A collage of two people falling or diving from the sky.

An ode to gasping for air

I am beginning to dread Octobers.

I love autumn and always have. October is a cliché: crisp air through open windows, sweaters dug out of bottom drawers, autumn leaves and apple cider. I haven’t been a student in a very long time, but some core part of me, the part that loved back-to-school shopping and fresh notebooks and school, sees fall as a fresh start, a blank page, an open book.

Now October means waiting for the inevitable failure to accommodate that throws our family into hell for weeks, painting a new layer of trauma on top of old, coat after coat that never dries nor heals but is always there, a little bit sticky to the touch if not sopping wet.

September is both hope and fear, hot on the heels of low-demand summer months that are themselves restoration from pushing through June.

Early August is the best time.

I hate the blistering heat. I hate paying an exorbitant ransom for a good summer camp. But school is firmly in the rearview, and it’s not looming darkly through the windshield yet, that shadow on the road we’re hoping isn’t an unswervable hazard.

For the last two years, as December gives way to January, I reflect on the past year and feel flattened. It may be that the lead-up to the month now has a history of being remarkably unpleasant.

September is anxious. October, crisis. November is a sick-to-your-stomach worry; it’s scouring Ministry of Education documentation and school board policies and procedures and case law; it’s meetings and emails and furious advocacy. It’s showing up over and over again to places I don’t want to be, talking to people I don’t want to talk to, pasting as much professionalism as possible over the top of outrage until we burn through to recovery in December while knowing that each recovery period is less restorative than the last.

I take stock leading up to New Year’s: was I the best parent, spouse, or person I could be this year? No, because I have spent another year surviving. My accomplishment: I have been the best advocate I can be. I have poured time, heart, soul, presence and probably a few years of longevity into waving a big ol’ (figurative) HUMAN RIGHTS AREN’T NEGOTIABLE, AND YOU HAVE TO DO WHAT YOUR JOB REQUIRES YOU TO DO BY LAW OR YOU ARE FAILING flag around.

Did I read all my books, enjoy a lot of hikes, get out on the water, improve my health — no. I waved my big figurative flag around. I cried a lot. I filed my second human rights complaint in six months. I had something like seven meetings in one week. I used all my lieu time at work. I wrote not one but two 2000-word emails to my (ever-patient) school board trustee.

It’s an ugly stain on 2023, hanging out with the ugly stain on 2022. Institutional betrayal is ugly and it doesn’t wash out easily.

Always, in the back of my mind and wherever deep in my body I love school used to live, I am going to have to do this all over again aaaaany time now lives.

Resilience is bullshit.

I see no victory in throwing the boot off your head just long enough to surface and grab a lungful of oxygen before being held underwater again, and no victory in managing that repeatedly. I don’t want to be resilient; I want the boots off our heads.

Last spring, I told my husband, I am done letting any of this go. Everyone is colouring in the lines henceforth. When it goes off the rails I am raising every alarm that exists. No more.

No more. The only way I can see through to the act of unburdening, to letting go and finding restoration, is to keep moving through it — not to tolerate what is intolerable, to demand that legal expectations are met, to know that advocacy is restoration in its own way even though it’s damn hard restorative work that comes at a cost.

To not let go, not give up, to understand that something better exists with the right people and approaches because I have seen it with my own eyes, and it is real. It is tangible and it has been in my grasp before.

I am limping into a new year again, and I am breathing oxygen. I am pushing up with all the might of This Is How It Should Be, colliding with This Is How It Is. Less boot, more air.

Best of luck, me.

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