Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Immigrating to Montreal: A Tale of Two Worlds

This is a tale of two worlds. Six months into our move to Montreal, I feel fragmented, like I need one of those time-turners that Hermione used in Book 3 to manage her busy schedule. Some days I feel like this is truly a different country, complete with its own, separate language (and I have to say, Quebecois French is certainly in a league of its own), and sometimes I feel like I'm just in a 51st State of America.

Buuuuuut...then I read the NYTimes and am quickly reminded how strange and unusual the U.S. has become and I wonder if everyone feels the same as I do right now, even if they haven't just up and moved.  I suppose everyone's world has changed.

Navigating Montreal for me feels like entering and exiting many boxes, the path between them lined in snow. Most days I wake up in my anglophone home and send my big girls off to French school and my little girl off to English school, and soon after I head off to Francisation.  We all wear boots.

Walking down the street can be a completely different experience every time, depending on who I'm walking behind.  Just as I'm straining to understand what the French speaking couple beside me is saying, another couple walk by having a lively conversation and I suddenly feel like I understand the language perfectly. Then I realize they are speaking English.  I stop in Caisse Desjardins to do some banking, and the teller and I struggle through our transaction completely in French.  I feel victorious!  Then, I walk into a cafe and order in French with a perfectly formed sentence (Un cafe regulier, s'il vous plait) and the server replies in English.  (How do they know???)  Crossing guards?  I hedge my bets and say 'Merci' in three languages.  Every job posting I've seen requires (or strongly encourages) bilingualism, and yet there are parts of this city that only speak French and parts that only speak English, and never the twain shall meet, it seems.

Arriving at my francisation class, I feel at home.  Everyone around me is an immigrant and we're all attempting to learn French together.  The big difference between me and them, though, is that they are all pretty much on their third language, and many have come from extreme circumstances and war-torn countries.  Me, I just came from the 'land of plenty', the American Dream where I always felt comfortable in my own skin and language.  Now, it depends on which box I've just entered and whether I'm speaking fluently in English or at a Kindergarten level in French.  It can be quite uncomfortable to be an immigrant, looking for the right work, looking for the right words. Luckily, I'm in a place that is welcoming.  My free French lessons are taught by one of the best teachers I've ever had, 12 hours per week, rain, shine or snow.  The big girls are quickly acquiring their new language, although I'm not sure they realize it yet.  It's not just study-abroad though.  After everything that was involved in this move, we're here for the long haul.  Six months in and it's too late to turn back, and too soon to feel truly at home here.  Is this what everyone feels like when they move countries?

I do have a new appreciation for my Mother Tongue and all the different words I can use to express myself. In French, I feel neutered.  I completely understand why my four year old's sentences are often mixed up in her attempt to express herself completely.  The difference is, a) it's cute when she says things and b) she'll forget this process as she acquires her language.  I am fully cognizant of my process of learning to speak French and it's more embarrassing than cute.  And the times I just want to be quiet, retreat and listen because my expression is so limited, are the times I have to force myself to speak, solely for the practice of forming words and not because I have anything particularly interesting or useful to say.  "Do you like the good weather we are having?"  "Bien sur!  J'aime porter mes chaussures plus que des bottes!"  (I'm sure I need to insert the subjonctif in there somewhere...)

I write all this knowing that things take time.  Knowing that in another six months, or a year, I'll have a different story to tell.  It's uncomfortable being new, being uninitiated.  It ain't easy being green!  It also engenders in me a deeper degree of empathy for immigrants, even as I experience only a fraction of the uncertainty and upheaval that an immigrant or refugee from any other country must feel.



 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Choose Your Own Adventure - Moving to Canada

If I were to compare our lives to one book it would be the not-well-written-but-mildly-interesting 'Choose Your Own Adventure Books' that I owned and read (and re-read) as a kid.  Not high art, but like life, you get choices, and sometimes you choose wisely and the story continues happily, or you choose unwisely and the the story stops.  In the rereading, just like in life, you remember the choices you made and, if they led to a dead-end before, you hopefully choose a different ending.  If you made all the right choices the first time, (because you were lucky, or just figured out the formula), perhaps you went back to try the not-so-safe choices.  Maybe a little riskier but more interesting.  On a somewhat mundane level, that's how it feels like we landed here.  I've stopped believing there is a single "right" path for each person, or that someONE directs my moves from offstage.  There is definitely still mystery involved in how we get where we are going, and who we touch along the way.  But I do feel at this point it's mostly about choosing to do or go somewhere, whether all (or any) signs lead there or not.

Choosing to move to Montreal was both a long-deliberated plan and a last minute decision.  We'd been considering moving to Montreal since college 16 years ago, and then as part of a Plan B when the convent plans started to fizzle (or were basically snuffed out by a higher bidder!)  Staying in Chicago with all the beautiful souls we'd connected with, and all the institutions that we were part of was so appealing.  It felt like home.  But if we were planning to be self-employed teachers for the long run, wouldn't it be better to teach in a land where our health-care wasn't in peril, and where our children could go to the local school without fear, and where they could learn a second language, and where they could go to university for $4,000/year? We'd been discussing these issues for so long, that in July we asked "Now or next year?"  I'm the person who prefers to get the pain over with immediately, so here we are, 4 months later, with our new Quebec license plates.

The journey here was filled with minor miracles, not least the gallon jug of vinegar I found cap-less in a cardboard box while upacking that had remained upright for the entire move.  Realizing the movers had packed our passports and important documents in the 36 foot moving van the night we were to drive across the border, and then finding them two hours later after minimal unpacking of the truck was another.  Chasing down a UPS driver in Michigan to retrieve the deed to our car counts, I believe.  (Nothing like realizing the day before you export your car that you never received the title!  Thank goodness for a kind, if a bit grumpy, woman at the DMV who expedited it.)  Having my CV land on a desk at McGill the day they posted an (unknown to me) request for a Suzuki teacher, and answering a call for an interview within five minutes of leaving Montreal on one of our trips in late August was another serendipitous event.  And probably the biggest gift from the universe was the reinstatement of my permanent residence status this summer after 16 years away.  Apparently most of the officers in the Canadian government don't even realize this is possible. Thankfully we found one person that did.

Montreal is strangely familiar and it doesn't often feel foreign to me.  I could get by with never speaking a word of French because everyone here glides so effortlessly back and forth between languages.  That will make sharpening my language skills so much harder, but there's my challenge.  The rhythm of the city is similar to Chicago, the green space along the river feeds the same part of my soul that the Point did.





I'm trying to get the pulse of my new country, but I still feel so tied to the U.S.  I am nervous about the upcoming election and sent my ballot in weeks ago, even though my health care doesn't hang in the balance anymore.  I check the Chicago Tribune daily, comparing the 17 murders per weekend to the 17 murders per year here, and feel a dual sense of sadness and relief.  I miss the relationships I tended over the last decade in Chicago, and feel a twinge of envy when I check Facebook.  (It takes twice as long for me to translate the Quebecois mom's groups that I belong to, so halfway through I revert to gazing back on the life I left!)
    
The two things that are, in my opinion, worse than childbirth are:  a) moving and b)purchasing a house.  I hope to never do either again.  If someone tells me I have to move, I may cry for a very, very long time, and then I will disappear until it's all over.  I do feel chastened for these thoughts, though,  when I consider what refugees across the world are dealing with right now.  I am thankful for what we have, and thankful to our parents who have helped us in ways we will never be able to repay.  With that in mind, our home is always open to whomever wants to come and stay.  I'd like to stay put for awhile, so please, come visit me in Montreal!



Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I Will Never Let My Husband Do Yoga With Me Again

Some of you may not know how funny Mike is.  That's because he saves it all for his family.  And sometimes it comes out at the most inappropriate times.  Take this morning, for instance.  My dear friend Jessica, with whom I used to go to 6 am yoga classes in Chicago, now lives in Japan and recommended the website DoYogaWithMe.com until I can find a local class to attend.  Today I invited my husband to join me to stretch out and get back into shape after the last month of driving and heavy lifting.  Here's how it went:

Yogi appears on the screen at a chilly looking beach off Western Canada.
Mike:  Hey, that guy has on a flannel shirt, but I bet he doesn't have PANTS on.

Yogi:  Now it's time for Lion's Breath.
Mike:  Roaaarrrr....Baaaaaaaaaaa.  Hey, my lion turned into a lamb!

Yogi:  Connect the breath between your belly and your third eye.
Mike:  What?!  I don't have a third eye!  I do have a second a$$hole, but not a third eye.

Yogi:  Move fluidly between Angry Cat and Cow
Mike:  This is NOT relaxing.  I have to keep looking up at the screen.

At this point, I leave to use the bathroom (Mike:  Hey!  You can't go in the middle of yoga class!) and when I return it's finished, (thankfully).  Mike's response is "Did you Namaste to what you let go of in the toilet?"

I will never do DoYogaWithMe with Mike again.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Losing Dad

It's been a week and a half since we lost dad.  A blink of an eye.  An eternity.  Someone asked if it is getting more 'real' as the days go on, but it almost seems more impossible.  He's been in my life for 41 years, and all of a sudden...he's somewhere else.  Some mysterious, other place that doesn't have a phone line or even an email address.  I'm not worried about him, though.  He was ready and excited to make that trip.  I mean, he wasn't hoping to leave us just yet, but from everything he expressed in conversations and in the letter he left us, he wasn't afraid.

It's what he left us with, though, that has me humbled.  He is physically gone, but his love feels more tangible to me now than ever before.  I honestly feel that real love continues, and continues to make a difference.  The thoughts and memories of him that came flooding into my head and heart since that difficult phone call from my brother have all been of his tenderness and his support.  The overwhelming response from those that knew him were to exclaim about his generosity, both of spirit and his material gifts.  I guard the last few notes he sent in the mail and by email for their encouragement to me as a wife, mother and person.  All the things I've read of his over the past week (and let this be a lesson to leave nothing laying around you don't want someone to see after you are gone!) have shown me the generous heart of my dad.  All these things led to a celebration of his life on Saturday at the funeral, regrets faded and healed.

This is only the beginning, I imagine, of a complex healing process.  He said in his letter to us that he was concerned about the hole that his dying might leave in each of us.  He wanted us to grieve, but not excessively.  He wanted to provide for us, and as I understand it, not just monetarily.  The legacy of love he left between my siblings and those closest to him is that provision.  I've experienced a deepening tenderness between us and his partner and her family over this past week.  I could regret that we weren't open to those relationships sooner, but I refuse to waste my energy on regrets, (and I of any of his children will certainly have the most.)  I watched as my mother, his wife of 41 years, embraced Nancy, his partner over the last 12 years, for the first time, each grieving their own heartache, but grieving together.  I heard stories of his desire to connect with me which I rebuffed or didn't understand during my formative years (of which I'm sure I'm still in), and I feel convicted.  But I don't feel his displeasure or reproach anymore.  I feel his deep love and it is healing to me, even while I grieve.

As my brother said so beautifully at the service, we all had our unique relationships with my dad.  In an instant, in a week, for the rest of my life, I suddenly valued and will continue to value mine with my dad, with all it's bumps and bruises, laughter, misunderstandings and moments of connection.  I will relent more, and trust more in loved ones' motives, and learn to accept every part.  Our relationship was complicated during life, but in death, it has become a thing of clarity and comfort.  This is my experience thus far, and I'm sure it differs or resembles others' in little or big ways.  I'm sure, too, that the grieving process is long and labyrinthine, and there will be darker moments than today.  Thankfully, I have love, his legacy of love, through my family, and the people he surrounded himself with in life, to ultimately fill that hole that his death has most certainly left in my heart.      

Saturday, May 10, 2014

AbiNoNo

If you have kids, you may have heard of Pete Seeger's, Abiyoyo.  But until now, you probably haven't heard of AbiNoNo.  Zazie recently introduced us.

At 1 1/2, Zazie is turning out to be a pretty fun kid.  She loves to laugh.  My favorite is her sinister laugh, followed closely by the forced belly laugh that she conjures up when she really wants a chuckle, but there's nothing funny going on.  She imitates sounds, like dogs, car alarms, and the screams of her cohort one floor down.  She sings all the time.  We detected the first three notes of 'Lightly Row' early on in her career, at about 9 or 10 months.  She now has the first phrase down pat, along with the first few intervals of 'Happy Farmer', 'Twinkle, Twinkle' or 'Baa Baa', including the vowels aa--ee--eh--ee-ooool, and the beginning measures of the Seitz Concerto No. 5.  (I'm not kidding about the Seitz.)  She is definitely next in line for Suzuki lessons, as she can already bow with her heels together.

She has also started talking, adding daily to her vocabulary of almost-words.  She can say 'yeah' really well, a gratifying 'ooooh, WOW' when Mike puts food on the table, along with 'banana' and  'apPUUUUUllllll', her sweet, soprano voice hitting the high point on the second syllable and trailing off on the 'L', while pointing at anything even remotely juicy to eat.  Her diction is perfect on 'cocoa'.

Since she's been an exceptional communicator without actual words for so long, (she employs the hand sign for 'diaper change' quite readily, whether she's really soiled, or just wants to get out of a situation), she hasn't been so precocious when it comes to talking*, despite her knowledge of how to acquire chocolatey goodness.  But now, things are getting screechy so we're working extra hard to teach her the proper names for other desirable things, like 'cheese', 'broccoli', and 'Nourit'.

It's heartening to observe that, besides food,  Zazie's first words have mostly been names.  Hopefully that translates into a humanitarian spirit.  She started with 'Mama', moved quickly to 'Dada', then 'Nanny', 'Papa', and 'GO'.  ('GO' is actually the most fascinating person in her life thus far.  Formally known as 'Hugo', this little boy is exactly one year older than Zazie, and the best Godzilla impersonator around.  In fact, Zazie learned how to imitate Hugo imitating Godzilla so well that she didn't back down when a 10 year old boy tried to scare her on the playground a few weeks ago.  She merely growled and roared right back at him.)  She says 'Hi, Lilly' out the window every morning at breakfast, and can articulate 'Ming Ming' pretty well.  She says 'Anne' with a perfect German accent.   Her sisters' names, however, have been the last to roll off her tongue.

A week or so ago, though, she started to say Avi's name pretty intelligibly, but I wondered why she wasn't attempting Nourit's name.  After all, Nourit loves Zazie and lets her pretty much do anything around her, including sitting on her lap and stealing her pencils while she's avoiding her schoolwork.  She is gentle and kind to Zazie, and takes a genuine interest in her.  I  kinda figured Nourit's name would be the next on the vocab list.  All I would hear, however, is "ABI NO NO!", leading me to believe, (and I'm generally right about this), that Avi had done something less than altruistic to her baby sister.  From morning until night, it was either "AbIIIIIIIII!!!", or "Abi NO NO!!!" 

We continued to wonder how Zazie would first say Nourit's name when she attempted it.  Would it be 'Reet', like Nourit's first friends used to call her at age two?  We encouraged her with 'New New', but still we didn't hear any attempts at the eldest sister's name.  Maybe she was just being respectful.  But we finally figured it out one day at lunch.  See, she decided to name everyone present at the dinner table, just checking in, perhaps.  'Mama', 'Dada', 'Abi', 'No No', 'Ah Ee' (Zazie without the zede)...So that was it.  No negative suffix on Avi's name.  Nourit is 'No No'.  Avi is 'Abi'.  (And now we're going to officially change Nourit's name because I can't imagine Zazie calling her anything but 'No No' now.)



*Perhaps her vocabulary list would be more competitive if we took her pacifier away.  But the way this child screams (and enjoys listening to herself scream), we are keeping that plug handy. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Closing Day

Today was closing day on three homes:  my mom's new condo, a young family's small house, and my childhood home.  The young family that sold their house is moving in and starting a life at 10920 I Drive South as of 3:30pm, much like my family did 35 years ago.  I was 4 years old and missed my town friends like crazy.  I remember eating popsicles and watching teams of people from our church helping to fix up the 100 year old house- rebuilding the porch, building onto the kitchen, repairing the rotted stairs my brother fell through. The smell of wallpaper paste and the scent of the carpet stores are indelibly marked on my olfactory system.  I have a distinct memory of celebrating my mom's birthday (was it her 40th?) on the floor in our diningroom, before any of the furniture had arrived.  The pinkish-purplish cake dome features in that mind-picture.

Then there were the years we were all there settled in together as a family of five.  My dad often took us in the pickup truck on Saturdays (the first one was pea-green, the second was maroon) to some forest somewhere to cut down trees for firewood for our wood burning stove.  Writing this, I'm not entirely sure why, since we had our own woods flanking our house.  But again, my memories are of the vivid smells.  To this day, I love the smell of sawdust.  I remember the assembly line on cold nights:  Dad, Matthew or Mom would go out to the garage to get wood, I'd hold the door, and my sister or I would carry the wood from the door to the livingroom.  Then, we'd sweep up the trail of wood bits and warm up.  We were all involved in church and school and sports, but still spent a great deal of time at home together.  Matt, eight years older, mostly ignored me, but I loved when he let me watch a favorite movie with him on the black-and-white t.v. (What's Up, Doc?) or terrorized me by holding me upside down over the kerosene heater.  Laura and I fought like crazy, and she even gave me a black eye once.  To be honest, though, I deserved it.  And we became the best of friends later on.

Not long after we moved in, my mom met Mrs. Mullen through the March of Dimes, and her daughter, Amy, became my best childhood friend.  Her farm and family figures almost as much into my childhood memories as my own.  How many days did I play at her house, exploring the woods and fields, building hay-forts, jumping on the trampoline in the barn, playing Barbies in the tree-house?  I was terrified of the German Shepard, Baron, and whatever rooster was on duty, but I loved collecting eggs and riding horses.  Mrs. Mullen was my first piano teacher and I think of her often as I'm passing along her wisdom to my students.

My room was bright yellow, with a built-in bed and adorable hand-made shelves and drawers.  I think it was originally a giant walk-in closet.  Later, my dad expanded the room and I spent many nights star-gazing through my sky-window and dreaming of being an adult and all the adventures I'd go on.  I had a cat, Puss-n-Boots, who mothered many, many other cats, and we had an Irish Setter, Rusty.  I believe we had chickens, but Rusty put an end to that experiment quickly.  We also had a huge garden at one point.  We ate mulberries and raspberries and currants, played in the fields and woods in the summer, and went sledding and ice-skating outside at the neighbors in the winter.


Then, we all grew up and left home, one by one, as good, independent children must do.  The years between childhood and adulthood were typical teenage years, full of activity and friends and broken hearts and excitement.  Our house was always special to me, warm and comforting, even when it was cold outside.  I loved having a 'full-house' when our extended family came for holidays, and enjoyed playing junior hostess when my parents hosted parties.  Eventually, they hosted Michael's and my wedding in the backyard, on a beautiful July day, 16 years ago.  Things changed, Dad and Mom divorced, and yet the house was still there for us.  We brought Nourit, Avital and Isabelle there as babies, and I fervently hope the two older girls will remember climbing trees and trekking through the overgrown fields.  Even though Zazie is only a year, I feel like she's been blessed by being there, too, somehow.

This last year has been a roller-coaster, and although I'm feeling it acutely, I know others have felt it as much or more.  The house, which had been on the market for a few years, suddenly became a burden for my mom, whose health was compromised this year.  Getting it sold became a priority, but sifting through 40 years (or more) worth of memories was painful for her.  I think the moment I felt like the worst daughter ever was watching her breathing turn ragged and her hands shake after an intense bout of purging.  To us, they were plastic tchotckes and old, worthless vases.  To her they were reminders of so many friends and loved ones.  After starting, though, she really became ruthless and got rid of so much.  By the time she got down to the things that reminded us of our childhood lives in that lovely home, she was ready to move on.  We still weren't.  But now that the papers are signed and she's in her new space, she is relieved and happy.  I hear it in her voice and am so glad.  I'm relieved, too, that she has space for us to visit because it's always home wherever she is.  I remember staying at our old house one weekend while she was away and feeling lost without her there.  I also remember feeling like the house needed fresh air breathed into it.  Updating.  People using all the rooms and the earth outside.  I so very much wanted it to be us.  I wonder if the two little girls moving in today will love it as much as we did.  I think they will.  Maybe they'll even find the treasure that's allegedly buried in the cellar. 


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Permanently Transitional or Transitionally Permanent

I just spent the last two hours moving empty boxes from our storage space to the recycling bin (many apologies, neighbors, it was me who filled up the bins, and that was only 1/3 of what I still have to throw out.)  These boxes have been taking up space in the basement and my brain for the last two years and I'm finally getting rid of them.  It's not that they are in anyone's way but mine, but I have this slight neurosis about 'stuff' and I spend way too much time imagining how I can get rid of all the non-essentials in my life.  It's a little scary.  When we moved in here two years ago, we saved every single box thinking we'd be moving again within a year.  We're still here, and the boxes are beginning to smell.

My 17 year old niece is getting ready for her senior year in high school and looking forward to starting college and the 'rest of her life'.  Funny, I've felt the same way for the last 20 years, since I was her age.  (Okay, 22 years.)  I graduated high school, moved away to college, moved to another college, got married, moved to graduate school (mine), then moved to another graduate school (Mike's.)  I can't count how many apartments we've rented during our marriage. (Well, yes, I can.  Ten, plus two stints at our respective parents' houses.)  Our five year old abided in four of those in as many years.  We are on our third child and I'm still somehow waiting to start the 'rest of my life.'

But what is 'the rest of my life'?  Is it a steady job, a big, red, brick house, and new furniture?  Is it my kids in one school from Kindergarten through High School?  That was always the picture I had in my mind as a child, and it's still there, though faded somewhat.  We've been in such non-traditional situations - graduate student housing one year, a dorm the next - that I'm wondering if we'll ever fall into a 'normal' life.  The job market for composers isn't exactly booming, and when Mike finishes his Ph.D, who knows where we will end up.  We might have to be creative, cobbling together work for awhile (and move to Canada for health care and good schools.) Or, maybe there is a job out there just for him and we'll buy a smallish, red, brick house, and send our kids to the nearby one-room schoolhouse, perhaps somewhere in Idaho.

For all that yearned for stability, though, I love where we are right now.  Of any place we've ever lived, or will live, I think this place is unique. From the day we moved in, the girls became part of a wonderful group of friends just out our back door.  Their parents are our friends now, too; our social circle, and our support system.  I thank God practically every day for our neighbors, for their generosity and inclusion.  I love our dinners together, movie nights, vacations, trips to the museum, the skating rink, the beach, or the pool together.  Birthdays are celebrated en masse, and holidays.  As much as I crave moving back to the country, or on to a stand-alone house with a garden, it's hard to imagine not having these friends who are almost like family, right out my back door.  We've been fortunate, too, to have one more year with these friends, before graduation and new jobs send us all in different directions.  Because that is the inevitable.  This is student housing and we are part of the University of Chicago.  Dear friends move every year, and we say goodbye, wondering when it will be our turn to leave.  If we could stay here, in this situation, while our kids are growing up, I would.  But graduate school is transitional and there is always an unsettled feeling inside of me.  Hopefully we will have to collect new boxes next summer, pack up, and move on to the obvious next step.  At this point, I'm not very concerned about where we'll end up.  We'll be together as a family, eat good food, and create a rich life wherever we land.  It's too much to imagine it would be permanent, but I'll settle for a stable job situation, and the same floor plan for more than 2 years.   I will miss this state of affairs, though.  Being part of this has taught me more how to live in community, and although I know we'll never recreate what we have here, I hope wherever we go, or however nomadic we remain, we'll always find our tribe.