Loss of heritage

I generally use this space to talk about issues related to motherhood, rather than current events going on in the news at the present. However this issue, while not specifically related to the topic of children and motherhood, will in fact influence  all of us -including our current generation of children. 

I'm talking about the loss of heritage. 

Have you ever had a school project related to history? Conducted your own research or written texts/books that require references to history? What about family history? When you listen to your favorite music on the radio-do you ever wonder what would happen if one day your favorite song ceased to be available? Do you ever wonder what would happen if all the documents, historical, personal or otherwise; the art objects, photographs, oral histories and even surgical instruments (yes surgical tools); music, documentation on grass roots movements, the feminist movement, and social justice literature were no longer available?

Well, we will soon find out. The following is an excerpt from the archival community's call to action that succinctly sums up current issues being faced by archives:

"On April 30, 2012, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) eliminated the
National Archival Development Program (NADP), a $1.7 million
contribution program administered for the LAC by the non-profit
Canadian Council of Archives (CCA) and distributed to 13 provincial
and territorial archives councils to support archival activities
locally.  Through these councils, NADP funding is on the ground in our
10 provinces and 3 territories, ensuring that Canada’s history is
preserved in local communities.  Canada’s archival councils provide
support to archives and archivists so that they may better serve all

The NADP was a vital component of LAC’s legislated responsibility to
foster preservation, promotion and access to Canada’s documentary
heritage. As stated in the Act:

7. The objects of the Library and Archives of Canada are…
(b) to make that heritage known to Canadians and to anyone with an
interest in Canada and to facilitate access to it;…
(f) to support the development of the library and archival communities.

8. (1) The Librarian and Archivist may do anything that is conducive
to the attainment of the objects of the Library and Archives of
Canada, including
(i) provide professional, technical and financial support to those
involved in the preservation and promotion of the documentary heritage
and in providing access to it;

The elimination of the NADP will result in the collapse of 11 of the
13 provincial and territorial archives councils, councils that support
the day-to-day functioning of archives across the country.  Many of
these councils were forced to suspend operations immediately.
Archival institutions that invested precious resources into the
preparation of NADP funding applications were forced to suspend
projects that had already been approved by the CCA.  Countless jobs
will now go unfilled. Consequently, archives’ mandate to make
government transparent, to make information available to citizens, and
to preserve records of Canadian culture and society will be greatly

In addition, the federal government has sent more than 500 surplus
notices to Library and Archives Canada, which will ultimately have its
staff reduced by 20%.  LAC has also cancelled its Inter-Library Loan
program; cut reference staff; imposed a "new service model" that
requires the public to make an appointment for reference requests; cut
library cataloguers by a third; and cut private archivists and media
specialists by 35%, which means not only that significant Canadian
heritage will not be acquired, but that researchers will not be able
to talk to experts who knew their fields as these experts simply won't
exist any more.  At the same time, the government unilaterally shut
down libraries in the Transport, Immigration, and Public Works

Funding cuts to the Heritage sector and the cut of the NADP is not simply for the sake of budgets, but wreaks of a deliberate attack on heritage.  Some might argue, a tactic to rewrite history in a militaristic light that kindly favors the current PM. This is not the first time Prime Minister Stephen Harper has attempted to rewrite historyOther examples can be found hereWhy should this matter? Because archives and decisions made regarding them are important. 
These decisions are important, because archival records will influence the future. What we choose to collect today, how we choose to describe those materials, and the messages that these actions will convey, will affect the knowledge and understanding of those histories for our unborn children, seven generations into the future.  

So if droves of archival materials are being sold off at auctions and doors of archival institutions are being closed - who is left to preserve and make accessible these materials?

A common response to this is - well everything is digital now, so we don't need archivists or textual documents - wrong. Digitization is expensive. Not to mention it takes the specialization and staff of the very people whose jobs were or are in the process of being terminated as a result of these cuts. Not to mention preservation issues associated with born digital (items like word docs that never had a physical form) and digitized items are far from resolved. Sure you might have word documents now that are saved just fine on your computer - what will you do then in 5 years when the technology required to open or read these materials is obsolete? And who will be responsible for maintaining and preserving the digitized formats? Making them accessible to the public? Or ensuring their authenticity? Whether they are digital or textual, objects or photographs, someone is still required to ensure they survive as long as possible to carry forward to future generations. 

The fact of the matter is, that archives touch facets of our daily lives that we are not even aware of and these cuts serve as a grave disservice to the Canadian public. They effect myself, 
as a mother, archivist, art historian, postcolonial scholar, writer and activist. They effect the divorced woman who immigrated from Poland and needs historical proof of her marriage to her husband in order to be able to claim her pension - proof existing in the archives. They effect the scientists looking to refer to previous research in order to refine their own and contribute to advancements. They effect the student looking for answers to research questions or the child searching for information on their family tree for a school project. These cuts effect us all. Materials that are taught in elementary schools reference these archival materials, genealogy research requires archives. 

While I'll be the first one to admit that history is most often written by the "winners" and that mainstream archival institutions themselves still have a way to go in terms of inclusion of traditionally marginalized communities - if they are no longer there, we will never be able to right social injustices. Library and Archives Canada has one of the most referenced record groups comprised of archival records of the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA). From its inception on April 15, 1755, the mandate of the DIA was to eliminate the culture of Aboriginal peoples by assimilating them into Euro-Canadian society.  The majorities of these records are kept at the National Archives of Canada (LAC) and are referred to as records group 10 (RG 10). RG 10 is one of the most referenced groups in the collection of LAC. Due to the control the DIA maintained over all Aboriginal peoples of Canada, it is often referenced for court cases, treaty claims and personal research. In recent news, in Toronto the United Church of Canada is in the process of finding archival evidence in cases of forced adoptions. So while archives, like history in general, are flawed in ways, they do serve as evidence. If you wipe out the evidence - who will be left to tell the story of our heritage?

Some of you might be sitting there reading this and saying, yes this is all fine and dandy, but what can I do about it? The answer is simple - everything. These programs and institutions are for the most part publicly funded. Which means we all have the ability and responsibility to make our voices heard. If you are interested in getting involved you can start by signing this petition and passing it on to everyone you know:

You can write a letter to your a Member of Parliment. Here is a list:

You can show your support by joining the Canadian Council for Archives Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Canadian-Council-of-Archives-Conseil-canadien-des-archives/283674911724409

Lastly, join us on March 28th for the "On to Ottawa Trek." This is an event that will be culminating in Ottawa with regional activities cross-Canada. It is for everyone - not just archivists, students, historians, researchers, teachers, curators, writers or genealogists but anyone who cares about heritage and heritage preservation. 

To find out about an event in your area you can refer to the official website:

We can not allow heritage to be lost. Let's stand up for heritage and ensure that 
our unborn children, seven generations into the future will be able to benefit from a rich, diversified, inclusive, social history. 

Rineke Dijkstra: Afterbirth (NSFW)

 "For me, it is essential to understand that everyone is alone. Not in the sense of loneliness, but rather in the sense that no one can completely understand someone else. I want to awaken definite sympathies for the person I have photographed." – Rineke Dijsktra

Dijkstra is a Dutch photographer who has been taking photos for longer than I've been alive. Her work has been described as a cross between August Sander and Diane Arbus. She's interested in social typology and people in transition. Some of her work seems really boring to me, but that's probably because it's been ripped off by Calvin Klein, Benetton, and American Apparel ads for the last 15 years. They're the kind of photographs where the person being photographed is supposed to have been caught off guard a little bit. Naked-faced, emotion-laced. You know what I'm talking about...

kate moss by richard avedon for calvin klein “ck be” ad campaign, 1997

Usually, the emotion is sadness or self-disgust (is this what's lurking under the surface of most of us, most of the time?), and often the person is actually naked (especially in American Apparel ads, but you can google that yourself) and so they scream of vulnerability. Some people call this 'empathy'. Or 'voyeurism'. Whatevs.

Anyway, she has some photos of post-birth mothers. They're large, almost life-sized. The women are completely nude and photographed holding their newborns. Here are some of them.

Tecla, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 16, 1994

Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29, 1994

Saskia, Harderwijk, Netherlands, March 16, 1994

Pretty powerful stuff. My first thought was why are they standing up? Shouldn't they be relaxing somewhere, not having their portrait taken for my viewing pleasure?

The answer is in the clogs. The Netherlands has the highest homebirth rate in the world (30%), and only 10% of births make use of pain medication. If the birth takes place in a hospital, mothers are usually sent home within the day – with a kraamzorg, which is basically a post-partum doula who stays with the family for at least a week and is not, apparently, a cult favorite Star Trek character. You know, just to help out and all. According to my midwife, Dutch mothers don't express worries or fear about the birth experience, at least not at their prenatal visits. Birth is seen as a normal, healthy part of life.

I don't need to outline the contrast of America for you. We are so scared of birth. We have little support before, during, and after. We don't really have much contact with it until we're doing it ourselves, but we all know the script: the sports coach doctor shouts at you to push and you scream in agony until you beg for meds and the archangel doctor gives them to you, you weak, crazy woman.

 Like our idea of the travail of birth, beliefs about appropriate activity levels after birth are also culturally constructed. In Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born, Tina Cassidy writes about the old American/British idea that women should take to their beds for two weeks after birth, a recommendation that's been steadily shortened over the last 50 years to a two-day hospital stay (coinciding with the re-entrance of women into the workforce, hello capitalism).

So I guess this is why the women in Dijkstra's photos are standing. Unlike American mothers, who have been through hell and understandably need a little break, these Dutch mamas have been through a birth experience. Even Tecla, who has blood dripping down her leg, and Saskia, who's just had a C-section. And guess what? Women who are more active after birth have a lowered risk of blood clots.

Nobody should be getting up to run a marathon after birth. Birth is exhausting. But the constant depiction of post-birth American mothers as depleted invalids is part and parcel of our idea that birth is the worst thing ever. Frightening. Gross. A medical event to be performed under a bright light, legs in stirrups on a hospital bed.

Mother's Day: What I get out of it.

We talk a lot about sacrifice as it relates to motherhood. Mamas sacrifice their independence, their careers, their bodies, their personal goals, their marriages, their hairstyles... Pretty much anything you can think of to sacrifice, sometime, somewhere, a mama's done that for the sake of her child. I think we talk about this a lot because, a) mothers do make these sacrifices, and it's kind of amazing in an absurdist sort of way, and b) we're feeling a bit guilty because we don't really appreciate our moms, or motherhood, on a daily basis. So we have to idealize it and talk about its extremes.

But today, on Mother's Day, that most brunchy of holidays that doesn't rank high enough for a day off work, I'm going to write about what I love about being a mother. Not what I give it (that's for the other 364 days a year), but what it gives me.

Brunchy brunch-brunch brunch.
Women Laughing Alone With Salads (stockphotos at their worst best)

Meaning ~ 
I've always thought that children are the most precious things in the world. Precious and vulnerable. Raising children with love and respect is the most important thing. So, whammo! have a baby and never a day is wasted. Every day that passes in which I haven't maimed or traumatized our child, I'm helping him grow into a full-fledged person. Even on days that I can't get started, days when I'm *ahem* still sitting in my pyjamas and a milk-stained tank-top with a damp, milk-stained cloth diaper shoved down its front at 12pm. Life has meaning. This hang-nail, a direct result of not having time to maintain my appearance due to being a full-time mama? It has meaning, too.

Our new cloth-diaper-nursing-pad look, direct from Milan.

Company ~
It's hard to feel lonely with Sweet Baby James around. Sometimes I manage it anyway, but usually he's my pal who knows me (and my bathroom habits) like no one else (if you just clicked on that link, you are a disgusting, disgusting person. Just kidding!). The day before I found out I was pregnant I had just come back from a road trip. My new fiancé(!)* was still on the road. I spent the day alone, eating food from the freezer, unpacking, and soaking in the bath. I took a long walk up Mount Royal to see the season change into summer. I didn't talk to anyone. It was kind of blissful, but it was the end of an era. I haven't spent a day alone since. Spending them with someone who can't insult you and who wants nothing more than to entice you into a game of 'white plastic coat hangers look funny as a hat' is pretty darn nice.

*Ha ha ha, remember when Z was still my fiancé? No - you blinked? You missed it? Lolz.

Caretaking ~
I've always loved looking after people. This is not usually very healthy from a psychological point of view. I know, because my other job is therapist (which is kind of like being paid to look after other people). But anyway, having SBJ has been wonderful in this regard because I finally have someone into whom it's healthy and expected that I put almost all my energy. My friendships have suffered because mothering was pretty much the only way I related to people before (bossy, strict, nosey). But those dress rehearsals prepared me well for my onstage debut.

This is what never happens.

Movement ~
Becoming a mom has really changed my perception of my body. Yes, I would still like to be 10  (or 15, or 25...) pounds lighter, except that not really -- because then I couldn't carry my 30 lb. baby and I couldn't nurse him without body fat. As soon as I conceived, my body wasn't just something to be looked at and/or worked to the bone, it had a purpose. And it still does. Being a mother requires wrestling your son away from his self-appointed position as kitchen garbage inspector. Being a mother requires muscle.

For all these reasons and more, I feel blessed to be a mother. Happy mother's day!

(Grand)Mother's Day

Mother's day is the one day of the year that is set aside to honour - moms. Its the time every year when kids get their most creative, composing only the best most colourful macaroni necklaces, cards and flower pots. Its arguably the most busy day of the year because well - everyone has a mom, right? Wrong.

Sure everyone has someone who has given birth to them in order for their very existence, but does that make a mom, a mom? What about those kids that don't have a designated mom? Ones that were abandoned, or don't even have homes? Who do they celebrate? Or what about those kids that have grown up in the system because their own biological mother was unfit to properly care for them? Or those siblings that raise their younger brothers and sisters? Who do they give their macaroni necklaces to? 

Every year when mother's day rolls around I grapple with this issue. Mostly because I don't have a mom in the sense of what "mom" should be defined as. I fall into the category that covers the last two questions in the above paragraph. 

What I do have however, is a Grandma. Although I did not spend a lot of time living with her, she has always remained the one stable point in my life. It doesn't matter what time I call her, she's happy to hear my voice. She's encouraging, wise, kind and most of all strong. She took on the role of a parent for her grandchild - something that is not easy to do. She took me in when I needed a home. She clothed me, fed me, encouraged me to play sports and encouraged me in school. When I was sent home for housing a piercing business in the public washroom at school, got kicked out of k-mart for holding shopping cart races through the aisles and when the police came to her door when I punched a boy and broke his skateboard for calling my friend "fat" in elementary school - she didn't raise a hand to me. Not once. I never lived in fear. She dolled out consequences with a level head that were appropriate for the ridiculous thing I had done. 

I was a spirited child with a crazy imagination but she always went with it. She never once caused me to question my self worth because she accepted me. It wasn't until I lived with her that I realized that a mom, is not simply the person who gives birth to you. It is the person who waits up for you and worries when you are 5 minutes late for curfew - the person who cares enough to give you a curfew, the person who is there when you need a shoulder, the person who is always interested in what you are doing and what you have to say, the person that encourages you to become a reporter by allowing herself to be subjected to "interviews" every day for two months - but most of all, it is the person who accepts and loves you for who you are and the person you will become and is proud of you. 

There are many children that have grown up with the same relationship to their Grandmother, but I could never understand why it seems so difficult to find cards and items geared towards these special women for Mother's day. I am a firm believer that the special people in our lives should be celebrated every day, rather than one day a year. However it would be nice to have some representation in the Mother's day market for Grandmothers and other caregivers who deserve recognition. 

It was not until I had my own children that I became aware of the concept of what a mom could be. In my own life I feel fortunate to have such a wonderful family of my own with children that show me every day in their own way that I am appreciated. While they made me a wonderful breakfast in bed, and adorned me with their cards, homemade teeshirts, and the new wicker basket for the front of my bike, I couldn't help reflecting this morning. Reflecting on how truly lucky and appreciative I am. My children have made me a better person. They have taught me the art of patience, what it means to take pleasure in what we as adults take for granted (like making our hair stick up with balloons, carpet skates and parachuting with bedsheets), they have shown me that love has no boundaries, rather it grows every day - into something I never thought could be so powerful.

All of this has been made possible for me through the love, support and guidance (even if from far) of my Grandma. She has helped me in so many ways to realize and become the woman I am today. Her unconditional love and example has allowed me to have a normal parenting base to model some of my own parenting decisions. Something I might not otherwise have gained in other foster homes.

(Wedding day makeup with Gram looking on)

So like every Mother's day before today and all those to follow - I give my macaroni necklace to Grandma.