September Nostalgia – No Judgement

It happens so quickly. The day is hot, you’re in your lightest t-shirt, sweating with an icy refreshment, smelling like sunscreen and summertime. The evening brings a big breeze – the winds of change – the temperature drops, leaves turn golden overnight and suddenly it’s a sweater day. A friend said to me once that the new year should start in September – as that is the time of new beginnings, holidays end, work life accelerates, kids start playschool and grade school or even leave home for fresh adventures.  It’s been a decade since our family was knocked off its feet as one by one, yet all so quickly, our four kids were launched from home.

Before that there was a familiar rhythm to getting back to packing lunches and supervising homework and meeting new teachers.  And then suddenly the tune changed – we were helping our kids (young adults really) pack suitcases, buy dorm or apartment supplies – Ikea dishes and clothes hampers, maybe a tea kettle. Possibly you know that drill – or perhaps instead you’ve got a traveler on your hands, causing you some trepidation as they shop for backpacks and the perfect tiny tent. The world’s opened up again and they’re going to navigate the furthers corners of it. It should be exciting, right? So, what’s with this quaking you feel? And sleepless nights rivalling when you had wee babies in the house?  

     That was me – times four. Those autumns of our kids flying the coop were full of chaos and apprehension.  How would our comfortably close family readjust? As we were just adapting to our oldest daughter leaving for university and not coming through the gate at the end of a school day, pausing sometimes to lie on the lawn and gaze at the clouds, the others started to flee, also -one to be a liftie on a far-away ski hill, another for university on an island, the last to travel Europe solo. 

Those times are behind us. Now I’m calling my young granddaughters up to ask what they’ve decided to wear for the first day back to grade school and hearing mostly about their eagerness to hang with friends again. The next morning their mom, my daughter Zoë, tells me that in all their excitement and rush after those lazier summer mornings, she forgot to tell the oldest where she would meet her when her new school gets out. Oh no, I say, but then we’re both consoled in an odd way that for the first time this granddaughter is taking a cell phone to school and so finding her when the bell goes won’t really be a problem in 2022. (As the kids say, “No judgement.” She’s twelve and getting about on her own.)

I tell Zoë that September brings me back to the panic of those under rehearsed autumn mornings when she and her three siblings were young, and then I think about the days when in quick succession they left home. It was Zoë first, packing up her paints and fantasy novels, then Cole with his snowboard and video camera, two years later Hudson with his dry wit and philosophy books, and finally Lily kissed us and flew to Europe – though somewhere before all that she kissed us and ran away. 

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   From our too quiet house I wrote a book about the change from bubbling wrapping to letting go, titled, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest. It wasn’t easy for this mom of four to adjust to late night anxious calls, to hear from a daughter looking for a place to cry out loud, the way she liked to cry, to adjust to the unease, angst and face it – sometimes new peace – over grilled cheese for dinner, because who cooks for two? The media and an older generation would have us believe that we have overindulged, overprotected and generally, now that parent is a verb, over-parented our kids. I was able to stay connected and endure their flights from home with the aid of satellite communications, during this anxious time of back and forth texting, calling, consoling, and applauding as everyone in our family got their bearings again. If you’re up for a bit of a wild ride – check it out – Text Me, Love Mom offers an opportunity to contemplate and laugh over the perpetual trial and error of another stage of parenting. Or stay in touch with my blog where I’m musing about other topics now – check out the list in the sidebar. And I still feel nostalgic in September….

Do You Remember the Feel of Bike Pedals on Bare Feet?

Remember long August afternoons  when you were maybe, say ten? I do.  I can sit on the front porch with the sun on my face and recall sucking on homemade orange Tang popsicle while I plotted the rest of my day. Or sharing secrets with a friend in the park, both of us perched on big wooden swings, our feet scuffing in the groove in the earth below us. Or how about being sent off walking to swimming lessons with my siblings, with our underwear rolled in a towel and a quarter for the locker.  Or the jubilation of the hottest nights when my dad said yes, to the sound of the ice cream truck.

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For all of that – August could be the most languidly indulgent time of year. If we could just hang on to it and put off thoughts of autumn plans. The never ending winter is almost forgotten – not like in the crisp days of September when you can hear it whispering again, “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

The afternoon sun heats the sidewalks and bee’s and cricket’s sounds make me lazy and nostalgic for days when I rode a bike in my bathing suit – helmet-less in the days before safety rules – and sometimes even barefoot. Do you remember the feel of bike pedals on bare feet? You had to slow down your ride by bumping over the curb and onto the lawn. Or how about summer vacations and roasting a hot dog over a fire that someone else was managing – your bare bug-bitten legs hot from the flame, your butt cold from the night temperatures. You couldn’t eat the hot dog fast enough cause after it came the marshmallows – gooey and likely burnt. And if you didn’t bother the grownups around you too much, you could run off after that into a sandy tent or cabin bunk and read Archie comics, or share some giggles with a friend or cousin before you were shouted at to go to bed.

And so I promise myself on this hot August vacation morning that I’m going to just float in the lake and watch the blue sky, and not chastise myself for this weeks calorie ridden snacks by doing laps from the dock to a buoy and back. I’ll skip the Archie comics and barefoot biking, but I’ll sneak away from the group to back float in the evening, immersing myself in a moment in time under the full moon. Maybe I’ll catch some of the last shooting stars of August. Ah August and beach blankets spread over a grassy slope for falling star gazing. August is very fine – let’s not think about sweater weather just yet.

…if you’d like to read more of my writing check out the book Text Me, Love Mom – available at http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

This post is edited from an earlier version

Contraband Banana Bread

There’s a bit of giggling before two older women, buddled against the cold, pull sandwiches from their jackets and hand them to a man leaning out of his big truck. You hear him thank them, laughing. “Oh,” one woman adds, “we have banana bread also.” More laughter. The video-ed interaction is wonderfully Canadian. Yet the City of Ottawa has said those bringing food to protesting truckers can now be arrested.

In another video – a huge circle of parents and children, dressed warmly against freezing temperatures, hold hands and sing, It’s a Small, Small World. There’s drone footage of a large crowd in the province of Quebec, where the official language is French. It’s night time and the crowd is singing our anthem, O’ Canada, in French. United.

photo copied from internet

Back to Ottawa – the nation’s capital, an enormous contingency of protesters, started by Canadian truckers who crossed the country in their trucks, mostly men, but women too, many with their families, joined by thousands and thousands of diverse citizens from across the land are asking for an end to restrictive mandates. Near our parliament buildings there are several Sponge Bob bouncy castles, inside children are staying warm by jumping. Others are being helped down a little red slide. Another social media video shows two women with Polish accents talking about how they have brought one thousand sausages and buns to feed whoever wants to eat them.

More than once I viewed video from a father who has brought his two pre-teen children from Victoria, B.C across five provinces to view this great gathering of Canadians because he feels it is a time in history to be witnessed. In one video the three are carrying pizzas for protesters and he asks his son and daughter, “Have you seen anyone from the media here?” They both answer, no.

There’s no looting or fires. It’s safe to bring children to this protest started by truckers, joined by farmers, nurses, veterans, native drummers and dancers, police officers, small business owners, and others of all descriptions. There have been many videos and more importantly live streaming, of warm encounters and conversations between on-duty police, RCMP and the protesters.

Bouncy Castles at the trucker’s protest

Over the last week people around the world have viewed joy, friendship, community, laughter, and great crowds of Canadians – thousands across the land, standing together on overpasses, alongside highways, at welcoming gas stations, so much so that I confusingly believe all Canadians must have viewed this togetherness. How could these scenes not have made it to the news stations that have covered the protest. Media has shown the same few photos of men carrying symbols of hatred – a swastika and confederate flags (which don’t even make sense here) and shamefully picked up on them as representative of the thousands of citizens. A woman was videoed waving her hands on the sacred monument of the Unknown Soldier and someone put a hat, scarf and a flag on the statue of Terry Fox. Those acts were absolutely wrong. Unequivocally. Arrests were made. Police reported those arrested were NOT part of the convoy, but the media won’t let go of those acts, reporting on them heavily, ignoring that truckers have laid flowers at both places and guarded them against further interference. Yesterday, a prominent newspaper falsely said the protest was of far-right extremists. Another paper reported racial slurs against a shop owner – shame on whoever might have done that. But, no footage of the man who told an independent reporter he has seen more acts of kindness in Ottawa this week than ever before. Truckers are feeding the homeless –having brought food in their vehicles for charitable acts. In turn, citizens and churches are happily feeding the truckers. There is an Adopt-a-Trucker program. On Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram the entire world is seeing videos of co-operation and goodwill but if you don’t access those you get a skewed and biased view of what is happening in our nation. You won’t see the trucker who received a package of valentine cookies from a child in Port Hope – getting emotional as he reads the kind note inside.

included with valentine cookies

Supporters of the protest donated to a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than ten million dollars to go toward fuel and food for the trucks (with any remaining for our veterans). The mayor and chief of police of Ottawa are accused of calling the protest an occupation and had the GoFundMe cancelled. Shockingly, the mayor is heard asking for the money to be given to the city of Ottawa at a recorded meeting. GoFundMe made a wrong decision to take the money Canadians contributed for this convoy and give it to charities they – GoFundMe – would choose. The criminality of that was voiced and the money was returned to the donors. It would have bought a lot of banana bread.

What has been shouted the most by men, women, and children that are joining protests in cities across the country? Shouts for freedom. Freedom to do what some ask? To go into your kid’s schools again. To invite all your loved ones to weddings, graduations, and funerals. To visit your lonely elderly in retirement residences. To decide how many guests to invite into your own homes. To sit in a restaurant with your family members – no matter what their personal health choices were. To unmask your children from the mostly ineffectual masks they’ve been forced to wear. To watch your kid’s sports, or to board an airplane in Canada to visit loved ones in your country without showing proof of your healthcare choices. And most importantly to not be coerced into choosing between your livlihood and a vaccine. Those are freedoms they call out for. 

photo credit Blake Garner Photography as posted online

Myself, I would ask for the freedom to see all sides of the story of what is happening in Ottawa from our Canadian media. I can see it elsewhere. Sadly, the biggest lesson so many have learned this week is how one-sided and unforgivingly bias our media is being. A young woman in Southern Alberta organized the most peaceful convoy – hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls clip clopping their beautiful horses, with police assistance, down the highway, virtually ignored by our media but cheered for around the world. Daily other countries are saying it is time to live with the virus, time to lift restrictions, time to unmask the children. This movement could be Canada’s moment to shine, to show unity, warmth, compassion, and above all hope. To work with our elected officials, instead of being mocked by them. What could those against the convoy’s possibly shout? “No Freedom?” 

Put away your fear. Embrace going forward. Insist our PM meet with the truckers. 

Oh, indeed the trucks have been extremely noisy honking their horns. There was an injunction issued by the court. They asked them to please stop. The trucker’s said Ok. We’ll honk at 5 pm for five minutes. It was agreed on. Oh, such a Canadian protest.

I’ve Had An Achy Breaky Heart – I Just Didn’t Know It

Oh Canada – our true North strong and …. What’s going on in this big, cold country of ours? I think we’ve all been sadder, then we we were aware. Now a convoy of truckers beginning on the west coast and growing through each province is headed to our nations capital to peacefully protest restrictive mandates. Why has this Canadian trucker’s convoy at this time in these long, long months brought out thousands of families waving the maple leaf flag in twenty-seven below weather? What is this that folks as diverse as comedian and actor Russel Brand, entrepreneur and business magnate Elon Musk, and country singer Paul Brandt are all supporting the trucker’s convoy? Why in frigid snowy weather as the sun rises and sets have Canadians lined the streets to cheer, wave our flag, and offer to feed the men and women from across the nation in a truck convoy that is by some accounts 53 km (40 miles) long? Hutterites, Mennonite’s, Indigenous, Black and Sikh citizens have given their approval. Huge convoys are coming up from all over the United States and support is being heralded from around the world.

What I see now – what I wish everyone could see, but our mainstream media is still doing ‘coverage lite’ , is great throngs of citizens lining the highways, offering truckloads of meals, offering parking spaces, mechanical help, even dental services for truckers with tooth aches – and a chiropractic from Maine is trying to come up and fix trucker’s sore backs. I’ve followed several Convoy Facebook groups – one which grew to 600,000 members before it was taken down. (Why?) There are videos with energetic country tunes, big rigs, small trucks, and on overpasses and in snow banks families of every description packing boxed lunches to feed their new heroes while their kids bundled in snowsuits, hold up the signs they’ve drawn. Truckers are making videos of thanks wearing their sunglasses, as more than one has said – to hide their tears of emotion. Citizens who felt they’d been left alone with their troubles are saying they can’t stop their tears of joy. A Quebec sovereigntist reported feeling ‘Canadian’ for the first time.

Communities supplying meals to truckers who supply us.

Clearly this is not about vaxed or unvaxed. By the numbers alone we know that. There was a time in the beginning of this pandemic where folks were belittled for daring to talk about our Charter rights, liberty and freedom – we believed in flattening the curve. But with that came QR codes – and young hostesses across the land forced into the uncomfortable position of policing segregation and requests for proof of ID to allow patrons to drink a coffee indoors. Businesses small and large have suffered immeasurable losses due to forced lock downs and restrictions. Life’s celebrations – weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, graduations, retirements have been halted. Our elderly have been kept away from those they needed most. My siblings and I allowed our own dad to be isolated from us for nine weeks of his final year before we came to our senses and took action to bring him into our embrace again.

We’ve all masked, we’ve distanced. We’ve suffered horrible hurtful loss of our loved ones to COVID, and along with it our mental health has been strained beyond tolerance. Suicides and drug overdoses have increased. The authorities wanted 80 per cent vaccination rate. They got it, but continued to demonize those who for whatever reason just couldn’t use or abide this vaccine. Omicron is spreading among the vaccinated and the boosted and the vax passes if meant to keep away the potentially sick, don’t make sense and should have been revoked.

Photo from Facebook group

This outpouring of support for the trucker’s convoy might only be a response to too much over-reaching government control. People long to feel connected and united in their delight. Citizens around the world are sending messages of support for our truckers whose mandate is one of peaceful, calm protest. Yet our leaders and news sources find the few crazy’s in the thousands to try to in-still more fear in fear-weary citizens. Global news (shame on them) shows footage of the US troubles last Jan 6th and compares this to that. And yes, in groups of this magnitude there will be trouble makers and extremists to be dealt with, but truckers are reporting police forces and RCMP are helpful and for the most part supportive, directing traffic and guiding them on their way. Media has repeatedly questioned the GoFundMe (currently above six million dollars) which is intended to cover fuel of the registered truckers, with any remainder going to our veterans. Our Prime Minister, instead of offering to listen and talk, called the convoy a minority fringe of people with unacceptable views. What? As in he, the leader, will not accept them?

Hutterite women show happy encouragement in Saskatchewan and others line the highway greeting truckers.

I believe Canadians want to feel free from government control again. They want to feel trusted to take precautions but not be dictated to. To be given their livelihoods back along with their feelings about bodily autonomy, no matter their choices. To feel cared for by their communities, to be heard and feel the joy of togetherness. I know they are thanking this group who are saying end the restrictive mandates, let good people work again. And what is the symbol of this protest? It appears it is our Canadian flag.

What Vera Believed In – (and Love-Pancakes)

“Days may not be fair – Always

That’s when I’ll be there – Always”

Years back when my four kids were small, they liked to make me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day – pancakes fashioned to look like the word L-O-V-E, served with toast and pb and j because they could make that too, alongside cold scrambled eggs and tea – as they hadn’t mastered timing. Their dad, amused by their muddled efforts, stayed hands off and kept a secret for me, which was that on a day when I could supposedly choose my activities the garden had called to me. So while our two girls and two boys were arguing about who would carry the tray to their sleepy mom I was actually outside listening to birds sing with my hands in the soil, weeding around pansies and tulips, freshening up raspberry canes. 

My husband would distract the kids, I’d sneak back inside, go from dusty garden attire back to pj’s, climb into bed and wait for all their happy faces and my curvy pancakes. When they got bored watching me eat, I’d be able to stop forcing down cold eggs and toast with gobs of peanut butter, and maybe get back to the robins chirping and dividing a bag of glad bulbs up for me and my own mom. 

From there, having had my blissful gardening fix, I’d have gone in to make a (hot) brunch for my parents or maybe a fancy dinner later with my mom’s favorite rice pudding for dessert – the notion of Mother’s Day off a silly sort of fantasy with four feisty kids, my mom to spoil and sometimes my mom-in-law too. 

     With those four kids grown and my sons living away, one of my thoughtful daughters, (the oldest a mom herself), will always make me a Mom’s Day brunch or lunch – I wouldn’t mind if it still was wiggly pancakes spelling out L-O-V-E. I wish like mad that I could make love pancakes for my own dear mom, but she’s left us now. I have more time to garden these days, but I make a point of doing it on Mother’s Day because it is amongst the fresh rose branches and the new shoots of phlox and the pointy arrows of peonies starting to reach for the light, that I feel closest to my mom. 

When we needed a family-sized home my husband and I bought my parent’s place and they downsized. While we’ve renovated the house, and even changed the landscaping, the foliage – giant evergreens, bushy lilacs, resilient bleeding hearts, frothy nan king cherry, and my favourite hollyhocks – were started by my mom’s creative green thumb. I feel I’m tending her garden, googling guidance to make her special rose bush blossom (the one used for rose petal jelly) and to correctly prune the spreading lilacs. This will only be the second Mother’s Day without my mom at our table, telling me it’s too soon to put geraniums out, to just be patient. She’d be okay with me popping my sweet pea seeds into the ground though. 

    It’s been a good week for horticulture – windy maybe, but not too hot or cold. I’ve sat on the grass pulling out the darn creeping bell flower and thought lots about my little mom – (she was much shorter than I am) – she was quiet but wise, not prone to sharing her worries. She nurtured her soul tending to her garden, but nurtured ours with her love-labour of making jam and jelly for our winter toast, by baking for us all year – apple and berry pies, spicy ginger snaps, and snicker doodles, lemon loaves and her magical chocolate cake. While I sat on the lawn beside that favorite rose, which will blossom with fluffy layers of pastel pink flowers, I thought I’d text my four kids my own Mother’s Day message about their grandma. She left us two years ago next month and I’d like to share the goodness of what she believed in. I want to remind them that their Grandma believed: 

That flowers are necessary for the soul.

And tending to even a tiny garden will lift the spirit.

In offering food and drink to anyone that passes through your door. 

In dropping off treats to people having troubles. 

That making your bed first would start your day right.

She believed in offering a helping hand. 

And in making old-fashioned phone calls to reconnect. 

To never visit a friend empty handed. 

She believed in making Sunday dinner special.

It’s Canada. Always bring a sweater, she said.

She believed in the magic of a good chocolate cake.

She believed in going barefoot.

She believed in treating her adult kids to weekends away by babysitting for us. 

She especially believed in celebrating family birthdays, all the holidays, and New Year’s Day dinner. 

She believed in being good. She was good. She would have especially believed in L-O-V-E pancakes. 💕

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Your Hand In Mine

July 19 2020

Rules. Rules. Rules. We recently needed to move our dad to a senior’s facility with a higher level of care for him. With Covid there are rules, so many rules. Even coming from one residence with no covid to another without the virus, and having had several tests himself – he still had to be isolated in his room for fourteen days. I had to believe that when that non-isolation isolation (we were thankfully still allowed to visit) would be over Dad truly would be in a good place. He’s now on a memory care ward but please please don’t jump to conclusions! Don’t sigh and say dismissively, “Oh, okay, that’s that then.” My dad has dementia – but I know this about the ‘D word’ – you can’t decide what that means for him in particular, or compare it to someone else you know. Yesterday I listened to a poignant podcast about an elderly woman with dementia, and how she told a daughter she didn’t initially recognize, “This is who I am now. Accept this version of myself. Know I love you still.”

In the years since my dad’s had dementia I’ve made irratic frustrated attempts to learn more about the disease, and what I’ve learned most from that is that the way a person’s mind leads them down the path of dementia is unique for every soul. My family has had to learn what sometimes frightening path my dad’s mind has taken him along, as well as all the ways he is wonderfully still the same.

The kind doctor that first diagnosed him told him, Dementia doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It just means your memory isn’t working the way it did before.

My dad is still my dad. He is still honest and good, (though sometimes cranky), with charming wry humour. ‘How long have you been on oxygen?’ – a doctor recently asked. “Same as you,” he said, “since I was born.” And when I try to cool off his hot apartment, instead of telling me he is cold, he asks me if I can find him an ice pick. A nurse brings him his medication and he offers to split it with her.

That humour is evidence of a sharp funny mind. But the same mind doesn’t see the boundaries of his own changed body. Why can’t he get his drivers license back?, he wonders despite being on oxygen, and off-balance even with a walker. It’s on his bucket list to ride a horse again, he tells me and he’d like to get a two bedroom house with a stove to have people over and cook say, a few eggs.

People warn us how sad it will be when he doesn’t recognize us. I can’t predict, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. He knows exactly who his five children are, not always where we live now, but who we are is locked in. He doesn’t know he’s called one of us a dozen times in half an hour. Or that he asked us what time we’ll arrive two minutes ago, or he already called to say Happy Birthday to the brother whose birthday he amazingly remembers. Still if we can get the conversation past why he can’t move into his own place, and honestly sometimes we can’t, we can still engage in conversations about the times that as he says, were a life time ago.

My parents marriage was the union of two people who believed not just til death do us part, but in loving each other completely until then. Their strengths shone through their union but for the last four years our mom had to assume care for the husband who had previously done the heavy lifting for her. Fourteen months ago mom confided to me, “Dads worried about what will happen to him if something happens to me.” I tried to be funny, ‘We are too Mom, so you better stick around.” A month latter, the day after their 66th wedding anniversary, to our childish surprise – she unexpectedly died.

He managed in the assisted living facility we’d helped them choose for a year without her – his guiding light. He’s frail, and weak of body, but not of mind in the way too many think. Yes, he has dementia but he can tell a good story, and set you to laughing with his wit.

Funny what memories we hold onto. Being the middle of five kids it would have been rare to have my dad’s attention all to myself. But I remember going to a department store once – just him and I. I have a vivid memory of how before entering the big store he took my small hand in his big strong one. I honestly remember being so happy to have my dad, holding my hand, just the two of us out together.

What I wish I’d told my mom that day fourteen months ago when she, I realized, was the one worried about him managing without her, was this, “It would be ok Mom. We’ll take care of him.” What I didn’t know as a kid was that my turn to take his hand and make him feel safe would come. It’s not easy to do that always, but listen hard Dad – we’re trying.

Reaching for the Silver Bells

It’s the holly jolly season of brightness and light. But my family and my extended family have lost too many of our elderly this year – the chiefs of our tribes, my dear mom one of them. Mom loved Christmas – and like so many moms she created it – vintage Christmas cards hanging on a string, the favorite decorations glistening on a fresh cut tree, the gifts shopped for at sales throughout the year, and closer to the day – the table top lined with shortbread and nanaimo bars and those Chinese noodle chocolate cookies chilling on the porch. So all of it is hard this year, but Mom would want us to find the joy, to gather together and hold each other tight on a snowy night. (Mom – we’ll give it our best shot.) In her honour I’d like to share a favourite excerpt from my book Text Me, Love Mom that speaks of the joy, chaos and excitement of a family in transition at Christmas time:

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – The Queen, Alice in Wonderland

For part of a bright, but snowy December and into early January, our home was crowded with our kids and their friends home from university and jobs – along with snowboards and old skates in the porch, left-behind scarves draped over chair backs, and take-out Chinese containers leaning against eggnog cartons in the fridge. Once our two sons and their dad had completed their December twenty-third and twenty-fourth shopping mall blitz, adding to their two sisters more timely forays at artisan shops or framing their own works, the gifts had spilled out under the fresh scotch pine Christmas tree. The deluge of snow lent to the holiday other-worldly atmosphere.  Every outing required boots, or at least high tops, sought out from the heap at the door.  We’d all developed the technique of backing down the sloping road instead of plowing forward through icy drifts, and the sidewalk shovel-ers worked with the risk of a friendly-fire snowball being tossed at them from the front deck.  There was always someone trying to find a sibling, or the truck keys, or else they were noisily trying to locate the contact lens solution over another person calling out to see if there was milk in the downstairs’ fridge. 

For most of their long break we skipped family breakfast – as pre-Christmas I was out using the mornings to finish gift shopping, and post-Christmas I used the early hours to bring in provisions for the household.  I’d almost forgotten how so much of my life had revolved around trips to various grocery stores for two decades. A few days before our kid’s departures were going to begin – I located them in the evening, in person or by text, “Breakfast together tomorrow at 10:30, okay?”

Zoë, our eldest, was more interested in the stacks of pancakes then previously.  It had been a marvelous new holiday season for our family – because it was growing again.  A few months ago, just before receiving her Masters degree twenty-five-year-old Zoë and her dedicated boyfriend of the last five years learned that the IUD Zoë used for birth control had failed them.  “Got one past the goalie,” they were able to jest once we all passed the initial stress and concern of the IUD being surgically removed without interfering with the tiny new being.  Zoë’s guy would touch her rounding belly and we would all grin like Cheshire cats.  He was finishing a degree in architecture and was madly planning a renovation of their Vancouver home to accommodate a new baby.  It was the twenty-first century – we were all okay with them transitioning to being parents before we helped plan the fun and romantic ocean-side wedding of Zoës dreams.

While brushing the snow off the car before driving our sons to the airport, a blur of white skidded past the hedge and across the road. It was a snowy white rabbit, running parallel to me. This was an unusual lucky omen – a white rabbit running parallel to you, but only if it was Sunday. And Sunday it was.

Our youngest, Lily, flew back to Montreal for the start of classes a few days later. She called me her second day ‘home’.  “It’s so cold, Mom.  I can’t even hang onto my phone – it’s so cold.”  She was rushing to a grocery store to buy ingredients for my meat sauce.    “Tell me exactly what you put in yours.  I want mine to taste like yours.” She was quiet. Then, “What are you and Zoё doing?  I wish I was still there hanging out.”

      Zoё had been commissioned to paint a mural for an art show, but was free to hang back in Calgary for another day and return when the price of flights weren’t as inflated, promising me some mom and daughter time together.  We were returning a maternity shirt that didn’t fit her, going out for a peaceful lunch and because, unlike the Montreal deep freeze, Calgary was being treated to balmy Chinook weather, we planned to take a walk along the reservoir.  After all the lovely chaos of Christmas, a day of activities devoted to Zoё and I, seemed like bliss, but I was aware of the new hush Lily had returned to in her small Montreal studio.

“We’re not doing much, Lily.  It’s quiet here.  Make your sauce, and call if you need help.”

But Lily hadn’t been ready to disconnect. “Hey Mom.  How will we work it when Zoё has the baby in June?  We’ll be there right?  How will we make sure that we’re in Vancouver?”

            Funny, her brother, Cole, had asked me something similar.  He had no interest in being around the delivery room but he wanted to be close by, “to film the kid as soon as it arrives.” 

“We’ll work it out,” I told Zoё’s little sister, “It will be summertime.  That’ll make it easier.”

              The following day I took my eldest daughter to the airport, gave her blossoming body a firm hug, and handed her over to those security personal before driving back to this too quiet, too calm house.  But imagining our first little grandchild, I feel less lonely.  The baby’s other grandparents live in Calgary as well – and the bright bigger bedroom that was Zoë’s before a recent renovation, now has enough space for a queen bed and a tiny crib when they visit. Suddenly, the renovated house was beginning to make sense again…  Despite the miles that separate us, our family was growing and this house, halfway up the hill, is still home. 

Sweet, my kids would say.  And so I’ll type to them all in their far away places, “Text me. Love mom.”

If you’ve enjoyed this excerpt, and would like to read more or know someone who will be captivated by this tale of a family sorting out this new stage of life Text Me, Love Mom is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

The Gift of an Artist’s Muse

I want to give you a Christmas gift dear readers, a gift of wonder and beauty created by an artist that I hold dear to my heart. The gift is Alice at Naptime. The artist is my daughter, Shea Proulx. Alice at Naptime is a poetically illustrated graphic novel – a woman becomes a mother, an artist needs time away from her heart’s focus to draw, but she is caught by this new muse – her sweet sleeping baby.

In a review for Pickle Me This, Kerry Clare writes of Shea Proulx’s book, Alice at Naptime is a series of illustrations that Proulx drew of her daughter when she was a baby. “I used to draw all the time…” the book begins, “but now just at naptime.” And when Alice is napping, she draws Alice, her sleeping face set into kaleidoscopic scenes, a wonderland of strangeness, symmetry and doubleness that grows to fill the entire spread: “a symphony of Alices.” A kind of dreamland. And fittingly, for a child named Alice with illustrations that are definitely trippy, there is wonder: “Alice is strapped down so often when she naps. It looks like we’re worried she might float away.” What does Alice dream about? Proulx asks the reader, And I remember the fascination of my sleeping child’s face, the smallness of my world then—I remember the day my child discovered causality while kicking an arch on a baby gym, and both our minds were blown, but nobody else cared. “It’s just that I’m so in love,” Proulx writes, “lost in a sea of Alice.”

As Shea tells us in the afterward, “I’m not the person I was then. You don’t become a mother all at once. You have to grow into that new self. I recognize the fragility of the tenuous identity I was sorting out as I relaxed into a new rhythm… It isn’t without sacrifice that women become mothers, or men fathers. But the gains are heady and by their nature, indescribable, as are many natural desires. I only hope I’ve done the process some small justice. I owe that to a former self, that new mom, adrift in a wonderland, wondering who she would become.”

Alice at Naptime would be treasured by any parent or parents-to-be, but children too are entranced by the story and illustrations.  Alice, herself, now nine-years-old (creating books take time) has read it to her little sister, Lucy. I invite you to share it this holiday season with a loved one or simply indulge yourself.

You can purchase it from the publisher Renegade books – and support an amazing Albertan publishing house, Renegade Arts Entertainment  or from Amazon Amazon Alice at Naptime .

If you’d like to see more of Shea’s work she has also published Alice in the Womb, an adult colouring book which “shapes ethereal imagery around the fetus growing and transforming in Proulx’s belly, from conception to birth. And an all ages colouring book, ABC Monstrosity – both available from Etsy at Shea Proulx Etsy or Amazon Alice in the Womb or https://www.amazon.ca/ABC-Monstrosity-Shea-Proulx/dp/0994924119

But You Don’t Seem Old

 I had a birthday this summer and you could say I am now a woman of a certain age – ie. the age ‘old’. I do what I can to look, you know … maybe a bit less ‘old’. Recently, after an early snowfall I was making a snow-woman with my two granddaughters. (Not being woke here – the snow person was definitely a female – the giggling girls put snow “boobies” on her. The six-year-old asked me just then, as I laughed at their laughing, ‘How old are you, Gramma?”

“Sixty,” I said quietly, not really used to being in this new decade.

“That’s old,” she said. Now either she was being kind, or she was pleased that I chuckled at our snow person having a bosom, when she kindly added, “But you don’t seem old.”

The girls were at our place for a sleepover. The younger one sometimes still wakes during the night at home and crawls into her parent’s bed. She says that’s because she’s afraid of the dark. Some nights she wears a kitty cat sleep mask so that she ‘won’t see’ the dark. Adorable. Her big sister is fine with the dark of night – at home. I know we’re fortunate to have my daughter’s family so close by – a nice ten minute walk on a summer day, or a short bicycle ride. A few times when the girls were small we even tucked them into a red wooden sleigh and pulled them through a fresh snow to our house. Cool Guy (the nick name their Grampa got when the first granddaughter was born) and I are big fans of treating them to a sleepover, to cuddle on the couch convinced by them to ignore 8:30 bedtime mandated by their mom, for one more Kid’s Baking Challenge Show or the Despicable Me movie with popcorn popped in a pot on the stove – cause Cool Guy is old school with his popcorn making.

After that I squish in between their sleepy heads in our guest bed to read them into slumber with the Jolly Postman or alternatively the shortest book on the shelf. Sometimes I’m first asleep and it’s the nine-year old that switches off the bedside lamp. The little one kicks off covers but holds my hand in her sleep. I’ll awake after my ‘nap’ and follow Cool Guy up to our bed. And though I move out from between them ever so gently, and tip-toe up the stairs I often disturb the youngest. I’ve usually just brushed my teeth and settled under my own covers when she comes into our bedroom, hardly awake. I’ll lift my blankets and let her crawl in, where she’s asleep again almost instantly.

The older one’s technique is different. Sometime in the night she’ll awake to find her little sister gone and rouse herself from the nest of warm blankets to travel down the cool hall and to the bottom of the stairs where she’ll stand and call up to me, “Gramma, Gramma.”All my attempts to resist the signs of my age; the hair colour, the (occasional) gym workouts, even my denial of senior’s discounts seem silly suddenly. We lost my mom this summer. For almost a decade I was these granddaughter’s Gramma, at the same time my adult kids called my dear mama Gramma. Being the only Gramma now, and the matriarch of my own family sounds, well, seriously old. The matriarch title sounds oddly stern and serious. But with my grand daughters ‘GG’ gone I long to be the best ‘boobie giggling, craft facilitating, storybook reading, comfort-in -the-dark Gramma I can be. (Cool Guy is the king of popcorn popping and scheming against bedtime.)

In the wee hours of the night this tired child calling for my comfort completely marks my place in the world. I offer her water, tuck the hair back from her sleepy face and lead her back to the still warm guest bed, climbing in beside her. I’m divided with the small one upstairs in our bed and this older one in need of quick comfort to send herself back to sleep. Mine will be the disturbed rest I complained about as a young mom. It’s so okay now. I go back to dreamland with my daughter’s daughter. Just trying my hardest to be a good Gramma.

ps. – Thanks Marianne. We thought they’d have switched to the traditional moniker but they like having a ‘Cool Guy’ – not everyone has one of those.

Alice at Naptime and The Rabbit Hole of Maternal Love

Naptime- those words evoke a sense of peace and calm. Calm if you are the one indulging in a nap – but even more tranquility if the sleeping person is your busy little toddler.

Alice at Naptime is the sweet and dreamy latest book by Canadian artist and mom, Shea Proulx. Moms with children of all ages will delight in pouring over the colourful depictions of the sleeping child, and will lose themselves in the narrative carefully created for adults and children both. In this graphic story a baby’s naptime gives the mom a welcome chance to turn away from its need of constant attention but the artist simply can’t – the baby is her muse.

As Shea Proulx says she, “spent her twenties going to forest-raves, living with a lot of strange people, and becoming over-educated at Emily Carr and UBC. Immediately after graduating with an MFA she discovered that she was totally pregnant…  At its core, Alice at Naptime tells a universal story, of a parent pining for past freedoms, while simultaneously descending down a rabbit hole of all-encompassing maternal love.”

It’s the perfect book for new moms, artist-moms, moms we’re grateful for – and admirers of all of those. Anyone really – moms, dads and children – can lose themselves in the artwork that winds around itself in an ever changing pastel wonderland to the tales end. The book is available in hard and soft cover or a limited edition gift set that includes the hard copy with a signed book plate, two charming pins, and a special chocolate bar – a Mother’s Day present extraordinaire.  Available from the publisher – Renegade Arts and Entertainment.

Alice at Naptime can also be ordered from all your favourite book sellers (which include some in the UK) and Indigo and Amazon.ca Alice at Naptime