Random Students.

Friday comes at the end of the week. My weeks are long, and the end result is that Fridays, after about the second class, can get a little random. Not to say that learning doesn’t take place, because it does. But it’s less regimented and more “Let’s talk about that” and “Why do you think…?” than my employer suggests to the parents of prospective students.

Today I spent time thinking about what animals my students resembled, mostly because of lovely D, who, if my classes were a bloodstock sale, would be the Godolphin Arabian. He has an air of solicitous but gentle inquiry about him, a slow smile, and tremendously graceful hands. You know how people talk about ‘surgeon’s hands’? He has ‘em. Every move is precise and graceful. He reminds me of an Arabian because of that grace. Never a foot wrong, that boy.

L is a lion. Granted, she is three feet tall, her front teeth are missing, and she has a tendency to giggle at The Big White Lady(that’s me). But she has perfected the art of yelling while still whispering. Doesn’t engage her vocal cords. The result is a rather hoarse roar that she uses maybe fifty percent of the time. She also waits to use it, like a lioness leaping on prey. If I am otherwise engaged, she’ll roar the word I’ve been trying to get her to read, and then giggle at me when I startle. Also, when she is not sure about what to do, she puts her fingers in her mouth. All of them. Not really leonine behaviour, but a fun quirk.

K is a bush baby. He curls into himself when he’s thinking. He has a round little face and so much hair he looks sort of like a pineapple from some angles. And his nose twitches a little when he’s got the wrong answer, and knows it, but can’t figure out the right one. (Figuring out context clues is hard work if you’re missing half the vocab.) His mom looks like a Korean Marilyn Monroe, and not like a bush baby. Genes, eh? Go figure.

Hunh. Kids.

Born Walking Away.

I come from a long line of women who have a hard time relying on others. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision. Sometimes it happens without our thinking about it, out of stubbornness, pride, and, yes, sometimes ignorance to what could be an easier path.

My grandmother walked away. She came of age in a tiny fishing village on the Moray Firth in Scotland, a place where the gene pool seethed within tiny confines. My grandmother came to Canada with my grandfather and their eldest child, because my grandfather was apprenticed to a butcher, and hated it. They walked away from tradition and what they knew to start something here, in the New World.

I was talking with my aunt the other night about this fierce independence. She related something my grandmother had said once, that my aunt was ‘born walking away’. A career businesswoman in a time when that was highly unusual, my aunt has always striven for a place in the world where her decisions were just that: hers.

She was born fourth, after a passel of large, brawling boys. My grandmother probably wanted a girl to cuddle and cosset. Instead, she got my aunt, who routinely climbed trees and got into fistfights until she started leaving home in her teens to can salmon in the wilds of Central Coastal BC. From there, she went to university, became a teacher, and eventually found herself a career in the government, flying all over the country to have meetings. She also eloped, which is a curiously veiled subject in our family, even fifty years after the fact.

My mom was born last, ten years after my independent aunt. She acquiesced to my grandmother’s maternal instincts. Took ballet. Learned to cook. Acquiesced, to a point. As she grew up, she walked away. Her natural instincts led her to travel the world and to teach school in a remote outpost on Northern Vancouver Island, Port Hardy. But she was an urban creature, and the wilds of the place made her crazy. Granted, it was a smaller place than when I knew it, but she always spoke of it with a kind of affection mingled with contempt. The people she met there were ‘them’, and almost always the antagonists in her stories.

When I was born, she was an utterly devoted mother. I am grateful for this, but right from the start, I was walking away as well. I didn’t confide in her the way she wanted. If something was bothering me, I let it stew while I thought about it. She wanted to fix my stuff, but I wanted to fix my own stuff.

When it came time for me to earn my tuition, I went to Port Hardy, as there was a job there for me, pumping diesel and gas into fishboats. This is the point when I walked away with a firmer step then I have had before or since.

In contrast to my mother’s experience, I created a place for myself there, one she never understood. For her, Hardy was a grandstand, a place where she could say, “See, I don’t need you,” to her mother, her boyfriends, the expectations placed on her.

For me, it was a place of independence as well, but also a safe haven. All of a sudden, no one had any expectations, other than that I worked hard and well. As a result, my potential unfolded into the light, until, some summers, I was not a whole human being, but, rather, a mass of potential, in girl-shaped form. I remember getting onto the ferry one time, after a particularly trying year, and having a kind of mini-meltdown. I was on my way to Hardy. I was safe.

Throughout my teenage years, my mother worried that I wasn’t ‘popular’. I only dated one boy at a time, how could that be right? When I got to university, I didn’t join clubs or societies. How could I pass up this fantastic chance to meet people and make friends? She just wasn’t able to see that I was not her, that the time I was growing up in was not the time she grew up in. I was walking away.

I sectioned parts of myself off from her, and that really bothered her. It has been said that she grew frustrated with me because she simply didn’t understand me. But if I had laid myself open to her, I would have lost the core of me, the parts that ebb and flow in different amounts of what it is to be a person.

It hurt both of us, but I do not think I would have or could have done it differently. I needed to establish my independence early so that she would not override everything in my life. She got a rather different daughter than the one she expected. Stronger, for one thing. More secretive. More sensitive, maybe. Certainly less given to acquiescence.

Born walking away.

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