Tag Archives: Memories

And Then It Happens

We were sitting in the waiting room of the IWK Heart Centre when it happened.

I was looking around the room with a head full of thoughts. The play toys all seemed so small now. The chairs next to them so tiny. I remember how Mark and I would sit together in them and play countless games while we waited over the years.

We are sitting together today too. But there’s nothing little about him anymore. I steal a glance at him to my right ~ he sits taller than me ~ engrossed in his Michael Crichton book.

And then it happens.

A faint noise outside in the hall.

A honk?

I see Mark lift his head.

Wait. No. Not a honk.

A squeak. A rubber chicken squeak.

And then I can see it in Marks eyes ~ a sense memory that lives somewhere between his brain and his heart. From long ago.

That sound is more than familiar to us.

Mark discreetly but purposefully looks over his shoulder through the glass wall out into the hallway.

He slowly looks back to me and smiles.

“Buddington?”

“Buddington.”

We sit there for maybe one whole minute and we don’t say a word. I know without a doubt we are both thinking the same thing.

“What do we do in this situation?”

Mark is probably thinking “I desperately want to go see this person who was the most consistent part of my time here at this hospital. But I’m 15, and I don’t want to make a big deal and I’m not really a patient like I used to be.”

Meanwhile I am thinking “I can hear him playing with a young child.He is in the middle of something very important. And these kiddos deserve every moment with him. We had our time. Now it’s their turn. Plus we have an Echo to get done.”

This is what we are individually thinking in that 60 seconds.

That’s the key word. Thinking. This is what our brains are telling us.

But our hearts, well, they are much more straight forward. Our hearts simply want us to run out the door into the hallway and catch him before he is gone and yell (with no grace or humility) “We are here! Come see us! Play with us! Talk with us!”

But we don’t.

Ofcourse we don’t.

Instead I smile weakly at Mark and say “We should respect his time. We can try and drop in another time when he has a moment for us”.

Mark agrees and nods, and goes back to his book.

But I swear his ears are at 180% listening power trying to hear that familiar voice and laughter.

I know mine are.

And wait a second. Is that sound getting closer? It is. We both look at each other again and then before we have a chance to voice anything the door to the Heart Centre opens, and in comes a small boy, his mother, and a clown.

The Heart Centre waiting room is quite small with chairs lined along the walls facing inward to the centre. I am sitting immediately to the right of the door and Mark is next to me. I almost have to shift in my seat so the three of them don’t bump into me when it opens.

The Mom heads to the reception area and Buddington and the little boy sit smack dab in the middle of the floor – facing in our direction.

Mark and I can’t stop smiling.

Ear to ear smiling. We must look like idiots.

But we don’t say a word.

This clown who we have come to care so much for is working. It may not initially look like that to an outsider, but he is. His attention is focused on his work – on who is in front of him. He is fully engaged on the floor with the young boy. And its not our place to interrupt that, as much as we want to.

A minute goes by and we sit and watch.

I feel as if I’m in a dream watching this man, this clown, play with this boy – who I know isn’t my child – but it so mirrors the time we spent here. It mirrors my memories from long ago. It’s the most surreal feeling.

So I’m sitting here filled with nostalgia and gratitude trying not to cry, while Mark, well Mark quite clearly wants only one thing – to leap out of his chair and talk endlessly to him about his life now as a teenager.

And so we sit.

Silent. Thinking. Wondering if he would even recognize Mark now that he is a young man.

Smiling our stupid grins.

And then it happens.

The radiologist comes out to the waiting room and loudly and distinctly says two words.

“Mark Wilkie”

And at that moment, not taking our eyes off Buddington, we see his head raise up from the floor and meet our gaze.

The recognition in what he has heard is instantaneous and the look in his eyes match exactly the look in my son’s face: a mutual, genuine and deep affection that time hasn’t changed.

Mark unfolds his 5 foot 8 frame from the chair, walks over to him, and what happens in the next thirty seconds before we go into our appointment can’t be put onto paper or into words.

It will remain one of my most vivid and personal memories ~ that short interaction between them in that Heart Centre waiting room as they, together, process the years that have passed and the years they have shared.

You see, Buddington started working at the IWK only three months before Marks diagnosis. That was 12 and a half years ago.

We don’t remember the IWK without him.

And maybe ~ just maybe ~ in a way, he almost doesn’t remember it without us either.

What is this Feeling?

It’s the first few moments of morning. Those moments where your eyes are still closed, your body is perfectly still and you are just becoming aware of your surroundings.

Simultaneously I experience three senses at once. Touch, sound and smell.

That normally isn’t so when I wake up in the morning, but it is when I’m here.

I feel the breeze on my skin coming through the open window right next to my bed. I always sleep with the window open here.

In the same moment I hear the waves. God do I love waking up to the waves literally outside my window.

And then there’s the smell. The salt air that fills your senses when you wake up only a hundred yards from the beach.

My eyes aren’t even open. My body hasn’t even moved an inch. I’m in that state of mind between awake and asleep. But I know exactly where I am.

I am camping.

As I roll over (quietly so Ginger won’t hear me) I’m aware of my kiddos sleeping in the bunk beds at the back of the trailer.

 
The four of us have been doing this for so long together ~ for seventeen years to be exact ~ and for all the things that we do … the travel and the sports games and the music concerts and the board games and card games … it’s been this that has in so many ways defined who we are as a family.

So here I am. Waking up once again in our trailer like so many mornings. I’m waking up and I’m trying to identify this feeling. It’s so easy to say it’s happiness. And I am. Happy that is. But it’s something more. We over use that word, happy. So I close my eyes again, breathe in that air, exhale slowly, and it’s then I realize without a doubt what the feeling is. It’s contentment.

I’m never more content then when I am camping.

It doesn’t matter where we are – at our beloved Rissers Beach, or Keji. Fundy or The Islands. Thomas Radall or Murray Beach. 

It’s where we take hundreds of walks on the beach together, hike and bike endless trails, laugh over campfires, egg each other on over washer toss tournaments and bocci ball, play intense games of crib and queens. It’s where the smell of campfires become the most beloved smell in the world and where dusk can’t come quick enough for all of us to gather around one every night.

It’s where my kids learned to ride their bikes and then took off on afternoon adventures to lakes and brooks and playgrounds, coming back with their friends having had contests of who could get the muddiest on the trails.

It’s where parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren all enjoy each other’s company equally. It’s where the four of us sit in our camp chairs, put our feet up and are completely silent … each reading our own books … where not a word is spoken sometimes but my heart swells because we are all engrossed in our own novels – but outside and together.

It’s where the best games of football and kite flying have happened. Where catching a wave on the boogie boards was the most important thing for a few summers and searching for sandollars becomes a sport.

It’s where we huddle, in our camper in the rain – a time that is my favourite – listening to that incomparable sound on the trailer roof and playing Skip Bo and drinking hot chocolate together.

 
And as always, Craig is beside me.

The two of us have been doing this together for 25 years now.

  
We started in a two man tent. Packing all we needed in the trunk of his little red Acura or my Z24. Cooking over the open fire, waking up to dampness and sleeping on air mattresses that deflate. And good heavens don’t touch the side of that tent!!

We then graduated to a four man tent. (Oh the life!) And then Megan arrived and along came the used tent trailer, then the used hybrid (man we loved that one. That lasted us 10 years). And then another hybrid and finally this Ultralight which now has a real bed for Craig and I.

Sounds like fun doesn’t it? Haha. Tents and trailers with no fridges and beds that fold up. Well you know what? It was. It was amazing. Our family has been doing this since Megan was seven months old. We consciously chose to raise campers. And I know that sounds funny – but we did. Somewhere along the way we consciously chose to raise our children to be campers. (Or maybe actually it was unconsciously because it’s so much a part of who we are).

Either way it doesn’t matter. Because now it just is. For all of us. And here we are so many years later. Still camping. All together.

So yes – as I roll over – I always know exactly where I am and what I’m feeling. And I know I will open my eyes and see my husband lying beside me. And soon we will get up and he will make me percolated coffee in my favourite stainless steel camping mug. We will go outside and take Ginger for a quick walk and sit together in our favourite chairs listening to the waves and watching them roll in over the sand. And soon the kids will get up and we will have another morning and another afternoon and another evening here together in whatever campground we happen to be in at the time.

And the memories – while we are here in this campground – the memories, well they will somehow, so clearly and effortlessly, simply make themselves.
  

Our Passion and Priority

I’m writing this on the Marine Atlantic Ferry from Newfoundland to Cape Breton, having just spent an eighteen day vacation with my family.

Soon I will return home and I will post an album (or two or three) on Facebook sharing our adventures. These photographs will be incredible memories of our time together – they will be filled with breathtaking scenery, smiling faces and new adventures. They will be many and they will be irreplaceable. Our family’s history, I often say, will not be written – it will be viewed.

But these photographs will not depict any of the “reasons” I purposefully choose to travel with my family as much as I do.  

In fact I can’t think of one of these photographs, from any of our 17 trips (wow!) that will show you why Craig and I work so hard to put travel near the top of our family’s priority list.

The following is a list of 15 reasons we are so dedicated to travelling both near and far with these human beings we happen to share some chromosomes with:

(1) So they can feel what it’s like to be a minority – even if it’s just for the shortest of moments.

Whether it’s a visible minority, a language minority, a cultural minority, or other examples, they each have had opportunities to experience both – if not for long periods of time, at least in situations in which they would not have had the chance to experience at home.

(2) For them to learn and practice compassion and confidence.

I remember being in Montreal when a gentleman with a probable mental health illness approached Mark and started talking to him. Often when we travel they are also learning how to confidently and compassionately interact with everyone in life.

(3) To understand how blessed they are.

Whether it’s travelling the villages in Cuba or the outskirts of Los Angeles, they have seen, walked through, and learned how lucky they are. No lectures or words needed.

(4) To learn new skills and foster strategic thinking.

While in New York City, after a few days, we made them each find our way back to our hotel by themselves – once with a map and once without, just learning how the city is laid out, learning to navigate, learning to think in a spatial manner. Learning to not rely on lazy digital fixes.

(5) To sit in the uncomfortable for awhile … and finally, maybe, become a little more comfortable there.

Period.

(6) To see, touch, and stand in history. 

They will learn so much from books as they go through school. But nothing can replace being there – digging for dinosaur fossils in Drumheller, standing where the Beothuk stood in Newfoundland, touring the many museums of the Smithsonian, sitting in the House of Commons while in session and watching the Prime Minister and opposition leaders debate. These experiences trump the written word for them.

(7) To make the world seem both small, and big, at the same time.

I want both for them. Equally. For the world to be grandiose but at the same time for them to feel its accessibility. 

(8) To experience wonder.  

“Wonder” is a funny thing. It’s not joy or happiness. It’s different for everyone, but you know it when you feel it. For me it’s that feeling when I stand at the peak of a mountain top and see the clouds below me. For my kids it will be something different. But chances are they have/or will come across it in their journeys.

(9) To build their relationship as siblings.

It’s difficult to describe the way in which they bond when they travel. The way they interact and count on each other when they’re together 24 hours a day, 18 days in a row, with no one else their age around. You would think they would fight. A lot. They don’t. It’s so much the opposite.  

(10) To spend true uninhibited time as a family.

There is nothing, NOTHING, for me, that compares to the conversations, experiences and laughter we share while on the road for an extended period of time. It is magical. It was part of the reason we upped the ante on the number of trips we make a priority to take.

(11) To laugh. 

The laughter that comes from their cottage bedroom. Because they always have to share a bedroom. The things they find hilarious. The things we all experience and then laugh for days about until they become “part of the trip”. That is the soundtrack to my life I love most.

(12) To create memories. New unforgettable memories.

Life is short. You are always guaranteed one thing when you choose to make travel a priority for your family – the memories will last forever.

(13) Trial runs for life.

Someday they will spread their wings and be off on their own. Hopefully these adventures will take them far and wide. Learning to read a subway map, or getting yourself from the airport doors through the logistical hoops until you board a plane, or managing the security at a sporting event in the largest arena in North America … all of these are trial runs for when they are doing these things on their own in the world.

(14) Nurturing passion.

There is a theory that ‘desire’ is goal orientated and controlled, while passion is wild at heart and free. Travel as a passion is a gift – one I want to nurture as their mother.

(15) To open their minds, and their hearts, just a little bit more.

Their lives can be so narrow as teenagers – the next soccer practice, the next performance, the next party, the next test. Travel shows them there is more in this life than the over scheduled days in a week. There is much more. And it can be never-ending. Near or far. As long as its a priority.

Sometimes I look at the money we spend on these adventures (as hard as we work to keep them reasonable) and I think – wow – we could have had the house paid off by now. Or that brand name wardrobe. Or that cottage. But no. Instead this is our family’s priority. And I’ve never regretted one moment of it. Nor do I think do they.

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.

Oh.

I know I’m supposed to be listening harder.

I know I am supposed to be concentrating more.

Look at her.

It will help if you look at her.

Concentrate.

I think this is important.

But my eyes wander. 

Just a little. Not too much. 

I wouldn’t want to appear like anything but a mother who is paying 120% attention.  

Because that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. That is who I’m supposed to be.

There are a lot of cupboards in this room.

They are grey.

Up high and down low.

Cupboards full of information I guess.

Information for me?

Ok. Look at her again.

Concentrate.

She is trying to help you.

Wait.

There are labels on these cupboards.

They are made from a label maker.

I had one of those when I was 12.

Mine was blue. I loved that thing. I put labels on nearly everything I owned.

Crisp white stick-on strips with black neat capital lettering.

Wait.

Why does it say Palliative Care?

Where am I?

Hold on.

Something is wrong.

These cupboards are mislabeled.

I’m in a Children’s Hospital.

These are mislabeled.

It’s the Children’s Hospital.

I am in the Children’s Hospital.

He is in the Children’s Hospital.

There has been a mistake. 

A mis-label. 

Oh.

Wait.

Oh.

I want to glance at it again. Maybe I misread.

But I have to concentrate on her and what she is saying.

And of course I know. 

I know I didn’t make a mistake.

Not then.

Not now.

I still see it.

So many years later.

The label-maker label. 

White Strip. Black letters.

Oh.

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.

Every Year I Forget

Every year I forget. I forget that this place has a tangible feel to it. I forget that that feeling begins at the curve in the road, about ten minutes from our destination, and that it grows from there … when I see Crescent, and then the general store and finally the sign. And even then I forget how tangible it really is until I step out of the truck and breathe in that air. That sometimes-foggy, often-cool, but always-salty sea air. Yes. I always forget. But at that moment, as I take a deep breath in, every single moment and memory seems to come rushing back to me all at once. And I remember.

I think we all have a place like this. A place that is not home, because home is of course unparalleled; but also because home brings with it laundry, and calendars, and dirty dishes, and broken porch steps, and to do lists, and responsibility.  

I think we all have a place where we breathe a little easier and become less burdened from the very moment we arrive. A place that seems to be waiting for us; and when we arrive seems to say ‘I’m so glad you are back. I’ve missed you.’

I’m lucky to have two such places. Today I’m spending the weekend at one of them.

This place has a memory to it. It has seen so many versions of myself, and they all come flooding back the moment I step on that white sand.

There’s North Rissers where Melinda and I thought we had the world by the tail as 12 year old girls, giggling and exploring while tenting with my parents. There were the beach days with Sean, my head-over-heels first love (could have that time been any more “beginning of Grease? Haha!) There’s my first girlfriend road trip in my 1980 Thunderbird with Julie, Tonya and Jennifer, setting up tents … thinking that summers would always be this easy and fun. There were summer cottages with my parents as I got older, where the door was always open; and as we came and went we always returned with seemingly half the beach on our flip flops and towels.

There was camping with Michelle and Dave in Site 28 during that time as young couples in our 20s when we only had to be responsible for ourselves. And of course there’s the place on the boardwalk where Craig pulled out the diamond I still wear on my left hand and proposed to me at sunset. 

And then came the kids, and this place became so much more. The memories of them toddling along the beach, making sandcastles until my knees hurt, grandparents around the campfire, the endless hunts for sandollars, the ice creams at the canteen and the countless friends they’ve brought with them in the trailer.  They are making their own memories now, and camping here each year has become as important to them as it has been for me. 

Yes, the minute I step on the beach all of it comes flooding back. And I realize how grateful I am to have such a place that holds so many of my memories year after year, consistently and gently. A place that wants nothing from me. No pressures or expectations. No appointments or commitments. A place I can get away to, where my head empties and my soul fills up. I’ve been coming here since I was a child, and it astounds me how I’ve never become complacent about its beauty, nor its ability to calm my senses.

Every year I forget. But then, in an instant, with that rush of air and sand on my feet, I remember. And silently with a barefooted step, I close my eyes and whisper my gratitude, for this place … this place that we always make time for, without fail, each year … this place that will forever be a part of me. 

Anticipation, Preparation and the Journey

I love to travel. This is by no means a staggering admission to anyone who has ever met me, nor is it surprising as we slowly accumulate a small library of places we have been as a family over the years. And while nothing can compare to the new moments and experiences that immersing ourselves in a new place can bring, I almost equally enjoy all of the preparation that goes into the planning of these excursions.

We are sometimes different in the fact that we never choose an all inclusive option for travel and never go through a travel agent, so planning our vacations can be a full time job, which I know can seem daunting and overwhelming to some. But I must say, it’s this part of journey that I really do relish. I think the real joy in life is appreciating every moment of it, even the commonplace ordinary things like preparation. So while I hope an upcoming 19 days on the road will be amazing, the 60 days prior to that have been pretty damn amazing themselves as we dream of what is to come. It’s like that saying “Life isn’t about the destination but the journey that gets us there”.

And when I say I love everything about preparing to travel, I do mean everything. The anticipation is always palpable in my house as we talk about the places we will see and the things we will do. We make our endless lists. They begin with the big picture things. Where will we go this year, how will we narrow it down, how long will we plan to be gone, what are the new experiences we can have there (because if we can’t come home with new life experiences, it’s not a place worth going for us). Then we wittle our way down to the specifics and the logistics. What needs to be packed, hotels we have booked, tickets we have purchased, and all the freebies we have found to do there (this is one of my favourite parts). Lists after lists accumulate. And they are no longer made just by me, my children are very well showing up their mother now with their organizational travel and planning skills. Lists on electronic devices, on loose leaf , on post its. They are everywhere.

And I love the really small things too. The seemingly mundane things about getting ready to go on a trip. I love picking out the right books and magazines to read. I do. I love this. Not too thick. There won’t be time to read all of that. Certainly not hardcover. Too heavy. Sigh …. I guess that Jim Henson biography I’m in the middle of will have to stay home. So it’s down to the basement I go. I take a look at bookshelves to see what’s there. It never disappoints. I pick up an Anne Tyler called “Back When We Were Grown Ups” that I bought at Value Village, many a moon ago. Who can resist that title? It’s perfect. Into my carry on it goes.

It’s become ritualistic really … this packing and preparing and anticipating travel. Pouring liquids into tiny bottles, gathering all the chargers, creating folders full of our tickets and plans, the kids getting their backpacks ready, filling them with all the important things they have come to rely on when on the road. I see their passion for it, I see them owning it, these little pieces that are all a part of the experience.

There’s even anticipation as we go to the grocery store and pick out the snacks we will take on the plane. It sounds so silly doesn’t it? But it’s these things that are all part of it for us. Which flavour sucker do they want so their ears will pop easier on the plane? What snacks won’t melt in their bags and have some good protein? Heaven knows we aren’t buying a meal on the plane. We may travel a lot, but we do it cheaply and on our terms, saving our money for experiences and not things.

My kids have come to count on these traditions. They have come to appreciate them. These small rituals. And so have I. I love that. It extends the joy. It makes us appreciate the small things. And all this work we put into it makes it so much sweeter on the other end.

Our dining room table is full of these lists and items to pack at the last minute. The two weeks before a trip we can never eat in there and are always relegated to the kitchen for suppers. The dining room has always been trip central, and stays that way until the day we leave.

And boy do I love the feel as the day of departure gets closer. It does have a feel. It’s indescribable but it’s there. And the morning we leave … because we always seem to leave in the dark of the morning (can’t be burning daylight, right Dad?) … the morning we leave almost feels sacred. As the four of us embark on new adventure. The excitement in my kids eyes is irreplaceable.

We have been fortunate enough to have taken 13 family trips together. Each one has a different feel … but they all have one thing in common … joy and anticipation.

Some would add up the money we have spent over the years and think what a waste that was … how we have nothing to “show” for it. But I would argue that the most important things in life can never be seen … you can never “show” the most important things. And when I die, I will never look back saying boy I wish I had bought that “xyz” instead of the truly countless adventures we have had as a family together on our travels.

Soon we will be on the road again. And I can’t wait. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But I also wouldn’t trade the months leading up to it and all the work that has gone into it. Some may see a dining room full of suitcases and a table full of papers and research. I don’t. It’s all part of the journey … all part of the joy … all part of who we are as a family and one of many common bonds that holds us together.

It’s something I whisper thank you for all the time.

There’s a Cupboard in My Kitchen

We built our dream home in 2006. When I say dream home though, please keep that in perspective. It is under 2000 square feet … it is no mansion. But it is very much “our” dream home … built in a beautiful, quiet, country setting in Nova Scotia with a stunning view out over the water.

We had waited so long to come home, had waited a long time to figure out the style of home that best suited who we were as a family, and we eagerly drew up the plans ourselves, ready to build a place we would call our forever home.

An absolute must was a large open concept kitchen. We are – by birth and by choice – Maritimers. And by that one small truth, you by default are required to have a large, warm and welcoming kitchen if it is within your possibility to do so. And we consciously planned for that.

We built a big island and tonnes of cupboard space, stained in a cinnamon colour I had them custom make for me. It is after all where Maritmers congregate. It is where we share drinks and food and laughter. It is where friends and family come and cook together and gather together. It is where secrets are told and burdens are shared and laughter rings out.

I knew all of this when I was designing it. I am proud of my strong roots and I knew … I hoped … that our kitchen would prove to be a place of countless parties, potlucks and dinners … with shared laughter and great memories. Eight years later all of this has come to pass. Every single moment. And there is nothing I don’t love about my kitchen. It is my favourite room in the house. Bar none.

What I didn’t know however, all those years ago, is that there would be a certain cupboard in my kitchen.

Now I’m blessed to have many beautiful doors in my kitchen, but this one is to the left of the fridge. I don’t remember if I chose it because it’s proximity to the fridge but I probably did.

This cupboard isn’t filled with spices or wine glasses or pottery. It’s not one of my corner cupboards that hold my entertaining dishes. It’s actually quite unassuming, but would come to be the most important and sometimes most often used space in my kitchen.

It’s my sons chemotherapy cupboard.

And I tell you … when I was planning our kitchen I never thought we’d have one of those!

But so it was.

As we moved into our new home and I unpacked boxes, I sat aside this cupboard for the three and a half years of medications and chemotherapy and paraphernalia we would gather over the years. As I unpacked China and silverware I also unpacked syringes and steroids and supplementary therapies. Side by side these things got put away.

So began our chemo cupboard for our son. There was Septra and ranitidine and methotrexate and 6MP. There were binders full of information and contact numbers galore. There were barf basins and Emla and piles of blood work. Thermometers and vitamins sat along with medication schedules and chemotherapy so poisonous I wasn’t allowed to touch it or even inhale it (meanwhile my son was expected to ingest it on a daily basis). Post it notes were stuck on the inside door and antibacterial wipes and purell abounded.

I would come to access this cupboard as much or more than any other one in my home.

And the thing is, is that I’m writing this in the past tense … which of course that part of our journey is over. But truth be told that cupboard … the one by the fridge … still hasn’t been emptied. It still stands there, waiting for me to take that step. I don’t know when that will be, but I know its time will come, like so many other things did from that time in our Iives. One can analyze that all one wants. But I have learned that things come at their own time and pace for everyone.

So yes. There is a cupboard in my house. One that most families have never had. One that we never thought we would need. But one that served us well, and that sits unassumingly in my favourite room of our home, with cinnamon colour doors and hematite colour knobs. A cupboard that will someday be emptied … when the time is right for me … and one that will hopefully never be used again.

A Broken Christmas

It’s the end of November and I’m unpacking my Christmas totes, asking myself how another year could have come and gone so quickly.  Wasn’t I just doing this? I’m pretty sure I was.  No really. I was standing in this same spot just yesterday.  Sigh.  What is it with time as we get older?

As the kids and I unwrap decorations from crumpled newspaper, Megan comes across a set of white ceramic angels.  As she unwraps them she laughs and says “Oh Mom – the angels got broken again this year.”  I look at her and smile.  Sure enough, once again the girl angel’s wings are hanging on by a thread and the end of the boys’ has come completely off.  She sets them down with care and I remind her how long we have had them, smiling.

It’s then that I look around at our Christmas decorations and realize how many of these things have been broken over the years.

There’s the Rudolph Snow Globe.  Mark loved this snow globe so much when he was younger.  It’s musical and plays – obviously – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  This was his favourite song, bar none when he was a little boy.  I remember when he was three I showed it to him for the first time.  He was enamoured by the falling snow and the song playing in the background.  He asked me if he could pick it up himself.  “Of course you can honey.  Just be careful.”

On the inside of two minutes it went crashing to the ground.  The glass shattered and water and fake snow were everywhere.  He cried and cried.  But I told him it didn’t matter. Rudolph still sang and was still intact. And we could watch the snow fall outside as it played.

I also unpack four ceramic letters that spell the word snow.  We have always put them in our hallway, and promptly each year our dog Ginger rushes to the door to greet a holiday guest, wags her very large tail, and knocks over one, or two, or on a good day even three of those letters.  And every year we glue them back together, and laugh at her enthusiasm.

And there’s the wine glass.  My best friend has always been one of my very favourite people to shop for. I adore seeking out a perfect gift for her.  Nine years ago when I moved away from her and came back to Nova Scotia I found this stunningly decorated Christmas wine glass. I bought one for her and one for me. I sent it to her with a note to open before Christmas, saying that I had bought the exact same one and we could think of each other doing Christmassy things while drinking out of the same glass and we wouldn’t seem so far away from each other.    Off went hers safely to be opened.  While mine fell off a kitchen window sill and broke its stem completely in half.  Sigh.  But I didn’t part with it – instead I put in a small glass container and use it as a candle holder.  It really is beautiful.

Then there’s the hand-painted mug we bought when the kids were born for Santa to drink his milk out of.  It matches a cookie plate.  I looked high and low for this set and adore it.  Sadly the mug got put in the dishwasher by a well meaning guest one year and now says “Mil or anta”.  We keep saying we are going to paint the other letters back on. It never happens.  But we laugh when we open it and put it in its place of honour in the kitchen none the less.

There’s also the broken red star on top of the green ceramic Christmas tree that sits in my living room. The one my Mom gave me 10 years ago, which is the same one I grew up with in my own home when I was younger. How I loved that tree when I was a kid. Putting the lights in it each year.  And how I love having it in my living room now with my own kids as they put lights in it – broken star and all.

And of course there’s the giraffe ornament that’s missing his legs because one of the kids little trees they keep in their room fell over; the Disney ornaments that came unglued; the eye that has fallen off a Christmas stuffed animal; and the VHS tape that went hurling down the stairs with our favourite Christmas movie on it.

And finally there’s those angels. Those white ceramic angels.  We’ve had those with us the longest.  Before the kids.  Even back before we got married, when we were living together.  They were the one thing that always followed us from back then. No matter where we moved – what house or three Provinces we were living in, those angels followed us around and made their appearance from dusty boxes each year.

I remember thinking they are “us”. Me and Craig.  They are leaning over getting ready to kiss each other. I remember when they were brand new and perfect and so white.  I remember when they got their first mark on them. It was black and wouldn’t come off. At first I was devastated but then I thought “they are like us … just a little worn”.

Then one of their wings broke, and I thought that’s okay. We are still together even though we don’t look like we used to.  And then another wing broke off.  And each year we would get the angels out and each year Craig would glue them back together.  And each year I would think how they resembled us more and more – a marriage of many years with its hard knocks and ups and downs.

How naive we were. Little did we know what hard knocks were back then.  The years went by and I remember one of those years Craig forgot to fix them. And although I could have done it myself I just didn’t have the energy to.  But then another year passed and back they got glued together.

I remember even one year her head fell off.  I’m laughing hysterically as I write this but it’s true. If you look at her closely you will see where her head was glued back on.  Honestly. This makes me belly laugh with such irony and somehow such joy!  We thought we knew what rough times were. We didn’t have a clue. But we do now. Do we ever.

I look at them now and once again they need repair. They need a little TLC and time and effort. But they always have.  And most of the time … not all of the time …. but most of the time, we make sure they are taken care of.  Maybe not like they should be – maybe not like if we took them to a repair shop – but in the best way we can, and could, during the times we were dealt.

So yes – it’s another year. And we will fix those angels up again and give them the care they need. Someday we may take the time to superglue them and put more care into what they look like and clean them up a bit more. But for now, we will to put them up on the shelf and be so thankful that they are still hanging out together, roughly in piece, to remind how far we have come.  To remind us of our perseverance, fortitude and love.

I am so thankful for all the parts of my broken Christmas.  Each one holds a strong memory and teaches the four of us that things don’t have to be perfect to be treasured.  I love that we don’t surround ourselves with pretty Christmas things that can’t be touched.  I love that we still put all of these broken things out, and in my less than perfect home they fit right in.  I think they are all my most prized Christmas possessions …  and I’ll stack my broken Christmas up against someone’s pristinely decorated perfect Christmas any day of the week.