Little Girl Writing


In beginning a memoir project, I decided to dig through my old journals just to get a feel for what fifteen year old me was thinking. Holy cow, I think I should have just closed it up and left it be. Teenaged angst, early views on relationships and the all-important she likes him-he likes someone else drama happening. I didn’t remember writing any of the events that transpired in those pages, but I remember the feelings. The awkwardness. The shyness. The melodramatic events of school dances and hockey games; movie nights and trips to the record store; history classes and failed math tests. How much I missed my Dad.  

I skipped ahead to my second year of college to compare. It seems I grew up a bit in that time. The theatrical expressions were lessened and I spoke more of the transition of becoming my own person from that of a little girl in a confusing world. I loved living in the city. I loved working with the kids in residential treatment. I loved feeling necessary, intelligent and valued. I grew in college. I grew from a little girl writing down her daily activities to a young woman experiencing a life independent of parent, familiarity and routine. My entries were less frequent as I moved through classes and newfound friendships; downtown escapades and girl retreats up to northern Ontario. As I read through my second year the absence of the mention of my brother’s death was surprising. Not a word about one of the most traumatic events of my young life was there.  

The glaringly obvious absence of such an event should not have been a surprise. I must have thought I had outgrown the use of a journal and had no need to write such drama down on pages. I must have been so overwhelmed with emotion, I couldn’t bring myself to record it at all. I wish I had. I wish I would have written every last detail of it. The shattering phone call. The train ride home. The days leading up to the funeral. The Thanksgiving dinner where we laughed until we cried. The devastation of watching my brother grow from an impulsive angry child to a more mature independent young man with his own apartment and a girlfriend, then having it all taken away in an instant. His life was moving forward in a more positive adult direction. We were all breathing sighs of relief. And then it changed.  

It could have been cathartic. I remember thinking as I walked away from those difficult days with my mother and my family and boarded the train back to school that I was returning a different person. I remember thinking I wasn’t the same after his death. I had changed somehow. I had grown.

I have been journal writing these past few months on a more regular basis. It may not be filled with all of the drama and angst of my teenaged years, but I find it soothing to write my thoughts on paper. It may not be cathartic nor reveal a secret hidden meaning of life, but it certainly gives me perspective on my life now and my life then. Perspectives on my changing world as my children grow from kids to adults, embarking on their own journeys and new discoveries; and how I continue to fit in to their ever-evolving lives. Apparently, my main reason for living right now is dinner prep and food organization.  

With all of life’s changes, it’s nice to take a look at where we were and where we strive to be. Maybe keeping a journal is another way of taking stock and reflecting on the journey. If you are a journal writer, take a look back occasionally to see where you were.  

You may be surprised at how far you’ve come.  

 

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The Unrelenting Echoes of Summer

The ‘hood battles are raging and the summer days are stretching onwards and upwards. No one is immune to the reaching fingertips of ire and impatience emanating from cranky neighbours who refuse to admit their age is getting the better of them. If one is to listen to them, the kids are running amok flailing wildly among heathens and hoodlums destined to dethrone the king of badness. Nothing good happens past nine- thirty peeps, and children left to pillage and plunder the village into the abyss of indifference and permissive dismissal are future adults destined for the Presidency of an American nation. Alas how are we to survive the madness?!Calm down, peeps.

The children are children playing in the backyards of responsible professional adults paying their taxes, abiding the laws of society and contributing to the well-being of community and ‘hood alike.

There is no crime here, only that of youth being restless and young on summer nights that have magically become windless and warm. The days where summer seems to last forever, where any kid of any age can dream of digging for buried treasure, swim in the depths of a backyard pool and savour the taste of s’mores and burnt marshmallows on a backyard campfire. Tents, giggles, sleeping bags, practical jokes, stolen garden gnomes (oh, my poor Norman where art thou?) all a big part of childhood and growing up in a safe environment surrounded by loving parents and committed neighbours to raising a generation of well-adjusted, educated, intelligent, compassionate and community minded young people.

That’s what my idea of a neighbourhood is.

Watching out for each other against the rallies of the occasional late-night thievery, lost dogs, wayward cats, and kids out past the boundaries of the park at the end of the street. Local spring clean-ups, bottle drives for hockey trips, Mummering Christmases, barbeques and the fence raising- shed building- deck erecting- construction that brings friends and neighbours together.

We connect to support each other in times of confusion and debt reduction, lost jobs, raised taxes, sky-high grocery bills and illness and heart attacks and even the death of someone’s parent or relative. It’s what they mean when a neighbourhood becomes a small village.

We become each other’s indirect relative.

A communal leaning post.

Friends. Allies. Fellow compatriots in a world where we embrace differences and stand up for the underdog. Where we denounce bullies, raise up kindness and understanding and assist at all costs.

It’s in the DNA of every Newfoundlander to have this innate sense of community; to feel responsible for each other because, hey, don’t I know yer father? At least, that’s what I was led to believe.

Let’s see more of that. Community. Fellowship. Understanding.

AND FUN.

Hey kids! Your loudness behooves me!

The kids running around playing spotlight after dark, the fires in the backyard pits, the barbeques, the late night dog walking, the chatting…

There is no room for fear of being loud or obnoxious. The sounds of laughter and squealing from children should be a sign of a healthy happy environment fraught with joy and the unending bounds of childhood activity.

It should be lauded as the epitome of strength of home and family; not sullied as unnecessary and appalling.

As the summer progresses, let the children play in the streets and wreak havoc in the backyards. Soon enough they will be grown and gone and our yards will echo with their lost squeals of fun-fueled delight from summers past. Youth is fleeting.

Let’s not wish it away.

 What?! I can’t hear you! Whispering sucks. 

 

 

The Fall

Sometimes I feel like the worst mother in the world. I don’t seem to ever have enough to give or I just don’t seem to give a damn. It’s brutal the feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that plague me. And that guilt! I think it’s a universal feeling. Mothers often question their ability to make logical decisions in the face of chaos and drama. Are we doing the right things? Are we making the right decisions? Is there enough wine in the world to get me through the next few years/decades/century?  My answer is probably not.  

Being a mom is hard.

Every time there seems to be a major catastrophe in one of my kids’ lives, I internalize it and blame myself for their struggles. If only I gave them this or if only I warned them about that or if only I was better at being a mom…it’s never ending.

Watching one of the offspring struggle with a life event is heart breaking and standing around waiting for him or her to come to his senses about it is even worse. I’m knee deep in that now and I can’t seem to get myself out; to convince myself it will all be fine in the end, it’s just a few more weeks and things will turn around. We’ll all laugh about it later.

Nobody is laughing right now.

I’m too busy stopping myself from giving in to my tendency to help; to come to the rescue; to bail him out.  

That’s not my job, but it sure feels like standing around waiting for her to grow up is taking way too long. And he sure doesn’t understand why I’m just standing here waiting and not putting out my hand to help.

I am helping. Just not her version of help.

I know what the issue is, but if I give in what would be the learning life lesson; the character building experience; the chance to grow from struggle?  

There wouldn’t be one.  

The child/adult needs this to happen. Consequences from actions. That’s how life works.

I just wish I didn’t have to be the eye witness to the fall and the struggle to climb back out.

But that’s my job.

I’m a mom, after all.

18th Birthday Story – Rock Star Edition 

Today is my son Kyle’s 18th birthday. A milestone in any young person’s life, I thought I would re-post this story in honour of him. AND, for purely motherly love and embarrassment, because nothing says HAPPY BIRTHDAY better than an awkward story about when you were 3years old.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KID!!!

To celebrate this momentous occasion, here is a special story about the first time my son learned to speak. It’s all very dramatic and tears at your heart strings so get out your tissues…okay, it’s actually an embarrassing tale of music and Walmart, but still. It was traumatic for one of us. Maybe two of us. The innocent lady who witnessed my child’s descent into the debauchery and the morally deficient world of rock music and was probably scarred for life and myself, who led him there.

Once upon a time, in a land called Grand Falls Winsor, lived a nice little family with a mother, a father two daughters and a young son. They all lived happily in their house playing and frolicking in the meadows. ( okay, there were technically no meadows in GFW. AND we don’t frolic as a rule. Only on very special occasions like Christmas, or when some of us are really drunk. No pointing any fingers, just sayin’. ) Anyway, the boy, who was three years old, had not begun to speak any language intelligible to any human life form. The mother, being very concerned, took said young boy to a Speech Pathologist. The Speech Pathologist was a young woman of very good bearing and simply stated “There is nothing wrong with the boy. He will speak when he’s ready. Go home and rest your head, lady” 

So, the despairing mother took her young boy home and after a lengthy car ride listening to the young son speak something akin to the Cantonese and Ancient Tibetan Mongloid tongue , wearily escorted young child into the house. It was during this phase in the young mother’s life that she began experimenting with music. Music she adored when she was young and single and had somehow lost in the day-to-day tedium of Barney and Caillou episodes (it should be noted here that Caillou was seen as an evil child full of whininess and annoying shit that led the mother to bouts of anxiety and desperate pleas of “LET’S ALL GO OUTSIDE AND GET SOME FRESH AIR BEFORE MA HEAD EXPLODES!” ) Yeah.

One day, while playing her music very loudly, she noticed her young son sitting very attentively. The daughters, heard the rendition of Bryan Adams’ “I Wanna Be Your Underwear” and asked repeatedly to hear the ‘underwear song’. Mother was happy to appease her young daughters as she found this tune particularly humorous, obliged…often. After the young daughters had ventured off to school, the mother took young son to Walmart for a bit of shopping in the afternoon. The son, being very sleepy and ready for his nap at that time, was readily dosing in the cart and humming a tune the mother recognized as Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself For Loving You”…Joan rocks. The mother, knowing the son was unable to speak, allowed the son to sing the song at will, while all the Walmart staff looked on adoringly saying how cute the little boy was singing to his mother. Yeah.

As the mother approached the checkout line, she noticed a woman behind her who seemed particularly taken with the young boy. She was smiling and cooing to the child as the mother flung her intended purchases on the conveyer belt. Knowing the young boy was securely occupied, the mother paid close attention to her groceries when suddenly she heard a most familiar sound. “I WANNA BE!” being sung behind her. She went swiftly over to her son. Could it be? Was that him? Had the spell of the Cantonese speak been broken and replaced with the x-rated lyrics of an old Bryan Adams song? The lady who had been occupying and smiling at the young boy thought the boy to be speaking to her. So, she replied “What do you want to be?” The mother, knowing the son was merely repeating the words to a raunchy song, attempted to intervene by pointing to a random balloon and distracting the boy. Alas, the boy could not be sidetracked. Again, he sang out “I WANNA BE!!“. Full of fear for the next line, the mother hurriedly began to throw her groceries onto the belt all the while, the nice lady said again, “What do you want to be?” and leaned closer to hear the boy. The young boy looked innocently up at the woman, his sparkling blue eyes dancing with joy as he sang, quite in tune I must say, “YOUR UNDERWEAR”.  

The lady, aghast and shocked by what she had just heard, recoiled in horror and glared at the young mother. Washed with embarrassment, and stifling a laugh, the mother simply retorted “Oh, it’s a song his father taught him” and pushed the cart out of the store, praising the child for his speech and promising to teach him more ‘appropriate’ songs. Like more Joan Jett, whose song son repeatedly sang henceforth as “I hate myself for lubbing you….” yeah. 

The son, now thirteen and three quarters has had a varied singing career. I have been called regarding his poor song choices including the popular titles “My Humps” by the Black ‘Eyed Peas, “I like Big Butts” and the infamous “Save a Horse Ride A Cowboy” which I am totally not responsible for. That last one was definitely Hubby’s country music influence. I did teach son how to do an awesome rendition of Blue Rodeo’s Bad Timing when he was four. I wish I had recorded it. 

Brought to you today in honour of son’s 18th birthday, and to all the women and men who care for their children everyday unconditionally, allow them to sing dirty rock songs to stranger and endure endless episodes of Caillou all in the name of love. 

Speaking and not singing. So proud!

When Life Was As Simple As a Peanut Butter Sandwich

There was no internet, or iphone or i-anything. We had jump ropes and played hide-and-seek. Lunches were packed in paper bags or plastic lunchpales. We had milk tickets and rarely drank pop. We played games outside like tag and dodgeball and tether ball. We went to the park and organized softball games or climbed the monkey bars. We played Red Rover in the space that belonged to the person who had the biggest back yard. We went swimming at Jaycee pool and walked a mile or more to get there. We rode our bikes, skinned out our knees (and in my case, my face), and threw a ball against a brick wall when we got bored. We climbed trees, made forts outside and chased butterflies. We went tobogganing in the winter, threw snowballs and built snowmen. We sucked on icicles (nature’s popsicles), chewed bubblegum until our jaws ached and dared somebody to eat a worm. We went fishing, threw rocks in the river and played truth or dare. We had sleepovers, went to drive-in movies and knocked on our friends’ doors to come outside. We ate dinner in under ten seconds, had summer jobs and after school ones, too. We walked or took the bus everywhere and hung out at the mall.
That is what childhood looked like.
Now it looks like this:
Talking is through a cell phone and it isn’t with your mouth, it’s with your fingers. Video games are played indoors. Jump ropes are for the ladies at the gym. Bike riding is for the people on TV or for people who don’t have cars and need to get to work. Organizing outdoor games is unheard of. What’s Red Rover? Climbing trees is illegal, I think. Balls are a part of a guy’s anatomy. Lunch is going to McDonald’s and coffee at Starbucks. A bagged lunch means you don’t have any money and it basically sucks to be you. Fishing is for dads on the weekend. Outside in the cold?! Maybe if there’s snowboarding or somebody has an ice rink in the backyard. Icicles are frozen acid rain. Snowmen are too heavy to build. Tobogganing means climbing back UP the hill. Ugh. Walking anywhere is dangerous. Throwing a snowball means you have aggressive tendencies and anger management issues and will require counselling. Truth or dare is played on the internet and is called Facebook. Hanging out at the mall still happens and the crew you hang with is the Bloods. Selling a ‘pip’ is not candy. After school jobs require a curriculum vitae and a multitude of references. A young person working through University or College gets a disparaging look from the instructor.
Generation gaps aside, there’s a big one here. We are to blame, but let’s not discount the kids just yet.
They work hard to get good grades, they work their part-time jobs in spite of adults barraging them with complaints and cynicism, they do their volunteer work, play team sports, take music lessons, and drive mom’s car to pick up the siblings at the after school tutoring program. They take out the garbage, do their own laundry, buy their books, pay for their gas, clean their rooms and feed the dog. They battle peer shit, try to side-step the drugs and the alcohol, tone down the drama on Facebook and keep their wits about them. They spend their money on i-tunes and at Starbucks, buy Christmas presents for their friends and remember birthdays. They know about the bullies and try to steer clear, defend their friends in the face of that mean kid in math and learn that as much as life sucks sometimes, they’ll always have that guy on Youtube to make them laugh. They love their parents and think they’re lame sometimes and they have no sense of humour at all. Home is a great place to hang out and eat everything in the fridge. Their bed is their refuge. They know a lot about fashion. They think they’re invincible.
So did we.
We are raising a totally different generation of beings. In spite of, or despite all the technological advances these kids are still producing ideas and generating a whole new set of problems…but maybe solutions too. Let’s not judge too harshly. Sure our childhoods were completely different, but so were the times we lived in.
They’re alright…
We three

Over the Fence

A wooden fence bordered the frayed sandy path that ran along the property lines in the backyards of the row of townhouses where I lived. Beyond our back fence, there lay a barbed wire fence, laden with greenery and big overhanging trees. From where I stood in my backyard in the burgeoning twilight, the greenery took on an ominous presence. They seemed beckoning to me; mocking our lack of yardage and lush vegetation. Teasing me with open handed limbs knowing I could not pass the rusted barbed wire placed on the top. I wanted so much to hop the fence and wander aimlessly in that backyard. To touch the overhanging tree branches, to feel the cold leaves of the green ferns, to walk barefoot in the cushion of the grass, luxurious and cool under my warm feet. I yearned to explore the secrets the big maple tree stood to protect, the dark spaces under its trunk a haven for hidden treasures and buried dreams. The rooftop of the house owning the backyard was a grey shingle that sloped on an angle to the yard as if leaning over it protectively, ensuring I was aware of its masterdom over the lawn I yearned to grasp and explore. It warned me of impending doom lest I fall to the temptation and crawl through the hole in the bottom of the thick chain link I knew was there. I had watched neighbouring kids bend and crawl, their t-shirts snagged from the jagged edge of the cut steel link then scurry atop that opulent grass, their feet barely touching as they went. I’m sure the owners had some idea as to the hole, but no one ever made any attempt to fix it. The fence served to keep us out, however, allowed the smaller few into the domain. I remained an admirer; a true patron of the green ferns lending their hands to mine across the dusty path.
I watched that backyard grow for eighteen years, its owners changing hands, the green ferns more lush with each passing year, until finally, I could only see the rooftop. The overgrowth finally enveloped the barbed wire fence, barring my vision of the green lawn I was confident was still there. The green lawn I still yearn to wander barefoot across.

chain link night
I dream of standing in my faraway backyard at twilight, looking out at those green ferns and the dark shadows hovering over the grass; that yard that harbored so much of my childhood and longing for greener surroundings.

The Double Dutch Tragedy of 1975

Falling, tripping and losing my balance has all led to my face kissing cement, parking barriers, random walls, rubber balls and softballs at some point in my life.  It’s not that I’m totally inept with the art of walking, it’s just that I’m too preoccupied with other variances occurring within my plane of vision to be particularly careful.

My experience with aptly titled ‘face plants’ started early on in my young life.  Ever the classic klutz, I managed to pull off some of the most infamous and awkward moments which invariably involved sports.  So, basically I suck at all sports.  Okay, and walking is tough, too.

To those of you who know me, my ineptitude for any and all sporting activities became glaringly obvious to you only after observing a phys ed class with me.  Or witnessing when I tried to play volleyball, or ever attempted to catch a basketball, or swing a bat, or throw a ball, or kick a soccer ball or stand on skates (both the roller kind…what?  I’m old enough…and ice)  Clearly, a painful experience for everyone.

My initial experience with falling causing any major bodily harm was probably a lot sooner than the one I am about to describe, however, since memories are only accessible to the human mind normally at or after the age of three,  I can only assume that the infamous Double Dutch Tragedy of 1975 was just one that I could remember out of a possible one hundred.

It was a hot summer day.  The sun was blazing down from a periwinkle sky and school had been out for a few weeks. The air was thick with humidity and the abundant energy of the pre-pubescent boys and girls anxious for fun, activity and the ring of the Dickie Dee truck. (those of you not familiar, Dickie Dee was most famous guy in the ‘hood bringing ice cream treats for every kid lucky enough to score a quarter)   The kids from my neighbourhood congregated in the parking lot where the cars were scant and enough room remained available for double dutch tournaments for the girls on one end and ball hockey games for the boys at the opposite end.  The townhouses we occupied were situated in a semi-circle, the parking at the centre, the houses facing the lot.  I somehow managed to participate in both these sports, albeit in the ill-fated ball hockey game as a bystander/participant/ball catcher-gone-horribly-awry, but that’s another story.

The skipping game of double dutch required skilled timing, lightening fast reflexes and athletic ability akin to an Olympic gymnast in order to pull off the tricks and jumps all the girls were doing. You can see how that drew me to this game.

The rope turners were usually either two girls who, sadly, were at the bottom of the pecking order and who were just tall enough to make sure the rope just skimmed the ground when it was turned, or jumpers who were out by missing a jump and forced to take a turn at the ropes.  A toddler old enough to stand and turn ropes would have made due, but for some reason the mothers refused to put them out in a parking lot with a bunch of over obsessed double dutch enthusiasts and pre-teen ball hockey boys.  Go figure.  The jumpers were usually the girls who were so consumed with getting all the tricks and quick jumpy moves just perfect, that they usually took most of the skipping time.  And then there were girls like me.  Oh, sure we could jump and maybe even do a one foot at a time jump, but as for turning or touching the ground whilst jumping, that was a near impossibility.  We were lucky we were given a chance to participate at all.

We had to watch out for the cranky rope turners.  These were girls who wanted to be the jumpers but were relegated to have their turn doing rope duty and none too pleased about it.  You didn’t want to risk taking a turn jumping in between the ropes of these girls.  The perpetual whipping from the one hundred mile an hour lines proved detrimental to anyone brave enough to step foot in between.  This is where the lightening fast reflexes came into play.  One had to be quick so as not to get one’s face whipped or feet pulled out from under by the cranky rope turners, who if they happened to catch one unsuspecting jumper, just smiled an evil sort of grin then dropped their ropes declaring it was their turn to jump.

We sorted out who was turning and who was jumping first by taking orders from the bossy ones, then assuming our rightful place at the turner position.  After an hour of turning, I wanted a chance to jump.  Since it was an exceptionally humid day, some of the jumpers were getting hot and tired, so they took the opportunity to cool down and let one of the lame younger turners take a jump.  Gleefully, I took my stance and waited for the girls to start turning.  The ropes whipped by my face, the breeze tickling my nose as I closed my eyes and launched into a perfect entrance.  I opened my eyes and was jumping.  I did it!  I survived the initial rope peeling and managed to get in between the wildly swinging lines.  I jumped and soared and was about to exit for the next jumper to have a turn when things went horribly wrong.  My foot became twisted in one of the ropes and instead of sailing elegantly out onto the side to watch the other jumper, I went crashing down onto the hard cement. I opened my eyes to hear the screams of the other girls coming to my rescue.  I attempted to get up, but felt an awful stinging in my knee.  I looked down at my raw red palms, then at the skin hanging from my knee as the blood trickled down and I began to cry.  As my face crumpled into shocked pain, I felt an awkward stinging from my chin and forehead.

That's what I would have been doing had my face not decided to go before my hands....

That’s what I would have been doing had my face not decided to go before my hands….

The girls saw the blood streaming from my face, my leg and my knee and immediately went into Florence Nightingale mode.  Somebody yelled for my mother, somebody else went knocking on some random neighbour’s door and one girl tried to soothe my pain by saying “Ewwww…you’re bleeding from your face!”  She’s now a Therapeutic Counselor for accident victims of double dutch tragedies.

I remember getting up, the blood streaming from my face and my knee and my mother running out to see what all the commotion was about.  One look at my bloodied and scraped face and the exclamation of “OH MY GOODNESS WHAT HAPPENED!”  sent all the girls running for the hills.  My mom snagged me from under the arm and I was taken inside.  A while later, after sponging off the stinging parts with warm washcloths then sending me into fits of throbbing pain with the hydrogen peroxide to ‘clean it out’  I managed to see my reflection. It wasn’t pretty.  I looked more like a monster from a horror movie than the freckled face jumper of a mere half an hour ago. The red patches of dried blood were quite the contrast to my usually pale face, and my chin was swollen and sore after the beating it took smacking the cement.  After the blood had dried, scabs formed in a line from my forehead, along the bridge of my nose and all down my chin.  My thigh and my knee were not great, either.  Essentially, I had flown from the inner sanctions of the whipping ropes and belly flopped directly onto the pavement that had been baked in one hundred degree heat.

 My older brothers were very helpful and supportive with their “Nice face” remarks and “Gee, that looks like it hurt. Are you sure you were just skipping?  It looks like you were attacked by a rabid dog”.  I kinda wish I was.  Older brothers are awesome, really.

 “Well, at least you don’t have to go to school looking like that”.

Thanks, Mom.

Sadly, there have been many more incidents involving possible head injuries, bruising and even stitches once…but no broken bones which is a miracle, really.  Maybe I’ll tell the Ball Hockey Incident next.  It’s a classic.