I can’t wait until

“Mommy, I can’t wait until I go to school like Kate!” I said at the tender age of five years old. 

Our family of eight was fairly regimented in a perfect kind of way.  Dad went to work around 7 a.m. every morning, just about the time when I was just crawling out of bed.  By 8 a.m., my two brothers had started out for their downhill walk to their high school, Holy Cross. By 8:30, Mom was scrambling to get my older sister Kate ready in her important school uniform. It was a black stiff uniform with a white shiny collar and white cuffs.  Kate’s hair was blond, not like my jet black hair. My hair was not brushed by that time in the day, it was tangled and straggly. Kate’s hair was delicate and feminine, it had been combed with a hundred strokes and the ends had cute curls.

Grammie “K” would say, “Aren’t you cunnin’ child, precious little Kate!” My grandmother always used the word “cunning,” which was an adjective that meant attractive especially by means of smallness or prettiness or quaintness. I was usually a cunning child when I was up to mischief or if I was sick with a temperature and everyone was worried about me. It didn’t sound quite the same when anyone used the word cunnin’ to describe me.

I remember my sister saying, “I pity the poor teacher who ends up with Mo!”

“Mommy, I can’t wait until we move back to the cottage! Is it summer yet?”

When I finally was sent to school with my sister, I doubted my own judgment. School was scary.  The Nuns had a lot of rules.  In Kindergarten I have one distinct memory to share.

I loved my uniform, my oxford black and white shoes and my knee socks. I was given Kate’s old book bag and Mom bought Kate a new one because she had more books to carry. I particularly loved my school supplies. My book bag held my recess, my exercise books, my first reader, a song book and my pencil, ruler, crayons and glue. Oh and there was a white doily to place my hands on so the teacher could tell if my hands and finger nails were perfectly clean.

My clearest memory was of my exercise book, or scribbler. It was the less expensive one, half the length of my sister’s.  My scribbler had brown paper and my sister’s had white paper.  In Kindergarten, we were learning our alphabet and how to print our letters.  Apparently, I was either not listening or totally disregarded Sister Anastasia’s instructions. I was not to use my eraser on my pencil.  I can remember thinking, the small letter e I had painstakingly printed was backwards.  I quickly turned around my pencil to use my eraser, the hard dried up red rubber eraser on the top of my pencil. It took no time before I dug a hole through my page. I carried on and finished my printing, as best as a five year old could and never imagined the Mortal Sin I had just committed.

Sister told us to keep our scribblers open and place our hands neatly on either side of our work, as proper young ladies are trained to do.  I complied.  I sat up straight in my little desk and laid my hands on either side of my scribbler.  I was waiting for another Angel sticker for my great letter Ee achievement. To my chagrin, Sister stopped at the desk, raised her ruler and smacked my cute little hands.  I had no idea it was a grievous crime to use the eraser and create a hole on the sheet.

Worse than that was the letter Ff. You see Sister had subscribed to the frugal ‘waste not, want not’ philosophy.  You finished one page with the letter Ee and you turned it over to learn how to print Ff. Low and behold, there was the other side of the hole I had sinfully created. Lordy, wasn’t I the school stooge. When Sister saw I had a hole on the page with the letter Ff, I deserved a big whooping.  My hands were not sufficient.

To this day I avoid using that stupid red eraser on the top of a pencil! It must have been the devil’s creation.

“Mommy, I can’t wait to go to camp!”

I may as well admit it, I wasn’t particularly popular in school.  I was a C student, always talked when the teacher left the classroom and given my aversion to erasers, had poor penmanship and messy assignments. I brought that talent to Girl Guides as well.

When it came time to go to camp, the Guide leaders had to decide who they would take.  I was born at the tail end of the baby boomers. So, there were a lot of girls who wanted to go to camp. Our Guide Camp was only so big.  We couldn’t all go.

My hopes were high nonetheless that I would get selected. I did all that I was told. I had my navy blue uniform and beret always clean and pressed. I earned points for my uniform, my cleanliness and my behaviour.  Grammie K and I worked on badges and I would then sit with my Guide leader and present my work. My grandmother even taught me how to sew the badges on my sleeve. Except for all the times I was asked to sit down or stop talking, I remember being next to perfect.

I was ultimately told I wasn’t selected for camp.  I was devastated. Mom said I sang Kumbaya My Lord as well as the rest of the them! I knew 100 bottles of beer on the wall, a 100 bottles of beer….admittedly, Mom warned me that was very annoying. All that practice and I didn’t have a seat on the bus.

Mommy and Grammie took me to visit Aunt Thurly and Uncle Robert in Upper Stewiacke and then to see Aunt Catherine and Uncle Fred in Litchfield.  I think I had a better time.  I was in time for the church strawberry shortcake festival in Upper Stewiacke. I was really impressed that Aunt Catherine had miniature Mars bars and let me watch soap operas.  The rest of the over-achieving Guiders didn’t get all that!

“Mommy, I can’t wait to go to Nursing School.”

My mother was a nurse.  She went to Nursing School in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1942-1945. She would reminisce over those years.  Like little old Mo, Mom had her scholastic challenges.  She had scarlet fever when she was in junior high and missed math instructions on fractions.  But everyone in the nurses residence rallied around Mom and taught her fractions so she could learn how to determine doses of medications…scary! While Mom was in nursing school she met my father.  They fell in love! A Baptist and a Roman Catholic, a match made in heaven in 1945. Obviously, nursing school was the answer to many dreams.

I wanted to be like my mother.  My mother’s name was Mary.  When my Grade 2 teacher, Sister Mary Assumpta told me to pick my confirmation name, I picked Mary! They thought it was in honour of Our Holy Mother. I corrected them, even back then. I wanted to grow up to be just like my mother and with her name, Nurse Mary, RN!

We lived across the street from “the hospital.” Dad worked at “the hospital.” Naturally I applied for the nursing school across the street and attached to “the hospital.” There was an “other hospital” further down the street. My high school guidance instructor told me to also apply there. I didn’t want to seem impolite, so I applied to both hospitals. I wish the instructor told me that the “other hospital” did the entrance exam for all the nursing schools.  I received an envelop instructing me to take a psychological entrance exam in the Spring. I noticed that it was sent by the “other hospital” that did not employ my father. I thought a psychological exam was a silly idea that the “other hospital” came up with.  I threw the letter in the garbage.

I am not a nurse!

“Mommy, I want you to live with me forever!”

My mother was almost a saint.  Had the Pope met her, perhaps she would have at least made the B list for North American Saints. It was the rest of us little nuisances that kept her from the A list.

Mom had great genes.  She lived independently until she was 87 years old.  She had the same klutz genes we daughters seem to have.  Mom smashed her elbow, had four concussions and a lot more other damage from her run-ins with the ground. She pretty much needed to live in a bungalow in her last four years. I had a bungalow! So I was able to spend another four wonderful years with my mother.

I am still teary eyed even thinking about Mom not being here.  I type my blog in the room where she passed over. As her time to leave approached she used to say, “I am just waiting, dear, for the train to stop and take me yonder.” So I wait here and wish the train would bring her back to me.

Prejudice: Where did that come from?

For as long as I can think clearly, I will ponder prejudice. I will bounce perspectives back and forth and try to determine if something is or is not reasonable, founded or unfounded. Is the comment harmful or merely a generalization? Are we all capable of prejudice? It isn’t as if we all don’t have some prejudice that we use to simplify our lives.  Often you can hear unreasonable, preconceived judgments coming out of me and others. I may have made quick judgments about people in certain occupations without having any basis of fact.

“Kindergarten teachers are just so creative and caring!” Obviously this quote is a safe prejudice to admit, but it demonstrates exactly what prejudice is founded on.  I understand kindergarten teachers from my own value system. I haven’t studied or conducted research on the creativeness and kindness factor of all kindergarten teachers.  In fact, I know roughly less than thirty such people all from the province of Canada in which I reside.

The funny thing is, I know fewer Syrians, I know primarily Caucasian Canadians and New Englanders. I would like to know more Syrians and people from many other cultures, but I didn’t live near many cultural groups.  I am the epitome of vanilla.  I am not particularly proud of it, but there is little I can do about my cultural exposure now, except travel. (In my defence, I do like to travel.) I also like to comment on current affairs without doing much research. My information comes from the news primarily.

In my bland world though, I am not immune to examples of prejudice relating to diversity.  Diversity in my small corner of the world would generally include gender, sexual orientation, disability, country of origin, indigenous origin, and racial origin. Please excuse the limitation of those categories.  I can think of many other interesting categories as well. How about musically talented, scientific, literary, athletic, artistic, dramatic, illusionist….. all can apply to each diverse category to yield a very diverse group!

So, what got me started on prejudice tonight? It was actually a somewhat subtle comment. A well intentioned colleague approached me today, quite alarmed and sympathetic toward one of our other co-workers.  His dilemma was the other co-worker had “replied to all” on a request of our human resource department to update our personal information for the personnel files.  In this information, disclosed to some 300 plus colleagues, the other co-worker indicated his “significant other” was male. My colleague was worried that now everyone knew about the co-worker’s sexual orientation. This was both the alarming part and the sympathetic part of the story.

Had “I” replied to all,  would it have caused such sympathy?  Unlikely,  as I have a pretty common marital status that would not have attracted attention. It also isn’t new information. When we read information we screen for what is noteworthy or different.  Maybe, instead of worrying about something being different than our norm, we could focus on what is quite nice, such as our co-worker is in a committed relationship with someone. In my instance, the co-worker is living with a man who I actually know slightly, and I like his parents.  I would be more worried about my co-worker disclosing his personal information on voluntary insurance and other matters that people like to keep private. Otherwise, I think it is quite healthy to be able to admit you are a whole person and you can introduce your significant other. I do all the time!

Tonight, my co-worker’s disclosure made me dwell on all the types of prejudices we live with daily. It is common for East Coasters to be stereotyped as goofy, less intelligent and more awkward than the rest of the country’s folk. I grew up expecting to be mocked by people who visited us or by those who we visited. I remember exaggerating my accent and using ridiculous phrases just to satisfy their desire to be right about people who lived on the East Coast.

My maiden name happens to originate from Ireland. My name means one who is dun coloured. Apparently my ancestors were dark in complexion, something I am not. I often wonder about who my ancestors were to have been given that name. I only have been able to trace back as far as the mid-1800s and nothing stands out as particularly interesting. I hope to link our name to the Claddagh Tribe of Galway, but I am merely romanticizing now.

My father was of a dark complexion, most people thought he was attractive!  During the second world war, he bought suits for university at a clothing store owned by a man of Jewish faith.  The store owner had whispered to my father as he rang in the price on the register, “less 10% for being a student and 10% for being one of us!” The owner would not have recognized my father, as he was from another country, but he believed my father to be Jewish.  He gave Dad a discount, a gesture which my father was appreciative of until the day he died.  It doesn’t matter if the owner was just being kind to a young man of very meagre means or if he made a judgment that my father looked Jewish. It was kindness, at time when everyone lived in fear.

I hope that my Grandson grows up not knowing there is a difference in the colour of skin, hair or eyes.  I want it to be irrelevant. We will always bring our upbringing with us and I am hopeful that my children and grandchildren will accept differences with enthusiasm and seek out diversity. I hope they eat all kinds of spices and can smell of cloves one day, garlic the next and curry the day after that! I hope that identity as LGBTQ is part of their world but not apart from their world. I also want them to find opportunities based on their skills and interest and not by stereotype. I don’t want them to have a future workplace that needs to identify people by group in order to assist with gender or sexual orientation issues, because in the future I hope there won’t be any of those issues.

I know many eloquent writers have expressed these views a lot better than I have.  I am just fed up with the slow pace of change. I do care about who a person is, I am interested. I just wish all of us could be more interested in who people are and not sidetracked by basic differences.