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.

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.

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

A Different Sort Of Summer

It’s been a different sort of summer. I’ve been living the dream, as they say, staying four long weeks at our lake place in the North Shuswaps. We’re on the shore on a stretch of water that carves up this forested place with arms that go off for miles in a multitude of directions.

My kids, and granddaughters, and my younger brother, a niece and a nephew, a dear cousin, and good friends have circled round this stretch of lake this summer, through little villages that burst with seasonal energy – to swim and boat and break bread with me. Odd to say me, not us. But I’ve had to host alone this year as my husband’s had a strange summer too – an extremely arduous aspect of his work has unfortunately landed smack in the middle of normal holiday time.

And the summers had another weight to it – my elderly parents have had a lovely family member as the live-in caregiver they require, but she needs to move on now. My siblings and I have all spent time trying (oh man, we’re trying) to convince both our mom and dad that moving into the nice, comfortable, sociable, well managed … seniors residence we helped my mom find will be a better choice then the house they can’t manage any more. Honest dad, it will be.

So I’ll bring up the beach chairs, tie the kayak high on the shore, wash one more load of towels, close the blinds, pack the hanging planters into the car with my suitcase and big box of BC peaches and wind my way around this giant lake towards home.

It’s been a different time as times go. And I’ll surely blog about the time to come.

Looking for another read by Candace Allan – check out the book Text Me, Love Mom, Two Girls, Two Boy’s, One Empty Nest.

Being An ‘Adult’ Kid

65964B6E-5AF3-42FC-AD33-9FFECA4E560F.jpegI want to lean into this stretch of time I have here at the lake. Not to think of the days counting down – but instead of the days adding up. Today was as full as a day at any lake day could be.

I had company, my niece and a girlfriend were sleeping when I wound my way down to the beach and slid the kayak into the lake before climbing in. It was the years first kayak ride with the lake still and even, just ripples in the hot sun. I paddled out to watch neighbors following kids out for an early swim or setting out on deck chairs with coffee. 

   Afterwards I  came home to see my niece and her freind off –  hugging and taking last photos into the bright sun. 

Invigorated by the kayaking I  decided to bike but it was already so hot that I turned back at the first hill, and spent my energy instead with a swim. After towelling off and deadheading the geraniums  I read my book with the guilty pleasure of chips and dip, stopping to text with a friend and my sister. img_4375

The deck rocked with the rolling water from all the ski boats enthusiasts yelping as they rode the waves. It was noisy and a bit wild, but I liked that seeing as there is such a short time for us Canadians to be raukus sun-worshippers before winter will drive us inside again. 

  I called my brother and continued the family talk about helping our parents through a move from their home to a seniors residence- such tricky times to be an adult ‘kid’.  I thought about how, if my own four children need to keep their dad and I ‘safe’ someday this will be the first place they try to discourage us from coming to – worried about ‘an elderly version of us’ on the dock, or climbing the rocky slope from the lake, or even making our tired way to our upstairs bedroom. I tried not to think too hard about that while I brought the day to a close watering plants and picking deep purple basil to eat with a plate of tomatoes and soft cheese.  I couldn’t help my mind going there though on this summer’s day, with its mix of summertime action and tranquility. img_4373

(looking for more by Candace Allan – see . Text Me, Love Mom – a summer read. )