here I am

here I am, a body of memories:

the feet of a walker, coarse and flattened,

thousands of miles have I roamed.

feet that carried the weight of fluctuations

between body love and body shame.

ankles that were cursedly passed on

thick and boney, yet never failing.

calves that connect to the worst joint of

this body of memories: the knees,

the targets of frustrated students.

too many kicks, too many times,

knees that cannot ever decide

whether or not to give out on the stairs.

here I am, a body of memories,

a painful sciatic nerve sending sharp

reminders to move. no, lie still.

belly of Buddha, plump and rolling,

memories of salty and savoury.

here I am, a body of memories

a heart full of love for decades old babies

who nestled all snug in my womb and

now live contently in the small of my heart.

the neck that says oh, what a wonderful

life you have lived full of sunshine unfettered.

here I am, a body of memories,

a face with stories of laughter and

sunburns and a tree in the woods.

eyes of a father, mom’s cute button nose,

a head of hair that wavers between

mousey and the shining grey of later life.

here I am, a body of memories,

a woman of a certain age.

possibilities

something from the summer I want to remember would be

the mornings at the cottage, each one filled with anticipation,

a sense of possibility, those butterflies I have missed in this

‘unprecedented time’

possibility, anticipatory joy

those beautiful feelings have left the dance floor

they no longer tango through my mind, or

swing by to take me by the hand and spin me

into the future

but on the dock, as I looked up and down the river

I felt hopeful, anxious – the good kind – the kind that

makes small children inhale their food so they can

‘get life going already!’

not me.

I took my bowl of oatmeal, resplendent with

summer berries and sat in the sunshine,

and I inhaled

the possibilities of the day

I KEEP IT BECAUSE

there’s an eagle and a tree
on a card
on my desk
I keep it because
the eagle is strength
free
to say those words out loud
I keep it because
the tree is nature
with deep roots that
ground me
in those moments
I want to escape
from the candor
on the page
I keep it because
it came from a place
of embodied creativity
I want to capture the artist’s
dedication to her craft
bottle it and take a sip
each morning when I sit to write
or during the dark night
when the questions surface
why make the effort?
who hears the whispers in the wind?
I keep it because
it speaks to the loneliness
of putting words into
the hollow

thank you to Firefly Creative Writing for the prompt and Alana Hansen for the beautiful work of art adorning my desk

black cloud, 2020

A couple weeks ago I submitted a poem to The Power Plant Contemporary Art Museum’s Power of the Poets contest. The idea was to write based on an artist’s work. I chose Black Cloud by Carlos Amorales and wrote from the duality of this view of his work and our current state of isolation.

Though not successful I was happy to throw my net for writing a bit wider.

black cloud, 2020

beauty
marked by distress

despondency
tinted by expectation

out there, life
former
altered, wounded, flaccid

in here, swarmed
obscurity
shadows, panic, death

stillness
streaked with approximations

expectation
shaded with suspicion

out there, anticipating
tomorrow
next week, month, year

in here, trembling
survival
dismay, agitation, loss

hush
mixed with intrigue

grief
mingled with reprieve

out, potential

in, subsistence

What are your values?

To the government of Ontario,

What do you value in education?

If recent actions are any indication, it is not students, nor educators.

Ah, yes, the bottom line.

The other day, the Minister of Education went on the CBC and when asked if he thought people in education were taking sick days when they were not sick, he refused to answer simply yes or no. Instead, he stated that the reasons for high absenteeism needs to be investigated.

No need to investigate, Sherlock. I can tell you the reason.

If your government values consistency in the delivery of support to students in the classroom, you will rejig the ineffective, destructive funding model to schools. You will make money available and targeted for hiring (rehiring) staff including Educational/Teaching Assistants, teachers, Early Childhood Educators, speech and language, psychologists, and other specialists.

People are absent from work because they are sick, injured or mentally exhausted, not due to nefarious actions. Staff are being asked to accommodate and support a record number of students with a significantly lower number of staff.

And the reasons for absences are available for the government to see. Boards are required to have Absence Management Programs to ensure that staff are not abusing sick days. Within the context of these Programs, information is shared with the employer (the Boards) that means there is no expectation of privacy regarding employee’s mental and physical health.

So, if the government is unaware of why absenteeism is high and what needs to be done to fix it, they need only look at their own policies and the detrimental effects they have on staff and subsequently students.

Students have a right to be accommodate to ensure they can be successful. Reduced staffing numbers means fewer staff to support students and deal with differences in learning and behaviours. This can result in students acting out, lashing out, hurting staff and potentially negatively impacting their own and others abilities to be successful.

If your government feels that the best way to solve this is to reduce the percentage of pay that CUPE employees receive when they are on short term disability (from 90% to 60%), you are saying that you want to penalize employees who are very often hurt ON THE JOB for DOING THEIR JOB for taking days to recover FROM INJURIES RECEIVED ON THE JOB. You are saying to employees that it is now an expectation that they not only get hurt, but take a pay cut for that privilege.

And let’s not forget: whatever CUPE agrees to, you are setting the precedent for the whole education system in Ontario. Because whatever crap deal you serve up at one negotiation table is the only thing on the menus of every other negotiating table going forward.

So, send your Minister of Education back to school – have him show up and do the work for more than a five minute photo op, and he will see that your government has either created or perpetuated the incredibly poor work conditions that cause high absenteeism rates in schools across the province.

(And tell him to bring soap and water because we’re heading into cold and flu season and there’s nothing like 30+ snotty kindergarteners to make an educator sick and tired.)

the long goodbye

April 1, 2003, I began my career in education with the Peel Board.

My love of public education and being around small humans started sooner than that though.

I began volunteering in 1994 when my oldest began kindergarten. I often brought my youngest into the school library and would help out teachers by preparing activities for classrooms (read: cutting out hundreds of shapes). I ran bake sales and play days with all the other stay at home or flexibly scheduled parents. We did goofy sketches at assemblies and made meals for Teacher Appreciation Days.

I was hooked.

At one time, I planned to become a teacher. In 1985, when hubby was finishing up his degree, I was planning on going back to university and get a degree and then go to teacher’s college. Times were tough for new teachers (relatively speaking), but I viewed it as a stable profession. Hubby was supportive, but some of the extended family was not. As I was known to do, I caved to the pressure to not commit to a career.

I began having babies a few years later. I was/am/always will be hooked on that choice.

Maybe my love of all things education began even earlier – in high school, when I attended a Catholic high school as a non-Catholic student. I was exempt from religion classes if I did community service. I found a daycare for children with Down syndrome and their siblings to fulfill my requirement. My high school was ‘self teaching’ (hey, late 1970s, your flexible education ideas are calling!) so I could spend as much time on any subject as I needed. We didn’t have classes, no one took attendance. (Not surprisingly, many people took 5 or more years to complete the three required years of high school in this model.)

I began spending all my time at the day care – and only going to school one or two days a week. I graduated 5 months early so I could spend even more time at the daycare.

I was hooked.

So, yes. I may have been hired by the Peel Board on a snowy April day in 2003, but the seeds were planted back in the late 70s.

Education today is not anything like it was in the 70s and does not even remotely resemble my first permanent role with the Board in 2003.

I began working one on one with a student who had physical and cognitive impairments. We had oodles of time to do his physiotherapy and occupational therapy exercises. We worked hard to overcome his anxiety about doing work (which manifested itself in such stress he threw up. Every day. Usually on me.) and by the end of the year, he did participate more.

I thought it was a tough year. But it was nothing like my last full time year, 2014.

That year I was working with multiple students in multiple classrooms. The province and the Board had moved to deeming Teaching Assistants as necessary only for personal safety and personal care. There was no more supporting students with curriculum expectations – we were the front line between success and failure within a very narrow scope.

Today, Teaching Assistants work with at least 3 students. Those three students are very high needs – that why a TA would ‘only’ have 3 at a time. If the students have been deemed to have lesser needs, that ratio goes up. One TA to 4, 5, 6 or more students.

It’s not the same world at all.

In 2014, I returned to university. My long goodbye to working in schools began.

I occasionally went into the schools to do supply work until I returned full time in 2016. After years of being hit, pinched, spat on, punched, and ducking various projectiles, alongside lifting students for toileting, I began to think my body wasn’t up for the task. I took a role at the Board main site. In an office. By myself.

By the early spring, I decided to ‘retire’. I needed to accept that I wasn’t going back in the classroom. Those years away had made it feel like too daunting a task to return. Alongside that, I had begun working on a research project at McMaster. The possibility of doing my masters hung in the air.

The long goodbye got serious – there was a retirement dinner and notification that I was too young to start drawing on my pension.

In early 2018, after floundering around for a few months, I took a short term job at my union’s office. After that, I stayed on the supply TA list, with a minimum requirement of one day of supplying a year.

I didn’t fulfill that requirement this past school year. I worked full time at the university and was advised that I shouldn’t risk my bum knee in a special education setting or classroom. I made a half hearted attempt to get an exemption from my one day a year requirement.

Yesterday, I opened an email that said, You have been terminated.

The long goodbye is over. I think I’m okay with that.

Not 100% sure, but yeah. Probably.

The opportunity to volunteer at my local school still exists. And as long as the chance to occasionally hang out in the world of education and interact with small humans still exists, all is good in the world.

biographical statement

This weekend, I submitted a short story to a “small magazine with an international reputation” and part of the submission process was to submit a short biographical statement.

I was stumped.

Honestly, writing a piece, having it critiqued (repeatedly) by my peers and instructors, and editing it (repeatedly) was easier than coming up with a biographical statement.

In the end, I wrote something that on reflection seems flip because it’s not necessarily how I identify myself. Or maybe it is.

I’ve been struggling with the concept of identity for some time – writing a post back in 2017 about how I no longer had a neat label for society to put me in a valued/not valued category.

I wonder if this is the true fall out from the empty nest syndrome – for more than 20 years, I was first and foremost mom. I wanted that role, I loved it (puke and all), and I still miss having little humans around me.

Case in point: I went to a party in April and found the people I spent the most time with to be under the age of 2!

I am still a mom and I get to be a part of my children’s lives in meaningful ways. I am a wife. I do archaeological research. I garden (begrudgingly). I do a lot of laundry.

But who am I?

Part of my biographical statement was: I hate to train but I love finish lines. I hate to fly but I love to travel.

Those are true – I do not love training to walk in races, and I’m not even sure that I love the whole race itself. I do love a finish line though. Hubby is there after riding to various checkpoints to inspire me, a nice heating blanket is offered (I don’t seem to race in the good weather!), and we always find a celebratory food item I can consume.

I do love to travel, though with celiac, it’s proven more difficult. I like my own house and my own bed, but I love a good beach and once I’m out there, I love to see the world. Flying is not my favourite thing, but at the end of each flight, there’s always something good.

But, can I define myself, create my biographical statement, based on what I hate contrasted with what I love?

simple traditions

It started out simply enough – the sun was shining, a few birds were chirping.

We were getting married that day.

There was no large hall booked. No long flowing gown or tuxedo.

Six bottles of champagne were chilling and some deli trays were waiting.

We started our married life simply. It worked for us.

We wanted to get married. Beyond that, everything was just icing on the cake (there wasn’t even one of those).

This anniversary, our 36th, we’ll be 4176 km apart – hoping that the sun is shining and the birds are chirping on both ends of the country!

this floor: memory lane

The other day I was on a crowded elevator and someone asked me to hit the button for their floor. Another person asked for a different floor. Then the occupants started joking about how I was an elevator operator. The usual discomfort of close quarters with strangers evaporated.

Funny thing, I once was an elevator operator.

My first job out of high school was working an old elevator at Eaton’s in downtown Calgary. I had a strict (white shirt, black slacks, white gloves) dress code.

third floor, children’s clothing, women’s washrooms”

After a few months, I was moved to the information desk. Eaton’s had decided to automate the elevator.

I had quite a few jobs as a young person, starting with a paper route at 11 (that photo? me at 11). Delivering papers in Calgary at 5 a.m. in the winter was absolutely not a good time. Sometimes I could drag my brother out with me, but he was well into teenage-hood by then, so that was rare.

When I was 14, I had a job working at Sears in the hardware department.

I was part of something called the Teen Council: a group of girls of every size who would “model” the latest “fashion” twice a year. I say “model” because we basically walked an elevated aisle in the mall, and “fashion” because Sears was not exactly leading edge. Basically an animated catalogue for teen girls.

Every Teen Council member also worked in the store and the assignments seemed to be given out based on size: the girls representing size 0 and 2 worked in jewellery and lingerie.

As the girl representing size 14 teens, I was deemed suitable for hardware – which if you’ve ever seen me wield a hammer, you would know was not the wisest choice.

Best part of the gig (she says sarcastically), they had HUGE photos of us placed at an entrance, laid out, you got it, according to size. The size 16 girl and I were on an opposite wall to the others – almost as if we needed more room.

I definitely enjoyed the sound of my feet walking away from that job.

I once filled in for a friend at her job during summer vacation. She worked in a floral shop which also carried household items, like placemats and cloth napkins. I was given free rein to rearrange displays to my heart’s content. I did/do not have any designer flare, but I loved creating little place settings using all one colour but different patterns. Or putting teddy bears in big chairs with tea cups and funny hats.

The job I treasured in those years was babysitting. I played Barbies and board games and coloured and sang songs for days. My mom had lots of friends with small children and there was never a holiday season that I was not busy every night. Summer afternoons were spent pushing kids on swings and catching them on slides.

In the evenings, I loved the fully stocked pantries and fridges and the bookshelves full of novels. My absolute favourite place to babysit had an incredibly rich library of show tune vinyl. And I am pretty sure I wore out their copy of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Trouble Water.

Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
Oh, if you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled
water
I will ease your mind

I’ll never tire of hanging out with small humans, playing dress up or looking at clouds or, most especially, reading out loud.

 

 

reflections on the unexpected – 2017

It’s the time of year where people reflect on their year and for some reason, I’m feeling the need to join in.

Perhaps it’s because my longest held ‘big goal’ was achieved.

Or more likely, it’s because of the things which happened which were unexpected.

Let’s get the big goal out-of-the-way:

I received my Honours Degree in Anthropology from McMaster University, 37 years after I began. I walked across the stage and that was it. Bucket list item number one, check.

And I was happy, even gleeful that June day cause I was truly proud of myself. I did it up right. Done and done.

The last year of university was not golden, though. I had a terrible first semester course with a prof who believed that talking for three hours and using outdated research and technology was sufficient. It was not. I did not learn anything and my final mark proved it.

My second semester was amazing and included one of my favourite and inspiring courses: art history. Sadly, as I was working full-time, I could not fully relish in my final months. I was resentful of my divided attention, even though it was my choice to ‘do it all’. Immediately upon graduation, I wanted to go back and do it again, or more likely, do more.

Which brings me to a somewhat unexpected decision: not to do my masters, at least not yet. I was sure that I would jump back in as soon as possible. Head back to full time university in 2018. As the months wore on, I decided I was not ready to make that commitment. The moment I sent an email declining the opportunity to apply, I felt relieved. That’s when I knew it was the right, albeit unexpected, decision.

In 2017, I had also decided to stop working for the school board. For about 10 years, I had a goal to successfully apply for a job in professional development, a job that is one of a rare few at a higher level of pay and responsibility for teaching assistants. In 2016, I got the job. At first, I thought my displeasure in the role was that I was still in university and was torn between the two worlds. I started off on the wrong foot as my predecessor had not trained me properly (or at all really). My office was isolated from others whereas I had spent the last two years in a sea of people all the time – and the previous 12 years in classroom settings, full of activity and people and interactions.

I was disillusioned, dismayed and distraught. Once I accepted that I didn’t love the job, or even like it some days, I knew that the opportunity needed to be given to someone else, someone who truly wanted the job. So, I resigned – another unexpected decision.

At 55, you’d think I had things figured out, but I really got to know myself this year. As someone who has walked several half marathons, I am familiar with the concept of training, but this year, I took my training very seriously. I strictly followed the training schedule for my November race including a ridiculously hot 21 km walk in Florida in late October.

The night before the race, I set out my schedule for how I wanted to walk the race and I initially kept to the schedule. As I wrote previously I came up short of my goal, but only by a smidgen (as in two minutes). As I reflected on the race I was able to clearly see – embody really – the results of negative self talk. This was an unexpected, but critical, realization.

Shortly before my race, I had begun to work with a personal trainer. I knew that cardio work was only half the battle for my health and fitness, especially as I head to the upper range of my 50s. I needed to take seriously the idea of strength training. I did well with the trainer, having someone nag me and take me through my paces. (I often said I hated my trainer and loved the feeling of having trained!).

One day, though, I decided I would only feel successful if I could do it on my own. I spoke with my trainer and he developed a three-day a week program for me. In the weeks since then, I have surprised myself by only missing one day and that was due to weather. One other bad weather day, I used weights I have at home.

I have a long history of giving up physical activity when things get tough and I don’t actually like to work out. I really like how I feel after – a lot. I like how much stronger I feel overall. I have been surprised by how I have found ways to work around obstacles to my training rather than ways to avoid it – totally unexpected.

I asked for hiking poles for Christmas because of another surprising thing that happened this year: I have fallen in love with hiking. Not days long hikes, but several hours at a time. I like hiking with people, I like hiking alone. I like being in nature, even when it’s cold.

Surprise.

So, the year that has been unexpected has challenged me, surprised me and made me content with life. And has made me pretty keen to see what’s up ahead.

Stay tuned.