Belén and I stand beside each other, peering through the bus depot windows to get a glimpse of my sister. A Greyhound bus, headed west to Vancouver, has just pulled up and the lights flicker on while passengers grabbing pillows and backpacks wait to get off.
“There she is!” Belén says. We see a slim figure with long hair waving at us from inside the bus. Belén jumps up and down and I rise on tip-toes, both of us grinning and waving back.
This is the beginning of our biennial girl-get-away and it’s a first for Belén. The family tradition started about a decade ago and all our daughters know they’ll be invited when they are twelve; Belén is thrilled it’s finally her turn.
Once all four of us–my mom, sister, daughter and I–settle into our hotel room Tara cracks open a box of Du Soleil macarons. I have never tasted anything quite like them. What I thought would be dry and sickly sweet is smooth and surprising. We read from the legend of flavours and pause over each one, as if choosing from a box of artisanal chocolates.
“Aren’t we lucky to be here with these two?” my mother asks Belén while gesturing toward my sister and me.
“Yeah,” Belén agrees, biting into a London Fog macaron. “It’s my mom and Auntie Tara who are the icing. We’re the stuff on either end.”
All of us are giddy to be together. I reminisce about dubbing my mom and sister “Mommy #2” and “Mommy #3” after Belén was born. Stan and I had just returned after years of volunteering in Bolivia, Tara and her husband were between their own global adventures, and all of us were living under one roof, including my dad, younger brother, and cousin Larry–who had come to help with the harvest. While the men spent their days and nights on the wheat fields, Tara and my mom (who was teaching full-time) took turns feeding everyone and looking after the new baby and her blubbering mother.
Now, with Belen snuggled between us on the couch, her legs as long as my own, it all seems blurry and distant. My mom and sister are joking about who was really number two or three when I interrupt them,
“I think we need some sort of ritual to induct Belén into the weekend. Maybe a ceremony to mark her rite-of-passage? What else could we do to recognize her as a woman of our clan?”
Tara turns to Belén. “Do you like it when your mom talks like this?”
“Umm…no, not really. But she’s always kinda weird.”
I don’t protest because this isn’t the first time I’ve heard her say that and I choose to take it as a compliment. Besides, my sister reminds her that she’s got a lot of her mother in her. Belén agrees.
“Oh yeah?” I say. “Like what?” I’m curious to hear what she thinks we have in common.
“Well, I like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, just like you.”
Hmm. Well, that’s a start, I guess.
On the way to the MTC theatre to watch a play, my mom discusses her own divergent daughters. We’ve been talking about using beeswax food wraps instead of plastic cling wrap and my mom says, “Honestly Belén, I have no idea where your mom and auntie come from. They certainly don’t get all that gardening, and artsy, earthy stuff from me.”
And that’s when I realize I’ve been framing this weekend all wrong. While running to find our seats at the theatre, soaking in the hot-tub, and ambling through Osborne village I’ve been telling her what it means to be a Friesen-Wiens woman. Instead I should be shouting:
You belong! No matter who you resemble or what you are interested in. You are a Wiens-Janzen-Friesen-Siemens-Myer-Lefever-Yoder-Reed and you carry traces of each generation in your blood and bones. From the farmers and teachers, carpenters and gypsies, dreamers and do-ers, to those who survived war and fled persecution. All of them have left their mark. Who knows how their passions, fiery tempers, smiles, cancers, laughter, depressions, dimples, fears, senses of humour and impulses have made you who you are. And yet, despite all these genetic influences, you are a unique creation. You will choose your own way. And when you do, remember that you belong. You belong not because you act, sound, or think like anyone else, but because you are part of something bigger than yourself. Relatives matter and they don’t; they don’t have to dictate who we become but they remind us we are not created in a vacuum. Whether we like it or not, we are linked to a certain chunk of humanity. We are born into community, healthy or otherwise. So go forward, be who you are–even if it’s not a carbon copy of your mother, aunt or grandma–and know you are not alone. You belong to a long line of people who have come before you.
After we spend two or three hours at the Human Rights Museum we all need some fresh air. We find a spot near the river without too much goose poop, throw down a blanket, and dig into the chips, chocolate, nuts, and fruit we brought along. While laying in the sun, someone thanks Belén for her idea to have a picnic. Which, by the way, is the very thing her mother would have suggested.