Friday, September 30, 2011

Strong Women

When you have something you are passionate about, if you get a bee in your bonnet related to your passion, it continues buzzing until you satiate the damn thing. In my case, it's writing down my thoughts. Even when it's closing in on 1:30am and I have to be up in 5 1/2 hours to three bouncing off the wall boys and a very stoic poodle puppy. So I was having a chat with a friend, shooting the breeze about life in general and old times and it got me thinking about something that's been a good positive consistent theme in my life. So as I'm lying in bed thinking about the conversation, I can't get the topic out of my head, so I heaved myself out of my nice warm and ever so comfortable bed, and made my way down to old Betsy and here I am...nose inches from the screen because I already took my contacts out and I can't find my glasses. So this is going to be filled with oodles of errors because I'm tired and I can't see. Duly warned!

For those who don't know, I grew up in Regent Park. Most of it is rubble now, including my former home, but back in the day it was a community rich in culture, people and relationships. It was much like a small town in that we were pretty isolated from the outside world. We would do our food shopping and get supplies when needed, but for the most part, entertainment was local, schools were local, friends and family were local, churches, etc...you get the picture. So that consistent theme. Well everyone always thought of Regent as this scary place filled with drug dealers and criminals, and while the drug trade did find a convenient place to exist in that poorly mapped out community, there were families. Tonnes and tonnes of families. Thousands of people crammed into roughly 1000 units total. Many of these families were headed by women. I can probably count on my hands the number of dads who were consistently there and kudos to them, however fellas, I'm here to talk about the women...why? Because I am one, and it's my blog. :)

These moms were tough! I mean tough as nails tough. We never crossed the moms, didn't matter if they were our own or not, they'd just as soon chew you out, then go tell your mom, who would proceed to make your life hell for the next little while. They had to be strong, strict, caring and stand up to shield us as much as they could from a very chaotic world. On top of that they had to deal with poverty, living in broken buildings, several jobs and all the little things we take for granted, but were magnified because of all the additional crap we had to endure.

But there were those moms, those aunts, those sisters. In Regent, often your family was your friends and neighbours. I have so many people I consider family who I don't share a drop of blood with. You might squabble with them over the noise of their TV, but they'd also give you their last cup of milk if your kids were screaming. We watched out for one another.

One time, we had the fortune of having 3 crack houses on our floor! This caused a lot of night time traffic, fighting and just overall a terrible situation for the rest of the families there. The police did the minimal, the landlord too, so the moms decided to take matters into their own hands. For weeks, they'd whisper death threats to us kids to not leave our apartments (we never listened) and they would collectively stand at the elevator doors and harass anyone who was there to do drugs. There was a church lady there. And anyone who grows up in an inner city community knows that you do not FUCK with the church lady. She had an old fashioned school bells, so the first thing those folks were confronted with when that door opened was an angry Jamaican church lady with a very loud bell, giving them the well mannered, but in no uncertain terms chewing out that only an angry Jamaican church lady could give (God help me if she ever saw the language I use on my blog). But really, all these moms took a serious risk, they could have been hurt in so many ways, there were plenty of opportunities to get them alone, but they decided as a collective that this nonsense had to end and they'd fight like hell together to do so. Within a month, those crack houses had moved on.

Our community was enriched by many dedicated professionals who came in and worked hard. From the school teachers, to the doctors and nurses, the admin staff, the community workers. My sense of constant moral outrage comes from my grade 4, 5 and 8 teacher. She's way crankier than I could ever muster, but dammit, she'd be proud at my uppityness. I remember discussing my sexual health as a teenager with the caring doctors and nurses at our local health centre. I'm sure all you women can remember how much fun THAT was as a young woman. I can remember how much love and encouragement I got from everyone really. Our moms might have squabbled, but they left the kids out of it, that was a hard and fast rule. I used to write for the local youth paper and bringing my sense of moral outrage and uppityness, I wrote an article slamming the local community police liaison committee for classism and completely ignoring Regent Park in favour of the much wealthier communities surrounding our home. Well, didn't all these folks demand a meeting with me, where they proceeded to tear 16 year old me a new one. I was there with two of my 16 year old friends getting that beating. But my mom whom I whispered death threats to if she went all mother bear on me, was there and made sure that I was okay at the end of the meeting. Shortly after, I was at a local committee meeting and was presented with a journal from a lovely woman. She told me to keep writing and keep giving them hell, I intend to make good on that. I still have that journal.

And really, just thinking of how many countless people who have come out of Regent Park, with all the temptation to fall into despair and destructive activities, as folks who have avoided all that and have made good lives and relationships for themselves and others, is a testament in itself to the sheer force of will and soul our mothers had to get us to that point.

I've struggled in the past 8 months, God knows how I've struggled, but I've survived and I've come to a point where I know I'll survive. I've also noticed that the people who have circled the wagons around me, have been predominantly women. One of my most favourite recent memories, was coming home to my bestie aka my wife, my babysitter and our kids at home and dinner well on the way. How perfect was that? My only regret was that my life saving, I worship the ground she walks on, nanny and my mom weren't there. Just women doing what we always do, to take care of the kids and banding together to take care of each other.

I sometimes wondered where I learned how to be this strong, but tonight while chatting, it dawned on me or was presented to me, I'm sorry, it's late, I can't remember that I have this legacy of amazing women all throughout my life. They have been strong, opinionated, generous, downright bitchy if need be, terrifying and loving all at the same time. It's very humbling to think of them, because living or dead, even though their blood does not run in my veins, their wisdom and passion lives within my soul. It was an epiphany tonight, and I know the next time I feel burnt out at the end of my rope, I will remember them. Words cannot possibly express the gratitude and appreciation I feel, it's overwhelming, so all I can do is to vow to live my life with the same strength, fire and kindness that they do/did.