What Vera Believed In – (and Love-Pancakes)

“Days may not be fair – Always

That’s when I’ll be there – Always”

Years back when my four kids were small, they liked to make me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day – pancakes fashioned to look like the word L-O-V-E, served with toast and pb and j because they could make that too, alongside cold scrambled eggs and tea – as they hadn’t mastered timing. Their dad, amused by their muddled efforts, stayed hands off and kept a secret for me, which was that on a day when I could supposedly choose my activities the garden had called to me. So while our two girls and two boys were arguing about who would carry the tray to their sleepy mom I was actually outside listening to birds sing with my hands in the soil, weeding around pansies and tulips, freshening up raspberry canes. 

My husband would distract the kids, I’d sneak back inside, go from dusty garden attire back to pj’s, climb into bed and wait for all their happy faces and my curvy pancakes. When they got bored watching me eat, I’d be able to stop forcing down cold eggs and toast with gobs of peanut butter, and maybe get back to the robins chirping and dividing a bag of glad bulbs up for me and my own mom. 

From there, having had my blissful gardening fix, I’d have gone in to make a (hot) brunch for my parents or maybe a fancy dinner later with my mom’s favorite rice pudding for dessert – the notion of Mother’s Day off a silly sort of fantasy with four feisty kids, my mom to spoil and sometimes my mom-in-law too. 

     With those four kids grown and my sons living away, one of my thoughtful daughters, (the oldest a mom herself), will always make me a Mom’s Day brunch or lunch – I wouldn’t mind if it still was wiggly pancakes spelling out L-O-V-E. I wish like mad that I could make love pancakes for my own dear mom, but she’s left us now. I have more time to garden these days, but I make a point of doing it on Mother’s Day because it is amongst the fresh rose branches and the new shoots of phlox and the pointy arrows of peonies starting to reach for the light, that I feel closest to my mom. 

When we needed a family-sized home my husband and I bought my parent’s place and they downsized. While we’ve renovated the house, and even changed the landscaping, the foliage – giant evergreens, bushy lilacs, resilient bleeding hearts, frothy nan king cherry, and my favourite hollyhocks – were started by my mom’s creative green thumb. I feel I’m tending her garden, googling guidance to make her special rose bush blossom (the one used for rose petal jelly) and to correctly prune the spreading lilacs. This will only be the second Mother’s Day without my mom at our table, telling me it’s too soon to put geraniums out, to just be patient. She’d be okay with me popping my sweet pea seeds into the ground though. 

    It’s been a good week for horticulture – windy maybe, but not too hot or cold. I’ve sat on the grass pulling out the darn creeping bell flower and thought lots about my little mom – (she was much shorter than I am) – she was quiet but wise, not prone to sharing her worries. She nurtured her soul tending to her garden, but nurtured ours with her love-labour of making jam and jelly for our winter toast, by baking for us all year – apple and berry pies, spicy ginger snaps, and snicker doodles, lemon loaves and her magical chocolate cake. While I sat on the lawn beside that favorite rose, which will blossom with fluffy layers of pastel pink flowers, I thought I’d text my four kids my own Mother’s Day message about their grandma. She left us two years ago next month and I’d like to share the goodness of what she believed in. I want to remind them that their Grandma believed: 

That flowers are necessary for the soul.

And tending to even a tiny garden will lift the spirit.

In offering food and drink to anyone that passes through your door. 

In dropping off treats to people having troubles. 

That making your bed first would start your day right.

She believed in offering a helping hand. 

And in making old-fashioned phone calls to reconnect. 

To never visit a friend empty handed. 

She believed in making Sunday dinner special.

It’s Canada. Always bring a sweater, she said.

She believed in the magic of a good chocolate cake.

She believed in going barefoot.

She believed in treating her adult kids to weekends away by babysitting for us. 

She especially believed in celebrating family birthdays, all the holidays, and New Year’s Day dinner. 

She believed in being good. She was good. She would have especially believed in L-O-V-E pancakes. 💕

  •  

Call Me Dad. I’ll Pick Up.

Too much time has passed since I last calibrated my thoughts in a blog post – strange reflective time. In my last Text Me, Love Mom column I wrote about moving my dear old dad – the best dad – to a new senior’s residence, as he needed a higher level of physical care. It was a good move. That facility was friendly and kind, trying to cautiously give the residents as much comfort from visitors as they could within the bounds of Covid restrictions. (People talk about caring for our most vulnerable, but I think we need discussions that include listening to their own wise self-determination.)

When Covid first reared its despicable head the senior’s residence where my dad lived then went into full frightened lockdown. He had a small apartment there and was considered only in need of ‘assisted care’ because he’d originally moved in with my mom – his most loving caregiver, but she’d died nine months previous. His immune system was mighty in that he was never ill but his body was frail and worn out, his lungs needed to be on oxygen, his heart on medication, he was unstable on his feet even with a walker, and his short term memory was gone. Yet he had a robust will to live, to be social, to share what was on his mind, to be part of our lives.

My dad, Thomas Allan, was one of seven children – six boys and the sister they adored. More than once I tried to get him to tell me how nine people were able to find space to sleep in their tiny two bedroom house in Black Diamond, Alberta. The answer was always murky. They managed. The first ones in got the bed. He’d talk instead of the family dog, Purp, of hitching rides to the nearest town with a train station to jump on top of a train for a short prohibited ride to the next stop, or of making a raft that broke apart on its first Sheep River voyage, and of being known around town as one of the Allan boys. I remember at an embarrassingly late age being taught by a new sister-in-law that we shouldn’t start to eat until our mom, the cook, sat down. I think both my parents, but especially my dad, came from families where your instinct was to dig in to get enough grub while sitting around a table with nine hungry boisterously talking family members.

               In those first three months of Covid where we washed our groceries, debated masks, and stockpiled canned goods, the assisted living facility shut us out, kept residence in their rooms, and brought them meals on paper plates to eat all lone. My siblings and I made deals with ourselves, if it goes on two more weeks we’ll get him out. Two would become three … but we couldn’t decide what ‘out’ would be. To live with one of us? All without main floor bedrooms. None of us with medical backgrounds. To rent a place more suited to his walker and oxygen and poor mobility, and hire nurses? My dad would say he was a social democrat, but he never ever could get his mind around his complete loss of control in the exercise of ‘being saved’ from Covid. “What have I done wrong?” he would ask me over the phone. “Tell me, Candy, what did I do?” He was breaking our hearts.

That harsh lockdown period lasted too long but we finally argued our own and a dear loving companion’s way in, as what the authorities called essential visitors and witnessed how Dad had lost ten pounds, not from illness but from loneliness. We could finally ease up on the detailed phone call schedule us siblings and his grandchildren had adhered to, and return to bringing him our love in person. Some of our best afternoons after that were slow chats in his room. It didn’t matter that he nodded off continuously – when he woke it was with a sense of calm to see someone there, rather than a panic of where was he and why was he alone? (My humble opinion? Billions have been spent and livelihoods destroyed in failed efforts to contain the virus. Almost 90 per cent of the deaths have been in Long Term Care facilities. What if the billions were spent instead in isolating the sick from the healthy even in LTC?).

On a rainy fall afternoon encouraging him to eat the lemon pie I’d brought, I pretended to need to know how he met our mom again. “At a house party,” he said. “People used to have more of those back then.” I asked if he’d arranged a second date that night, to a movie, or dinner? “I don’t know,” he said. “It was a long time ago.”  In fact he did know, though he told me just this, ”I drove her home to her aunt’s house.” He paused, pushed the pie away. “She captured me,” he said and closed his eyes to sleep again.

I now have in my dresser drawer the bundle of love letters my parents exchanged during the first months when they lived four hours apart. In one he wrote, “I’m sure glad the search is over. It was getting hard on the eyes hunting for you for twenty-four years.” Mom, less the romantic – someone had to be practical – had written in her beautiful script about getting her hair chopped off much too short. He addressed his next few letters to ‘Chop-chop’. Known for his wry humour my dad wanted always to give someone else a smile, though he kept a straight face before and after.  

It’s supposed to be good luck to have rain on your wedding day. The rain was torrential on that June day in 1953 when Tom and Vera promised to love each other to death due us part. In the next ten years they brought five kids into the world, making seven of us at the dinner table, or sleeping in a crowded tent trailer on vacation, and riding out in a big wood panelled station wagon to visit our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in Black Diamond. In his ninety-fourth year my dad wanted us to plan a family reunion with our big Allan family – imagining us all leaning into each other around a prairie campsite but Covid forbid it.

My dad’s favourite pastime was the circle drive through the foothills landscape he was passionate about. He used to do it with my mom on a Sunday afternoon, stopping for an eggroll in Turner Valley, or a burger in the Diamond, maybe just an ice cream sundae and coffee in Okotoks, before heading home. For the past few years one of us kids would be at the wheel driving Mom and Dad, and then just Dad. Sharing his affection for that small journey, our hearts would lift as we faced the Rockies and we’d make small talk about the measure of snow capping the steel grey mountains, as we as we gave him what he felt was freedom. It became too much effort for him to get out of the car but we’d park and bring him back a treat to eat with the view of the Sheep River – before returning to the city where we’d mask up again to get him and his walker and oxygen back into the tall building he resided in.

Short term memory loss is a bugger. He’d call many, many, many times a day. Sometimes I couldn’t bear to tell him that I’d just left him. Or that it was bedtime for him and me both and I wasn’t going to go there. He’d always ask us to, “Drop by with a latte.” We were both happiest when I could say, I’m on my way and I’ll stop at a coffee shop.

Why a latte? My dad was a Black Diamond boy, who before he gave up his licence at age 86 would drive forty-five minutes to another town to have coffee with his brothers. Coffee was their communion.  But a latte was something that we had to bring to him. A coffee he could get from a caregiver where he resided. Really he was saying, Come over. Bring love.

I wish he would call me now. I wish I could bring him another cup of love. I long for one more circle drive.

My dad died on November 29th, 2020. He died in his sleep. I thank God for that, because it meant he didn’t leave this earth waiting for us to pick up the phone, to bring the latte or take him for a drive. His heart quit beating as he rested. When I arrived before sunup to kiss his head good-bye I longed to tell him that when I stepped from my car I heard coyotes howling at the fading moon. I wanted to tell him that there must have been meaning in that.

John Steinbeck was one of my dad’s favourite authors. Steinbeck wrote in East of Eden, “All great and precious things are lonely.” My dad was precious. I wish that he had never been lonely.

Your Hand In Mine

July 19 2020

Rules. Rules. Rules. We recently needed to move our dad to a senior’s facility with a higher level of care for him. With Covid there are rules, so many rules. Even coming from one residence with no covid to another without the virus, and having had several tests himself – he still had to be isolated in his room for fourteen days. I had to believe that when that non-isolation isolation (we were thankfully still allowed to visit) would be over Dad truly would be in a good place. He’s now on a memory care ward but please please don’t jump to conclusions! Don’t sigh and say dismissively, “Oh, okay, that’s that then.” My dad has dementia – but I know this about the ‘D word’ – you can’t decide what that means for him in particular, or compare it to someone else you know. Yesterday I listened to a poignant podcast about an elderly woman with dementia, and how she told a daughter she didn’t initially recognize, “This is who I am now. Accept this version of myself. Know I love you still.”

In the years since my dad’s had dementia I’ve made irratic frustrated attempts to learn more about the disease, and what I’ve learned most from that is that the way a person’s mind leads them down the path of dementia is unique for every soul. My family has had to learn what sometimes frightening path my dad’s mind has taken him along, as well as all the ways he is wonderfully still the same.

The kind doctor that first diagnosed him told him, Dementia doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It just means your memory isn’t working the way it did before.

My dad is still my dad. He is still honest and good, (though sometimes cranky), with charming wry humour. ‘How long have you been on oxygen?’ – a doctor recently asked. “Same as you,” he said, “since I was born.” And when I try to cool off his hot apartment, instead of telling me he is cold, he asks me if I can find him an ice pick. A nurse brings him his medication and he offers to split it with her.

That humour is evidence of a sharp funny mind. But the same mind doesn’t see the boundaries of his own changed body. Why can’t he get his drivers license back?, he wonders despite being on oxygen, and off-balance even with a walker. It’s on his bucket list to ride a horse again, he tells me and he’d like to get a two bedroom house with a stove to have people over and cook say, a few eggs.

People warn us how sad it will be when he doesn’t recognize us. I can’t predict, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. He knows exactly who his five children are, not always where we live now, but who we are is locked in. He doesn’t know he’s called one of us a dozen times in half an hour. Or that he asked us what time we’ll arrive two minutes ago, or he already called to say Happy Birthday to the brother whose birthday he amazingly remembers. Still if we can get the conversation past why he can’t move into his own place, and honestly sometimes we can’t, we can still engage in conversations about the times that as he says, were a life time ago.

My parents marriage was the union of two people who believed not just til death do us part, but in loving each other completely until then. Their strengths shone through their union but for the last four years our mom had to assume care for the husband who had previously done the heavy lifting for her. Fourteen months ago mom confided to me, “Dads worried about what will happen to him if something happens to me.” I tried to be funny, ‘We are too Mom, so you better stick around.” A month latter, the day after their 66th wedding anniversary, to our childish surprise – she unexpectedly died.

He managed in the assisted living facility we’d helped them choose for a year without her – his guiding light. He’s frail, and weak of body, but not of mind in the way too many think. Yes, he has dementia but he can tell a good story, and set you to laughing with his wit.

Funny what memories we hold onto. Being the middle of five kids it would have been rare to have my dad’s attention all to myself. But I remember going to a department store once – just him and I. I have a vivid memory of how before entering the big store he took my small hand in his big strong one. I honestly remember being so happy to have my dad, holding my hand, just the two of us out together.

What I wish I’d told my mom that day fourteen months ago when she, I realized, was the one worried about him managing without her, was this, “It would be ok Mom. We’ll take care of him.” What I didn’t know as a kid was that my turn to take his hand and make him feel safe would come. It’s not easy to do that always, but listen hard Dad – we’re trying.

The Magic of Alice At Naptime

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/

This lovely and captivating book can also be ordered from Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Alice-at-Naptime-Shea-Proulx/dp/1988903521

Watch for a new book from Shea Proulx to be available soon.

You Couldn’t Make This Up

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?

Sent from my iPhone

Taking Care of Grampa in All This

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

(If you would like to read more of my writing follow my blog or you can read my book Text Me, Love Mom : Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest – https://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

Staying Separate and Apart – Together

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.

Reaching for the Silver Bells

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.”

If you’ve enjoyed this excerpt, and would like to read more or know someone who will be captivated by this tale of a family sorting out this new stage of life Text Me, Love Mom is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

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.