The Gift of an Artist's Muse

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.

You can purchase it from the publisher Renegade books – and support an amazing Albertan publishing house, Renegade Arts Entertainment  or from Amazon Amazon Alice at Naptime .

If you’d like to see more of Shea’s work she has also published Alice in the Womb, an adult colouring book which “shapes ethereal imagery around the fetus growing and transforming in Proulx’s belly, from conception to birth. And an all ages colouring book, ABC Monstrosity – both available from Etsy at Shea Proulx Etsy or Amazon Alice in the Womb or https://www.amazon.ca/ABC-Monstrosity-Shea-Proulx/dp/0994924119

But You Don’t Seem Old

 I had a birthday this summer and you could say I am now a woman 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.

Letter to Mom – Written Two Months After She Disappeared

Dear Mom,

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.

Alice at Naptime and The Rabbit Hole of Maternal Love

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.

Alice at Naptime can also be ordered from all your favourite book sellers (which include some in the UK) and Indigo and Amazon.ca Alice at Naptime

In The Air There’s A Feeling of Christmas

 

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.
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!

Would you get a kick out of reading more of the chaotic antics of Candace Allan’s family – read her book by clicking here  Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest. Buy it in time for holiday gift giving. 

And This Is A Good Omen?

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.

snake word

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.

snake photo

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.

raspberries in bowl

 

 

I don’t usually write about snakes leaving home, but if you enjoyed this you may want to read this ….  Text Me, Love Mom: Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest

It’ll Be Okay, Mom – Fingers Crossed

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.


……To read about another sort of leaving home click here for My book Text Me, Love Mom on Amazon