My First Child is About to Leave the Nest

The countdown is on. My eldest daughter leaves home for university in 37 days. I’m supposed to feel excited and proud. I am, but she’s my right hand, the organizer, the calm, logical antidote to my constant chaos. I can’t imagine every day life without her presence.

The separation from us, the family unit, started awhile ago, two years to be exact, when she wanted to go out all the time, choosing friends over family. I know this is a normal part of growing up and I remember my teenage years when the most important thing on my mind was the next party. Yet it feels like time is the wind sweeping me along. I can barely keep up, the years flying by so fast that I want to shout, ‘stop a minute. Let me catch my breath.’ The mirror shows me grey hairs and a few lines and I think in cliches. Just yesterday my daughter was born, eyes wide open taking in her new world. Just yesterday I was young, teaching her to ride a bike, watching her in swim class. We came to Canada just yesterday. She was five and she looked around on the way from the airport and said, “this country has no colour.”

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The Abyss of Imbecility

My student, when praising her son’s classmate’s artwork, said it was superb. Her grade three son said, “Don’t use that word. No one will understand. Just say nice, cool, or awesome.” She thought superb was an English word so she came to me to double check. Naturally I was horrified. The English language is so rich in vocabulary that to be left with only nice, cool or awesome is horrific. I know languages lose words and introduce new ones all the time but some of the words we are introducing, like lol and omg are hardly words at all. Then there are phrases like “dumbing down”, which means we are making ourselves less intelligent, stripping away any complexity so that the masses can understand. This process, now taking place in all arenas of society like language, music and entertainment, will simply ensure our rapid descent into the abyss of imbecility. We’ve become so informal, replacing our rich vocabulary with phrasal verbs and text language that it is no surprise that we are losing valuable words, knowledge and culture.

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Tenacity and perseverance – Lessons I learned from my 14 year old

IMG-20130720-00569My fourteen year old daughter bought herself a Mac laptop today. She saved for two years for it and she paid in cash. It wasn’t easy. During those two years she wondered if she should get a cheaper computer. She wanted clothes but she held out for the big prize. There were many times she could have given up. The look on her face as she handed over the hundred dollar bills was pride and when the staff congratulated her saying, “two years is a long time!”, her expression was sheer joy. I know she will care this computer and treasure it. After all, she knows the work she put in to get it: she babysat and saved almost every penny. It shows tenacity and perseverance.

     “How do you feel?” I asked her.

     “Great,” she said grinning. It made me think of all the times I have purchased things I wanted but I didn’t feel great. In fact, I felt burdened. Why? I put them on a credit card or financed them. Perhaps I did feel great with my purchase for about an hour, maybe a day the most. Then I felt worried about paying the bill before the interest got too high. I didn’t feel great at all, nor did I feel pride and joy. The reason is I didn’t earn those things.  I wanted to have them now.

     It’s one of the absurdities of our culture: we don’t earn what we have but we feel it’s okay to incur debt just to have the newest or the best of whatever is out there. We give in to this immaturity like a two year screaming “Now! Now!” and tell ourselves it’s okay because we are establishing credit. What we are in fact doing is becoming a slave to the banks and credit card companies and teaching our children that we are entitled  to have what we haven’t yet earned. It’s immature and stupid but we do it anyway because we think we’ll be happier because we get what we want. Tenacity and perseverance are qualities that have to be taught, nurtured and encouraged. We don’t acquire them when we get what we want immediately and all the time.

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Well, I want a new computer. Mine is old and the keys are stuck. Some aren’t even working. I’m a writer and I feel I should have it now. But today I learned a valuable lesson from my daughter. I’ll just have to get out the piggy bank and save for it. Hopefully I’ll have a new computer in a year. Maybe it will be sooner. Perhaps later. Tenacity and perseverance.

What’s in a name?

I had a guest speaker come to my class to talk about discrimination and stereotyping. She said when she came to Canada, and wasn’t getting any call backs from résumés she’d sent, she sought professional advice. The résumé expert strongly suggested that she take Jamaica out of her résumé completely. Sandals hotel chain could stay but Jamaica had to go. Once she took Jamaica out, the call backs started coming in. It then occurred to me that I’ve never sent a résumé with my name on it and got a callback. The jobs I’ve had have all been people who met me. My current employer saw me teaching. My previous employer met me and suggested I apply for the opening. Before that, someone referred me and so on. When I lived in Norway and applied for about sixty jobs with no call backs, I felt it might be my name but I didn’t think it would be like that in supposedly multicultural Canada. Apparently I’m wrong. Articles I’ve researched say that the popular names get the jobs, names like Sophia, Isabella, Emma, and Olivia will get the interview. Foreign names don’t even get called back as often as managers think they are immigrants and less likely to have the language skills required or managers are subconsciously biased. There is so much information on the net about Indians and Asians Anglosizing their names for success. Apparently  we also stereotype people with certain names. If you’re Abigail you’re intelligent, if you are Ruth, you are a leader, Ingrids are hard workers. If your name starts with A or B, you’re more likely to score A’s on tests, feminine names get traditionally female jobs and masculine names get traditionally male jobs. But what about Peta-Gaye? It’s a name I’ve only heard in Jamaica and  I’m tired of the blank stares I get when I say my name. It takes people awhile to wrap their tongues around it, linguistically speaking of course. I’ve even been told by another Peta-Gaye on Facebook that the correct pronunciation is Petta-Gaye instead of Peeta-Gaye. How clearly misinformed but what to do. So the next time I submit  my résumé, I think I’ll put my very common Anglo middle name, a name easily recognized by many cultures: Theresa, Therese, Thérèse. Whatever spin you put on it, it clearly says normal and saintly. Perhaps saintly and normal enough to get the job!

 

“Thank you. I did it with your help.”

For teachers, it’s delightful when a past student calls to say, “thank you. I did it with your help.” As a teacher of English as a second language, I got that call from a past student today. She’d done an interview and got a job, not just any job but one in her field with a good salary. This is the goal of most of my students. They come from all over the world only to find out that their degrees and diplomas mean nothing, that extra schooling is required, that no professional jobs are available and as silly as it sounds, they must have Canadian experience before they can get a job. It can be most disheartening.

I remember my past student well. She shed tears when I asked her to do a presentation, saying that she had always been very shy. I coaxed and encouraged, refusing to let her return to her seat and told her that the first few times I did readings, my legs were shaking. I had a good rapport with her as I do with all my students. This could be because I’ve walked in their shoes. I remember my years in Norway, learning the language, sending out at least fifty résumés and getting no response, and feeling like no one around me understood my homesickness and culture shock. I didn’t stay. I felt that there were greener pastures elsewhere.  But, for many of my students, there are no greener pastures and the pastures here that are supposed to be green are white, cold and frozen. There’s no other choice but here. Many are determined to one day return to their native land.

About six years ago, I realized that if I ever returned to Jamaica to live, it wouldn’t be the home I’d left.  I’d be disillusioned. My children, completely Canadian now, probably wouldn’t follow me.  I realized that if I couldn’t be happy here, then chances are, I couldn’t be happy anywhere. These white pastures can be cold but there was one solution for me and that was to throw myself into life here without abandon. I joined a writing group, took up belly dancing, danced at work, released the fear, spoke my mind, went tobogganing, made lots of friends, etc. It’s about enjoying the pastures whether they are cold and icy or warm and green. Life is short and time goes fast so it’s the only way.

 

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me. No statement was ever further from the truth than that one. Words can be more damaging than a dagger, scarring the soul with as much damage as a public stoning. I realize I’m a sensitive soul but in this past year, I’ve been lashed out at by family members for no other reason than their high stress level or their disgruntlement at something that had nothing to do with me. They got over it quickly since they unleashed their irritations at once but it left me with wounds that have taken a bit longer to heal. I realize we now live in a world of “get a thick skin” and a “deal with it” attitude where discourtesy abounds but there really is no excuse for bad behaviour and no amounts of sorry’s can make up for lashing out and losing your temper.  We are responsible for what comes out of our mouths and for our behaviour. Why is it that we are reserved and kind to strangers but we think we can treat the ones closest to us any way we choose? I’m not perfect and I too am guilty of this abhorrent practice. Even if we are forgiven and we forgive, something changes in our relationship with the lasher, like the changes a drop of water makes when it ripples in a pond. Sure the water settles after awhile but something has been altered. Perhaps we don’t respond as readily to emails or we don’t visit as much, perhaps we walk on eggshells and would rather not be around the person as often as we might have.  Perhaps we bottle it in until one day we explode and become the lasher. It’s become the new thing to say what we please, to get it all out. Well here’s a newsflash. It takes more courage, strength and dignity to be patient, courteous, gracious, kind and peaceful. Plus it’s the right thing to do. And it’s never okay to take out our frustrations on others, especially in front of other people, especially when it’s not warranted. Words are damaging. Hold your tongue. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t give you the license to do as you please.

When it’s no longer good for you

It’s hard to give up things we love or feel we need, especially when those things are deeply entrenched in our culture. But sometimes we have to because those things are not good for us and perhaps no longer serves society. America has to let go of its gun culture and the right to bear arms. At one time, this may have served people well, but it obviously doesn’t anymore. I don’t want to simplify the horror of the slaughter at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and I know it could happen even in places where guns are illegal. But it’s much more likely to happen when guns are legal. The killer’s mother was a gun enthusiast. Her home was loaded with weapons. People are saying it’s not only about guns. It’s about mental health. It could very well be but if there were no guns available to this young man, then maybe he wouldn’t have been able to harm 25 innocent children and one young teacher. Didn’t this just happen the other day in a movie theatre where Batman was showing? How many more times does it have to happen before the laws change? Next time it might very well be one hundred children. I know many Americans love their guns and it’s hard to give up what we think we need. I imagine it feeling like someone telling Canadians to give up hockey or for Jamaicans to give up jerk chicken and reggae music. It would be strange. But if South Africa gave up apartheid and East Germany gave up communism, and certain societies a long time ago gave up slavery, then I believe America can give up their gun culture. Unfortunately it usually takes the suffering or death of a lot of people before anything actually changes.

 

“Please God, DON’T let it be a Jamaican.”

Every time I hear of a murder, a stabbing or a drug bust, I think to myself, “Please God, don’t let it be a Jamaican.” It turns out I’m not alone. Other Jamaicans feel this way and one prosperous Jamaican spoke up about it, hence a feature in the Toronto Star a few weekends ago.  The star featured the kind of Jamaicans most of us are – the good kind – hardworking, actively involved in our communities and committed to prospering in our new home. It was great to read about so many upstanding Jamaican-Canadians who never or rarely make the news. Jamaicans are tired of being stereotyped as murderous gun-toting criminals because one bad apple spoilt the barrel. Several years ago on a visit to Cuba, my mom met a Canadian couple who said outright, that it’s Jamaicans who have ruined Toronto (and we thought Canadians were so polite). I hope this Canadian couple read the Toronto Star.

When I tell my daughter how I feel

People used to tell me that parenting a teenager is hard but what I find really hard is when there is a large age gap where one child is a teenager and the other is just starting school. Although the illustration of the mother in my newest children’s book ‘Is Reine Still Sleeping?’ looks quite tranquil, the reality is I’m constantly frazzled trying to balance the needs of my children’s different ages. This book is about a little boy trying to come to terms with the fact that his older sister by ten years is a teenager and no longer has time for him. He’s hurt and he feels she no longer loves him. It’s hard for me as a mother too, to see my teenaged daughter pulling away from us. I have to consciously remember how it was when I was a teenager. Friends were the most important people to me at that time. I know this seemingly selfish phase doesn’t last but still, communication is so important. Just as in my book when the little boy tells his sister how he feels, when I tell my daughter how I feel, it’s the start of a much needed dialogue, and we realize that we still need each other as much as ever.

 

Of Turtles and Men

Today I swam to an uninhabited beach. As I approached the beach, I noticed I was surrounded by small dark objects. It took a moment for me to realize that I was swimming among newly-hatched turtles, swimming out to ocean for the first time. There on the beach, they came towards the water, hundreds of them, while two predators, a mongoose and a bird, I think a pelican, waited for a taste of baby turtle. We chased the predators away and urged the turtles towards the water, cheering when they made it in. Two of them were stuck in the nest. My cousin told me it takes twelve hours to dig themselves out. We (my cousins and sister-in-law) wanted to help. We picked them up and put them on the sand. They walked around in circles. We carried them into the water where they swam, in circles, not going anywhere. We realized we shouldn’t have interfered with nature so we put them back in the nest so they could dig themselves out. I’d seen this on TV but it’s amazing when witnessing it right before my eyes. The two turtles eventually got stronger, dug out of the nest and started to walk towards the water. I don’t know if they made it because they were slower than the rest and we had to swim back. The turtles made me think of us. We’re all trying to race towards something. Some of us make it. Some are slower than others. Some of us get attacked by predators and some of us get way too much help so that we never become strong enough to make it on our own. If we get carried to the water’s edge, we flounder around in circles, unable to swim anywhere.