Laugh with me

Since my family and I moved from Alert Bay to Victoria, all I’ve been thinking about is how much I miss laughing with my friends up island. My first week back in the city I was texting them and telling them that people weren’t laughing at my stories. I was never much of a story teller but something in me changed. I learned a few things about living in a small community during my three years in Alert Bay, and the most important teaching that I picked up is that shit happens and we are all in it together so let’s laugh about it.

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I remember the laughter of my relatives in Saskatchewan. Most of the time we laughed because someone was being teased. I close my eyes and I can see my aunties with their eyes squinted, heads titled up to the sky with big smiles, I hear their cackles and I smell their cigarettes. It didn’t matter who was being teased; we all laughed, especially the one being teased.

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When I was little, my dad was always away working up North and my mom didn’t have very much time to herself, between cleaning other peoples homes and taking care of my sisters and I. She had to bring us along to do everything with her. There were the lawyers and doctors homes that our mom cleaned while we vacuumed or daydreamed about living different lives. We went to the the bank where we were told to behave while all four of us stood and waited in the line, and eventually one of us would start to swing on the stanchions (my husband had to look that one up) and we’d either get a scowl from a back teller or our mother. And now I have the convenience of an ATM or doing my banking from home without distractions. She brought us along to the grocery store (I need to practice deep breathing to avoid loosing my shit when I take the boys to the grocery store) where we would be told that if we behaved we could have a free cookie from the bakery. In the days of no iPads or iPhones my mom would visit her friends at their homes and tell us to sit and behave, there were no electronic distractions. I remember that as I got older, I enjoyed listening to the adults talk and laugh. Their was Milli, who was like a kohkum and we all called her Milli Vanilli. She lived in a small apartment where we would look at the most recent items that she knitted or beaded. There my mother would learn how to make moccasins. I would listen to them talk about their week and notice when their voices became quiet which was when I tried harder to hear what they were talking about and then suddenly they would erupt in laughter. In the evenings we would go visit Leah. She was such a tiny lady with a huge personality, great hair and a big heart. She was always, always laughing; it was infectious. We would go to her place to visit but also to do some shopping. It was her place where my mom bought my very first and only pair of brand new Guess jeans, the pair with the ankle zippers. They were so cool and I wore them with my favourite purple silk blouse. Leah was earning her money on the side while my mom was trying to please her eldest daughter who refused to go shopping at the Sally Anne. Years later I learned that Leah died while being held in a prison cell in Saskatoon.

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In my circles we laugh, sometimes too much and I am told by a three year old that -we are too loud and that it is not funny. My laughter had always been loud but after living in Alert Bay, it is even louder. Not too sure how that is possible but it has happened. I always knew how to laugh but living in Alert Bay awoke something within me – I learned how to laugh like my aunties and grannies used to. We were always laughing. We laughed at everything and anything. If you were hurt, we laughed.  If you were sad, we laughed. If my husband told his “wing wing” joke, we laughed but not always. And its that laughter that allows us to survive even when we are hurting.

-Amanda Laliberte

it’s in the quiet times…

I did something extreme this summer – something that has caused me a lot of grief, guilt and shame.

I know… what an intro.

My parents are taking care of my kid for the summer.

There, I said it.

I feel wrong just saying it.

There is so much to unpack here.

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It started in the middle of June. I went to Vancouver for two weeks for two academic conferences and my Mom was watching my baby at my place in Saskatoon. And we chatted about it – and she agreed to watch Aerie for the summer up North. I’m still studying for my PhD (one day I will write more about this) and I am working hard on passing a big test that will determine whether or not I continue in academia in two freaking weeks. So much pressure, and on top of all this – blogging, photography, and a new book out to promote. Mom saw all this and was offering to come stay with me in the city, but she hates the city. And Aerie loves the North. It was easy to see that Aerie going North would help me out so much, and that it would be easiest for my parents.

Let me say this right away – I am so blessed to have my parents around to be able to do this, and the only person feeling guilty about this is me. My parents love having Aerie, and she loves being up there. There are no problems there at all.

So this guilt, this shame, and this self-loathing – it’s all internal.

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I like to say that this is an example of a community raising the child, which is an idea that I have taken to ever since my ex and I broke up. Although he and I are still friends, I am the primary parent of our child. And I do need help – and help is here. My brothers and their families, my parents, my best friends, my friends, and so on. If I need help, I just have to ask. Aerie is loved by many, and that is so good. She has a million aunties, just like any rez kid.

So she is doing amazing. She swims, boats, fishes, road trips, eats all the foods, makes all the friends. She is having a dream summer. We talk everyday and I make the trip down to see her very 7-10 days or so, even if it’s just for a night. But this was the longest time we have ever spent apart, and everyone has a comment.

Taking the summer to focus on my academic needs and myself gives me insane guilt, and that’s ok. I know – I KNOW – that this is the best for her and I right now, and that I needed this extra time to focus. But it’s hard.

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It’s hard when my own brothers make “you’re like an auntie to her ha ha ha” comments, while they sit in their two-parent relationships. It takes everything in me to not verbally cut them down because Mama raised me better than that. And I react because I fear what they say is true. Which is insane, I know, but I’m still teary just thinking about it.

It’s hard when I get asked by friends who don’t know the situation – “Where’s Aerie?” I drown in guilt and massive explanations when I don’t need to. I want to justify this to everyone, and I’m the only one who needs that.

It’s hard when it’s quiet at night, and I turn on a cartoon, just so I can feel like she’s around. It’s hard when I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking she called for me, and I remember she’s not there. When I go grocery shopping, and she’s not there, trying to sneak in her favourite snacks. So many moments where I miss the every day feeling of having her by my side.

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But there is a light – we are coming down to the end of summer. Her days at the beach are getting shorter. Her hair is getting longer. Her tan is incredibly dark, and she is thinking about her Grade 1 class and who will all be in there. My exams are coming up, and soon after that, she will be home with me. Those early morning cuddles where I have to convince her to get up – I can’t wait. Our Friday afternoon Starbucks dates – I can’t wait.

I really didn’t even wanna share this – I hate sharing my struggle – but I do know that the academic world is not women-friendly, it’s not Indigenous-friendly, it’s not mother-friendly. And that to succeed, sometimes we have to make sacrifices. This was mine. I gave up my summer with my kid.

But it’s only my sacrifice – as this was Aerie’s gain.

These were the moments where her relationship with her grandparents, her community, her land, and her culture – it only got stronger.

And come the Fall, I can’t wait to hear her stories.

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 – tenille k campbell