‘I Am Not A Teacher, But An Awakener.’ – Robert Frost

Not everyone can remember the exact moment when they had their first life changing moment

I can

I was in grade two

We were gathered around on the floor waiting to meet our new teacher

Everyone was excited and nervous

A little background:

I’d gone to the same school since Junior Kindergarten

It was a Catholic elementary school

With predominantly Italian-Canadian kids like me

The teachers were mostly Italian descent as well

They were all what you’d picture elementary school teachers to look and dress like

I liked my teachers enough

I liked school enough

And then Art walked in

Right into my grade two classroom

I knew things wouldn’t be the same

My jaw dropped, along with pretty much all the other kids

It was a woman with platinum blonde crimped hair and she wore a sorta green taffeta Victorian style dress

She had thick black eyeliner and red lip stick and pointy boots

I had never seen something so beautiful before

While the other kids were murmuring to each other that she they thought she looked kinda weird

I just sat there

And thought ‘I want to be just like her when I grow up’

I was lucky enough to have Ms. T as my teacher, 3 times over the years

She was so artistic and creative

And I loved the creative writing prompts she would give us

Where I could write whatever I wanted

We would read in front of the class

Which undoubtedly gave me the confidence that I still have today, to enjoy public speaking (somewhat of a rarity for anxiety-sufferers)

I can’t even count how many times she told me how much she believed in me, even standing up for me, when it was appropriate

Me

A little girl, then a 10 year old brat and lastly a weird 12 year old unsure of her place in the world

She would often see me standing waiting for the bus after school

And would drive me home

I absolutely loved those moments

When I felt I had a special connection with her that the other kids didn’t have

I looked forward to seeing her yellow Jeep driving down the street towards me

I’d sit in the front passenger seat and chat

I left the Jeep positively glowing

Even now when I look back on my memories, it comes with a sort of magic

Which is fitting since I was sure she was a witch with her clothes, shoes and makeup

But not the scary kinda witch that kids are often afraid of

No, Ms. T was the good witch

The one that carried a little bit of magic in her Victorian lace pockets

The magic that made me love learning and writing

Sprinkling just enough of it for me to feel so at ease and happy in her presence

When I got into high school

I was already expressing myself differently

Dying my hair

And wearing all black

Later painting my eyes black

And so on

Life had shifted so dramatically

Where I once loved to learn with an amazing teacher

Now I was often being kicked out of class for not wearing the uniform to the various teachers liking

I hated English classes almost more than any

I had two different teachers

That would pick on me mercilessly in front of the entire class

About my make up

About my hair

About my jewellery

About me

I wish I could tell you it didn’t bother me

But it had a profound effect on me

I started to hate school and resent these teachers

Most authority figures too

In the dreaded math class where I struggled the most

I was kicked out so often that I got frustrated and annoyed

I remember saying to the teacher and later to the Vice Principal

That it just didn’t make any sense

To kick me out of a class that I’d needed the most help with

I grew disenfranchised and apathetic to learning

I skipped school a lot

What was the point, I’d probably get kicked out for a uniform infraction or another

I’d see other girls often not even in uniform, and they’d make it through, completely unscathed

Over the years I’d still run into Ms. T and she always made me feel just as special as that kid who got rides in her Jeep

I couldn’t understand how she could be in the same profession as these other teachers who seemed to care more about deterring young women from figuring out who they were than of any real learning

In grade eleven, there was a new Principal and she hated me on sight

There was a meeting held

I think my father came

I can’t remember much of it

I hated school

I didn’t want to leave my friends

But I couldn’t keep doing this

The meeting had a lot to do with the school urging me to change my ‘look’

Or face the consequences

Not change my behaviour

Just the way I looked

I’d been told by my family numerous times

That it would be so much easier if I could just change

I knew they were trying to help what was becoming a horrible situation

I just couldn’t do it

I remember once my best friend and I swapped outfits as a joke

She wore my ripped shorts and flannel with a band tee and I wore her neatly pressed button up blouse with dressy shorts

I felt like my skin was crawling

I don’t know how else to explain it

I felt fake

I felt like everyone could see me without my clothes on

To have changed my outward appearance was simply not an option for me

I left the school

I went to an alternative public school

Which was the polar opposite of what I was used to

In every imaginable way

I still stood out, it just wasn’t a big deal

I wish I could say I was able to get back what I’d lost

That love of learning

But by this point I just wanted to graduate and never look back

I missed my friends most of whom I’d known since elementary school

I missed being around kids of the same culture I’d grown up in

It was kinda a culture shock

I remember urging my parents not to attend graduation

Fearful of how much they would stand out in a sea of waspy parents

Ironic right?

Sure I was lucky enough to have awesome teachers once again

Even one who let me focus my entire Independent Studies in Anarchy as a political ‘structure’

I still smile at that

Unfortunately, I never enjoyed school the way I had previously

I look back at my life of the years

Of course I think maybe it would have been easier if I’d somehow chosen on a different path

But it just never felt like a choice

Truthfully, I cannot imagine it any other way

I don’t think I really even want to

And I’m certain that Ms. T walked into my classroom and changed the trajectory of my life in the best way possible

I hope she knows for that, I will always be grateful

Through the difficulties, through it all

I can unequivocally say that the one thing I’m completely comfortable in, is my own skin and who I am as an individual

Which so many people, never seem to achieve

More-so, I’m confident in who I am

I owe it to Ms. T

After all, she steered me clear of becoming anything but boring

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‘Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Once upon a time

There lived a young woman

She grew up always knowing she was different

Like the odd one out

From being a little child, to a rebellious teenager and now as a young adult

She felt alone a lot

Always feeling like an outsider

One morning, she woke and before opening her eyes

She knew something had changed

As she rose from bed and opened the drapes

She sensed things would never be the same again

She looked outside

The neighbourhood sat in front of her

Nothing seemed out of sorts

She changed and readied herself for the day

Not bothering to look in the mirror

She knew what she looked like

She always stood out

No matter what she wore, or didn’t wear

Walking outside, she looked around

The people around her walked alongside her

Everyone else blended in so easily

She envied them for that

She’d tried once

To blend in

It all just felt so wrong

Like she’d put on someone else’s skin

She made it to work and went to the restroom

She looked at herself in the mirror for a long while

Nothing appeared to have changed

She was still herself

That both made her feel relieved and disappointed

She heard the toilet flush and someone came to stand beside her

In front of the mirror

When she looked beside her

The other woman standing there looked totally unlike her

No similarities at all

That wasn’t unusual

She never had much in common with others

The woman was bland

The type of person you’d forget about as soon as you looked away

The other woman’s reaction was unusual however

The stranger didn’t even seem to notice her

Didn’t bat an eye

The young woman thought maybe she’d seen this person before

Often when new people met her

They stared in shock, in awe, in disgust, in well something

She looked at her again

Trying to remember if she’d met her

It was hard to tell, she thought

The other woman looked like so many others

The young woman looked straight ahead

Staring into the mirror

And when she caught sight of herself

Beside the other woman

She gasped

And that’s the only way she could determine who was whom

Through the mirrors reflection

Standing there

Looking straight ahead

She saw two women

Identical in their unimpressionable appearances

Her hand fluttered to cover her mouth

So did the plain woman in the mirror

This couldn’t be, she thought to herself

The other woman washed up and left the restroom

The young woman stood there staring at her solitary reflection

Now that she had seen it

She couldn’t stop unseeing it

All the sameness between her and the other woman

Another person entered and came over to wash their hands

The young woman looked over

Again noticing how plain the new woman looked

She reluctantly looked into the mirror

Her stomach began to churn

She raised her arm

So did the woman in the mirror

The other plain Jane in the room

She settled her arm by her side

The woman beside her finished up and left

The young woman thought back to her previous night

Had something happened?

She remembered coming home from work

She remembered feeling annoyed

She had taken public transit

She remembered how everyone had made her feel so uncomfortable

They stared unabashedly

Some talked to their friends about her

Right in front of her!

This wasn’t anything new

It happened whenever people saw her for the first time

A memory crossed her mind

She’d gotten home, feeling frustrated, lonely and like a social outcast

She’d drawn a bubble bath

Sighing as she got in

She wished not for the first time

That she could be just like everybody else and feel content about it

The young woman stared at herself in the mirror again

Seeing the reflection that stared back at her

Noticing nothing about her

She looked like every other person she was used to encountering

She felt her hands begin to tremble

Had she somehow put this in motion?

Had she wished it too many times?

Had she gotten what she wanted?

The young woman began to cry

In an instant memories flooded her mind

With every occasion someone mentioned how special she was, in her different-ness

Every instance someone remarked at how unique she was

Every single time she had wished herself away

What had she done?

She collapsed to the floor with a loud thud

People came running

Someone yelled ‘call an ambulance’

‘She’s collapsed’

As the ambulance came to take her away

Her coworkers stood around

The young woman didn’t open her eyes but she could hear everyone murmuring

Someone said

‘Who was that woman?’

Another person replied ‘Never seen her before.’

The young woman wanted to yell at them

She was the same person who’d worked there for years!

She heard someone say her name, they were worried that no one had seen her that day

‘Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Once upon a time

There lived a young woman

She grew up always knowing she was different

Like the odd one out

From being a little child, to a rebellious teenager and now as a young adult

She felt alone a lot

Always feeling like an outsider

One morning, she woke and before opening her eyes

She knew something had changed

As she rose from bed and opened the drapes

She sensed things would never be the same again

She looked outside

The neighbourhood sat in front of her

Nothing seemed out of sorts

She changed and readied herself for the day

Not bothering to look in the mirror

She knew what she looked like

She always stood out

No matter what she wore, or didn’t wear

Walking outside, she looked around

The people around her walked alongside her

Everyone else blended in so easily

She envied them for that

She’d tried once

To blend in

It all just felt so wrong

Like she’d put on someone else’s skin

She made it to work and went to the restroom

She looked at herself in the mirror for a long while

Nothing appeared to have changed

She was still herself

That both made her feel relieved and disappointed

She heard the toilet flush and someone came to stand beside her

In front of the mirror

When she looked beside her

The other woman standing there looked totally unlike her

No similarities at all

That wasn’t unusual

She never had much in common with others

The woman was bland

The type of person you’d forget about as soon as you looked away

The other woman’s reaction was unusual however

The stranger didn’t even seem to notice her

Didn’t bat an eye

The young woman thought maybe she’d seen this person before

Often when new people met her

They stared in shock, in awe, in disgust, in well something

She looked at her again

Trying to remember if she’d met her

It was hard to tell, she thought

The other woman looked like so many others

The young woman straight ahead

Staring into the mirror

And when she caught sight of herself

Beside the other woman

She gasped

And that’s the only way she could determine who was whom

Through the mirrors reflection

Standing there

Looking straight ahead

She saw two women

Identical in their unimpressionable appearances

Her hand fluttered to cover her mouth

So did the plain woman in the mirror

This couldn’t be, she thought to herself

The other woman washed up and left the restroom

The young woman stood there staring at her solitary reflection

Now that she had seen it

She couldn’t stop unseeing it

All the sameness between her and the other woman

Another person entered and came over to wash their hands

The young woman looked over

Again noticing how plain the new woman looked

She reluctantly looked into the mirror

Her stomach began to churn

She raised her arm

So did the woman in the mirror

The other plain Jane in the room

She settled her arm by her side

The woman beside her finished up and left

The young woman thought back to her previous night

Had something happened?

She remembered coming home from work

She remembered feeling annoyed

She had taken public transit

She remembered how everyone had made her feel so uncomfortable

They stared unabashedly

Some talked to their friends about her

Right in front of her!

This wasn’t anything new

It happened whenever people saw her for the first time

A memory crossed her mind

She’d gotten home, feeling frustrated, lonely and like a social outcast

She’d drawn a bubble bath

Sighing as she got in

She wished not for the first time

That she could be just like everybody else and feel content about it

The young woman stared at herself in the mirror again

Seeing the reflection that stared back at her

Noticing nothing about her

She looked like every other person she was used to encountering

Out of everything missing

What she noticed most

Was the absence of the spark she used to have in her eyes

She felt her hands begin to tremble

Had she somehow put this in motion?

Had she wished it too many times?

Had she gotten what she wanted?

The young woman began to cry

In an instant memories flooded her mind

With every occasion someone mentioned how special she was, in her different-ness

Every instance someone remarked at how unique she was

Every single time she had wished herself away

What had she done?

She collapsed to the floor with a loud thud

People came running

Someone yelled ‘call an ambulance’

‘She’s collapsed’

As the ambulance came to take her away

Her coworkers stood around

The young woman didn’t open her eyes but she could hear everyone murmuring

Someone said

‘Who was that woman?’

Another person replied ‘Never seen her before.’

The young woman wanted to yell at them

She was the same person who’d worked there for years!

She heard someone say her name, they were worried that no one had seen her that day

‘But black roses and Hail Mary’s can’t bring back what’s taken from me’

It’s with a heavy heart that I write this blog tonight

My doctor has assessed me and has determined that I’m not medically fit to work right now

So, I’m taking a leave

I’m not sure for how long

Starting now

Part of me thinks I can never return to a place that made me doubt myself so many times

Questioning my value

Questioning my worth

I don’t care what anyone says

It was personal

It still is

And I can’t pretend that doesn’t hurt

Part of me is terrified at the prospect of starting over

Again

I’ve never had to look for a job carrying the weight of an MS diagnosis on my back

I don’t know how I feel carrying that burden into a new environment

I’m scared to go from one unsupportive employer to another

Let’s be real shall we?

Who wants to hire someone who is likely to take a lot of sick days?

Even if said person is fucking stellar…

On the days they are there

From a production point of view

It just doesn’t make sense

In their terms

I will always be a liability

And not an asset

So where do I go?

Even with certification I don’t have enough letters behind my name to start up a private practice

I’ve never really learned to do anything else

But you know talk to youth

What will I do if I can’t do that?

I’m not so egocentric as to think there won’t be others who are more skilled at engaging youth than I

And I will be replaced

As if I was never even there

Maybe just a cautionary tale for new staff

I’ll just be another adult who abandoned the kids I currently work with

All that work building trust

Gone just like me

They’ll look back on their time with me with bitterness and a reminder to never let someone get too close

And I’ll carry that guilt with me

And let me tell you kid

I fucking get it

I trusted too

I placed faith in my employer

And I’ll look back on this time with bitterness and a reminder to never let anyone see your weaknesses

After all this and I can still relate to those kids so damn much

For them, I’m sorry

I don’t know what’s next

And that is probably why my heart is beating out of my chest and my stomach is warring against itself

What will I do while I’m home?

Will I get worse with nothing to occupy my needy brain?

Will I sit around in my pjs and anxiously pick at the thoughts reverberating in my brain?

It’s okay

And I think to myself over and over again,

Not every story gets a happy ending

Not even when I’m writing it

And especially not when it’s my story

And it’s okay

It’s gonna be okay…

Amidst the chaos of my life

I remembered that unlike so many I like change

I’m not afraid of change

I like to take chances

My school transcript is a clear indication of that

I remember my dad once, while driving me around

Said to me ‘I respect that if you don’t like something you leave it’

I was surprised never thinking that he would have such an open mind

I’ve done it with jobs too

It’s never been the job that I loved in the first place

Instead it’s the kids I’ve been lucky enough to work with

Unfortunately sometimes the job steals your soul and the right thing to do is move on

The only thing I miss when I leave a job are the young people I met

Anyone who knows me

Know only too well that I change my hair very often

It has nothing to do with the superficiality of needing a new ‘do

I like the feeling of reinvention

The feeling of starting over

The newness of something

Before it can get fucked by life

I think it’s what adrenaline junkies feel when they do extreme sports

The feeling of being alive

It makes me feel alive

Some days

Most days

Life is colourless and bland

I go through life medicated to ‘control’ so much of the chaos in my brain

It’s not to say I don’t feel things

I do

Probably still more intensely the most people

Even with the numbing of the drug cocktails

But it becomes like a life line on a machine

You can see the ups and downs and it’s got a pattern to it

Until

A change is approaching

Then it stirs everything up

The pattern dissolves into chaos

And chaos is a good thing

A great thing even

It’s the very thing that occurs before a great change is made

The possibilities are endless

It reminds me that being normal is boring

Being normal is being complacent

Avoiding change is being afraid of the unknown

Not knowing what’s out there and being afraid of it anyway is ignorance

The unknown is meant to be explored

To find the hidden gems that the rest of the world can’t or won’t see

Those gems may be so hard to find

So rare to hold

But damn when you do

It is simply indescribable

Unforgettable

I get that

It must be that chaos is in my heart and in my blood

After all

I too am anything

But

Forgettable

The fountain of youth is empty

I wanna take a break from our regularly scheduled program of all things fuck MS 

I don’t have any poetic words or sassy comments for this one 

When I’m not writing crabby and sometimes hopeful blogs, I’m a youth worker in a contained classroom within a high school setting

I work with up to 8 youth between the ages of 14-18

While we are open to working with all genders we do tend to have a largely male population 

The youths that come to us have sometimes been in similar programming before, or have no idea what we offer

They come from catholic or public schools, from treatment or detention

They come from single parent families, two parent families, foster care or completely broken homes

They come from diverse backgrounds and religious affiliations 

Some of their families were born here while others immigrated to Canada

The youth come to us with the official purpose of being reintegrated into mainstream schooling one day

Unofficially

Well that’s a different story

They come to us because of negative situations they’ve found themselves in

At school or in the community

They come to us from abusive homes or homes where they just don’t matter

It’s hard to say which is worse 

So 

They come to us looking for a place in the world to belong

Even if it’s just Monday to Friday 

We try to offer them a soft landing spot

Where they can stop acting or reacting 

They can just be

And lately

More often than not

They come to us hungry

I don’t mean hangry type of hunger

I mean stomach pains and shrinking stomach type of hunger

Where they go to sleep hungry and wake up hungry

And teenage boys

Well they have a very hard time asking for help

They are reluctant to admit that there’s no food at home

Fuck it no young person should ever have to face having no food

No young person should have to deal with the shame that goes with having no food

On top of all the other shit that goes on in the life of an adolescent

Lack of food

Should not be one of the difficulties they face

Yet they do

Everyday

And we become detectives

Observing their sallow and dry skin

The way their jeans hang off of them when they never did before

If they brought lunch

Asking questions about breakfast or dinners

And so

We take them grocery shopping

And marvel at their amazement in being able to pick out a cereal

Not the kiddy sugary kind

But the oat and nuts one

That are usually just too expensive and out of their reach 

We watch as they worry about making us spend too much money

And try to remove things from the cart

Things we suggested they get

We struggle to remind them that we are able to purchase this or that for them

And we wonder what will happen when they’re no longer with us

It would be easy to say that the life skills taught will be enough to get them from one negative place in life to a healthier better one

But that’s not the reality they live in

It’s not the reality I live in

So we focus on the now 

We focus on ensuring that they can get to school when they want to

That they can eat food when they’re hungry

That they have toiletries and hygiene products when they need to bathe

But what happens when they leave our program?

Who takes care of them then?

When they’re too old for children’s aid to be involved?

Maybe society needs to step up

People often like to pretend that there are no children going hungry in our part of the world

But that’s an ignorant belief

Take off the blinders

People are so quick to point out all the flaws and negative behaviours youth might participate in

Social commentary on parenting and discipline is ever present

Everyone expresses their sadness 

But these youth need more than to know that your heart hurts for them

I understand that this is not the reality in most people’s worlds

But just because you didn’t go hungry as a kid or because your kids don’t go hungry now

Does not mean that there isn’t a young person who hasn’t eaten anything today

All damn day

I’m miserable when I skip breakfast

Or if I didn’t have my morning cup of coffee 

Please remember these youth year round

Not just on holidays

Simply put

We have got to start doing better for our youth  

All of us

Me included

It takes a village…