Friday, April 22, 2016

Role Models

For the past few weeks, I've been holding down the fort here at home with the boys while Jason is off working hard and getting his motorcycle mechanics licence. Now, I say this sincerely, it's not hard to be excited about this for him, he's wanted to do this for years and he keeps sending me his grades and they are awesome...but then I see this? And I remember all that I miss about him...and wonder simultaneously about the value of spending money on educating this guy. I also wonder why he is wearing coveralls with the name Peter Sellers on them? It doesn't take Inspector Clouseau to figure out why my boys share such a strange sense of humour, does it?

I know that with Jason gone and it just being me at home with the boys, there are a few roles I've had to fill that don't come too naturally to me. One is being the "fun" parent. Now, I've talked about this before here and how it just doesn't work to have two fun parents. Alas, in the absence of the "fun" parent, I've had to figure it out and now and then, I'm rewarded with a laugh or at least not an eye roll and groan.  I've also had to figure out a few things that I didn't know I would ever have to figure out. 

To be honest, I consider myself a feminist in the sense that I believe wholeheartedly that men and women are equal but I find myself, more often than I care to admit, descending to the whole male roles/female roles when it comes to things around the house. I often wonder how tasks get divided into male and female when really, if you're anything like J and I, we got married young and had to figure stuff out because we didn't have a clue. There was nothing that made J more qualified to fix the vehicles or to sort out taxes. Wait, I do that and I am certainly unqualified. In fact, I am often haunted by the words of my accounting teacher, Mr. Skerlak, who would often tell me that with my accounting skills, I'll end up in prison. Life lessons, Mr. S...they stay with me. I remember one of our first road trips as two twenty-something-year-olds and we were driving on the island highway returning from a trip out to Denman in our '69 VW van. (Lord, I miss that van.) Our fuel gauge suddenly started dropping rapidly towards empty and we checked the rearview to see a coyote-vs-roadrunner line of gasoline following us down the highway. We pulled over and the two of us jumped out, opened the engine compartment and looked at the engine with no clue what to do. Suddenly, Jason grabbed some weird tube and held it up, and you could see it had some liquid in it. Sniffing it, it was the gas line, so he looked a little closer, picked a spot on the engine that looked like it should have something attached to it, and plugged the tube back onto it. We shrugged, waited a minute and then got back in and started the car, waiting for the KA-BOOM to follow. Crazy as it was, it started without a hitch and we just drove on, laughing at our unbelievable luck at solving that little issue. 

In these past few years, our roles changed and Jason stayed home with the boys and our life became really, really fun! Jason did laundry and planned and cooked meals and it was awesome! We even discovered, far too late in our marriage, that Jason, who actually LOVES shopping and has the ability to buy great gifts, should do all our Christmas shopping. Women gasp when I tell them this but it has been the greatest gift to me (and to anyone who is on our gift list) that I do not have to go near a mall or retail outlet from November until January. Believe me. It's for everyone's safety.  So, with Jason gone, I've taken on a few new roles and revamped a few. I painted the main floor of the house, I fixed our washing machine and I even googled how to adjust the idle on Aidan's '84 Firebird just to get the dang thing out of my garage so I could move in there! I'm not going to lie, there's something about taking on a new role that is empowering. I've never been much for the status quo of roles, and while I loved being home with my kids when they were preschool aged, I love my work as well. I don't take for granted that many women don't have this luxury of a husband who just does what he does, regardless if it's a "blue" job or a "pink" one...and believe me, we have never used those terms in our house. It makes me shudder.

I will say this though, I was reminded this morning that there are still so many places in our world where gender defines roles and opportunities. I was listening to a young woman from Syria who had escaped her ISIS captors who held her as a slave. I can't imagine living in a place where my gender defines me more than my humanity. 

In this day and age where we're arguing whether gender matters or who can use what bathroom, I think we need to remember the over arching argument is humanity. Man or woman or's about living out the best of your characteristics and sharing them with others to improve everyone's life on this planet. It's difficult to explain to someone who has no interest in learning, that having a transgendered person using the stall next to you is not an affront to your civil rights. And while we are busy filling the world with the fear of all that could possibly go wrong, we are waiving the rights of those who have already struggled and dealt with pain and bias and ignorance. We can't go backwards, people. It's 2016. It's hard not to be discouraged when you think that there is still such a large portion of the population of this earth that don't understand one another and are at war with one another. Some days I can't find good news on my Twitter feed or in the news so I just shut it all down for a while. But today, today was a good morning. 

I woke to see this photo on my Twitter feed and it reminds me that there are people who are doing this every dang day. Women who have done the hard work and broken the barriers and continue to rise in the ranks of predominantly male roles, yet they don't lose anything of themselves in the mean time. Joanne ( Saskatoon City Police) and Deb (Saskatoon City Fire Dept.) are two of the most incredibly unselfish, giving women I've met and I am so proud to call them friends. They are cheerleaders and advocates for women in non-traditional roles and they can hold their own and supersede many of their male counterparts at the same time. Yet, there is something to be said for the compassion and pride these women show in their roles as well.  Maybe that's why it's easier for me to accept that men, women and neutral gendered people all have the equal ability to make our world a more liveable place. We just need to allow each person equal opportunity. Or even an opportunity...because regardless of what bathroom you use, we all gotta pee. 

I'm proud of the women and the men in my life who continue to exhibit that there are roles for everyone to play...regardless of what gender you happen to be. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Road to Heaven

This weekend was an interesting one in what is becoming the long, dull days of winter turning to spring. It's not the best time of year to live in the prairies and to be honest, I much prefer the crispy, cold days of mid winter to this month of on again, off again spring. Yesterday it was 22 degrees and then today, there were flecks of ice in the rain as I pulled into town tonight. 

I left my boys alone for the first time this weekend. I was only a couple hours away at a conference but it felt like everything in my world was disjointed as Jason is at school and the boys were home alone and I was trying not to overwhelm them with text reminders from my hotel room.  I have to admit that when I first booked this conference, the thought of leaving them home alone was overshadowed with the thought that after being on our own for the past few weeks, I would welcome the break. The opposite was true. As time got closer, I got more and more worried about things like do they know where the fire extinguisher is? Will they use it as a weapon of mass destruction if I tell them where it is? Will a 2 night diet of pizza pops and frozen waffles be detrimental to their health? Do they know they don't have to open the door if they don't recognize the person on the other side? 
Of course, they know all these things but it doesn't keep a mama bear from running through the list of potential disasters as I drive away, apron strings flapping in the wind from where they were severed. 

And, the truth is, they were fine - probably happy for the break as I should have been. I did possibly text a mite too often but I felt like they are on their phones 24/7 anyway, why couldn't I be part of their day in such a relevant way? But from the "Stop it Mom" responses and eye roll emojis, I understand that probably I was over communicative according to their standards. 

The conference I went to was being held just a few hours south and my head is still swimming with all the facts and figures but it's my heart that took a beating this weekend. The focus was on social justice but particularly on human trafficking.  It was a really meaningful weekend for me and I'll probably share the behind the scenes story a little in the coming days but for now, I'll say that my head and heart are full and floundering to figure out what to do with the stories I heard.  Inspiring? Yes. Distressing? Absolutely. Hopeful? Thankfully.

On my way home this afternoon, it was still very sunny and clear though overnight it had turned colder. The warmth in the wind was replaced by a chill and an mild threat of snow. I started north and realized that I had all day to get home. I decided to do something I have wanted to do since we arrived in Saskatchewan nearly 10 years ago. I detoured off the highway and searched out the small hamlet (if indeed, seven houses and some abandoned vehicles a hamlet make....) that my Grandma's family homesteaded near when they first came to Canada from Holland. My great grandparents arrived in Canada with six little girls and set out to make a life on the land. They travelled to SK with the promise of fertile land and not much else and set to work farming in the Shackleton area. They built a sod house and lived through the Dirty Thirties in one of the hardest hit areas of Saskatchewan. My grandma and her sisters were sent to school when it was available and there is nothing left of the school house now, but the stories my grandmother told me when I was little. My favourite is her story of how as a little girl, my grandmother wasn't quite as well mannered or as quiet as a school girl was expected to be. She was often in trouble with the young school teacher, who my grandma found difficult to pay attention to. One afternoon, my grandmother found herself in trouble for paying too much attention to the teacher. Or, more specifically, to her teacher's dress. While the teacher taught a lesson to the other students in class, my grandma found herself intrigued by the amount of buttons on her teacher's dress. She tried several times to count the buttons but kept losing track, so she put her finger by the side of her nose and pointed at each button, counting to herself, and not noticing as the buttons drew closer and closer. Suddenly, she felt the crack of her teacher's hand across her hand, knocking her nose and snapping her to attention. Reprimanded and made to stand in the corner with her nose to the wall, my grandma noticed that her nose had started to bleed a little. So, she blew her nose a bit and proceeded to wipe the blood on her face. She did so several times until she was sure that it was noticeable and then raised her hand, still facing the wall, to ask permission to go to the outhouse. Her teacher noticed her hand in the corner and sharply asked her what she wanted. Turning to face the teacher, the class gasped collectively as my grandmother's bloodied face now presented itself, and the teacher turned a ghastly shade of white. The school teacher, so horrified at the injury she had inflicted, took my grandmother outside, washed her face for her and apologized over and over. In fact, she brought out one of my grandmother's favourite books, a small snack from her own lunch, and parked my grandmother in the shade of the tree to spend the remainder of the day "recovering".  My lovely grandma told me this story many times, with more than a little pride, at her younger self's naughty nature. She counted that day a win as she remembered sitting under the tree, reading a book and quietly passing the school day away.

Today, I pulled into Shackleton, at least, what remains of it...and though I'm not sure what I was expecting, I didn't really get any sort of mystical closeness that maybe I was hoping for. I was aware as I set foot on the gravel streets that my grandma in her childhood had walked here, with her sisters, and that perhaps she had felt the cool wind of spring the same way I was experiencing it. Maybe she too, tired of the lingering of winter once spring had introduced itself. Or maybe she liked the cool winds and dreaded the dusty heat of summer. The fields surrounding the hamlet are probably not much different than they were when her father worked them. The lines of course are straighter and more consistent with the aid of GPS and mechanized combines but the dirt is the same and the rocks are still piled in the corners of the fields, testifying to the difficulty of farming these lands past and present. As I drove into town, a song came on my iPod that I don't believe I've heard before, though it's been on an album that's been on my playlist for years. It felt somewhat connected to the fact that I was driving around a less-than-one-horse-town looking for a gut feeling or spiritual fist pump that I felt I was needing. And there's a line that said, "There's a certain peace to a country road with a wheel in your hand" that turned me into a weepy mess with no explanation, if anyone asked, for what I was really looking for.

I photographed remnants of homesteads and collapsing barns, old sheds and railway bridges but I didn't really know how to connect with someone I miss so regularly, who I know is far from here. I was thinking on the drive in about a poem or a quote I'd read about "Visiting hours in heaven". Sometimes I really would just like to ask her a thing or two while I have her ear. I just always like her perspective on things, particularly when it comes to Jesus. You see, it seems my Grandma figured out how to really like Jesus and how to really love Jesus, in a way that I think I'm only beginning to figure out. Sure, she went to church dutifully on Sundays and fulfilled her womanly roles as expected by churches in the era she lived in, but I think she too, was a bit of a reluctant saint, who really experienced God when she was helping others or caring for people, even those she would never meet.  That's the part of following Jesus that has kept me hooked on figuring out who He is. I can get bitter and frustrated at the conflicting reports and images and rules about what being a Christian looks like, but I can't fault the Jesus who loved people and went out of his way to care for those that others neglected or oppressed.  That's the Jesus I can follow, the one with few friends around the cross while he suffers. 

I was thinking about that this morning driving out to Shackleton. You can think of many things on a grid road that stretches out in front of you for over an hour with no sign of anyone else for the entire time. I thought of how one sided my conversations with my grandma have become and that I don't want to turn her into my own personal approval guru, shaping who she really was into what I want to remember her to be. I do, however, want to figure out this Jesus she followed because if she liked Him, then He was worthy. I trusted her and she trusted him.

I do know this, that when I set my feet on the same roads she did, I became aware that if I follow her footsteps, they lead where Jesus led. When I detoured today and set out to find her footprints, I found his, because I realized that those were the ones she was stepping in.  I guess that's what makes me miss her so deeply when I'm feeling like I've left the tracks. I know that if I step into what she was following, it will lead me to where He is.  And though it was hardly mystical, there were a few reminders on the journey. A song about heaven I'd never heard and a sign that proclaimed it was right in front of me. 
"A little piece of heaven...."

"Road To Heaven"

Sometimes I think about silly things
It's easy to do if you have the time
Often happens when I'm falling off to sleep
After a second glass of wine

The clock is usually running out
Down by one or could be tied
I'm fading back
Winding up
The championship on the line...but...

What if there was a road to heaven
That's what came to me today
Would there be Traffic jams with diamond lanes
Potholes filled up with rain
Would there be Tolls still left to pay

If there was a road to heaven
Made of gold or made out of clay
Would the Angels wave me up the hill
Or in my mirror just fade away

I've never been the kind a man who hits his knees
Got no answers for big questions
I don't know...
Maybe tomorrow lightning will hit me on the head
And we can find out if we're just a joke

Jesus I'm told can build a bridge
Finer than any other man
There's a certain peace to an country road
With a wheel in your hand

If there was a road to heaven
Would there be laws I must obey
If I drove my mustang 85
Late one night turned out the lights
Would the stars still light the way

If there was a road to heaven
Made of Gold or Made of Clay
Would the Angels lead me up the hill
Or in my mirror just fade away

Night turns morning
The old man should be snoring
I got to get some sleep before I'm awake

Up with the monkeys
I sure love the monkeys
But This job ain't all cookies and cake

Sometimes I think about silly things
It's easy to do if you got the wine
In The Eagle we're landing
I'm the President
Or a foreign king
With a harem from Encino to Brunei

But if there was a road to heaven
It'd be one long and crazy ride...
If there was a road to heaven babe
That's a road that I'd like to find.

Hilda, Margaret, Minnie, Oma and Opa, Eulah and Mona (my granny)