15 Apr 2008

Ode To Canada

Note: It's still snowing today, but I thought I'd spare you more weather whine. Instead, I'm going a bit preachy on y'all, as I've been psyching myself up to leave Norway and return to Canada. So without further ado...I give you my "Ode To Canada."

Babies are born colourblind. They do not distinguish between blue or brown eyes. A white face or a black one.

Babies love whoever loves them back.

As they grow, children begin to look for more than just baby lovin', but they're still making friendships based on personality traits. They remain unmoved by externals such as skin colour, gender, size or grooming for a long time. Two kids who like to talk will naturally gravitate towards each other, as will those who prefer to run and jump.

Oh, to be wise like a child again!

Children's International Summer Villages (CISV) is an organization that sends children at age 11 to camps all over the world for a month. The organization, which celebrated 50 years in 2007, was conceived by a child psychologist after the devastations of World War II.

The intent behind CISV is building peace through friendship, and its central idea is that this must begin with the younger generation.

While they are still colourblind.

I was lucky enough to go to a CISV camp in Brazil as an 11 year old girl, along with three other kids from my country. The impact this experience had on me cannot be exaggerated, as it allowed me to make friends with children whose backgrounds couldn’t have been more different from my own.

And the single most important lesson I learnt that summer was that behind those external differences, we were really all the same.

But my children are even luckier than I am. They don’t need to go to a camp half around the world – they live this reality every day in their very own community in Canada.

My boys have grown up with friends and neighbours who have different traditions, religions (occasionally wearing different clothing in deference to these religions) and skin colour, often speaking more than one language at home.

Mike and I like to refer to the children’s school as a "mini UN", filled by kids who hail from countries all around the planet. Lunchtime is a sight to see. Out come the naan and curries, the rice and the noodles, the burgers and fries, the croissants and cheese. It is a veritable feast of world cuisine.

Through school and play dates, our children and their friends take bits and pieces from their individual backgrounds, and create a brand new value system that is much more international than anything I had a chance to experience in just one month in Brazil.

We now celebrate holidays I had never heard of before, we eat foods my parents would gawk at, and we have fun doing it!

Imagine how the world would look if today's world leaders had gone to a CISV camp or grown up in a community such as ours in Canada. Would we still have all these conflicts based on either religion or a fight for wealth?

Perhaps I am na├»ve, but it seems to me that many of the problems in the world today are caused by fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of having things taken away (sadly, we don’t become better at sharing as we age – quite the contrary).

And as we grow older, the instinct to surround ourselves with what is familiar - and therefore less challenging - appears to become more ingrained.

We gradually become less open, less colourblind.

That's why CISV has it right – it is important to start with the younger generation.

Or better yet, grow up in a place where everyone is different. Because if different is what you are used to, what’s familiar to you – then it’s not really different at all. Or scary.

As great as Norway is - for us it has been absolutely wonderful this year – I think the future of the world relies on inter-marriage, figuratively and literally. And in that respect, Canada is light-years ahead.

49 comments:

Nadine said...

Where you live in Canada sounds a bit like the city I live in (The Hague in The Netherlands). There are a lot of UN organizations in my neighborhood so the playground is a mini UN, like you described. I was actually planning on blogging about because it is so much fun to see the kids interact.

ALM said...

I totally agree. That's why I worked at AFS for so long... somehow I believe in "changing the world one person at a time" as hokey as that is. As we learn about each other it makes it more difficult to fight... (wipes tear from eye...)

And even though Manhattan is diverse - where I live - Queens - is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the world. I love that my kids are exposed to that.

Laura said...

What an interesting post - a really fresh look at the aspect of Canada being a multi-cultural society. I agree with you - but never thought of it in this way. BRAVO to you my Dear!

Wonderful World of Weiners said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject. I think you are an incredibly wise woman and your boys are lucky to have you as their mom.

Hallie :)

Lisa @ Take90West said...

What a great post. The community I live in could not be further from a 'mini-UN' and I know that my kids are not being exposed to the real-world. And yet, I feel safe and comfortable here. Sad isn't it? But true.

I hope you are doing okay, I just saw your comment on my blog and it sounded as though you were having a bit of a rough day. Thinking of you during this emotional time.

hugs!

Stomper Girl said...

Amen to that. Well said.

Becky said...

We're truly more alike than different. We laugh, we cry, we need friends. Friends come in many "packages". My wish - that we all remain open hearted. (I think open mindedness will follow)

Chantal said...

That was a beautiful post Heidi!

Aliki2006 said...

This post made me remember how, after the last election, my husband and I both got on the internet and began wistfully seraching for real estate in Canada...sigh.

You are right on--100%.

Cheri said...

Living in a fairly large city there is going to be diversity. But in large cities, everyone lives, plays, works, and worships in neighborhoods that are often monochromatic, so schools (esp. private ones) are not so diverse. For me that means getting my kids out into the world, traveling, volunteering, and talking to them -- while they're still colorblind. Here's something cool for Laura: She went to a preschool in which 20% or so of the student body were children with special needs mainstreamed in the classrooms. Kids are not just colorblind, they don't see braces, hearing aids, and take it in stride when their peers don't have spoken language. Laura learned basic ASL so she could talk with some of her friends when she was three. Five years later she still takes weekly ASL classes.

Oh Canada. Sounds lovely.

Amy Y said...

Oh how wonderful! When Bush was "elected" again, we strongly considered trying to get a job transfer to Ontario... and if McCain is elected I have a feeling my husband will be on the path to Canadian citizenship, with or without me. It is amazing to me that Canada has it so right while we have it so wrong here...

Dawn said...

I don't know which Canadian city you're from but it sounds like Vancouver to me. My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Vancouver and the wonderful diversity of the city was one of the traits that impressed me most. I wish it was like that where I live but it's not. The camps you're talking about sound wonderful.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

What a great opportunity you had as a kid--I'm sure it made you the adventurer you are today.

I totally agree with you about Fear being the cause of so many ills in this world. Someday inter-marriage will make all of this moot. Look at the changes that have happened in the last 50 years. We've got a long way to go, but we've come a long way too.

Julie Pippert said...

A fantastic post, with a wonderful and necessary point.

Mary Beth said...

It really is amazing how much more tolerant little ones are. They haven't been taught to hate yet:(

I had to go check out CISV because I had never heard of it before. It sounds like such a great opportunity for kids:) Growing up in NJ, we've been exposed to a very diverse group of friends in school. And one of the things I love about blogging is I'm learning so much more about other cultures and practices.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

I feel the same way about living in Seattle. It is wonderful having my children surrounded by so many different cultures. No one thinks it is strange that a girl wears a scarf over her head everyday, or why a little boy can't speak English, they just get out and play. I love it.

Kellan said...

Great post, Heidi! It sounds like a wonderful place for your boys to grow up - where you come from in Canada!

Have a good day - Kellan

LoriD said...

I loved this!

Where I live now is so much more multicultural than where I grew up, even though the cities are only about 25 km apart (both in Canada).

Rima said...

I've always thought that Canada was progressive in this regard, too.

CC said...

No way! I did CISV too! I went to England at 11, and then did interchanges to Japan and Mexico. My sister went to a village in Portugal. My brother went to Turkey. We loved CISV!!! My college essay that got me into an Ivy League college was on CISV! :)

gmcountrymama said...

That is a beautiful post. I love that kids are colorblind, I only wish there was a more diverse community here in Vermont.

Motherhood for Dummies said...

we have a pretty diverse communinty here in anchorage...which is a nice switch from Utah where we use to live. I love how rich and different it is here in Alaska...suprienly...people don't think of Alaska like that. :)

Alpha DogMa said...

I agree with Cheri about enclaves of sameness existing in even the largest city. We need to work at showing our children that otherness isn't something to fear. Thankfully with Canada's mosaic of immigrant cultures we don't have to go far to witness and embrace diversity.

We work hard to show our kids diversity, as our northern Canadian town is very un-U.N. My boys don't understand why their grandparents don't like roti and don't eat hummous or bannock and don't want to hear the African drummers at the folk fest. It is second nature to them.

And wow: 11 and you flew to Brazil? Alone? Eek.

kim-d said...

I did not realize there were still places that were NOT diverse. I think a good place to start with accepting other people, countries, cultures, religions, habits, etc., is to not hate and denegrate yourself, your country, your culture, etc. I am a United States citizen; am I to tell all of the immigrants here that they made a huge mistake? I applaud that Canada has it right. I applaud that we in the U.S. have it largely right, too. Doing the I've-had-privileges-so-I-should-feel-guilty dance doesn't do anyone any good. Neither does making everything about politics. Because those kids out there playing all together sure don't make it about politics and other negative things. I still kind of like The Golden Rule, and to just be nice. And then, too, it is always good that if you really don't like one place, you have the freedom to go someplace else that you will like better. What could be better than that. Above all, just play nice together.

Gina said...

We have that kind of diversity here in SoCal in spades, and it is one of the reasons I like living here. That, and all the fabulous food that comes along with all the different cultures!

MamaGeek said...

Home is always where the heart is. This was a beautiful post that I felt right in my left aorta Heidi!

Jamie said...

Great post! but I had to marvel at the person who said that Vancouver is diverse and multicultural. It certainly is diverse, however it is still very self ghettoized. A lot of immigrants move to Vancouver and live/work/play all within their ethnic community.

That being said, I have been able to meet and become friends with many different people that I never would've met in my hometown....

LaskiGal said...

You have given your children such an amazing gift . . . they will see so much more, learn so much more, understand so much more.

This makes me even more eager to move on . . . to show J the world.

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

Great post!
We also live in a very multicultural neighbourhood, my son's hockey team had children of every nationality I could think of this year. I think it is wonderful to live in place where each person can celebrate their heritage and share it with those around them.

Victoria said...

Heidi - beautiful post! What a wonderful experience and perspective. I love watching my kids in other cultures (another reason we travel so much).

I really enjoyed this.

BeachMama said...

J's class alone is like a mini UN. I love it and think it is great for teaching J about so many different cultures. We (Hubby and I) certainly didn't have that growing up, there were not as many differences as there are now, I love that J asks questions about different Countries and Cultures, so far I have been able to answer most of them.


Sorry about the snow, you will be home and sweating soon enough.

MadMad said...

What a great post! And just think - now you'll be giving your kids the best of both worlds: this great wonderful year abroad, and a return to their multicultural "home."

Cathy said...

Excellent post.

The Class of 2k8 said...

I couldn't agree more. :)

E said...

This was a beautiful post. It reminded me of my daughter, now nineteen, who at 7...7!!!, asked me how I knew our neighbor's little girl had been adorpted. Well she was a beautiful deep chocolatey Indian with very white Illinois parents. But that moment of profound sweet colorblindnes has stayed with me always...

Steph said...

Great post, Heidi. Your kids' school sounds like a wonderful environment and experience. I totally agree, exposure is the key to understanding.

Mrs. Annie said...

My father is a racist. My first boyfriend was Chinese. Imagine Daddy surprise! Although I am apparently one of the few American's who has no desire to move to Canada, I do agree that fostering color blindness in children is so important.

Amber said...

Beautifully written and you nailed one of the MANY things I miss about living in Canada!!

Valarie said...

Well, it sounds like you will be leaving a wonderful place, but you will be going back to an amazing place as well. I wish my children lived in a more diversified culture.

painted maypole said...

sounds great. that's one of the things we missed moving away from Los Angeles - that mix of cultures (and the beach)

Anna-borderline-bonkers-banana :) said...

Wow! What a great post, I totally agree with you! Funny thing for me was that growing up on a small farming city there really wasnt much of a world flavour of people. However when I moved to Edmonton it was a whole new experience, it was amazing!
To see all these different cultures all mingling and getting along and accepting like one big family...it was so heart warming. To bad the whole world couldnt all just get along like that....colorblind!

JoJosho said...

See Please Here

Karen MEG said...

Heidi, what an enriching experience that must have been for you to be in Brazil at such a young age!

And you said it so well; we do live in a great community here. Just watching the kids playing in the playground today (sunshine, and 24 deg ... FINALLY!) with all their friends, you're right, it is like a mini-UN!

Ian and I are only too happy to contribute positively to the future of the world ;).

Awesome post. Can't wait till you're back!!

Liesl said...

Our town sounds much like your Canadian community; I too hope that growing up this way will give our children skills in diplomacy and respect that our generation and ones before clearly have not learned.

Thanks for writing these thoughts so eloquently.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

Nice post! I wish people were a little more open to these ideas...here in the deep south. It is getting better...but it is a VERY slow process!

Beth from the Funny Farm said...

I completely agree with this post!

So completely. Excellent post!!!

katydidnot said...

i'm with you on this one. i'm thrilled that my kids go to such diverse schools.

carrie said...

It's like what the Dalai Lama is focusing on right now -- the kids. They will be the next leaders of the world and if we teach them right, it will make a difference and hopefully, one day, there will be peace.

And I am grateful, every day, that I live in a pretty open-minded part of the US, although it isn't perfect.

thirtysomething said...

Oh, you touched my heart with this post, hon.
It is so true, our children are the leaders of tomorrow.
What an amazing experience you had as a girl. If only each child could have that exposure, that opportunity to be shown that what is important is way deeper than skin color.
And your boys, how wonderful that they are learning that early. Good on you, Momma!