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.

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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.

 

 

I’m a Jerk

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So I’m a bit of a jerk.  A surprise to some.  Not so much to others.  In May, New Leaf hosted In the Company of Women, a conference for men and women who long to see the mission of God advanced in Canada through shared leadership.  Last year, when my almost friend Jared Siebert mentioned this idea of reclaiming and envisioning shared leadership between men and women, I knew I was all in.  I jumped on the conference planning team willing to do whatever was required of me.  Or so I thought.

My contribution to the planning team included monthly video chats, brainstorming emails, some creative thinking and a blog post.  I felt pretty good about it all until a couple of weeks before the big day I realized that almost all my conference planning buddies were also speaking at the conference.  Suddenly, I felt woefully inadequate, doubted my contribution to the whole thing and was ready to jump ship.  Told you.  I’m a jerk.  

Most of the time I think I’m all that and a bag of chips so I wasn’t too sure what to do with this seed of self-doubt that had been planted.  First, I threw myself a pity party.  When that fizzled out I decided my only course of action was to just suck it up and fumble along like everything was fine.   Once again, God had a much better plan.  Thank you Jesus!

It did occur to me to actually say something out loud to my planning buddies but I knew this was my thing not theirs.  And I didn’t want to rain on their parade so I as usual my husband got an earful and he carefully reinforced the fact that this was all my stuff at play which I did my best to process.

I woke up on the day of the conference eager and excited.  No self pity or doubt in sight.  Just good vibes and the sense I needed to be open to whatever came my way.  This felt way better than my pity party so I went with it.  When I arrived at the conference I set up the book sale table, carried boxes, delivered messages, pointed people in the right direction and answered a bunch of questions.  Then I sat down and listened to a diverse group of women talk about shared leadership in the kingdom of God.  I was challenged, encouraged and inspired.  

One of the speakers, Dr. Linda Ambrose, professor of Canadian History at Laurentian University, who has extensively studied the history of women in Canadian churches, said two things that are still whirling around in my head.

  1. Dr. Ambrose spoke about Agnes, a woman who co-pastored and planted churches with her husband in the early 1900s.  Agnes was also a mother and she wrote about how the women in the church would bake birthday cakes for her children because they knew Agnes’ schedule was jammed packed with church stuff.
  2. Then Dr. Ambrose asked, “How do we as women support or fail to support each other?”  

And then I realized.  I almost failed to bake the cake.  I came uncomfortably close to failing my sisters.  God had me exactly where He wanted me the day of the conference.  The room was filled with strong, determined, courageous, grace-filled women – those speaking on stage, those nursing newborns or chasing two-years in the audience, those finding the courage to introduce themselves to their hero, those speaking words of encouragement – and I had a front row seat to witness it all.  That conference room was a glorious cake baking factory and it was beautiful!

So for me the most challenging part of shared leadership has nothing to do with men and everything to do with women.  I need to step fearlessly into my circle of women confident in my gifts and abilities.  I need to know that my contribution has value and worth no matter what it is.  

And I need say yes to what God has planned for me.  So YES!  I will carry your books, countdown your presentation time, handout the chocolate, pray for you, encourage you and walk alongside you.  And whether you are onstage, backstage or completely unaware there even is a stage – I will be your biggest fan.  

I will also try really hard not to be a jerk.  

Oh, and I do bake a pretty mean chocolate buttermilk cake.  The irony.  

 

The Lasagna Conspiracy

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The world of church continues to be a blissfully confusing place for me.  There is a thing that church folk do (calling each other folk is a whole other thing they do) that is thoughtful, kind and often times delicious.  They make for food for people.  And not just when someone dies.  Church people make food for death, birth, illness, unemployment, separation and so on.  If there is sadness or hurt, a lasagna can’t be far behind.

This is one of the things my church community does really well.  A message goes out on social media and folks sign-up for a meal and deliver it to the person or family on the appointed day.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Food may actually be our community’s love language.    We spend a lot of time together gathering around tables of food prepared by many hands.  Wonder where we got that idea?

Over the last few months, going out in the world was difficult for me – something this people loving extrovert has never experienced before.  Three weeks ago, my counselor suggested I dip my toe in the water and get together with a friend for tea – NOT at my  house.

I chose a friend from church who is more than a church friend.  As I drove her house on a sunny Tuesday morning, my nerves and queasy stomach were close to getting the best of me.  My friend’s smiling face and easy manner greeted me at the door and I was able to breathe again.  After apologizing for not having any baked goods to serve, my friend placed a pot of tea, two cups and a giant chocolate bar on a tray and led the way to her cozy basement.

For the next hour, she listened as I explained why I had disappeared from the world, how I was feeling now and where life was headed.  She was gracious, thoughtful and wise.  She was exactly what I needed.  After another hour of chatting and getting caught up, I was feeling so loved and encouraged.  My gratitude cup was overflowing.  So I was totally shocked when my friend apologized for not bringing my family a meal over the last few weeks.

There had been no call for food from our church community nor would I have wanted there to be, and yet my friend felt bad that she had not dropped a warm meal on my doorstep.  My jaw dropped.  The last two hours we had spent together meant more than a lifetime supply of lasagna.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not poo-pooing lasagna or those who make lasagna.  I’m a huge fan of anything made with noodles and cheese.  I’m just saying if cooking for others as a way of expressing love is not your thing then that’s cool.  There are so many ways to love people.  If it’s lasagna, great!  If it’s homemade pie, God bless you.  If it’s a cupcake from a local bakery, well done.  If it’s a cup of tea, a chocolate bar and long easy chat, you are speaking my language.  

It’s a beautiful thing working together as a community to support and encourage others. But there is no one right way to do it.  We need to embrace all expressions of love – be it food, a text, a hug, a cup of tea or a chat.