I KEEP IT BECAUSE

I KEEP IT BECAUSE

there’s an eagle and a tree
on a card
on my desk
I keep it because
the eagle is strength
free
to say those words out loud
I keep it because
the tree is nature
with deep roots that
ground me
in those moments
I want to escape
from the candor
on the page
I keep it because
it came from a place
of embodied creativity
I want to capture the artist’s
dedication to her craft
bottle it and take a sip
each morning when I sit to write
or during the dark night
when the questions surface
why make the effort?
who hears the whispers in the wind?
I keep it because
it speaks to the loneliness
of putting words into
the hollow

thank you to Firefly Creative Writing for the prompt and Alana Hansen for the beautiful work of art adorning my desk

black cloud, 2020

black cloud, 2020

A couple weeks ago I submitted a poem to The Power Plant Contemporary Art Museum’s Power of the Poets contest. The idea was to write based on an artist’s work. I chose Black Cloud by Carlos Amorales and wrote from the duality of this view of his work and our current state of isolation.

Though not successful I was happy to throw my net for writing a bit wider.

black cloud, 2020

beauty
marked by distress

despondency
tinted by expectation

out there, life
former
altered, wounded, flaccid

in here, swarmed
obscurity
shadows, panic, death

stillness
streaked with approximations

expectation
shaded with suspicion

out there, anticipating
tomorrow
next week, month, year

in here, trembling
survival
dismay, agitation, loss

hush
mixed with intrigue

grief
mingled with reprieve

out, potential

in, subsistence

when this is over

when this is over

when this is over

I want to walk

city streets

maintain social distance

from steel and concrete

see the sun gleam

off skyscraper windows

seek shade

in graffitied alleys

I want to feel

the energy of people

coming from everywhere

going to somewhere

the man carrying

a briefcase

in a rush to return to the world

who, long ago

spent hours with his tailor

getting the cut of his suit

just right

when this is over

I want to buy lunch

at a food court

where people will

line up on

red circles for safety

I want to walk up

a broad avenue

past all the healing houses

see families clustered

at entrances

into those places

filled with people

who embraced all our fears

while living with

their own

when this is over

I want to pass by

the hot dog vendor’s cart

smell street meat

catch some banter

between purveyor

and customer

discussions of the particulars

of orders

when this is over

I want to sit under

a bamboo canopy

with my son and talk

about anything but

a virus that

shut down the world

when this is over

I want to walk along

a long street

and be grateful

when I stop

at a cafe for

some baked goods

and a yellow latte

full of warmth and

familiarity

when this is over

I want to walk

through the park

to be in nature

the kind that you only

find in the city

I’ll hear a mom

tell her child

it’s okay, the swing

is safe

and I’ll send her strength

because

being a mom

will be fraught with more

than the usual fears

when this is over

I want to walk into

a favourite bookstore

browse the shelves

touching only

with my eyes

and I will leave

my digital signature

when I find a hardcover friend

to broaden my understanding

when this is over

I want to hear a child

laughing

and I’ll sing their song

all the way home

when this is over

I want to get on the train

and hear people

talking too loudly

on the upper levels

even though it’s

rush hour

and we’re all meant to

be quiet

no one will mind

we will all be grateful

when this is over

we all want

to hear people

smell nourishment

feel the energy

of the city

and be patient

as we embrace

the new ways

of life

What are your values?

What are your values?

To the government of Ontario,

What do you value in education?

If recent actions are any indication, it is not students, nor educators.

Ah, yes, the bottom line.

The other day, the Minister of Education went on the CBC and when asked if he thought people in education were taking sick days when they were not sick, he refused to answer simply yes or no. Instead, he stated that the reasons for high absenteeism needs to be investigated.

No need to investigate, Sherlock. I can tell you the reason.

If your government values consistency in the delivery of support to students in the classroom, you will rejig the ineffective, destructive funding model to schools. You will make money available and targeted for hiring (rehiring) staff including Educational/Teaching Assistants, teachers, Early Childhood Educators, speech and language, psychologists, and other specialists.

People are absent from work because they are sick, injured or mentally exhausted, not due to nefarious actions. Staff are being asked to accommodate and support a record number of students with a significantly lower number of staff.

And the reasons for absences are available for the government to see. Boards are required to have Absence Management Programs to ensure that staff are not abusing sick days. Within the context of these Programs, information is shared with the employer (the Boards) that means there is no expectation of privacy regarding employee’s mental and physical health.

So, if the government is unaware of why absenteeism is high and what needs to be done to fix it, they need only look at their own policies and the detrimental effects they have on staff and subsequently students.

Students have a right to be accommodate to ensure they can be successful. Reduced staffing numbers means fewer staff to support students and deal with differences in learning and behaviours. This can result in students acting out, lashing out, hurting staff and potentially negatively impacting their own and others abilities to be successful.

If your government feels that the best way to solve this is to reduce the percentage of pay that CUPE employees receive when they are on short term disability (from 90% to 60%), you are saying that you want to penalize employees who are very often hurt ON THE JOB for DOING THEIR JOB for taking days to recover FROM INJURIES RECEIVED ON THE JOB. You are saying to employees that it is now an expectation that they not only get hurt, but take a pay cut for that privilege.

And let’s not forget: whatever CUPE agrees to, you are setting the precedent for the whole education system in Ontario. Because whatever crap deal you serve up at one negotiation table is the only thing on the menus of every other negotiating table going forward.

So, send your Minister of Education back to school – have him show up and do the work for more than a five minute photo op, and he will see that your government has either created or perpetuated the incredibly poor work conditions that cause high absenteeism rates in schools across the province.

(And tell him to bring soap and water because we’re heading into cold and flu season and there’s nothing like 30+ snotty kindergarteners to make an educator sick and tired.)

the long goodbye

the long goodbye

April 1, 2003, I began my career in education with the Peel Board.

My love of public education and being around small humans started sooner than that though.

I began volunteering in 1994 when my oldest began kindergarten. I often brought my youngest into the school library and would help out teachers by preparing activities for classrooms (read: cutting out hundreds of shapes). I ran bake sales and play days with all the other stay at home or flexibly scheduled parents. We did goofy sketches at assemblies and made meals for Teacher Appreciation Days.

I was hooked.

At one time, I planned to become a teacher. In 1985, when hubby was finishing up his degree, I was planning on going back to university and get a degree and then go to teacher’s college. Times were tough for new teachers (relatively speaking), but I viewed it as a stable profession. Hubby was supportive, but some of the extended family was not. As I was known to do, I caved to the pressure to not commit to a career.

I began having babies a few years later. I was/am/always will be hooked on that choice.

Maybe my love of all things education began even earlier – in high school, when I attended a Catholic high school as a non-Catholic student. I was exempt from religion classes if I did community service. I found a daycare for children with Down syndrome and their siblings to fulfill my requirement. My high school was ‘self teaching’ (hey, late 1970s, your flexible education ideas are calling!) so I could spend as much time on any subject as I needed. We didn’t have classes, no one took attendance. (Not surprisingly, many people took 5 or more years to complete the three required years of high school in this model.)

I began spending all my time at the day care – and only going to school one or two days a week. I graduated 5 months early so I could spend even more time at the daycare.

I was hooked.

So, yes. I may have been hired by the Peel Board on a snowy April day in 2003, but the seeds were planted back in the late 70s.

Education today is not anything like it was in the 70s and does not even remotely resemble my first permanent role with the Board in 2003.

I began working one on one with a student who had physical and cognitive impairments. We had oodles of time to do his physiotherapy and occupational therapy exercises. We worked hard to overcome his anxiety about doing work (which manifested itself in such stress he threw up. Every day. Usually on me.) and by the end of the year, he did participate more.

I thought it was a tough year. But it was nothing like my last full time year, 2014.

That year I was working with multiple students in multiple classrooms. The province and the Board had moved to deeming Teaching Assistants as necessary only for personal safety and personal care. There was no more supporting students with curriculum expectations – we were the front line between success and failure within a very narrow scope.

Today, Teaching Assistants work with at least 3 students. Those three students are very high needs – that why a TA would ‘only’ have 3 at a time. If the students have been deemed to have lesser needs, that ratio goes up. One TA to 4, 5, 6 or more students.

It’s not the same world at all.

In 2014, I returned to university. My long goodbye to working in schools began.

I occasionally went into the schools to do supply work until I returned full time in 2016. After years of being hit, pinched, spat on, punched, and ducking various projectiles, alongside lifting students for toileting, I began to think my body wasn’t up for the task. I took a role at the Board main site. In an office. By myself.

By the early spring, I decided to ‘retire’. I needed to accept that I wasn’t going back in the classroom. Those years away had made it feel like too daunting a task to return. Alongside that, I had begun working on a research project at McMaster. The possibility of doing my masters hung in the air.

The long goodbye got serious – there was a retirement dinner and notification that I was too young to start drawing on my pension.

In early 2018, after floundering around for a few months, I took a short term job at my union’s office. After that, I stayed on the supply TA list, with a minimum requirement of one day of supplying a year.

I didn’t fulfill that requirement this past school year. I worked full time at the university and was advised that I shouldn’t risk my bum knee in a special education setting or classroom. I made a half hearted attempt to get an exemption from my one day a year requirement.

Yesterday, I opened an email that said, You have been terminated.

The long goodbye is over. I think I’m okay with that.

Not 100% sure, but yeah. Probably.

The opportunity to volunteer at my local school still exists. And as long as the chance to occasionally hang out in the world of education and interact with small humans still exists, all is good in the world.

biographical statement

biographical statement

This weekend, I submitted a short story to a “small magazine with an international reputation” and part of the submission process was to submit a short biographical statement.

I was stumped.

Honestly, writing a piece, having it critiqued (repeatedly) by my peers and instructors, and editing it (repeatedly) was easier than coming up with a biographical statement.

In the end, I wrote something that on reflection seems flip because it’s not necessarily how I identify myself. Or maybe it is.

I’ve been struggling with the concept of identity for some time – writing a post back in 2017 about how I no longer had a neat label for society to put me in a valued/not valued category.

I wonder if this is the true fall out from the empty nest syndrome – for more than 20 years, I was first and foremost mom. I wanted that role, I loved it (puke and all), and I still miss having little humans around me.

Case in point: I went to a party in April and found the people I spent the most time with to be under the age of 2!

I am still a mom and I get to be a part of my children’s lives in meaningful ways. I am a wife. I do archaeological research. I garden (begrudgingly). I do a lot of laundry.

But who am I?

Part of my biographical statement was: I hate to train but I love finish lines. I hate to fly but I love to travel.

Those are true – I do not love training to walk in races, and I’m not even sure that I love the whole race itself. I do love a finish line though. Hubby is there after riding to various checkpoints to inspire me, a nice heating blanket is offered (I don’t seem to race in the good weather!), and we always find a celebratory food item I can consume.

I do love to travel, though with celiac, it’s proven more difficult. I like my own house and my own bed, but I love a good beach and once I’m out there, I love to see the world. Flying is not my favourite thing, but at the end of each flight, there’s always something good.

But, can I define myself, create my biographical statement, based on what I hate contrasted with what I love?

simple traditions

simple traditions

It started out simply enough – the sun was shining, a few birds were chirping.

We were getting married that day.

There was no large hall booked. No long flowing gown or tuxedo.

Six bottles of champagne were chilling and some deli trays were waiting.

We started our married life simply. It worked for us.

We wanted to get married. Beyond that, everything was just icing on the cake (there wasn’t even one of those).

This anniversary, our 36th, we’ll be 4176 km apart – hoping that the sun is shining and the birds are chirping on both ends of the country!