Monthly Archives: September 2012

Colonialism & Kids’ Lit

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This weekend baby wanted to go to “boopthtoh” (bookstore) to buy some “boopth.” How could I say no? We started with the Rutland Auxiliary Thrift “Bookstore” and sat in the back for about half an hour, reading books. The next day we went to the Value Village “Bookstore” – and let me tell you, she wouldn’t let me forget the “book” part. We spent some good time leafing and reading, then grabbed a few to buy.

Once home we had the chance to read a Babar book and the original Curious George book. Goodness: I did not really truly realize the depths to which colonialism was expressed through children’s literature.

Let’s start with Babar Loses His Crown by De Brunhoff (1967; do you know? The French king elephant and his family?). In this book they travel to Paris with the kids, cousin Arthur and his friend the monkey. Babar loses his crown; they look for it around Paris (what lovely pictures! How nice to escape into a kid’s Paris of 50+ years ago!) and finally find it. Personally, I didn’t find anything particularly offensive in this book, though I would welcome commentators who can point out obvious racism I missed. What really struck me is how France’s colonial reach into Africa brought elephants and monkeys into a children’s series. The exotic was normalized and appropriated as part of France, therefore of course there’s a French elephant king at the opera.

Curious George, however … wow. The original, by H.A. Rey (1941) was to me a shocking and twisted parable for the slave trade and its manifestations in contemporary society. Let me hit a few highlights. The hero, the Man in the Yellow Hat, tricks, ties up and kidnaps George. Great opening!! First, not scary at all for a kids’ book. Second, the basis of their relationship is a tyrannical abuse of power. However, George’s perspective is presented as “sad but curious” – interesting interpretation of what someone might feel who’s been kidnapped.
Next, George is curious; does completely normal and understandable things for someone in his situation in a new society; and as a result is arrested and put in prison. Not just jail, but prison. To me this reads as classic hierarchical controlling overuse of power and lack of respect for alternative perspectives. I’m reminded of the disproportionate representation of non-Caucasians in prisons and am disturbed by the prescience of this image.
Finally: after assorted adventures, George is finally and happily installed in a zoo where he romps joyfully. Similar to the representation of his emotions after being kidnapped, I find this to be willful self-delusion on the part of the colonialists. Of course, why wouldn’t the monkey love being in the zoo? Complete inattention to its contrived and confining nature and ignoring the way in which the monkey is now on permanent display.

That book is going back. I found it hard to read to baby – once it was started, of course we had to finish flipping through. I ignored, substituted, flipped quickly and generally tried to create a positive tone for her to avoid completely traumatizing our sensitive baby (lest you think I exaggerate: she had a major crying session recently in a bookstore when reading a Llama Llama book. Can you imagine: the baby Llama had to go to bed by himself!!! She was not to be comforted).

What kids’ books do you find problematic?

Take 2

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Well, wouldn’t you know it. No sooner do I declare my plan for enhancing interview performance than an opportunity appears. I had a phone message from the local TV station asking if they could interview me for a piece on the posters. After checking again with my supervisor (very supportive) I said yes.

However, unlike in my ideal situation, I had only a bit of time between intense meetings to prepare. I went back to my blog post and got to it. I wrote out the main messages I wanted to share; reviewed the feedback on facebook and wrote out responses; and consulted with experts. Specifically, I spoke with someone in Aboriginal Programs and Services about how to appropriately reference the posters in terms of being on Aboriginal land. I also spoke with someone in public affairs about what to say and how to say it. He proposed a few questions and points to consider, which I did.

The actual interview took about 5 minutes. It was rapid-fire. It was hard to keep my points in my head with the speed of the questions but I felt pretty good about my responses.

The segment aired tonight. It wasn’t bad. There wasn’t the problematic angle I had feared. They had quotes from diverse people which all seemed relevant. They included 2 soundbytes from me, both of which were reasonable.

In the end, I concluded that I prefer radio to TV interviews – or, at least, live to pre-recorded. I don’t enjoy soundbytes and being part of someone else’s framing of the situation. In a live interview there’s the possibility of shaping the narrative and conditioning your remarks, something you can’t do if someone else is editing out what they want.

Overall grade for the experience: B

On Speaking Out Effectively

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I’m enjoying the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. In sum: talent does not exist. People excel through “deliberate practice”: hard, focused work on key skills that stretch their growth, repeated with feedback for a lot of hours; followed by similar work on the next set of skills to extend their growth. It is hard; it is time intensive; it is self-aware; it is rare.

Reading the first part, I thought to myself “okay, how can I apply this to my life?” because that’s what I do with all self-improvement: I try to do it. On the bandwagon, instantly! About half way through I started to ask, “do I want to do this?” And now I feel like it may be the only reasonable choice, though I am not really trying to excel or become world class – I just want to do well and grow.

Reflecting on the principles helps me understand better people who do excel: who hold high level positions, have extraordinary jobs or do anything with incredible skill. You learn how to improve yourself; you get on an improvement track; you start becoming who you want and it is, I imagine, hard to stop the momentum in spite of the hard work it takes. If you make a habit of working, and those habits are designed for maximum learning, then you may have set yourself up to succeed in spite of your best efforts. I can now wrap my head around people who climb the academic ladder, for example: they start learning, growing and excelling and their progress fuels further growth.

Relevance to me: I spoke on the radio on Friday morning. Check out the Facebook page for the interview (scroll down to Friday, September 21, 2012 and the segment on diversity and Kelowna) and community comments. Honestly, though I knew there would be views on both sides, I expected at least a few more people to identify with the concerns I raised. Great learning opportunity, I must say, and a chance to check why I spoke out about the issue.

I’ve been on the radio & TV a reasonable number of times for someone who’s not in the media. I generally like public speaking and generally do pretty well. The Talent book has me wondering what I can do to do it not just well, but better. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

  • General prep: in preparing for a specific interview, I can (as I did) consider the key aspects of the issue and have imaginary conversations in my head (or with friends), responding to a variety of questions. I could take this more seriously, generating a list of key questions – supportive and critical – and the key aspects of a response
  • Study: I could do some research on the issue; look for similar stories or related studies that can support what I want to say.
  • Set my message: I could, after the two above steps, highlight the top 2 – 5 points that I want to make. I then can expand on and condense them so I have a sense of different ways I could integrate those ideas into the interview. At that point, I could look back on my questions and find ways that they could fit into responses
  • Practice: I could practice with a friend: fire questions at me, I respond!
  • Speech therapy: I lithp. I’m okay with it, but it’s occasionally a bit embarrassing the way some words come out. I could take classes, get a coach or find a way to speak more clearly. This also could help me eliminate pauses and “ums” in my speech.

There you have it. The next time I’m in demand as the go-to speaker on a topic, I know what I need to do to make it not just “pretty good” but great.

Change and Nesting

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Baby seems to be picking up on the big transition we’re going through with our move. She’s had some ridiculously late nights. She really, really doesn’t want to leave the house most weekends. And she wants her parents around more than we’re able to do.

She woke up the other night with a repeated cry of “I want my dada.” I said he would be there soon (he was in the other room), and she got quite upset: “I want my dada NOW, mama!”, nearly in tears. Sweet sweet baby …

As we attempted to bundle her into the car yesterday we had to interrupt her walk down the alley. She kept on trying to move forward, telling us she wanted to go for a walk with mama and dada. When we got home at 7:30 last night, that was still all she wanted so we took off on a 1.5 hour walk around the neighbourhood. Family together, running, holding her “sheepy baby” to her chest … she was happy.

I can’t wait until we’re moved, settled and into new routines with more time. She needs it, and so do we.

Baby, what do you want now?

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Yesterday was a lesson in digging below my irritation at baby’s choices to understand what might be going on in her world. It was a chance to put aside my own need for control and be a parent who meets her child’s needs.

Yesterday, baby did not want to leave the house. At all. I had planned blueberry picking, grocery shopping, maybe gardening or packing upstairs. Nuh uh. Attempts to get ready to leave the house were met by tears, physical evasion or passive resistance: “I’m busy playing and doing stuff and I don’t hear a word you’re saying, mama!” I tried different tactics, talked, reasoned, shared the fun we would have, probably bribed, likely raised my voice, and finally, sulkily, threw my hands up (literally, I believe) and said fine. We will stay home.

Then I took a deep breath, stepped back, and got some perspective. It’s been a busy time for baby. 4 days a week at nana’s house; mom gone a bit on weekends for meetings; dad working late late late and barely seeing her (for which we are never-endingly grateful, let me add). It’s now her weekend and she wants nothing more than to stay home with her mom. Frankly, I can’t blame her. She is definitely her mother’s daughter. After too much time away, a day spent nursing, playing in the safe warm cozy contained sphere of home, cuddling in bed, with her own toys, must be essential to resetting her emotional clock.

We stayed home aaaaaaall day. We made a banana cake. Again, I had to put aside my plans (eat breakfast first???) because she needed us to make that cake right then. So she peeled and helped mash bananas, stirred the flour and oiled the pan. We did some drawing. We played with toys. We changed sheets and did laundry. She helped sweep. We read lots. We played lots in bed. She napped for 3 hours. We ate bits and pieces. It was good. And, knowing that this was something she needed and something we were going to do, I let go of my plans and found what I could do at home.

With my current reflections on parenting, I’m finding it interesting to reflect on how other parents might view this. I can absolutely see parents saying that children need to listen; that parents need to lead; that coddling results in spoiled kids; that kids need to learn to respect that adults have plans. I hear those arguments, and I do agree that there are times when kids need to do things. I just know that that style is not me. My daughter let me know as best she could what she needed emotionally. I listened. I could have forced her, which would have involved many tears and physically restraining her. I’m not into that. I don’t like what it teaches kids when we use aggression with them. This felt like a big need, not a whim. And I don’t mind if you’d choose differently.

Letting go and tuning in brings its rewards in the amazing things I see in her. Just one I must share – her new favourite song:
“A, b, c, now I know your a, b, c, next time won’t you sing with me in my arms!”

My little love :).