Kids these days…

I am astounded by the bravery and logic of kids today. I am also shamed by them.

We, the adults, have largely failed them. As we have argued and shouted into our own echo chambers, disregarding any voice of dissension, we’ve polarised ourselves into wider and and more disparate perspectives. The results have been stalemates and inaction.

We’ve forced kids to take stands for their own rights and own safety because we, the adults, have behaved like children. We have risked their lives and their safety, and have not allowed them, the kids, the simple luxury of being kids.

Today, these same kids will be marching for their own lives, not just in the US but across the globe in nearly 820 cities. And, many of us adults will be following their lead.

It shouldn’t take a Parkland or a Sandy Hook or a Columbine, let alone atrocities and scenes of carnage like that in Las Vegas, to spur action. In fact, little action other than shouting back and forth has taken place, at least at the adult table.

That is, until the kids started making noise. And, asking questions. And, speaking up and organising. Maybe they should be in charge?

A friend posted a screen shot of a letter sent out to the parents of a school in some average place in the US alerting them to a possible ‘threat’ at the school. Her daughter opted to stay home the next day, and quite rightly was extremely upset by what might happen. Another friend’s four-year-old, when telling his parents about his day, recounted an ‘active shooter drill’ at their daycare facility just after Parkland. Four years old. Let that sink in for a moment. What were you telling your parents about your day when you were four?

These are but two instances of hundreds from amongst my network in the US. And, these do not include the many posts from teacher friends not just afraid for their students, but for themselves. Every. Damn. Day.

Personally, I don’t like guns, and decided long ago that they would not be a part of my life and would not be allowed in my home. That is my choice and my right. I now live in a country with fairly strict gun control laws, and I feel safer for it. As civilians, I do not think we need to have access to things like AR-15s, nor do I think anyone should be able to buy as many bullets as they want. Again, these are my personal opinions. Would I like to see a world without guns? Very much so. Do I think that is at a reasonable possibility or position? Nope.

Regardless of my personal beliefs opinions, we must talk about policy options and allow research to understand why so many die in massive shootings in the US. We must find common ground and consensus to move beyond where we stand now. To my mind, kids these days are providing the adults with a path towards action.

Today, as I sit behind my desk adulting working, I am also applauding all those marching. I stand with you all, particularly with you kids these days. I’d prefer you enjoy the silliness of just being kids. But, I’m incredibly glad and proud that you are taking the lead. May we all follow your lead. (And, please remember to register and vote!)

SchoolSupplies_Poster_ShaneSmith(1)

Day 35: Proekt 365 (A family snowman affair)

Day 35: Proekt 365 Neighbourhood snowman & the family who made him

Day 35: Proekt 365
Neighbourhood snowman & the family who made him

This was perhaps my favourite moment of the year so far. Or at least one which became even lovelier as I was taking my daily photo.

Today, as The Cuban and I took a quick break and brisk walk through the neighbourhood, we stumbled upon this jolly frozen fellow, complete with a carrot nose. I whipped out my trusty Galaxy S III to take a picture for my daily blog of all things lovely and who should pop up in the window behind him but the little girl, her mother and brother, whom I’m assuming made him. They waved and smiled and waved and smiled the entire time I fumbled and waved and tried to take my photo. (If you look carefully in the upper left-hand section of the photo, you can see their shapes just barely.) It’s a good thing I got the photo the first time—this was the only one I managed to snap in the few minutes were stood there!

I don’t honestly know who was more delighted: us or them? The snowman was more than sufficient to make my day brighter. But, the sight of that lovely family — mother, dauther and son — waving just as idiotically back at us as we were at them was truly wonderful and heart-warming, particularly in a country were emotional displays such as this are rare.

It’s true: if you smile at someone, they will most likely return that smile.

Day 25: Proekt 365 (Here’s to Finland’s Maternity Box)

Day 25: Proekt 365 Here's to Finland the the Maternity Box)

Day 25: Proekt 365
Here’s to Finland’s Maternity Box

Finland’s approach to ensuring its citizens and residents live a quality life and have equitable access to such a life from the youngest of ages impresses me. Today, whilst having lunch with a few expat friends, one of whom has an adorable baby girl who was born here, I was reminded of just how early that focus begins. If you have never heard of the Finland Maternity Box, look it up. I’ve marveled about this briefly before, but today I was particularly impressed with it for whatever reason.

Last year as the world awaited the birth of one prince or princess in particular, news focused briefly on the brilliance of the Maternity Box. For more than 75 years, Finnish mothers-to-be have received these boxes, which contain an impressive collection of clothes, toys, personal hygiene items for baby’s first bath (and for Mom), outerwear and various other necessities for newborn babies. All of the items are packed neatly into a decent-sized cardboard box, which can also be used as a baby bed — the package also includes all of the items for baby’s first bed, including a mattress that ingenuously fits snugly in the box.

Mothers can also opt to get cash. But, the loot which comes in the box far exceeds in value the cash disbursements (€140 as of 2013). So, most of the moms I know opted for the loot. I would! The picture above is an item my friend received in her Maternity Box when she was expecting her daughter. Not only is it as cute as her precious little girl, but her daughter LOVES the little bug and kept herself quite busy playing with it when she wasn’t concentrating so completely on being cute. Who wouldn’t love that bug?!

It’s impressive. Mighty impressive really when you consider the reasons behind and history surrounding the Finnish Maternity Box. Their distribution is designed to give all children born in Finland an equal start in life — regardless of socio-economic background, geographic location, family composition or cultural heritage. Every child born in Finland is entitled to receive the box (or cash equivalent) with just one condition placed on its receipt. Mothers wishing to receive the box must have visited an OB-GYN clinic by the fourth month of her pregnancy. In the late 1930s when the boxes were originally distributed to the poorest families, infant mortality in Finland was quite high (65 per 1000 births). Once the programme was expanded for all women and families in the 1940s and then following reforms to ensure all residents in Finland had equal access to all types of healthcare, infant mortality dropped and fewer complications were reported. Now, infant mortality is negligible.

Infant mortality over time has dropped incredibly in Finland

Infant mortality over time has dropped incredibly in Finland

The contents of the box are brilliant. Items are gender neutral (so that they are suitable for boys and girls) and are now chosen for their sensitivity to the environment. They are also durable and not cheaply made or designed. Many of the items in the box would be prohibitively expensive for the poorest families. Snow suits alone are incredibly pricy despite their necessity given the length and depths of winter we experience here in Finland. The contents even include baby’s first books. Yet, every mother is entitled to the box. And, every child can start life out with the same basic necessities. Well done, Finland. Very well done.

It doesn’t at all surprise me that Finland is ranked top in terms of where its best to be a mother. When you get a box like this to welcome your little bundle of joy, how could it not be pretty fab for moms? It should be. And, I’m delighted to live in a country that takes its newest and youngest residents so seriously, and which helps out its moms in the process.

Day 11: Proekt 365 (The return of snow!)

Day 11: Proekt 365 The return of snow to Southern Finland

Day 11: Proekt 365
The return of snow to Southern Finland

What. A. Day.

Welcoming my step-son for a visit yesterday evening followed by an afternoon in the company of some of my favourite people today was followed by the long overdue and very much welcome delivery of the first real snowfall this winter to Helsinki. My cup runneth over.

I didn’t get a chance to snap a photo whilst walking in a real-life giant snow globe, but I did enjoy the moment immensely. Aside from the obvious inconveniences (I really do feel for all those who have to push strollers, walk gingerly, shovel / plow it to be able to get out of their homes, etc.), snow makes winter this far North so much more bearable. Even at night, there is a bit more brightness to the world.

Today’s snow was even more of a treat given that we have been promised some sort of substantial accumulation for the past several days (weeks?), all resulting in a whole lot of nothing. After being indoors for several hours this afternoon, walking out into the heavy snowfall and gigantic swirling flakes was a most fantastic surprise.

As an adult, there is no hope of a ‘snow day’, whereby any obligations for the next day are cancelled or postponed. Living in Finland, that’s an utterly laughable idea. But, that same excitement and thrill is relived with each snowfall. You’d think I’d be thoroughly sick of snow by now after 15 winters spent in the far North. Nope. Still love it. Still wait for it each winter with anticipation and anxiety. And, still giggle like an idiot when walking in it, especially during the first snowfall of the year.

Thank you, Mother Nature! You’ve given meaning to the winter darkness once again.

Day 10: Proekt 365

Day 10: Proekt 365 A little inside family joke to welcome The Jr Cuban to Helsinki

Day 10: Proekt 365
A little inside family joke to welcome The Jr Cuban to Helsinki

It’s an inside joke, and one which dates back to the first time my step-son stayed with us in Helsinki, which also coincided with our move here six-and-a-half years ago. Like most inside jokes, it stuck.

An added bonus to reliving this family humour was the shocked expression of a Spanish speaker at the Starbucks at the airport upon seeing our sign.

Welcome, Seba. We’re so, so happy you’re here!

Day 6: Proekt 365

Day 6: Proekt 365 Who doesn't love a good Swedish Chef impersonation?

Day 6: Proekt 365
Who doesn’t love the Swedish Chef?

To know my husband is to know that he has a silly streak. He also loves the Swedish Chef and can do a fairly perfect impersonation of that most incomprehensible of Muppets.

Several years ago when I was in Amsterdam on business, the local supermarkets were running a special deal on Muppet hand puppets. Upon discovering that one particular hand puppet available to patrons for a mere €1 was indeed the Swedish Chef, I made damn sure I picked one up for him before heading back to Helsinki.

Since then, whenever our friends’ children are around, he can be seen entertaining both them and the adults with his perfect re-enactments of ‘you put de chicken in de pot’ and flinging food or pots and kitchen utensils around carelessly whilst muttering the various ‘bork bork borks’ and whatnot. It’s lovely and sweet and unbelievably silly.

Imagine our delight when The Cuban received the gift above from three of his adoring fans. Friends of ours were visiting the US and stumbled across this precious ornament, and of course, snagged it for the one person they can count on to do a perfect impression of the Swedish Chef.

The perfect gift from folks (big and small) who get him.

This year, every gift we received was like that. (Ginormous coffee cups, anyone?) Meaningful because of some ‘thing’ we share with the gift-givers and a little indication that we are loved and appreciated for who we are by those in our lives.

Absolutely perfect.

(Y’all know who you are and we love and thank you!)

What we are taught, part 2

Over breakfast one morning when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old, my grandfather advised me to ‘keep [my] knees together’. To this day, I have no idea what prompted this seemingly random statement.

As an awkward adolescent sitting at breakfast in a restaurant with her family, I was mortified. From the faces of everyone except my grandfather and the choked chortling coming from the wait staff, it’s one of my most vivid memories of my grandfather and one I’d rather not recall quite so easily. The message, however, was as clear then as it is now: my own actions as a girl or woman will be interpreted by others and either invite judgements of virtue or exploitation and I alone hold responsibility over whatever happens. In other words, what happens to me (sexually) is my ‘fault’.

Horseshit, I say, now as I did then. I am of course responsible for the choices I make and decisions I take. But, I am not an object.

Nearly 30 years later and armed with a firm understanding of feminism, sexual justice, and the notion that there is no justification for the subjugation or exploitation of anyone, it’s discouraging to hear what is passing as a project aimed at today’s youth in West Virginia.

Labelled Project Future Two-a-Days, the ‘social media and drug education’ programme launched in August is aimed at high school athletes and guiding them on ‘avoiding trouble on the internet‘. Basically, it teaches young athletes how not to tweet, text or post to social media any evidence which might incriminate them or lead to criminal charges against them.

That is, things happen when you add drugs, alcohol, smartphones and raging hormones. Don’t share it via social media and here’s how you can avoid getting caught.

Maybe, in all this training, we can insert a little bit of guidance on not sexually assaulting young girls? Maybe a little something about ‘consensual sex’ and its meaning? And, hey, whilst we’re at it, maybe we could talk about safer sex? Since the programme mentions drug education, maybe we can also add a little about responsible drinking and drugs behaviour as well?

But, no, the idea is to not get caught — not to not do it in the first place. That it is designed for young male athletes is rather shocking.

News this week has showcased yet another town’s lovely treatment of a pair of young girls who were raped (at a star football player’s home and by him and his friends), one girl being left for dead on her lawn in freezing temps. Despite both physical and digital evidence, despite eye witness accounts from the younger girl and several of the other boys there, and despite what appears to be confessions from the two boys who assaulted the girls, the charges were mysteriously dropped. Instead, the two girls — one 13 and another 14 — were blamed for what happened to them and much of the town stands firmly behind the boys who perpetrated rape whilst publicly shaming the girls.

‘They asked for it’. ‘They deserved it’. ‘Matt 1: Daisy 0’ read one viscious t-shirt — Matt being the star football player, Daisy being the girl left for dead. That t-shirt was worn by another girl.

How many times will this happen? How many times has it happened and gone unreported?

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network provides a depressing answer to that last question: out of every 100 rapes, 54 go unreported. Only three out of every 100 rapists will spend a single day in jail for the crime(s) they commit. Three. I think we can agree that that is appalling.

From RAINN (http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates). Sources:  1.  Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010; 2. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010; 3. National Center for Policy Analysis, Crime and Punishment in America, 1999; 4. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006; 5. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006.

From RAINN (http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates).
Sources:
1. Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010; 2. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010; 3. National Center for Policy Analysis, Crime and Punishment in America, 1999; 4. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006; 5. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006.

There is no justice figures like these. Whilst these are figures for all rapes regardless of age, given the reluctance of most kids to talk about sex let alone sexual violence and drugs and alcohol with their parents, it’s easy to imagine that most instances of rape in adolescents go unreported to anyone. But, by all means, let’s start programmes which teach young men how to get away with sexually assaulting young girls.

Gloria Steinem may have been speaking on a seemingly unrelated issue when she recently said that we need to ‘change the culture‘. But, that seems precisely what we need to do. Rather than teaching boys and young men how not to get caught and to not post videos or pictures of their friends raping young girls, we have the tools and responsibility to teach them how to respect young girls and how NOT to rape young girls. We should spend a little energy and time imparting upon them that girls and women are not simply sexual objects — young girls are equally important and valuable — intellectually, socially and culturally. Let’s provide young people with healthy notions of relationships of all types.

And, while we’re at it, let’s teach young girls (and young boys) that have been sexually assaulted that they won’t be blamed for the heinous acts perpetrated against them. They will not be shamed by their community simply because the popular, well-connected individual is the guilty party. It is not their fault when a violent crime is committed against them.

The only way we can change the culture of rape and the culture of objectification is to call it what it is and hold those accountable for turning a blind eye. And, we commit further crimes when we blame those against whom such crimes have been perpetrated.

Thirty years on from that mortifying breakfast and I am realising nothing has really changed. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t.