Saturday, 29 October 2011

Don't tolerate intolerance

At work a few weeks ago, Shaune was explaining a new feature on one of the cars he sells to a customer– the immobilizer theft-deterrent system - how it could prevent car theft.

“Oh you mean like if a big black guy with a gun were to try and carjack me?” the customer, a wealthy middle aged-man joked. Stunned, my husband rushed through his run down of the features and benefits of the vehicle, counting the seconds till he could get away from the man.

It’s the not the first time he’s been privy to people’s hateful comments.

After 9/11, when he was still in the restaurant business, customers often requested Non-Arabic cab drivers when they were too drunk to drive home. I’m not saying racism only comes out of Caucasian mouths – I hear terrible things said about the gay community by people of all colours on a regular basis.

I’m just grateful that my husband is appalled by these expressions of hatred. Because if you ask me, most of us are too tolerant of intolerance. I wonder how we’re ever going to teach our kids to stop bullying if we don’t stop it ourselves. Of course it’s easy for me to say -this revulsion of bigotry comes naturally to me; I’ve been a visible minority most of my life.

And that’s why I’m acutely aware of how rare and wonderful it is that Shaune is disgusted by society’s hatred of difference. It’s one of the things that tethers us together in this life.

That and his mad skills in the kitchen!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

I fought the Church - well kinda

Once in a while I embrace being a grown up. Like, lately, when confronted with an infuriating situation, I try to wait a little before reacting. It certainly doesn’t come easy but I always find that I have better perspective later when I do decide to take action. Often the anger is still there but it’s low simmering, not explosive crazy.

Today has not been one of these mature days.

When Deaglan was born, even though I’d been away from formalized religion for over twenty years, I suddenly had a profound need to find a spiritual community, do charity work as part of that community and expose my son to what I’d grown up with – a knowledge of the Bible and Jesus’ work.

The small United congregation around the corner welcomed us with open arms. We immediately began indoctrination classes since Shaune had never been baptized, and met the sweetest pastor-in-training, a gay ex-Jesuit monk, his partner and a group of other newcomers. After the ten week course, Shaune and Deaglan were officially welcomed into the Church through a beautiful baptism ceremony. Sadly this was the same time our beloved ex-Jesuit pastor-in-training was finished his schooling, and moved to his own congregation in another city.

We settled into church life but discovered that it was very different from what we’d imagined. First of all we didn’t like the regular pastor. She was odd, overly flowery and symbolic when delivering her sermons – we couldn’t relate. And there was no charity work, only church fundraisers. All the money went back to the Church. Also, most of the parishioners were a few generations older than us, there were no young families.

We stopped going to church.

But the Church kept sending us pleas for donations. And they called religiously (I meant that) to ask us for our time in the nursery or donations for the charity garage and bake sale. This went on for two years.

When Naveen was born I panicked. I wanted him to be baptized but didn’t want to start going back to Sunday services. We’d decided that we could continue giving to good charities without the backing of a Church; we could be a part of a community that wasn’t affiliated with formalized religion.

But because the Church continued to call us for money and for our time, I chose to make contact. I asked the receptionist to have the pastor call me, told her that I wanted Naveen to get baptized in their upcoming Father’s Day service. She hesitated. I asked her if there was a rule that we had to attend services in order for our baby to be baptized but she dodged my question and promised to pass the message.

It's been six months. The pastor never called.

And yet today in the mail (we retrieve our mail once a week), I received another donation envelope. Immediately I sent the Church an email. I asked them about their double standard – why we have to attend services to reap the benefits of membership when they have no problem treating us like members when they want our money.

I reacted in anger and it kind of felt great. I’ll let you know if I hear back.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Life lessons - stealing cookies edition

During a break at a work meeting today, I surveyed a table full of snacks and took two small packages of cookies. I set them next to my note book, sat down, sipped my water and continued listening to the speaker. I looked at the tiny packs of Oreos and smiled, delighting in how excited Deaglan and Naveen would be when I presented them.

And then it hit me.

I’d just pocketed free snacks in front of my professional counterparts. A room full of people I’d met only minutes before.

Does my burgeoning mother-ness know no bounds? I didn’t even have a purse with me for petes’ sake. I was openly stashing freebies for the kids. The realization flushed my face and suddenly the meeting room got much smaller. I felt my armpits moisten. It was like an out-of-body experience.

This was inevitable though.

I was never good at anything before. I once got an award for perfect attendance in grade four. Other than that I’ve been existing sort of C-plus. But this gig has me aiming high which doesn’t always look cool. I’m not going for yummy mummy or that mom who has it together. I'm after the meat. I want very few regrets when looking back. I need to know I pushed myself.

And so every day I pray for the grace to be at least good at some of it. I pray that I get even a tiny bit right.

And when that fails I steal them cookies.

P.S. A lot of you have been kind enough to comment on the photography lately. I have to give credit where it's due. Shaune takes a lot of the pictures I post - I try to label when that's the case. It should also be noted that on the last post, he not only took those beautiful pictures of the kids, he also took them out of the house so I could have a few hours to myself.

I'm joining my friends Rach and Sara for Life Lessons.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

How to ease Christmas nausea

At Costco last weekend there were two and a half aisles of Christmas stuff. I guess it’s just an unwritten rule that stores wait till Halloween is over before displaying it. And because it was a hot October day, not even Canadian Thanksgiving yet, I felt like I was in my still decorated living room on January first; nauseous at the sight of it.

The kids were with me and Deaglan asked for every single toy we passed. At first I tried silence but that didn’t fly. After saying no a few times, I finally told him he’d have to ask Santa for them.


I’ve written before that this time of year always leaves me churning a little; I’m not sure how to embrace it because the commercial idea of Christmas makes me sick. With small kids though, it’s hard not to get sucked in.

But because I feel a responsibility to raise my kids’ awareness that we live a very cozy life, we don’t know the meaning of need, hunger or suffering, I’ve been chipping away at teaching Deaglan about the people who do. We bought a globe at the beginning of the summer at a garage sale. Many an afternoon we’ve laid together on his bed naming different countries.

I’ve told him about Bangladesh where I’m from, about the kids there, how they don’t have much to eat, that their parents can’t afford to buy toys. I’ve found myself breathing sighs of relief when his concerned little face came up with ways to help those kids.

Every so often I show him the picture of Sabina, our sponsored child, remind him that her life is very different from ours. I tell him that we are sharing some of our money so that we can help her and her family have a better life. And always during these brief talks, he thinks of ways we can share other things with her, mostly his toys.

And even though I know he doesn’t quite get it, I see that just bringing it up does us all good - gets us thinking about something outside of ourselves.

Last week I decided to accept the Visa my bank was offering and close my extra MasterCard. The exchange meant I’d have to contact World Vision to change my account information – put our monthly donation to Sabina’s family on the Visa now. It got me thinking about how we never ever notice that money being gone.

What’s $35 to us?

I called Shaune at work and asked him how he’d feel about adding another child to our account. I’m happy to say we are now helping three year old Keerthana and her family in Sri Lanka.

And just like that, I’m not dreading this Christmas season - as much.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Embracing my imperfections

A few nights ago at dinner, Deaglan said, “Thanks for the delicious lunch Mommy (he refers to every meal as lunch), you are getting to be a good cook just like Daddy!”

I looked over at Shaune and winked.

I’d heated up some of Captain Highliner’s breaded cod fillets, frozen peas, corn and oven baked some French fries. Lately it’s what meals I’m responsible for look like. And today at the gym, I lasted 30 minutes on the treadmill when winded I gave up and hit the showers.

I’ve been thinking about the rhythm of my days, about how unless I’m performing at some unrealistically high echelon, I never quite feel good enough. But the reality is that those high performance days are very few and far between. Most of the time I’m moving along the best I can at a low to mediocre level, doing okay in some areas, coming close to failing in others.

I‘d never considered that I might have some perfectionist tendencies. That I could only pat myself on the back when I measured up to these imaginary benchmarks I’d set. No wonder I walk around all day feeling like I need something more, that happiness is just out of my reach.

I do understand that this is the human condition; I get that most of us operate from this model. Brené Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection talks about wholehearted living:

It means cultivating courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.

I discovered her work several months ago through my beautiful bloggy friend Gerri who posted this Ted talk. And because the universe was trying to get my attention, a few months later when I asked another of my blog buddies who happens to be a psychologist for a book recommendation that addressed shame, she pointed me to the same Ted talk and Brown’s books.

When you need to learn some of LIFE's lessons, it's amazing the lengths to which IT will go to make sure you do.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The hard part of parenting

Much earlier today, two in the morning-ish, I took stock of my life. I had Deaglan in the crook of one arm scrunched in close while Naveen snored softly on my other side. For an instant I felt sorry for myself wondering when I’d ever get a full night’s rest again.

My self-pity didn’t last long.

Truth is, from the moment I met them, the inevitability that they’d someday leave has never been far from my thoughts; a thrum and dull ache reminding me to drink this all in. Too easily I fast forward my life, the way old micro fiche machines flip through archived newspaper articles, stopping to read the headlines:

Age 15 Teenagers Hole up in Bedrooms to Escape Always-Wrong Irritating Parents!

Age 19 Big Move to University Town to Taste Sweet Freedom!

Age 25 Too Busy Career-Building to Come Home!

I’ve been gifted (cursed?) with the awareness of how fleeting all this is. I know that as full as my arms are today, they will ache with emptiness again. That even the hardest parts – lack of sleep, picky eating, the tantrums, even these will seem like nothing compared to the hardship of letting them fly.

Of letting them go.

Shaune and I are sometimes foolhardy enough to try and scheme ways to outsmart the system: Last night we were wondering how we’d take the news when someday one or both of our boys announced that they’d be spending Thanksgiving with the families of their wives.

“Hopefully, their wives are estranged from their parents.” Shaune offered.

“Yes!” I agreed. “Maybe Deaglan and Naveen will be married to orphans!”

Old Navy had their costumes half-off this week. Although Deaglan will actually be a ghost this Halloween, he's insisted on sleeping in this every night since we brought it home. And although this is the best shot we could get of Naveen, there are little dragon wings and a dragon tail on his back that make it hard for us to want to take this costume off of him. Even when he's made it clear he's had enough of being our entertainment.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Communication breakdowns

I’m hardly ever about violence, but yesterday when Deaglan told me that one of his teachers said he was silly because he had a doll in his backpack I pictured one of those first scenes from Fight Club where Brad Pitt is beating the snot out of Edward Norton. Well I’m not implying I’d be pretty enough to be the female version of Brad Pitt in my scenario – not him in Legends of the Fall anyway. Possibly Kalifornia meets Burn after Reading.

Any-whoo, where was I?

“Mommy it hurt my heart that she said I was silly,” he cried in his froggy little voice.

We’d put Baby in his backpack on Sunday night for the letter B’s Show and Share. Last week we got a schedule of who would bring their toy on what day for the letter A. This week there was no note. Worried that he might not be prepared for his turn – that I’d somehow missed the note, I told him to take Baby out only when it was his turn.

I’ll be honest; I don’t know what went down between him and the teacher. He’s three and a half after all, and as proud as we are of how articulate he is, there are still times when we’re not sure if we understand each other.

It’s the third time though, in the three short weeks of Big Kid School that he’s mentioned something worrisome a teacher has said. In the first week a teacher allegedly told him he wasn’t allowed to eat his whole wheat fusili noodles – that he should eat his ham instead and in the second week he was told not to eat the nut-free chocolate cookie we sent, the reason being it was unhealthy and wouldn’t help him grow.

Each time, I waited for my murderous rage to subside before sending a lovely note, gently asking what the hell was up. The noodle thing is still a mystery but the teacher wrote back that she encouraged the kids to choose healthy snacks for the morning recess - save treats for the afternoon.

Okay fine, but ixnay on ootingshay the parents down-ay for their choice in snacks.

So I chose my words carefully this morning when I wrote an explanation of why my son had a doll in his backpack. I didn’t demand to know why someone had accused him of being silly, didn’t throw around terms like sexist discrimination and gender profiling.

The last thing I need is to inadvertently shine a spotlight on Deaglan or for anyone to think they are dealing with the Nut of all mothers. I fully expect he’ll come to that conclusion on his own right around the time he turns fourteen.

But I will say this: I never knew how deeply each assault to his feelings would wound mine.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

I definitely don't do windows

During maternity leave this last time, whenever I started cleaning the house, Deaglan would stop what he was doing and look up in surprise.

“Mommy, who’s coming over?” he’d ask as if that’s the only time I ever cleaned.

I always explained to him that I was tidying up so we could have a neat place to play in. And when I was done, I’d intentionally ask him to describe how he felt when he looked around, hoping he’d associate good feelings with a clean house. I haven’t seen any dividends from my Pavlov-ian efforts but I still hold hope that someday it will pay off.

It’s the one area in which I’ve wished for just a hint of mental illness in myself, a trace of OCD. Before Jon and Kate became known for their divorce and public theatrics, I watched in awe, Kate’s organizational skills. I sat mesmerized while she worked through her day keeping to a tight schedule of never-ending meals, laundry and hair-braiding.

I’m not neat by nature.

We had some family over for lunch today. I cleaned for several hours in preparation. Yesterday I worked on the main floor and this morning after an extra large coffee I did the bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. You’d have thought I hadn’t cleaned in weeks. It’s the thing about having two small kids, a spick and span house can be turned on its ears within about ten minutes.

I’m not just telling you this to convince you that Shaune doesn’t do everything around here. I was exhausted and starving by the time he had this pasta on the table in time for lunch.

 There were four of us snapping our fingers, making stupid faces and clapping to  get these  knuckleheads to cooperate for a picture with Gramma and Grampa.

Shaune's Sausage and Pepper Fusili

Tomato ragu (yields 5.5 liters)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 small onions diced
8 cloves of garlic minced
Half cup of red wine vinegar
Half cup of sugar
1 bay leaf
2 cans of tomato paste
2 2.84 liter cans of plum tomatoes pureed
1 tablespoon of basil (optional)
Salt and pepper

Sweat onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat, gently until translucent. Add sugar and the redwine vinegar. Add tomato paste and cook for three minutes. Add the tomato puree (Shaune's note: do not over-puree the tomatoes; you want it chunky but with no large chunks. Use an immersion blender if you have it, or food processor or regular blender - immersion blenders are cheap and the best way). Turn to low heat until the desired consistency is met. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add basil (optional) or minced hot chili for spicy ragu. For pizza sauce reduce to thicker consistency and add one teaspoon of ground fennel seed!

Sausage and pepper fusili
One package of mild or hot Italian sausage
Sliced green peppers and mushrooms (you can choose whatever vegetables your crew will eat)
Cooked fusili
Tomato ragu

Grill sausage and let cool, slice thinly on the bias.
Sautee peppers and mushrooms in one tablespoon of olive oil. Add grilled sausage and heat through. Add tomato ragu and toss with fusili.

Gramma brought a caesar salad and garlic bread, and Aunt Katie an apple crisp. Needless to say we didn't eat dinner tonight.