And This is What Bullying Looks Like

So, anyone not seen a tweet, facebook status or news story about bullying in the past couple of weeks?

It's a pretty important topic in our collective conscience right now. As such, the word is being tossed around by all and sundry. I even wrote on it last week myself.

After I wrote that article I got some harsh comments from someone who:
1. Didn't agree with me about the definition of bullying.
2. Accused me of bullying her when I continued to discuss with her.

I can give you a dictionary definition of bullying, but sometimes the dictionary defintion isn't enough. The semantic meaning is shared by many, especially those who have been bullied.

The dictionary will define bullying as as an act of intimidating another, usually weaker, person. If one took this definition at face-value, a single act of name-calling or shouting down an argument or excluding a person from an event or conversation could be considered bullying.

I think we all know that's not what bullying is. We've all done those things. Even the saints among us are not nice to everyone all the time. Heck, given the dictionary definition I bully my children into eating their supper and going to bed.

Anyone who has ever been bullied will tell you that it's systemic. A single act does not make a bully. An ongoing attack is what defines a bully.

Bullying is not typical childhood behaviour. It's not teasing someone on the playground or not inviting everyone in your class to your birthday party. It's not getting into fights or calling another child a name. Those are normal childhood conflicts.Terming them bullying and intervening in a legalistic way will just diminish our children's ability to resolve conflict in social peer groups.

Bullying is much more than simple conflict. It's a deliberately aimed, ongoing attack to undermine another person. Whether in school, social networks, or adult workplaces, a bully is a person who uses their voice and physicality to squelch someone else's voice and personal respoct on an ongoing basis.

It can be subtle and it can be incredibly obvious. It depends upon the aggresor and the victim.

But here's the thing, bullying must have both an agressor and a victim. Getting into an argument online and being shouted down by someone does not make you a victim, it just makes you the loser of that argument. Calling someone names, whether publically or privately, and then having the same flung back at you does not make you a victim, it makes you a victimless aggresor.

I'm getting tired of seeing people fling the word around like it's the latest fad or coolest slang. Bullying has meaning. It has powerful connotations.

You can ask anyone who has ever been bullied. Ask me. I can tell you how horribly it can destroy your self-esteem, your self-value, your life.

Meaning is important. Keeping the defition of bullying clear is vital to insure that real victims can tell their stories. Muddying the meaning will only muddy the response to the type of bullying that is a true crime - whether in our judicial system or just as a human being.

Please, tell me, what do you think of when you think of bullying? Let's firm up the meaning.


You Can't Talk to a Psycho Like a Normal Human Being

Posts in the offing: ranty angry ones and informative, conscientious ones and a couple funny ones.

In the meanwhile, I've been procrastinating lots because ---umm, I don't know why. I'm tired. I had a migraine for four days. There's ice-cream in the house.

I can come up with more excuses if you'd like.

But, see, there I was on Facebook, messaging back this very nice normal girl who has always been conscientious about staying in touch and even has brought lego for my kids. We worked together once. I wasn't her boss, nor, really, her mentor, but I was kinda, sorta, by default, in charge of a project that she was in charge of (get it?). So I should be all mentor-like and adult and give her good advice and things like that, right?

But I'm tired. And I'm coming off a four day migraine. And I was feeling silly. So instead I gave her this wonderful advice:

This conversation is started almost exactly in the middle. I could give you the whole conversation but that would be pedantic (which I originally wrote as "mendantic" just now. That's not a word. But it should be)

Nice, Normal Girl:
hahahaha Can I drop them off to the little library building on (edit: details you don't need)? That's where your husband works, right? That might be the most practical, since it's close to school, and my schedule is messy, so it's hard to find meeting times.
Okay, well, you know, if you don't want to see me, fine. I understand (it's cause I'm fat isn't it?)


Yes, (edit: details you don't need) is at the library and his office is still on (edit: details you don't need) street. I love that you called it "the little library building." I think that's what I'm going to call it from now on: "Oh, honey, have a good day at the little library building today! Bring home milk! I love you. Play nicely with the others."

He'll like that.

I just can't get serious at all tonight. It's SMUK's fault. She's really funny in a gross and disgusting kind of way and I just found her blog and have been reading it instead of typing up my column. Check it whenever you need an excuse to procrastinate http://steammeupkid.blogspot.com/

I am sorry your schedule is messy. How's school going this year?
Nice, Normal Girl:
well that fact the I want to click this link right now, because I want to procrastionate should pretty much sum things up. haha. It's okay, a lot of bullshitting really, "oh, yes, my art is about the state of human consciousness..." when actually, I just wanted to paint a flower, but I need to sound good to get marks. I love art school.
Just make everything "a post-modern feminist's take on....." and you'll get straight A's. Unless your prof is a guy (and not one of the touchy-feely ones) in which case it's "a post-modern deconstruction of...." and don't forget "the medium is the message."

That ought to do it.
Me again:
And by the way,
Nice, Normal Girl:
I just did, okay? You have successfully made me procrastinate. Such a good influence.
Did I ever claim to be a good influence?

Okay, maybe I did. But when I did I was making a statement as a post-modern feminist's take on the constructions of self and societal expectation.

Now paint a flower to go with that and we're all good.
Nice, Normal Girl: ..........
Is either painting a flower or reading some hilarious adult-oriented content over on SMUK. Cause she didn't answer me. Strange, hunh? I don't get young people these days.

For further lessons in how-not-to-be-a-mentor-or-at-all-sensible, buy my new book

I Just Make This Shit Up

Haha, did you actually click that? I made that up too...

I didn't make up the title to this post. Poe did. Here, see for yourself:


What Activism Really Looks Like

For about one third of my thirteenth year, I got up each morning and looked in the mirror while I applied my lipstick before going to school or out to the mall. My parents didn't let me wear makeup, but I didn't hide this lipstick application from them. I wasn't putting it on my lips, see; I put it on my face. During the entirety of Canada's involvment in the first Gulf War, I wore  a peace sign on my right cheek. In November of 1990 when the States and UN called on Canada to involve itself in the war, I declared that if we did I would protest it until it ended.

For the most part it was a quiet protest. I didn't believe we belonged "over there" and felt that the entire war was a sham for the Americans to gain oil grounds and establish an operative foothold in the middle east. I didn't agree with Hussein, but I didn't agree with the war either.

When people asked me about my facepaint (and, yes, even at 13 I understood the irony of wearing war paint to protest a war) I explained my reasons to them. The reactions I received were varied, from the president of the local Plowshares group telling me I was the coolest kid he ever met, to raised eyebrows and invitations to debate from my teachers, to accusations of not supporting our soldiers from relatives of those serving.

I explained it wasn't about the soldiers but about the war. I thought I was showing the best sign of support ever - that they could come home.

And yet, one day, shortly before the end of the war, I received a voilent reaction unlike any other. As I stood in the school hallway talking to a friend, an older and much bigger girl approached me. She demanded I wipe my face. I explained that I wore the sign as personal protest. She punched me in the stomach and laid me out on the floor. I lay on the floor at the top of a staircase, certain to tumble if I was touched again. As she reached for me declaring "my brother's a soldier and you want him to die!" I shouted back "I'm not fighting you!"

She spat on me and began to walk away. I tried to explain - I support your brother; I don't support the war. She called me names and walked on. For the rest of the year she followed me and taunted me, even after I washed the peace sign from my face at the end of the war.

I remembered that girl this week (though damned if I can remember her name) as I watched other's being attacked. But in these cases they weren't being attacked for their activism, they were being attacked by activists.

Last week I blogged about the breastfeeding message and why I think it's neccessary to promote breastfeeding. I was impressed by the mature response of most comments. Until someone decided to use my blog as a platform to lauch an attack on formula-feeding mothers. Very Bored in Catalunya? I am sorry that happened and I admire you for standing your ground.

Let me make it clear. I don't believe formula feeding moms should be attacked. I don't believe they should be accused of poisoning their child or of being too selfish to do what is best for their child. I won't give every one of them a "get out of jail free" card for their choices (by saying formula is just as good as breastmilk), but I respect their choices and their personal stories. I understand that often the choice is made under duress. The thing about my support of breastfeeding is that it's part and parcel of my support of mothers the world round who want to do best by their babies. I don't think attacking any mother for choicing or being forced to use formula will in any way further the cause of breastfeeding.

Who do I attack? I attack the formula companies. I do think there are harmful ingredients in formula (though I wouldn't go so far as to call it poison). So I ask the companies to change; I lobby against those ingredients. I attack marketing campaigns and the institutions that support them. I attack ignorance and old-wives tales (though they're new old-wives indeed).

The other day as I sat nursing my toddler at the doctor's office, a heavily pregnant women asked me why I was still nursing. Turns out she planned to go straight to formula. We discussed my reasons for nursing. We discussed her reasons for her choice. At the end she agreed that she might try breastfeeding. I didn't badger her; I didn't use scare tactics; I just gave her my honest beliefs and encouraged her to do what a niggling part of her must have wanted to. I cleared up some misconceptions she had (you can't drink ever; you're stuck to the baby; they nurse all night; my breasts will get saggy; my mother says it's not normal and she'll give the baby bottles).

At no point did she ask me to "back off" or seek to end the discussion. If she had, I would have. Because activism is not meant to be individual attacks.

What good would have come of attacking this woman? Even if she sat there feeding her six month old from a bottle, what good would judgment and unkind words do? The choice was already made. The best way to change her choice in the future is through support, encouragement, and sharing information.

To me, that is the sign of a true activist. One who encourages; who peacefully stands their ground; who attacks ignorance and corporate agendas and not people and individual choices. For how does attacking an individual further a greater cause? One must attack the institutions that are against one's cause, not the individuals that are merely going about their lives.

Earlier this week another form of activist with which I identify attacked an individual. On her blog, Jill Haskins revealed the death of her infant son from HLHS - a congenital heart defect. His death happened to occur shortly after he underwent a circumcision operation.

I'm not just a lactivist, I'm an intactivist too. In other words, I believe that a baby boy's foreskin should not be cut off for cosmetic purposes. I give heed to religious reasons but not so much social ones (so he can look like his Daddy). My belief in this is simple: first, do no harm.

Despite my personal beliefs I would never have dreamed of attacking a grieving mother for her choices. Yes, sure, if she had beaten her child to death I'd attack her. But she did not. She made a choice based on the information and knowledge she had. And I don't neccessarily believe that had anything to do with his death.

She sat by her baby's bedside for 51 days straight. She expressed her breastmilk so it could be fed to him through his NG tube. She loved him with all the heart that was in her and prayed for the heart that was in him.

In the end this struggling mother said goodbye to her child.

For 51 days she fought with him. She had many moments when she had to make decisions and fight for her child. She made a single choice I don't agree with. She was encouraged in that choice by the doctors and the hospital. And as a mother of a sick child myself I completely understand the need for some normalcy in your child's life. For her family, the circumcision was part of the normalcy. I can understand that even if I don't agree with it.

The thing is, Jill was attacked. She wasn't even given a  full day to grieve before others had taken her story and made it their own for their own purposes. They subverted her voice, they stole images of her child and they personally attacked her on her blog. I read some of those comments. They were horrible. I've read the posts that attacked her or judged her. They disgusted me. I will not link to them because I don't want to give them credence. I think I've been an authentic blogger - you can trust me when I tell you what my impression was.

Today, I watched on Twitter as they continued to force their views and beliefs on her despite her asking that she be left alone. A grieving mother wants to grieve her child and they could not understand that.

As an intactivist I support educating pregnant women that circumcision is not neccessary. I support lobbying professional medical groups to speak out against it. I support spreading the message of intactivism through a display of my beliefs.

I do not, as with breastfeeding, support attacking any individual. I don't support judging indvidual choices. I don't believe in hatred and stubborn dissaproval of anyone who choices differently than me. I don't think the war is won soldier by soldier but battle by battle.

Mostly, though, I don't believe in hitting someone when they're down. That's not activism, that's just inhumane.

*Please note: I have never before moderated or deleted comments (well except that one time when I was asked to by the commentor and also, of course, spam), but if someone decides to use this post to propogate hatred or attacks on individuals I will delete your comments. Also, Jill has not seen this post before it was posted. I asked her if it would be okay to use her story to illustrate my point. However, if she indicates she rather not have it out there I will remove any mention of her from it.(edit: she has seen it and approves) If you don't agree with these sentiments than take your ball and go home; I have other friends to play with.


Breast IS Best - I'm Not Going to Shutup

I am overweight. Why? Partly it's genetics. Partly it's medical. Partly it's my ass's propensity for the couch and mouth's propensity for ice-cream.

Partly it's marketing schemes I swallowed when I was a child and didn't know any better that led to me becoming addicted to sugar. Partly it's society that told me being overweight was disgusting, made me look at myself with disgust, and led me to devalue myself to the point where I allowed myself to become even more overweight. Partly it's my lack of motivation to lose weight due to previous failures.

In other words, I've been booby trapped. Not like the Best for Babes booby traps - they talk about why women chose to use formula instead of breastfeed. No, I guess I've been fatty trapped.

Except, a lot of the reason - like 90% at least - is me. I've made the choice to stay the way I am. Not consciously, but it's not like I've done everything in my power to change.

And I know being overweight is unhealthy. Given my family's history of high cholesterol, diabetes, and arthritis, I know that loosing weight could save my life - make me healthier.

I know that I am not being the best role model I can be for my children. When I choose ice-cream over exercise, what am I showing them?

It's wrong. And I know it's wrong. And there are times I feel very guilty about it. And there are times I feel angry about it. And there are times I feel powerless.

But, do you know what? When I see media messages about living an active lifestyle, eating healthy, maintaining an acceptable weight; when I see medical studies that show how dangerous it is to be overweight; when reports are released about how important it is to lose weight - all of that. When I see those things I don't say:

"Yeah, yeah I've heard it all before."


"Stop trying to make me feel guilty"


"Your science is flawed and I don't believe it"

Instead I say: bring it on. Because I know that the message sent is that being overweight is dangerous to anyone's health and a nation's economy. I understand it is not personally aimed at me. I realise any guilt I feel is due to my own failure to cope with societal expectation and my own beliefs. Yes, that's right, I create my own guilt. Scientists studying fat mice in a lab did not get together in order to make me personally regret my choices or non-choices in life.

I also understand that even though I "get" the message, I haven't acted on it to my fullest ability. And for everyone else out there like me, who knows the dangers, "gets it" and does nothing, there are twice as many who still don't hear or understand the message.

So why is breastfeeding different?

Why is it that formula companies are allowed to advertise formula, sell it's benefits, even try inspire guilt in parents who can't afford the premium DHA or added probiotics formulas, but breastfeeding advocates are not allowed to counteract this message? What is it about saying "breast is best" that can inspire hundreds of women to hate themselves?

Breast is best. There's nothing wrong with saying that.

Your situation may mean you couldn't breastfeed. It may mean it was difficult and you made the choice not to pursue it. You may have been "booby trapped." Maybe you just decided you didn't care. Maybe your mother telling you formula is fine was a stronger message than the public health nurse telling you breast is best.

Whatever. I don't care about the reasons behind it. If you feel guilty, it's about you, not the message.

And yeah, I totally acknowledge that some of that guilt comes from you internalising societal messages. But guess what? You're an adult. You can be media savvy. You can analyse a media message and ask yourself "does this apply to me? Is this true to me?" That's what media literacy is all about.

Meanwhile, there are entire communties in my home province where not a single woman chooses to breastfeed. There are millions of women around the world being misled by formula companies telling them that in their situation formula is best. There are children growing up with images of bottle-feeding shoved in their face everytime they go in public while women who breastfeed in public are told to cover-up.

So, yeah, I'm going to say it. And I'm going to say it loud. BREAST IS BEST.

Bring to that what you will. The message is true. The message is clear. There's no falsehood or doubletalk involved.


It's Great They Have That Comfort

I drafted this post while sitting next to an empty hospital bed. I frantically scratched it into one of my eldest son's Hilroy exercise books with a coloured lead while I waited for the return of my youngest son.

It is made of nervous energy and nerves and random whizzing thoughts that popped into my head in an attempt to stultify my fears.

And there is some relief in it too. For, you see, my youngest had to be put to sleep. He needed an MRI to assess for tumours due to his Neurofibromatosis. And young children need to be put to sleep for MRIs.

My eldest also had a test for which he had to be put to sleep when he was just a little older than Emerson is now. I feared and stressed about it. We bought him his favourite wooden rocking horse as a gift if he promised to awake. Because it's not the procedure that scares me, but the forced sleep.

What if he doesn't wake up?

My fears are not completely groundless. My mother reacts very badly to general anaesthetic and I have had my share of bad experiences with it as well - though not so severe as hers.

So. What? Who can promise me my son will wake up?

Before we entered the hospital doors I said to my husband "I know he'll be fine" and held my hand to my head, "but I don't know he'll be fine" and held my hand to my heart.

Once he was asleep, though, my head and heart seemed to be in agreement. We knew he'd be fine. So though there was a nervousness it was nothing near the fear I had felt for my eldest.


Because I was the one to put him to sleep. Not an anaesthesiologist, not an IV. Just me and some meds.

Back to this morning. When we walked into the prep room one of the nurses commented on how tired he looked.

"Yeah he woke up at 4am and we had a hard time getting him back to sleep" I replied.

"It's hard when they can't have anything." (He had had to fast beforehand)

"Yeah, normally I would just nurse him back to sleep. It was really hard because when I tried to hold him all he wanted was my breast and I couldn't give it to him."

I saw the two nurses grin at each other, a conspiratorial look between them. My hackles went on high alert, sure they were going to say something about my nursing a two year old to sleep.

But I couldn't have been more wrong.

They were excited. They didn't want to give my baby boy and IV anymore than I wanted him to have one. Chloral Hydrate, the oral hypnotic/depressant is preferable with young children, but it's also easier for them to fight.

But because he was tired already. And because they knew I could nurse him to sleep, they were excited to have the opportunity to use it.

I held my son and syringed the meds mixed with grape kool aid into his mouth. And then I held him to my breast and began coaxing him to sleep. He fought it, arms flailing, stuttering susserating syllables urging from his mouth. He flopped and "no"ed and generally acted like a nasty drunk. We gave him a little more meds. I walked him and sang to him and shushed him and then settled with him once more to nurse him.

And as he latched on, I felt the fight flow out of him. And the fear flow out of me.

I put him to sleep and I can wake him up.

And as he drifted off in my arms, ready to face the dragons in his dreams, I heard the nurse whisper to my husband :

"It's great they have that comfort"

Yes it is. It's great we have that comfort. Both of us.

This post in the first in a series I will be doing this week in celebration of World Breastfeeding Week 2010 in Canada, Oct. 01-07. If you have a breastfeeding story to share, come back tommorrow and link up. I'll have a McLinky up for the next week.

Looking for a great breastfeeding resource? Buy  or borrow The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers: The Most Comprehensive Problem-Solving Guide to Breastfeeding from the Foremost Expert in North America, Revised & Updated Edition. It was my bible when my first was born.