those of you who live in Canada probably have heard, unless you are currently hibernating under rocks that shelter you from all media input. those of you who don’t live in our fair former dominion may not be surprised by the news even if it is news to you, since we’re all kinda hippies up here in the socialized medicine Great White North, after all. or something like that. except Alberta.

Canada’s 2006 census results came out yesterday, and the nation – or at least its media – is abuzz. it’s just not sure over what, precisely. shall there be celebrations? wailing and gnashing of teeth? general Canadian awkward politeness and obsequious expressions of tolerance? probably all of the above, from strange bedfellows.

in Canada, the married folk over the age of 15 are, as of this year, for the first time outnumbered by single folk over the age of 15. and the “nuclear family is in dramatic decline,” according to the same stats…with married couples with children being the only family grouping to experience a drop in numbers during the five years since the last census. the Cleaver model is apparently on the wane, at least as compared to same-sex family groupings, commonlaw family groupings, DINKs, and lone-parent families.

i preen for a moment, feeling terribly avant-garde. thinking me & Dave oughtta get married so as to maintain our cool, our separation from the herd, since all these unmarrieds are clearly just tryin’ to copy us. ;)

in seriousness, though, i don’t know what to make of all this…of what marriage means today, of what the shift signifies, of what’s really happening behind all these demographic slices and categorizations. are we realizing Trudeau’s vision of a just society, that vague rhetorical vision of diversity and equality in pluralism, or morphing into Sodom and Gomorrah? tea leaves can be made to tell almost any story you want them to. and if you squint your eyes up right and peer into the future of the Canadian family, these stats can probably speak to and support every single pluralistic instinct you or i possess, and every single reactionary prejudice that exists within us, too.

i giggled a bit when i realized that i, tied by sweat and bond and love and hope and word to my partner and to our family, count as single by the statistical definition. fair enough, by the strictest interpretation of the term…but surely there’s a problem somewhere with that definition, with the binary of choices it implies? i giggled again, more nervously, when i realized that much as i’d be pleased if our particular version of family were common enough that O would not be stigmatized by the indifference Dave & i have towards formal marriage, the preponderance of common-law families and lone-parent families doesn’t necessarily reflect a society of Bon & Daves. it reflects a whole mishmash of people, at multiple waystations on that path of commitment and responsibility that Dave & i (and the official “married” party line) consider our family to represent. others, of course, are on their own, different paths, entirely.

and there’s the rub. because i didn’t giggle at all when i acknowledged that i wince with what can perhaps best be described as class distaste each time i discover that a cousin or a half-sibling, much younger than me, with no completed education and a minimum-wage job, is pregnant (as seems to be happening a lot lately and giving my old-school, elderly “where did i go wrong?” grandfather heart palpitations.)

having grown up an immediate family composed of my mother, my grandmother, and i, i’m inclined towards a non-traditional definition of family. yet despite the relative glass house of my own upbringing and chosen cohabitational arrangement, i cringe a little at all these whispered announcements within my own personal extended family. because even if we all fit into the “new configuration of families” rising in numbers on the StatsCan charts, and even if we’re all blood, their choices make me uncomfortable, faintly patronizing, and worried. and maybe…if i’m honest…just a little envious. because for all i cannot imagine having made the last three years of my life – dramatic and traumatic as they’ve been – work when i was 20, or with any of the treat-of-the-month guys i knew when i was 20…it would have been nice to have found the sense of purpose motherhood’s brought with it earlier in life.

the only real arbiter of whether a family “works” is time, and these young relatives of mine may rise to their occasions and create happy, productive lives for themselves and for their children. i hope they do. but it’s hard to accept that not everyone who shares my census box doesn’t actually want to copy me, doesn’t see my version of subversion (too much education, underpaid work, proud and stringent fiscal independence, and the choice of partner – and my children’s father – as the most important choice in life) as the be-all and end-all of how to live. who wouldn’t want to be sparklingly original like me, i think?

and then i laugh at myself, and wonder if Canada doesn’t do the census every five years just so we citizens can have a Rorshach test in which to view our reflections. it appears, married or not, that i’m as traditional and conservative as June Cleaver and buttered rolls. and my own little version of the nuclear family, whether StatsCan is quite ready to recognize us as such or not.