Time to Grow Up
Simten Osken’s practical black shoes were perfect for playing with small children or talking to their parents when she worked as a psychologist in Turkey. But when she moves to Canada and volunteers with teenagers in a part of Toronto called “the Jungle,” the shoes are yet another way that she feels out of place. That is until she realizes the strength that she can draw from her sturdy footwear.
I received an email last night saying that one of our beautiful students was shot while walking home from the Pathways program.
It has been a year since I moved to Canada. After I got settled, I started to search for a job. I tailored my resume to Canadian expectations. Although I’m an “Internationally Trained Psychologist” from Turkey, I was not allowed to work as a psychologist here. Finally, I ended up volunteering for “Pathways,” a program for high school students in Lawrence Heights, a Toronto neighbourhood with a high crime rate. Sometimes, it’s called “the jungle.”
My black working shoes, which I had brought from Turkey, seemed out of place among these teenagers. I worked at an elementary school in Istanbul in a safe area with children from three to twelve years old. Although the neighbourhood was becoming popular, the school was still surrounded by nature. These flat leather shoes were modest, comfortable and simple. Wearing them, I could walk on the grass, run through the garden, shoot a layup, or address a group of parents. The little children could even step on my shoes.
In Istanbul, each morning, I used to welcome the students by the school gate no matter what the weather was like. Some would come smiling and greeting everyone. Others would exit the school bus with their scarves, gloves and coats falling from their hands as they rushed into the school. Some children would complain about the others, and the rest would just stand by me and chat. “Good morning Mrs. Simten. You look too old! How old are you?”
“Oh, you guess!”
I thought that working with children was the smartest decision I’ve ever made. They are unpredictable, spontaneous and naturally funny. I enjoyed observing the three-year-old kids’ determined attempts to put their shoes on. They would try hard to stuff their little feet into their shoes, which would move farther with each attempt. Then they would hold the side of the shoe—but not the ‘top”. Somehow the sock would bunch up and get thicker in the front, preventing the little foot from fitting in. Success would usually come with a left foot in the right shoe and the right foot in the left!
The first time I sat in the middle of a circle of teenagers in Toronto, I felt nervous. Communicating in English, my second language was challenging. I had to be careful with my pronunciation and grammar; these teenagers would not let it go if I made a mistake! Some of them were very tough. Swearing at each other was the acceptable communication style. Aged fifteen and sixteen and much taller than me, some of them had fancy caps with basketball team logos and wore jeans that were three sizes too big.
Many were secretly playing with the electronic devices in their pockets. And they were noisy!
But at the first session after the shooting, the group was very quiet. Only when we announced the boy was recovering well did the students start shouting, “No, no! We don’t want to talk about it!” I was touched by their emotional reaction and the silent bond among them.
There are no little footsteps on my black shoes anymore. Now my shoes know that they have to stand still and strong, not run or playing around. I have to look up to the height of these teenagers and speak.
Yeah. It is time to grow up.
SIMTEN OSKEN is from Turkey. She moved to Toronto in 2012. In Istanbul, she worked as a child psychologist. In Toronto, she works in a daycare centre.