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THE WAGES OF MULTI-CULTURALISM
Late Sunday evening I became an immigrant in my country without having to get on a plane. I have been seeing an Israeli man for a bit and he called at just the right time on Saturday night to convince me to come out and attend a party with him…and in attendance a rather large group of ex-pat Israelis. Most of whom have just gotten off the plane in the last six months.
I ended up, for various reasons, unable to return home until late Sunday evening and while most Israelis can speak English after a fashion; the common tongue when large groups gather is still Hebrew. My Hebrew has improved significantly in the last six months and my Israeli friends keeps adding choice words and vulgar expressions to the rather more formal biblical Hebrew I already know. I just never realized the effect it was having on my English until Sunday afternoon.
I left the shtetl (aka my nickname for a pre-dominantly Jewish area of Toronto) and walked into the Finch Subway station. I spied a coffee shop and dearly needed a coffee after endless cups of tea and the misadventures which seem to regularly make-up my sojourn among the Israelis. I went up to the counter and thought I ordered a large coffee, double cream – no sugar. The woman just looked at me blankly and I repeated my order. She kept saying ‘what?’ and I kept repeating myself thinking poorly of her English comprehension skills. I found myself growing impatient with her (a common personal failing of mine which I readily acknowledge) and am now pointing to the coffee cups and the board and trying to mime out what I want.
Suddenly, the man behind me, who is just as impatient as I, shouts out, “She wants a large coffee, double cream – no sugar!’, in English. It is then, that it hits me, I have been so busy concentrating on my Hebrew for the last 30 odd hours I had not realized that I wasn’t ordering in English. I am so embarrassed that all I can say is ‘Todah’ to the unknown man who came to my rescue.
I HAVE DANCED TO THE END OF LOVE
Yesterday, I finally took delivery of one of the biggest boxes of all. So far I have cleared two shelves by rearranging the other boxes and stacking some on top of the others, but still this box will not fit. I'm not surprised as I have been ducking delivery for a long time. It's just that yesterday I learned definitively what my mind refused to acknowledge was even a possibility.
My best friend has died. No, that's wrong. She wasn't my best friend, we were sisters, the sister neither of us had growing up. She died a few years ago and I didn't know. It may not be sound like much of a friendship if your best friend has been dead for years and you didn't know, but you wouldn't be more wrong in your life if you thought that. It was a friendship to envy and spanned nearly 30 years of living and outlasted careers, pets, boyfriends, husbands, and all the life alternating changes life can bring. I fully expected our friendship to outlast time itself. I never imagined a world without my friend and yesterday I learned this was my reality and I would never see her again.
I have danced to the end of love.
I have been waiting for a call, a knock on the door, a card which never came. Every year as the end of January approached; I wonder if this year would be the year she'd forgive me and come seek me out on her birthday. I let her down. The last time I spoke to her she called me just after the tribe and I arrived home at the end of the day. It was chaos and mayhem. The children were cranky and demanding their dinner and a bath. She was in her car and driving out to Barrie. She had made the decision to move out of the city and to move in with her latest boyfriend. It was so recent a change that she hadn't even given me the telephone number.
He was really new in her life. I had met him the month before and she just sort of sprung him on me without warning. I admit I was deeply startled by the sight of him. He looked like an aged munchkin out of the Wizard of Oz. He seemed nice enough but he was such an odd choice for her that I couldn't be bothered to commit his name to memory. I fully expected he wouldn't be around long. We never even really discussed him. I suspect because she was afraid of what I would say and that I would only say what she was already thinking but refusing to admit to herself. But you know, I only wanted her to be happy. I knew she was lonely. Her second marriage had collapsed and the divorce was finalized. She was in a really tight spot for money due to another family crisis. She had decided to commence the great internet search for a man to call her own. I have to admit if I drew an aged munchkin from Oz I would have lost all faith in modern technology.
I spoke just long enough to know she was in trouble. Big trouble and she needed to talk to me and I couldn't talk. I promised to call her back, and she warned me her cell wouldn't work once she got near Barrie nor did she know how long she'd have the cell. I tried to call her back but the only answer I got was some nonsense about the cellular customer you are calling is out of range; sometimes not even that. I hesitated to call her at work since she was in trouble. Finally, I called her work number and was told she didn't work there anymore. The woman on the other end of the phone was quite hostile about that fact. I kept trying her cell but within the span of days it was out of service. Everything happened so quickly.
There was nothing to do but wait and so I waited for her to call back. I knew she was angry at me. She had a right to expect I would make her troubles fully mine and when it appeared I didn't give her the time and attention she had every right to expect from me-her sister. So she choose silence – to punish me. And I get that and I deserved it. If our roles were reversed she would have stayed on the line to listen to me and let the children pummel each other senseless. You have no idea how many times over the years I have replayed that last conversation over in my mind and wished I had done just that. But no, for once in my life I made the 'mature' decision, the reasonable, the logical, the sane, the wise decision rather than the right decision. She'd have done it for me and did it a million times over. And when she needed me I let her down.
All these years I have been waiting for her to forgive me. So many times I have wanted to just pick up the phone to hear her voice. I had so many things to tell and show her. I have been saving all kinds of little things as mementos for the moment when she forgives me so I could show her, and she would know, there was always a place for her in my life. And this way, she would not have missed anything.
When I first met my Colleen she was a deeply unhappy woman. Perhaps, one of the most unhappy people I have ever met. She was 12 years older than me but I was the big sister. She had two little girls, the sweetest little girls. One was all fire and spice and the other quiet and still like a woodland pond. She was stuck in a rut and didn't know how to break free. She had spent a lifetime trying to be whatever anyone wanted her to be, and with me, she finally found someone she was free to be whoever she wanted to be. She didn't even have to be perfect or stay the same from moment to moment.
Since she was so deeply discontented with being the Colleen everyone expected her I didn't join her world but took her into mine. I even use to take her home regularly to my crazy family. Her mind would reel from the way they lived their life. I'd be lying if I said any of my family were thrilled with my relationship with the gagja woman, but I knew how to get my way. A place was made for her at the table, although she brought nothing to the family table but herself.
She was there when I finally made the decision to leave home. Without her help I would never have moved out from my grandmother's home. The night before I moved my grandmother called out the big guns. Bubbe even called my beloved uncle to come from North Carolina to try and stop me. My uncle called me every name in the book. He chose his words to hurt and wound me. His words found their mark, but I had Colleen to help through the bitterness of bile. Women like me didn't leave home except to marry – and sometimes, not even then. My uncle and I never spoke until,15 years later, when we were brought together to bury our father, my grandfather.
Colleen and I had enlisted our friend Richard, and her current man of the moment (who I had nicknamed Big, Bad and Ugly) to move me. He wasn't as much ugly as intimidating with the aura of menace of barely suppressed violence. I figured we'd need it. I remember when we finally got the last box into my flat and we toasted ourselves with drinks.
Colleen found it the most surrealist experience of her life to date and the guys congratulated each other for surviving the experience. My grandmother and other relatives formed a long line running from my room on the second floor, down the stairs, through the hall right up to the front door. At points, we had to squeeze and edge by them, as none would move. No one offered to help and none offered a word of acknowledgment or even uttered a blessing as I was leaving. They kept a silent vigil, but the hostility was so thick that it seemed to suck all the air from around them. All of us laughed when we discovered we each made the private decision to hold our breath as we picked up a box and ran the gauntlet from my room to the car. I never told anyone, but I wasn't even sure they wouldn't have killed me for leaving, if not for the presence of Colleen. She knew our ways.
So many memories. She was there when my daughter was born. When my daughter was handed to me for the first time, I was panic-stricken and Colleen knew it. When they put my daughter in my arms, I immediately handed her to Colleen . Colleen held Kiki Tzipporah for hours while I admired her in Colleen's arms. Eventually, she had to go and knew just what to say to me to quell my fears as she placed gave me back my daughter. And when my son was born, it was just me and her in the room. She held my back while I pushed and pulled him out myself. Telling me all the while, I should wait for the doctors. Instead, I pushed, and swore, cursing all the doctors.
At first, I didn't search for her. I figured I should let some time pass so she could get over being angry with me and as the weeks turned into month I began to search for her, but then, my husband died. I spent a year being lost. It was all I could do to just keep the children's lives running as normal as possible under the circumstances. Some days the best I could do was to think no further ahead than putting one foot in front of another. By the time my head cleared all our common threads had moved. I couldn't find her, the girls or her brothers. Everything had changed. There was nothing to do but wait. Years went by, but I never stopped waiting or searching for some sign of her. Yesterday, I finally found a common thread, and now she's gone, and all the things I have saved for her are without meaning or purpose. I will never be forgiven nor will I ever be able to tell her just how much I have loved her.
WHEN BIOLOGY IS DESTINY
When I entered motherhood I had just so many fine ideals and theories of raising the most perfect children. The first resolve to drop off the radar was cloth diapers. I wasn’t going to use those environmentally toxic unfriendly disposal Pampers or Huggies. That resolution ended after the first sleep deprived week at home. After that – <i>Pampers all the way Baby!
I threw out the baby books that I had been given after the first week of breastfeeding. All those promises/warnings of “don’t be surprised if you experience multiple orgasms while nursing”. Hey, I was always up for multiple orgasms which was no doubt why I had three children in four years. Although, the reality is, only a dominatrix could think the initial stages of breastfeeding could ever produce an orgasm. Even after the extreme pain vanished, there was never the slightest chance of orgasm, which leads me to speculate that other people have a much more bizarre sexual life than I could possibly imagine. And if the books were filled with such utter rot about breastfeeding – I wasn’t willing to chance the rest. I figured I was better off on my own instincts, and if all else failed; there was always my angry GP, Dr. Freddie.
I was not ever going to allow my children to play with toy guns or encourage aggressive play, and if I had a son; by golly, he could play with all the dolls or Barbies his little heart desired and then some. I never bought toy guns but I was taught by my first son that everything is a weapon. And I do mean everything. To this day, I never understood where he got the idea of stripping the Barbies down to the buff, bending them over and sticking them feet first in the front of his pampers to use as his six-shooters. Who would have thought it would be the daughter who ended up as the designated marksman?
I was forced to acknowledge that time-outs could not be the only form of discipline with a toddler after the Last Amazon was interfering with her younger (18 month old) brother’s Lego Mountain. After she destroyed his mountain, he just hauled off and nailed her with a right jab in the eye. As I stood stunned just a few feet away. Without a word from me, he walked himself into the time-out chair and grumbled on and on. Every once in a while he would turn around, raise his fist in the air, and issue baby gibberish threats to the Last Amazon. She never again interfered with his Lego Mountain.
I was also forced to acknowledge by the time I had two sons that the male mind really does approach problems differently than the female mind. Before I had the second son, I put down the differences between the male and female minds as all due to the socialization process. Two sons tipped the balance. It’s like this – the bookcases looked cool to climb to the Last Amazon. She tried once when my attention was on other matters, falls and decided it was a bad idea. The sons’ perceived the bookcases as a mountain to be conquered at all costs and they are prepared to pay any price to crown themselves King of the Bookcases. See the bookcases, take the bookcases...or die in the attempt. It did not matter how many times they were thwarted or injured, they refused to give up. Each time they went into the assault with the premise that this time – it will end in triumph.
In the course of raising two sons less than two years apart, I was forced to develop the “voice”. My mother referred to it as that “awful Sgt’s voice” and was appalled when I used it to enforce rules or order. She came for a visit one year when the Last Amazon was about 4 and a half and insisted that she wanted to take the children and I out to a nice lunch at a “real restaurant” – no McDonald’s for her. I was not to use the “voice” under any circumstances. She would show me how to control the children without the voice. Right off the bat, I insisted it was a bad idea and pointed out that she had no experience in raising sons but she insisted she knew better than I, and she had forgotten more, than I had learned.
Off to the Olive Garden we went. Within 20 minutes the boys had taken total control of the restaurant and were in a free fire zone. Despite her best efforts, she could not mentally or physically control the boys’ ability to run, use their throwing arms, dart, squirm, or drop and roll. She conceded defeat and demanded I used the voice in a loudest voice I had ever heard her use. Within seconds of using the “voice” I had them and every other man in the room sitting straight in their chairs with their hands folded in their lap. That was the last time we went to a restaurant until the children were significantly older. She also gave me a free pass with the voice from then on.
One of the biggest challenges I have had to face has been the issue of fighting. This is where I just might have to concede defeat. I never forgot one of many melees when Montana was about 3 years old. I was explaining patiently that fighting is bad, wrong, bad, and he turned to me and said, “But, Momma, I like to fight, fighting is fun.” Ah, I thought, now I have got him, and patiently explained that when you fight you can get hurt, and you don’t like to get hurt do you? He lifted his soft brown eyes into mine and very earnestly said, “No, I don’t like getting hurt but I sure do feel a lot better when I hit’em back!" In the end, I was forced to rely on that old parental standby, superior fire power trumphs all. You fight, I fight you. That worked fine until he went off to school and was no longer under my eye.
We have lived in this 19th century townhouse in the downtown eastside of Toronto for the past 10 years. There are many advantages to living here but the one downside has been that the local school he attends is also a feeder school to three of the toughest housing projects in the city. I was forced to reach back into my childhood and make him learn the kid’s rules of fighting. Don’t fight girls, any one younger or smaller, anyone with glasses, physical impairments, etc. And don’t ever throw the first punch. That worked more or less okay. He never started a fight though he never did learn the art of standing down or walking away. It also made him a big hit with the girls and younger kids. Anyone who would pick on a girl or a younger child, Montana was in their face, ready to go.
During my son’s early years his father kept me calm, sane and out of jail. I remember one call from the school when I was informed that my son had been injured in a fight and I should pick him up and perhaps seek medical attention for his injuries. Turns out, he was playing with his friends when another little boy just came up and clawed him down the face over his eyes for no reason. Apparently, after the little boy clawed him, Montana threw him on the ground and pinned him down till the bell rang. Montana went to class and was sitting in the back with his sweatshirt hood over his face. The other little boy went to the principal to report that Montana threw him on the ground.
The principal called Montana’s teacher and asked her to send him to the office. It was at that point the teacher realized Montana had blood running down his face. It all worked out in the wash. The little boy was suspended for fighting and Montana’s faced healed up but I was ready to call the boy’s parents and give them a good one-four and it was Montana’s father who held me back. He sat me down and explained that this is how boys bonded. They beat each other up and then become best friends. I was told to just out. He very patiently explained that he had beat up all his friends, at one point or another, and today; they would die for each other.
Frankly, I thought it was the daftest thing I had ever heard. The thing was, he was right. Within a few weeks the two of them were fast friends and remain so to this day. Over and over again this scenario was repeated and Montana’s collection of friends grew and grew. The strangest part is that they are some of the nicest boys you could ask for. Helpful, polite, respectful, hardworking and yet, they all love nothing better than to make fun of each other and pommel each other senseless the minute grown-ups eyes wander off them.
All of which brings me to a decision I made last week. I got the dreaded call from a new principal. Montana had been fighting at school and was suspended for one day. The worse part, at least in my mind, was that for the first time in his life he started the fight. He was fooling around with one of his friends, they were calling each other names and Montana gave his friend a shove, the boy shoved back. Montana shoved harder and the boy hit his head. Then he punched Montana which turned out to be the punch that crossed the line from horseplay to fighting. Thank the Lord that neither boy was hurt, and they both have had a turn washing my floors and walls. And yes, they are still friends.
I admit to being a little more than angry and frustrated myself. Partially it is at the school system that won’t allow boys any physical activities where they can blow off some steam. No football, soccer, hockey, baseball, dodge ball, or any other kind of game that “promotes aggression” or the “possibility of injury”. Volleyball and cross country running are all well and good but they are seasonal, and frankly, to a lot of boys; it blows. I do understand that not all boys are the “physical” sort but more are often than not. While I realize no parent wants their child injured; it just seems that by denying that boys really do need a way to physically deal with aggression, you set them up for horseplay which eventually leads to fighting. How can anyone expect boys to spend all of recess at the wall or standing around chatting about the weather?
This time I don’t have Montana’s father to steady me or give me the dreaded whacked male perspective, and quite honestly, I cannot begin to fathom what his advice would be. So I am left to muddle on my own on what to do with son and his love of fighting. I thought about enrolling him in a martial arts program. He did take karate when he was younger but he really didn’t like it much. He said it was not enough of challenge and he complained that they really didn’t fight. So what I did was call a boxing club. I took him to the club on Saturday to register him.
At first, the coach was reluctant to register him and wanted to give him a week to think it over. The coach’s mouth dropped when I told him that my son didn’t have a choice. He loves to fight and I want him to do it all in the club and not in school. What was supposed to be a half hour session turned into a three hour ordeal with a different coach every hour. They didn’t let up on my son. Every once in a while a coach would pick up a water bottle and squirt water in his mouth. He was in constant motion. By the third hour, Montana entered the ring and watching him spar with a coach I saw an expression cross his face I had never seen before. He never looked so mean, and yet, so utterly euphoric. That thought caused a chill to run down my back and I was struck that perhaps I was watching biology become destiny.
Near the end of the session, the first coach sits down besides me and tells me that they will take care of him at the club and boxing can be a great life. He’s traveled all over the world by boxing. Frankly, I thought that the coach should have made ducking a punch a bit more of a priority than he obviously had in his own career. I made a mental note to tell Montana to make it a priority. When the coach finally called my son out of the ring he asked me for the school telephone number and the principal’s name. He warned my son that if they find out he’s fighting in school he will be suspended from the club. I would have thought Montana would be exhausted (I know I was from watching) but no, he was walking on clouds.
He’s been back twice this week and each time I have had to go drag him out of the gym when he failed to come home when he was expected. I try to comfort myself by saying there are worse things; it could be drugs, drinking or even floozy girls. But no matter how hard I try; I don’t understand the appeal of bashing someone over and over again, but then again, I loved ballet.
The Last Amazon called me at work today as soon as she arrived home from school. She was breathless with excitement and it took several minutes for my normally articulate daughter to express herself. I was expecting her wanting to discuss a new math theory or a science experiment but no, it was about – HOCKEY.
In gym class she played her first game of hockey. She had skates but has never played hockey before. She had to borrow a helmet and a stick but once she got on the ice she was good to go. Now she is talking about wanting to join a league and finally finding her true sport……
I admit I was a little taken back last spring when she and her brothers wanted to take up golf but I understood the appeal factor. You get a weapon and a ball where the goal is to hit the ball with the weapon and get it in the hole. I understood the appeal, but HOCKEY?
I don’t like hockey. I didn’t start out that way but I learned to loathe hockey with a passion that has never left me. When I was a young girl I even played hockey back in the day when the schools let you play hockey and every elementary playground had an outdoor rink made by the school janitor. The rinks were made with old planks and water as soon as the first snow fell. I played in the morning before school, at recess, during lunch, and after school. I was always ready for a game on weekends too.
I admit I didn’t play hockey with many girls, most didn’t seem to like it and if I really was going to be a ballet dancer skating was a no-no, but I didn’t care. I loved hockey. I loved racing down the ice and literally giving the shoulder to anyone that got in my way. In those days we didn’t play with helmets or padding. It was a tough, fast game and you had to be prepared to take your licks and get your butt in gear, no matter what.
That all changed when I got to grade 7. Suddenly, I was no longer allowed to play hockey in school. Girls played Ringette. You were not allowed to body check in ringette. You played with broken hockey sticks – and not because you busted it over someone’s head and were forced to finish the game that way – it was really meant to be broken so that no one would get hurt. There wasn’t even a puck but a stupid soft rubber ring so no one would get hurt. Girls played Ringette because it was not as tough as hockey.
Furthermore, real girls didn’t play hockey with boys because the boys were too big and rough or so I was told over and over. Years later I met Wayne Gretzky by accident and couldn’t stop smirking because I figured I could take him out in less than 10 seconds with either my chair or a bottle; so much for big and tough. I grew angry and frustrated that what I loved was being taken away from me; not because I couldn't compete or because I wasn’t good enough, but because I was female and females didn’t play hockey.
It didn’t matter how much I begged to be allowed to try out for the boys’ intramural teams. It cut no ice with the teachers that I could out skate or out stick any of my male contemporaries. It didn’t matter that in pick-up games I was always picked first by any of the boys for their team. It didn’t matter that the guys wanted to me to play. But it was 1974 and girls played ringette. I wasn’t even demanding to use the same change room as the boys. I’d have been happy with a broom closet by myself to change in. I hated ringette and if I wasn’t allowed to play hockey, f**k hockey and the stick you rode in on.
I was never able to get over my apathy towards hockey and could come up with a long litany on why I wouldn’t sign up either the Last Amazon or her brothers for hockey. It also helped that my husband was a Chinese-Jamaican immigrant. Jamaicans don’t do hockey; cricket, basketball, rugby, soccer, boxing, football, the odd bobsledding but not hockey. The schools today made it easy for me to ignore hockey; they don’t teach the sport and they no longer allow rinks to be made outside – even floor hockey is banned. Hockey promotes aggression and competition. Yes, things were working out just grand until the Last Amazon won a scholarship to a private prep school where not only does everyone play hockey but the school has its own indoor rink.
The one thing I have learned running this home is where the Last Amazon dares to tread; the Spartans will want to follow. All I can think of now is ka-ching, ka-ching and I have to fight the urge to close my wallet. I will probably have to look around and see if I can’t come up with a part-time job to help her and her brothers play. And now you know why, when I grow up I want to be my daughter.