Two Days with Five Boys

 A self indulgent, terribly long, tongue-in-cheek post that waffles between the first and third person. Mainly to serve as a memory so that some day, far into the future, I can remember two days with five boys.

Remember when your kids were young and your childcare provider would give you a run down of their day when you picked them up?

This week I took five boys to the city for two days. Here’s my teenage boy version of that run down.  

Day One of Two

Leave at 9am. Stop at Superstore to let the boys spend $40 of my points on snacks for the weekend. They momentarily consider spending all the points on a large stuffed pink hedgehog to use as a mascot the entire weekend instead of food. Teenage stomachs overrule the brief sidebar and junk food it is. Surprisingly though some fruit and cheese are also part of the equation. Small wonders.

11:30 am we arrive at the Oval and rent skates. The boys request sizes that range from 5 to 13. Seriously. When else in life do you have friends that range so much in physicality? 

I learn that The Oval only carries one pair of size 13 skates. At all. Mental note to reserve them next time, and hope Matt doesn’t keep growing, otherwise we will have to rent a sledge to push him around with.

Put skates on and answer the question “do I have to wear a helmet?” Yes. Sorry. It’s the uncool part of the program, and I have big plans of bringing home all five of you with intact skulls.

Out they go onto freshly zambonied ice. (I know it’s not a word).

I immediately sigh with relief as I realize I’m not the only parent who hasn’t taken my child skating since Grade 5. I stand and watch as they look like a cross between drunk gazelles and baby deer. With the exception of hockey-player Daniel who glides effortlessly around the ice with his hands in his pockets like he is in a 1940s Black and White Film. I expect Audrey Hepburn to jump out of the bushes at any moment to skate hand and hand with him. He’s that smooth. 

Meanwhile some of my other flock have taken to utilizing the child-assist skating devices. I worry for a moment if they should be giving them to the small children, but quickly recognize that is a moot point – as the 8 year olds skate circles around my 13 and 14 year olds.

Time for Chris to return his skates and helmet. When asked what last name it was under he says Ann. My last name is not Ann. I have known Chris for 5 years. This will be the “bit” of the weekend.

Chris apologizes. Karrie-Ann threatens to take Chris’ fruit away if he keeps apologizing for things. Sweetest most respectful kid ever.

Leave the Oval. Justin trips over a stick and falls down. He lays in the ground a long time and looks to be injured. Crap. We are only 3 hours in to this weekend and we already have a man down. Damn it. Wait. Nope. He can’t catch his breath because he is laughing so hard. No harm no foul.

Load in the van. Give them choice of where to eat. Will drive them anywhere. They unanimously and excitedly request the food court at the Halifax Shopping Centre.

Huh?

Mental Note: Start taking kids out to places with more culture than food courts.

They proceed to spend two hours at the mall. This is new. The mall? Shopping? I guess they aren’t 10 anymore Dorothy.  

Watch as some girls watch the boys and the boys watch some girls.

Head to the hotel. We have only rented one suite for six of us. They will break some fire codes and “illegally” cram into the living room side of things to sleep on the floor, pull out sofa and “feel” like they have a room to themselves.

I ask three of them to come with me to check in, leaving two in the van. I have a flashback to when the kids were little and I would have never left them in a car by themselves. 

I wonder for a moment if someone might try to kidnap the 6’2″ children. 

Check in and go dump stuff in room. Try to discreetly go back downstairs and sneak remainder of “the children” through the side door.

Learning of the day: They are all too big and loud to try and sneak anywhere. Graceful and sleuthlike is not their forte.

Arrive in room. They hook up the XBOX to the TV. I never would have agreed to bringing a video game system on our mini vacay if it wasn’t for the pending storm knowing we could be stuck in the hotel room a good part of the day.

I learn later that night that there are screens and then there are screens. These games they play – they never stop talking and laughing. It’s very unlike screens when they are on their social media. 

Head to cineplex to beat the storm. Drop boys off. Go shopping. Worry the entire time if the storm will start early as I have four kids who are not my own with me. (The fact that I am literally less than five minutes to the hotel doesn’t seem to factor into reality for me).

Go to Boston pizza to pre-order pizza. BOGO on pizza. Score. We can eat supper for $10 each.

Return to find boys at the theatre arcade. Matt and Daniel are either incredibly skilled or incredibly lucky at an arcade game and receive an unusual amount of tickets to trade for bouncy balls. Which of course they must have. 

The dichotomy of this age is one of the things I love most. 

Young woman behind the counter becomes confused and somewhat defiant when the tall men-like creatures standing before her insist on acquiring all of said bouncy balls with their dozens of tickets.

Sadly Karrie-Ann (again Ann is not not her last name) must break up the conversation as she insists it’s time to go as a blizzard is forming quickly and we do not want to be stuck in the Cineplex with rude-bouncy-ball-lady for the entire weekend.

Eat the cheap pizza at hotel.

They go to the pool to swim. Return within 5 minutes. Too many little kids. (Be still my heart – they aren’t ‘the little kids’ anymore)

Return to pool after some serious gaming. Apparently have pool all to themselves later in the night.

Karrie-Ann chooses not to supervise them at pool – there is only five of them – letting them grow up and go. 

She instead spends the entire hour in room praying they don’t make stupid decisions to dive head first into the concrete bottom.

They return in one piece. Phew. Dodged that bullet.

Try to sleep.

12:35 am. Karrie-Ann quietly but meaningfully turns on her light and shuffles about her room hoping they can see the light from the crack under my door. She hears “shhhhhhh” and laughter. She makes a mental note in 10 minutes she will be less discreet and go yell at the boys that it’s time to settle down.

12:36 am. Karrie-Ann falls asleep. Who the hell knows what happens between 12:37 and 7:00 am. Bars and strip clubs perhaps.

Day Two of Two

Wake up and give thanks that a) it appears no boy wandered out of the hotel room never to return and b) we did NOT get kicked out of the hotel.

That’s how I’m defining success this weekend.

Inform boys next time there will be a morning curfew – no one out of bed until 8am. Matt and Chris agree. Particularly Matt who got elbowed by Daniel several times asking if he was up yet. No Daniel. He wasn’t up. Truth be told though it was Chris’ alarm and my early morning son and Jackson who started the sunrise fiasco.

Boys head down to eat breakfast and play a tournament of something on the gaming system. 

Karrie-Ann drinks two large cups of coffee. Without Baileys. Give myself pat on the back for not being inebriated around the children.

Somewhere around this time they call me on “a swear”. I called one of them a smart-ass. I love they think that qualifies as swearing. I love even more I never heard one disrespectful word from them all weekend toward me. Not one. And that’s the truth.  

Get ready to leave hotel for Get Air. 

Uh oh. Realization that a bomb exploded in the boys room. We may need a late check out just for them to clean it up. 

The sloth-like creatures do a reasonable job in an unreasonable amount of time. How the hell are they so fast on the court?

Arrive at Get Air. Everyone from Halifax and Dartmouth are there. No really. Everyone. People have quit their jobs to come here today. The line is nearly out the door.  

Finally get through. Boys go jump. I go sit and make small talk with other Moms I’ve never met before. Big mistake. I don’t have the energy for small talk. I should have went and sat in the van by myself. 

All five return after their one hour jumping session with no injuries and have apparently not jumped on nor injured any people shorter than them either. 

Once again – success.

Look for van in parking lot. We are all confused when it won’t unlock. Another mental note – pay better attention when renting a vehicle – memory consisting of “blue van” doesn’t cut it in the city.

Pile back into the correct van only to pile back out again after a vote calls for eating prior to leaving. 

Go eat. Sit away from them to give them space. I’m so tired my head feels heavy. Would it be conspicuous to lay my head down next to my quesadilla and take a little nap?

I realize what a long period of consecutive waking hours they have been together – usually they would have breaks in time when spending two days together. They have done very well. They are good kids and they make me proud – even though only one of them is mine – I’m so proud of them all.

Ok. All done. Time to go home.

The drives are always the best part. They chirp each other and make the stupidest jokes and try to one-up each other. They try and beat each other at some game I can’t pronounce. They fight over the back seats which is where they are most squished but still want to be.

There is one point as I’m dropping Daniel off to his house that I laugh so hard tears literally pour out of my eyes. I’m so so so tired. Why don’t I have a vehicle that drives itself?

Two days with five boys. 

Each of who unfold themselves from the van as I drop them off. Each of whom try and find their bags and pillows from the piled-high-Beverly-Hillbillies-Van. And each of whom holler a big and sincere “Thank You” as they drag themselves to their homes.  

Each of them exhausted, over tired and zombie like. They don’t exactly “look” like a great time was had. They are smelly from Get Air. Come to think of it I’m not sure I saw any toothbrushes out at the sink either. And certainly not a shower was had. Will their mothers ever let me take them anywhere again?

But even smelly and exhausted, I wouldn’t trade these two days or these five boys for the world. 

These are the moments.

Oh – and by the way – the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead. 

It’s an inside joke. Which isn’t so much a joke as a game. And which I wasn’t really on the inside of either.

But how thankful I was … to be on the outside of it looking in.

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.

I Love that My Kids Don’t have a House

It’s the second day of 2017 and I am listening to the all-too-familiar sound coming from the basement of six kids “just hanging out”. It’s a great way to start off the year of course, and I am ever thrilled to have them here.

Over the holidays Craig and I were chatting about how many Christmases we had spent here on the Bluff, and it’s hard to believe we are in year eleven now. Eleven years ago we built our home; and we built it as we try to do so many things, with thought and purpose.  

At the time the kids were ages five and three, and teenage-hood seemed a long way off. But I am a person who is forever looking into the future, and I knew I wanted a home that the kids would want to bring their friends to. A place they could keep busy, enjoy being at, and feel welcome.

And so it began. 

We finished the basement ‘just enough’. Not so much that we had to worry about breakables or spills on high end furniture – but enough that they had a large space all to themselves on a separate floor. Later came an air hockey table, video gaming consoles, basketball hoops, soccer nets, hockey nets, a treehouse, a pool, a fire pit, a hot tub, outdoor movies, a trampoline. All on three acres of land that has seen massive nerf wars, fort building, snowball fights and some ominous sledding.

Phew!

Finally it was complete.

Our own virtual den of bribery.  

(Insert evil cackle).

That was it. We were going to be “the house” all the kids would hang out at. I could feel it in my bones.

(Insert heavy dose of sarcasm and ironic humour). How little I knew!

But it worked.

Kind of.

Our home has seen countless kids, teenagers and families through our doors. I like to think they all feel comfortable here – not only because of the home we have created but because we all enjoy their presence here and we feel they enjoy ours. Everyone seems to want to come back.

Now certainly parts of this blog entry have been written very tongue in cheek. Ofcourse I wasn’t twisting my moustache every day sinisterly planning to be the only home my kids ever hung out at. But when your kids are young and growing up, “letting go” seems overwhelming, and there certainly was a small nugget of truth there in the sarcasm. 

Admit it. You know you used to talk about it. “We want our kids to hang here so we know where they are”. “We want to be the house on the block that all the kids come to”. I remember having this same conversation with atleast three of you over the years, haha, and I think it was true for many of us if we are honest.

And really … I mean come on. I certainly couldn’t have Megan and Mark hanging at their friends houses. There would be drugs and cigarettes and sex there. Not to mention the twenty-four hour parties, pornography and danger danger danger. Wouldn’t there? 

Ok – maybe that’s a little extreme. But even if the parents were nice and friendly, I still needed to be the main adult on the periphery of their social lives … didn’t I?

DIDN’T I???????

Well quelle surprise …

What I didn’t know wayyyyyy back then was how brilliantly and deftly they would choose the people they wanted in their lives. How incredible their friends are, and how ofcourse those boys and girls didn’t magically come from a stork, but from amazing families and homes – homes I want my children to be a part of. 

So it turns out there isn’t just one house I want my kids to be at. Not even mine. My kids are better for not having “a” house . They are better for it not being ours and they are better for it not being someone else’s. 

Each of them seemingly rotate with beautiful frequency. They have shared spaghetti eating and NYE memories at the Cederberg’s, hot chocolate parties at the dePutters, Tuesdays suppers at the Crouse’s, Board Game fun at the Richards, movie magic at the other Richards, etc etc etc. The list and the families go on and on and on.

The point is, how could I have known, when they were five and three, so tiny and vulnerable, that I wouldn’t want our house to be the house … but instead for it to be one of many houses … filled with warm welcoming families that make my kiddos lives so much richer for being there?  

Just as I hope our home and family does for their friends.  

So here’s to 2017, and the rotating door of teenagers – both in my home and yours and yours and yours – how lucky we are to have so many houses.

Why I Still Write that Obnoxious Christmas Letter

I remember about six years ago I was sitting around a table with some colleagues in our lunch room near  Christmas time. We were talking and laughing and sharing, and one of the women mentioned her disdain for a certain trend that some of her friends and acquaintances regularly took part in: The writing, printing and subsequently sharing of the not-so-original Christmas Letter. She revealed her exasperation of this trend while others nodded, chimed in, and whole heartedly concurred. The practice of summing up you and your family’s life into one too-perfect, very-fake, succinct little 8 1/2 by 11 page. How smug these people were, with their narcissistic bragging about their perfect children, their fairytale accounts of their lives.  

And so there it was. On the inside of 10 minutes, a concise yet firm degradation of the somewhat infamous Christmas Letter.

I wanted to crawl under the table.

No really. It was one of those moments I wish the floor could have swallowed me whole.

Because “I” was one of those narcissistic women who penned those Christmas Letters every single year. Only mine weren’t one page long. Mine were three entire pages. Often in the smallest font size that I felt was plausible for reading, just so I could fit more of my bragging onto the page.  

Yes I wanted to disappear that day. Because I was one of those women.

Oh wait.

I still am.

Yes. You heard me. I still am one of those self centred authors of said Christmas letter. The only difference between then and now, is that I no longer want to crawl in a hole over this little tradition of mine – but instead whisper thank you for my consistent decision to participate in it without fail each year.

I started in 1999. We were living in New Brunswick at the time. Our children were yet to be born and it was mine and Craig’s second year of marriage. We had just come back from three weeks in Europe. It was before the existence of any social media, and before stamps cost a small fortune. That first letter was less than a page long, and I safely, and with pride, tucked it inside each Christmas card I sent. 

As the years have come and gone I have written a Christmas Letter (I began calling them “newsletters”) for each one. As the children came, and as they grew, so did the length of my letters. They developed a feel and style all their own. I took great care in choosing what paper I would use. I had different “sections” that changed over the years. In a world of immediacy and conciseness, I took the time each year to be thoughtful about what I typed.  

I adored these letters. I adored writing them and I adored sharing them. It was before the time of blogging and memes and they gave me a chance to write. They gave me a chance not only to share our year, but to do so in a creative, heartfelt and funny way.

But then, a few years back, enter Social Media. I was consciously delayed to the game of social media, but actively embraced it probably five years back. Now that I was on this platform called Facebook, what was there possibly left to share in the form of an old fashioned Christmas Letter, on actual printed paper? For a moment, a brief moment, I considered stopping.  

And then something, or rather someone(s) hit me over the head, and I realized something that is so clear to me now, it’s a wonder I didn’t connect the dots before.

These Christmas letters I write aren’t for everyone else. Not really.  

Instead they are for four people. The four people who matter most to me. Megan, Mark, Craig, and yes, even me.

A few years ago, as I was wondering what the point of them was anymore, and as I was feeling a little narcissistic about writing them, I turned around and I saw my daughter pick one up from the past year. She finished reading it, and asked me when I was going to finish the one for the current year. And it was then it hit me.

These three pages I type each year are a summary of our entire lives together. They are our history. They are carefully chosen words by me, her mother, in my own voice, detailing the highs (and yes sometimes even the lows) of our 365 days together as a family.  

And it was then I really “saw” it. Every year her and Mark wait to read the Christmas Letter. None of it is new information them – but they can’t wait to read it. They read how proud I am of them. They read what an amazing life we have together. They read about their accomplishments – and mine and Craig’s too. And I realized – my heavens – what a gift these are to them now and in the years to come. Their mothers own words about our lives together. Written with love and humour and pride. 

Our story. 

Maybe not in a book. Maybe not in APA format. Maybe a little too predictable in layout, and certainly not winning any writers guild awards.  But there it lies- our story – each year on the coffee table. Waiting for them. And they will have those forever.

This year (as the above photograph indicates) I caught Megan reading every single one. As she went back over the years I caught her laughing (and crying) and saying more than once “I didn’t know that.”

So yes. I do still write Christmas Letters. And yes, they can be narcissistic and a little ‘polished around the edges’ with a set of rose-coloured glasses sometimes. But every word is real. Every word is our lived experience as a family, a reflection of who we were, and tried to be, over the past years. And while none of it may be “news” anymore, it matters not. Because I’ve realized they weren’t really “news” letters to begin with. They are our history. And this year I am whispering thank you for every single one of them.

There’s a Big Difference


Dear Megan and Mark,

I love YOU so I will always happily do things for you.

But please know … I don’t always LOVE doing things for you.

Read it again. There’s a big difference.



Love, 
Mom



Last week I was driving Mark and Megan to school. Later that day they had soccer practice, piano lessons times two, a party, and a dentist appointment thrown in for good measure.

In the front seat I was going over the seemingly complicated agenda of the day. Who was picking up who from where, at what time and what they needed to have ready.

It was one of those days where there were four activities, only two of them and small windows to transition between each.

There are days when I feel overwhelmed by this, and days I feel energized and grateful. I’m lucky that most times it is the latter. I’m extremely conscious of how blessed we are to be doing all of this and how each and every activity is a choice made by us. No one forced these on us. It is what we want to do and what we choose to do. 

And although of course there are days accompanied with a big sigh and rolled eyes, because I’m human, this day wasn’t one of them.

So as we were going through the logistics of the day, Mark says to me, “And Mom you get a chance to read your book.”

Wait a minute. Excuse me. What?????? WHAT??!!!!??

Because it’s the way he says it. It is just so non-chalant.

He wasn’t being sarcastic or rude. He GENUINELY thought this was something I would love to do. 

Some “me” time. 

A little “gift” I would be receiving in the middle of the day.

A chance to read a chapter from my book while sitting in the drivers seat on a rainy day cramped behind the steering wheel waiting for him before rushing to the next thing.

It was a HUGE wake up moment for me.

And it dawned on me. He really and truly thought that I was having a blissful time as I waited in that car for him.  

Oh boy. Maybe I’m doing a little too good of job being positive in life. 

Because kid, let me tell you, given the choice, you will ALWAYS come first in my life. I love you. BUT don’t kid yourself that sitting in this car, or driving you places, or having to be somewhere at a certain time, or sitting through a band concert of newbie tuba players, is where I find my deep personal joy. I can list 82 places I do find that joy – but these aren’t any of them.

Watching you play a soccer game, or listening to you at a recital, or watching you in a theatre performance. THESE things all bring me IMMENSE joy. But all the thousand things in between that – to enable those moments to happen – well, just be aware that there in fact is a difference.

So while I love you and am happy to do things for you BECAUSE of that love – I am also a vibrant, passionate, multifaceted human being who has numerous things I’d rather be doing if you weren’t involved in this little scenario this rainy Monday evening.

So as long as we have that straight – which bears repeating:

I love YOU so I will always happily do things for you. 

But please know … I don’t always LOVE doing things for you.

As long as we are clear on that, and the difference that lies there, onward we go. 
We have a lot to do and a short time to do it. Because you are loved. So very much. 

Let’s hit the road. 

There’s a Pole in a Town

I live in a tiny hamlet in the countryside, and I drive to work every day to a town only ten minutes away. It’s the town I am so blessed to work in, play in and have my children go to school in.

My drive to work is one of the best parts of my day. I get the privilege of driving past some incredibly beautiful sites that fill me up as I start my morning.

Apple orchards and vineyards. Eagles soaring. Donkeys grazing. Little local cafés and Mom & Pop shops with chalkboard signs out front. Patios filled with happy people. 

And, of course, a pole.

Yes. You heard me. 

One very specific cement pole.

It’s not the pole itself per se, but more what it’s a canvas for.

On it, about four feet up from the ground, are six brightly coloured strips of tape, each one placed above the next. Purple. Blue. Green. Yellow. Orange. Red.

That’s it.

Tape on a pole.

And I love everything about it.

It is clear.

It is simple.  

It is so utterly perfect in that simplicity.

Aesthetically it is bright and bold and beautiful, on dreary days and on the sunny ones.

There were no policies involved in this tape.

There were no bylaws or hoops to jump through.

It is nothing that is scheduled to go up – or to come down. No calendar is involved for a certain day, month or week. You don’t post it or remove it.

It is ever-present.

Nobody voted and nobody debated.

There was no ceremonial raising of anything.

It just … is.

And to me its presence seems to whisper something both subtly and yet somehow boldly at the same time. 

To me it seems to say “Welcome. This is who we are.”

It seems to say it even stronger than the perfectly landscaped official-town-designated welcome sign as you enter town limits.

This pole is at the start of the downtown core and to me THIS is where I see “the proof” of a community. It’s there it seems real.

I love driving and walking past that pole. It makes me proud to work in this community. To have my child go to school in this community. To have both my children play and be present with their friends here.  

It is – for me I guess – the simplest things – the quietest things – that sometimes speak the loudest.

So yes. There is a pole in a town. That is, I will say it again, utterly perfect in its simplicity and presence.

Celebrating … Well … Me.

This past Sunday I was standing at my kitchen counter washing dishes. Dishes actually aren’t a chore I particularly mind doing. I get to stand at my sink, which has a two large windows above it, and stare out at my panoramic view. There are worse things in the world.

The windows in my home happen to have wider than average windowsills, and atop many of them sit picture frames. A LOT of picture frames. Interior designers would cringe at my home – such as it is with photos perched, placed and hung in every direction. 

Yesterday I took particular note of the ones above my sink.

Two of them are from “Birthday-Eve” celebrations. And if you looked around my house you would find three more framed from different birthday years.

Each photograph is taken in a different location – a Vineyard, my favourite Mediterranean Restaurant, my Living Room, Blueberry Acres … etc etc.

And each one has something in common – I’m surrounded by girlfriends. Sometimes almost a dozen and sometimes as few as four.

To look at them you would think “What incredible friends she has – planning parties for her every year in different locations, doing different activities – wow – she is so lucky!”

And ofcourse you’d be right. About the incredible girlfriend part. Because I do and I am. Women friendships are among the most important things in my life, and I feel incredibly blessed to be surrounded by the many different groups of women I get to call friends.

But you would be wrong about one thing. You would be wrong that any of these soirées or outings or birthday celebrations of my own were planned by anyone other than little old un-modest me.

Yup.

Looking around at all of these “Karrie-Ann Birthday Eve Photos” I have to say – I planned them all.

I decided what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be with.

I sent the invitations, planned the food (and asked people to bring it), made people take photos, and generally asked them to come and celebrate me, myself and I.

Can you believe that???

The nerve!

The un-modesty!

The gall!

The narcissism!

The lack of humility and grace!

Well …. maybe.

But here’s what I really think. What I really believe. 

I deserve to be celebrated on the day I was born.

Yes. I said it.

And I deserve that day to be more than some “acronym-wish” posted on Social Media site because someone received a notification on their phone.

I deserve a little “hoop” and a little “la”.

Because you know what? If I don’t celebrate me … who will?

All of my girlfriends are amazing, generous, thoughtful women. But they are busy. They are raising children and managing careers and marriages and their own interests and pursuits. Just as I am.

We talk ad nauseum about time moving too fast and the importance of simplicity and spending time with those who matter. 

Well what better time for that than my birthday?

Why NOT celebrate that? Why NOT celebrate me?

Why wait for someone else to do it?

I remember once we were camping and one of our friends daughters was celebrating her birthday while we were there. 

I remember waking up that morning and going over to give her a giant hug and wish her a Happy Birthday. She was a little coy – not shy per se, but a little unsure about the fuss I was making.

I picked her up and stood her on top of the picnic table. I said to her this was HER day and she should shout from the rooftop (or the top of the picnic table as it were) that it was her Birthday and let the world know she was a force to be reckoned with.

So she stood there, spread her arms wide apart and hollered at the top of her lungs “It’s my birthday”!! And continued to laugh and giggle until she doubled over.

It was a joyful, uninhibited, innocent and beautiful moment. 

But as grown women we don’t jump on picnic tables. It’s not particularly socially acceptable I guess and maybe there’s just no time. Our lives are centred around everyone else. Centred around children or spouses or colleagues or parents.

Too often we are trudging through to-do lists and trying just to keep it all together.

So when I sit there on my Birthday Eve, surrounded by my girlfriends, for three or four hours – once a year – celebrating the day I was born into this world – I am not thinking how pathetic it was to organize this myself – or how socially unacceptable it was to do so.

Instead I’m always thinking how incredibly blessed I was to be born into this world “x” number of years ago. How lucky I am to share the day with people who mean so much to me. To be able to raise a glass with them and silently whisper thank you for this past year.

And quite frankly I deserve nothing less than that.

And so do you and you and you.

So stand on the picnic table, shout from the rooftop. 

Celebrate YOU. Take the time. Make the time. You deserve it.

You can bet on August 29th I’ll be “celebrating me” 😉.

Raised Up the Roof

I adore the band Blue Rodeo. They represent everything I love about music. They are real; they write about things that matter to me; and they have true chops. When you go see them live they sound exactly like they do in your living room on that CD you’ve played over and over. Needless to say I have been listening to them for decades. 

One of their songs, “It Could Happen to You” starts off with six lines, that from the moment I heard them, spoke to my heart. It was like they wrote those six lines about my parents, and about the house they consciously chose to make into their home. (And by process of a little DNA and a whole lot of love, my home as well).

This past February, without warning, that house, that home, was traumatically taken from them in a fire that engulfed nearly every corner of its two thousand square feet. Nothing was salvageable.

But my parents are very clear about what is important in life. They are beyond grateful that no one was hurt, and that no one was even home when the blaze began.

They understand how lucky they were and they feel very blessed to be unharmed and here on this earth with their family and friends.

At the same time however, in amongst the “You’re so lucky”s; “Thank God”s; and the “It could have been so much worse”s; there is still enormous loss and unspoken grief. A loss I think few of us, certainly perhaps almost none of us from my generation, and few from even their generation, can truly understand. 

Today in 2016, we buy a house or hire someone to build one. We certainly do none of the manual labour ourselves and there are dozens of people behind the scenes who make the purchase, or the build, all easily come together so we can walk in to a pre existing house – and boom – call it a home. Although there is an argument to be made that we work hard for the money that buys that house, we do precious little physical work.

Those of us who do put some sweat into our abode, usually do so in an aesthetic, supplemental way. Finishing a basement here, building a closet there, laying down our own flooring, or slopping a coat of paint or two on the walls. Doing “small renovations” ourselves sometimes, but really in the grand scheme of things, not much actual physical work ever goes into the house we call home.

Instead we hand over some money, and purchase a nice little pre-packaged, matchy-matchy house that does a pretty good job of keeping up with some family called the Jones’.

Not my parents. They did nothing BUT physical work. And make no mistake they didn’t ‘renovate’ a house. They ‘rebuilt’ a house. They ‘created’ a home.

When my parents moved to Nicholsville in 1972 they were far from wealthy. Heck, they were even far from middle class. But then when I think about it, everyone was “far from” I guess … so maybe the lines of “class” we’re blurrier back then. Or maybe just no one cared. 

So forty-three years ago they scraped together enough money to purchase an old farm house on Harmony Road. When I say old, I mean old. Not heritage, not well-maintained, not just a-little-dusty. Old. Although structurally sound, it was, for all intensive purposes, abandoned, and hadn’t been cared for in a very very long time.  

My mother’s family questioned her sanity but she would hear nothing of it. My parents had a vision. No money. Few resources. But they had a dream.

They lived in one room at a time working every second they had free to make the rest of the house liveable. In the walls that they tore down they found wooden knitting needles and butter prints. In old attics they found spinning wheels and wooden washboards. They uncovered fireplaces and bake ovens. They levelled, straightened, sawed, cut, hammered, tore down and built up.

They converted old kitchens into woodsheds. They moved doors and windows. Mom would literally pound nails out of old boards, so Dad could re-use those same nails in other parts of the house. They painted. The sewed curtains. They put in wood. They shingled. They poured cement. All by themselves. They worked side by side. Day and night. And when my brother and I came along they just kept working. 

There are endless stories of what they did to the house. What they did to make it liveable. What they did to make it a home. Every story they used to tell me was told with a pride that I now see comes from working hard – for yourself and for your family. For your dream.

And that dream came true for them – because they made it come true.

So when we (including me) try to put things in perspective after the fire, and think well-meaning things, like “it was just a house” … I don’t know if we can truly understand the enormity of what went into that house to make it a home. How they reclaimed it. I don’t know if we can put ourselves in their shoes, because they literally brought four walls back to life. And the fact is – no one does that anymore. No one really has to. The concept is somewhat foreign to us.  

But I do know – if I had to work for something that hard – if I put that much blood, sweat, tears and love into something – it would ‘matter’. Those four walls certainly wouldn’t be “everything”. But they would matter.

And while I do know in my head it was “just a house” – I think only my Mom and Dad may really know the truth – that maybe ‘that house’ was just a little bit more.

——

Here are the first six lines of that Blue Rodeo Song. To me, every single word always felt like it was written for them.

“They broke off the locks and they opened the doors. Pushed out the windows and painted the floors. Grew a little garden outside in the western sand.

Raised up the roof till it touched the sky. Picked up the pieces that were left to die. Brought this building back with healing hands.”

Hmmmmmmm …

Wow.

Raised up the Roof ‘Til it Touched the Sky.  

Yup. 

They sure as hell did.

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.

Beyond Safety. Some Not-So-Random-Thoughts for my Daughter on Social Media.

I’m so proud of you, kid. I see you managing all of this social media and digital world better than I ever could have at your age. Better than I do sometimes at my age! Keep it up. You are doing great! 

But because you got stuck sharing my DNA, I wanted to share a few not-so-random thoughts with you on the subject. Thoughts that go beyond the long safety-orientated talks you have suffered through the past years.

I know, I know. Just bear with me for five minutes. Here goes.

You are growing up in a world where you are being taught that ‘sharing everything’ makes your experiences better. It doesn’t. At least not how ‘sharing’ is now defined. What makes things better is being present in the moment. Not always sharing ‘each and every’ moment.

Having a connection with people has nothing to do with being connected. I know we have heard that many times before, but I don’t think we as a society are listening. I don’t think we are walking the talk. So I think it warrants saying again. The greatest connections you will find are when you are unplugged. Don’t let people convince you otherwise. I think this may be the hardest thing for your generation to realize. It’s even hard for my generation as we look around and we all have phones stuck to our hands. And when we do realize it … the difference between connecting and being connected … it is even harder to put that phone down and put that knowledge into action. 

Hiding behind a screen is easy. It’s easy in the middle of school when your friends haven’t arrived at your table yet and you are alone for those two minutes that can seem like two hours. It’s easy when you are in a place where you are uncomfortable. It’s easy when you are bored. And it’s ok to hide sometimes. It’s ok to use your screen to seem busy sometimes or to get through that awkward moment. It’s ok. SOME TIMES. But make those times few and far between kid. Choose those times. Choose them infrequently. Have the confidence in yourself to be alone sometimes. Learn to be alone. You happen to be great company!

The number of likes you have has nothing to do with your worth. That goes for when you have a lot or a little. The ego can be just as funny a thing as self esteem. Don’t let things go to your head either way. I know you know this. I just have to say it. 

I am so proud you don’t have a tonne more ‘followers’ than people you are following. This shows me you are kind and inclusive and don’t see yourself as better than others. It can be rare.

Take selfies. Post them. Have fun! But please don’t post them every day all the time. Don’t ever be that self important or self centred. 

Thank you for not asking for a phone or social media while you were still in single digits. Thank you even more for waiting until you were a teenager. It just made my life as a Mom much easier.

You know the people who make you laugh? Keep them. And I don’t mean the people who put smiley faces on your account. The people who you find yourself laughing outward with. In real life. In real time. Keep THEM.

Always opt for quality over quantity. Your world is not set up for this anymore. But remember that this social media platform isn’t always the real world. One real true friend outweighs the 200 on your social media account. I know that’s sometimes hard to remember. But I know it to be true from personal experience.

You know how everyone uses the acronym ‘ilysm’? You know the little hearts and ‘baes’ and I love yous that float around every day on your Instagram and Snapchat? That’s great! You have so many wonderful friends. And as a Mom I’d rather see these acronyms than insults any day. But when you step back, please know and remember that real love is much rarer than that. Even between friends. Deep down you know the friends who really care for you. Real love is felt … not typed.

Go look up the words friend and like and hangout and chat and share in the dictionary. The old fashioned Webster Dictionary. These terms are being used in a different context now. They really are. Find out where their roots come from.

Take some pictures you don’t post. Take some for the memories you will want to cherish later. Not for the showing off aspect of today. 

Once you hit the send button it’s gone. Learn to type, then pause and count to ten first when you are feeling emotional about something before sending it.

Thank you for not fighting our family’s screen boundaries too much. Thank you for bringing your phone downstairs every night so it is not the first thing you reach for in the morning. Thank you for keeping the door open when you Facetime with a boy. Thank you for paying half of your own phone bill and never complaining about it. I know rules like these aren’t always the norm with your friends and I know it does affect you. I know it’s not always easy being a part of our family and our beliefs that accompany that. I do know that, and I appreciate your respect of that more than you know.

‘Be bigger than the fear of missing out’. Ok. I stole that one. But it’s important. It’s one that I’m still working on even at 43 years old in this social media world. Don’t worry about missing out on things because you aren’t on line 24/7. Be bigger than that feeling. Be stronger. 

Turn off the screen. Close your eyes. Be still. Use your mind and imagination independent of the online world sometimes.

Be thankful for what this digital world offers you. It offers a lot of opportunity and potential for growth. Especially for a bright kid like you. Use it. Explore. Discover. Have fun. 

Everything you type or post is public domain. Forever. Period. I know we’ve talked ad nausium about that one but it warrants a reminder. 

Keep reading real books with real pages. I love that you still do this. Never stop. I love that you adore your Kobo too, but the feel of a real book in your hand – the way it opens the first time you hesitate to crease its spine – the way a bookmark lays in it – there is an appreciation there for the written word that you can’t replace on a screen. I sense you feel this too. Don’t ever lose that feeling.

Thank you thank you thank you for not having two separate social media accounts for everything. One for your ‘friends’ and another for your ‘real’ friends. I think this is awful and elitist and mean and I am proud you are not that kid. I know you are probably shocked I even know about this practice and you would probably defend them and their reasoning … but you drew the short straw in the ‘Mom with strong opinions’ department. Sorry kid.

And finally, above all, very simply, just ‘check in’ with yourself every once in a while. You are a wise, thoughtful knowledgeable kid. You know if your life is balanced in a real way. You know in your heart what is real, what matters, and what is just distraction. Listen to yourself. And then have the courage to put away the white noise for a little while until you can feel balanced again.  

So that’s it kid. Thanks for listening to your old Mom.

I do happen to think you rock … in every aspect of this teenage thing! You are already living so much of this and the balance you choose to have in every part of your life makes me burst with pride. 

I also recognize you have so much more insight into this online world than I do. But you know me …. I just can’t help sharing an opinion or two with my favourite girl.

xoxo Ilysm … 😘 😍😀😛Bahahahaha!!

Mom