My Jijuu

Today is just one day shy of my Jijuu (grandmother) Mary Effie’s birthday. Tomorrow, she will be turning 78 years old. I would just like to share a little bit about my Jijuu because this beautiful woman deserves to shine bright, not only on her birthday, but every damn day of the year.

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My Jijuu is the most respectful and humble woman I know. She carries herself with dignity, grace, and resilience. She’s a hunter, a fisher, a sewer, a teacher, a mother, a Jijuu, and my best friend. She is a strong believer in God, she likes to smoke cigarettes. and she’s crazy as hell. Although my Jijuu is an elder, she’s a little bit of a daredevil. I have some crazy stories of her and I travelling on white caps to get back to our family at fish camp, or crossing the melting ice road too close to it breaking up and her going along with just about any idea that I can conjure up. One of my favorite things about her is that she is always down to come on road trips with me.
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My Jijuu has given birth to eight children, two of whom have unfortunately passed away. She lost a daughter who was only a few months old and then her youngest son who passed away twenty-five years ago at the age of nineteen. Today, I want to tell you a little bit about my uncle Geejam and how even though he passed away, he is still close to her heart and binding her and I together.

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My Uncle Geejam was buried on October 19, 1991 and it just so happened that I was the first baby born on October 19, 1992. On the day that I was born, my Jijuu Christie Thompson gave me my Gwich’in name, “Gwikitch’ihkh’eh”, which means “In Return” because, as she said, I was the life given after his life was taken.

When my Jijuu talks about my Uncle Geejam, she speaks so fondly as she describes his love for the game of hockey, for his family – especially his siblings and cousins, and for her. He was a crazy guy who was always happy and everybody loved to tease. As she tells me about my Uncle, I can hear the pain in her voice as if it happened just yesterday.

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This one time, my Jijuu and I were driving the Dempster Highway on the way to our very first Moosehide Gathering in 2014. She was telling me about how my uncle would drive her wherever she wanted to go – all over the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. And then she looked at me with the sweetest look that only a Jijuu can give, and said “and now look at my Gwikich’ihkh’eh driving me around, just like my Geejam did”.

Oh my Jijuu, I hope and pray that I can drive you around for many many years to come.

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Gwiintl’oo Nahtinithan & Nidrin dagoonch’uu gwiinzii srigoojanhch’uu.

 – shayla snowshoe

Becoming a Maker

Last year, while I was pregnant with my daughter, I had specific things that I envisioned her having, and one of those was bonnets. I just loved seeing babies in bonnets. Unfortunately, I could only every find bonnets for $25-$50 CAD in the style that I liked. To put it simply, they were something I couldn’t afford (especially since I wanted her to have one for every outfit – ha!). Finally I couldn’t stand not having any for her so I bought myself a sewing machine and taught myself how to use it. I figured if I could learn how to sew then I could save some money. I am so glad that I bought that sewing machine because it has become a small part of me.

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Now, I can’t even count how many bonnets I’ve made (okay, I probably could, if I took some time to). I’ve altered the pattern (what feels like) a million times to get the fit I like on my daughter’s round head. When she was newborn I had to redo the pattern to get a small enough bonnet for her little head and as she grows I continue altering. Recently I gave away five of Alba’s bonnets to someone who needed them more than her, the great part is I am easily making more for her to replace the five that we gave away. It’s not costing me much financially as a lot of the fabrics I use are given to me in the form of old sheets (thanks mama!).

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Crocheted pixie hats and mittens for my daughter.

Recently I’ve also started delving into other projects. I’ve sewn some skirts/dresses for my daughter and myself, as well as taught myself to crochet. I can make things. A lot of these are beginner projects but I hope to make her some heirloom pieces that she can give to her children or that I can keep for any other children I may have.

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A pinafore dress and bunny bonnet I made for Alba’s first Easter.

 

The best part of all of this isn’t the money I am saving learning how to make things (instead of buy), nor is it the possibility that my grand-children will get to wear these clothes, instead it’s that I am spending time on me. Myself. While I was pregnant, one of the things I worried about was my identity. Who would I be after my daughter was born? Mother is such a beautiful title, and it is a part of my core, I was made to be Alba’s Mother, but I am more than her Mother. I am still Claudine, someone who wasn’t a mom for the past 27 years and as I navigate through my motherhood story I am trying to keep a grasp on that.  I’ve read and heard about drowning in parenthood and that hasn’t happened to me (yet, I’m sure it will come at some point). I’ve heard that the days are long, that it’s monotonous, and I think (for me) that hasn’t happened because (when I can) I take the time to just do “me” things. It’s therapeutic. I love being a Mom, and I think one of the reasons I love it is because I try to have balance and spend time on myself, especially in these wonderful early days when I’m with her literally 24/7. So, when Alba sleeps, I like to make things (or do something that I enjoy). I think this makes me a better mama, a happier mama, and I truly wish I could stay home with her forever because I am enjoying every single day.

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It’s not always easy. Sometimes I have to sew on the floor because she’s napping on the couch and I want to be in the same room as her. Another time I sewed on the floor in the basement because everywhere else in the house someone was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake anyone up but I really wanted to finish my project. To say I love it is a little bit of an understatement.

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Alba wearing the same bonnet in both images. On the right image we are bother wearing skirts that I made. 

 

Since Alba joined my life just a short 5 months ago, I have become slightly terrified of becoming an empty nester in the future (yes, I think about things like that), but at least I’ll have my sewing machine with me (*insert laughing emoticon).

breaking the surface

I remember swimming at the lake by our reserve. My brothers and cousins and me, we would dive deep, after we had swum out far enough that we couldn’t touch the bottom anymore. We would hold our breath, trying to be the last one to rise to the surface. I remember opening my eyes and floating in that space between light and dark, watching the sun shimmer through the water in soft waves. Looking at the light, feeling the burn in my lungs, and finally, finally, breaking through the glass of the water, gasping, sputtering, wiping my eyes and laughing.

This last month felt like I constantly trying to break through the surface.

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And it’s hard for me to admit that. I’m not superwoman, but I do “a lot.” I’m in my PhD. I own my own business. I write and manage this blog. I’m a single parent. In the middle of all this, I also write. I’m doing a play. I’m writing a poetry manuscript. I’m tentatively outlining the plot to a novel I’ve been thinking about for the last year.

All these things though, I love. I love my life. I am happy. So why am I so overwhelmed?

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I would understand if I disliked any aspects of this life, but I didn’t. I don’t. I would study and feel content in following a dream I’ve had since I was a teenager. I would photograph a family and smile at the back of my camera, seeing the captured emotions and realize that I love this job. I would cuddle up with my daughter, kissing the top of her head, and try to remember what it was like before I felt this love, before I became her mother.

But slowly, slowly, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t feel the joy. I couldn’t feel the passion. I felt… grey. Nothing. Absent. I went through the motions and denied that anything was wrong. Or I would sigh and shake my head, because even if something was wrong, there was nothing anyone could do to “fix it.”

In between worrying about money, moving homes, my child starting kindergarten, studying for comps, and writing on demand instead of with passion, I finally sat down and said, enough.

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Fuck this.

Fuck feeling like this.

I cannot, and will not, go through my life like this.

Something had to change.

I had to change.

I work with an amazing thesis advisor, and we had a sit down, as we do every week. She asked me, as she often did, “How are you?”

“I’m burned out,” I admitted quietly. She looked at me, eyes a little wide. In all our time together, where she has warned me to take it easy, to not take on so many projects, to be selfish with my time and energy as a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint, this was the first time I had ever admitted to being burned out. To saying enough.

“OK. … What do we need to do?”

I wanted to cry, with relief. Instead, I took a deep breath.

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Saying “enough” wasn’t quitting. It wasn’t a weakness. It didn’t make me “less smart” then those who had come before me.

So you may, or may not, have noticed I stopped writing here for a minute. I needed to step back, and when I did, the women of this blog stepped up. They said ok. They rallied, texted, messaged, and made up for my absence.

And I could breathe.

I took a look at my business and identified what I love doing, and what I do simply for the business. I developed a new business plan, going into effect in January. I identified key goals, and things I could let go.

And I could breathe.

I looked at my PhD with a critical eye. I drew a very badly designed map with crayons, showing where I was in my academic journey and where I needed to go. I’m a visual learner, it turns out, and I need to speak with my community, as soon as possible. So I did the paperwork that needed doing, and soon, very soon, I can start my interviews.

And I could breathe. And smile.

And while I’m still “too busy,” I feel like me again. I feel ambition. I didn’t realize how absent that was until I could feel it again. I felt desire. I felt joy. I felt silly and sarcastic and smart and sexy and powerful.

I feel.

And it’s good.

 – tenille campbell

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NOTE:

This post was written in October 2016. I let it sit for a while because it felt too raw, too vulnerable to admit any weakness, but I knew eventually I would be okay with it.

It’s okay to show the cracks.