Saturday, August 29, 2009

Chosen Kin

"If it comes between choosing your family or your husband, you choose your husband."
~as told to me by my mother, Sara

I didn't really understand this statement when my mother said it to me when I was a teenager. I mean, I understood it in the sense that she had survived a horribly abusive childhood and that marrying my father was certainly a means for her to remove herself from the pain and dependence of her family, but as a 17 year old with my immediate family being the only thing I knew at that age, it took me until I was well into my twenties before I really understood just how important this statement is, and as I continue to age, that message becomes reinforced for me time and time again.

My whole life, I've struggled with my relationship with my family, both immediate and extended. I've never felt accepted, understood or much liked for that matter or really that anyone in my family really wanted to take the time to really know who I was. They still think they know me, however in reality, they haven't a clue...

In my twenties, I was terribly affected by those strained relationships and I tried to "fix" them through writing letters to my parents and later to my extended family in the hopes of rebuilding that sense of kinship and loyalty. I always wanted that huge family that would gather at holidays and actually enjoy each other's company and while it may have been a projection from my Norman Rockwell inspired diary when I was a girl, it still spoke to something deep within me that I had craved and which had never been satisfied.

Of course my letters never made any difference . If anything, they mostly became fodder for derisive interactions that usually plagued our family get-togethers. Each time I was with my family, I felt alone, mocked, disappointed and ultimately, very sad. Finally, in my mid-twenties, I learned that there was nothing that I was going to be able to do to independently change my family's dynamic, so for my own sake, I started down a different path and made different choices. I tweaked my mother's advice to read from then on...

If you have to choose between your family and yourself, you choose yourself...

I started university with my toddler daughter in tow and I began on a journey of creating that thing to which I wanted to be a part of. I began to live another quote which my mother had shared with me when I was just twelve. I began to live being ultimately true to myself. I became more introspective, more genuine, more vulnerable and decided then that I would only surround myself with people that were of the same mindset. Not to say that throughout the rest of my twenties I didn't get sidelined, make bad decisions, trust the wrong people and continue to lie to myself periodically, but for the most part, I worked to stay that course. I loved well the people that were in my life and brought a sense of positive progress to it as well, and those that drained me of my life blood, I worked to eliminate from my every day and that included my family for a long, long time.

I remember my best Christmas dinner ever. I was surrounded with my daughter and ten other people in my dining room, not one of them I was related to, but each one of them I referred to as my chosen kin. They were friends that loved me, supported me, engaged me and equally chose me to be a part of their lives. It was joy. They brought me joy. They brought me love and acceptance and I strove to do the same for them. Not all those people are still in my life, but most of them are and I still consider them dear, dear friends.

At different times throughout my twenties I met three people that were to completely define that notion of chosen kin for me. I know them each from entirely disparate circumstances. They are my three closest friends and in each one of them, I find tremendous love, absolute acceptance and unwavering support (even when I'm wrong, they're still on my side, just like family's supposed to be). We've had our ups and downs, as does any relationship, but these three souls know that without fail, I love them and will do anything that I can to support them as they would equally do for me. I am unbelievably grateful for them and they are part of my family.

It was the foundation of these three relationships that enabled me to once again choose wisely and choose to marry my best friend, my husband. My choice. My chosen kin. With him, we have created a life, surrounded with and based on a tremendous love. A love that we chose and a life that we continue to choose in spite of the valleys, because we seek those peaks together. And through him, I have also found that huge family that gathers, loves and enjoys one another's company. He and our children are my chosen kin. Along with my closest friends, they are the ones that I choose to live with, the ones that I choose to turn to and the ones that I find my greatest joy from.

So now, at almost forty years old, I still find myself having to make choices about my happiness. I believe that
It is through making choices that people find their greatest happiness and the lives that fulfil. Those disappointing and strained relationships still sadden me greatly, however, that pain is mitigated by the buoyancy I feel from those that I have chosen and who have chosen me. So, I will continue to choose the people and the paths that bring that happiness to me and forgo those that simply don't.

And now
as one of these closest friends and his spouse are in the midst of adopting a six year old boy, choosing their kin and expanding their family, my joy abounds. There aren't two more deserving people than they, and I am ecstatic for them and selfishly for the fact that my chosen kin, my family is growing and that I am going to be an Auntie again.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Dating 2.0

I’m so mad. I swear, he’s cheated. Doesn’t he know that being hungover is NOT the right time to make decisions? He was all sweet and totally “in love” and then 20 hours later he’s already single again on Facebook?! Oh, and then he’s all like “say when, say when” about talking…finally!! Whatever!

I was told! My neighbour Jane told me, "don't fall in love with the boyfriend; you'll only get hurt!"....gawd, she's so right...

It’s happened. I’ve been taken to the dark side. Today, I fully experienced Dating 2.0. Oh, it’s not me by the way. By virtue of Facebook, I am completely vicariously living through my 17 year old daughter’s boyfriend drama first hand and now I know that I'm not ready for her to be dating or rather, I’m just not ready for minding her relationship in real-time, or Dating 2.0 that is.

At one point, I encouraged her dating and by that I mean old school dating; going out a few times or hanging out casually until you figured out if you liked someone enough to actually be “going out”; not “hooking up” first and then determining if they’re worthy enough.

I fully supported her in being open and receptive to different types of guys; guys who had reputations for being "players" or "bad news" and giving them a chance to reveal who they really are (without getting too close mind you!). Quiet guys; encouraging her to encourage them to open up. Guys who are seemingly the super nice guys; being hopeful that they really are the super nice guys. That of course was all when I would pop into her room and ask her who she was IMing and talking to her openly and freely and loving the fact that she trusted me enough to talk openly to me about her fears and hopes regarding guys and the whole dating scene and being able to walk away.

It took a while for her to find the "right" guy. By being patient and mindful, by believing that she was treasured and a treasure to behold, she waited until she was wooed and she let herself be wooed; I was excited with her and for her, but now I realize that I'm really not ready for this. Here’s why…

This is clearly the age of Facebook. Not only have I been online since 1994, but I am that kind of parent that still has my daughter’s hotmail and Facebook passwords. In our house, it’s part of the deal man; if you want to be online, I get access. A blessing from my perspective (and a pisser from my daughter’s perspective) has been when her friends have sought me out and friended me on Facebook. It’s never been a calculated move, but I am ever grateful that I can see enough of what’s going on in the life of her and her friends to keep a healthy watch on things. But my blessing is turning into a curse since her boyfriend also friended me on Facebook and now, I’m privy to the breakup drama unfolding in my News Feed. Without even asking for it, I’m getting a play by play account.

Even worse yet, I find myself getting totally sucked in, reality TV style. Curse you The Hills!

I’ve found myself checking his Facebook status, reading his updates since he’s been on vacation, looking for evidence, telltale signs, anything that will help me help her understand what’s happened. Anything that will help me help her through this experience.

What I’ve quickly realized though is that there is a time when a parent can be too close or too aware and right now is that time for me for a couple of very good reasons.

It has nothing to do with her's me. I'm not ready. I'm not ready for her disappointments and her tears. My instinct is to suss out his lying or cheating because I want to protect her. I want to respond angrily to his innocuous postings or thoughtful responses to my posted items; I want to post nasty messages to him for hurting her and then I realize that I'm actually (almost) engaging in a teenage relationship and then I further realize that I am also reliving some of my own bad experiences as well.

Yah, well, good for me that I’ve quickly realized that it’s not all about me. And truthfully, they weren’t all bad experiences either, even the really rotten, hurtful ones because they are the experiences that forged who I am ultimately. From high school to adulthood, they are the means by which I was to learn the lessons that I did (or took too long to learn) and which led me to where I am today. Happy (mostly) and in a loving, supportive, engaging marriage…finally.

I have to say that I am exceptionally proud of how well my girl is handling this experience in her life; with such mature aplomb and grace. She really is a better woman at 17 than most grown ups I’ve known and certainly kicks my 17 year old arse to the curb. Now, if Mum could just find that same maturity and remove the boyfriend from her Facebook…well, maybe tomorrow…

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

In Honour of Mother's Day

I read a great article today in the Globe & Mail and it made me think of my mum. Not that I don't think of her every single day actually, but it seemed especially poignant today. Soon we'll be celebrating Mother's Day and a month after that, my family will be honouring my mum on the 6th anniversary of her death. Mother's Day is always bittersweet for me now, so in honour of my mum, and Mother's Day, I am posting the eulogy I wrote for her because it shares so much of how much I love her and what an incredible force she still is in my life...and it is the one piece of writing that I am most proud of.


June 2003

“To Thine Ownself Be True”. It’s a Shakespearean quote that my mum inscribed in a diary she gave me for my birthday one year when I was a young girl, probably close to Rae’s age. It is but one of thousands of great lessons that my mum taught me while growing up that has stuck with me right up until today.

My mother, first and foremost, was always true to herself. The hardest part of that was that it was very difficult for the rest of us to live with her truths and her honesty all the time.

My mum was a very private person and she didn’t like anybody knowing her business. Because of that, I’ve struggled with exactly what I want to share with you all about my mum. So, I’m going to go with what she told me, which is To Thine Ownself Be True. Here’s my truth Mum…

There is no possible way that I can sum up my mum in a few words, especially in just the few days since she has passed. In 33 years, I was not able to figure out my mother entirely, and I don’t think anybody ever did, not even my dad whom loved her and lived with her for almost 40 years. Although I can certainly say that he knew her best.

Simply put, she was an exceptionally complicated person in every facet of her life.

One truth about my mum is that she was a very sad woman. She survived a terrible childhood, a word that’s hard to attribute to her early years, because it certainly left its scars on her. It was a pain and a sadness that she was never entirely able to leave behind and it did cloud her ability to see and recognize the love and happiness that she had herself created and which surrounded her.

Another truth about my mother is that she was never a victim and abhorred people that made excuses for their lives or their actions. She would never allow the misery that she lived through to define herself in the least.

Although many women work to define themselves through their selves as opposed to their relationships to others, not surprisingly, my mother was different. She was proudly a mother, a grandmother and a wife. From the age of 12, she worked so hard, yet, no matter the work or the job that she had, it was not the work that defined her. It was merely a means to an end, a way to take care of her family. Her whole reason for living was her family. We were all that really, ever mattered to her.

When I was 21 years old and I called my mother from
Vancouver to tell her I was pregnant, one of the first things out of her mouth was, “you’re not getting married are you?”…she was so terrified of me marrying he wrong man, but being an unwed mother didn’t phase her one bit. It was one of the proudest days of her life that day when she realized she was going to be a grandmother and I’ll never forget the look on hers and my father’s face, both with their hands on my belly watching their grandchild move about, eager to be born. Once my sister and I were grown, it was what she was living for. It was no coincidence that both my sister and I brought our daughters home so that we could be around our mother in the early uncertain days of raising a newborn. She gave me so much confidence in handling and raising my little girl and she was there to allay my fears, support me and encourage me with raising Rae every step of the way. I am so grateful for her influence at that point in my life.

My mother had such a huge capacity of loving. I often said that she would have been happy had she had a dozen children. Yet, it was loving that much that terrified her. My mother spent so much of her life waiting for the worse to happen, that in her final years, she was in a constant state of preparing herself for disappointment and anguish. Well, prophets are held by their prophecies and yes, often the demise of her happiness was often brought about by her own doing. This is perhaps the saddest part of my mother’s story.

Still, there is so much more to my mother than her sadness and her pain.

She was an amazingly loyal person. Fiercely loyal to those she loved and equally loyal to her convictions. The saying, “you don’t want to mess with the Schulman women” was truly instigated and perpetuated by my mother. I always said that it was the women that married into the Schulman family that defined the name. I am so proud to carry this name, the name that she gave me.

My mother was also one of the most courageous women I’ve ever known. She was courageous enough to leave behind a life in
England and Wales, which was all she knew, to start a new life with a man on an entirely different continent, whom she had met when she was only 16. She was courageous enough to keep trying to have a second baby, me, when all the doctors told her that either she would die or the baby would die if she tried carrying it to term. She knew better. She often did. These are just a tiny sampling of the ways in which my mother was a courageous woman.

My mother was very wise too…I remember when I was a young girl and getting bullied at school. To take care of the situation, my mum told me to go to the biggest blabbermouth in school and tell her that I was taking karate lessons, but ssshhh…it was a big secret! Without a doubt, it worked…the bullies backed off and my school life improved. It was one in a multitude of ways that demonstrates how creative and crafty she really was. She was always looking at ways to protect my sister and me from pain. When she couldn’t, she felt as if she had failed us in some way, although of course, she hadn’t.

My mother was also one to be direct and straightforward. An example of this was a time when my new best friend in grade 7 was visiting me at my home and was wearing makeup. My mother looked right at her and said, Tracy, you look like a tart!” and proceeded to march her into the bathroom and scrub her face. I was of course mortified, but it was many years later that Tracy shared with me that she loved and respected my mother for doing that for her and that she would always be grateful for my mother’s caring and directness with her.

I can liken my mother’s capacity for greatness and kindness and love to that of what a woman goes through when she’s pregnant. When I was pregnant, carrying Rae took a terrible toll on my teeth. All the extra calcium in my body was given to Rae so that my body didn’t have enough left to do for itself. This analogy is much the same way that I look at my mother. The very best in my mother, all her love was given to my sister and me, and then to our daughters, and I feel that near the end, she didn’t have enough love left to do for herself when she needed it most.

There is so much I wanted for my mum. I wanted to have the magic hug that would make everything better. I wanted to have her at my home and be a diva, sitting on the back porch, enjoying our garden that she won’t see again. I wanted her to know that it was okay to be frail and need help. I wanted her to know how much her family loved and needed her for more years than she was able to give us. I wanted her to know that we were willing to help her with her pain. I wanted her to know that although she was difficult to like, we all loved her deeply nonetheless. I wanted her to know that we were never laughing at her, but with her.

My closest friend said to me that for all of my mother’s foibles, the best in her is reflected in my sister Debra, my niece Madeleine, my daughter Rae and myself. I need to thank Tanya for that reminder. For here we are, both of her daughters with two beautiful girls of our own. We are happy, healthy, productive, spiritual women and are both enjoying a good life. All that I am, all that we are we owe to our mum. She taught us to have strength in our convictions and to believe in ourselves. That is all that I know about this life and I owe it all to her.

It was painful and frustrating for me to watch my mother steadily decline over the last number of years. I remember saying in frustration to my husband Victor, “I wish my mother would pass on and stop the pain and be at peace.” It was my husband that reminded me that in fact, my greatest wish for my mother was for her to heal herself. And of course, that really was my greatest wish. Not this. Not yet. Not now.

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda are some familiar phrases running through my head these last days. Those and of course, regrets, regrets, regrets. So many of my own. Yet, I’m sure that for every one of my own regrets, my mother had 10 of her own.

I am grateful to have known my mother in this lifetime. I’ve learned so much from her, both in what not to do as well as in how to live my life to its most honest degree.

My wish for my mother has changed now. My mother loved to dance. Mostly she loved to dance with my father, which brings me to a passage from Kahlil Gibran’s writings on Death.

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
I cry now for never being able to see my mum healthy again. I cry for her not being able to find her serenity here. I cry selfishly because I wish she were still here. I cry for the loss that we have now and will carry with us for always. I also cry for the relief that she must now have as a release from her pain.

I love you Mummy. I miss you. I know that you are proud of your family and I promise you that I will always work to continue to make you proud. I hope that you have finally found your peace and Rae and I say that if we ever get a chance to talk to you again through John Edwards, please give someone else a chance to talk too, it’s only a one hour show.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yessir, that's me speedin'...

Dare to be true: nothing can need a lie: A fault, which needs it most, grows two thereby.
~George Herbert

It was 11 o'clock at night and I was driving home last week after a long day in Toronto. Passing through a quiet Kitchener-Waterloo I was a happy, coasting 119 speeder on a 90 km/h highway about 1/2 hour from home when I saw the lights behind me. Crap.

I pulled over, immediately pulled out my licence and registration and ownership and had it ready for when the officer came to m
y window. "Good evening" he started, "how are you tonight?" "Speeding apparently!" I said with a smile and handed him my documentation. The rest of the conversation went exactly like this...

Officer: "Yes you were. You were going at a pretty happy clip while I was behind you. Any particular reason for the speeding tonight?"

Me: "No, just a long day in Toronto and heading home to Stratford."

Officer: "Okay, do you know the speed limit on this highway?"

Me: "Yes. 90."

Officer: "Yes it is. And you were doing about a buck 20!"

Me: "119!"
with a smile.

Officer, handing back my documents: "Okay, well fines would be about $220 and 3 points, so be careful on the way home now, okay?"

Me: "...and a lot slower too, apparently! Thank you very much!"

...and away I went. I literally drove home the rest of the way at 109 km/h with a smile on my face and tweeted about it immediately.

I learned a long, long time ago to never lie to authorities. It just doesn't work. Being truthful and owning up to one's actions is the best approach. It was watching my Dad one day in court that taught me that.

My sister was about 12 years old
and had gone to our local store at the strip mall with her friend. She was taking longer than usual and then our phone rang and you could tell that she was really upset. She told my parents that she was holed up in the phone booth at the corner of the store's parking lot because there were a couple of teenage boys there harassing her and her friend. They were taunting the girls and had apparently told my sister and her friend to "suck my dick". That was all my Dad needed to hear. He rushed over to the store which was about a five minute walk in probably two minutes. By the time he had arrived, there was a police cruiser there with a couple of officers, as my sister's friend's father happened to be a police officer. My father briskly walked up to the crowd, asked my sister quickly which boy had harassed her and promptly walked through the officers, straight up to this one boy and smacked him, hard, right across the face. The police basically shrugged their shoulders and allowed my Dad to walk my sister and her friend home.

Of course, the story doesn't end there. This boy continued to harass my sister whenever he saw her in the neighbourhood and then he and his father proceeded to take my father to court for assault.

So there we are, my whole family in court. My sister, young and scared on the witness stand and the judge asks her what the boy had said to her. She made her statement, but was so shy that she was asked to repeat it "so the court could hear". "SUCK MY DICK" she was immediately burning red with embarrassment.

Then it was my Dad's turn. A former army grunt he stood in front of the judge in military stance with his legs firmly spread and with his arms clasped behind him, excepting I'll never forget that he also had hair down to shoulders, sunglasses on top of his head with a blue Adidas t-shirt, flare jeans and sandals on. It was many years later that I realized that he was Serpico incarnate and how that must've looked to the judge.

The judge says, "So, can you tell me Mr. S____ why it was this particular boy that you hit?" and my father responded with "To tell you the truth your honour, he was the only one I could get to."

Moments later, the judge dismissed the case.

Lesson learned. Thanks Dad...