Sunday, May 22, 2011

For all Things Fairytale and When True Love Cops Out

I am not akin to the stereotypical romantic; unlike many women, I did not meticulously plan my prospective wedding in great detail by my eighth birthday. I want to believe in true love; the one love unlike any other. The kind of love that plays Mozart’s violin concerto with your heartstrings and clouds your vision with a rose coloured vapor.

My inner idealist has a strong desire to believe in the presumption that soul mates exist; the notion that everyone has one perfect companion yearning to be found, the person that destiny and god have created especially for them. 

I truly want to believe in fate and beautiful dreams, that love transcends all obstacles, challenges, and every other complexity that may hinder the road of life. I truly do. 

Inside me lives a young woman who naively clings to the hope that when you find the one person that you are meant to be with, by some whimsical twist of fate, things will harmoniously fall into place. 

Yet that young woman must continually be battled and tormented by my inner realist; a broken and besieged little imp whose only desire is to stomp out my belief in fairytales and romantic ideals. I know that, despite the greeting cards and fables, love is not blind. It is shallow and ephemeral. All of the wrong people stay together because they are unwilling to accept change. Change is difficult and unnerving. Change inspires trepidation and challenges even the most stable minds. 

On the contrary, more often than not, tales of true love are recounted as ‘the ones who got away’, the people who slipped through our fingertips, or for one reason or another were lost but never forgotten. The people by whom all future relationships are judged. For the lucky few, the flames of these loves are rekindled years later.(And, for the rare exceptions, they were able to beat the odds and held close their hearts desire despite the roadblocks) But, for most, true love is nothing more than a twisted and over romanticized memory of what used to be, and can never be again. 

My life experiences, growing up in a single-family household and the world around me make me doubt whether I will ever have faith in romantic love. I find myself questioning the illusions that surround the very idea of love. Do we ever really love each other? Or, do we exist together because we feel that we have to?
Something that happened not long ago made me question love and its bearings in our lives. A person very close to me questioned their future happiness as they openly displayed their sole to the world. They admitted that they had settled, and feared their life was exhausted by being spent married to the wrong person because everyone around them had told them it was the right thing to do. Now, nearly 30 years later their heart still wept because the person they truly loved was gone out of their reach. 

I have had many relationships, some good, some bad, some that ended because there was no future, some that ended for no reason, and some that ended simply because I was unable to differentiate between love and any other emotion I could muster up. Is love a chemical reaction, or something we are taught? Who knows? Do we love because we can, or do we love because we feel we have to? 

The generation before me said that, “love is a battlefield.” Is it worth fighting for? When is it time to wave a white flag? Should we fear letting the ‘lost’ loves in our lives know where we stand, and how we feel, even if it means getting shot ‘through the heart’ or do we continue to let love (or the idea of it) cloud our judgment and determine the course of our future happiness? 

When is it time to let go and just live? 

Friday, May 13, 2011

When Did Youth Stop Revolting and Start Wanting to Snuff Out their Schoolmates?

When I was a child, most any playground dispute could be settled with a few words and, in extreme cases, a shove or two across the sports field. That simply is not the case today. My six year-old son, Dylan, returned home from school yesterday complaining that he had been punched in the face by an eleven year old neighbor. Not wanting to make a mountain out of a molehill, or worsen the matter anymore than it needed to be, his father went to speak with the boy’s mother. Not surprisingly, no one answered the door. Oh well. Boys will be boys – or so we thought. 

Today after school, Dylan came home quite shaken and obviously upset. This boy had approached him again, only this time, the out-of-control eleven year old berated my son, threatened his life, and brandished what I later found out to be a metal pole with a pair of sharp scissors attached to the end, all the while telling Dylan and another boy that “he promises to end Dylan’s life.” 

After a brief conversation with a few other children in the neighborhood, I learned that these were not the only events that had transpired on the route home from school. As it turns out, this young man had approached Dylan on the way home and aggressively lunged at him, making no attempts to hide his deplorable behavior from the hoards of other students making their way home. Feeling threatened, and not knowing how to react Dylan, I was told, cowered to the ground while this bully cruelly kicked him in the back of the head repeatedly. The tormenting child was told by other students to leave him alone. “He is only six, and has done nothing to you.” They insisted. 

Much to the displeasure of several parents in the neighborhood, I contacted the police immediately. If that results in my being ostracized or labeled then so be it. I am unwilling to chalk this up to children simply being children. Once weapons and threats of death find their way into the hands and past the lips of children, blaming the behavior on typical boy behavior is no longer an option. Prior to the police’s arrival, Dylan’s father once again attempted to speak to the child’s mother, who openly lied and insisted that Dylan and the other children had made the story up. Claiming that her son was at ‘choir’ the entire time, not knowing that I had personally spoken to the boy minutes after Dylan had informed me of the occurrences.  

What has changed over the last decade that has made it so easy for young children, barely teenagers, to consider using a dangerous, even deadly, weapon to cause harm to another child without even the slightest regard for the consequences? Are we de-evolving so rapidly that our children are now numb to the world and the people in it? At what point do we, as a society concerned for the so-called ‘future leaders of tomorrow’ step in and say enough is enough, something has to give? It is no longer about youth in revolt, or even typical adolescent rebellion, it is about young children being stripped of their innocence and forced into a way of thinking that violence and killing is apposite, and even tolerable, conduct. 

Where does the blame lie? Do we blame Hollywood for pumping images of gun toting gangsters and slick ‘rebels without a cause’ into the minds of our children, or do we blame record producers for over marketing hardcore rap albums depicting drugs and violence towards women? Do we blame the media for glamorizing the brutality and sadism across the globe? Or, do we blame ourselves for letting our children watch the movies, listen to the music, and eat their dinners as they hear tales of wars, social unrest and massacres each evening on the nightly news and then not having the aptitude to teach them fact from fiction, right from wrong, and everything in between?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When Life is Not Enough and the Question Remains the Same

Nearly three years ago, someone very close to me made the decision to take his own life. For many people, talking about the effects of suicide is considered too taboo for every day conversation. Whether they hope it will never happen to anyone they know or they simply think that the subject should not be discussed, the possibility that suicide could claim the life of someone you love should not be ignored. 

On May 29th 2008, my beloved adopted brother Kevin made the decision that his life was no longer worth living. With little disregard for how his actions would forever alter the lives of the people close to him he ingested several weeks worth of prescription medications and, after falling into a brief coma, on May 30th succumbed to a toxic and fatal overdose.

 Knowing that Kevin had been hospitalized, I had dreaded every phone call that came that day, hoping that I could in some way alter the turn of events by leaving each call unanswered. I will never forget the anguish and pain I felt when my mother called to deliver the terrible news. Kevin’s pain had ended, yet mine was just beginning. I remember being sad at first, but quickly my sadness dissipated and anger took over. I was angry with him for thinking that his life was so insignificant and doomed to failure that he could just go and end it. Evict himself from the world like the thoughts and emotions of everyone whose lives were made better just by knowing him meant nothing. Even more so, I was annoyed with myself for being angry. Did I have a right to grit my teeth and be angered by another person’s suffering? Was it hypocritical of me to believe in freedom of choice, yet at the same time feel that he had no right to make the choice he had? 

My anger was short-lived and I felt myself asking the same question everyone who has ever been affected by suicide asks – why? Why did he do it? Why had he not come to me for help? Why hadn’t I seen the signs? Did I even know what the signs were, would I have recognized them if I did? Even now, every time I think of Kevin and the pain he must have endured, I still ask myself why. I know that I will never know the answer, yet my brain refuses to let me stop questioning the events the occurred that day. What is my obsession with having to know what he was thinking at the exact moment he decided that life was no longer worth fighting for? Is it because he had always told me never to give up, that life was what you made it? Or, is it because we as humans are hard wired to need ‘closure’ and I will never be able to process until my questions are answered. 

What was it about life that was so unbearable that made him feel that his only way to cope with the desperation and sense of hopelessness was to die? 

Disturbingly, suicide is the second leading cause of death among Canadians aged 10 to 24, and it is estimated that one person around the globe dies from suicide every 40 seconds. Asides from the religious suicide bombers and those hoping to be martyr, I still ask WHY.

Rest Peacefully Kevin Schuster, my life will forever be changed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Chaotic Juggling Act we Call Life

January 18th 2011 my life became no longer my own. I once heard someone say that the women who make the best mothers are the ones who take the time to question their ability to be a caregiver, an excellent role model, and a loving provider. Truth be told, those questions, and more, have been manipulating my though process from the second I found out I was expecting. 

I have so many plans and goals not only for my child, but also for myself. I see those mothers who are happy just being a mother and a wife, and although I respect their happiness, I want more. I know there are people who will hear me say that and tell me to quit my nagging and just be glad to have what I have. Yet, I fear their sentiments would fall upon deaf ears. I am confident in my independence, my ability to be seen as more than just a trinket on my partners arm, more than just my son’s ‘mommy’. I need to be able to balance a career, a family, and my own peace of mind without someone telling me that I need to follow the conventional ‘norm’. Is there something so terribly wrong with being a loving mother, a doting partner, and writing a complete sentence? Am I destined to become nothing more than a ‘Mommy Blogger’?

Yes, I want my children to have the means of sourcing the best oppourtunities in life, to succeed both socially and scholastically, to grow up, and have the prowess to make their own decisions and assert their independence. Yet, I also want my children to respect me as a woman who is more than just their mother. I want my boyfriend to see me as a woman who is more than just his partner. My life does not need to end just because the life of my son has begun. I still have goals and dreams that I need to achieve. I aim to be able to teach my children the importance of ambition, not giving up and always being determined to succeed. Will I be successful in the chaotic juggling act that my life has become?

Of course, I will.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The "School" of Thought

Three weeks after the birth of my son, Hunter, I opened a Registered Education Savings Plan and accepted my obligation and desire to begin saving for his future educational endeavors. The question of whether or not a parent should pay for their child’s education has long been debated and truthfully, I am not sure on which side of the fence I sit. My own parents never paid for any of my post secondary education, yet each made the conscious decision to separately contribute financially to the scholastic attempts of two of my siblings. Their decision to contribute towards the tuition of my siblings and not my own does not bother me. I enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that I was in control of my own future, but still it makes me wonder, how big of a role should a parent play in their child’s post secondary education?

I want my son to succeed, but still I want him to know the satisfaction and importance of hard work and perseverance. That is why I have decided against paying for his entire education and instead opted to let the government pick up part of the tab. When I was in college, I took out a loan from the federal government; a loan that I repaid with interest. Since the government received a ‘commission’ from my own educational experiences, it only seems logical that they should reward my generosity. 

While I reviewed over one dozen RESP providers, I felt that USC Education Savings Plans Inc. was the most capable of meeting my needs. They boast a four step approve to education savings that includes: Designing a registered education savings plan tailored to each individual scenario; Keeping your investment safe and secure with the potential for long-term growth; Providing access to the maximum amount of government grants; And, promising ongoing commitment to service excellence. 

A representative from USC came to my house to explain the program. I would later learn that she had lost her husband while her children were still young, and when it came time for them to go to college, she had no money to help them. As we continued to talk, I explained to her that I did not want to pay for my son’s entire education. I wanted merely provide him with enough to build a solid foundation and let him build upward from there. Her time-tested smile widened as she reached into her briefcase, pulled out a typeset paper with facts and figures spanning a five year period and said to me, “Why pay anything at all when you can let the government pay for almost 1/3 of your son’s education?” Granted I was skeptical, the government just does not hand away money. Or do they?

This is how she explained it to me:

For the first five years of a child’s life, the government offers a $100.00 monthly Universal Child Care Benefit. That totals $6000.00, when added to the $7500.00 worth of government grants available with most Registered Education Savings Plans would equal an astounding $13,500.00 in just five short years. Now, since my son will likely not be attending university at the age of six, that money will sit in a secured fund-type environment and continue to gain an attractive interest rate for an additional 13 – 15 years. 

The result, a handsome sum of money for Hunter to put towards his future education without me having to feel as though I went against my moral beliefs and footed the college bill. I have convinced myself to view the savings as a ‘scholarship’, a gift that his father and I will offer to him after he has successfully worked and saved for his first year of schooling on his own.

Roadblocks in the Circle of Life

Not long ago my great aunt lost a brief battle with cancer, and, although my son who was just about 3 months old at the time had never met her, it got me thinking about my own first experiences with death. I’m not talking about the loss of a cat, or a hamster, or the goldfish that always came back to life. I'm talking about real, unforgettable loss, the kind that plays with your heart and forever alters your life. And, even more so, it got me thinking about how I was introduced to death, how it was explained to me by the adults in my life and how I was going to explain death to my son when the time comes.

The first real memory I have of someone close to me passing away I was barely five. His name was Christopher and he was one of my dearest friends. Even now as I try to recall the tragic events of his final days, it appears just as vague, and confusing to me as it did then. Although I have no audible recollection of the high-pitched sound of my grandparents old rotary phone, I can still remember the look of pure anguish that swept across my grandfathers face as he hung up the phone. He did not attempt to stifle the tears that flowed freely down his face when he told me what had happened. I did not understand the severity of his words, and therefore reacted just as I would expect most young children would.

Later that week my grandfather took me to visit the funeral home. I remember seeing a young boy whose hair had been shaved; a child whom I did not recognize as my friend lying peacefully in a wooden casket. Turning to my grandfather I asked, “Papa, why is that boy sleeping?” He just hung his head and cried. No real explanation of death was given to me, and I went on wondering why my friend could no longer come out and play with me. Didn’t he like me anymore? Was it my fault? His family was still in the house down the road, why wasn’t he? Did they not want him anymore? Would my family decide they no longer wanted me one day and I’d just disappear too? 

Death is inevitable, and there will come a point in the lives of my children when someone close to them dies. When that time comes, I am not certain how I will be able to put the circle of life (and death) into words that their young minds will comprehend. My first experience with memorable death left me with the belief that people just stop existing. The world around you continues to move forward, but sometimes the people in it, for no good reason, just vanish. It wasn’t until several years later, after the passing of one of my classmates, Nicole, that I truly began to understand death and grieving. 

Nicole was born with muscular dystrophy, a severe condition that confined her to a wheelchair and later took her life. Despite her physical challenges, she had the biggest heart of anyone I had ever known, even to this day. As I returned home from school, after having learned of her passing, I went to tell my mother. Since Nicole had moved to another school the year before, all I wanted to do was ask if she remembered her. I guess my mother had not been having a very good day herself because I can still hear the annoyance in her voice when she told me to ‘get to the point; she doesn’t need the whole story.’ “There is no story. She’s DEAD.” I shouted at her and ran out the front door, straight into the arms of my grandmother. Who talked to me about life and death and explained how everyone grieves differently. My mother never approached the subject again, and I cried for what felt like days. I finally understood what it meant to be gone from the world forever.

I realize that my mother did not intentionally react so harshly, she had no way of knowing what I was going to tell her, even though at the time it felt like she was angry at me for grieving. Never the less, my first two experiences with death were handled in two very different ways by the adults in my life, leaving me to question how I am supposed approach the subject with my sons when it becomes their turn to grieve the loss of a loved one.Do I share openly in their pain? Let them see my tears, but not ever truly explain why those tears exist? Or, do I ignore the matter and hope they figure it out on their own?