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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Here's to the women

I once had someone comment on that anonymous, uncensored platform called social media that she took offense to the term “farmwife” and thought I should change it. I had to laugh and think for a moment before responding. I understand the farmwife feminist movement. These women feel the need to speak out against tradition where it refers to the perfect farmer’s wife. They are fighting for the right to do things their own way, while living and working alongside their farmer-partner. They don’t want to feel pressured to meet the expectations of a farmer’s wife as set forth by previous generations: the pie-baking, early-waking homebody who keeps a spotless house, perfectly behaved children and a happy, well-fed husband in hand-mended clothes. But the term “farmwife” fits perfectly with what my stories are trying to convey: the experiences of a non-farm-raised woman who married a farmer. It’s sort of tongue-in-cheek, if you will. I’m no one’s stereotypical idea of a farmer’s wife.

March 8 is International Women’s Day. We have come a long way since the first IWD in 1911, when the Suffragettes were getting things done. Still, the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away. If we want things to be different for our future generations, we need to set the course for equality now.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress. Global activism for women's equality is gathering momentum with movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp.

How can you join this groundswell to #PressforProgress? Step One: Know What You Bring to the Table. Believe in your own contribution to the group effort. Insist on equal pay for equal work, fair treatment and respect – on the job and outside work. For generations, women around the world have been taking chances – some of them quite risky – that result in a brighter future for themselves and those around them.

My grandmother Mabel recently celebrated her 95th birthday. Back in the 50’s, she quickly rose from an entry-level accounting position to the top of the Finance Department at the Supreme Court of Canada. Knowing the way women were treated in the workplace back then, I asked her how she managed to succeed like that. She said that as a junior financing clerk she was getting ready to do an important presentation to upper management one day. As she stepped into the conference room, one of her superiors took the file from her hand, thanked her for her hard work, said that he would be presenting it to the team, and asked her to sit up front so that she could take notes...  She calmly and firmly took the file back from him, catching him completely by surprise. She told him that he could sit up front if he liked, while she did her presentation, so that he could take notes.

Grandma knew what she brought to the table. There are inspiring stories of women game-changers around the world, and the men who are getting out of their way and supporting them as they do what they do best.

Many of us look around and think, we live in Canada. Women are treated equally here. It’s part of our labour code and our legal system. But then we have someone make an inappropriate comment about how we are dressed, or we are faced with unfair demands at work. If a situation feels a bit off, ask yourself if a man would be put in the same situation. Some men have always treated women with respect – revering them for their talents and celebrating their successes. But many people – men and women included, have been raised to believe that women, in our highly emotional states, just can’t take on the same roles as men, because of the logical thinking that is required to get the work done.
200 years to gender parity. That is a long time from now – but if we want a different world for our great, great grandchildren, we need to make changes in our own lives today. #PressforProgress. Demand respect and fair treatment. Calmly correct someone when they mistakenly assume that because you are a woman, you can’t focus on the task and do the best job. Be Like Mabel. Know What You Bring to the Table.

They say the definition of a farmer’s wife is a woman who can mend the jeans and the fence that ripped ‘em. Well, I can do neither. And that’s ok. In this partnership, I am respected.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Just call us Pete and Repeat

I was telling my family a story after dinner one Sunday when one of my girls said, “What’s that, Mom? I didn’t hear you.” And another smart-aleck daughter replied, “That’s ok…wait a moment and she will say it again!” The girls shared a look and a giggle, turning to smile at me.

“Huh? What are you saying?” I protested. “I don’t repeat myself…do I? Do I say the same thing twice?!”

Then I realized I totally do repeat myself. I blame this new way of talking on the Farmer, for a couple of reasons. First, he is hard of hearing and I often have to repeat myself around him. And second, he is also in the habit of repeating himself. So I think I have adopted his speaking style as a subconscious way of accommodating him. I’m speakin’ his language.

I went to a friend’s place once where the woman of the house was using this particular style of speech. If I may make yet another Looney Tunes reference, it reminded me of Foghorn Leghorn or Elmer Fudd: “That’s a very big rabbit, I said. I said, that rabbit is huge.” Her son joked and called his parents “Pete and Repeat.” Now I realize I have become the second half of that equation.

And now I am extremely self-conscious about the way that I speak. I noticed I repeat myself by saying the same thing, two different ways if I am giving instructions or guidance to our live-in foreign students.

“You already said that,” Tega from Nigeria smiled at me one day. Well I know I already said that but clearly I felt it was necessary to say it again. “It bears repeating,” I commented, and walked away. How fitting a phrase for my predicament. Oh well, she had better get used to it. Mina from Norway has put up with me for five months already without complaint. Whether it’s “don’t feed the dog at the table,” or “lock the door when you leave the house,” they are likely going to hear it twice. Probably in the same exchange. You can never be too careful about some of these things.

I looked up repetition in conversation online, in an attempt to self-diagnose. There are a number of possible conditions leading to my affliction.

I don’t think it’s a matter of forgetting what I just said and saying it again just to make sure. I do have selective memory loss (I only seem to remember the good stuff!), and I don’t think my short-term memory is in trouble. But I do suspect I may have a fear of not being heard. Mostly because I do this repetition thing around my partially-deaf husband, or when I am surrounded by a dozen or more family members at a noisy dinner gathering.

Perhaps it is a sign of insecurity that I repeat myself. But more likely, I think, it’s just a sign of age. I have come to this conclusion because I think I started repeating myself right around the same time I noticed that dark circles had appeared under my eyes. The same eyes that very swiftly began to fail me when I looked at the computer screen and attempted to read what was printed there. Within the space of about six months, around the age of 48, I noticed several significant signs of aging. My grey hairs are resistant to hair dye now. My wrinkle cream no longer plumps out my wrinkles. (It isn’t a miracle cure – it can only do so much!) I have unidentifiable aches and pains in weird places for no apparent reason. I have hot flashes that feel as though the bed is on fire at night.

These are all just observations. I’m not really complaining. I think it’s kind of cool, getting acquainted with my aging self. After all, I have almost made it to 50. I have seen one daughter married and one granddaughter born so far. I am one of the lucky ones. Many women my age are fighting parts of their own bodies that are trying to kill them. At this point, knock on wood, I am able to celebrate my health and the ability to do things that annoy others, like repeating my statements ad infinitum.

I like that phrase so I’m going to say it again. Ad infinitum. Just to annoy my daughters.


Chicken Rodeo

I had a great morning with my granddaughter one day last week. We ‘sang’ karaoke, watched a bit of Paw Patrol, had some snacks and searched out all the cats in their hiding places. Then we decided it would be a good idea to get some fresh air. We threw the ball for Fergus a few times, then took his radio collar off so that he could follow us out of the yard on a walk. 

I put the baby in her sled and started pulling her over the snow. Fergus led the way, bouncing with excitement. Either my granddaughter is a lot heavier than I remember, or I’m a lot weaker. When we reached the back of the second field I had to turn and head back. My arms were shaking and my legs were aching from the effort. I looked back and she was happily muttering to herself, “I see a bird...,” one mitten trailing in the freshly fallen snow. I tried to stop her from putting it in her mouth but it was no use.

Finally back at the house, the baby spotted something through the trees in the yard next door. A miniature John Deere tractor in all its green glory was parked there next to the neighbour’s house.
“Tractor,” she stated. “I drive tractor.” And with that declaration she rolled out of the sled, onto her knees and struggled to standing position in her snowsuit. I was too worn out from the sled pull to protest. Off she tottered through the snow. The neighbour had let her play with the yard toys once before, so I decided I would indulge her for a few minutes.

I picked her up and helped her over the cedar rail fence and into the neighbour’s yard. She examined one snow-covered item after another: a slide, a miniature car and finally, the tractor. She climbed inside – no easy feat in snow pants and boots – and started moving levers as if she were shifting gears with Dad on the farm. That’s when we heard the chickens.

As I was focused on the baby and her explorations, I had totally forgotten about Fergus, the Golden Retriever. He had been watching those fancy chickens since the day they arrived, about a week after he did. When he was a small pup he was afraid of the funny-looking birds and their squawks startled him. Well apparently now that he was several months older and wiser, he had decided he was no longer afraid of the chickens. He was intrigued by them. Fascinated, even. And he wanted to show that he could retrieve them.

I told the baby to stay – she looked frozen in the tractor so there wasn’t much danger of her moving. I took a few leaping steps around the house to where the chicken coop stood and there was Fergus, with a big black bird in his mouth. I felt like that character on Bugs Bunny who has to keep smacking Sylvester the cat on the bottom to get him to drop Tweety Bird out of his mouth.

Somehow I managed to convince Fergus to release the chicken. The bird staggered away, with ruffled feathers and a few left behind on the ground. Fergus was trying to spit downy fluff out of his mouth. I scooped him up under the arms and marched him home, a few feet at a time. As I struggled I realized that for the second time that morning I was getting a truly strenuous workout, and I was likely going to pay for it later. Fergus grunted and didn’t help me with his transfer to the house, where I locked him inside. He popped up in the window and barked as I returned next door to get the baby, who was still in the tractor, watching the whole chicken circus.

“Ch-ch-chicken….ok?” she asked, worried.

“Oh yes, chicken is ok,” I assured her. “She’s probably pretty mad at Fergus for messing her feathers, though. Do you want to come see the chicken?”

The baby nodded yes so I helped her to climb out of the tractor and approach the chicken coop. The big, black bird stood in the doorway, warily watching us come closer. The little girl squatted down so that she was eye to eye with the bird. They stayed like that for a few minutes, checking each other out.

“Bird is ok,” she announced after a while, brushing snow off her pants and heading back across the yard to our house.

Note to self: bring the neighbours one of our chickens out of the freezer as a peace offering.