow I made it through. And no help to a bureaucratic government that sees everyone on welfare as a welfare bum and if they’re not, then they will be by the time they’re completely destitute and degraded.  It was humiliating.

I can see why the 99% (through really it’s probably 20%) are complaining about the 1%. Government and corporations, more than individuals, are the 1%. And we hear over and over again of the plights of the common people, denied this or that, dying in the streets, succumbing to illness, being humiliated because they just don’t have a voice made of money. Do I trust my government? No. And it’s too bad but I need to see more faith in helping humanity first. In the meantime I remain wary.

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Filed under Culture, life, people, politics, security

Occupy…What?

Occupy, Occupy Vancouver, politics, anarchy, protests

Focused Capture: Creative Commons

Many cities have seen the Occupy movement taking up residence for the last month or two. When it started I was in Europe and had no clue what was going on. I wasn’t reading news while traveling. One friend posted that, hey while you were gone the Occupy movement started. I asked, Occupy what? I never got an explanation.

In the weeks since I’ve been back I’ve listened to the news and I know kind of what’s on the mind of the Occupy movement, or what was once the goal. It was to show that the voice of the little people should be heard and that we’re tired of letting the 1%, the rich corporations (really, more than individuals) run everything without us having a say and without them having to pay. I came across this site that lists some of the movement’s concerns much more clearly than I’ve heard through the media, which is sometimes out for sensationalism and not out for facts.

But… but, we’re in this era of constant protest, where every large event has the anarchistic element for anarchy’s sake. Or arguing for argument’s sake and playing devil’s advocate. I’m more than a little skeptical when a tent city goes up on the art gallery’s lawn and people light a fire in direct antagonism to the fire marshal’s order of no fires, and then they call it a sacred fire. Oh, if we bring in religion and spirituality they don’t dare interfere with our fire. Haven’t we seen this before? Sacred how? What rites and rituals are going on and for how long?

The hockey game brought on riots in Vancouver, and why? Because anarchistic yahoos wanted a good time and to give it to “the man.” The riots in England; because government is bad, yeah, real bad and we’re gonna do this because they can’t stop us. That’s what some of the interviewees have said. I feel like it’s more of “here we go again.” A small vocal, possibly violent group of anarchists gather to be a thorn in the foot of government. And–they deflate any real protests that get eaten by the hungry media monster that loves conflict.

But… but, I know there are those idealists, the pure hearts who believe they’re fomenting change, that they’re being effective as they vote at their general assemblies to do this or that. But they have no central voice, no true leader and therefore the message gets lost in the noise. And yes, I agree that we don’t have enough voice in what goes on. And this lead to me being in a hard situation once when I needed welfare and was denied it because of silly rules. So what happens, we have a few people who entrench themselves downtown but theh message of Occupy for 99% gets lost and then these people are the 1% as well; just a different 1%. And I guess I’m just cynical enough to believe that the message won’t get across and won’t change anything.

Yet, maybe some of these people will tr to get into politics and one things is for sure: if you’re American you need to be a millionaire to run in US politics, but that’s not true here. Some of the best ways to foment change is from the inside. But then do you become the beast you’re fighting? Possibly, but I just don’t feel Occupy with actually last long. It’s more like a nasty wart on the ass of the corporations. But soon it will be excised and forgotten about.

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Thoughts on 9/11 Ten Years After

I am probably one of very few people in North America who has never seen a picture of the Twin Towers falling. Ever. In ten years. There are several reasons for this. I didn’t and don’t have a TV because I feel very bludgeoned emotionally by the trauma and tragedy of the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. I care very much. Too much. So I have never wanted to see the people falling, the towers crumbling.

Even ten years later, when CBC’s The Current talks to a girl who was 12 at the time in a school near by, I find myself welling up with tears and emotion. It affected me enough that I don’t think I could handle the images. And I know what a terrible thing it was.

I was geographically far removed from the event, living in Vancouver, BC. And when a friend posted online in the morning before I went to work that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center I thought it was an unfortunate accident. As I drove to work I soon realized the severity of what was going on. I was glued to the radio all day, alternating between tears and panic.

I felt a fear that day that I had never known before and it makes me very sad to realize that many people have gone through this or live in a constant state of fear in countries and regimes fueled by violence and tyrannies. My world, my comfy world of little mundane issues was turned upside down. Like many, I didn’t know if we were under attack and war had reached our shores. I only know that my security was undermined and I was not prepared. Ten years later, were we to be attacked full on, I find I’m still unprepared. How do you prepare for such a thing. I’d like to think I’d survive, that I’m tough, that I’d adapt, but I don’t really know, and I hope I never have to find out.

The falling of the towers was also the final clincher in my mental health. I didn’t know I was going into clinical depression. I was already suffering from despair and sadness and not being able to cope with the little things. I was knocked completely for a loop after that. It was a long, painful year of recovery after that.

My story “Horizons” for the Mammoth Book of On the Road was for a collection of road trip stories. It was written during this time and about a woman who is late for work and therefore doesn’t die when 9/11 happens. She deals with guilt about being tardy while others were good and showed up on time. She also chooses to disappear, drive into the wilderness and camp for who will know that she didn’t die in the collapse of the towers? Interestingly, this story (which is not SF) got very little attention or reviews and even I forget about its existence. I might post it on this blog in the next few days.

What 9/11 did was put the Taliban on the map for many of us. It also gave George Bush his misguided holy crusade. Perhaps the good things were that emergency response measures and security were looked at closely but we also received an overlarge dose of paranoia. To this day it’s easier to fly from Canada to Europe than it is to the US because of ludicrous standards. And line ups and waits at airports seem to increase every year with another over-the-top precaution. Not all of them are but there are significantly stupid ones.

Many of us perhaps grew more fearful. Overall I haven’t, though it’s such reminders as this and close friends dying that tell me to enjoy every day and make it worthwhile. I still love and fear but I don’t let some threat keep me from doing the things I want, ever. And I will never understand nor condone that innocent lives should ever be taken just so some nutjob who wants to push his/her views on someone else can get attention. Here’s to world peace, letting us live and love and working at not hurting each other.

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Traveling in India: Bribes and Baksheesh

India’s massive corruption in government has come to a head with Anna Hazare’s hunger strike. However, corruption is not exclusive to India, nor is it new in that country. But India may have made it a fine art.

When I traveled to India, lo these many years ago, I was aware of the bribery (or baksheesh as they call it) before I went. However, due to an ingenuous blend of naiveté and stubbornness I managed not to pay a single rupee. I probably extended my waiting, boredom and frustration but I made it through with the limited funds I had. Mostly, I imagine they left tourists alone who might not know the system or understand what one had to do. There are only two incidences that I think involved a try for a bribe.

When I left the tribal state of Meghalaya, I had to make sure I had a transit paper or visa that showed I was allowed in the state, where foreigners could only enter with a special permit. Because I was traveling into Assam, the neighboring state, I needed to show I was allowed to travel between states. The border was closed at the time because the Khasis and Assamese were fighting with each other (they’re traditional tribal enemies). It was a very long, hot and thirsty bus ride to the Assam airport and then, typical of Indian time, a three-hour wait for the late plane.

I’d probably been sitting there two hours when three men came rushing over, in three different colored suit jackets asking to see my passport. At first I was confused because there was nothing that indicated that they were official in any capacity. And for all I know two of them might not have been. Then I was taken into a back office where they pored over my passport and the papers and wrote everything out, in painstakingly slooooow handwriting. I believe they were trying to intimidate or scare me into paying but I wasn’t sure so I just sat there and let the guy write out everything. After all, I had time to kill until the plane arrived.

The second time was as I was returning from Nepal into India, where you must go through a double border check. Due to the fact that Indians will give you directions even if they don’t know the right directions, I had been told to wait for my connecting bus from the border town of Gorakhpur (near enough to be a major outpost) at the wrong spot and therefore missed it. This meant that I had to take a later bus not meant for tourists. So I was the only white person and only woman on the bus that drove off into the dark of night. Everything was fine and I was sleeping when the bus was pulled over and two men in nondescript jackets boarded and demanded to see my documents and what was in my bag. Note that in India (at least the areas I was in) men and women do not touch in public at all. This doesn’t mean they won’t try to sneak a fondle at a tourist’s expense but it means that a male border inspector won’t search a woman.

I showed them my papers and one bag and then they said, get off the bus. It was not just dark outside but pitch black, barely any lights to indicate a city and nothing but fields around. So I asked them to get my pack off the roof (where bags were stored) and which direction was the closest city. All I could think to do so late at night was walk. They looked at me and said, “What are you doing? Get back on the bus.” So I did, wondering if they had wanted me to pay baksheesh but too bewildered to know it.

The saddest example of seeing what bribery was doing to India, was when I was in Shillong, Meghalaya. I was talking to these bright young men, some in university. They were already defeated because they said that there was little chance of getting a good job without paying baksheesh. They saw no future for themselves and it was such a waste of brilliant minds. Now this was before Microsoft and the IT industry started outsourcing so maybe it got a bit better, but obviously one of the biggest epidemics in a country 1 billion strong, is the rampant bribery that still affects them.

For a bit of fun, here is an artist’s image of Baksheesh Boy.

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Grrr, Tough on Crime

crime, heroes, tough on crime, Captain Marvel, fighting,

Captain Marvel gets tough on crime (Marvel Comics)

Yet again, we’re hearing about the Harper government’s tough on crime slogan. I actually get shudders because this phrase just sounds a bit too much like the Bushism “War on Terror.” There’s a crusader’s zeal to it that means not taking measured steps or looking at issues sensibly. It’s a fervent belief that actually has no facts to support the need.

Crime in general and violent crime has been going down consistently in Canada, so what’s happening?

Well, on one level, you have a Conservative government with some scary religious zeal being redirected to where Canadians will find it more acceptable than true religious right-wing zealotry. Crime! Everyone hates crime and yes we want people to be punished for their misdeeds. But the government’s smoke and mirrors means they’re really spending relatively little on building more prisons for a crime rate that’s going done. Then in a few years when the greatly diminished statistics are available (because this government cut out a lot of what’s needed by statisticians) they can say, “Look what a great job we did.”

Hmm, in the meantime they haven’t spent money on crime prevention, which includes lessening poverty, providing education for children (including those who have learning disabilities), and helping people get away from drug addiction. Much better to throw the drug addicts in prison where they can become ever more hardened than try to rehabilitate.

The other half of this weird equation where crime is going down but it “looks” like it’s going up can be blamed on media. When I say media I mean all, from the comic above to all those TV shows and movies with violent criminals or sometimes savvy and cool and handsome ones (the thieves and internet heisters). This also includes radio, TV, newspaper and internet news. We are now supersaturated in the fat of tragedy. Every trauma, tragedy, disaster or crisis is reported on. We don’t get the news just twice a day, but every hour, in twitter, on the internet, in colour, with numerous graphic pictures. We get talk shows and articles until all we see is the DIRE HORRIBLE STATE OF THE WORLD. Aieeee!

No wonder the Conservative government can sell wasting money on more prisons when crime is going down (gang warfare however, is going up). It would be nice if the media went back to unbiased reporting, which means mentioned the good things in life too. How about a few more tales of human kindness and achievement, of the beauty in the world both natural and made by humans. I want to weep sometimes as the mess we’re making but we also have great creative beautiful minds and the majority of people aren’t criminals and really do want the world to be a better place. So while we stay tough on crime (England’s thugs, I’m talking to you) let’s also be gentle and uplifting with beauty.

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How to End Your Life

pedestrians, car accidents, walking safely, traffic, safety

Creative Commons: by Shuets Udono, Flickr

I’m sure I could write an unending series of stupid things people do that could or have cut their lives short. But perhaps the most common that all of us might do is the act of being a pedestrian. Walking isn’t really an art since we’ve done it from the time we gave up crawling (except for those who get too drunk). Walking is however something that takes attention.

If you walk unconsciously, you’re bound to run into trouble. I know someone who was walking and talking with friends, looking sideways, and ran into a pole and smashed her nose. Then we have the infamous jaywalker. In North America, in most places, this is illegal and for a good reason too. It’s not just that you’re taking a chance with your life because you’re too lazy to walk to a corner, but you also disrupt the flow of traffic and could cause a car accident with another car or with you. Is it really worth shaving a few seconds off of your trip? Not to mention, the more walking, the better you keep in shape.

I am both a driver and a walker. I walk where I can and don’t take my car if I’m going ten or twenty blocks (on most days). When I’m a driver, I respect pedestrian rights. When I’m a pedestrian I respect car driver rights. Too many people feel entitled, but last I looked  no one owns the world. Although pedestrians have the right of way in British Columbia (and many other places) this does not mean they have the right of way in the middle of the street or against lights. At intersections and corners, yes they do but there are still rules. You can’t step right in front of a car and expect them to stop. You would become road pizza.

However, in Vancouver I’ve noticed that if you are standing at a corner, most cars will never ever stop for you. I step off of the curb but not in front of the car, and make eye contact. I kinda like my life. When I start walking I have the right of way but even when I hit the lane going in the other direction, I stop first and look, making sure cars are slowing down and stopping. I’ve had people try to run me over halfway through a crosswalk.

The best way to end your life is to cross against a light, or run across the street because you just have to catch that bus or get that coffee. In the dark or in Vancouver’s notorious rains, people aren’t always that visible. All cars have blind spots and if you run out suddenly, even at a corner, the driver who is turning might not see you. This happened to me once, in the rain, in the dark. All I  saw was a flash of legs and it was so sudden. A few seconds different and that person would have been severely injured.

BC has intersections with blinking green (or yellow) lights on the main street, and stop signs for the side streets. The blinking light means they’re pedestrian controlled and it takes a person pressing the button to have the light turn red. When the light changes, the cars on the side street can get through. When the light turns red the pedestrian is supposed to stop and let the cars go. Red always means stop, even for pedestrians, yet you’ll find people sauntering across without even looking. And crossing anywhere, whether with the light or if you have the right of way, without  looking is a good way to make yourself a smear on the road. Bicyclists and skateboarders (and rollerbladers) who feel that the rules don’t apply to them and think they should go down the middle of the road could find themselves statistics.

Yes, pedestrians often have the right of way, but we’re soft flesh and cars are giant metal monsters with exoskeletons. So if you want to end your life sooner than later, walk against the traffic rules or step out in front of a car without looking, because you want to make them  brake suddenly. The best thing to remember is respect. Riders, drivers and pedestrians have to respect each other and not feel that they’re the entitled ones where the rules don’t apply. Go talk to the bodies in the morgue and see if disobeying those rules helped them.

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Filed under cars, Culture, driving, health, life, security

Travel Trips on Money

money, travel, euros, moneybelt

Creative Commons: Roby on Flickr

I’m planning a trip to Europe in September and thought I would get some of the preparation out-of-the-way. When I went to Ireland in 2007 I took some cash and traveler’s  checks and my sister took cash. But travelers’ checks, they’re kind of passé, aren’t they? A friend had pointed out that I could have used my bank card and I thought, well, duh. But then, could I?

moneybelt, traveling, travelers checks, passport holder, travel safety

Creative Commons from http://www.travelingcow.com

So I’ve started checking out a few factors. I thought the easiest thing to do would be to put a deposit of cash onto my credit card and then I could just charge items to the card and only pay the exchange rate. But guess what, because the credit card companies (Visa, MasterCard, and I presume American Express) don’t feel they’re gouging us enough with anywhere from 10 to 19% interest on our charges, they tack on a 2.5% charge for any transaction out of the country. For me, being Canadian, that means even a trip to the States will cost me extra on my card. I might be able to pay off my bill before the interest charge comes into effect but not for the 2.5%. Remember, on $1000 that would be an extra $25 for nothing.

Next I called my bank to ask about my debit card, which now has a chip. They said it probably would not work for point of sale transactions as each store in Europe would have to buy into a system and there is no reason they would be part of a North American system. I could use it at a bank machine that is part of the same network as mine (Cirrus in this case) but I would be most likely subjected to a fee from my bank (depends which network) as well as from the European bank machine, which could be as high as $6 per transaction. Well, that’s cheaper than Visa/MasterCard but still could add up and I’m stuck with withdrawing a daily limit. It’s best to check what that limit is.

It looks like I’ll be using a combination of bringing some Euros in cash that I can get from my bank (It’s best to warn them ahead of time so they have enough on hand) and travelers’ checks. Because I will most likely not do US travelers checks but Euros the bank might need three days to order them in. Travelers checks have about a 1% service charge so they’re cheaper than the credit cards. I’ll be getting them about two weeks before I go, just to make sure there are no glitches.

travel pouch, passport holder, money pouch, travel,

Creative Commons: Eagle Creek also has leg pouches http://www.amazon.com/Eagle-Creek/e/2210072011/ref=dp_apparel_byline_ety

I’ll arrive in Europe with Euros in cash, travelers’ checks that I can cash at a bank if nowhere else will take them (if you’re going to out-of-the-way places, make sure you cash these at a bank as many shops won’t take them anymore), and a credit card. I have a passport pouch that will hold my money and that I can wear around my neck. Some people favor money belts but I feel more secure with the neck pouch. It’s a matter of preference with these but they’re also an essential for travel when you’re bringing a fair amount of cash and to keep all your important information safe.

The other precaution I take beforehand is to write down all numbers into a booklet that is separate from my money. Should my credit card be stolen how do I call the number on the back of the card when I don’t have the card? I have it written down elsewhere with my credit card number. Emergency contacts, camera serial codes, passport number, travel insurance, etc. are all good things to record elsewhere. You can also send yourself an email that you could access on the internet with all the information. I did this with Ireland, in case my camera was stolen (unfortunately it was stolen from my home shortly after the Irish trip). You can also record your travelers check information, serial numbers and the company contact in case you lose them or run out of money.

No matter where one travels, it’s always good to keep alert and stay cautious. Don’t let your guard down and don’t flaunt all your cash. Take out what you need for the day and hide the rest. I’ll see how the other trip preparations go after this.

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The Coddled Society

playgrounds, overprotective, children, safety,coddling, protection

Creative Commons: Los Angeles CB Grant

Hundreds of years ago a child was only a child for so long. When they got big enough to walk and carry, that’s what they did. When they got big enough to hold a sword, they learned how to use one. When they could ride a horse, shear a sheep, seed the ground or chop food, they did. There was no waiting until you were of driving age, drinking age, voting age. There was no waiting, sitting and playing while mom and dad prepared things for you. Childhood probably lasted until about the age of five and then you were put to work. Even if you were noble, you were learning the ways of society and ruling at an early age.

Anyone who’s lived on a farm knows this lifestyle. Farm kids don’t sit and watch TV before or after school. They feed chickens, milk cows, bale hay, muck out pens and do a myriad of chores to keep the farm running. Third world countries have higher populations and larger families because, in their poverty, the more hands that can work then the more money and food they can bring in, even if there are more mouths to feed. I don’t just say this. Studies show that populations slow and stabilize the more a country moves towards a good economy.

As a child I learned to cook and bake by the time I was eight,with my mother guiding. I helped stir bowls of batter, added eggs and made hamburger patties, basted turkeys. I was cooking on my own by the age of ten. I had to pick up after myself, vacuum, wash dishes, polish and dust. My siblings of both genders had to do the same. We walked to school, a good mile distant, from grades 1-12. We walked in sun, and in rain, in hail and in snow. I remember the big snowsuit in grade one and so much snow that I was late every day for a week. But I walked, by myself.

My mother told us to go outside and play. If we said we were bored you can bet she’d give us chores. Sure we had to check in or tell her where we were going and I remember getting in hot water because I went off and played in the alley with my sister and her friend at the age of four, and didn’t tell my mother. But I did it, without constant adult supervision.

My hand wasn’t held as I slid down the slide, I wasn’t told I was too young to bake. We learned and we grew self-sufficient. I could cook and drive when I moved out on my own and in with my boyfriend. And so could he. I’ve met men (more than women) who couldn’t cook because mommy had done everything for their sons or only children. I’ve met people who couldn’t iron and lived in pigsties because they were never taught to clean up. And I meet people who think children have to be protected 24/7.

Many threats to children haven’t increased over the years, but media coverage of kidnappings and perverts have. I drive by a school where the parents are lined up to drop off their children. I’ve read about a school that was going to raze a low hill because the children might fall down it. I’ve read and seen playground slides lowered, guards put up, safety nets added so that children can’t bump or scrape or get a few of life’s bruises.

And what do studies show, out of Norway and the US? That people who are coddled so much grow up with more anxieties, are less likely to take any risks and find all of the world a big scary place. In essence, they become victims of parenting. Never has there been an age where children were padded, wrapped, helmeted, swaddled and overly protected from the daily aspects of living. Sure, don’t leave toxic chemicals in the reach of a baby but teach your children how to be cautious yet adventuresome, and how to apply thought and learning. We never would have hit the age of exploration if all those searfaring adventurers had been raised as coddled children. Let your children live a little.

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Foster Homes: Better the Hell You Know

foster parents, foster homes, children, family services, child abuse

Universal's Despicable Me is a film where fostering goes right

Yet again one of Canada’s ministries of children’s welfare is in the news because a child in their care died under questionable circumstances. This one’s in Alberta and after taking a four-month old baby from the mother the child died within a week of removal. The ministry, or department, seems to keep itself steeped in secrecy and obscuring the facts. These ministries were set up to rescue children from terrible situations in their families lives and give them a chance at a normal and healthy life.

It is even the stuff of movies and books; the child removed from the abuse at home and put into a foster home. The foster home becomes one jumping off point after another, because of neglect or a host of abuses. The child grows to be a teen, often on drugs, into prostitution and on the street. The teen grows to be a criminal adult. Those fictions and tropes are unfortunately built on fact. The movie Despicable Me is about a villain who takes on foster children as a cover. The results are hilarious and fun and with a turnabout that gives the children a good home. It’s a fantasy in many ways, but a good foster home is not something all children get.

There are good foster parents who do give a child a loving and stable home in their life. There was a case in Alberta a few years back of a foster mother who lost her right to foster, not because she was bad (in fact she had fostered many children well) but because she was a lesbian. Yet ministries in various provinces have time and again placed children in homes where the people were abusive (physically or sexually), alcoholics or drug users.  And of course the worst cases are where the children lost their lives due to being placed in a home possibly more horrific than the one they were in.

Imagine the nightmare of being a child and thinking you are saved to find the situation worse, or to be torn from the dysfunctional beings that you still love and placed with monsters who care nothing for your well-being. Sad and unfortunately no exaggeration for some. For Alberta last year, six children died and five of those were Aboriginal. Makes you wonder where the ministry is placing these children.

I know of someone whose mother was a foster parent. This woman, an only child, was placed in foster care at times by her own mother, because the mother could make more money raising other people’s children than her own. Eye witnesses report that this mother would be quite verbally abusive to a child she was caring for. I also know of a couple who rescued their relation from an abusive sibling. The sibling was unfit for several reasons to be a parent and they are giving that child a stable and loving relationship that he would not have recieved from his own parent.

There are good and bad foster homes but the governments who oversee these services need to screen the foster homes far better than they do, and get their facts straight. They need to charge the people who are killing the children and they need to clean up their own acts so that they can truly rescue children from a dire situation and put them in a safe environment. I guess I’m lucky that I only had my own dysfunctional family to deal with and didn’t have to face a foster parent as well.

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