“Writing the Self 3: [Do I Have To Smile?]”

It wasn’t as though I was underprivileged and it wasn’t as though my parents didn’t treat me well. In fact, I had way more than I needed and a loving family to top it off. So why did I feel so different?

I felt like an orange among a bunch of donuts. The orange is appealing on its own, but amid those delectable desserts, it doesn’t stand a chance. I became absorbed in thought as my friends chatted excitedly around me. I bit down and felt the familiar emotional sting as my bottom teeth tucked behind my top ones. I wonder if they notice it like I do… my thoughts trailed off as the commotion around me became a blurry background.

My mom worked so hard. My step-dad worked so hard. Why did it seem more difficult for them to do this? My pulse was fast, my eyes were moist, and my jaw was tense.

My friends didn’t seem to notice, nor did they even notice the factor that was causing this internal conflict. I felt my face turn a deep shade of pink as I opened my mouth to speak. Talking was safe, talking would not remind them of my difference. Before long, I began to laugh… hard!

I needed to trail back. This was exactly what I was trying to avoid. It was too late though and, although none of them ever pointed it out, they had to have noticed the obvious proof of my family’s economic class.

I could never confess my disappointment of course. After all, many of my classmates had less than we did and I knew that this was not a crucial use of our family income. I was old enough to understand priorities, so why did I still feel so glum?

 

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“Writing the Self 2: [Why Are They Different?]”

Why do these kids have “weird” skin? Why don’t I have skin like theirs? Will my skin turn darker or lighter while I go to school? These questions filled my five year old brain on the first day of elementary school.

I was a very shy kid. It took a lot of courage for me to introduce myself to the other kids, never mind vocalize the personal thoughts that had so abruptly taken the place of my regular internal conversation. I desperately wanted to understand what skin colour meant and why it was so varying among the people in my classroom.

Up until this point in my life, I had primarily been around family and friends whose cultural backgrounds were similar to mine and whose pigmentation matched the one I saw in the mirror each morning. I took for granted the inclusion that I felt among those who I had come to trust and love.

Would the other kids like me, whose skin is different than theirs? Would they think that I am weird because of my differences? Was I allowed to play with kids whose skin was different, or were we meant to remain separated? I didn’t have the knowledge and the life experience that I now have. I was a young child lost in a sea of unfamiliar observations and terrifying realizations.

I liked to blend in. I was comfortable with hiding in a large crowd and keeping my individuality to myself. I saw myself as a kid among many kids on the playground and I did not want to stand out. My skin was a darker pigment than many of my classmates, while simultaneously being lighter than many others’ in my neighborhood. I was unique…. and I was uncomfortable.

An appreciation for my special talents and skills had not yet developed within me, nor had any desire to embrace my family background and personal identity.

What was destined to be a day of getting lost in the hallways and being put into awkward social situations turned into a day of internal struggle with racial awareness and cultural understanding.

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“Writing the Self 1: [Warmed by the Cold]”

It is as if my legs have detached from my body in petition. The feeling I once had from my blood flow is absent and I begin to question whether or not I can actually stand up. Using the sled to brace myself, I prepare for the uncertain landing that waits as my feet hit the ground. My only security comes from the reassuring fact that there was a fresh layer of snow to soften my landing. My faith is abundant though, and I work up the courage to depart from the seat. I do not have much choice, as the fear of getting stuck in the sitting position has become very real to me.  

“Wow,” is the only word I can think of to describe my immaculate surroundings.

            I look down in awe and realize that my legs are not only attached, but are doing their job as I slowly release my grip on the sled. I feel the slightest bit of nausea from inhaling the fumes on the long ride. My chest is pounding with each breath as my lungs fight to process the cold air. My fingers have virtually frozen inside my fur mitts that our friend so carefully constructed for me. I know that there is a warm fire waiting, so I fight to ignore the throbbing that has made itself known in almost every part of my body. Periodically, I feel my blood moving as a gentle reminder that I am still alive. I become more aware of my surroundings, as I try to process the amazing opportunity that I have been given. The very same environment that chills me from head to toe manages to warm my heart in ways I cannot fully explain.

            The sky is painted in varying shades of violet and the only sound above our breath is the gentle wind travelling through the crisp winter air. The trees around us resemble those in the background of a Hallmark Christmas special and create a feeling of safety and shelter from the regular stresses of life. A rabbit hops across the trail ahead, creating new tracks in the fluffy, untouched snow. I stand in awe as the sun sets against the marvelous wonder of the Saskatchewan sky.

            “This is so beautiful,” I whisper under my breath as my husband’s excitement begins to rise.

            “I think we have something!” he exclaims.

            I had forgotten the reason we were even there, but the anticipation as we approach the first spot creeps through my veins and allows me to share in his gratefulness with genuine admiration. I know in this moment that I do not want to leave. I find myself dreaming of possibilities, wondering what lies ahead. My stomach turns, reminding me that we have not eaten anything since the start. I walk to the sleigh and pull out a hard granola bar; frozen solid. I pray that my teeth will not break as I take my first bite. Followed by a sip of hot chocolate though, the snack hits the spot just right. Everything about this is just right. This place is where we belong. This place is home.