What To Expect When You’re Not Expecting

A little over two years ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease. At the time I didn’t know what a thyroid was, but unlike my doctors I was able to use deductive reasoning to gather that my sudden ill health had nothing to do with babies. The math was simple: no sex + no artificial insemination = not pregnant. Yet, if I were pregnant my doctors would be thrilled. It would offer them an explanation and a solution all wrapped up into one bundle of joy.

I was feeling ill before school one day. My head was pounding and I felt dizzy. Despite my protests, my mother dragged me to the walk-in clinic. The doctor was nice and the the appointment didn’t last long. After hearing my symptoms, taking my blood pressure, and listening to my breathing, he very politely told my mother to leave the room.  He asked me three questions; “Are you sexually active?, Do you smoke or take any drugs? And do you drink alcohol?” My answers were honest but unexciting: no, no and no. He frowned and prescribed blood work to be completed immediately.

The following morning I received a phone call. Reluctantly, I answered, “Hello?”

“Hello, this is Doctor Wilson calling, your blood work indicates that you have a problem with your thyroid. Would you be able to come to my office today?”

I groaned, “ Do I have to? I really don’t feel good so I’d rather not.”

“What I meant,” he said, “ was that I NEED you to come in right now. I’m giving you an appointment for 9:30.”

I glanced at the clock. It read 8:45. My mother called a cab and then she called my father. She told him to meet us at the doctor’s office for the unveiling of the malfunction in  daughter #1.

The doctor met with us, explaining that my thyroid numbers were on the floor, a concerning phenomenon. He ordered more tests to be completed after the appointment, and then politely kicked my parents out of the room.

Gravely, he stared at me, “I just want to let you know that I ran a pregnancy test and you’re not pregnant.”

“No shit,” I thought but I smiled anyways and nodded politely. Who knows? Maybe he thought I bore a resemblance to the Virgin Mary.

Over the months that followed, I was sent to various doctors. None of which I particularly liked. Finally, one of my mom’s coworkers recommended an endocrinologist. Her office was a learning establishment, so I was seen by a student doctor first. He was young, no more than five or six years older than me, and on the soft spoken side. He asked my mother to leave the room.

At this point, I knew the drill and I calmly braced myself for the coming conversation. I thought  about my high school history teacher telling the class, “Don’t have a SAD weekend kids! For those of you who were gone last week that stands for sex, alcohol and drugs.” Distracted, it took me a moment to realize that the young doctor wasn’t even talking about SAD. He was making small talk instead.

How’s my head today, he wanted to know. How are things at home? Isn’t the weather nice? What have I been up to this summer?

I politely answered his questions, growing increasingly confused. Why did he send my mother out of the room? Did he forget about sex, alcohol, and drugs?

In this mist of our conversation, his voice suddenly turned harsh, “Do you smoke?” he demanded.

“Nope,” I answered.

“Drink?” he questioned.

“Nope,” I repeated.

“Do any other drugs?” he persisted, his voice full of some sort of steely determination that gave the impression that he didn’t really believe any of my answers thus far.

I gave him the truth. “Nope,” I said, surprised at how badly I wanted to say yes, just for kicks–it probably would have made his day.

Determined to make me trust him, he continued to make small talk, asking me about my hobbies. “So you like art and improv? That’s really nice” he said in a warm, friendly tone, before once again changing his voice to something like accusation. “Are you sexually active?” he almost shouted.

I gave him one last honest, “Nope”.

He glared, obviously not believing me. I smiled sweetly, thinking about norms in today’s society. It dawned on me that it is no longer cool to be a virgin.

Especially, when you’re nauseous. As a female, when you’re nauseous everybody wants you to be pregnant, as though your suffering has to be for a greater cause. Since moving to Montreal in December, I’ve been getting long bouts of nausea. My mother once more took me to the walk-in clinic.

“I’m nauseous and I have thyroid problems,” I told the doc.

“Do you think that perhaps you could be pregnant?” He asked me, not looking up from his desk.

“Nope,” I said. He sighed, prescribed blood work and gave me a referral to see an endocrinologist.

A little over a week later, I was given an appointment with her.

“Your thyroid’s a little slow right now,” she told me, “but it’s not something that I would treat.”

“Okay” I said.

“Unless you’re having a baby; then I would treat it,” she amended.

“No baby,” I told her.

“Planning on having a baby soon?” she questioned.

“No,” I said.

“Well then I’m not treating it,” she announced. I smiled.

“Are you sexually active?” she asked me.

“Nope,” I replied, bored with my answers.

“Are you on contraceptives?” she said staring hard at my face.

“Nope,” I repeated.

“Well, are you planning on being sexually active soon?” she demanded. I perked up; a question that I hadn’t heard before! I decided that I too should vary my word choice.

“Not at the moment!” I answered cheerfully.

She rolled her eyes. “Obviously not right now!” she scoffed, gesturing between us.

“I meant not anytime soon,” I clarified.

She shook her head and mumbled to herself, “no treatment.”

The lesson was learned. A simple math equation: thyroid+baby=treatment.

I know what I have to do…

 

 

Photo Credits: Bich Ngoc Le Photography @ Unsplash

Swipe Right?

I’m part of that technological generation: internet, computers, and cell phones. Last time I went phone shopping, I wanted one of those sliding flip phones with the keyboards, like I had when I was younger. I wanted to be brought back to my childhood. At the age of 20, technology makes me feel ancient. Unfortunately for me, we don’t have those sliding flip phones with the keyboards anymore; we have smart phones. So that’s what I ended up getting, a smart phone. It was the cheapest one that I could find, and somehow it still has the capacity to store my whole life in its plastic casing. My generation stores everything on their phones.

Our schedule is no longer stored in little notebooks–planners, we used to call them.

Our conversations are no longer spoken. Instead, they’re stored in text messages with little emojis to make up for all the missing inflections.

Our lust is no longer stored in our pants, our love no longer in our hearts. It’s all in our phones–all of it.

Lately, I’ve been looking for romance and l finally conceded that it might be easier to get asked out online. I’m not sexist, but I do think that guys should be the ones to ask women out. My reasoning is as follows: anatomically speaking boys and girls are different, thus we suffer differently. Women have to suffer through childbirth and therefore men should suffer through sticking their necks out a bit to ask someone on a date.

I downloaded my first dating app. I started off small and got Jswipe. However, I soon discovered that it offered very limited choices and I was unimpressed with the intelligence of the male population using it.

“Wow, you’re a twin?” One guy wrote to me, “I always wished that I had a twin, but I feel like we’d compete over everything!”

“We haven’t competed over anything since the womb. In fact we’re completely different people.” I answered.

“Really? That’s interesting because you share the same genetic coding, you know.”

“Yeah really…there’s environmental factors that get switched on too.”

“Cool…what are you up to?”

“Painting”

“What are you painting?

“A skull.”

“Some jolly rogers dancing with booze?”

“It’s for a birthday card actually.”

“Oh that’s nice.”

The next day he messaged me again, “Hey, Artsy Fartsy”

After that I decided to scrap Jswipe and try Bumble, but I hated making the first move. What are you supposed to say to a total stranger besides “Hey”? I was so desperate, I researched it. I didn’t like what I found, which was either shitty pick up lines or questions about how you like your toast, along with warnings not to say “Hey” because it’s for horses. For the most part I just stuck with “Hey”. If a guy seemed interesting, I’d go the extra mile and slap a “what’s up?” onto the end. Most of them still answered, but lost interest upon discovering that I’m not interested in hookups.

Guys can’t make the first move on Bumble but if they really want to talk to you they can extend the match for another 24 hours. If this unfortunate event happens to you, Bumble, the app that claims to empower women, sends out the following message, “Lucky lady! What a compliment! Blah Blah used his one chance to extend a match today on you.” It comes complete with a bee emoji, because men: they are our bees.

Finally, I scrapped Bumble and downloaded Tinder, an app which I had sworn up and down I would never, ever use. I broke that promise, and now I’m just left with a whole bunch of dumb texts from strangers.

It’s exciting at first. A boy sent me a message! He thinks I’m cute. That’s almost as exciting as a boy actually getting the balls to talk to me in person for dating purposes. It’s not something that happens very often nowadays. Along with lust and love, balls are now being stored in our phones, and hence shrinking with every generation. Soon we’ll be procreating online too.

On Tinder, most guys can fall into one of three categories.

First up is “Sleazy/Bossy”. Guys in this category have lame pick up lines and just want to get into your pants. They say things like:

“Sexy name”

“Sooo cute”

Or “Haha good match”. To this I replied, “Is it?” The guy totally unphased, proceeded to ask me more questions. I didn’t answer right away. I was eating dinner. Less than half an hour later he sent another message, “You don’t talk much, huh?” I let silence do the talking for that one. He didn’t seem to get the memo though and messaged me again a few days later.

I asked a different guy what he was looking for on Tinder. I really didn’t know anything about him, except that he’s probably a crappy driver since most of our conversation consisted of him explaining how he accidentally drove into a wall the day before. He answered my question promptly, “I’m going to be honest. I’m looking for an interesting woman. Next step would be to see if there’s a connection. Sometimes I run into girls on Tinder who are just looking for a hookup. I’m okay with that too.”

I like things to be clear so I told him that I’m not one for hookups and I’m looking for a relationship.

My phone quickly pinged with his reply, “Let’s not negotiate it like it’s a contract. We can grab coffee this week.” I once again let my silence speak for me.

The second category is what my brother calls “Sad Sacks”. These guys are insecure and feel sorry for themselves, often coming across as manipulative.

I spent quite a while texting this one guy. He seemed nice and was also looking for a relationship. I was beginning to wonder why he didn’t just ask me out for coffee already when he once again messaged me to see how my day went.

“It was great,” I wrote, “I had an interview for a photography gig.”

“Model?” He asked.

“No photographer. I don’t really like having my picture taken.”

“If you had said model I would have believed you. You’re really pretty”

“Thanks” I answered.

“Probably too pretty to go out on a date with me”

I decided to wait to answer. My first reaction was, “why, what a manipulative bastard.” I did swipe right after all, so obviously I didn’t find him completely repulsive. I was annoyed but unsure. Was I overreacting? My answer came when he messaged me again less than an hour later, “Guess I was right, haha” he said. I didn’t answer. I decided that we were no longer on speaking terms, but a few days later he sent me yet another message, “Hey, are you still around?” I didn’t bother with a reply. “Silence speaks louder than words,” is becoming my Tinder moto.

The third category is called “I Just Want a Hot Pen Pal”. These guys just want to talk to strangers with no desire to actually meet anyone. Some of them even live far, far away.

Despite having my account on local settings, I somehow matched with a guy who lives in New York.

“So what’s the reason for Tinder he asked me after we finished with pleasantries.

“I’m looking for a relationship” I said. I feel stupider every time I write that line–I’m looking for a relationship. “What about you?” I asked.

“Just want to get to know people. And in that case I have to say that I live in New York City.”

After further inquiry, I found out that he was in fact at that very moment in New York. “So basically you just want to talk to strangers?” I tried to clarify.

“Yeah” He answered.

I tried to wrap my head around this. I hate texting strangers, and I don’t know why anyone would want to do it without the end goal of actually meeting the person. Also, in that case why just girls? What are you doing on the other end of the line?

Sometimes I try to be nice though, so I just typed back a quick “cool” and left it at that.

Yet another guy seemed pretty nice. We joked around a bit and talked about how photography gigs don’t pay enough. Eventually, I asked him what he was looking for on Tinder.

“I just wanted to see what all the hype was about” he answered, “You?”

Once again feeling stupid, I said that I was looking for a relationship.

“It’s even harder to find a good one of those than it is good photography gigs” He told me, “have you had any luck so far?”

I said no, only comedic insights.

“Care to share?” he asked.

“Mostly just bad pickup lines, like ‘ You write? Wow I’m sensing some 50 shades of grey style stuff here!’”

“I hope you gave him some props for that,” he joked, “or is BDSM not your style ;)?”

“Not my style, I’m thinking of joining a convent and our good Lord does not approve of violence.”

“By giving yourself to the lord you shall be set free,” he agreed. After that the conversation soon died down.

And our bonus category is “OMG, I know you!” I’ve had tinder for almost two weeks now and I’ve only run into one person that I know, but apparently it’s a thing.

After matching with this friend of mine, I sent him a message, “Jee, don’t you look familiar.”

“Lol, small world eh?”  he answered.

I agreed and complimented the funny quote that he had written on his profile.

“Haha, thanks yours too. Oh wait…” He replied making fun of my lack of any information what so ever on my profile.

“Silence Speaks louder than words,” I texted back.

“How’s that working out for you?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Guys need to go to school for how to woo a girl.”

“Haha”

“How are you liking tinderland?” I asked unable to quell my curiosity.

“I don’t want to talk about it. Girls need to go to school for how to woo a guy”

“You can always bond over makeup,” I joked because he’s involved in theatre and occasionally has to wear makeup.

“Oof, taking away my masculinity. That’s no way to my heart” He retorted, and I’m reminded of why I’m single–I have a very charming way with words.

“Sorry, I’ll make it better!!! Even when you wear makeup you look like man,” I amended.

“I’m swooning. Good save”

“Why, thank you”

Our conversation was the most fun that I’ve had on Tinder. After my adventures in Tinderland, I’ve come to the conclusion  that certain things, like lust, love and balls can’t be squished into a smart phone.

Lukewarm Coffee

Packing for our move, I discovered that my family members are hoarders. I’ve been sworn to secrecy and shan’t go into detail. Suffice to say, that by the time I was done going through our kitchen, I could have filled a small dumpster. Unfortunately, you can’t cure a hoarder just by throwing their stuff away. There will always be a newer, shinier obsession.

The temporary, pre-furnished apartment that we lived in for the first few weeks of our move was very sparse. Wanting to add a homey touch, Mama started collecting glass yogurt jars. Before long the cabinet was overflowing with them. Very delicately, I brought up the subject, “Mama, why are we hoarding yogurt jars?” I asked.

She tried to convince me that it was for me, the child who is allergic to dairy. “You can use them as paint pots!” she beamed, “they’re so cute!”

I blinked. “We’re HOARDERS” I wailed, wondering if I should pray to a higher power.

On that note, I’ve been thinking a lot about my religion lately, trying to be more religious in fact. Most weeks, I make the trip over to Chabad for Shabbat, but having never gone to Hebrew school, I find it very difficult to follow along with the prayers. During the service, I pretend to read the book only to realize that I’m on the wrong page.

Last Friday, I stayed home. My family even almost had a real Shabbat dinner, except Mama didn’t want to look up the prayer for lighting the candles.

“I’m just gonna say, we welcome Shabbat into this home” She informed us.

A light bulb went off in my head. Suddenly, everything made sense. “Oh my gosh! We’re reform,” I announced.

Mama frowned. “First we’re hoarders and now we’re reform? What’s next?” she demanded.

So I think about religion, and what it all means. I come to the conclusion that while I don’t really know anything, I did unintentionally listen to all those preachers at Yonge and Dundas square in Toronto. Dressed in their sandwich boards, and yelling into megaphones, they’re awfully hard to ignore.

One stood out to me in particular. He was younger than all the rest and I couldn’t help but think that if he lost the sandwich board, he’d clean up quite nice. Really nice in fact. But then he opened his mouth and I realized that there would be no cleaning up; that sandwich board ran deep.

“Who here likes lukewarm coffee?” he demanded, “That’s right no one! No one likes lukewarm coffee. You only want hot coffee or cold coffee….Just like Jesus. Jesus doesn’t like lukewarm coffee, but you people,”he slowly glared at the group of tired commuters waiting for the streetcar, “are all lukewarm coffee, lukewarm Christians, and Jesus…doesn’t…like…YOU.”

I smirked. It was December and I was both literally and figuratively stone cold.

“Lukewarm coffees,” he shook his head, “you will become the devil’s cat food. Yes, the devil is a lion. That’s a very big cat.”

My jaw dropped a little.

A homeless man stared him down. The young preacher screeched, “You sir are the devil’s cat food!”

The homeless man gave a gap toothed grin, amused.

“You sir are the devil’s cat food!” The preacher repeated, pointing. I couldn’t help but think that it was a little uncharitable. After all, it’s not necessarily the homeless man’s fault that he’s homeless.

Suddenly his sense of charity kicked in. “We must all pray for this man because he is the devil’s cat food.”

My mind  jumped back to hoarders. The other day a different preacher quoted the book of Luke 12:15, stating “And he said unto them, take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” I noted that the homeless man being homeless had very few possessions and perhaps the sinner in this situation was the preacher. After all, I don’t think sandwich boards are considered necessary possessions.

My streetcar came and I climbed on board. Out the window I saw the homeless man taunting the preacher. I didn’t blame him, but I did start thinking about my religion.

Does God like lukewarm Jews? And does he tolerate hoarders? Or is it asking too much for my family’s redemption as well?

 

Photo Credits: Frankie Photography on Unsplash

Welcome to Your New Abode

My family and I recently moved to Montreal. After a few weeks of searching we found the perfect little apartment in a rather large building. The joys of living in such a building were revealed on Monday night when the fire alarm went off at 11:20 p.m.

I jump out of bed, wide awake, quickly opening bedroom doors in an attempt to gather up my various family members. That’s what I’d take with me in a fire–my family. My parents, half a sleep, have different ideas.

Mama goes searching for her keys. I can’t help but think that it’s not what I would take in a fire. After all, the metal’s worthless if it doesn’t have anything to open.

Papa decides he wants to put a long sleeve shirt on, and takes his sweet time changing into it.

It’s a good thing there wasn’t a real fire because like an idiot I wait for them. My thought process being something like, “ I can’t just leave them. I’m a good daughter I am!”

Too many minutes later, everyone is out the door and we embark down eight flights of stairs.

They lead into the lobby where our neighbors are milling about. Mama stares at the keys in her hand,  “Ugh…I took the mail keys” she sighs. I’m not really sure why she bothered with keys at all.

If there had been a real fire a good portion of our neighbors would not have made it. Their reaction times were even slower than my parents. They didn’t even bother coming down for a full twenty minutes and by that time the  alarm had stopped ringing.

The firemen came right away. That was reassuring…until they tried to take the elevator. Despite the flashing emergency light they press the button over and over again.  Nothing happens–so they press it some more.

Shoulders slumping they glance at each other. The alarm system was not indicating the guilty apartment. A few firemen break off from the group, while those remaining continue to exhibit their button pressing skills.

One of them takes a quick peek at the stairs, obviously reluctant to climb them. The other slowly paces around the lobby while staring at the ceiling, as though it will provide  an answer. After a solid two minutes he rejoins the rest of the group at the elevator to stare at the flashing “EM” for emergency. They continue to tap, tap, tap the button.

“Ugh” an elderly woman across from us exclaims, “ Why, they’re still trying to take the elevator! Even I know not to do that. It’s fire safety 101. Maybe I should help them?”

She watches them for a few moments, listening to the click of the button, “ Well I think I’m gonna go tell them how to do their job now. “ She announces.

Soon after the alarm suddenly stops and the firemen depart. Our neighbors quickly take their place in front of the elevator. They hit the button. We hear the ding of the doors opening as we huff and puff our way back up eight flights of stairs,courageously doing what the firemen would not.

TTC Thursday

It’s Thursday–Thursday’s commute to school is always the worst. Time to get cozy with strangers. It’s not just a little bit cozy either, it’s a lot a bit. Every Thursday, I’m pressed up against strangers; head to head, back to back, butt to butt, and leg to to leg. I swear the TTC is going to make Cuddle Buddies go out of business. Why would you pay for a stranger to cuddle with you when you can hop on the TTC for $3.25, get where you need to go, and get cuddled by more strangers then you can count?

The TTC goes above and beyond public transit. It really does. Did you know that it’s educational too? Everyday on the TTC, especially on Thursdays, I learn about our societal flaws. And the way I see it, a lot of them stem from bad child rearing.

From a young age children are taught that they are special. These same children turn into adults who think that they are special, who turn into passengers on the TTC who think that they are special. So special, that they don’t think that they have to follow the rules.

On Thursdays, they stand on the back steps of the streetcar. There’s nowhere else to go–its full.

“Get off the back steps,” the driver yells, “We are not moving until everyone gets off the back steps!”

But no one moves. They think that somehow they’re too special to wait for the next streetcar. So special that the sensor on the step won’t detect their weight.

Sometimes we’re at one stop for five minutes. We don’t move an inch for five whole minutes. The driver yells, “Get off the back steps” over and over again. His voice turns into a broken record, looping round and round.

I want to tell those passengers on the steps that they’re not that special–no one is.

We also teach our children that life is fair. That if we dream hard enough we’ll get whatever we want. It makes for bratty children and even brattier adults who think that they can walk all over their fellow TTC passengers. They can’t though; there’s not enough room.  So, instead they throw adult tantrums.

A middle aged man steps on up through the back doors. He manages to squish himself off the steps. “People just need to make some fucking room,” he states aggressively, “There’s plenty of room they just need to make some fucking space.”

“Get off the back steps,” the driver reminds everyone.  The five or so people standing on the steps don’t budge. There’s only one direction to go and that’s off. The guy who squished himself off the steps decides that this just isn’t fair. Those five people deserve to ride too. “They’d be able to get off if people would just make some fucking room. Come on people make some fucking space,” He shouts.

At the next stop lots of people get off and a then a whole lot more get on. Everyone shifts around like puzzle pieces trying to fit. The guy who keeps saying “fucking space” somehow manages to squish himself right next to me. He watches as people struggle to fit inside our human puzzle.

“If people removed their napsacks it’d make more space.” He says softly. He doesn’t seem angry anymore, just dejected. Some people preach religion and others preach space.

On TTC Thursday, I also learn that people really do crack under stress.

An old man and a British lady stand by the doors. The streetcar lurches to a halt. People, eager to become passengers, flood in through the now open back doors.

“Did you need to get off?” The woman asks the old man in a thick English accent. He doesn’t answer, so she decides for him: he needs to get off.

“Excuse me” She says to the people climbing aboard, “Can you please let this gentleman get off?”

She is completely and utterly ignored, “Excuse me this gentleman needs to get off,” She tries again, louder this time but with the same result.

“What? No one cares, really?This is freaking unbelievable!” She rants.

Finally no more people need to get on. The woman turns back towards the old man, “You can get off now” she says gently.

He smiles and shakes his head no. He doesn’t need to get off. “Oh my god” She gasps horrified, “I need to move away from these doors.”

And that’s TTC Thursday.

90+

The first month of University is peppered with pep talks and ego boosters. It creates a definite contradiction, a clash. One minute the Profs are discussing proper behavior, and the next they’re going on about how we’re the chosen people. It’d be awfully confusing, except I know that we’re not the chosen people, so at least I have some clarity.

The profs are constantly saying things like, “ You guys should be so proud . The program that you’re in requires one of the highest grade point averages in the entire school! Most of you are 90+ students….”

I got into the program with a whopping 91.5% grade point average that I earned by taking 5 art classes in Grade 12 and dropping math. True academic excellence right there. Either I’m an imposter or there’s a flaw in their admission process. Based on student contributions to the class, I’m inclined to believe the latter.

“Does anyone have questions about the program?” One prof asks the room.

A boy raises his hand, “How is the program going to help us work as a cohesive unit?” he asks.

A hush falls over the room, as my peers whisper to one another, “Wow, he sounds smart!”

I wait to see if the prof will fall for it too. He doesn’t, “That’s actually not my job, it’s the responsibility of all of you to work well in groups,” he deadpans.

I grin. The class continues. There’s  a powerpoint on the screen about when to, and when not to email the Prof. This power point came into being because in the first week of school alone our poor prof almost drowned in emails. The next twenty minutes are spent explaining that it’s not the prof’s responsibility to change our diapers, so only email him for legitimate questions.

The class closes with “ You guys are all 90+ students and we know that you’ll do very well.” I look at my schedule but there’s no math class for me to drop.

The following day we have a Seminar in which receive another pep talk, but this time it’s from our TA, accompanied by yet another powerpoint. She informs us that University is going to be a transition, especially for us, the creme de la creme of High School grade point averages.

It’s really quite simple she informs us–simple math–have we heard of the freshman 15? Yes? “Well what that means is not only will you gain 15 pounds your freshman year but your grade point average will also drop by 15%.” She pauses, “But wait, that’s for most people, you guys came in with much higher grade point averages than the average. The majority of you are 90+ students and that just means that you have a much longer ways to fall.”

I look around the room at the worried expression of my peers, noting that my expression doesn’t match their’s in the slightest. I have trouble mustering up excitement for grades. I refuse to be contained in a number. Afterall, I dropped math on moral grounds.

The TA opens the powerpoint. Each slide contains a stupid quote that students, like us, have said to TA’s and Profs. Indicating one quote, she shakes her head, “Nope, just because you pay for University doesn’t mean that you deserve good marks. Our job at Ryerson isn’t to give you good marks. Our job is to make sure that you don’t turn into a whole bunch of little Donald Trumps.”

I choke on my water. She continues to talk about how Donald Trump is a prick and we really wouldn’t want to be anything like him.

I almost forget that I’m in Canada, and not the States.  The politics feel so close to home…but then I remember: back home we only gain 10 pounds freshman year, and in Canada we gain 15. It’s always the exchange rate that gets you. Even I know that, and I dropped math.

International Student, Eh?

I start University tomorrow. It’s exciting, although, I’m not really getting off on the right foot with the administration. I don’t think that they’ve noticed yet, but it’s true. I even feel a little guilty. Most of them are so nice, and they really want to help, but they don’t. They feed me wrong information and make me jump through hoops, over and over again, just because I’m from a minority group that they don’t understand. I’m an American Canadian. That is, an American living in Canada without permanent residency.

My relationship with the administration began back in June. To apply for my study permit, I needed my fees to be changed to the domestic rate, along with a letter stating that they had indeed been changed. Documents in hand, I went to the Student Service Centre at my future University.

The area is very modern looking and they’re very tech savvy there. They have these machines where you type in your business, and then it spits out a ticket with a letter and a number on it. Then they have this T.V. thing that calls out the letter numbers and tells you which desk to go to. It’s very fancy and looks like it costs a lot of money. Suddenly,  I know why they take away academic based entrance scholarships from gap year students, like myself. If they gave me my scholarship, we’d all have to stand in line.

Making good use of my money, I grab a ticket and sit. My number is called and I’m instructed to go to Station 4.

“Hi, how are you?” I smile at the lady sitting behind the desk.

“Fine, what do you need?” She answers.

“My parents are here on worker’s permits and pay taxes in Canada, so I qualify for the international tuition fees exemption. I came to get my fees changed to the domestic rate. Once they’re changed, I’ll also need a letter stating my fees in order to apply for my study permit,”I explain.

She scowls, “You should have brought your parents with you, and you need to go to the International Office.”

“Oh,” I say, not quite sure as to how my parents factor into the equation, “My sister’s already a student here and she came here to get her fees changed. I called yesterday too and the lady that I spoke to said to come here as well.”

“Just because your sister had her fees changed doesn’t mean that they automatically transfer over to you. Besides, we can’t do anything until we have your documents,” She snaps.

“ I actually brought all my documents,” I smile, “They’re right here,” I add indicating the folder that I’ve been holding.

She scolds me again for not bringing my parents, emphasizing that they really can’t help me if I don’t have all my documents.

“I really did bring all my documents,” I insist.

“Fine, you can scan them at the front, but you’ll still have to go to the International Office,” She says.

“Okay…thank you?” I reply. She leads me to the front desk, before marching off.

The lady at the front desk is super nice. She tells me that I am in fact in the right place. However, unfortunately, I will have to come back to apply for my letter,  as the person in charge of changing fees is on vacation.

After receiving email confirmation that my fees have been changed, I return to the Student Service Centre. This time, I speak with a completely different woman. After checking with her supervisor, she informs me that they just don’t write letters like that, and recommends that I go to the International Office.

I do so. Beth, who works at the International Office, is very nice, and tries to help me hunt down who could possibly write the letter for me. This process leads to several dead ends before we are informed that the International Office does indeed have the power to write me my letter. A fact that only took them several weeks to discover.

Days later, I receive an email from the International Office requesting my presence for a mandatory check- in appointment for international students. “Ridiculous,” I think. After all, I’ve been living in Canada for two years. I graduated from a Canadian High School. I’m practically a native.

So, I tell them that, very nicely of course, in an email and ask, “Is it still necessary for me to come in?”

“Yes…yes it is,” They write back.

I roll my eyes at my computer screen. I hate technicalities. Sighing, I decide that I might as well make the most of the situation–I prep a list of questions.

  1. Please explain Canadian currency to me. Seriously, there’s no pennies and it’s confusing as hell.
  2. What’s the best brand of maple syrup?
  3. Is moose common fare?
  4. What the fuck does “eh” mean?
  5. Do you offer classes to learn Canadian? I only speak American.
  6. Why are there no restrooms?

Unfortunately, I don’t get to ask any of my questions at my mandatory check-in appointment. Upon arriving, I am greeted by the same Beth who helped me get my letter.

“Hi, I’m Beth,” she says cheerfully, “It’s so nice to meet you!”

I stare at her a moment, confused. Has she forgotten about me already? No…that can’t be it–I’m unforgettable. So, I decide that since she lead me around in circles, she must just want a fresh start.

I smile brightly and shake her hand. She leads me into her office and gestures for me to take a seat. Ever obedient, I do so.

“When did you arrive?” She asks.

“Two years ago,” I state.

“Oh, okay. I know that you came in earlier to get a letter for your visa application. Were you able to get your study permit?”

I say yes, noting that she does remember me after all.

For lack of anything better to do, I smile. Beth asks me more questions.

“So are you navigating Toronto okay?”

“Yeah, I’ve been living here for two years,” I inform her.

“Do you have a place to live?” She questions, looking a little worried.

I tell her yes, that I live here with my parents. I have Toronto down to a tee, I work and everything.

Her eyes light up with some kind of hope upon hearing the word, “work”, and I realize that it was probably the wrong thing to say, but it’s too late.

“Great!” She exclaims, “Let’s talk about working as an international student.”

“Ummm…okay,” I smile weakly. I’ve been working in Canada for two years, but I politely wait for her to impart her knowledge.

She informs me that I’m allowed to work on or off campus for up to 20 hours a week, and as much as I want on breaks. Things that I already knew.

“Have you signed up for any orientation events?” She asks changing the subject.

“I went to the one for my program, but I’m really busy this week so I’m not planning on attending any others,” I answer.

This makes Beth frown. “There’s an international student welcome party on Thursday, that you should really come to.”

“I have friends visiting from out of town that day,” I tell her.

“Well if you have extra time you’re  welcome to bring your friends,” She says gently.

I just smile. I like smiling. It’s noncommittal.

“On Friday, though, we do have a mandatory international student workshop,” she plows on.

“Does everyone have to come?” I ask.

“Some people can’t come because they arrive late, but then they have to meet with us separately,” She explains, her meaning clear.

I shut up, and sign up for the workshop on the electronic form that she’s pulled up on her computer.

“Are you gonna get to see your family soon? Are they planning on coming up to visit?” Beth asks. I can tell that she’s already worried about me because I didn’t want to sign up for their orientation events.

“Yeah, I actually live with them, so I get to see them every day,” I say cheerfully.

“I keep forgetting,” she gives her head a little shake, “Before you leave, we have a little gift for you.” Beth grabs an envelope out of a box. Setting it on the table, she slides something out of it. It reveals itself to be a six piece puzzle labeled, “Five Factor Model of Resilience”.

“This puzzle shows the five steps of resilience,” Beth explains, “Each piece is labeled with a step, Gratitude, Compassion, Grit, Optimism, and Mindfulness. So, if you’re ever feeling stressed or sad or overwhelmed, you can put it together and it’ll make you feel better. Because if you can put this puzzle together, it means that you have all the ingredients to be resilient.”

My smile slowly grows until I’m beaming. I just can’t believe them, “Thank you so much” I tell her.

Beth smiles back at me. We say our goodbyes and I skedaddle.