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Confessions of a Humble Belly Dancer

Published January 18, 2012 by megdedwards

I started belly dancing about 12 years ago. And no, I did not slowly work my way up the ranks to head belly dancer and start my own belly dancing school.

I don’t have a series of a velvet outfits and a business card with my dancer’s name on it, Megara’s School of Dance.  But a lot of my friends who started the art of belly dancing that long ago do actually have dancer’s names now.

I am not sure why I cannot bring myself to move to that apparently inevitable next step. But it says a lot about me.

Let’s go over the information you have about me  if you have been reading this blog: I was shy as a kid, I didn’t know I was in any way good looking for quite some time, maybe still don’t know that deep down. And I never, ever, wanted to be a princess. I never looked at myself in the mirror and smiled coyly, or wafted about like a princess.

Knowing these essential facts about me, you and I both would be surprised at see how good a dancer I am now in my late forties.  I have learnt how to move really gracefully, I can move like a queen and whip that scarf around like a real dancer. I can move my shoulders in a delightful wiggle and do nice little dance steps with my body pulled up in a lovely dancer’s posture.

The really great thing about belly dancing is that it is quite difficult, and your mind will have to focus on the actual mechanics, leaving no place for embarrassed inhibition. It is hard work to isolate a hip movement or move only your rib cage, and it takes a lot of practice.

I feel like I am pretty good now, and I have heard that once or twice from a generous friend of mine. But most prima donna belly dancers are stingy with the compliments. That has been a bit hard for me as I admit that I need positive feedback to continue tackling a difficult challenge. I am one of those people that sort of withers up under constant criticism. So I have had a bit of a battle keeping at belly dancing.

But I am drawn back because I love to dance, and I love the music. And my back and torso love the exercise. I am not saying that I have abs of any form.   As far as I am concerned you can only get abs by doing exercises that are not natural to women.  I tried this out last year with a  misguided  ‘8 minute abs’ video (‘you can’t hurt yourself doing these exercises’, says the man, and I answer, “ yes, you can’)  I think I gave myself a hernia in my poor stretched stomach, but I have never hurt myself belly dancing.

I still love to dance and I still love belly dancing, in my own way. But I have stopped classes. For the most part that is because in order to have belly dancing classes in Baie Verte I have to rent the hall, call all the gals, collect the cash, run the class and pay for the hall no matter how many people come.

As you can imagine this makes the whole decision as to whether I want a weekly dance class a little burdensome. I don’t get to go down to the Y and just sign up and then just do my best. I have to run the dam class and I can tell you being a dance teacher was never a private fantasy of mine.

I have tried to write positive articles on body image and belly dancing before but they turned out a bit formulaic. I even had a neat metaphor comparing the colored belts of Tae Kwon Do with the self-anointed jingly belts that belly dancers buy themselves. I liked to make the case that belly dancers have no master and promote themselves by buying increasingly jingly and colorful belts until they buy themselves entire outfits.

But something was missing in my writing about belly dancing, and that was the honesty that I take to the personal blog.  I was not being entirely truthful about how I felt about belly dancing and it just made the piece flat. That is what I love about this blog. I ain’t selling it and I don’t care if anyone is buying it, so I speak my mind.

I confess I am a belly dancer who is at the stage where she should be teaching, but does not want to teach. Like the martial artist that moves away and starts his own school, I should be renting my own space, selling my wares and sharing the art and experience of belly dancing to newcomers. I know I can teach a beginners class in belly dancing no problem, but I seem to be lacking the hunger to do so.

I stopped running my weekly class about a year ago and my body is not thanking me. It is a great work out and dancing makes me happy.  I keep thinking I will start again but I am not enthusiastic about the class. What I really wanted was a collaborative work out class in which no one is really in charge. I ran it like that for quite some time with a friend and I thought we did really well.

Neither of us had the desire to be the leader so we split up the exercises and had a free form class in which we followed some routine and just made it up as we went. Some women did not like that no one was officially in charge.  But there was a core group of about six who managed quite well – we danced, we got our heart beats up, we laughed and talked, we stretched.

As I describe the class I am tempted to start again but our hall is becoming expensive and we only have a few women right now who could come. One hard core dancer took a break from belly dancing and threw out her knee in an ill advised attempt to get abs in a Tae Kwon Do. Never aim for abs.

I had one really fabulous class which I taught myself of which I am still proud.  We did our yoga stretches to lovely music, we did more and more dance moves until our hearts were beating fast, we practiced an old dance and we practiced improvisation.

We have one song in which the gals form a circle and do dance moves on the outside ring while one or two gals go in the middle and dance a sole for a short amount of time. We take turns, and no one really watches the gal in the middle that closely because they are thinking of their moves on the outside, so it feels safe in the circle.

I had my old pal from Halifax visiting, a friend that goes back to high school, and she is a dance student from way back so she leapt into the class with  enthusiasm.  We have danced together many times, often shoving the men out of the way so we could have fun dancing.

When we went into the middle of the circle we worked together and traded moves back and forth and looked at each other as we danced. That is the way I want to belly dance, with women, and in a causal noncompetitive mode.

What I find disappointing about belly dancing is the singular quality: one girl dances on the stage and everyone cheers for the princess of the moment.  But I want it to be collaborative and communicative.  To me, this is the way belly dancing should be. It is about the joy of dancing.

I am sure that women dance for and with each other more happily than for an audience, or at least most of us do. At its best belly dancing is a conversation with the body, and the best performers connect with the audience in that way.

It is a craft, and it is entertaining. But for most of us it is an exercise class that throws women together with movement and laughter.  By the end of that class we did something that I believe in my heart is the true origins of belly dancing; we danced together, a group of gals dancing with each other.

 

Baby Photos for blogger ‘saveeverystep’…

Published January 17, 2012 by megdedwards

Here is a page or two from my baby book for Helen Spicer at

http://saveeverystep.wordpress.com/author/saveeverystep/

Illness onto death, or let’s just not talk about it.

Published January 17, 2012 by megdedwards

Portrait of Phyllis Anderson by Meg Edwards

We happily live in a bubble of health until we are struck down.  It is very hard to live in a constant state of appreciation for your present health without getting maudlin or morbid.

It is probably best not to think about it at all. The people who live best do seem to have a way of pushing death and illness away from their thoughts.

I was sitting at the hairdressers the other day enjoying my splurge. My hairdresser has a way of not only making me look fantastic but feel great too.

And I have been watching; she does this for everyone who walks in the door. She is a miracle worker. I can truly understand why hair stylists don’t get into social media because when they are off work they must long for a less social life.

But my luxury buzz, a cup of green tea and the new Elle magazine handed to me by the delightful Susan as the die sinks into my poor head, was being brought down by the general conversation.

The women were bringing their stories to the chair, and quite a few of them were nasty stories; for example, a friend of someone who had a pain in the elbow that turned out to be cancer and was dead in a few months, another story of a child who went from having pneumonia to palliative care in a few weeks.

With two children on antibiotics at the moment I had a horrible chill when I heard that. The woman telling the story said it made her focus on the happiness of her family.  I understand this reaction but it does not resonate with me. First of all, the point of the epiphany is that shit can happen at any moment. How am I supposed to relax thinking about that!

Illness and death was chilling my innocent giggles over Tabatha Southey and Guy Saddy’s always amusing columns in Elle. People get a little heavy in the cold months.  My theory about life is that I will face each challenge life hands me as bravely as possible, but I will take no unnecessary risks. (I am a Rabbit in Chinese astrology.)

Not for me the bungee jumping that plunges me into an African river. But, if I actually must leap into a river in order to save a child, I will.

A lot of the time I think that I will be brave when the call comes for me to leave this life.  But as I sat in the chair with die sinking into my hair, I realized that I can’t really know. I am pretty sure I will freak out and mourn pretty intensely.  I have a lot of things I want to do and the way I am going, it is going to take me a few more decades to achieve all my dreams – like learn how to dance Samba, finish some dusty stories, play a ukulele in a band, return to India, and maybe even foster children.

I remember thinking about aging when I was young, and picturing a life that was not far off to what I have now.  I thought my husband might be bald, but he isn’t!

But my vision had this very rosy light hearted emotional halo around it that cannot be carried into aging.  I felt light and strong and as if anything was possible, when I was in my twenties and now I carry more weight, figuratively and actually.

I do my best to stay young. I have studied the best role models around me.  I had a good neighbor and friend, Phyllis Anderson (nee Goodwin) who was 100 years old when she finally agreed to move to a home.  Up until that time she crept about her house, put her bed in the study, got meal on wheels and managed just fine.

When I visited her in her house, delivering her mail or bringing her soup she didn’t really like, she was always up for a visit.  She would pull herself out of her armchair where she had passed out while reading the paper or knitting, and make her way to the kitchen. With her back bent over and her hands gnarled with arthritis she would fill the kettle and get ready for a good gab.

I never heard her complain. She once told me, in passing, that she had breast cancer in her sixties and lost one breast. She kept everything in perspective for me. I realized in astonishment that she had spent my entire life being an older woman and widow; the last 40 years of her life made up my entire life.

She had been a nurse in Montreal in the twenties. She had gone to all night parties; she had married late, in her forties, and her husband had not lived much longer. Much of her midlife disappeared into one short line about delivering meals, taking in borders, and being on the Church committee. I have a few of her old journals, she kept them all, and they mostly talk about the weather and what she had achieved that day.

“A fine day, got the laundry on the line. Planted some daffodils and cut lawn. Alice came over for tea”.

Her memories remain in my mind. One time she was being pulled on a sled by her brother and a dog, and the dog took off with her behind it.  When she was about 10 years old she made up her mind to have her long hair cut by the blacksmith into a bob and shocked her family. She got measles one year and lost a year at school and was very annoyed that her friends got ahead of her in their studies.

She went to Fredericton to study in Normal School and became the school teacher at the local one room school house and walked or rode a horse to that school.  Later, she went off to Montreal to study to become a nurse, being called back at one point because her Mom was dying. When her Dad’s second wife became ill later she had to give up on living in her own new house with her husband (the house I live in now) and go live with her parents to care for them.

You can see why I stopped in for coffee at the end of the day. She had a collection of anecdotes that mostly focused on her life as a child and how it always stormed on her father’s birthday in March. And a few stories from Montreal when she lived the high life. I heard the stories over and over, relishing some in particular. When she worked the night shift in Montreal at the Royal Victoria Hospital the nurses would sometimes take their break on a balcony of the hospital. They would pull out a chair and a big blanket, and then just sit and look over the city lights and hear the hum of the city.

She loved company and she seemed to love life. She loved to see my children and would pull out any old cookie she had to feed them.  A visit from a man, whether he was an antique collector, a nephew or my husband to help her with her taxes, always brought out her best and most lively personality.

I have many strong memories of her. Some of my new neighbours implied that I would not have liked her when she was younger as she had a strong Conservative and critical nature. Maybe we would not have got along, I don’t know. But when we met we were friends.  We enjoyed each other’s company.

And to be quite frank, I had more in common with Phyllis than I did with many of the other neighbours who had never left this hamlet. She was an educated and traveled gal.

From a selfish point of view, I liked her because she liked me.  She knew when I was lonely and she knew when I was sad. We would talk and have coffee in the late afternoon, and after a full day of childcare and no friends, I would leave feeling more like myself.

I did cry when she died, and only for myself.  I loved having her there. When she went to the hospital with a sore hip I went to visit her with the kids almost every day. It was a cold bleak spring and I would stop at the Tim Horton’s to get her a small hot chocolate in a ‘roll up the rim’ cup and a buttered bagel.

She lit up when she saw us, and there was nothing more hilarious than her determined strong fingers working that rim. It took about 10 minutes but she would roll the rim! I saw her pleasure in the buttered bagel and the deep chocolate taste.  I have never seen anyone enjoy an afternoon snack more.   I think  it  reminded her of her days as a nurse when she would take the trolley around in the afternoon and offer the patients  tea or hot chocolate and biscuits.

She did not mourn that those days were gone; she did not live in the past. But she did think that the casual outfits of the nurses were very odd. In her day she wore a pristine white dress with starched hat and sleeves. She had one repeated story where she found herself on the back elevator with a bundle of used diapers. An important personage had been invited to use the staff elevator in order to avoid attention and be able to visit his wife. She was mortified because she had folded back her starched sleeves before entering the elevator in order to avoid mussing them with the diapers. So she was puzzled by the present day nurses’ wrinkly pajama style uniforms and the casual look of doctors as well.

When she moved to the local old age home she still fought off the wheel chair. At 101 she had liver cancer and it was, of course, untreatable. I visited her there with my kids and often found her completely absorbed in a game of bowling or bingo. She had a competitive nature and liked to win.  She had been a strong and athletic woman.

The last time I saw her she was lying down, and basically quietly dying.  She tried to sit up and eat a bit of cake, and she dawdled her finger back and forth trying to catch the attention of my baby Maud.  She was still in the present moment. Then she fell asleep. The next time I went to see her they sent the nurse to tell me she had died. Her room was bare. They auctioned everything out of her house.

The house sat empty for a while, and god I wish I had just bought it (I did not have the money but maybe I could have raised it) because the next thing I knew Anglophones from Montreal moved in and cut all the trees down and molested my daughter. I am not kidding about that, it is all true, although presumably the molestation was more important than the tree devastation, but it is just funnier to me to say it that way.

I am laughing because I have a dark sense of humour.  Phyllis would have laughed too, because she knew that what didn’t actually kill you, was just food for conversation.

So, let’s have a tea, and talk about that, have a bit of a gossip, and let’s not talk about illness and dying.

Let’s Go to the Cinema!

Published November 21, 2011 by megdedwards

It was a Sunday afternoon and I could edit my essay on XML in the Library System or take my kids to a matinee at our local film theater, the Vogue Cinema.

I got my priorities settled fairly quickly and grabbed the kids. A half hour on country roads and we are in quiet little Sackville, a town that is very lucky to have its own independently owned film theater.

This month the kids and I have been to a bunch of children’s films, Puss in Boots (very funny) and Johnny English (OK) and yesterday, Happy Feet Two ( cute but the vision of environmental changes in the north can’t help but be a bit depressing).

We are looking forward to the new Tin Tin movie, the Muppet movie and whatever ‘girl flick’ I get to go to with my 19 year old daughter. We don’t go to any other movie theater, preferring to support our locally run cinema.

I also go to the movies with my husband when we get a chance!  Thursday nights have been a traditional night out since we discovered the Sackville Film Society. We have a beer at the local pub, Duckie’s,  and then head to the theater where a line gathers in the road as the crowd makes its way into the theater.

Thursday nights with the Film Society are a great date, the films are always good, picked carefully by a group of volunteers and lead by our very own internationally acclaimed photographer and Mount Allison professor Thaddeus Holownia.

The films are either something I missed and wanted to see, or something I have read about, and wanted to see.

We have seen lots of interesting films there, but I will never forget being introduced to the most wonderful filmmaker ever on the night we watched “Goodbye Solo” by Ramin Baharani. I was a puddle of tears at the end, and I won’t try to explain the film here, but I was crying from a mixture of sadness and joy.

The Vogue is pretty packed on a Thursday night, and sort of like going to a party. Sometimes Holownia introduces the film, or begs the audience to have patience with a film that is still being transported across the marsh during a storm.

The occasional technical problems are all part of the fun; the audience knows it is participating in a lost art and is in a receptive and grateful state of mind.

Sometimes Holownia makes a passionate plea to the college kids, a big part of the winter audience, to encourage their friends to put down their laptops and come out to the ‘happening’ at the Vogue.

We love our local independent theater and prefer to go to it than see a film in any other venue. It is smallish, with old chairs and it is a bit hot in the summer and a bit cool in the winter, depending on the size of the crowd. College kids work in the canteen and the staff and owner are very nice.

The Vogue Cinema is a gem and we are always grateful for its existence, hoping fervently that our own loyalty and the loyalty of other audience members will keep it going.

The owner, Jeff Coates, has also invested in the local Neptune Drive-In, which was about to close, and now runs both.

Coates seems to like what he is doing and has enough support from the community to continue.

The existence of our own independently owned film theater puts Sackville, N.B. on the map; a lot of bigger cities don’t have one!

Cheers to the Vogue Cinema!

Oh, who am I? Whine whine.. same as I ever was…

Published November 16, 2011 by megdedwards

I have a running commentary in my head that constantly criticizes me, as most people do, I guess.

I should fix my hair, not just let it fall wherever it may. I should do stuff to make myself look good. I should iron or wear makeup.  Care more about what I look like.

I have wondered whether it is just that I don’t love myself that much, or have a deep hang up about vanity. I have pondered the question.

In school, arbitrary girls would sometimes tighten my scarf or offer tips on what I should wear. I didn’t mind because it was not done maliciously.

I was shy as a kid, and felt that I was very plain. That was part of it, sure, but I also had a natural feminist perspective. I just wanted to be who I was.  I remember noting, at a very young age, possibly Grade 4, that boys could come to school with dirty hair and still be popular.

In high school they could fart in class and still be popular. I didn’t want to be a boy, or fart in class, but I just wanted to be taken as I was. I was jealous that boys were free of a lot of the social expectations that are always controlling girls.

I have not changed much since childhood. And I do appreciate that my parents were not nags and just let me be. I had a cluttered room as a child, but clean. I had clean straight hair and brown glasses. It took me a while to move from stretchy pants to jeans, I think a girl advised me to get some jeans in grade school. Later, in high school, a running mate told me it was time to shave my legs. I took the advice, it had not occurred to me to do it.

I used to think that my modest and uncelebrated self was symbolic of not being loved enough, or neglected in some way. I wondered, anyway. But in my heart I was glad that my parents had never bothered me about who I was, and just let me be. That is great parenting, in its own way.

I have a very feminine personality, I loved having babies. I am a gentle, fairly passive person, nurturing, introverted, cautious, loving, and sacrificing. But in my heart I feel like a man.  And why is that, because I am strong minded, sure and confrontational if I need to be? Because I love to throw on a pair of jeans and a shirt in order to get dressed, and I resent uncomfortable bras?   Because I don’t care that much about makeup or what my house looks like?

Even at my advanced age I can see that men seem to be less hindered by a need for approval. So, as always, I take my cue from men. I won’t be trapped in the superficial and restrictive social expectations lumped on women.

But even now, when I look around my house, I feel the criticism, loud and clear, from my in laws and from some friends. How can I live with such a cluttered house, is it not detrimental to my health? Don’t I want my house to be clean and uncluttered like a hotel room or their houses?

Well, I am here to try to convince you and myself; I like it just the way it is, just the way I like myself just the way I am. And I am, and have been, consistently exactly like this for my whole life.

I don’t throw a lot of things away because I am sentimental.

I don’t clean all the time because I like to write. I cleaned today though:  the bathroom, the cat box (washed the whole mother), the kitchen floor and some vacuuming, that disturbed the cats. Now my hands are all dry and I don’t feel like doing it anymore.

But here I am arguing with invisible critics, who live in my head. See, I clean, I am a good person! We all want approval in the end.

I do make compromises. If I was unmarried you can bet I would cut off my hair and let it be short and gray. The lesbian look would be mine. But that is too much to ask of my devoted husband, so I have taken to going to a lovely hair stylist, Susan Polley in Sackville at her shop, Touch of Class.

Bit by bit she convinced me to cut my long brown and dramatically greying hair. She does an amazing job, dyeing and shaping it, and it looks surprisingly good, considering how little attention I pay to it.

Susan laughed when I told her that I was pleased to see that my hair looked good, if I occasionally looked at myself in the mirror. I told her that my daughter Rose had said that getting my hair done was the least I could do, as I didn’t indulge much personal vanity.

And Susan, my beloved hair dresser, who is a wonderful person said, ‘Oh, you  have your own style, Meg’. And I just felt like hugging her.  

Wedding Parties, Love and Hypocrisy

Published November 3, 2011 by megdedwards

We were lounging in my daughter’s shared house in Halifax watching that reality show about women choosing their wedding dresses when one of the young college girls turned to me and asked me directly, “Did you cry when you chose your wedding dress”?

I looked to my daughter, is it OK to tell your house mates my story, I asked? Oh yeah, she answered, knowing the tale all too well. Joe and I were married at the old City Hall in Toronto when I was hugely pregnant with Rose, and we had already been together about 8 years. We invited his parents to be witnesses because Joe’s mom had cried when we told her I was pregnant. There was also a financial reward, a tax break of some kind that made the whole deal more attractive to my husband.

The wedding ceremony was quite funny because the man on duty at the time thought he should make an appropriate speech based on the information he saw before him. Joe’s passport states his birth city as Jerusalem so the Justice of the Peace or whatever he was, intoned on the beauty of Canada (not knowing that Joe had been a Canadian since he was 4 years old).

I was obviously pregnant, so he reminded us that marriages take time and we would know each other better in a few years (not knowing that we had already been together for so many years) and finally, when Joe put the ring on my finger (I bought it at a cheap store on Yonge St. just in case we needed one, it was three thin silver coils wrapped together), he said, “Will you Joseph take Mary”?

I guess the mention of Jerusalem and the sight of the pregnant bride made him confused and he suddenly had changed my name from Margaret to Mary, but at this point I guffawed out loud with Joe and it was all over.

We did not have a party, we broke no dishes, we did not cross hands and drink out of glasses or allow people to make stupid speeches. We did not introduce our cultures to each other, god forbid, and we did not make them share a hall and dinner and the outrageous costs of the event. You’d think they would have been relieved. Maybe they were, we don’t really talk about it.

I did not care about not having a wedding; I honestly did not care at all. Very few people believe me but I did not have wedding fantasies when I was a child, and by the time I was 13 all I heard from my mother and sisters was how marriage and weddings were hypocritical and a waste of time.  I never dreamed about wearing the white dress and walking down the aisle, and I think for Joe, who hated his bar mitzvah, the idea of a wedding party was a nightmare.

But most of all, Joe and I were in agreement that we did not want our two families forced together for a ritualistic event. We knew at the time, and now 27 years later I can tell you that we have not been proved wrong, that the prejudice in both of our families would have been evident.  I think we could both hear the snooty comments made behind each other’s backs, from our respective families, and could not see why we would want to host that particular event.

Joe’s family saw my family as the epitome of what was wrong with WASPs, and to be honest we pretty much lived up to the worst of it. In my family and for many generations back you can find insanity, alcohol and/or drug addiction, affairs/divorce, and bad housekeeping and mediocre cooking.   And we think very highly of ourselves, for no apparent reason. We are brought up to be snobs about working people, but don’t necessarily educate ourselves, and we believe in noblesse oblige even though we are generally cheap and broke and should not be looking down our noses at anyone at all.

Both families would have put on their best hats and behaved well if we had had a wedding party, but there was just no need for the charade. Looking back now, I wonder whether my Dad, who was more conventional than my Mom, was disappointed that he never walked one daughter down an aisle.

I enjoy other people’s weddings, though. It is generally a fun celebration with food and drink and dancing, and I partake with enthusiasm. I enjoyed my eldest brother Rhys’ wedding last weekend in which he married the lovely Carmen.

The sermon at the Catholic Church was quite nice, all about love. He even said, Love is forever, sometimes marriages don’t last, but love lasts forever. Some guffawed later at this, but it is true, and in fact he was marrying two older people who had been married before so he was not out of line.

And this philosophy of love as the guiding force of our lives makes sense to me. I am a very spiritual and unmaterialistic person, it is just that I don’t happen to follow any Church or love any one figure that stands in for love.

At the wedding the two families kept fairly separate and I am not sure if anyone made the effort to reach out to the other family. My brother had argued that the tables should be mixed up so people could get to know each other, but his wife had made the good argument that people who had traveled a long distance to see each other would want to sit at each other’s tables.  So we sat with our own people.

By the end of the night the two groups had merged on the dance floor. But when the dance music began to sound somehow more Asian, and the dancers had begun group dances, a lot of the WASPS dropped out.  Not me though, I love to dance, I am a dancing fool. I’m not sure but I think I may come across as Elaine in this area as well, but it does not stop me.

There were dances in which you had to know steps, and I found the older guy who seemed to know and followed him. And there was a dance where someone grandstands in the middle and everyone dances in a circle until the next person drops into the middle.

When I jumped into the middle, and then dragged my two nieces in with me, there was a big cheer. Ah ha! I had broken down the two cultures stand off!  I felt proud knowing that I had helped merge the two cultures for a few minutes. And I danced and danced, celebrating love.

Happy times with my Daughter

Published October 27, 2011 by megdedwards

Treat. Yo. Self.

This was my daughter’s mantra on my weekend visit into Halifax, the city of students.

For us, a brunch out, a day of shopping and a dinner out were the extent of our madness, but was it was great to do whatever we wanted and take all the time we wanted eating and talking.

What could be more fun than spending time with a beloved child who has grown into a magnificent adult?

We even traded roles at one point as she led me through a maze of malls in order to catch our second bus to the destination mall. I needed to pee and I was hot and tired, and started moaning about how we could have just stayed in the North End and looked at the second hand shops.

She wisely paid no attention to me, made a short stop into a chocolate shop where we jammed lots of sweets into our mouths and carried on.  The clerk at the store expressed shock that we did not need a bag for our bonbons, but we were on our giggling way before his comment about the number of treats sunk in.

She got me to Winners, where I did in fact find a dress for the upcoming wedding at the happy price of $29. This was not the only time when I felt like my Mama role of doting benign dictator was floating away.

She had been right about the shopping and I was the whiney kid! And I saw how gradually I will not be the one in control anymore. Just as it is with me and my Mom now, I told myself to just let it happen, and enjoy the blessing of real friendship with a daughter.

She is a marvelous person, such a person.  But she has some odd struggles, such as thinking that Joe and I would ever be disappointed in her for not becoming an academic or the classic hipster kid, lost, angst ridden and pessimistic.

I am not sure why we would want this for here, just so that she could be like us when we were younger? When I talk about my behavior in high school I remind her that my parents had split up and my sister had jumped off a bridge, just for starts, so I was in a different space, and the seventies were undeniably a different time.

I really don’t know any kids her age with as much drive or moral certitude. She is a bright light, and I take no credit for this. When people meet her they see what they want to see, a bright eyed and optimistic young woman in a nice outfit. They assume she comes from a suburban home with pushy parents and has not had many life experiences.

In high school, clean cut, ambitious and hardworking, she edited the school year book and started her career as a freelance writer.   But she would sometimes find herself defending and explaining her life style up to that point, a life history that included moving every few years, no home ownership, travel, home birth, home schooling and non-vaccinating. She didn’t even have antibiotics until she was 16 years old.

She may have thought for a short time that Joe and I would judge her for becoming a business woman, but we have been pretty clear that we admire her abilities and just happen to be bad at it ourselves.

She is now studying business with even more energy and enthusiasm than she applied to journalism for the last five years. Just the thought of my daughter in a position of power makes me happy, because I know that a woman who volunteers to look after children in a North End school every day is going to be a responsible company owner.

A thoughtful democratic feminist who relates to the disenfranchised and yet wants to be actively involved in the ‘real world’, well, good on her!

We only want her to be happy, which is in itself a rather unreasonable expectations considering the regular grind of hormones mixed with real life.

We have always let her decide what she wanted to do. No school, fine. No swimming lessons, fine.  Quite by accident we may have created a driven and ambitious woman with high expectations for life.

But then again, I don’t think we can egotistically blame or credit ourselves for who she has become.

We have done our part in the nurture department, she was the first child and god knows what our peripatetic life and scrambles for money did to her. We had a lot of fun too, parties, travel and excitement.

Her nature as it emerges, speaks of all her grandparents in equal parts; Safta’s enthusiasm for personal challenges, Nana’s interest in fashion, Saba’s cool good manners in all occasions, and Grandpa’s enthusiasm for work.

When I told her about her slacker parent’s time on the beach in Thailand a few decades ago, she surprised me by saying, I couldn’t do that, I‘d have to have something to do.

Those were my Dad’s words!  He would be so proud of her. I know I am.

 

Dinner Table Manners

Published October 24, 2011 by megdedwards

There is a myth circulating in present day media that all families who are any good, and any parents who have any control over their kids, will sit down and eat dinner together – whether they like it or not.

And I am not sure I subscribe to that popular guilt trip – just as I don’t actually think children will keel over without a regular bedtime.

First of all, I already don’t like the traditional yelling that happens when a family is called for dinner.  Typically someone is late or does not immediately rush to their place at the table because they want to finish their project or whatever, and then the yelling becomes angry sounding.

As soon as a meal starts with angry yelling, I am out of there. I don’t like meals which start with yelling and then continue in some mad rush to get the food down as fast as possible.

I am one of those over sensitive people who is affected by ‘bad’ table manners.  I really care if you show your food in your mouth, or belch, or fart, or place both elbows on the table and stuff the food in as fast as possible. The sight and tension of this sort of eating can actually give me a stomach ache.

And the thing with table manners, is that every family has different standards. I was brought up fairly strictly, possibly too strictly, but the damage has been done and I can’t go back.

The rules were something like this: cut up some of your food, then put your knife on the side of the plate and use your fork to eat; use just the one hand to eat, leave your fingers out of it, and leave the other hand on your lap. The other hand does not need to be nailed to your lap but do not rest one or  both arms on the table as if you are too tired to hold yourself up.

Lift your food to your face; don’t lower your face to the food.  Tip your soup away from your lap in order to get to the bottom of it.  Don’t crash the tings of the fork on your teeth, just eat more slowly and place your utensil more carefully. Cut bread, break buns. Take small bites so that you can talk and eat without a huge challenge.

I think that was about it. Excuse yourself when you are done and don’t put your napkin in your plate. When your plate is finished put your fork and knife on the side of the plate. Our mom argued that we should know how to eat properly so that it would become second nature and we would never be nervous if we are invited to a fancy dinner.

She was right about that, and I think the manners are nice and easy to follow. However, I don’t get invited out to fancy dinners all that often and most people I meet eat like ‘farmers’ as my Mom would have said.

But I don’t think table manners are a snob issue.  I have met plenty of actual farmers who eat really nicely. I am beginning to think that it is a personality type and that the less uptight people are the ones who eat with the most gusto and indelicacy.

My husband tends to do a whole host of things that I was taught to never do. I don’t know why, some of his family members eat all nice and neat some of them do not.

We have had an argument in the last few years over the practice of sitting down to eat together as a family. He says;  see how they all sit down to eat as a family in Leave it to Beaver?  We borrowed the CD set from the library and often watch while eating dinner. And I say; notice how they eat with small bites, sitting up straight and barely even chewing or swallowing?

So basically, I have had to get over myself.  I remind myself that I don’t really care where the fork and knife sit, or whether someone eats dinner as if there is an urgent deadline. The only thing I still quietly complain about is the conversation started mid large mouthful.

I know that I am a bit uptight and sensitive about eating sounds and sights, and depending on my mood, more intensely or less intensely aware of table manners.

The solution in our family is to leave the dinner hour completely free of stress:  one announcement that dinner is ready, come or don’t come that is fine. And we might eat in front of the television and watch Coronation Street, or we might sit at the table, where there will be a wide range of table manners.

For some reason my eldest  sister and I got on the topic the other day and it made me think that our childhood dinner hours were not stress free, what with the constant teaching of manners. And I distinctly remember my crazy sister and I fighting over who sat closest to Mom because she had the loudest mastication of the family.

And then my eldest sister remembered how we always had candle light and classical music. And I realized in a flash of knowledge that it was my Dad who was sensitive to eating sounds and that is why we had the music. Ah ha!

We had good dinners and bad dinners. Sometimes it was light hearted, but by the time my memory was really kicking in, I think my parents were on the outs and my Dad was depressed. I remember him sitting by himself after dinner, with the classical music, drinking wine and looking morose.

What is truly important, obviously, is not so much manners or family traditions, but whether the people sitting at the table want to be there.  My husband does not have that same sad ritual, and I am grateful for that and able to leave behind some of the rituals of my childhood.

And my husband excuses me too, because sometimes after a long day I just want to be alone or write, and not be at the dinner table with the elbows flying and people choking as they try to talk, laugh and eat food at the same time. Much as I appreciate their gusto and laughter, I will come to dinner when I feel like it, and not when the bell  rings, as it did in my childhood.

Hi I’m Meg Edwards, How may I help you?

Published October 21, 2011 by megdedwards

I live in the Canadian Maritimes among some of the most kind, polite and thoughtful people in the world. We smile at strangers, wave at cars in our small rural village, hold doors and offer help.

It is lovely and the one time someone was randomly rude to me in a parking lot, I turned to him and said, “Are you not feeling well”? That is how lovely it is.

Even teenagers talk to me, sometimes laughingly apologizing for their language, (can’t be worse than me on a bad day) and I have even seen teenagers upbraid each other for rudeness or littering.

The division between the very rich and the very poor is not overly painful in the east because we seem to have a large middle class that encompasses everyone.  Most people can afford to buy their own house, which evens the field considerably.

So for the most part there is not much snobbery, people are pretty straight forward and down to earth. I think the Scottish/English blood was much improved by a liberal mixing with the local First Nations and the French Acadian people.

We have a  lovely university town a mere twenty minutes from where I live that offers all that you want in a small town, a thrift store or two, little cafes, an  independent cinema, an  artist run art gallery and all the offerings of the local university.  And in this delightful town are some of the most snobbish and unfriendly people in the Maritimes.

There are people in this town who carefully avoid eye contact so that they do not have to say hello. While this may be common in big cities it is ridiculous in a small town. I refer to them as the ‘bourgeoisie’ because that seems to identify their aspirations and general social pretensions.

Some are college professors and some just think they are better than other people. When we first moved to the area I was eager to meet people and have parties. Those parties did not quite materialize, although I do have a bunch of artists that I like to have over.

This conversation will give you a clear picture of the social dynamic of this little town. I wanted to get to know a local professor, known to be ‘shy’ (give me a break). I thought that since I was great at parties and for coffee meetings, we could be friends.

For a few years she avoided eye contact, then one day we were stuck in a small entry room waiting for a theater production to let us in. We were approximately 2 inches apart. I said,” Hi, I’m Meg Edwards”. She said, “Oh hello, oh yes, Joe speaks very well of you”.  I said, “Yes, well, he has to he is my husband”. And that was the last conversation we had.

You would think this elite collection of people would have approved of me and my husband Joe. Joe’s got a PhD in British History for god’s sake. But we are not snobs, and this may have affected our life choices and job possibilities all along. We come across as sort of ordinary.

And we have done all sorts of jobs. When we first moved to New Brunswick  12 years ago we had no money, a student loan, a freshly minted PhD (him), an article recently published in Homemaker’s magazine (me), two cats and two kids.  We moved in with my beloved brother and took his advice, take any job you can get and then move up.

We had to take any job, we were desperate, and we are not bilingual. He worked in a packing factory at first and then got a sessional job teaching at the local university. I worked at Zellers, I kid you not, and then at a call center.

I learnt a lot at the call center. First of all, the only reprehensible call center jobs are the ones in which you make outgoing calls.

I tried it once; I called a lonely old lady at dinner time and could not make another call.  But I ended up working the night shift at a package delivery company in the brokerage department.

It was an odd environment; every worker is tethered to their pod by their head sets, and often they get up and stretch or pace as they talk to the customer. The workplace is a busy droning beehive full of women working at night to hold their families together. That was also when I learnt how to have a conversation with your eyes while speaking to someone completely different on the phone.

Here is some invaluable information. If you don’t like the representative you first spoke to, call again and try someone else.  You might get me. I forgave brokerage charges all the time just as long as the person was not rude. The ruder the person was the more I sat back in my chair and thought, fuck you then. For nice people I would give elaborate explanations and create files and call them back with resolutions.

Meanwhile, I have vivid memories of those phone calls and I was entertained. I can hear you opening the cat food, and I can hear you going to the bathroom. Those ear phones are stuck to our heads for our shift. The most excruciating for me were people who had to eat and talk. I have a weakness in that department and had to hold the phones away from my ear.

As a curious person I would allow the conversations to wander.  I met many IT people starting new entrepreneurial careers in exporting and importing. I was in people’s homes every night, hearing their dinners and their problems. I loved it. I talked to shocked  Americans on the very day that New York City had been attacked.

But the very fact that I have worked at a call center is going to embarrass the cold fish elite in that small town.  But never mind, as Kurt Cobain would say, after ten years I have found the gold in the muck and have a few wonderful friends.

Quite possibly the muck is only there because the university town imports people who think they could do better. And in this part of the world, we are content to let them go.

Bye Bye, now. Have nice day!

The Life and Death of Jackie

Published October 20, 2011 by megdedwards

Jackie was my Mom’s best friend and was always in our lives, sort of swinging around the outside of family events like a satellite for as long as I can remember.

She worked as a nurse, and then got her MA and taught nursing. She was a calm, practical person, who was great in a crisis or just out for a nice lunch.

She always remembered what was happening in your life, she showed interest in  other people without looking like she was following a polite protocol, she told amusing anecdotes about her life but never complained or ever showed self pity.

She was present when the family was still together and we had happy raucous Christmas parties and long summers at the cottage.  She remains part of our childhood memories. She had no children of her own, so we were hers by proxy; she  accompanied my Mom along the path of parenthood with a sense of fun and adventure.

My Mom first met her in the sixties during a night class in art history. Mom was older and married but they became fast friends, talking a mile a minute all the time. Jackie was tall, 6.2 possibly, with long black hair and piercing blue eyes. She always dressed carefully and was incredibly poised. I secretly thought of her as 99, the sidekick to Max in Get Smart; graceful, well mannered, lady like.

She was there when the whole family moved to Clinton, N.Y., feeding Mom cigarettes on the long drive while four kids were packed in the back of the VW bug (I was stashed in the boot with blankets).

Jackie was there when my sister Kate was hit by that bullet in Clinton, and Jackie was there when my father found out about my mother’s boyfriend, and returned in a drunken heartbroken state.

Jackie had come to support my Mom. I remember watching them from the kitchen window as they sat having a drink in the backyard. Jackie was trying to maintain a calm atmosphere and Dad eventually broke that social convention, calling her names, something I have never seen him do before.

After Dad moved out, Jackie lived with us in the old family house. Jackie rented a room from Mom while she was separated from her husband.  I enjoyed the fun feeling of a friend in the house, as I see my kids do when I have an old friend visiting.  I was studying  Grade 9 history and British royalty while Jackie was studying for some nursing exams. We commiserated in the kitchen.

I loved having her there, she made me feel safe.  When I had difficulties with my Mom’s impulsive and competitive nature, Jackie stood strong. She was still Mom’s best friend and said so, but she was also my supportive friend.

Over the years she attended my children’s birthdays and went out of her way to buy me little presents and take me out for lunch. She was the absolute best person to talk to when you had a problem; her area of expertise in nursing was psychiatry.

When I was in shock and pain upon discovery of my youngest daughter’s sexual assaults, her response was to be outraged, angry, even unforgiving.  No one had given me the permission to be as angry as I was; she raged for me. I will never forget how grateful I felt, and relieved.

We had a few long talks about sexual abuse when she was in palliative care with pancreatic cancer.  I learnt that Jackie’s  Mom, who had tortured Jackie with unpredictable cruel, critical rages, had been sexually abused as a child by Jackie’s grandfather.

She quoted the Bible, which is not often done in our house, to emphasize her point; the sins of the Father shall be visited upon the son. She meant that the sins of sexual abuse continue to poison the family in unexpected ways.

She sent me a short story she had written a long time ago, called Bitter Black Tea, about an especially painful week visit with her mother in England. In my heart I connected her health break downs with her visits to England with her mother.  She did not deny the connection when I mentioned it in the hospital.

When it came to dying, Jackie was supremely organized. She talked about it openly with her loving husband Paul, who she did end up staying with, and her doctors. They were impressed with her ability to face death. She planned a living wake in one of their favorite pubs and she made Paul promise to go for counseling and not drink more than beer, and get out a bit.

The only time she ever cried with me was during one of our calls when she was in palliative care.  She said the only reason she really did not want to die was because she did not want to leave Paul. And her voice cracked.  Far away and trying not to cry myself, I told her that Paul would sense she was with him, and she would be able to comfort him that way. I hope that is true.

I never cried when I visited her in palliative care, and even when I hugged her good bye on my last morning in Toronto, she was controlling, “Go now Meg, you have to make your plane, and you have a loving husband and children waiting for you”.

She told me that she needed to be able to talk about herself and that she did not want to cater to other people’s moods on her deathbed.  But even so, our chat ranged all over, just as if she was not going to die at all. We had such a lively talk about family history and she was sitting upright in the bed, with her morphine unit attached directly to her body.

“Oh, you made me realize something, now that is really interesting”. She was thinking, her bright eyes searching ideas in her mind, her long white fingers at her mouth.

This is how I remember her, engaged in ideas, excited about our conversation, sitting up straight with her long legs stretched out, her bright eyes snapping, her long white hand at her mouth; beautiful, alive, analytical and in this world.

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