Fireworks

5 08 2017

I’m feeling a little misty-eyed lately over my ratbag children. It’s the season of fireworks and where I’m living we’ve already had four nights of them, and another one tonight. It’s Natal Day weekend in Nova Scotia, an event celebrated with even more enthusiasm than Canada Day. This surprised me the first year I was here, but I’m getting used to it, dropping my central Canada snobbery.

But tonight I wandered across the street to the harbour, and was immediately swamped with kids all waving those hugely expensive light wand things (these ones use hearing aid batteries so will cause even more damage and expense as time goes on, but they were WAY COOL. Especially when rapidly swung around.) And it brought me back to all the times we’d driven to see fireworks with our kids, all the different places we’d seen fireworks at together, and well, it made me a bit nostalgic….

 

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This girl is nowhere near cold enough

The fireworks in Ottawa, in winter, on Spark Street. Freezing cold, as Ottawa is. The display for children was held in the dark evening so the little ones could a. get to bed early and b. not be run over in the later melee. Some of the fireworks didn’t explode immediately, and the kids, as one wave, raced towards the snow hill where they were placed. The parents, shouting “NOOOOOOOOOOO(N)” leaped after the kids and fortunately, no one was exploded. I nearly lost my sight though as little knee biters were all waving sparklers at the fullest extent of their arms…my eye height…

 

Then there were the fireworks when we lived in Kansas, on the Leavenworth Army Base.12502224-12502224 Those fireworks went on and on and on and ON. It was astonishing. HOURS passed. In between, there were bands and flag parades and a whole bunch of patriotic stuff we simply don’t do up here. I remember trying to make things sound exciting for the kids, who were actually bored at the lengthy display.

 

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Photo credit: Matthew Guy

The next year we were in Annapolis Royal, a tiny but very serious town (has a huge entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia, bigger than Toronto’s). We raced down to see the fireworks that had been funded through cans on store counters, a quarter at a time. They were over in five minutes if that – we almost missed them. I was expecting a holler of protest from the kids – they were still little and had seen the equivalent of the Canadian Armed Forces budget blown up the year before, but there wasn’t anything. My middle son, a thoughtful bloke, said, “It’s actually better this way, mommy – this way you can appreciate every single one!” The other two agreed. I think it helped that we had fallen in love with our new town.

 

But at every fireworks display, except the Annapolis Royal one, there was the dragging the kids early so we’d get good seats, the long traffic laden drive home, the calls for expensive light things. My ex and I used to argue about them – I thought we may as well get them, to make it more of an occasion; he ground his teeth at the expense.

It gladdened my heart to see how easy it was for most people to get down to the harbour to watch them here. It reinforced my feelings that living in the Maritimes is the equivalent of living in heaven, even including the fog as it rolled in, Clouds for angels to sit on…

I’ve been feeling a bit mawkish over the kids lately, too, as I am writing/editing/beating to death a young adult novel that has kids in their pre-teens in it. So I’ve been casting back for memories, language, relative surliness.

It WAS a surly time, filled with negotiations that rivaled the G-20 over even the desire to go for a walk. Sometimes the argument wasn’t worth it and I gave up and threw my hands in the air wildly. But most of the time, at that age, the kids were still up for an adventure.

It didn’t have to be a big adventure, either. It could be a simple walk down an old train track, or as complicated as a train drive to Montreal. They didn’t all like the same things. Or the same things as me. We all whined at times. But I was blessed to have curious children, and I am grateful, and I know that they will be alright.

Why? Because I sat through all those fireworks displays with them, and they found something different about each one and enjoyed them all.

It made me wish they were all here with me tonight, though we’d probably have watched the show from a patio, with beers in our hands. The two youngest would have spent the time arguing over some point in philosophy. They would both be right. And I’d, as always, be listening, my heart bursting with delight as the fireworks burst overhead.

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Serpent’s teeth and the brilliance of Shakespeare

30 08 2015

db-0100I hated reading Shakespeare as I grew up. The language seemed difficult, the concepts dry and old. I was, of course, ignorant. And a philistine. Now I know better, and am continually gobsmacked by what Shakespeare was able to contain in his works.

I wonder who I was when I was younger – so sure of myself, so sure I knew things, terrified of being caught out yet pushing my way through, singing “Whistle a Happy Tune” and “You’ll never walk alone” to keep my chin up – but as an old friend said, it WAS up. Though I knew nothing, and inside I knew I knew nothing. I knew enough to fake it til I made it, just about. So I did.

I blame my mother. She told us we were special, and though we never really believed it, we carried it around. My adopted aunt once gave me a book which had a marvelous poem in it about “Mary-Alice”, who had great potential, and because she was so afraid of losing that potential, she kept it hidden under her bed in a very secure box and got it out now and again to look at it but never showed it to anyone.

That poem has haunted my entire life. Thanks, Aunt Shirlianne. (Love her so much, and there’s no reason she should have expected that that poem would have such an effect on me). Between my mother assuring me I was meant to do great things and my aunt inflicting overly wise poetry on me, I was and probably still am, a mess. I figure I still have to contribute – have to have an effect on the world, have to use my potential before it vanishes like Mary-Alice’s.

potential

It’s encouraging in one way, terrifying in another. Here I am, gently losing my mind with the cognitive effects of MS, and I am flogging myself to write, to agitate, to exercise, to model healthy behaviour, blah blah blah. Add in a generous dose of Roman Catholic guilt and it’s almost unbearable in here. Wine helps. And chocolate.

Sad thing is, I seem to have visited it upon my kids, this same sense of “you have great gifts and you’d better use them to better the world or else”. It’s a lot of pressure, and I didn’t mean to make their lives the same living ratrace mentally that I spin upon, but I did.

So now they have secret lives, and are afraid to tell me their plans and are snarky at me so they don’t have to feel that I am judging them.

Which, of course, I am NOT. Funny thing about parenting. That unconditional love thing is the code.You get it through the umbilical cord, I think. So I don’t care what they do, though of course I would be sad if they got arrested or hurt somebody or sat about being unhappy and unfulfilled. But then I think they wouldn’t like that, either, so I assume we are on the same page, sort of. Maybe.

I have to guess, though, because, like those ungrateful children in Shakespeare, two out of my three wonderful offspring speak rarely to me. It hurts me, yes it does. I’m sure they have reasons to avoid me, and it’s pretty much due me as I recall I kind avoided my mother for a spell, and still argue with her though she is 24 years gone. I guess I also passed on the serpent’s tooth.

In a way, it’s good – I raised my kids to be independent, questioning individuals, and so they are. Just wish a bit that they’d be a little less questioning of me, sometimes.

Ah well, at least when we DO talk, they are interesting, witty, intelligent, and worth the wait. Perhaps you can’t have that without the tooth…

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When love goes awry…

5 02 2013

“And you know what? To protect my kids, I’d lie, too. I’d lie on a stack of Bibles.”

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/02/11/130211fa_fact_keefe#ixzz2K2jZqwHp

This story is about a woman who murdered all of her colleagues, supposedly over tenure at a university. And about the “accident” years earlier, where she shot her brother, killing him.

It’s a fascinating story, terrifying in its implications, sad in the lack of help for someone who could surely have used it. And worrying for the children of such a set of parents.

But the quote I selected above is the scariest of all. What’s happened here?

Back in the time of responsibility, parents were the ones who took their children to the shopkeeper and made them return what they had stolen. I remember once having done something mean to a friend and my mother MADE me go and apologize. I had to walk the mile there and back, squirming in embarrassment, upset that I had to take the blame for what had been a joint girlfriend attack. But I never bullied again. (Well, until I got into management, and then it was only incompetence that drove me).

My parents made me wear my decisions, and I think I’m better for it.

Now, I’ve covered for my kids at times, but I would never cover for such a thing. Even when they were in school and their teachers would call me to wail about how my kids weren’t doing this or that assignment, I’d tell them – so FAIL them! I’m cool with that, I said. They have to learn consequences. The teachers never did, saying that the final result on the assignment was too good for them to be able to fail them. Unacceptable. How was I supposed to hold the kids accountable when their teachers wouldn’t?

In the real world, when you f*** up, you pay. You get a ticket, you lose your job, you go broke or bankrupt, you lose a friend or a lover. I find it appalling that now people seem to think that it is totally inappropriate to subject kids to consequences, leaving them unprepared to deal with life.

ImageAnd with a flexible sense of the truth.

I adore my kids. I’d walk over burning coals to support them, even the ungrateful one who still won’t speak to me. (Well, maybe not that one. I’m fed up.) But I wouldn’t lie for them.

I know they have their faults, as do I. But I expect to be held accountable for my faults, as they should.

Would I lie if they were threatened with a jail sentence, if they committed a crime? My heart would break, but I wouldn’t. We live as a part of society, and as parts of society, we’re expected to play at least close to the rules.

I hope never to have to deal with this, and my heart goes out to any parent who has to try to understand a monstrous child. I know I blame myself for my kids’ every fault already, so I can imagine how they must feel. But surely, lying for your kid, letting them off the hook, allowing them to turn into more horrific and self-centred creatures isn’t love.





Mental Health Days

10 05 2012

Before I went back to work, when I was spending my days playing with my kids and doing seemingly endless piles of laundry and arbitrating fights and driving people all over the place, every once and awhile, I’d see that we were getting stressed to the max with school and other commitments. So I’d give us all a mental health day. I’d call the schools, tell them that the kids were sick, and we’d all lounge around in our pyjamas all day and watch Disney movies and eat popcorn and just be messy all day.
It was lovely, especially in the depths of winter when it was too much trouble to get dressed for the weather some days. It’d be -40 or something and the thought of wrapping all of us in the required 10 layers was too much.
Or we’d all be tired and grumpy and a holiday day was a welcome respite for all of us.
I loved those days. Mind you, I loved excuses to play hooky with the kids anytime.

My novel

I still like the playing hooky days, but they are creeping to an end. I have a novel to brush up for June 1st. It needs its hair done, some primping, a lot of education about tenses and structure and plot and characterizations and all that.
What I really want to do is tell it to play hooky with me, to just sit around with it and talk to it and have fun and share secrets. A lot of my writing happens this way.
Every once an awhile, though, I need to tell it to get tidied up and presentable. Like my kids, my novel isn’t all that keen to take to work. It likes being messy.
One of my sons used to live in a pile of his precious items. We argued over it, and I finally told him he needed to tidy it up one day a week so I could vacuum and such and thus prevent bug infestation. He grudgingly agreed. He’d tidy it all up, I’d whip the vacuum through, and within five minutes, it’d be all layered again, looking just the same as before, but less dusty.
It worked for us. He felt more comfortable in the clutter.
Maybe I can tell my novel this – tidy up now, just til June 1st, and then we can play-write again, wallow around in our mental pyjamas, vegetate. I don’t think it’s buying it, though. I think it knows now is the time to grow up.
No more mental health days, not for the moment.
Dang.
On the good side, I can dress in my writer clothes, which are designed to prevent me from being seen in public. Comfy, messy, unattractive. All good.
Time to get to work.
Now, I just need a little Queen to inspire me…





Mothers and daughters and mothers and daughters on and on and on

6 05 2012

ImageSo here comes another Mother’s Day, and with it the maelstrom of feelings that are associated with this Hallmarky “holiday”. I have a hate-hate relationship with Mother’s Day. When I was a kid, it was a day when I would try to connect with my mother, unsuccessfully. I always did something minimal for Mother’s Day – as an unemployed poor person for most of my mother-daughter relationship, I resorted to “Spritual Bouquets” (home made cards offering prayers for the person) or something equally forgettable. I don’t remember Mother’s Day particularly well. I suppose we went out to eat. Or something. It all seemed rather bleah.

And then I became a Mother. And after nights and nights of solo parenting while my ex was working or deployed or otherwise occupado, he never did a thing for me for Mother’s Day. “You’re not my mother,” he’d say. Yeah, true. But I’d organize the kids to do something for him for Father’s Day or do something special. Instead I reminded him to call HIS mother. It hurt, a lot. I wanted praise for a job well done, or at least a recognition that my mothering of the kids made life easier for him to father them. But maybe it didn’t. Mothers days passed. I didn’t really care.

Then my mother, ever the competitive one, superseded my father’s glorious passing on Christmas Eve to die on Mother’s Day. It was a blatant attempt to win in the sympathy contest. It worked. So Mother’s Day became even more rife.

I used to be proud of my parenting. I stayed at home for a few years (we were lucky enough to do this), and I thought I’d done a good job. In amongst the child rearing, while my mum was still around, I fought her influence on me. We were never close, and this I regret. As I’ve said elsewhere, Karma sucks, and now the pride I took in parenting is shadowed by the ongoing break existing between my daughter and I.  It’s still deep and dark and murky and I can’t see a way past it. I dread coming to the realization that I may never see her again. And that this may be what she wants. Yowza.

I sense my mother had her difficulties with her mother, too. She was one of the youngest of a large clan and her mother was ferocious. I imagine little foolishness was tolerated. My mum moved away from her mother and stayed away. We saw her mother now and again, but I didn’t get the feeling that they were bosom buddies or anything. Our family never said they loved each other – I’m sure my mother’s family would have thought that was just a terribly odd thing to say.

Maybe that’s the way daughters and mothers exist, but I am not sure about that. Today I saw a mother and daughter out for lunch together, laughing and enjoying being together, and my heart broke – for the lost opportunities with my mum, now long gone, for the years passing away from my daughter.

This Mother’s Day is also my daughter’s birthday. Plus it will be about 5 years since we’ve talked. Have I mentioned my hate-hate relationship with the day? So this Mother’s Day, I get to relive my mother and my daughter, my cold and now lost marriage, and all that crap. I suspect I’ll have to hit the beach and throw some rocks.

On the good side, I have two lovely sons. Thank god. And a friend who knows how important it is to get some positive stroking on this sharp, painful day. I love them all dearly.

So, all the rest of you – go talk to your mothers. Yeah, they’re insufferably boring and intrude into your life and say things that hurt and mess with your head. They probably wear horrible clothes and are shockingly clued out. But trust me, even if you think you hate them, you’re gonna miss them when they’re gone. See them while you can.

Miss you, mum. Hope you are somewhere beautiful. Love you.





Big brown…

27 02 2012

Big brown bear, blue bull, beautiful baboon, blowing bubbles biking backwards…

(The Berenstain’s B Book)

Jan Berenstain is no more – she passed away today. I don’t know of any author who had more of an influence on my kids when wee little. We used to say all the words to the B Book when we drove in the car – it kept the kids amused as they waited for the louder sound effects.

My middle child loved the Berenstain books more than anything else. I think the somewhat heavy moralizing tone appealed to his budding guilt complex. He learned to “read” them, memorizing the entire books well before actually learning to read.  He asked for the newest ones whenever we went to a bookstore, saved them in his bookshelves in the only ordered part of his bedroom, asked for them at every bedtime story time.

I never quite got it. In the stories, the mother was always wise, the father always bumbling, the kids always learning some moral tale or another. It all seemed a little heavy to me, like the Duchess’ chin on Alice’s shoulder in “Through the Looking Glass”.

But he wanted them, and so we read. And read. And read. The covers wore off.

Eventually my son learned to read on his own, for real, and started exploring other worlds. The other kids moved on, too, and the books eventually went to goodwill for someone else to enjoy.

Except for that B Book.

That one is permanently in my brain circuitry.

“… and that’s what broke baby bird’s balloon.”

Cheers, Jan – I just know you have a circle of children sitting around you where you are, rapt and enchanted.





Praising the dog

25 01 2012

Chutney, thinking about crimes

Way back in being-a-parent-to-three young kids land, I went to a lot of parenting classes. We won’t say what it was about those three young kids that led me to parenting classes, but let it suffice that there were at least two occasions where I put them out of the car on the side of the road and threatened to drive off without them.

Eventually I got around to teaching parenting classes, having concluded that walking through the fires of hell gave me the street cred to do so. My son helped by acting up before every class so that I’d have a fresh story to lead off the session with, god love him. It was fun. I got lots of support.

But the overall message that came through, strong and clear, was that you NEVER said “Good boy” to your son if he did something good – you were to praise the action and not the person, blame the action as if it came from somewhere else. Not, “that was bad, setting fire to your sister’s hamster”, but “Setting fire to a hamster is bad.” The argument was that a person was neither good nor bad, but their actions could be.

I’m not sure about that.

In any case, this is the only explanation for my response to my dog this morning when I told him to sit and wait while I took off his leash and he actually did.

I told him, “Chutney, that was GOOD LISTENING!”

I often find myself offering this sort of comment to the dog, who of course hears “blah blah blah GOOD blah blah blah blah”. And he’s a poodle, with a fairly large vocabulary, including car, beach, bow-wow (his camp), bath, dinner, bedtime and treat. He doesn’t care about the words around good or bad. He just wants to know if I’m cross or happy and if there is going to be a tasty treat involved.

Probably like my kids, when I come right down to it.








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