Growing Up Bored

As a child, I spent a lot of time bored. My whole family lived on the farm from when I was 3 until I was 8. We didn’t watch much tv (I recall an hour a week being the allowable amount) so we spent a lot of time outside. My parents split, and for my 9th year, I was in the city with my mom and sisters. My michevious ways that year landed me back on the farm, with my dad and grandfather, where I stayed from ages 10 to 14. 

Dad farmed and worked as the manager of a short-line railway to support the farm. Consequently, I was regularly alone, and looking for something to do. I wandered around the farm, bored. I threw stones at things, shot gophers with my .22, and climbed on the bale stack or old derelict machinery. 

I dared not mention my boredom, for there was no shortage of jobs to be done. Old rusty nails picked up from near grain bins were worth a penny each. Weeds were plentiful in the garden. Apples needed picking. A farm is a source of neverending tasks to complete. 

By the time I was 14, my grandfather’s health was failing, and jobs were lined up waiting for me. I spent my free time doing field work or changing cultivator shovels or the oil in our Allis-Chalmers 7000. 

When I was 16, my grandpa passed and I returned to the farm more regularly. (I had moved to the city to live with my mom and sisters for high school.) I went to school in the city during the week and worked on the farm on the weekend. The two months in the summer were spent on the farm, seeding and harvesting and everything in between. 

In high school I worked Friday nights as a dishwasher at thebrestaurant where all my friends worked. When I hit university, that gave me 4 months off to farm, which eased the workload, though I doubled the land I was farming when I took on some of dad’s land he had rented out to a neighbour. I still worked at the restaurant, and co-founded a professional improv theatre company that performed weekly, was a TA for math classes at the university, and the president of the local chapter of the CUPE Union of academic assistants. I also managed to pitch for a men’s league baseball team regularly during the summer. I sure wasn’t bored. And my life continued along in that vein for my first 4 years of teaching. 

In 2006, we were living in Cambodia, and spending a weekend on the beach at Sihanoukville. I recall sitting on a lounge chair, and feeling a panic. I had nothing I could do at that moment – nothing that was urgent, nothing that could even possibly be done. I didn’t know what to do. I got up and walked around. Pacing. I sat back down. And took a deep breathe. For the first time since I was in elementary school, I had nothing to do. That weekend I re-learned how not to do anything. It took some work, but I felt calm. 

Yesterday, I was floating around the pool on an air mattress while the kids splashed and chased each other. That same sense of calm descended. The last year has been hectic at times, chaotic at others as we relocated our lives and started new jobs. But, as I lay there, I had nothing urgent to do. Nothing was lingering on my to do list that couldn’t be done later. I was thankful for the calm that settled within. I rolled off the air mattress into the cool water, my mind at ease. 

Winding Down…and winding up!

With the different school years in Saskatchewan and Singapore we have a very short summer in store. We are done work here on June 26th and then leave on July 14th. We have been preparing for the move since January, and as we get closer to departure, time is moving quickly and slowly all at once. 

Last night we had the grad at the high school where I am Vice-Principal. One of the final work-related events for me. We have been back in Saskatchewan for 8 years, and I’ve spent three of them teaching at this school, and two more as VP. Grad is always a highlight of the year, as we gather as a community to celebrate the accomplishments of our students. We have a very engaged staff and most made it to the banquet last night, adding to the festive feel of the evening. 

The ceremony included the requisite teasing of staff and students, and more than one tear was shed following a speech. I was honoured when the principal and two First Nations elders who work at our school presented me with a Star Quilt for my service to the school and community. 

Following the event, I went out for a drink with staff. It was a time to recount some of the events we experienced together over the years. A few staff remain from when we first returned from Cambodia, and others I’ve only worked with for the last one or two years. However, we had plenty to reminisce about. Some things were funny, or tragic, or just ludicrous. Such is one of the joys of working with young people. 

I left the evening with a sense of honour at being able to be part of such a great school and team. 

Since our shipment to Singapore was stolen, I have been a bit down, frustrated. Annoyed at the inconvenience of having to replace things we purposefully bought for the move. Feeling sad for our kids who lost so many things that were important and significant to them.

However, as I drove home, thinking about the evening and our time in Regina, I was reminded that the most important things are the relationships you establish, and the stories you live. 

So, we’re moving.

It started unsuspectingly with a Facebook message from a friend in October. He’s teaching at a large, well established international school, and he knew B and I had taught overseas before. He suggested I apply for the Middle School Principal position that had come open. I showed B, and we laughed it off. We had planned to go teach internationally again, but it was on the far end of a five-year plan. Nothing in the immediate future.

However, curiosity got the best of me, and I googled the school, our interest piqued. We scoured their website. Checked with friends teaching internationally. The school was, by all accounts, amazing. We got excited. And we decided that I’d throw my name in. No harm in doing that. And so I did.

And I waited. And waited. And heard nothing.

But, that started us thinking. We threw a few feelers out there to other schools that we knew we’d like to work at, just to see if there would be any bites. There weren’t. So, we let go. Or mostly let go.

In mid-November I got another message — they hired the Middle School Principal position, but there was a Deputy Principal opening. I resurrected the application I used, tweaked it a bit, and applied again. And waited. Enough time passed that I was certain nothing had come of it. I let go. Mostly.

Then an email in early December – I had been short-listed. A panel interview over Skype with staff and a student representative was scheduled. I was excited! I found out that three people had been short-listed, and two were internal. I was the sole external applicant. I prepared for the interview. I practised answering interview questions. Wrote out anecdotes to reinforce the main points I wanted to make. I stopped sleeping deeply, my mind and heart racing constantly. This was possible again.

The night of the interview came and B sequestered the kids upstairs so I could Skype in peace in the basement. It began with everyone on the panel introducing themselves, and then the director of HR asked me to tell them about myself. I briefly summarized my resume (as I had practised) and made sure to include where I currently was (Regina), and the current weather (Frozen). This drew sympathy from the panel. Poor cold Canadian sap.

From there, each person asked one question. I responded, inserting small stories to illustrate a point where appropriate. At times, I tweaked the story to fit the question. I had a “cheat sheet” near my computer with key words and phrases I wanted to integrate into my answers. I didn’t pay much attention to it, but at the end of the interview, realized I had covered most of the things I wanted to. The interview felt easy. Comfortable. At the 45 minute mark it ended abruptly as I was told another candidate was waiting to interview.

The end caught me off guard. I hadn’t had a chance to ask about the hiring process following the interview. I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that I was perhaps not being seriously considered. Maybe I was the token external candidate? Maybe they already knew who they wanted and the interview was a formality? If that was the case, I hoped I had at least made their decision more difficult. It was beyond my control.

The next day I received notice that I was a finalist candidate. Down to the final two, I found out. Apparently I had read my audience correctly. Four days later I had an interview with the Superintendent (the equivalent of a Director in Saskatchewan)  and other senior admin. This one I did not feel went as well. I was good, at times. But not all the time. I was less decisive than I should have been. I got a bit flustered. Because it was a Skype interview, it was hard to read the faces of the panel. I didn’t notice this during the first interview, but it was very apparent this time. I wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t myself. The questions caught be off guard. It was a bit painful. I had a sinking feeling that I just made their decision much less difficult.

At the end of the interview, I asked what the process was from this point forward, and was told that if I was selected for the role, a team from the school would come visit my in my current school and talk to parents, students and my staff. At this point it was a good thing that the video connection wasn’t perfect. I had a minor heart attack as I envisioned the central admin team showing up at my inner-city, dilapidated high school two days before Christmas, a time when our students are on edge with the impending holiday. It ended up not mattering, as a mere ten hours later I received an email thanking me for my time, and wishing me all the best. Case closed.

Or so we thought. Then, an opening came up teaching grade 6 English Language Arts and Social Studies. I haven’t taught grade 6 in eight years, but I thought it might be worth sending an email to the incoming Middle School Principal (who had been on both panels) to let her know I was interested. She replied right away, indicating that she wanted to interview me and B for openings. There was no immediate opening for B, but the possibility of a semester 1 mat leave, and daily subbing in a school with 34 English teachers in grades 6-12. It was mid-January and we were back on the roller-coaster.

A week later we interviewed, back to back, with teams from the Middle School (me) and High School (B). It went well. We waited. The Middle School Principal emailed to make sure that I would be willing to accept a teaching position. Hopeful. However, she ended her email with the caveat that there were still many qualified candidates who applied that they were interviewing and we wouldn’t find out until the following week.

Two days later, it was N1’s birthday, and we were at Dairy Queen. My phone buzzed. An email came to me from Human Resources stating that as a formality to being offered a contract, I needed to have another Skype interview with the Superintendent. I replied, indicating the time that would work for me, and received a quick email back thanking me for my promptness and welcoming me to the school. Welcome? I turned to B — I guess we’re moving?

The chat was great — I was very impressed with the passion the Superintendent has for his school, and for doing everything to make sure the school is preparing the students for the future. A really engaged, vibrant person!

We told our families that night, and the next morning we let our respective bosses know. Everyone else followed shortly after that.

Thus, the process of preparing to move began. It included: processing with the kids, meeting with our financial planner, preparing our house for sale, ridding ourselves of 8 years of excess stuff, talking to an international tax accountant, listing the house, selling the house, finding a furnished rental house, continuing to rid ourselves of 8 years of excess stuff, deciding what to ship over, moving to the rental, buying some new stuff to replace our old stuff, and so on.

The school was great to work with, setting us up with the shipping company, a realtor to start looking at properties, enrolling the kids in school (they attend free as part of the package), getting us our email accounts, and answering our many foolish questions with grace and patience.

Then, just the other day, an email came announcing that one of the Middle School Deputy Principals had to leave the school abruptly. Then, two days later, a phone call, asking if I would be a team player and take on the role of Middle School Deputy Principal, the job I applied for a mere six months earlier. I accepted, ecstatic. While the six months preceding were stressful and filled with ups and downs, I couldn’t be happier about the result. We leave in 75 days. Stay tuned.

On this day, 59 years ago, my dad was born…

A day like today causes me to pause and reflect, something I recognize I do far too infrequently.

It is hard to believe that Norah, now 4 years old and her own little person, was just 4 months old when Dad was killed. She was nothing more than a peanut, a vomiting, gassy little thing whose only method of soothing involved us rocking or vigorously bouncing her on a yoga ball, whose only sleep came in our arms, and whose only source of nourishment, and the subsequent discomfort, was breast milk. Nolan, now two years old and a bundle of energy, words, and wit, wasn’t even a thought that had crossed our minds.

Life marches on.

And so, the memories of my dad have faded. His laugh. The whistle in his S. His singing voice, from church on Saturday night at the farm. His passionate phone calls about a political injustice being committed, and what we can do about it. His teasing. His advice. And his hugs. They are harder to recall. Harder to drudge up. Harder to recollect.

Yet, as these memories become more distant, if I look, there are constant reminders of Dad and his legacy and the person that he was. Listening to Nolan try to sing along to “Row Row Row Your Boat” as he lays in his crib at night, fighting sleep. Running into an old friend of Dad’s at a political event, and sharing a story about an article he wrote or political subterfuge he lead. Norah running at me full-tilt when I pick her up from daycare, and almost knocking me over with the force of her hug as she greets me at the end of the day. These reminders are all there, if I look.

After the kids were asleep tonight, I spent some time listening to a few interviews Dad had done on CBC Radio in the early 2000s. And just like that, Dad was back. His voice. His passion. His wit and wisdom. When Norah and Nolan are older, I will share these snippets of their grandfather with them. And the memories will remain.

Solving the Mystery

This is an exchange that took place between our 4 year old, Norah, and her mom, the other day while I was out:

Norah: I forgot Grandpa Paul was dead, so I thought this picture was going to be for him, so I guess it will just be for Gaia.

Me: You can make a picture for Grandpa Paul even though he’s dead.

Norah: How?

Me: Just draw it. And some people think that when we die, we go to a place called heaven up above the sky and that we can see the people we love down on earth.

Norah: People at daycare believe that.

Me: Do they?

Norah: Yeah, but it’s not true right?

Me: Well, we don’t know because none of us has ever died.

Norah:Mom? Just tell me all about it.

Me: Well, I don’t know much about it.
Norah: But couldn’t we solve the mystery? Like on Scooby, Scooby Doo?
Me: Sure. How would you like to do that?
Norah: Well, if we go outside in a while and it is a little bit light, then nobody is going up to heaven. If we go outside and it is a little bit dark, then we will know people are going up to heaven and that is how we will solve the mystery.
Me: That’s a great idea.
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Intersections of Grief

I haven’t written here for a long time. No apologies. But I feel the need to, today. An event took place on the weekend that intersected with the grief I’ve felt since my dad was killed in 2009, bringing back a lot of the feelings from them. When dad died, I processed it on this blog, and, while the grief I feel today pales in comparison, it is grief nonetheless.

Since our kids came along in 2009 and 2011, I’ve scaled back my involvement in things outside of family life.  In 2009, I was dealing with the grief from Dad’s death, finishing my thesis, and bouncing a colicky baby on a yoga ball for hours a day. I was also finishing renovating our money-pit-stress-inducing house. I felt close to my Dad as I worked through finishing the basement, putting in windows, and putting on new siding. (The renovation got so overwhelming after Dad died, much to my chagrin I never blogged about it again.)  I was occupied physically and emotionally.

However, a year ago now we moved into a newly built house far away from the shifty basements of Whitmore Park, and I was finishing up my second year as a Vice-Principal in a suburban elementary school. I moved into my third year there in September, and was comfortable. And just a little bored.

Let’s jump back to 2009. Ryan Meili ran for the leadership of the NDP, and narrowly lost to Dwain Lingenfelter. Lingenfelter consequently sunk the party in both the literal bank account, and the bank account of public opinion. Lots of withdrawls. No deposits. At the end of the election we were left with 9 sitting MLAs and Lingenfelter’s tread marks as be burned rubber back to Alberta as hastily as he had departed there months earlier. He didn’t even win his own seat and stepped down as leader.

As the contest for a new leader approached, I wondered if Ryan would run again. We had supported him in 2009, though in no other way than by putting a 1 by his name on the ballot. I ordered a copy of a book he had newly written about his vision for a healthier society, and read it, enraptured. What he wrote resonated with me – as an educator, I saw first hand the disparity that existed between students who entered school with social supports, and those who didn’t. I saw how ridiculous it was to expect people to prosper without support to get them to school, well rested and fed.

Then I met Ryan and I was sold. I was emceeing a Briarpatch fundraiser and he was there. I introduced myself, and after a few minutes was struck by his down-to-earth nature. He didn’t seem like a politician. He was a real person. After a few more minutes of ranting on my part about the sorry state of the province in general, and education in particular, he asked me if I’d be interested in looking at his education policy. I was flattered, and said I would, though questioned the usefulness of my input.

Thus my involvement on the campaign began. I worked on a draft dutifully once the kids were asleep, sent it off, and, a few weeks later, a final version was produced that looked very little like any of the drafts I had produced. It was much better. From there, I helped organize a fundraiser, worked on responding to suggestions on his website on behalf of the campaign, and coordinated outreach phoning for the Regina area. I joined the social media team and engaged with people from all across the province, and Canada, as we worked to spread Ryan’s message. I hounded friends and family with similar political views to buy NDP memberships, so they could vote in the race. I was engaged in the campaign, and loving it.

Fast-forward to this weekend – the Leadership Convention. I boogied up to Saskatoon on Friday right after work and met with the campaign team for supper before the hospitality suite opened. I was surprised it wasn’t awkward meeting people in person who I only knew from their facebook profile and sage input to the discussion. It was actually quite easy. Turns out, when you exchange 50 emails with someone over a couple days, you get to know them very well. It was comforting to put voices to the faces/names, and the discussion came easy, and lasted long into the night.

The following morning was convention, and more people from Ryan’s campaign turned up to hand out signs, staff the table, fill the twitterverse, update facebook, call supporters, and coordinate Ryan’s movements for the day. After the following eight and a half hours that seemed agonizingly slow at the time, but is now all a blur, we had our final result: Ryan lost by 44 votes. 4164 to 4120. The math-geek in me agonized as I calculated that 49.734% of the vote went to Ryan. So close. Yet, so far.

This is where the grief from my dad’s passing began to intersect with the grief of the moment. Two former MLAs who supported Ryan’s campaign were familiar with Dad’s writing and activism. One had been a regular recipient of Dad’s lamb he brought into the city to sell. Earlier in the day, I introduced myself to both, and they expressed their sadness and shock at my dad’s passing. They shared a couple stories about Dad, and I lapped them up.

After the defeat was announced on the convention floor, I respectfully listened to the acceptance speech, and then made my way up to Ryan’s headquarters.  This was the room where I watched most of the day’s proceedings live-streamed from a hundred feet away, and where 30+ people phoned supporters reminding them to vote while the ballot was open. And this was where we came to join in sadness at the close loss. A prominent activist who was the reason I took out my first NDP membership (at my Dad’s urging, when she was running for leader herself a few years back) spoke about the power of the momentum the campaign had generated. She maintained her composure as she said she had never won anything she ran for, but had always left a campaign having started new public conversations, moved a progressive agenda forward, engaged new people in politics, and made new friends. It was moving.

After she finished, people went to their own spaces to grieve as they needed. I made my way towards her, and thanked her for what she said. Then I told her who my dad was. Her composure vanished, she teared up, causing me to do the same, and gave me a hug. After a moment, she spoke: “Your dad knew all about losing battles,” she reminded me. “He lost fights all the time. But he always came out of a fight stronger, with more fodder for his next column. He never gave up,” she said, and then paused, pensive for a moment. “He is so dearly missed.” I was a mess.

So, today, as I have been sitting around wallowing, I am trying to reflect on her reminder, and remember her sage words, and, by proxy, those of my dad. No doubt, were he here today, he would be proud of the progress made by Ryan and the people who worked on his campaign, and remind us that while we didn’t win, we did make a difference. We did change the way politics were done – even if just for a moment. We showed it was possible. And, just because we didn’t win, doesn’t mean that we should stop trying. In fact, it is the impetus to try even harder next time.

So, I will.

Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day!

Father’s Day has been somewhat bittersweet for me since Dad passed in 2009, five months after I became a father for the first time. Since then we’ve had a second, a boy this time, and life has continued to march on.

Our daughter Norah is clever and funny, like her Grandpa. Just yesterday she helped me move 25 16′ deck boards and 20 10′ 2X8s into the garage from the driveway. She loves to go for rides in her booster seat in Grandpa Paul’s truck (I have Dad’s 1996 Mazda) and fixing things with me.

Her brother, two years her junior, is his Grandpa’s boy even though they never met. (Should I mention here that Nolan has been an old soul from birth, and seems wise beyond his 15 months? I don’t believe in reincarnation….really…but you never know.)

Nolan loves being outside. From when he wakes up until he goes to bed, he asks to go outside. First thing in the morning. At breakfast. Nap time. Lunch. Supper. Whenever. He loves being outside. The other day we were home sick together and he stood on the driveway for literally hours, toddling around, pointing at the passing construction equipment and dump trucks, waving at them. It got to the point where a few of them knew to look for him (as they passed multiple times throughout the day) and would wave back.

Nolan enjoying the water table on a sheet of plywood. We improvise due to the lack of sod.

My dad loved the outdoors. He knew the name of every bird, and if he didn’t, he soon would, his bird book never far away. He would happily walk miles of fence, or railway track, taking in all that was around him. He would lift up the cultivator and skip the spot where birds had nested in the summerfallow. He loved nature, and would share this love with everyone around him.

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Dad, as he was often seen, unshaven, taking care of an animal on the farm.

Nolan loves wearing a hat. I bought him a Roughrider hat the other day (on sale – Dad would approve) and if he isn’t wearing it (or his bike helmet) he is tapping his head, asking for one of them. My dad’s expanding forehead and a propensity for the underdog caused him to don a Roughrider hat most of the time (photo above excepted.) Nolan is continuing the trend.

So, on Father’s Day, I celebrate the life my Dad gave me, the 30 years we had together, and the multitude of ways he influenced me, my relationships with friends and family, and my kids. Though his time with me was cut short, there is still so much to be happy about. And, as Norah says, “Grandpa Paul is in my heart.” Happy Father’s Day, Dad…