‘Oh Angela It’s A Long Time Coming.’ The Lumineers

It is both heartwarming and difficult to look at these pictures of me.

I can see innocence and hope and so much zest for life in her expressive eyes. When I look in my eyes now, 35 plus years later, I see sadness that changed who I was to become.

I don’t know if that funny little girl with the big doe eyes is still around…but to her..I’m sorry…I wish I had done better

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‘No One Here Gets Out Alive.’ The Lizard King

Each of us knows the truth behind those words

We know life is fleeting

Have seen it with our own eyes

Lives gone too fast

Lives taken too young

Life is nothing but a numbers game

By a certain age

We all understand this

And even still

We waste so much time

Time consumed by what others think of us

Time devoured by people who won’t stick around in the end

Time exhausted from living over and over again in the past

Time eradicated by worrying about the future

A future that might never come

Maybe it’s human nature

To waste

We waste food and the earths resources

So why wouldn’t we waste something as precious as time

It’s human nature not to know the true value of something

Until it’s gone

Or about to be gone

How selfish is that?

As if simply because we want it

It will last forever

Making it all the more devastating

When we begin to realize we’re running out of it

I understand that quote now

That youth is wasted on the young

Because they won’t be able to appreciate the beauty of being young and free

Until that too is gone

And like all good things

It’s over far too fast

And once it’s only once it’s really gone

That you truly understand why it even matters

‘You Can’t Go Back And Change The Beginning But You Can Start Where You Are And Change The Ending.’ C.S Lewis

I went to an alternative high school

I know

How fitting…right?

We called our teachers by their first names and had art all day on Thursdays

It occupied one upper floor of an elementary school

I skipped class more than I should have

There was a student there we had nicknamed ‘Neil the Nazi’

He carried around a copy of ‘Mein Kampf’

Maybe it was just one time

I don’t really remember

It’s ironic that this was so relevant then

Because I remember feeling like one of the most ethnically diverse people at the school

And that is saying a whole lot about the lack of diversity

It was so whitewashed that I didn’t want my parents to attend my graduation

Afraid my father would show up in a suit with his big gold Jesus-on-a-cross necklace

And it would be like bright flashing lights above my parents

Announcing our difference

Ironic too because I looked like this at that point:

Different wasn’t supposed to be negative

Unless you were my parents in a sea of WASPs

Anyway

I went from a catholic all girls school

To the alternative school

It was like a culture shock

I felt like a displaced person

Or like someone who’d accidentally happened upon a secret society

Who didn’t belong

We did pottery

Drew live nudes

And smoked too many cigarettes sitting underneath hundred year old trees

Griping about life

Not knowing nearly how hard it had yet to become

I smoked so much pot

That I grew tired of it’s magic

I was dissatisfied with everything

I didn’t know then

What I know now

I thought high school was as difficult as it was gonna get

I didn’t realize that life was only getting started

It all seemed so endless and suffocating at the same time

I wanted to be free of my parental supervision

Separated from my cultural ties

I didn’t know my hardest battles were laying in wait for me

Lulling me into believe the worst was over

I’d soon become such an easy target

Thinking the war was over

Feeling victorious with no need left to fight

Little did I know

That it was all just beginning

‘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

A typical sick day in the life of a youth worker

I woke up after being text messaged and called by one of the youths in the class.

I’m half asleep and he hears it in my voice and asks if he woke me up. When I answer in the affirmative he asks if I’ll be at school.

When I say no he gets sucky that I won’t be at school today.

I tell him I’m glad he’s going to school though and I futilely try to explain that I’m sick but he’s already telling me the reason for his phone call.

There’s bad shit brewing between one of the boys and the only girl in the class.

My sleepy brain can only comprehend the words picture, Snapchat, cops, arrest. I sit up now but the kid’s taxi has come to take him to school.

Of course I’m wide awake now, so I attempt some damage control with a member of my team in the classroom.

It’s like a potential war zone in there and we gotta be prepared for catastrophes at any minute.

Okay he’s been forewarned, I feel better about my absence.

I can’t get back to sleep now because all I keep thinking is what the hell was that kid talking about this morning?

Wait did he say cops?

Shit I think he may have mentioned something about a charge.

I head downstairs I need coffee stat.

I finally hear back from the kid who fills me in on the entire story and all the gory details.

I won’t share, you’d thank me if you knew what I was leaving out.

The kid is talking to me from the class phone but he’s in the hallway. Even from home I tell him to lower his voice so he doesn’t get into trouble.

As he fills me in detail by excruciating detail I’m already planning how the problem solving will go.

I need to get in touch with my team. We gotta be preemptive in this. Gotta get ahead of the chaos.

Before I let him go, I make sure he’s got food at home.

He does but he gets distracted because the bell between classes has rung and he starts talking about all the cute shorties in the halls.

I remind him that I’m his youth worker not his homeboy.

He laughs and says he knows but I’m his closest (albeit) only youth worker.

He keeps talking about the shorty at the locker so I ask if he’s still trying to win back his girl, he doesn’t see the connection.

I tell him I’ll see him tomorrow.

I call my team one by one to fill them in.

Unlike you all, they aren’t exempt from hearing all the details.

I don’t even stumble over my words when I give them the inside scoop. They like me aren’t surprised by where this story has gone.

We predicted this outcome but no one really listened.

We tell each other that tomorrow we will detail with it all.

We work out a bit of game plan.

We hang up telling each other that tomorrow we will be there.

That we will do what we have to do to get through the morning classes and our afternoon meeting.

I hang up and I start thinking about my job and this little team of mine. And how we are all so isolated from our respective coworkers.

No one else really gets it like my team does.

It’s like some kind of platoon back from the war, you tell people the shit you’ve seen but they just don’t get it.

But your little team, well there’s a mutual understanding that if we don’t laugh at some of the shit that goes on, we’d go mad.

So anyway this triad of mine, they’ve got my back and me, theirs. And tomorrow we’ll suit up to face another day in a contained classroom with these kids that sometimes love us, sometimes hate us and sometimes just want us to shut the fuck up so they can go home.

And those sentiments, I am quite sure we have each muttered to ourselves on any given day.

Another day, another💲

The mind is a terrible thing to taste..

It’s too much

It’s too hard

It hurts too much

I’m too weak

I’m not strong enough

It isn’t worth it

You’re too sensitive

You’re too moody

You think too much

You need to let things go

They think I don’t try hard enough

They think I do it to myself

They think I should just get over it

They think I always feel sorry for myself

Mostly they’re right

I don’t want to feel like this forever

I can’t keep doing this

I’m so tired of all of this

I’m too weak for this shit

I’m just so tired

I wasn’t made out for this

Maybe if I didn’t spend as much time as I do battling the thoughts in my own head

Maybe if I wasn’t so hard on myself

Maybe if I didn’t compare myself to others

Maybe if I didn’t get lost in this sea of maybes

I can’t even imagine telling the youth I work with the same things that I tell myself every single day

And if they told me they were having those very same thoughts

I’d help them tear down every last one of those deceitful thoughts

I’d tell them that sometimes their minds play tricks on them

But that they have the power to change their way of thinking

By using evidence to prove those thoughts wrong

I’d say ‘you say you’re not strong

But you survived x, y and z’

And they’d look back at me not believing a word

And then I’d say

‘You say you don’t want to feel this way forever

What are you doing to change the way you feel? ‘

They’d hang their head, and reluctantly answer that they’re not doing anything to change their feelings

I’d respond with ‘You know it won’t happen over night

Sometimes the things that will make you happiest, take time and a lot of effort to get’

They’d look back at me

And I could see in their eyes

The minute

The second

That it clicks for them

That they get it

And they know that I’m right

That they have the power to change their lives

They hold it in their hands

They’ve always had it

They’ve just got to find it

And yet

Even after all these years

And all this time

And still

I can’t

For the fucking life of me

Find it in myself

I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting down to dinner when a youth told me he had nothing to eat at home

He said not to worry he could wait until tomorrow

Brampton is so out of the way for you, he said

I brought him fast food

A bandaid to temporarily cover a much bigger wound

He is 16 and living without the care of parents to monitor that he eats and goes to school

I find it miraculous that he even attends school most days

Even if it’s just for some cereal and a chat

If not for his circumstances,

This kid could have been on a sports team, getting good grades at school and eating a home cooked meal every night

Instead his father is dead and his mother has disappeared with the guy that tried to beat this kid up

Yeah sure he gets some money from the system

The system that is built to see him fail

After his rent is paid, he has two hundred and some odd dollars left for the month

And he’s 16 remember

So he doesn’t know how to budget

Hell, I don’t either

Sometimes he spends his money on stupid shit

Like we all do

This month is cheque hasn’t come in yet and he’s too proud to ask for help

Even from me

So I ask him if he’s eaten the night before and his answer is hesitant

But it’s always the same

There is no food in the house

So he eats at school

And then often he gets sick because his stomach isn’t used to the food

His doctor said his stomach has shrunk from malnutrition

This is where we live

This is Canada

This is where we are so proud to call home

Cheering on Olympian’s

While kids go to school with nothing in their stomach

And the whole system knows about it

In fact it always did

From children’s aid societies to educational institutions to income supports

This kid has been in the system since birth

He never had a chance did he?

Does it make you uncomfortable?

To think that tonight while you sit down with your kids…your partner, there’s a kid somewhere out there

Not too far from you in fact

Who is willing to go another night without food

So that his youth worker doesn’t have to drive out of her way

It should

Make you uncomfortable

It should make us all uncomfortable

There is an entire population of kids like this

Who are falling through the cracks of a society that only pretends to care for them anyway

This is unacceptable

This is not a society that I want to be a part of

We must do better

I want to be a part of a society that looks after its weakest and most vulnerable members

I do not want to throw them to the wolves and let them fend for themselves

Because the circumstances of their lives were unlucky

I want to be proud of a country that looks after youth who’s parents stopped caring for them a long time ago

I thought I was already part of a country like that

I was wrong

Oh Canada

It’s time you do better