Sunday, June 30, 2013

Year One Done

It was the first week of September, and I remember getting off of the bus and walking down Portage Avenue.  I was early.   I needed to leave time to find my class - I couldn't be late on the first day.  As I stood at the lights to cross Portage and saw the brick and stone of U of W in front of me I wondered what it would be like.  

I was about to start my Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.  It was a long time coming.  A move across the country and two years had delayed my start, but now my time had come.  I was full of nervous energy.  I remember looking around at the students milling about the campus.  They all looked so young.  I couldn't have looked that young when I did my undergrad, I thought.  Everyone seemed to know where they were going.  They were walking with friends or classmates and were laughing and smiling while they chatted with each other.  

I was alone.

I was OK with being alone.  I had a lot to think about.  I had a lot invested.  Money, time, dreams, hopes, my family.... I didn't take any of that lightly.  I felt like Mike and our girls were going across Portage Avenue with me.  Mike, because he was making it possible for me to pursue a dream.  Our girls, because they were about to begin to make sacrifices too.   I knew a bit of the cost ahead.  

I took a deep breath and pulled open the big wooden doors of Bryce Hall.   It was quiet and empty in the entrance to the building.  It had the old familiar smell of the hallowed halls of academia and age.   I've always loved that smell.  I wanted to look assured, confident, aware, and most importantly - like I belonged.    I couldn't let my nervous energy give me away.

As I rounded the corner to head up the stairs I was confronted with unexpected beauty that brought me peace.   

I kept walking up the stairwell heading to my classroom on the second floor.  I turned at the top and met a hallway of doors of old wood and a polished floor.  Posters and notices for academic events and lectures met me on the bulletin boards.  They were talking to me.  They were for me and not someone else.  I was a student now.  I was terrified as I walked the steps down the hallway, following the voices to the door on the left.

There it was.  213 Bryce Hall.  Survey of Family Therapy Theories.  I had found my place.

I found a spot towards the center of the "U" shaped configuration of tables.  I recognized a woman from the Graduate Studies Orientation the day before.  There were women taking up the spaces around the room with a lone male.  There were women older than me and some younger.  There was grey hair and rich chocolate brown skin.  Eyes that looked down and those that darted nervously from person to person hoping to make a connection.  I just wanted class to start so that I could say that I had begun.

Last week I took that same walk, only it was my last class of the year and of my degree instead of my first.  The people that sat around me weren't just strangers sharing my space, but were now my friends.  I knew more about most of them than many of my friends know about me.  This program is interesting. There is no time or space for pretense.  Authenticity is expected.  Vulnerability a requirement.  Disclosure an assumption.  You have to give.  But you also have to receive the fragile and honest offerings that your classmates generously and tentatively hold out to you.

As I walked up those steps last week, I wasn't nervous.  I was grateful.  Grateful for a husband who not once, ever said, "you wanted this", or "I wish this program wasn't messing things up" as we spent yet another conversation figuring out how we'd get a kid from point A to point B because I had class and wouldn't be available.  Grateful for three girls who made concessions and sacrifices without complaining while learning to be on their own a lot more while I was at class, working on a paper, or trudging through research journals looking for the perfect fit for the assignment I was preparing for.

There was chatter in that room last week.   Some of it was mine.  I was surrounded by faces I knew.  I was throwing around terms and words that were foreign to me 10 months earlier.   I knew things I didn't used to know.  I knew faces and voices I didn't used to recognize.  There was history and laughter and shared experience around that circle as we finished up our course work and looked to the way ahead.

I'm not new anymore.  I am part of.  I'm still scared.  I'm often tired.  There's been pressure.  I've stared at this laptop screen feeling unsure of where to go and what to say as I've written papers and assignments, sometimes asking if it's worth it.  But I know things I didn't used to, and I know myself in ways I could have never recognized.   There are layers to me that you can't take away.  There are friends in my corner who weren't there before.    Fringe benefits to a graduate degree.     Unexpected richness received in room 213.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Soul Food

Nourishment for the soul.
(That's what I'd call it.)
A safe place to rest awhile.
Their kitchen table and old friends.
Their kids, my kids, and food passed around.

My old friend - he makes my girl laugh like no one else does.
Inappropriate words tumble out - the ones he says best -
Just to get a laugh.
And laugh she does -
Until tears stream down her cheeks and she just. can't. stop.
Food for her soul.
(That's what I'd call it.)

"You're so beautiful"
My old friend says to my middle one.
"You're so smart too and that's important.
But you are beautiful."
And as she hears the words, her eyes shine as the corners of her lips turn up.
She sees me, she thinks.
Affirmation for the soul.
(That's what I'd call it.)

They laugh and run and ride some bikes.
Telling secrets and making plans.
"Truest friends", they say.
8 and 9 and full of life.
Making mischief with a water hose.
Dirty feet with smiles so wide.
Freedom for the soul.
(That's what I'd call it.)

I've loved him forever.
Little boy who is growing strong.
Finished grade 5 now.
Facing fears while passions grow.
He's too old for hugs.
Especially hugs for friends who are old.
Friends like me.
But tonight as my arms wrap around him,
And his around mine -
Even as he makes a face,
He squeezes me back as I squeeze him.
I stroke his cheek.
Nourishment for all of me.
(That's what I'd call it.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bragging Rights

To post or not to post... that is the question.

Or at least it was for me last night.

I had tucked Ellie and Sasha into bed and was looking over the pictures I had taken of Hannah and her special friend Emily earlier in the evening.    We had spent the evening at the grade 7-11 Awards night at Hannah's school.  Earlier in the week we had received a call saying that Hannah was receiving an award so we should plan to be in attendance.  I don't know a parent who doesn't like getting a phone call like that from school.  Off we went to the auditorium and waited until the academic awards were handed out.  Hannah got 5 awards for top mark in specific subjects, was on the honor roll with great distinction, and tied with her friend Emily for the highest overall average in grade 7.

It was all kinds of amazing.

But that's not really what this post is about.

While looking at the pictures of Emily, Hannah and their homeroom teacher, I was filled with overwhelming pride, gratitude and amazement.  Pride that MY kid had achieved such amazing success through an amazing amount of hard work and dedication, gratitude for the fantastic and kind teachers she has had this year, and amazement for the fact that Hannah and Emily had the exact same overall average and were able to share the award.

I had emailed a few close friends and family to tell them Hannah's news but still felt like I wasn't finished revelling in my moment.  I looked at the pictures again and thought I might share one on facebook.  My immediate thought was, "you can't do that - it's bragging".  This is usually the thought I have when I think of sharing successes my girls have.  I rarely talk about marks, accomplishments or honors my girls receive.  I'm not quite sure where that comes from.  Part of it might be from the Mennonite tradition of not "tooting your own horn" or trying to make yourself look good.

Whenever the inner tension of sharing something that could be perceived as "bragging" comes up, I am always reminded of something my mom told me when I was a young adult:  "I wished I had bragged more.  You and your brother did so many great things, but I never talked about it or shared it because I didn't want it to look like it was bragging.  Now that you're older, I wish I could go back and brag."  More often than not, even after those lines my mom spoke are replayed in my head, I still choose not to share.  This time I felt different.

I thought of how this was Hannah's first year back at her old school.  I thought of all of the readjustment she had to make with friends, teachers, and routines.  I remembered how small her school was in Burnaby, and how the expectations and demands on students were far far less than they are at our school in Winnipeg.  I remembered thinking about how worried I was that Hannah was going to struggle and find the academic load difficult when we moved back.  I thought of the way she managed her own homework and test schedule without guidance or help from me... the way she worked on assignments late into the night and finished math homework early in the morning, especially on nights she'd been babysitting.  I thought of the creative and inventive way she approached her writing and assignments.  I thought of the amazing ways she'd grown and matured and took ownership of her academic career, and how amazed I was at it all.  Then I thought of the amazing way that things work out and Hannah found herself up on stage with Emily - both enjoying the award for the highest average together.  

After that jumble of thoughts my first reaction was to say, "Damn straight she's smart and she worked hard. I want to celebrate her and this is how I'm going to do it".  Up went the picture onto facebook with a short and simple sentence about the beauty of getting to share the award with her best friend.  As I hit "post" I felt the tension rising in me again.  Don't brag.  Don't show-off.  Don't draw attention to yourself.  I had to physically stop myself from taking down the picture.  I needed to leave it up.

I read some things today that made me question my decision.  Thoughts and comments from people who are tired of moms who brag about their kids.  I shared this with some of my classmates after my class tonight.  One of my friends, Kristine, reminded me of how when someone says something, they sometimes put a negative emotion out in front of me and offer it up to me to take and receive.  It's my choice as to whether I want to receive the emotion and make it part of me or not.  In this case, I had let it rob my joy.  I had let it take away my delight in sharing something worth celebrating.

Tonight, as I write this just before heading to bed, I'm going to look at that picture and post and own every ounce of bragging it might contain.  Some things are just worth bragging about.   This is one of them.   I'm just warming up.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Random Round-up (The Home Stretch Edition)

I didn't used to like the smell of lilacs but now I do.

In our yard, we have a Little Leaf Lilac that was grafted together with a tree to make a short little tree with a beautiful round top of lilacs.  We planted that tree for Ellie the summer after she was born.

Sadly, the Chokecherry tree with planted for Hannah the first summer we lived in this house has been hit with a nasty case of Black Knot disease.  It's ugly.  Hopefully we can save it.

Poor Sasha doesn't have a tree.  The third kid always gets shafted.  Hopefully we'll rectify this by the end of the summer.  Yes, she will be seeking therapy.

You have no idea how tired I am of making school lunches.

You have no idea of how tired my kids probably are of eating their school lunches.

Monday's are "weird lunch" days around these parts.  It's the day I go grocery shopping, so they get whatever is considered edible.  It doesn't have to make sense - it just has to be able to be consumed.

I can't believe how much I love Havarti cheese.

One thing I missed when we lived in BC was my Rhubarb plant.  I've got the most amazing pink and red Rhubarb.  I think that it tastes better than green.  I know there's no difference, but to me there is.  My favorite dessert in the entire world is probably the one with the shortbread crust, the rhubarb custard layer and then meringue on top.  I can't stop eating it once I start.  Rhubarb Crisp and ice-cream also makes me very happy.

This house is kind of small for all 5 of us.  We didn't think we'd still be here by this point in the game.  But then we fell in love with our neighbors and the neighborhood.  I know we could use more space, but the other day I had the thought that bigger spaces just acquire more "stuff".  This house is small and has very little storage.  You can't keep stuff that you aren't going to use.

I love that my girls are old enough to let me sleep in during summer holidays.  I'm giddy in anticipation!

I'm one week away from being finished the first year of my Master's program!

I'm seriously looking for a new job for the fall.  Let me know if you have one for me!

I am, by nature, a very lazy person.

I just finished reading the most amazing book Does Jesus Really Love Me: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America  by Jeff Chu.  I can't say enough good about it.  You should read it.

Why do I hate emptying a clean dishwasher so much?

Pistachio gelato is my favorite.

We are going to BC in August.  I can't wait.  I am so excited to hug people, laugh and cry with some of my dearest friends, and dip my toes into the ocean again.  I am afraid that leaving again will be painful.

Nearly every morning I crawl into Sasha's bed and snuggle with her under her quilt to make the day not come quite as fast.

Sleeping is my favorite leisure activity.

How can you not like crunchy peanut butter?

Hannah has really amazing friends that make her feel good about herself.  How could you ever put a price on something like that?

I have a deep and abiding love for the Roasted Garlic and Chili Aioli from Costco.

Mike is still really obsessed with Rush.

After years of people telling her to read Harry Potter, Hannah relented and is now obsessed.  Completely obsessed.  She read book 5 in 2 days and is now devouring book 6.   After getting her braces on last week and being tormented by pain and agony she remarked that she had no idea how she'd get through that ordeal without Harry.   Nothing makes me happier than seeing my kids fully and passionately engaged in a story.

"You were right" are some pretty sweet words coming from your 13 year old's mouth.

Libraries are the greatest offering to tax payers on the planet.

I love new school supplies!  I abhor the old school supplies and piles of papers and things that come home from school at the end of June.

I get to go to the Taylor Swift concert with Hannah on Saturday.

I'm trying to answer the phone more often.

I hope I will write on this blog more often now that I'm not writing for school for two months.

Some friends and I are already planning our 40th Birthday trip even though it's more than a year away.

I really don't want Boston to win the Stanley Cup.

One of my favorite things to do is to wash my girls feet when they are really dirty at the end of a long day of playing outside and running around barefoot.   I run a bit of water into the tub and they sit on the edge.  After they've soaked I squeeze the soap onto their foot and massage it around, loving the look of the dirty bubbles.  After a rinse, I dry them off in a warm fluffy towel and marvel at the transformation.

I also like to clip my girls nails and clean their ears.  I know, I've got issues.

I suppose I just love the old becoming new.

Monday, June 3, 2013

I'm Sorry - Pride 2013

Yesterday afternoon I took part in my first Pride Parade.  

The lead-up to it has been years in the making.   
Though I have never had homophobic thoughts, feelings, or attitudes -
I am part of something bigger that has.

The church universal has a long and sordid history of shaming, hurting, rejecting, limiting, judging, and in some cases, even hating, members of the LGBTQ community.  Though much of this has taken place in conversations and sermons, letters and Bible Studies, some of it has been done with words printed on signs.  Words of hatred and venom.  (Fred Phelps, anyone?)

This was the second year that a group of Winnipeger's decided to physically make the presence of the church known at a Pride event.  Not to say, "you're wrong", or "if you'd change....", or something even stronger and much more hurtful.  The point was to say, "We're Sorry".  We're sorry for the way the church has hurt you.  We're sorry for the way Christians have used the Bible as a weapon against you.  We're sorry for putting conditions on you.  We're sorry for standing in judgement of you and making you feel afraid, shameful, or "less than".   On behalf of the church... we're sorry.

Parades are celebrations.  And so this motley group of Winnipeger's met up on Saturday night at our friends Jamie and Kim Arpin-Ricci's and the hub of Little Flower's Community and shared a meal together.  We ate, we played, we talked, and we got our craft on and made some signs.  Everyone who wanted to be was included.  Even our girls.  And though they personally have nothing to be sorry for, they understand how words can hurt, debilitate and immobilize you.  

We met up at the Legislative grounds on a beautiful sunny afternoon, and got ready to take our place as the parade passed us by.  

It really was a celebration.

As soon as the parade began, I was significantly impacted by what I saw and experienced.

Near the beginning, there were two middle-aged women walking hand in hand.  One had her head on her partner's shoulder and was openly sobbing as she passed us by.

There were huge crowds of people walking together.  A mish-mash of members of the LGBTQ community, allies, family members and friends.

There were older people and teenagers.  Lots of teenagers.  Amazingly, there were plenty of GSA's represented which made me so proud.  Despite all of the controversy, fear, anger, and disapproval, they were strong and brave enough to walk tall in the parade.

There was creativity.

There were high-fives and smiles.
Lots of waves and "thank you's".
Free hugs were also in abundance.

Parade-walkers snapped pictures.  I hope to think they wanted a memory of the words - the apology, and the spirit from which  they came.

There were babies and dogs and toddlers.   I was thrilled to see lots of school-age kids.
Imagine the different world our kids are going to be growing up in!

There were friends that I could call out from the crowd and share hugs with.

I had lots of emotional moments during the parade.  One stands out for me the most...
Two young women holding hands walked toward me and smiled.  One, through tears said, "can I have a hug?".  I wrapped my arms around her and she said, "Oh my god.  You have no idea how much this means to me."  I told Mike and when I got back to my post and we shared a tear and then continued to wave our flags and hold up our signs.

There is so much to say "I'm sorry" for.

The atmosphere really was one of celebration.  Celebrating who you are.  Celebrating the relationships that fill you with love.  Celebrating a community that has endured.  Only 21 years ago at the first Pride parade in Winnipeg, paper bags were passed out before the event so that anyone who wanted to remain hidden could do so.  20,000 smiling walkers in the parade tell me we've come a long way.

But we still have a long way to go.

On our "I'm Sorry" facebook page today, someone who walked by as part of the parade left this as part of a message:

"After years of being out of the closet and working in both education and advocacy to make the world a better place for all LGBTTQ and allied folks, the impact of the importance of movements like yours hit in a way that I never expected. 

I somehow felt a touch of the weight of all that we as humans do to each other that is hurtful - and the importance of doing something positive about it, regardless of who we are and where we stand on any issue.

The power of an apology is amazing and even though I don't think I have met any of you personally, your presence and willingness to apologize for a history that you have inherited was truly appreciated."

I was humbled and impacted and made better by sharing in the celebration yesterday.
I was so thankful to have my family with me.
Our girls are growing up appreciating, celebrating and honoring diversity.

Hopefully by the time they are adults, their generation will have far less to be sorry for.