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Slumber Parties on the Prairies

Time 0:03:05


I am from a typical small town in a nice part of the Alberta prairies. You might know me; I was the girl who was afraid of slumber parties. I fit in at slumber parties, sure. I had the same colour hair, the same marshmallow white or sun-burnt red skin, the same conservative family values, the same good grades and the same interests in softball or ice cream. However, I was terrified because I could be pointed out, pranked, whispered about: “she’s not like us.” At one party all the girls would be from my school but they had a membership in the “Mormon church” club. At another party, most of the girls were from my Mennonite church in the next town but had their secret society school-lives. I so badly wanted to fit in that I subjected myself to the horror of sleeping-over with two different groups, in order to solidify my inclusion in at least one.

Except this discomfort around belonging was also something deeper. It was part of the stories I knew from my family history, four generations ago. It was the persecution of Mennonites in Russia and Eastern Europe that drove my family to flee their prosperous farm. They immigrated, empty-handed, to the Canadian prairies. After planting roots in farmsteads, my grandparents branched out founding a new Mennonite church in the city; where my grandma radically advocated the inclusion of both men and women at dances. When my parents set up their home in a town one province over, they joined the church of my childhood. When I was a teenager they disagreed with some of the conservative views of the Mennonite church that excluded long-time members. The inclusion I craved was actually beyond any of the groups of my childhood.

As soon as possible, I managed to ‘flee’ my hometown. I had to go in steps. First, I went only 50 kms away. Then, in 2003, my family visited Europe, which opened my passport and unlocked my nerve. When my new-found university friends invited me to a big slumber-party in Beijing, China, I accepted. I was not only invisibly, but visibly different. Despite that I was made to feel welcome and even feel as family.

Since then I have had the bravery to move even farther to work and experience different religious traditions in a big Canadian city and then to volunteer in India and complete a Master’s in Ireland where my community grew to include exceptionally generous and loving people. It is the experience of the beliefs and ideas of others that allows me to expand and make a space for my own.

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