A Pretend

~ by Vanessa

He’d hold his hand out to us, his fingers seemingly wrapped around a little surprise, and coax us over to see what was inside. We’d hesitate, knowing it was the same as the last time, but inevitably, we could not risk that it wasn’t. As we stepped closer, he’d throw his arms in the air, exclaiming “it’s a pretend!” He’d then wrap us in a hug or we’d run away laughing that we’d been tricked again. He does this to our daughters now, a bid for their attention and affection in the same way he did to their mothers.

His delivery of this trick has not changed in thirty odd years. My dad tells me stories in the same low soft voice I heard as a child, his wicked blue eyes peaking out from his heavy brow giving away that the story will have an unexpected twist designed to provoke a laugh. His ways are practiced to make you feel comfortable in his home, to disarm you with those laughs. I’ve rarely heard him ask much more of life than a roof over his head, food in his belly and a hug.

Several years ago with my heart shattered into impossible pieces, he told me to come home for the winter; he’d tend the fire and keep the house warm. It was really all he said about the matter. I didn’t go home, but knowing I could and that someone would be there to take care of me was all I needed to start healing. The biggest of my life lessons have been taught by him, through example. They’ve etched themselves on my being and guide me as I move through time.

He taught me forgiveness, a hard lesson to learn, and one that anchors me on a regular basis when I need to call on it. I know how it feels, how freeing it is and I can practice it because of him. He taught me the beauty of simplicity and showed me the fragility of life. He showed me how to extract the happy.

He will be seventy this year and the years I have been gifted are still insufficient for what I’ve left to learn. No matter how much time I get, it will be insufficient to sustain me. I was rarely disappointed that his hand held nothing more than air, it was funny, it was fun. It was one of his best lessons – that Life is only as exciting as my belief in what that outstretched hand holds.

Dad
Courtesy of Yorke Photography

Extract the Happy

by Vanessa

I can hear their muffled voices calling my name from downstairs. I crouch deeper into the depths of the closet, a small space behind my husband’s clothes and under the attic stairs. I try to figure out how long it will be before they find me; two magical girls with cherub cheeks and sticky fingers; looking for and needing their mama. This is not a game of hide and seek though. This is me coming apart at the seems, trying to do a quick repair with old thread and shaky fingers before I am found and have to be the grown up.

I write about the sweet things in life, I capture moments in words to illustrate the beauty in the simple. I extract the happy. Hiding in the back of the closet, it seems I have lost my pick and axe – breathing is a chore. I have everything I asked for of the universe and here I am not knowing how to cope. How did I get here? Where are my words? Like me, the world feels torn and tattered. I am overwhelmed by the mess and don’t know where to start the work. I hear them on the stairs. It won’t be long before I am found. Where is the thread? Where the words of my friends who remind me those thundering footsteps are my work?

My grandmother’s quilt is in here. I can’t see it in the dark, but I know it’s a wedding ring pattern with a white background. She did not make the quilt. It is a treasure we found together at a yard sale for a mere five dollars. A physical memory of early mornings in her car, conversations, and Conway Twitty songs she couldn’t get enough of. I have used it to as a table cloth, a picnic blanket, and wrapped myself in it for warmth. It sits at the back of the closet because it too is coming apart at the seems. I am scared to take it out and use it anymore because I don’t know how to repair it.

I don’t know how to sew. I can crudely replace a button, sew up a small hole in a crooked fashion. I feel like this is how I am caring for myself; fix this hole, put this piece back on, oh right, I remember I left a piece of Vanessa over there while they were babies, better sew that back on. I am an assembled bunch of scraps and pieces, some leftover from other projects, some old, and some new material to work with. I guess I too am a quilt at the back of the closet. A quilt that my children find and pull back out into the light and wrap themselves in for warmth.

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Growing Magic

– Vanessa (original post, April 2016)

Four years ago I committed the most selfish act that I will ever commit as a human being, and then did it again two and a half years later.

The small creature that slept on my chest the first night of her existence did not ask to be a part of this world. Of a world I cannot begin to understand, one that is terrifying, ugly, and hateful. One that is joyful, beautiful and loving. I question what right I had to make another human a part of this thing, a part of her own kind and force her to understand it simply because I wanted her. My body screamed to do what it was designed to do, my mind blindly followed, my heart is still scarred.

In her delivery room I anesthetized myself to her entrance into this place. I grew a human and during her arrival I grew an extra set of arms, two eyes in the back of my head and what big ears, “the better to hear you with my dear.” A disturbing image of what it was to earn my new name; a human who becomes a mutation of her own self. And in an even more horrifying manner, that no one knows how to describe to you, one final transformation happens in the very moment  human resources notifies you, you have been selected for the job. A set of the disembodied hands appear over your body, a la Ursula stealing Ariel’s voice box, to remove a small but crucial piece of your heart while the other one digs deep into your aching, exhausted body to extract a piece of your soul. They hold these pieces over you; smash them together and without you realizing what has happened a tiny wailing babe rests on your chest. Congratulations, you are now a mother.

I asked for this, pleaded to the universe for it and it was delivered to me, twice. The genie warns to be careful what you wish for. Duly noted genie, duly noted. I wanted create magic, I wanted it to exist wholly and completely in my life. I wanted someone who would join me on my quest to find Neverland, second star to the right and straight until morning; another lost boy who didn’t want to grow up. When the fog lifted from this terrifying moment, I had it. There in my arms was the small creature full of light, thunder and pure, simple magic. I tucked her away in her blankets and caught a glimpse in the mirror of a pirate. Startled, I took a closer look, sure enough there I was, grown up. What have I done, for the only grown-ups in Neverland are pirates, and it seems I have forgotten how to play.

She doesn’t know me at all.

By: Jodi

She tells me I’m so happy and free spirited. My smile is glowing, I’m always singing and laughing and joking. She says it fills the room. I’m so confident and fearless. She says I can do anything.

I thought, my God, this woman doesn’t know me at all.

My Aunt Kelly can see right through you. She can see exactly who you are. She doesn’t see your self-deprecation, your anger and contempt for the world or the terrible ways in which you abuse yourself. She doesn’t see the person you’ve convinced yourself you are. It’s not that she’s easily fooled or naïve or that she ignores it, she just can’t see it. The bright lights she sees shining from your soul blind her to all that other fake bullshit you put out into world.

All she sees is your light.

My sister and cousins and the neighbourhood kids and I spent many weekends putting on skits and plays and singing made up songs to her. We would do anything to make her laugh or growl or to shock or annoy her. Anything to get a reaction. She delivered smacks on the bum with a slight grin on her face put there by your mischief.

She saw me when I was new and bright and shiny. She saw me when I was exactly who I was naturally, easily, freely.

What she doesn’t know is that I glowed before I came to the realization that I was:

Too tall

Too wide

Too flat

Too heavy

Too fat

Too long-backed

Too short legged

Too damn ugly

Too loud

Too strong

Too aggressive

Too masculine, really

Too excited

Too enthusiastic

It was before my body became bigger than my soul.

It was before:

My hair got too curly

My feet got too gnarly

My skin got too many scars

My legs got too hairy

My teeth got too yellow

Before:

I became bad at math

Bad at science

Slow at reading

Awkward at parties

Before I became basic

You see, my Aunt Kelly doesn’t know me at all.

She remembers me though. She remembers a proud 5 year old girl who came in second place in the community bike rodeo over all the other boys (except that one boy). She remembers the 13 year old who carried the school’s tuba home on the bus because it was cool and I wanted to learn how to play it. Have you ever seen a tuba? Have you ever been on a school bus? The two make for a tight fit but how else was I going to be as awesome as this tuba?

All of this; however, was before clear, logical reasons (not fear, of course) kept me from the awesome things reserved for awesome people. Yet again, I suppose all the years self-deprecation, shame and embarrassment of myself haven’t served me well. They probably dimmed that light a bit.  I know that, really. She knows that.

If only we could all be a little bit more like my Aunt Kelly. Only able to see the light and the bright of each other. And tell each other about it. There’s the key.

She sees it in you. She sees it in me. She sees it in her Alzheimer’s patients. She sees it in that mean man who hates himself and that young woman who clearly doesn’t have her shit together. She sees it in the biggest A-hole on the block.

Does she see it in herself? Well, aren’t we all learning to be?

You know,

I think,

Maybe,

She knows exactly who I am.

Becoming the Grocery Store Lady

– Vanessa

“Ok, we can go to Sobey’s and use the kid-carts,” I answered to their chorused protests of needing to go to the grocery store. I could afford the extra time if it meant a smoother trip.

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On a wintery, blowing Sunday morning, I hustled them into the car trying to remember how much they had to weigh so I could forever be done with a damn five-point harness. I listed off to them three things each they had to remember, making sure they were equally numbered items. I hoped it would keep them focused instead of tiny crazed shoppers who had never experienced the outside world.

 

They each pulled a cart out after I successfully navigated them through the parking lot without getting hit. I am anxious to get this over with, they pause to hug and kiss the M&M peanut offering his dazzling confectionary. We navigate through the produce aisles and head to the milk.

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It’s a straight through way in which their wild instincts demand they clatter their carts the full length to the milk fridge.

“Girls,” I hiss between gritted teeth and barely parted lips. I too call their attention this way; referring to them as a whole, each their own half, inseparable – “girls.

“Watch where you are going.”

They nearly clipped the heels of a new mother with her baby still in a bucket, and hung in the crook of her arm. She had two other things in her hand and a few items piled in the bucket with the baby. The baby’s, beautiful, happy, cherub face was trying to see what all the commotion was about. I offered the baby and the mom a broad smile. And then I said it.

“Won’t be long.” I sputtered glaring at my children.

She’d have beaten me with her baby’s Sophie giraffe if she’d had the strength or a free hand.

I gasped in an attempt to shove the words back into my mouth. I grabbed the milk and hurried my girls into one of the aisles in complete embarrassment and with a shocking realization that I have moved on to the next stage without even noticing.

I am no longer a new mother.

I have become the mother that offered me the overwhelming advice while they grew in my belly. I have become the mother that knows how to hold a newborn, to say “oh don’t worry about that it’s just a rash” or “this bum cream, use this one.” Somehow, I have gotten to a point where I kind of (loosely) know shit, like a real grown up mother with boundaries and lipstick.

I have become the mother who understands the language of mothering. I am becoming the mother that marvels at the miracles of time and its perception. I am becoming the grocery store lady.

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Grocery Store Lady

Don’t listen to the grocery store lady. You know the one standing in line behind you. She’s older than you are, likely showered that morning, has a clean shirt, real pants, and a purse. Do you remember purses? Those pretty accessory things that carry a wallet, phone, keys and a lipstick? She’s staring adoringly at your baby as you try to get yourself through the self-scan because you don’t want a cashier to see your leaking boobs. “Oh treasure every moment when they’re small like this,” she says, or some other similar, inane comment that makes you want to slap her.
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When you have a child, this woman (and man) will be everywhere reminding you how fast time goes by and that you must ensure you soak it all in. Here’s the thing, you can’t and aren’t supposed to be doing that right now. Right now, you are surviving, sleeping when your mind gives you a chance and learning. Learning so much about yourself, your kid and parenting that you feel like you are about to bust. Really who knew a snot sucker was a real and useful tool? You might have a moment to sniff their always sweet smelling heads, despite the mashed peas in their hair, but you aren’t treasuring a damn thing right now. So don’t kill yourself trying.

There is time for this but it’s not in the middle of the journey. Treasuring your baby happens in the brief time where you have successfully completed the course on infancy, been handed your final grade (they are alive and seem to have bonded to you), and just before you move on to the next stage. It is these brief in between periods where we get to recall all the amazingness of what just happened. Like realizing two months after a holiday how wonderful and life changing it actually was, so you look longingly and fondly at the photos, remembering the sun on your skin, the missing luggage, and the triumph of navigating a foreign transit system.

Your memory will pick and choose for you, all of those precious moments. They will pop up unexpectedly and you will also recall them with joy in quiet moments that I promise you you will one day have again. No, you will not be able to hold all of that small sweetness again, but don’t worry, you held plenty of it. Your arms will remember how it felt. The feathery light softness of those baby hairs against your lips is not something your mind will allow you to dismiss.

Don’t be angry with the grocery store lady. Be delighted for her as she stands there, soaking in the joy of your baby for you and getting lost in her own memories.

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And then buckle up, the wild ride isn’t over yet, this is just the top of the roller coaster, you’ve got a couple of loop the loops coming your way.

 

Aunt Sandy – The Unexpected

by Cindy Brown

They call me Aunt Sandy. In their language my name, phonetically, sounds like Sandy when it is spelled. It delights me to have this identity. No one else calls me Sandy. It is special. It is something I share only with them.

For me, this is what family is all about: sharing special connections with special people in your life. It has nothing to do with blood or relation but that unique bond you develop with another human being.

If only our world could focus on what we share and love about one another instead of what divides us and makes us different. It is a utopian ideal. An idea for a perfect world.

I visit my Syrian family, as often as I can. With them I feel all that is right with the world in the same moment that my heart breaks for all that is wrong in it. The family – my family – came to Canada in February 2017 after spending too many years as refugees in the Middle East.

Their youngest, a son, was born while refugees in Egypt. Their five daughters witnessed unspeakable horror, terror and fear as they fled the only home they knew. There was a period of time – thankfully brief – when they did not know if their father would return to them alive. On their way out, their food, meant to feed the family of 7 on their long journey, was taken from them. But they made it out.

And now they are in Canada, in a foreign country, in a very foreign climate with snow still piled high at the end of March. They must exist in a foreign language and a foreign culture with foreign food. And arguably they are some of the lucky ones as countless others from their country are still trying to survive in refugee camps or in Syria.

In a perfect world, I would not be Aunt Sandy. In a perfect world, they – and thousands of others like them now reassembling life in Canadian cities – would be in their homes in Syria, living their lives in the way knew and cherished. In a perfect world, they would not read news stories from home that tell of ongoing suffering and of the death of those who they once lived amongst.

In a perfect world, this family would be unknown to me. They would live in peace. Their girls and their son would grow up and go to school in a country where education was free at all levels. A language, a culture, and an ocean would separate them from me. I would not know Syria in the way they have shared with me. I would not know the sparkle in their eye or their tenacity and courage. I would not know how bright their eyes are or the jokes they make and the delight they take in each other, the world around them, and their friends.

It is not a perfect world. I have never been to Syria. They are teaching me to know it. I can almost picture the street they lived on. I am learning, word by scattered word, a little Arabic.  My heart aches with them when they hear news from family back home or in other parts of the Middle East.

And, I am Aunt Sandy. I could not feel more grateful, and my fortune exists in their misfortune. I was given this gift because life as they knew it was torn away by men determined for war.

It is music to my ears to hear “Aunt Sandy” from six different voices when I am in their home. I try to honour the title of Aunt – a sign of deep respect of elders in their culture – by ensuring that I hear from all of them when I visit.

Two of the girls (the third youngest and the second youngest) are my language teachers and ensure I recite my lessons and progress. They curate my Arabic and express disappointment when I do not complete my homework before I visit. The oldest daughter is an inspiration in her courage and how hard she works at school. The second oldest – soon to be 13 – is so helpful, responsible and quiet but with so much to say. The third oldest is a quiet artist. The boy, as I have told him many times, may be the smallest but is the loudest of them all.

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Aunt Sandy & her family

They take care of me in a way I am not accustomed to. I am a welcomed member of this home. I am not just a friend, I am Aunt Sandy. This unexpected connection with those who were once strangers from the other side of the globe is a blessing and the most precious gift in my life. It is not a perfect world but maybe this connection and the lessons we can all draw from it, is a step in the right direction.

This is family.

I am Aunt Sandy.

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Family & Food – Syrian dishes shared with Aunt Sandy

 

My Mother’s Aunts

My mother’s aunts outnumbered their brothers two to one; but their strength was not in numbers, it was in their gender. I never understood a patriarchal world. These women made it clear from the outset that the power of the household was in their possession with such a clear and confident authoritarianism. That was a delicate way of saying they kinda scared me.

They were of a generation that had no time or need of nonsense, frivolity or complaints; part of a generation dictated the standard of “hard working.” They were my mother’s role models. She went to them before she would seek out her own mother. She looked up to them and adored them. She wanted their approval for the decisions she made. They did not always agree with her decisions, she knew it, but they never made a fuss of what their opinions were. She has managed to do the same with me.

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Aunt Theresa

These women cultivated my understanding of community. My memories of them are not extensive. They exist in singular moments. My Aunt Theresa’s metal dipper that made well water somehow taste crisper, colder and fresher than anything I have or ever will taste. My Aunt Bernie helping my cheek to heal from frostbite after my mother walked us to her house seeking advice or respite, or both. My Aunt Myrtle returning each piece of tinsel to its box after Christmas and my Aunt Iva, the youngest of all of them, forever being twenty-nine on her birthday.

Even with these limited memories, I know they were instrumental in building the backbone of my small part of rural New Brunswick. They were behind the church picnics, the Easter breakfast; they made the triangle sandwiches for wedding showers, baby showers and ultimately funerals. They were the ever-watching eyes that kept our noses clean.

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Aunt Iva, being 29 holding a baby Vanessa

When adventuring on our own or with their grandchildren, my mother knew where we had been and what we had done before we walked through the door. Perplexed by her witch-like knowledge, she responded simply with, “a little birdie told me.” Her aunts saw all. They were the nurturing presence that most forcefully impacted her ability to mother us.

They possessed the power to make you crumble with a single look; a mere sigh told you all you needed to know about their mood. I know this of them because they passed these traits to my mother. These women have come rushing through time and genetics to tell me I am out of line with the furrow of a brow. My mother’s aunts are the foundation upon which I am built; it is strong, resilient and stead fast.

-Vanessa

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Left to Right: Mamie (Marion), Bernie (Verna), Theresa, Myrtle, Iva, Greta, Marjorie, Helen

 

Part Two: On Learning to Be

Part Two: On Learning to Be

Surely he must be 7 feet tall. His hairy arms are the size of tree trunks, his shoulders are as broad as barn doors and he carries the brute strength of a grizzly.

His reputation runs community-wide. I think everyone knows.

My grandfather has always been a giant among men. When I was a child, he would saunter down the field, duck through our doorway and call my name.

When my little feet scurried over to meet him, his baseball mit hands would swoop under my armpits, lift me up, tuck my face into his neck and proceed to provide the most soul-filled straight to the heart hug known to the world. My grandfather is a hugger. Friends and relatives travel near and far in the hopes of very nearly passing out to smell of love and Old Spice. His full body squeeze makes the world disappear for a brief moment, mostly due to lack of oxygen.

I’ve spent many a Saturday in my Dad’s boat, ebbing and flowing. He’s not a sailor. His boat was docked in the space between where his body was laying down and the back of the couch. Dad’s boat ebbed and flowed with his deep heavy breaths. The sounds of the ocean were his snores in my ears, blocking the sound of the TV. I would get trapped under his heavy muscled arm with the round scar from his childhood vaccination. I thought that scar made him tough, I always wished I had one too. I would lay down in his boat and try to match the rhythm of my breathing to his hoping my Mom would notice and whisper to herself how much we were alike. Eventually I would drift off to sea beside him. My Dad is a hugger. Sometimes his grandkids will get in the boat, when he can convince them the tide is coming in.

Yes, I grew up not wanting for affection. It was only an arms’ reach away and available with every lonesome sounding sigh.

As an adult, I have now developed a certain reputation.

Perhaps it was formed in my teen years when everything was particularly embarrassing, especially any type of healthy affection. Or maybe it came from my boss hugging me one time. In my awkwardness, I somehow accidentally inhaled her hair. Not knowing how to rescue myself from this situation or having any type of finesse, I just let her hair be in my mouth until the hug was over. She must have walked away wondering why in the hell her hair was wet. Perhaps it was a combination of awkward encounters such as this and others that I’ve surely repressed but I can tell you this: I am not a hugger.

My reputation runs community-wide. I think everyone knows.

I wasn’t really that aware of my reputation until I had my first child and complained to my friend that my baby was a squirmy-non-snuggling thing. My friend laughed at my misfortune and told her mother to which her mother replied, “Well would you expect any different, it is Jodi that’s her mother.” This was a good indication that my non-hugging status was formalized along with relentless complaints from my koala bear of a boyfriend that I’m cold as ice.

Lately, what would seem like a non-issue in everyday living has become a concern thanks to a certain crowd I’ve been hanging around. While I can tell you that I’m not a hugger, I can also tell you this: Yogis are huggers. They hug you for showing up, they hug you for leaving, they hug you for drinking water, breathing deeply, telling them a story, clearing your nasal passages, smiling at them, wiping the sweat from your brow and standing, sitting or laying in one spot. And they hug you for a long time. And don’t let go until they connect their energy with yours. And this makes the world go round.

It’s not that I don’t want to hug you. I really and truly do. I want to put my arm around your shoulders and squeeze you into my armpit. I want to take your gorgeous cheeks and squish them into a fish face. I want to stand you upright, straighten your shoulders, display you like a prize on the Price is Right and in a Parisian accent say, “Superrrr cool”.

But for now, I’m still learning to be. Learning to be exactly who I am rather than who I think you think I should be. So for now, I will gladly accept your hugs because they make me feel good about myself. And when I see you, I’ll let out a sigh and tell how happy I am to see you. A hug with words until I can muster the courage to wrap you up and put a bow on you.

-Jodi

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This Day & Yesterday… 5 Years On

Dear Daughter,

This Day keeps inching closer in a flurry of time I refuse to accept. Much has changed since I first decided to tell you about this day and much has stayed the same. The silver in my hair has already started to shine through.

I wanted for you a sister.

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You sitting on your sister under a laundry basket

 

I got one. I know physiologically that I had no say in this matter, but am convinced I willed two daughters into our lives. She is your opposite and also the other half of your whole. Cherish her, fight with her, challenge and love her. You never know when you will really need her.

 

 

 

Your father is still why I know so much happiness.

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Painting with Light Photography

Your Papa told us before we got married that the love we had would change as we changed as people, as we went through things together, as we built a life. I didn’t believe I would ever feel any different kind of love for your father than the excited, delighted, and new love I felt for him then. Your Papa was right (notice how I didn’t say I was wrong). We are now eight years in and this past summer I felt like I fell in love with him all over again. This time it is a comfortable, knowing, and understanding love. We have both changed, because you never stop growing up. Your father sees my ability to fly and every day finds a way to fluff my wings and encourage me to do so. May you find someone to fluff your wings darling.

You challenge me.
You are a wordsmith. Your grasp of language at the age of six, keeps me on my toes. You have a dry wit that makes me laugh daily. We will debate and argue, I welcome your challenge of changing my perspective. I only hope it doesn’t keep you away from me.

I gained weight…
And I am ashamed. I am ashamed of a body that grew two humans. I am ashamed of a body that sits more than eight hours a day and wakes the next to carry two sleepy girls down the stairs to their breakfast. Ashamed of the body that you snuggle into and find comfort in, of the body my mother grew. There are many emotions I should attach to this incredible body of mine; shame is most certainly not one of them.

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2009/2017 –  (Yorke Photography)

My job does not define me.
You will spend a copious amount of your teenaged years and those that follow deciding what you want to be when you grow up. Here is a little secret, you will never know. People get hung up on titles, they need to categorize, it’s natural and ok, and it is not who you are. Your job is a side bar, a foot note on what will ultimately be the sum of your life on this planet. If you forget this, life will remind you, this secretary guarantees it.

 

 

My hair is still the best style choice I ever made.
It lets me see the wrinkles, sun spots, and beauty of my ever increasing years.

I am chasing my dreams. 

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Sisters

I don’t know where they are going, but I have finally decided to hold my head up high and run after them with all the energy I have. Now, I have a running partner, my sister (see what I meant about never knowing). I have faith in them now and have put work into them, instead of just wishing it would happen. I am excited to know if I caught them by the time This Day arrives.

 

-Vanessa