One Damn Word, and a pile of Skittles.

skittles-924835_1920

As we walked to school, I struggled to find something new or important to say that would help crack through the layers of disappointment and anger.  I had done a decent job convincing myself that it was really about containing and contextualizing the election results for my kids. Both of them had amazing insight and questions leading up to this election, and I wanted to strike the right balance between cultivating their interest in world affairs, and making sure they could still eat a banana popsicle or jump around in the neighbour’s trampoline without worrying about the fall of civilization as we know it. But deep inside, I knew it wasn’t actually the kids who needed the words this morning. As my preacher friend often reminds me, his best sermons are the ones in which he is preaching to himself.  This morning, I needed someone to say just One Damn Word that could make me feel better about waking up in a province fuelled by rage and righteousness, about going to work on a campus that is more polarized and grim than anything I’ve experienced in 18 years, or about carrying on in a world where depression and anxiety routinely take from us the beautiful souls that help to scatter light in our own darkness. Just One Damn Word was all I really needed this morning.

I had already decided last night to take a much needed day at home, so I spent the morning in a fit of what I hoped would be therapeutic housecleaning, scrubbing away at the mental grit that’s been accumulating steadily for the last few weeks. But somewhere between picking up the eight thousandth piece of lego and scraping the remnants of watermelon-flavoured Skittles off my daughter’s bookshelf, I began to cry. At first, I thought it was your garden-variety “burn it all fucking down” angry cry, but sitting here now on my swing on this gorgeous early summer evening, many hours and three cups of tea away from those heaving, heavy sobs, I know it was more than that. It was mainly, perhaps even entirely, about the slow but searing pain of Letting Go. Letting go of constantly wishing and fighting for things to be different.  Letting go of the idea that if I just send one more email, organize one more union meeting, do one more facebook post, or check off one more thing on my never-ending to-do list, that it will magically feel like the world is back where it needs to be. It was about letting go of my beautiful, smart and tender boy who no longer needs me to walk him to school (but thankfully lets me anyway), or letting go of my girl who can now stand on a stage by herself, and calmly and forcefully speak her truth into a microphone and then eat five bags of popcorn. It was also about having to let go of the pleasant illusion that we can somehow prevent our children, and ourselves, from having mornings just like this one. Mornings that feel so heavy, anger-inducing and just so, so, hard. After awhile, I stopped crying and made my way back to the scrubbing. And though I didn’t feel great, I did feel better. I felt better enough to text one of my best friends and invite her over to soothe our election-induced hangover with some leftover Indian food. She had other plans, but the small act of reaching out to her helped to ground me slowly back into myself.  She likely doesn’t know it, but she helped turn this day back into something manageable just by being on the other side of that text.

As I continued scrubbing, I started thinking about a discussion we had at a church meeting a few weeks ago. We are knee-deep in installing a new heating system, and it was my job to explain to the congregation how the new system would “maximize efficiency, ensure longevity, and offer the greatest capacity for backup and support in the event of system failure.”  I think that maybe that’s really the most important thing we can offer to one another: backup and support in the event of system failure. Despite my deeply ingrained impulse to want to fix everything for those I care about, most people–including the littlest ones in my life–don’t usually need fixing. What they do need is: unconditional love, support, acceptance, and someone to look out for them, or even to just stand by, when all their normal systems are failing.

I still haven’t found the right words for today. But I did find some words —these very ones that are fighting their way through my fingers to land on this screen, in the faint hope that they  help someone else feel that it’s more than okay to sit down next to their own pile of dried out Skittles and have a big ugly cry about the state of everything. I might suggest that even if you didn’t find yourself crying in a pile of three week old candy, you should invite someone over for leftovers. Cuz there’s a good chance they need might really need it today.

“I’ll have the pink hair with broccoli, and a side of angst.”

The wet snow looked like buttery popcorn as we stepped out of the salon.  She pulled up her hood, her eyes fixed on the wet ground, walking slowly behind me. For awhile, I said nothing. Then, more sharply than I intended, I looked back and said, “Let me guess. You hate it.”

She looked up, and seeing my expression, she turned her eyes towards the cars, splashing noisily alongside us. “Well, um, it’s just that–”

I interrupted her with a exhausted sigh and glanced down distractedly at my phone, signalling my annoyance.  We walked along in silence for the next few minutes.

As we walked, I could feel the familiar anxiety rising in my chest. I  was desperately trying to summon up the mother who could easily put aside her own irritation at having set aside an important work project to pick up her daughter early for the haircut she  begged for just that morning.  I wanted so badly to be able to reach back and take her hand, tell her that it was totally alright if she didn’t love the 25 dollar (!) haircut, that it would grow back in no time at all, and that we’d wash the pink sparkles out as soon as we got home.  Because that’s what Good and Loving Mothers do, right?

Only, I didn’t do or say that. I lifted one eye from my phone and said, angrily, “You know, for once, would it kill you to just pretend that you like it?”

“Ok” she said tentatively. In that moment I could almost see, between the kernels of popcorn snow now falling heavily between us, the angst swell up inside her tiny body. She took off her hood, and I watched her attempt a nervous skip as she caught up with me, as if to say, “Look at me and my new haircut — isn’t it TOTALLY AWESOME!”

We arrived back at the school and got in the parked car, neither of us mentioning the haircut. She tried to engage me with the usual sordid tales of Grade 2 that I normally can’t resist,  but I found myself responding with only curt “uh huhs” and perfunctory smiles.  In the rear view mirror, I could see the tender edges of nervousness creeping into her face, and eventually, she sat back in her seat, stopping her story mid-tale.  And yet still, I said nothing.  By this time her brother had arrived and, sensing the tension between us, offered an uncharacteristically earnest “how was your day?’ as we pulled away from the school.  “Fine,” we both muttered sharply, at exactly the same time–prompting the boy to offer an instinctive, barely audible “jinx zipper spots!”  (don’t ask — kids are just weird).

When we got home,  she marched up to her room, where she stayed long enough for me to unload a well-curated list of “all the things I do for her” on my partner, who nodded sympathetically here and there as he cut up the broccoli for dinner. And then, without a word, he carefully set the table, poured me a glass of wine, and asked if it was time for a hug.  I immediately bristled, thoroughly annoyed at the gall of him in suggesting that all my Very Serious and Important Complaints could be somehow reduced to a hug.  But a second later I nodded, my body gently sinking back into my chair. Summoning up my very best version of my defeat meets exhaustion-induced neediness face,  I waited. He kept chopping.

Hello?” I said, exasperated. “I thought you were going to give me a hug,”

Without looking up, he said calmly, ” I didn’t say that. I asked you if it was time for a hug. I didn’t mean from me.”

I walked up the stairs and knocked gently on her door. Before I could say a word, she burst from her bed, wetting my shirt with her hot tears, telling me how much she really loved the pink parts, but was worried that the snow would ruin it. “I just wanted to get home quickly and look at it in my mirror before showing my friends at school.” As the shame of what I had put her through on the way home swept over me, I started bawling too. We lay on her bed for awhile, staring at the ceiling and blowing our noses until her Dad finally called us down for dinner.

Parenting breaks your heart into a million pieces, a thousand times a day.

PS. The broccoli was really good.

 

Re-organization

York University Libraries is about to embark on a major reorganization. Today, I interviewed for one of six new positions that have been created as part of the new structure. The position is for a Director of the Content Development and Analysis Department.  I’m excited about the reorganization, and (hopefully) moving into a new role.

In case you are interested, here are my presentation notes , my presentation slides and my bookmark!.

Charlottesville.

We were packing the car when the news of Charlottesville was breaking, heading off on the camping trip that we now refer to as our Annual Screen Sabbath (because evidently, it now takes a five-day provincial park permit and a weak cell signal to pry us from our devices, but that’s a sad story for another day). The timing was good: my low level but ever-present anxiety and frustration at the state of all things that began on that fateful Tuesday night last November had taken a toll, and I had been wrestling with the tight edges of fatigue and disheartenment for several weeks. Low on patience and empathy for things I normally valued, I hoped that a few days under the stars, my phone turned off and my beach reads lined up, was just the remedy.

And in some ways, it wasI got some much-needed sleep, restored my suffering reputation as the household queen of Dutch Blitz, and on one crisp morning, sat in my favourite canvas chair watching a half-crazed chipmunk scamper back and forth across our site for so long that my daughter actually got concerned: “Mommy…are you, like, okay?

But, by day two, I was aware of the silence being oppressive, a slow burn in the deep woods, lying in wait. It wasn’t just because it had been a really long time since my phone and I had spent this much quality time apart (that turned out to be far less painful than I anticipated), or that the beach reads I hastily selected from the drug store turned out to be, well, the kind of books that one hastily selects from the drug store. It was more that my internal message to “take a break from the heavy stuff” just wasn’t working. I kept telling myself that our vacation was not the time to ruminate endlessly about Charlottesville, the Orange Man, or the many, many ways in which our world felt broken. If only for a few short days, I wanted to take my lead from my children and bury my head, or at least my toes, in the cool, wet sand. It would, I reasoned, all be waiting for me when I got home.

Halfway through the trip, I was listening to my kids playing in their tent while I prepared dinner. We’ve been rationing our screen time lately, and the new routines have sparked a welcome resurgence of creative role play. So, I wasn’t surprised to hear my daughter giving her older brother explicit instructions for the next scene in their impromptu performance. I was drifting in and out of listening, but I stopped chopping my onion long enough to absorb the plot essentials: my daughter was playing the President, and she had just issued her first executive order to move all the stuffies to one side of the air mattress. “It’s time”, she said blithely, “to build the wall.”

For a moment, I could barely breathe. I briefly considered interrupting them to explain why this wasn’t really the stuff of play, but I forced myself to keep listening so I could make sense of how much she actually understood about what it all meant. (As it turns out, the wall’s singular purpose in this particular administration was to protect the White House’s supply of macaroni and cheese). Still, it was striking to realize that my attempts to shelter them from the divisive and frightening rhetoric of the last year hadn’t been as successful as I imagined. It’s not that we hadn’t engaged the issues at all; we’ve certainly had many conversations about Trump’s election. My son has a decent grasp of our major concerns, and I’ve watched him wrestle thoughtfully with how notions of inclusion and exclusion play out in his own world. They’ve both asked us good questions, and we’ve done our best to answer them honestly without burdening them with excessive fear or anxiety.  But standing outside their tent that night, I was struck anew by the realization they were citizens of the world in their own right, and that no amount of rationing their screen time, careful re-direction or family dialogue could protect them entirely from having to contend with darkness in places where they’ve only ever known light. I think it was the start of accepting that my job was no longer to try to hide it all from them, but to find ways to take their not-so tiny hands, and start walking through it with them.

Later that night, my husband and I finally dispensed with the illusion of getting away from it all and had a good long talk about Charlottesville, Trump and our fears, but also about how to stand with awareness alongside our children without losing our sense of hope, or our sense of humour. We didn’t come up with any clear answers but the exploration made us both feel a bit better, and left us with a renewed determination to find ways to work at things meaningfully, even if only in the small reaches of our daily lives. I’m still unsure about what this all really looks like, but I do know that the uncertainty feels better than despair or complacency.

On the close of my 45th birthday, I am sure of a few things. I am sure that whether you understand fascists mobilizing in Charlottesville to be an overture for something far more ugly, or see it as a critical breaking point in this vile and dangerous Presidency, there is no longer enough sand in the world in which to bury ourselves. I’m sure that while it’s tempting to insist that there is nothing to be done on this side of the border short of waiting and watching in horror, and maybe hugging our loved ones a bit more tightly, it’s frankly just not enough. I’m sure that you don’t necessarily need an official title, a pulpit or a even a blog to start naming hate where and when you see it, even when it feels terrifying. I’m sure that if you are, like me, a white, straight, able-bodied woman living a largely middle class existence in one of the safest countries in the world, there’s probably a ton of stuff you could be doing in the wake of Charlottesville, but that sometimes the most important thing to do is just shut the hell up and listen to people of colour so that you understand what is needed. Finally, I’m sure that it is only when we begin to truthfully acknowledge and talk about our own complicitness in the systems and structures that perpetuate the racism that defined Charlottesville, that we can even begin to imagine an alternative. If nothing else, it’s a decent place to start.

On Magic. And Disney Dreams.

We went to Walt Disney World. If you know us at all, this in itself is pretty surprising. But what’s even more surprising is this: we liked it.  A lot.

Some things were as I expected: at times we were miserably hot, exhausted and overstimulated, and ready to tell Mickey exactly where he could stuff his ears. But more often than not, we found ourselves knee-deep in something we don’t get nearly enough of in our regular lives: the full experience of each other, and of silencing our inner critics just long enough to take in the view.

Let me be very clear: I am not normally a “make lemonade from lemons” person, and I have been known to taste sour before sweet on the best of days. But for me, the real Magic of Disney was the way it relentlessly begged me to shelve my hard-won analysis of all life’s injustices and woes for just a little while, and take a good, long, break. For neurotic types like me who struggle with doing ALL THE THINGS and a sometimes burdensome sense of responsibility, this was a beautiful gift, even if it did come packaged in gaudy decor, pervasive, if slightly laboured, good cheer, and oddly terrifying over-sized dalmations.

The Magic surfaced for me in unexpected ways. I was almost embarrassed to find myself tearing up as Belle sobbed over the dying Beast, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the bubble gum pink ball gowns as they twirled effortlessly across the stage. Meanwhile, the seven year old–presumably more of the target audience for such things–fidgeted with her MagicBand throughout the entire performance, stopping only periodically to ask when there would be more french fries. But I will never forget the look on her face when, while relaxing by the pool that night, I handed her a five dollar bill and told her to go and get any drink she wanted. And pay for it ALL BY HERSELF. After clarifying that this directive included orange pop, she nearly tripped over her own excitement running off on what she would later call her Very Important Mission.

There were other moments.. Waiting in line for Big Thunder Mountain wth the Boy, I sensed his trepidation as he listened to the nervous laughter of riders pulling into the loading area. At first I tried to engage him, thinking that talking through his fear would help. It took a few shoulder shrugs for me to realize that this was not at all what he needed.  I think all that mattered, and would be (hopefully) be remembered years from now, was that his mom was with him on that ride. Did I mention we went three more times?

We ordered cheese pizza at midnight. We bought tacky t-shirts, and then some of us bought a few more. We hugged Pluto, and fist bumped a Storm Trooper. We watched as the Boy let down his guard and was charmed anew by a bear named Winnie. We sat by awkwardly, as the Girl, having decided that sitting with us was boring, took it upon herself to adopt a new family on every bus trip to and from the parks.  She made friends with people from all over the States, scored a seat on a mobility scooter with an 86 year old who had tackled every roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom that day, and even learned a magic trick or two. I tolerated a grown man talking like a pirate (and quite badly at that) for almost an entire afternoon, and felt only mild irritation at his insistence on checking off everything last thing on his personal Must See List. I gazed at palm trees, and ate my weight in baked chicken and green beans, and held on for the ride.  It was all so ridiculous, and yet so uttterly, unbelievably, irresistable.

On the return flight, I watched the Girl take out her notebook and write down the list of things she had done in Florida. Interestingly, almost none of them had to do with princesses, pirates or anything you could find in the gift shops. Still, I can’t help but think that those princesses and pirates were a big part of what helped her parents to remember that being seven (and a half) isn’t at all like being forty four, or twenty, or even sixteen. I like to think that over the din of the throbbing crowds, beyond the zillion gift shops and the constant pull of more and more stuff, I could hear them whispering to me some things I could probably stand to hear a bit more often. They were telling me that sometimes, if only for a few moments, or even a few days, it’s really ok to Let it Go, to buy the sugary drink, to tolerate the roughhousing (and yes,  even the pirate talk) just a little bit longer, and to remember that most of the time, they’re just doing their very best to be seven and almost ten in a world that’s designed mostly for grown ups.

I think that might be the best kind of Magic.

Suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement

February 3, 2017

The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen
Minister of Immigration
365 Laurier Avenue West 365
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 1L1

cc:
The Right Honorable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada

The Honourable Serge Cormier
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Dear Minister,

In the names of all those affected by the Executive Order signed by President Trump on January 27, 2017, I write to urge you to suspend the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

This Agreement requires that the United States continue to meet the legislative definition of a safe third country. This definition includes a requirement to meet a “high standard with respect to the protection of human rights” and the maintenance of an “open democracy with independent courts, separation of powers and constitutional guarantees of essential human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

President Trump’s Executive Order banning refugees from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days represents a serious challenge to this legislative definition of a safe third country. Trump’s statements during his election campaign that he is open to considering the use of torture provides further evidence of this challenge. Therefore,  Canada must exercise its right under the terms of this Agreement to suspend it for three months, pending review.

This action would represent a concrete step in your government’s stated commitment to welcoming those who are fleeing persecution and war, regardless of their religious background.

Sincerely,

Patti Ryan
Toronto, Ontario

New Release.

Audrey and the Clementine:   A Memoir.

juice in my eye

Praise for Audrey and The Clementine:  A Memoir

“Sweet and full of surprises.  You’ll want to savour every juicy bite of this work”
Audrey’s Dad.

” A fearless and raw exploration of the deepest, and universal, wounds of childhood.”
Audrey’s Mom

“Dude, why do you only have one arm?”
H, age. 8.

How to Use the Library.

Yesterday while catching up on some collections work, I stumbled across the first english translation of Umberto Eco’s “How to Write a Thesis.”  It was originally written in 1977, a few years before In the Name of the Rose was published.  Intrigued by the section on “How to Use the Library,” I grabbed it off the shelf. It’s a relatively quick read, and quite delightful.   While many of his practical strategies haven’t aged well (this was pre OPACs), I think that instruction librarians, particularly in the humanities, would find his rich analogies and ways of talking about aspects of the research process really helpful in working with undergraduate students.  I’ve already incorporated a few ideas into my next IL class.

I did laugh out loud at this paragraph:

“You must overcome any shyness and have a conversation with the librarian, because he can offer you reliable advice that will save you much time.  You must consider that the librarian (if not overworked or neurotic) is happy when he can demonstrate two things:  the quality of his memory and erudition and the richness of his library, especially if it is small. The more isolated and disregarded the library, the more the librarian is consumed with sorrow for its underestimation.  A person who asks for help makes the librarian happy” (p. 56).

Almost forty years later, it’s still remarkably accurate.