My Mother, the Nun

Alright, my mother isn’t, and wasn’t ever, a nun.  She grew up wanting to be one, but life has a way of trading dreams on people, and I was the first trade-off.

Her life wasn’t anywhere close to a serene cloistered order.  I wrote a little about that in a post called ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’.

Her adult road didn’t include even following the tenets of her early faith.  The closest to church involvement was the annual search for one that held summer camps for kids.  That was her summer break and our free annual vacation.

What she ended up doing mostly was working 12 hour days in emergency first-aid and security detail.   A few years into this industry, she’d re-found her faith, but it could never be used as any kind of vocation. Those 12 hour shifts were an economic necessity and there are few comparable offerings in the faith field.

So, it was long days until retirement at age 71.  By then she wanted only to putter, and maybe volunteer a little.  She’d already started going to church regularly again, and she helped the Reverend here and there.  Their pleasant working relationship became true friendship. She had no idea this would cause her earliest reveries to swell again.

One day the Reverend made her an offer.  Would she like to be a lay-reader?  She would only have to study some, and practise the rituals in assistance for a while.  She was instantly transported to places of long ago innocence.  Her sixty something year old dream, a little re-shaped, finally got her to that place that was always meant to be.

Mom vestments October 2013-2

Kicked the habit, made good in
vestments
My mother,
Lay-Reader

RL

Blogger and author JT Weaver posted a challenge to write stories in the 270 word range. For some of us, this is like requesting a brush-cut after we’ve been used to only a trim up to the hips. In the end though, it’s made me appreciate the less is more doctrine even more.  JT’s challenge idea was inspired by the “Hemingway Challenge” and Abraham Lincoln’s succinct Gettysburg Address of 270 words:
jtweaver.net  (2014 – 01 – 11- the-270)

P.S. This exercise also taught me that WordPress includes the captions on photos in their word count. I did not.

Margaret’s Baby

Sometimes old memories float up in need of
a little light…
A soul’s whisper to let it go.

curtains city skylineI was 14 years old.  My mother and I were living in an apartment on the 14th floor of a basic downtown high-rise.  We were there because that’s where she was when I ran away from the last foster home I’d intended to live in.

I threatened to run away and never be found again if they made me go back to that home.  The Department of Social Services, and my unprepared mother, gave in.

My mother had been struggling with escape from an abusive marriage, alcoholism, and no way to fully support her daughters.  That’s how we ended up in foster care just after Christmas that year.

We were six girls, ages two to twelve years.  I was twelve.  They were my sisters, and because I was the oldest, they were also my beloved babies. There was no doubt that we were a fiercely bonded ‘band of sisters’ having already traversed a very rocky start together.

I was quite used to taking care of them, and the house as required, which it seemed was almost always.  So, the demand to relinquish responsibility to the social workers who came to take us away or to the people who were to foster us was incomprehensible.  It was shocking and infuriating and frustrating.

Many nights I’d lie awake planning our escape from that foster home and formulating the many ways I’d find our mom. I usually ended up crying myself to sleep immersed in the despondency of realizing how powerless I really was.

We were all together in that initial home, except the youngest who was instead taken to live with our father – another story for another time.  I was eventually to move to two other homes within a year and a half. Only one sister was allowed to go with me; they gave me one day to choose between the four faces that pleaded to be taken.  Despite everything that we’d already lived through to that point, it was then that I learned that a soul could feel fractured.

In short time, and with little choice, we adapted and carried on as kids are so able. Then two years later, suddenly we were all being taken to visit with our mom at her own new home. The visit went by as quickly as I’d dreaded. When it was time to say goodbye to her, it felt like the beginning of all the bad goodbyes again. I could not return to that pain; the next weekend I bolted for home, for her, for good.

So there I was, on the 14th floor in a small, sparse apartment, a temporary only child, but finally with my own mom.  Life definitely took another turn in my day-to-day. I spent less time with my friends and more with my mother’s.

She had a friend on the 7th floor.  Phyllis was one of those larger than life characters; a hard-drinking party girl, a queen bee who had great pride in being a full-time ‘player’.  She seemed to take my mother under her wing.  She was a louder than life distraction for a young woman bogged down with desperate problems.

Phyllis held court to an allotment of very proud and loud butch lesbians.  They called themselves the girbols (girl boys, hard g).  One of them was Margaret. She was pretty, a large woman, and very quiet. Though she liked to hang out with the crowd and indulged in the same drink and smoke, she alone remained quiet.

I came home from school one day, at the start of spring break, and went down to the gang. There was a brand new baby girl cuddled up in Margaret’s arms.  I hadn’t even realized that she had been pregnant. The baby was so tiny and delicate, and wrapped in a pink blanket.

Spring Break began on a weekend and as on all weekends, it was time to get the girbol party started. I was immediately designated the girl baby’s guardian. I took baby, and all of her required possessions, up to my apartment.

The ‘weekend’ turned into nearly two weeks, during which I had full custody of baby night and day. It’s awesome, as in really awe-inspiring, how easily you fall in love with a child, even as a young girl, and you immediately wish to be everything it takes to nurture them to perfection.

She needed me for everything and I reveled in that.  At night, I would wrap her next to me and listen to her breath and smell the top of her head until I drifted off in true peace. Every minute with her was another moment of reclaimed love. I was once again protector, friend, sister, mother.  For awhile I was me again.

Spring break was over and I’d already missed two days of school, I had to go back.  That morning, I reluctantly took her down to the 7th floor, gave her back to Margaret and left for school.  When I came home, I dropped off my school things and grabbed one of her blankets to collect her. I sniffed her baby smell all the way to Phyllis’s apartment.

When I walked in, I saw Margaret sitting by the window, staring out with the curtains blowing around her. The girbol group was strangely quiet. I asked for the baby and no one said anything.  I went to Margaret and asked. “Where’s the baby”?  She wouldn’t answer, and then I saw her tears.  I was instantly alarmed.

“Where’s the baby Margaret”?  I was ready to cry, but not sure why.

“They took her”, she said softly.

“Who took her”?

“Social Services.  I phoned them today and they came to take her away”.

I know I asked her why, maybe a few times, but I don’t recall an answer.  I doubt she gave one.

I turned from Margaret and I looked at everyone else.  No one would look back at me; they kept their eyes on the floor or each other.  I turned to Margaret again and watched her silently cry for a while.  I walked to the door and quietly closed it behind me.

It was the last day I saw Margaret, or our baby.  I went to sleep that night holding that baby blanket. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.  Somehow, I knew in my heart then, that no matter how much I dreamed, I was never going to get my family, my  ‘band of sisters’, back in the same way again.

And, we didn’t, not ever in the same way again.

RL

What Did You #%&*@* Say?

For about a millennium now it’s been said that kids say the darnedest things. I know this truth first-hand and I’ve kept a journal to capture a good number of eyebrow raising, head scratching, and are you for real statements my son has spouted since he started spouting.

I’ve always encouraged free and open speech with him.  I adore hearing what comes out of that new and unfettered brain.  The only thing I have forbidden him to say is swear words.  It’s not that I’ve pretended that swearing doesn’t happen; we are all aware of its worldwide domination, thus he has in fact heard such a word or two in the homeland.  

He has attempted to copy those words, but only once, (that I know of), OK, technically twice, but the second time was just a noun change.  These happened when he was two and a half.  We were on holiday and his dad was desperately searching our vehicle for the camera before the beautiful tall ships we were watching passed by.  While he was frantically throwing items left and right, he yelped, “Where’s my f*#kin’ camera”?  On our way home a couple of hours later, I noticed my son looking left and right.  I asked him what was wrong and he asked, “Where’s my f*#kin’ camera”?  To be fair, his toy camera did, in fact, appear to be a casualty of his fathers earlier desperation.  

About two weeks later we were playing tea party and he came out of his room with most of his supplies except one.  With hand on hip and grave consternation, he spoke. “Where’s my f*#kin’ teapot”?  We had a little chat, and with a couple of follow-up check-ups, I have to say he’s been pretty good at finding alternative adverbs and adjectives ever since.

Actually, he became the Soup Nazi of swearing alternatives. This self-proclaimed lord of household language decency sometimes works his moral indignancy to a level that merits a good grounding.  He believes he should be the decider of whether or not I’ve been appropriate in my usage. He also thinks that I’m not aware of just how much he is collecting in his swear jar, (the wretched vessel of confiscated loonies for every swear word caught).  It has got to hold enough coin for the coveted MacBook by now.  You’d think he’d lay off for a day.

Yes, OK,  I can swear like a truck driver.  Actually, I feel that analogy is an insult; I’m certain my stupendous ability could teach a truck driver a thing or two.  I look at it like being an artist of abstract art who had to first prove that she can paint a real-life landscape before delving into free-flow style. My swearing is not a replacement for regular speaking skill, just occasional, as required, colorful enhancement.  Certainly some days may need more color than others. 

Also, as a public service announcement, I’m pretty sure I heard about a recent study that said four letter words help to alleviate pain. Think about that the next time you hammer your finger.  No really, look it up.

swearing hammer guy

OK, back to my son.  What I’ve always told him is that this is adult language; he is free to swear when he is 18 or paying the bills, whichever comes first.  No, I don’t really believe that he will never say a swear word again before he turns 18, but I’m pretty sure that he will have learned how to speak ‘real-life’ English first.  After that, if he wants to add a little color now and then, fine, but more importantly, maybe then I can earn some #*@kin’ coins back.

RL

This SHOULD be Ancient History by Now! To the Thoughts Mostly Unspoken About First Nations

I hadn’t intended to immediately write anything about the Indigenous after my previous post.  I was leaning towards something funny.  I was in the mood for a ha ha, but life interfered again. I’d since learned even more about what goes on within the politics of “Native” life.  I know that I am far from the only one who was or is unaware of a lot of this information that is readily available, but rarely shared.

I received a great deal of positive comment and support on that ‘Half-Breed’ post, which I certainly appreciated.  I was expecting at least one comment of dissension, if not an onslaught.  Certain criticisms mean that there is still need for education, an opportunity to dispel a myth or two.

There was one critical thought, but it was given indirectly, written on the Facebook page of a mutual friend who had shared my story on his page.  The comment didn’t bother me to any great degree, and I doubt that its writer was the only person who felt like he did or something similar.  I’ve heard it said many times, that this topic just needs to go away. Actually, I can’t think of a group of people who would agree with that more than the people of Indigenous nations.

Response to post Half-Breed to Metis, My Return from a Savage Wilderness:

Anon.( for the sake of mutual friend):  The bogus multicultural self-identifying that happens in this country is ridiculous, especially when it comes to the inheritors of the first nations.           May 12 at 7:28am via mobile · Like

Then I recently read another blog that spoke to the Idle No More movement and Indigenous issues in general.  Her first reply was from someone who took issue with her post.

Response to post “Idle No More”, by Blogger Anne Thériault, The Belle Jar:

Carlos:  February 1, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

Let’s be real. There was no threat of Spence actually dying, what with all that fish broth she was consuming. No it’s not a full meal, but nutritious enough for her to survive. Also, just because the First Nations were here first does not preclude them from supporting themselves. How do you think that “the white people” survived when they got here? Exactly in the same way that the First Nations people did, hunting, fishing, gathering, and building their own shelters. The main difference is that the “white people” sought to advance and grow as a society, rather than try and piggy back on the work and efforts of others. There’s no reason why my tax dollars should go to fund the lives of those that do not have any motivation to work to support themselves, when the institutions that my tax dollars are SUPPOSED to go toward are so poorly underfunded. In all honesty, I have little sympathy for a group of people that have mismanaged the assistance has been given to them. Blogs like this that try to validate their claims of oppression absolutely drive me insane.  

REPLY 

Permit me to reply.

The lack of threat to Theresa Spence’s life notwithstanding, these are the kind of continual single-minded replies that completely ignore the actual facts and nuances of all the Indigenous issues as noted in Anne’s blog, and over all these many, many years.

Let’s break it down a bit. Let’s have a short look at some of the facts and nuances. To start, it’s fairly certain that most individuals and community bodies understand the enormous amount of work and time necessary to help people recover from abusive childhoods.  I think few today wouldn’t understand that many abused kids may require treatment even for the rest of their life to regain a life worth living.  Yet, despite the number of people who get that, there are too many with almost no understanding about how that same idea applies to the healing of the Indigenous . These are people dealing with the same kind of traumas -and so much more – applied to generation after generation of Indigenous families from birth to death.

A typical response to that is something like, “Hey, we’ve given you lots of money, you should all be better already”!  Why not try such an easy fix, in general, with all abuse victims?  I think most people agree that money alone does not solve everything.  There are all kinds of needs in response to life-altering events that need attending to:  physical and mental health, education, training, follow-up, and time.  I also have to wonder what exactly is the correct designated time period to get over it and assimilate?

Moving on from that issue, how many people regardless of ancestry would be able to “advance and grow as a society” like the “white people” if they don’t have the same advantages of the “white people” like deciding who can work on, or even sell, their own lands?

How’s this for some facts, that are by far not the only like them on the books, that would raise havoc for the rest of Canada? (courtesy of  Anne Thériault, The Belle Jar from CDN Dept. of Indian Affairs) :

  • “First Nations peoples have very little control over reserve land, and the Minister of Indian Affairs must approve any land sales or transfers.
  • First Nations people need to seek government approval for selling or bartering any crops, livestock and other products grown, reared or cultivated on reserve lands.   (Add in minerals and oil too.  There is far too much money in royalties and business taxes for the government to look at relinquishing them easily.  I also wonder who benefits the most from those taxes and royalties?  I wonder what the percentage of those taxes and royalties are paid back to the Natives in all those annual “handouts”?)
  • …if you’re an Indigenous Person, you’d better hope that the government doesn’t declare you to be “mentally incompetent”, as that means that the Minister can force you to sell, lease or mortgage your land as he sees fit.
  • Even a dead Indigenous person isn’t safe from the Minister; no wills drawn up on reserve lands are considered legally valid until the Minister approves them’.”

This kind of changes the overly accepted idea that the Indigenous simply chose the plan for a ‘welfare state’, doesn’t it?  If you still think there is a privileged existence on those reservations, or as status Aboriginal peoples, why don’t you ask to live as one for a week and see if you still feel that way?

Why are the people who feel the contentions are only about ‘status,’ or some other unfair representation, unable to get the message that no, the playing field to a decent life is not even.  Not even close.  That is the crux of the issue.  This is exacerbated by the fact that even many of the actual agreements, the Treaties, that were put in place have never been truly or fully honoured by the Canadian government.  It is these sort of issues that are going to take a lot of work to work out, which is why it has still to be worked out even after all these hundred some years.

I’d also like the people who demand that no more of “their” tax dollars be spent on these issues to tell me exactly what they think they’ve actually lost personally.  What exactly was their portion of ‘the wasted loss’?    I’ll bet these guys also think that “Natives” don’t pay any taxes at all either.  Better look that one up – because yes, we do.

As for all the mismanagement of funds by Band leaders, yes, there is room for improvement – with some bands, probably lots.  However, name any sort of business, government department, or even charitable organization that hasn’t had some mismanagement issue, even without the ‘advantage of full government oversight as required by the Indian Act’.

Don’t even try to compare any of that band mismanagement, perceived or real, to the billions lost by the very governments that require oversight of the Native funds.  Can you say $3.1 billion this year by the Harper government in one department alone?  Or how about all those advanced and educated senators recently in the news who cheated on their expenses?  Yes, interestingly, even one of them happened to be “Native”.  We’ve come at least some way, baby.

It’s also convenient for some complainers to continually overlook all the Indigenous groups that are working damned hard to overcome overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable problems to uplift and change life for all.  The point made about white society advancing and growing on its own seems to have missed the point entirely:  that ‘the whites’ initially advanced and grew as a society on the backs, resources, and guidance of the Natives, and in many ways continue to so today.   No, we wouldn’t say it was the sole way that society advanced, but that doesn’t negate the long, and again,  continuing role of that fact.

So, I’m sure we can all agree that it really is too bad, even deplorable, that Indigenous issues are still an issue.  These discussions should all be ancient history by now, but they’re not, and not because of some simple inconvenience like the Indigenous simply wanting to “piggy back on the work and efforts of others”.  In order to speak to such a large overall issue, one needs to have a far larger view and a handle on all of the facts and history.

Personally, I am very happy to know that there are plenty of people willing, able, working to get able, and actually working on this.  If we want an issue to go away, the first step to being of any useful help is learning just what the problem is.   So, instead of opinions based on reactions to headlines or chats, why not try to really learn about the subject?  Who knows, maybe then, even we all could help.

RL

Thanks to the Belle Jar blogsite for the Idle No More commentary, and the May 24, 2013 post in the Winnipeg Free Press on Native business partnerships with conventional industries.

http://bellejarblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/idle-no-more/#comments

DULCE ET DECORUM:  http://noraloreto.ca/the-indian-act-in-plain-english/

May 24, 2013 post in the Winnipeg Free Press on Native business partnerships with conventional industries.

First Nations Business Partnerships Exploding

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/analysis/Industry-First-Nations-partnerships-exploding-204351481.html