Mistaken Identity: The Day I Became Venezuelan

A tiny boarding school in the middle of Candiana small town, was not my ideal or even natural habitat. I had no idea how to be Canadian, between the hockey, the winter, and the weird conversation about the weather. I was lost, and my only solace was how well I could put up a wall and become invisible.

Half way through the year, we became aware of the boarding school marketing plan, the school had decided to market it’s diversity and international student population in a small town Canadiana culture. It was a beautiful strategy from a marketing perspective. It diminished all of its students and identified them from where they came from, whether it was Canadian, Native-Canadian, Chinese (there were 4 from Hong Kong), to visible minorities, even if they were Canadian… I read the breakdown, and there it was Venezuelan – 1 Student. I knew all 201 students in the school, there was no other Spanish-speaking student who had even stepped foot in Venezuela, or had any remote 7 degrees of separation from Venezuela, unless they counted me as part of that 7 degrees.

I was shocked that I was part of the international stat. You think after years of living abroad, I would have been happy to be identified as Venezuelan, but it hurt. My identity was called into question, was I seen as a marketing ploy to the school, were they using the fact that my parents happened to be living in Venezuela to gain in the International Marketing strategy, or did they just not think about it.

I sat on it for days, upset, and angry. My identity had always been as a Diplomatic Kid, I was Canadian, but no one had ever blatantly called me anything other than Canadian, even if I didn’t identify with the small town Canadiana culture. My heart-felt broken, I didn’t feel valued as a person, I had been born in Canada, my Father had been representing his country for years, and my citizenship had never been questioned. Struggling with my own identity, and the clash of cultures I always had, but never had anyone blatantly lie about my identity to gain in marketing points. It just seemed wrong, dirty, and complete disregard for my feelings.

I decided to go to the head of admissions and confront him. He was a sleazy ass, who wore Bermuda shorts with knee socks, and a preppy blazer, he looked like an overgrown British school boy, who belonged back in 1958. I showed him where it said Venezuela, and told him that there were a great deal of inconsistencies with the marketing strategy, I broke down his visible minority report, and our so called “International” student body, which consisted of 198 of white privileged kids, and 3 visible privileged minority kids. Basically, we were a visible WASP school. Why would he lie and put all of the diplomatic kids as Venezuelan, Japanese, German, and Saudi Arabian? He became visible annoyed, but decided to put on his toothy charm. His explanation, was were International kids, we didn’t identify with being Canadian, so why did it matter if he embellished the truth?

I was horrified. At 17, I had no idea how to express that he was the problem, we didn’t identify with being Canadian, but it was not for him to pick our citizenship for us, basically stripping us with feeling welcome in a school where all we wanted was to feel we belonged. That is all we ever wanted, was to feel a belonging, and this stunt made us feel shunned in a way that he could never comprehend.

I decided to call my Father. I remember laying it out for my Father, he sat silently on the other end. I had no idea what he was thinking, but just telling him, made me feel better. I got off the phone, and forgot about my new found citizenship, and decided to stay clear of the head of recruiting.

I went home to Venezuela for spring break, hugged my parents, cuddled with my dog, and did some laundry. On a warm early Sunday morning, my Father sat with a coffee, and ¬†asked “so, are you still Venezuelan according to the school?”

I must have looked confused because my Father went on “That little ass of an admission’s officer is nothing but a weasel. I called every single other diplomat in that school to share with them what the school had done, no one was impressed. I believe he had a few memorable phone conversations, including from me.”

My Father turned to me and said “You kids didn’t ask for this mobile life, you can choose whatever culture, religion or lifestyle you want, but no one, and I mean no one, should ever decide your citizenship for you, you were born in Canada, and as far as your passport is concerned, you are Canadian, don’t ever forget that.”


Birthday Parties

Image via Preppy Kitchen — next recipe I am trying!¬†

When I was growing up, Birthday parties were a rare thing. I never had one, I don’t recall ever having a celebration that included friends. Of course, i always had cake, lots of lovely presents, and when we were in Canada, extended family over. Never did I have the politics of a birthday party. I mean, as a Diplomatic Kid, moving so much, we all just kinda high fived each other at school, and shared some cake in class. It just wasn’t something anyone celebrated with a big party, there was usually too many other things going on like, war, coup attempts, that got in the way.

When my son’s first birthday rolled around, I panicked at the thought of not giving him a party, just because I had never had one, didn’t mean I should deprive my child from ever having one. So, it started. The first birthday was easy, all of us Mum’s during the first year celebrated each milestone of our children’s lives. We bonded over breast feeding, lack of sleep, filling in for each other when we had to get something done without a baby.

I guess I had it easy. The first few years, it was just a playdate at home, simple, fun, and really relaxing time.

Then my son hit school. I stupidly had a simple birthday party at home. It was a lot of work. I didn’t know the parents, didn’t know all the kids, and sent me into a frenzy of exhaustion.

The next year, I decided to host a party at a gymnastics club, we invited 8 boys. It was all good, fun, but I found it stressful, crazy expensive, and so did my son, who ended up in tears afterwards.

So this year, I prepped him and gave him choices. We could go back to having a simple birthday party at home with only a couple of his best mates, and really enjoy the day, and actually play and interact with his friends, or he could have a big birthday party, where he didn’t really talk to anyone, and couldn’t talk to his friends. He decided to have one at home, and invite 3 friends.

My view of it, was not about excluding anyone, but to teach him that his birthday is about him, celebrating a new year, and it isn’t about presents, but about sharing. I wanted to create an atmosphere where he didn’t suffer from anxiety, where he could control what was going on.

I was a little torn about his party. There were a lot of kids that couldn’t be invited, so we had to have conversations about who were the 3 friends that made him happiest when he was around them. We thought as parents, that it was fair to ask that question, and make our son really think about it.

He chose his 3 friends.

3 days before the party, I get a text from a Mother of one of my son’s classmates asking whether or not her son was invited to the party. I said “no, as it is a small party at home, and my son just wanted his tiny group of friends he was in class with the previous year.” I didn’t think it was that bad, but she then asked “I thought our son’s were so close, that he would be invited and now he is going to be upset that he isn’t invited”

I felt horrible, kinda like I was a bit of a monster. My husband on the other hand said “that one boy sets our son off every single time he is near him.” Our son, has suffered from Panic attacks and high anxiety, it has been a rough year working through it all with him. We have always been mindful as to who our son spends extra time with, because, it usually does make him go backwards, and we spend weeks with a child who refuses to sleep.

So, I stuck to my guns, it was about celebrating my child, the way he wanted. The day came, the 3 boys arrived, and I have never seen my child happier. The boys all had a blast, played, ate, celebrated and left with massive loot bags.

My son, was left happy, no tears like there were the year before, no anxiety, and slept like a baby.

The next thing I knew. The Mother who’s son was not invited, decided to declare war on me.

Now, here is a little background. This is the Mother who is always volunteering and working at school. Her son is allowed to do everything and anything he wants without being scolded. I have never been a fan of her parenting, or lack there of, but when our kids hung out, I let it go. I just sucked it up and didn’t say anything. Including the one time I came over and distroyed a lamp and terrorized our dog. It wasn’t until we went through a rough patch with our son, where he had a horrible teacher, and he was identified as being gifted (he has inherited my Father’s level of intelligence), that his anxiety went through the roof. We had to seek professional help, and had to analyse how we were parenting. It has taken a lot of self-reflection to identify that we were actually parenting incorrectly for his needs. So, we changed, and life is so much easier. I do take it upon myself to leave situations where my son starts to get squirrely, or when I see that panic is beginning to set in. I try to leave as quietly as possible. I believe, I am teaching my son to identify his emotions before they get out of control, and teaching him that it is o.k to leave situations when he is not feeling good about it.

This year, I noticed that my son’s behaviour dramatically changed around this boy. I believe the boy in question has something along the lines of ADD, as he can’t sit still, doesn’t connect with others, starts something, 2 minutes later starts something else, and then runs around. Within 10 minutes of being around this kid, my son is close to tears, his anxiety is through the roof, and I sometimes I have to physically pick him up and leave, then it takes me a whole night of him sleeping beside me, needing to be held, and doing breathing exercises, for him to go back to being ok.

This Mother, now ignores me (no loss there I guess), but now talks behind my back, and has made sure that not only am I frozen out, that my son has been purposely left out of social events with the other kids.

Me being who I am, I am not one to bad mouth anyone, or even address it with her, as it just seems like a negotiation tactic that will go nowhere. Is this a very Canadian thing? or is it just a Mom thing? I seem to have hit a culture snag that I don’t understand, and can’t wrap my head around. How can an adult take a birthday party so seriously?

If you have any thoughts, I would love the hear them.

Culturally shocked

Dip Kid