Remembrance Day for families

Families at the Day of Mourning

plaque commemorating Paul Douglas, BoilermakerBy Rod Mickleburgh

It’s chilling, the thought that each workplace fatality starts with someone heading off to work on a normal day, having no idea their time on earth is about to end. Likely without a goodbye to the ones they love, or any sort of meaningful conversation at all before leaving the house. It’s out the door, off to work, never to return. Bereft survivors are left to mourn not only their terrible loss, but also the lack of a proper farewell, haunted that something so utterly final could happen on an otherwise routine day at work.

It happened again recently with the shocking killings at the Western Forest Products sawmill in Nanaimo. Shot dead were mill workers Mike Lunn, 62, a father, grandfather, and a lone brother among seven sisters, and 53-year old hockey coach and father Fred McEachern, described by a co-worker as having “tree sap in his veins.” A message written on one of Lunn’s red T-shirts put up at the mill site read: “Daddy, you really were the best father a daughter could ask for. Love, your princess.”

Of course, these two workplace fatalities were unusual. Besides the violent circumstances, they were not connected to on-the-job duties, and they were big news. Most worker deaths attract little public notice, chalked up as “just one of those things.” They die in virtual anonymity. Beyond family, friends and co-workers, their passing is little remarked on, far removed from the outpourings of support and processions whenever a police officer or firefighter dies in the line of duty. But the impact is just as profound.

Linda Dorsett knows all about it. On a fateful September day in 2004, the last thing she expected was never again seeing her husband come through the front door. Sean Dorsett, an experienced commercial fisherman and certified diver in Campbell River, was making a routine dive to untangle his boat’s anchor. Something went wrong, and Dorsett drowned. Linda’s first reaction was denial. “I kept calling his cellphone,” she remembered . “I was in shock. I didn’t believe it. I wanted to talk to the fishing company, his buddies, anyone that could tell me this was a mistake.”

Families at the Day of Mourning

Families at the Day of Mourning

Last Tuesday, Linda Dorsett was among the speakers during an emotional ceremony at the waterfront Jack Poole Plaza to mark this country’s National Day of Mourning for workplace deaths. Although Linda was eventually able to move on from her husband’s death, raise their two young sons and keep financially afloat, the thought of the devastating day she lost her husband renewed her sorrow.

“There was never a dull moment when Sean was around, but a perfect storm of events changed our life forever. The world of grief entered my life. If only he could have said ‘goodbye,’ or passed on a few words of wisdom to our sons,” she said, wiping away tears.

Using her own experience, Linda Dorsett now counsels other survivors of workplace tragedies as part of WorkSafeBC’s Family Peer Support Program. “You think you’re the only one to ever feel such grief, but sadly, you are not,” she told the large, sombre crowd. Noting pledges by employer, union and government representatives to dedicate their organizations to do even more to combat on-the-job fatalities, she paid tribute to the annual Day of Mourning, which has grown significantly in size and prominence over the years. “Days like this honour those who died and gives those left behind a little hope, too.”

While much is made of the 158 casualties suffered by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, and rightly so, nearly as many B.C. workers were killed on the job over just the last two years. About the same number succumbed to the long, painful inroads of occupation-related disease, particularly asbestosis. In Canada, nearly 1,000 workers died from work-related causes last year, about three a day. Globally, a worker dies every 15 seconds. These are grim statistics that should shock us all. Each death is one too many, but the toll continues. Meanwhile, the number of unscrupulous employers jailed for wanton disregard of safety on the job is zero.

With government flags at half-staff, solemn statements and Vancouver’s Olympic flame lit at Jack Poole Plaza, the Day of Mourning has become a sort of Remembrance Day for workers, all of whom wanted to live, none of whom needed to die. “Every workplace injury is preventable,” WorkPlaceBC chair George Morfitt reminded those present.

Family at Day of MourningThe day also gives families of the dead a chance to pay their respects and once more mourn their loss. Numerous family members, including children, were present, their sad faces attesting to their bereavement.

Before a final procession led by a ceremonial piper and honour guard, the speeches ended with a heartfelt poem written and read out by Grade 5 student Silver Kuris. The youngster was honouring her father, who died in a workplace accident Jan. 22, 2011. She entitled her poem: “My Daddy”.

“I know my Dad is up in heaven./He’s been there since I was seven…It’s not fair to lose a Dad./It makes me sad, it makes me mad!/Dads shouldn’t die, just going to work./It just isn’t right, that dangers may lurk.”

In her rhythmical, sing-song, 10-year old voice, the youngster concluded: “I love you, Dad . . . Love, Silver.”

Sex exhibit tells too much for some parents


A BoB short:

A museum sex exhibit designed to educate teenagers has proven too racy for some Ottawa parents — and it hasn’t even opened yet.

“Sex: A Tell-all Exhibition” is due to open at The Canada Science and Technology Museum on Friday. In response to over 50 complaints from parents who feel that the exhibit is more smutty than educational, the museum has raised the age of unaccompanied admission from 12 to 16.

Certain aspects of the exhibit, such as the “Erecto-Matic,” which allows observers to watch a cross-section of a flaccid penis become erect with the press of a button, have sparked the parental concern. The museum, however, says they offer precise and accurate information that teens might not get anywhere else. “This exhibition, developed by the Montreal Science Centre, is intended for adolescents 12 years and older, parents seeking a better understanding of the subject in preparation for their children’s questions, teachers of high school and their students, health care professionals, and anyone else who wishes to learn more.”

With teenage STD rates on the rise, they might be on to something. Memo to parents: explaining sex isn’t promoting it. If anything, the “Erecto-Matic” is liable to encourage abstinence for a good few years.

“Sex: A Tell-all Exhibition” runs until January.

- Emily Olesen

Bad jokes are good PR


battle-hymn-of-the-tiger-motherby Rachel Krueger

Amy Chua is terrible at jokes.  She told one in early January about forcing her seven-year old daughter to practice piano “through dinner into the night” with no breaks, and no one laughed.  The punchline is that the daughter got good at piano.  Har.

An excerpt from Chua’s memoir, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, ran in the Wall Street Journal prior to the book’s publication, to the tune of over a million hits and 7000+ comments.  Reactions ran from bemused to annoyed to sincerely pissed, but no one was like, “How droll.” When Chua appeared on “The Colbert Report” last week she protested, “It’s supposed to be funny.  It’s a self-parody . . . It’s also about my mistakes and making fun of myself.’ 

But the excerpt doesn’t read like parody.  Parody usually has a nod or a wink or an elbow in somewhere, to be all, “Fun and games, eh wot?”, but this particular section reads like a cold-hearted snake explaining how she is better than other moms.  The title the Journal slapped on it, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” was not chosen by Chua, and she claims it does not reflect the book as a whole, but it sure as hell reflects the mood of the excerpt.

Chua professed surprise at the reaction, which means she is either an idiot or being disingenuous.  Because this was a genius marketing strategy.  Everyone is FURIOUS about the excerpt and showing their disapproval by showering it with links.  Look at me now, adding to the pile.  And I ain’t even mad at it. 

In fact, I say kudos to Chua.  She may have lousy comedic timing. But she has excellent business sense.

No joke.

Kate Gosselin: Go dancing with your kids, now


By Jodi A. Shaw

gosselin_dancing-with-the-starsDear Kate Gosselin:

What a long, twisty road you have travelled! I first met you when the smiling, laughing faces of your sextuplets caught my eye as I channel-surfed one lazy afternoon. I confess, I fell in love with your children and spent many afternoons looking in on your family.

But I’m glad I stopped when things began to deteriorate. I wanted to see smiling children, not feuding parents and the mess of divorce. It was ugly, Kate, ugly. And all captured on TV and in magazines and tabloids.

Now, as the faces of your children fade from the airwaves and headlines, and they return to what I hope to be a normal, happy childhood, and your ex-husband, John, evaporates from memory, you remain.

You can be seen on solo appearances on talk shows, in interviews, are a steady author of sentimental and autobiographical books, and most recently, a participant on “Dancing with the Stars.” I’ve caught a few episodes of DWTS and your new-found hair-do. I’ve seen you rage, seen you pout, seen you struggle through the dance steps. And I’m hoping that tonight, now that you’ve been voted out, will be the last time I see you cry.

Go home, Kate. Stop pleading with viewers, trying to convince them you are a loving, devoted mother, and go home and be that woman. You don’t have to be a celebrity mom to be a good provider for your family. You don’t have to be constantly in the media to provide for your kids. Be a present mom, a constant mom in the lives of your munchkins, and maybe we’ll see you later. Later.

And if you don’t want to disappear from view entirely, let the tabloids capture photos of you, smiling, with your smiling kids, on a fun-filled family outing. You know, maybe with your hair pulled up in a pony-tail, relaxed and blissfully unaware that there are cameras pointed at you because you’re too busy interacting with the “Plus 8″ in your life.

Yours truly,


PlayStation nights


By Jodi A. Shaw

I cringed this past Christmas while purchasing a PlayStation 3 for my husband. It didn’t exceed my budget and the shopping experience was quick and easy, but I was disgusted with myself for finally giving in.

I’ve long had a distaste for video games and have been unapologetically vocal about it. The reasons were partly personal: for years I desperately wanted in on my brothers’ Nintendo playing, and the damn things were also responsible for the downfall of a four-year relationship with a boyfriend who seemed to love his time with Castle Wolfenstein more than his time with me. Less personally, video games can encourage and create isolation and anti-social behaviour and, of course, they have been controversially linked to violent crimes.

My husband loved the gift and I didn’t see much of him in the days following Christmas. I feared my reservations had been confirmed. Since then, though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to have my expectations set on their head.

lego-batmanIt turns out video games aren’t evil, violence-ridden, time-sucking isolation devices after all. Well, they do suck up quite a bit of time. My husband spends a couple of hours each night on the couch navigating his way through Lego Batman. But it’s fine: I watch and we talk.

We’re not the only couple finding quality time this way. Kyle, 30, says he and his girlfriend purchased a Wii specifically because “it’s something we can do together.” Rather than spending evenings on the couch watching TV, they bowl. Nintendo’s Wii is a top seller and has been praised for getting people off their butts, moving, and interacting. Kyle was injured last year in a hockey game and has been sidelined ever since, but he’s been able to get his athletic fix via the Wii.

Joanne, 39, cannot say enough about the Nintendo DS and what it’s helped her eight year-old daughter achieve. Hoping to help her child with concentration and schoolwork, Joanne invested in the handheld game system. Her daughter was soon hooked on games like Sudoku Challenge and Bookworm and “she’s more focused, more confident, and her grades have gone from D’s to high C’s and B’s.” Joanne has even found herself picking up the DS for a few moments of Brain Age.

Says an employee at EB Games: “Gaming companies are really responding to the changing needs of the players. There are still violent games, and lots of them, but there’s also a vast array of fitness-inspired games and educational and thought-provoking games.”

Meanwhile, at my house, we enjoy our PlayStation nights. Instead of watching separate television shows in separate rooms, or sitting in silence while watching a movie, we share news about our day, chew over problems, and joke. And I eat my words and admit repeatedly that video games really aren’t as bad as I made them out to be.

In Kate’s corner


By Rachel Krueger

“Yes, hello, Kettle + 8? This is the Octo-Pot calling. Stop sucking away at my 15 minutes of fame.”

I’ve never been a fan of TLC’s “Jon and Kate Exploit Their Eight” (or whatever). Being party to their marital spats and exhausted parenting makes me feel uncomfortably like an 11th wheel. Most parents have, in front of friends, called their kid a brat or their spouse a hag, but everything derogatory that Kate says about Jon or her spawn is On Film Forever. Too many scenes depict Kate tearing Jon to shreds about something, only to pan back and jon-and-kateshow Jon himself sitting placidly next to her on that damned couch. Either the man has the best poker-face in the world, or TV cameras really do suck out your soul.

Against my wishes and despite the overwhelming response from the googlenets (even most people who love the show are advising them to bring it gracefully to an end), the Gosselins have decided to go ahead with a fifth season. To an extent, I feel like this justifiably opens them up to peeping and prying and even some gentle ribbing. (For example, what would Rihanna look like with Kate’s reverse-mullet?.) Being on TV = free money, but it also = free “advice.”

My general discomfort with the show in general and Kate in particular, however, has been much tempered by recent attacks from the incredibly unsympathetic octo-mom, Nadya Suleman. It might be a case of the lesser of two evils — Kate is someone I wouldn’t choose to hang out with; Nadya is someone I would actively avoid — or it may just be people in glass houses throwing stones, but Nadya’s accusations of fame-whoring have me sticking up for Kate like never before.

In a recent interview, bear-baits Suleman by showing her a clip of Dr. Phil wherein Gosselin expresses some genuine concern for the mother-of-a-trillion’s mental health. In between eye-rolls and I-just-learned-a-new-word cries of “histrionic!”, Suleman accuses Gosselin of “glomming” onto her for attention.

Even though dredged up the interview from last February, it’s understandable that Suleman would think Kate was out to impinge on her 15 minutes (especially now that the ZOMG-JON-HAD-AN-AFFAIR headlines have sluiced more spotlight onto the Gosselins than ever). But for someone who seems so concerned about people speaking to her life, Nadya is more than ready to criticize Kate not only for “cheating” and getting her post-sextuplets-tummy tucked, but for then showing off her slammin middle-aged-woman’s bod in a bikini. On the beach. With her kids.

I’m 100% confident that this little slapfest wasn’t staged by the + 8 crowd, but it’s definitely excellent PR. I may have my issues with La Gosselin, but at least she’s managed to turn her hyper-productivity into a hit TV show and at least two books. Sure, she’s aggressive and naggy and overly concerned with appearances. But thrown up against the insecurity, immaturity, and general inanity of Nadya Suleman, Kate is looking better every day.

What about the kids?

By Bev Schellenberg

Now here’s a thought: According to the crown prosecutor in the case of Christopher Pauchay, the father of two children who froze to death while in his care, it’s important that people care for the children they have. Marylynne Beaton says the three-year sentence handed down on Friday, March 6th, sends an important message to parents. “It’s really important for people to realize, especially parents, [that if] you have children you have to take responsibility for them,” she notes, “and you can’t put yourself in a situation where they’re going to be at risk.”

We’ve actually reached the point where somebody needs to say this? Maybe as a society we all need to be sent to parenting classes.

Take the ongoing response to the “Octomom.” Nadya Suleman bore eight children via in vitro fertilization, on top of the six she already had. Outrage followed. In response, legislators in Missouri and Georgia are now seeking to limit the number of embryos that may be implanted by IVF, to no more than two in a woman under 40, and no more than three in a woman over 40 (the latter to account for “increased difficulty” in bringing the birth to term). In response to the response, legal experts say “limiting a woman’s right to procreate raises constitutional concerns.”

Constitutional concerns? What about the children’s rights to grow up in a home where they’re properly cared for? The kids almost seem to be an afterthought in all this; even the politicians say their chief concern is saving taxpayers’ money.

Here’s another well-known example: Chantelle Stedman, of Eastbourne, East Sussex, Britain, became journalistic fodder in February for having a child — not because she’s just 15-years old (that’s not news), but because a baby-faced 13-year old named Alfie Patten claimed to be the father. (For the tabloids, that’s news.) Another eight boys have now come forward, also claiming to be the dad.

Predictably, but pathetically, our focus has been on the teenage mom and boy-father involved, rather than on the most important person of all: their infant, Maisie. How will she respond one day to having been the video du jour on You-Tube? How will she feel about being an involuntary celebrity due to her possibly 13-year old dad? What a lovely contribution all those news clippings will make to her baby album. Maisie will now grow up in a home with her grandma, her out-of-work granddad, her five uncles, and her teenaged mum. Instead of worrying about paternity tests, how about asking if Britain’s social system is up to the task of making sure she’s well cared for?

Thank heavens at least some people act responsibly in this over-populated world, and choose not to have kids (though they tend to need groups like this one, No Kidding, to find support for their decision). Others seek out children who need help, whether through organizations like World Vision or by fostering or adopting a child.

Speaking as a parent of two, I would argue most parents, while not perfect, are doing their best to raise their children responsibly. Granted, awful things happen. Log onto “Parents Behaving Badly” for a collection of the horrific tales. Sometimes we make silly choices that our children manage to survive, as in the case of the mother in Kettering, Ohio, who was spotted chatting on her cell phone and breastfeeding her baby while driving. While I applaud 39-year old Genine Compton’s obvious multi-tasking skills, I wouldn’t recommend her choices. Fortunately, a fellow motorist reported her in time, so that she, baby, and those around them remained safe.

To get her licence, Compton had to pass a driving test. But as has been often remarked, there’s no course of study, no exam to pass, no degree granted, before one can become a parent. Until there is, it’s up to all of us to act responsibly, quit focussing on the lurid news, and start paying attention to the little ones behind it.

Babies bag big bucks

What with her three adopted children, recent birthing of twins, and husband Brad’s increasingly haggard mug, the rumors that Angelina Jolie is pregnant again have compounded an already drama-riffic life. Everyone is sick of hearing about this lippy femme and her do-gooding and her cat-fighting and her award-winning and her baby-making, but no one can stop talking about her. The woman collects children like antique spoons! It’s as if the sheer repetitiveness — adopt child from impoverished country, get knocked up and spend nine months looking fabulous, trot down red carpet eight seconds after giving birth, adopt child from impoverished country — has everyone mesmerized.

Perhaps Jolie knows what many other celebs do; a bun in the oven is a great career boost. Or, if you happen not to be famous already, it can catapult you into the limelight. Your pregnancies just have to be qualitatively or quantitatively bizarre.

Take the first pregnant man, for instance. Thomas Beatie was all kinds of inconspicuous before getting knocked up; now he’s big news. Mind you, another man-born-woman (or FTM, or XX-dude, or whatever) named Matt Rice gave birth to a bouncing baby boy almost a decade ago. It’s unclear why this is being ignored. Nevertheless, the title is Beatie’s, despite the fact that once side effects forced him to stop taking testosterone, he essentially became a post-double-mastectomy woman, many of whom also get pregnant.

And now the “first” pregnant man is pregnant again. Beatie and wife Nancy will (assuming all goes well) give birth to a second child almost exactly a year after their daughter was born. I, for one, am thrilled for them. Have all the babies you want, you stable, supportive couple. Just maybe take a year off next time before you sow your seeds. It’s entirely possible that the Beaties have lunged into this second pregnancy so soon after the first due to Thomas’s hormonal situation (he has to lay off the testosterone in order to make the babies). It can’t hurt, however, to cash in on public interest before it grows stale. If the first baby got them on “Oprah,” the second is sure to get them a sit-down with Barbara Walters, and I’ve heard whispers of a TLC special in the offing.

Speaking of bad television, a series of Discovery Health Channel appearances has finally led to a full-time reality show for Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. No family has been more lambasted for exploiting their unusual fecundity than these stars of “17 Kids and Counting.” The couple’s religious beliefs have led them to forgo birth control, a common enough practice among conservative Christians. Less common are double-digit families living off their TV earnings. I’m not saying the Duggars don’t love each of their now-18 babies. I just think they might be caught in a vicious cycle of having the babies to get on the reality show to earn the money to have the babies.

Whether it’s to land another Vanity Fair cover, or to pay for little Joshua James Jim Joe Bob’s wedding, children have become a sort of financial aspirin. It’s totally not my place to question Angelina’s motives, or Thomas Beatie’s, or the Duggars’, but is that going to stop me? Are you kidding? People will judge. The only way out is to stay out of the spotlight, keep your baby bump on the couch, and feed it Doritos.

Alberta delivers on midwives’ potential

By Jodi A. Shaw

I prefer not to know the finer details of child birth. Instead, I’d rather wait my turn to experience it, and find out the good, the bad, and the ugly of pregnancy and delivery. A pregnant co-worker, however, has been spoiling some of the secrets for me . . . and affirmed my belief that gestation and childbirth aren’t all that glamorous.

I don’t like it when people ask me about me and my husband’s child bearing plans (see this earlier post) and I am almost certain that, when my time comes, I am not going to be overly fond of all the poking and prodding that I will be subject to.

My fear and concern, though, and likely the fears and concerns of many women, has recently been lessened by the government of Alberta’s announcement that, as of April 1, 2009, the costs of midwifery will be covered in the province’s maternity package. A huge sigh of relief for people like me, who are very private about their bodies and bodily functions, and value the personal relationship and trust a midwife has to offer.

My sister-in-law, who is pregnant with her second child and final child, also applauded the decision. “I honestly don’t think the doctor provides enough time in your visit to answer some of your questions. Or some of your questions aren’t questions you would go to a doctor about,” she says. “A doctor often looks at pregnancy [from] a medical standpoint, not so much a hormonal, emotional standpoint.”

Amanda describes her experience with her first pregnancy as a fact finding mission, in which she had to independently research pregnancy itself, as well as “prenatal classes, preregistering at the hospital, classes for infant car seats, etc. None of this information was provided to me by my physician.” She acknowledges that it is likely not part of many doctor’s jobs to fill in all the blanks for expectant mothers, but thinks it would be beneficial for doctors, who have seen a pregnancy or two, to give new mothers suggestions or information they may not think of. “It was never even asked if I wanted support for breast feeding, what my birth plan was, whether I wanted an epidural, none of this was discussed in advance between me and my doctor.”

While the new Alberta benefits won’t arrive in time for Amanda to take advantage of them, she acknowledges the benefits that a midwife could offer. “The biggest thing would be the support during labour. Which if you ask any woman [who has given birth], is the most overwhelming, painful, uncertain event in your entire life. At this time of uncertainty, you are left to manage through on your own with minimal hospital support.”

Enter the midwife . . . and you get an experience like Jennifer Davis, who paid $4000 out of her own pocket for one. “It was worth every penny,” she says. “My midwife was with me from month four of my pregnancy until Donnovan, my son, was five weeks old. I could phone her and ask questions anytime, she would come over and have tea with me and discuss my feelings and my body, she even came to a doctor’s appointment with me when my husband was unable to make it.” Jennifer says that her midwife, Sherry, helped her enroll in prenatal classes, recommended prenatal yoga and swimming, and even helped her pick out a stroller and a car seat.

“Sherry knew all the regulations for things [for cribs, car seats, etc.], and even suggested things I never even thought of. I’d never had a child before, but she was educated on the entire process, and had helped many mothers before me . . . she was a pro.”

Midwives have, of course, been aiding women for centuries. Here in Canada, they were reintroduced as a regulated profession in the early 1900s. While they must undertake training in order to be licensed, they are not permitted to intervene medically, and so are recommended for low-risk pregnancies; higher risk ones are left to doctors.

“My midwife helped me map out a birth plan, make difficult decisions regarding prenatal testing, pain management, and birth setting. She made sure I was informed about every step of the process so that I could make the best decision for me.”

Jennifer’s labour and delivery, like Amanda’s, was in a hospital. But while Amanda was visited by nurses every hour or so “to fill out their forms, and check [my] stats,” Jennifer’s midwife was in the room, at her side, for the entire experience. “She helped both my husband and I get through. She knew when to stand back and let us be, and when to step in and help us out. If I had had a home birth she could have delivered Donnovan, but I chose a doctor, just in case. But my midwife was in charge of checking my cervix, rather than having several different nurses and doctors checking me.”

Post-delivery, both Amanda and Jennifer spent a few days in the hospital and were relieved when they were finally sent home. Jennifer’s midwife was at the house waiting. She helped them to get unpacked and settled in and then took a few moments alone with Jennifer to help her breastfeed Donnovan.

For Amanda, it was a different. “[I received] very little support for nursing. I managed fine, but many new moms [get] frustrated and throw in the towel very quickly. There is almost no support for learning to breastfeed while in the hospital.” When she had questions, Amanda called a healthlink number and was put in touch with community nurses. “They are very helpful,” she says. “I still call them to this day.”

Similarly, Jennifer still calls her midwife with questions. “She came and checked up on me a couple of times a week for five weeks. I could call her and if she would answer my questions, explain things to me, and if I needed, come over and help me out. She is amazing . . . I know I paid her to hang around me, but it was like having a really good friend by my side every step of the way. And she is so knowledgeable about everything to do with babies and pregnancy, that she was able to educate my husband and I where we were clueless.”

So hats off to Alberta for joining British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories, in covering the costs of midwives. It won’t remove the good and the bad of pregnancy, but it might deal with some of the ugly.

Thankyou, Robert Fulghum

By Bev Schellenberg

Students young and old have returned to school, a yearly phenomenon as certain in September as rainfall in Vancouver. Depending on where you stand on the conveyor belt of life, you likely fit somewhere between ecstatic-that-school-has-begun (as in the case of most parents, some students, and some more senior mall-frequenters) to unfazed-and-basically-unaware (as in computer programmers with no children and entropic lives). Regardless, we all hope students are learning, developing, and growing.

And becoming valuable members of the society. Some say 12 years is more than enough time to learn the ropes (right, high school students?), while others, like the BC Ministry of Education, argue that we need to be in school even longer. To that end, the government has established over 100 Strong Start BC Centres, where children can begin public education at an earlier age. The idea seems to be much like that behind Robert Fulghum’s famous book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten — that the earlier you teach kids to clean up after themselves, share, and so on, the sooner you’ll turn out fully-functioning adults.

I have to admit, though, that as an educator who has taught in both the elementary and high school system, and as a parent of children in the public education system, I’ve long questioned the ultimate value of early schooling. Granted, Fulghum’s book has some good points (it did stick around on the New York Times bestseller List for almost two years, after all), and the kindergarten curriculum does too. But most of what children are taught in that first year has nothing to do with the curriculum — namely, how to line-up, and how to be quiet.

As a music teacher of kindergarten students, I found both lessons frustrating to have to deliver. I wanted my five and six-year old students to sing their way to the water fountain, dance to the washroom, and do a crazy walk on their way to assembly. I wanted my students to cheer, to spin, to drench themselves in the glorious rain-shower of music, unfettered by societal norms. Telling them to “put on their marshmallow slippers” as they lined up for the washroom, telling them to be as “silent as mice,” and whispering, “One, two, three, eyes on me” and waiting for their subdued and automaton-like “One, two, eyes on you,” was not how I wanted to function as an educator. After a year of teaching music to two kindergarten, two grade one, one grade five and one grade six class, I still couldn’t figure out how to encourage the students’ bubbly enthusiasm while still upholding school and societal expectations. So I left my job.

I may be coming around to Fulghum’s point-of-view, though. This past summer, I suddenly appreciated the importance of learning to line up, and the value of fitting into a crowd. In August, my 10-year old daughter and I headed for a quick trip to Victoria. Attempting to save gas and money, we joined the large queue of walk-on pedestrians at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. I became concerned when I overheard a man in front of us talking on his cellphone, saying there was no way he would make the ferry we’d come to catch — the 10 a.m. ferry. Soon a couple behind us were talking about the unlikelihood of making the 11 a.m. ferry as well. So there we were, my 10-year old daughter and I at 9:20 a.m., with the prospect of standing in a line-up for over two hours to get on the ferry. Suddenly I understood why a very high fence topped by barbed wire separated the happy vehicle travelers who were going to make the 10 a.m. ferry from us. For a moment I even considered teaching my daughter the value of climbing fences.

That’s when those two biggest lessons from kindergarten came in handy: for the next hour, my daughter entertained herself, and remained within the societal limits of normalcy (without an iPod, cell phone, book, or handheld game, might I add): she paced, she meandered, she observed, she hummed, we chatted. At no point did she complain or even question what we were doing. From being in kindergarten, and also having attended six years of school, she was used to standing and waiting.

Fortunately we did make the 11 a.m. ferry. My daughter remained resolute, socially appropriate, and even pleasant through a line-up for the ferry cafeteria and for the bathroom facilities, for public transit, to get into the B.C. Provincial Museum, for dinner, to pay our hotel bill, for Denny’s breakfast the next morning, for the bus ride to the Victoria Ferry Terminal, and for the return ferry ride. The overnight trip to Victoria was enjoyable, thanks to what she and I, successful products of the public school system, were taught in kindergarten: patience, how to keep oneself entertained, social appropriateness, and a positive spirit.

And I am grateful.