The Dilovely New Year Questionnaire for 2017

Hi, Lovelies! And HAPPY NEW YEAR. Farewell, 2017.

Off to a cold, cold start in which I have not gotten enough fresh air because I did’t want my skin to fall off… But as of Saturday night, thanks to some quality time spent with my sis and a friend and many little jars and baggies, my spice drawer is looking unusually spiffy. And milder temps started TODAY… We all got through our first day back with a minimum of trauma… So on balance, 2018 is looking good.

spice-jars
Not Pinterest-worthy, but comforting nonetheless.

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?

MeSean: Adult Adventure Week at Wilderness Tours on the Ottawa River! Not as risqué as it sounds… or maybe it is! If you consider whitewater risqué. (Two days of rafting, one day of cycling, and one day of sea kayaking… ’twas amazing. That we were still alive at the end.)

E: Saw whale poop at the Royal Ontario Museum, rode on an elephant at the African Lion Safari.

AB: Saw the longest worm in the world at the ROM, rode on a pony at the Safari.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions?

Me: I did not manage to stop using the snooze button. I did, however, use my massage benefits several times, and it was awesome. (It’s been several months now since my last appointment, and my neck is wondering sadly what happened.) Also, I did Bullet Journal like a BOSS (more on that later).

Sean: Yes, lost 20 pounds and still going! Lots of reading (not sure if it was MORE)… and shall be rebroadcasting the screen time resolution in 2018.

E: I did get my green belt!

A: I do go to a creative dance class!

3. What is your resolution this year?

Me: Be a paragon of calm in the mornings. Or at least some reasonable example of calm. I can do this. I know it makes a huge difference to the kids when I manage it – and this morning I did! (The kids were late to school, but… Worth It.)

Sean: Reach goal weight, live life more in the present (and less on the internet).

E: Get better marks than in Grade 2.

A: Get a horse. It can live in our yard, or maybe on the patio.

4. Did anyone important to you die?

A dear family friend and former member of our Friends’ Meeting. Also Malcolm Young, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Adam West, Chuck Berry, Bill Paxton, and especially Gord Downie.

5. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?

Me: A family planner/calendar – and we have it! It’s going to solve everything.

Sean: Really good health.

E: More time making pizza in Roblox world.

A: A horse like Spirit!

Cute AND organize-y.

6. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Me: Teaching at OELC Intermediate Arts twice in one season; persisting through all four rounds of my first sweat lodge; cycling 35 km in one day – and not getting off to walk ONCE.

Sean: Losing 20 pounds – and sticking to my new eating lifestyle!

E: Getting into the Black Belt Club at Tae Kwon Do.

A: Learning all of “Bonjour l’hiver” at school.

7. What was your biggest failure?

Me, Sean: You could say that we’ve finally unpacked… but we still haven’t put most of our art up on the walls.

E: I failed to go back to Tae Kwon Do this fall, because the studio is not offering classes anymore.  🙁

A: I failed to get to school with any seconds to spare, basically every day. Sometimes this was because my socks were failing to sit perfectly on my feet, or my pants were failing to come to exactly the right position at my ankles.

8. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Me (E, A): The two-month cough seems to be finally winding down, knock wood.

Sean: The Diabetus, Type 2. But it’s okay, I’m in the process of kicking its ass.

E: The usual grievous injuries about five times a day.

A: I slipped off the rock into the water at Camp and got bleeding cuts (but I was very brave).

9. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

MeSean: Trump; extremists/racists/misogynists/mass shooters; Harvey Weinstein et al.

E: Mummy and Daddy, when they make me do chores.

A: Mummy and Daddy, when they don’t do my bidding.

10. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Me: TransCanada putting an end to the Energy East pipeline, attendees at the Women’s March in Washington.

Sean: Those who spoke up in the #metoo movement; Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.

E: Mine, when I committed my TKD Forms to muscle memory.

A: Mine, for the mornings that I woke up as Sweet Daughter (not Screechy Savage Daughter. Those mornings don’t bear writing about).

11. What did you get really excited about?

Me: My new Grade 1-6 Dance/Music teaching job! (Yes, I still do Core French. I will probably do Core French for eternity. It’s fun too.)

Sean: Rafting trip!

E: Going back to North Carolina! 

A: Being a vampire for Halloween! I JUST LOVE HALLOWEEN! (Picture this last said with a plastic-fang-induced lisp, skipping along dark evening sidewalks, with fake blood dripping from a joyful smile.)

12. What events from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why:

Me, Sean: Solar eclipse, apocalyptic flooding of so many places.

E, A: The burning of the outhouse at Camp.

All: Getting to know and love Uncle Dave on his visit from up north.

Burning decommissioned outhouse. You probably didn’t know this was a thing. YOU’RE WELCOME.

13. What political issue stirred you the most?

Me: Canada 150 controversy, Rohingya refugees. National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Sean: Alabama’s special election, Jagmeet Singh becoming the first Sikh federal party leader.

E, A: The elimination of screen time on school nights.

14. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Me: PARAGON OF CALM.

Sean: Pushups.

E, A: That thing I’m doing when you tell me it’s bedtime.

15. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Me: Procrastinating on going to bed.

Sean: Making excuses.

E: Homework.

A: Putting my clothes away.

16. What do you regret?

Me: Not getting regular massages for the last decade.

Sean: All the wasted hours on the internet.

E: Every mistake I every make with a pen. Deeply, excruciatingly.

A: When I’m mean to Mummy and Daddy. But then I forget and do it again.

17. What decision are you glad you made?

Me: To accept the Music/Dance job at my school. SO. MUCH. FUN.

Sean: To go off the recommended ketogenic diet, and to read and follow The Starch Solution by John McDougall.

E: I hardly ever get to decide anything. I just wish I were a grownup so I could do whatever I wanted!!

A: Changing my mind at the last minute to be a vampire for Halloween instead of ANY OTHER THING.

18. How did you spend Christmas?

All: With people we love, all kinds of family. So very fortunate. (Sean even shared our two weeks off due to shutdown! Very exciting.)

19. What song will always remind you of 2017?

Me: Scars to Your Beautiful by Alessia Cara, Believer by Imagine Dragons, We Are Giants by Take That, The Greatest by Sia, Asa by Bry Webb.

Sean, E, A: The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota by Weird Al. (Not a new song, I know. Sean played it for the kids one time and they quickly became obsessed.)

20. What was your favorite TV program?

Me: North & South, Downton Abbey, The Blacklist, Ripper Street, The Crown.

Sean: Stranger Things, Mindhunter, The Crown.

E: I’m not really into TV. I like to race sea-doos, build block homes, and make pizzas on my screen time.

A: Spirit!

21. What was the best book you read?

Me, SeanAll The Light We Cannot See. Hands down.

E: All my series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dog Man, and Captain Underpants. 

A: I loved having Beverly Cleary read to me (Ramona books and Emily’s Runaway Imagination).

22. What was your favorite film of this year?

Me: Coco. And Spiderman Homecoming a close second.

Sean: Thor Ragnarok, Spiderman Homecoming.

E: Lego Batman.

A: Coco.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Me: 39, had delicious dinner made by my sisters, hung out with friends and family. And got to go on the 40th Birthday Rafting Trip even though I’m too young!

Sean: 40, stayed home from work to take care of my sick daughter. And the rafting thing (five months later)!

E: 8, had my friends over to my house, played some crazy games with my friends at the park.

A: 5, had my first party with school friends, got our faces painted, and dipped ALL THE THINGS in hummus – even the popcorn.

24. What new thing would you like to try in 2018?

Me: PARAGON OF CALM. (If I say it enough times, it will surely come true.)

Sean: Four new songs on my guitar.

E: Proper swimming lessons. (Not completely new, but haven’t had them since toddlerhood.)

A: Proper swimming lessons. We both start on Wednesday!

25. Whom did you miss?

Always Sebastian.

26. Who was the best new person you met?

All: Our awesome new child care person and her family.

Me: The whole Summer iArts crew.

E, A: Uncle Dave!

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016:

Me: Don’t underestimate the difference a seemingly small gesture (or the lack of one) can make to a person going through a rough time.

Sean: Make sure you’re well-hydrated on a long, unaccustomed bike ride. Also, don’t feel guilty if you shun social media.

E: I don’t actually have to freak out about EVERY SINGLE chore I’m asked to do. Just sometimes, to keep ’em on their toes.

A: My friend Isabelle got diabetes. She got them in Florida, where there are lots of diabetes. Also, my dad got his diabetes from eating HP sauce.*

28. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

Throw a little love till the world stops hurting… Keep on, keep on, keep on truckin’…

This is last year’s song lyric, but I think it still applies. And if you are looking back and going, YIKES, 2017, weren’t you supposed to be better than 2016? then go read this list. It helps.

***

*AB schooled us once at the dinner table when we were talking about diabetes. We said there was no Type 3, and she said “Yes there is! The kind you get when you’re pregnant!” *jawdrop* [Of course!!] The HP sauce thing is because Sean avoided it while on keto, due to sugar content. Those associations get made so firmly, based on so little.

***


 

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Random Acts of Generosity and other festive things

apple-giving
Photo by Erik Scheel.

Last Friday morning, I walked home from the grocery store with tears running down my face. It had promised to be a very ordinary day: drop off the kids at school, pick up a few things from the supermarket, get some laundry done and some emails answered before teaching at noon. I’d be thinking about what needed to be prepared for a busy  weekend, what Christmas shopping is left, what assessments I need to cover with my students before winter break.

Instead, I got out my wallet to pay at the checkout, and heard the man standing there say, “I’ll take it.” He was short, with glasses, a navy blue jacket, salt-and-pepper hair, and a big smile. He said, “Merry Christmas.” The cashier twinkled at me – this person had just paid the bill for at least one  person ahead of me too, including the $120 coat in the cart. (I had caught the end of that conversation but not understood what it was about.)

I admit to having been stunned at that moment. Immediately my eyes filled with tears. Not because I am in need of this generosity; just because it was beautiful. It did not enter my mind to refuse, even as I was wishing the gift had landed on someone for whom it would make a bigger financial difference. I did not wonder at the motivation – this man was obviously just getting a great kick out of nonchalant supermarket generosity at 9 a.m. on a Friday. I waited until he had paid, then I shook his hand and wished him a Merry Christmas, meeting his eyes so he could see that I’d been moved.

My eyes are getting teary all over again as I write this. I can’t even fully explain why.

I know that generosity is all around me. As an elementary school teacher in a very supportive community, I see generosity in big and little ways all the time, from kids and parents and staff. The same is true at my children’s school. These are “have” communities, good at sharing.

I am lucky to live in a place where, as another example, one lovely (artist and blogger) friend of mine was able to rally a large group of women to give their time and money, creating enormous holiday baskets, full of items both crucial and fun, for our local women’s shelter.

Maybe my reaction comes from the fact that self-gratification, overconsumption, and narcissism are writ so large in the world right now. They wear us down, both individually and as a species. Sometimes, a person just needs to be thoroughly surprised by another human’s ability to defy social norms in the name of giving. I can tell you, I appreciated that shock.

Now, I get to benefit twice. My plan is to pay forward this gesture in my own ways, thus also enjoying surprising some folks with something nice, whether they need it or not… But also, it’s my good fortune to keep that moment I’ll never forget, a reason to weep happily over twenty-seven dollars and change.

For Christmas, I wish for you to witness a kindness that puts tears in your eyes.

***


 

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16 Things About Pixar’s “Coco”, Mexico, and Death

We took the kids to see Coco on the weekend – just as much for us as for them. Here are some notes (avoiding  spoilers, don’t worry).

coco-movie-miguel-dante

  1. We all loved it. Even with the high expectations I always have going into Disney/Pixar movies these days, they still impress. They are consistently worthy of the big screen, too.
  2. It’s not scary, in case you’re wondering about taking your kids. There’s the one moment when you’re like “Yikes! Lots of skulls!” and then everyone quickly gets used to the dead folks and it’s all cool.
  3. I had somehow managed not to know anything about this movie until a week or so ago, when I heard Anthony Gonzalez (who plays the 12-year-old protagonist, Miguel) in a CBC interview on Q. He’s (recently turned) thirteen, and just seems like the most earnest little cutie you’d like to hear on the radio. Sings like a wee Mariachi angel. (Even when crying, which is quite an accomplishment.) Aware of his talent but not obnoxiously so – and full of gratitude for the success he’s had. He began the audition process when he was nine years old, so he’s obviously learned something about patience and determination, too.
  4. Coco was released first in Mexico, and in time for Día de los Muertos. Appropriately.
  5. The movie is voiced by an all-Latino cast, and they do their own singing. Did you know that Benjamin Bratt can sing? I did not (I actually didn’t even know he was Latino, having not seen him in much), but was happy to find out.
  6. Imagery, imagery, oh-so-fantastic imagery. I have always loved the way Disney and Pixar go ALL IN with the beautiful details of cultural artistry. Land of the Dead? WOW. Obviously a ton of thought put into the visual feel of… everything.
  7. I adore listening to even the little snippets of Spanish in this movie. Makes me wish I had someone to practice my Spanish with. And I was thrilled to realize that the soundtrack (as streamed on Apple Music, anyway) has all the songs as sung in the English version, followed by ALL the Spanish versions!! YAY!
  8. The singers in the Spanish soundtrack for Coco are different, except for Gael García Bernal (who plays Héctor). This version’s Miguel is played by Luís Ángel Gómez Jaramillo. His voice is just as sweet (and stunningly similar) – and he also happens to be adorable.
  9. On that note (ha), the music is great. Exhilarating, actually. (Tons of thought and research put into this too.) As a person who deliberately finds Latin music to listen to when I need some musical/mental sunshine therapy, I relished every song. The kids loved them too and have been singing them at home. A child’s off-key-yet-earnest warbling of “Our love for each other will live on forever!!” is rather charming. (See below for AB’s renditions.)
  10. The big song, “Remember Me”, was written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez – who also wrote “Let it Go” and other faves from Frozen. So you can imagine. (Other songs are by Germaine Franco and Adrian Molina and are wonderful also.)
  11. The one song that is sung only in Spanish is “La Llorona” (“The Weeping Woman”), a Mexican folk song about “the ghost of a woman who lost her children and now cries while looking for them in the river, often causing misfortune to those who are near or hear her” (according to Wikipedia). This song is like Cohen’s Hallelujah – it has one jillion verses so anyone singing it has to just pick a few.
  12. As usual with Disney/Pixar, I cried watching this movie. A couple of times. You’ll know which moments if you see the movie. I sit there thinking Seriously, Pixar?? YOU ARE DELIBERATELY DOING THIS TO MAKE ME CRY. LOOK AT THOSE TINY HANDS. But I still love it. Being moved to tears is something a soul needs every so often. And Pixar is great at grabbing themes that speak to so many of us: loss of loved ones, sorrow of parting, difficulties of aging, passion for art, and the highs and lows of being part of a family.
  13. I really appreciate the apparent facility of this movie in talking about death. Whatever one may personally believe about the afterlife and whatnot, it makes total sense to me for death to be seen as the part of life that it is. Not something to shield the kids from. Not something to fear, although we take the sadness into account and share it. It’s just the way things are.
  14. I’ve never celebrated el Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, November 1st), but I wish we did. (Maybe we could? I do know some gringos who do…) What a great concept, setting aside a day to think about our loved ones who have died, and to feel the connection that is still there – simply through love and memories.
  15. I don’t know whether this movie includes any deliberate in-your-face defiance in terms of Mexico and its people/language/music/beauty/cultural significance, etc. versus those particular “pro-wall” Americans… but I sure felt it. As the movie ends (with the song “Proud Corazón”, a statement in itself), it’s all “Annnnnd Mexican awesomeness FTW.” *mic drop* (Or possibly *guitar drop*.)
  16. If it sounds like I’m gushing about Coco, so be it. It’s my prerogative to be childishly exuberant and uncritical on my own blog every once in a while, right?

coco-movie-land-dead-muertos

***


 

P.S. Just for interest, in case you don’t already know, I wanted to mention the big watery underground hole with the natural skylight that Miguel ends up in at one point in the movie; it’s called a cenote. It’s a natural sinkhole that forms when limestone bedrock collapses underground. I gave Sean a nudge when we saw it – we got to go into one in Mexico once. They’re tourist attractions, as you can see by the photo below. (Surrounded by tiny children who will eagerly sell you picture postcards of them.)

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Tragic Follow-Up to a Five-Year-Old’s Birthday

You know how everything old is new again? How marketers realized that all the kids of the 80s are having their own kids and will pay good money for things that make them go Aw man, I used to have one of those!!

Well, I didn’t, as it happens, have any of these particular items, although I wished I did. (And I think they’re from much earlier than the 80s, given the age of some of the Archie comics we had at home that contained this very ad.)

sea-monkeys-retro-ad
Image via mentalfloss.com

AB was given a Sea Monkey aquarium, along with a little sachet of eggs, some water purifier, and some powdery sea monkey food, for her birthday. It was just like this one, except blue. (Notice that the sea monkey family portrait has not changed.)

sea-monkeys-ocean-zoo

Both kids were pretty excited. We followed all the instructions to the letter, and sure enough, a few days after we’d put the eggs in, there were super-tiny creatures propelling themselves around the aquarium! So cute! They did not have head-crown-thingies that we could discern, and they were nowhere near as nonchalant as the ones in the ad, but still… Cool stuff!!

The big problem was that the instructions don’t go past the first feeding. You’re supposed to wait five days after you put the eggs in there before you feed them, and the instructions make it clear that if you overfeed them THEY WILL SUFFOCATE. But does that mean you feed them every five days subsequently? Or does the schedule change? I turned to the internet for advice, and determined that we should wait at least a few days between feedings. We did our best.

I don’t know what went wrong. Within a week or so, there were only a couple of moving sea monkeys we could find… and then, only one. And then… a still, still tank. There were pathetic moments like when the kids stirred them (like you’re supposed to) and said, “Look, they’re moving around!” or when there was absolutely no movement and she figured, “Let’s just feed them anyway in case they’re only sleeping.”

We were sad that they were dead. Eventually, AB reached the Acceptance stage. This is what she wrote, in tribute.

[That’s pronounced “Sea Monkey-zuh” like when you REALLY want someone to know that it’s plural.]

It was right around Halloween, hence the gravestone savvy. (Actually, there was a rough draft of this picture that had “RCR” on the gravestone – she couldn’t remember what it was supposed to say, and that was her best guess.)

This reads (in the intended order): “To Sea Monkeys. I love you. You died and I did a surprise.”

This picture itself is the “spris”. Surely the sea monkeys are somewhere in the heavenly ether, smiling at their happy likeness.

On a lighter note, you can see that AB has finally reached that stage where she wants to write stuff and isn’t afraid to spell words any which way. Which is AWESOME; I adore this stage. It’s like seeing them learn to talk all over again.

***

P.S.: I meant to add this to the birthday post, but it segues nicely from sea monkeys. Ever since last spring, AB has been obsessed with the monkey bars. We are lucky at the school because they have lots of bars to climb on at different heights – the kind of structures that have been removed from most playgrounds for some reason. AB does all kinds of tricks on a set of parallel bars and I can just see her little muscles working hard.

And when she crosses the ladder-style monkey bars, which she finally learned to do near the end of JK, her determination is palpable. Her eyes get all steely with focus. And her hands, which are still sweet li’l five-year-old hands with dimply knuckles, have gotten all callused on the palms, as if she were moonlighting as a construction worker. It’s pretty awesome altogether.

***


 

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Thoughts for a New Five-Year-Old

Dear AB,

Hi, bébé. I still call you that, now that you’re a five-year-old, even though you’re practically a teenager in many ways. As all mamas know: once your baby, always your baby. Happy belated birthday post!

 

You turned five… two-and-a-half weeks ago already. We’ve had five separate celebrations – two were on your birthday itself, and one was even on Fall Fair day. So it’s been pretty exciting! We gave you your first Lego set that’s all yours (though you’ve generously let your brother play too) and the other day you said, “I’m obsessed with this stuff!” Other gifts reflected the other things you’re into: animals, especially horses; art; books; and of course princesses and fairies endure.

 

 

To be honest, life with you was rather difficult right around your birthday. (Not that I was intentionally late in writing this! But circumstances conspire.) You got sick for a couple of days right after your birthday, and it took a while to get back to sleeping properly. You were quite a grumpy bear for a number of days.

With you, when I say grumpy bear, I mean screechy, kicky, yelly, and imperious, and impossible – sometimes from the instant you awaken. It’s hard to like you at those times. And super-duper hard to get you out the door in the morning.

But then, as has been true since you were an infant, you also have your easily-lovable side – the one that’s so cute it hurts. And despite certain adolescent tendencies, you’re still little in so many ways. You still insist on a snuggle every morning (which I accept if you aren’t Grumpy Self) and you still nestle your hand on my neck because that’s your favourite. You whisper “I love you, Mummy,” and I melt every time. Your wardrobe choices are usually full of clashing colours and patterns – there’s no combo you won’t wear, and with total confidence to boot. You are still innocent enough to accept and own your dazzling childhood beauty. You are still awesome at pretending. Still unfettered by inhibitions when moved to dance. Still inclined to sing – sometimes inspirational ballads you make up, sometimes the same misheard lyric over and over, and sometimes words we don’t recognize at all. You still believe in all the things a little kid should.

 

This past summer, you learned to ride your two-wheeler without training wheels. With the practice on your balance bike, combined with watching your brother magically learn a year earlier, and of course your natural mettle, you just did it. You and your bike looked so tiny, yet there you were, pedalling away. We are so proud.

When I try to picture your future self, I feel sure you’ll be a strong, opinionated woman who speaks her mind. You are already perfecting the eloquent, self-righteous shout-rant that’s very convincing during an argument even though it’s usually baloney: “Well, YOU should have known that I need TIME to put my CLOTHES on!!!” I doubt that many of your peers would try to best you in a verbal wrangle.

You also have compassion that runs deep. (Just this morning, you cried real tears over a story I told about having my favourite brand-new jacket stolen during a high school band trip. Golly, I’d never have told it if I’d known it would make you truly sad.) Your daddy and I are learning not to talk within your earshot about the news that’s so awful all the time – aftermath of superstorms, racial violence, sexual predators, the threat of nuclear war, and so on – because you are listening, and your heart already breaks. You do not need to be beaten down by these things before you get a chance to use your strength and spirit for good – and for yourself too.

Sometimes I wonder whether you’ll be able to shoulder the burden of your sympathy – especially along with the fierceness that will probably compel you to act on it. It can be rough being a passionate person who hurts for others, and who feels injustice keenly. It can also be rough being a strong girl or woman who knows her worth and finds it contrary to what the world reflects. I’ve recently been realizing that I don’t have the confidence I wish I had that life is getting better for women and girls.

So here’s my plan. I will teach you everything I know about valuing yourself, asserting yourself, defending yourself, knowing yourself, taking care of yourself, and being your best self. In the meantime, I will value you, be assertive for and with you, defend you, know you as best I can, take care of you, and see your best self as clearly as my Mama-eyes can see.

I already know you love yourself. One of your regular sayings (during happy moods) is, “I love you, and I love Daddy, and I love my brother, and I love myself, and I love everyone in the whole world even if I don’t know them!” Your all-encompassing love is precious, real, powerful. We promise we will also wrap you all-over-really-tight in layers and layers of love, to make that feeling last as long as possible.

***


 

 

 

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Breaking the Ice with Words and Grief

Dear Sebastian,

Forgive me. I know you need some attention. You’ve been persistently reminding me for more than a year, but somehow I haven’t managed to sit down and contemplate you properly.

Last summer, your days were rushed into the beginning of Family Camp. I thought of you all the time, but couldn’t grieve or cry thoroughly. In response, I’ve found grief leaping up at me, unanticipated, all year long.

I clearly remember the summer you died, the way crying would insist upon happening (at inconvenient times)  if I didn’t deliberately fill a certain allotment of mindful grieving. The Crying Quota is a lot smaller now, but I’ve clearly been sidelining it too often. It persists.

There have been those random mornings when I’d be having a nice quiet coffee alone and suddenly find myself spilling tears on the table. Times when my mind would suddenly conceive, for no reason, that instant when your tiny heart stopped beating and your perfect soul broke away. Moments when I feel the phantom pain of your head pressing against my side, uncushioned by fluid, as it did for those last weeks.

There were also many reminders of your cherished existence in my heart – like you’re tenderly poking me from your place in the universe. Conversations I’d overhear – with weird frequency – about ultrasounds, sage tea, and even the salmon. And that day at school when I opened up a storybook I was given years ago, and caught sight of the author’s inscription for the first time since we’d received it: “To the Stephens boys.” It knocked the wind out of me for a moment… but it also made me glad. Proof of your realness.

Some days, I deliberately drive past the hospital on the way home. Which might seem strange. It’s a place I am tied to for its witness of the joyous births of your siblings, as well as the only time I spent holding you. It makes me feel closer to my babies. But sometimes that memory, of arriving at the dark street in front of the ER in unearthly pain, pops up more jaggedly than I anticipate – almost as if it were recent.

And while I try not to dwell on it, I can’t help but feel regret about that last morning. I wish I had kept you in my arms for longer – even half an hour longer. I don’t know why I wish this so hard, since it would change nothing, and it would all still be just as over as it is now… It was just too short. I know we usually want pain to be short, but in this case – I would give a lot to go back to that pain for a few minutes.

This grief is more than six years old now, but damned if I’ve figured out how to navigate it.

Another difficult time this summer was when our midwife died. We hadn’t seen her in a couple of years at least, and she had been working out of the province, but that didn’t make the news easier to accept. All our midwives have been excellent, but our primary midwife was a particularly amazing person and an expert in her profession. She was the one who was with us for the non-stress test where we last heard your peaceful heartbeat. She bravely broke the bad news to us the next day. She caught you and told us what a beautiful baby you were. She visited me for weeks postpartum, even though there was no baby to check on, just to talk and make sure we were managing. She vowed to help me deliver my next baby, who would be born healthy… and so she did. Having been through a lot of grief and pain herself, she was caring and empathetic and optimistic in a way that was inexpressibly reassuring. And she was one of a very small handful of people who met you in person. This summer, we grieved for her family and friends and colleagues, but also selfishly: it hurts to think that that handful is now even smaller.

In July, when Skye very gently nudged me about blogging (as she does when I haven’t written for a while), I was acutely aware that it had been more than a month since my last post, and that I blogged not a word about you on your days. The more days that passed after that, the more I couldn’t write – because it was your turn… But I needed to write you something real.

I tried breaking the ice some other way, nonchalantly. There were several attempts. I tried to make a post featuring one of your brother’s artistic masterpieces: an instructional page he created for your sister to teach her how to make fart noises with her armpit. The written steps are pithy and the diagrams utterly, utterly luminous.

But it wasn’t right. My blog even scolded me for this irreverence by refusing to upload photos. (Still not sure what that’s about… sigh.)

And now you won’t be put aside any longer. It’s the last weekend of summer before school starts. Life is about to go back to scrambly busy-ness. Here I am, still working on this post. And especially for the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with the confluence of love and grief – because right now, they’re seemingly inextricable. I’ve been weepy so many times – missing my kids when I’m apart from them, saying goodbyes to people I love, listening to my favourite music, seeing beauty, feeling the endings of many things… It’s all harder because you’re so present in everything.

But when I think about it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m glad you’ve been so close to me all summer. You were there in the forested Appalachian hills on our trip to North Carolina, and in the joyous cacophony of the family we visited there – especially the smallest people. You were there at Family Camp, just as much in the boisterous play as in the brilliant silences. You were there on our trip to the Ottawa River, in the crashing whitewater as well as the tranquil ripples. You were there at OELC, in the gathered voices of more than a hundred people, singing this beautiful song written for a beloved little son.

Thanks for the reminders, sweetheart. I needed them. Your heart and my heart are always together, thank goodness. I miss you always and love you forever.

Mama

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Truth and Reconciliation, One Human at a Time

bentwood-box-truth-and-reconciliation-residential-schools
The TRC Bentwood Box, a tribute to all Indian Residential School Survivors, carved by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston.

Today is National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, formerly known as National Aboriginal Day, established to celebrate First Nations, Métis, and Inuit culture in Canada. I know that for many Indigenous people, this day seems like lip-service, since we have not yet established a day to focus on Truth and Reconciliation. I decided to use this day for that purpose.

On this year’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, today marks the official beginning of Canadian celebrations that culminate on Canada Day – the biggest national party we’ve ever had. But some Canadians cannot feel celebratory about a Confederation that served to marginalize our First Peoples. Some are acutely aware that the number 150 has nothing to do with true Indigenous history and everything to do with its erasure. Therefore, we as a nation must make this, right now, a season of commitment and burgeoning for Truth and Reconciliation.

In 2008, the Government of Canada finally apologized for its part in the damage done to Indigenous peoples through the Indian Residential School system. That apology was a landmark event for Canada, and one of Stephen Harper’s better moments, but it could have gone much deeper.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was also formed in 2008, and released its final report in 2015 to let Canadians know what Indigenous peoples needed for healing. There has been some progress since then, including a new and more inclusive government, but in truth, the work has barely begun.

I am white. I was born in Canada, to American immigrants with European roots. I acknowledge that my life, down to the very land I live on, has always been privileged. In this writing, I use the word “we” to refer to generations of us – since long before residential schools – who have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, privilege that exists at the expense of generations of Indigenous peoples. I use the word “you” to reach out to all Indigenous peoples of Canada, you who are alive today as well as your ancestors, who have been victims, and bear the burden, of that same privilege.

As a teacher, a parent, and a proud Canadian, I am trying to figure out how best to participate in Truth and Reconciliation in my country at this historical moment. Perhaps an apology is a good place to start, even as I wonder whether it’s my place or my right to offer one. I don’t know if these words are the right ones, but I hope that they may still be worth writing.

***

First: I’m sorry to be speaking to you as though you were one homogeneous group. I know that you are many different peoples, languages, traditions, stories, and histories, and that it’s partly the dominant white perspective that lumps you together. Sadly, your suffering has also given you much in common, and that is what I want to address.

I’m sorry that when we arrived in this beautiful land, one you had already known and loved and worked and understood for millennia, most of us utterly failed to recognize your civilization, your wisdom, even your humanity – and, of course, your prior claim.

I’m sorry that we so thoroughly abused any welcome or trust that you showed us.

I’m sorry that we lied to you, over and over, about everything, with such sweeping consequences.

I’m sorry that we were unspeakably arrogant, assuming you to be the savages, and ourselves to be the enlightened ones.

I’m sorry that so many of you died from the toxic gifts we brought: firearms, alcohol, and disease.

I’m sorry that we used every tactic possible to push and push and push you to the very margins of your own home, as if our sense of entitlement made any sense whatsoever.

I’m sorry that so many of us, including our governing representatives, saw you as a pest to be managed, and treated you accordingly.

I’m sorry that we thought it was in any way acceptable to wrench your families apart, the better to force your children to become what they were not.

I’m sorry that so many of those 150,000 children – your babies – and also your grandparents – were deprived of their languages, forcibly evangelized, neglected, overcrowded, underfed, beaten, raped, sterilized, experimented on, and otherwise abused, such that thousands died, and thousands more bore – and still bear – every level of scars.

I’m sorry that we outrageously pretended, until very recently, that this was all for your own good.

I’m sorry that, rather than offering necessary support – recompense, remedy, apology, or even sympathy – to your Survivors of residential schools, we spent so many years sweeping it under the rug.

I’m sorry that we deliberately attacked, suppressed, and endangered your languages.

I’m sorry that our actions have made it so hard for your families to re-grow the roots and branches of your tribal and family trees.

I’m sorry that so many of us have no understanding of land claims, seeing them only as traffic disruptions.

I’m sorry that after the centuries of physical, political, and spiritual marginalization we inflicted on you, we have – incredibly – not progressed enough to make restitution; that instead, we continue to desecrate the small bits of land remaining to you with pipelines, highways, and disrespect.

I’m sorry that we seem to expect you to suck it up and be fine, as though “we’re not the bad guys” and “it’s not our problem.”

I’m sorry that so many of us view the addictions, violence, and suffering in your communities as your fault, rather than as the inevitable aftermath of the mass torture of generations of your people.

I’m sorry that we have felt entitled to stereotype you, to use whichever archetypes we like, to mock some aspects of your culture and to co-opt others, with no real understanding of their origins, significance, or sacredness.

I’m sorry that despite being a country that prides itself on respecting, welcoming, celebrating, and being a refuge for a diversity of cultures, we have made you feel so unwelcome and disrespected in your own home.

I’m sorry that we congratulate ourselves on the high standard of living in our nation, even as so many of you live in deplorable conditions.

I’m sorry that we have a reputation for niceness and politeness that glosses over our ugly white supremacist history.

I’m sorry that you have lost so many of your beloved people, especially young ones, to hopelessness and suicide.

I’m sorry that so many of your women have been kidnapped, abused, and murdered – and gone so long uninvestigated by our police.

I’m sorry that such a disproportionate, horrifying number of your babies have been – and are still being – taken away, even from safe families and communities, due to racism and lack of due process on the part of our child welfare authorities.

I’m sorry that despite overwhelming evidence that you are right, and have always been right, when it comes to the urgent necessity of respecting, protecting, and healing this intricately, wholly connected planet we share, many of us are still pretending that we can afford to trash it.

I’m sorry that instead of following your lead of respecting every being, acknowledging that all our futures are interdependent, we are becoming more and more a culture in which derision and cruelty are accepted and fomented – even though we (should) know better.

I’m sorry that there may well be people who read this and dismiss it as exaggeration and overly dramatic.

I’m sorry that there are still adult Canadians who are ignorant of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, its Calls to Action, and its profound importance to Canada.

we-cannot-eat-money
Image via mrbarlow.wordpress.com

***

I know that I am very fortunate to be here. I love that this country is, in many ways, beautiful, safe, diverse, peaceful, and generous. But we have darkness that needs to be acknowledged. We can always do better. I want to be even prouder of us.

Here is what I am starting with, in my journey to be part of an improved Canada that takes Truth and Reconciliation seriously:

I promise to speak frankly to my children and my students, as I did today, about residential schools and Indigenous history that has been misrepresented or left out of education for so long – and to impress upon them that we are all Treaty People.

I promise to continue to  make Indigenous history and teachings an embedded part of my job as a teacher, as authentically as possible. I know that this means including real Indigenous voices as often as I can.

I promise to make every effort to respect Indigenous cultures without appropriating them – never to teach what I do not know or am not entitled to share.

I promise to continue to educate myself as much and as often as possible, to learn from Indigenous people living today, so that my teaching has value.

I promise to stand with you in protesting the violation of our water sources and the desecration of our planet.

I promise to challenge racism out loud when I have the chance.

I promise to make Truth and Reconciliation part of our charitable budget.

In solidarity with you, and in keeping with my own Quaker upbringing, I promise to sit in sacred circles, to listen to  nature, and to remind myself every day of the profound interconnectedness of life on Earth.

Having read the TRC’s report “Honouring the Truth and Reconciling for the Future”, including all ninety-four Calls to Action, I promise to ask my fellow Canadians to do the same.

And I promise to keep learning about the best ways to be part of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

To that end, I am grateful for the people whose work and wisdom I know to be making Truth and Reconciliation more accessible for Canadians: Geronimo Henry, David A. Robertson, Cherie Dimaline, Lee Maracle, Richard Wagamese, Jesse Wente, Jan Sherman, Colinda Clyne, Nancy Rowe, Sean Lessard, Rosanna Deerchild, Thomas King, Wab Kinew, Jeanette Armstrong, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, Nicola Campbell, Michael Kusugak, Tanya Tagaq, Chelsea Vowel, Candy Palmater, Randall Charboneau, Bruce Beardy, Midnight Shine, Samian, Buffy St. Marie, A Tribe Called Red, Neil Monague, Norm Tabobondung, Gord Downie, and others.

truth-and-reconciliation

***


 

 

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Stress Is Just How We Roll These Days

Doesn’t it seem like stress has been trending for too long? Like it’s a bit ridiculous that feeling hassled is not reserved for crunch times – that instead it’s just a way of life?

kid-drawing-happy-sad
This picture AB drew really captures how I’ve been feeling.

Last week a colleague, who also happens to be my friend and neighbour, asked me, “Do you ever feel like you’re just barely scraping by?”

Fervently, I replied, “Ohmigosh, of course. ALL THE TIME.”

This friend of mine is one of the nicest people you can imagine, smart and hardworking and very compassionate. I’ve never seen her seem anything but serene, even when we’re talking about stress.

We were discussing the ever-tricky work/life balance. She told me about a recent incident in which she’d felt unreliable because she couldn’t remember whether or not she’d completed a particular task. This is something I can definitely relate to. The not-so-shining moments of things falling through cracks because… there’s JUST TOO MUCH.

It was, I think, surprising and comforting to both of us that we feel the same about this. I guess we’re both good at seeming fine when we’re not actually that fine.

The truth was, the previous week had been one in which my undulating perspective was rather more vertiginous than usual. My 39th birthday was on the Thursday, followed by Mother’s Day on the Sunday. My birthday was great – I felt loved and celebrated and worthy.

Things fell abruptly into focus for me on Mother’s Day. It was a lovely morning, with pancakes made by my Hubbibi and sweet little cards from my kids. In spite of this, a few hours later I was grouchy and yelly with those same kids. The little darlings had not taken the bait when I told them my dearest Mother’s Day wish was for them to clean their room and/or the playroom. In fact, both kids have arrived at a stage where they feel entitled to A) not do what I ask, like AT ALL, and B) give me attitude about it.  And I just felt bitter.

We did clean up, but I basically had to threaten them. Great mothering right there. (And great childing too.)

The day got better later on, and everything was fine. It’s just that it happens more than I’d like that I get grumpy and raise my voice – and I hate that. I feel myself using guilt as leverage, and I hate that too. But why don’t they see how much work it is to parent them? Why don’t they want to help out? DON’T THEY LOVE ME??

That’s when I start to fret. Are my kids just lazy and selfish? Is it permanent? And if they are, isn’t it muchly my fault, as their mother?

Sean says I worry too much, and I’m sure he’s right. He generally doesn’t worry – but I have no idea how such non-worrying is accomplished. Case in point…

Examples of Things I Worry About

  • My kids are spoiled beyond all help
  • My house will never be clean or even properly tidy for more than 17 minutes
  • I’m not a good mom
  • I’m not a properly nice person anymore either – I’ve just got people fooled
  • Teaching is not my true calling
  • My “undulating perspective” is actually something wrong with my brain
  • My energy oscillation is actually some weird disease
  • The frequent headaches I get are actually cancer
  • E’s melodrama is actually depression
  • AB will grow up to be a Mean Girl
  • My husband will die young and I’ll be a single mom
  • My mind is disorganized because of all the thoughts that want to much to be written down but can’t be because NO TIME
  • Work/life balance is a pipe dream. Period.

I swear I’ve never been a pessimist or a hypochondriac. I never used to stress out about little things, and it used to take a lot more for me to lose my temper. If I remember correctly, I did not used to be bitchy.

*Sigh.*

When I think about it at this moment, with the kids asleep in bed (no doubt looking like gorgeous innocent cherubs), I can convince myself that it’s probably not that they’re inherently or permanently lazy/selfish/evil. It’s probably just that they’re four and almost-eight, and they’re figuring out what they can get away with.

And maybe I’m not done for, either. I often have those moments where I look at my healthy children, my brick of a husband, my incredibly comfortable bed, my pretty house, my friendly neighbourhood filled with trees… And I’m completely dazzled by my good fortune. I can hardly believe I get to live this life.

As long as I keep coming back to some semblance of equanimity once in a while, I’m sure I’ll be fine. And get some fracking sleep, for crying out loud. (Or for not crying out loud. One would hope.)

Tomorrow I leave for OELC for a week. Experience tells me it will be one of the busiest and most exciting weeks of my year. It does include stress – but it’s all temporary, and all focused in one place. It’s a place to get centred and come back tired but refreshed. And by then it’s June! So EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE PEACHY.

That’s the plan.

***


 

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Spring Flowers and their Intoxicating Magic

Yay, it’s spring! Somehow, I’m even more excited about it this year than usual. I’m glad there’s been plenty of rain, like there’s supposed to be. I’m glad there’s been nice sweater-weather – some years it seems we go straight from winter to summer.

A few weeks ago, I had a dream weekend (for the likes of me). I got to perform with my dance sisters at two different events, and train at two workshops with the amazing Audra Simmons. On Sunday, I had an afternoon date with my Hubbibi in which we had a great meal uninterrupted and then wandered around together conversing uninterrupted in the beautiful spring weather. To top it all off, we went to my parents’ to pick up our children, and I had the chance to go out to the marsh and surround myself with this sound:

It just makes me happy.

And now, the flowers are here! Which makes me even gladder. It seems the flowers are just as affecting for AB. We both got in a tizzy about the sweet, fragrant violets when they popped up.

spring-violets

And we were thrilled about these little irises.

spring-irises

AB was so taken with them, she decided on the spot that she would change her name to Iris. Thenceforth, her name would be Iris Olivia P. (Olivia P. is her best friend’s name). Her own actual name was third in line. That evening, I tried to remember to call her Iris a few times. Luckily, this kind of pretending is usually short-lived. She practiced writing her new name a bunch, but hasn’t made us use it.

A week later, I got a note from her JK teacher asking if there was real significance to the name Iris, since AB had been insisting it was actually her name. She had reportedly gotten upset in line at spring picture day because the silly photographers were outrageously USING HER OLD NAME. The poor supply teacher who was with the class that day didn’t know what to do.

Yesterday when I picked AB up at the end of the day, her teacher looked a little unsure and said, “I hope you’ll find this funny…” and handed me the school photo proofs.

I didn’t just laugh, I practically guffawed. Sean did the same when he saw them. Now THAT is a picture of a girl who is pleased with herself. We may actually order some, for the first time.

Our darling children also insisted on a sibling picture, even though we hadn’t requested one.  Doesn’t it look like they love each other?

Here’s one more picture, from today, because I was so excited. It’s the wee cherry tree we planted last year. We didn’t know whether to expect anything but leaves… but yippee! Cherry blossoms!

spring-cherry-blossoms

Spring is so great.

***


 

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 5: Dance

I’ve saved Dance for last in my 5-Day Artist Challenge, because my relationship with dance is both of utmost importance to me, and hardest to describe. (So hard, in fact, that apparently I had to wait for ages, forget that I still had never finished the post, and pick it up with renewed fervour.) You may have forgotten, in all this time,  about the Café Bakery of the Artist Challenge, but it’s official. Writing is sourdough, Drama is French toast, Visual Art is sandwiches, and Music is cookies. Therefore: in thinking hard about what the Bread of Dance would be, I’ve decided that it’s flatbread.

Seems counter-intuitive, maybe, but this is how anciently foundational I know dance to be. Flatbread has existed for thousands of years. It is essential to cultures all over the world. It is as sacred as communion wafer, and as celebratory as focaccia pizza. Flatbread is important whether you have everything, or almost nothing. It can be crisp or soft or stretchy, or basically whatever you need it to be. It’s tortilla, it’s naan, it’s lavash, it’s chapati, it’s matzo, it’s pita, it’s roti, and so on. And any of those types can be consumed in simplicity, or filled with all kinds of delicious details.

communion-bread-sacrament
Communion bread via tvo.com
foccacia-pizza
Focaccia pizza via gratednutmeg.com

And another thing: flatbread is very often round, like the dances in so many cultures. A circular creation that underpins and supports many aspects of culture. I make this point because for me, dance is not just a joy, but a necessity. It is not just a practice, but a basis for community.

It always makes me sad to know there are those who believe they can’t or shouldn’t dance. I’m lucky to have been encouraged in dance ever since early childhood. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have that instinct squelched. The urge to manifest a rhythm or melody, to let yourself be literally moved by the music, especially for young kids, is a powerful one.

The Groove movement, made known to me by my amazing Dance co-facilitator at OELC iArts, insists that we can ALL dance. That if we think we can’t, all we need are few building blocks to help us find our own style. That, and a safe space to move. Dancing is for everyone. It counts whether you’re dancing with thousands at a rock concert, or by yourself in your bedroom. We all need that whole-body thrill of letting the music become part of us.

My dance journey has been through many phases:

  • Dancing as a preschooler, wearing whatever dancey costume I could get my hands on, in our living room with my sisters – mostly to dances by Brahms or Dvorák;
  • Taking my first ballet classes, realizing I would not wear an actual tutu or pointe shoes for many years, but still adoring how sublime I felt doing it;
  • Taking up figure skating as well and loving the transfer of dance onto ice;
  • Going through puberty and suddenly being less-good at both these forms of dance (where being petite – not to mention short-waisted – is a huge natural advantage);
  • Attending Wilfrid Laurier University and taking ALL the dance classes offered (i.e. ballet, jazz, hip-hop, modern, swing, jive, and Latin);
  • Attending the University of Toronto and joining the Only Human Dance Collective, which gave me more experience in everything, plus Irish and African and – finally – bellydance.

The meet-cute between bellydance and me occurred while I was working on my Masters in Toronto. The hip-hop class I wanted to sign up for was full. I thought, Hm, I’ve never tried this! I was hooked the first time I saw my teacher do a maya. I couldn’t wait to learn how to do that.

Once I began learning, I fell straightaway in love. It was all so fascinatingly beautiful. And finally my body had found a home. Finally it could be itself – long waist, large ribcage, prominent butt, funny-shaped feet and everything. Finally I was teaching it to do things that felt natural.

Since then, I have discovered that bellydance, in Ontario at least, is not just a hobby but a community – one full of diversity, creativity, and caring.

This past November, the dance troupe I belong to presented its biennial professional show called Mosaic. In this show, bellydance techniques are fused with all kinds of other dance techniques to create wonderful, unique choreography. There are a dozen of us who form the main troupe, and we worked really hard to bring the visions of our choreographers to life.

There is no way to adequately describe the rush you feel when combining the satisfaction of a job well done, the joy of movement, the exhilaration of performing in front of an audience, and the bond of a loving community working their tails off together. I am incredibly grateful to be part of it.

Here is a piece we did in November. It took the most work of any of our pieces, because it required the most intricate synergy. It is chock-full of empowerment symbolism. No performance is perfect, but we are proud of this one.

Here is another piece that we did at the previous Mosaic two years ago. This is a favourite piece of the troupe in general because it’s so much fun. I adore it because it makes me feel like a kid: whooping and hollering, being unabashedly noisy with an instrument, animating a big swishy skirt, and especially dancing the big circle at the end where we skip and gallop – just pure candid joy.

Now my daughter is taking creative dance classes, and she loves them. Her excitement when she emerges from the studio is a sign that she is getting the joy I wish for her. And both my kids, when we put on music at home and just boogie down, have fun and smile more afterwards. It’s a shot of happiness to the body and soul.

***


 

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