Mothers and Daughters

In grade school I had a long walk to school. At least it seemed long. I crossed Lawrence Avenue which was quite a busy street and didn’t get crossing lights until I was much older. But I was able to come home for lunch which was a treat for me. My mother was creative and I would often have interesting shapes or combinations of food, plus gourmet treats (look in the freezer - it’s Peach Melba!)

I walked to and from school with my best friend Mary Curcio. We would play Bewitched, or Lost in Space and I would carry a story line over many days.

In October when I was in grade two, my Mom mentioned at lunch that she was heading up towards my school, did Mary and I want to get a ride back with her? I said “Sure” and went to get Mary. My Mom said she had to leave right away, so if we didn’t get back in five minutes she would have to go without us. I know that she said this, but I didn’t really hear it.

Mary was not a quick kind of girl. She was very thoughtful and never ever hurried. When I tried to impress upon her to hurry up so we could get a ride, it didn’t seem to make any difference. I kept looking out to the door and 10 minutes later saw what I feared – my mother driving up the street without me.

I ran outside and up the sidewalk, screaming and waving my arms. I didn’t understand the total panic that I was feeling – but if was very real. When my Mom stopped the car, I almost laughed at myself for my overreaction, but she was actually just stopped at the stop sign at the top of the street. She started going again. I was about 4 houses back and downhill. She didn’t see me.

The desperation I felt as I ran screaming after her bumper was almost overwhelming. And I don’t know why. I had just had lunch with her, and would see her after school in a few hours. I had time to get to school on my own, as I did every other day. Yet…I was sobbing and couldn’t stop.

I had the same feeling for the first time in a very long time just last week. After not seeing my daughter for nearly four months, I had flown to the Yukon Territory to meet her in Whitehorse. After a long journey, we finally arrived to check into one of the top hotels. Can you picture a top hotel in Whitehorse Yukon? I bet you can.

10:30 pm in Downtown Whitehorse, Yukon

10:30 pm in Downtown Whitehorse, Yukon

I reminded the front desk clerk that my daughter would be arriving separately and she was to get her key as soon as the room was ready. She said; “Oh your daughter was here ten minutes ago…you just missed her.”

My body folded exactly as I imagine it would had I been kicked in the stomach. It was the same feeling of desperate loss. I burst into tears. The poor clerk was very concerned – “I’m sure she’ll be back! I told her the room would be ready in a couple of hours.”

I looked at Blaine and he kept very cool. However, he did understand and left immediately to look for her in the car while I watched from the window of my fourth floor room to try and see her on the street.

I don’t think I had never gone so long without seeing one of my kids before. It was exacerbated by the fact that she was so far out in the wilds – two and a half hours north west of Whitehorse, past Lake Lebarge where they cremated Sam McGee!  She had no texting, no email, no phone, and limited access to Facebook only after 11:00 at night. She had a fantastic research position at the Arctic Institute of North America. It seemed she was doing great and have a wonderful summer but I really wanted to get a hold of her and see for myself.

We knew where to look – Starbucks or the book store. Blaine found her in Starbucks. When I saw our rental car coming back down the road, and I could just make out her arm showing through on the passenger side. I bolted out of the room, down four flights of stairs and out on to the street. Where I hugged her. And sobbed. And kept sobbing. I’m crying now just remembering. I am sure that I embarrassed her something fierce. But she didn’t let go.

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The Bunkie (a very short story)

On my grandparents island in Haliburton, a perfect path led through the woods to the bunkie.   The light was mottled through a canopy of leaves above, and the ground was soft and quiet – a blanket of pine needles and soft earth over the exposed rocks.

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We would sneak down and play in the bunkie when the hot afternoon sun would drive us off the rocks by the water.  My little brothers would get tired and head back to the cottage but I would stay until I was called up for dinner.

I begged to be able to stay there by myself.  Of course, they never let me.  They did agree that it would be the perfect spot for the boys when they were older.  I knew even then that they would ruin it – with their stolen beers and crushed cigarettes.  With their friends who were loud and messy.

The summer I turned 11, my parents went out to the Yacht Club’s big party.  I was mortified that they insisted on getting a babysitter.  Helen was only a few years older than me, and about 4 inches shorter.  She let me stay up and watch t.v. with her after the boys were asleep. Then, Helen was shaking me roughly and hissing into my ear,  “Your parents are home!”

I bolted up the stairs and was in my bed before they came into the cottage.  I made my jaw go slack and slowed my breathing to mimic sleep.  I heard the muffled conversation from downstairs as Helen left – walking home alone down the cottage road with just a flashlight.

A cloud of Shalimar wafted into my room just before my mother did.  She leaned over me,  watching me in the moonlight and shaking her head.  My mother was always beautiful – delicate and perfect.  She never looked lovelier than that night.

“My God how do we keep kidding ourselves?” she said, in a loud stage whisper,  “It’s not a stage she’s going through!”  My father came in to the room and tried to shush her.  “C’mon lovely, let’s call it a night”.

“Look at her.  Just look at her!  You know people can’t even believe that she’s my daughter!  This massive klutz.  This loser.  Pathetic.”  My mother then spun on her heel and careened into my father’s always waiting arms.

That fall I left for boarding school.  I never lived at home again. As I got older, I visited the cottage less and less. There were summer jobs, and studies abroad.  Eventually I married and moved down South.  I haven’t been back in many years. Even now though, these many years later when I smell that certain forest smell I am right back there – skipping along down the path to the bunkie.

Last year, my brother sent me a photo of his lovely little daughter.  She is standing on the porch of the bunkie with my mother twirling her in her little princess dress.  My mother looks very happy.

 

 

 

 

Treat me like a dog. Please.

The Right to Die is a hot topic in Canada right now – brought forward by Member of Parliament Steven Fletcher, who is a quadriplegic as a result of an accident.  He is proposing that under certain circumstances, and with statutory requirements in place,  doctor may be allowed to help people end their lives if that is their desire.
Here’s what I think:
In Toronto in 2006, a man in a car attacked a police officer who was mounted on his horse and injured both of them. Now this was no mere horse – Brigadier was star. This is how the press covered what happened:

“A Toronto police horse killed in the line of duty last month was given a hero’s send-off at a memorial on Monday that drew 1,000 people, according to police estimates.”

 

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Now you will notice that is says the horse was “killed in the line of duty”.  But this is not true.  He was horrifically injured in line of duty, and as we treat our animals far better than our family members, he was mercifully shot.

It’s all well and good to say that there are drugs available that can manage the pain and suffering for those with life threatening or terminal diseases.  It just isn’t true.  Sometimes the pain can’t be managed and it’s horrible for the patient, his family and his caregivers.

People should have the choice to end their life when they choose.  Nobody can make that choice for them – and the ‘slippery slope’ that people talk about can surely be managed through review boards, or procedures that protect everyone involved.

Have you ever watched someone drown in their own fluids in their own bed?  I have. And felt so clearly that if my cat or dog was in such pain and fear I would not allow it to continue.  Yet still people want them to carry on.   I fear we are on the wrong side of history here – that our grandchildren will look on this practice in horror.

 

 

 

 

Screamed like a Girl…

A few years ago I broke my back coming off my horse. I was very lucky. My helmet was cracked – which was a pretty good indicator of the force of impact. Had I not been wearing the helmet, I would probably be typing this with a blower straw rather than my hands.

Six weeks after the fall, I returned to the fracture clinic at the hospital for my followup. The doctor told me that I was healing very well and could begin moderate exercise. I told him that was good, as I had already been playing tennis for two weeks!

This is just to show that I do not step away from things without good reason. And right now I am out. On the DL. This is what happened.

About a month ago in the frenzy of pre-move packing, I was carrying a large box down the stairs that was almost too heavy for me. The bottom of the box gave way, and I used only my right arm to stop the contents from spilling out. I felt something tear. It eased quickly and I carried on.

A couple of weeks after that, I did EXACTLY what my yoga teacher says is the reason many woman get injuries – I reached into the back seat, while driving, to grab my purse. As I swung it into the front seat, it caught on my tennis bag and I felt something tear. Again.

This also eased off and I was able to continue normal activities. To be fair, I was being extremely conscious of hitting the tennis ball in front of me – because hitting behind me as I am wont to do was really quite painful. My tennis game actually improved with this better focus and positioning.

On Monday, we were walking in the fields when my two stupid dogs were roughhousing and collided right behind me, taking me out at the knees. My husband laughed – I fell right on top of the two dogs and it did look pretty funny – but stopped laughing when he saw that I was crying. It wasn’t the fall – it was the surprise that had me fling my arms back. (You remember what surprised arms look like right? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bmhjf0rKe8) The pain was excruciating, but after an hour of hiking it eased off once again.

Yesterday I was walking in the fields with the dogs – alone this time – when something caught their attention and they wouldn’t heel. The two older dogs were frantically digging in the middle of the pasture. I went over to see what had engaged them so and saw the puppy in the middle looking from one to the other. They had come upon an extremely large nest of field mice. As the two dogs dug, the puppy snapped at the baby mice as they flew in the air and swallowed them whole.

I stood and watched for a second or two and then the remaining mice used another tunnel to escape their furry foes – and ran out en masse, right over my boots. I screamed like a girl. Twice. And leapt backwards, throwing my arms back once again. The pain made me weak in the knees. And this time it didn’t ease off.

I tried to play tennis later that morning. Nothing if not an optimist, I was sure it was moments away from going back to nearly normal. It did not and I could not play well at all. My signature trick shot – hitting behind me without even looking – couldn’t happen. My serve was beyond weak and I couldn’t hit an overhead with power to save my life. So I am on the DL.

Conveniently, I was already seeing my doctor yesterday afternoon for a referral for foot surgery. Isn’t getting old fun kids? He checked my shoulder and sent me for an x-ray and an ultrasound – even while noting that really only an MRI would give us any real information.

At the x-ray clinic I was unable to do up my hospital gown. I told the lady if I could do it up I wouldn’t be there! Now I have to use my other arm to position my bad shoulder to do hard tasks like reach for groceries or put on mascara. It sucks. So I am taking the weekend off of tennis. We’ll see.

Saying Goodbye to Yesterday

This is a picture of photographs that I am throwing out. Now quiet down, I know – believe me – what true treasures photos are. And I would like to add that this is actually only HALF of the photos that I have tossed in the last week. So much so that I can’t lift them. So much so that the garbage men refused to take them. Them suckers are heavy!

bye bye past

bye bye past

The problem is, back in the day (i.e. the 80’s) it only cost $1.00 to get a duplicate set of prints when you brought your film in. If you waited to see which ones you liked and copied them after the fact it was much more expensive. So every roll that I took in at that time, I got one or two! extra sets of prints. As did my parents. And most of the pictures were crap. But how would you know??

It’s not like today where you can view the photo immediately, edit it on the phone or more professionally on your computer, send it off by email or post it on Facebook or Instagram at that exact moment. You do not have the admittedly thrilling moment of waiting for that envelope to see the pictures usually days after the event.

Plus, I inevitably ordered the big set of every school photo.  Why I felt I needed 16 pictures of each child, each year, is not clear to me anymore.

Of the perhaps 2400 photos that I removed from my home, at least 25% of them were of my first born son Elton. In fact, if I gathered them all up carefully, I could create a flip book that shows him from the first day in the hospital right through to starting school. To say that I was enamoured of him is far too slight. His every movement, facial expression or action was perceived as miraculous and I felt it needed to be saved for future generations to share. I was wrong.

I have painstakingly gone through every single photo, and divided them thusly:

Keepers for me – perhaps to go into albums. Sometime in the future.

Keepers for the kids – one Tupperware bin for each marked “Your Childhood in a Box.”

Your Childhood in a Box!

Your Childhood in a Box!

Things to send to others – I love to get old photos and letters from the past! Do they?

GARBAGE – this is the vast majority.

I am also the keeper of my husband’s memories as well. I have boxes and boxes of letters, diaries, clippings etc. My husband doesn’t keep stuff. He usually throws his birthday cards into the garbage before the cake is served. He has lovely photos from his travels – but sadly, they are all pictures of buildings. It could be Pakistan, Pittsburgh or Prague. Who can tell?  My mother always said: “put some PEOPLE in your photos or just buy a picture of Niagara Falls.”

Most of the diaries and letters went into the garbage as well. Just what was I saving them for? I think that having lost my childhood photos in a family dispute (19 albums held for ransom – which I didn’t pay) I have gotten better at letting go. I don’t need the photos from my past. I remember.

Camp Trailfinder, Dorset, Ontario. July 12-26, 1969

This is a message for all of those parents who are welcoming back their kids from summer camp. Just a heads up – your kid learned more, tried more, and grew up more in three weeks at camp than they did three months during the school year. I guess that’s kind of the point.

When I was young, my parents were dead set against summer camp. They had both grown up poor and the idea of sending your child out into the bush, to be cared for by strangers in a remote and potentially dangerous place was terrifying for them.

The concept of ‘roughing it’ was something they both tried their whole lives to avoid. But I begged and begged. The cost for a two week stay was a great deal of money for them. I was struck by the photos of camp – kids singing around a fire, jumping off the dock, and – mostly – riding horses. Like most camps, the one I chose showed the horse portion of the program in an unrealistic ratio to how much riding their actually was. But it didn’t matter.

Camp Trailfinder.  Me at 11

Camp Trailfinder. Me at 11

I loved it. And the two weeks that I spent there when I was 11 years old were remarkable. For two reasons.

At about 11:00 p.m. on July 20th, 1969, I gathered with other campers and counsellors to listen on a tiny transistor radio as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. We stood outside, trying to get reception in the woods of Northern Ontario – and stared up at the sky in wonderment and heard those famous words: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

But, frankly, that wasn’t the most important thing that happened to me that week. A few nights later, I woke up and heard talking. It was very late and I got up to see what was going on. Now the cabin had bunks at each end, with a washroom and lockers in the middle. The roofline was a complete triangle and the counsellors slept on a flat loft above us – with no walls. They were able to look down on either side and see what was going on.

It also worked the other way. When I heard my counsellor whispering I was stunned to hear a reply from a guy – not the other female counsellor who shared the space. It was very late. I was able to stand on the headboard of my bed and just peek over into the loft above. In the dim light from a tiny lamp, I could just make out two bodies lying in one of the single beds. This is what I heard:

C’mon…you know you want to.”

“I can’t”.

“Sure you can baby. It will be fine I promise.”

“Someone will hear us!”

Nah, they are all asleep. Please. You know you’re my special girl.”

There would be silences while I assume they were kissing and then it would start up again. This went on a long time. It was very Paradise by the Dashboard Light.                                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmPMMitJDYg

I honestly don’t know how long I stood, balanced on my tiptoes, just able to see the outlines of my counsellor and the very cute sailing teacher who was imploring her to have sex. The negotiating went on much longer than the actual intercourse that followed. And yes, I watched that too – or at least what I could see of it. It didn’t seem like she enjoyed it very much. He left immediately afterwards – without any romantic declarations which surprised me after all the movies I had seen. He just … bailed. She cried.

The next day, I saw at breakfast when he walked past our table she looked up at him and smiled and he didn’t even glance at her. Her face fell and she grew more despondent as the day went on and he ignored her completely. She was devastated, crying in her friends arms and watching him constantly. It was hard to miss him making out the very next night at the bonfire with the French Canadian girl who worked in the kitchen.

I cannot stress enough what an important lesson this was for me. At 11 years of age, I thought I was pretty cool and that I had it all figured out. Now I had learned something else. He gave her affection and attention when he really wanted sex. She gave him sex when she really wanted affection and attention. To this day, I have never done anything sexual that wasn’t entirely my choice. Because, that night, I watched and I learned.

7 Things My Father Taught Me….

My father has been gone now for nearly 20 years.  He has been in my thoughts a great deal lately.  Here are some of the things that he tried to teach me:

# 1 – We took relatives visiting from Des Moines, Iowa to the Guild Inn. This was an incredible old hotel, with antiquities surrounding the grounds, artist’s studios and an exact replica of massive English cedar maze. I was just four. I ran with my sister and three cousins, all older, deep into the maze. It was late afternoon and I was tired. I couldn’t keep up and was soon completely lost. What had started out as a magical adventure, turned into something much darker as the late afternoon sun slipped behind the clouds and I was surrounded by 9 foot hedges. I started to cry. And then I started to scream.

My maze was much taller!

My maze was much taller!

Very soon thereafter, I could hear my father was calling to me – “Wheeere’s Leslie?” – in a sing-song voice completely at odds with the sound his body made crashing through the hedges. He sounded like a bear coming at a dead run. He broke through the woods in front of me; sweating, and bleeding from dozens of scratches. He lifted me up on his shoulders and I could see our way out of the maze.

Lesson – Sometimes, only sometimes – fuck the rules.

#2 – My father was a very large man, tall and broad, with a deep thundering voice. He was noticed and deferred to in many situations. When we would be in line at a concession stand, at the fair or the beach, the young person serving would always try to serve him first. We would be standing there, impatient, hot and thirsty and my father would say “I think this young man was ahead of me.” and point to the little boy standing in front of us. The boy was shocked and the kid serving might have learned something as well.

Lesson – Play fair.

#3 – When I was about 11 we were at a lovely resort in Northern Ontario where my Dad was the keynote speaker at a conference. In the afternoon, he tried to arrange for me to go horseback riding. They wouldn’t let me go with the guide by myself and my Dad didn’t want to disappoint me, so rather than prepping for his address that evening, my Dad went riding with me. Now I was a pretty good rider – I hadn’t yet made that switch from horses to boys – and it was  wonderful for me to be riding on lovely trails through the woods. I’m not sure that my father had ever been on a horse. At one point the guide advised that this was a good place to – “open ‘em up a bit” – and my dad suggested that the guide and I go on and he would follow at a slower pace.

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I flew with the guide through the open fields, and I can almost remember how blissful that felt – to be completely without fear. When we reached the other side, we let the horses catch their breath and waited for my Dad to catch up. I could just see him in the distance, coming our way. Now he had told the stable that I could ride but he was not experienced. They, correctly, gave him a smaller, placid horse that would give him no trouble. So here comes my very large father, on a old horse barely taller than a pony. And they were trotting. A very bouncy trot. Man-china busting kind of trot. And it suddenly dawned on me. He was not having fun. I was having one of the best days EVER and he was beyond uncomfortable. He must have been miserable! “Are you okay Dad?” I asked when he caught up. “As lONg aS you’Re haVing Fun hoNey!” he said, as he bounced right by us.

Lesson – It’s not really fun unless it’s fun for everyone (but you can suck it up for your kids)

#4 – When he would be working on the weekend and my mother would come to the office to join him, he would have her call just before she left the house, so he could go down into the lower level parking garage and be there when she pulled in so she wouldn’t have to walk through the underground garage alone. The first time my father drove home a girlfriend of mine to an empty house, he told her that we would wait in the car while she got inside and checked things out. When she had taken a good look around, she would blink the light to let us know everything was okay, and we would drive away. I have done this maybe a hundred times since then. This taught me about caring for people.. But it also taught me about paying attention. And that steps could be taken to perhaps change the outcome of events. My father would sit calm but vigilant while he waited for that light to blink, and I know that if anything had seemed even slightly amiss, he would have entered the home, and whatever situation was unfolding.

Lesson – Show Up

#5 – One of the biggest lessons was the one I didn’t learn. My father got his degree at night school, while dealing with a full-time and very demanding job, a wife and two daughters at home. When I had the grades to attend University, and he was willing to pay for it, he was flummoxed/gobsmacked/stunned that I didn’t want to go. He tried desperately to convince me to go, but nothing he said – nothing anyone might have said – could have changed my mind. What a jerk I was. This ranks right up there in the list of mistakes that I have made in my life. I was a fool not to have gone to University when it was offered to me. (I did go back years later, after I was married but it was different by then. I had been out in the world for a while and I was much more certain about those things about which I was certain.)

Lesson – Remain teachable. (there is much that you don’t know that you don’t know)

#6 – My father was abandoned by his father when he was four years old. His mother worked long hours in their family store and brought home the vegetables and fruits that were going to be thrown out. My father decided at a very young age that he would not be poor for his entire life. He would work hard – so very hard – to give his family, and himself, the finer things in life. He got really excited by every new car, every nice hotel room, every steak dinner that filled the empty places that he had grown up with. He had been both rich and poor and chose to not be poor anymore. He never put on airs – he and my mother were both clearly mutts who came from poor families and often went without while they were growing up. He made sure that my sister and I wanted for nothing – while still understanding and appreciating the value of everything.

Lesson – Work = Rewards. You can choose the life you have.

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#7 – Most important of all, my father taught me that there was nothing I couldn’t do. For a young girl that was extremely important. He believed in me. He thought I was smart and talented and able. I took that vote of confidence and respect into every job interview I ever had, on every first date, in every social or business situation.  Long ahead of the curve, he hired a black women to head up one of the departments in his company. He hired an openly gay man in the late ’70’s when it was more than uncommon to do so. He respected people for who they were and what they could do – and that was enough.

Lesson – Who you are is far more important than what you are.

I miss him still.