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

Stop Virginia – This Christmas is What We Longed For

On these short, dark days before Christmas I never seem able to sleep and get frustrated with myself lying in bed doing a tally of gifts bought and gifts to buy, instead of counting sheep.  I feel that as a mom of four young adults, wife of the husband, daughter of the parents, sister of the siblings, too much shopping has fallen on my shoulders and the emphasis at this time of year, by my own doing, has gone terribly wrong.

This morning on the fourth shortest day, when I leave the Christmas lights on all night to brighten the weary dark, I was laying in my warm bed and decided, most consciously, to think hard about what it is I am anticipating for the next week  – a week that will come and go a hundred times faster than the slow build up since Halloween.

What are the moments I want to be in?  Not in a distracted, on to the next bit way, but in a truly aware and mindful – this is what we all waited for – way?

The first son home this year went with his dad and together they picked out a glorious tree.  A few years back their dad and I had decorated the tree for our kids arrival home – only to find they all wanted to be part of the ‘boys act like they don’t care’ while supervising from the couch watching something like, Saving Private Ryan, while the girls hung even the sloppiest kindergarten macaroni decoration because they “remembered making it”.  We have learned to save the tree decorating and I promise I will be in those moments.

In the past I probably helped too much with gift buying, the older they got the less money they had to spend with rent and groceries and parties to attend to.  I was resenting becoming the mother-of-all shoppers.  But in the last few years, maturing as they are supposed to, these young adults of ours have managed to think ahead and somehow put aside funds for gifts they have been excited about bestowing on each other and us – small, inexpensive, partially homemade sometimes – but all tokens of love and affection.  I will be in those moments of anticipation – watching the dance around the wrapping, the shouting out for tape, or for no one to come in whatever room, and then the sneaking the package under our sparkling tree.

It will take until Dec. 23 this year but finally we will all be under one roof again, something that hasn’t happened since Easter.  When I lay in bed that night I will toss aside thoughts of organizing, turkey stuffing, having to run out for whipping cream as always, and where did I put the stockings about 350 days ago?  Instead I will be completely, entirely immersed in the feeling of having them all so close, though they may be up into the wee hours listening to hip hop or watching DVD’s of The Office and laughing together –  eating the butter tarts a day early and sharing Christmas-y secrets.  I think I will wrap myself in a blanket and sneak down to be with them, saving sleep for another time, knowing in my heart that these are the moments of the season that I have truly longed for.