Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How Much Life Changes

I haven't been here in forever. Even though I said I would.

The basic fact of the matter was that this blog had bits and bobs and a few words and threads that related to a life long past. I knew it was one of those things, one of those places, I had to go to "purge" some of the old without sacrificing some of the good history. I didn't want it to read the way it once had, but I did want the references to small children and small hands and little girls with big hearts and big learning disabilities to remain.

So I came this morning, because I will be showing this blog as an example of my fine writing (modest, me, eh?). I came to "clean it out". To purge.

And really, one example of how much things had already changed in my personal life since the advent of this place for me (ie in the last 5 years), is that I didn't have to take too much out. Just a bit.

Just some references of a far-away, long-gone seemingly domestic life that the person that shares my life now might not want under his nose.

This is that wonderful person:

This is Mark, and we're getting married, in case you didn't know. We met almost three years ago thanks to our moms, and were instantly wonderful and supportive friends. We each were already in the midst of big changes, so we gave each other a strong hand and kind words to get through it. And at the end of it, we looked at each other and said "I believe we've fallen in love."

Mature love is something wonderful and grand, and yet brave at the same time.

You have to get past each others' "pasts". You have to knock images that float to you at stupid and obscure times out of your head and sternly forbid them from returning (which they often do, damn dark thoughts!). You have to trust more than you ever thought possible. We've been hurt. And we've done some hurting. So can we be each others' everything and always & forevers?

Mark proposed to me in a place that has always been special to us. Each for our own reasons, and as a couple as well. He got down on one knee and he promised to always love me, if I would let him always love me. I said yes, and promised the same back to him. I cried. He got a thumbs up from a man passing by. We laughed through tears. We need this love. We've needed it forever.

Now the wedding looms. Less than 5 months away. I am so excited. For the wedding and the planning and the ride Mark and I will share. And the future and all it's promise. With pride and a touch of humour I will be hyphenating my name. Part of it is pride to have the name I was born with rolling off my tongue with gusto (versus when I was a kid and it was a cumbersome burden of a big hard Italian name), the other part is pride to carry the name Mark has carried through his life. We are truly a unique pair, and the name is equally unique - Gasbarino-Knutt.

I cannot wait to stand before this wonderful, strong, lovely, great man and exchange vows. I cannot wait to hold his hands in mine and each be the others' focus as we make promises we long to make in front of the people we want to share it with. They won't all be there - Mark fears his loved ones from England will be unable to attend - but we will be there. And after all, in the end it is for us. A fine exclamation point to the end of the introductory chapter in the journey we have taken thus far. It's been hard at times, and so so so easy at times. But always there is this abiding love that floats us through.

And a comforting warm leg entwined with mine at the end of each day.

So I'm ready.

To share the next chapter.

till next time, friends.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I know I know, been awhile. Pull up a chair.


Okay, I know it's been awhile. But my life kind of had to go through a metamorphosis and then get to a comfy place before I could write again - and have it be more than just whining, poor me, or about my life. I am not about to start clarifying who did what or how things went down; not in this creative, thinking, cathartic place of mine. So therefore I needed the very long break.

And now. Now my head is sorting itself out and I find there are things ruminating up in there that I might want to write about again. Eat, Pray, Love is one of them. But I'm not finished the book yet so I'll be back for that one.

Maybe it was.....well a week or so ago I had a little meltdown. And maybe that was brought on by hormones (blessed be PMS) or maybe it wasn't, but I just couldn't shut up when I should. I couldn't finish a conversation well over and done (sorry Mark), and I just got myself more and more worked up. So I felt myself taking all these fears I have swirling around in my head and turning them in to three pages of "what if" prose; a short story about what the worst things that could happen if I ever went off the deep end of things. And it was amazing. It set me free. I wrote it and re-read it and cried. Twice. Then I named it and sent it to myself and put it away. I told Mark I wrote it but I didn't tell him what was in it and (bless him) he didn't ask.

So after I did that, I got really into reading again, which is another thing that sets me free, especially this particular book (thank you Diane). And so maybe THAT is what brings me back today.

Because in Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about being happy for the simple things, and about how impossible it is to NOT be miserable as a matter of course in today's society. Now I know I am not blogging about this book per sé, but I guess in an indirect way it's why I'm here. So bear with me.

I guess I've just been doing my best to relax about some things. Really try to make "if it is meant to be it will be" my mantra. Really trying to not drive anyone, especially myself, crazy. In so doing, one tries to remind themselves to really grab those little moments. Capture them. Like when your little guy is trying with all his might to master a somersault and you just really concentrate on it all so that you can remember the moment always.

So today I wasn't feeling all that great and I was certainly tired. But I came to work and then I kept my commitment to teach Pilates at noon. This is something I've been doing about 5 months now on a larger scale than I was. I teach anyone from this organization who wants to join. I proudly have over 40 signed waiver forms for participants though I certainly don't ever have 40 in the room at once. In the heart of the summer we've been lucky to have a dozen practicing, including me. But these are pretty respectable numbers for summer, so I've been happy enough. And it's been wonderful to "teach" again, to use prompts I didn't need to use with the 7 regulars.

So today, not feeling all that great, and probably not feeling all that grate-ful, I paused to look around the room at the ladies doing their leg-lifts. And I had one of those moments. Pause and take the picture, Karen. Look at them! Not a single one is rushing it; they have nice length, they are hovering off the floor like pros.

I smiled to myself and continued to watch periodically through the rest of the "legs portion" of our workout. Again when it came to leg circles for inner thighs I watched; I've really been coaching on this one because it's a hard move and if you do it wrong not only are you not targeting your inner thighs, but you could hurt your knees.

And lo! They were brilliant! Each and every one of them was just doing their best! Absolutely getting it right even if it was the slowest or the smallest circle possible.

My eyes opened as if I were seeing the colours in the room for the first time. I felt real gratitude for being there at that moment. I was so glad they were coming, entrusting me with their physical well being for an hour a couple of times a week.

And at the end of the class I applauded THEM.

So. Yeah. That's why I'm back. I think. I guess time will tell! But as you ALL know, I have loads to say! So, let's see where we are, shall we? (Oh, and thank you for taking the time to read this!)



Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Editorial to All Toronto Cyclists

I know I cannot be considered in any way a professional or serious cyclist. I don't have the clothes or the gear, the water bottle holder or anything at all resembling "decked out" (although, I do have a pretty cool Matterhorn Mountain Bike, a very cool lock, and a pretty decent bell).

But I am riding to work these days. Well for one thing it's a great work out (OH MY QUADS) and for another our second car just died and we haven't yet taken the plunge to buy a new one.

So this riding business is new. Real new. Wasn't much into riding MAJOR thoroughfares as a rider when I would go for after work rides in the park. Stayed to side streets mostly, and the park trails. Wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere, so the route wasn't so key.

But now, as my form of transportation, the route is important, as is the time it takes to get there and back. And let me tell you, some of the west Toronto roadways are CRAP! Sure, who cares about the pot holes at the side of the road? No one is at the side of the road. YES WE ARE! Hellll-ooooo, it's us cyclists at the side of the road! Trying to avoid being hit by that idiot making a right turn or that truck coming within inches of my handlebar!

Cyclists of Toronto, I am VERY sorry! I am sorry if I was ever disrespectful to you as a driver. I am sorry that you don't have nice smooth roadsides in which to ride. I am sorry that sometimes you don't get seen. Or heard. Or listened to when you make your pleas.

There are bike laws here - serious ones. And one of the infractions is driving on the sidewalk. Well, come and get me Metro Police, because I am NOT riding on the road on Evan's Avenue EVER AGAIN. Tonight the trucks were especially rude, and the potholes especially jarring. My head felt ever so bobble-ish. I actually had to stand and hop several in a row. I feared my bike would fall apart in the middle of the road from the absorption of it. And I have GOOD shocks!

So see me on Evan's Ave sidewalks - which I don't feel that badly about because it is an industrial area and not too many pedestrians. If an officer were to pull me over, I would show the lovely constable the REASON I will choose to use the sidewalk in this one spot.

It's not all bad though. Some drivers are downright decent (thank you, Bell Canada guy in the van!) and other cyclists acknowledge you. I feel good for doing it on many levels. The office has a nice lock-up provided. No hassles there. And part of the route IS bike friendly, just not the end part on the way home, which I have yet to figure out fully.

But I just wanted to say that I fully understand all the lobbying cyclist groups do to try to get better conditions for themselves. I mean, all the environmental groups, and even our local and provincial governments, are pushing for us to be more healthy, more green in our approach to transportation. All very well and good - but then why are there so many roadblocks for cyclists to endure and overcome in their pursuit of something good on so many levels?

Stop talking out the sides of your mouths, government officials. Give the cyclists better riding conditions. THEN maybe you WILL have more of them on the road.

Thanks for listening! Ride On!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

unfinished business

Sometimes you think to yourself that you'll get to that thing tomorrow or next week or maybe a month from now. Then those times come and go and lo if you forgot to do that thing next week or next month or even a year from now.

But what IF that bus really did hop the curb and knock out all your tomorrows, next weeks or next months? Wouldn't you really wish you'd taken the kids to the zoo, painted the bathroom, lived that life you really want to live?

All this talk lately of past great essays and everyone KNOWING how verbose I am (yes, sorry if I go too fast and say too much and don't wait for you to catch up!!!) has got me to thinking about how I ought to finish that book.

You know, I really OUGHT to paint the bathroom.
I ought to get a new bathroom sink.
I ought to clean out the basement storage room.
I ought to take the kids to the zoo.
And I really ought to finish my novel. It's pretty good actually. People might like to read it. It's never too late for such an endeavour....

stayed tuned.....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Teacher Teacher, Can You Teach Me?

When I was in 4th year at York University, I took a course on Hemingway and Faulkner. It was an exciting course, the best I had ever taken. I learned a lot that year, from an incredibly talented English Professor named Don Sumemrhayes. His insight was incredible, and the discussions he encouraged pretty much ALWAYS left the group of 20 or so of us groaning each week when we realized the class was at an end.

At the end of that year we had a final essay worth 50% of our grade. We were to take one of the dozen books we had read and write about it in that traditional sense, calling to mind the various literary tools the book used to engage its reader. It was to have been a traditional essay format, at least as far as we understood.

I couldn’t wrap my head around it. In no way could I explain how I felt about To Have and Have Not in a way that would be as intelligible as all the in-class conversations had been with all those big-brains in the class. But I DID feel strongly. So I re-wrote the entire ending of the book. No explanation. Just prose. My entire essay spoke for itself.

I was illustrating what Prof. Summerhayes said when we argued about whether or not a writer’s meaning could be interpreted using our own set of assumptions and life experiences; about whether or not the Deconstruction Theory could be applied to someone else’s work. I had always argued that if they put it out there, one could not help but attach their own meaning to the work. I felt I must therefore be a deconstructionist. And as such, I decided to do something bold and risky. And it was an intense exercise – it was both invigorating and intrusive, taking a writer such as Papa, and reworking him, forsaking his work as his own private canvass.

I really worked at it to get the feel for the writing style; I wanted it to look RIGHT, as though the pages could have been found amongst his things – the alternate ending he had debated for himself. I was scared the day I handed that 20 pages in. I really worried and lost sleep while it was out being graded. And on the day they were handed back I had a pit in my stomach the size of a grapefruit.

He didn’t hand mine back and he asked me to stay.

Uh-oh. What had I done? I about died.

The other students got theirs and all left the room with a backward glance to me. Was I about to fail? Convocation was mere weeks away. I was about to become the first University Degree Holder in my family since my Grandfather. Or was I? Had I risked it all to do some 4th year cocky English major boneheaded move?

He looked at me, that wonderful old hippie with long white hair in a ponytail and a beard, Our own Modern Hemingway. He slid it upside down across the table to me.

Tapping with his left fingers as he eyed me carefully, he sat back and told me to turn it over. I almost couldn't do it. I was so afraid.


His written comment beside that glorious grade:
“A Most Brave and Wonderful Essay, and a joy to read.”

Here I had desecrated the sacred Hemingway, in a really big way, and I got my first EVER A+, weeks away from graduation. (I mean ever here. I'd scored a couple of A's in high school. But I was never considered an A student. And had NEVER received an A+).

I was on cloud 9 for weeks, and still am whenever I think about that class, that teacher, the one who had made all the difference to me. He asked me for a copy of the essay for his own, that it was so good he wanted to put it amongst the highlights of that course. I kept the marked up one and gave him a new one. And as my reward he gave me his own book of poetry, with a gorgeous inscription about a “kindred spirit” and wishing me the best in life.

We have ALL had a teacher, at some point, who has made THAT MUCH of a difference to us. Sarah’s too young yet to have had hers, but it will come, and when it happens, we’ll be able to tell from the gleam in her eye that she’s arrived at that pinnacle of her education career where someone has touched her mind in a way that she never thought possible.

For some people, our teachers, those who make us reach incredible heights, might be a parent or friend or someone else we admire beyond words. But either way, it happens. If it hasn’t happened for you yet, regardless of your age, it will!

Teachers have a wonderful place in our lives, as one of the few people who will share some responsibility for molding our minds and opening our hearts and eyes to wonder.

(I encourage you, if you're interested, to click on the links I've provided to Hemingway and Faulkner and Deconstruction Theory - all good fun!)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Finding Family.....

There are few among us who could possibly understand what it's like.

On one hand, you were chosen by someone. Someone PICKED you ahead of others. Something about you drew them to you and they decided to make you their family. That is special.

But in the back of your mind, the nagging question "why"? The nagging hurt. The thirst for answers. The need to know the reasons why someone else chose to LEAVE you.

So picked on one hand, and abandoned on the other. Life as an oxymoron.

I am speaking, of course, about adoption. Amazingly, almost every quarter of my family life has a story within it about adoption, abandonment, and inevitably finding family. Some of the stories are happy, and some verge on tragic. Some are very private and quiet, while others are very open, honest, and wonderful.

Rarely in each of these family units has every single sibling been able to "get on board" with the finding. Some are on awhile and then fall off. Some don't understand or even try. Others try but fail. And still others embrace it for what it is: a chance to know the person who for whatever reason got left behind.

I won't tell tales that I haven't been given permission to tell. But a relative of mine has found a second family and for the most part it has been wonderful. At the very least he has a very loving sister and his children have cousins who are unmistakeably related - and there is much love.

Another relative had to give a child up and had to endure the pain of finding and losing said child not once but thrice as they could not resolve too many past differences, and said relative's subsequent children could not [all] reconcile themselves to it. It has been too painful to watch; too much heartache for both parties.

Still others have never sought. My dad was not raised by his mother, but by a step-mother he called Mom. He never had much interest in knowing the "other side". My mom and I tried to delve in to it, but we hit roadblocks and kind of abandoned it. And since my dad didn't feel it was worthy of our time or effort, it didn't feel as important as other searches. In a way, that is painful too. But on the other hand, it could just be that he was happy with the idea of his step-mother choosing him and his father. Maybe he doesn't have a burning desire to know. Or maybe he does and we'll never know.

The stories are all intense. All involve someone wonderful "stepping up" in light of the reality and being a wonderful partner or parent. But none is so wonderful, emotional, or mysterious as my mother's adoption story.

My mom was one of 5 siblings and one on the way in 1945, at the end of the second world war.

The men were coming home from the fight. How many of these came home to unexpected children where the math simply didn't add up?

That was what happened in my mom's case. He came home to his own three daughters, plus a boy and a girl and one on the way that were clearly not his.

We have no idea what happened. But in the end, the man took his three daughters "home" to England, the boy and the girl were taken away, and the baby was born and adopted in infancy.

My mother was almost 5 when Doug and Eva Jackson "chose" her. She grew up knowing full well that she was adopted. She grew up knowing that she'd had a first family, but some of the memories faded, only to come back as she dug in to find the truth much later.

In about 1977, my mother found first her brother, who at 5 at the time of the "abandonment" never got adopted. He had found their birth mother some years earlier, and had reestablished contact intermittently with the sisters in England. But though he was interested, he was unable to embrace the whole idea of new family, of my sister and I as nieces, of my mother has his baby sister. He cares, but there is definitely a wall. And I certainly understand it. At 5, the pain would not have dulled over time. Instead, the feral nature of the feelings of being ripped from hearth and home and happiness and security would last forever. A five year old can not reason. A five year old ONLY knows that they are being left behind, taken away, punished for unseen reason. So if he can't let down his guard, it's because of a life of feeling left behind and of feeling punished for something that was never his doing or responsibility.

Through her brother my mom got in touch with her own mother. From about 1978-1985 there was a "relationship". Dana and I called her grandma. We dressed in her jewelry and posed for silly pictures. We fed her bird. We ate her lemon meringue pie. We visited pretty much every weekend. And we got few answers. The shame of it for me is that I was too young to ask questions of my own, to push for details where they were lacking. At the time, my mom was just so happy to get "something" that she didn't think to ask for more; and she had no reason to believe that the details she was getting weren't the truth. But there were gaps. And no answers forthcoming for that.

When had her husband gone back to England with the girls? Where was she when Children's Aid took the two small children? Why didn't she talk about the baby girl? Where did she have the baby girl? Who was the father (or fathers) in question?

Eventually, the relationship faltered. Lots of reasons for it, as in most cases when it happens. Eventually the weight of the truth (or lack of it) bubbles to the surface and makes it hard to just sit and have small talk. But also, people who have found another sometimes get a sense of entitlement that doesn't exist in reality; they want to be "the" brother, "the" mother. "the" daughter, "the" grandmother. And that could hurt the other side: the chosen side. And people don't understand. And so a rift grows. Words are said. Sides are chosen. And the tentative strands of a relationship fall apart, disintegrate under the weight of the pain and questions that still remain.

But then.
Then a few years later, with all of generation one (those who left behind and those who chose) gone, the ability to seek answers becomes slightly less painful, slightly more urgent. Records are sought; distant family is approached for truth. The tendrils of inquiry are sent out to the rest who are left behind. Someone sees an internet family tree. Sends an email. Poses the question.

And the next thing you know, there are nieces and nephews and nephews-in-law and grandnieces and nephews and babies on the way, and children and family resemblances and similar humours to share and undeniably, you've found family!

None of that uncomfortable stuff. Those who embrace it want to know the truth; believe what truth there is, desire to know a family they just realized was there. Suddenly a connection to a deceased parent, to a place they heard about but have never experienced. Suddenly a cousin who quickly becomes the huge pain in the butt she always would have been had you the opportunity to grow up knowing her (I of course, being that cousin).

My sister Dana and I had NO cousins. None. We had no aunts or uncles. We had each other, and that was it (so she got me as the pain in the butt - poor thing!). We have each taken turn weaving in and out of the various degrees of our mom's searching. We've both been on board at different times or staunchly removed at others (as Eva Jackson got closer to the end of her days, I became anti-anything related to pre-adoption. I was young and I felt it would be disrespectful to the Grandma I admired so much).

But now here we are. And we have a RAFT of family in England! We have found my mother's sister Betty's children! And grandchildren! And one on the way! Most are happy for it. Others are tentative. It takes getting used to. Some never will. And that has to be respected.

But it's there. A brand new old family to learn about and tease and eventually meet and embrace for real.

And at the same time, the Ontario Adoption Records just opened, allowing adoptees to apply for "the truth" which my mom has done and hopes to find even more answers in.

It's strange and wonderful. Yes, we must tread carefully. There's a lot of past there to wade through. Not everyone's going to be as thrilled. And some may weave in and out as we have done in turn.

But right now, my mom, my sister and myself are all connected to England. And it's wonderful stuff. A sense of history. A sense of belonging. A family.

I can't wait to meet you, family!
Thanks mom, for doing the grunt work, for finding these funny and great and wonderful people!

Love to you all.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Sometimes commercial companies DO really do some good....

My dear friend Julie is all about too much consumerism, and helping others increase their awareness of those times when companies manipulate us under the guise of "trying to help". You know, the formula companies sending their product to underdeveloped nations to "help" mothers feed their babies (there are all kinds of ways from Sunday to argue how that is very backhanded "helping"). And other instances: "Buy our product and we'll donate one dollar to the cancer society." "Use this coupon for this food and the kids' help phone will get our support." "Buy this kids' meal and we'll support the hospital for sick children." Etc etc etc. The whole thing is designed to push a button in you, the emotional, nurturing self, in order to get you to buy their product. Sure, they may have done something decent along the pathway to consumer dollars, but still the bottom line was that you bought THEIR product and not another companies'.


I truly believe that there is a time when that level of branding can do GOOD in the world. In this instance I am speaking specifically about the Dove Sleepover for Self Esteem, which takes place tomorrow evening at 7:00. It is a completely free event, hosted by Dove (okay, yes, Unilever Canada) and YTV and WTV (okay, yes, Corus Entertainment won't be hurting by doing it either).

It is an event whereby Mothers and Daughters and Aunties and Cousins and Nieces and Friends are encouraged to come together, to have a sleepover, to do girlie things that make us feel special, to get into our jammies, and watch an endearing movie about strength and fortitude and women(girls) standing up for themselves. There is a pre-show and all of the "commercial slots" go back to a host who is at a (probably studio set) sleepover, and who brings up some of the issues with a group of girls. There is also a very good website (link above) where you can download discussion ideas, invitations, games and recipe suggestions.

I suppose if I were to be fair, there are a couple of minor issues. First of all, yes yes yes, I had to buy some product in order to fully "play the game of participation". But that was my own decision, and I thought it was a good idea. Buy a couple of Dove products and get PJ bottoms for the event. Why not? I need shampoo anyway, don't I? So I did it. I bought into it and sent away for the pants. A couple of minor mishaps later, Sarah and I both have pants! And okay, yeah, I get it. But it's all part of the adventure for us, so I think it's okay.

Also, I ended up falling into the trap last year by accident (in other words, there was nothing else on). To my mind it seemed like a really good idea and a really nice thing to do for young girls, but the host was over the top and dare I say it? Hokey. She was a hokey, silly woman. BUT, the idea was a solid one. So I said that maybe this year Sarah would be old enough and it could be something we could do together. AND, I am actually quite excited. This year's host is a younger woman (that was problem one last year), can identify with the kids better, and is someone anyone who has ever watched TV for kids has seen. She is likeable, and most importantly, I like her. I encourage you to look her up here. She is bound for big things.

Well, here it is. We're going to my sister's house, we're taking our jammies and cream soda and nachos and stuff for facials and pedicures. We're going to watch the pre-show and Ella Enchanted on YTV. With luck my niece Kelsey will stick around (Sarah would LOVE that!). I'll ask Sarah what she thinks of the content (questions about friends who tell secrets, exclude people, show off, bully, etc). I'll sit with her and put my arm around her and enjoy every moment. I'll dance with her and get goofy with her. I'll let her stay up late.

I'll let her be on a self-esteem high; where she is the center of attention and she feels special.

That, to me, is what it's all about. I know Dove will make money on the thing. They'll get recognition. Their very target group will be impressed with them and therefore purchase their product as that emotional button is pushed.

BUT, my girl, and countless others like her, all across the country, will all be sitting down together to build stronger relationships with each other. They'll be working on better understanding how other girls think and act. They'll come away from it maybe feeling a little more confidant in their role - understanding that feelings they have are shared by every other girl their age. They'll feel good. And their moms, aunts, and grandmas might understand them a bit better too.

So isn't that what it's all about? Doesn't that make it worth it?

I think it does. I think that sometimes, every now and then, sneaky ad campaigns to get us to buy in actually DO help us and society.

What about you? What do you think?

*Overturning the Tables
written by Julie Kinkaid, United Church Publishing House 2008. Designed by Diane Renault-Collicott.