Tuesday, May 31, 2005

No to be outdone, here's Maddie with her wheels
The beautiful, beloved bicycle
The shiny red car (especially shiny after the rain)

Monday, May 30, 2005

In celebration of the lowly dandelion

After my sister CCAP told the story of how my dad used to love dandelions and would bring my mom bouquets of dandelions and purple thistle flowers, Cuppa and Anvilcloud were inspired to photograph dandelions they saw on their bike treks. Linda also revealed, in her list of 100 things, that she's fond of the dandelion (as long as they're not in her garden). Their inspiration and revelations were contagious, and so, after the rain, I wandered outside with my camera and took a few photos of the abundant dandelions on our yard.

So, today, I encourage you all to celebrate the lowly dandelion with us. They're overlooked and underappreciated, and yet, the people who have commented to the various posts show me that there are lots of closet dandelion-lovers among us. Come on everybody - be bold, and claim your love for the down-trodden and outcast among us - the dandelion! (I could wax poetic about how the dandelion represents those of us in life who feel less beautiful than the celebrated rose or orchid, but I'll leave the analogies to your imagination.)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Things I learned tonight

1. If you burn a pot of lentils, dump them in the garbage, and then carry the garbage bag out to the trash bin, the bag feels exactly like a poopy diaper. How do I know this? Don't ask.

2. Raw onions turn Maddie into a monkey. Her words, not mine. She grabbed a piece of the onion I was chopping, said "um yummy" and popped it into her mouth. When the taste registered in her brain, she made a delightfully disgusted face and spit it out. On the way back from the garbage can, she said "those are yucky! They make me turn into a MONKEY!"

3. If you burn a BIG pot of lentils, even though it LOOKS like the burnt stuff is only at the bottom, you can taste it all the way up at the top. Again, don't ask.

4. Marcel thinks "wench" is an acceptable name to call his sisters. Hmmm.

5. She may be nine, wise beyond her years, and know WAY more about pop stars than I do, but Nikki still lets me in on little secrets now and then :-) But, once again, don't ask, 'cause I WON'T TELL!

6. There is at least ONE person on this earth whose children use the word "boring" as often as mine. (Cheers Kim!)

7. When you want your husband to come home early so that you can go to the store to buy more lentils, he's sure to show up late. (Oops... just heard the door open - he's home so I've gotta run to the store!)

P.S. Bet ya wanna know what all the lentils are for! Maybe I'll tell ya later.

What do you stand for?

Yesterday started with an apology. It was mine. The day before, after another difficult conversation with an employee who has trouble accepting responsibility for her actions, I got impatient and snapped at her. I shouldn’t have. Though I went home feeling completely justified for my actions, sometime during the night, I realized that, if I wanted her to accept responsibility for HER actions, then I had to accept responsibility for MINE. So I ate crow and apologized. I received no apology in return.

Yesterday ended with a rebuke. I got a letter from someone at our church who was “troubled” by something I’d said the last time I spoke in church. She wants to meet with me to talk about it.

Two bookends for an otherwise ordinary day. Somehow, the bookends overshadowed everything else in between. It was a productive day – I accomplished lots on my “to do” list at work, and led a very productive leadership meeting at church – and yet the only things I can think about are the two things that were difficult.

I like to think of myself as a fairly “evolved” person. I’m fairly emotionally mature, I have a reasonably healthy self esteem and don’t worry TOO much about what people think of me. I’ve been a manager and mother long enough that I’m used to making some unpopular decisions that people don’t always like me for. For the most part, I stand on my principles and argue my opinion even when it’s unpopular.

All of this is true, yet when two people disapprove of me in one day, it still cuts to the core. I could argue that, in both cases, I was justified and what I said wasn’t necessarily wrong (even though I could have said it in a better way). I could get self-righteous and say “too bad what YOU think.” But, no matter how I argue it and search for self-justification, it still hurts to be “out of favour”.

I’ve never been a particularly “popular” person, but I’ve never been “unpopular” either. I’ve gone through life being at least mildly liked by most people I deal with. This experience has challenged me to wonder…what if I felt I had to stand up for something that was particularly unpopular, and yet I felt that ethically and morally I couldn’t walk away? What if it meant that people would dislike me and say awful things about me?

I have great admiration for those people who have changed the world by standing up for unpopular things. I’m grateful for those who have stood against slavery, apartheid, oppression, patriarchal governments, injustice, wars, and religious intolerance despite being the objects of persecution and emotional abuse. I just wonder… could I do the same? Could I risk unpopularity for a cause? Could you?

Yesterday’s incidents will blow over. I’ll talk to both people again and smooth things over and we’ll continue to have relationships, of sorts. Neither of them was very serious, in the grand scheme of things. But I can’t help wondering what cause would be important enough for me to “lay down my pride” for.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Kid stuff

Maddie walks into the laundry room where I'm folding laundry (yes, it may be hard to believe, but I actually do that once in awhile), puts her hand to her forehead, salutes me and says "we code in for duty". It took me awhile to put the gesture and words together and realize she was ACTUALLY saying "reporting for duty!"

In other kid news, my oldest 2 daughters are growing up WAY too fast. They both bought teen magazines on the weekend, and yesterday they spent a few hours cutting out pictures of a bunch of famous people (hillary duff, chad michael murray, simple plan... you get the picture) and pasting them on their walls. Yikes! I'm not ready to see a bunch of heart throbs up on my 9 and 7 year old's walls! It seems like they're barely past Elmo and Big Bird!

What was particularly frightening was that I only knew about half the people, and, with voices that belied their pride in knowing MORE than mom, they had to tell me who the other ones were. Sheesh! Time to brush up on my pop culture! On the other hand - why bother? From here on in, I just have to accept the fact that I'm a "has-been". (It's been a LONG time since Andy Gibb and Leif Garrett were heart throbs!)

At least I still know more than Maddie! But how long will THAT last?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Wanna help me spend my money?

I got $50 from Marcel's parents for my birthday, and now I get to spend money selfishly. Woohoo!

Wanna help me? My absolute favourite way to spend "selfish money" is to buy books. But I can't quite decide what to buy.

So... tell me what you think. What are the best books you've read lately? Which ones do you thing are absolute "must haves" for a lover of books? I mean the kind that you just can't bear to get from the library because you NEED to have them on your OWN shelf.

I'm looking for ideas - I'm sure you can help! (I'm open to different genres, but I'm not particularly fond of sci-fi or fantasy.) I'll tell you what I've read lately, so you don't have to include those in the list...
- right now I'm reading "The Red Tent"
- I just finished "Dance of the Dissident Daughter"
- before that I read "Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith"
- and in the last couple of months... "Generous Orthodoxy", "The Different Drum", "Prodigal Summer", "Good to Great", "Life of Pi" and some others I can't remember.

(On the other hand, once I finish with the baton Cuppa passed, I may decide to buy cds instead. But for now lets stick with books :-)

Friday, May 20, 2005

Ya gotta see this!

Check out my sister's blog! In honour of my birthday, she posted some great pictures of the two of us throughout the years. I'm all choked up! I have the best sister in the world!

(In case you're wondering which one's me, I'm the more "vertically challenged" of the two :-)

The bottom picture is the most poignant - it's the two of us with our dad, whom we both miss terribly.

Happy birthday to me!

Yup, it's my birthday. I turn 39 today. I am now entering the last year of my thirties (that sounded like it should have been accompanied by Twilight Zone music!).

To celebrate, I hopped on my bike and rode like the wind (okay, so it was only a light breeze) all the way to work. What an invigorating way to start the first day of the last year of your third decade on earth. (yikes! now we should be moving into the Rocky soundtrack!) Thirty seconds into the ride, I was almost killed by some idiot in a car who thought he could cut me off because it was just a bike, but that didn't deter my enjoyment of the ride. I made better time than I normally do on the bus!

It's a beautiful day today, the sun is shining, there was no wind on my face, it's the Friday before a long weekend, I have a new bike that rides like a dream, we picked up our shiny red car yesterday, I issued a big press release yesterday and this morning the media is responding (that's always fun - watch for us on The National tonight :-), two of my favourite people are joining us for a birthday barbecue tonight, I got a good night's sleep, Marcel cleaned the house yesterday (or at least got a decent start)... life is good! (is there a "Pollyanna" soundtrack?)

Oh, and there is NOTHING better than having your kids phone you at work in the morning to sing happy birthday, each in their own unique way. Julie's was heartfelt and sincere, Nikki's was a unique rendition that included something about stepping in horse poo, and Maddie's was mostly a repetition of the first line, throwing in the word "Mommy" at some point for variation.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A step of faith or flawed logic?

My friend Linda wrote a great post about becoming a pastor. It’s given me lots to think about.

I go to this awesome church where people are authentic and honest and compassionate and flawed and faltering and doubtful and all kinds of other things that make us human, and we’re SO lucky to have Linda become one of our pastors. She’s already been a leader for quite awhile, and I’ve been very lucky to serve with her. She ROCKS!

I’m also taking a “step of faith” and becoming an elder. Some of you may have read my post “elder, shmelder” and know that I have serious doubts about my capacity to be a spiritual leader. Linda and I stand together in our doubts, and yet we’re both taking a step forward because we believe we have something good and valuable in our giftedness and that we can serve the church with it.

No, the doubts haven’t gone away. I still struggle with the place of the church in today’s world. I still struggle with all the hypocrisy I see. I still struggle with the crap that doesn’t make sense. Why are people killing other people in the name of God? Why are people swaggering around with superior attitudes because their religion somehow lifts them up above the common man? Why would God accept the faltering and flawed faith of Christians and reject the earnest heartfelt faith of all those other believers – Muslims, Hindus, you name it? Why are people using the Bible to justify racism and sexism and war and hatred of so many flavours? Why would so-called “Christian” nations be so greedy and gluttonous and hoard so much wealth that millions are starving? Why is there so much in the Bible that just doesn’t make sense?

Maybe I should resolve some of those questions in my mind before stepping into the role of elder. How will I provide “spiritual leadership” if there’s still so much that doesn’t make sense for me? I don’t know.

I think it was Madeleine L’Engle who said we have to learn to “sit with the questions”. That’s something I’ve been learning along my journey – that questions are okay and that the grey areas aren’t necessarily bad. A black and white world doesn’t have as much depth if you can’t see the shadows.

So here I am, making a tentative step forward into my new role. Because maybe, just maybe, my comfort with the questions is just the kind of leadership that’s needed for authentic and honest and compassionate and flawed and faltering and doubtful people.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


I am the proud new owner of this bike! (You're right, Cuppa, Treks are lovely bikes!)

Something about a shiny new bike makes me want to genderize (is that a word?) it. As in... "SHE's a beauty. SHE rides like a dream. I think I'll take HER for a spin." Not sure what that says about me, but you can read into it what you want :-)

I'm ecstatic! It's my early birthday present to ME!

And in another random, and completely unrelated thought, this morning when I went to make my tea, I saw the word "Sunbeam" on the kettle, and my mind did a crazy and unanticipated leap back to that old Sunday School song "I'll be a sunbeam for Jesus." Ich! Where do these thoughts come from? (It's not just MY thoughts I'm questioning, but the thoughts of whoever decided THAT should be a song.) Now I just KNOW that song will be stuck in my head for the rest of the day!

Maybe today, I'll be a sunbeam for TREK! :-)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Giving up the Tin Man

It was supposed to be my moment of glory - my crowning achievement as a novice biking enthusiast. I’d trained for it – spent many, many hours biking all over the city and into the country. I’d bought a new bike for it – a beautiful Miele Italian racing bike. I was ready for it. More than ready. I was pumped.

It was called the Tin Man Triathlon (I suppose the name is a take-off of the Iron Man). In 1988, I had signed up with a couple of friends to enter the relay – one of them would do the swimming leg, the other would run, and I would ride my bike for 40 grueling kilometres. I was rather pleased to be the only woman on the team. I was in better shape than I’d ever been before, and this was supposed to be the moment I’d redeem myself – I could be an athlete after all! I could hardly wait to put my beautiful bike, and my finely tuned biking legs to the test.

The race was slated for Saturday. On Thursday night, my world turned upside down.

It was nearing morning when the man entered my apartment. Probably around 4:30 a.m. The apartment was hot, as it always was that summer. I’d slept with the windows open – it was the only way I COULD sleep. When I woke up, there he was, standing over my bed with a pair of scissors clenched in his raised hand. In the split second it took me to focus my eyes and register what was going on, I knew that this man had climbed through my open window and was here to hurt me.

He was there for nearly 2 hours. Part of that time is a blur. Most of it, I try not to conjure up in my mind. I don’t want to remember the way his fingers felt on my naked body. I don’t want to relive the terror of approaching death when he tried to choke the breath out of me, angry that I wasn’t more willing to satisfy his sexual deviance. I don’t want to see flashbacks of the naked woman tattooed on his dirty arm. I don’t want to bring back the smell of him – old alcohol, body odour, and solvent. I don’t want to see his ugly naked lust.

Somehow, I convinced him to leave, after he’d taken all he could from me, and left a shell of who I was before. Somehow, I found the strength to get dressed and run the half-block to my friend’s house. Somehow, I survived the hospital visit, the doctor’s examination, the clipping of my pubic hair for evidence, the police investigation, the months of anger and hatred.

Somehow I survived all that, but I didn’t survive the bike race. I tried. I drove out to the town where it was being held, with full intention of triumphing over what had happened, and racing anyway. But as I drove, I knew I couldn’t do it. My neck muscles stung with the memory of his hands. Every time I closed my eyes, my mind raced back to jagged dark memories of him. My hands shook on the steering wheel of the car. I knew I couldn’t hold a bike upright for 40 kilometres.

Why do I write about this now, 17 years later? This week, as I shopped for a new bike, I remembered the anticipation I felt the last time I bought a shiny new bike. I remember the excitement I felt preparing for the race. I remember the feel of the leather biking gloves on my hands.

That man took a lot from me in those two hours. Though it took me a long time to recover, I’ve gotten to a point where I hardly ever think about it anymore. But this week, as I look forward to my first new bike in 17 years, I find myself angry that, along with everything else, he took my chance to race in the triathlon.

Perhaps, when I get my new bike, I’ll sign up for another one.

Sunday, May 15, 2005


We were consumers this weekend. In a good way - not in a "acquiring more material possessions for the sake of building our empire" way. We bought a car - or at least we put a deposit on one and will pick it up later this week. This is all part of the downsizing process. We traded in the gas-guzzling van for a fuel efficient Chev Impala. Here's hoping we made a good decision. (If you have one and think it's a piece of crap, PLEASE don't tell me about it!) We're not too fond of the colour - bright red - but at least we won't easily lose it in a parking lot :-)

And then, on Saturday, I bought a new bike. I'd saved up for one this Spring, but then the money I'd saved had been whittled down by other more pressing needs, so I wasn't sure I'd be able to get one. (One of our adult-sized bikes was stolen recently, and the other one is falling apart. I'd been hoping to ride to work this summer, but didn't have a decent bike to ride.) I got a pleasant surprise on Friday - a cheque arrived in the mail for some extra back-pay I'd been owed from my years in the government. Turns out it was just enough to buy a bike :-) Seems like one of those little whispers from God - "here's a little gift. Go buy what you want and be happy."

The problem was, I'd decided to skimp a little on the bike by buying a cheaper one at Canadian Tire and saving the extra money for some of the other things I need (like new pants). Well, I brought home the shiny new bike, took one ride around the block, and then Marcel took a spin. Within moments, he was calling me from inside the house... "Um, Heather, you'd better come out here." When I stepped out on the front step, it became fairly clear that my decision to buy the cheaper bike was ill-advised. The gear shift thingy that moves the chain from one gear to the next (sorry, I'm not too well versed in bicycle terminology) had completely snapped off when Marcel tried to shift gears. On closer inspection, we realized that most of it was made of plastic! Can you imagine? Plastic parts on a bicycle? And this wasn't even the cheapest bike at the store! (Yes, I returned the bike and now intend to go to a REAL bike store for a better product, despite the higher cost.)

I know I sound like an old-timer when I say "they just don't make things like they used to!" I could go on a real rant about how so much stuff is made to be disposable these days, so it's cheaper to buy a new thing than fix the old one, and we are forced to perpetrate the consumerism and excessive waste that has come to define our culture... but I won't. I'll just say "Here's hoping the car fares better than the bicycle!"

(Look for me soon in my hot red car or shiny bicycle doing my part to reduce fossil fuels!)

Friday, May 13, 2005

Come together, boys and girls

Recently I read Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd (thanks for the recommendation Cuppa!). It’s quite fascinating and a lot of it resonated with me. It’s the story of her personal journey away from a traditional Christianity to a place where she honours the Sacred Feminine. Though she’d been a pastor’s wife and an inspirational writer for many years, she says she reached a point where she was confronted with the patriarchy of Western Christianity, and she just couldn’t stomach it any more. She no longer wanted to be viewed as a second-class citizen in the eyes of the church or in the eyes of God.

I don’t think I’d go as far as she did – I don’t want to reject Christianity and create some new, nebulous faith for myself that honours a rather undefined God – but I do welcome her attempts at painting a different picture of God than what’s been painted through the lens of Western Christianity. I think approaching God as a blend of masculine and feminine certainly has its merits. I found myself wishing, however, that she’d related her new understanding back to a new kind of faith that’s still rooted in the truth that God revealed through the Bible and through Jesus. She does that to a certain degree (she talks about the feminine character of God articulated in the Bible as “Sophia” or “Wisdom”), but a little less than I would have liked. That’s not a criticism of the book or of her, though – her journey is her own, and I don’t expect it to be the same as mine. I’m just glad she chose to write about it.

More than anything, it made me want to return to the Bible for my own exploration – to find out how to interpret God through a different lens than I’ve accepted all these years. The night after I finished reading the book, my prayer took on a slightly different tone when I envisioned a Mother/Father God receiving my words and thoughts. It felt good.

Today, I read Real Live Preacher’s post about his longing for a place where his feminine side is welcomed and valued and where he feels the freedom to be okay with who he is and who other people are. I’ve also been reading posts from various people about how they’ve felt boxed in by various labels. There’s a common thread running through all of these writings – a desire for less boxes and more fluid definitions.

I have known a lot of people, male and female, who don’t fit tidily into any category of “masculine” or “feminine”. In my own marriage, for example, we’ve found a very comfortable place where we’re living out a bit of a role reversal in the eyes of our society – I’m the “bread winner” and he’s the “caregiver”. It works for us – there are things in my character that fit more in a traditional “masculine” definition, and there are aspects of him that have shades of what might be defined as “feminine”. That doesn’t mean that one of us is weaker or stronger, it just means that we don’t fit into the boxes well.

I wish we could find a way for that to be more okay. In this post-feminist era, why can’t we focus more on valuing ALL aspects of a person’s character (or God’s, for that matter), not just those that line up with their gender? I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re all the same and that gender doesn’t matter. Yes, there are differences between males and females, but those differences don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, nor does one have more value than the other.

If a woman wants to seek a “non-traditional” role for herself, or play hockey or whatever, why not? We shouldn’t make a big deal about it. If a man wants to reveal his emotional side to his friends, or crochet doilies for a past-time, why not? On the other hand, if a person (male or female) fits very neatly into the traditional roles (eg. a woman feels delightfully fulfilled being a stay-at-home mom with a passion for baking cookies), than that’s okay too.

I once heard a quote from someone who’d been involved with the feminist movement who said the great travesty of the feminist movement was that it focused too much on giving women access to male roles/careers/etc. and neglected to put the same energy into creating value in those things that are traditionally female. That makes a lot of sense to me. Let’s find value in what makes each of us who we are rather than placing too much value on one thing or another.

You are free to be who you are meant to be, whether male or female, gay or straight, young or old, white or black. Your nature, your giftedness, your personality, whatever makes you who you are – it all has value.

God made us ALL in his/her image, so that must mean we ALL reflect something of his/her beauty whatever our gender or colour is.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Downsizing when everyone else is "upsizing"

I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I work for an organization that focuses on responding to hunger. Almost every day, I look for ways of creatively communicating hunger-related issues in ways that will resonate with Canadians and convince them that they should care about the 800 million people going to bed hungry every day.

Whatever the case, these days I find myself more and more concerned with finding a better balance in my life – between the things I want and need, and between the things that really matter in life and the clutter that gets in the way. In the last few months, there have been a few reminders why this is important. My trip to Africa was a big one – it’s hard not to notice the huge difference between the way they live and the way I do. Only an un-caring person would walk away from that and not take some personal responsibility for their suffering.

But it really started long before I went to Africa and long before I got this job. A few years ago, Marcel and I took a step back, re-evaluated what was important in our lives, and decided to make some changes.

In a culture where great importance is placed on acquiring more things, we found ourselves getting caught on the same hamster wheel as everyone else. “Make more money to buy more things” the ads scream at you. Buy more things and then you need more money to maintain that lifestyle. Make even MORE money and start letting your things control your lifestyle. Get a bigger house, send the kids off to daycare, buy a bigger van to pull the boat and the camper you just bought, get a better job, work more overtime, spend less time with the kids… you get the picture.

At some point in the vicious cycle on that hamster wheel, you either decide to commit yourself entirely to its endless motion, or you get off. A lot of people decide to keep spinning. We decided to get off.

The first thing to go was Marcel’s job. He’d been miserable for quite awhile and found he had no desire to stay in the transportation industry, even if it meant more promotions and more money. He longed for the education he’d never gotten. We weren’t sure we could survive on one income and somehow be able to afford his tuition, but we decided to take a risk. If he arranged his classes around the kids’ schedules, we wouldn’t need a babysitter very often and our daycare bills would go down. The added bonus would be that our kids could spend a large majority of their time with their parents.

It wasn’t easy at first. We had to give up some of the luxuries of our lifestyle – less meals at restaurants, get rid of the cell phone, more second-hand clothes, less vacations, no more cable TV. But before long, we recognized the benefits were outweighing the costs. The kids were happier when they got to come home from school instead of going to daycare. We were spending more quality time as a family because we weren’t rushing around as much. We ate more wholesome food because we had more time to prepare meals rather than grabbing something quick after a long day at work.

The next step was my job. That was another big decision. I was offered a dream job at a non-profit organization, but we just weren’t sure I could take the pay cut it required, plus lose all the benefits of a fairly long career in the government. Once again, though, we decided the risk was worth the pain. We found more things to cut, and I took the leap. Again, the benefits far outweighed the costs. I was much happier, felt fulfilled in my new job, got great opportunities, and my whole family benefited when I came home at the end of the day with less stress and no “on-call” cell phone attached to my hip like an albatross.

These days, we’re facing more steps in our downsizing process. With the current cost of gas, and the consciousness that we are not doing the environment any favours by driving a big vehicle, we’ve decided to sell the van. We’re shopping for a car. Again, there will be costs. We’ll have less space to haul around our stuff, the kids will probably fight more because they’ll be stuck sitting next to each other in the back seat. And along with the van, we’ll also have to get rid of the “toys” we pull behind it. The big camper will give way to a small pop-up camper or tent. The boat will go.

Some people look at us funny these days. Alot of people, along the way, have told us we’re nuts. “You’re going back to school? But you’re almost FORTY!” “You’re quitting a good government job? Are you CRAZY?” “How in the world do you plan to live on only one income?” The kids have felt the pinch, too. Their friends get to have more cool toys, go on more exotic trips, live in bigger houses, have new clothes instead of hand-me-downs, get involved in more activities – it’s not easy to sit back and watch other people have all the fun, especially when you’re a kid.

Despite all of that, I don’t regret any of our decisions. In fact, now that we’ve taken a few major steps along the way, and I’ve seen the rewards, I actually look FORWARD to getting rid of the van, the camper, and the boat. I feel lighter already – like I’ve just thrust off a layer of winter clothes and can dance barefoot in the grass again.

There’s no way to define the value of all the things we’ve gained. I didn’t realize the stress of our old lifestyle until it was gone. Now, when I watch parents dropping off their kids at daycare, I feel a weight on my shoulders when I remember how much that used to hurt.

I notice it most when I come home from work. I come home happy because the stress of my old job is gone. Marcel is happy because he LOVES school and feels fulfilled like he never has before. The kids are happy because they’ve been home with their dad and haven’t spent the last few hours at daycare. Supper’s usually cooked because Marcel likes cooking and has more time for it now. It’s all good.

No, we can’t go to Australia for our vacation this year, like some of our daughters’ friends have. And no, we won’t be buying a bigger house, even though our little kitchen drives us all crazy. And no, we won’t be able to go out for supper this week, because it’s not in the budget. On top of that, there are many, many times when we're not sure we can stretch the dollar to the end of the pay period.

I have to tell you, though, life is good.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Refugee for a day

“Everyone – down on the floor!” That’s how it started. Several members of the “Manitoba Militia” burst into the high school's gymnasium proclaiming that they had come to take over the school and that if we wanted to escape with our lives, we would need to run for the refuge of the buses waiting outside.

Last Friday, I took part in an “In Exile” exercise. (Our organization, Canadian Foodgrains Bank, is one of the creators of the program.) Organizers had invited high school students from across the province to join them in the simulation exercise that provides students with an opportunity to experience what it’s like to be a refugee for a day. I was an honourary high school student for the day.

There was relative calm on the bus as we escaped our “country”, but when we arrived at Bird’s Hill Park, pandemonium broke loose once again. Guards burst onto the bus, demanding that we stay silent and keep our eyes to the front of the bus.

Each of us had been given a passport complete with an identity, a country, and a story. I was Balaputa from Indonesia, a 17 year old girl who’d had to flee with her family because of political unrest. There’d been bombing in my village, and my sister had been killed. Together with my fellow Indonesians, I was ordered off the bus and made to lie face down on the ground with my hands on my head. Anyone who moved was subjected to persecution from the guards. Some had to stand on one foot in the bush, and others had to do multiple push-ups.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity of watching the ants crawl past my face, we were told to get up. But the persecution wasn’t over yet. Partly for their own sport, and partly as an exercise in breaking our spirit, the guards put us through several nonsensical exercises. We moved picnic tables from one spot to another and then back again. We held the picnic tables above our heads until we felt our arms would collapse.

At long last, we escaped into the bush. In our walk to find safety we encountered exploding land mines, rebels who killed one of our people and took all our food and water, exploded body parts, injured people in need of assistance (do you help them and risk your own safety, or walk away and leave them destitute?), benevolent villagers offering us candy, temperamental border guards on power trips, more rebels who destroyed our passports and persecuted us further, and aid workers who spoke a language none of us understood.

Finally we arrived at camp. We thought it would represent safety, but there were still more surprises in store for us. First there were papers to fill out – if we could understand the language they were written in. Those of us who were sick or injured were sent to the medical tent for attention.

Then there was the long wait for food after hours spent wandering through the bush. Throughout the long wait, we had to put up with more intimidation by the power-hungry guards. Just when it appeared that the food would be served, rebels burst into the camp and stole it out from under our eyes. The cook was shot and injured trying to protect the food. The food was finally recovered by enterprising refugees who collected all the earthly goods they could find in the camp and bartered with the rebels.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted and sore. My head ached and my muscles screamed for relief. It’s not easy being a refugee – even for a day.

More than anything, what I took away from Friday’s exercise was a glimpse into what it feels like to have your power taken away from you. Though we don’t recognize it in our daily existence, we have a considerable amount of control over what happens to us. Generally, if someone mistreats us, we can choose to challenge the person or walk away. It doesn’t work that way when someone has a gun pointed at your head. Suddenly, your choices become limited – either do ten push-ups or risk getting shot or tortured.

What I couldn’t help but wonder when I left camp was what kind of a person I would turn into if I were subjected to that kind of treatment on a long term basis. Would I retain any of my self-confidence? Would I have the courage to keep going? When I arrived in a new country, would I be able to trust people who were trying to help me? Would I believe in myself enough to start a new life? Would I feel I had the right to “get even” by mistreating other people? I’m not sure how I would respond. I certainly have a new perspective after this experience and I hope I will treat people with a new respect and empathy – not only refugees, but victims of abuse, persecution, oppression, etc.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A few words a mother loves to hear...

Well, perhaps not EVERY mother cares about these words, but I sure do...

"Mom, I'm on page 85 already"
"Mom, do I HAVE to turn out the light? I just want to finish this chapter."
"Mom, can we go to the library soon? I don't have any more books to read."
"Maddie, do you want me to read that story for you?"

Yes, I'm proud to say, my oldest daughters have become book lovers. (The youngest seems to be as well, but so far her books have to be read to her by an older person :-) Nikki is on her third book of the Lemony Snikket series, and Julie is on book 4 of the Harry Potter series. Yay! (It's even BETTER that they seem to have graduated past the Olsen twins and Hillary Duff books.)

If there was one thing I wanted for my kids (and yes, I admit there are others, but this one is important!) it was that they would learn a love for books. One never knows whether that will happen or not - it's not something you can force. But it seems to be happening, and I am delighted.

Last night, as we lay in my bed reading together, I said to Julie "some day soon, you can start borrowing MY books." And she said "Yeah, and you can borrow MINE."

This I vow - that I will always make sure that they have enough books at their disposal to broaden their minds and expand their worldviews. Madeleine L'Engle said you shouldn't limit what your kids read - if they want to start reading "adult" books that seem too complex for them, let them. If they have trouble with them, they'll either set them aside until they're ready for them, or, if they know they can, come to you to help them understand. She said she had a full library of "adult" books at her disposal from a very early age and has been forever grateful that she could read any of them that she wanted - it helped encourage her love for books and her inquisitive mind. (Note: of course I'm not referring to "adult" as in the misused context of "adult" entertainment - I'm just talking about books with complex subject matter that seem beyond a child's grasp. I don't have any of the OTHER kind in my house :-)

Julie asked what my favourite book was. I hummed and hawed for awhile and said "well, right now I guess I'd say 'Traveling Mercies'." Yes, when she asks for it, I'll let her borrow it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The circus

I took Julie and Maddie to the circus last night (Nikki and Daddy went on a date elsewhere – they’re too COOL for the circus). Here are my thoughts on it:

- I loved it! I felt like a kid again, watching in awe as the trapeze artist swung from the rafters, the animal trainers led their horses, dogs and elephants through their paces, the jugglers wowed us with their tricks, and that AWESOME act where the two men juggled women on their FEET! Oh, and let’s not forget the “globe of death” where 7 motorcyclists rode around the inside of a big globe. Yikes! I was on the edge of my seat!

- WHY do the Shriners insist on having a long, drawn-out official entry of all their dignitaries, their pipe band, their mini-cars and motorcycle cavalcades, etc. before the action starts? We came (and paid generously, I might add, despite the “free” tickets they gave us to suck us in) to see the CIRCUS, not a bunch of old men in tassled hats! It’s hard enough to get a three year old to sit still when there’s something INTERESTING to watch!

- Do they REALLY need to soak us for every single dollar we’ve got? And can they QUIT waving all those flashing wands, inflatable toys, cotton candy, popcorn, etc. in front of my kids’ eyes? Do they REALLY think I want to hear “Mommy, can I have that $12 piece-of-crap flashing wand or that frightfully overpriced cotton candy? Please, please!” for the umpteenth time?? (okay, so some of that was what I was hearing, not what they were saying)

- COME ON! Is a 2 minute elephant ride around the ring REALLY worth $10? Yeah, there are lots of pushover parents who’ve got cash to burn who are WILLING to pay that kind of money for junior to sit on a stinky elephant, but what about those of us on a budget? Can’t you have a little sympathy on us and understand how hard it is to say “no” over and over again to our kids who want some of the chances all those OTHER kids are getting?

- Okay, the ticket says the show is starting at 7:45, so can you please START AT SEVEN FORTY FIVE? Some of us have kids to put to bed and we don’t really appreciate you starting at 8:00, only to make us sit through twenty minutes of Shriners parading around the arena before the action starts.

- And speaking of time – yeah, I understand that you want to make as much money you can, and sucker as many parents as possible into paying for those $10 elephant rides and another ridiculous price to get their kids' pictures taken with scary snakes, but is a forty five minute intermission REALLY necessary? Again, SOME of us want to get our kids to bed BEFORE 11:30 so we don’t have to put up with cranky kids in the morning.

- Next time Maddie says she has to pee only 15 minutes after the last time I took her to the washroom, somebody smack me if I say “Maybe you can wait a little longer. You just went pee a few minutes ago.” To all those people sitting around me last night, I sincerely apologize for stripping her naked right there in our seats, but it just seemed a whole lot easier than pushing past all those increasingly impatient people in my row.

- Ah, but despite all that other stuff, THANK YOU Shriners for giving me an enjoyable evening with my two youngest daughters. Thank you for that look of delight on Julie’s face when she watched that man hang upside-down on his motorcycle on a very high tight rope. Thank you for Maddie’s giggles when she watched the dogs go down the slide. Thank you for the look of delight on MY face when yet another suicidal motorcyclist entered the globe of death. And thank you for the appreciative little hug Julie gave me as we walked back to the van.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Wedding bells are ringin' in the chapel

My mom changed her name for the first time this weekend. She had the same last name as my dad, so when they got married, she didn’t need to change. Now, at 67, she finally got her long-time wish – a new name.

I’m not sure what to say about the wedding. It was lovely, mom looked beautiful, the tulips we placed on the tables were cheerful and colourful, lots of mom’s friends were there, the music was nice, the food was good. It was all those things. But more than anything, what I want to say is… it hurt more than I expected.

It’s hard to know how to feel when you see your mom marry someone you barely know. Some people try to tell you how you should feel… “oh, you must be SO excited for your mom” or “how LUCKY your mom is to find someone again” or “it must make you feel good to see your mom so happy again.” Perhaps they’re right. Perhaps that’s the way I SHOULD feel.

Other people – well-meaning people, I suppose – see you fighting tears and think they have a right to imagine what you’re feeling… “So how do you feel today?” or “It must be a little hard to see her with another man” or “I understand what you’re going through.” Some of them have a right to ask – those who love me and know my heart, and those who are hurting too because they know this will change things for them too. Auntie Cecile, Auntie Cathy – those people have a right to ask. And they ask in the right spirit. The other people who hardly know me – well, I try to put on a brave face and say “I’m sure she’ll be happy and that’s what counts.” They don’t need to see the jagged pain that reaches back to my father’s death. They don’t have access to the dark places in my heart.

How do I feel? I feel betrayed when I see her kiss a man who’s not my father. I feel worried when I think her life will change and I will be less a part of it. I feel a little jealous when I see her hold his grandchildren on her lap. I feel sad when I think that this man is 9 years older than her and will probably not be able to keep up with her youth and vigour. I feel concerned when I see her single friends who think they’ve lost a piece of her. I feel angry that she couldn’t have spent the rest of her life with my father.

And yet, I have to try to hang on to those other, more positive things I feel. She looks happy. I like to see her happy. She doesn’t look lonely anymore. She’s got a new spring in her step. That’s all good. She’s looking forward to companionship, travel, bike rides, laughter… I hope she gets all those things and more. I hope he still has a lot of youth in him and that he gives her energy instead of taking it away. I hope he makes her laugh. I hope they’re happy. I hope she doesn’t forget what all the other people in her life mean to her.

Post Script: I don't know why I named this blog the way I did. I shouldn't have, but I can't help myself. I can't type those words without hearing my Dad singing the song - one of many he'd sing with a twang and with relish. It doesn't make it much easier to bring Dad into this picture, but you can't always change what's going on in your heart.