family

still holding

Today, the 14th of November, marks the first anniversary of the death of my best friend’s mother.

A year ago I wrote this, and I’m offering it up again today.

This afternoon (or yesterday afternoon, technically — life and schedules only allow so much leeway) I held her close and she said, “Thank you for thinking of me.” I squeezed a little harder, whispering, “I’ve still got you.” To which she replied, “I know.”

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Categories: family, friendship, loss, love, NaBloPoMo, NaNoPoblano | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

hidden

Do you hide things? I know I do.

Are you a parent? A spouse? Then I’m pretty sure you’ve hidden some things.

I hide things. Christmas presents. Chocolate. Expiry dates. Vegetables.

Christmas/birthday presents are a big hide. And yes, I have had that worrisome experience of not knowing where I put everything. I have missed giving some gifts until it was too late. Of course, in most instances, “too late” only means that the birthday or Christmas gift exchange has been missed …. sometimes, though, it really is too late and those shoes/jeans/pyjamas won’t fit anymore or that game has become passé.

Chocolate — if you have a spouse like HardWorker, you hide the chocolate. BoyGenius takes after me in a lot of ways, and love of chocolate is no exception. Also like me, though, he has the ability to eat a few pieces of a chocolate bar and then leave it for the next day. Or the next day. A couple of pieces a night makes a good bar of chocolate last a long time. (nb: this does not work for bars like Snickers or Coffee Crisp) HardWorker has never developed this ability, as hard as I have tried to help her for the last twenty-two years. We often had a piece of chocolate as dessert in our house when I was growing up, and the true German bars were not always easy to come by so we shared and savoured them, bit by bit. HardWorker says they didn’t have that experience, so if there was chocolate, you ate it up quickly. So now, in our house, I hide the chocolate. I have to change up my hiding spots every month or so, because she will snoop in every cupboard in the middle of the night until she finds the treasure. Sometimes the best and most successful spots are out in the open. Even BoyGenius has learned to hide things in plain sight.

Expiry dates are something that I also have to hide from HardWorker — if I didn’t I would constantly be throwing things out that are still perfectly good and definitely safely edible. I mean, come on people, sour cream and yoghurt are made with bacteria! What could possibly go wrong with consuming these products 3-9 months past their “best before” dates? Eggs? Most countries don’t even refrigerate their eggs, let alone worry about an expiry date. Bread? Until it’s thoroughly shot through with mould I’m toasting that slice. BoyGenius seems to have the same cast-iron stomach that I do, and I am happy for that.

Hiding vegetables isn’t something that I necessarily do intentionally but it is a very effective way to make sure they get eaten. When BoyGenius was a baby and toddler, he ate anything we gave him. He was quite happy with Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes and dill pickles were a favourite snack of his. He refused to eat bananas after about age four, but as it turns out, he’s allergic (fresh fruit syndrome/oral allergies that are related to his 8-month long seasonal allergies). As he got older and “developed his palate” he swung wildly on the like/don’t like scale. Still does, with everything from ribs to cauliflower.hidden But let me tell you, if I can “hide” mushrooms, zucchini, peppers, or just about any other foodstuff in lasagna, chili, soup or fried rice then it gets gobbled up without any complaints. #momwin

What do you hide? And from whom?

Categories: family, NaBloPoMo, NaNoPoblano, parenting, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

day three

So it’s the 3rd of November, which makes it day three (3) of this #NaBloPoMo or #NaNoPoblano thing I’ve signed on for. I’m still here. **YAY!!**

I’ve decided that in addition to committing to posting an entry every day, I am committing to removing one bag or box of stuff out of my house every day this month. I am, sadly, already one day behind on this, but today’s bag was large, had a grocery-bag add-on, and also a separate stack of boys’ jeans to go with it. So, in essence, that was two days’ worth. Truth.

There is a lot of excess stuff in my house. I’m not sure why I hang on to certain things. Some of it I can explain away — my Opa’s pipe, my dad’s jacket from when he was a butler/handyman, many of BlueEyes‘ things — but other things are really not necessary. How many fancy beer glasses can anyone really need? Might it be possible to consolidate all of the scribblings on countless scraps of paper into one notebook? Do we have to keep ALL of BoyGenius’ stuffed toys?

I guess what it all comes down to is remembering that I am a work in progress, I am perfectly imperfect, and my life is ever evolving. Or as a famous fish once said, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”

Categories: family, loss, memories, NaBloPoMo, NaNoPoblano, parenting, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m going to stop

For a long time, I didn’t watch the news.

For a long time before that, I did. It was the 10 or 11 o’clock precursor to bedtime. It meant the end of the day; time to see what had happened in the world, in the country, in the neighbourhood. Then, a few years ago, I had a baby. I think that’s when I first stopped watching the news — new baby, no sleep, oddly timed feedings/pumpings, etc., etc. Then when I tried to go back to it I could no longer stomach it. It was bad news most of the time and it really stressed me out. So I stopped.

I did alright without watching the news. If there was something big happening I was sure to hear about it anyway, whether it was on the radio in the car, in the schoolyard, or on the tv at McDonald’s. HardWorker still watched the all-day headline broadcast channel before she left for work or before bed, ostensibly to check the weather or the traffic. Whatever I did happen to see annoyed me no end and it wasn’t just the content. Not a single commentator seemed able to read the sheets that were in front of them without stumbling over names, dates, locations, or the basic tenets of the english language. They make me crazy. I try to stay away from it if at all possible.

I found I was able to stay fairly stress free (news-wise) and life was good. Facebook was something I had discovered and joined years ago (after abandoning my mySpace page) and I enjoyed keeping up with family and friends from around the globe. New babies, vacation pictures, familial losses, even making new friends; it was all at my fingertips. I even joked with other school parents at SCC meetings that if the news wasn’t accompanied by kitten videos on Huffington Post it meant nothing to me. Then it all changed. People started regarding the Huffington Post as a real “newspaper”. The major networks all have Facebook pages, as do all of their regional stations. All the Posts and Times and Gazettes are there as are numerous weekly or monthly magazines. People quote Twitter on their FB pages and link to just about everything that gets published anywhere. It’s too much. Too much to read. Too much to follow. Too much to click through.

It’s too much. Sensory overload. And let me tell you, I barely link any of my accounts, I don’t check my mail every hour, and I’m only on Twitter about once a week. I HAVE A FLIP-PHONE. That’s right. I HAVE A FLIP-PHONE. I do not receive badges, banners, or updates; do not get pinged every time a new e-mail comes in; no swish or chirp when someone tweets something. It doesn’t seem to matter. When I do check Facebook there is invariably some new horrible thing that is being shared by everyone I know. When Hardworker comes home and asks, “Did you hear about …?” I have to say that I did. Whether I wanted to know about it or not. Apparently we no longer have the option of not watching the news.

Well, folks, I’m taking it back. I’m going to stop watching. Stop reading. Stop scrolling. Stop clicking through links. I’m going to stop. I know that some people will think this is no way to live in this day and age. They will call me names and tell me I’m part of the problem. I’m telling you this is the only way to live in this day and age. If I don’t stop I won’t survive.

So yeah, I’m going to stop.

 

Categories: family, friendship, media, NaBloPoMo, NaNoPoblano, Uncategorized, words | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

I will hold you up

My BFF and I came to each other rather late in our childhood — we were 45 — but I think we have made up for the years apart and then some. We met because her second child and my one and only were in the same Kindergarten class. We have evolved far beyond school-parent friends and have melded into family. It all happened very quickly. And I am thankful for her every day.

In September, on my BFF’s birthday, her grandmother died. Annie was 99 years young and was the very definition of a Babba. She loved her children, her grandchildren, her grandchildren’s children, and her great-great-grandchildren with an unbelievably open heart. Hell, she loved BoyGenius as if he was her very own great-grandchild right from the day she met him. She had lived through some things, she had come out, and she kept on living. And loving. I loved her, and I miss her.

At the beginning of this week, on Sunday night, while in hospital fighting pneumonia, my BFF’s mother had a massive stroke. She died Monday morning at the age of 79. This second unbelievably strong woman from this family passed away so unexpectedly that we are all still reeling. Shirley was a seemingly tireless worker who took care of everyone and everything. She was the glue that held her family community together. This loss, so close on the heels of Babba’s passing and coming so without warning is like being hit by a tetherball in full swing — the force and ensuing vibration have rocked us to our cores. I loved her, and I will miss her (it hasn’t really sunk in yet).

I know that my friend will find it exponentially more difficult to come through this than I will. I know that her head and heart are filled with regret and “if only”s. I know that her heart is broken and her spirit is only hanging on by the thinnest of threads. I know that words are cold comfort and even actions may go unnoticed right now. I’m doing what I can, including driving across country this evening so I can be there with her, for whatever she needs.

As I enveloped her in my arms on Monday afternoon I promised her one thing: “I will hold you up as long as you need.” The palpable release of even a little bit of tension was all the thanks I needed. I love her and I don’t want to have to miss her.

Categories: family, friendship, loss, love | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

almost 12

Last night I was far too deep inside the “book” I was reading (it was an e-book, I can’t deny that I use those) and was long past tired, so it wasn’t until close to 1:30 am that I finally closed the iPad and pushed the switch on my bedside lamp. It took me at least 20 minutes to doze off and drop into a solid sleep. Not so solid, however, that I didn’t immediately awaken when my almost 12 year old son appeared at the side of my bed. “Mama, I had a bad dream.” I glanced at the clock before I scooted over against the wall and held the covers up for him to climb in beside me: 3:17. After a few minutes spent watching him, I felt confident enough in his slumber to close my eyes, trying to drift off. He moved about a bit and then, “Mama, my head hurts.” I asked him if he wanted a pill or just an ice pack and he decided on both. I checked the time when I climbed over top of him and back into bed: 3:43. Once he was lying still for 15 minutes I climbed back out and took myself and my alarm across the hall to his empty bed. I lay awake a while; listening in case he needed me; unable to settle because I was worried about not getting enough sleep. 7 am came fairly quickly. HardWorker was already gone, I had some time before I needed to get BoyGenius up and into the shower, and tried to plot out just when in the day I would fit a couple of naps in. My Fitbit app advised me that I had managed only four hours and six minutes of actual sleep — nothing I could do to change that. It was going to be a long Monday.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For a few weeks now, I’ve been getting hit with the realization that I am about to be the parent of a 12 year old. How did this happen? I didn’t really plan on this. I mean, I know that’s how it works, if you’re extremely lucky: your children grow up and you all grow older together. But seriously, my plan was to have a baby, maybe a toddler. A 12 year old? I never really thought that far ahead. He’s in grade 6. And the school year is more than half over. His birthday parties now consist of 3-4 friends, pizza, a movie, and some video games. To be fair, they’ve been like that for a few years already; he’s always seemed two to three years ahead of his chronological age. Not that we’ve rushed him, or anyone’s expected him to be more mature, or anything like that; he’s just always had this “presence” and common sense, logical thought process and a wicked quick sense of humour, an easy-going nature and a thoughtful need for fairness, all combined with a solid sense of uniqueness and self. While most of those character traits have stood BoyGenius in good stead over his 12 years, he has also had to put up with disparaging comments about his sensitivity, his choice of hairstyle or shoe colour, his apparent “know-it-all”-ness, his book and movie preferences.

I still look at him in wonder at least once a day. He makes me laugh, he makes me cry, he makes me worry, he makes me proud. There is still so much for him to learn, but there is sooooo much that he already knows. There are things he does that frustrate me, and there are things he does that make my heart swell with amazement at who he has already become in his 12 short years. And the thing is, the person that he has become, and that he still has to grow into, that person has been there since day one. That personality was already in place with the first wave of his hand and kick of his foot in utero; the good-natured-ness, the sense of humour — already there.

Sometimes I miss my baby. Sometimes I miss my toddler. Most times I know that the young man sprawled across our couch or searching for food 15 minutes after dinner is the same guy. When my almost 12 year old gets awakened by a bad dream and needs to snuggle with Mama I am absolutely sure.

I love you, Schnucki.

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empty bed

BoyGenius is away at camp this week. Sleep-away camp, for the first time ever. I knew he would be fine, I knew I would be fine, and I knew HardWorker would be beside herself with anxiety and worry. (She was so beside herself that it was crowded here for a couple of days — she has since gotten better.)

I had no reason to believe that he would be homesick or feel out of his depth or anything at all like that. I know he’s having a blast (thanks to the modern miracles of INSTAGRAM and Twitter). Dropping him off on Sunday evening was fine for me, fine for him, and a huge deal for HardWorker. I had read her The Riot Act on Saturday and repeated it on Sunday morning: “You’re not going to say anything about him missing us (or the cat) or feeling homesick. You’re not going to tell him how bad you’re going to feel because he’s away. You are absolutely not going to suggest that if he feels like coming home all he has to do is text and you’ll come pick him up.” She thought maybe she shouldn’t come along to drop him off. Then realised that she’d probably do worse alone at home. It was hard work getting her to leave him at camp, let me tell you.

My mother asks everyday if there has been any word from BoyGenius. She asks every day if I miss him. I’m having a hard time convincing her that I don’t. That’s right. I don’t miss him. Like I said, I know he’s having fun, a fantastic childhood summer experience. I know he is secure enough in our love to just be able to enjoy himself. I am secure enough in both his love for me and my love for him to not miss him. He’ll be home tomorrow, for crying out loud. It’s not even a full week away. When I was 8 years old my brother BlueEyes (who was 12) and I went to Germany on our own. Sure, we had relatives meeting us and we were staying with them, but we flew across the Atlantic alone — and changed planes in one of the busiest airports in Europe. When we were only a few years older my parents put us on a cross-border Greyhound to visit friends in New Jersey for a week, and BlueEyes and I took the commuter train from Paramus into Manhattan almost every day — on our own. We went to see a show at Rockefeller Center, we went to the outside observation deck of the World Trade Center, we shopped in Times Square. Did my mother miss us those times we were away? She says she absolutely did, but I don’t think it stopped her from carrying on normally. We were responsible kids who were totally secure in and with our family units. I like to think I am raising my son the same way.

Do I miss him? Not in the way you might expect. Listen, when he’s been here this summer, he’s been in the basement most of the time. I’ve been able to build him a corner desk unit for his gaming computer — something I would not have been able to do had he been lounging around down there. I’ve done some laundry, baked a cake or two, been able to gloss over lunch and dinner since I didn’t have to worry about feeding him — so in other words, it’s been a pretty normal week for me. I am not feeling an empty space in my heart. I am not sad that he’s away, because I know that he’ll be home tomorrow. I am not worried about him because I know who he’s with and I know he’s having fun. So no, I don’t miss him.

I do notice his empty, nearly neatly made bed every time I walk by his room, though.

BoyGenius is totally asleep, on his stomach, with his left leg bent at the knee so his heel is touching his butt.

So instead of seeing this (yes, this IS how he often sleeps), I am only seeing the empty bed.

Categories: family, love, memories, parenting | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

rain

It’s raining. The gloriously heavy, warm-weathered, bright-sky-with-big-dark-clouds kind of rain of impossibly large drops that we used to enjoy when I was little. My brothers and I would be outside in our bathing suits and flip-flops or rubber boots getting soaked and squealing & laughing with delight. Sitting on the curb or dancing in the yard or splashing in the gulleys that ran as fast as they could to the nearest storm drain.

Thunder rumbles in the distance. The downspouts are flowing like fountains. The still hot pavement and steaming shingles smell like summer. The rain stops, the sky brightens. Until the next wave.

Categories: family, memories | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

colours

Today started off normally enough: get up, see that HardWorker has already left, BoyGenius is on the couch watching youtube videos, put the kettle on, take the snack bag out of the backpack, put bread in the toaster; get BoyGenius off the couch and into the shower, make him wash his hair while showing me how he does it (because although he goes through about 1/4 of a bottle of shampoo every shower, I’m pretty sure the suds never actually touch his scalp), make him do it again, go back downstairs to make tea and butter/peanut butter/jam my toast. You know, just a normal day.

My son is out the door, my toast is eaten, I’m enjoying my tea, wondering why I’m watching PacMan or Slugterra or whatever happens to be on my television screen. I see a facebook entry from one of my favourite internet storytellers/artists, Brian Andreas. I dissolve into a puddle — right there on my loveseat. I share it to my own timeline, all the while still sobbing. My day dissolves right along with me.

Last Time by Brian Andreas. Find him on facebook or at http://www.storypeople.com/

Last Time by Brian Andreas. Find him on facebook or at http://www.storypeople.com/

So now it’s 2 pm, my son has been home for lunch and gone back to school, I’ve done some laundry, had lunch (did I? — I think so), took a book back to the library, done some banking, some non-purchasing shopping, and cried. A number of times. Over and over. That facebook entry really did a number on me, and got me to thinking.

When my brother BlueEyes died in 1993 I lost a lot of colour from my life. Sure, when BoyGenius was born in 2004 I got plenty of colour back, but while there may be more than a little overlap that happens, the colours are entirely different.

My brothers were in charge of a few things while I was growing up — nothing like scheduled chores or stuff like that, but still. SkinnyGuy was in charge of paper routes and saving money and grass cutting and our television & music education and snow shovelling. He was the oldest, so all of these things made sense. BlueEyes was in charge of piano lessons and baking and making our mom feel special and a different kind of music education and taking care of me. That’s kind of what it felt like. It’s hard to explain. We never really fought, except maybe over whose turn it was to help with the dishes. We were all just there.

We got older; one by one we went off to university. We all ended up in the same city, doing various jobs over the years. We still did things together and while they both dropped some “chores” off of their lists or swapped some out, they were essentially still in charge of the same things, at least the ones that really mattered: saving money, television & music, making our mom feel special and taking care of me.

While SkinnyGuy, even in the midst of all the music, was a numbers and words kind of guy, BlueEyes was all about colour. The colours of music, the colours of feelings, the colours of travel, the colours of wool sweaters. He was in charge of all of the colours: spices from the far corners of the earth, the lighted dance floor at our favourite club, the blue of the sky at 30,000 feet, the swarm of tropical fish when you snorkel with soda crackers, Ikea duvet covers, the various shades of his eyes depending on which contacts he put in that day, argyle socks and sweaters, cherry blossoms in Washington, silk scarves from the Orient, Easter baskets from Germany, red wine from France. If you were with him you saw and felt colours everywhere. And if you couldn’t be with him he brought the colours to you. And they were actually brighter because of his smile and his sparkling eyes; his joy and excitement at being able to share these colours with you made them reach new levels of saturation.

And then he died and everything was transformed to gray scale. Oh, I still saw colour, I could still appreciate the nuances of tint and hue, but it was all muted. The bigger picture, the feelings of colour, changed to gray. Or taupe.

Eleven years later colour re-entered my life. BoyGenius came along and brought red hair and play-doh and fluorescent shoes with him. He’s managed to take over being in charge of a few things himself over his eleven + years, and while his experience with the feelings of colour still has decades to grow, I think he’ll manage just fine. So far he’s been in charge of the colours of socks and shoes, showing us that “matching” doesn’t necessarily mean exactly the same. He’s now my go-to for argyle socks, and I think his uncle would be on board with that. He’s been in charge of our wall paint choices and it’s worked out okay so far. He’s aware that the bright yellow of a bouquet of dandelions picked on his way home from school will not only brighten my day but also warm my heart. He loves the blue of the sky at 30,000 feet and how the moon can change from orange to yellow to white all in one night. He’s starting to feel the colour of the vastness of the Milky Way and I already know he feels the colour of loss when a good friend dies. BoyGenius has the bright smile and sparkling eyes that shine exponentially more powerfully when he is excited to share some newly discovered nugget of information or shiny new object; the same ones BlueEyes had.

I am grateful for my new champion of colour. I want to teach him the feeling of colour and how easy it will be for him to share all the colours. He’s definitely capable; he’s got the foundation. I hope I’m up to the teaching part.

Every day, though, every day I miss my original champion of colour. And sometimes it’s too hard to stay upbeat for the new guy on the job. Sometimes someone smiles a certain way or a song comes on the radio or you see an old photo or a new post on facebook and all of a sudden you realise that you’re at home alone and no matter how many games of Words With Friends you’ve got going on there is no one here to hold you while you cry and all the colours melt together and you’re once again left with gray. Or taupe.

Categories: family, loss, parenting | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

tired

I am tired. “Tired?” you ask. Yeah, tired. “So go to bed earlier.”

Not that kind of tired. Well, not ONLY that kind of tired. Sure, I could stand a few more sleep cycles every night, but I don’t think it would make that much of a difference. And aside from that, going to bed earlier just means I’d have that much more time to lay awake chasing thoughts around in my head.

So physically tired is one thing. Yep, I’ve got that. Head nodding, eyes closing. Sure. Just not at night.

Tired of various things.

Tired of laundry. That’s pretty serious, because I actually really like doing laundry. Usually. Right now it just seems like there’s never any progress; there is always laundry in the hamper(s), there is always laundry in the dryer, there are always at least two baskets of clean clothes waiting to be put away. Too many clothes? Maybe.

Tired of being the one who has to enforce bedtime. Tired of having to ask the same questions over and over again: do you have any homework? did you brush your teeth? where is your coat? any reason these things are on the counter and not in the garbage? can you do the cat litter? Tired of things not being in the place I left them when I want to use them. Tired of being the only one who keeps track of what needs paying and when, and tired of feeling bad when it doesn’t get done.

Tired. Tired of feeling lost. Tired of feeling overwhelmed. Tired of never getting anything done because I’m doing 7 things at once. Tired of listening to broadcasters stumble over the same sentences over and over again. Tired of “Microsoft” calling me two to three times a week because my computer’s been sending them desperate messages. Tired of having too much stuff in the basement. Tired of people complaining that we have too much stuff but then turning around and giving me things. Sometimes I’m tired of being the person that knows things.

I’m getting tired of being up; being the one that smiles at everyone, the one that helps out, the one that buoys other people’s spirits. I’m tired of having great ideas for art, blog posts, poetry, etc., but having them when I’m asleep or in the shower or at the grocery store; no matter how neatly I write those ideas out in the empty space on the inside of my forehead, so I can just look up and read them later, they don’t stay. That surface is less like slate and more like cornstarch goop: solid while I’m working with it, painstakingly carving my thoughts onto that vast expanse, but turning to mush as soon as I finish, with all my words running into and over each other so as to be wholly unreadable.

I’m tired of missing people, dead or alive. I’m tired of not having anyone I can talk to, you know, other than the cat. I don’t tell the cat much, because I don’t completely trust her. My son is about to be 11 and I need to be the person he talks to, not the other way around. My partner has to talk/listen to people all day as well as having her own neuroses to deal with; by the time she gets home I’m too worn out anyway and she needs to chill. BFF? That’s a whole other story. Okay, cat it is.

Have I mentioned that I’m tired? Mentally, even spiritually, I guess. Weary. And I’m not sleeping all that well, either. I’m pretty tired of this post.

Categories: family, friendship, parenting | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

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