Category Archives: I Wonder If You Know?

The Boy and the Girl Next Door

One year ago I stood and watched my childhood home burn to the ground.

It seems like a small thing now doesn’t it?

In the midst of world events. 

I guess. Maybe. But it wasn’t small to me, and it wasn’t small to my parents then either.

It’s the eternal cliche, but time really does help heal and fade so many tragedies.

But today I’m looking back and I’m remembering that day, and it’s hard to believe sometimes that 365 days have since passed.

I could write about a million feelings and stories that spring from that day, but the one memory I always come back to – from the day itself – is the moment I turned around. Once metaphorically and once literally, to see the boy, and the girl, next door.

I was in Liverpool in the middle of a meeting when I got a phone call from my brother telling me the news.

It’s strange news to comprehend really. You’re not sure what to feel. Immediately the only thing that matters is that everyone is safe. So that is your predominant emotion the entire day/week/month. Nothing else matters.

Except. Somehow. It does. Maybe?

Because throughout the entire hour and a half drive from Liverpool to Nicholsville other thoughts start creeping in. What are they? They seem familiar. But wait a minute. All I’m supposed to be feeling is grateful. Everyone is ok. 

But there they come again. Those thoughts. They well up in my chest and start falling out my eyes. And they are coming in the spits and spats. They are coming in between the “what will my parents do now?” question on my head. And they sneak through the logistical “what a nightmare insurance will be” questions. And also they dive right through the sense of loss I immediately feel for both of my parents and selfishly myself.  

These images and feelings and thoughts I can’t seem to name just won’t let go, even among the other 103 things whirling around my head right now. What is going on?? 

And then it hits me. Somewhere around driving through Morristown. 

Oh. I recognize them now. It’s the memories. They are pesky little memories. Particularly memories of my childhood.

And bam. All of a sudden the only thing in my head (wait, no, make that my heart) is the one mile stretch of pavement between the Palmer Road and Victoria Road and a black house that sits on a small hill. 

For the rest of the day that was all my world consisted of. Which funny enough is where the fire trucks blocked off all traffic from entering. That one mile stretch.

When you grow up in the country you have a lot of space around you. Which means that you don’t have as many neighbours as you would in town. But the neighbours you do have take on a different role. The people I grew up with were “in” my life in a way that is difficult to explain. I called their parents “Aunt” and “Uncle” even though there were no blood ties. There was a comfort there that went beyond neighboours or friendship.

But ofcourse life, and people, grow up and move on. I had long ago “moved away”. And these people on this stretch of road become fond memories but no longer really “present” in your life. 

Because that just kind of how life is.

But as my brother and I drove up to Victoria Road and hit that threshold – that one mile stretch – the waves of memories with these people came crashing back.

I drive this road all the time still to come visit my parents. Why were these flooding back so significantly now?

And then we pulled up to the house burning. And there were Mom and Dad. And I became 10 years old again. And suddenly I knew why I was feeling those memories so strongly.

Because my entire childhood was on that road, in that house. It sounds so simple, but is so true.

And so we stood there for quite a long time watching. The four of us. My Mom, Dad, brother and me.

And to anyone watching us that’s exactly what it looked like. Just the four of us.

But it wasn’t.

Not for me.

I was somehow also haunted by all of the people who touched my lives while I grew up in that house.

And as I stood there watching, all of a sudden there was a tap on my shoulder. And there she was. The girl next door. Dawne Boates. Who didn’t really live next door – but in fact a mile down the road, and whose last name is no longer Boates, but there she was, and for a moment nothing else mattered. I can’t imagine wanting to see anyone more.

She hugged me, and that hug seemed to last forever. I can’t ever explain to her what that hug meant – how much was in it.

And then she did EXACTLY what I needed. She gave us a bag of clothes (oh my god those clothes were better than gold – my feet were so cold) told us she was there for anything we needed. Hugged me again. And then she left. Left us to be alone and deal with our emotions and grief. It was one of the most respectful, most needed things that has ever happened to me. Her action in coming. Her hug. Her gift. Her respectful leaving.

In those moments I knew how much she was hurting for us – how much she wanted to help.

And the rest of the day came and went – in loss and uncertainty.

But it did so with a little gentle help from another someone else from beginning to end.

From the boy next door.

Because there he was, Tim Palmer, the entire day. Tim, who had built a home next door to his parents and across from mine. Tim, who may have spent as much of his childhood at my house as his own. There he was. The entire day doing exactly what we needed him to do. Walking that very fine line of being present but not in the forefront. Respecting our family’s time together, and never pushing. But instead ordering an entire feast for us from a local diner, giving us shelter to come and go, warming up his truck for us to sit in, lending us clothes, talking and listening, stepping up and stepping back. His presence and his actions, were everything to me.

And so there it was. Who knew that on this awful day when I morphed back into a 10 year old girl, that my two childhood friends would reappear in my life like magic? 

Ofcourse it makes perfect sense. Who could understand my loss more than these two who spent so much time in those walls with me?

The boy and the girl next door.  

There weren’t two people I wanted to see more.

And I will forever be whispering thank you for them.

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Someone Else

You were always my “Someone Else”.

Even though we never stayed in touch.

But we didn’t need to did we? We recognized ourselves in each other and didn’t need the expectations to be anything we weren’t or couldn’t be.

I creeped you on Facebook today. For the first time. Ever.

Ten years later.

That’s hard to believe isn’t it?

A part of me was scared of what I would find.

Or more accurately what I wouldn’t find.

But there she was. A head full of hair. A beautiful, growing teenager – with a smile to rival any.

Standing with awards and proud parents. 

My heart exploded!

I just went through old photos and there she is in so many. There you are.

Both of you nearly bald.

How has it been ten years?

Ten years since we met. Since I gave you that Pink Fuzzy Bird. Just like mine. 

Since we made each other go outside and breathe fresh air. Since we made each other leave their sides – for just an hour while they slept.

I remember when we finally left. Six weeks later. For good. We got to leave before you. A part of me ached for you even though I so much wanted to go. 

And then a part of me wanted to stay. Safe. Secure. Up on 6. The opposite of what most feel about that number. That floor.

I remember soon after I left – your letter to me. Her heart stopped from one of the drugs. I wasn’t there. How could of that happened when I wasn’t there? When I wasn’t there for you?

I remember when we came back with the liver disease. For a month. And then it was you who wasn’t there. My turn to feel the loneliness. My turn to walk in the darkness for real this time.

There are stories of people and friendships that were forged during these times – who still stay in touch and have become each other’s comrades for life. Side by side. Best friends in each others lives.

That isn’t our story. That isn’t what everyone always needs. We needed all the strength we could muster to be what we needed to be for them. There was little left to give.

How can a time with someone that was so fleeting be so significant?

I love that we never tried to be any more or any less than what we were to each other.

We didn’t need to be.

You were perfect. 

We were perfect. 

Exactly what I needed. At the time when I needed you most.

Still.

Always.

My Someone Else.

The Women in my Daughters Life … Who Aren’t Me

I received a text from my friend Amanda yesterday. She sends me various texts over the course of weeks, checking in for this or that, or just saying ‘Thinking of You’ (she is great at that). Yesterday she sent me one asking my daughter Megan to babysit. 

Amanda has two kiddos younger than mine, and a few years ago she was one of the first people to entrust their care to my own kiddo on the occasions her and Brian venture out into the world as adults.

As we worked out times and details, I thought about her presence in Megan’s life.

I think many things help build a child’s character over the course of their lives. One of them I have seen for my daughter, and one I never underestimate, is the faith and trust that others have placed in her to care for their own children over the last number of years. 

 
Megan’s knowledge that Amanda, along with Mary, Jenna, Sesaly and Karen all think of her in that way – as a responsible, intelligent, caring, young woman of whom they can trust, has helped to build a confidence in her as she has grown from a girl into a young woman. She prides herself on the job she does, she adores the kids she cares for, and I see how important it is to her that other women think of her in this way to call her on a regular basis.

These are but a few women who have come into my daughters life and played a role, perhaps unknowingly, in shaping who she is in the world. And this example of child care is but one instance where I see this happening.

There are also the women who actively build a relationship with her in a different way.

Women who in my own life I share wonderful rich friendships with, but who also have developed their own relationship with my daughter. It may be small and it may be infrequent, but it still exists all the same. I see examples and the results of it all the time.

It’s when Megan comes through the door in the middle of a party and races over to hug Sesaly or Dena. This doesn’t happen from circumstance – this happens because these women have gone out of their way to ‘see’ her, to take an interest in her life independent of their friendship with me. Megan feels that and she seeks them out. 

It’s when Kathy comes to visit from Ottawa and she carved out some special alone time with Megan, inquiring about her interests and activities, finding common ground and laughing and sharing stories. I see in Megan’s eyes the sense of respect and pride she feels with Kathy who takes a true interest in her life.

It’s when she is jogging over the road one day and feels an uncomfortable feeling that makes the hair stand up on the back of her neck – because a strange dog is following her – and she doesn’t hesitate to go to Amanda’s door to seek refuge – a place she feels safe, with a woman she is comfortable confiding in rather than being embarassed around.

It’s in the phone calls from both Amanda and Sesaly that came on June 30th. Phone calls where I pick up the phone and they ask for – gasp – Megan, not me – because they want to congratulate her on being named Valedictorian.

It’s Norah who never ever – not once – misses calling for her birthday. And it’s never enough to wish her a Happy Birthday, but she spends time talking with her about her day and her friends and her plans. It’s Norah who thinks far enough ahead to always have her gift here, on time, from a different Province, or who listens so intently to the small things Megan says that she remembers to ask about them months later.

And ofcourse it’s Nanny and Granny who are there for concerts and games and graduations, sitting in the audience as the ones who she sees as her family who she can always count on. Who play games together and surprise her with this or that. Who remember the big test she has. Who make a big deal of the little things. The things that truly matter.

These women in my daughters life – not girls – not people her own age – but women – who ‘see’ my daughter and who actively nurture and build a relationship with her are, without consciousness or purpose, creating a foundation for her. A foundation that has the potential to influence and grow over the years becoming something Megan can count on in years to come. 

So often we think of the people who influence our children’s lives as being teachers or coaches or others who are in obvious ‘helping’ professions, positions, or blood relatives. And while certainly that has rung true for Megan, I am filled with such gratitude for those women who are not paid, nor expected, nor in any ‘natural’ circumstance to influence her life. But instead these women who put themselves out there and ‘choose’ to be a part of her world – who each have their own different, personal, unique connections with my daughter. 

 
As a parent, it’s hard to realize you can’t be everything to your kids. There is a selfish part of me that wants to be. I’m embarrassed to admit that. I’m even more embarrassed to admit that sometimes I’m a wee bit jealous of these women and the relationship they have with Megan. They never have to be the heavy hand or the ‘Charlie Brown Teacher’ lecturing ‘woh woh woh woh woh’.

But my jealousy is quickly brushed aside, because I know that some day she will look for different perspectives and opinions … she will look for a friend and an ear … she will struggle with big and small problems … and although I hope more often than not she WILL turn to me, I am not naive enough to think there will not be times where ‘mom’ won’t be the first nor the most realistic choice. A time when she will need more ‘advice’ than friends her age can provide. A time she will seek out older women in her life she can trust and confide in.

I am beyond grateful that women in my life are building a foundation NOW that will help my daughter in the future. That these women want to – choose to – play that role in her life. A role that sometimes seems so small and random, but that I see helps build her character and sense of self in the world. Women who can be there for her in a way I can’t always be in the role of ‘Mom’.

I wonder if they know what a difference they are making in my daughters life, or the potential it will have to make a difference?  

I hope so.

I am so grateful for each and every one of them.

A Boy in a Cape

My friends husband posted on Facebook this morning “New Years Resolutions. What are yours?”

I don’t make New Years Resolutions. I don’t really remember if I ever have. Maybe I did once upon a time. Either way I know it’s been a long time since I have.

I do however have a ritual of writing something down each year of what I want to come true. It’s nothing within my control, but I still physically write it down every year. I have a pretty strong belief that the universe listens more intently if you are in fact purposeful AND active. And for me there is no way to be more purposeful and active than putting pen to paper. Yes. Actual pen. No typing this one. So I physically pick up a pen. Blue ink of course. And I write the same sentence every year in the same Family Journal. It’s not pretty or artful or eloquent. It’s just one sentence, randomly placed on any page. But it happens in January of each year.

So no. I do not make yearly resolutions. I guess you would say I make a wish.

But his question DID get me thinking. What have I wanted to be more purposeful about this year? For me that’s always been the question in life.

One of the things I have been thinking a long time about is how important it is to put our intent into action.

Too long I have had the following sentence rattling around my brain. “I Wonder if You Know?”

Each year, each season, each month, and I hazard to guess each day, we encounter people who make a difference in our lives. Sometimes it’s a really big life changing difference. More often than not its a small, seemingly inconsequential, difference. But even if it’s the latter, it’s those small differences that build us up. Build our confidence. Build our character. Help us become the people we were meant to be in the world.

But here is the thing.

I don’t think we always do a very good job at telling those people the difference they make. Sometimes it’s because we are busy and don’t take the time. Sometimes it because it seemed so small at the time, and then later on it seems too late. Whatever the reason, I want to be better at it. Because from the moment I started whispering thank you those many years ago, I learned that you need to give gratitude a voice. It doesn’t have to be loud or pompous or all encompassing. But it needs to have a voice. Even if it’s just a whisper.

So this year, 2016, I want to start being better at telling people in my world the difference they have made, or are making, in my life. I don’t like to set myself up, so I won’t commit to a certain number of posts a week or a month or even the year. But if you want to read a few feel-good-true stories, I’m going to create a category here in Whispering Thank You called “I Wonder if You Know?”

My first post is about something that happened a little over six years ago. But I didn’t realize what an impact it had on my son until about six months ago. It’s not an earth shattering story. It’s not extremely long. But it mattered to one of the most important people in my life, and I’ve been ‘meaning to’ share it … because I wonder if Meaghan H. knows what a difference she made?

I wonder if she knows that six years ago she had a pretty big impact on my son Mark’s life? I bet she doesn’t. Because until last March I had no idea she did either.

At the end of Marks three year chemotherapy regime we held a Celebration for him. A party to celebrate the end of a long arduous time.

We invited only our closest family and friends. That of course consisted of my Fab Five Girlfriends from NB and their kiddos. We moved to NS just before Mark was diagnosed, so even though four years had gone by between the move and the celebration, these were still some of the people in our life we depended on the most – regardless of what Province they lived in.

I insisted that no gifts were to be brought to the celebration, and my friends and family knew well enough not to mess with that request, and they respected it whole heartedly. They did however bring cards, some purchased and some home made. And one of my friends daughters, Meaghan, brought a drawing with her. It was a portrayal of Mark in a cape. The title of it was “Super Mark”.

It was done in colour pencil and had inspiring words like “Way to go Mark” at the bottom in bubbles. It was very well done I thought for a girl the age of twelve (which I believe is what age she would have been at the time). Very well done. But at the same time, and boy I hope she takes this the right way, she wasn’t going to be giving Picasso a run for his money. Haha! Maybe she is now at the age of 18, but at 12 it was very simply a wonderful gesture and I remember thinking about how much time she must of taken, thinking about Mark as she completed it … and how much that meant to me … even if Mark at age six wouldn’t necessarily make that correlation of time and effort put into such a drawing. It meant even more because of the age difference between them and the fact that although they had certainly been in each other’s lives the past six years, but they were not particularly close per se.

She had put the drawing in a frame. I don’t remember there being any grand gesture of giving it to him. She did not need to be the centre of any attention. It was, very simply, a generous act of love. Something she felt she could do for a young boy to make him feel strong and brave.

There were many moments during the course of that day that would touch my son. Some of them big. (He loved animals and we had the local Zoo give him the opportunity to name a baby animal). Some of them encompassing (we collected fun band aids for kids in the hospitals and we counted them all that day). Some of them small. (We all went on the water slide at the hotel afterward … he talked about that forever.). Meaghan’s beautiful gesture seemed like “just” one of many wonderful gestures that happened that day, mixed in among an emotional day, it seemed to be, within perspective, very simply, one of many.

It wasn’t.

Fast forward six years.

Mark is on the verge of becoming a teenager. 12 years old, nearing 13, and he wants his room re-done to reflect the growing, young, active, vibrant sports orientated/animal loving kid he is.

His room is well overdue for a reno. And so we go at it. New paint. New furniture. New curtains. As I take down spiderman and toddler items I am throughly embarrassed at how long it has taken us to take on this project.

Everything comes off the walls and off the bookshelves. We make four piles. (1) Garbage. (2) Give Away. (3) Put Away in the Attic’ as a Treasure. (4) Put Back Up in his Room.

As I take everything down I make him put it in one of the four piles. There are things here I don’t even remember seeing before. Where did he GET all this STUFF? We grab old books and trinkets and photos and he makes quick and sure decisions. He is already much better at this purging thing than his mother is!

I reach up on the bookshelf, the second shelf from the bottom, the one that is best at his eye view at his height, and I grab a framed drawing.

It’s a boy in a cape.

I pause for a moment and think of Meaghan and that day. She is 18 now. That was six years ago. Where does the time go?

I hand it to Mark hoping he chooses by himself to put it in the “Attic Treasure” pile and not the “Garbage” pile. He is, after all, a twelve year old boy, and as I hand it to him I wonder if he even really remembers where it came from or if it just became “something that never came down” from a time long ago.

I think to myself “if he does put it in the garbage pile I will salvage it to the attic and tell him all about it when he is older.”

But as I hand it to him my hope of him putting it in the Treasure pile is not realized. It’s his choice. Not mine. And the thing is, that’s ok.

It’s actually more than ok.

Because you know what that kid did? He looked at the drawing and without blinking or pausing said “that goes back in the same spot Mom. Right where it was.” And he handed it back to me.

And so I put it back on the shelf. “Right where it was”.

And that was that.

I look at that drawing through new eyes now. I look at it through Marks eyes. I look at it as he has ALWAYS looked at it but how I never KNEW he looked at it. As something that made him feel strong and brave and courageous. As something that mattered deeply to him. And as something that so obviously STILL matters deeply to him.

I look at it on his shelf. In his room. Still to this day. Put there with conscious decision on his part.

And I think of that young girl, who is now a woman, who drew that for him. And I wonder if she knows what an impact she had on his life, as my boy laid there in bed every night, seeing that drawing, and thinking that someone in the world, other than his family (who is of course is ‘supposed’ to tell him he is amazing) thought he was brave and courageous and a super hero for the battle he fought.

I wonder if she did know what a difference she made?

So often we don’t.

But I’m glad she does now.

Thank you Meaghan H. You kind of rock.