Embracing the role of Auntie

cate and smithAs this posts, I will be in the air, on my 10th trip to Uganda since 2008.  A decade ago, I accidentally ended up one of the volunteer directors of a learning and development program called Nikibasika, for kids and youth with no family support.  Now, I’m part of a tiny group that raises all the funds and supports this group of kids as they transition through post-secondary school and into adulthood and community leadership.  This picture is of me, with Smith, one of my favourite people in the world.  He’s studying to be a public health officer and he’s curious, kind, warm, caring and so smart and committed to changing his world.  I love him.

Nikibasika is a long and involved story of its own — a book, really — but what I want to focus on here is the identity that’s emerged for me doing this work over the past 10 years — Auntie.

I never really had much of an identity related to the fact that I don’t have kids.  I never really yearned to be a mom, but I didn’t deliberately “choose” not to be one either.  I’ve noticed the emergence over the past couple of decades of women who actively identify as “childfree,” a “movement” of women redefining femaleness without the expectation of kids. That’s all great and interesting — but I can’t relate to it.  I assumed I would have some kids, I happened to be with someone who didn’t want kids during prime kid-having years, that was okay.  It didn’t have a big impact on my sense of self.

Then Nikibasika found me, in a culture where women who are mom-age in any nurturing role are called Auntie.  Around the same time, my sister had her first daughter. So as I entered my 40s, the role of Auntie found me.  At first, it was just an affectionate title.  But as I’ve gone through my 40s and into my 50s, it’s actually become a central element of my sense of who I am.

It’s pretty well understood that being an Auntie can be a special role, the one who gets to do fun things with the kids, “hand them back when they’re crying,” be the safe space for the conversations adolescents can’t have with their parents.  Community and family advocate Mia Birdsong has said that aunties “expand children’s internal and external boundaries,” and I like to hope that that’s what I do with the people I’m auntie to — at least some of the time.

I took my 12 year niece to London for a few days over Easter, and the time inhabiting each other’s space had a unique intimacy to it. She sent me a handwritten thank you letter that said “London is awesome and I’m so glad I got to share my first time going with you.”  I’m grateful for what I got from her in those five days too.

I have an Auntie role with some of my friends’ kids too, especially my friend Jessica’s. I was there at the beginning of her precipitous and early labour, I drove her and her partner back and forth to the NICU while the twins baked into humanness, I drove their tiny selves home from the hospital for the first time. In February, I got to spend a few days with Ivan and Felix (and their parents) in Barbados, introducing them to the sea.

Why am I writing about this in a fitness blog?  Like many of the regulars on this blog, I have written a few times about how community and family are an important part of self-care, and important part of balanced health. The extension of that for me, particularly as I’ve gotten older, is a really explicit need to live with a sense of meaning.

A few years ago, I was in a hotel room in Rwanda reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Committed, and serendipitously came across her musing on the need for aunties: “It’s as though, as a species, we need an abundance of responsible, compassionate, childless women to support the wider community in various ways.”   Right that moment, I understood that even though I hadn’t set out to “be Auntie” to the kids of Nikibasika, it isn’t just “a thing I do,” but one of the ways I get to live into the person I most aspire to be.

For me, Auntie is one of the ways that I’m living this stage of my life in a generative way, to use Erik Erikson’s phrasing for the 7th psychosocial stage of development. Erikson’s theory was that mid-life can either be a time of stagnation and self-absorption, or  it can be a time of “generativity” — i.e., working to creating a better world.  “Auntie” captures that perfectly.

I didn’t set out to make a 15 year commitment to a group of kids and young adults in a country I had no ties in.  Running an NGO in another country as volunteer isn’t for the faint of heart, and the fundraising and operations can get extremely wearying. But like everything that makes me more of who I am — whether it’s riding my bike really far, my work that challenges me, or improvising my way through this project, the day to day discomfort, pain and difficult moments fade into the background. What rises up is the purpose — the moments of profound connection, seeing the young adults who had no family support graduate from university, start businesses, get married, start volunteer projects in their own communities.

Over the next 10 days, I’ll be continuing to improv my way through this project.  I’ll be hot, and a little sick, and jet-lagged — and I’ll be fully in my grateful Auntie glory.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto where she works as an educator and strategic change consultant in academic healthcare and other socially accountable spaces. She blogs here on the second Friday of every month. If you have a few dollars to support Nikibasika, you’ll get a tax receipt in Canada, and knowledge that it’s going straight to an amazing group of young adults:  donation link

Spinning in the cold and the dark in Nathan Phillips Square, #thirty4thirty

Sarah and I had signed up for the 10 pm shift. It seemed like a better idea in the light and warmth of the day but we had dinner plans with a friend early in the evening.

We were ready to ride bikes on trainers in Nathan Phillips Square for an hour at the time I normally like to be settling down to sleep.  I knew my FitBit would scold me. Cate did too. Also, we were riding in a temperature that better matched warm blankets than outdoor exercise.

Why? We were part of the bike rally’s thirty4thirty spin-a-thon.

THIRTY 4 THIRTY SPIN-A-THON

“PWA’s Friends For Life Bike Rally will be honouring PWA’s 30th anniversary with a 30-hour “spin-a-thon.” It will be 30 hours for 30 years – that’s where “Thirty 4 Thirty” comes from. We’ll continually ride bikes on trainers, recruit, fundraise, and engage with the media, all with the Toronto sign and the reflecting pool right behind us. Through coordination with City Hall and the media, we’re arranging quite a bit of activity, building towards a major media event at 12 noon on Tuesday, April 25.

During the 30 hours, we’ll be telling the story of the 30 years of PWA and the nearly 20 years of the Bike Rally in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its effects on Toronto. We’ll do that through visual presentations, speakers, and special-guest spin volunteers.

We’ll also have incredible support from local bike shops, notably , who will be operating “pop-in tune-up” tents for commuter cyclists to get a quick tune-up or ask any bike maintenance, equipment, or sales questions.

This is an incredible opportunity to share the story of the Bike Rally and PWA broadly, and we’re very, very excited. Together, we can create an amazing event, attract more Participants, and raise more money.”

So yes it was cold and dark and past my bedtime. Yes, riding someone else’s bike on trainer without my clip in shoes had its challenges. But we got to chat with lots of people who stopped by to a)tell us that the Raptors won, and b)ask what we were up to and why. It felt really good to tell the story. It was also really nice to reconnect with the bike rally community of cyclists and support people.

And you’re part of that extended community too, blog readers who read about the bike rally, sponsor me, and in many other ways support my big summer ride.

You can sponsor me here. Thanks. I really appreciate it.

I also stopped by for the last hour, hour 30, to show support for people who’d be riding in the very hard rain all morning. Here we are, smiling but also cold and wet.

Party Run: 2016 Mudmoiselle London (Guest Post)

By Elan Paulson

(Shown above: Team “Slick Chicks” post-race)

This is a follow up to my previous blog post on party runs, which I published in anticipation of the 2016 Mudmoiselle London fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. In my previous post I had signaled some concerns about party runs, highlighting examples of runs that are currently available in North America. So, here’s me reporting back on where the Mudmoiselle stands in relation to these concerning issues.

The corporate issue: The event was well-organized and fully stocked with smiling volunteers; cheerful music; and a series of tends for registration, bag check, and changing. The Mudmoiselle “template,” with standardized pink/yellow/teal colours, was used for signs and medals. Registered participants received modest draw string swag bags with a shirt, trial-sized protein bars, and assorted gift certificates. About the only noticeable corporate branding was a guy at the photography booth dressed up like a Best Buy ticket.

What I think I liked most about the run was the camaraderie it inspired. There were some cooperative obstacles, but it was the occasion itself that brought out our team’s support for each other. That’s something no amount of sponsorship could buy, and perhaps it was in part because there was little corporate presence that we could focus on motivating and having fun with each other.

The “dress up” issue: Our team chose “business slick” attire: white men’s dress shirts, ties, sunglasses, and lipstick. Our costume was determined less by gender norms and more by what was comfortable but also ironic for a mud run. At our after-run lunch back at the captain’s house, our team was already talking about next year’s costume. Most seemed to like the idea of formal gowns.

The health issue: The course was not competitive, or even timed. An announcer warmed up teams at the start line. The obstacles were challenging, but not insurmountable. And some were quite amusing. Our team particularly liked the diagonal pole we had to slide down (with the aid of applied lubricant) to avoid falling into a mud pit. We encountered encouraging signs (“It’s just a hill; get over it”), water stations, and cheers from by volunteers and medical staff. So, it was a healthy activity, but afterwards we chose to have pizza and beer.

The environment: On this well-marked course we ran up and down a local ski hill on a beautiful, sunny day. We pulled jeeps in neutral, flipped large tires, and navigated through strings pulled taut across woody bike paths. Other than the water and soap to make a “slip ‘n slide” down a larger part of a hill, most obstacles seemed to use existing spaces well, and did not seem environmentally damaging.

The fundraising issue: The London Mudmoiselle met its fundraising goal—nearly $80,000—and our team met its own goal as well. I took my fundraising seriously, and through asking friends and family for donations raised almost $900. While I may have ran the Mudmoiselle run, it’s those who donated to the charity who are the real champions of the day. So, I’m listing below those who donated for me to acknowledge their generosity.

I had only one family member refuse to donate to the CCS because he thinks they aren’t transparent about how they manage their funds compared to other charities. And while the day served the purpose of fundraising, at the starting line there was no explicit mention by run organizers of the charity or its efforts (at least none that I had heard).

Overall: As an event that emphasized fun, friends, and health, but without over-the-top competitiveness or a barrage of corporate gimmicks that undermined the run’s social purpose or personal benefits, Mudmoiselle’s pros and cons netted out pretty evenly for me. It was a party run, but it was fun and it promoted an inclusive type of “partying” that many would find to be a welcome alternative to a traditional booze bender on a Saturday (complete with ties around our heads).

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Riding the Friends for Life Bike Rally at a friendly pace

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I just recently completed the Friends for Life Bike Rally, a six day cycling adventure that’s the main fundraiser of the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation. The bike rally is many things. It’s a fundraiser, sure, but it’s also a community, an experiment in cooperative, communal living, a chance to make friends and share stories, and it’s also a very long bike ride. I don’t find 100 km that challenging but six days of it is challenging, especially when you’re camping at night and riding in all conditions.

Other people do a much better job than me at explaining what’s so beautiful about the bike rally. Ken Allen writes, “Once again I’ve arrived in Montreal by bicycle, left emotionally reeling from having spent a magical week living in a world where challenges are met with collaboration rather than competition, where kindness is commonplace, and where hugs are plentiful. It’s a rare and beautiful thing, to find a world outside of my imagination that so perfectly meets my needs while also acting as a mechanism for helping others. A week is too short a time to live in that world. ‪#‎f4lbr17‬” That was Ken’s Facebook status update but it was set to to public so I assume it’s okay to quote.

Stephanie Pearl McPhee, aka The Yarn Harlot, writes this about the rally, “There is an intimacy that happens on the Rally, and it happens right away. There is no way that this many people, all moving toward a common goal, all hurting for the same thing, all in the same place, eating together, riding together, putting up tents together – can avoid feeling a togetherness that’s remarkable. You become each others world very quickly, you’re the only people who really understand what’s happening, and friendship is the thing that makes it so – and friendship in all its forms. The sort that springs up when you brush your teeth with someone you just met, together at 6am, all squeezed into spandex and about to do something epic. Another sort thrives as you see old friends revealed in new ways or discover new depths and build on a friendship you thought was at its fullness.” See more of her words here but prepare to get weepy. I did.

(Want to come with? Registration for #F4LBR18 is open with an early bird discount until August 7th.)

One thing it isn’t is a race. There’s lovely company, beautiful scenery, and many days to get through/enjoy weather depending. Six days, six hundred and sixty kilometers.

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Not only isn’t it a race, it’s also not a fast training ride.

When on the bike rally and on cycling holidays, I find myself happily switching into touring mode. I try to find a quick sustainable speed that I can enjoy and still appreciate the journey. That’s good because I was riding the bike rally with my friend and guest blogger Susan. She’s pretty fast for a brand new cyclist but this is her first year on the road bike so there’s a bit of a speed gap between us. Drafting helped us bridge the gap.

Susan told her story about learning to draft here. She’s great at drafting now.

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(You can compare my speedy training rides with the bike rally thanks to Strava. Average speed on speedy training rides, 28 to 30 km/hr. Average bike rally speeds 22 to 24 km/hr. More telling though is average heart rate. It’s 140 to 150 on the training rides, 120 to 130 on the bike rally. And that is exactly as it should be. Even cycling coach Chris Helwig’s instructions were to ride easy, staying mostly in Zone 2, except on hills.)

Indeed my one exception to the policy of moderation was hills. I think I’ve caught the bug. I see hills now and want to race up them. Luckily the landscape between Toronto and Montreal is mostly downhill, and the prevailing winds are behind us. I have work to do though on being the person drafted versus being the person hanging on the back for dear life. I’m so often in the latter role that my skills at the former are rusty. I’m good at maintaining a steady speed but not so good at remembering to ease up from that steady speed on hills.

Also, in the taking it easy category, I did excellently at putting into practice the principal that it’s not my job to correct wrong people everywhere. As they say, I don’t have to attend every argument to which I’m invited.

I didn’t feel the need to announce my reasons for being slower than others. I heard one young man tell everyone around that the only reason he was just getting into lunch now is because he was sweeping. (The sweeps ride in last so the volunteers working “road safety” know that we’re all in.) Don’t do that dude. There’s no need. It’s not a race. And think about how it made the people who were riding that pace feel.

I didn’t correct the young woman who didn’t believe in drafting because it doesn’t work. The riders in bike races ride so close for fun, I’m sure. You save your words of cycling advice for riders on the Tour de France. They’ll be happy to hear that drafting is unnecessary.

I also didn’t correct the man who told me he’d done his research and clipless pedals don’t make a difference. I just smiled and said I liked mine. No argument.

At 50 I’m finally growing up! (Though I still feel fifteen an awful lot of the time.)

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Friends For Life Bike Rally Day 2: in which Samantha pulls me to Adolphustown

This is the longest day of our Toronto to Montreal journey. It’s 130kms of lovely lakeside biking but still, that’s a lot of biking. 

Truth: I have been road biking for less than a year and before that, I was only the most casual cyclist. So, I have been pretty darn impressed with myself that I’m hovering in the 23.5 km/h average range. 

Sam has been gracious enough to ride with me this year and I have spent that time chatting, panting, swearing under my breath and occasionally thinking of good questions to ask about cycling. 

All these things combined together on day 2. First of all, speed is about time on the bike. I can do squats and deadlifts and run and TRX but nothing is gonna get me faster on the bike than trying to go faster. So, I will keep trying. Faster is most definitely more fun. 

Next, don’t brake. I don’t mean never, but try not to. She suggested all sorts of ways to slow down that don’t involve braking (no, dragging your feet on the ground isn’t one of them. It wears out your shoes, just like mom said, amongst other problems). What clicked for me was conservation of energy. If I don’t brake, I pedal less or less hard. If I pedal less hard, I use less energy and I have more for hill climbs and sprints and such. 

Next, I have a weak right butt cheek. TMI? Maybe, but it led to the next important lesson. I started to get spasms in my right butt cheek around 35 km. It’s easy to fix. I have to stop and stand up. Nothing else works. No other position, or standing up while riding or anything. I have to get off. That isn’t a problem if I can wait for official breaks but when the interval shortened to 25 km, then 15 km, then 8, well, that’s a pain in the butt, if you get my drift. It was a long day and going slower wasn’t the solution. The solution was to go as fast as possible and get it the heck over with. Which leads me too…

“Susan Finally Learns to Draft”. Oh yes, I learned and I learned good. My whole world was Sam’s wheel and her butt. I stuck to her like glue and we went FAST! It was glorious, especially when my rear wasn’t at a critical point. I got over my anxiety of being close, didn’t brake hardly at all and she dragged my sorry self all the way. 

At 100 km I thought about stopping and taking a support vehicle. And then I wanted to cry. I have worked so hard to get ready for this ride and, barring something truly horrible, I want to finish. I NEED to finish. All my pride and competitiveness and blah blah says “ignore your rear and get in gear”. So I did and in just over 5 hours of riding time, we made it. 

I could NOT have done that without your quiet and persistent and patient support, Sam, so thank you. 

By the way, if anyone is impressed, show us how impressed you really are and sponsor us here. That’s me. Sam is here

  

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On the road with #F4LBR17

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Me on Red Dress Day 2014. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll wear this dress again or something else. Decisions, decisions!

I’m on the road all next week with Friends for Life Bike Rally, riding from Toronto to Montreal to raise money for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation.

Saturday, July 25th  is Packing Day and Sunday, July 26th is Departure Day. On July 30th, 600 km later, we arrive in Montreal, with lots of fun, friendship, and adventures in between.

Last year I rode with my friend David. This year I’m riding with my friend and guest blogger Susan.

I’ll blog a little bit from the road, maybe, but it will depend on fussy things like the elements, mostly rain and a strength of the cellular signal.

It’s not too late to sponsor me here!

And you can read about last year’s ride:

Bike Rally Route

PWA’s Friends for Life Bike Rally

On July 26, 2015, more than 300 Riders and Crew will embark on a six-day, 600 km journey from Toronto to Montréal to support the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation’s (PWA) ability to provide critical services and support to individuals living with HIV and AIDS in Toronto. Now in its 17th year, the Bike Rally is the sustaining fundraiser of the PWA.

Bike Rally Participants of all ages and levels of experience share a common passion in supporting their friends, family and neighbours living with HIV/AIDS. Join PWA’s Friends For Life Bike Rally for the experience of a lifetime and help make a positive difference. Dreaming Bigger … Celebrating Friendships … Strengthening Communities … one kilometre at a time

Walking and Running with Pride!

 

This past week was a big week in my life. So big that I couldn’t fit it all in and had to cancel cycling holiday plans. No Manitoulin Island for me this year.

While my father’s illness, badly behaved teenagers (it’s the end of the high school year, we’re all running out of patience) and travel plans on the part of my sister-in-law who usually does back up parenting for us were part of the story of competing commitments, it wasn’t all bad.

Here’s some of the good stuff: My son graduated from the Triangle Program. It’s Canada’s only publicly funded secondary school classroom for LGBTIQ2S youth from grades 9 to 12. That’s exciting. I was thrilled to be there for his graduation ceremony and to get to spend time in Toronto for Pride. Mallory and I also got to do the Pride and Remembrance Run. Guest bloggers Alice and Susan and Stephanie were there for the run too.

Susan wrote about the Pride Run last year: “There is one race, however, that motivates me best, the Pride and Remembrance Run, held each year in Toronto on the last Saturday of Pride Week. It was founded in 1996, The Pride and Remembrance Run has become an annual tradition promoting and fostering community spirit, goodwill, volunteerism and sportsmanship in the LGBT community.” For the complete list of reasons she loves it, read on here.

Stephanie says about this year’s event, “This was my fourth year doing the Pride and Remembrance Run. I love it for so many reasons: it’s close to home, the course is familiar (I run around Queen’s Park all the time), and it starts at a very reasonable 10am. It’s also one of the most fun races to run: confetti at the start, the Pride festival on the surrounding streets, people dressed in costumes and bright colours. It’s become a bit of a traditional race for members of my department. This year, I think we had about 14 people running – what a great turnout!”

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I think between us this community of bloggers had the full range of speeds and experiences! Susan got a personal best for 5 km and Stephanie broke 25 min for the first time in awhile. Alice and Amy had a terrific fundraising year. They arrived late, 14 min after the start due to “toddler issues” and pulled up the rear.

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Mallory and I were in the middle. Mallory wanted to do the 3 km walk and I was originally going to run. But after walking 16 km the day before I had a sore knee and started to worry about running in the upcoming duathlon. In the end I walked all but the final kilometer and started to run only when Susan came past us.

I loved the event. It was probably the best organized run/walk event I’ve ever taken part in. The serious runners got to start first and they were coming back in as the walkers were leaving. The best times were in the 16 and 17 minute range. Speedy!

Here’s how they organized the waves:

I loved the glitter/confetti cannon.

Here’s the start/finish line:

I loved the closed roads in downtown Toronto.

Here’s the route:

I loved the marching band playing Sesame Street and Muppets tunes. I loved all the costumes, of course. These guys won for best costume:

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Glenn Bell photography

But most of all I loved the sense of community and the full range of ages, abilities, and ambitions. I’ll definitely be back, next year I hope without a sore knee, and I hope to run the 5 km. See you there!

 

Mallory and me

Mallory and me!

Susan and me!

Susan and me!

Oh, and I also love that the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, does the run with police escorts on bike!