Sometimes my big dreams scare me. Do I even care that much? The amount of work in my head to get there, it’s exhausting just thinking about it.
Sometimes I fantasize about calling it. Accepting that I could serve tables for as long as my body would allow. Sometimes I think I would be happier.
Why do I feel this compelling urge to create and build? If I just ignored it, would it go away? Or would it return in a more grandiose fashion, with even more tentacles of complexity and pressure and allure? Is this ambition? Is it aspiration? Whatever it is, it’s hard to set aside. Why can’t I just be satisfied with all that already is?
Why is it not enough?
I wish I’d spent more time with my dog. With my dad. I have the chance to spend more time with my mom and know that she needs it and would benefit. And yet. I bury myself in continued work. I guess maybe I am a worker. I enjoy creating and making things. I want self-satisfaction. I want to help others though, too. I cringe far away from emptiness. Would helping others fill me up? What would fill me up beyond the random carbs I’ve been noshing down daily and hourly? What nourishment can I give myself? Is this hormones? Is this midlife malaise? Is this fear?
Is this just a drained personal battery? Where can I plug myself in?
It’s too late to go back. What I had wasn’t all that bad. I didn’t love it, but I could do it.
Lack of structure. Lack of help. Lack of discipline. These are my enemies and also the very thing that I seek out. Freedom has no structure. It cannot be contained. Help implies other people when at my heart maybe I’m more a lone wolf. Discipline is the one I can’t quite crack. I have it even on the worst of my days, but sometimes it fails me. Today it’s failing me. I hate and resent my discipline on many days; it doesn’t let me off the hook very often.
I can hear my father saying, “Just count your blessings.”
I am alive. My family loves me. I have a family to love. I have clothes and a car and a house. “I’ve got a good mother,” just like Jann Arden says. Facing forward, just be myself.
I held the earrings in my hand and turned them over and over. They were only $25, but I’d no intention of buying anything and was just there to keep my mom company. We’ve been trying to fill her interminably long days. It’s still hard without my dad. But maybe a local craft show would pick her up.
The TEA TIME MOSAICS table oozed delight. And that’s not a word I throw around casually! It took a beat, but soon I understood this artist’s modus operandi: handcrafted jewellery from broken dishes. Now this is something I could really get behind! (And God knows my clumsy self could donate to her cause: ask me about my infamous ‘Breakage List’ from my early serving days…)
I studied the pair in my hands; it’s rare to find china with ivy. You see lots of pine combs and twirly flourishes, but these little chunks were special. A finely-woven gold hoop offset the dangly earrings. “But will I actually wear them?” I thought to myself.
For some reason, I then asked the woman if this was her full-time gig. She replied, “it is, and it isn’t.” She’s hoping to get back into the world of mental health and addictions counselling, something for which she went to school and spent years doing.
My curiosity unravelled further and I asked her how she got started:
“I loved collecting old teacups, and one day, I broke my favourite. I couldn’t bear to throw out any of the pieces, so I kept them.”
“Well, I saw something new in the shattered bits. I thought I could smooth out the rough edges and maybe create a pendent or some earrings.”
“So you did?”
“I’m here, now, aren’t I!”
Her table of offerings glittered under the massive chandeliers of the ballroom. Quirky and fun, all original work. No two pieces ever the same.
I realized my jaw was wide open while she continued to pour out her inspiring story. It reminded me of someone but I wasn’t sure who, until fuzzy dots began to slowly connect in my brain. Here I am, trying to make something from nothing (the short version of my She Walks the Walk story!). And here I am, picking up the pieces of my shattered heart.
I hate admitting this, but when my dad died, I lost a pile of confidence. He was my number one cheerleader, my go-to for advice and he understood my blindspots intuitively. On the inside, we were almost the same person.
I bought the damn earrings. They will never go with my mostly-hiking-attire wardrobe. But they’ll remind me that we all have choices when our worlds come crashing down. We can pick up the pieces and try again. We can find something new. We can use our creative energy to begin again. We can make something beautiful out of our frustration.
I hope to make 2023 just that. And, I’m inviting you to join me!
Excuse me, I seem to have lost my sh**. Have you seen it anywhere?
I’m guessing the three wooden engine boxes my husband stuffed in the boot of my car could be classified as casualties? Yesterday, I hurled them clean across the driveway, praying they’d shatter. They did not. And this disastrous outcome kicked my grown-ass tantrum into a whole new orbit. Indignant, I slammed the car door, cranked the tunes and gunned it to Safeway. Because, doesn’t everybody decide to go grocery shopping in the midst of losing their sh**?
By the time I pulled into the parking lot, I had done little to calm myself down. I decided to just go with it and let the voice in my head have top billing at this pitiful sideshow.
Damn those kids. Damn the constant, bloody mess in the house. Damn the folded laundry, still sitting at the bottom of the stairs. Damn the clusterf*** dishwasher that’s never emptied. Who are the assholes that fill it up with pots? F*** the chronic lollygagging of the pandemic. F*** my period that no longer shows up in a timely fashion. F*** the four jars of empty peanut butter in the pantry. F*** the dog who refuses a walk unless it’s me! F*** me for procrastinating on the school supplies. AND … F*** me for not having the foresight to realize I don’t have the patience to be at home 24/7!
It was then that I started to sob. I had crossed into frightening territory some ten minutes earlier, screeching at the top of my lungs to the ungrateful hoodlums — I mean precious children — that take up residence in our humble abode. I was still shaking from the volume I’d been able to drum up. Here is a friendlier version of my meltdown:
“I am done catering to you people! Get off your duffs! Get off your devices, NOW! I want a list of all the ways you’ll be contributing to this household, and you’re gonna present it to me in the next ten minutes! MOVE!! MOVE!!! MOVE!!!!”
Sh** lost. Shrapnel all over the place. But I couldn’t tell if that volcanic eruption ought to be deemed a relief? Like, I just needed to release some pent-up steam? Or was it actually more a warning sign… and peeps best be taking cover for the REALLY BIG BLOW UP. Be ready, be very ready.
Look, I know I’m not the first to lose her sh**.
But what I hate the most, is (a) admitting that I reverted to my six-year old self (b) knowing my eldest took me on a fishing expedition and I instantly fell for her bait and (c) realizing my kids have seen me lose complete control. I’m sure they wondered what in the Sam H-E-L-L was happening while their mother yanked these unfamiliar crates from the car and launched them into our hedge. Note: if you’re wondering why said engine boxes were in my car, that’s another triggering story involving my husband, some ideas he has, his obsession with picking up random things, storing them in our garage and “one day” upcycling them.
Here’s the deal. My social working friends have informed me that kids don’t feel safe when parents become dysregulated. (Excellent. Mine will be in therapy for years!) So what am I going to do about this sh** that I seem to have lost?
I’ve decided my only course of action is to forgive myself.
That’s right, I’m conjuring up some good ol’ fashioned mercy on this middle-aged Mama. She doesn’t deserve to beat herself up any more than she already does. Because it takes time to transition from one world to the next. And this one has had a decent amount of weirdness to stickhandle.
My old world was regulated, controlled, and stuffed to the brim with structure. I’d leave the house at 8:30 and get home circa 6:30 or later. I’d walk through the door feeling depleted from the grind, but grateful to be back in my safe haven of comfort. HOME. There’d be a wiggling bum waiting to greet me (please know this is the sheepdog, and not my hubby). The kids would seem reasonably pleased at my arrival and may even get off their devices long enough to come give me a hug. But if I’m being honest, even back then I belly-ached about the same overriding theme.
And that would be, never enough hours in the day to complete all the competing priorities, or at best to execute them above the bar of half-ass. To combat this, I used to employ the strategy of squeezing seven minutes out of every five whenever I could. (That got me nowhere but a reputation for always being late, so don’t get any good ideas here!)
But this new world is a definite contrast, over which the pandemic has layered a cutesy little twist. Read: horrifying, annoying, get these dang kids back to some sort of routine. STAT! There’s been zero structure. Only chaos, and confusion. As much as I try to plan my day, there’s no getting around the blurred lines of home and work life when your office is in a bedroom. The constant niggling of all the things left undone in the house scratch at my desire to be that GOOD MOM. That GOOD WIFE.
It’s not that I’m trying to emulate perfection. More, that I aim to please. And I see this renaissance of motherhood as a wonderful opportunity for me to serve. To really be there for my kids. Granted, they’re not wee ones anymore. At 12 and 17, they’re completely self-sufficient-ish. But I’m aware the clock is ticking. One day these sweet girls will have flown the nest. That day is coming soon, and part of my goal in starting over was to try and strike a balance so I could participate more fully in their young lives. While I can.
It seems, though, that I haven’t been functioning optimally under these current conditions. I’ve been feeling inadequate as a mom when I need to focus on my new business. And sucky as an entrepreneur, when I settle into the worry that my 12-year old is entering hermit-like status. (She’s barely ventured out of her room this summer.)
I need to be better. To try and level up. The corporate world and I have had a divorce and this IS my new reality. I’m open to all suggestions! So many of us are facing these same blurred lines, where working from home can SOUND like a dream, at first. And then I wonder why I can’t be more like those *other people*, who seem to be THRIVING at home. With commuting shelved, they’ve got the freed up time to sit in peace. To just chill with a ham sandwich on their back deck in between all that Zooming.
To end this tale of sh** losing, there’s one other thing I lost yesterday. I realized it only after heading into the grocery store, and mid reaching for the laundry detergent. It occurred to me that I didn’t have my wallet.
I may have stomped my feet in the center of Aisle 4. REALLY?
Today is a new day.
So I’m starting with a clean slate. It’s the girls’ first day back to school. It was with mixed emotions I sent them off. Where have the years gone? My eldest finishes high school and my baby has entered middle school. And while I can’t change yesterday’s shenanigans, I can try to be a little kinder to myself. The rogue engine boxes have been neatly stored in the garage for “some day” and looking around, it seems I’ve got most of my sh** together. I’ve a roof over my head. People that love me. My good health.
This post is not meant as a male-bashing rant. I happened to watch an excellent documentary on Netflix last night, Roll Red Roll, and it stirred up some thoughts that have been swirling around my brain over the last few weeks.
My whole life I’ve been two people: one who seeks out and enjoys attention, and one who prefers to turn the spotlight on others. The former gets old and unbearable quickly, not the seeking part, but the getting. The latter is driven by curiosity — this need to dig in and really understand people. But I recently clued into a blind spot of mine, a feeling of uncertainty over some of my boundaries. I’ve been wondering, what even is the line I don’t want crossed? And, is standing up for my self-respect going to trash a part of my wholly alive feminine identity?
The #metoo movement woke me from a dozy slumber; one where I simply tolerated inappropriate male behaviour, particularly during my younger years in the food and beverage industry. Like the shame I felt in allowing a restaurant owner to pull me onto his lap at a Christmas party, while he rubbed my thighs in front of his friends and other staff. There’s me, awkwardly going with the flow and not wanting to cause a scene, and him, making wildly inappropriate comments about my body. I surmise the other happily imbibing onlookers simply chalked it up to him being drunk as F*** (like that excused him). Internally, I loathed the man, but he signed my paycheck and I happened to like my job, so it was one of those, “just deal with it” situations.
Then, there’s the opposite side of the coin. I flat out enjoyed the playful banter of the young men who nursed their Sunday hangovers at the popular downtown pub. I’ll admit it, in between slinging their hash browns and eggs benny, I flirted right back. In fact, I encouraged it! Was it just an unconscious hustle for better tips? (Some would argue, decidedly not unconscious.) Did I just like the attention? Both? Rather than chalk that up to twenty-something behaviour, I now wonder if we are asking to have it both ways.
Have we been setting our men up for future behaviour where they don’t clearly know the line?
I look back on a pattern of “boys will be boys” behaviour in other workplaces, such that if it happened today, HR would (in theory) intervene and consequences would be enforced. I’ve mostly allowed this conduct and I can’t help but ask why. But there was one time, about 22 years ago, when I took immediate action in support of my values; though I’m sure any level-headed woman would have likely done the same.
“You don’t have to accept the things you are not ok with.” — unknown
This specific man, whose name shall go with me to my grave, interpreted my interest in accompanying him on an afternoon mountain biking adventure as carte blanche to put the moves on me. Further, he suggested I’d be fortunate to engage in a threesome with him and his wife. Ummmm …. a what now? In fairness, I did agree to a backyard hot tub after all that crazy biking. But does that in and of itself equal a signpost that reads, please go ahead and make those assumptions about me? I confess I had no clue I’d be putting myself in such a dicey situation, since the dude and his wife were my friends. Plus, he was twice my age (this means nothing), a professional (also means nothing), and knew my father (apparently this doesn’t matter)!
How could I possibly have known he’d try and stick his tongue down my throat? Today I can say that dripping with icky sarcasm, because at the time, I was apparently the Mayor of Naiveville. Good news, though. After an excruciating ride home in his Beamer, I decided the whole thing was S***. I confronted his wife (Did you actually tell your husband you wanted a threesome with me? Because he says it was your idea! What even is that???), and subsequently helped her pick up the pieces as she kicked his ass to the curb, in a move I both championed and revered.
Then there was that time during an innocent ‘post-engagement-break-up’ date with a guy I had long admired. I confess I was excited he’d taken an interest, but found myself flummoxed when he presented me with the cure-all to my wounded heart: his junk. Oh yeah, baby! He literally whipped it out in a Husky parking lot, assuring me that all I really needed was a slice of his meat. Uhhh, too soon, buddy. Much too soon. Needless to say I did not avail myself of his cure-all on our first and only date, and to this day, he is known as “Cock Boy” amongst my closest homies.
Working in a male dominated industry for 15+ years also taught me a thing or two. There were times I longed to speak up and share my insights, but never did, partially because I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, and partially because, did I really want to be “that girl”? The one who dumped everything on its head by proposing some alternative strategy? I did and I didn’t. I had things to contribute and so I would, on occasion. But other times I simply seethed in my chair, not having the energy nor confidence to stand up and say “Hey! How about a little female perspective here!” As a woman, I can say that things are definitely getting better. And yet it’s an exhausting quest, constantly trying to make your voice heard without being “too loud”, or “too opinionated”.
“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” — Eugene Ionesco
A long time male friend of mine recently asked if he had made me uncomfortable when he commented on “all the walking I must have been doing.” We go back so far that I answered him sincerely, his compliment was appreciated, because “yes! I have been walking a whole helluva lot!” (Things tend to get toned when one walks. Which is not why I walk lol.) But his genuine inquiry was indicative of a time of uncertainty for men, too.
Ahem. What is my role in all of this? Why have I not called out sexist behaviour that I witnessed on display at past work functions? Why have I allowed myself to play into the narrative of “boys will be boys”? How and where do signals get crossed? And why am I only thinking about these things now?
I refuse to deny utilizing my skills in the flirting department to get out of a speeding ticket. I also own that, when convenient, these same skills have been deployed to move me closer to the front of a long line-up, or into a more favourable table location at restaurants. Is this overt use of my sexuality contributing to the confusing landscape men now wade through? I dunno. I just. Don’t. Know.
I feel that discussing this is a matter of radical responsibility to myself and others… a chance to inform and educate what the damn line is. Or at least generate some discussion. See, in the past, I’d simply sweep the unsavoury behaviour under the rug, usually by ignoring it. I always hoped this strategy would result in them coming to the conclusion on their own. They’d wake up one day and magically think, “Gee, perhaps I overstepped.” This is fool’s thinking, as we all know. I’m also guilty of simply giggling, and “aw shucks-ing” myself away from the offensive remarks. I think part of this stems from an aversion I have to embarrassing anyone.
The question remains, then, is my silence not a contributor to the problem? I think so.
Back to speaking up and out, the fact is, everyone has something new they can learn about themselves. Always. It’s the same way I own my previous lack of understanding of the specific words “Black Lives Matter” in the BLM movement. I couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t just say, “all lives matter”, since everyone should be treated equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. I found I needed more education on the matter, and after immersing myself in some youtube (I implore you to watch this), I finally connected with the importance of specificity… BLACK LIVES MATTER. Saying ALL LIVES MATTER is precisely not the point! It’s difficult for me to admit all this, but we don’t know everything, people. Many of us have been asleep on these issues for years… either by default or choice.
But I digress. If a person has a clear understanding of the boundaries as laid out by the people they meet — then they should be able to stay within those limits, especially if they value the relationship. Are we at a fork in the road? Must we have a review of what is and is not acceptable?
What is the bloody line, then?
Is my line one, where the occasional compliment coming my way from the male species makes me feel good about my aging self? Sure it is. But my acceptance and appreciation of that does not feed into blanket permission to up the ante! Is my line one, where the use of kissy emojis and hearts in texts is open for interpretation? No! Those things are a dime a dozen in today’s techy world and some would even say they devalue the message being sent. (I’m always concerned I will come off as ‘harsh’ or ‘too direct’ lest I pepper each communication with some sort of emoji. Kill. Me. Now.) Is my line one, where my interest and concern for a member of the opposite sex translates into me wanting sex? F*** no! It simply means I’m a human being, and you’re in my circle of people I care about.
The fact is, I’m a mom of two daughters. It is imperative that I set a clear example of these boundaries that aren’t often discussed. Oh sure, the flagrant, “no means no” stuff is discussed. But how will they go out into the world and handle the occasional bout of sexual bullying? Will they be flattered into a rabbit hole of regret? How will they deal with the inevitable attention they’ll get vs totally inappropriate conversations they should not be engaging in in the first place? This know-how is something I need to instill in them. And while they’re blessed to be living in a more enlightened era (the #metoo movement is never going away), they require the tools to tap into their own empowerment.
So let’s circle back. Is it possible for a woman to define a line with seemingly opposing sides? Can she keep the important connection to her femininity and her integrity for herself intact?
The answer is. I want to believe, yes.
What if we saw this whole thing as a delicate dance? A dance where we, the women, set the rules. Eyes up. Hands here. Respectable space between our bodies unless otherwise invited. I think that’s the key difference. We need to lead the dance. For too long it was always only the men who led. Now it’s our turn.
I’ll just say this. I’m gonna lead the dance. And that’s my line. Any questions?
Yesterday, I left the house at 2:30 p.m. in my pajama bottoms, making a beeline to the nearest Tim Horton’s drive-thru. This was an act of sheer, unadulterated laziness: a woman in desperate need of a coffee with zero desire to clean out the machine from the morning’s earlier fix. My youngest had also not eaten lunch, and a house full of fruits and veggies just wasn’t cutting it. (50% of the inhabitants here are watching what they eat. I’m not one of them, neither is the kid.)
As I approached the order window, I found myself confronted with the icky stench of discomfort. An unkempt-looking Indigenous man sat on the concrete block adjacent to my car, holding a tattered cardboard sign that read: HOMELESS. ANYTHING HELPS. Doing my best to avoid eye contact, I unconsciously scanned the situation from 10,000 feet above. Here I was, milking the convenience (and dare I say luxury) of takeout while this human’s reality painted an entirely different picture. In that moment, I scoured the car for evidence of anything I could donate. But it’s COVID, so I haven’t used real money in awhile. And by the time I thought to order him something to eat, I was already up at the window paying.
I drove home. This doesn’t affect me, so I’m just gonna move on with my day…
It’s now Saturday, and I find myself in an all-out tizzy. Like most, I’ve been taking in the week’s appalling news and riding a rollercoaster of WTF-ness. The two most disturbing bits to me have been what I’m calling ‘The Cooper Showdown’ and ‘George Floyd’. I’ve been sponging up all the abhorrent details GOOGLE will provide in a desperate search for some kind of answer. Of course we know I haven’t found any, because what I’m looking for doesn’t yet exist. My brain longs to make sense of it. It’s denied over and over, and yet I continue to follow these stories with interest, disgust, shame, and sadness. In the words of The Black-Eyed Peas, “I think I’m all distracted by the drama and attracted to the trauma.”
Throughout my life, I’ve been confronted with a number of pivotal moments where I learned something catastrophic has happened in the world, I’ve felt a sense of fleeting impact and then quietly gone about the business of getting on with life. There are three core examples I want to speak about, highlighting some important things I learned at the time and some personal reflections I’m experiencing right now.
September 11th, 2001
I was 27 years-old and had just finished an early morning meeting at the mansion of a prominent, local businessman. I walked back to my office at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and recall feeling so lucky; the sun was out, birds chirped their sing-songy best… I just knew it was going to be the kind of day where everything you touch falls into place. Except that it didn’t.
As I sat down to turn on my computer, one of our long-time volunteers walked by my office. She seemed flustered and struck up a conversation that went like this:
“Samantha, dahling, have you heard the news?” “News? What news?” “New York is burning. It’s just awful!” “What do you mean?” “Wall Street! The World Trade Centre, you don’t know?” “No, I don’t know anything.”
There isn’t a need to fill in any other blanks, because everyone knows what happened that day. As the situation evolved, it crept rapidly into the orbit of all Foundation staff, and soon we found ourselves huddled around one of the two TVs on our floor. How could this be? What did it mean? When the second plane hit, it became obvious the crash wasn’t an accident. Our fixation continued, and as the towers burned people began hurling themselves out the windows.
And then the first building collapsed. Just like that. Melting into a pile of dust and rubble and bodies.
I could no longer watch. I grabbed my bestie, Sara, and headed over to the Rideau Centre for some mall walking and the kind of coffee a shell-shocked person seeks out. On the way over, the only thing we could talk about was the horror of what we had just seen. Neither of us could process it, but something Sara said to me has stood out to this day. This is a paraphrased, recollection of how our conversation went:
“OMG Sara. I can’t believe this. Those poor people. Thousands have just died.” “I know, Sammy. It is terrible.” “You seem relatively calm about this.” “Oh, I’m not. I’m deeply disturbed. I’m just not as shocked as you. Mass killings have been going on in the world for years. We’re just sheltered, or we don’t pay that much attention to it because it isn’t happening in our own backyard.”
As a Jewish woman of just 24, Sara was far wiser and worldlier than I, referring not just to any number of atrocities against the Jews, but any other oppressed and terrorized group of people around the globe. Of course I knew some of what she was implying, but because these things had occurred ‘over there’, or before my time, they weren’t in my immediate consciousness. This doesn’t affect me, so…
January 20th, 2020
My little one and I hopped on a plane for OperationBringHomePiperFromItaly. She had just spent the first semester of her Grade 11 year living in a small town, 30 minutes outside of Milan. As a former exchange student myself, I couldn’t wait to meet the generous family who welcomed her into their home, and thank them in person for taking on the added responsibility of a third teenage ‘daughter’: my quirky, slightly-dramatic-but-also-lovely 16-year old.
Our plan entailed spending a few days getting to know the characters and scenery of Piper’s new world, then hitting the open road for a week of Mom/Daughter bonding. Basically? Going wherever the Plavins whirlwind blew us. To make a very long story short, we spent ten incredible days soaking up the iconic landmarks of Milan and Venice, then headed north to Austria to get our Sound of Music on. The usual travel mishaps of spontaneity did not bring us down, but one of us faced some challenging moments on crowded trains. Saffy — my 12-year old — had been tracking the story of this virus thing happening over in China.
I’m sure you know where this is going.
Looking back, it’s so easy to connect the dots. The virus wasn’t even on my radar screen and then suddenly, news of China locking down an entire city found its way into our conversation. I recall thinking specifically that the media LOVES to overhype and spread fear. These became my lines of defense against Saffy’s increasing anxiety throughout our trip.
On January 30th, we were to meet back up with Piper’s family for one last hurrah: a celebration meal together at my request. This was the same day the WHO declared a world-health ‘Public Emergency’. Also the same day, our Italian family reluctantly and politely declined to see us, given our vagabonding all over (in and out of hostels, train stations, buses, and airports; as I told you, it was a whirlwind). Laura, Piper’s host mom, felt terrible and wondered if her husband wasn’t taking things just a bit too far. He had been encouraging me to get the kids face masks and himself brought home something that looked akin to a literal gas mask. We were disappointed but respected and understood their concerns. I just assumed they had fallen into the trap of the aforementioned ‘Media Vortex of Fear’. Grant you, on the 31st of January, Italy became the first country to suspend all flights to China and even declared a National Emergency after only 2 cases had been found in Rome. I personally thought this to be excessive and dramatic. Little did I know.
So we made a plan B for the next few days and flew back to Canada as scheduled on the 1st of Feb.
Again, there isn’t a need to rehash all the details of Italy becoming the new epicentre, or the irony in my judgemental and very naive thoughts. Those are all givens thanks to the convenience of hindsight. Our family would hear over and over You’re so lucky you got her out of there just in time! Who knew! We watched in disbelief as Covid shut down the very area Piper had lived in, and hundreds of deaths began to pile up.
Still, we pressed on with our lives, and, in fact, counted down the days until we could board the next plane for a long-awaited family reunion trip to a beach in El Salvador. This doesn’t affect us, so…
Quick background for context. My parents have owned a home in Antigua, Guatemala for the last ten years. They fell in love with the country, the culture and the people on a Habitat for Humanity build in neighbouring Honduras many moons ago. My younger brother, Jonathan, accompanied them on this same volunteer stint, and yadda yadda yadda, he moved there, fell in love, and married the most wonderful Honduran woman I know: my sister-in-law, Shalem. After dealing with years of Canadian Government shenanigans (read: proving their love was ‘legit’), they eventually settled back in Canada and started their family last year. My little niece Mila was born while I walked the Camino last year. In fact, she is one year old today.
Our reunion was slated from March 17th to the 30th — ten days of reconnecting with the most special people in the world to me. My kids were finally going to meet their new baby cousin. My parents would have all five of their grandkids together for some typical ‘Wrenshall Family Hoo-Haw’. It would be a grand adventure, of epic proportions. And in light of some recent health challenges in the family, the trip served as a beacon of hope, togetherness and love. Even up until March 10th I had the suitcases packed and all my going-away checklists fulfilled.
It was also on this day that it became clear we might have a situation on our hands.
Certain countries around the world had begun to restrict the entry of anyone who had been to China (didn’t affect us) or specific European countries within the last 30 days (Uh-oh. This affects us). And now it looked like neither my sister nor I would be allowed to enter El Salvador, as we had both been over to Europe within the last 30 days (her for a wedding; me for a course in the UK).
So we began to research a plan B. OperationGetOurMoneyBack from the resort in El Salvador, and find a lovely Airbnb to stage our family reunion in Antigua, Guatemala. That seemed like a safe bet and so far they had no travel restrictions to speak of. It’s crucial to know this was all happening the week before we were due to travel.
As luck would have it, my little family happened to be flying into Guatemala in the first place, since we were going to join my parents who were already down there and ride to El Salvador by bus. Thus from a flight point of view, we were all good. We scored ourselves a lovely Antiguan place, smacked down the full payment and began to settle into the new idea of being together in Guatemala, instead of El Salvador.
But the perfect storm was a-brewing. On the 13th of March, the Canadian Government announced all non-essential travel should be avoided. With my bottom lip sticking out like a sore thumb, I bitterly hit the cancel button on our new Airbnb find and proceeded to contact Delta to deal with our flights. I couldn’t believe that this thing called COVID would have the audacity to ruin our family’s plans. This affects me now, so I’m pissed…
Meanwhile, my brother and sister-in-law who had arrived a few weeks earlier to introduce their new little Mila to her extended Honduran family, found themselves locked inside the country of Honduras. Unable to leave or move through any other Central American country. Likewise, a similar fate was in store for my folks, who wound up stuck in Guatemala. This affects me BIG TIME now, so I’m calling CBC News and my MPP.
Some Date in May, 2020 (Actual dates fuzzy due to repetitiveness, insanity and uncertainty.)
Fast forward to learning about Ms Amy Cooper. Cockily ignoring the dog-leashing requirement of the Ramble at Central Park, Amy felt indignant when she was called out and asked to respect the rules by bird-watcher Christian. When he made repeated polite attempts to insist she comply, Amy became even angrier. So she reached into that unconscious filing cabinet in her brain to pull out the only retaliation her pissed-off self could muster. I’m surmising this is what went on her head:
You have no business calling me out. My dog and I have every right to be here. I’m alone in a wooded area and you’re a black man. If I appear threatened in any way, it’s YOU who will be punished. I know this, because our society seems to favour white women in distress. Will serve you right for raining on my parade.
Amy’s act of knowingly pulling out this decades-old weapon — the white privilege card — is what sends me into a tailspin. Because, I keep hoping that with every passing news story of a gunned-down, unarmed African American man/boy/woman… with every radically different and unjust judicial scorecard… that… that… something will change. That people will snap out of their hatred — both conscious and unconscious. That we will come to a place of abolishing oppression and racism. That we will wake up.
Then, I wondered if I’m really awake? Why did this story bother me so much? I’m not like Amy Cooper. So… what, then?
I realized it today. It’s bothering me because it’s a pattern of watching something vile, unjust, unacceptable take place and then moving on with my cushy little life. It doesn’t affect me, sooo…
I’m calling bullshit on myself. All these terrible things… all the atrocities… they DO affect me. I’m a human being. I live in the world. And if the world that I live in turns a blind eye to all the shit it needs to deal with, that shit is NEVER GOING AWAY.
In a sense, I wonder if it’s easier for me to ignore these things because I feel powerless. What could I possibly do to change anything? It’s also just way more comfortable to keep all of these sad things at arms length… a news story that rivets, but one that fades away over time, like popping an Advil, you just know there’s eventual relief coming. The Amy Cooper story should serve as a mirror to all of us. While 99% of the people I know personally wouldn’t dream of pulling that kind of racist stunt on anyone, we have to ask ourselves if we’re any better because we wouldn’t, or if maybe, we are decidedly the same for tolerating it.
I’ve been born into a bubble of privilege. And I’m just waking up to the realization of what that all means. There is an unconscious, different set of rules for people of privilege… life is just easier if you happen to:
Be white Be Canadian Be Christian Be straight Be middle-class Be able-bodied Speak English
The thing of it is, awareness is power. If I can call out myself and my own complacent bullshit, then that’s a start. Maybe this self-awareness can begin to make a difference. Maybe writing this long-ass piece while half-drunk on wine is a start. Maybe someone else will ask themselves, if they don’t have just a little bit of that This doesn’t affect me, soooo… happening.
If you haven’t had a chance to hear these words, take a moment. It’s a remixed version of the original Black-Eyed Peas song, ‘Where is the Love?’. Love it, hate it or leave it, the message is clear.
In the wake of taking up this midlife reinvention, I’ve been facing a challenging narrative that I’d like to rewrite. You know, for my eventual taking over the world, and all. As has been the case since I was a young girl, the act of declaring an issue out loud is one specific way of purging it. But to banish it for good? It’s been often more effective to write it down, and then send it out into the universe. So I trust you’ll forgive me for what is about to be a boatload of purging, as I begin the process of making peace with something that’s bothered me for decades.
Officially, I’m laying to rest ‘Rich Bitch.’ May she rest easy.
If you’re confused at all, well, thank you for feeling this way. Generally, I pride myself on most decidedly NOT being too much of a ‘bitch’, and I’d hardly call myself ‘rich’. Although the latter depends only on the metrics you’re using or whatever perspective you choose to take, as it’s all relative. But let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, I’m talking rich rich. (Interestingly, it’s been widely reported that Canadians snatched the distinction of the ‘Richest Middle Class’ in the world from America as of 2015, though for certain this virus crisis will shatter all global data in a downward trajectory.) By Scrooge McDuck standards? I don’t measure on the scale. I will, however, say that I’m aware of my privilege and blessings, and these make me feel a gamut of emotion, from gratitude to humility to utter discomfort.
Who is she… this ‘Rich Bitch’ you speak of?
Allow me to introduce you: her name is Samantha Leigh.
She’s such a nice, young girl. Now 13 years-old and most definitely a ‘pleaser’, she’s desperate for the approval of others. She longs to be a professional ballet dancer one day and flits about anything with a flat surface. Currently, she’s in the throes of that awkward stage… a mouth full of braces, overly-permed/hair-sprayed hair and regrettably, zero curves (for which she prayed daily would one day appear, and then when they did, she cursed them all to hell!). She lives on a beautiful, quiet cul-de-sac with her brother and sister, mom and dad, and an extra adorable sheepdog. Samantha is mostly happy — at least, this is what she projects.
But she also hurts.
There have been whisperings going on during recess for about a year now, and whether or not she was intended to hear these things, she heard them. ‘She’s such a rich bitch!’ … this coming from a couple of the neighbourhood boys who attended school with her. Certainly, she was conscious of her family’s abundance during this time, but her awareness morphed into a cavernous shame that would swallow her for years, and ultimately come to shape her view of money (and, sadly, people).
A belief system is born.
As she enters her last year of elementary school, she’s optimistic these whispers will simply fade away. They do not. In fact, they seem to ramp up, seeping deeper into the dermis of her skin, where they take hold of her value system and then spread like cancer, creating a number of other beliefs she would subscribe to for years.
Having money is a threat. Having money makes people jealous. Having money makes people hate you. Having money makes people think that you think you’re better than everyone else. Having money is therefore the devil.
It sounds outrageous, dramatic, perhaps even a bit silly. But this is her truth. My truth. These were my core beliefs as they related to finance and I grew up to eventually become … wait for it… a Financial Advisor… someone literally committed to helping people build and accumulate their wealth. You can see one reason why I needed to leave my career. Not exactly the healthiest relationship on earth with money!
An uncomfortable display of ‘rich’.
But how did these idiotic boys come to this conclusion? And more importantly, why did I let their taunting hurt me?
The answer is complex. Honestly? I had one of those classically, ‘great’ childhoods and would not trade my parents for the world. Let me be crystal clear about that. We all know, however, there are always problems lurking behind the scenes. And we will do whatever it takes to hide these from others. Welcome to Facades 101 — a course that teaches you to unconsciously craft a kind of storefront you may not even realize you’re building.
What affected me so intensely was the obviousness or at least the overt appearance of having money, especially when I knew there were others who didn’t. This gaping, socioeconomic inequality struck me. One particular boy — who shall remain nameless — appeared to grow up with considerably less. He had a distinct edginess about him, always milling about in his shredded jeans, his house perched close to the neighbouring shunt yard. I never judged him for this, I’m simply painting a picture. But he was a ringleader in goading others; before long, he had many of the boys calling me ‘Rich Bitch’.
So what did I do? I dated him, of course. (If you can call it dating when you’re barely 14!) Shocked the teachers and kids on the playgrounds alike… what was Samantha — this goody-two-shoes — doing dating the rebel who smoked and ditched school?
I had hoped this strategy of mine would alter his opinion of me, once he got to know me. Ha! We lasted barely a month and it wasn’t long until the whispers graduated to other audible blasphemy. (Sidebar: this boy grew up to be a social worker and is a fantastic human, I hold no grudge for his hurtful egging on. For he was in pain, too.)
And what of that uncomfortable display of wealth I alluded to?
Well, at one point in time, we were the only ones in the neighbourhood with an inground pool, which in those days was the kind of backyard recreation reserved only for people with deep pockets. There were also multiple luxury cars in the driveway, and every designer name brand a kid could wear hung in our closets. ALL the expensive, usual suspects were there… Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren. (#Facts: as I’ve become more self aware, I have a visceral, gross response to visible designer labels on clothing. These labels created a divide that I can only now recognize, one that became more painfully obvious in high school. Understand, though, I acknowledge my own hypocrisy. Not only did I wear these ridiculously priced clothes, but I eventually sought out work at a store that allowed me to purchase even more, but at a discount price. The payoff being my own eventual delusion that I’d be more popular and ‘legit’ if I had the ‘right’ clothes on my back!)
Today, I can look back and objectively see that we weren’t rich, and in fact this has been validated by my parents directly. Upper middle-class? Yeah, that seems reasonable. But the story goes that we were also stretched quite thin… dangerously so at times. It was a precipice that seemed worth the risk of living on, for it fed the hungry, bossy ego and plugged the gap of limited self esteem.
Let me give you some concrete examples.
My mom used to always say, “I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, and no child of mine is…” insert whatever you’d like here. Do I fault her for this? Absolutely not. She was simply doing what we all do: wanting to give her children more opportunity and privilege than she had growing up. She was also incessantly teased as a child for having less than others… you can see how the circle goes.
My dad? He suffered terrifying abuse as a little boy, resulting in very deep, very painful trauma that caused him to believe he also wasn’t good enough. As a married couple, this combined shame resulted in an insidious need to acquire enough status symbols that others would see their obvious success, put two and two together and assume they must be decent people. Ergo, worthy. Maturity, healing and wisdom, for all of us.
We are all older and wiser now, and know this not to be the way the soul works. Decades have past, people have changed, attitudes have shifted and healing has occurred. Our possessions do not define us. Standing in complete dichotomy to the past, my father is more comfortable living with less in a third-world country than he is showing any outward sign of relative privilege. He’d tell you he just flat-out doesn’t care about that stuff and would rather give away any excess that he has.
And my own thinking has evolved, too. Heck, I’ve been lobbying for years to sell everything and live out of a backpack, or at the least a Tiny Home. My time on the Camino solidified my thoughts on material possessions and the emptiness that comes from attaching to them.
I’ve also spent years viewing money as this necessary-but-undesirable ‘thing’, and yet I worked in this competitive industry where ego is most often splashed in front of anyone who didn’t care to look. Case in point, I once was at conference for rookie advisors, and the keynote speaker — a successful, seasoned advisor — took a full five minutes to show slides of his ‘compound’. I kid you not, he literally referred to his house this way; at that time I had no choice but to swallow down the barf in my mouth.
So what have I learned?
I am not this girl called ‘Rich Bitch’. And, it’s ok to have money, because I now believe that money is simply energy. We can hoard that energy, hold it close to our chest and maybe, find ourselves in a restrictive, lonely existence. Or we can put that money out into the world… in whatever form we think is best representative of our hopes and dreams. Note: I’m aware that even talking like this comes from a place of extreme advantage. There are billions in the world who require money just to stay alive. They’re often not even taught to dream, for what’s the point when survival is really the ideal outcome?
In terms of my own allocation of money, one thing I’ve prioritized is investing in my kids memory banks, possibly even to the detriment of their education savings. This has come in the form of some epic travel, partially driven by a desire to expand their own perspectives, but also by the idea that actually experiencing things you might otherwise only come to understand in a textbook, is worth something. At least, I believe it is, and it costs money. So, I send that energy out into the world in exchange for the unlimited potential growth that comes from discovering another culture. At the end of the day, I’ve also learned that what we do, how we act, or what we purchase simply proves what we believe.
It’s time for me to make peace with money. It’s been a festering block and I’m finally ready to banish it! In the process of creating my new business, I’ve discovered that although it’s specifically purpose that drives me, if I attach any shame to potential financial success I won’t be as strongly positioned to serve than if I happen to be so fortunate to smash it out of the park.
Likewise, I’ve had to face my own ugly judgement towards others. Just because someone is successful, or has money — lots of it, ALL the stuffs — doesn’t mean they don’t also uphold the virtue of wanting to make a difference, or caring about others. If a person chooses to spend their dough on a limited edition car, who am I to judge? Or a ‘compound’? That’s their prerogative. Besides, we all have different drivers for how we view money and I’m the last person that should be pretending I’m judge and jury of what’s ‘right’. I’m not.
So, my dear Samantha Leigh, I shall miss you, but I’m letting ‘Rich Bitch’ go. No tears, no regrets. Peace be with you, girl!
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