April 28, 2011

Fifteen Seconds of Fame

After a day of welcoming visitors, answering questions, and relearning how to use a gas powered generator to run the coffeemaker at the annual Tulip Festival yesterday, my tired feet and I returned home and checked the neighbourhood mailbox, which is right outside our driveway.  Amongst the bills and gaudily coloured political party propoganda, of which we have received much as of late, it being the last week of the lead-up to the Federal election, was this unassuming little postcard: 

Today I Saw was one of the very first blogs I ever followed.  London, England's Jill Wignall, artist, craftsperson, and blogger was chosen as a Blog of Note just after I had started my blog, and I immediately subscribed after visiting her unique site.  Each day, Jill draws a pen drawing on a postcard of something she has seen of interest that day, photographs it and posts it on her blog with the name of the person she intends to send it to.  I regret that I have not been the most consistent follower of Jill's blog, although I love the concept and admire her creativity greatly.  I suppose most of us follow the blogs most consistently of people with whom we have made an online community.  As far as I know, Jill is not a reader of my blog, at least, she has never left a comment.  Needless to say, I was surprised and delighted to discover she had pulled my name out of the proverbial hat and sent me one of her whimsical postcards, sent on February 4th of this year.  I had not seen the post wherein she posted the above postcard and announced me as the recipient.  I immediately went to her blog and after scrolling through some lovely artwork and craft projects I found the three month old post: 

I laughed when I realized I had received Jill's 'Year of the Rabbit' themed postcard just in time for Easter another season of the bunny rabbit. I was also relieved to realize I had a subject for this week's post, as humble as it seems.  Working at the tulip festival makes for a busy few weeks every April, and I struggle to find time for blogging and reading my favourite blogs.

After supper, I sat down to watch the news on TV.  A reporter and cameraman from CTV News Vancouver had visited the Tulip Festival in the morning and I hoped to see the product of their hour of work on the fields, which are just starting to bloom in all their forty acres of rainbow-ribboned glory.  The story ran in the first fifteen minutes of the news program and to my surprise (and okay, a slight thrill,) I could be seen, for nearly a full second, welcoming a busload of visitors from Vancouver - although no one except me would have recognized that sideview of a woman standing in the crowd of tourists.  My friend Kate, whose festival it is, was actually interviewed for several minutes, so she got nearly five seconds of full facial airtime, while the tulips themselves earned the most focus - probably a full twenty seconds.  I am expecting a busy day at the fields tomorrow after all that promotion! 

It truly is a funny world.  Little surprises occur when I least expect them, and often when I need them the most.  I have been dragging my backside around these days, trying to keep up with everything there is to do. I am also recovering from the busyness of the Easter weekend followed by a late night spent attending a wonderful evening of music (including my eldest and friends) at the Ignite Youth Music Festival in Vancouver on Monday.  Who knew that a 4 X 6 handmade postcard with a Royal Mail stamp could give me such a lift?  So, today as I gear up for another day at the Tulip Festival I am thinking of Jill in her home in sunny London, surrounded by Royal Wedding mania, and wondering what she is thinking of it all.  I am also wishing her well, and saying 'thank you for the lovely postcard!' from my soggy corner of Canada.

April 21, 2011

Mixed Messages

Would anyone ever go up to Annie Lennox or Bono and say, "Come on now, admit it, you made a poor career choice"? I don't think so. How about Colin Firth or Judy Dench?  Claude Monet or Jackson Pollock (if they were still alive in person)? Nope. How about  J.K. Rowling or Stephen King? Never. At some point in their young lives, I am pretty certain that someone, somewhere along their road to success, once tried to dissuade them from following their dreams. I think most of us are relieved they ignored that advice and got on with using their God-given talents.

If our kids are to believe the message in nearly every Disney movie and Hollywood film, they should feel mightily encouraged to follow their dreams, and up until the last year of highschool, my son was getting that message from his school teachers. He was even depicted, playing his guitar, in a slide show on the theme of 'following your dreams' at last year's graduation ceremony.  And then, when he was well into grade twelve (his last year) someone implied it was time to 'get serious' and think about making sensible decisions concerning his future. That someone was the overseer of the Graduation Transitions Portfolio Project, a government initiative meant to get kids to align their post-high school plans (or come up with a convincing story if they haven't got any). In theory, I suppose this is a good idea, especially if your child has firm plans to become a teacher, a nurse, or an electrician and needs steering in the right direction. But an artist? There don't seem to be any boxes to tick for that career choice.

We have raised our children to apply themselves, to strive, to work hard, to appreciate and use their talents to the best of their ability, to believe in themselves, and to have faith in the future. I have kids with all kinds of dreams and goals. At present, the youngest wants to be a writer when she grows up. My other daughter is interested in cinematography and photography and horses, usually all at the same time. One of my sons is a living catalogue of boroque music, plays violin in a community orchestra and has a strong interest in archaeology, and my eldest is already making plans to record his first CD of original songs. I have no idea if these interests and passions will be their 'jobs' for life, but it is exciting to think of the possiblilities inherent in each field - and isn't being young all about that wide open sense of a world of possibilities?

The Graduation Transitions Portfolio Project involves gathering applicable schoolwork and projects from a student's history in order to prove their interest in a particular area. When all the materials are assembled in a neat and presentable folder, each student undergoes a dress rehearsal interview with the overseeing teacher before they present their portfolios to a table of local figureheads from the town.  My eldest procrastinated on his portfolio but pulled it together over a few weeks before the dress rehearsal.  He provided recordings of his music, documentation of his application to a post-secondary music program and interview, newspaper articles and posters from his many performances, and a reflective essay on his high school years and his plans for the future which included pursuing a career in music.  He had everything organized, attractively presented, and on the morning of his rehearsal interview, he donned a white collared shirt and a grey wool suit jacket over his jeans, brushed his long blonde hair and headed off with his portfolio tucked under his arm.

When he returned home after school, I asked him how the dress rehearsal had gone.  "Pretty much as I had expected.  Mr. _____ said I had done a good job on my portfolio and everything was in order, but he dismissed my plans to become a musician, even though I gave him examples of people I knew who made a good living doing just that, like that drummer I told you about in Vancouver who lives very well of playing on other musicians' records, Mom.  He didn't come out directly and tell me my dreams were unrealistic, but he did argue that they weren't much of a career choice and that I should get real and consider other options."

My son reflected quite philosophically on the whole situation.  "I didn't expect him to understand, but didn't he have dreams at some point? Oh wait.  He's probably bitter because he ended up working at our little school."  (That's our boy, always at the ready with a sarcastic quip, but it is a sign of his well developed disdain for the status quo and all its suppressive tendencies.)  Then our son went on to say that he could understand the teacher's hesitation if he had just suddenly come up with a grandiose plan to become a rock star without any musical skill or previous inclinations at all to pursue such an endeavor.  The teacher was new to the school this year, and perhaps knows little of our son's love affair with music.  It really is his life.  I'm not saying my son will be the next big thing, but shouldn't he at least be given the encouragement to try?  He has been champing at the bit to leave school and get started.  And for crying out loud, it's not like he's got a wife and kids at home to support.

When children are spreading their wings and beginning to prepare for the launch out of the nest into the big wide world, shouldn't we adults be their main cheering section?  We know from experience they may fall to the ground, so then we should fly down to meet them and nudge them back up again, over and over until they are flying on their own.  It would be unnatural to say, 'Well son, if you want to fly then you're nothing but a dreamer.  Better not try it, boy.  Better stay safe here up in the tree'.

I have a theory about the up and coming generations.  I think part of their job is to critically examine the legacy of their parents' generation, to cut through the B.S., because there will always be a bit of that, and adopt the good. I do believe that is exactly how many artists and visionaries get their start.

So, Mr. _____, just try and stop them!

Here's a great performance of the Supertramp song 'Dreamer'. 

And by the way,  A VERY HAPPY EASTER TO ALL!

April 14, 2011

One Hundred Posts. Does That Make me an Author?

This is my one hundredth post.  I am amazed and delighted by this fact, of which I was informed when I went to my dashboard this morning.

I am grateful to Blogger for giving me a forum to share my thoughts and ideas, my concerns and observations.  I appreciate the way the whole thing works, the visual appeal of a blog, the opportunity to post photos and links, video and music.  I enjoy sharing ideas about the world and humanity with the many bloggers and readers I have met through this wonderful venue.  Writing is the loneliest of professions, and just to be able to post something and find a reaction by way of a comment the next day is what propels someone like me to continue.  And continue I have, to post every week.  Be it an essay, a poem, a story, a memory, my posts have helped me to know myself better, and to gain confidence in my urge to share what is inside my heart and mind with readers.

Several weeks ago, I was again at the library for the annual event I organize with my friend Terrill the local public library supervisor.  The first part of the event was a workshop with Canadian author Robert Weirsema.  It was an unusual workshop; we didn't do any writing except to make a few notes on the handout he gave us - A list of Ten Thoughts for Writers (actually there were eleven).  Robert did give a fascinating lecture on the day in the life of a working writer, the various stages of a book, from notes to finished product, and I enjoyed the event along with the rest of the large group who attended.  The second event was an evening of readings by local writers.  Not many of us showed up (we found out later that most people believed the event to be on the Thursday evening, two days later, as it had been every other year), but the group who did, placed our chairs in a circle and read to each other.  My friend Marilee and I sang a little a capella duet she wrote, we read to each other some more, and then we ate and drank tea.  All in all, it was a happy evening among friends.  Even my husband showed up to support me and ended up telling a story - ad lib - about our rafting trip up north nineteen years ago. 

After the event, Terrill, my husband and I cleaned up and talked about the evening.  Terrill began to tell me of an idea she had.  She said I should put together the best of my essays, write an introduction, and send it off to some literary agents.  She said:  "You've been writing for years.  You're good, your essays are great.  It is time."  I went home and pondered this for a few weeks.  I'm a real slow mover.

Last week I got one of those emails from our regional library informing me of some books that had come in for me.  I didn't recognize the titles, though I did recognize one of the authors, Nick Hornby.  When had I ordered these books?  They weren't the kind of titles anyone in my family would order, although my son Ian was expanding his reading horizons and I thought they may be his choices...but why order them on my account when he had his own?  (He works at the library.)  Slightly baffled but curious, I went to the library to pick up the books.  Two volumes of essays were presented to me by one of library workers.  Attached was a short note: 

Rebecca - These are essays.  People put their essays in a book.  Ahem.

Of course the note was from Terrill.  She had ordered the books for me.  The audacity!

So now, I am reading one of the books, Nick Hornby's Songbook.  The other is From A to X:  A Story in Letters by John Berger.  I am starting to get 'ideas' for my own collection.  And if it actually gets published, I know one person at least, besides my ever-supportive parents, who will buy a copy.

It's good to have a friend in your corner.

The picture above was borrowed from here.

April 8, 2011

Mothers and Children in the Promised Land

I have moved several times in search of a better life, and I have been a nanny of sorts, looking after the children of some teacher friends for several years until the children all reached the first grade, but I have never had the experience of doing both at the same time.  Thousands upon thousands of women do just that.  Their own country cannot supply them with the life they would like to live, the opportunities they would like to have, and so they take the leap and sign up with a nanny agency as a way in to Canada. They leave home and family, a culture and a language they know, and come to Canada to work for a family they have never met.  For eighteen months the foreign nanny, most often Filipina in origin, exists in the doorway of the country she would like to live in, and once she has put in her time, she can apply for permanent residency. 

When my youngest daughter started Kindergarten, I went every day to pick her and her friend Simon up from school to bring back home after the morning class.  I would often chat with the other mothers and caregivers who were there waiting with me.  I got to know two caregivers fairly well, one young Russian woman who was working for a local family with many children, and one Filipina woman who was working for a family with two children.  Both would arrive daily to fetch their five year-old charges.  The young Russian woman was bubbly and happy for the first month or so of her stay, but as the fall wore on, she visibly began to wilt.  She was obviously terribly homesick and unhappy - she missed her mother and her sister, who had just had a baby.  She went home to Russia not long after winter was over. Her Au Pair experience had been an eye-opener, and she told me her next adventure was going to be some time spent meditating in a convent.  I wondered if the Filipina nanny was homesick as well.  If she was, she hid it well.

I had been given a few parenting magazines by a friend and one day, came across an article on the foreign nanny trade in Canada, a subject I knew little about.  It caught my interest because, of course, I had recently met two foreign nannies.  The article focussed on the Filipina nannies, and explained how many, if not most of them, had left not only their country and parents behind, but often husbands and children, too.  As I read the article, a thought gathered itself and a suspicion regarding my new aquaintance began to dawn on me.  I wondered if the Filipina nanny I was getting to know, who appeared to be in her late 30's, had also left a husband and children behind.  I did not want to ask her directly, so we talked every day at the school about other things.  I asked her about her native country.  I asked her if she had been employed there, and found out she was a trained teacher.  Eventually, I found out she had come to be a nanny in Canada because she wanted to bring her whole family over and immigrate, but she could not begin to apply for that until she had permanent residency status herself.  And so the conversation progressed:

"Your family?" I asked.  "Do you have children back in the Philippines?"

"Yes, three children.  One teenager and two young children."

"Who is looking after them while you work over here?"

"My husband and my mother."  She explained how her employers let her use their computer to Skype with her family, and how grateful she was for that.

"Just out of curiosity, why did your husband not come to work in Canada instead of you?"  I asked.

She explained that if he came he would have to not only find work, but would have to pay for an apartment.  If she worked as a nanny, she could live with the family employing her and send a lot of money home.  The Canadian dollar was worth three times as much back home.

"How common is is for Filipina nannies to have children back home?" I asked

"Very common.  Almost all of them do."

"That must be hard. You must miss your husband and children a great deal,"  I said.

"Oh yes, I do.  Very, very much."  But she went on to explain how she wanted her children to have the opportunites open to Canadian children.  To go to University, to get good jobs, to have a good life.  If they stayed in the Phillippines they would continue in poverty and feel like they had no real future.  I nodded and took in all she said.  She seemed so strong, so determined.  Then I thought back to the article I had read.  It spoke about the difficulties families faced when they were finally reunited - how children and mothers who had spent so much time apart during the formative growing years had to get to know each other all over again, and sometimes felt like strangers. The nanny told me she was nearly finished her stay with the family and was soon going to join her brother in a community closer to Vancouver.  There she would find employment and proceed with the endless paperwork involved in immigration.  She hoped to bring her family over in a year or two.  I wished her all the best.

I got to know another Filipina nanny after the first one had moved away. She also had children and a husband back home, and was employed by a hardworking and appreciative local family.  After this nanny had lived with and worked for them, they accompanied her to the Philippines, visited her family and got to see the country she was trying to leave for good.  When the nanny and the family returned from their trip I talked to all of them, as it happened, seperately, about their experiences.  The nanny told me that it felt very strange and irritating to sleep beside her husband after all that time living apart.  She had become used to sleeping alone, and she liked it, she said, laughing.  My heart felt heavy after our conversation even though she was one of the lucky ones. Her employers helped her with her paperwork and continued to be her good friends, even after she had left them to work elsewhere.  I know from watching documentaries and reading further articles, that not all Filipina nannies enjoy such a supportive atmosphere here in Canada.

Even though it is extremely hard for me to imagine myself leaving my own children for any length of time over a week or two, I cannot pass judgement on anyone who chooses to do what these Filipina women have done.  How can I?  Every mother wants what she thinks is best for her children, and hopes the sacrifices she has made for them turn out to be worth it in the end. I truly hope the women I had the privilege to meet are successful in bringing their families over to Canada after all the investment of time, resources, and emotional energy they have put in.  I can only feel empathy for them in their difficult separation from their families and feel grateful that I do not feel pushed by circumstance, by extreme poverty, or by a lack of hope for the future of my own beloved country, to do the same. 

I am remembering now that film, Paris, Je t'aime, a montage of stories from the various quarters of Paris.  In what is, to me, the most poignant storyline, we follow a young, single, immigrant mother
who rises very early to prepare for work.  She gathers her young child in her arms and in the dark,
takes him still sleeping to a large daycare.  We follow her long journey by train
 from the outer suburbs of Paris into the inner quarters.  We watch as she goes
 up the steps of an elegant townhouse where she works. 
She is a nanny for a rich family's children,
and will not see her own child again
 until the day is over
and she has made
 her long morning's
 in reverse.

The photo above is from a related article in the Montreal Gazette newspaper.