Last year, our younger child left home. He left to play Jr. A Hockey in the Maritimes and then for a team in Northern Ontario. Wanting to make the most of his last two years of Junior Hockey eligibility, he was not content to be on the top local team as the sixth or seventh defenseman. While he loved being on this team and he loved the coach and the organization, he wanted to play and at this level, the top teams sit and trade players right up to the deadline in December, because they want to win. At this level of competitive hockey, coaches of the top teams need to win. They need it because it secures their job for another season, opens them up to higher level hockey coaching jobs and since many of them have families to support with all the bells and whistles that come with having a family, job security is key. After surviving the bullshit of Minor Hockey, my son understands and appreciates the business of this more serious level of hockey.
Understanding the business of hockey is very important as a Junior player because you learn your value quickly and you learn how to train and market yourself to get to where you need to be, so, that in the end, all the dedication and sacrifice can get you what you want. Often that want is a scholarship to a university where you can further your education, get to a team in Europe, or for some players getting both and if amidst all the high level competition, you somehow make it to The Show, then that’s just fantastic gravy.
With all his friends either working or going off to school somewhere, my son, restless with his lot in life, went to his coach at the end of training camp and clearly, respectfully and maturely articulated that while he understood Coach had to do what he had to do to win, he also had to do what he had to do, to fulfil his goals and asked to be traded.
A week after his meeting with his coach, my son experienced what it meant to “Ask and and you shall receive,” and he came to me on the back deck looking a little green in the face. He nervously told me he was offered a trade to the east coast and asked me what I thought he should do. I smiled at my just-turned-19-year-old and told him that I couldn’t tell him what to do. I already lived my youth. I explored, traveled and made decisions on the fly and navigated my way from my teens to adulthood pretty much on my own and that it was his turn to do the same. He told me it would be a 20 hour drive away from home and I responded that it was therefore a 9 hour journey by air, ferry and car adn that we would be able to get to him if we needed to. He said he would not make it home until Christmas if the schedule allowed and I reminded him that he was the one fretting about not going away to university or working like many of his friends from highschool and that to play here as a 6th defenseman while living at home would not be as fulfilling as starting his own unique adventure.
“Won’t you miss me?” he asked, indignantly.
“I will not,” I replied, “I won’t miss you because I will be happy for you that you are chasing your dreams and goals. I won’t miss you because I am proud of the way you have made the leap from high school into adulthood in your own way. I will be celebrating the way you decided to throw caution to the wind and jumped in feet first at the opportunity to do something new and I am confident you will swim and not sink. Like your brother, you know how to cook, you know how to do laundry and take care of yourself. You can respectfully voice your opinion. You are not careless, rash or unsafe, you are good with money and you live in the era of advanced technology and we are a facetime and a text away whenever you need us. Son, if that doesn’t scream you’re ready, I don’t know what does. Whatever you decide, your father and I will support,” I said and because my personality is what it is, I also told him we were anxiously awaiting the opportunity to walk about our home for hours in the nude if we wanted to and that the longer he stayed, the longer we were going to be deprived of such freedom. He groaned, made a face and left upon hearing that sentence. Isn’t it funny how young people only see themselves worthy of being sexual and see their parents as asexual, platonic friends? Four hours later, after he literally slept on it, (he became a napper in his teens)he came back out onto the deck for dinner and told us he accepted the trade and was leaving for the east coast on September 2nd. He was beaming and and didn’t seem as nervous as he’d been just hours before, about the prospect of going far away from home. I could tell he was proud to have a new venture and I could see he was excited and ready. It was time to get the hell out of Dodge. We knew it and now he did too.
My children are not typical by any means. After our first son was diagnosed with autism, we knew our family life was going to look very different from everyone else’s and when we accepted that, we were able to raise our boys to embrace being different and to be capable of taking care of themselves. Growing up in a small community makes being different very difficult but if you are able to show your children the value and the greatness to be celebrated in being authentically themselves, they will be confident, successful, accepting and inclusive human beings. As parents, we do not believe in the cookie cutter rite of passage where a child leaves high school and goes straight to university or college. We believe that teaching a child how to be independent and self sufficient is far more important. We believe that learning how to be a part of the workforce should come before pursuing higher education. We believe that a person should explore everything and find out what intrigues them so that they can discover their passion. We also believe that higher education is not for everyone and that everyone has a lifetime to learn, grow and change. We also believe that young people should embrace all the ways one can achieve higher education, if desired, and that some people do well with the bricks and mortar aspect of College and University while others, like my son, do better on line, one course at a time. So, in just 9 days, Logan packed up what he needed, had a farewell party, and even though he pissed me off when he missed spending a promised 30 minutes with me on what to expect when going through the airport since 911, he got himself to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in one piece. I have to say, even though he went for one last hurrah and blew off my tutorial on the airport, his father and I thoroughly enjoyed sipping our coffees while watching him blunder his way from the oversized baggage check counter then through security. In true baptism by fire, he did everything wrong and felt the wrath of the grumpy airport security staff. He took so long checking in, he didn’t have a chance to grab a bite to eat before the flight and ended up with only a small complimentary bag of 4 pretzels and 3 mini cookies during his two and a half hour flight. Hunger for an athletic teen is the worst form of torture. He was in the air at 9 am and by 9:19 we were at Ikea buying the things that needed replacing after raising two little boys in our home over the last 14 years.
Don’t for one minute think we do not love and adore our boys. We do. We have done our jobs as parents. We were there raising them every day, step by step. We were there for all of it, the broken bones, the cuts, the stitches the bruises, the bullying, the anxiety, the arguements, the fighting, the yelling and the screaming. We were there for the confidence boosting, the rage, the crying, the doubt, the stress, the fun times, the crazy times, the zany times, the heartbreaking times, the first day of a new school at least 4 times each and the first wins, the first losses, the first loves and first heartaches. We loved them through it all and we taught them well and they absorbed our teachings and applied what they learned to their lives. They were equipped physically and mentally to go off on their own and most of all, they have grown into respectful young men of honour. We were proud to see them leave home and are excited and curious to see the rest of their stories unfold.
Albeit autistic, Adam, lives on his own with support, has 2 jobs and is pursuing his passion for art and outdoor adventure. Logan is playing Jr. A hockey, taking on line courses and pursuing a scholarship to a university to study Kinesiology with a desire to one day perhaps play professionally in Europe and my husband and I? Well, we are slowly renovating our home to our liking and planning our travel itineraries for the next few years. It’s our time again. Time for our new adventures and for re-discovering each other. Raising our family was not always easy. At times it was financially tricky and at times emotionally draining but we did it together, as a family, always appreciating what we had, and always working hard to get what we wanted. Sometimes we failed and while many may not consider what we we have achieved as the ideal picture of success, we consider ourselves massively successful. The nest is officially empty with a few drop-ins here and there and we can love them not as our little boys but as our adult children as they appreciate us not as Mom and Dad but as adult parents. It is indeed a very cool time of our lives.
Every Winter Olympic Games there is scandal in figure skating and it usually involves Russians and doping or bribing and cheating. The country’s name and flag have been banned from the Olympics since 2018 as a punishment from the World Anti-Doping Agency. It was a group of athletes from Russia, not involved in the doping scheme who appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to be allowed to compete as neutral competitors. Competing as the Olympic Athletes from Russia they have adopted the acromym ROC — Russian Olympic Committee when competing. But somehow, Russia fails to understand what being penalized truly means. They continue to sabotage their athletes but doping them without them even knowing it and the younger and more naive the athlete, the easier it is for them to be duped.
It is hardly likely 15 year old skating phenom, Kamila Valieva chose to consume a banned substance used for angina patients. The drug in question, Trimetazidine, can potentially help athletes perform at a higher heart rate for a longer period of time. This means on Olympic sized hockey arena ice, which is bigger than NHL ice, a trick laden routine can sap your energy. But if your heart rate is up and you can still keep going without feeling tired, well, you just might win an Olympic medal, preferably a gold.
But results and information about cheating always has a way of leaking out during the most important competition for an athlete. As it stands, the figure skating world has a catty, diva-ish aura and a shady side when it comes to judges and scoring. You could be perfect in every way and come 4th while a favourite athlete from a certain country could fall on their ass multiple times and win gold. Skating tetters between the world of performance art and sport. In my opinion, it is closer to ballet than it is to sport with the music, the costumes and the makeup. Of course, like ballet and gymnastics (another question mark in the Olympics with it’s own share of abuse and judging scandals), figure skating requires a great deal of strength and athleticism. What is disgustingly and unfair is that this so-called sport requires the dedication, determination and sacrifice of any other sport but it seems to be the one in which adults are able to abuse and manipulate young athletes, especially young girls.
The story of Kamila Valieva is a tragedy. Four years ago she was an 11-year old girl who loved to skate and was damn good at it. Now she is a broken 15-year old who was embarassed and confused and splashed across the media and the internet for something that was done to her, most likely without her understanding or knowing that she was being doped. The Olympics are an athlete’s dream and Kamila’s own country truned her dream into a nightmare. Still, they young skater, went onto the ice and performed her two routines as best as she could given the pressure, scrutiny she was under and the comments she might have heard from other athletes and coaches. She fell numerous times but she tried her best. She even told the lie they told her to tell whe she said she most likely sipped water that belonged to her grandfather who uffers from heart disease. Yeah, that’s right, that’s how she got an angina medication in her system along with some other stuff too… Drugs incidentally, that have been previously found in bobsledders and cross country skiers that caused the ban placed on Russia from the games.
The cover was blown when the silver medal Russian skater, Alexandra Trusova, who was supposed to be part of a teenage Russian podium sweep, broke down and angrily expressed her hatred of the sport, and her hatred of her coach whom she told off just before the medal ceremony.
“You know everything that was going on!” she shouted at her in Russian. “I did four quads and I came second. Everybody has a gold medal except me. I am never going on the ice again. I hate it! I hate this sport!”
Since Valieva bombed her routine and didn’t make it onto the podium, the winners were able to have their medal ceremony, which is everything to an athlete at the Olympic Games. Two of Russia’s teens placed first and second and Japan took the bronze. I will not be surprised if we see Valieva skate again but I would completely understand if she didn’t. We know silver medalist Alexandra Trusova isn’t interested in representing her country again. Perhaps Russia should just be banned from the Olympics once and for all. Perhaps, figure skating should not be a sport but a performance fans and spectators pay to attend like a play, ballet or symphony. It is no good at being a sport because it is laden with scandal and cheating and for what? Ruining the greatest feeling an athlete can have after devoting their life to their passion and representing their country with pride. I don’t think representing ROC is easy. I don’t think it is worth the pain or the shame this young is feeling and will feel for years to come. Maybe figure skating could be a part of the opening and closing ceremonies of the games. Maybe it would be more successful and gentler on skaters if it becomes a stand alone art form. I will gladly pay admission to a figure skating show but I cannot bring myself to watch it as sport when all I see every four years is some little girl or boy of the moment sitting between adult coaches clutching a stuffed animal and weeping over missed jumps and tricks and low scores, due to the pressure of a scandal. Perhaps the only way to fix the problem with competitive figure skating is to get rid of competitive figure skating.
On November 11th 2022, Quebec Premier Francois Legault showed his province and our country he’d had enough. With the omicron virus spreading rapidly throughout the province, he reinstated lockdown protocols and curfews to try and curb the spread of this virus that is heading into a third year of squeezing the world in it’s tight grip. Sure, there were protests and those who broke curfew were fined or thrown in jail, but he held firm and didn’t relax any of the measures he’d put in — and he’d reinstated the tighter restrictions on New Year’s Eve to boot. Having lived in Montreal for five years, I know how much that hurt because Quebeccers know how to party, after all they embody joie de vivre.
Then, Premier Legault had another idea, no doubt arising from the reality that patients in the hospitals’ ICU’s and patients who died of Covid 19, were mostly unvaccinated, often asking for the vaccine moments before being intubated. To save lives, Legault decided that all Quebeccers who wanted to shop at liquor stores, beer stores or marijuana shops must have proof of vaccination. Vaccination rates have quadrupled since the requirement was put in place. Go figure.
And if you think that was a lot for citizens to bear, Legault announced that his government is currently working on a “health-care contribution” (a no-vax tax) that will be placed on all adult Quebec residents who refuse to get vaccinated for non-medical reasons. Not surprisingly, some citizens especially the anti-vaxers are outraged, infringement of human rights etc. but for those who have no problem getting vaccinated, well, let’s be real, they’ve thought about it and spoken about it amongst themselves. Many people in favour of vaccination were outraged when they learned the hospital care cost of Covid 19 to the taxpayer. According to a CBC news report based on data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), a COVID-19 patient needing intensive care in Canada is estimated at more than $50,000, compared with aproximately $8,400 for a patient suffering from a heart attack. The average hospital stay for a COVID-19 patient in Canada is about 15 days which is twice as long as as a patient suffering from pneumonia whose treatment cost is about $8,000. Severely ill COVID-19 patients are admitted to the ICU and are placed on ventilators and one out of every five dies in intensive care. According to CTV News, today in Canada (January12th 2022) 1000 people were hospitalized with Covid 19 while another 124 died . 13 percent of Canadias are unvaccinated and they make up 79 percent of the Covid 19 patients admitted to the ICU. We are losing the battle against this virus and people who work in health care are losing interest in their job and they are burning out and walking out for good. Some pro-vaxers say they are tired of the skeptics and that they are tired of having to undergo the same restrictions as those who have chosen to be unvaccinated. Everyone is pandemic weary. Everyone’s had enough … just like Premier Legault.
Roughly 10 per cent of adult Quebecers are unvaccinated and they represent about half of all patients in intensive care. With over 2,700 total hospitalizations in La Belle Province, with an increase of approximately 180 patients per day and over 200 people in intensive care and 62 deaths the day before the no vax tax announcement, are we really surprised the Legault government came down heavy handed? His bold actions and suggestions have made some other Premiers in the country, stroke their chins while other’s who are more conservative, or unwilling to fall through the cracking political ice beneath them as elections approach, have balked at Legault’s bravado. The Prime Minister, however, didn’t praise Quebec’s latest proposals but he didn’t shoot them down either, because like all of us, he’s mentally through with this pandemic and it’s variants and the toll it has taken on health care, ecomomics, employment, education and mental health.
Whether or not you agree with the Quebec Premier’s ideas, it’s hard not to admire a politician who has the gumption to make bold decisions and try and do something to curb the spread of Covid 19. Leaders are chosen to lead and in our society, we can vote them out later if we’ve disliked what they’ve done. Legault, like all leaders were caught off guard by this pandemic and as the world hemmorhages into a third year of covid misery, he’s trying to get to the end of it and not all citizens are on board. This pandemic has revealed in this era of widespread mis-information, conspiracy theory, skepticism and naivete, leadership has become tremendously challenging. The mis-trust of government, science and media is endangering society at large and during this pandemic it has led to the crippling of health care systems worldwide. And, so, when it comes to Legault’s ideas, and countries like Austria and Greece with fines in place for those unwilling to be vaccinated we ask ourselves, are brash government moves a step too far or are they justified?
My sons are entering what I like to call full adulthood. They are at the stage where they tackle problems on their own and let their father and me know the outcome. This is great to see, because we have all done the work to prepare them to do this and while they are relatively open with us and seek advice occasionally, more and more they’re trying to involve us less and less. It is a natural progression that is both beautiful and slightly unnerving to witness this carving of paths and shaping of lives and as their mother, I have to accept this aspect of their independence. Their father is far better at it than I am.
I check myself before I convey how I feel about them or when I want to give that boost of confidence they might need. The innate desire as their mother is to go back in time when I would hold them in my arms and tell them how special they are and how proud I am of them and end the pep talk with a big hug and a kiss on the cheek — but we’re not there anymore and those moments are what I refer to as fond foundational memories. I know they have dark moments. We all do. If you are alive you have dark days. In a world with so much failing around us, it’s impossible to avoid dark days when you feel like no matter what you have done right, everything is piling onto you. I am from the generation where we were told that we shouldn’t whine,that no load is too heavy to bear, that we had nothing to complain about and to suck it up. Today, we can go to the extreme if we are not careful and we can fail to teach our youth how to cope. Other times we can disable them by jumping in and disarming them of problems by solving it for them, parent-style. We walk a fine line as parents no matter the age of our children and we have to come up with ways to lift them up without patronizing them or disregarding their ideas and opinions.
Last week, one of my sons was working through an issue and we could tell in the initial phone call, he was upset and was making rash decisions and spoke about giving up on something he has been working so hard to achieve. He had done nothing wrong but the circumstance in which he finds himself is unfortunate and out of his control. All he could do is be his best self within the organization in the midst of the disarray and work on ways to get out and transfer to another that would be a better fit. After listening to what he had to say, we gently reminded him that over the years when we opened the door for him to quit, he never did and that he needed to give himself twenty-four hours to cool down and look at it with fresh eyes and not give in to making rash decisions.
The next day we listened to a much calmer young man who reiterated that he was not a quitter and that he was thinking with a clearer head and planned to take things patiently, day by day and continue to do his best until something better came along. We were happy to hear this but not surprised and it was then I recognized I needed to tell him something I hadn’t outrightly ever said to him or his brother in their teen years and this was the perfect time to tell him why I agreed with his plan. I simply said,
“This plan makes sense to me because of how important you are,” I began. “I hope you know that you are important, son,”
His silence indicated he was waiting for my explanation. I told him that beyond his academics, job and his sport; beyond his importance in our family and his circle of friends; he is important to society. I told him I was aware that he knows he is a good human being and I want him to remember that society, our community and any future community in which he finds himself, needs him. The world society needs humans like him. He is important for the survival of our species and our planet because he is a human who wants to do the right thing and knows how to get things done. He is a human filled with compassion and patience and he is a kind, loving and always-willing-to-help human who spreads happiness and joy. And while we are all flawed, he makes us proud parents because he is the best of us plus all the innate goodness he showed up with nineteen years ago.
I imagined what it would feel like to be told how important I was at a young age. If sometone tells me that now, I believe it because I am a parent, a provider,I provide service to clients, I am knowledgeable and I have the means to teach and to help. But when I was young and had nothing tangible to show in order for me to feel important…man, if someone explained why my mere existence and my actions made me important, hmmph, that would have lifted me up beyond the stars. We need to tell people they are important. We need to let them know that we see the role they play in life and why they are vital to our existence.We need to tell them that they don’t need material possessions or titles to be important because they are one unique and special piece of a much greater jigsaw puzzle that is life and we can’t be whole without them. We need to show them how their very presence on the planet is key to the success of many other people and that everything they are a part of would be worse without them. And while everyone is important, our young people are especially so, because they are the ones to take us into the future — a future, I might add, we have severely tarnished — a future they have to fix. We need them. We need them to cope so that they can survive. We can save their lives if we tell them how important they are…tell all of them, not just the ones who appear vulnerable. Tell them all!
You are important. You are needed. You represent change. You represent hope. You are the best of us and we are here to help however and whenever we can because you are important and the world does not work without you.
I want to tell you something that was told to me at times in my life that I didn’t heed until the day I HAD to accept it . SLOW DOWN AND BREATHE. There’s no reason to rush and you can’t control an unpredictable future, so why not take life in stride and see what it presents to you? You will miss so much if you life your life by a plan laden with benchmarks and goals and if you pressure yourself because others have achieved something you haven’t yet. So, if this is you, an over-planning, over-achieving youngster, staring at life through eyes-only-on-the-prize glasses, please stop and read my words and understand that I know what I’m talking about.
When I was growing up, adults loved asking children what they wanted to be when they grew up. Considering it is the business of children to grow at their own pace without agenda, this is the most stupid question an adult could ask a child. How can someone who hasn’t spent much time on a planet filled with so much to discover and experience answer such a question? Some adults forget what being a child is like because they have lost the creativity of their childhood and don’t know what to ask kids. As a result, they come up with a question about something they can relate to — the soul-sucking world of work and highly regarded careers, thereby unconsciously tampering with the natural programming of being human where we learn with our senses, thereby sparking curiousity. Posing questions about the future to a child, infiltrates their mind with pointless benchmarks and a man-made need to have a life-plan bombarded with goals for success without failure.
When I reflect upon my my mother’s younger years, I can see she did the best she could with what she had, living by society’s rules. I remember she would coach me to give impressive answers to the what-I-wanted-to-be-when-I-grew-up questions. I was coached not to speak my truth of wanting to be a creative person but to say I wanted to be a linguist working at the United Nations headquarters, a lawyer or a doctor. When I was young, I wanted to be a nurse who was also a dancer who painted and wrote stories to read to her patients for fun in her spare time. While I was praised for dancing beautifully with incredible expressiveness, lauded for my ability to move people with my writing, or complimented on the impecable first aid I lent to others, I was also told that certain pursuits (mine) allowed only a chosen few to find success and that the rest of us (me) needed to pursue not what we loved but what was sensible(things that were considered lucrative). After a while, I believed that any compliment I received for anything creative I had done was a polite lie. Disenchanted, I started buying one liner greeting cards instead of filling blank ones with my heartfelt words. Writing wouldn’t make me any money, dancing would mean I was an academic failure and since I was the firstborn and had to “set a good example” for my sister, I set aside what the adults in my life saw as “fairy tale”dreams and forced myself to find a profession that would not make me become a disappointment in a world that was “not going to get any easier, you know”. It was so confusing being encouraged to put my mind to doing anything I wanted to do, so long as it was the sensible thing to do. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life at eighteen, nineteen or twenty (I’m hard pressed to believe anyone does) and in my my haste to choose something to study at University, I choose to study for a career in Television and Radio like my father. And even while at the embassy applying for my student visa, my father, whose footsteps I was about to follow, told the man who was processing my application that he thought I was stupid to choose what I had because at sometime I would have to give it up when I had a family. Forgive my late father’s statement. I have. He was a product of his arrogant generation’s oppressive thinking and he also did the best he could with the tools that were available to him. I knew he loved me but I don’t think my father ever recognized when he hurt my feelings or made me feeel small. That’s just how fathers were then I suppose. To this day, to protect themselves (or rather be on the offensive), my family likes to brush off or pretend to forget the things they did wrong (because they are never wrong) and they all wish I would just let things go but I can’t. However, I use these things I can’t let go of not to be bitter towards them, but to be a better person and parent and offer better guidance to my sons and the young people I encounter.
There was only one adult in my life, a university professor, who made a statement about life and careers that stuck with me and perhaps my entire graduating class of 1992. He said, “Do what you love and the money will come later,”. If I could have my youth back, that is exactly what I would do, because success is not about titles or money earned but it is about soaking up what life offers us every day. Living is about experiencing moments, seeing things, meeeting people,trying new things, scary things, tasting new food and finding comfort in the familiar. It’s about helping people, feeling emotions, being selfless and inadvertently finding out who we are and what’s our purpose. Life provides experiences that fuel ideas and innovation and invention while art inspires and uplifts our souls and sometimes, we feel like we are soaring instead of sinking and it feels good, if only for just a moment. Life is short…even if you live to a hundred …life is short; too short to live by a plan or a ridgid schedule. It is okay to not know what you are doing tomorrow or next week, next month or next year. If you live life by a ridgid plan you will have more disappointments than achievements and you will not be happy. Now, let’s not mistake disappointment for failure. Failure is a reset button. Failure is the greatest teacher because you can’t improve or achieve anything great without the mistakes that lead to failure. Failure is the foundation and stepping stones to success. Failure is temporary, really, if you use it as impetus to try again. Disappointment tends to linger and sometimes never goes away.
I have learned that in life, (and to be successful you’ve got to believe this) you have to do what makes you happy and though sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get by, it does not mean you have to put aside or not do the thing that is the essence of who you are — the thing that comes from your soul. You also can’t find happiness if you hold on to regret. I suppose I could say I regret not doing this or that, but I realize I can still do some of those things now. I couldn’t when I was younger but I have the chance to re-visit some of the things I had postponed now. It’s up to me to do them. I have no reason or excuse not to. I had so many plans that were laid on a shakey foundation that consisted of what I was told would make me a successful. It was a plan laid on a foundation I made based on what other people had in mind for me — people in retrospect, who were not more intelligent than I was. It is quite surprising and a little unsettling when you realize you are far more intelligent and intuitive than the people that raised you — after all, they were supposed to know best and yet their guidance was often wrong. I know that nothing they did was malicious but rather were ideas that were formed out of fear because they could see the world changing, becoming harder and that human beings were becoming more ruthless and selfish and to protect us from being ravaged by the world, they felt they had to steer us to choose paths that would make us financially able to survive. After all, money has always made the world go round, but I see loopholes of hope. Having missed the opportunity to pursue my passions in my youth, I see that there are no age limits or rules that say I can’t at fifty four.
When I was in my twenties I had a life plan set on a time frame. By twenty-five I’d be working at this place earning this much. By twenty-seven I would own my first house in such and such a neighbourhood and I would be driving this specific car and be taking vacations in country X and Y. It was a tough, rigid, impossible plan, really. Back then, I didn’t have the extra tools like the internet or a smart phone to help out with these grandiose plans of mine but I was determined to stand out in any way that I could to get it all. And then, life happened and I became just like any other ordinary grunt out there. I wasn’t special, famous or succesful or financially rich. Life happened and I had a baby who would later be diagnosed with a life-long condition that would determine everything we would do, say, think or feel forever. And while I was suspecting something was worryingly different about him, I was pregnant with baby number two who, upon birth would be colicky for six months and susceptible to both bronchiolitis and bronchitis. Quickly, my life-plan was a vague speck of an idea created for some other woman from some other time. My husband and I bought a house much later than our peers, shared a very basic four-door sedan for a very long time and we spent more time worrying about the future of our one child while busting our asses to create a “normal” life for the other.We didn’t have a lot of money back then and when we did have extra life threw us major hiccups like a broken down furnace or kitchen appliance. We seemed to be perpetually climbing out of a very deep hole, shaking off the dirt that landed on our heads as life tried to bury us. Ours was a life set before a backdrop of constant chaos, constant change and movement, perpetual tiredness, brain straining days and nights of thinking outside the box to create the best environment in which to raise these two little boys while everyone our age in our neighbourhood was worrying about which tiles or hardwood they should buy to increase the value of their homes.
By the time I was thirty-six, my husband and I quietly understood that we had been placed in fixed roles. He would work outside the home and do other other lucritive work on the side to pay the bills and put food on the table and I would be at home with the boys, overseeing our special son’s therapy while raising the other and the only job I could do kept me inside the home, babysitting other people’s typically developing children and pretending to like the ones I really didn’t. I learned to re-use and re-purpose things and replenish the basic needs of our family with a budget based on what I called a creative banking system. It goes without saying that life was grinding us down back then and I could absolutely relate to Lee Lawrie’s famous sculpture of the plight of Atlas. I had to make a concerted effort to find joy in each day so that I could face the next. I was often bitter, angry, hurt and just so sad because at the time, I felt that my child was ripped off by his diagnosis and that we were ripped off as a family. It felt like we had to work so hard for the simplest of things; work so hard for peace and happiness.
Dear People between the ages of nineteen and twenty-nine, I can sincerely tell you that ALL my plans went down the drain. I couldn’t remember what they were or why they were important and I had no idea who I was. But, I survived and I truly lived because I got out of bed every day and sometimes went through the mundane motions and sometimes I experienced heaven before my eyes or in the palm of my hand and eventually, when the grief and pain subsided; when I stopped letting myself believe the medical community who kept telling me I had a short window to help my child develop; when I quit frantically rushing around trying to fix my son and fix our lives from something bad that I believed was lurking around the corner…. when I stopped to breathe and take life more slowly, I started to see and I mean really see what was life was all about and just how magnificent it all was. I understood that there was no plan that was going to make me happy. What was making me happy was what I have been doing for the past twenty one years. I had to get to the end of my parenting road to realize my value. I had to become an empty nester before I could say I understood the puropse of my life and now, it’s time to write a new chapter for myself at fifty-four — it’s time to see what other purpose I will fulfill.
I spent too much time doing what I thought I had to do in my twenties and not doing what I loved. Circumstance made me shelve my passions but I was able to take all the mistakes and poor advice that I spoke of earlier and make sure I did better as a parent and a person. I had the wisdom to break the cycle of haste and planning and mapping out a life that surely none of us could predict. In life there are only a few sure things — you are alive, you need food, water and air. You need love, joy and a sense of belonging and purpose and then, one day, you die and your life is over. So, don’t you think we should make the most of the time we have?
I encourage my boys follow their passions. I try to expose them to everything by taking them everwhere and showing them what this world of ours has to offer. I give them love and affection and I give them my ear, always. I think truly listening to a person is one of the most valuable gifts you can give to them. I welcome their ideas and opinions and love when they teach me something new. I have given constructive criticism and I have known when to hold back and let them fail. I have learned to be patient whenever I watch them flounder before they rise again. I have wiped tears and offered words of encouragement more times than I can count. I try to make them confident and strong knowing that some days, they can’t be strong and they just need time to be emotional puddles — but they are my puddles, my boys, two important contributors to the planet that I have had the great fortune and privilege of raising and propping along the way. I was there for every first and every struggle and every heartbreak when life was not fair. I have been there for every achievement and I am proud not just of who they’ve become but of what the four of us have been able to achieve as a family. I might not have become anything I dreamed of but my husband and I continue to take on the twists, turns and sudden drops of this roller coaster life of ours. We look at the short comings of our parents as teaching tools because we know we are able to do something better — we can support our sons as they shoot for the stars and we can encourage them to slow down and be patient and see how life unfolds amidst a world society that still bases success on archaic patterns of generations gone by. We try to do better by our boys because we know what it is like to not get the opportunity to try and pursue our passions.
I might not have gotten the promotions and important corporate positions I thought I wanted. I live in a simple house that is a glorious home. There is enough money in the bank and there are even some well-performing investments and we’ve since upgraded the sedan to two more reliable and comfortable cars. We are at the point in our lives where we are looking to do and see more and possess less. I didn’t become famous for anything earth shattering but my husband and I have been complimented repeatedly for helping nurture two incredible human beings. As we lived through those tough, tough times, we became passionate about helping our sons and other young people embrace their talent, live their truth and follow their passions and it continues to be extremely rewarding. What we feel every day is something money could never buy. I know now that if I was working for some powerful corporation when my son was diagnosed, my family would not have turned out as wonderfuly as it did. I cannot imagine doing all that I did with my sons and working in a demanding environment at the same time. All those moments I devoted to raising them would have been split with and lost on a career and I don’t want to imagine what kind of person I would have become . I don’t have material accolades to show that I am indeed successful. Truth is, I never needed them and I was able to get the necessities of life in the long run. It didn’t matter that the things I needed came when I was twenty-five, thirty-five or forty-five, the point is, we got what we needed and what we don’t may still come, or not but I don’t care because there is no benchmark or deadline. We have our health and we have a bit of wealth but most of all we have love and an openess to receiving and accepting all that is to come or that is to be denied.
Take it from a middle aged woman about to start new things — slow down, be patient, take it all in. Breathe, lie back and stare at the sky, dip your toes in the water, taste all the flavours, listen to all the music notes, take a walk in the rain, feel the sunshine on your face, jump into a pile of leaves, make a snow angel. The planet isn’t what she used to be, there are no starter homes that young people can afford and higher education is more expensive when it should be free. Choose to follow your passion and follow it your way because it is okay to break the mould of stringent path of elementary school to high school to college and university to hopefully high paying job. It won’t work because it can’t work if you haven’t allowed yourself to experience life. If you don’t allow yourself to live, how will you ever know what you want to do in life? Life will deal you several hands, be flexible enough and love yourself enough to be able to play each hand you are dealt. If you just want to be alive, stay on the carousel. Jump onto the roller coaster if you want to truly live.
The Human Duck Face
D. Barsotti & J.A. James
Social media is not the cause of duck face but it certainly has encouraged it and it is one of the reasons I cannot bear to scroll through Facebook and Instagram anymore. The moment the human race was able to take selfies, it was evident the acceptable facial expression, the new image of beauty, was the duck face — head tilted ever so slightly, lips pursed together causing cheeks to suck in, eyes vapidly staring into the lens of the phone’s camera.
And almost everyone did it and for some reason, no one thought it was unnatural or stupid looking. Now, if you are twelve through sixteen….even through eighteen, sure — you’re young, you’re goofy and posting silly, social media faces is really your domain but after thirty, and definitely beyond forty and fifty, it’s just asinine.
“the unfortunate thing is, in their heart of hearts, people know this but they continue to post and expose themselves to the judgement”
But, “friends” click like and heart and comment with all kinds of uplifting and cutesy decorative emojis, saying how someone is “just beautiful” or “simply gorgeous” and then, in minutes, tell or text others what they really think of a person’s duck face and or body. Their true thoughts are usually unkind and often horrific. The unfortunate thing is, in their heart of hearts, people know this but they continue to post and expose themselves to the judgement because society’s approval has become as vital as air, water and nourishment.
Social media encourages those who could afford it, to take duck face to the next level. The level of permanent duck face which evolves into a disaster of unnaturally tight skin around the eyes and mouth, skeletal noses, perma-surprised eyebrows and swollen lips that make what was once a duck’s bill, a fish mouth. Man, if animals could capitalize on human beings’ need to look like them, they would financially dominate the world.
“We are not meant to stay in the incompleteness of being young“
There are some people I know (and some I used to know) who barely resemble their original selves. Skin pulled tautly over bone, I’m never sure if they are smiling, scared or eternally surprised. Social media fuels this need to be impressive, be the most beautiful and the most popular and it has prevented many of us from seeing just how lovely we are, inside and out. Many humans do not recognize how valuable they are. Many of us are more concerned with our outward appearance and have forgotten about the essence of who we are and how much more we can become as we get older. I truly believe one must take care of oneself. Eating good food, exercising, moisturizing and caring for our skin with good clean natural products; caring for our hair, our teeth and nails is vital to being healthy…but caring for our minds and self-esteem is just as important. Being able to cry, be angry and to laugh without feeling like our face will snap is a wonderful and natural thing. We are intended to age, to grow more experienced and wiser. We are not meant to stay in the incompleteness of being young. It’s not natural and let’s call a spade a spade…it’s freaking weird to see an old person with a face that looks like it is ironed onto their skull. Some humans are beginning to look like walking corpses — face all pulled back, filled in and oddly “perfect” while the body is aged. What is the appeal of looking like twenty when your forty old mind has so much more it can offer if it were less occupied with trying to perpetually look young. Many in the fashion industry are embracing all body types, natural attributes and individual quirkiness to reflect reality. The effort is there but it is such an uphill battle to show people that imperfection is actually …perfection! Skin is not supposed to be flawless. Whatever happened to the saying, “every flaw is a fashion?”
Ironically, it was my vain mother who taught me that I was enough and encouraged me to love myself and own all of me — every bump, every chip, every blemish. I know my mother, even at eighty-two has many things about her face and her body that she has never liked but her words of encouragement juxtaposed with the many times I have watched her be self-dissatisfied, enabled me to accept myself. I love and accept my crooked row of bottom teeth, the big cleft on my chin and the, blue-black birthmark on the left side of my face, close to my ear that is the size of my fingerprint. I lived with constant commentary about it looking like a stain, a sideburn, dripping hair dye, or a black olive on my face but I never hated it and never intentionally tried to cover it up — ever — because it was unique to me. I love the freckles under my eyes and across my nose. I love my thick, dark eyebrows people would relentlessly tease me about. I cherish my bouncy and often unruly, greying curls. I adore my skin tone, dark eyes, small boobs and very present ass that was a favourite topic of conversation among some of my aunts. I love my strong thighs and calves that show my athleticism even at fifty-four and I embrace my stretch marked belly that housed my much wanted and adored two, ten-pound-baby-boys I delivered into this world. I have scars from three kidney surgeries that saved my life and a five inch scar on my right elbow that is the conclusion of a snowboarding run gone horribly wrong. Perhaps I am not as attractive as I was in my teens or twenties but I feel and believe that I am exquisitely, interestingly, splendidly, confidently, intelligently, gracefully, sublimely and elegantly fifty four. I mean, I continue to get my husband’s attention from across a crowded room and in our bed. To me, all I am externally is imperfectly beautiful and I am on a perpetual journey to improve my internal flaws. As I grew older, I have made it a point to separate and discard what I deem frivolous, inconsequential and unneeded in my life. It has been my mission to be nicer, kinder, more patient, more tolerant and more accepting of others and it is imperative I remain informed and continue to learn and improve my mind.
The physical signs of aging, much like scars, are the badges of honour we earn living life. It does not matter what people think of us and it matters less when their true thoughts are masked by fake comments about us online. In order for young people to develop self-esteem, self-worth, and an acceptance and joyful anticipation of ageing, older people have to lead the way. Ageing isn’t a bad thing. When you get older and your children leave home, you get back the gift of time. Time to rediscover yourself, try new things, see new places, meet new people, grow things, cook new thigs, play new sports and learn a couple new languages. There is time to read more, create more, make more of a difference to our endangered planet and pass on what we know to those who will inherit and inhabit her when we are gone.
“You are enough”
And while I understand that for some, when artificial, cosmetic enhancement is started, it cannot or is difficult to stop, I urge those of you who have not succumbed to this ritual to try something simple — Look at your face, your hair and your naked body and smile. Really look at this amazing vessel that houses the essence of who you are. You are enough and if you want to strive for more, if what you see looks unhealthy, or not as fit as it could be, heal it and take care of the vessel in a healthy and safe manner. Cherish your body. Feed your soul. Enhance your mind. True friends, and I mean real people, don’t care about what your vessel looks like but rather care what you think, what you have to say and what you do. There is nothing wrong with looking lovely, stylish or wearing something that makes you feel good but you don’t have to go to painful extremes and you don’t need blue thumbs up, smiley faces or hearts. Unpurse your lips, turn off the filter and smile, really smile from within and show the world just how beautiful you are … because you are and truth be told, you always have been.
I am fifty four. I am active, I take care of myself and I do what is interesting to me. I am using the time that has been returned to me, to learn new things and to get back to hobbies I’d put aside. It is really nice to get to this point after years of evolving into a person who cares not what others think, while respecting the fact that everyone is entitled to their opinion and their space on the planet.
I do not have conversations with or read posts made by people who can’t get over that things have changed since they were young. I do not waste breath or time with people who don’t realize that the problems the world faces today has SO much to do with the way things were done in the time of their heyday.
I remember my husband’s grandmother asking us how much we earned, when we started off with our first “real” jobs. When we answered her, she looked at us incredulous and asked, “Where are all the starting professional jobs? You know, the hundred thousand dollar starting salary jobs?” and all we could tell her was, “Your son’s generation took em all! They enjoyed the spoils then implemented cutbacks and downsizing, Grandma,”.
You see, what the older generation forgets, is while things may seem different, not much has changed. We still live in a world where things are convenient and abundant for a certain few. Colour, creed and race still determine who rises to the top and who settles like sediment beneath. We still live in a time of status symbols and where race and gender can determine whether you fail or succeed and the world still operates on having that “in” because of who you know. Society still has dangerous addictions and status associated with certain brands is still a thing, but at least we no longer see ads like these where being successful was only associated with being male.
People had two to three point five children, drove huge polluting automobiles fuelled by oil that often spilled in transit into the oceans and lakes. They put food in a can and filled it with preservatives to get mother out of the kitchen and off her feet so that she could be considered a modern woman. As a woman, I am really glad I was around to see that type of advertising change.
I know progress has to start somewhere. I know that advancement comes with it’s problems but every generation has to take responsibility for the fallout it caused and we must show support and encouragement and assist the generation trying to repair the damages. I am tired of hearing derrogatory comments from older people regarding young people and they way they live their lives, their taste in art and music, their likes and dislikes and the way they access information. I am tired of hearing them complain that X-treme sports are included in the Olympics. I am tired of them disregarding and disrespecting the things in the world today that they cannot use because they don’t understand how to navigate a virtual, digital world. I am tired of hearing about the “good old days” and how much “better” it was “back in my day” and I am tired of the criticism that young people don’t know the value of a hard days work. If they don’t know, it’s because my generation, the children of the grumpy old critics, didn’t teach them because we were so busy trying to not be like our parents, some of us forgot to pass on the valuable stuff that we were taught. If our young people cannot cope, if they feel overwhelmed, if they lack confidence it is most likely because we did not teach them how to develop these abilities. Do not dare call them entitled, if you had a hand in entitling them. Do not call them unmanerly, if you spoiled them and forgot to teach them kindness, humility and gratitude.
The world has never been perfect. The world has always been evolving to make life better. Before you generalize and judge our youth for always being on their phones, remember that the radio and television was your “cellphone or tablet”. Before you criticize their demeanour, remember the generations before took away the well paying jobs giving way to a time when it took two working parents to sustain the basic needs of a family, removing a parent from the home whose best gift to a child is presence and loving guidance. No generation is perfect and every generation has it’s share of complete mis-informed idiots. But take a look around. This is the generation that is calling out abuse of law enforcement and authority. This is the generation who accepts differences in gender, ability, race and culture. This is the generation who is making us mindful of our adjectives …mindful of the way we phrase things. This is the generation that says, “Hey wait a second, I need a break. Things are a bit much right now,”. This is the generation forcing politicians to at least sound mindful when they address of the eclectic society of the world in which we live.
Living beings, especially human beings are adaptable. If we choose to not be left behind, we won’t. I’m not saying to make your way onto every social medium and interract with it exactly as young people do; what I am saying is be openminded and accepting.
Shakespearean English isn’t spoken on the daily anymore. We don’t whip out our stone tablets to chisel a letter to someone; we dont have to pound away on clunky typewriter keys and thankfully, in a pinch, when we need information, confirmation or money instantly, it is possible to receive it instantly. Isn’t that kind of nice? So what if news papers are becoming a thing of the past and fewer and fewer people have a landline and maybe we only know one person with a rotary phone. So what if I don’t need to have a paper dictionary anymore? Yes, jobs have been lost to downsizing and AI, but new jobs are and will be created and we will evolve. I mean, isn’t it fantastic that we don’t have to print, or save information on a floppy disk, writable disc or thumb-drive we can misplace because we can upload our stuff to the cloud? Isn’t it nice that there is so much less stuff to physically collect and figure out where to store? Dealing with waste is an on-going problem on our planet, which by the way is a problem that was created generations ago.
Please understand I do not believe everything in the past is archaic and worthless. We must have a past to have a present and attain a future. We have to learn what to keep and what to archive and if we choose to be left behind, we must not complain about the way things are or criticize the people who function just fine in the state of the world. I am fifty four and my children are grown. I have time now to think about what I want and what kind of senior I would like to become if given the opportunity. I want to continue to support young people in their determination to speak out against inequality, racism, sexism and bullying. I want to continue to applaud their innovations when it comes to sustainablilty and environmentally conscious ways living. I want to help them repair the planet and maybe, when they get tired, feel anxious or overwhelmed , when they feel depressed, maybe I can be there to talk to them, lift them up, and teach them ways to cope without a prescription, because they are human and they inherrited a lot of troublesome baggage from the generation before me. And my generation? Well, I think we spent a lot of time getting angry at it all, but didn’t do enough to clean up the mess. I know I could have done more.
Now, I have an opportunity now to do better by the younger generation. I don’t want be someone who constantly criticizes everything they do. I also know I don’t fit into or understand every aspect of their world, and that’s perfectly fine. We can’t be a part of everything that changes in society, all the the time but we don’t have to cut it down because we are not capable of adapting.
As I always have, I look forward to technology yet to come. I may not be able to immerse myself in all of it, but I am looking forward to being a part of whatever I can. I want to be able to live comfortably in my senior years and have technology be the reason I live without the physical and mental hassle of the silly stuff of daily living. I want to be the senior my children don’t have to be concerned about. I am fortunate enough to have been able to put things in place for when I am unable to care for myself so that I will never be their burden. It is not my children’s duty to take care of their mother while simultaneoulsy caring for their children, their jobs and the problems they will face in their lives. I want my children to want to visit me and not make time to see me out of guilt or loyalty. I am watching my parents’ generation and I am learning what NOT to do. I want my senior future to be all it can be. I want to live life with the same openmindedness I posess now. I want to see what these young people are going to do next because I am in awe of them, I believe in them and I love them. I am fifty four and I hope to be blessed with as many healthy, happy years on the planet as I have had in adulthood. I am not perfect. Things were not better back in my day and most of all, by learning and accepting my place in society, I am still able to be excited about the future. I know my place and accept that I do what I want to do, whenever I want to do it. I accept that my way of doing things may work for me but not for my twenty-something-year-old sons. I accept that my role is one of quiet observation, thought and decision making. I accept that it is possible to have a quiet role and still be impactful by throwing my support behind those charged with finding the solutions and make the changes that will save our species and planet. I accept that I do not have all the answers and I accept that things “back in my day” have become and will continue to be, my memories to share, but not begrudgingly compare to the things that “kids these days” do.
I am fifty four and I am choosing to NOT be a fussy, frustrated, frumpy, furrowed, conspiracy theorist, fosil. If longevity means becoming some paranoid, old-way-is-the-only-way, crazy,conspiracy theorist, then I’d rather die sooner, thanks very much. I remember my friends mother telling her grandmother once “Oh, gosh, granny, stop griping about everything people younger than you do! Be nice, let people like you!” Those last six words? ….Ones to live by!
A couple weeks ago, plans with my sister changed due to weather and we decided on a rain check. Looking at the overcast sky and the drizzle sprinkling the back deck, I was about to settle for a day indoors when I realized, it was perfectly still. No wind rustled the leaves of the trees. The air was thick and humid, the smell of the rain soaking into the earth, ripe. Feeling the discontemtment with the possibility of an indoor day, I gave into my urge to be outside and on the water. After all, I was on day two and a half of the eighty two hours I had to myself and I wanted to use this time to unleash myself from my usual routine. There was to be no cooking or cleaning up during this time and knowing that this unusually hot weather (no matter how strange) in Canada should not be taken for granted, I didn’t want to spend all my time at home. The confirmation that I had to get out and do something came from my reflection in the mirror while brushing my teeth. I was checking out the mop of curls atop my head (no hair appointments during covid), and looking at the transformation my hair has been undergoing. In my case, dark strands are turning red and over time, red to yellow before settling into a permanent state of white. Unlike my face, my hair isn’t deceiving when it comes to my age and nothing says get out and utilize your time like graying hair. I got in line with a parade of SUV’s at Starbucks and treated myself to a fancy coffee; went back home, changed and threw my paddle board gear and my stuff (wallet, phone, water bottle, comb, towel and a cotton slip-on dress) in the car and headed for the beach. Listening to lyrics being belted out by Amy Lee and other thought inspiring music streaming via Bluetooth, I was really inside my head, watching the road, of course, but thoughts a million miles away. When I have downtime from work and my family I spend a lot of time thinking deeply about my life, the world and my place in it. Like everything else over the years, in moments like these I recognize how much the deep thinking has changed. I remember times of solitude whether I was driving or just sitting on the deck, my thoughts would would classify more as worry or concern …concern over my autistic child’s future, concern for my other child, my husband, my parents, my marriage, my ever changing ways of making a living…it was all based on concern and problem solving. Now, at 54, I’m in the roller coaster carriage going up the last couple not-so-steep inclines of the ride of life and my deep thoughts bring a smile to my face and peace to my soul. This is the we’ve-made-it-through-the-toughest-times incline and it is the one where we get to experience and truly appreciate the things that make us feel love, happiness and gratitude and although everything that goes up must come down and I know there will be loss and sadness to bear, the ride will plateau and eventually come to an end. If it ends with me feeling the way I feel now, then I would have succeeded in truly living.
As I drove through the county’s winding road to my destination, I appreciated the gift this region was to me and my family. I have never warmed to the town we settled in after having lived in some of Canada’s most fabulous cities. I have never understood or accepted the cliquish and rather frivolous nature of the people who were born and bred here but I’ve learned to live my life in this small place while keeping the small minded at arm’s length. The county is home to some of the best vineyards in the country and best stretches of beach front, cosy coves, inlets of Lake Ontario. Being from the Caribbean, the Provincial Parks in my area draw me to their shallow clear waters and white sands. It feeds my passion to play in the water and hear the shushing of waves as I’d done in mychildhood, albeit without that briny taste of the ocean so dear to me. This piece of perfect real estate is one of the reasons I am able to continue living here.
In spite of the grey skies and spotty showers, the colours of the vegetation along the way were vibrant and lush and I could see that there was no turbulance on the water in spite of the rain. The water was flat and almost motionless like a sheet of glass and the beaches were not crowded but they weren’t deserted either. It seemed, like me, people were intent on having their day at the beach in spite of the weather. Some people took shelter from the rain grilling their food under pop up tents or canopies while others were enjoying being in the warm water, being baptised by the rain.
I inflated my board and paddled out into serenity, my oar slicing through the water, the sound of tiny ripples overiding the ambiance of music, people chatting and kids playing. It didn’t matter that the drizzle had turned into a shower. It was peaceful and where I needed to be. Not having much experience as a paddle boarder, the initial tense legs and overly engaged core were now relaxed and I was looking ahead at the scenery and not at the water. I thought about the last seventeen months of this global pandemic and what it had done to the world. I thought of all the suffering and death it caused and while I recognize and acknowledge our privilege and good luck, I thought of what it did to my sons. I thought of how their goals screeched to a halt, shattering everything they were planning to do post high school. My sons are on the brink of independent adulthood and 2020 was supposed to be the year that bore the fruits of their labour. But, instead, like everyone,they had to wait and wait and wait some more. They had to find ways to stay motivated and positive and the toll it took on both their mental well-being was overwhelming, especially for my autistic son. And then came change. Some much needed relief in the form of vaccines. Now fully vaccinated, we can do a bit more. We can gather with a select few and we can be outdoors and we can get a taste of the daily life we took for greanted. Two strokes to the left, two to the right I’d covered a decent distance from my spot on the beach. “We did it,” I thought and a smile came to my face. We made it through the toughest sixteen months of our lifetime; especially my sons, especially Adam. We followed the protocol, we kept our distance from everyone outside our family and we found a way to make the lockdowns worthwhile. Those were the good days. I taught the boys how to cook, their father showed them their way around power tools and home renos, they studied, they trained and we all stayed healthy. And then there were the difficult days, especially for Adam. After all those the days when his inability to communicate what was bothering him resulted in destruction and pain, just like the rest of us, he made it through. One stroke on the right, one on the left, I kept paddling and I felt my shoulders drop and the tightness disappear and in that instant I realized that we’re all okay and everything with everyone I love was as it should be.
The pandemic is not over and it will be a while before we have a handle on Covid 19. There is a lot going on in the world along with Covid 19 and it’s repercussions. The climate has changed and the west of our country is burning, while tornados touch down in South West Ontario and Northern Ontario is on fire too. Greece is burning. Germany is flooding. California is burning again and it is easy to think that our planet is just going to turn to ash one day, but in that moment, as I paddled, I was able to unleash it all and let it go. And I felt it leave me too. You see, I might not be able to change the world, but I can do my part; I can do my best to not add to the problems that plague our world. There is still a lot of good and a lot of beauty to behold and therefore, there is hope in spite of all our problems.
One stroke to the right, one to the left, over and over and over until I felt like I was floating on a cloud rather than on water. I thought of the love of my life and our love that has deepened over the years and how much more I love him each and every day in ways I never knew existed. Paddle left. Paddle right. Love, like life,has evolved. Love is easy, always available and is uncomplicated at my age. Marriage, like me on my board, floats, bobbing over ripples easily. Marriage, is friendship, comfort and well…its home, welcoming me with open arms everytime and it’s where I want to be. Children are grown and starting their adult lives and we are starting a new chapter together that still includes and cares about our boys, but is mainly focused on us and the time we will spend together until one of us leaves this life.
Like a loud noise, or a flash of lightening, a jet ski’s motor and heavy wake disrupted my peaceful thoughts. My board bobbed and wobbled on the waves and I lost my balance and plunged into the water as did two screaming little girls from a paddle board about 80 metres away. Beginners all, the sudden waves made it difficult to pull ourselves back onto our boards. The more I tried, the more my legs bobbed and kicked the more tangled my leash became in the tall weeds. A strong swimmer, even with a life jacket, I grew tired. I stopped. I took a breath. What was the plan? Looking into the water, I could barely see my foot. Reaching down I tried to remove the velcro ankle cuff. What a bitch that was! Who knew weeds were that thick and strong? Third time was the charm. With my foot free, I tried to mount the board again, but when I pushed my weight onto it, the tail of the board would sink because the leash tethered it so strongly onto the weeds. I was tired. I was done with this shit. I reached up and unhooked the leash from the board and glided towards the shore. I glanced over at the kids whose father had come into the water to detangle their leash from the weeds and bring them to shore. They left their leash behind too but they were safe. I hoisted myself onto the board and lay face up. A big breath released the tiredness and frustration of dealing with the weeds. I was unleashed. I was free. So, I lost a thirty dollar leash. Whatever. It was holding me back. Binding me to disgusting, prickly, slimy, octopus- arm-like weeds. Weighing me down. I remember my cousin Nicole would say, “just free it, Danie. Free it” and I did and everything was so much better.
How one comes to live on Nowhere Island.
When I look at my face, I see the plight of the indigenous Carib tribe, who, along with the Arawak, struggled to survive five centuries of European conquest and ravage. When I look at my face, I see Africans violently plucked from their home, brought to toil on the stolen land in heat the white man couldn’t bear. When I look at my face, I see my maternal grandfather and his brothers — teenagers, sailing from China to the Caribbean islands to escape communism, with no money and little knowledge of English. When I look at my face, I see my paternal, Italian great grandfather, living and dying by his work — his family crafting and building the churches and courthouses still standing in the Caribbean today. When I look at my face, I see his cousins who left the Azores for the plantations, as post-abolition labourers. When I look at my face, I see hard working people coming together to create a new life and home for themselves, sacrificing everything for their families and the generations that followed.
When I look at my face, I remember stories of how my grandparents met and how their love transcended social and racial boundaries of their time. When I look at my face, I am reminded of the greed of the powerful white man, who had no problem crossing those social and racial lines he created, taking what he wanted at the expense of an innocent baby, born much fairer than her sisters and sent away to hide the shame of what he had done. When I look at my face, I see the baby, now a young woman, brought back to the island to work. I see the scar on her forehead, the tell-tale symbol of occasional beatings by the black man betrayed — her fair skin, hair, and eyes a constant reminder of what that white man had stolen from him.
It is the judgement and discrimination from all races that cast mixed folks like me onto Nowhere Island, where one is of every race yet accepted by none.
When I look at my face, I see my history. I see the love, joy, struggle, pain, sadness, loss, and sacrifice it took to create this lineage. When I look at my face, I reflect on what set the tone for my adult life as a mixed-race Caribbean woman living in North America and I am reminded why we can’t live as one world, one people. You see, when I look at my face, I acknowledge the racism I have experienced from various ethnic groups living in North America. The racism I have faced from White people has been hurtful, especially when they feign ignorance, but when you are mixed like me, the pain is deeper and more disappointing coming from other ethnicities because you don’t expect or understand a racist sting from another minority. It is the judgement and discrimination from all races that cast mixed folks like me onto Nowhere Island, where one is of every race yet accepted by none.
When I look at my face, I remember my first day of University in upstate New York, waiting on the bus to campus when someone asked, “What are you anyway?” and when I responded with “I’m human…you?” it didn’t embarrass as intended, but encouraged more insensitive questions. “No, I mean, like…are you White or Black or Latina?” Nothing like the need for clarification to make the situation worse. “Yes, and more,” was my terse reply because I saw no reason to choose to be something I am not and so it was concluded by both black and white students that “she a Oreo”.
… in North America, it is apparent that you must be one race or another, so that it is easier for people to know what box to put you in.
Look at my face. Is it my responsibility to explain to anyone why I look the way I do? In the Caribbean we learn about the world in geography, history and social studies classes, yet many North Americans are comparatively ethnocentric when it comes to understanding who and what comprises the world in which they live. And while I am fine with inquisitiveness, I am better with polite curiosity about where I am from and what it was like to live there. Look at my face. Is it my responsibility to teach geography or anthropology to random strangers intrigued or off-put by my different appearance? Why is it my responsibility to define myself to anyone? I was not raised to be one race or another but to embrace all the culture, cuisine and traditions that were passed down to me by the many ethnicities that created the essence of who I am. But in North America, it is apparent that you must be one race or another, so that it is easier for people to know what box to put you in. Well, the box I check on the census form is OTHER because it’s the only option that applies to me. They might as well call it NOWHERE or NOTHING because that’s how that box on the form makes you feel in society. Look at my face. Can you understand it isn’t my responsibility to make anything easier for anyone, since I am the immigrant, trying to embrace a new culture and adapt to a new way of life? And for anyone thinking that I should have gone back to where I came from, know I would have if I could.
When I look at my face, I remember how refreshing it was to make friends with others who looked like me and had similar experiences. It was equally refreshing to find a few North Americans worldly or sensible enough to know the Caribbean was not in Africa or India.
They knew, as in every country, people in the Caribbean do not spend the day aimlessly walking about in beachwear and flip flops. When I look at my face, I remember the frustration and boredom of sitting through unfortunate instances when some vapid, underexposed soul would be flabbergasted by my Oh-my-God- neat-accent and would try to get me to say words like boat, classes and answer to hear how oh-my-God-totally-wicked I sounded. I look at my face, and I remember how little I thought of every White and Black North American who thought I was entertained by their absolutely shit impersonation of my NOT Jamaican accent by the way, when they said, “Yeah Mon, Bob Marley! De ganja irie!” To some North Americans, every Caribbean island is Jamaica and in their shallow minds, the only thing the Caribbean gave to the world is reggae and weed. Some people (in many cases white people) can be quite trite, and they refuse to try and understand how their “innocent” comments come off as insulting.
I know that some of the teasing and bullying my children have endured in school and in sports occurred when I showed up at their events and they waved and called me Mom, tainting their presumed whiteness.
When I look at my face, I remember how saddened I would become when the racism hurled at me came from minority ethnic groups. I replay the insults like movie scenes in my head because those were the times I was made to feel tainted. I remember the two Latino guys in a Miami club who decided it was okay to call me coño when they realized by my schoolgirl Spanish, that I wasn’t one of them. I remember my first Black American friends ending our friendship when I didn’t want to pledge a Black sorority even when I told them I wasn’t interested in pledging any sorority! I look at my face and I remember the Asian woman at my teller’s counter growing furious, when, at her request, I explained my jade jewellery was my connection to my maternal grandfather. I remember her calling me hak gwai under her breath and her consequent embarrassment when I told her what she’d said, gave me the right to not serve her at my counter since to her, I was too dark-skinned to don articles of my Chinese heritage. I look at my face and shake my head at some North Amerian East Indians I have met who aren’t too comfortable that I know as much as I do about their festivals, culture and cuisine, saying that East Indian culture in the Caribbean is not as rich or pure as true East Indian culture. I beg to differ. When I look at my face, I chuckle when North American Italians vehemently deny that my surname is mine and not my husband’s because I don’t look like them. I look at my face and I see that I am my father’s daughter. His name is my name, and it is the name I will take to my grave because I am proud of my Italian ancestors’ Caribbean architecture.
I look at my face and I know that some of the teasing and bullying my children have endured in school and in sports occurred when I showed up at their events and they waved and called me Mom, tainting their presumed whiteness. I look at my face and I am saddened that even in a time when we stand up and fight for our human right to matter, I have women of colour judgementally commenting, “she upgrade” when I pass by with my husband and children. Upgrade from what? From whom? Is that how little some women of colour regard men of colour? Regard themselves? You can’t help who you love. I have no restrictions when it comes to the package love comes in and as far as I’m concerned, a sexy, attractive man comes in every colour. I never saw myself as someone who would marry but I married a man who loves me and our sons and treats us with dignity and respect. He is ever present; always supportive. We see no colour when we look at each other in our family — only love and I will never apologize for loving my man who embraces my culture and everything that makes me, me.
I look at my face and I shake my head when I think of my most recent encounter with the hate of racial discrimination. I discovered a group of Caribbean parents of children with autism who were on a news program to attract members. They wanted people who spoke the dialect and who applied the tools of our upbringing and culture to enhance our autistic children. I reached out on social media and in one day I was accepted and rejected by the group. It seemed that one member trolled me on social media, saw the profile photo of our family and decided we were not Black enough. I regard myself as having a nationality rather than an ethnicity and when I saw them on television, I didn’t see them as Black but as fellow West Indians who had that Caribbean twang, just like me. The Caribbean is comprised of numerous ethnicities. My roots are there, and I know everything about my culture, and like them, I too raised our son differently from other North American families affected by autism. For ten years, I ran a charity for autistic persons in his name, that continues to financially help many families affected by the condition and no one is turned away. With twenty-one years of raising my son under my belt, I could have been an asset to the group, and would have also benefitted from their experiences.
In rejecting someone for their appearance, we miss out on the good they can bring to our lives.
I look at my face and that of my son’s and I am angry to have been treated in such a manner. I was particularly enraged when the organizer of the group insinuated that even with his very curly hair and light brown skin, my autistic twenty-one-year-old was paler than the other autistic persons in their group, and that I should try and join a South East Asian group or start my own.
Tell me, how does a woman with a face like mine start a group for only mixed-race families affected by autism? Would I be able to tell someone in not so many words they were not able to join because they were too light or too dark? I would be ripped to shreds and shamed for doing what they had done to me. I look at my face and I realize that so many who stand up against racial profiling, have no problem profiling a mixed person like me. In rejecting someone for their appearance, we miss out on the good they can bring to our lives.
When I look at my face, I remember leaving the US somewhat bruised by the prejudice I had experienced, wondering what to expect as I drifted on a sea of isolation further north to Nowhere Island. Back in 1988, Canadians in the major cities were more exposed to people of different ethnic backgrounds and while I felt more comfortable living there, I was acutely aware that racism ran deep under a cloak of Canadian politeness. I look at my face and remember how tough it was to be cast onto Nowhere Island. I look at my face and I know how uncomfortable and lonely it is to not really belong. Over the years, I made friends and acquaintances and I was outgoing when I wanted to be, but I never compromised who I was and so I never really fit in to North American society. Visiting my home over the thirty-four years of living abroad, I found myself on Nowhere Island there too. Things had changed drastically in many ways while the things that needed to change, stayed the same or had gotten worse. Never loving the idea of living abroad and not able to leave for numerous reasons, I learned how to find my groove on Nowhere Island. When I look at my face and reflect on the whole-lot-of-life I have lived between my twenties and now, I am grateful I stayed true to myself. When I look at my face, I know and love who I am. I am a mixed-race Caribbean woman, living in North America, raising North American children to have an awareness of the world while loving and embracing who they are. My husband and I have raised them to be kind, generous, respectful, non-judgemental, and loving human beings because they are our gifts to the world albeit one which still does not readily accept them.
When I look at my face, and I think of my disposition at this age, I realize that I might not be able to change the world, but I don’t have to subscribe to its bullshit double standards and hypocrisy. I am comfortable with myself and I have the courage to counteract racism, sexism and injustice with strength and dignity. I choose to surround myself with a handful of people who share my values. I don’t need popularity. I don’t need to fit in or be cool because I already am all of that for myself. I adhere to the priciples of a dear, admired friend in my homeland. She demands to be treated with the respect and dignity she readily gives to others and she will not form an opinion of anyone based on the colour of their skin. This is her living truth and she is the example I look to when injustice and racism blinds me with anger.
I look at my face and today I happily see it reflected more often in media. The media has blindly and rudely starved society of diverse representation for too long. I like that people are demanding to be seen, heard, respected, and not judged. I am happy that people are not going away quietly, because neither am I. We all must stand up for our rights and dignity, yet while I applaud anti-racist movements, I see that our society is one with irony abound. We are racist but we still want bits and pieces of the very people we hate– non-White people dyeing their hair blond, White people plumping their lips with collagen, or baking in the sun and at tanning salons to get brown. Curly haired people straightening their hair and straight-haired people curling theirs… Is anyone truly satisfied with themselves? While one can argue that we all have a right to express ourselves, a part of me sees people of all races trying to change the things they dislike about themselves because somewhere along the lineage, someone pointed out that aspects of their physical features were not good enough.
In his excellent article, The White People in the Comments, (pub. in Level, Medium) Steve QJ says “Misguided anti-racism already makes genuine anti-racism look ridiculous”. He says that “the enemy of anti-racism is racism”. Think about that for a minute. If you are fighting for your rights, is it wise to assume that eveyrace but yours is against you? Should you cast off a person’s support because of the colour of their skin? Revisit the history of the Underground Railroad. Enslaved people trying to escape to freedom did not refuse the help of the abolitionists, some of whom were White. We must be mindful that messages we deliver of anti-racism must not be fuelled by the racism that might be burried deep in our souls. Steve QJ makes this point when he refers to the present-day absurdity of the uproar of the press and social media with regards to the translation of Amanda Gorman’s poem The Hill We Climb. Ms. Gorman chose International Booker Prize winner, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld for the translation into Dutch, however when some Netizens and reporters felt that Rijneveld was not “unapologetically Black and female” like Gorman, they felt it would be better to withdraw from the project than be embroiled in an unnecessarily difficult situation. I look at my face and I recognize that though we may raise our fist in protest, equality will never be achieved if we fail to take a moment to look around at the different faces surrounding us, supporting the quest for solidarity. Racism will not end if we hold grudges. Racism will not end if we cannot forgive. It will not end if we judge or hate. We must forgive those who hurt us so we can heal and when we are healed, we can cure others by our example. To end racism, we need to shed the racism within ourselves.
I look at my face and at fifty-four, I am still living on Nowhere Island, descended from many races, belonging to none and watching humanity react to itself and I realize I only have control over my own actions. I have always been in the OTHER box and even as society claims to change, I always will be. And I while I still don’t belong anywhere, I fit perfectly into my mold, living my truth in my beautiful, brown skin with my crazy combination hair. In his piece, Steve QJ asks, “What does a world without this ridiculous prejudice look like?” I don’t have the answer, but I would like to think it looks like my face, your face, and every face. He wonders “how do we get there as quickly and painlessly as possible?” and again, I am not sure we can, but maybe we can start by helping and getting to know each other. Maybe we can stop ridiculing and judging each other and making ignorant assumptions about a person who doesn’t look like us. Maybe we can start by mindfully choosing our words so as not to be insulting. Maybe we can get there by freeing ourselves of the racism within us and raise the next generation of humans with the positive qualities so vital for humanity. Maybe we can end this ridiculous prejudice by utilizing the power of love to eradicate the weakness and fear that is hate. We must accept we can agree with someone who doesn’t look or sound like us and should we disagree, we must not assume it’s because of race. Humans do not like change, and we are a species that tends toward making things more complex than they need to be, so I am not quite sure we can live in a world free of prejudice.
A world without racism starts with simple acts of love, kindness and acceptance and as Steve QJ so brilliantly and simply states, “If we are ever going to live in a world where we stop judging each other by the colour of our skin, WE’RE GOING TO HAVE TO STOP JUDGING EACH OTHER BY THE COLOUR OF OUR SKIN”. The solution to worldwide racism is a simple one. Racism is learned. Being racist is a choice and I believe if each of us chooses to eradicate racist thoughts, actions and vocabulary from our lives, dare I say, it can end.