Mother, Nehiyaw, Metis, & Itisahwâkan – career communicator. This is my collection of opinions, stories, and the occasional rise to, or fall from, challenge. In other words, it's my party, I can fun if I want to. Artwork by aaronpaquette.net
Being bullied as a kid feels like you’re walking out into a dangerous field that’s surrounded by a big fence electrified by fear. I remember this from when I was nine years old. I’ll always remember because no one forgets their encounters with bullies, ever.
For whatever reason, in grade four I caught the eye of our school bully. His name was Shane and although we were in the same grade, he was almost a head taller than me. I suppose it’s not surprising that a bully might have sought me out; I was one of the smallest in our class. I’m sure he felt confident I was one of the weakest.
Shane would look for opportunities to push me around and because he was so much bigger than me, it didn’t take much of a push from him to knock me down. He would generally follow that up with slapping…
We learn as we experience it, that life is not cut and dry, that regardless of our highest ideals, when we get into the room with people who don’t think like us and/or do not give a damn about us, we will find ourselves in the midst of some uncomfortable conversations that lead to uncomfortable compromises. That’s reality. We don’t always get the choices we want; we simply get what we get and sometimes those choices are shitty, but we will agree to what we can because in many cases, we don’t really have a choice. The choice may mean literally starving or having to take it on the chin – for this round.
We all get to sit in those rooms some day and we will have those conversations and we will not always be on the winning end. Sometimes we will be made to accept a deal that we despise today, but may get us what is helpful in another way on another day. That’s life. That’s the whole game right there.
So, how do you think you’d play? So much better than those who’ve been traversing those minefields for decades? You wouldn’t be at all unusual if you answered, yes. Because, for all the generations, we all did.
Sometimes, in our roles as citizens watching our leadership(s), we learn some of our negotiators have less than our desired level of social and/or diplomatic skills – sometimes they say things that embarrass, sometimes they stumble hard. But often, at those negotiating discussions, they’re made to accept something quite awful from that table of the day and most times, they are unable to tell us exactly what went down at that table. Not because they don’t want to, but because silence is often a specified condition. Usually, it’s a condition meant to maximize the heat of humiliation or coercion; a public spectacle by the party with the upper hand meant to make sure one sticks to the bargain regardless of how distasteful or unfair. That is the reality of the political playing field. It is a vicious industry.
These same scenarios play out regularly in other arenas of our lives too. The same sort of offers and/or request denials occur around board tables in business, educational institutes, social justice platforms, even marriage. It really doesn’t matter – it’s a ubiquitous minefield of varying degrees within the human condition.
Life does not allow us to always have the upper hand even if we hold the highest card in ethics, morals, in the desire to do what’s most right. Many times we simply have to accept that we are all often made to agree to and endure uncomfortable compromises on a regular basis. I’ve personally found this to be one of the most frustrating, often saddening aspects of the facts of life, but it remains a fact nonetheless.
That’s why it’s necessary to look at the totality of any work on a regular basis. Taking stock, we call it. We do this to keep perspective and to respect the fact that few of us are so exceptional that we never have a moment of embarrassment or humiliation or disappointment or downright devastation when having to work something out that requires negotiation. It’s very hard work, often deeply demoralizing, and any who succeed at it, stumbling all along, while upholding the best they can for who they represent, has earned respect.
Sometimes, we forget that life is hard enough as it is without anyone ever having to create drama where none is needed. This too is a fine line dance that requires the benefit of experience to make reasonable discerning choices. Hopefully, we get the benefit of learning these lessons sooner than later, but if we don’t, let’s hope the consequences are less bitter or devastating than needed too.
The best visionaries are those who keep the biggest picture in focus to the best of their abilities. We all want to be led by such folks and in many instances, we are. We just need to keep our own sights on the bigger picture in support until we too get to that line of successful focus. It’s a major achievement. All the wishes in the world don’t get us there any faster. We need to also remember to not beat up on them or ourselves on our own way there, because that goal is simply not reached without the necessary journey to get there.
So, I came across a newspaper story about my mom and me. It’s an old story, but for a few minutes I was taken back to a whole other world where sirens and flashing red lights were an average event we sped to.
We were an ambulance team. I’m pretty sure, in the early 1990s, we were the first mother and daughter team in Ontario. I wonder if we were the first Indigenous mother and daughter team as well. I don’t think either of us gave that any thought at the time. We were really only about applying the lessons my mom earned the credentials to teach for the benefit of our community and our own hearts.
Mom worked so hard in those days, spending 12 hour shifts providing first-aid standby at the gold mine, while in her off-time, she taught varying levels of St John’s Ambulance courses. That work got her called in as a volunteer for the ambulance attendant gig. While she was doing that, I was working through my second “mid-life crisis” during my mid-20s in Vancouver.
I’d discovered that all the things I’d been taught about achieving a successful life was a giant pile of unbaked United Kingdom Spotted Dick. So, what to do? I ended up resigning from my job, selling half my stuff, storing the rest and then I pointed my little car in the direction of east. I had no idea of where I would ultimately end up, but I did know the next step required me to put the pedal to the metal.
After a short stop in Thunder Bay, I ended up in a very unexpected peace as an unexpected resident of a very small town, Pickle Lake – the literal end of the road in northwestern Ontario. After Pickle Lake, the road toward further north becomes only gravel and dirt until bitter winter allows for the very necessary freezing of lakes to drive any further.
Pickle Lake was where my parents lived. I thought it would be a fairly short visit while I worked out the plan for the rest of my life. Well, who doesn’t know the joke about plans and fate? Accordingly, I ended up staying long enough to get roped into taking those first-aid lessons, then onto the next education level to earn the job of volunteer ambulance attendant. The way this works is a little different from full-time city attendants. We were on-call for 12 hours, day or night, for the grand pay of $2.50/hr.
Clearly this was not a life-sustaining role on our side of the gurney. So, my mother stepped in for me on that too and got me a job sharing her role at the gold mine. More 12 hour shifts, but the pay definitely propelled me into ‘able to eat regularly’ status. Both experiences served to teach and enforce the lessons of the other.
I previously wrote a bit of the experience in a tribute to one of the attendants who took me under his wing during the bulk of my training. We worked out most of the kinks in getting me up to par until I was ready enough to work in rotation with any of the other team members, my mother included.
There were many moments of what I’ve heard is the experience of pilots –long bouts of boredom followed by short bursts of adrenaline-fueled terror. Okay, the terrified moments were rare, but the adrenaline is very real. When that phone rang, we had to be prepared for anything and it seemed as though anything was always up for offer. Car accidents, forest fires, plane crashes, overdoses, assaults, industrial accidents, and babies about to be born.
There was story after story, of which many will never be forgotten – the young man we tried to save on Christmas day; the baby that almost landed in my hands instead of the attending nurse’s in rushed chaos; the young man who lost his arms at the mine. There was that time I almost lost my arm to the jaws of life. In the effort to extricate the woman I was holding up in a twisted car, the attendant cutting mistook the reflective band on my uniform for metal. Luckily it was only a nano-second of threat. (Thank you forever, dearest Eric for warning the cutter just in time).
There were other events that didn’t quite work according to plan. Mom and I had to attend a patient who’d fallen down a snowy hill and broke her ankle. We learned she was a friend and so we had a little extra concern with what we’d find. It wasn’t too bad and we got her all snugly secured and ready to lift to the ambulance when I heard my mom yell out, “Robyn, get to that truck now!” I quickly turned to see the ambulance slowing rolling backward down the hill. I stood stunned until I realized I’d forgot to put on the emergency brake. I madly ran into the moving vehicle to slam it on. Holy cow. It was bad enough that I was going to hear about this from our dispatcher and from the rest of the overall crew, but I’m pretty sure I can still feel the burn from the look I got from momma. Oh, and from the follow-up glare of our friend.
There are moments after moment that I share with my mom in these settings that I know bonded us beyond what we’d already had. The aftermath of some of the scenes takes us to places that only others who’ve done it can know. Our entire crew was a set of people as fine as anyone could ever meet. They, and so many that we were sent to help, will always be inextricably held in our hearts.
Even now, decades later, I can vividly hear their voices and feel what we went through. I am so damned proud to have been a part of their team and especially with my mother.
All of it really, was just another gift from momma.
Wishing the best of the new year to all. Stay safe.
It was forever since I looked at where I live. I’ve been mostly in the business of adjusting to new normals – again. Still. Look, can we finally just face that we really have no idea what normal really was? A lot of what was normal badly needed the revision anyway. I guess we’re all still working on it.
In the meantime, home commanded my attention. I forgot what an adventure home is…
8 years. I guess it’s safe to assume I made it past that 7 year itch in this relationship. So, am settling into the idea of longevity, along the lines of other such long-time-honored couplings as pen to paper; the word to a press; ink to squid.
What can I say? I have 8 years of thought, ideas. ideals and I’m sure, a drawer-full of plain old crap in this literary bin. I’ve decided to kick off moving into year 9 on the lighter side with a few easy, breezy pleasurable ha ha.s.
So, let’s begin with one quick, deep thought and then onto what amounts to average life ups and downs, with a little input from m’boy.
The required standard PSA
Boomer (according to m’boy) Musical Interlude:
…and that’s all she wrote, folks.
Many, many thanks to the readers who keep this site active every day despite the long pauses this past year. Anyone who runs any social media page knows this kind of support is beyond golden. My gratitude cup runneth over, but not with the words to convey my full appreciation. Kindness has always left me somewhat speechless and all that I’ve received within this year are no exception. A very soul-level thank you for this.
I hope to be back a little more regularly, but you know, … life… So, until then, keep on keeping safe. See you soon. ❤
She took her last breath at 6:30am on September 6, 2020. She was my little sister. Funny how we do that, no matter how close to seniors’ stage we are – little sisters will always be little sisters to the older.
Reva was beautiful; exceptionally beautiful. She certainly had no problem turning heads and often invoking envy. She was smart, a doer and a dancer and she was funny too. She held our family sense of humor, honed in the history of pain and endurance, in doing whatever it took. She wouldn’t have recognized how that humor and ability to persist was ingrained through many generations reduced to survival.
She didn’t much talk about our Indigeneity; it was not something we consciously talked about. We just were and mostly, we tried to forget about it. Mostly we had associated every awful and humiliating moment of our childhood with it.
We went through the fostering system together, until the day I ran away from it and she aged out of it. Even then, we weren’t really free. We still had the weight of all we’d gone through before, during and even after. In our own ways, we decided the only path out was to pursue the model of success that was firmly impressed on us throughout those years. We only had to just work hard; very hard. We only had to have a nice home and maybe husbands and kids and maybe a car too. We only had to be respectable.
My journey with that empty misconception ended with several years of help to undo those generations of trauma. She sought help where she most felt at home. I don’t know how stable or even healing that was for her. I think it mostly hurt her, really. Yes, she was beautiful and smart and so, so complicated.
It wasn’t always easy to love her. I suppose they would say that about me too. I just like to think all that therapy gave me some measure of genuine peace she didn’t have. It’s in that, as a big sister that I find most painful. It’s not much different really, from all those earnest wishes for happiness and safety we have for our babies.
We achieved those goals to similar degrees. In the end, it was our children and homes that mattered most, but the ugly monster that was our childhood never really left her. She never quite found the combination that would allow her to be, to just be, in ease and in the ability to admit failure. That sometimes made her a pretty tough judge and not everyone was interested in hearing the verdicts. Sometimes other events hardened hearts indefinitely. It’s one of the most miserable of human experiences to simultaneously love someone so deeply while fighting the soulful wish to feel only indifference. Hopeless dreams.
Still, she held out her hands, arms and whatever resources available to help anyone she could. Generosity was hers too. Her heart would melt at the sight of impersonal suffering. She was a force and it was a good feeling if she was on your side.
As a sister, there was plenty of special too; the way we knew what the other was thinking by locking eyes. Breaking into gut-busting laughter over things only we could understand. It was an indescribable comfort to know she was there when I was scared. It was gut-wrenching when her pain became mine.
I hadn’t been talking to her for some time when her boy found her on the floor. She’d been rushed into surgery to remove the discovered brain tumor that they said was going to take her in a matter of months, and that’s when I got the call.
It doesn’t seem real; not then and not now. One moment often replays in my mind. It was when I arrived at her home and saw her sitting in the corner of her couch, so small and quiet and beautiful, even with all those metal staples down one side of her head. She didn’t say anything, but I felt it all. I felt her fatigue and confusion; I felt her fear.
I could only go to her and take her in my arms and tell her that I loved her. In only a moment, all those years of trying to figure out life and our issues were done. One single, damned moment. One single, holy moment.
We had her for eight and a half more months; somewhat short of the 24 they told us was possible. I think we just knew, this time the possible was not an achievable goal. We were back to survival mode, where the practicality of what had to be dealt with in undoing an entire lifetime was paramount.
Her sons and I packed up boxes and tried to plan as best as possible for her youngest son’s eventual move to his father’s and her older son’s grappling with the baggage of the past and the infuriating circumstances of the present. Broken hearts can’t be boxed.
We spent the last few weeks just talking until she lost most of the ability. Then she would mostly just look at us as we’d try to regale her with any stories of normalcy.
Two days before she passed, I obsessed over the thought that I needed a sign when she was on the other side. I asked her to please show me something purple. “I don’t know why I picked purple, but will you”? I pleaded. She nodded, yes. She knew why I picked purple, but she wasn’t able to tell me. I didn’t even remember until she was gone, her birthstone is an amethyst. Anyway, when she nodded, I knew she would.
Eight and a half months to live what matters and even if she couldn’t say it often, I know she loved us hard and no one as much as her sons and grandson. I know this is mainly what she thought about in that time and if she could have made everyone’s wishes come true then, she would have. She had so many dreams…
In the end, she lived up to that final promise to me and I know she will for others. I can promise that. Another thing you could always count on her for was, keeping her word.
A couple weeks after she passed, I went for a walk. It was late September and the leaves were turning color. The wind that rustled fallen leaves was distinctly cooler. I plodded on, lost in thought until I was stopped in my <insert whatever cliché>.
Even if they had noticed, it might not have made much of an impression on anyone else. It was unusual to me though, and it happened to be one of my favorite flowers; a Lupin, a flower that blooms in spring. Of course, it was purple.
I didn’t have a thought. Not that I recall. I do remember the way it felt. It was like my entire being was suddenly filled with warmth that I find hard to describe. I instantly and absolutely knew my little sister was home and she was safe. That was all I really needed to know since I first got that call, and of course, she knew that…