Connection Points

As my daughter closes in on adolescence, it is becoming more challenging to connect with her at a deeper level. She is like a tightly shut oyster shell, fiercely hiding her pearl. When we sit down at the dinner table each night, I ask her two questions: “What was the best part of your day?” and “What was the hardest?” When she was younger, this used to set the scene for a fruitful conversation, but it has been less successful as of late. I am getting briefer and briefer answers. The same reaction occurs when she speaks with a family member on the phone or she is confronted by an adult in most situations: wide-eyed silence.

I am noticing that rare moments of deep connection and vulnerability surface these days in a somewhat haphazard manner. The key is for me to be open and ready for them when they do. I have to remain quiet and still, like a bird watcher in the brush straining for a glimpse of a rare species, so as not to scare her away. They sometimes appear when I drive my child to dance class on a dark and rainy evening, accompanied by the rhythmic swipe of the windshield wipers. They show up as we walk to the corner to meet her friends for school on a crisp morning, or while I rub her back with lavender oil as she struggles to find sleep at night. It is in these mundane moments of daily intimacy that the words come pouring out. I am often surprised at the breadth and richness of her internal emotional world. All of these conflicted feeling trapped inside: bursting at the seams.

As always on this parenting journey, I am learning from the unique experience that presents itself in this moment. I am humbled at how little I know and how much there is to learn. I am realizing that what my daughter needs most from me right now is not to be pursued. She requires patience, spaciousness and an open heart. My primary role is to provide her with a consistent safe haven, a home where she can return to at any point, and rest her weary head. This can be challenging, as my natural instinct is to actively seek out connection, and assurance that everything is ok. I have to work on self-soothing that insecure part of my own internal being. And otherwise, show up, be consistent, and trust that my daughter will come to me when she is ready. I will be here and waiting.

Baby steps

Eighteen years ago today, I walked down the aisle on the arm of my father, bright eyed, hopeful and deeply in love. I made a vow, in front of my friends, family and community to love and honour my partner until death do us part. I meant it. Every word.

All these years later, I sit here on my back deck, on a beautiful sunny August evening, not so different to my wedding day, and I reflect upon where life has taken me. It is four years since the end of my relationship. I am a single, independent parent, trying to figure out how to date online in a time of pandemic. My ex is remarried and expecting a baby with his new wife any day now. Everything has changed.

If you had sat me down at age twenty-seven, as a young bride, and told me where I would be today, at age forty-four, I would not have believed you. Even if I had believed you, I would have crumpled with despair and worry about what lay ahead of me.

I imagine what I would have told my younger self, if I had had the opportunity. Here are a few thoughts that came to me:

  1. Symbiosis: A relationship is not about caretaking or merging with your loved one, at the expense of yourself. It is a sacred coming together of two whole individual human beings who choose to orbit one another with symbiotic love and respect. Cherish and protect what makes you unique. Cultivate and share your most authentic self. This is true love.
  2. It takes two: You cannot make a relationship work on your own. No matter how hard you try, you cannot row a boat with one oar. Once the other person has given up, there is nothing more you can do. True loneliness is living with disconnection. Put your life vest on and jump.
  3. Integrity: You are so much more resilient than you think. When faced with the unthinkable, ask yourself: Even in the midst of this chaos, who do I want to be?” Then simply focus on doing the next right thing. Take one baby step forward, then another, and another. Breathe deeply. Keep on moving and stay rooted in your own integrity.
  4. Curiosity: Although you do not know what lies ahead, it is not all scary and frightening. It is just unknown. Be curious and open. Ask for help when you need it. Trust in the love of your community. Most importantly, remember that everything you need comes from deep within yourself. Love. Acceptance. Joy. It is all there. You just need to believe it and stay connected to your inner knowing.

Most of all, I would tell myself, “I love you and everything is going to be ok.” Or as John Lennon famously said: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” Although my marriage did not turn out as I imagined, every experience along the way brought me to where I am today. Painful as much of it was, I would not change any of it. There is no looking back: only baby steps forward. I am excited to see what my future holds.

A Day for Reflection

Flag design by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Curtis Wilson

I am white settler woman of Irish, Scottish and French ancestry. I immigrated to Canada from the United States when I was seven years old. I love this country and I am so grateful to live here. Today is our national holiday, Canada Day. And although I am deeply proud to be Canadian, and I believe in celebrating many of the things that we stand for (e.g. universal health care), I am ashamed of the colonial underpinnings of our society. Canada’s history is full of racism, violence, cultural genocide, and oppression against Indigenous peoples. This it not a thing of the past. It continues to this day.

In June 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its findings along with 94 Calls to Action regarding reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples. The Commission was officially established on June 1, 2008 with the purpose of documenting the history and lasting impacts of the Canadian residential school system on Indigenous students and their families. It provided residential school survivors an opportunity to share their experiences during public and private meetings held across the country.

The stated purpose of the TRC was to reveal to Canadians the complex truth about the history and the ongoing legacy of abuse in the church-run residential schools and to guide a process of truth and healing, leading toward reconciliation within Indigenous families, and between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous communities, churches, governments, and Canadians. 

In the report, survivors note how Canada’s broader colonial history, not just the legacy of the residential schools, has affected, and still affects Indigenous communities — including the establishment of the Indian Act, the over-representation of Indigenous children in foster care and adults in Canadian prisons, inferior education and health care, lack of access to clean water and infrastructure in Indigenous communities, and the growing number of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

On this Canada Day, I am reflecting upon this sobering reality, committing to continue educating myself and my daughter, and resolving to do whatever I can to support meaningful reconciliation. As a citizen of this country, it is my responsibility to demand that we foster an equitable and just society for everyone: one that we can all call home.

Here are some resources that I have found to be very helpful:

150 Acts of Reconciliation for Canada’s 150 by Crystal Fraser and Sara Komarnisky

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph

The Indian Act, after over 140 years, continues to shape, control, and constrain the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many stereotypes that persist. Bob Joseph’s book, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, comes at a key time in the reconciliation process, when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance—and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation, and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.

Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith

A nonfiction book for middle readers that examines how we can foster reconciliation in an accessible way. In Speaking Our Truth, we are embarking on a journey of reconciliation. This isn’t a read-and-do-nothing kind of book. It is an active exploration of Canada’s collective history. It’s about how we grow as individuals, families, communities and as a country.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Neither a traditional nor all-encompassing history of First Nations people in North America, The Inconvenient Indian is a personal meditation on what it means to be “Indian.” Thomas King explores the relationship between “Natives” and “non-Natives” since the fifteenth century and examines the way that popular culture has shaped our notion of Indigenous identity, while also reflecting on his own complicated relationship with activism.

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga

From 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home to attend school in an unwelcoming city. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.