Tuesday, 17 October 2017

When love is not enough

Many years ago my mother had a baby, and that baby was me. My mother loved me with her whole heart.

Then she had a miscarriage.

She and my dad were older. They wanted more children but they were afraid they wouldn't have any.

So they applied to adopt. The social worker asked them if they cared what race the baby was. They hadn't even thought about race. "No," they immediately said. "Why would race matter? We will love this child no matter what."

Not long after my mother had her second child, a charming and smart little Okanagan boy who she loved with all her heart.



Then my mom gave birth to their third child, a boy. And she loved him with her whole heart.

Then came my baby sister, from Tsawout First Nation, a girl who was lively and generous of spirit and my mom loved my sister as much as any mother loved a child.

But the town we lived in was racist in ways we white people didn't even see. While one teacher put my brother on an accelerated math programme until she ran out of worksheets, the next told my mom she was letting him-with his reported IQ of 140- run the projector-because he wasn't clever enough to do math. Another claimed my brother had no friends. Yet after school and weekends and holidays our house was full of little boys- boys he played hockey with and went to cub scouts with and wrestled on the Sunday School floor with. He took a stick to the face in a hockey game when he was a teenager and waited for hours in emergency until his white parents showed up. He argued with a teacher who told him he wasn't an Indian. 

My mother raged and ranted. 

My sister's first teacher insisted she was hyperactive and should be sedated. Other teachers had low expectations of her- she was only a native after all. She was bullied and called a squaw. She was told what saints her parents were for adopting an Indian. Many called them her "foster parents".

Again my mother raged in ways that only a mother can rage. How did people not see the brilliance of her children? How did people not recognize their gifts? 

And time went on and things did not go so well for my brother and sister. Still my mother loved them with her whole heart. She loved them when she told them they were adopted. She loved them when she explained their birth mothers loved them but they were young and couldn't care for them and so they had given them, in love, to a home that could provide them with the things they could not. She loved them when she told them they were of indigenous descent and that was something to be proud of. She loved them when each of them told her, in turn, that they were going to meet their birth mothers. She loved them when each of them moved away to live in the communities that were theirs by birth. She loved them when she met their birth mothers. She never feared they would love her less- only that the families they found would not embrace them.

But ...one day she said to me, "Your dad and I love your brother and sister. When we adopted them, we knew we would love them. And we do. We thought love would be enough to make up for any hardships they had in their early days. We thought love would counteract any problems they might face. But now I see, love is not enough." 

My mother knew, despite the deep and abiding love she had for her children, love was not enough.
Love was not enough to battle racism.
Love was not enough to help them deal with the dichotomy of being First Nations kids raised in a white home.
Love was not enough to make up for years of institutionalized discrimination.
No matter how much she loved them, love was not enough to make up for them being taken from their communities.

My sister says "Love was enough, I was able to come home from the racism and know that I belonged and that I was loved because I was ME." But my mom didn't see it that way.

That is why I am passionate about education for reconciliation. For my brother and sister.  For all the kids who were made to feel small because of the colour of their skin. For all those who felt invisible because their history was not acknowledged. For those who were not allowed to tell their own stories without fear of humiliation. For every kid who grew up believing they were worth less than another. And for my mother. For mistakes that cannot be undone. For unintended consequences. For all those who lived with the guilt of doing the wrong thing for the right reason.