Happy Birthday to Me.

Thirty-two years ago right now (9:25 pm) I know where I was and what I was doing.

I was swearing out loud, about to smack my husband up side of the head, and not yet experiencing any “joy” in parenthood.

I was in my 28th hour of labor, soon to deliver a baby we never thought we would have and fought hard to conceive.

I was so fed up with the situation at 10:24 pm I heard my husband say something very un-father like , “Holy Shit”, as I delivered our daughter with half a push at the speed of a bullet…well, almost. The doctor didn’t even catch her she came out so fast, she landed like a wet fish in a silver bowl the nurse quickly stuck under my airborne infant (well, she was..something was hurling and it wasn’t me.)

I did not feel the immediate maternal bonding that you read about or hear about. I was hungry. Starving. It had been about 30 hours since I last ate, except for the bag of jujubes that my husband snuck in early in my labor, and revealed themselves a few hours later in that kidney shaped blue bowl that I couldn’t hide fast enough before being busted by the nurse. This nurse wore the traditional outfit of nurses back in World War Two days, or maybe the 60’s, white uniform, white stockings, white shoes, nurses cap. She was intimidating. Even more so when she smacked me on the leg after I started losing it during that horrific stage called transition. I still remember her telling me I was going to be a mother soon, start acting like it.

My husband had a look of pure terror in his eyes, I think expecting me to do the exorcist head spin at that moment.

So after the projectile delivery and a cheese sandwich from one of the nurses lunches, I embarked on my journey of mother hood.

I had not really been around babies before I had one of my own.

After a few hours sleep I embraced the role and my daughter and spent many hours rocking her, studying her, thinking about what the future might hold. I remember when I was dressing her for the trip home, my hands were shaking and I told her I was going to try my best, and asked her to be patient with me because I really wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing. She just stared into my eyes and I think we understood each other.

There were six more babies after her, some born from my body, some adopted. The journey in life is never predictable. Each birth was very different, each child unique, but all loved and cherished.

I consider that date, June 18, 1984 as the day my life officially began. I have been somebody’s mother for over half my life. It is a privilege, a pain in the ass, a blessing, a curse, a joy, a heartache, easy, hard, rewarding, taxing, lonely, crowded, and definitely changes you as a person, more than one time, as the years go on.

My oldest child is now married, a mother, and is not in my life.

It is a loss that is too heart crushing to talk about.

A loss that has taken a long time to come to terms with.

A loss that has scarred my soul.

There is no greater burden than grieving for your child who is still alive, but whose heart beats for others but not for you.

It is pure, authentic loss. The loss of grandchildren, and for my other children, the loss of a sibling, for my mother, the loss of a grandchild and great grandchildren. We walk around with the overwhelming emptiness of the absence while carrying the heaviness of their irreplaceable memory.

Estrangement is a hidden epidemic. Studies show that if you ask ten people about their family relationships, at least five will report an estrangement.

And sometimes against all odds and all logic we still hope.

When she was small, it was the happiest time of my life. I was so privileged to share those moments of her proud achievements, her embarrassing mistakes, her moments of growing in every way, exciting to be there for her discoveries, her victories, to be her advocate, her sidekick, to look at her when she didn’t know it, and think “How could I have made something so perfect?” What I experienced as her mum, such sublime joy.

I am not perfect; there’s no such thing as a normal family. We do our best in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

I even warned her about this when she was five days old and I was afraid the zipper I was closing on her bunting bag might pinch her skin, I was afraid I would not feed her enough, or not hear her at night when she cried, I was afraid I would forget I had her (ok, well, let’s not talk about the one evening we actually forgot her in the house as we got into the car to go to the movies. No harm done except to my sense of accomplishment as a mother!)

The reason I write this…birthday/eulogy on this her 32nd birthday, and make it funny, laughter through tears, is because that is what this child brought to my life. And how I appreciated it. She was my calm in many storms. She was the Lucy to my Ethel. She was my first egg, and a damned fine one at that! I miss her terribly. I miss the opportunities now and in the future to tell my grandchildren about their mother. About how she loved to sing, even though she couldn’t, what a ham she was in the front of the movie camera, how she loved to give fashion commentaries about her teachers, how she was madly in love with her Grade six teacher and used to practice writing her “married” signature, all her “ism’s” and I remember almost every one of them, our mutual love of the movies, her fabulous birthday parties we used to have, she shined at school, when she walked into a room she brought a lightening rod with her, what a wonderful older sister she was to her special needs sister (oh how she misses her big sister and niece). Her children will never know their aunts and uncles on my side, their new two year old cousin and other cousins who will soon arrive, their great grandmother whose last years will be spent without them, not photographs to cherish later or to share that heritage with their children a quarter of a century from now.

How I wish God could have played a movie in my mind the day I brought her home from the hospital. If He had given me the gift of hindsight maybe she would still be with me, maybe she would still love me, maybe she would be like other daughters of other mothers and be there to share the road ahead.

Maybe if I had known I would not have her in my life as long as I had thought, from her cradle to my grave, I would have not pushed so hard in that delivery room, keeping her inside me, under my heart, for as long as possible.

As I finish this, and will publish it in its first draft, (because she was my first draft!) it is one minute to the time, exactly thirty-two years ago when this precious spirit entered my life. She is happy. She is a good mother. She has people she loves.

One day maybe she will come back.

In the meantime I am buoyed by her siblings, my fabulous children who keep my heart alive, her grandmother, and the memories I have of the first 28 years being her mum. I cherish them, as I will always cherish her.

I have been a mother for 32 years and 1 minute, and counting.

 

300367_10150308665232331_1002699829_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth, Reconciliation and Healing.

The first Indian residential school in Canada opened in the 1870s. The last school closed in 1996. During that time, over 130 Indian residential schools were located across Canada. More than 150,000 Aboriginal children attended Indian residential schools.

They were forced to attend. They did not sign up.

 About 80,000 Indian residential school survivors are alive today.

 The Government of Canada funded the schools. Churches ran the schools.

 Although Indian residential schools are now closed, generations of Aboriginal people in Canada are still affected by their horrific experiences.

I worked as a Legal Advocate for over 20 years. I helped people in crisis, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, try to access justice, to better their living conditions, to improve their lives.

 Then came the Residential School Settlement Process, the result of a class action

lawsuit that was started by a number of Indian residential school survivors against the

Government of Canada and the churches that ran the Indian residential schools. The settlement agreement was an effort to address the damage caused to generations of aboriginal people.

 Under the settlement agreement, the government would pay Indian residential school ‘survivors’ for their experiences while they were at an Indian residential schools.

 Based on some relationships I has established with Aboriginal community members I was sought out by some Elders involved in this endeavour and part of the requirement was to get their stories down on paper.

 It was a series of the most difficult interviews I have ever had in my career.

 Firstly, the trust that was given to me was an exceptionally humbling experience.

 Secondly, I have never witnessed a person speak such horrors and demonstrate, decades later, that the trauma was as fresh as if it had just happened.

 Finally, my experiences is hearing their stories cause me to question the use of the term “survivor”. Their hearts might still be beating but they “survived” only to be remnants of beautiful lives never realized.

 These stories go back generations and in my opinion, rival the holocaust.

 The legacy of removing children from their families and communities, first though the residential schools and then through the child protection system makes it imperative that we consider the events of the past and why the rates of poverty and homelessness and suicide and addictions and children in care and people incarcerated are so much more prevalent in Aboriginal communities. Generations have come into adulthood from institutional care, abuse, slave labor, no identity, certainly no connection to their heritage, to their kin, to their language.

 It was a cultural genocide in a systemic, routine manner.

 My client, an elderly woman who possessed a quiet dignity, a grace to her pain as she spoke in whispers about her experiences in a residential school. It was like she was afraid someone was listening in and she would be punished.

 She and all her siblings were taken from their mother, had their hair cut off, cold showered, separated from each other, forbidden to speak their language and physically punished if they did, including the use of some kind of electric chair, used on my client when she was 7 years old. She said the adults laughed when the smaller kids were in the chair because their legs wouldn’t reach the floor and would flail around with the electrical current.

 She was belittled, lied to, mocked, called a savage, strapped, told she would never amount to anything, raped at age 10, first by a police officer and onwards by priests, staff members and other students.

 She told me there was no such thing as love.

 If she threw up her meal she would be forced to eat her own vomit. The older children would try to make light of the porridge served with maggots buried in the oats, saying at least it was some protein.

 When she got out, at age 15, she went on to have six children who were eventually taken from her by child welfare services because she had a drinking problem and really could not provide any parental role model.

 These six, like so many other offspring of residential school prisoners grew under the hearts of mothers whose hearts were crushed long ago. There was little to give.

 Their parents were struggling. Their grandparents were struggling. Usually no one asked why. There were very dark secrets that remained cemented in cold stone anguish, shame, fear, and grief. It was better not to speak of it. It was better to numb it.

 Some of her children were returned to her on and off, but they themselves grew up disconnected from their heritage, culture, language, looked down upon, and subjected to racial discrimination.

 They do not trust the outside world.

 They do not trust people in authority.

 And the legacy continues, generation to generation.

 A broken culture.

 Her story will stay with me forever.

 I learned we as service providers have to make a shift in our perspective and heal that legacy one person at a time.

 One act of kindness at a time.

 Show each shattered soul that there is such a thing as love.

 I learned some things in the RCMP when working on the Blackfoot Indian reserve.

 You have to be honest with Aboriginal people. Never lie to them even if what is going to happen is not something they want. You have to walk the talk and follow through.

 They have every right to demand this of us.

 You have to listen to them and not fill in the pauses. They have stories, not explanations. Their behaviour might be connected to something outside the immediate situation. They do not move at the same pace as we do.

 Let it be.

 While most of us have no responsibility for these horrific acts of evil committed by the people in the residential school system, and other systems that crushed the lives of aboriginal people for generations, we have been left with the responsibility to repair that damage, to make amends for those monsters before us, to share our world openly and genuinely with those who are different from, to mourn with them their pasts and work to show them there is such thing as love in their futures.

 We just have to show it to them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speech Number Seventeen?

Sad and sickened by the events in Orlando on Saturday, President Obama spoke to the nation from the “James Brady Press Briefing Room” because this that how much gun violence is a part of American life. Even the room the President talks about gun violence from, is named after a victim of gun violence.
In his post mass shooting address, Obama said we have to decide if this is the kind of country we want to be.
I wonder if Obama ever thought to himself that mass shootings speeches would be such a big part of his presidency job because you know at this point he has hosted 12 state dinners and given 16 mass shooting addresses, so right now the white house is more Kleenex than it is good napkins.

The President made a powerful point. America has to decide if this is the kind of country it wants to be. Every time it happens it seems like America has already decided this is exactly the kind of country America wants to be because we know how this always plays out.
We’re shocked. We mourn. We change our profile pictures. And then, we move on.
It has become normal, but I am sorry it’s not normal. We shouldn’t allow this to be normal. It’s not a normal thing to have the same thing happen to us over and over and over and doing nothing to change it.
When I was a child I never tied my shoes and would trip on my shoelaces. One day my mom pointed out to me that I was falling all the time because of the shoe- laces So, I tied them and moved on. I knew I had to tie the shoelaces to change something. I could have said to my mom “Why are you bringing shoe laces into the conversation? Why are you blaming the shoelaces for something the sidewalk did to my knees? Who even says there is a connection between shoelaces and falling anyways? You are violating my rights to keep my shoelaces untied.”

I didn’t say that because I realized after falling a lot, there was a connection between my shoelaces being untied and getting hurt. That’s why I didn’t say that to my mum.

This is clearly a complicated incident. There are elements of terrorism, mental health, but it is glaringly obvious America needs to make it a lot harder for people who shouldn’t have guns to get guns.

To many of us it seems crystal clear but there are still people who think we are wrong to try to bring that up. They insist this is not about gun control but about radical Islam. They say in 9-11 they used box cutters. Terrorists didn’t use guns, they used planes to kill thousands of people. And as soon as we realized they could use planes as weapons, we worked together as a society worked our damnedest to make it harder for them to ever do it again. We locked cabin doors, we expanded the no fly list ,we even make everyone pose for x-ray nudes now.
What we didn’t do was say this has nothing to do with airplanes it has everything to do with radical Islam.

No. What we did instead was regulate air travel to make it harder for the terrorists to do the damage. Even when fighting Isis we fight the ideology itself. We fight to reduce their resources but most importantly we attack their weapon stores.
Why do we do that?
Because by removing their weapons it decreases their ability to hurt us.

Because everybody knows Isis without guns is basically a blog.

So the irony of the situation is that people who say there is no connection between America’s gun laws and terrorism, well do you know who does see a connection?

Terrorists….

An Alqueda spokesman said, “ America is easily awash with totally available firearms. We can go to a gun show at a local convention centre and come away with fully automatic assault rifles without a background check and most likely without having to show an identification card so what are you waiting for?”

That’s like selling terrorism like new cars.

So what are you waiting for?

When people say to me it’s not about guns, it’s about terrorism, no it’s about terrorism and it’s about guns.
There were two other gun incidents on the weekend that did not involve terrorism. A man was stopped just short of the L.A. Gay Pride Parade with a car full of guns. A 22 year old singer was gunned down while signing autographs.

Just because there is a problem with terrorism doesn’t mean there also is not a problem with access to guns.

I get that Americans love guns, but it comes at a cost.

This year alone 23 people in America have been shot by toddlers. You realize we have not reached the summer yet.

The truth is, I know where this argument always ends up. The 2nd amendment – do not infringe on our rights to keep and bear arms. But as much as the NRA wants you to believe it’s an absolute, it is not, and never has been, because America does regulate guns. For example, the Orlando shooter could not get a machine gun because America banned those in the 1980s because it was obvious they made it too easy for one person to kill multiple human beings. Time after time we have seen that assault weapons have the same fatal capabilities.

America, it is clear you need to ask yourselves the question, do you want to be a country that takes reasonable measures to protect its citizens or should we tell the president to prepare speech number 17..

Trevor Noah, The Daily Show.