It’s so close to Mother’s Day and I want to share something that’s not about these turbulent times but rather universal truths and wee ecstatic bits of joy. Let me tell you about Alice at Naptime the loviest, easy to order gift for new moms, older moms, moms to be be – dads too of course.
Naptime- those words evoke a sense of peace and calm. Calm if you are the one indulging in a nap – but even more tranquility if the sleeping person is your busy little one.
Alice at Naptime is the sweet and dreamy latest book by Canadian artist and mom, Shea Proulx (full caveat – my daughter). Moms with children of all ages will delight in pouring over the colourful depictions of the sleeping child and lose themselves in the narrative carefully created for adults and children. In this graphic story a baby’s naptime gives the mom a welcome chance to turn away from its need of constant attention but the artist can’t – the baby is her muse.
As Shea Proulx says, “At its core, Alice at Naptime tells a universal story, of a parent pining for past freedoms, while simultaneously descending down a rabbit hole of all-encompassing maternal love.”
It’s the perfect gift for new moms, artist-moms, moms we’re grateful for – and admirers of all of those. Anyone really – moms, dads and children – can lose themselves in the artwork that winds around itself in an ever changing pastel wonderland. There is a limited edition gift set that includes a signed hard copy, two charming pins, and a special chocolate bar – a Mother’s Day present extraordinaire. Support a Canadian publisher (and artist) and order it here https://renegadeartsentertainment.com/product/alice-at-naptime/
Is it still the pandemic ? Yep it is. Get out of bed and and try to find my vitamin C. Fail but spot the Vics Vapour rub. Put some under my nose. I’m not in need of vapour rub but the scent makes me feel safe, as if my mom put it there. Go back to bed. Thought hubby was asleep but he’s reading. He reads/sleeps/ reads all night. Don’t look at my phone. Don’t look at my phone. Don’t look at my phone.
Decide I need a to-do list. Fall back to sleep preparing a mental one. Wait to hear adult son making coffee. Adult son is finally sleeping in (or lying in bed making a mental to-do list.) I wonder if point number one for him is to remind himself to not isolate with parents at family cottage in the future. Make the coffee myself.
Eat toast and peanut butter. Watch grown daughter – also likely wondering how we all decided isolation as a partial family group at our lakehouse was a good idea – watch her preparing totally healthy yogurt and fruit and nuts for breakfast. Add honey to my coffee and eat 12 blueberries. Wander out to the deserted beach to talk to my dad in his senior’s residence. He has dementia and I’ve already decided it’s morally ok in this situation to be less than honest with him about how long this forced separation might go on.
Adult daughter is already yakking away to her sister on not deserted beach. Try to take photo of six beautiful geese taking flight in unison from the lake. We hear a man’s voice and wave at our neighbour – also talking to someone on his phone on this decidedly ‘not’ deserted beach. Follow daughter, who is talking to her big sister, home. Phone my own big sister. Talk about what we always talk about – pandemic or not – how to make our elderly dad happy. Phone my other sister – she is out walking too. Lots of walking. Talk more about dad – who is beyond miserable but can still give us a chuckle with his wry (the guy invented wry) humour. Return to find husband having loud work phone calls in his new kitchen office. None of us have talked on the phone this much in forever. Like since texting was invented.
Decide I can contribute to cooking, though adult kids have taken over the kitchen. We are running low on many (ok I’m lying) a few items. Argue with husband and adult son whether it is necessary to make trip to grocery store yet. Husband wants boat gas – he has a strong need to social distance in a dingy in the middle of the lake. We offer to get the gas with other items.
Daughter and I drive to town – store has new rules posted (everyone has new rules) only one member of family allowed in. Keep your distance. No reuseable bags. (Hah – I figured they were germ infested – feel better for consistently forgetting mine). Daughter says she’ll risk the grocery shopping. She’s the original germ-aphob. I’m ok with that.
We need some healthcare items (don’t ask) from the pharmacy across the road. I put on my gloves and wait for the only customer to exit and cautiously go in. Grab the goods and spot the hair colour kits – eureka!! My hair has been my hairdresser’s responsibility for years. Which one of the ageless beauties on the boxes do I hope to resemble? I pick the happiest looking one. The clerk tells me how safe and clean the store is, holding up the cleaner and reading from the label the zillion types of bacteria it will destroy. It’s the sort of nasty germ killer I wouldn’t want in my house. I ask if I can buy some – for my house. (No way José. It’s for store use only.)
The clerk confirms that there has been a run on hair colour. She tells me everyone says there will be a lot of babies born in nine months. She thinks there will be a lot of divorces. My credit card ‘tap’ doesn’t work. I have to key in my payment card which makes me exit the store feeling paranoid. I get in my car, touching the steering wheel with possibly (unlikely) contaminated gloves. Damn. Put hand sanitizer on an old Kleenex from before the virus time which would have been too yucky to use in that other life. I wipe off the steering wheel. Take off gloves. Decide to wipe off my favourite little leather wallet. Shit. Hand sanitizer isn’t the freind of the dye on my wallet. Wipe off bank card. Daughter gets in the car as I’m trying to decide if I should get out and wipe off the outside car door handle? I’ve become a crazy person. I try for a laugh from my daughter with the story of my sanitizing. She gives me a half grin and I realize she loves that it is socially ok to wear protective gear now. We drive home talking about how dating just got really messed up and much trickier. We wonder if the dating ap Bumble will add a new category for your dates germ awareness level. At home we wash our hands to an off key duet of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star . We unpack the groceries quickly so the survivalist son and husband won’t realize we felt we needed these chocolate chips and feta cheese to survive. (Honestly commenters/trolls – these were not the items that sent us out into the germy world.) We haven’t seen the bearded man’s video of how to clean groceries yet.
My small yoga group is doing Zoom yoga. I can only get the audio. Our amazing and zen instructor offers to be very descriptive so I can follow without the visual. Turns out that I’m not an auditory learner – I find myself twisted like a pretzel in positions defying downward dog. Big yoga fail.
We drift into the far corners of the house or property, the younger generation distancing themselves further with ear buds on. But then usually around four o’clock we find ourselves together again – shaking our heads at this strange life. We cook clam linguini and gather for dinner. We talk about the virus news we’ve seen all day on our phones. Talk about movies. Talk about movies about viruses.Hubby falls asleep rewatching The Lord of the Rings. I feel the need to watch You’ve Got Mail. Instead I watch the bearded man’s video about how meticulously I should have cleaned and unpacked my groceries. Damn.
Go to bed early – fall asleep making that darn to-do list. Decide that I’m-going to plant seeds in little jars in the house. I Decide this will become a movement along with all the bread making that must be going on. Fall asleep wondering how I will look as a redhead?
Dear Mom, I started writing you these letters months after you died on a day I felt I just had to talk to you. I was here at the lake place, where I am again – but who could ever have imagined I’d be writing you this one. I still can’t believe it all – we were isolating here with three of the adult kids, and one girlfriend. I still don’t know what I believe Mom – whether you are somewhere watching all of this or not. But it helps to write.
I have to say right off that I never ever would have left Dad in the city during this corona virus crisis if I was still allowed to see him. Even though there are no cases in his senior’s home they aren’t allowing anyone to visit at all. And we all came up here to the lake because a few of us had traveled out of the country and had to be isolated. (We came before there was any advice not to and would return if any of us weren’t well). Still Mom I lay in bed at night aching over whether somehow we could have managed his care in one of our homes. But he’s just so weak right now. (Though not weak spirited.) With his CHF it’s almost a struggle for him to walk from his couch to the washroom. I’ve been convinced that the safest place for him is right where he is, where he’s health needs are being met. Oh my Mom, we’re so not alone with our worry over a senior separated from loved ones. And I think Dad ‘gets’ it. He watches that damn news station all day long. All of us smile about how we’re giving him the same advise when we talk to him, trying to get him to switch the news off when we tell him to change channels (that TV remote is not his friend), to move around the apartment more, open his blinds to the sunny skies, and no Dad you don’t have to stay up til midnight just because you always did.
We’re talking to him Mom. Lots. And lots. I rack my brain trying to think of what special treats our wonderful helpers who live across from his residence could drop off for him to have in there in his apartment. Dad’s such a social creature and I know dementia has made that more so by 100 percent. He loved to just get out and about. You know how going out for coffee was a daily event with him and his brothers. Before all this happened and after he lost you Mom – his North Star – we’d set his life up so almost every afternoon one of us visited or took him out – and without you the evenings were so long and lonely we hired those angels across the road to visit every night. Of course they can’t go in either. You know how Dad keeps a straight face but can be such a funny guy, with old time expressions he likes to use. When we call he says loudly, “Thanks for the call.” When we leave he tells us, “Don’t be a stranger.” And he likes to say, “The latchkey is always out,” and the oddest one, “Don’t take any wooden nickels”. He’s frantic and lonely but still funny. I talked to him for a bit just now, and I told him I’ll call you again soon. He said, ” I’ll be here.” Funny Daddy.
Anyway Mom – we’re not alone or special in this – having the head of our clan kept away from us. Your generation, they’ve seen the shit show the world can come up against. Dad talks about when polio hit his little town when he was a kid and how kids couldn’t leave the yard. You had the dirty thirties depression and he saw his older brother and Dad prepare to go to freaking war. And I remember you showing me your food rationing cards. As they are saying on social media – in comparison we’re just being asked to stay home.
I’ll share a funny one. Our helpers across the street called and asked Dad if he could drop anything off at the front desk. Dad requested apple pie and milk. When I asked him if the staff brought it up to him, he said, “Yeah, I don’t know why I got that.” When I told him he was kinda amused. Who knows what he might throw out as a request next. Still my heart aches for Daddy being kept from us for everyone’s own good. We’re doing our best Mom, to take care of him, the way he cared so hard for us, like we told you we would. Love you Mom. Forever and ever. Write back? xoxo
I want to give you a Christmas gift dear readers, a gift of wonder and beauty created by an artist that I hold dear to my heart. The gift is Alice at Naptime. The artist is my daughter, Shea Proulx. Alice at Naptime is a poetically illustrated graphic novel – a woman becomes a mother, an artist needs time away from her heart’s focus to draw, but she is caught by this new muse – her sweet sleeping baby.
In a review for Pickle Me This, Kerry Clare writes of Shea Proulx’s book, Alice at Naptime is a series of illustrations that Proulx drew of her daughter when she was a baby. “I used to draw all the time…” the book begins, “but now just at naptime.” And when Alice is napping, she draws Alice, her sleeping face set into kaleidoscopic scenes, a wonderland of strangeness, symmetry and doubleness that grows to fill the entire spread: “a symphony of Alices.” A kind of dreamland. And fittingly, for a child named Alice with illustrations that are definitely trippy, there is wonder: “Alice is strapped down so often when she naps. It looks like we’re worried she might float away.” What does Alice dream about? Proulx asks the reader, And I remember the fascination of my sleeping child’s face, the smallness of my world then—I remember the day my child discovered causality while kicking an arch on a baby gym, and both our minds were blown, but nobody else cared. “It’s just that I’m so in love,” Proulx writes, “lost in a sea of Alice.”
As Shea tells us in the afterward, “I’m not the person I was then. You don’t become a mother all at once. You have to grow into that new self. I recognize the fragility of the tenuous identity I was sorting out as I relaxed into a new rhythm… It isn’t without sacrifice that women become mothers, or men fathers. But the gains are heady and by their nature, indescribable, as are many natural desires. I only hope I’ve done the process some small justice. I owe that to a former self, that new mom, adrift in a wonderland, wondering who she would become.”
Alice at Naptime would be treasured by any parent or parents-to-be, but children too are entranced by the story and illustrations. Alice, herself, now nine-years-old (creating books take time) has read it to her little sister, Lucy. I invite you to share it this holiday season with a loved one or simply indulge yourself.
I had a birthday this summer and you could say I am now awoman of a certain age – ie. the age ‘old’. I do what I can to look, you know … maybe a bit less ‘old’. Recently, after an early snowfall I was making a snow-woman with my two granddaughters. (Not being woke here – the snow person was definitely a female – the giggling girls put snow “boobies” on her. The six-year-old asked me just then, as I laughed at their laughing, ‘How old are you, Gramma?”
“Sixty,” I said quietly, not really used to being in this new decade.
“That’s old,” she said. Now either she was being kind, or she was pleased that I chuckled at our snow person having a bosom, when she kindly added, “But you don’t seem old.”
The girls were at our place for a sleepover. The younger one sometimes still wakes during the night at home and crawls into her parent’s bed. She says that’s because she’s afraid of the dark. Some nights she wears a kitty cat sleep mask so that she ‘won’t see’ the dark. Adorable. Her big sister is fine with the dark of night – at home. I know we’re fortunate to have my daughter’s family so close by – a nice ten minute walk on a summer day, or a short bicycle ride. A few times when the girls were small we even tucked them into a red wooden sleigh and pulled them through a fresh snow to our house. Cool Guy (the nick name their Grampa got when the first granddaughter was born) and I are big fans of treating them to a sleepover, to cuddle on the couch convinced by them to ignore 8:30 bedtime mandated by their mom, for one more Kid’s Baking Challenge Show or the Despicable Me movie with popcorn popped in a pot on the stove – cause Cool Guy is old school with his popcorn making.
After that I squish in between their sleepy heads in our guest bed to read them into slumber with the Jolly Postman or alternatively the shortest book on the shelf. Sometimes I’m first asleep and it’s the nine-year old that switches off the bedside lamp. The little one kicks off covers but holds my hand in her sleep. I’ll awake after my ‘nap’ and follow Cool Guy up to our bed. And though I move out from between them ever so gently, and tip-toe up the stairs I often disturb the youngest. I’ve usually just brushed my teeth and settled under my own covers when she comes into our bedroom, hardly awake. I’ll lift my blankets and let her crawl in, where she’s asleep again almost instantly.
The older one’s technique is different. Sometime in the night she’ll awake to find her little sister gone and rouse herself from the nest of warm blankets to travel down the cool hall and to the bottom of the stairs where she’ll stand and call up to me, “Gramma, Gramma.”All my attempts to resist the signs of my age; the hair colour, the (occasional) gym workouts, even my denial of senior’s discounts seem silly suddenly. We lost my mom this summer. For almost a decade I was these granddaughter’s Gramma, at the same time my adult kids called my dear mama Gramma. Being the only Gramma now, and the matriarch of my own family sounds, well, seriously old. The matriarch title sounds oddly stern and serious. But with my grand daughters ‘GG’ gone I long to be the best ‘boobie giggling, craft facilitating, storybook reading, comfort-in -the-dark Gramma I can be. (Cool Guy is the king of popcorn popping and scheming against bedtime.)
In the wee hours of the night this tired child calling for my comfort completely marks my place in the world. I offer her water, tuck the hair back from her sleepy face and lead her back to the still warm guest bed, climbing in beside her. I’m divided with the small one upstairs in our bed and this older one in need of quick comfort to send herself back to sleep. Mine will be the disturbed rest I complained about as a young mom. It’s so okay now. I go back to dreamland with my daughter’s daughter. Just trying my hardest to be a good Gramma.
ps. – Thanks Marianne. We thought they’d have switched to the traditional moniker but they like having a ‘Cool Guy’ – not everyone has one of those.
I’m so sorry about all of this. If there was something wrong with you before you broke your hip and had surgery for it, why didn’t we figure that out? I’m not supposed to think like this – because you were old and old people die.
God Mom, I miss you so much. I want to talk to you. It’s just little things that I’d say. Today I’d tell you that I went for a swim in the rain. And that I’m scrapping off some old wooden chairs to repaint. You’d admire the chair job because it’s frugal – and will be bright and colourful. You lived a whole long life without learning how to swim so you might not think of it as enjoyable in rainy weather, but it was.
And I’d tell you about going to the farmer’s market at the near-by community hall. Remember, it’s not like the ones in the city. Out here at the cottage they really are farmers selling cucumbers (got some) and zucchini’s (got those too) and fresh potatoes and corn (our supper). Maybe I wouldn’t tell you I bought a beautiful little bird house made by a local artist. It’s exquisite but you’d wonder how many bird houses I could own?
Did I ever tell you that we got the birdhouse off your garage before your house sold? How many birdhouses do I have to own before I’m a bird house collector?
Those are some of the things I’d talk about with you if you were still here. But you’re not and so what I want to talk most about is Dad. God it’s so hard with him. When you first left us (where did you go Mom?) his dementia seemed suddenly less of a factor. Like he was shocked into being clearer. Mom, I know you were 89 and I guess in worse health than we thought, but we were shocked when you died. (You know Dad doesn’t like the term ‘passed away’ so I try not to use it.) When you were first brought to the hospital with that stupid broken hip you said, You didn’t want to do ‘that hip thing’. And I knew what you meant – how a broken hip and surgery can lead to a slow downward spiral. But it wasn’t a spiral at all. It was way faster than that. I’m angry with myself for not staying with you at the hospital 24/7 but I had no idea we were going to lose you. If I could go back in time – I’d go back to then, but I’m guilty of magical thinking believing that I could have changed anything by being there. Your lung collapsed Saturday night but no one knew that . I’m glad I had a sister with me at the hospital, holding your hand and wiping your brow, but she and I are also glad the others didn’t see you, so they can remember you differently than that.
So yeah it’s hard with Dad. Cause he’s not clear now like he was that first week. He’s so lost without you. But maybe I shouldn’t tell you that. Though is there some way that you know? People I’m close to are saying there is. I don’t know what I believe. Are you looking over my shoulder at my fingers moving quickly over my iphone keys right now? Or are you just gone? I thought that I would have somehow felt you by now. There was one morning when I saw you in a dream and it was comforting then, but it wasn’t enough. I’m waiting for something like that again.
Mom we’re doing our best with Dad. It’s so hard as he doesn’t always seem to know that. And they are wonderful with him where he lives. He’s getting out a lot – like really a lot. He asks us to take him places constantly and none of us can say no, even if we’d taken him on a long drive in the country the day before. But we’ll barely have him back and he’s asking when we can do it again.
You’d be proud of your grandkids – they’re visiting him too. Hey, we made the family jelly – your special rose petal (maybe I felt you watching me that night), and raspberry jelly, and the peachy pear. I think we did alright.
Oh – and in this high tech world I taught my granddaughters how to embroidery one evening at the lake. I knew that would make you happy. Oh mommy. I miss you so much. I thought this letter might help. Maybe the first try is the hardest.
I could just imagine your response. I know you’d give me advice about the jam (it all set, but I did have one runny batch). And you’d just love that your six and nine year-old great-grand daughters were embroidering. It was cool to see how much they liked it and went free hand with their names above their carefully stitched puppy and butterfly.
I think you’d tell us we were spoiling dad and we don’t have to take him out so much. I know behind the dementia is my ‘real’ dad, who would never be so demanding. But both that dad and this dad are so lonely for you. I’m sitting here on the end of the dock, feeling as lost as daddy. I’ll slip into the lake and swim, I guess. I don’t know how to sign off.
Love you forever Mom.
Ps. I haven’t done the best job with your bills. Some got paid late. I know you’d hate that. I’ll do better.
Pps. Did I ever tell you that Rose says if she ever had a baby girl she’d name it Vera – after you. I hope I did.
It’s that time of year again – in the air there’s a feeling of Christmas. With that comes a house upside with; boxes of decorations, stacks of cook books, half finished ambitious holiday projects to pack up for another go another time. And the first coating of pine needles – because we insist on the real tree – is sprinkling down over the furniture. I closed the mall tonight hemming and hawing over tricky gifts that I didn’t buy, while purchases that felt unique, but maybe weren’t, filled my bags. At the grocery check-out, where I stopped for bread for our peanut butter-toast dinner, I bought a magazine promising a simple Yuletide menu and am now nodding off in bed browsing its decidedly not simple recipes – too many fancy sauces and spreads to make when the household will really be becoming undone with all four kids home and the kitchen busy 24/7.
Gift shopping is almost a fait accompli though I’m a guilty over-consumer jotting notes in my phone, for just one more item for the tricky-to-buy for family member. I fall asleep by reciting and revising my next day to-do list; pick up holiday dry cleaning, book a haircut, return the too tight party shoes, make the homemade potpourri for the yoga women’s lunch, buy granddaughters pjs, take my mom out shopping for my dad and vice versa … and stop my head from spinning.
And above all the bustle I still hear silver bells, and anticipate the holiday with a joyous spark of delight. Why? Because I’m siding with Bing Crosby and Christmas Eve will find me where the lovelight gleams. My big family, which has spread far and wide, will be together for a feast that will end with the once-a-year Christmas pudding – a symbol of these time – fussy and time consuming to put together, but so special and longed for, and worth every mouthful. For eleven and a half months it’s been easy to keep our home tidy and organized, but for this stretch – from Santa’s visit to the singing of Auld Lang Syne – it will be noisy and chaotic with almost a dozen folks being loud, ravenous, merry and bright. Ah – joy to the world!
We had this freaky issue at our cottage by the lake this summer. A skinny, slithering, sneaky problem that had me unnerved. At our lakeside place, one might occasionally see wildlife we are unaccustomed to at home – though I have say that our urban city life actually contains a plethora of bunnies, and deer – and recently a bobcat or two. I’ll attempt yo chase away the deer (good Luck), rarely get to see the bobcat and well bunnies are … bunnies. I’ll take any of those critters over the ones we were almost tripping over lakeside – because what we had hanging out at our cottage in the early summer were – snakes! Garter snakes and non venomous, but slithering and unnerving and creepy all the same. You can’t talk me out of my views here – I’ve been told of their merits – that they eat mice – I’ll take mice. And yeah there is that they were here before I was argument – give me a break. Even Disney’s Mowgli couldn’t be trusted.
The previous summer I accidentally stepped on one and the devil bit me. I hardly felt it at the time and was more upset by the two creepy snake-teeth marks visible on my ankle. After ‘that attack’ things changed. Previously we might occasionally have a snake sighting – a flicker across the rocks and then nothing. But a couple of them settled in, sunning themselves on the rock ledge with impunity.
Don’t try to make me like them. Don’t try to even make me appreciate them. My husband and I lay in bed the morning after the bite and googled snakes and how to get rid of them. The googling was frightening! We read of snake invasions and basements filled with writhing snakes and snake nests. Hec we’d seen Raiders of the Lost Arc’s snake pit – we didn’t need all the damn photos – thank you very much. FYI – Did you know that mother snakes never meet their babies? Mama lays her eggs and checks out. They are that cold-hearted.
I always viewed my dad as a big strong protective guy. When I was frightened of bears as a little kid on a camping holiday – he told me not to worry, he would keep me safe from bears. But even as I kid I knew he wouldn’t make the same promise with snakes – because my strong tough dad has a snake phobia. I don’t have that. I can look at them, but I can’t stare too long into their beady little eyes. Google says you have to get rid of their habitat. But it’s our rock retaining wall that holds the mountain hillside away from our place. One fine June day my daughter saw five of them hanging out at once – she spent an afternoon photographing them while I read about snakes (one snake can have 40 eggs) and snake deterrents – sulfur and clove oil and garlic. I planned to somehow plaster the huge wall with vats of all three. I phoned a local pest exterminator and was told, “You have to take them away in a bucket with the use of snake tongs. And,” he said rather gruffly, “we don’t do snakes.”
My next move was to put an ad up on Kijiji for an authentic Pied Piper to magically pipe them away. If you were planning to visit us with your own snake fears – don’t worry – I was on this.
And then presto… as if they could hear my snake tongs clacking the snakes seemed to disappear. They haven’t been seen since they modeled for my brave daughter. Though all summer before I picked the raspberries below the rock wall I banged on the rocks (snakes don’t have ears but they do sense sound) and I fiercely called out, “Go away snakes. Go away.” And one more FYI – it’s supposed to be a good omen to be bitten by a snake. I dare you to seek that out.
It’s a different sort of summer. For months (years) we’ve been encouraging (harassing) my parents to change their living situation. I sugar coat all the words to make the struggle easier. And I can’t stop myself from thinking about myself and my husband, and our same age peers – what living situation will we choose in our ‘golden years’?
Without doubt we will all want to stay in the houses that we’ve renovated and refitted with carefully chosen granite and then more fashionable quartz , where we’ve taken down walls making great rooms as great rooms became the fashion. But when the time comes, as it has for my mom and dad, when that big yard, the staircases, even the meal preparation and bringing in food, has just become too much – where will we land?
It’s taken a while for my four siblings and I to all be on the same page agreeing that, as proud as we may be that these people that raised us have managed to keep their own household going for all these years, (65 years in fact) but now it’s time for them to have an easier life. My dad has various health issues now and simply put – they need a supported living situation.
I could write a book on the journey involved in searching out the right – what I call – ‘retirement residence’. I call it that because it sounds nice and (fingers crossed) hopefully it will be. My parents will have their own apartment- we are not talking about a nursing home or the dreaded ‘long-term care facility’ that one might need some day. They’ll have a bedroom, living room ‘kitchen area’ and the oversized bathroom these places feature.
It was that tiny kitchen that we all wished was something more. They’ll have room to bring the dining room table we’ve told our stories around, but there are just a very few cupboards. Where to put the platter that’s held the turkey for decades of Christmas’s , or the collection of vases from years of bouquets, what about the big bowl for popcorn with a movie on tv, or the big lemonade pitcher for drinks when family arrive with thirsty little ones?
Because of that tiny kitchen ‘spot’ we took my mom and dad to view a higher end retirement residence this week. No question that it was attractive and, despite it not being necessary – with three meals provided in the first floor dining room- it featured an actual kitchen, complete with full fridge and dishwasher. This brand new building, with residents moving in for the very first time was lovely, but when we returned to the place more comfortably within their budget we saw folks already friendly with each other chatting on a Sunday afternoon outside, and in the dining room an elderly woman was playing the piano loudly and with spirit, for whoever cared to listen.
We went up to take measurements to see if perhaps the china cabinet might fit, to hold special treasures and more practical items (it will) and I stared down the mini fridge.
I know my parents will only need to keep a quart of milk, or a few refreshments for when they don’t want to walk down the hall to the ‘bistro room’ that is always open, but it is the idea, that after a lifetime of taking care of themselves they don’t need their own butter or mayonnaise or a dozen eggs, that is bothering me.
That will be okay, mom, I think. We’ll go out to shop for what makes you happy in that puny fridge. In the next few weeks we’ll get busy choosing how to make this home. We’re putting our trust in the good we see here – the supportive kind staff we’ve met, the opportunities to socialize with your peers around new tables, and that wonderful woman playing the piano.
It’s been a different sort of summer. I’ve been living the dream, as they say, staying four long weeks at our lake place in the North Shuswaps. We’re on the shore on a stretch of water that carves up this forested place with arms that go off for miles in a multitude of directions.
My kids, and granddaughters, and my younger brother, a niece and a nephew, a dear cousin, and good friends have circled round this stretch of lake this summer, through little villages that burst with seasonal energy – to swim and boat and break bread with me. Odd to say me, not us. But I’ve had to host alone this year as my husband’s had a strange summer too – an extremely arduous aspect of his work has unfortunately landed smack in the middle of normal holiday time.
And the summers had another weight to it – my elderly parents have had a lovely family member as the live-in caregiver they require, but she needs to move on now. My siblings and I have all spent time trying (oh man, we’re trying) to convince both our mom and dad that moving into the nice, comfortable, sociable, well managed … seniors residence we helped my mom find will be a better choice then the house they can’t manage any more. Honest dad, it will be.
So I’ll bring up the beach chairs, tie the kayak high on the shore, wash one more load of towels, close the blinds, pack the hanging planters into the car with my suitcase and big box of BC peaches and wind my way around this giant lake towards home.
It’s been a different time as times go. And I’ll surely blog about the time to come.
I want to lean into this stretch of time I have here at the lake. Not to think of the days counting down – but instead of the days adding up. Today was as full as a day at any lake day could be.
I had company, my niece and a girlfriend were sleeping when I wound my way down to the beach and slid the kayak into the lake before climbing in. It was the years first kayak ride with the lake still and even, just ripples in the hot sun. I paddled out to watch neighbors following kids out for an early swim or setting out on deck chairs with coffee.
Afterwards Icame home to see my niece and her freind off –hugging and taking last photos into the bright sun.
Invigorated by the kayaking Idecided to bike but it was already so hot that I turned back at the first hill, and spent my energy instead with a swim. After towelling off and deadheading the geraniumsI read my book with the guilty pleasure of chips and dip, stopping to text with a friend and my sister.
The deck rocked with the rolling water from all the ski boats enthusiasts yelping as they rode the waves. It was noisy and a bit wild, but I liked that seeing as there is such a short time for us Canadians to be raukus sun-worshippers before winter will drive us inside again.
I called my brother and continued the family talk about helping our parents through a move from their home to a seniors residence- such tricky times to be an adult ‘kid’.I thought about how, if my own four children need to keep their dad and I ‘safe’ someday this will be the first place they try to discourage us from coming to – worried about ‘an elderly version of us’ on the dock, or climbing the rocky slope from the lake, or even making our tired way to our upstairs bedroom. I tried not to think too hard about that while I brought the day to a close watering plants and picking deep purple basil to eat with a plate of tomatoes and soft cheese.I couldn’t help my mind going there though on this summer’s day, with its mix of summertime action and tranquility.
It’s a familiar plot – girl gets winter, girl loves winter, girl wants winter to go away. This year I can’t help but be fascinated by this season, to examine all his strong points before I beg him to leave me alone. (Let me make him a ‘he’ for my analogies Kind Reader.) Oh, I’ll want him back – in a muddled accepting sort of way – but not for months and months, and not seeing a way around his strong personality and in-your-face charm.
I have to say it again – I have never, ever, ever seen so much snow in our back garden, which the weather guy backed up saying there is more accumulated snow on the ground this February than EVER recorded. It was a Bing Crosby white Christmas, preceded by a white November, and followed by a whiter still January. Albertans who can’t not talk about the weather (how else would we warn each other to not drive, to not freeze off our noses, to not slip and fall) can’t stop marveling at all the piles of deeper than ever snow this month.
I share the belief that if you’re going to live with winter for six or more months of the year you have to find some way to embrace it. Skating is my winter passion. It’s the aspect of winter I adore; the reoccurring memory of my sister and brother teaching me “one, two, three, glide”, the shiny reflective ice on a late afternoon, the sound of my blades swish, swish, swishing, the marvel of my granddaughters learning now, and along with their mom, becoming my new on-the-ice companions. But even to skate this year I’ve had to work out kinks with my relationship with winter. There’s just been so much damn snow! We’ve all had to labour just to leave the house, and to clear the walks, and to stay upright (there’s been record numbers of bone breaking falls in the city), hec it has even gotten tricky to maneuver the bumpy residential roads that are packed higher than the sidewalks with all this accumulated snow.
Now all that said – here’s where my fascination comes in – it’s with the wonder of winter – how it’s larger than life this year. I stare out at in from my writing desk, into the back yard, where the snow is heaped up so high on every surface of the garden. Overwhelmed with the irresistible urge to plow through the deep piles of fluffy whiteness, I invited my five-year-old granddaughter to join me so I might feel less silly, but had to first make pathways for her short snowpant clad legs. We marveled at how it was almost burying the pedestal bird bath, how the berry patch, the flower beds, and the vegetable garden were several feet under all that snow. We talked about the seeds in the ground that had dropped from flowers in the fall, about how they were way way down below us as we tramped along. “The snow will melt,” she said, “Right Grandma? And that will make the seeds grow to flowers and then the bees will come and make honey. Right?”
Of course, right.
One of the prettiest aspects of this winter time is how when we shut all the lights out at night before bed, the snow glows a peaceful white under the moonlight and into our home from every window. Staring out I think about the flowers and the bees making honey when this is all over, and I can start a new romance with spring…
(Comment and tell me about your love/hate relationship with winter where you live…this one’s something else 🙂
As I hustle and bustle and get ready for three of my grown and flown kids to return for Christmas, and dream of a little bit of snow, I thought I’d post my reader’s favorite holiday blog.
“I’ll be home for Christmas; you can count on me” … such simple words, but where is home? – I suppose my immediate answer is where my mom and dad are. I did spend all my Christmas’s with my folks until I became a parent myself – I recall the bustle of Christmas Eve, so pleasurably and wildly chaotic with five siblings and later girlfriends and boyfriends and always so much to do, the early dusk arriving and still wrapping perfume sets, or walkie talkies and macramé plant hangers, someone calling out for tape, or shouting for their turn in the shower, or sneaking into the once-a-year-special marshmallow peanut butter squares, too sugary delicious to wait for, then curling our hair for church and marching through snow drifts to get to the car.
“Please have snow and mistletoe And presents under the tree” … And suddenly there was a transition. I was married with our first little baby and though my parent’s house was just a ten minute drive away – home had shifted. I wanted to leave the jumble of family at my parents and wake up with my tiny girl and husband to share something sweet together around our first tippy decorated tree. Since all those years ago we’ve usually managed a crazy mix of several homes, my parent’s, mine and my in-law’s -except the two years that we brought home our wee baby boys, both born weeks before the holiday. Those years we stayed put on the coast where my husband was in law school, more for the baby’s sake and mine. On each of those home came to us – our parents or siblings arriving with tiny outfits and trinkets to fill the stockings of bright new Christmas babies.
“Christmas Eve will find me, Where the love light gleams”… My four kids are grown and have almost always come home for Christmas. I’ve felt the exhilaration of them returning from university with plane loads of students, most thrilled to be away leaving independent lives, but back in parents arms at the airport you can hear the audible sigh of home. The first year that one of our four didn’t join us for the big unwrap fest and Christmas morning wife saver egg strata with o.j and champaign, all three of the females in the family hid our weepy tears. Our eldest son was gainfully employed working through the holiday season as a liftie on the slopes of Whistler resort, and the rest of us couldn’t have been more conscious of the miles and miles between him and home as we steamed the Christmas pudding, carved turkey and settled in around the table.
“I’ll be home for Christmas….” Of course, home is here now in this house where I raised my kids. I’m cooking today for Christmas Eve. In the wee hours I searched through recipes for something new, thinking that perhaps I’d switch it up, try a fish pie or seafood casserole, but sometimes you just want the same in this life. Like the year I finally got too embarrassed of the poorly stitched oddly shaped stockings I’d made when the kids were small. I bought lovely, bright, too big felt ones – who knew that my four darlings were quite attached to my sloppy efforts from years past? I imagine they’ll be looking for the same old-same old Christmas Eve fare – cracker crumb fried oysters, rice pilaf and rich butter tarts.
It’s quiet in the house this morning. Snow is falling in the backyard, covering the urban rabbit tracks. The peace will change soon with adult kids home for the holidays, coming and going, calling out to each other. Tape will be missing again and showers coveted. But that same son, who left us for Whistler years back, had a rare chance to go travelling. We’ll try to be more grown up about it. He’s in Thailand where I imagine on the eve of the 24th in a quiet moment it’ll be odd for him, too. He’ll imagine us gathered around the tree or the table and maybe, despite his exotic location, he’ll close his eyes and for a few moments – our boy be home for Christmas, if only in his dreams…
Ah December, the short days, the long nights, twinkling lights, staying warm by a fire and hearing Bing Crosby crooning Silver Bells. Yet this year I’m reminded by all the crafters and artists that I know, that this is the little bit of time where they are Santa’s elves times ten, carefully but swiftly polishing their work, and as tough as it is for their artistic temperaments – marketing, marketing, marketing.
It’s a winter treat for my mom and I to don our comfortable shopping and walking clothes and make a snowy day visit to one of our city’s colourful Christmas art markets. But wow – my mom is eighty-eight this year and for the last few years when I phone to invite her to our day of supporting artists and finding little treasures for the people we love, she’s turned me down, “Oh, I don’t think I can manage that,” she’ll say. “Too much walking. No, not this year.” I’ll let her sit with that dreary response until the night before when she calls me back to ask, “Are you still planning on the craft market? I’m thinking maybe I can do it.” Because she can always get up the energy for this much-loved inspirational day of visiting artists and carefully choosing from among their wares.
This year her granddaughter, (my daughter) has her artistic works of love in several markets under the banner Shea Proulx Art Books and on Etsy and Amazon . Since the colouring book rage Shea’s been selling her whimsical book Alice in the Womb – in her words this book, which is ideal for expecting and new moms, or as a wondrous teaching tool for children, “is the perfect way to peacefully illuminate the beginning of your own life’s journey, or reflect on the work your child is doing or did, to prepare his/herself for life outside the womb.” Shea’s next creation was ABC Monstrosity – “ABC Monstrosity is a freaky drawing experiment designed to thrill adults and kids alike with colouring pages that teach and excite all at once. As each new letter is introduced with a drawing of a familiar object or animal, the previous ones are continuously combined to create bizarre monstrosities.” So much fun for the children and children at heart on our list.
And now along with popular cards and prints created from her book’s art work, Shea has something completely different to offer her fans – a small book titled Naked Yoga, printed at a shop, but folded and delicately hand sewn at home. You can read more about this unique volume on Shea Proulx Art Books on Etsy . You’re yoga group will dedicate a mantra to it.
Shea’s inspiration for much of her work has been her own small children, Alice and Lucy, and her grandmother – the mom to five – is all over how tricky it is to raise little ones and be busy with other pursuits. Grandma will put on her money belt (her purse gets heavy) and her comfy shoes and not-too- heavy coat and I’ll pick her up with Bing Crosby’s White Christmas tunes on my radio and we’ll head off for a day at the art market to support family and artists making their way. It’s a traditional outing with my mom that I cherish – so worth the crowds and tired feet. So support the artists you love cause it feels good – and if you’d like to be charmed by the creativity of the one Ilove – Shea’s eclectic collection of books, prints and cards are here on Etsy and there is still time to order for the holidays.
If I’ve peaked your curiosity about my family – and raising a bevy of kids with artistic temperaments, and the chaotic trials of sending them off into the wide, wide world you’ll find my book by clicking here – Text Me, Love Mom, also available in time for this gifting season.
We grumble about change. Who likes it? But damn, I miss the glory days of Halloween in our neighborhood – which takes me right back to being a kid, and what the great spooky candy-fest was all about back then. WE never had store bought costumes, except maybe for those horrible hard masks with the cheap elastic on the back – who cared though? Our mom would haul out black shirts, and tights, and rip up sheets and voila – the five of us would be a rag tag team of cats, witches, hobos and ghosts. My folks never followed us into the dark scary night – they kept the youngest inside and let the rest loose, but Holy Cow Batman, we weren’t ever alone. We tore through hedges and across lawns following a band of trick-or-treaters hooting and hollering through the night, stomping our feet on door steps where someone’s dad was insisting we sing before he would drop caramels or suckers or candy corn into our pillow cases. Yep pillow cases, always pillow cases.
Halloween got more la dee da for my four kids. I bought them big plastic orange pumpkins for their loot (pillow cases held more). l encouraged them to fashion their own costumes but was a sucker for buying green make-up and shiny witches hats. And admittedly, for as long as they’d let me I tried to keep up to their scampering feet, but not for safety, more for camaraderie with the neighbors and because – Dang it! – I delighted in the excitement of Halloween. I shared the thrill of the kids running through the dark, costumed as something they imagined as scary or comic, trying to decide should they go this way or that, amid rumors of haunted houses and neighbors giving out unheard of amounts of loot.
My kids have grown up and buy elaborate costumes at ‘Halloween Stores’ to wear to parties on the Saturday before the 31st. The kids have grown and flown but a lot of us parents in this community have stayed put. It gets referred to as ‘an old neighborhood’ especially the day after Halloween when we lament the small number of trick or treaters, and talk about all the leftover teeny-weeny chocolate bars we have to eat ourselves. The afternoon of the 31st I was in a local mall and as dusk descended parents were bringing their tiny kids, dressed as mice and princesses, to the brightly lit shops to get free candy. Okay, it was cold and raining – I’ll give those moms and dads that, but parading through the malls just isn’t the spirit of trick or treating outside after dark, with pumpkins all aglow. It galls me to think that while Halloween gets steadily more commercialized the old-fashioned fun of it is being destroyed by overly anxious bubble- wrapping parents, though friends assure me that out in the new neighborhoods, stacked with children, you can still experience throngs of trick-or-treaters.
Part of our Halloween gig is for me to pick up my costumed granddaughters (this year they’re Batgirl and Gotham’s Harley Quinn) and whip them over to their great-grandparent’s house – even at age eighty-seven my mom would never dream of turning out the lights and hiding when there were ghosts and goblins outside looking for treats. On the way we stop to stare and shiver at one of those houses that go all out – bearing witness to the most devoted display of Halloween spine-chilling hair-raising dare-to-come-up-the-path to-our-house fun. Watching this couple adding dry ice and flickering lights to their freaky yard restored my faith in the occasion, and I doubly felt my granddaughter’s urgency to get home to trick-or-treat.
My daughter brought little batgirl and Harley Quinn to our house after they circled their own block, still revved up enough to come visit lonely neighbors with me. Like I said, it’s an old neighborhood, the streets are far too quiet and we all want to bend down and regal Batgirl and Harley Quinn with stories of the glory days on the block when there were gangs flying down the street calling out into the night, “Trick er Treat. Halloween Apples.” But the girls, sleepy eyed and contend, and just the right amount of scared, don’t seem to be missing what they never knew. And hey what’s with the apples anyways?
PS. I’d like to engage with my readers – please leave a comment or tell me, what was your Halloween all about? If you’d like to read more about my own four monsters and their journeys into the wide scary world check out my book, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest.
The leaves start to drop. The air is fresh. A school playground fills with shouting kids, and pick-up soccer games – and I feel melancholy, but on the edge of excitement, too. More than January, isn’t September the time of new beginnings? New grade school? College and university? Parents and kids fill backpacks with crisp notebooks and coloured pencils, then head to the malls looking for squeaky new runners? There are anticipatory trips to Ikea to deck out tiny dorm rooms or studio apartments full of furniture with funny Swedish names.
But there’s boo hooing all across the country too, for all those kids heading out the door with hockey duffles converted to super suitcases, and back packs hiding that favourite worn out stuffie, or that last pair of sandals hopeful for another month of warm weather?
I have four young adult children who are just now getting used to my having written a book about this next stage of parenting, about all those Septembers – those goodbyes until Thanksgiving. When Zoë, the eldest, left home, her copies of Love In the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter, and Dragonquest gone from the shelves, her colorful collection of shoes gathered from the closets, and her vanilla-scented products stripped from the bathroom, I searched the self-help sections for a manual on how to let go. Now that I’m a true empty nest-er, it seems a bit odd. After all, I still had three hyped-up teens in the house. One of them leaving home should have given me a little more room to breathe. But it didn’t. It took my breath away.
I was able to relive it all, writing Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two boys, One Empty Nest. (Hey kids – I gave you pseudonyms – relax. Nobody knows who this Zoë, Cole, Hudson and Lily that I write about are.) If you’ve been following my erratic blog, I’d love it if you check out my book. It’s been one hec of a ride. And if one of yours has packed up and will be spending winter and spring in another part of the country, or maybe another country – it’ll be okay. Really.
It’s hot. I know it’s hot – at thirty-two degrees it is almost as hot as the summer days ever get in Calgary, this city in the long shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Standing barefoot on the lawn, dead heading petunias already spent from the heat, I get a whiff of the strong perfume of a peppery wild geranium in the still air. It’s quiet on our city street. A sparrow chirps and then there is just the beat of a sprinkler keeping a newly planted berry bush alive next door. And now there is the sweet drone of bees discovering my blush pink roses. The peace, the myriad of scents, the calm energy of nature alive with intention these are the soft blessings of summer. But it’s hot – oh so hot.
I rally myself in the heat to remember the long winter that drags us down. Beads of sweat are at the nap of my neck and I leap across the too hot sidewalk but, “Come on, think,” I tell myself, “of all those days relying on car heaters, and scraping angry pebbles of ice from the windshield, cursing that I’d left gloves in the house. Just remember wanting to skate but how it was too cold to skate. So I’m roasting now – big deal,” I go on to no one but myself, recalling all too plainly staring down heaps of snow on cars, and walks, and piled against front stoops and how I had trouble imagining this too brief summer – with the landscape so locked in winter’s breath.
“Buck up,” I tell myself as an ice cream truck plays it’s jingle somewhere in the neighborhood, and I resist complaining of the heat that glistens on my brow. Trying to think ‘summer’ my inspiration is to call my daughter and offer her girls a trip to a splash park, “Pitter patter, let’s get at her,” I’ll say, but first I’ll fetch a dish to pick the ripe red cherries reachable from the shade of an apple tree, and feel the wonder that is this country that after six or seven months of cold, cold temperatures – still bears remarkable fruit.
It’s June 23rd. The days are long but we’ve past the very longest day of the year – which might make me melancholy – accept I’m forever mindful of that schools out schedule, and so feel that summer stretches before us still, in all it’s short sweet Canadian glory.
The apple blossoms have faded but the peonies are still blossoming and hanging their lovely heavy heads.
It’s disheartening to know they will droop and scatter their generous petals soon but in a few days the garden vegetables will be ready and my favorite – the raspberries – will follow.
One of my earliest memories is of picking raspberries beside my grandmother in a magical patch of juicy red sweetness that absolutely enveloped me.
And there will be days and nights at the lake – kayak and canoe trips sliding over the still water, swims at sunset and campfires after dusk.
Evenings with family or friends gathered around an outside table slurping up the sweetness of peaches and cream listening for the call of a loon on the lake and seeing flashes of fireworks on another shore.
So the longest day has come and gone but summer is only just begun …
Vibrant little green peas, the smell of carrots with specks of soil still clinging to them, earth with the aroma of green onions – the promise of the backyard feeds my soul. Every May the calendar days around Mother’s Day and my internal genetic calendar push me to turn over my tiny plot of soil, buy a handful of pretty seed packages, and tuck their contents into rows ready to water. It’s a tradition passed on to me from my mom and her mother, like colouring Easter eggs around Good Friday, and picnics on a blanket on a warm summer day.
On Mother’s Day when my four kids were little and excited to make me a tray in bed with the most delicious passion-filled luke warm pancakes, overcooked eggs, and bowl of Captain Crunch, I would elicit their dad to help me sneak pass them because always at that time of year the empty garden spots among the blossoming trees were just begging me to prance around on the dewy lawn and be lifted up by the best work I know. I’d run back to bed for my tray of child-love when it was ready.
My mom taught me the simple beauty and deep satisfaction of the vegetable garden. It was her favorite work too. She has five children and I have four. Raising a family is chaotic and chore-filled, and raising a garden takes you into another space for a short reprieve from groceries and laundry, meals and cleaning, ferrying little ones from here to there. Somehow in the garden you find time to dream a little dream while kneeling in the soft grass with seeds in hand, pushing aside an earth worm, thinking about how the summer might go, of people standing barefoot picking peas, or biting into the strawberries the squirrels don’t steal. It’s time away from time.
I joke with my family that, “It’s all going to be okay. I’ve got the fall harvest in,” when in reality my eight by six foot bed of vegetables only supplies a few colourful meals and delightful raw snacks, not like my grandmother’s farm garden that was needed for survival ‘in the early days’. Still after retiring to the luxuries of town, my Nanny, an image of independence, planted a back yard garden; hills of potatoes and squash, rows of beans and peas, carrots and beets, circled by cornflowers and raspberries, and she did that until she was ninety-four-years old. It’s my inherited Mother’s Day gift, from my mom, and her mom to be drawn outdoors with a reverence for the sun and the soil and the magic ability that nurturing the earth has to calm and sooth us, to take us to a sweet spot every May of hope and inspiration. (Discover more atAmazon.com)
“Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems.” – Rainer Maria Rilke.
March. March, March. The word sounds like spring. Like hope. Like the smell of thawing earth. The smell of renewal and something you can taste coming to an end. That was the way I began one of my most ‘liked’ blog posts. I’ve puzzled over the popularity of that post that was a simple tribute to spring, but I must have done so wrapped in the warmth of summer, or delighting in the first blanket of snow changing a dull brown yard to a magical white one, because if I’d thought about it at this stubborn time of year I might have grasped why it garnered so much attention. Its easier to understand its popularity today, and yesterday… and all the frozen days before – in this winter that refuses to give up its grasp.
As a collective my friends and family and even strangers around me are pleading that this March weather let go. The temperature rises from minus sixteen to minus eight and we want to cast off the heavy coats we are tired of, to turn our faces toward the afternoon sun ever so hopeful. There are still piles and piles of snow to melt before the hardiest crocus has a chance of pushing out of the earth. So maybe not this week or next but soon the words of this long ago well ‘liked’ post will come into play again:
Spring with a promise, just a promise blowing in the wind, of buds pushing out of the ground, of light cleansing rains washing away the sifting dirt of winter, of a neighbor reporting the sighting of a good luck robin, of a hard crust of snow melting in an afternoon, the winding hose left out during a late October blizzard appearing again. Birds sing in the morning and sound lighter, water drips off the roof and a cat meows in heat. I swear people too are more animated, slightly off balance with the extra light and sense of coming out of the dark, having made it through the long nights. March – skip past us, deliver us to the newness of another season.
Candle light, bundled-up babies, knit sweaters, warm coffee with close friends. I’ve just been learning about ‘hygge’ – a Danish term for the art of accepting the long dark days of winter and taking a gentle respite with them, the concept of restorative coziness and making ordinary moments more meaningful. While making cranberry sauce and watching The Gilmore Girls revival on a snowy evening (very hygge) I heard the most delightful quote – ‘I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Oh, so true. How books make us. And too, how we make books. When my eldest daughter, an artist and lover of science, was pregnant – she sat quietly with winter storms outside, and sketched the embryonic happenings going on inside her womb. Her soft sensual drawings of egg to babe are scientifically accurate but are surrounded by imagined creatures, flora and fauna. The baby would be named Alice, and the book, Alice in the Womb.
Alice in the Womb, is so hygge. It’s visual narrative engenders a feeling of well being and thus it’s an unique and soothing colouring book, and a beautiful learning tool (the drawings are numbered for referral in the glossary), but most of it details the rich inner life of nine months in the womb.
My daughter now has a second daughter – and has created a second book – the wild and unusual ABC Monstrosity and 123 – for kids and grownups to colour or read. With two small children and an eclectic art practice, her days of hygge are fewer, but she couldn’t be more content then on her trips to the nearby post office with a cozy little one’s mittened hand in hers, and copies of Alice in the Womb or ABC Monstrosity to deliver to destinations far and wide. Order now from Shea Proulx through Etsy or Amazon and you’ll receive them in time for the holiday season – packaged with lots of love.
I spot another skinny teenage boy in an ill-fitting rental suit standing with his date, who took a hundred and ten percent more time imagining, choosing, and adjusting her glamourous outfit for the evening. They are with a fancy dressed crew of their peers laughing and acting giddy after all the attention of the day. I feel happy even for the weather – for the warmth of the evening sun setting on these kids as I drive by them, but mostly I feel nostalgic for the fun we had at my own four kid’s high school graduations.
It’s June. And June makes me think about writing the book, Text Me, Love Mom, and how the tale started with my eldest getting that letter in the mail telling all of us that yes, she would be leaving home to go away to college six-hundred miles from home. As nervous as I was (was she more or less so?) it was hard to fathom. I was still driving her to piano lessons once a week, reminding her to bring a jacket on cool nights, putting in my two cents about – well – most everything. And she was going to somehow go off and live in a faraway city, (never go to another piano lesson) and get up every day and be part of something else entirely separate from us?
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Yes, of course, she was. As excited as those kids are that I pass on June nights, getting out of limos, or milling in parks in their dress-up clothes, maybe even dishing out money in a restaurant before or after a graduation event – somewhere there are parents whose trepidation and worry matched that excitement. The clothes had been bought and the limos rented by moms and dads who didn’t see how that kid would manage without them – their managers. That gang of youths getting ready to party hard had parents who were losing their concentration at work when they thought about their household ticking along with their son or daughter absent from it. Of course, not all the recent grads will go away. Some of them will get jobs or go to local colleges, but still life changes. They’ll stake out used furniture and share apartments with friends, travel to countries their parents have never been too, or find their people in another city. I know now that they do come home to perch now and again, but there is no denying that this dress-up ritual, and the cap and gown, and late late night parties are part of the threshold to a new sort of family life.
Back in my quiet kitchen, which used to be such a hub of activity, I stare out into the yard. The peonies have bloomed and are dropping their wide luscious petals, and the dark blue delphiniums reach to the sky. I’m stepping out to water a basket of geraniums on the deck when I get a text from our daughter Lily, who also lives 600 miles away now, “Mom, we’re meeting at the lake on the long weekend, right?”
“I’ll be there with bells on,” I text back and then I send a love note to each of her siblings, “It’s me, just checking in…xoxo ”
To write this story or not – but I’m a writer and it’s what I have to offer. I’m isolated with part of my big family…
Since I was a kid in grade four I’ve found joy and solace by putting words to paper (screen). As we all hunker down in our homes I feel the need to write. I want to share the family humour, the lightness of humanity and the very tough bits too.
To catch you up – here’s a brief tale of our situation at our ‘camp’ away from the world, though at the same time as we’re away we are deeply engrossed in events unfolding everywhere. I was out of the country with my adult daughters for a special short trip. We knew to be cautious in our travels – handiwipes in our purses, hand washing everywhere, hanging together. Even on our return we weren’t worried. Social distancing wasn’t a thing that first day. It was more than 24 hours after that when our world started to be dumped upside down with the disturbing frightful realization of how Coronavirus had insidiously crept into our province.
It was recommended that my husband work away from home because of my having come from away. We decided he would head to our cottage and prepare it in case any of our adult kids wanted to isolate. (It was the beginning of the odd toilet paper hoarding – though honestly folks we legitimately needed some). He packed the truck up with supplies as if it was a family retreat over a summery long weekend but this time he had cleaning products instead of blow up beach toys and canned goods, not marshmallows.
Our youngest daughter was studying for an important graduate entrance exam and followed him. Her big sister is the mom of our two young granddaughters and her husband was out of the country not aware yet that he’d have to head home. So there I was with my husband telling me to follow him to the cottage on the lake to finish this isolation time, but I felt like a big mother hen and needed to take care of my eldest daughter and my granddaughters, at least until her husband was homeward bound. So we were hanging together at bit over meals, the girls doing art at my kitchen table, their mom and I trying to sort out what everyone everywhere was sorting.
It was March 12th and snowing, not that usual spring snow which is heavy and wet and perfect for snowmen, but instead light flakes blowing and drifting through the night and day. Normally another flipping snow storm would be enough to fill social media with chatter but I remember the weather wasn’t mentioned as we all caught up with the threat of the virus and were deep in social media attention mode.
Waiting for my son-in-laws return and the snow to stop making the roads treacherous – I started to pack. But hold on – what was I packing for? … the now recommended fourteen days after travel to be over? Or some long otherworldly escape for how long …? ￼Would I want outfits to maybe go out locally in the early spring sunshine in another week? Or comfy clothes to be sick with some version of the virus? Was I taking a stack of books to read near the calm lake til it was all clear – or bleach, disposable gloves and lotion for hands we’d be scrubbing for who-knows- how long?
We have four ‘kids’ – two sons in another city, sharing a home with one of their girlfriends. More mother hen – I had to know what they were doing as the numbers of people being tested for the damn virus was slowly growing. I was worried about our boys and the girlfriend – all in the entertainment business whose jobs had closed up – but the boys were more concerned for us in this world of the Coronavirus where at our age we were annoyed at being counted among the older folks and in that broad demographic that was most at risk of serious trouble. The mind spins . Damn it I’m not near ‘elderly’. The guys worried that if they’d unknowingly been exposed they could pose a risk to us. I wanted them to leave the threat of the big city and be exactly where we were. We talked a lot. None of us had any knowledge that we’d been directly exposed. Had we in our travels? Had they in contact with a wide swath of folks at work? We changed our minds and changed them again and decided to come together and practise being apart together – however that would look.
Normally in my life I’m pulled tight into my own city by my dad whose in a senior’s residence and wants our company desperately. But I couldn’t visit him. I was ‘free’ to go. (That’s a whole other story to be gently told).
My mom passed last year – oh Mommy, you never ever could have imagined all this. The whole world is so far off kilter, nervous and stunned, watching numbers go up, and now our government is calling Canadians home. When does that happen?
I drove down the highway alone, trying not to stop – so aware that I was isolating from others but feeling the separation of people from me. There were some cars but mostly it was the truckers and me . It took me so long to pack extra who- knows- what for a trip of indeterminate length and purpose that I was amused at my own indecision. Tucked in with a box of chocolates I couldn’t resist in the car were weights for exercising, and my sewing machine ??? I had high boots for deep snow and sandals for hot weather. Should I bring the hair dye from the back of the cupboard though it’s not my current fav colour’? Those young women can go falsely grey but I’m still fighting the good fight.
I passed the biggest herd of elk I’d ever seen standing in a tight group beside the road in the moonlight. No social isolating for them. When I arrived at our cottage my husband was asleep and my daughter headed to bed. It was calm. The lake was still. A slip of moon shone over it. But beyond the mountains I’d driven over, the world was changing, changing, changing.
It’s the holly jolly season of brightness and light. But my family and my extended family have lost too many of our elderly this year – the chiefs of our tribes, my dear mom one of them. Mom loved Christmas – and like so many moms she created it – vintage Christmas cards hanging on a string, the favorite decorations glistening on a fresh cut tree, the gifts shopped for at sales throughout the year, and closer to the day – the table top lined with shortbread and nanaimo bars and those Chinese noodle chocolate cookies chilling on the porch. So all of it is hard this year, but Mom would want us to find the joy, to gather together and hold each other tight on a snowy night. (Mom – we’ll give it our best shot.) In her honour I’d like to share a favourite excerpt from my book Text Me, Love Mom that speaks of the joy, chaos and excitement of a family in transition at Christmas time:
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – The Queen, Alice in Wonderland
For part of a bright, but snowy December and into early January, our home was crowded with our kids and their friends home from university and jobs – along with snowboards and old skates in the porch, left-behind scarves draped over chair backs, and take-out Chinese containers leaning against eggnog cartons in the fridge. Once our two sons and their dad had completed their December twenty-third and twenty-fourth shopping mall blitz, adding to their two sisters more timely forays at artisan shops or framing their own works, the gifts had spilled out under the fresh scotch pine Christmas tree. The deluge of snow lent to the holiday other-worldly atmosphere. Every outing required boots, or at least high tops, sought out from the heap at the door. We’d all developed the technique of backing down the sloping road instead of plowing forward through icy drifts, and the sidewalk shovel-ers worked with the risk of a friendly-fire snowball being tossed at them from the front deck. There was always someone trying to find a sibling, or the truck keys, or else they were noisily trying to locate the contact lens solution over another person calling out to see if there was milk in the downstairs’ fridge.
For most of their long break we skipped family breakfast – as pre-Christmas I was out using the mornings to finish gift shopping, and post-Christmas I used the early hours to bring in provisions for the household. I’d almost forgotten how so much of my life had revolved around trips to various grocery stores for two decades. A few days before our kid’s departures were going to begin – I located them in the evening, in person or by text, “Breakfast together tomorrow at 10:30, okay?”
Zoë, our eldest, was more interested in the stacks of pancakes then previously. It had been a marvelous new holiday season for our family – because it was growing again. A few months ago, just before receiving her Masters degree twenty-five-year-old Zoë and her dedicated boyfriend of the last five years learned that the IUD Zoë used for birth control had failed them. “Got one past the goalie,” they were able to jest once we all passed the initial stress and concern of the IUD being surgically removed without interfering with the tiny new being. Zoë’s guy would touch her rounding belly and we would all grin like Cheshire cats. He was finishing a degree in architecture and was madly planning a renovation of their Vancouver home to accommodate a new baby. It was the twenty-first century – we were all okay with them transitioning to being parents before we helped plan the fun and romantic ocean-side wedding of Zoës dreams.
While brushing the snow off the car before driving our sons to the airport, a blur of white skidded past the hedge and across the road. It was a snowy white rabbit, running parallel to me. This was an unusual lucky omen – a white rabbit running parallel to you, but only if it was Sunday. And Sunday it was.
Our youngest, Lily, flew back to Montreal for the start of classes a few days later. She called me her second day ‘home’. “It’s so cold, Mom. I can’t even hang onto my phone – it’s so cold.” She was rushing to a grocery store to buy ingredients for my meat sauce. “Tell me exactly what you put in yours. I want mine to taste like yours.” She was quiet. Then, “What are you and Zoё doing? I wish I was still there hanging out.”
Zoё had been commissioned to paint a mural for an art show, but was free to hang back in Calgary for another day and return when the price of flights weren’t as inflated, promising me some mom and daughter time together. We were returning a maternity shirt that didn’t fit her, going out for a peaceful lunch and because, unlike the Montreal deep freeze, Calgary was being treated to balmy Chinook weather, we planned to take a walk along the reservoir. After all the lovely chaos of Christmas, a day of activities devoted to Zoё and I, seemed like bliss, but I was aware of the new hush Lily had returned to in her small Montreal studio.
“We’re not doing much, Lily. It’s quiet here. Make your sauce, and call if you need help.”
But Lily hadn’t been ready to disconnect. “Hey Mom. How will we work it when Zoё has the baby in June? We’ll be there right? How will we make sure that we’re in Vancouver?”
Funny, her brother, Cole, had asked me something similar. He had no interest in being around the delivery room but he wanted to be close by, “to film the kid as soon as it arrives.”
“We’ll work it out,” I told Zoё’s little sister, “It will be summertime. That’ll make it easier.”
The following day I took my eldest daughter to the airport, gave her blossoming body a firm hug, and handed her over to those security personal before driving back to this too quiet, too calm house. But imagining our first little grandchild, I feel less lonely. The baby’s other grandparents live in Calgary as well – and the bright bigger bedroom that was Zoë’s before a recent renovation, now has enough space for a queen bed and a tiny crib when they visit. Suddenly, the renovated house was beginning to make sense again… Despite the miles that separate us, our family was growing and this house, halfway up the hill, is still home.
Sweet, my kids would say. And so I’ll type to them all in their far away places, “Text me. Love mom.”
Naptime- those words evoke a sense of peace and calm. Calm if
you are the one indulging in a nap – but even more tranquility if the sleeping
person is your busy little toddler.
Alice at Naptime is the sweet and dreamy latest book by Canadian artist and mom, Shea Proulx. Moms with children of all ages will delight in pouring over the colourful depictions of the sleeping child, and will lose themselves in the narrative carefully created for adults and children both. In this graphic story a baby’s naptime gives the mom a welcome chance to turn away from its need of constant attention but the artist simply can’t – the baby is her muse.
As Shea Proulx says she, “spent her twenties going to
forest-raves, living with a lot of strange people, and becoming over-educated
at Emily Carr and UBC. Immediately after graduating with an MFA she discovered
that she was totally pregnant… At its core, Alice at Naptime tells a universal
story, of a parent pining for past freedoms, while simultaneously descending
down a rabbit hole of all-encompassing maternal love.”
It’s the perfect book for new moms, artist-moms, moms we’re grateful for – and admirers of all of those. Anyone really – moms, dads and children – can lose themselves in the artwork that winds around itself in an ever changing pastel wonderland to the tales end. The book is available in hard and soft cover or a limited edition gift set that includes the hard copy with a signed book plate, two charming pins, and a special chocolate bar – a Mother’s Day present extraordinaire. Available from the publisher – Renegade Arts and Entertainment.