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Our Children

20 May

Over the past few years, we’ve watched open-mouthed as young black men have been gunned down in the United States.  

One was an unarmed father of five, selling cigarettes.  One was trying to walk home from the store.  One was a 12 year old boy in a park. There are so many others.  It was heartbreaking to hear about again and again.  Canada, as a country, grieved with the parents.  

We grieved from afar but also patted ourselves on the back because that kind of awfulness just doesn’t happen in Canada.  

After all, our gun laws are stricter.  

After all, we’re just so darn nice here.  

After all, we embrace multiculturalism and diversity.

We say sorry if we bump into each other; we tell each other to have a nice day, eh!

But truthfully, we are no better.  Not really.  We proudly proclaim Canada as the epitome of human rights, while ignoring the very people who were here first.  

2017 marks Canada’s 150th birthday.  150 years as an official country.  To many that’s a major cause for celebration.  For others it’s a stark reminder of broken promises, residential schools, missing and murdered indigenous women, reserves with never ending boil-water advisories, and dead children.

The children.  Oh my heart just breaks thinking about what their parents and family members have gone through.  Are going through. 

The past decade in Thunder Bay has seen nine teens pulled from the same river.

These are their names: 

JETHRO ANDERSON

CURRAN STRANG

PAUL PANACHEESE

ROBYN HARPER

REGGIE BUSHIE

KYLE MORRISOW 

JORDAN WABASSE 

TAMMY KEEASH

JOSIAH BEGG

These names are important.  

These young people need to be remembered.

Nine young indigenous teens, ranging from 14 years to 18 years old.  All of them were in Thunder Bay for schooling (or appointments) and far from home.  They were away from their families.  They ended up in the river.

Why?  Why did these young people end up in the river?  Were they pushed?  Were they drinking?  Were they alone?  Did someone push them?  Was it accidental?  Suicide?  Murder?

I have no answers and no solutions.

What I can do, however, starts at home.  I have three white (perhaps) heterosexual sons.  

At this point in their lives, they barely understand the concepts of racism and bigotry.  We talk about it in age-appropriate ways and they have a basic understanding that some people are treated badly because of their skin colour or where they were born, what they believe, etc.  They think it’s unfair. 

Like any parent, I worry about my children.  One thing I don’t often think about though, is whether or not my sons will be shot by police officers.  Or whether or not they’ll end up in a river.  

I mean, it could happen, but it’s statistically improbable.  I just don’t spend time worrying that my sons will get shot by police officers or attacked because of their skin colour.  Nobody is going to call my sons derogatory names becsuse of their skin colour.

This is my privilege.  

I recognize it; I own it.

I don’t know what the future holds.  But today I’m telling my almost nine year old about the young boy who was pulled from the river, like the many before him.  

I’m talking to him about safety and personal responsibility.  Soon I’ll tell him that if he’s in a scary situation, he can ALWAYS call me or his dad or his Gramma. 

I don’t know what happened to Josiah and the others, but I do think about the what-ifs.  Was he alone? Was he with a friend?  Did he have a cell phone?  Was he unable to call anyone for help?  Did he call and nobody came?  Was he scared?  Did he know he was about to die?  Was he even aware of what was happening?  

That poor child.  His poor mother.  

It’s so easy to look at this situation and dismiss it outright because it happened to someone else.  But that someone else is still a person.  He’s a son and brother.  He had hopes and dreams.  He had friends.  

Josiah was Sunshine Winter’s child but really, he was our child.  A child of Canada, of Turtle Island.  All these children are our children.  This country is hurting and has been for centuries.  

We can’t change the past, but we can work towards a better future.

The children are the future, we can’t let them down.

Let’s do this.

***

Resources if you’re interested in an overview of the current situation:

Fifth Estate Segment discussing police activity in response to the deaths of these teens.

Article about the most recent deaths causing concern about police practices. 

An article about the inquest launched into the deaths over the last ten years.

Moments

17 Sep

It’s been three months.

The early mornings, as we are all sitting in the living room, it sometimes hits.

These quiet moments before the hectic grind of every day life begins. 

We’re drinking coffee and listening to the big boys talk nonsense about minecraft.  The baby is being ridiculously cute.  We smile at each other, a shared understanding.  We know that we have the cutest kids in the world.

In those quiet early morning moments, I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that he wants to leave.  

How could he leave the family he helped create?  How could he stand to miss any of this?  These are moments you can never get back.  

When that realization hits me, I just stare at our beautiful boys with hot tears running down my face, hoping they won’t notice.

I’m ok.  

I’m more than ok.  

Some moments are just harder than others.

End of an Era

24 Jun

I seemed to have jumped the gun a little bit by posting that beautiful anniversary post last week.  I’ve since taken it down.

The morning after our lovely anniversary date, we went to Pride as a family: 


Later that day, after the kids had gone to Gramma’s house, the marriage was over.

I was devastated and hurt more than I ever thought possible.

By Monday I was angry, more angry than I’ve ever been.

But a couple days later I woke up feeling calm and peaceful and even happy.  I have no idea what’s going to happen next week, next month, or next year, but I’m excited.

I can sleep well at night knowing that I was ready and willing to give it my all; I had no intention of ever giving up and I was committed for life.  But I can’t be in a marriage by myself.  

I also refuse to be bitter and regretful and angry.  My children are my top priority and Jason and I will work together to ensure they are loved and all their needs are met.  

Even though I probably won’t ever understand why Jason didn’t want to keep trying, I know he is a wonderful and committed father.  I’ve never doubted his love for those kids and I trust him completely to be there for them and care for them.

I’m sure I’ll write more about this topic in the future.  For now, it’s onward and forward.

Sixty Six

2 May

My dad is sixty six years old today.  

At this age, I like to think many people are winding down their careers and getting ready to have some well deserved rest and some fun retirement adventures!

I think my dad is spending his birthday the way he spends every other day: on the couch watching tv or playing computer solitaire.  Or maybe he is drinking quietly in the basement. 

I believe my dad is in his declining years right now.  He’s actually been steadily declining into depression and addiction since before I was born, but he looks like a walking corpse now and he’s fragile and physically weak.

A few months ago, my dad had a major medical emergency and quit drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.  Completely cold turkey.  For two months.  He’s back to drinking and smoking in secret.  Except he doesn’t really have the mental capacity to hide things anymore.

His last bout of sobriety was nine years ago during a previous health crisis.  That one last eleven days.  The next medical emergency will likely be the last.  

Throughout my entire childhood, my brother and I prayed for my dad to get sober.  

When my children were born, I begged him to go into treatment.  I told him he failed as a father but it wasn’t too late to succeed as a grandfather (I know, harsh).  

I mourned for him years ago and I’m done feeling sad that I never got the father/daughter relationship I so desperately craved.  I was done feeling sad about that a lot time ago and I know that none of his problems have anything to do with me. 

Now I’m just sad for his wasted life and for the grandfather/grandson relationships that could have been and never will be.

My dad had a terrible childhood and definitely suffers from one or more mental illnesses.  He is not book smart at all.  But he used to be funny and witty.  He used to be physically strong.  He used to be an incredibly gifted carpenter and handy man.  

What a waste.  I have my doubts that he’ll even make it through the year.  

January Blahs

16 Jan

I heard, back in my university days, that the reason reading week is in February was because it is the bleakest and most stressful time in the life of a student.  They are all bogged down and hopeless and the highest number of university student suicides occurred in February.  Of course, I have no citations to back that up, but it did make sense to me.  I wasn’t usually bogged down in February though, it was moreso Mr. March that kicked my butt every year.

Now that university is long behind me, I find January to be the toughest month.  Or at least it’s been pretty tough this year.  

Not tough as in we are leaning on the brink of homelessness and despair, but tough as in mental and emotional exhaustion.

It seems like the harder my husband works in December (so he can enjoy Christmas with his family), the less effect his hard work will have counted come January.  It’s a new month and a new year, he was theoretically just recharged by having a few extra days off, but the stress is worse than ever.  The bleak outlook is compounded by the fact that he barely makes a living wage, his approximate 100 hour work-week, and nobody seems to appreciate or notice his hard work.  

Sure, he’s doing what he “loves” but at what cost to his health and personal relationships? It’s hard to see anything positive about the situation in the dreary days of January.

I’ve also been sick since before Christmas and I’m still sick now.  The doctor says it’s no longer contagious but I’ve been left with a hacking cough and aching ribs from the relentless hacking.  It’s difficult to heal a cracked rib when the coughing won’t stop. And every time I try to read a story to the kids or talk on the phone or go outside in the colder air, I’m besieged with new fits of coughing.  I know people have it much worse but I am getting a little weary of mind and body; a little discouraged.

And I can’t deny that the Eating Dirt house was kind of shaken by the recent string of celebrity deaths.  

First it was Lemmy of Motörhead, right after Christmas.  That was sad for Jason more so than me, though I do enjoy a fair bit of the Motörhead musical catalogue.  

It was quite upsetting for us both when we woke up January 10th to the news of David Bowie’s passing.  I know some people think it’s ridiculous to mourn a celebrity, but his music was a big part of mine and Jason’s life.  We are allowed to feel sadness.  

Then, a few days later, cancer claimed another of our favourites: Alan Rickman.  I can’t pretend that I didn’t love him because he played Snape in the Harry Potter movies, but he was so much more than that.  We loved him in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Sweeny Todd; we loved him in Dogma, Die Hard, Galaxy Quest, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sense and Sensibility, and many more. He was known to be a genuinely lovely person and he and his wife had a lengthy and lasting love story.   

   
It’s also the anniversary of Jason’s mother’s and grandmother’s deaths; emotions of sadness and regret surrounding those events are kind of permeating the household.  This year those feelings have leached into a new situation with one of my own family members.  

Jason has a weird relief/regret sense of loss about his mom.  Relief that she is longer suffering from addiction, depression, and no longer inflicting her illnesses on the people who loved her.  And regret that he couldn’t help her or make her get help.  

I’m dealing with something similar, though my family member hasn’t died.  

I have an aunt who has suffered many abuses and hardships in her life.  She is a now a bitter and lonely person dealing with paranoia, depression, anxiety, among many other things.  She can be the sweetest person and she has always been very generous in the past.  But that generosity comes with strings attached.  

I’ve suffered her emotional manipulation and extortion for 30+ years now and I’ve always just dealt with it and made accommodations to her and her whims.  But it has started to affect my husband and likely it would soon start to affect my children.  

After years of thinking and stressing and begging that she seek professional help, I’ve decided to reduce our level of contact to zero.  That may or may not be permanent, but for now I’m just done.  It somehow feels wrong to cut off someone who is obviously very mentally ill but when it started to affect my little family, I needed to put myself and my own mental health before hers.  

I have to accept that I can’t help her and she will never change.  I’ve done my best and I’ve played the role of devoted and caring niece to the best of my ability, but the situation is what it is and I have to move on.  

I wrote a long and detailed letter to my aunt as a way to get my thoughts down coherently and out of my head.  Some people said don’t mail it to her and others encouraged me to do so.  In the end I mailed it to her; to say it was NOT well received would be the understatement of the century.  But I have to be ok with that.  I said difficult truths that needed to be said and I ended with a plea for her to get help and make 2016 the year she sets herself free from the past.  

That’s all I can do.  Though I may need to change my phone number…

Aaaaanywaaaaay, that’s what’s going on over here with us dirt eaters.  The kids are adorable and frustrating, as usual, and we are all looking forward to February. 

R2 is very excited for his Rainbow Disco Dancy Birthday Party next month and that will definitely shine some multi-coloured light into our freezing Northwestern Ontario winter.

Peace and love to you all!

Love like a child

4 Dec

Every generation has moments of tragedy that resonate nationally or even internationally. These are moments felt around the whole world and they stay with you forever.
*

In 1912, my great grandfather was probably thanking God that all the Titanic tickets were sold out and he and his brothers had to take another boat. As a result, he probably always remembered what he was doing when he heard the unsinkable ship was indeed sunk.

*

As a soldier in WWII, my grandfather probably always remembered where he was when the war was officially declared over.

*

People around my mom’s age remember where they were when JFK was shot. Jason remembers where he was and what he was doing when John Lennon was shot and, then again, remembers what he was doing 14 years later when he heard that Kurt Cobain was dead.

*

I remember what I was doing when the twin towers fell (watching the news in my grade 12 history class) and others of my generation might remember where they were when they heard about the Columbine high school shooting or the Christmas time tsunami in 2004 or what was going on in their lives when Hurricane Katrina destroyed most of New Orleans.

*

Tragedies are continually happening all around us on smaller scales and every so often (too often) something will happen to make most of, if not the whole, world stop in their tracks and watch in shock.

*

In the past year alone, there have been over 350 mass shootings in the United States. There hasn’t been a single week that’s passed without something horrible making headlines all over the news, including the horrible events of Friday November 13th.

*

My children are too young to really be aware of what goes on in the news and what they do know, is usually what I tell them in age appropriate ways. Soon our city will be welcoming refugee families and soon I’ll be gathering up bags of clothes and household items to donate. And, as they always do when I start filling bags, the boys will ask where it’s all going. And then I will tell them, in an age appropriate way, what happened in Paris. And Beirut.  

*

  
Will they remember? Will it impact them? Maybe. But there will be plenty more tragedies in the years to come; there will be something that sticks with them. They’ll be able to ask each other, “Do you remember when…?” and they’ll nod knowingly and exchange memories of where they were and what they were doing. 

*

And how privileged am I to be picking the time when I will reveal various world events to my boys? And how privileged are they to be able to shrug off the news if they want? It really doesn’t affect their day-to-day lives. There are millions of children all over the world who should be so privileged.

*

But there is hope.

*

While lying in bed a few nights ago, cuddling and chatting with R2 as he slowly drifted off to sleep, his eyes popped open and he said, “Do you want to know what I’m thinking about, Mommy?” I said, what, and he said, “I’m thinking about the whole world and how much I love everybody!” Then he closed his eyes and went to sleep.

*

Wow.

*

If only we could all see the world the same way that a four year old can.

*

Hope for humanity lies in love like a child. Even Jesus said it, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Yup, right there in the bible: Matthew 18.

Imprint

25 Aug

When I was three weeks old, my mom took me to Dryden to meet my grandparents for the first time.  While there, my Gramma made clay hand and foot prints as a keepsake for me.  I have a picture of my mom holding me tightly while my Gramma pushes my hands into a circle of clay.  My little round head, in the picture, is bright red.  I remember asking my mom why my face was so red and she said, “Well, Gramma had to forcefully push your hands into the clay, I think you were crying.” 

When I had my first child, my Gramma made the little clay disks for me and brought them to Thunder Bay but told me I had to make the prints myself because she was too old to make babies cry anymore.  So I pushed my little baby’s feet and hands into the clay and she took it back to Dryden with her and glazed it and fired it in her kiln.

When my second child was born, I asked if she could make the clay disks again.  I think she was surprised that I would want to do the whole process again with my second child, but my Gramma didn’t really understand my obsession with making sure everything was equal between my kids.  So we repeated the printing process, though this time my Gramma didn’t glaze the clay before firing it.

When I learned I was pregnant with my third, one of my first thoughts was, I need clay disks from Gramma.  We did know that my Gramma was slowing down and she didn’t really do pottery anymore.  It was a lot of work getting all the supplies and working the foot-pedaled potter’s wheel and lighting the kiln out in the garage.  I wondered if having her involved in the print making would even be possible.  

On a phone call over the winter, I mentioned that I’d need to do prints of baby’s hands and feet.  She mentioned that she heard even regular playdoh could be used for such things.  I figured she was subtly trying to tell me that she wasn’t up to the task of getting her clay out.  I understood of course, though I can’t deny that I was a bit disappointed.  After being a parent for seven years now, I know now that it’s pretty much impossible for everything between siblings to be 100% equal and fair.  The third child won’t get as much attention as the first child and that’s just life.  Our third child just won’t have great-gramma handprints.

But luckily we are able to take matters into our own hands, so to speak.

Some clay time for this little boy… 

 R2 did his own thing, but R3 made his mark for me… 

   

My prints along with R1 and R2’s prints:  

 Even though I wasn’t able to get genuine Gramma prints for my third little baby, I’m very lucky I get to enjoy her pottery in other forms., as well as her paintings, crocheted blankets, and even her homemade tea towels and dish cloths.  Her memory really lives on in the art she created.