Thursday, May 25, 2006

Five years in a nutshell

My fifteen-year university reunion is coming up soon, and we've all been asked to write up something for the record book. So I sent this:

I write from Toronto, the city where I've lived for the past fourteen years, in a country I've grown to love very much. I married [Mr. Krapsnart] in 1997, and became a permanent resident of Canada in 1998, and a citizen in 2003.

What kicked off the past five years for me was having to learn to walk again in 2001 after knee surgery, having torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a stupid late-night accident the previous year. The months of physiotherapy after the surgery forced me to think about what I wanted to do with myself, and I finally decided to leave technical writing and the computer industry for good, and to become a teacher.

After I went back to school for the better part of 2002 and gained certification as a teacher of English as a second language, I spent two and a half years teaching English to immigrant and refugee women at a nonprofit agency in a program funded entirely by the Canadian government. Never have I loved a job so much. I taught women from 38 countries, and helped see them through culture shock, difficulties in settling in a new country, pregnancy, miscarriage, career woes, health issues, domestic violence, divorce, widowhood, and of course, the frustrations and joys of starting life in a new language. In return they gave me immeasurable amounts of love and support. They showed me their cultures and taught me about what is truly universal. There was so much warmth and respect and just plain fun at the school's occasional parties -- I knew I was in the right place when I was watching a Sri Lankan Hindu Tamil woman dance to salsa music at the party for Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday that ends the Muslim month of Ramadan.

Deciding to leave the agency was one of the hardest things I've ever done, especially when I was faced with the outpouring of emotion from the students when I made it clear I had to go. But it was the agency's management that in the end left me no choice. The agency has a staff of a little more than a dozen, and in three years more than twice that many people have left.

I still miss the place a lot, though, and hope to return to education in the social service sector someday, I hope in a place that values emotional connection as much as it does numbers on spreadsheets.

I am now working at a small company (five people) that teaches international students how to take standardized tests of English proficiency. I teach the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC). My coworkers are interesting and funny, and the boss is compassionate and humane. It's a good place with high standards. I'm also still working part-time teaching the SAT and GRE at [a test prep company], as I have been for more than five years now.

I never considered teaching when I was at [East Coast private college], but am now relieved to have found at least part of what I'm supposed to be doing. My [part-time] boss told me, "Emily, you ARE a teacher." Yes, I guess I am.

I have another fundamental shift in identity on the way: if all goes well, I'll finally be a mother by early October. I've been spending a lot of time educating myself about midwifery (we're hoping to deliver at home with midwives in attendance) and fitness during pregnancy. I'm very much enjoying learning about the capabilities of women's bodies, and especially about how midwifery honours them by encouraging us to trust our ability to handle childbirth without potentially dangerous medical intervention, at least when the pregnancy is low-risk (as most are). It also encourages parents to take responsibility for and make informed choices about their children well before they are born. In the province of Ontario, midwives are trained and certified, and home birth attended by them is fully funded. I feel very lucky to live here. Regardless of how the baby arrives, though, [Mr. K] and I are endlessly excited about becoming parents.

The interest in fitness has been a couple of years in the making. After a miscarriage in July of 2004, I decided to become physically stronger to prepare my body for future childbearing. Oddly enough, I fell in love with weightlifting, and ended up training with a wonderful powerlifter named Samantha who cheered me on to attempting a 225-pound deadlift last year. I got the weight off the ground, but not all the way up to mid-thigh; I'm sure I'd have lifted that and more by now if I hadn't gotten pregnant first. But now I have something to shoot for after the baby comes.

The other occupants of our household are still of the feline variety. A few of you will remember James and Percy, who came with me to Canada in 1992. We were heartbroken to lose both of them to cancer in 2004, Percy in January and James in October. (2004 was just a bad, bad year. I'll never trust the Year of the Monkey again. Monkeys mess with things.) These days we're living with two more beautiful brown tabbies, Martha and Charlotte. They have their own distinct personalities -- Martha is sweet as anything, and Charlotte is prickly yet loving -- and once again we find ourselves unreasonably fond of our animals.

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone at Reunion. Here's to another five years.

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