On The Edge of An Ocean

The black and white photo of my parents sits proudly next to my wedding picture on my mantle. They were younger, huddled together with arms secured around each other in a joyful embrace. That’s how I like to remember them. Laughing. Together.

Both have since gone. My dad succumbed to cancer that ravaged his fifty-six-year-old body until there was nothing left. Memories were taken at the end. I heard him ask my mother as we stood at his bedside about the red-headed girl who was crying.  “Who is that?” he had asked. My mother looked at me, confused. She turned to his questioning face. “That’s Karla. You know her,” she said quietly patting his hand and willing him to recognize his only daughter.

My Dad was from Nova Scotia. “I’m a Bluenoser,” he would say. We would crinkle our noses and laugh, “Your nose doesn’t look blue!” I had no perception of Nova Scotia. A scant picture of a foreign landscape and of a Nana I didn’t know were my only introductions to an East Coast so vastly different than my Southwestern Ontario upbringing.  I possessed no concept of life outside my little townhouse in Chatham. He would tell us tidbits of his life in Digby. My dad was an only child. His stories of eating seaweed and sardines made us cringe and laugh. When he was in his teens, my grandfather urged him to work on the fishing boats. Hard work to which my Dad gave an honest effort, but it wasn’t for him. He had other plans. A three-year stint in the Air Force and then off to Ontario to find work. By 1954, he and my Mother had married, and they had started a family.

I’m fifty-four and I have lived in Newfoundland and Labrador for twenty-five years. I married a Botwood boy out of college. We met in Toronto, married, and started a family. As fate would have it, we were destined to an island, again, very foreign to me. It took a few years and a few kids later, but I adjusted. I understand the Bluenose reference. My ears have become acclimated to the various dialects and nuances of Newfoundland vernacular. I have even said a few, “Go on, b’ys,” myself. I appreciate the ease of becoming part of a community that is innately communal. Generations of families living close and welcoming ‘mainlanders’ into their fold. An expedition to stomp around the homestead of my late father is never far from my mind. A bucket-list item that heads the top, it should have happened years ago, but with babies comes responsibilities. The leisure of visiting a place of my roots was put off for something more immediate like a school trip or dance lessons. Now, the notion of a no-travel ban has raised its steel toe boot to my bucket- list and I lament not having made the trip. I had the luck to visit the Maude Lewis exhibition in Halifax last year before the ugly virus drove us inside. I felt at home sitting outside her house, thinking my Dad may have driven by her little painted dwelling on his way out of town. Maybe my grandfather knew her. The mere idea of a connection makes me feel at home. I’m part Bluenoser, part Newfoundlander and part Chathamite. Fractions of places that feed my identity as a whole woman at ease living on the edge of an ocean.

Mommy Days

The other morning when leaving Bootcamp, I heard a woman exclaim how mundane her life had become with making lunches and gathering kids to the bus for school.  I remember those days.  Frankly, I’m glad they’re over.  It’s challenging being a mom and working and shuffling after-school activities, homework, discipline and then you still have to feed these people.  It’s exhausting.  And then, it seems a few days later, they’re driving cars and shuffling themselves to after-school activities.  They’re going to parties and getting part-time jobs.  They buy their own lunches and get busy with friends.   Pretty soon, she’s going to college or university and taking classes we’ve never heard of and dating people we don’t know.  Who owns you?

 Then you find yourself sitting at her convocation and celebrating her achievement (which is really yours, as well) and then she’s stressed because she has to find a job.  Then you turn around and she’s moved out into her own apartment because she has actual employment, her own vehicle and a life.  And here you are Mommy, with her lunch in your hand saying, ‘but I made you peanut butter, your favourite.’   She shrugs and says she has her own food and will see you later.  Like next week.  When she has the time and is not on shift.  And she needs food for her fridge. 

The mundane is how you go from ‘Mommy, I need you’ to ‘Mom, I’ll see you later.’  It’s all the crap you have to endure in order to see that snotty-nosed kid become an adult.  One capable of making her own lunches and paying her own bills and taking care of somebody else’s sick baby.  But then she comes home and opens the fridge to see what’s to eat and she wants to watch Arthur’s Perfect Christmas with you and everything is right with the world, until she has to go back to work and become an adult and someone else’s caregiver.

You did that, Mommy.  Because you made her lunches and you got her shuffled to the bus and you read her stories at night for the one-hundredth millionth time and you did it because you knew, someday, it would all be worth it.  I know, right now it’s tiring and challenging.  I know you have no time for yourself and you wish she would just be a bit more independent, but don’t rush it.  She’ll get there.  In her own time. 

Hang in there, Mommy.  You are doing a great job.  Make those damned lunches, take her to the bus stop and read the bed-time stories.  You’ll blink and you’ll be hanging art in her new apartment and wondering if she has enough toilet paper for next week. 

The mundane stuff is what she relies on.  You are her safety net.  Keep going.

She’ll.  Be.  Great. 

Draw Like Da Jesus!

My conversations with the ever-absent D2 are infrequent and fraught with awkward silences.   We no longer have that day-to-day mundane interaction to share or joke about, so we get lost in the abundance of stuff and so little time within to tell it.  She’s monstrously busy and I’m monstrously trying to fill her absence.  D1 and Son give me sideward glances when I beg them to talk to me or sit with me outside and tell me about their day, or come with me to Walmart JUST ONE MORE TIME.   I may have to borrow a neighbor kid with whom I could drive around and tell sarcastic bad-driver stories.

The questions that I invent for D2 are different than Hubby’s, but then again they should be.  He was in her exact spot a mere 29 years ago, so of course he wants to know what it looks like, have you done this course yet, who is your drill Corporal, blah, blah, blah.  My questions are far more important and revolve on actual survival skills that only moms understand: have you made any nice friends?  Are you eating enough?  How’s the food?  Are you getting enough rest?  How’s that cleaning, ironing and washing going?  Need another bed-making tutorial?  (Yes, I actually sent her a tutorial on hospital corners that she shared with her troop mates, since I clearly failed her as a mother and neglected to demonstrate this in person during her ENTIRE LIFE AS MY CHILD) Don’t get sick.  Wash your hands all of the time, STAY AWAY FROM THE WEAPONS FIRING AREA.  You know, SURVIVAL.  I’m thinking for Christmas, I’ll give her a throw pillow that reads: JUMP LIKE DA JESUS.   It’s a bit kitschy.  She won’t be able to have it on her bed at Depot, since obviously, EVERYONE WILL WANT ONE.  I needed a short and catchy phrase, since my embroidery skills are as lacking as my motherly teaching skills.  Ugh.

Hubby is entering a new decade today.  Fifty is the new I-made-it-this-far-so-may-as-well-get-shitfaced, so there’s that to look forward to.  Not that he’s going to drink himself to all out oblivion, but I may be tempted.  This new age of being older-than-dirt in the eyes of the youngsters, quite frankly, sucks.  I get eye-rolls and the ‘oh, mom’ when I ask about something Millennials with their hipster jeans and Birkenstocks can only decipher.  By the way, WHEN DID BIRKENSTOCKS COME BACK AS COOL?!  They’re ugly as shit and I don’t understand the appeal.  They’re like wearing hard rubberized sole-deforming casts on your feet and if you were TOLD you HAD to wear them as punishment, one would rail against the establishment as being cruel and unusual and anti-freedom-of-feet!  I see you shaking your head and holding up your rubberized-foot sling as something I should try and that I’d ‘surely love them as soon as I wear them awhile’  NO.  UGLY. AS. SHIT.

I’ve also decided that being over fifty is life’s way of getting back at you for all the crap you said about EVERY ADULT YOU KNEW when you were in your teens. All your eye-rolling, oh-mom comments, ripped jeans, non-sensical friends….STOP DRAWING THAT CIRCLE.  I see it.

Your body decides to play games, your now adult kids make fun of you and you finally understand everything your parents ever said to you throughout your entire life and feel the need to spout same to YOUR children/adults.  Their time will come when they will say the same thing.

WHO BROUGHT FUGLY

BIRKENSTOCKS BACK?!

See?   Okay, you can draw now.

Cue the Lion King theme song.  I’m done.

Letting Go

The absence of D2 is strange.  I walk pass her room and see it empty and surprisingly, clean. There’s no coffee mugs on the desk, or clothes thrown onto the floor in a frenzied panic.   The car we shared is still filled with wanton coffee cups and rowing materials, tossed on the back floors reminding me of her once fluid presence.  In the trunk of said car, I found a cap, a sweater, a yoga mat and coloured tissue paper used for a friend’s gift, now forgotten and abandoned.  She’s still here, but isn’t.   I went through her drawers to find a top I could ‘borrow’ for work.  Instead, I ended up emptying the drawers, organizing pants and tops and putting some questionable things in the laundry.  I didn’t find anything to ‘borrow’, but she now has neat folded clothes organized in an efficient manner for when she returns.

But, if all goes according to plan, she won’t be returning.  She’ll be moving on.  On to another province and another life.

It is a good thing, of which I am reminded daily after everyone tells me she’s supposed to move on.  She’s supposed to get a life and have a career and not be in her room on the second floor.  The room that was once decorated with lilac walls and flowery wall paper; dolls lying everywhere and shelves with Beanie Babies strewn upon them.  Book shelves with Disney covers and old Dr. Seuss stories she should have given her younger brother ages ago.  The bunk beds she shared with her sister, a tv on the dresser, her stark white Tae Kwon Doe gee and colored belts strewn in the corner along with her guitar lying lazily on its side.

All of that is gone, except for the guitar.  It’s now in my room, hidden behind her grad dress and boxes of old photographs.

I am reminded that I shouldn’t be lamenting my loss, but delighted in her gain.  I should be happy for her, that she is doing something she wants to do and is securing a future for herself.  Yeah, yeah.  Easier on the other side when kids are still home and tucked in bed at a reasonable hour and you still make the rules and the meals and discuss how unfair math homework is.

It’s supposed to be easier when they get older, isn’t it?  Not so, dear friends.  Not so.  There’s university, then jobs, then careers, then…gasp, WEDDINGS, BABIES, HOUSES IN NEW TOWNS, NEW PROVINCES?!  WHEN WILL IT END?!

Aye, there’s the rub.  It doesn’t.  It’s the never-ending cycle of having babies and watching them grow up and move on and become the people we always hoped they would be.

And when they DO do it, you’re surprised and proud and sad all at the same time.  Surprised that you actually pulled it off.  You managed to raise a human being that contributes to society, is intelligent (although when she was 3 and proceeded to on the toilet backwards because “my friend Lucas pees this way” you kinda wondered…) has common sense, the ability to laugh and that ever-biting sarcasm.  Proud because she fought her way through school and work and negative old men who doubted her abilities.  Sad because she is gone.  How did that happen?  Hubby and I look at each other, full of wonder.  Wasn’t she just turning 4 yesterday?!

Then the worry of did you teach her enough, did you make her tough enough to fight back, did you give confidence to believe in herself and not to listen to the nay-sayers?  Did you fill her enough with knowledge of that big bad world, compassion enough to listen to the unfortunate, and creative enough to solve the problems she will face?  Did you?

Beats the fuck out of me.

I guess time will tell.  At some point, I have to say we’ve done all we can do.  It’s now up to her.  It’s all in her hands, not ours.  If she succeeds, it’s all because she wanted it bad enough to work her ass off to get it.  If she doesn’t, it’s all because she chose not to; she chose to walk another path and it’s ultimately her choice to make.  Not ours.

In the meantime, I’ll wait.  I’ll continue to walk passed that empty room, dust the furniture every once in a while, fold some more clothes that I won’t ‘borrow’, knowing we’ve done our best.

Soar on, little bird.  Soar on…

Because She Said So

Two years before she died she told me that she was proud of me.  That, after reading a report I had done on a child I was seeing, she thought I was an intelligent independent woman and I would always be a little bit hers.  She said that. It was twenty eight years ago.  More than a lifetime and I still hold that near and dear to me.  I still carry it. I hold it in my hands as if it was a fragile rose ready to lose its petals.   I wasn’t hers in the blood relative sense, but hers in connection.  She had watched me grow.  Held me in her arms as I sobbed for my father.  Laughed when I couldn’t walk barefoot on the gravel at the cottage.  Washed my clothes. Washed my hair.  Let me swim in Lake Erie even if the water was freezing.  Took me for rides in her two seater convertible with the top down and the wind whipping my hair.  Let us search under the beds for the miserable cat we loved but didn’t love us back.   Christmas dinners, backyard barbeques, birthday cakes and an appreciation for evening games.  Cross border trips that included border guards looking in the backseat with me sandwiched between my dark haired, dark eyed brothers the European lady in the passenger seat and the black man driving.  The questioning look on the border guard’s face as he said “These kids yours?” We laughing hysterically as we drove on.  Fishing in Lake Erie and getting my line stuck in the rocks; halfway through a road trip to Toronto then realizing we didn’t have the tickets to a much anticipated game; a speeding ticket once we got there; singing Jesus Loves Me in the car, then me throwing up on the floor of the Ponderosa restaurant while we were in line; games of Sjoelbak (we pronounced it shoola), rummy, and my first introduction to poker.  My first drink (rye) during the move after my mom moved, my first job at her law office, my first grown up piece of jewelry, a watch when I graduated highschool.  Me picking ABC gum from underneath the tables at the Fiesta restaurant when I was five and everyone telling that story over, and over and over…..

A lifetime of memories from a woman who died too soon and she gave them all to us for nothing but by simply being a ‘little bit hers’.  And I am.  Because she said so.