Wallace has brought novelty to my life and to my thoughts. Every day now I catch myself thinking about parenting, imagining the future - making little plans and strategies - like I’m preparing for a big game. And when I think back to my own childhood I realize that Kate and I will see just a fraction of the parenting challenges that my folks overcame.
Perhaps you are in the mood for a story:
Zbyszek and Marysia (Ziggy and Maria) were married in Poland in the 70’s. He was a professional volleyball player topped-up with an engineer’s education and she was a post-graduate-school psychologist. They made three boys (Jakub, Grzegorz, and Mateusz) in 78, 82 and 84. Ziggy retired from sport and began working as an engineer or something technical like that. They had themselves a little apartment and they seemed to be getting by okay. But in truth, things were not well with their world and life did not look promising for their children.
When a country is ‘broken’ politically and economically - as Poland was - many aspects of daily life are ‘unfair’. Opportunities simply do not exist. And necessity makes good people act selfish and cruel. There are countless examples. When I was Wally’s age, in a nursery just days after I was born, my parents had to bribe a nurse ‘not to ignore me’. They actually had to slip her money to keep her from neglecting infants under her care. I can't imagine anyone ‘being that nurse’ or living in the system that created her. That was communism; that story, and a million stories like it.
So Ziggy and Maria left - mainly for the benefit of me and my brothers. They scooped us up and they moved us to Canada. But the reality of immigration is far from a story book that ends happily with the word ‘Canada’. After the ‘move’ comes the sacrifice, the swallowing of pride. Well-spoken educated people find themselves suddenly mute. Engineers are demoted to dishwashers and doctors to janitors.
For us the move itself was tricky. The details are insignificant but the practical outcome was that Ziggy had to leave Maria and children alone in an apartment in Swidnik, Poland for more than a year before they could join him in Kitchener, Canada. By then Ziggy had already climbed from dishwasher to janitor and onward. The years that followed I will just gloss over: my parents were focused on learning English and career advancement, or more accurately re-advancement, as they tried to ‘catch up’ economically after late entry into the Canadian race. Maria was simultaneously a full-time worker, full-time student, and full-time mother for many years. She did it, somehow, without collapsing from exhaustion. They both managed to achieve astonishing career success. My brothers and I, in our childhood bliss, were completely oblivious to any difficulties. And not once, not for a moment, did I ever feel ‘foreign’ or ‘out of place’ in any negative sense. I felt Polish and I felt Canadian – proud and comfortably both. And for that pride, and comfort, I owe my parents a hefty debt. I don't know how, but somehow, they protected me from fear and anxiety. I was shielded from the stresses and troubles that they faced. I am sure that it will be infinitely easier for me to do the same for Wallace.
I know that this blog has some new readership since my son’s birth. Some distant friends and family now visit and read. Many members of my extended family struggled with immigration just like my parents did. I don’t have a chance to see them often now and some probably wonder who I am today and whether I am still the same person they once knew.
Although I've been away from ‘home’ for more than a decade now – and I have changed in many ways with education and experience - I remember my past like it was yesterday. I was a fortunate kid. Not only did I have generous parents but also a number of loving uncles and aunts. We crossed the Atlantic en masse and settled into Canadian life together. In every family parents struggled while children played. I suppose that I am fortunate to know some remarkable old Polaks :) I wish I could see more of them.
Looking at Wallace now – I appreciate my folks. That has to be standard emotion for someone in my shoes. But Ziggy and Maria, and all others like them who danced the ‘immigration dance’ for their children deserve some true props. Sadly, when our parents and older relatives look at us today they can sometimes feel an uncomfortable sense of unfamiliarity and distance. Time and foreign influence has created a gap between us and them - but it's not a big gap, really. I suppose that on a blog like this, I may sound very unfamiliar to some. I can only hope that I have banked enough trust to assure them that although I may now be absent, and in some ways changed, I am not so different from the happy kid they knew.
I remember my family well, and often. And most importantly, I remember, and will always admire what my parents accomplished. Unlike them, Kate and I will not have to rip up our education credentials and start from scratch, while learning a new language and culture, and trying to feed, clothe, and inspire three fast-growing kiddies. Instead, we can just relax and be parents.
So thank you Zbyszek and Marysia... thank you very much - from me and from Wallace.