Me, Mars & Montreal
Getting my kid to graduation has been a very long and often arduous journey. Despite being incredibly bright and talented, my son never really liked school. Starting in third grade, he began begging me to home school him. It was a novel idea but not something I could do at the time, being the sole breadwinner for our family. I also just didn’t understand. I was the exact opposite. I loved school, loved doing my homework, was a straight A student for most of my life. It is an interesting situation when your children are by nature vastly different from who you are. You must let go of control and judgement and allow them to blossom according to what is most true for themselves. Parenting doesn’t come with any manuals. And without a shared understanding of Mars’ worldview, I did the best I could trying to keep him engaged and interested in school. He was a brilliant writer, an incredible artist, and a deep and soulful musician, but math- he couldn’t be bothered with it. Homework- couldn’t be bothered. He told me that he didn’t believe in the structure of our American education. He said it was flawed fundamentally. In many ways, he was right. Schools do not teach children how to live in the world, which is exactly what they need the most once school is over. I believe this should be one of the first things children learn.
Despite going to the best schools I could find in LA, which I worked my tail off for, Mars was still missing something. I believe what we were missing was community. I believe living in community would have solved many things for us when he was younger, growing up. Community gives an individual a deep sense of belonging, which is one of our primary human needs. Had we been living in a strong community, there may have been another adult around who had experienced similar challenges and could have provided support and advice to help Mars feel seen with regards to his experience of school. And there may have been someone to help us both find a common language with which to discuss his resistance. Community provides connection. People feel empowered in connection. You can draw upon the collective wisdom of a community and get inspired by those living around you. The stories shared within a community help to bring new perspective to everyone’s lives. It really does take a village. You get to know one other and have the opportunity to deeply care for each other and for the whole. The importance of community is rising to the surface of our collective consciousness today and it is a necessary step toward our evolution as a society. I feel so grateful to have found my community in the Bay. Unfortunately, however, Mars didn’t grow up in a strong community. We were privileged though to have a Waldorf education and that supportive circle of mothers, fathers, teachers and administrators all leaning on each other to provide the best we could for our children.
And while there is no replacement for community, what we did have was travel. Mars and I began traveling regularly to other countries when he was 6 years old. Our adventures to distant lands are some of our most treasured memories together. Travel is in and of itself, an education. You are constantly learning. To remove yourself from your comfortable surroundings, into the story and structures of other people, gives you the opportunity to grow and stretch yourself in ways both subtle and incredibly obvious.
When it was certain that Mars would indeed graduate, I felt the need to honor and celebrate his great accomplishment, to mark this transition. As I felt into it, the gift that appeared the most aligned was a trip of his choosing, for just the two of us. Mars has been a lover of Japanese culture from a very young age and I assumed he was going to choose Japan, as this was one place we had not yet visited. But to my surprise, when I said “choose wherever you want to go,” he picked Montreal. Now we don’t know anyone living in Canada. I do, but he doesn’t, nor does he know that I know some people there. I don’t recall him ever speaking about Montreal prior to this trip. And yet, I was relieved when I heard he wanted to go there. It was far more affordable than a trip to Japan or Mongolia. And when I asked him why Montreal, he said, “well, they have a different language, but enough English is spoken that we can still get around easily.” Maybe needing to speak Spanish everyday in Ecuador pushed him into this safer traveling territory. Whatever the reason, I was excited to explore Montreal for the first time with my son.
We didn’t make too many plans prior to going, wanting to feel our way into our adventures, into our fun. Mars wanted to be in a real neighborhood, so we rented an airbnb. We were in a neighborhood of families, kids running up and down the street. We saw people from all walks of life. It was cool. There was a school on the next block. Every time we headed out for our daily adventures, we saw children running around playing in the yard. There is something so special about seeing children play.
Mars never had any intentions of moving to Montreal, but something in his heart pulled him toward getting to know this city beyond your average tourist. The building across from ours had caught on fire and half of it was burned, the other half exposed. This was new: to make breakfast every morning while seeing a charred piece of architecture that once provided home and shelter to people, your neighbors, just outside your kitchen window. We hoped they all got out safely and no one was hurt. It was real and part of the whole educational experience we were embarking upon. When I shared Mars’ strange pull toward Montreal with an American who had been living there for the past 6 years, he asked if Mars was a libra, which turns out he is. Only those in the city know this, but Montreal seems to attract libras from around the world. Hmmmm, fascinating.
We also had no idea that Montreal was an international hub for the arts. We were quite fortunate that our schedule aligned with the city’s Mural festival, where 80 different murals and installations around the city emerge during one explosive week of creativity. We’d never seen street art quite like this before, some of it really gritty with massive scale. There was a lot of masculine energy in the field and for a teenage boy, it was electrifying. Through the festival, the city is trying to democratize urban art. They bring together street artists, muralists, musicians, creators, curious folk, and cultural enthusiasts to inspire each other and present what’s new and relevant in urban culture. To experience this was extraordinary. Literally, everywhere you looked, there was art. And all kinds of art. The diversity was part of the magic. We cherished all our walks all over the city, without a plan or care, for we knew that no matter which direction we took, we would be guided to seeing something that would affect us, and some awe and wonder our hearts and minds could feed upon. As a vehicle of transformation, art offers perspective and a window deep into the soul, to help us understand what it means to be human. Creative expression is one of the most powerful gateways for our collective evolution. And Mars knows this intimately. He is an artist. Has always been. He’s a writer, an imaginative illustrator and sculptor. I look forward to the time when the world discovers this talented young man.
Our days were spent exploring. The only thing I had planned was a night to see Luzia, a Cirque Du Soleil show inspired by the rich culture of Mexico. And ah, it was glorious. I’ve seen quite a few Cirque Du Soleil shows and this was one of my favorites. The storyline and the rich texture of beauty and mystery that is rooted in Mexico delighted all our senses. But the music captivated us. Mars wanted the CD as a souvenir and he listened to it non-stop for weeks.
Early in our trip, we decided to take a 1/2 day bicycle tour of the city, which was fun, educational and a great way to learn about the city’s history. It also gave us a glimpse of areas we might want to explore again. We were silly inside the museum. We took the subway way out to the Biodome, home to some 250 animal and 500 plant species, housed in five different ecosystems ranging from the tropical to the Arctic, all under a high, expansive glass roof. Even though many animals are free to roam within the ecosystem, some of the animals are still in tight captivity and I could feel their intelligence, knowing this as their plight. One lynx actually blew my mind with what he was communicating. We went to the big farmer’s market downtown and bought some delicious ingredients to make some meals together, giving Mars another opportunity to learn how to cook before he is fully out on his own. These simple times were some of the highlights of our trip. Mars even got me to pose for a series of crazy photo faces. I am forever trying to get him to just smile, naturally, for the camera. And he is forever trying to get me out of my own captivity.
I had asked Mars to do some research and come up with some ideas of what he wanted to see or do. His response: buy some easels, some canvases, some paint, walk to a park, post up, paint the scene, and make art together. I said, “what?… that is all you want to do in Montreal?” He said “yup.” Fully certain. My little renaissance man. He must have seen this in a movie or something. What other 18 year old kid is thinking this way? Of course we would honor his request and since that was all he wanted to do, I helped navigate our other days of fun toward what was happening around the city, and toward some productive outings like a tour of McGill University. When it came time for our art date, we took the subway across town to one of the only art stores I could find. I had been asking around our neighborhood and no one really seemed to know where to buy art supplies, which was strange because here we were in a city surrounded by people making art everywhere! To get into this store, you had to go down into the basement into this tiny little space filled with paper, pencils and brushes from floor to ceiling. Oh you should have seen the way his eyes lit up. Growing up in Southern California, we drove everywhere we needed to go because there simply was no other option, so all of these simple adventures were exciting and new to his 18 year old mind. They only had large easels, which was great because buying easels while on a short vacation really doesn’t make sense. But I didn’t want to discourage him. Mars decided that we would get colored pencils and graphite and large paper pads. We purchased our things, headed up the steps and walked proudly down the street strutting our art goodies underarm and on our backs. We were close to Mont Royal so that was were we decided we would draw. It was beautiful to be up on top of the hill, to see the view of the city named after it. I didn’t know what to do as it had been over a decade since I was in my studio painting and drawing. But Mars got busy right away, working his colors, peaceful and calm, steadily moving the pencils across his paper. He stepped into a state of flow and the animals noticed. Two squirrels came right up to his leg and brushed themselves against him, letting him pet them. Now, I’ve seen cats and dogs do this, but never in my 40+ years of life, of seeing hundreds, possibly thousands of squirrels growing up in New England, never have I seen a squirrel act this way before.
I kept leaning over to study his technique and finally he said, “do you want some help?” I was definitely out of my comfort zone and did need some guidance. He taught me how to build the layers of the drawing and gave me a gorgeous lesson. Soon enough, the two of us were drawing together, quietly, sitting on rocks, nestled within trees, with these super friendly squirrels practically bounding off his knees and this was the happiest I had felt during our entire trip. I swear, while his ways often seem strange, my boy really knows how to get to the heart of pure being. There is something to be said for simplicity.