What Last Place Looks Like

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Go to any kind of equestrian show and you will likely see a photographer taking pictures of the horses and riders in action.  I love looking at these photos, but yesterday, at my youngest daughter’s first dressage show, this was the image I most wanted to capture. The woman to the left of my daughter is her coach and the woman to the right is her mentor.

Parents are often a child’s first role models, but I believe it takes a village to raise a child so the more positive role models the merrier.  The actions of a role model can have a powerful influence on a child impacting their self-esteem, sense of purpose, work ethic, values and so much more.  

The two women pictured above are not superhuman (although my daughter may disagree), but they are both amazing role models.  They have taught her about horse care, horse health, riding, dressage, saddles, and all that other equipment stuff I can never remember the names of.  They have provided her with experiences to gain knowledge and opportunities to ride other horses, but yesterday they shared something better than all that put together.  They shared their last place finishes.

Yesterday, my daughter rode in two classes.  When the results of the first class were posted, and she saw that she had placed last, her face fell.  Prior to the show, knowing this was a possibility, we talked about expectations. We landed on: push past her nerves, do her best, have fun and try not worry about the results.  This is a tall order for anyone, but especially for an eleven year old.  Truth be told my heart was hurting too.  No one wants to place last or see the heartbreak on their daughter’s face when they do. 

Unable to find the right words, I found my daughter’s coach and mentor.  These women didn’t try to console or disparage the judge and marking system.  They both simply said, “I placed last in my first class today too.”

Then they shared about good rides and bad rides and about the days when everything works and the days when nothing does.  They talked about the little victories, and how far they have come. I want this horse thing to be a journey for my daughter.  I want her to have fun. I want her to grow stronger and wiser. I want her to be brave and face her fears. I want her to be encouraging and supportive of other riders.  I want her to win and lose gracefully. I want her to become a positive role model for other young riders.  

If this photo is what last place looks like, I’m more than okay with it.  And to my daughter’s coach and mentor:

Thank you for modelling sportsmanship.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Thank you for investing your time.

Thank you for not sugar coating it.

Thank you for being risk takers.

Thank you for sharing your stories.

Thank you for being part of my daughter’s village.

 

 

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To Rant or Not to Rant

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Last week I was going to write a rant about how much I dislike the word “unchurched.” It’s one of those insider words that church people use, and one I think is out-of-date, overused and offensive.  I sat down with someone wiser and more thoughtful than me, who suggested that not everyone is offended by the word “unchurched,” and that some people really couldn’t care less if you called them “unchurched.”  Fine.  Scratch the unchurched rant.

My next thought was to write a rant about rants.   Merriam-Webster defines rant as “to talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner or to scold vehemently.”  One of the definitions in the Urban Dictionary for rant “to extensively talk about a given topic longer than needed whether anyone cares or not.”  And there it is.  Most people couldn’t care less about your long winded rant.  So unless you have the skill of Rick Mercer and a cool graffiti alley, why waste your time?  Great.  Scratch the rant rant.

That’s all I got.

You’re welcome.

 

 

Living With Open Hands

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I’m not a new year’s resolution type of person because CHOCOLATE.  Also, exercise is icky and gyms are smelly. So no diet or fitness resolutions for me.  I’ve thought about trying the #oneword focus for the new year, but I as a lover of words it has been difficult to settle on just one.  While reflecting on 2018 and considering resolutions and words for 2019, a phrase that settled in my heart last month felt just right for next year.  It is not a new idea, but a new to me way of living.  Live with open hands.

To say I’m a control freak would be a bit of an exaggeration.  Do I like a good list?  Yes.  Do I like a solid plan for the day, week, and month?  You bet.  Does a perfectly folded and organized linen closet soothe my frayed nerves?  So very much. My need for lists and plans is directly linked to my OCD, but they also helped me think I was in control of my life.  2018 showed me how very little I was in control.  What I didn’t plan or anticipate this year:

  • Unemployment
  • Loneliness
  • Collaboration
  • Employment
  • Waiting
  • Waiting
  • Waiting

Any guesses as to which was the most difficult for me?  As a Jesus follower one of the main things is to actually FOLLOW Jesus.  This means tuning into God and following His path for my life. Over the years, God and I have had many discussions about control because apparently I’m a very stubborn and slow learner, but this year He enrolled me in a master class to learn how to release control and wait.  I didn’t catch onto the waiting thing immediately. I flailed about making lists and plans that proved useless.  I ran in this and that direction desperately attempting to solve all the problems and gain control.  I failed over and over, and then I finally surrendered it all to The Guy with the actual plan. 

I was holding so tightly to all my own ideas and plans that without knowing it my hands had seized and closed entirely.  Surrendering is counter-cultural and terrifying for the closed-handed.  As I slowly loosened the stranglehold I had on my life, I became more grateful for what I held in my hands, and excited for what they could hold.  I finally accepted that I’m not the boss of everything and that God can totally have a that gig.  All very logical since He has the actual plan, and trying to manage all those moving parts would be a logistical nightmare for me.  Living with open hands not only provided new and challenging experiences, but it kicked fear to the backseat, and finally all passengers are securely buckled in where they belong.   

This doesn’t mean that I expect my life to be all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows.  Living with open hands also means holding difficult, heartbreaking things. I’m starting to think that life is mostly hard with some happy thrown in.  Again, in our pleasure seeking culture this is counter intuitive, but we were never promised a rose garden.  While I’m not keen to revisit any of my painful experiences, they formed me the most and affirmed that I can hold both difficult things and unicorns.

So I guess my new year’s resolution is to continue to live with open hands, and my one word is surrender.  I wish you all good things for 2019.  May you find what you seek, push aside fear, eat all the chocolate and trust that you can hold what is put in your hands.

My One Hit Wonder

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I spent last night with my step-mother.  She took me to her favorite stores in search of a dress I needed to wear to a wedding this weekend.  We ate food, laughed and talked. So much talking. But it was all a dream. My step-mom passed away almost ten years ago after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

In my dream, she help me pick out the perfect dress which of course was a pant suit.  The mall where we shopped was filled with stores that were all about her: an old school ceramics store/studio with tons of bisque ware and glazes, a Ports store, a Canadian fashion house and her favorite place for clothes, and an entire shop selling her signature fragrance Chloe.

She insisted on eating at a trendy salad place which didn’t exist in her lifetime but is my eldest daughter’s favorite eatery.  I think those two would have been wonderful friends with loads of shared interests and inside jokes. And she would have been my youngest daughter’s biggest cheerleader as she rides horses and takes on new adventures.  

This dream was bittersweet.  It was so vivid and real but has left me with a sad ache and a longing for a good long chat with this beautiful woman.  In 2011, three years after her death, I saw a box of her favorite perfume on a department store shelf and I wrote this poem. My One Hit Wonder was originally published in Time and Place.

My One Hit Wonder

I see Chloe.
Not the neighbour’s kid.
Not the co-worker.
The fragrance.
The small peach box with white lettering sitting on the department store shelf.
The box brings the scent.
The scent brings her back.

Not the last her.
Not the her of morphine and methadone listening to the looped music of her life.
Not the her of drains, bags and stints tying her to this world.
That was not her.

She was purple silk dresses,
And floral wallpaper.
White wine spritzers,
With pretty toes.
Bone dry chocolate cake,
And succulent meat pie.
A pixie cut,
With earrings and necklace to match.

She was training bras and rat tails.
Road trips and silly songs.
A nail biting spooner.
And queen of the kaftan.
My cheerleader and secret keeper.
My so bad it’s good decorator.
She was that wacky Christmas ornament.
And the perfect birthday card.

The fragrance.
The box.
The scent.
The woman, the daughter, the sister, the aunt, the partner, the friend.
She was my one hit wonder.
My other mother.
And still this was not her.

Is Little House on the Prairie Racist?

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I have fond memories of reading The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was the first series of books I read entirely on my own. I loved the stories of pioneer life and the simple pencil drawings.  I still have my original boxed set with all nine books in pristine condition. I was excited to start reading the series and share Laura’s adventures with my ten-year old daughter.  My excitement waned slightly when a friend told me she stopped reading the books with her kids because of Wilder’s culturally insensitive stereotyping of Native Americans.

I read these books in 1979.  Nearly forty years combined with my terrible memory means I had no clue what my friend was talking about.  My daughter and I jumped into reading the first book, Little House in the Big Woods but it was during the second book, Little House on the Prairie, that things got uncomfortable quickly.  The use of the word Indian, Laura’s desire to see a papoose and a character stating, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” were jarring.

I pressed pause on our reading.  “Culturally insensitive stereotyping of Native Americans” was an understatement.  Are these books racist? Was Wilder racist? Should I stop reading? Turns out that wasn’t an option because my ten-year-old wanted to continue to reading so I explained why I had paused.  Her response, “Mom, when you read the word “Indian” in my head I think “Indigenous peoples.” And I know that this what they said back then because they just didn’t know better. I know better.”

This led to a discussion about racism and our ability to grow and change. The Little House on the Prairie series documents Wilder’s childhood in the late 1800s on the American frontier.  It’s written from Wilder’s historical perspective. These words are hard to read and difficult to accept but they are words from a specific time and place. The truth is we used these words.  We cannot move forward without knowing where we have been.

The following passage from Little House on the Prairie, a chapter entitled The Tall Indian, has stayed with me.

“Oh I suppose she went west,” Ma answered. That’s what the Indians do.”

“Why do they do that , Ma? Laura asked. “Why do they go west?”

“They have to,” Ma said.

“Why do they have to?”

“The government makes them, Laura,” said Pa. “Now go to sleep.”

He played the fiddle softly for a while. Then Laura asked, “Please, Pa, can I ask just one more question?”

“May I,” said Ma.

Laura began again. “Pa, please, may I—”

“What is it? Pa asked. It was not polite for little girls to interrupt, but of course Pa could do it.

“Will the government make these Indians go west?”

“Yes,” Pa said. “When white settlers come into a country, the Indians have to move on. The government is going to move these Indians farther west, any time now. That’s why we’re here, Laura. White people are going to settle all this country, and we get the best land because we get here first and take our pick. Now do you understand?”

“Yes, Pa,” Laura said. “But, Pa, I thought this was Indian Territory. Won’t it make the Indians mad to have to–”

“No more questions, Laura,” Pa said, firmly. Go to sleep.”

Even as white people were driving indigenous peoples off their land they struggled to explain their actions.  Just as I struggle to explain to my children our failure to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights to lands and resources, and the residential schools meant to kill their culture and the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and the impoverishment, inadequate housing, food insecurity and unsafe drinking water indigenous families and communities still face.  I will not be like Pa and say, “No more questions.”

When reading to my children I won’t skip over words or song lyrics or whole books which may be considered racist or discriminatory.  When talking about history I will not sugar coat it. We used these words and we did and continue to do these things.  I want my children to ask all the questions.  I want them to understand. I want them to know the truth. And I want us to do better.  So much better.

Reconciliation cannot happen until we know and accept the truth.  

 

The Beyond

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“It was Leslie who had taken him from the cow pasture into Terabithia and turned him into a king. He had thought that was it. Wasn’t king the best you could be?  Now it occurred to him that perhaps Terabithia was like a castle where you came to be knighted.  After you stayed for a while and grew strong you had to move on.  For hadn’t even Leslie, even in Terabithia, tried to push back the walls of his mind and make hims see beyond to the shining world – huge and terrible and beautiful and very fragile?”  – Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.

Every Tuesday afternoon from the back of twenty-year-old horse named Hudson, I catch a glimpse of the huge, terrible, beautiful and very fragile shining world.  This glimpse has changed everything.

I have been terrified of horses since the age of ten when I fell off a neighbor’s horse and dislocated my shoulder.  So naturally my nine-year-old daughter adores horses and wants to spend all of her time riding them.  For just over a year she has been taking riding lessons at a local barn and loving it.  I have loved it less.  The first time she fell off a horse I grabbed the parent in front of me, buried my face in their coat and screamed (and I do mean screamed), “Oh my gosh!  Oh my gosh!  I can’t look!  What’s happening?  I can’t even look!”

It’s a wonder they even let me back in the barn as I managed to frighten all the kids and horses there that night.  My daughter was shaken by the fall but fine.  I was shaken and clearly not fine.  Every time a horse spooked, tripped or sneezed I flinched, jumped or screamed – sometimes all three at once.  Sadly, I was the only parent available to drive my daughter to riding so she was stuck with my shenanigans.  As the months passed  I forced myself into closer proximity with the horses by petting, grooming and feeding them apples.  Ever so slowly I got more comfortable around them.  Then I became fond of Hudson.  I fell for his big brown eyes and super soft, whiskery nose.  And then I decided I should ride Hudson because I’m a jerk like that.  I just wanted to stop being so scared.  Scared of horses.  Scared of heights. Scared of failure.  Scared of not being enough.  Scared of being too much. I wanted to tackle ALL the fears and Hudson was there right in front of me every week so why not start with him?

I have been riding for two months – a grand total of eight lessons.  Some days I try to talk myself out of going to the barn.  Other days I groom Hudson way longer than necessary in an attempt to delay actually getting on him.  But I have shown up for every lesson to clumsily climb on Hudson’s back and awkwardly ride around the arena for thirty minutes.  Each time I do this, I push back the walls of my mind and move into the beyond.  The beyond where things are big and wild and scary and magnificent.  Where anything is possible because I am doing the impossible.  I am riding a horse.  But I could just as easily be jumping out of an airplane 12,000 feet above the earth or resting comfortably in the knowledge that I am the exact parent my girls need me to be or publishing all the things because I don’t actually give a damn who thinks what about my writing!

From Hudson’s back I can see the beyond.  And there is more yes, more joy and more freedom there.  I’m going to push myself to bask in its magnificence more often.

“As for the terrors ahead –  for he did not fool himself that they were all behind him – well, you just have to stand up to your fear and not let it squeeze you white.  Right, Leslie?”

Feminism is NOT a Fashion Choice

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I’m an avid thrift store shopper but on a recent trip to Hamilton I ventured to a ginormous mall in search of a Totoro (best movie ever!) t-shirt for my eldest daughter.  Once said t-shirt was aquired, my girlfriend and I checked out a couple of kids stores, hunting the clearance racks for deals.  The entrance to one store had a massive table of girls’ graphic tees.  Nestled among the sparkly emojis, bunnies and horses was a “feminist” t-shirt.

I stood at the entrance of the store with my mouth gaping open, staring at the bubblegum pink tee with the word “FEMINIST” written across it in big white sequined letters.  I slowly backed out of the store to read the sign and double check that I was in fact in a children’s clothing store.  Unfortunately, I was.  I started to feel icky.  Then uncomfortable.  Then mad.  Thus ended our shopping trip to the ginormous mall.  

As I write this one month later, I’m still angry.  It’s never good when I write something in anger so buckle up.  I’m going to be very clear.  

Feminism is not a fashion choice.  

Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. More precisely, “Feminist movements have campaigned and continue to campaign for women’s rights, including the right to vote, to hold public office, to work, to earn fair wages or equal pay, to own property, to receive education, to enter contracts, to have equal rights within marriage, and to have maternity leave. Feminists have also worked to promote bodily autonomy and integrity, and to protect women and girls from rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.” Thank you Wikipedia.

Do not confuse consumerism with feminism.  

Buying a t-shirt with the word “feminist” on it does not make you a feminist.  In fact, depending on where, under what conditions and by whom said t-shirt was made, it might actually make you the complete opposite of a feminist.  And here’s an idea, instead of expanding our daughters closets let’s invest in expanding their minds.  Let’s teach our daughters about women like American Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) who was a crusader against racial discrimination and gender inequality or Canadian Adelaide Hoodless (1857-1910) who was an educational reformer and founded the Women’s Institute or French philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) who tirelessly criticized the patriarchal system.  

There are hundreds of feminists who have changed and shaped the world we live in and we need to continue to tell their stories.  There are no shortage of age appropriate children’s books that can educate and empower our girls.  But again, buyer beware. Consumerism is equally prevalent in the world of publishing.

I am not an expert on the feminist movement.  Not by a long stretch.  But I know enough to understand how the work of first, second and third wave feminists have impacted my life and the lives of my daughters.  We commit a grave injustice when we confuse a revolutionary movement with consumerism.