With Love From

I started writing to my granny when I was learning how to print. At first it was a thank you for my present type-letter, but then my mum told me if I wrote to Granny, she would write back.

The letters from Victoria to Ottawa started as simple one-pagers, double sided, and grew to sometimes 8 to 9 pages double sided, depending on what family member I was reporting on. When you have a lot of people in your life, things get lengthy.

The letters from Ottawa to Victoria varied in length from four pages, if Granny had a good golf game, had seen a good show or eaten a good meal, to shorter one-pagers double sided. Always in writing that was barely legible because it was proper handwriting – not the half printed half looped writing I resort to when pinched for time.

Alongside the enveloped letters, complimenting them really, Granny sent postcards as she and my Grandpop traveled the seven seas. Whether consciously tipping our hat to them or not, this tradition continues with my brothers and I – if we’re far from home, a postcard is sure to be sent.

When Granny’s hands became too arthritic to write, she started using PointerWare. A computer software system where she could speak into the computer and her voice would come out over an mp3 file.

Though it was weird to click on a link and hear her voice fill the room, and a loss not to see an envelope in the mailbox addressed to me in her cursive, slowly but surly, I warmed to this new way of communicating.

Naturally, I kept Canada Post in business by sending letters east: news with a side of chocolate.

I often wondered what, if anything, our girls made of hearing Granny’s voice. But as they chatted and drew her pictures of elephants, her favourite animal, and monkey’s, Miss S’s, I realized that hearing her voice was what made her tangible. Thanks to technology, Granny wasn’t a vague “Granny’s mum” or “Mum’s granny” who lived in Ottawa; she was a real person admiring what they’d sent and learning about their lives.

The comment she always made was “you all are so busy” but upon self-reflection stated that she did the same things for her own family once upon a time.

In late February, after reading about Miss Q’s love for all things owl, Granny recited, from memory, a poem she had learned as a small girl: The Owl and the Pussy Cat. She didn’t miss a stanza.

Two weeks ago Granny died. In what seems like a fitting final note, a birthday card she’d addressed with her own proper handwriting, arrived for my mum that very day. One final stamp to say she had been here and hadn’t forgotten. One final nod to something she enjoyed her entire life: staying connected.

Golden Tones

I’ve said it before, but it is worth mentioning again: hauling your three-year-old out of the mall over your shoulder as she kicks, cries and refuses to walk, is the moment you know you’ve made it as a mum.

It’s been a long while since I’ve had a child go rogue. I kind of enjoyed it.

As Miss C grows deeper into a three-year-old she is both hilarious and determined. Determined to get her own box of Smarties, and not share the one I bought with her sisters, for sure, and hilarious in what she retains in that memory box of hers.

Last month, while shopping at Michaels, she pointed to the packages of flashy cardboard straws hanging on a hook and told her Grandma, “Those are what collect the blood when a woman has her period.”

Score one for not holding anything back when discussing body science. “Well they kind of look like cardboard applicators,” I told my mother-in-law as we shared a giggle.

Miss C’s loud observations of the world have only been truly awkward once, so far, this year. We were watching planes land through the window of the airport lounge when a heavily tattooed man came to a stop beside us. “I wonder which plane Granny and Gramps are on,” I asked her.

“That man has ugly earrings,” Miss C replied, her voice filled the silent room.

Cue my invisibility cloak.

The man had stretched out his earlobes – quite impressively. Wooden discs, greater in circumference than a plum, filled the space he’d created. The bottom of his ears dusted his shoulders.

I froze. I couldn’t think up a single reply as Miss C began pushing my hair off my ears to get a better look. “You have pretty earrings. He has ugly ones.”

Oh. My. Word. Say something, my brain screamed.

Digging deep, I told her it wasn’t nice to say things were ugly and that the best thing about this world was people got to choose how they looked. I hoped it was enough. I wanted to apologize to the man, but he was staring intently at the tarmac.

Polite of him really, but maybe he knew my punishment was the adults behind us, silently judging my parenting skills as they sipped their coffees.

Miss C seemed satisfied with my answer, but I still wished I had something to keep her mouth occupied.

The man stood beside us a while longer, presumably listening to my heart thump out of my ribcage, then left. As he walked away I noted that his black leather jacket had a giant white, circular patch that read ‘Kill Kill Kill.’ Boy, Miss C knows how to pick her audience.

It’s a good thing she’s cute.

By contrast, on Saturday she was downright adorable. As we sipped our hot chocolate (her) and cappuccino (me) at a table decorated by a vase of carnations, Miss C fell deep in thought.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked.

“You made a good choice,” she replied.

“About what?”

“Picking this place for a snack.”

“That’s nice to hear, thank you.”

Clearly, you never know what you’re going to get when you hit the town with a three-year old. But one thing’s certain: I would not change a single moment. After all, as Miss C unabashedly announces the king has no clothes, my brain cells stay fresh trying to keep pace with a life that is never boring.

Number Four

At long last number four is here.  My story ‘Selfie’ is story number six in the book.  Page 27.

It’s been fun sitting on this secret since before Christmas, and, admittedly a little squirmy, considering the subject matter.  No, it’s not a prequel to Mummy Dearest, but it is a story about my mum. And when you write about family, you never know how they’ll react – so far she’s still taking me and the girls to Cinderella.

It’s always an affirmation to have a story accepted into publication.  And with this, my fourth story to find its way between the covers of the Chicken Soup books, I am filled with pride.

CSS Thanks to My Mom front cover


The Monkey Hunters

IMG_1019Some people hunt Leonardo Dicaprio; others hunt Crystal the monkey.  Can you guess which side I’m on this week?  Times have changed.

In case it hasn’t been clear: Miss S is in love with monkeys.  Ape for them, really.

Every time I start to wonder if the shine is dulling on her daydreams, she’ll suddenly announce Vinsy (vine-zee) is hanging onto the roof of our car as we’re driving, or jumping on my head as I sit on the couch.

Since being a monkey lover in Victoria doesn’t lend itself to crossing paths with them on the beach or hearing them in the trees, it’s my dream to take Miss S to Costa Rica to see them live and in person.  Until then, she’ll have to be content with reading about them, watching them on TV and playing with her barrel of stuffed monkeys, or will she…

Wednesday night I read a tweet saying a movie called Monkey Up was being filmed at the Belfry, a local community theatre.  Doing some frantic research, definitely way more frantic than it should have been, I learned this movie was about a real live monkey.  No plot line, but a real live monkey.  Sure, the title, but one never knows with computers these days.

Enter Crystal the capuchin monkey of Night At The Museum, and Hang Over II fame, though I left the latter out of her screen credits as I zipped jackets and hustled the girls out of the house for a Thursday morning adventure/stalk.

The morning proved promising: sunshine, cherry blossoms, candycane posts being unloaded from a truck; pine trees tossed in a pile on the ground.  Filming was inside the adjacent high school, so though we saw the white movie trailers, and signs for crew parking, the adventure proved more of a lesson on set decoration than acting monkeys.

Tonight, undeterred, and still intrigued by the single tweet I’d read, I tossed Miss Q and Miss S their jackets, and drove them back down to the set.

Miss C got extra stories at bedtime from Daddy, but perhaps that won’t be enough of a get when she looks back on this evening.

Within minutes of arriving on set we spied Crystal the monkey on the back of her trainer, wearing a fur collared, plaid coat.  Miss S couldn’t believe her eyes – even more so when we realized there was a second, different, monkey being carried around the set.

We got within feet of both Crystal and the other monkey, multiple times, as their trainers wandered in the wings.  Miss S let out a squeal when Crystal’s trainer stopped and got her to smile for Miss Q, Miss S and an older girl.

Turns out the movie is about a monkey who saves Christmas. I reckon it will be like the Buddy movies the littles adore, in other words, we’ll be first in line.

While the smile Crystal flashed was the highlight, watching Santa explode backwards out of his chair, crashing through the set wall was also pretty cool.  From that moment on, Miss S had her ears plugged when everyone was told to be quiet.

Movie Santa, as he called himself, told us later there was lots of padding.  He was a handsome actor, grey hair, kind eyes – Miss S couldn’t take her eyes off him, while Miss Q shyly answered his questions.  When he left she said, “Now I know that there are two Santas: a movie one and the real one.”  I gave a vague nod and pointed out the bulldog wandering the set.

Though I wondered at times what the girls could actually see, being surrounded by Christmassy props, cameras, lights and action, it was worth keeping them up past bedtime, not only for educational purposes, but good ol’ fashion Hollywood monkey magic.

Yes, there is a monkey in this picture.

Yes, there is a monkey in this picture.  Not Crystal, but the second monkey.  We failed paparazzi school.




Owl Always Love You

This February Miss Q’s greatest wish is for an owl to fly up to her classroom window and rap at the glass with its beak. In Miss Q’s daydream, her teacher opens the window and the owl flies in, dropping a note on Miss Q’s desk before flying off.

I’m there with her.  It would be ah-mazing.  As a mum who tries to think the impossible isn’t always impossible, I pondered phoning around to wildlife centres, to see if they knew of any owls for rent – real or stuffed – I’m sure I could MacGyver a pulley system; I was in Girl Guides.  I contemplated flying in the rescue owl my brother’s company used for their Christmas greeting , and, in an even wilder moment, I considered capturing one.  Hope For Wildlife makes it look easy well, we own puncture proof gloves…  But alas, you can’t get everything you want in life, and the daydream is probably better than reality. Lord knows what might happen to the poor owl in a classroom of 24 grade twos.

It’s safe to say, Miss Q love owls. Loves them. We’ve only seen a live one in our fir tree once, but that doesn’t stop her from looking; reading about them; and sending me owl mail: rolled up scrolls attached to her stuffed owls.

At the end of the day, Miss Q’s schoolbag is filled with pictures of owls that she’s drawn and cut out, owl nests that she’s crafted out of scrap paper, and pop-up owl cards that say Owl Always Love You.

Her teacher really encourages Miss Q with her art and storytelling, something we’re indebted to her for. “Miss Q was finished her work early, so I asked her to write me a story,” her teacher told me at student lead conferences two weeks ago. She handed me the one-paged story Miss Q had written about an owl going crazy in a small town.

Some may say encouraging a child to dream about something that will never happen is setting them up for failure.  But I am inclined to think imagination is a precious quality to have. Without wild daydreams, hope fades and life becomes less exciting.

Miss Q will be just fine if an owl never raps at her classroom window.  She understands Harry Potter is fiction and owls live in the forest where they hunt and hoot.  But, if an owl decides to deliver mail in the middle of a school day, Miss Q is ready.

Q owl CM

Owls Miss Q, C and S made with their Grandma.


Island Mermaids

Three towels, three changes of clothes and I’m the one who needed dry pants.

Before the jump, I fancied myself Michael Jordan – Air Mama – vertical, hanging mid-stride over the creek, tongue out, before gracefully descending onto the soft sand. Then the bank gave way. At least my faceplant made everyone laugh.

“You should have come this way,” Miss Q said. She was deftly scaling a slippery log with her plastic boots. The slick wood threatening to buck her off at any moment, but she made it across with dry pants and dignity in tact.

All my kids are mountain goats. They get that from their mama. Watching them navigate the rocky shores around the island is both nerve wracking and nostalgic.

When I was their ages my family owned a sailboat. Exploring the rocks and tidal pools was my favourite thing to do once we’d anchored in a cove. Even as a teenager, my friends and I would climb on the rocks, finding secret places to swim or watch the sea roll in as we discussed life.

Like their mama, the girls didn’t stay dry for long. We have yet to leave the beach, any beach, in the last eight years with dry children. The ocean pulls them in, no matter how inclement the weather is. They are true island mermaids, my girls.

Wearing their winter jackets, waterproof pants (Miss S and Miss C) and boots, they trudged in and out of the waterline until the water crept over the top of their boots.  Seal broken, they raced along the water, stumbling in on purpose, and daring each other to do faceplants in the ocean.  Miss S took to lying on her back, half in the water, half out, doing mermaid angels.

All three were soaked, laughing and making their fellow beach goers – the ones bundled against the cold February morning – smirk and shake their heads.

Because seawater warms when in a boot, they didn’t notice the cold; only how much water was collecting between their socks and the plastic.

While she waited for her turn to change in the van, Miss Q squeezed her sopping pants into her boots for extra effect. She squealed happily when it was her turn to change and half the ocean poured out.

Pink skin, sand stuck here and there, wearing dry sweats and munching cookies, they sat in their seats; tired and glowing.

Off the coast, freighters slipped behind smaller islands, the seas were calm, the beach returned to its civilized state: dog walkers, runners, coffee drinkers.

Call them wild, call them crazy, but these spunky girls of mine are what life’s all about.

Minute by minute, hour by hour, Miss C is at my side. Her three-feet-off-the-ground colour commentary begins before my eyes are open and doesn’t end until her eyes close.

“We heard foghorns at Butchart Gardens when we were there.”

“Yes, we did. How do you remember that?”

“I just did.”

I’m tempted to ask why.  Why can you remember a detail like that?  The foghorns were months, if not over half-a-year ago.  But then I realize the question is more of a how, not a why – she is much better at this why stage than I.

Yes, we are here.  Why? Because she is three. I must choose daily between easy, or the intricate truth. I like to mix it up. Wondering, as I did this morning, if she really understands money and finances and making family choices; or, if I should have just renewed my museum pass.

As we step about our day, there’s a comfort in hearing the clomp of her boots as she tries to keep up.  There’s also a heaviness in my body when she stops cold and whines, “Pick me up.”

“Why?” I ask her.

“Because my legs are too tired.”

Dare I point out she has only taken seven steps since getting out of the van?

But I’m there. There to pick her up. There to have my fingers squeezed so hard they turn white, then purple when I drop her off.

Since returning to preschool in January, Miss C no longer pulls my pants down. However, you can see her brain processing, then ordering how exactly drop-off will go, “You come in with me. I’ll take off my boots with Teacher V and you wait inside, okay?” Her voice rises and the world stops as it hangs on the high-note expectantly.

“Absolutely,” I say, watching her exhale as I inhale at the slight warble in her lip.

On this day where my friends are registering their children for kindergarten; children one year older than Miss C, I am reminded how quickly time passes.  Even though we have 1.5 years left until Miss C enters elementary school, if I blink I will suddenly find myself standing next to Miss C in the school yard surveying the class of 2029.

Luckily my girl and I still have plenty of time left to explore.  Luckier still, after months of being shut-out, I was granted permission to sing Frozen – that is, for once she didn’t tell me not to sing.  So as I quietly add harmony to this Disney classic, and Miss C’s voice nimbly ran up and down the octaves, I answered: Why is Anna sad? and Why is she happy now that she can open up the windows?  

“Because she wants to play with her sister.  Because she can now have friends visit her castle.”

“Yeah.  That’s right.”

Test passed, I park the van and unbuckle my shadow.  Friends are waiting, there’s a beach to explore and the best part is: we’re together.


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