We are one

Less than three years ago we left Venezuela, our home, and moved to Vancouver. The reasons, known by many and very relevant for us, are not relevant for this post.

The four of us packed our most needed belongings in six suitcases, said goodbyes, said see-you-later and left without looking back in search of safety and opportunities for Jose, our then 12 year-old.

We left behind our most precious relationships and support network, our very close family and our few but loyal and trusted friends hoping to find peace and freedom in unknown lands. I did not realize back then that I was following the steps of my grandparents, that their courage to venture out in the world looking for a safer place was in my genes and was giving me the strength, the extra push to move forward, even if it was two generations later.

Leaving challenged me in so many ways. I was used to being in control, to taking charge. How was I supposed to do that and to protect Jose in new territories? Were the two of us enough? Although I went to a Catholic School, my relationship with faith and spiritual beliefs had been put to the test many times and religion wasn’t my strongest suit.  God and I had a different relationship though. I have always felt a strong and very present connection with a leading and strong spiritual force, especially in times of sorrow. When I feel things are too much to handle I pray and I surrender. That has been my guiding principle since we left and I have always felt the presence of God.

While we miss our family, we have been blessed with friends that support us in times of need. Last night showed me that we are not alone. Jose was badly injured during a soccer game (he is ok, it is his knee that is not so good) but we felt and continue to feel as supported as one could wish for. From my dear friend who jumped in the car with us and took 100% charge while we were in the ER to all the families and coaches that have been in touch showing support, saying that the team needs its captain and offering their love. We are a tribe, we are a community ready to offer words of comfort, encouragement and a helping hand when things look dark. It is no surprise that Jose is in very good spirits, he shows so much determination to get better to be able to go, train and play with his team in the so-much-expected France trip. That is all we can ask for as parents, injuries will happen but the resilience to push through and the emotional strength is was really matters. We are fortunate to be part of our chosen FAS-Vancouver family. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

Chasing the rainbow

 

Is stability just a fiction? perhaps an ideal?

I’ve lived four full decades and have had my share of life-shattering/changing/shit-hit-the-fan moments. They range from unexpected and early deaths, job changes, marriage, divorce, adoption, motherhood, family illnesses, moves abroad to study, more marriage, more death, seeing your country be destroyed little by little and the final, or may be I should say latest one, leaving your country for good and starting a new life somewhere else in a different language, different country, different culture… you get the hang of it right?

Don’t get me wrong, except for death and the destruction of my homeland, all the other things were my decision, or consequence of my decisions, and a lot of them have opened unthinkable doors and opportunities for my human and emotional growth. They have allowed me to know and reinvent myself. They have led me to open up and create new but deep connections with new and loving people. They have given me freedom to go out, to explore, to learn new things. All these experiences have shaped me into who I am today, with my in–working-order areas and also with my glitches.

And yet there are days when the realization of the constant and seemingly never-ending changes hits home and I feel E X H A U S T E D. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I cannot stop wondering if it is me who’s had a very intense four decades, or if seeing what’s happening in Venezuela is breaking my heart, or if may be I am just too sensitive and feel too much, or if it is just me being self-centered and not realizing that everyone has had moments, perhaps years of constant and emotionally-demanding change.

It may be that stability is just the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that we continue to seek and don’t seem to find.

Titans Never Stop

Today our Jr. Upper School Soccer Team had a match against another team from another school. Although both are junior teams, our team is mostly grade 8s and some grade 9s. The team they were playing had one grade 9 player and the rest were all grade 10 students. Needless to say the bodies of most 13-14 year-olds pale in comparison to those of 15-16 year-olds.
Nevertheless, our boys don’t let size determine their attitude or game. They go to the field and play hard. 

While cheering from the sidelines and when we were 1-0 to them, I heard the other coach prep one player with this: “One on one they can’t outrun us, they can’t compete with us”.

I could feel my blood boiling. At first I thought “oh it’s just my lion mama heart and brain wanting to kick the coaches b… because he was implying that my one and only, but most importantly fighter and determined son, could not compete with his big players”. That his team mates, many of which I have seen grow as players, were not enough for these “big boys”. Yes, I admit that my protective side may have turned on. However, after careful thought I realized that I was most upset about this coaches’ train of thought. Are you implying to your players that they could win just because of their size or just because their muscles would make them more powerful? Are you saying to your players that skill and hard work do not matter? That it was a piece of cake? How cocky is that? Instead of motivating them to give as much as they can and reach whatever their personal best is individually and as a team, you, their guide and coach, are telling them to rely on the other team’s apparent weaknesses? How about developing and growing soccer and team skills? 

The truth is that facts speak loudly than words and we tied one to one and had to go to a penalty shoot out to decide the game. 

Although our boys lost in penalties, we all know that what really mattered was said during the actual game. Size and physical power don’t make winners. Winners are made by fighting, by believing in what you have to bring to the table, by continuously improving, by supporting each other and never ever giving up because Titans Never Stop!

I am guilty too

For the last couple of months I’ve been thinking about writing a post on judging people.  I am very active online and I continuously see posts where experts – actual and self-proclaimed– judge, question and make absolute and rigid statements on the rest of the world around them.

I have to be honest, it really annoys me. But because I firmly believe that everyone is free to post and use their social media the way they want – it’s theirs after all– I’ve held my horses.

Until a few weeks ago when I realized I am also guilty of judging and criticizing based on what I think I see.

We live in a great city, a city full of growth, development and opportunities. But like any other city, not everyone is thriving. We have people that live on the streets, yes, even beautiful Vancouver has homeless people. In Vancouver, most of them gather in the same area, it’s called the Vancouver Downtown East Side (DTES).  If you do some research online you will find hundreds of articles, opinions and plans for the DTES.  But that’s not the main topic of this post.

One Saturday afternoon of this past August, a friend posted a call out for volunteers to serve lunch in Feed the Hungry (now called Peace Meal), a program that serves lunch once a month to homeless in the DTES.  They said young people were welcomed so I signed us up for the late Sunday shift.

When I explained to my son the area where we would be, he said he was a bit scared but agreed to do it. The boys (we had a cousin only 6 months older than my son visiting) decided to volunteer in the kitchen plating the meals and I chose to be a server.

The experience was so humbling. Almost everyone was very kind and thankful. They would all say thank you, most of them would look me in the eyes, and many complimented the food and thanked us for our time. Some went even further and told me how hungry they were and how good this meal would be for them. I saw all of them pack up some of the food for later or for somebody else. Everyone was very respectful, they would sit and wait for their turn, many of them engaged in conversation with us or with other people having lunch and a handful had their pets and they (the pets) also were very well-behaved.

I left feeling content but overwhelmed. I felt once again blessed not only for the material things that I have access to, but for the family and friends that have emotionally supported me in times when life threw me curve balls and when the mere act of waking up felt like a burden.  I had and continue to have a tribe of people that support me when I am down, when I need an extra hand. Don’t get me wrong, my life has been full of great things and people, I have no mental health issues, I am educated and have a body that albeit achy sometimes, serves me more than well. But seeing how lonely and avid for connections many of these people were made me realize how important it is to have loving arms and ears when we feel that we cannot make it on our own, regardless of the reason.

I was disappointed with myself. I was too guilty of judging. Yes, whenever I would drive by the DTES I would give them a cold shoulder, I would say that the mental health issues that many face are not excuse for the poor and terrible choices that landed most of them on the streets, I would state without room for error that they were all dangerous, uneducated and probably a threat to everyone around them. I would avoid the area, I would pull up my windows and use it as a teaching moment for my son.  Without even knowing it, I had also sat on my high horse judging those that were not sitting by my side. I did not give them the benefit of the doubt, I thought I had it all figured it out about each of them, about their past, their present and their future. As it turns out, I was wrong. Each of those people living on the streets are unique. If you are brave enough to challenge your convenient ideas and look further, if you look at them as human beings and are open to embrace who they are, you will undoubtedly see that we are all the same: human beings longing for acceptance and connection, a kind word and a judgment-free area.

So I pledge that the next time I feel like judging someone, I would take a deep breath and think about the person I am about to judge, I will try hard not to get stuck in their past decisions and would try my best to only look at who they are today. I would ask myself: what do they need? what do they want? how can I help? What can I learn from them? I would work at making a connection from one human being to another human being. Want to join me?

 

Wings are not so easy to handle

We constantly repeat and hear things like “we want our children to be independent” “you only learn when you make mistakes” “give your children wings“.  But as one of my best friends said once: It is easier to call the devil than to see it coming.

Anyway, we have a very independent teen in our house. He is 13 but due to safety reasons in our home country, he never walked to school or rode a bike alone or took a bus. Things have changed though, now we live in beautiful BC and it was only a matter of time for him to want those things. For those of you that don’t live here, riding a bike in BC means being on the road, some have bike lanes but not all of them, so you basically share the road with cars. It took as a while to let him bike by himself, we studied the best roads for him to get to a specific destination and he’s been out 5-6 times alone. It is nerve wrecking I admit, but soon he’d be legally able to drive a car so it was hard to delay the biking.

And then the bus thing just happened. Last week with friends, but yesterday he wanted to go a specific soccer field by bus by himself, back and forth. Both my husband and I could have driven him, but we decided to zip it and we said ok. We checked the bus lines with him, agreed the best stops and the time to catch each bus. He made it without issues to the field. Coming back I called to check on him when I knew he was supposed to be on the bus and he says: “Hey mom, well I took the wrong bus and I am in downtown, but don’t worry, I already asked, I know which bus will take me home and I am just waiting for the bus to arrive”.

My whole body went into PANIC mode, the one triggered by your amygdala. It took all the self control possible to utter this words: “Ok, call me when you are in the bus“. I hung up, told dad, who surprisingly was even more concerned than me. We looked at each other and tacitly agreed that we should let him deal with this and do not even think of offering to go get him.

10 minutes later we decided to call to check on him and he was getting on the bus to come home. I decided to wait for him at the stop because it was getting dark. I told dad to stay home. When he came off the bus, he had a huge smile on his face, said FINALLY and gave me a big hug. He apologised for taking the wrong bus (to which I proudly responded, no worries son, that’s how you learn and you solved your problem) and he started telling me all about his bus adventure.

It was hard folks, it was hard not to come to the rescue and solve his mishap, it was hard controlling our protective instincts and let him handle the situation. But we are sure that this is what was right for him, it will strengthen his confidence, his self-esteem and the feeling that he has the resources to solve things.

This parenting thing becomes harder by the second, so if you have young children, hold on tight, it’s a scary but great ride!

 

 

Baby Luca

Luca is my first nephew. The first son of my not-so-little anymore brother. The first cousin of my son.

To the casual reader, these statements may not seem very relevant but they speak loudly to me.

Before I begin explaining them, let me just state the obvious: Luca stole my heart in a matter of seconds. His tiny body liked my chubby arms and chest while I loved feeling his heart beat, his breath and just watching him. We spent two weeks together and I cannot wait to hold him again. I am already addicted to receiving pictures and videos of him and sharing some of them with you all.

But let’s go back to my initial train of thought.

Luca is my first nephew and the first son of my not-so-little anymore brother: Man, I am 41, my brother 38 and it took him VERY long to decide to become a dad. I have practically begged him to make me an aunt since I can remember. So I guess the big thank you goes to my sis-in-law. Anyway, if you want to experience true mother-type love but without the constant worrying of “Am I doing it wrong?” make sure you have a nephew or a niece. It is loving someone with all your heart but without any anxiety or concerns. It does not get better than that. It is loving with freedom and feeling like a super hero.

Luca is the first cousin of my son: If we were a traditionally-formed family, I would have been a bit concerned that my son, now 13 and the youngest in the family, could feel some insecurities and even some jealousy. In our family, my concern was heightened because my son became a part of our family when he was 4 through adoption. So that made him not only the youngest but the only child that doesn’t share a biological bond with us.  I thought that perhaps he could be jealous of me deeply loving a baby with whom I do have a blood link or of my mom holding his first biological grandson or of his uncle whom he loves blindly.  When queried about feelings of jealousy –as we openly speak about feelings and fears- my son said: Yes, I am very jealous, because you and granny are always holding Luca and I want to hold him more.

So here’s to your birth and your life my dear Luca. Thank you for reminding us that family it’s about love, nothing else.

Auntie.

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Here we come again

Grieving is perhaps one of the most crushing experiences one could go through.  It forces you to face the reality of your own death and uncertainty that …, well just the uncertainty.

We go through life saying things like YOLO (you only live once for the non-Millenials reading) but are we actually fully aware of its significance? Are we aware that the last word we said to our loved ones might actually be the last word we ever say to them? Are we fully conscious that every second we spend with the people we love are truly gifts? Perhaps if we were, we would have held that last embrace or hug a little longer, we would have spent more time listening to the voice of those now gone or looked at their smile a little bit deeper. Yearning for that touch, that sound or that smile once they are no longer possible hurts in a way that only those who grieve can understand. The constant awareness or realization of the permanent physical absence crushes the strongest souls and overpowers any treasured memories.

I know this too shall pass. My rational self knows that this feeling of helplessness, the heavy chest and the teary eyes will pass.  My emotional self, though, feels tired of having to go through this again, of being forced to accept the feelings of abandonment that resurface every time someone close to my heart dies. But in the end, theirs or ours, acceptance is not subject to negotiation.