Thursday, January 23, 2014

the deliverance of delivery

My partner-in-parental-crime and I have taken great pains to try to teach our boys some responsibility in the madness of their over-scheduled childhood. We tried to instill pride in helping with daily chores, to model the joy of keeping things orderly and tidy, and to impart our wisdom of obedience and diligence. We pretend to be good Calvinists, you see...we attempted this out of guilt if nothing else.

But we failed miserably.

Instead, we hired our boys out to the local newspaper to deliver papers in the 'hood. Every day but Sunday. When I made this decision, my generous logic thought this activity would oblige someone in the family to walk the dog at least once a day while alleviating my temptation to give my children an allowance for doing minus nothing. I've always had a weakness for multi-tasking ventures.

But. One day, they were busy. And I mean gone busy. And I was here. Looking at a stack of 18 newspapers that needed to be placed into neighbourhood mailboxes. Now, I am not so arrogant and full of myself to think I am too good for such a task. At least this is what I told myself. I stuffed and then huffed a bag full of good and mostly horrid news over my shoulder. And I prepared Juno (the dog not the god) for the adventure.

So. Since only three people under the age of 40 read the actual newspaper anymore, most of my boys' "clientele" comes from the elderly of the bunch. They tip my boys often; they scribble them thank-you cards and hand them old puzzles from their attics; they smile and pat and give Juno treats. It's all rather Norman Rockwell-ish.

Except for one big mansion. We were told an older lady lives there. The boys often fought over who got to deliver the paper to The Mansion. She left no Christmas tip or note, never once a nod of gratitude. At least we never glimpsed her face to notice it.

But then.

On the day of my deliverance, Mansion Owner was in her front driveway speaking to a man who had recently finished shoveling it. She watched me approach with my paper-boy satchel. She looked at me and twisted her chin down sideways in that way that shouted quite clearly, "what in the hell are you doing walking onto my property?"

I smiled my warmest with a paper in hand and asked if she would like it or if she would like me to place it in the mailbox.

She looked at me confused. And then she said, "I do not want the paper anymore. I have told them that I will not pay for it. It is ridiculously expensive."

I apologized for the obvious error in communication, and I offered my assistance in amending the mistake by calling my important contacts at the Newspaper Headquarters on her behalf.

She grunted in disgust. And then she said, "Yes, tell them I will not pay."

And then she took the paper out of my hands.

I am not writing to condemn this particular woman's arrogance or her self-righteousness or even her disillusionment of wealth; it is all too easy to see that merely one of her exterior light fixtures would suffice to pay for the newspaper for four years for the entire neighbourhood. I know enough wealthy people, well two anyway, to know that they do not appreciate being expected to pay for everyone else's poverty and need. That many were born into wealth makes no difference at all. Clearly, the birthright into wealth comes with the right to refuse appeals to a generosity based on a discretion beyond reproach. It must be exhausting and confusing. I've watched enough Downton Abbey to sympathize with the responsibility and burden of being one of the upper class.

What I do want to address in this whole peculiar situation is my own discomfort of being on the receiving end of this woman's disdain. I will not lie. Not here anyway. About this anyway.

I struggled.

While placing my physical body into a position of weakness, vulnerable to the thoughts of any passerby, I willingly took away almost all of the "power" I have worked diligently and unknowingly to earn in my 40 years. I opened myself up for vast interpretation and judgment. No penis, therefore no male power (though perhaps a male doing this job alone might appear even more shameful in our patriarchal society). No intellectual or professional capital is obvious while carrying such a paper-boy bag. No reasonable, educated middle-aged white person would work for a looney an hour. The only power I had left was my whiteness. Imagine the fear or disgust that might have accompanied Mansion Woman's disdain if I was black... or Latina... I would have then confirmed her likely suspicions... (Oh! I know. No one is racist anymore. Right. Except for the fact that no one is racist out loud, most of the time, in public. But most people are racist in every other way. Our society was founded on and organized by White supremacy and continues to be so, I am increasingly convinced of this in my studies). The assumptions about my ignorance and my laziness and my primitive ways of being that were seemingly coming from each person I passed (and that were then confirmed in The Mansion Woman's face and words) disturbed me greatly.

Clearly, my perceived elevation on this imagined ladder of power exposes my own disdain for those perceived to be on the lower rungs. I am ashamed of this. I hope, at least, that my admission and exposure can help my recovery.

I am fully aware that my writing about the issue here, also, could be construed as me re-claiming or re-asserting my power or privilege, or as an appeal for some sort of dignified badge of heroics or honour. No. That is not why I write.

I write, rather, because this curious incident, this unintentional experiment in powerlessness, gave me something I want to try to capture in words. It had been quite some time since I had placed myself in a position like this. Moving to a new country and trying to establish some kind of a respectable identity has led me to be quite wary of appearing so vulnerable. I want desperately to earn the respect of the natives here, and I've never quite believed that vulnerability leads to respect, even though I know that it does.

I can't help but be reminded of the irony of Jesus in all this. Turning everything upside down like he did. Having nothing. Being completely exposed, vulnerable, open to disdain. And then receiving it, enduring it, and suffering greatly for it. All while being pretty honest, by most accounts, and not mincing words about it either.

And I, for 15 minutes, freak out about walking around my block exposed to judgment, and still pretend to follow Jesus and his ways. Here's my honesty: I am absolutely nothing like Jesus... and yet, if asked, I will profess to following him. I am trying to understand how I can admire him and his ways and express a desire to be like him, and yet fight against it with every fabric of my being, living, and acting. What kind of witness is my life to the freedom and love that Jesus offers if by all measurable ways, I resent his model? For what is love if it is not vulnerability and sacrifice? And what is freedom if it is not a place without labels and judgment and fear? I do not know.

I do not know. And I think that that's okay. I'm getting a little sweaty wrestling with it though, and I think that's okay too. Not knowing. No certainty. No answers.

Delivery to the unknown...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Jesus used all the toilet paper

My 7-year old created a nativity scene recently, and I was forced to relocate it from one table in the house to another to make room for impending Canadian guests. I wasn't paying too much attention, and I thought it looked nice.

But then I looked more carefully a few hours later while pretending to dust.

Instead of three wise men, I saw one wise man standing next to a freakishly smiling blond, a praying Mary, and some camels. One of them was upside down.

Another wise man stood on the roof with a sheep. They both had their eyes closed.

And beside baby Jesus, Joseph stood dumbly on one side and a palm tree stood on the other.

But if I hadn't looked carefully, I would not have noticed this folks. From afar, it looked like any other toilet paper nativity scene. I felt blasphemous.

And then I was ashamed. Briefly. To place an angel next to a dude with a crown, that seemed like the premise of a porn-o. And her grin, well, let's just say it's not too far off what I would imagine a porn star's smile to look like.

To place a palm tree where Mary should be, well, that just put objectification of women as objects into a whole different realm. Do women matter at all? Or are we just manipulated into looking pretty and standing guard over the young ones?

And. The other wise man beside the tree, two men beside a baby, clearly we aren't in Utah. Don't make me pull out my favourite shirt.

Yet baby Jesus seemed blissfully unaware throughout the whole ordeal. Like he usually does. He sorta looks the same in granite, on canvas, and in toilet paper. That oblivious grin. Or is it? That grin seems so innocent.

Truth: When I was a child, in the images of Jesus I saw a simple smile that said, "All is well, you are safe, there is no monster in your closet." When I was a teen, it was a reassuring smile that said to me, "Don't worry, I still love you, even though you make a lot of bad choices, and are quite reckless." And then, older yet, I saw a smile again: "You will get what you want. Someday. Even though you're such an idiot. Just wait." And a few years later, it was an "I told you so, you idiot," smile. But now. Now as a 40 year old, the smile seems to mock, but in a way that taps my elbow, as in, "I know. I knew you'd be ready to get to know the real me eventually (you idiot), I've been waiting for you to sift through all the BS. Let's start again. This time, put away what you think you need to accomplish, what you think you need to be, look like, have, etc. Let's drill down to what all those desires really tell us about life. And then let's get to the good stuff."

And that's a scary yet lovely smile.

An innocent smile that knows you more than you think.

So I left our Nativity scene. Just like it was. To remind me of what I think Jesus and Christmas is all about. All kinda mixed-up: a mirror to what I've imagined religious and sanctimonious b.s. to represent, and now that the disrespect is out of the way, let's finally say and search for what is real and what we need. Because I think if I don't do it this way, there is no point.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

the perverted mormon who lives in my phone

Do you ever use your house phone to call your cell phone to discover its whereabouts? And then, when you find your cell, relieved, you look at the screen and wonder whose call you missed, only to realize, it was you? I do this often.

Has your phone ever converted a voicemail to text? I received one such from a friend who does adoption advocacy...we were dialoguing about a board meeting and brainstorming ways to make money to support nannies who work in orphanages in China. This is how my phone interpreted her message:

"It's Saturday night it's 6:30 my time I have to run out tonight to my husband fucking party youre in hot key thing but I will be around tomorrow and yea I got some grease and stuff to do actually some video-stuff load so anyway can gimme a shout anytime bye."

Or have you ever been laying in bed and texted yourself a reminder, perhaps because you were too lazy to get out of bed and get an actual pen (while realizing that the chances of looking at a piece of paper were not as likely as looking at your texts)?

Yes, me again. I am not proud.

I was however, rather shocked when I texted myself the other night, and then rolled over to go to sleep. Couldn't sleep (not uncommon) and so checked my phone to see the time (and to check Instagram) to find that I had gotten a text back from myself.

I'm not kidding. Here's the transcript folks. I couldn't make this shit up.

Me text-jotting a writing idea to me at 1 a.m.: "You know youre old when you get 5 scarves for 40 birthday, like cover your wrinkly neck already woman, one from mom was the least fav per style and fabric, she should know I'm allergic to wool, dammit...but ironically, it is the one that had the most time invested she said she thought of me during each stitch I wonder if she thought mean things like I hope this itches the shit out of you... am I thoughtless or her...and there it hangs on the bedroom chair, staring at me like hangover guilt...and someone had to remind me recently that our own parents see us like we see our children and I told Thys that all I want for Christmas is him and he didn't believe me, it's hard to believe a parents love because it seems so obvious and yet so absent at the same time"

Me back at 1:30 a.m.: "I'm sorry you have the wrong number"

Of course hubs was out of town at the time and I wondered if a creeper had snuck into my house and stolen my cell to fuck with my brain. It took me 10 minutes to figure out what the hell was going on...


1:40 a.m. : me back to me: "Oh! I'm so sorry that you received my old phone number in Denver!"

1:42 a.m.: New me back to me: "No problem."

Then... me being 1:45 a.m. generous (delirious? perhaps): "If anyone else is looking for me, you can give them this number. I hope inheriting this number hasn't been too much of a burden."

Hoping for a litany of publishers and long-lost friends and interviewers who have all been desperately trying to reach me... but then...

1:47 a.m. "OK. Thank you. It's not a burden."

1:48 a.m. Lonely me still not sleeping, "Thank you."

1:52 a.m. New me: "You ought to check out the mormon messages on youtube--lots of uplifting and inspiring messages about life and family. Have a good night"

Friday, December 13, 2013

Oh Canada, I'm sorry

Christmas concert tonight.
Little girls picking noses in shiny skirts. Little boys tripping over bleachers and waving.
Moms and Dads pushing ipads in my face to capture aforementioned nose-pickings and waves.
It was all rather, well, nauseating.
My son got on stage. Then. I must admit. I felt this little well of water form in the bottom half of my eyelids. And this does not happen very often. And I have no idea where the fuck it came from. It was this weird pride mixed with this crazy disbelief that this little 7 year old doesn't nod to shenanigans because he wouldn't let me comb his hair and he dressed himself in what he called his "Sunday best" (without having a clue what that means) in jeans and converse and a white shirt untucked with chocolate milk stains all over the front. And next to the shiny girls, he looked mighty awesome.
And he sang his bloody heart out. So loud. So enunciated. All while stifling a smile in a most awkward way (he accused me later of looking at him too much and making him embarrassed).
I am supposed to be writing a paper. But I don't want to the way my sons never want to do, well, anything that does not involve an ipod or a hockey stick.
I want to write here. I miss writing here. Here I can write honestly and I don't have to quote someone every other sentence. Quoting someone else every other sentence is tedious (me, 2013).
Here in Canada, people apologize for everything.
I bumped you. I'm sorry.
I asked you for something. I'm sorry.
I stood on this piece of earth. I'm sorry.
But they're not sorry for things you'd think they should be sorry for.
Like... these remarks: A few people asked me how I was doing with school, etc. and I told them the truth (it's hard, brutal, busy, humbling, etc.) and one responded with, "Oh, you sound so cynical" and the another with, "wow, I won't ask you how you're doing again." And I found myself almost saying, I'm sorry. But I didn't. They asked me. I told the truth. I told my truth.
But Canadians don't seem to like the truth.
They're really "nice" here. So nice that they don't seem to like too much honesty. And by "they" I simply mean the few people I talked to. Yes, I'm generalizing (but I'm not generalizing about the I'm sorry thing. That shit is true.)
I fear that the "niceness" is a bunch of BS for not dealing with tough shit. I detest the heroic, I'm fine, I'm good, I'm doing okay, when you're clearly NOT. What happened in the world to make people think that they have to be so "okay" with crap? My husband has a horrible disease. I'm fine! My mom is dying, I'm good! My kids are out of control! I am A-okay. My neighbor is a racist! No problem.
These heroics are not for me. I'm sorry, Canada. I may start to apologize more than I should. But I will not apologize for being honest. Someone needs to be honest. We're not all "fine" most of the time. Most of the time, I suspect we're all dealing with devils in the closet and demons on the kitchen floor. To deny this and say we're fine smacks of hypocrisy, as if we're so in control that we can handle it all, no problem. Well, I'm sorry, again. I don't think we're meant to handle all of this, no problem, by ourselves. I tend to think that we need help to handle life. Maybe that's "American" of me, but I don't care.
No, but really, right now I am doing well. That was not a twisted cry for help. I'm not asking for sympathy. And I do mean that. Honestly.
Thanks for letting me rant. I hope you find time to snatch silvers of honesty this holiday season... if you can't, you can call me. Maybe I'll even mail you a new t-shirt for Christmas like the one I just got for myself.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Love. Ish.

Like most things trendy, I am a few years behind on this one:
The suffix: Ish.
As in, "I'll be there at 9. Ish." Or, "My car is clean. Ish." Oh, and, "Here's the money I owe you. Ish."
It's even better with just the right amount of pause before you pounce on the ish.
And said in the snarkiest way possible, it punches just like I prefer: a lick of control with flippant play.
I boasted of my love of the suffix to my husband tonight. But unbeknownst to me, The Children were still awake in their too-close-to-the-dining-room bunk beds.
"What is Ish?"
"Go to sleep."
"Really. Tellllll meeeee pleeeeeaasssse."
"It just means kind of sort of like shake-your-head-side-to-side medium not sure...ish."
"I need to understand Ish!"
"No. You don't. Goodnight."
"Pleeeeaaassse!!! Ish."
"Good night! I love you. Goodnight."
"I love you too. Ish."
And. Nothing entices me to tell the truth like a bad example.
I tried to explain. But this medium territory may be too abstract for a newly 7-year old. I tried again and again. I did. I gave lots of mediocre examples. To no avail.
So now I'll be stuck with an illogical echo that respects no boundaries...

Yet I realized--in humility--that to turn things like this upside down is much more interesting. And (like kids often do) my son yanked me closer to a truth. If nothing else, it will be Children who will snap us out of our Rational Delusions and point us to the reality that we can't see because we are too busy showing them what we think is truth.
Because, really, this does make more sense than the convenient Ish. And though I was born in convenience, I am slowly warming up to upside down irrational makes no sense kind of love. Ish.
I love. Ish. I mother. Ish. I work. Ish. I am lost. Ish. I know nothing. Ish. I write. Ish. I try. Ish.

Peace. Ish.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

prepositional poetry

Prepositional phrases don't get enough attention.
Allow me to indulge them as I recall where I found myself last night:

On a toilet seat
inside a washroom
with no mirrors
in an arctic arena north
of the border
with my makeup
in hand to check if that big zit that recently emerged
on my chin was still making an appearance
for my new friends-whom-I-haven't-met-yet who stand
in the lobby
with their Tim Horton's coffees and their tall boots that go
up to their kneecaps
with their smiles and their laughter which I am not yet privy
to I don't care
about that yes I do I wish I had people to laugh
with to share
with to be
with to love there I was
on the toilet wishing all
of these things and thinking
about prepositional phrase because well because that's what I do when I'm stuck
in a washroom
on a toilet looking
into a foggy mirror
at my own reflection longing
to impress people I don't know
with my aging non-beauty hoping that they'll see something worth talking
to and maybe just maybe I will want to hear them too.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Blessed Oldness.

Happy Birthday To My Baby. 

(Every year on Thys' birthday, I write a cyber-note to his birth 'rents. Here is Number Seven:)

To the parents of a baby boy born in late September, 2006 and left on the doorstep of an orphange a few days later:

Here I am again telling you all about how wonderful and precious and amazing this little man is. He is a fairly typical little boy: snarky, giggly, crabby, funny, obsessed with Pokemon, Legos, money, and play. But he's unique too: creative and intuitive, surprisingly so at times. He has an impeccable memory and he's a hard and diligent worker. He loves to help me cook, and he can sit at the piano for an hour without complaining. And he's a wicked little ice skater and hockey player, much to everyone who watches him delight. See? We're doing an okay job as his 'rents? Right? Why do I desire your blessing? And why does this partly feel like a big "I told you so letter"?

He can also be a giant pain in the ass: last night while putting him to bed, I bent over the top bunk to pray for him, and he smiled and hugged me and then asked, "Is that your oldness?" To which I replied, "WTF?" And he repeated by pointing out the lines on my neck, the wrinkles, the crevices, and he asked again, "Is that your oldness?" And I cried a little. And then we prayed, like we do each night. And after I thanked God for his innocent, childish (albeit honest and devilish) soul, he shouted out, "Thank you for mommy's oldness! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost!" Thank you Catholic school.

This year, we decided to finally push the whole Chinese language issue more seriously than we have in the past. Partly because he seems to have a natural aptitude for new languages, and partly because he desperately wants to visit China. So I am sending both of my boys to Catholic AND Chinese School.

It began a few weeks ago. The first Saturday, I didn't think my older son would make it. He's an aggressive, articulate, and (usually) confident young man. But I found him crying at my side as we walked through the hallway of the school to the classroom, big, real tears. I asked him what was wrong, he said he felt "really uncomfortable" with all of the Chinese people (he and I were the only non-Chinese people). I asked him how he thinks his brother feels EVERY DAY at school, at Church, on the playground, etc. He said, "Ya, but he's used to it." He had a point. I vowed to stay until he felt comfortable. But then I spotted Thys, sitting in the front row, hands folded on his desk, back straightened, and a grin that said, I am here. I am ready. Teach me. And the barking, harsh sounds of Mandarin that frighten many white, European kids, fell softly on Thys' delighted countenance.

It was all rather confusing. I'm quite certain that all the parents who came in after us assumed that I was coaxing my nine-year old to stay, but had no clue who the eager young boy in the front row belonged to. Chinese adoption isn't as common here as it was in Denver. There are a small percentage of Chinese children here, but they all have Chinese parents, most of whom don't seem too familiar with the concept of adoption. I get a lot of awkward glances from them when they realize Thys is my son. As if I have upset the balance of the cultural capital and they don't know what my motives are. To make him white? To pretend I am one of them? Who am I to take one of them? Would a Chinese person ever adopt a white, North American kid and bring him to China? Is this about domination?

Here's my point, birth 'rents: I understood my own motives when I/we adopted Thys, and I still do. And I am not afraid to disrupt people's assumptions. I rather enjoy it: You don't think Christians should cuss? Listen to me. You don't think women should be assertive or have strong opinions or drink or fart? Hang out with me for a while. You don't think I can do all these things and still claim an authentic faith that I care about deeply? Talk to me. You know what happens when you put an Asian kid in a white family? Shit. Neither do I. This is where we find ourselves. In the midst of this experiment. What if Thys doesn't want to interrupt people's assumptions? What if he just wants to fit in?

This is the first year I actually wish we knew you. So that you could truly be a part of his life and teach him Chinese things. That we could share him or something, though I have no idea what that would entail.

You did not give me permission to adopt him. But. You left him. Helpless on a cold street in the middle of the night. I know you wanted good things for him because you left a bottle with him... but what did you envision his life would entail? I sometimes feel like I have a responsibility to you. To raise him well. To honor you.

I think of you often. Thys is starting to think more of you too.

Thank you for this life I get to witness. Say a prayer for us as we navigate this unknown territory.
In the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.