Love is Love: A Story in Three Parts – III

Part III

A few months ago, there was a night, like most nights, when I lay in bed with my four-year-old, Lark, snuggling her as she prepared to drift off to sleep. All parents know these moments, that fill you with such a fierce, protective, animal joy. Whispering, sharing dreamtime thoughts. As I tried to get her to settle down, I was fending off licks because she was also pretending to be a kitten.

At times my daughter seems to have the magic power of divining my thoughts. As we lay together in the darkness, I was brooding about Jess, the young woman who had been abandoned by her family when she was at her most needy and vulnerable. Just the day before, I had watched Episode 5 of Queer Eye. (see my previous post)

Out of the blue, my Lark piped up, voice small and disconsolate, “Mum, I would be very very sad if you gave me away.”

“I would never, ever give you away my sweet baby,” I said. “You are my beautiful child and I will love you forever.”

We were quiet for a moment. I was thinking of the long, hard struggle I’d gone through just to have this sky-rocket child in my life. About what a supreme gift it feels like to be her mother.

“Will you love me forever, even when I’m a grown-up?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said. “Even when you’re a grown-up. You will always be my baby.”

“Good,” she said. “Because I never want to leave you and I want to live with you forever in your house.”

I’ve been around this parenting block a few times, so I know that small children believe with utter conviction that they’ll want to live with their parents for the rest of their lives, even when they’re adults. I don’t want to disabuse my darlings of this notion, but I suspect that by the time they are 18, they’ll be ready to fly the coop.

“That’s fine. Of course you can live with us,” I told her with a kiss, but she had turned back into a kitten again and kept trying to lick me. 

After escaping and leaving her to sleep, I felt thoughtful, her little question, Will you love me forever, even when I’m a grown-up? replaying over and over in a loop.

That is what the human condition boils down to. Will I always be loved? I want to be loved and accepted. First, we seek to be sure of that love and acceptance from our family members, and then when we are older, we cast the net wider, and seek it from friends and partners. And if at some point, we lose that love and that safety, we lose our sense of self in the world.

If you ask any parent, they will tell you that their biggest fear is losing their children. I live with the unfortunate and realistic fear that both of my children will get brain tumours, but I’ve somehow had to come to grips with the possibility of that loss, and live our life with as much grace as I can muster with daily, hourly, minutely gratitude that it is MY privilege to be their mother in this life. 

Part of my gratitude towards them is acceptance. I work to accept them for who they are, with their likes and dislikes, which may not always align with my own. I accept them for their strengths and for their flaws. And I always let them know that FIRSTLY they are loved, and that when we hit roadblocks, we’ll find a way to overcome and muddle through together. 

And when I fuck up, which I do, often, I ask for their forgiveness, so they can see me owning my mistakes and moving on.

So I will love them when they make poor choices, like an ill-considered hair colour or gawd-awful tattoo. And I’ll champion them when they make good choices that lead to their success and happiness. And I’ll love them when they are acting awful and being completely self-absorbed, which they do, and they will, because they’re humans.

Love, compassion, gratitude and acceptance first. And the rest will fall into place.

Love is Love: A Story in Three Parts – II

Part II

Karamo. Tan. Jonathan. Bobby. Antoni.

If these names are not familiar to you, I kindly suggest that you rush off to Netflix and binge-watch the first 3 seasons of Queer Eye. I’ll wait.

Back? Let’s just enjoy this for a moment.

The Fab Five

Like pretty much everyone, I guess, I’ve been a bit obsessed with Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot over this past year. I’ve always loved a good makeover show for that promise of transformation: Your style was dismal and your house was tragic, but now we’ve fixed all the things!!

And Queer Eye hits the mark, every time, not just on those superficial things like fashion, design, and guacamole, but it actually manages to dig deep into what drives people and what’s damaged them too. The people on the show have suffered serious losses, and genuinely need help to find their way forward. And often these transformations take place not in urban areas, but in small-town USA, where the Fab Five are uniting formerly un-united areas of America in the era of Trump’s special brand of hatred.

Sure, there are times when the show is a bit too perfect and on the nose. We know when Karamo gets serious that it’s time to reach for the Kleenex. We’ve been conditioned, we know.

Everyone cries when Karamo hugs them. There’s just no getting around it.

For me, though, there was one episode of Season 3 that stood out: Episode 5. I didn’t just cry; I wept, big, copious tears.

The star of this episode is Jess. She’s a young, black, lesbian woman who was disowned by her adoptive parents at the age of 16 after she was outed by someone at school. At 23, she was struggling to find her way in the world, alone, without the guidance and support and love she might have expected from her family.

Early in the episode, she says, “I was hoping that despite all the stuff I heard as a young girl at church, they would realize, ‘Hey, that’s my kid, so of course I’m going to love them.'”

While I watched, immediately the thought of Joe (See previous post) and that conversation from all of those years ago popped into my head. Do people STILL really disown their kids for coming out? In 2019? The sad answer to that is yes.

Tragedy befalls all humans. We have no choice in the matter. We lose people in so many ways, to illness, age, horrific accident. But to CHOOSE this tragedy is something I can’t wrap my head around. To choose to never see your beloved child again, to make them homeless and family-less in one fell swoop: it’s a huge act of cowardice. When the truth is, that we have choice in whether or not we question the precepts of a religion.

In the course of my deep dive into everything Karamo and Queer Eye, I came across this conversation:

This is Karamo Brown and author Tara Westover of Educated fame discussing family, love and change. This is a good watch. As you may know, Tara was raised by survivalist Mormons in rural Idaho, and was never sent to school. Despite growing up in a family with extremely radical views, she went on to study at Cambridge, though in the process of gaining an education, became estranged from her family, as they couldn’t accept the ways in which her perspective of the world have shifted.

She tells Karamo:

When I went to Cambridge I had appalling views about gay people. I did. I’d grown up with them, it was what I’d been told, and I went to Cambridge and I was spewing these things, and someone took an entire night and argued with me about it. If someone hadn’t talked to me, seen me as a human being, a complete person, and said, ‘I don’t know why you think this awful thing, but I think you’re more than that,’ I never would’ve changed my mind.

And Karamo’s response:

Connecting with other people, taking a moment to empathetically listen to them, to challenge them to grow is what we can do, to share our stories and to make sure that we find common ground.

All of those years ago when I met Joe, I didn’t have the right tools to try to shift his perspective, as Tara’s friend did for her. I hope though, that now, as an adult, when I try to educate my kids about the world, I’ll teach them to keep questioning, not just others but themselves as well. Holding a rigid space for your own beliefs doesn’t permit empathy for other humans and their experiences.

At the end of the day, it’s all about love. We want love, we want support, we want empathy.

Karamo Brown

Naturally, I was curious about what happened to Jess after appearing on the show. A lot, as it happens. Some very kind people started a GoFundMe to send her back to college, which now has collected over $90,000.

Her Instagram is amazing. She looks beautiful and is having lots of adventures. She had this to say on one of her posts: “I am just so grateful for you all. Thank you for letting me into your hearts and accepting me with warm arms. Thank you for showing your children my story. I am happy to start that discussion. I am happy to let my struggle be the catalyst for change and acceptance. That’s why i did it.”

I’m wishing everyone in the LGBTQ+ community in Toronto a happy and safe Pride Weekend!

Love is Love: A Story in Three Parts – I

Part I

Our story begins, long ago, on a train platform. It is dark and chilly, because it is just before dawn, on a fall morning in 1998. This train station is in eastern Germany, and there are three people there waiting for a train to take them to Prague. 

Two of those people are me and the good friend I was travelling with.

Ye olden fashions of the 90’s.

The other person was an American guy. I’ll call him Joe. Joe asked us if he was on the correct platform to catch the train to Prague. In my memory, he is wearing a cowboy hat, but it’s possible this is a mental embellishment. Once we realized we were heading in the same direction, we fell in together as young travellers so often do, and my friend and I joined forces with him and eventually the group of friends he was heading to meet. Adventures ensued, but those are not what this story is about.

Train rides give you long, meandering hours to talk with people, and as we rattled along on that post-communist beast that lurched from side to side, we three talked of many things. Where we were from, who we were, where we were going. We were all from North America, we spoke the same language, and we were the same age. We had common ground, and later, we also had red wine, so the conversation flowed.

As the day went on, I began to understand though, that our world view was worlds apart. He mentioned in passing that he was Christian, which meant that he went to church, asked himself what Jesus would do, and would not say “Goddamnit” in polite company. He was, overall, what many would call a “good kid.” He was friendly and open in that American way that other nationalities mock, but are secretly jealous of. He’d probably been raised by good people in a middle-class American household. Like so many the world over, perhaps like all of us, he’d been raised with Christian beliefs and had never been taught to question those beliefs. They just were.

For me, religion was undefined, I had attended church as a dutiful child but stopped going many years before.  I did say Goddamnit and Jesus Christ and worse. I, too, was a good kid, struggling to be better. But I’d also grown up in Toronto, and as anyone who’s spent any time here knows, Toronto is a liberal place. It’s a city where the cultures of the world live side by side and try to get along. A city where we are free to vote as we like, dress as we like, and marry whom we like. It’s a city that is covered in rainbows just now to celebrate Pride Month.

Rainbows fly to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community in Toronto

In the course of this hours-long meandering chat, James said something that disturbed me and has stuck with me for all of these many years.

He told us that he didn’t know anyone who was gay. I remember smiling and saying that most likely, he just didn’t know that someone in his circle was gay yet. He insisted that this was so, and then added that, in any case, if one of his friends or family came out to him, he would have to stop speaking to him. Forever. My friend and I were incredulous. What do you mean, even if it was your best friend, or your brother, you would stop speaking to him, really never talk to him again? 

Yes, he said simply, without a trace of remorse. He explained that according to his faith, homosexuality is “wrong” and everyone knows that. So it was a given in his world, if someone came out, they would be shunned and that would be it.

Jesus Christ and Goddammit I thought to myself.

We spent some time talking in circles, my friend and I trying to convince our new buddy that his views were intolerant and bigoted. She and I fancied ourselves as open-minded arty types, so very liberal, yes? CERTAINLY we could talk him round to our way of thinking with a few incisive arguments.

In the Toronto world we lived in, any declared religion was viewed with skepticism at best. In our circle of friends and acquaintances, poeple were freely experimenting with sexuality – some were coming out, some were not. Some were on the fence and others were refusing labels altogether. In other words, there was a great spectrum of behaviour around sex and attraction that was deemed normal. While definitely not perfect, Toronto was a safe space for many to be authentic and live without fear of being victimized.

Ultimately, we couldn’t convince Joe. Some things are so deeply engrained, that it takes more than a couple of hours of idle chit-chat to chisel them away.

The train pulled into Prague. And when we parted, we were friendly, but not friends.

This conversation happened over 20 years ago, but it has stuck, because that was one of the first times that I remember meeting someone who so openly expressed homophobia and defended his position.

I thought that the world has moved on since then. But has it?

Stay tuned for Part II


Rainbow Brite

Spring in Toronto this year has been a bit dull and cool and rainy.

The other day, to combat the weather, I opened up a pack of vibrant pastels that had been lying around forever, and my Lark spent the day drawing rainbows. All the rainbows.

If it’s a little overcast where you are or in your mind, I hope you enjoy these.

We did this together. She told me, “Mum, I’m a better artist than you are.” Agreed, babe.
“A Portal to Roatan.” If only.

I love when a child tries something new and then runs with it. She is now in love with pastels. I’m in love with what she’s done.

Not so thrilled about pastel on the couch, the dining table, coffee table and bedsheets, but I’ll live!

Earth Day

Happy belated birthday, Earth!

Recently, I had the privilege of snorkelling in the aquamarine waters of Roatán, a small island off the coast of Honduras. My family and I went on a day trip to a very small cay, off the southeast coast of the island. We found a pristine reef with gem-coloured schooling fish, lurking sharks, and healthy, large coral formations.

Paradise Lost

Like so many tropical islands world-wide, tourism is the major industry in Roatán. While being a boon to the local economy, tourists in large numbers obviously also have a negative effect on the environment.

It’s the double-edged sword of travel: accepting that you have both a positive and negative impact on the place you are visiting.

Roatán is a beautiful, lush island, where the people are friendly and the beaches are stunning. However, garbage disposal is becoming more of an issue as the island gains popularity as a destination. And, like everywhere world-wide, plastic ocean debris is a huge issue. There is nothing more heart-rending than diving a reef system only to find plastic bags and other garbage cluttering up the coral, as this poses a giant threat to many marine species.

In places like Roatán, the locals are working hard to prevent the plastic from taking over. There is a twice-annual coastal cleanup, and the island has recently taken the initiative of instituting a partial ban on plastic straws and bags, which, by some estimates, make up very large amounts of the world’s plastic debris.

There’s no doubt about it, our Earth is under duress. Last month, young people world-wide took to the streets to call for political action on climate change. As we are all aware, sweeping reforms are imperative at this point.

Our snorkelling excursion was an unforgettable highlight of our holiday, for me and the 10 members of my family who were with me.

I hope my 10-year-old son never forgets what that day was like. To speed across turquoise seas to a magical, castaway island, to drop into those waters in the middle of nowhere, and to see perfect reef, still untouched by bleaching. Sharing that experience with him was special and wondrous and also bitter, because I fear that our future world is in danger of losing our reefs forever.

On Monday April 22nd, Earth Day, I spent time at the park with my little Lark. We enjoyed some spring sunshine together and looked in dismay round the playground, at the detritus of winter, left strewn everywhere. Coffee cups, butts, and random pieces of plastic.

We spent about 15 minutes picking up garbage and disposing of it in the bin. She came up with the idea of collecting the more interesting bits to create a piece of artwork. Together, we did this at home:

Found plastic collage.
Everything you see here was in our local playground.

Yes, I know that picking up a few pieces of rubbish isn’t a game-changer. And eventually, our found art will make its way into the garbage and to landfill.

Sometimes, in the face of a crisis this large, it’s hard to know what to do, how to act, how to create change.

Here are 3 small moves I’m starting with:

  1. Today I became a monthly donor at the Coral Reef Alliance. I care so deeply about this cause and the amazing work they do.
  2. I’m making a pact with myself to reduce the amount I drive.
  3. I’m taking full advantage of a neighbourhood initiative, Roncy Reduces, that has enlisted local businesses to allow customers to BYO containers, cups, etc. Even our local ice cream shop is on board, with bring your own bowl!

How do you try your best to be environmentally friendly? I’m genuinely curious, please share!