I Have a Name

Artist Jenny Solar

Sometimes I don’t know where to start a story. Do I start at the end, the beginning or the middle or somewhere else? My stories have so many different start and end points, that it’s hard to pick. So, I shall just start…somewhere…on this gloomy messy weather day in February.

Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of being given a tour of an apartment building offering an affordable housing community, for individuals looking to gain health, wellness and belonging. The tour was given by a tenant of one of the buildings giving us a first-hand account regarding the benefits of living there. Our tour included a common area where tenants may meet socially several times a week, a place where church services are held (attendance is not mandatory), an apartment and meeting rooms available for rent. Tenants live in the building that best suits their needs. A range of full and part time staff are on the premises to assist as needs arise. We heard the stories of three residents, where they had been, how they got there (some homeless) and where they were now.

Skipping forward two weeks and I am in a meeting at a harm reduction site. I heard stories about addicts, their struggles, their rejections, their homelessness. Common expressions were, “I am just a junkie” or “Don’t get too close to me, I am dirty, I haven’t showered”.  I could see pain written on the faces of professionals who live each and every hour of their working day along side their clients. The victory when a life is saved, when a person gets clean, gains housing or a regains small remnants of their dignity…

and the heartbreak when someone doesn’t.

I meditated on these events.

Inevitably my thoughts floated back to a story I once heard when I was in university. I was about fifty years old. It was a beautiful sunny day. One of those perfect egg shell blue days, not too cold, not too hot. Someone in our family needed the jeep that day, so I was dropped off a couple of hours before class, in a park. I planned to read and walk to school in time for class. The day was so beautiful I alternated between reading and soaking in the day. I sat on quite a comfortable park bench with my reading material on my lap and my book bag/purse on the bench beside me.

The Story of the Man.

I look over to my left and I see a largish dog frolicking in the fountain. It puts a smile on my face. I begin to read again. Seconds later, I hear and feel swooshing as the dog shakes dirty, muddy, gritty bits of water onto my legs and feet. The shaggy dog of the fountain has picked a spot right in front of me to ‘shake the water off’. A man comes running over apologizing profusely. I laugh and tell him that a bit of mud and water will easily brush off once it has a chance to dry off. I meet the gentleman’s eyes during our exchange. He politely asks me if he can sit down. I say of course. It is a public place and a public bench. We sit in companionable silence for a few moments and then he begins to tell me his story. He was a truck driver with a wife, kids and house. He had value in our culture. When his back gave out and he was no longer able to work, his entire life eroded until he had nothing left, except his addiction to alcohol and life on the streets. A few years before our meeting in the park, he had become a grandfather. He was so proud and so in love. He wanted a relationship with his granddaughter and so began his journey to reconcile with his family. By the time I met him he had managed to move into a small affordable apartment, had a working relationship with his family and was staying clean every other weekend so he could look after his granddaughter. He was dying of cancer when we spoke. He was still drinking when he didn’t have his granddaughter. He was incredibly proud of his accomplishment of staying sober on granddaughter weekends. His job, he told me, was panhandling. He took a bus every weekday morning to a particular corner in the city. He started and ended work at the same time each day. He described how people treated him. Some met his eye and wished him well as they donated, some flipped coin in his direction barely glancing at him and some turned their heads as they hurried by. Some men in business suits sat down on the sidewalk with him to pass the time for a bit, some walked past with looks of disdain. He became a pretty good judge of people as he worked, he told me. After a time, maybe half an hour or maybe a whole hour, he thanked me for listening, called his dog and walked off. I went off to class and he went back to work. These are the events as I recollect them.

I have never forgotten that day. I have never forgotten the gift this gentleman gave me when he told me his story. Several years ago, I read a book, ‘The Wisdom Jesus’ by Cynthia Bourgeault. Bourgeault spoke to the Biblical passage, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy”. She wrote, “Notice that there’s an exchange going on here: we give mercy and we receive mercy. And this is not coincidental, for the root of the word ‘mercy’ comes from the old Etruscan merc, which also give us ‘commerce’ and ‘merchant’. It’s all about exchange.” (Bourgeault, pg45) Mercy arrives in the form of affordable housing, or at harm reduction site or in a story heard at the park. Being merciful gives me the gift of touching that deep spot in my centre reminding me of my humanity and the humanity of those I come in contact with. These events link together in my mind reminding me humanity is what we have in common. Offering a place and space for acceptance and belonging whatever or wherever circumstances I find myself in. This is my mercy exchange. Maybe I will make a difference and maybe I will not. It doesn’t matter. I am most likely to find peace within myself when I am focused on acceptance and providing safe spaces.

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The Story of the White Elephant.

The story of the white elephant is not a long story, but it is an important story to me.

Last week Monday I visited one of my sisters. Her and husband moved into a brand-new house about a year ago, a condo. It was a pleasure to share with them stories connected to the personal possessions they had chosen to put into their home. They had moved a lot and this time they had also downsized. This place, this house, this home will be a place they will stay in…. until they cannot. They have taken great pleasure in creating a tasteful space that is pleasing to them. An old wooden telephone on the hallway wall (the guts have been replaced to produce a working telephone) with wedding pictures of both their parents beside it, and other pictures that have no particular value except for the memories they hold. Other items include, a little wooden chair, a very old couch they have had recovered twice and restuffed once.

As we were sitting having a cup of tea, I noticed three wooden elephants on a mantel above the fire place. I asked my sister about the significance of those elephants. In that living room, for the first time in my almost sixty years, I learned, my sister, collects elephants.

In many African cultures the elephant is revered as a symbol of strength and power. It is praised for its size, longevity, stamina, mental faculties, cooperative spirit, and loyalty. South Africa, uses elephant tusks in their coat of arms to represent wisdom, strength, moderation and eternity. (I did a little Google search) This is not why my sister collects elephants.

My sister started collecting elephants quite by accident. “Come with me.” She said, as she jumped up off the couch. My seventy something sister is not a slow mover, she really did jump up from the couch. Off to the TV room we go and with a big smile on her face, she points to a wooden cabinet hanging on the wall. She tugs at the handle of the glass panelled doors. They are being a bit stubborn today. She does not want to tug too hard because the three shelves of the cabinet are packed with elephants of all shapes and sizes.

As I look into the cabinet, I am surprised to see an elephant I recognize. It looks remarkably like an elephant I had dusted for years as a child. I see it and can immediately feel its smoothness and shape in my hands. There it was, that same elephant or facsimile of it, tucked away in the back of this three-shelf, display cabinet. I knew my sister was a collector of books and photo albums but I had never envisioned her collecting…. well…. anything else. I was intrigued. I could hardly wait to hear the story of how she became an elephant collector.

When she was a newly minted, little immigrant person, our family was very poor. Though we always had food, bills and debt hung heavy over our family. Our kind of poor translated into very few pretty things in the house. One pretty item was this white elephant. Our mom kept the elephant in the parlour where my sisters and brother did their homework. They were never to touch the elephant. This sister would rush through her homework just so she could go to the elephant and…. you guessed it, touch it. She has always felt a little guilty about it, but she couldn’t help herself. I get it. I have often touched things I should not have. Even though I had long ago stopped thinking about the elephant, I remembered it instantly, as soon as I saw it. My sister encouraged me to hold it. She moved the other elephants out of the way and took it out. I knew exactly how it would feel to the touch. It did feel exactly the same way I remembered it. Childhood memories came rushing back as I stood there. By the time I was responsible for dusting it, my mom had received other pretty things and was not as worried about us kids damaging the elephant. The elephant did not have the same significance for me as for my sister. Except…. the flood of memories. It placed me back in our home. I can see where the elephant sat. I see my mom in her chair, drinking tea out of her china cup in the living room, right beside the big picture window looking out onto the street. I see the couch one of my sisters bought for our mom from her part time job. I see the colour of the couch and the coffee table before it. I see the fake brick fire place with the fake fire. I see the dining room area which was connected to the living room, the cabinet where the good dishes were kept. I see the picture window at the back of the house and I see what there was to see outside. That space, that living room space is where we read, had conversations, family gatherings, arguments, where my mom sat if I was too late getting home, where my mom shouted at me, where I fought with my siblings, where we drank tea and coffee, where we watched television together, where we laughed until we cried. It was the safest of spaces. It was the safest of spaces because my mom told us in this space that even if she didn’t approve of our choices, we would always be her children and we would always be welcome in her home. It was a place of belonging. Holding the elephant brought all of this rushing back to me. As I write I feel grounded in my centre, my heart races and my breath is short. I think of my granddaughter as she explains to me how her heart “is pounding” when she first sees me on a visit. I feel the pounding too, an over abundance of emotion my body attempts to process. I learned from my granddaughter to acknowledge what is happening in my body. In my growing up era, we were to suppress and control our emotions. She is being taught to explain them. Kudo’s to her parents. When big emotions come in a great big rush, I am learning to let them wash over me, accept them and not push them down. I am older now and not as inclined to pretend I don’t have feelings.

It is strange to me to think that one of my mom’s pretty things was a white elephant. My mom got the elephant by saving coupons. Many Dutch people like to eat ‘beschuit’ (rusks) and our family was no exception. I still eat them with cheese, strawberries or chocolate sprinkles. When I was little, we ate them with white sugar and warm milk. We ate them soggy as a dessert. I liked them that way, though haven’t eaten them like that since I was a child. So…. in the fifties my family ate ‘beschuit’ and my mom collected the coupons. Her coupons gave her an elephant. Something pretty. Something to remember ‘The Netherlands’ with. Perhaps when she touched the elephant to clean it, she also thought about her extended family and childhood home.

As Alzheimer’s began to ravage my mom’s mind, downsizing began. First, she moved from her home to an apartment and later from her apartment to a nursing home. We also began to divide her pretty things among the nine of us. My mom had made a fairly extensive list as to who was to get what. She had put thought into it. I am not sure if the white elephant made the list or not. My sister knew that the only thing she really wanted, was ‘the white elephant’. The white elephant that brought her back to the front parlour and her memories. Her elephant collection had its seed planted long ago in a little girl’s heart who wished to touch something pretty, even though it was forbidden. As the years have gone by, she received gifts of elephants from her husband (two elephants that together form a heart), from her children and friends. We stand in front of her elephant cabinet and she takes a few out, holds them gently and tells a wee story about each one. She encourages me to touch them too, but I do not. I am content to have touched the white elephant and to hear her tell her stories about the others. I will not remember her stories. I will remember her voice, her movements as she reaches for another elephant and as she puts it back. I will remember my sister collects elephants.

This is the story of the white elephant.

Shitty First Drafts

In the after math of last weeks events, a bus accident where three people died and twenty-three were injured, a friends mom’s funeral I could not attend, a request for prayer for a former pastor’s wife who had fallen breaking her hip and pelvis, someone struggling with a room mate, a friend with a screwed up knee because of a skiing accident, friends searching for the right balance to support a refugee family, a friend who’s cleaning lady suffered a heart attack, families torn apart in the trail of parental deaths –  I sat staring into my morning coffee….gob smacked. None of this directly affecting me. All of it secondary.

These events were a small microcosm of where my thoughts were this Monday morning. They competed with my list of today’s to dos. A small microcosm of thought in a big pond of tough stuff people cope with every day. I sat at my kitchen table, at a standstill. I considered people and the multiple issues they deal with, struggle with, make decisions about, search emotionally to find ways to not drown – in the goop of life.

These issues flowing through my thoughts this morning seem trauma related. The word grief hung heavy in the kitchen air. The word trauma comes from the seventeenth century Greek word, literally meaning “wound”. As humans we are always close to trauma. At times we are directly affected. At times we are indirectly affected. Sometimes the trauma is done to us and sometimes we find ourselves in trauma’s wake.

By driver error, a patch of ice, blinding sun shining off the bus’s windshield or perhaps a combination of several conditions, on a seemingly regular, rush hour, traffic day, in my city, the lives of ninety bus passengers, their families and friends, first responders and those of us who read about it are changed. For those of us on the outside who read or hear about it, our lives will right themselves relatively quickly and we move on. For those directly involved the time-frame is longer.

There is grief.

For my friends who had two parents die eight days apart there is a lot grief to process. Barely standing after the first monsoon of grief hit them, they are swamped by grief monsoon number two.

There is grief.

Injuries from a ski accident sets the mind to wondering if the body will recover to its former self. There is a lot of pain when the knee is bent in a particular manner. What will an MRI show? How long will I wait? What will the treatment be?

There is grief.

Conflict with a roommate who does not engage in conversation to sort out the end of the relationship is anxiety inducing.

There is grief.

Sorting out balance in relationships is tricky. Balance becomes trickier when working with refugees that are culturally different and have faced trauma they cannot yet process. Time and patience are required sorting through relationships.

There is grief.

Sometimes the by-product of a death in the family leads to shattered relationships. What we thought a relationship was – isn’t.

There is grief.

We create stories in our minds to cope with what makes us sad, or a myriad of other emotions we try to make sense of. I create stories in my mind that include dialogue for both sides of the conversation. How silly is that. My life coach asked me to think long and hard about this practice. I have been working at fixing this pattern. I do not own the other person’s circumstance nor do I own their voice. It belongs to them. Author Brene` Brown in her book ‘Rising Strong’ notes that stories are our way through life (grief). Our own authentic story that is. I create stories. Some I blog about, some I write about and some stay in my mind. My stories form how I think and my reaction to circumstances and people. Anne Lamott in her book ‘Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life’, notes the importance of writing shitty first drafts. I have found this to be true as I construct my shitty first drafts. My thoughts in my head become clearer as I write them down and then rewrite them and rewrite them…. I am learning to force myself to be honest with my emotions as I construct my stories. It’s knotty, risky business.

Where does this leave me. Well, it is the beginning of a new year and though quite cold out, the sky is a perfect bird’s eye blue. It is a sky of hope. I need to find hope in the middle of grief.

What I know is this. Last years troubles follow me. Last years pleasures follow me too. It is a mix of the two I carry inside of myself. Grief and pleasure are interwoven in me like multi coloured strands in a skein of yarn. When I look at those multi coloured skeins of yarn I am amazed how the die in the yarn flows seamlessly from colour to colour to colour. *Though I have not developed the skill to make anything out of a skein of wool, I can appreciate the joy knitters and crocheters have as the yarn flows through their fingers creating hats, mitts, socks, blankets…. They imagine, dream and create something whole, out of yarn strands. It parallels the story. Sometimes there are some shitty first knitting or crocheting drafts they have start over with. The strands of grief and joy can also be woven together into something whole. Whenever I experience soul searching long dark nights of grief, I am excited to see pin holes of light. Those pin holes embody the hope that I have found a piece of wholeness or perhaps a piece of wholeness has found me. Each piece of wholeness is part of my story which I am finally figuring out how to write, it is my multi-coloured strand of yarn woven into an item I can wear with comfort.

*I wish I was a knitter or a crocheter alas I am not gifted in this area though I have family members who excel.

19 Books are too Many on a Night Stand

Reading is wrapped up into one of my favourite childhood memories. It is about peaceful times curled up somewhere, stretched out, lying down, sitting or lying on a picnic table reading a book. I read inside. I read outside. I read in bed. I read in a chair. I read in the bathroom. I read in the bathtub. I read waiting at an appointment. I read waiting for people. I read when I was supposed to be doing homework. I read when I eat. I read while I cleaned the house. I read walking up the stairs. I read walking down the stairs. I read billboards when we drive. I read subtitled movies. When I was a kid, I used to stand reading beside the light switch, so I could turn it off before my mom noticed the light shining from under the bedroom door. I even put clothing against the bottom of the door so she couldn’t see the light. One time my older brother crawled down the hallway so I couldn’t hear floor boards creaking and he pounded on my bedroom door, right where my head was leaning against it. He scared the crap out of me. I swear my heart pounded for days. It did not stop me from standing at the door reading though.

I read with absolute pleasure. I am smitten. I am besotted.

Reading feeds my soul, my spirit. It is soothing to read a book, surrounded by books. A real book. Not a kindle or tablet. I like to feel the paper in my hands, the weight of it, the texture of the pages.

As a child, I remember many Sunday afternoons spent sitting in the living room with my mom and siblings reading. We made tea for each other. If you listened closely you might here intermittent murmuring. A chuckle when something funny was shared. It was the face of peace.

I remember when I was first married, my husband closing my opened upside-down books. “Tiding up,” he said. “Looks messy.” Sacrilege. Upsetting the sacred tradition of my family. We were horrible pests to each other but….we did not touch each others books. One time my husband packed up the books sitting on my night table. “Nineteen books are too many on a night stand. No one reads that many books at once.” We had words as I promptly took them out of the box and placed them back on the night stand. Many years later, a dear friend helping me out with house cleaning also wanted to box my night stand books. Once again, I found myself explaining why having so many books on my night stand was important to me.  

Don’t crack the spine of a book. Don’t leave dog ears. Treat books with respect. These are lifelong habits. It pains me to throw books into the bin, even though books are prolific, badly written or badly damaged. I have a moment of regret, as if they are living things. Perhaps they are. Someone spent time fighting with the words to make them live on paper.

My parents and older siblings lit the reading fire in me. It is a love I share with my siblings. Though profoundly different from each other in many ways, a common love of reading threads it’s way through us. Common ground. Reading.

Reading opens up my imagination. It is my imagination station. It generates thought provoking ideas and possibility as nothing else does. Words on a page captivate me….most of the time. I almost always complete the books I start unless they are super boring and very long. I never read the ending until….well….until the end.

When I was a kid, I read kids books like ‘Good and Naughty Kittens’ (I still have that book), ‘The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad’ by Thorton W. Burgess, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. The first elementary school I attended was visited by a bookmobile. The bookmobile was the first time I was surrounded by books and could pick whatever I wanted to read. I was in love. In grade five we moved to a small city. Every three weeks we walked to the library where we were allowed to take out five books at a time. Each time, I took out five of the thickest books I could find. I carried those heavy books back to school and for the half hour walk home at the end of the day. The carrying was worth it. As I got older and still in elementary school, I took out books that were inappropriate for my age. Books filled with sexual encounters that fed my curious mind. Books I was not mature enough to read. My mother never caught on because the books did not have explicit pictures or writing on them as they do now. Neither my mom or teacher expected me to go for that type of reading. I still am a very curious person. It is better for me to have an explanation or to experience something myself instead of keeping it hidden from me. Hidden things eat at my spirit. When high school came around, I was reading Harlequin romances and historical romances fooling myself into believing that I was learning some history. I stopped reading romance novels for two reasons. One, I always felt yucky afterwards because my suburban life did not measure up to the excitement of the count falling in love with the maid. Second, because someone pointed out to me, that they were a woman’s porn. I felt dirty.

I did lots of light reading when I had kids and was to busy to think. I also didn’t know much about a good read. My younger brother recommended some classic Canadian authors to me that went beyond Tom Sawyer and Robin Crusoe but I did not take him up on it, until much later. My life circumstances made it difficult to tap into my natural curiosity; take a leap of faith; read something different. During that time, I was also immersed in Christian literature that did not challenge my thinking. I was reading material that was oatmeal to my soul.

And then…

I went to university in my late forties. I read constantly. Most of my classes had huge reading requirements. Text book reading. One hundred and fifty pages a week of intense material per class. Difficult material. I was working on a degree in conflict studies. I read about incredible atrocities from all over the world and also in Canada. I read theology. This reading was a can opener to my mind. The lid came off. I discovered I could read just about anything….not technical books though, like how to fix things. Not instructions on how to strip chairs. I leave that reading and comprehension to my family and friends. Thank goodness they are competent in those areas. If I am honest, I am uninterested in those topics and therefore don’t put in the effort.

I rarely read one book at a time. I usually have two or three on the go. If one is just too much or a little too boring, but I really want to know how it ends…I just pick up the next one and go back to it later. Having a stash on my night stand feeds this habit of mine.

I immerse myself in whatever it is I am reading. I become part of the story. I laugh. I cry. I empathize. I stop hearing what goes on around me. I can become irritable if I am interrupted. This has been true all my life. I am a person of extremes. I have trouble putting the brakes on stuff once I get started on it. Reading is no different. I remember nights where I read the whole night, got up went to work, or got up and looked after my kids all day. Once in my teens I babysat until three in the morning, reading non-stop once the kids went to bed. At some point in time I lost my sight for a little while. That was freaky. The Enneagram calls this extreme thing I do a lack of temperance. It rings true. It’s as if I believe I will never read again. I rarely overread any more. These days I read in bed for half an hour before I sleep. I read for longer stretches of time when I am on vacation. Vacations are rare so long stretches of reading are too. Sometimes I go to my friend’s cottage. I read on her deck and on the dock. It is wonderful.

I am pickier about what I read these days. I look for books with depth, layers. I am not sure if it’s because I am in the last third of my life and do not want to waste my time reading fluff. If my life were to slow down, I would read more, I would write more. I would not think more because I think my brain would explode if I did.

I reflect on reading. It is part of my inheritance from my parents and siblings. Many things in life come and go but while I am of sound mind I cannot unknow how to read.

My kids love to read. It is their inheritance from me, my parents and their aunts and uncles.

One sure thing.

Us readers are never bored.

Good Relationship Season Shows up Whenever We Are Together

Christmas is a bright spot in a cold, grey, mixed bag, of weather for me. A favourite season.

“Christmas is my favourite season too.” My sister said a few weeks ago. “It’s better with kids though,” she said. I said maybe… sometimes Christmas is about missed expectations, angst, loss, loneliness and accentuated broken relationships.

On December 9th, 2018, Christmas tree cutting day, our season began; an afternoon of joy and laughter. My husband cut the tree down to just the right size so the angel could sit comfortably (or uncomfortably) up top. There was the usual frustration with getting the run-in series lights to work. Work off the tree, don’t work on the tree, adjust, then working, move the lights up the tree and not working…..UGH. Result = new lights. Yay!!

By Friday we were ready for our first BIG Christmas celebration. Off to see the grand-kids.

We packed our bags, filled a couple of laundry baskets with gifts and headed east. We picked up a gift at great Oma’s house on our way. My husband and I enjoy driving. Good music, conversation, scenery and a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow = kids and grand-kids. We arrived to delicious homemade pizza and squirmy grand-kids fresh from their bath. Our grandson flashed us his ear to ear grin and proceeded to dance through the house on tip toes squealing his delight. Our granddaughter offered a quick hug, stepped back, held her hand to her chest and said, “My heart is pumping, Gramma.” “Are you excited to see us?” She responded with an emphatic nod. The dog continued to give licks and hugs. The cats stayed out of the melee altogether.

It was noisy. It was boisterous. It was warm.

The gifts stayed in the jeep to be opened the next day. The kids helped us schlep our bags into the downstairs bedroom. They jumped on the bed and tackled Opa. Our twenty-one-month-old grandson shouting, “fight, fight, fight” pummeling his Opa with his wee fists. Strong little arms and legs whirred. A mini version of ‘Fight Club’.

We looked forward to the next 3 days of play, conversation and relaxation.

Gift day. Videos were taken to share with our family back home. Our granddaughter was super excited opening her gifts uttering a steady stream of awesomes. “Here Gramma, help me hatch the hatchimals. You rub it like this.” I rubbed and rubbed the little blue heart to no avail. It did not go pink. My animal did not hatch. Hands down my granddaughter out hatchimallyied me. Our grandson shook with excitement when he saw his firetruck gift from his aunt and uncle. He danced on his tippy toes screeching with delight. The whole event was quite the show.

Park day. My husband, granddaughter and a crazy six-month-old lab made our way to the park. Our son and grandson came after his nap. “Let’s play zombie, Opa,” she said. Daddy is a much better zombie than Opa we discovered. Opa was happy chasing her around the play structure and teaching her how to fly his drone. Opa only had to show her once. She catches on quickly. She proceeded to fly and land it all by herself. On the second landing the drone flew into her legs. A shocked look on her face and a “that creeped me out” had us in stitches. Being with her was pure pleasure.

Crazy dog pooped at the park. I picked up his mushy poo, neatly tying the bag and placing it on the snow away from the play structure. Crazy off-leash dog sees the poop bag, runs towards it and with one quick toss of his head he grabs it. I run towards the dog but he is way to fast for this Gramma. He keeps running fast shaking the poop bag. Mushy poop flies. Disgusting. Gag worthy. When the poop bag is empty, he stops running. I begin mushy poop collection mission. Then and only then do we notice a garbage can about 100 feet away at the entrance to the walking path. We are silly grandparents.

Our son arrives with his son. Our grandson is excited to be at the park. Both kids want to be on the swing. I push my granddaughter being careful not to push to high so her slippery snowsuit doesn’t send her flying off the swing. I am informed by my granddaughter ‘that boys push girls on swings’. Apparently, I don’t push high enough. Their dad pushes them way higher. They love it. My heart squishes watching my son play with his kids. Laughter giggles fill the park.

Two other dogs enter the park so my husband leashes the dog. Once the dogs are out of sight down the path, he lets the dog off leash. BIG mistake. The dog takes off after the other dogs like a bat out of hell. Can that dog run. My son takes off after the dog in hot pursuit. He can really run fast on ice but not as fast as his dog. Like me, our son is concerned his dog will frighten other dogs and their owners will lodge a complaint. Crazy dog is frightened by my sons deep, loud, voice and takes off through the trees. When the dog comes closer to the park my husband calls the dog, he comes and is leashed for the remainder of our stay. I have an ‘aha’ moment. Sometimes I panic and sometimes my husband panics, depending on the situation. It’s knowing when to stand down and let the other take charge of a particular situation that is key. Hmm. Hopefully I will remember this when panic time happens again.

Dress up. My granddaughter puts on a dazzling white costume and knocks on the door, (the door is the wall) asking to be let in. My husband answers the door resplendent in a fine Pocahontas wig covering his bald pate. He speaks with a bastardized English accent which has us in stitches until our sides ache. I put on a red outfit…of some sort. My granddaughter and I dress each other up. We laugh. We play. We look ridiculous. We don’t care.

Games. We play, ‘Don’t Step In It’ (poop) game. Our blindfolded granddaughter magically misses every poop. She insists she is not cheating. Her next time through she steps on every poop. Hmm! She talks Opa into playing. Off come his slippers and socks. He memorizes the mat and poop locations missing all the poops. When he gets towards the end of the mat, I move poops right under his feet. Our granddaughter’s eyes sparkle with mischievousness but she doesn’t make a peep. She has another turn. My son has a turn. Opa’s turn again. As soon as Opa starts walking she moves poops under his feet. The ruse is up. Opa figures out he was tricked in his first attempt. She bursts into fits of giggles. We fooled Opa.

Mornings. The first morning our granddaughter arrived in our room at 5:30am, jumped on the bed and informed us it was time to get up (4:30am our time). We managed a little more sleep. And then.  “My tummy is growling. I need a samich,” she said. Morning #2, she got into bed with us at 5:30am and fell asleep until 7:30am. Phew! Morning #3, 3am. Morning #4, 4:45am. Both mornings crawled in and back to sleep. As I lay there unable to sleep, her warm body between us memories came flooding back. Cherished memories. I remember her dad getting into bed with us, ‘on the regular’. He used to press his small back into mine and go back to sleep. Many memories ticker tape their way through my mind.

Each day she asked me if we were going home. Each day she smiled a big smile when I said we were not. On the last day I had to tell her that we were going home. “Awww. Are you ever coming back?” She asked. “Yes.” I said, “for your birthday day”. My heart began that slow ache of missing the ones I love.

Bedtime. I read my granddaughter her bedtime stories. She has clear instructions on the process. Which lights should be on and the closed door when the story is done. We snuggled together in her bed talking and reading. On the last night I say, “I love you with all my heart.” With her wee warm face snuggled into my neck she responded “I love you, Gramma.” My heart flip flops and maybe pounds a little.

Our grandson is in love with his Opa. Opa is his favourite. Opa couldn’t even go to the bathroom without him crying. On our last morning Opa and his grandson are shaving together. Opa covered his face with shaving cream sending him upstairs to show us. Up he came with his little grin peaking through the shaving cream. His mom was convinced he had gotten into something. We could hear Opa laughing downstairs. Back downstairs the wee man went. Next on the prep list was a shower. Opa turned around and this kid was whipping off his clothes. He was ready to join Opa in a teeny, tiny, shower. Once again, grin intact, he appeared upstairs with a towel wrapped around his little body. With each step the towel slid down a bit further. Adorable. On our way home Opa told me he tried to shave his head at the same time Opa was shaving his head. The shaver didn’t cut his hair. Phew!

It’s time. Our bags are packed and piled on the bed. Both kids become Sherpa’s helping us schlep them up stairs. They carry Opa’s heavy brief case together. In my minds eye I see their father as a child schlepping our luggage, helping with the garbage, the dishwasher and cooking. Our granddaughter puts on her coat and boots to help Opa load the jeep. Our grandson cries when he cannot go outside. His mom suggests getting him a bowl of snow. She knows her son. He makes crazy faces eating the cold snow sitting on his father’s lap. “No harm in a bit of fresh snow,” his parents say. Meanwhile our granddaughter is distracted from jeep packing by the new snow. She throws snowballs at Opa. She brushes the snow off the Christmas decorations. Opa bends down to take a picture of a blow-up Penguin. She takes a run at him knocking him to the ground. We can hear their laughter inside.

We say our goodbyes, get into the jeep with lumps in our throats and tears in our eyes. We back out of the driveway, opening the window for one last wave. Framed by the window are four beloved people faces and one dog. We drive down the street into the snow and slush leaving a piece of our hearts behind. Our trip home has begun.

I suppose Christmas is fun with kids. I suppose life is fun with kids. Their curiosity, impishness and love of life is infectious. It’s not all fun or joyous though. Our granddaughter often says, “hate it” for things she doesn’t like. It’s funny until it is not. They can both be assertive, determined to get their way or become cranky when they are tired. Kids get up early. Though both play well on their own, they also like to be played with. Kids generate a lot of laundry. There is a constant cycle of clothing in the washer, dryer, laundry basket and dressers. It’s hard to stay ahead of all the responsibilities at home. It is hard to stay ahead, or even, with ‘the life game’. These visiting days remind me of the challenges of raising kids and keeping your sanity. I saw my son wrestling with his kids and dog on the kitchen floor and am reminded how my husband did the same. A blur of kids, dog and many giggles. My dad wrestled with us kids after supper on the kitchen floor. Lots of giggles then too. After our wrestling was done my dad laid spread eagled out on the floor hands behind his head. I remember laying my head on his arm. I can still feel, smell, see the safety in being well loved in that kitchen. After my dad died, my oldest brother wrestled with us on the kitchen floor. Yes. Wiggling, giggling kids and barking dogs refresh memories. It is pure joy watching our daughter-in-law gently tease her kids with humour to take life with a grain or thousands of grains of salt. Like me, she is not a morning person yet getting fist pummeled or licked first thing in the morning by a twenty-one-month old is taken in stride. Something to be chuckled about a bit later.

Their house has a family living in it. We drive away grateful they have each other.

We saw our kids and grand-kids close to Christmas. We are asked if we miss seeing them on Christmas. Kind of. Christmas is my favourite season of the year. Probably because of all the great memories I have surrounding it. If I think a bit deeper about it, my most favouritist season is good relationship season. Good relationship season shows up whenever we are together which is way better than pinning it all down to one favourite day. Good relationship season means we don’t sacrifice relationships on the Christmas altar or any altar we create for that matter. Good relationship season is the art of doing life together.

Christmas Magic

My dad wearing my older sister’s girdle.

I am sitting at home today looking out at a decidedly nasty day. A grey day saturated with freezing rain and regular rain. Dull and dreary. Fog hangs heavy in the air clinging to trees and bushes. Accumulated snow slides off our metal roof with a rumbling sound landing with a boom. An avalanche must sound like that, times a thousand. It is a pensive, musing, reflecting day rolled into one. Limbo, I think. One foot in Christmas memories and the other foot stretching towards 2019. I hang in the balance unencumbered by routines. Anchorless.

No rhythms. In the new year some rhythms will stay the same while others change. Slight shifts. Huge shifts. Sometimes the snow falls gently off the roof other times it rumbles and booms. Shifts.

Life. I breathe in. Then out. I do it again

and again

and again.

I have many more breathes left for this year.

I will likely have even more in 2019.

Focus on your breathing I was told when I was having my babies. Breathe through the pain. I am not good at breathing through pain. When in pain I am good at panicking. I taught my students to draw breathe up through their nose and to exhale slowly through their mouth; a minimum of three times. A relaxation tool. I should take my own advice. The art of disciplined breathing. In this limbo land between Christmas and New Years, I am finally finding time to breathe. To think. To remember. To hug my memories. To wear them like a warm familiar blanket.

And so, I find myself back on our family’s wee farm when I was little. It’s Christmas Eve and I am almost jumping out of my skin with excitement. Santa Claus is coming tonight. I lie in bed tucked under several heavy woolen Dutch blankets waiting for my sister to come to bed. My face is cold. There is no heat in my upstairs bedroom. Sometimes in the top corners of the room I see frost. Writing letters in the frost with my finger nail would be cool. It is to high for me to reach. I lay there with my mind racing. Thinking about reindeer on the roof complete with bells and a mighty HO HO HO. I wish my sister would hurry up. I want to talk to her about Santa Claus and tomorrow. My sister was sometimes frustrated with me in the double bed we shared. It had a coil spring mattress with a thinnish pad. Most nights we started our sleeping process by clinging to the side of the mattress avoiding meeting up in ‘the valley’ middle. It was hot in the valley and we had to touch each other. Ew. I was little and didn’t mind. My sister was older and she did mind. She did not mind on Christmas Eve however. Christmas Eve was magical. Together we laid in bed whispering and giggling so our mother wouldn’t shout upstairs, “go to sleep!” We listened for reindeer hooves on the roof. Our bodies tingling with anticipation long after we were supposed to be asleep. I just couldn’t sleep. Thoughts about tomorrow skipped and played in my brain. First church, then family (all my brothers and sisters), a big dinner followed by coffee and conversation, then gifts and incredible fun. Jokes and laughter. My favourite people. Cigarette and cigar smoke would hang in a thick haze in the room.

I lay in bed full of wonder, my mind imagining hoof beats on the roof of our farmhouse. I could hear them, I was sure. Oh…and then… bells. I heard the landing. I was near to bursting with anticipation. So much excitement. So much imagination. I am grateful my parents didn’t burst the Santa Claus bubble for me. In a world of decreasing mystery, the goodness of Santa Claus lived in my child’s heart fostering an understanding that some things are unexplainable.

Morning came. One gift per person lay under the Christmas tree. A Christmas tree which had been cut down in our woods and planted in a pail of sand. One ornament stands out from those days. A dead light bulb my fourth oldest sister painted. I don’t remember the scene, only the pink and blue colours. When I look at Christmas pictures, I see other ornaments but I do not remember them. Only this one.

We would not open presents until after supper. A day of anticipation lay ahead.

I can still sense the warmth of our home at Christmas. It was a place where all was well with the world…for me. I know now how poor we were. It sweetens my thoughts to think my parents created a love filled, accepting, belonging, kind of home. My funny father was Santa Claus delivering gifts to us one at a time. One at a time we unwrapped our gifts. Everyone watched with suspense wondering what the gift would be. I remember random gifts. A toboggan too big for under the tree so we had to answer riddles to find it. Birds on a wire with a suction cup gun to shoot at them. A large Teddy Bear. A black doll, I named Kathy. I cannot remember how most things went. I remember the feeling.

In my now home we open gifts one at a time. Admiring and taking pleasure in what we give and receive. I still lay in bed on Christmas Eve anticipating the next day. The routine of it. The way of it. The excitement of it. The joy. The laughter. The jokes.

My way of observing Christmas was built on the model I learned in my childhood home. It was cemented there. First, we acknowledged our faith by going to church, a tradition I still adhere to. Then we share food, gifts, laughter, acceptance and belonging. I loved my family. It was a good day. I dreamed my dreams of Santa Claus and reindeer hoofs and was not denied my dream. As I grew up, I no longer believed Santa brought gifts. I began to have a clearer understanding of the Jesus piece. He brings gifts albeit without reindeer or a red suit. His gift to me is one of love, joy, acceptance and belonging. These gifts are the very same I experienced in our family’s kitchen/parlour so many years ago. A facsimile. A reflection. A model. It doesn’t matter exactly what order events occur in or what food we eat or quantity/quality of gifts we receive on Christmas Day. Love, joy and belonging. That’s the ticket.

*Recently, I learned that my aunt and uncle scrimped and saved to help my parents buy presents for each of us. So much kindness. So much sacrifice.

**In the picture my dad is wearing my older sisters’ girdle. He accidentally received the wrong present and he promptly put it on over his suit pants. It is a fine display of the laughter present in my home.

It’s me! I don’t create the space.

It’s ME!!

I don’t create the space.

I let other things/repeat thoughts/stress creep in.

Each time I walk into a room, thoughts of what needs to be done in that room barge into my mind to plague me.

Kitchen – dirty cupboards, inside and out, purging required

Bathroom(s) – regular cleaning, cupboard cleaning, purging required

Basement – furnace room & storage space, purging required

Bedroom – clean, reorganize closet, purging required

Windows – need cleaning

Paint – all main areas could use paint

Kitty litter – ugh

I think of the people I would like/need to see or call. The seminars I would like to attend.

 Guilt arrives thick as a cloud of gnats. Little squirmy bugs that sidle into the crevices of my psyche. Good old-fashioned overwhelming guilt sucks the life blood right out of me. I have developed a habit of blaming myself for whatever isn’t perfect. I blame me for not being able to keep all my stuff up to snuff. I shouldn’t have sat that extra hour or two enjoying my coffee playing solitaire. I shouldn’t have watched TV. I am weighted down by a million imperfections from streaks on the bathroom mirror to not having good meals ready each night for supper. I cannot seem to hold back this slippery trajectory of thought. Inwardly I project my anger/frustration on myself and others.Tried and judged without trial. If only I and everyone in my life magically took off all my invented and real responsibilities, I could do what I really want to do. These thoughts orbit my mind.

 I pause in my writing. I am feeling horribly uncomfortable confessing my illogical thinking process out loud. I check Facebook, Instagram,text messages. A bit of sweat rises on my face. I turn back to my computer determined to continue.

Shame & vulnerability researcher Brene Brown says, “projecting your stuff, making it someone else’s accentuates your thoughts of being unlovable or uncreative”. In my case I could say, if I was loved, then all of those items listed above would be done. If my list was done then I could create. Therefore, the fact I cannot create is because I am on my own. NOT true.

 I put pressure on myself. I struggle with creating structure which would allow me space to accomplish what I really want to do. Structure is hard because it is boring and hems in my thinking. Not having structure means I can’t suss out time for what I am driven to do. Write. Write a book. Write articles.

 My neck gets stiffer and stiffer. I feel the tense mess in my jaw and temples as I write. I feel a pop in my neck and have some relief. I can’t relax. I become more and more tired. I don’t walk outside. I don’t get fresh air. I work on a cycle of “to do” lists that never end. I also barely accomplish anything on the list = guilt guilt guilt. Sleep becomes harder. Mind races more. Each morning I open my eyes and my list ticker tapes it’s way across my eyeballs. I plan what I will do and in what order. At the end of the day I lay in bed and the unaccomplished list ticker tapes it’s way across my eyeballs. No relief. Not yet.

What is it you want my niece asked? I have no problem popping off the answer. Quiet. Be a hermit. Write. Have less things in my life.Have energy to do the things I love. I put together a mind map of my week. I put it aside. I ignore it.

I know that when I do things on my never-ending list, I feel less burdened, freer until the list once again begins to grow. Throw out the damn list my younger brother said to me once. Because my mind is so crazy,busy, beautiful in its imagination, I need the list to ensure regular responsibilities get done on a systematic basis.

Balance.

If I don’t vacuum each week or only clean the bathrooms every other week, I am burdened because it’s not as clean as I would like. Perfectionism.A little.

Balance.

To do the things I love and am good at.

Spending time with people.

 I consider how I feel when I can make other lives a bit better, even if it’s only for a moment.

I want to save the world and the hurting people in it.

I still feel the sting because I didn’t have change or a hat or gloves or shoes to offer a young man begging at a corner on a particularly cold day last week. Walking up and down between the stopped vehicles in running shoes, a head band and no gloves. I was warm and toasty in my vehicle on my way to a warm and toasty office to return to my warm and toasty house. It was American Thanksgiving Day. I wondered what he had to be thankful for. I wondered about who loved him. I wondered about where he found belonging. I have change in my jeep now. In a bag I will put hats, gloves and some protein bars. This young man did not appear to be starving…as in food. But to be out on a street corner in the cold seemed to indicate a starving of the soul.

Perspective.

 “Why do you talk so much?” My daughter asked me last week. “To drive everyone around me nuts.” I responded. Not true. My talking is an extension of my non-stop thoughts. Addicted to one’s thoughts. That is me. An overflow of thoughts in themselves are not a problem. An overflow of thoughts without action are a problem. For me. Clarifying what actions to do, at what time, at what rate is my formidable task.

War.

There is a war fought ferociously inside my mind. A battle between what I really want to do for me and what I really want to do for other sand what I really don’t want to do for both. It is a hard war. Throughout my life I honed the skills of diversion through laughter so I needn’t deal with the uncomfortable. Living in the uncomfortable and facing up to myself and what I want or don’t want sometimes makes people around me uncomfortable. I don’t like uncomfortable. I love peace the most. I have loved peace at great cost to myself. I have loved peace at the cost of honesty. I have created peace spaces at a great cost to myself and the people I love. Being allowed to be honest about what I wanted was knocked out of me a long time ago. I stockpiled my emotions. As Brene Brown says, “you stockpile until your body turns on you. Depression. Anxiety.The body always wins”. It was recently pointed out to me that as a child I was both overstimulated and ignored. I reflected on this. I still spend time in that pattern. I still cannot manage either.

Balance                =             Tight Rope Walker

My to do list only has the power to haunt me when I allow myself to believe I am in this alone. I am not. I have peeled back so many layers of junk I am convinced I am at the centre, my core, only to find out I am not. I pray that at my core I will find contentment. Contentment will be my jewel.

My dream is to be content everywhere I find myself. Inside and out.

My dream is to contribute with my creativity everywhere I find myself.

My list of life’s mundane things like cleaning (cat and human toilets-really tired of those) do not define who I am or what my life’s accomplishments are. I was in a space of emotional pain last week. I thought it was physical pain, tired. I attempted to off load my pain as I am wont to do instead of feel it. Instead of figuring out what was going on, I projected. I projected onto myself and onto others while keeping my words and thoughts to myself, floor draining my energy. I needed to learn to feel my pain instead or eat cookies, read a book, or watch TV. I needed to turn my feelings of “I am not enough” and “who do you think you are” into “being me is enough”.

 I created a story last week about unaccomplished lists and deprivation that cut me out at the knees. It was a confabulation. Made up. I let it cut into my dreams of contentment, contribution and creativity. Last weeks story was a shitty first draft. Inside the shitty first draft I learned more about myself. Last week I took my eye off of being kind and courageous, of living life outside myself, instead I turned inward. This week I started a revision of that story.

My shitty second draft says I take responsibility for my emotions. They belong to me. I do not need to fit my emotions into my perception of what I think other people expect of me. I choose to be me with my own feelings, wants and thoughts.