Her Bad Mother

Friday, August 15, 2008


I've had a girl crush on Kyran Pittman - who guest posts below - for a long while now. When I finally got to meet her in San Francisco last month, it took all of my talent for self-composure (an admittedly limited talent, in my case) to not squeal at her. I'm glad that I made the effort, though, because otherwise she might not have wanted to be anywhere near my squealing self, and I wouldn't have had the opportunity to pester her with questions about being a Canadian living in the US of A and what it's like to raise politically aware children when your own political identity straddles two nations. I'm so pleased to have gotten to know her. She makes me proud to be Canadian. Because even though she calls herself Canadianish here, she's the real deal. Nothing's more Canadian than being Canadianish.

PS And she's totally right. We really can, as a nation, be a prissy little bitch. I want that on a t-shirt, overlaying a giant maple leaf.


I noticed a few weeks ago that my Canadian passport had recently expired. Momentarily panicked, I checked my U.S. permanent resident's i.d., the fabled green card. Issued in 2000, after I'd been in America three years. Good until the spring of twenty-ten.

It has been thirteen years since I voted in a democratic election, because unlike foreign nationals of other countries, I cannot apply for U.S. citizenship without revoking my legal rights as a Canadian. I am raising three American citizens and am married to a fourth. My husband is a political junkie. His office is like a 24 hour newsroom. At any given moment, he is tuned into Kos, HuffPo and MSNBC simultaneously. "Someone's got to keep an eye on those bastards," I tease him about his vigilance. But I'm proud of how engaged he is in his democracy. It's how I should be.

It's time for me to shit or get off the pot.

And the thought gets no further than that, because I get all tangled up wondering if "shit or get off the pot" is a Canadian idiom, or something Americans use too, or if it's a Newfoundland expression that would cause noses on both sides of the 49th parallel to wrinkle at me.

I never know anymore. I don't know where I came from, and I don't know where I belong.

Remember the movie The Terminal? Tom Hanks plays an Eastern European traveller whose citizenship ceases to exist when his native republic collapses while he is abroad, and he spends the rest of the movie in the literal and metaphoric limbo of an airport..

Being from Newfoundland is like that. That country ceased to exist politically in 1949, the year my father was nine, the result of a bitter referendum. He and I were both brought up as Canadian citizens. And in many ways, I guess we assimilated. My childhood heros were Canadian Broadcasting Company personalities (Canadian celebrity was an oxymoron in the Canada of my youth) Peter Gzowski and David Suzuki. I was baptized into a family religion that revered the Expos and Canadiens and despised the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs. I speak the same wretched, broken french that countless Canadian children from west to east learned to speak from anglophone teachers who spent one college semester in Quebec and were deemed fluent. I can read both sides of the cereal box.

But I wore my Canadian identity awkwardly, like an ill-fitting outfit a stranger picked for me from a charity box. It sagged here, came up short there. I felt less self-conscious about it as a kid in the 70s and a a teen in the 80s, when it could almost be said that ambivalence toward Canada was the defining characteristic of Canadians. But as the Confederation passed its centennial, it began to show signs of a nascent patriotism. I was already living in the U.S. when Molson came out with its paradigm-shifting "I. Am. Canadian." campaign in the early nineties. I know it was for beer, but I found it oddly stirring. And a little enviable. I didn't. Feel. Canadian.

What I felt was Canadian-ish.

In fact, I felt more Canadian-ish living in America than I'd ever felt in Newfoundland or Canada. Looking across from the other side of the border, I found there were things about Canada I clearly identified with: core values, like believing that government is necessarily intrinsic to society, not an evil imposition over it. Where even the most liberal American possesses a fundamental mistrust of authority, Canadians have a fundamental faith in government. It makes sense if you think about how each country was founded: one in revolution, the other by consensus.

I feel Canadian-ish whenever I get a medical bill, and I feel the moral rage that healthcare, a basic human right, should be run as a profiteering profit-making endeavour. I feel Canadian-ish when I type "endeavor" and decide it doesn't look right without a "u". I feel Canadian-ish whenever someone crops up in American popular culture whom I can nod toward, and say to my husband, "Canadian.."

"How in the hell do you know?" he always marvels. "Is there a secret mark?"

"I just know," I say with a shrug. I. Am. Canadian. Ish.

Of course, I have become American-ish too. I never used to know what the joke was about "oot and aboot." But when I had breakfast with your lovely host Catherine and other Canadian bloggers in San Franscisco recently, it was all I could do to keep from giggling out loud. Seriously, y'all. It's funnier than Biggus Dickus.

I get truly angry with anti-Americanism when I go back and hear it. I'm not talking about intelligent, critical observation. You know what I'm talking about, Canada. You can be a prissy little bitch sometimes. Canadian media is obsessed with comparing Canada to America, and that drives me crazy, like listening to an otherwise very cool friend go on and on about her nemesis from grade nine. And I confess a little libertarianism has crept into the soul of this child of Trudeau-era socialism. A little mistrust of your own government is not a bad thing, Canada. Someone's got to keep an eye on those bastards.

And when you say things like, "Oh, a Newfie! I knew a Newfie once!" and then proceed to tell me a joke that you would crucify an American for telling with any other ethnic group as its object, well, you don't want to take your eye off your Molson then, Canada.

But none of those things have made me eager to give up that little leather book that says, however I may feel about it, I am Canadian. Nor has it made me want to forfeit that option for my sons. They can claim their citizenship there as young adults if they choose, and I think I would be happy for them to do so; proud if they turned out to be Canadian-ish, like me.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, wow, do I ever identify with this. I grew up in Canada with a dual citizenship, and have spent the past few years in the U.S., and I'm somewhere on that scale of Canadian-ish and American-ish.

Deep down, I'm probably more Canadian than American, because I lived in Canada for the first 24 years of my life, but I've always known as much about American history as Canadian, and I was raised to be patriotically both. In fact, my family was and is, in some ways, more patriotic than many other Canadian families because my mom, being American, makes a big deal of national holidays, including Canadian ones (she's lived there for 30+ years now but has never become a citizen).

In California, I'm the "token Canadian;" with my boyfriend (to-be fiance, and then to-be husband), I'm the American who will get him a green card; according to my passports (yes, I have two), I'm whichever one I want to travel on. These days, since my residency is officially in California, that's mostly American.

I file taxes in both countries, I have a SIN and a SSN, I fully identify with the Canadian jokes on How I Met Your Mother and I think that "Let's Go to the Mall" is a brilliant piece of satire.

I vehemently deny that I say "oot" and "aboot" (I'm convinced that that's more an Ontario thing than anything), but I proudly say "SORE-ry," not "SAH-ry." My spellings vaccilate between "our" and "or" and "re" and "er" with no real rhyme or reason.

I cheer for the Canadians during the Winter Olympics and the Americans (but the Canadians, too) during the Summer Olympics--but that's mostly because, during the summer games, Canada seems to be on par with some small African country with three athletes represented. I still cheer for them, but when it comes to cheering for medalists, there aren't as many options, so my next choice is the American team.

Our kids will have dual citizenships, because it opens so many doors, and I'm so grateful that I have the opportunity to live and work in either country. We're planning to be in California for the foreseeable future--that's where we'll start our marriage and build our home. Sometimes, the idea of taking vacation/disability leave when having babies, and not having the security of 12 months of maternity leave, scares me. If we have health problems, we'll be back in Canada as soon as we can get there.

I'm a little bit of both, and that's okay.

... and this is turning into a post of its own, not a reply anymore. Maybe I'll take it over to my own blog and keep going. :)

11:28 AM  
Blogger TSM Oregon said...

This is a great post!

I admit that I know very little about our neighbors to the north (though I'm told they have olympians in the sports of drinking and table dancing by Redneck Mommy), but that's always what I've considered Canada. A good neighbor. With folks that I can understand what they're saying. Which is a plus.

11:58 AM  
Blogger geenalyn said...

totally know how you feel. I often wonder what exactly i am anymore. I was born in the Phillippines to American parents, so from birth had two citizenships. I lived in the states from the time i was one till i was almost 21. I've been living in canada now just over 10 yrs. I've gotten my canadian citizenship now, but never really tell anyone. Crossing the border into the states i'm american, traveling on a US passport, coming back into Canada i'm canadian without a canadian passport because i feel like i'm doing something wrong if i carry both. I'm raising my four kids to be proud of both their citizenships...teaching them to celebrate all the holidays and knowing the histories. Its funny everyone here just thinks i'm canadian unless they really know me and know my story....everyone in the states wonders what would make me want to move here. I follow both Canadian and US news...vote in both Canadian and US elections....but still i feel somewhat lost in the middle of it all

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Kyran. What a terrific post.

My brother recently gave up his American citizenship for Canadian. Now, he calls us "You Americans!" with disgust.

This is a man who was born and raised in the US - who got his education here - who married, had a daughter, divorced, and remarried (a Canadian), had 2 more children in the US, but decided to renounce his American citizenship for Canadian.

Does it bother me? I haven't fully decided. It's his life and he and I have way too many other differences to worry about his citizenship decisions. My mother, though, is NOT happy. ;-)

Does this comment have a point? Probably not, but I wanted you to know that I think your perspective and the way you present it is wonderful.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope this comment isn't boringly long, but there's just so much I want to say. Thank you for writing this post (and thank you, HBM, for having Kyran post). Thank you for making me feel not so alone. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only Canadian living in the US; and though most are lovely, the people here just don't *get* me. I'm also not ready (and don't think I ever will be) to give up my Canadian citizenship to be American. I'd love to vote, I try to stay politically aware and much of our future rides on the current election outcome. We're going to have to move in the next 12 months anyways, and have decided that the way the election goes will say whether we move to Canada or stay in the US.

I feel so much of what you've written about. About the differences in politics, the annoyingness of Canadians anti-Americanism, the spelling issues and how it feels when people look at me like I'm unintelligent because I spell things differently.

So thank you, again, for helping this little Canadian feel less alone in person and feelings.

Oh, and "shit or get off the pot" is a part of my lingo, so it's not just a Newfoundland expression, at least.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Momo Fali said...

To someone like me, who has lived in the same U.S. City my entire life (within a few miles of the hospital where I was born) I find this all quite interesting. My "who am I" question revolves around the chick I lost after having kids. I find myself in different mental locations, but physically I don't budge.

1:02 PM  
Blogger The Ex said...

Wow, I really loved this post Kyran. I think it's interesting to compare the two countries considering how close we are but yet how different we've ended up. I hope you're happy here in America!

1:23 PM  
Blogger Jenny, the Bloggess said...

Kyran was one of only 2 people I *made* myself go up to and do the "you don't know me but I love you" thing. This is the perfect example of why.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you!

I have felt lost in the land of "in between" for the last 10 years. I'm born and raised Canadian who routinely gets asked why I just don't give my citizenship up... like it's an easy decision.

I'm married to a US citizen, but working here on a TN visa as an RN. I've pondered the greencard, but in the end, always stay with my TN. I guess one day I will think a little harder about dual citizenship, but that will feel like I'm giving something up.

I still get teased about "oot and aboot". My husband rolls his eyes when I say SORE-y. My yearly trips to the border to deal with the DHS (formerly known as the INS) to renew my work permit fill me with dread.

I too, was feeling alone, and now I know that I'm not.

My name is Kirsten, and I. Am. Canadian.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taking on U.S. citizenship has you renounce your Canadian citizenship, but guess what - as far as Canada is concerned, you don't lose your citizenship unless you renounce it in front of a Canadian official - so you can have both.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. I don't know about the citizenship laws requiring you to give up your citizenship. Here's something I found

The official Canadian position on dual citizenship reads in part:
Unlike the law in effect in Canada up to 1977, the present Citizenship Act allows a Canadian citizen to acquire foreign nationality without automatically losing Canadian citizenship. Since February 15, 1977, a Canadian citizen may retain Canadian citizenship, unless he or she voluntarily applies to renounce it and the application is approved by a citizenship judge. The present Act thus makes it possible to have two or more citizenships and allegiances at the same time for an indefinite period. Also, both the US and Canada require specific acts to give up citizenship. Canada requires that someone who wants to give up their Canadian citizenship has to go to a Canadian embassy or consulate and sign a special form in the presence of Canadian officials. The US requires that "A person wishing to renounce his or her US citizenship must voluntarily and with intent to relinquish US citizenship appear in person before a US consular or diplomatic officer, in a foreign country (normally at a US Embassy or Consulate); and sign an oath of renunciation".

My husband is Canadian (raised in Crow's Nest Pass and Chilliwack - I LOVE how awesome Canadian town names are, compared to American ones)but has lived in the US for the past 12 years (since before I met him) - pretty much his whole adult life, since he moved here as soon as he graduated from college. We have two small kids who will have dual citizenship as soon as we can find our marriage license (it's in his office, in his green card file. I refuse to buy a new one). We always planned to keep our individual citizenship regardless of where we lived - when we got married, everyone assumed I'd immediately renounce my citizenship, which irked me to no end. The plan was always to move to Canada, but then he got a job at an Ivy League University, and you can't turn that sort of thing down, if you're a professor. So here we are, several years down the line, and I find myself really wanting him to apply for US citizenship. All the Patriot Act bullshit makes me extremely nervous whenever he's crossing the border without me. Especially since he's a physicist and regularly goes to China (oy vey) - even though he does extremely theoretical work that's not even remotely sensitive, I worry that someone will decide to disappear him. Not that citizenship would stop them, but it might help in some way. At any rate, he's so Americanized at this point that his family mocks his accent - but he's really not ready to apply for citizenship. He.Is.Canadian. But I'm willing to bet he'd really relate to the feeling of not-quite-belonging.

I really think he just likes saying "Sorry, I'm Canadian" whenever obnoxious people ask him to sign political petitions ;-)

1:54 PM  
Blogger 7aki Fadi said...

I've been only Canadian for 2 years but I HEART HEART HEART Canada.

Loved the post.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

I am a Dutch citizen and lived in the USA for 22 years and although pushed to do so by my American friends, I could never become an American citizen and give up being a Dutch one. I am glad I did not in the end, because I returned to the Netherlands and am now very Dutch again and would not fit into American society anymore. There is no temptation to go back, although my daughter still lives there. I do not feel at home there and probably never did. I refer to it as my dream time. It was not real. I feel that I stagnated politically and became very narrow in my points of view and had a very limited outlook on the rest of the world when I was there. Doubtlessly influenced by my middle class environment and the shortsighted news.

I am happy to be a European again as I feel that now I am a citizen of the world. Maybe Canadians feel that way too.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this Kyran. I've been reading you for a while and as a Canadian newly transplanted in Massachusetts, I am eager to hear how other people define the cultural differences between our two countries. I asked around a lot before we moved. No one seemed to be able to put their finger on it. I find it fascinating and you seem to be one of a very few people who has mastered the art of critiquing without offending.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Backpacking Dad said...

I almost wrote this exact. freaking. post. for Catherine.

Right down to the "I am Canadian" fleece that I bust out and wear while not telling anyone that it's a beer ad; right down to the Canadar, that lets me pick out Canadians at 100 paces; right down to my broken franglais; right down to the right-wing shift in my so-superior leftist political leanings.

"I can read both sides of the cereal box."

This is priceless and perfect.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Lindsay said...


Thanks for the good read.

You are dead on about that Molson campaign being a double edged sword. I think I might post about it or something along this line.

I love both these countries very much. If I move back to the states I worry that my Canadian peeps would view it as a rejection of my Canadianism, which it wouldn't be. To me it's like America represents the spouse and Canada represents the mother. I want to spend my life with the spouse, but it will never ever take the place of my mother (citizenship or not).

Great post. Impatiently waiting to hear you have a book deal.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

wow, I am loving this conversation.

(Lindsay, hang in there. Me too.)

as it has been explained to me, the dealbreaker is with the U.S. side, not the Canadian side. One commenter was correct in stating that Canada will always consider me one of theirs, but once I become a U.S. citizen, the U.S. will no longer recognize my Canadian citizenship. So if I were thrown in jail for anything, I could demand to speak with a representative of the Canadian consulate until the cows came home.

I'm no criminal, so I guess it's an extreme scenario. But it gives me further pause for thought.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can totally relate.

I grew up straddling two borders and it was quite a unique experience. It's difficult to determine on which side I lie. I was educated through high school in Canadian schools yet I feel more at home as an American.

Because the "You can be a prissy little bitch sometimes" is realy true.

Canadian media doesn't understand in their comparisons of everything that there are a few million people missing to adequately compare the two countries.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Rae said...

I totally identify... you are describing the last ten years of my life. Dealing with the silly jokes of Americans who don't know much about Canada at all, dealing with Canadians who wonder how I can stomach living in America, a country I have grown to love in a very deep way.

My family just moved overseas, so now the question of citizenship is even bigger- if we continue to live here, I need to get my American citizenship so I don't lose my greencard. Hmmmm. But it's strange, when people ask where I am from, I often don't know what to say...

5:38 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

I was born in and lived in Canada for 30 years, got divorced and married an american .Now I live in the states and my two year card runs out soon so I just paid the big bill of getting my new one the ten year one. I want to get an american passport so then if we ever go away mine will be like my husbands and it will have my married name on it ,that is the same as his,however I still want to be Canadian too,that way if for some reason I ever need/want to move home I can and there won't be a problem . I feel the same way as alot of the people in the comments. So for those of you that feel alone..you are not !

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe it's because I'm a Newfoundlander too that I've also felt Canadian-ish for a long time. Living away does have a tendency to bring out. I completely identify with your "I felt more Canadian-ish living in America than I'd ever felt in Newfoundland or Canada" statement. When I'm on the mainland I often feel completely divorced from the country. It's only when I'm in Europe (or discussing America, interestingly enough) that Canadian-ish ideals come bubbling to the surface.

9:52 PM  
Blogger Canuckedup mama said...

Great post Kyran. As a Canadian from the west, I feel like I have to apologize for anyone that's called you a Newfie. I cringe at it now, but until I started working with some Newfoundlanders I had no idea that the term is so derogatory. No one ever taught us that out here. Clearly there's still some cultural education that needs to happen, eh? :-)

10:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Health care isn't a right, human or otherwise. It's a service, and it has to be paid for.

I prefer that the people using the service pay for it.

Your milage may very.


12:15 AM  
Blogger JChevais said...

As a Canadian living abroad, I do have to admit that it ticks me off a bit that I'm no longer allowed to vote in Canada. What with internet and everything, who is to say that I cannot make an informed decision for the country that I was brought up in and may, one day, move back to?... Bother.

But that is not really about your post, just a personal rant.

Nice post. I'm not sure what nationality I feel anymore actually. Can "Foreign" be a nationality because no matter where i am, my accent isn't right anymore.

8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post kyran we should focus on what unites us not what makes us different. and hey i don't mind being called a prissy bitch sometimes...my husband is canadian citizen now but he was a political refugee and he is also proud to be canadian

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Born and lived in US 14 years. Moved to Canada took out Canadian citizenship (and renounced American citizenship). Have now lived in France over 20 years but have not taken out French nationality. I was always pleased to be a Canadian until 2 years ago.
Now that Canada is doing anything the US asks and more, I'm not so sure but then France hasn't been any better since Sarkozy was elected

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get your Canadianish even though I grew up in Vermont! My grandparents were Memere and Pepere and spoke a lot of French. It's funny because I've always found, after the fact, that the artists I love are almost invariably Canadian. That kind of applies to blogs as well. Glad I found you from 5 star Friday!

7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have the title "citizen born abroad" thanks to my Cdn Father and an American Mother.
Born in Ottawa and spending my childhood in various eastern states and provinces I landed in the U.S and so began my adult life. My sister landed in Nova Scotia and has stayed "North".
I haven't lived in Ontario since the early 90's but every time I find myself back on the QEW I feel at home....guess that's a lot for a girl who has spent her life bouncing around North America!

Thanks for post neighbour!

7:45 AM  

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