September 17, 2021 Message to Members
The Number of My Days
Last week, my daughter got ambitious and decided to do a bit of cleaning around the kitchen. There is very little counter space, and more countertop appliances than necessary — some seem to have only a decorative function. Take the Instant Pot, for instance. We bought one near the height of its fad; it is a remarkable timesaver and can produce some excellent meals. So, why don’t we use it more often? I would stow it out of sight If all the cupboards below and above were not already full. The remaining counter space is taken up by the coffee maker and the toaster – both essential, and certainly not decorative.
In her attempt to be thorough, my daughter was actually lifting appliances and washing the counter space below. It was while lifting the toaster and cleaning the space beneath that my twenty-something daughter made her discovery. With some surprise at the novelty, she proclaimed, “I was today days old when I discovered that a toaster has a crumb tray!” It took some convincing on my part before she accepted that every toaster she has encountered to date had a crumb tray – whether she knew it or not. It just happened that she was 9,048 days old before her eyes were opened.
Today, I am 20,826 days old; if you round that up, it’s very close to the number in the title of a Moody Blues’ song. Back in 1981, the Birmingham band (which just happened to form the year I started to count my days) had a song on the charts entitled 22,000 Days. At the time, this number was a relatively accurate forecast for the average life expectancy of a human. Thankfully, more recent expectations mete out more than 25,000 days, on average. This is good, because I have much more to learn and to do.
When my daughter used the now-popular phrase as an expression to describe her unexpected discovery, it made me think of my own epiphany which happened long before this sensation was a meme or a Pinterest page. I would have been nearly the same age, about 8,400 days old.
I wasn’t the coach, but I was aboard the bus, heading with the volleyball team to a neighbouring high school. The teams did have coaches, but they were not staff; policy dictated that a staff member sponsored each team, attending all practices and traveling for tournaments. I had never been involved in school sports, but I wanted to support extra-curricular activity in my school, and to have a chance to spend time with students outside the classroom setting. In the seat directly behind me sat a few players, facing backwards to talk with the players in the next set of seats. They were engaged in animated debate with loud voices and laughter. At one point in their conversation, a decision had to be made and they chose to resolve it with an old standard: “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe”.
I was only half listening to their chatter as they began to recite the rhyme from my own childhood. It had been years since I had heard or used this sorting chant myself; I found myself silently reciting along with them. When the students sang out “…catch a tiger by the toe…,” my teacher-self kicked in, and I started to swivel around in my seat to correct them. They were reciting it wrong: the correct line was…
And I was ‘that many days old’ when I realized what I had been saying my whole childhood.
Those of my vintage understand what finally registered for me that day on the bus. For youthful readers, a quick Google will fill in the blank with an imperfect rhyme for ‘tiger’.
In the last one thousand days, similar moments of illumination have registered with me. Time and again, I’ve tripped over a practice or a phrase – even a single word – which has been a source of harm, a signal of embedded racism to which I’ve been blind. These anachronisms have not been in hiding; they have been in plain sight and common use. What has changed is that we ‘see’ differently: our awareness and understanding of the challenges we face in addressing systematic racism are growing. Changed, too, are the expectations of a diverse society which is committed to being heard at the highest levels.
In the initial days of my term as President, I received an invitation to the Anti-Racism Community Roundtable from then Minister of Education Rob Fleming. The BCPVPA was invited as a valued education partner to listen and learn alongside Minister Fleming as we heard “from people with lived experience.” This conversation and sharing of personal experiences was to inform “improvements and enhancements related to anti-racism” in BC’s education system.
Nearly 300 days later, a second Anti-Racism Community Roundtable was convened by the Honourable Jennifer Whiteside. Valuable listening and learning was again on the agenda; but so, too, was discussion of an anti-racism action plan to develop not only system leadership and system support, but also our people. This week, in relation to this work, the BCPVPA joined with partners on the Anti-Racism Learning Resources Advisory Committee. The work of this committee is to support the development and compilation of resources for educators to teach truth, to raise awareness, and to confront racism. Our school leaders have much to contribute to these conversations.
I was today days old when I realized my remaining days as BCPVPA president number 286, and I am resisting the feeling that time is running out.
Like my predecessors, I will not be the one to finish everything that I have begun in this role. The important work that I leave unfinished will be taken on by new hands in service of our members. But until the number of my days comes to pass, I will devote time to connecting with our school leaders so I may gather the voices of our members, bringing them forward to influence the days to come. And when I am 21,113 days old, I will turn the calendar page and continue this journey of learning and growth that I am grateful for each and every day.