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

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

Oh Baby – Let’s Swing

“How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside–

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown–
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down! ”

The Swing –   Robert Louis Stevenson

Up at our cottage there is a small clearing in the trees, with a view toward the lake.  It is a place some of us (probably the girls) always looked at as if it was where you would slip off to with a new boyfriend when it seemed you had been inundated with aunts and uncles, and cousins or other lakeside visitors –  to get away and whisper, or steal a kiss without being observed by dad.

It is a place to go when you are feeling like a moment, or being contemplative, or are in love, or out of love – a place away from the other places, a place to steal a kiss, or tell a secret. IMG_4581

 

 

 

And then our eldest had a baby who has a love of swinging, and we’d drive for twenty minutes to the park beside the local baseball diamond.  At last I knew what the spot in the trees needed – a swing – a swing for a toddler, but a swing for a long-legged kid or a grown up, too.

Lucky for all of us my son-in-law, the toddler’s daddy, is a recently graduated architect with a passion for building – no pre-packaged swing set kit for us.  On three of the hottest days of last summer he happily constructed the perfect, simple baby swing and a ‘big’ swing, and a place to climb and slide – with awe struck assistants from those of us eager for the finished product.

It was a hot summer with the lake temperature invitingly warm, so swimming and boating and floating we’re so much of what we did – not much swinging at all.IMG_4641

But it’s British Columbia, Canada and there are long crisp seasons where the lake is the backdrop for more quiet pursuits, times when there will be a fussy baby that needs to be soothed or too many folks will be crowded inside, and two others will have to slip out to that spot in the trees and take turns simply swinging.nest painting-2

It’s January now, the ground is icy white, the still air promises more snow and cold.  But hey, it’s time to dream of  spring and going “up into the air and down”….

Peas, Ice Cream, Smarties and a Little Blue Potty

Hey, while Grandma’s trying to catch her breath – I’m writing this on her iPhone to let you know what’s going on here, Mommy, but first I have to shout at Grandma, “No, No!” because there is a tiny piece of blueberry stem in my breakfast and she will come remove it from my presence.  You know how I hate anything nasty like that cluttering up my highchair tray.  I’ll digress, Mommy, to tell you I have Grandpa trained, too.  Yesterday he found out some other grandfather has his grandson call him ‘Bronco’, so decided he wanted to be called ‘Cool Guy’.  I say it and he’ll watch the ‘puppy’ movie with me another fantastic time. Image
So the morning I found you’d left me, your two-year-old sweet baby girl, to go reclaim your misspent youth at that music festival for what?  Five sleeps? –  I was fine, really.  I had my cousin to hang with and the other Nana and Papa before I got plopped in the car with this Grandma and caught up with some zzz’s all the way to the city.  Grandma’s first stop was Toy R Us – what’s with you never taking me there?  I think she was nervous when she saw my eyes bug out – she bought another potty and had me packed out of there in no time and over to Great Grandma’s (GG’s) and Great Grandpa’s so I could amaze them with my dexterity and climbing abilities and they could say over and over, “I’m just afraid she’s going to fall,” and encourage me to eat my dinner.   Grandma didn’t want to let on that when I started to squawk the last twenty minutes of the three hour car ride (I mean really) she had passed me back a big old bag of potato chips and ruined my dinner.

The first night was hell going to bed without you folks.  I started to cry – like seriously wail, and you won’t believe this Mommy, but somehow Grandma had left ‘Baby’ behind.  Her and Grandpa started dragging other ratty old dolls up from their basement but Mom, Baby is Baby, no substitute was filling that void.  But then ‘Cool Guy’ offered a movie and Grandma remembered you’d pulled the plug on my viewing ‘Bolt’ for the summer – the flick that I cleverly refer to as ‘puppy movie’ to help you all forget that the action packed animation is scary and that amazing puppy, Bolt, demolishes a ton of bad dudes.   Well, that was the old folks solution to my frantic tears.  Grandpa found it on his big screen TV.  It was bliss Mommy, cuddling with them and watching puppy movie.  Grandpa was such a fan of it that the next morning while Grandma ran out to buy me a big bucket of fat baby Lego and stock the fridge with my favourite healthy fruits and juices (like that lasted) Cool Guy and I watched puppy movie again.
Grandma’s been showing me off to her friends.  It’s a pretty easy gig – she get’s me to say a few words that come out clearly, and you know, I show them that I know where my nose is (duh)  and they are down on the blanket doing baby Lego with me or asking Grandma in a challenging way if she’s spoiling me with ice cream – and then she does. She had invited two grandma wanna-be’s-but-not-too-soon over passed my erratic bedtime and I know they were looking at us like the whole situation was out of control.  But really, Mommy, it was late and I was bored with the fat Lego.  She didn’t want me to watch puppy movie again (Cool Guy wasn’t home yet), they’d kiboshed my attempt at grabbing that glass ball dangling over the window seat (who makes a ball out of glass anyway), and I was so over toys.  Someone came up with the ice cream idea and yeah, yeah, I know I’m supposed to say “all done” instead of mucking in it and pushing the dish off the tray, but honestly I was spent, and Grandma was frazzled.  I knew if she’d just put me in the bath I could amuse her again.
Speaking of amusing people – the other great-grandparents came to see moi and were spellbound by my using Cool Guy’s iPad – iPad, iphone – it’s not rocket science – you scroll, you push, you tap – a baby could do it.  Even more exciting – as time goes by Grandma lets me get into the cupboards she’s said no to earlier – so why wouldn’t I give that a go?  Isn’t that what they’ll want from me when I’m older – persistence – going the extra mile?  So finally I got to play with the glass candle holders and the fragile Easter decorations tucked away behind them.

Did I mention that people bring me presents – a new doll – so cute, but not Baby.  Speaking of Baby – what’s this I keep hearing, something along the lines of, “do I understand about the new baby?”  Seriously folks?  Word here is that I’m too little to stress about a new sibling yet.  Oh, and speaking of stress…  Grandma gave up on the potty thing.  Hey, don’t get me wrong.  I like this new potty.  She thought the other one wasn’t comfy. This one is so comfy and supposedly my using it for my business instead of perfectly acceptable diapers could have something to do with eating Smarties.Image  Hey, I can’t believe you’ve kept those from me too.  I guess we’re even – you’re having a wild time at the music festival with Daddy and I’m kicking it up here with those chocolate bits of loveliness.  It seems Grandma thought she could train me, but she handed over the Smarties when I whimpered at bedtime and she sort of whimpered herself about how she trained her four kids – you can train me, and good luck to you.  I think it was a weak moment.

Today she took me out to visit another sweet grandma wanna-be… for more presents and you know it – ice cream.  Grandma was super late getting there and I have to tell you, Grandma told this friend that she can’t believe she suggested to you, Mommy, that maybe you could do some of your art while I sleep.  “As if!” she said to her ice cream serving friend.  “I totally get that when this toddling ball of energy stops spinning circles all you want to do is catch your breath, or clean up the mess, or maybe for fun throw in the laundry and watch it go around,” Grandma said gulping back a glass of vino.
ImageShe brought me home and for dinner she let me pick and eat a zillion peas from what she calls her slug invested garden.   After that I tried once more to stand at the top of the stairs to the lower level and shout what Daddy shouts at you when we’re all here together, “Zoe, are you coming?”  Just hoping that you might be down there.  That really got to the old folks – Grandma hugged me and told me “just two more sleeps” and Cool Guy said he’d watch puppy movie. They were both asleep before Bolt returned from his exile.

You two have fun – we are. But it will be blissful to snuggle with you and see ‘Baby’ again and get off this ice cream diet.  Love you guys.  XO Tessa (Grandma says I need an alias in case this is all too embarrassing later.

Taking Care of ‘Baby’ – a Memory Shake Down

Okay, call me a slow learner or a good forget-ter.  During the five days of caring for my granddaughter, while her parents enjoyed their baby-free honeymoon I found myself too often collapsing in a heap (usually with fussy baby in my arms –or with her just tucked into her car seat) with me gripping the steering wheel up front and reaching for my survival coffee, and later saying to whoever would listen – how did I do this back in the day?  I have four adult kids.  When the oldest was the mature age of five the youngest was a newborn.  So yeah, I was raising a new baby, a two-year-old, a four-year-old and my right hand person back then, the girl that had my back, fetching diapers and entertaining her brothers  (during all those long hours that their dad was at work) was my then five-and-a-half-year-old eldest daughter.  She’s twenty-seven now – and deserved the holiday with her baby’s daddy.

My honeymoon babysitting stint took place immediately following their ‘destination’ wedding on a little west coast island.  After all those months of helping plan the lovely affair I was a little frazzled leaving our home to fly out for the wedding, so when I returned here with Baby the house wasn’t exactly ready for infant care.  The first morning rather than packing usurped Baby into a cold car seat  I was borrowing milk and Cheerio’s from the neighbours.  That’s standard baby fare right?  Milk and cheerio’s?  I could best describe the five days as a memory shake down

Day One went swimmingly – fifteen-month-old grandbaby was just taking it all in, visiting her great-grandparents and traversing their stairs like she was a mountain guide in the Swiss Alps, and gobbling up fresh blueberries so fast I swear they thought I was starving her, then merrily spreading her funny grins around.  Even bedtime wasn’t too bad even though her mom still nurses her then and all grandma was offering was an unfamiliar bottle of cow’s milk. Day Two we kept action-packed, visiting another set of great-grandparents where Baby  put three little stuffed dolls under placemats and discovered them there seconds later as pleased with herself as if she were Houdini performing an escape act.

Every time she visits our place I babyproof for a different level of trickster Baby.  This time I wound fat elastic bands tightly around the cupboard handles of the cupboard I most-want-her-to-stay-out-of and she most-wants-to-get-in and she expertly unwound them.  I distracted her with some time in the yard.  She distracted me by considering putting pebbles and twigs in her mouth.  Still we were having fun, Baby and I, until bedtime.  At bedtime the jig was up.  Though Baby gurgles and chatters and exclaims all day, accept for pointing, her language is mostly indecipherable.  But we didn’t need a translator to tell us what the long hour of crying, little shouts and sobs meant.  Her message was clear, “Where the hell are my parents?  I’ve put up with you pathetic stand-ins long enough.”  Grandpa couldn’t console her, a favourite uncle felt he’d lost his place of esteem, and I finally resorted to pulling a big quilt over the two of us and letting the sweet (noisy) pet sob it out.

By Day Three any bit of fatigue brought a similar break down.  “Imposters”, she cried at nap time, “I beg you to return me to my people.”

I’ve got to do better, I told myself. Think. Think hard.  I brought out her buggy to attempt to stroll her to sleep.  Just then a heavy rain poured down outside.  But forlorn Baby had climbed into the buggy on her own.  I fell into Plan B, circling the stroller through the kitchen, dining and living room, shush, shush, shushing her and, voila – she was fast asleep and dreaming.

And on that night there were no tears at bed time either.  It was the motion theory at work. We dropped in on great-grandparents again, who can never get enough of Baby, and cleverly (finally) left at a time that my tucking Baby into the car seat with her bunny was the last image she had that night, staying soundly asleep until Day Four. 

Now I’ve never spilled the beans to my daughter about how sad her daughter was those first few nights.  I don’t want to lose any opportunity for her to let me bond with Baby for a few wonderful (sometimes loud) days again.  Darn it, why did it take me four days to rediscovered the benefits of the stroller and every mom (and grandma) should know that the car ride always works.  We finally had a rhythm going for Day Four and Day Five – with trips to Starbucks before nap time – Grandma needed a caffeine boost early in the day, and it was a little slice of heaven showing off my beloved granddaughter in my favourite coffee shop.  And after we planned for an after dinner stroll or car ride (duh) and I whispered to  smart Baby that she’d get her people back the next day, the last bedtime was calmer, too.  

So please let me do it again, good daughter of mine.  I’ve got the hang of it again, I swear.

Mother of the Bride – a Fun Ride

Cover of "Wedding Flowers"

Cover of Wedding Flowers

Wow – five days until my daughter’s wedding!!  For the last three  days I’ve admitted to some people that I’ve been “oddly emotional” and they all reply – “What?  Of course you’re emotional – what’s odd about that?”  But I think I was surprised by my own tears in the pompom warehouse (no kidding – millions of pompoms under one roof) and even, can you believe it – over the phone to the indifferent desk clerk at the honeymoon spot (making sure that they acknowledge the honeymoon couple in some nice way – and they do  – with chocolates and wine) because except for a very few, very mild panic attacks (breath deep, in through the nose, out through the mouth)  I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of helping my daughter plan her hopefully lovely, ‘ smallish’ wedding.

My husband and I like to entertain – small scale in our home or cottage, with flowers from the garden, homemade food (okay – yeah, I cheat a bit on that) drinks, and the right music on the iPod.  My daughter’s guy has a similar background, and she and the wonderful young man she’s marrying  have the home in their community that friends spontaneously  gather at and so they regularly put on impromptu dinner parties as well.  So come on, tell me – how could we not have crazy fun planning a party where we don’t have to cook or clean up – but get to set the stage, make it dazzling (we hope) choose the menu and dance lots?  She’s an artist so indulged her passion for drawing by designing invites and seating charts (her small obsession), and programs and thank-you cards and EVEN those signs at the side of the road that say “Wedding this way” – paying no attention to my, “But honey, those don’t have to be art – they might get rained on and people are just speeding by.”

What were my obsessions? I admit I did tromp all over two cities looking for the right lacy socks for the flower girls -all women of a certain age will know the ones I refer to, I’m going to start importing them.) But I also was stuck on retro qualities from cousin’s weddings back in the day – the ones  where we ate homemade Ukrainian food and polka-ed and did the stupid chicken dance.  This wedding is on the coast on an island that takes two ferries to get to (just ten minutes each, honest).  There won’t be perogies, and maybe not the chicken dance, but there will be bright pompoms on the cars and match books with the couple’s names on them (if they arrive in the mail this week) and flower petals sprinkled down the aisle by tiny girls – the bride and groom’s niece, as well as their own fourteen- month-old toddler who may or may not help her cousin with those petals (okay – not).  There will be flowers grown on the island by a local young woman – dahlia’s and whatever else grew this summer, and groomsmen who have never been groomsmen before and bridesmaid’s in the same category, accept for the one whose done it five times this summer (bless her). There will be lots of young people who have never even been invited to a wedding or maybe one way back, but not a close friend’s.  Both families will walk down the grassy aisle and my sister will perform the ceremony.  There will be a cousin playing Davie Bowie songs on his guitar as the bride walks towards the groom with her dad, and I guess, this is the part that is making me cry, because I’m crying now, is that it’s been a hec of a fun ride, helping to put this together – fun, of the sorts that makes me happy.  That’s what we’re supposed to pursue right?  So now, after so much anticipation I’m tearing up.  Our two families have worked together so that the guests  that we love (even those slow to RSVP) could be well taken care of on the day that we join each other by the seaside, while our dear daughter and the good man that she is marrying stand together, with their little baby girl nearby and promise to keep loving each other for a very long time.

And the best advice that I can give the new couple is to cherish the day, to let others entertain you on Sept. 24th but most importantly –to  have fun on your day.   Just remember, we’ve got your back.