The license plates of nearly every vehicle in Manitoba read the cheesy, yet seemingly true and appropriate phrase, “Friendly Manitoba.” As Angie and I have made our annual voyage up to Manitoba for almost two decades for our favorite music festival, it has been impossible to find an exception to this motto, as the Canadians truly come off as sincerely downright “friendly” with their unique, inviting dialect and demeanor. Sandra and Elliot’s family of five were no exception, and in fact, after less than an hour of pulling up to their driveway (greeted by smiles and friendly Manitoban waves), we felt like we had known this family for years. Keep in mind, these people had never met us, yet agreed through a mutual friend to appear on camera and bear their stories and souls for Mid Drift.
Sandra was a spunky ball of Portuguese-Canadian energy, full of emotion and contagious warmth. Elliot, her husband, although a bit quieter and mellow, was the least intimidating 6 foot 8 man I’ve ever met, and although I haven’t met many people this tall, I mean this in a good way of course. I was offered and enjoyed a Kokanee beer as I set up production equipment while Angie and Sandra bonded immediately, as all seven of our collective children introduced themselves while cramming into a trampoline in a yard flooded with seasonal fish flies. Well, Sandra and Elliot’s toddler actually had to retreat to a nap shortly after our arrival, but their other two daughters showed off their rooms, toys, and eventually the picturesque nearby shoreline of Lake Winnipeg.
After fumbling with some audio issues, which embarrassingly ended up only being my headphone volume being turned down (ouch!-I’m still learning!), the “interview” was less than an “interview,” and more of a conversation with new/old friends. What struck Angie and I the most was their experiences with, and descriptions of, the Canadian health care system regarding birthing and what they referred to as “mat leave” (maternity leave). With both Sandra and Elliot being high school educators, they conducted themselves eloquently, describing policies and choices about parental leave, health care benefits, and roles/expectations of Canadian midwives, all of which were things they admittedly took for granted as they watched our jaws drop bearing baffled, envious facial expressions as we listened in awe . Not only were we astounded by how much paid paternal (or “mat leave”) the government provides for Canadian families, but also by the fact that midwives were covered under insurance at all and not to mention that the government issues a monthly $100 check per child for the first several years of each child’s life! They had to be pulling our chains, right? Wrong. Now Mid Drift is not a film focused on health care systems, yet it quickly occurred to us that such a vastly different system than the one we have across our homeland border less than 200 miles south of where our jaws were dropping needed some attention and was directly linked to several issues in Mid Drift’s scope. We couldn’t fathom how a birthing and postpartum “package” like this would not hugely impact postpartum body image in some capacity. The connection may not be obvious or crystal clear, but perhaps complex and expectedly different per individual family experience, yet we are talking about a standard in a system that allows a family a year of paid parental leave to figure out life as a new parent, without the intense pressures or financial burdens of rushing back to the work place in the hectic American way. I’m not even sure how to begin researching or documenting data on a topic as complex as an entire nation or culture’s healthcare system, with so many variables and experiences. And by no means did our new Canadian friends make out their system to be “perfect,” but we couldn’t help but compare how much faster a mother (and father or partner) must mentally and physically prepare to return to work in the States. We couldn’t help but reflect on the toll that our inferior system, if you can even call it that, can take on a person, couple, and family. Our eyes were opened as this link was something we must explore as we continue to travel for this project. Could a major factor of early negative body image be due to an increased pressure and anxiety to look a certain way in preparation for a speedy return to work? Duh.
As the shoot continued, this Canadian couple was gracious, honest, and animated as they shared perspectives on parenting together. Sandra described converse views of body image in her Portuguese background, and she emotionally discussed how she wanted to help her daughters make sense of body image as they navigate our potentially harsh society. Sadly we were under time constraints and we ultimately had to cut short a meeting that ideally would have involved a three night stay (next time!). Sitting out on Sandra and Elliot’s deck following the film shoot, we shared more stories over a tray of refreshing fruit, and it occurred to me that this rich meeting would be the first of many in our Mid Drift adventures, and that this human connection is something a camera cannot capture and words cannot do justice.
What better way to part ways from our new friends then by following and filming their gorgeous family walking together on a Winnipeg Beach pier? I took lovely footage of Elliot towering over his beloved Sandra, holding her hand as her dress blew in the wind and he held his youngest over his opposite shoulder, all with the mammoth lake serving as a back drop. The two other daughters circled around their parents and it all felt so “natural” for lack of a better word. Their family’s interactions, us joining them on this random July afternoon, the gigantic gray lake, Sandra and Elliot smiling at each other, Angie and Sandra bearing their bellies side by side for Mid Drift shots, our children running laps up the pier with theirs…all so natural. I couldn’t help but think of all the faceless, amazing humans that we will meet in our future Mid Drift adventures, of all the stories we will be entrusted with, and all of the valuable friendships we will forge. I truly felt calm and better than that, I felt a calling of sorts, which is so affirming as our family sets out on this year full of risk and change. This simple meeting made it seem right. The very fact that a family of strangers so quickly became a family we now consider friends, and friends that we will likely visit for the rest of our lives…once again, so natural and right. I realize that we won’t meet “friendly Manitobans” everywhere we go, but what truly resonated with me was just how personal the nature of this project is. We are asking strangers, in many cases, to share such valuable, powerful information in the name of Mid Drift, and this sharing is a gift to us and our growing audience to cherish and learn from.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!