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Comfort and Joy

The start of summer has come in like a quilt, muffling our calendars and soothing our souls. We linger getting out of bed and over breakfast. We return to old routines of adventuring in the morning and movies in the afternoon. We plan our days according to weather and desire.

The cherries, plums and apricots have returned to our grocery cart. The laundry has returned to the line between rain showers. The beach towels have returned to the trunk of our car, though Miss S has accidentally tumbled more than once into a January ocean, so maybe they should’ve never left.

Yes, comfort has found us this summer.

It arrived from the east with a visit from a cherished old friend and her family. In her renditions of ‘G’ rated stories to our girls of life before husbands: the time I locked her out of my car and tossed bread over her head to the seagulls; kidnapping a friend’s cat for an hour, and many other dastardly deeds worthy of grade ‘B’ movie villainy.

Comfort was present and accounted for in the stories my parents retold of Canadian road trips, in their use of foreign words like ‘slides’ as in camera film, and old phrases like ‘ashtrays on dashboards’. Anyone else amazed that Canada was a country back then? Hardy, har har har.

I have always wondered, albeit fatalistically, what my girls would remember from their formative years, Afterall, my own mother would tell you I remember too much from my days living with her on this planet… But short of waiting for my littles’ tell-alls, it’s hard to read what’s sticking and what isn’t.

Then I was gifted a boxed set of CDs at the end of June. Yes, CDs. Video won’t kill this radio star. I was surprised by the excitement that oozed from Miss S and Miss Q when they saw the gift.

“We used to listen to Stuart McLean every Sunday at lunchtime, but then we stopped.”

“We stopped because he died.”

“We did? Who’s Stuart McLean?”

While Miss C was present and accounted for in the kitchen on Sundays at noon, she was only five when he passed away. Listening to her sisters bring her up to speed on why the CD audience, and all of us in the car, leaned forward expectantly when Stuart reported Dave’s house was the best place on the block to keep the defibrillator, I realized how grounding Stuart had been to our family.

His voice, the characters of his fictional town, the shared humour, the routine, we stopped it all cold turkey when he passed. We were forced to, as per his wishes, but I never thought to find a replacement, or go back to the beginning and start his stories again.

It’s amazing how quickly you forget what you used to do.

It’s good to be reminded.

The rain we missed in June has found us this July. It is as if the world knew we needed to say ‘hush’ to the quotes and motivational cross-stitches that say you shouldn’t be comfortable, rather, you should strive to thrive, challenge and seek, influence, sell, and above all, hustle, hustle, hustle…

Rest assured gentle readers, our family will re-start our bid to take over the world in September, but for now, we’re wearing Gortex at the beach, catching up on our CDs, and taking comfort in the slow pace of summer.

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Before the rains came: Miss Q’s S’more. Recipe: 1 graham cracker, 2 squares of milk chocolate, 1 fried egg gummy, 1 slightly charred marshmallow, and, the piece de resistance, 1 Cheeto.

 

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I’ve finally become a fence mum. In the morning, if we’re not late, and thanks to middle school’s early start, our record is improving, it’s just me and the elementary school fence: chain link and a bit of rust as the school bell rings.

It’s been a long road to get to this milestone of motherhood. On good days, I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with other parents and bid my children farewell. On not so good days, I’ve weathered morning meltdowns, and children needing extra hugs. There have been days where my children have put on a brave face until they’re face to face with a substitute teacher, and children who are flat out done with school.

Throughout it all, I have brushed my teeth, secured my drawstring, and given extra encouragement. I’ve walked my girls to their classrooms. I’ve enlisted teachers’ help. I’ve distracted. I’ve visualized. I’ve weighed the pros and cons of taking the child in question home vs. wrestling them into their class.

Then, two months ago, the droopy faces and dragging feet stopped. The girls were happy to jump out of the car and leave me standing between the brake lights and chain link fence. They joined their line-ups and went inside the school without looking back.

Badda bing, badda boom? Perhaps? I’m still suspicious that the other shoe will drop, and truthfully, there have been a few dips, but as time marches on, I find myself leaning against the fence more often than my kids need to lean on me.

So, what’s the reward for a mother who reaches this milestone? Getting to work earlier? Being able to watch the opening of Live with Kelly and Ryan? A participation ribbon? Anything?

At least two weekends ago, when I had a mini milestone with Miss Q: traveling for a Field Hockey BC festival, I got to eat candy in a hotel bed while watching The Simpsons. Consider that sporting tradition passed.

As I leaned against the poky fence this morning, waiting for the bell, and hoping my work clothes weren’t getting rusty, I couldn’t help but reflect on all the milestones our girls have checked off this year. Everything from leaving a message on my phone with exactly what they need in clear voices, to learning new instruments, to camping overnight without their parents.

Even though their determination to jump feet first into life overwhelms my calendar, challenges my psyche and gives my husband and I a gold star in marital communication, I couldn’t be prouder of who they are at seven-and-a-half, nine-weeks away from ten, and four-months past twelve.

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I swear Miss Q actually played field hockey two weekends ago in Burnaby.

 

 

We returned from Easter in Canada’s only desert with tales of a near miss, a black eye and pneumonia. We won’t even talk about the police officer who let me off with a lecture and hard stare after I missed the playground sign in front of, well a playground.

Don’t worry, Miss S was daydreaming in the back seat, and didn’t even realize I was in trouble until I was. Thankfully the police officer sensed my horror and rookie law breaking status, so in the spirit of Easter Sunday afternoon, he let me go. I had to stop myself from dropping a box of cookies off at the RCMP office as a guilty but thankful thank you.

Oh, the weather was pleasant, glad you asked. Lovely. Warm, sunny, sometimes windy, the kind of weather one dreams about when on vacation.

In the vineyards, grapevines lapped up turkey manure being spread by farmers wearing white masks and driving tractors up and down the even rows, while in the orchards, cherry trees blossomed brilliant pinks and whites.

Easter coincided with my birthday this year, so like a true poolie, we went swimming at Penticton’s municipal pool and had 5 o’clock ice cream at Tickleberries, in O.K. Falls.

My husband took me to the Diamond Steak House where everything is bathed in butter, including the carrots which I ate, thank you very much.

Moments after our food was served, my husband interrupted my drool-fest with a calm, “Hold on, that man behind you is choking.”

Cue the Baywatch theme song, me grabbing my red rescue can, and slow jogging to the older adult in the chair behind me, who indeed was choking on his food.

Long story short, the paramedics came, the man recovered, and we all returned to the butter.

The rest of the weekend was crammed with chocolate, crafts, family, and shopping. Miss Q would probably like the record to show she was the only one perturbed with her parents’ lackadaisical attitude towards how long our vacation was going to last. She loves school, and her friends, and was miffed when we decided to wait out the long weekend ferry traffic and come home on Tuesday.

We should have left Monday.

Tuesday morning found Miss S’s temple on the wrong end of Miss Q’s deodorant after Miss Q lobbed her deodorant across the room and it accidentally smacked Miss S upside the head. Though the side of her head was sore and bruised for the better part of a week, Miss S enjoyed telling people the story.

Because we’re from the Island, and desperate for boxes of build it ourselves wood at a relatively cheap price, we stopped at Ikea on the way home and achieved the trifecta of annoyed girls. One day they’ll remember these trips with nostalgia when they inherit our Billy Bookcase and try to figure out where to hang the voxnan. But for this trip, admittedly, we stayed too long and ended up on the 9 o’clock ferry home.

At first we blamed the late night, but then, because my husband was home and I wanted to torture him with a doctor’s waiting room visit, we decided to take Miss C to the doctor to check out her husky cough and schlumpy demeanor. Lo and behold she came home with antibiotics, a refill on a long-forgotten puffer, and the diagnosis of pneumonia.

Thankfully she’s on the road to better health now.

To keep the vacation vibes going, and to live in denial of what life looks like for the next six weeks, I’ve begun sourcing summer shenanigans for our clan. Of course, there will be water, and ice cream, but we’ll try to keep our distance from emergency vehicles.

 

 

 

 

Madame N

We had to say good-bye to our faithful hound, Madame N, last Saturday morning as the sun shone and the birds flitted through our cedars.

Though we knew we were living on borrowed time, she was 14, a medium breed, and had blown out her knee chasing her arch nemesis: the grey squirrel in our backyard three years ago, the fact she couldn’t carry on with us came as a shock.

No one tells you how hard it’s going to be to make the decision to say good-bye to an animal you’ve raised since she was eight-weeks old. She was our first child, the one who was supposed to tell us what we’d be like as parents to fur-less babies. The one who was supposed to break us in. Except raising Madame N was nothing like raising our girls.

Madame N was the best member of our family, always present, always watching, and, yes, sometimes judging. Though she was picky about what she accepted table scrap wise, she was always game for old meat or pizza. She also never complained. Not when her sisters came. Not when their shrieks threatened to break glass. Not when they forgot she was underfoot, sometimes missing her by what felt like millimeters.

Sun, rain, snow, she was happy to venture out. Happy to jump into lakes or the ocean to cool off. Happy to be in any car moving forward.

Even in these last years when her body was slowing down. When we had to pause over her bed to see if she was actually breathing. When her leg wouldn’t let her run. She never complained, never let us know how much pain she was in.

The vet confirmed what we feared/thought. Our 98-year-old dog had severe nerve damage in her hind quarters. There may have been a mass growing but only a CT scan could show us for sure.

With or without the CT scan, our options were grim: a wheelchair, euthanasia.

We’d always said quality of life, age and money would guide us in Madame N’s care. Logic didn’t make our decision any easier.

Of course, and only in my world, seconds after I broke the news to our girls that Madame N wasn’t coming home, I spotted a couple walking towards our house.

Now, if you’ve seen the distance between our front door and the giant picture window that looks into our living room, you will know that there is nowhere to hide.

It was 10:45am. We’d been up since 6:30, in and out of our backyard, fighting denial and summoning reason. I hadn’t thought to change out of my pajama pants and white long-sleeved shirt; hadn’t thought to brush my hair, wash my face or, hey, put on a bra.

I answered the door as our girls scampered to the safety of the kitchen.

“Hi, we’re you’re new neighbours,” the perky couple announced.

Channeling Mr. Rogers, I said nothing of Madame N, but welcomed them to the neighbourhood.

“That’s life reminding us there is humour to be found everywhere,” I told the girls after our visitors left.

Fifteen minutes later my husband pointed out my shirt had coffee drips down the front. Humour indeed.

The hole Madame N has left in our lives is palpable. We find ourselves looking for her when we have a scrap of chicken that needs eating. We stop ourselves from calling good-bye before we walk out the door. We listen for her uneven clomping up the sundeck steps and brace for her persistent ‘woofs’ to get back in.

She trained us well.

N

♥ December 9, 2004 – March 16, 2019 ♥ 

 

 

 

“Because Mum’s don’t take sick days.” I was the snappy tag line in the NyQuil commercial at the beginning of February. It was Miss Q’s birthday weekend and I wasn’t sick with the flu, or a cold, I was just so incredibly sleepy.

I rallied on Miss Q’s actual birthday to celebrate, but then it was back to bed for this exhausted mama. When I grew weary of the bed, it was the couch’s turn to support me. What would ordinarily be a welcome vacation, full of writing and mugs of cold tea, turned into five days of me in the starring role of Sleeping Beauty Slumber Beast.

On the sixth day, God decided I’d learned enough from daytime television and sent me notice in the form of a needy child and a husband who couldn’t juggle his schedule.

Farewell perky morning show hosts, the realization that my husband’s been making his coffee wrong, and upgrades to my vocabulary: I’m going to werk my floral prints at work… once I take myself shopping for that must-have spring wardrobe.

I emerged from the couch to a personal email full of obligations, a stack of permission forms requesting drivers, and four orange circled days on my calendar. Orange, because I enjoy a cheery colour, and circled because five people are going in five directions in the same hour.

Like an annoyed alligator, I continued to rip the Band-Aid of real life, and checked my work emails. I mean, you might as well be angry all at once, right?

Surprise! Checking my work emails made me calm. Yes, calm. What kind of warped world am I living in?

Could the difference be paid work vs. non-paid work?

In November while I was werking it at work, I spied a group of flush-faced women gathered around an 8-foot table in a meeting room. It was after nine-o’clock on a Thursday night, and all my judgy brain could think was: what are they doing to themselves?

Um…what am I doing to myself?

My volunteer resume reads like a yellow brick road of kid activities: preschool, elementary school, Girl Guides and now middle school. I’ve sat in meetings that have run over-time, hot and bothered, wondering why I couldn’t get up and leave like everyone else.

I’m not alone.

There are entire armies of parents spread out across the land volunteering their time coaching, leading groups of children into the woods, or flipping burgers at fundraisers. Their reasons are numerous, but at the core? Children. Mostly.

I say ‘mostly’ because there was a time I volunteered to pad my resume. My reasons were selfish, and I was happy. It didn’t actually help me get jobs, but I was content.

Then the capital ‘V’ volunteering kicked in. The ‘we’re looking for ___’ hound dog eyes of parents who’d been holding organizations together with glue and magic.

My husband, the broken record: I thought you were just going to sit quietly at that meeting…

Of course I want to help. Of course I want to have intimate details about my children’s worlds. But after nine years I’ve had it up to here with chocolate, coffee, donuts, poinsettias, raffles, silent auctions, bottle drives, wrapping paper, hot lunches, book fairs, and, well, the entire world of fundraising.

Sure, organizations and schools need money. The busses are a giant yellow elephant in every classroom. But all the extra bits take time and energy. Time that no one has. Energy we’re all being zapped of like bugs on a summer patio.

Where are the children when you’re sitting around a table at nine o’clock at night, daring someone to take on a portfolio?

Will the kids remember the time you took fundraising to work, guilted all your co-workers into buying ‘x’ because you just finished supporting their kid who was selling ‘y’?

As for events? Grey area. Your kids aren’t going to thank you for them. But they are a gift of experience and valuable to building community.

Sooo, what if we stopped the little energy suckers?

When I asked a fellow mama she looked horrified and immediately said, “Someone has to do it.”

Okay, but what if I stopped first?

I do have three kids. They’re the perfect excuse. Remember the orange circled days? Toss in one husband, paid work, writing, and well you get the picture. Did Jan-U-ary even happen?

This March, I’m taking numbers. Like Marie Kondo, if something doesn’t bring me joy, it’s o-u-t. I want to enjoy my children while they’re still all under my roof; read them bedtime stories instead of kissing them goodnight at 5:30pm with an ominous, “I’ll see you when you’re sleeping.” Ho-ho-ho.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never volunteer again – there are actually causes out there that I enjoy. Besides, I can’t stop, it’s in my DNA.

The females in my family have sat on preschool and soccer executives, sorted donated books, were Girl Guide leaders, knit toques for infants, were part of women’s auxiliaries, made quilts, supported war efforts and did hundreds of undocumented acts over the decades in the name of community and childhood.

Thanks for the torch, gals.

Thank you also, for the reminder not to spread myself too thin. Those cherubs who got me into this mess need a functioning mother, not one who’s twitching after dealing with micromanaging type ‘A’s. It’s probably also good to model the word ‘no’ once in a while.

So, please excuse my absence as I start untangling myself from the center of this volunteering herring ball. The second star on the right is calling.

 

Love

If you aren’t from the island
You won’t understand
Why a snowflake sends us over the edge
And we slip thin gloves over our cold hands.

Every kid who’s grown up here
Starts listening real close
To the winter weather forecasts
Will a layer of white blanket the coast?

We’ve been disappointed
Year after year our dreams are crushed
When we wake on Christmas morning
And our lawns are still lush.

If you aren’t from the island
You won’t understand
Our longing for a good blizzard
Or any of Mother Nature’s angry commands.

We hear the message of Canada
Every winter on repeat:
Frozen canals, outdoor rinks and Nor’easters
While Victoria’s gardening stores sell peat.

Being axed out of the Great White North
Well, that’s not really our fault
The mighty Pacific we worship
Kills our dreams with her breaths of salt.

If you aren’t from the island
You won’t understand
When the snow we’ve been wishing for
Actually, and, finally covers the land.

The morning after a promised snowfall
We don’t even want to look at the grass
But then we see a layer of white stuff?
Out the door in our pajamas we dash!

Then every kid who’s grown up here
Crosses their fingers with hope
That the school districts will have mercy
And the answer to, ‘snow day?’ won’t be ‘nope’.

If you aren’t from the island
Then you won’t understand
Why our sleds are laundry baskets
And our shovels aren’t your usual brand.

We don’t buy snow tires
Chains or the like
Three-hundred and sixty days around here
It’s so balmy we get around by bike.

We build snowmen and women
With leaves and turf sticking out
Our hummingbird feeders freeze
This is what winter in Victoria’s about.

If you aren’t from the island
You won’t understand
The urgency to soak it all in
Before the rains swab the streets like a deckhand.

There’s always a threat
That the temperature will rise
And the snow will turn to slush
Signalling the mass uncovering of our thighs.

“It’s not dry snow like on the Prairies.”
“In Ontario we’d forge on.”
You could move back, dear people
But after three days our snow will be gone.

If you aren’t from the island
If from here you weren’t born
Let us have our fifteen minutes
Snow’s a treat we’ll never mourn.

Here are some shots from our second Snow Day. 

Top to bottom: Gumboots with rainpants (winter staple), ghostly faces (scary), M+S tires (almost at snowtire status) snow angels that look more like crime scene chalk outlines, and Jello flavoured snow (surprisingly gross). Not shown: the ramp we made for our kayak – the girls have started practicing for their Olympic bobsledding debut in 2022.

Dear Diary

diaryI let Miss Q read my diary. The one I got for my 10th birthday that spans grades five, six and seven, NOT the one I started in high school that’s riddled with unrequited love.
I don’t believe in burning books, but every diary I wrote in after grade seven probably has a date with a moon ceremony and bonfire.

It was the week after Christmas, and Miss Q was looking lost. She missed her friends but didn’t want to call anyone to come over. She craved the routine of school, but was happy to be on vacation.

I don’t know why granting her access to a world from thirty years gone by, specifically my world from thirty years gone by struck me as a good idea, but there I was, standing in my bedroom, rattling off directions like a curator at a museum. “Don’t flip the pages with your fingers. Better yet, don’t touch the pages. That’s old pencil, it will smudge.”

“Okay.” She tried to tug the red book from my fingers.

I released my grip, lamenting that I hadn’t laminated the pages or give her white gloves. “Be careful,” I said, watching my history walk out the door.

When I was in grade six, my days were filled with school, Guides, tenor saxophone, sports and papers. Every Wednesday I delivered the Saanich News, a weekly paper filled with local stories, flyers and the odd free sample.

Thirty years later, Miss Q’s life is pretty much the same, minus the paper route. She’s in Guides, plays clarinet in band, violin in strings and just added intramural volleyball to her sports roster.

Her teacher is lovely and likes to stop Miss Q before she leaves at the end of the day to tell her how much she is appreciated. Can we get a collective ‘awe’?

In Victoria, in the late 80s, the word ‘tween’ hadn’t been coined, or maybe it had, and no one ever thought to brand us. Most of the elementary schools in town went from kindergarten to grade seven, so we spent our tween years nestled in the protective bosom of mother grade school.

We didn’t have lockers to fight with. We didn’t have a company come in to talk to us about Internet safety. We didn’t have discussions on suicide, drugs or sex trafficking. The biggest social messages were ‘Just Do It’ (Nike) and ‘Just say No’ (Nancy Regan).

Nowadays the game is afoot. The children seem fiercer, misguided, lost. Miss Q sits next to a boy who has a mouth like a trashcan. I am forever the broken record telling my daughter to get her nose out of her book once in a while. Not because she’s missing instruction, but because she’s missing such gems as to why her classroom’s being evacuated or how the fights start.

The thing is, amidst all the crap, and it is crap, not a cute poo emoji, middle school is exactly what Miss Q needed in her life. When she finished her woodworking exploratory, she went back into the workshop during her lunch hours and crafted a spatula for her dad. She loves the library and is itching for the day she gets to enter the art room. She’s happily adding new friends to her circle.

When she finished reading my diary, with it’s tantalizing entries such as:

Dear Diary, I hate the weatherman here it is January 2 and still no SNOW!!!!!

Doing Papers is murderous.

and,

Today we were at Telegraph Bay. The woman in the boat beside us was hairspraying her hair and someone yelled, “What’s the matter, hair lice?”

Miss Q unceremoniously passed my red book back to me and said, “You were a weird child.”

I’ll take that as a compliment.

diary too

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