The Sparrow Perched and Flew Off Down the Lane.

It was a bit of a panic helping my youngest daughter, Lily, leave home again.  Her big sister, Zoë, came by to do a necessary last minute repacking of an overstuffed suitcase hours before the flight was to depart.  Lily was exhausted, and wired – finishing a work project while simultaneously debating her travel outfit and fixing a turkey sandwich in an effort to avoid plane food on the eight hour flight. She hadn’t packed her toiletries, had to call her cell phone provider for overseas coverage, and was still debating over which photography equipment to bring.girls packing

When you don’t know what to write, but feel compelled to say something the tried and true advice is to always write from your heart .  I’ve been dealing with confused emotions by writing stories since Miss Simon’s grade four class, but once I had kids – four of them – taking care of them, mothering, and managing a home was the other thing I did – along with the story writing.  Some of my most intense, pleasurable days occurred when the words and ideas poured out of me while I was working amidst a buzzing household of six people.  As a young mom I formulated a plan to adhere to a schedule of a three hour block of writing time that could happen between two school bells – the morning bell and the noon time bell, even when I still had little Lily at home busy at my knees with a box of toys.   That schedule might have been do-able, but when I was really in the zone, I’d whip my kids up some lunch, push them back out the door (ours were neighborhood schools) and let Lilly sit on my lap when she got bored with Mommy’s insisting she was going to stop typing soon …very soon.IMG_1801

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We’d rush to piano lessons or a baseball diamond with me still rewriting the story in my head.  And I know more than once I told myself I’d stop once the rice pot came to a boil, but instead the rice would burn and finally I would say, “Okay, okay, Mommy’s back”, and I would return to all that family and household management. And so the years went by until the kids started to leave.  Zoë, the oldest, went off to university when I was just forty-three, the age some women have babies at now.  Cole and Hudson soon followed their big sister with ambitious travel and school plans.  Lily was just seventeen when she finished high school so we naturally assumed that we’d have a kid in the house for a while.

Our kids are close, tight knit, a little band of connected individuals.  That makes me happy.  Proud even.  But Lily felt so close to her siblings that when three of them wound up on the west coast, Cole and Zoë sharing a house while attending two different universities, and Hudson a ferry ride away, Lily decided she belonged on the coast too… and so the nest emptied just like that.  It wasn’t exactly a smooth transition and more than one of those kids had us all on high alert from time to time making their way in the wide, wide world.  Still most of the interruptions and interferences to writing became of my own making . Yet at times like these, with school bells part of the distant past, and kids on work paths and in their own homes and apartments, I miss working amongst the chaos of their noisy lives.

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Staring out at the autumn colours in my back yard, I’m amazed at the deep pink and violet sweetpeas still clinging to the tall vines.  I think again of the wise older neighbor two doors down, who told me when I was blue about my kids leaving that they would come back.  I doubted her words,  but in fact they have all four returned to perch here now and again.  Lily, the most travelled, spend this summer, caring for the house and yard while I was away at our cottage.  Turns out she has quite a green thumb and was more diligent about watering and weeding then I ever was.  I returned in September to share time with her and a garden that was still showy with the blossoms from her organized efforts. During the weeks when we were all here Lily would often come home after we went to bed, and leave for work before we were up, but on some level, through our slumber her dad and I were aware of those sounds of a young adult with us again.

With the wonders of technology I already know that Lily’s walking through a neighborhood in London, England today.  She’s carrying on with her life and I’m carrying on with mine.  I watch a little sparrow land in the golden leaves of the apple tree and fly off down the lane and feel just a little melancholy.  It will be their dad and I again, passing the winter evenings together, eating our late night popcorn alone. Before we fall asleep we’ll imagine each kid in their place, including our Lily, home for a while and now far away.  I am now the neighbor woman that tells you – don’t be too blue – they do come home to perch. xo

To read further tales of Candace Allan’s go to http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

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Summer After Summer After Summer of Love

Hey – now this is exciting – I’m a guest blogger.  Calgary author, Leanne Shirtliffe, is launching her new book this week – ‘Don’t Lick The Mini Van – and Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say To My Kids’. She has asked me to do a guest spot on her blog about something I never thought I’d say to my own four darlings.  Now there were quite a few of those insane, spur of the stressed-outmoment gems, but read the one I  shared at  http://ironicmom.com/2013/05/23/summer-love/

Phone-less in San Francisco

In response to reading melancholy blogs from parents experiencing  withdrawal from kids gone away to college and university, I promised to re-post a couple of those learning curves of my own.   So here is PHONE-LESS IN SAN FRANCISCO

Seven P.M. on a Sunday night my twenty-year-old daughter calls,  obviously near tears.  “Someone stole my phone,” she cries.  “I feel so cut off without it.”

But she is on a phone, one the cell company she’s been dealing with, has given to her.  Born in 1959 myself, it takes me a minute to catch up.  It’s not the phone, it’s the information in the phone.  “I feel like I have to start over meeting people, making contacts.  I feel so alone again, Mom.”

“Honey, honey, I get that you’re upset.  But those people will call you.  You’ll get your numbers again.”

“Mom, it doesn’t work like that.  I’ve done this enough to know lots of those people were never going to call me.”  What she’s done enough, is move around, this daughter of mine.  This is the third time in her young life that she has by choice surrounded herself with absolute strangers – situations where she had to work to have even a single friend.  From our home in Calgary, at age sixteen, she bravely did a high school exchange in Rome, Italy – isolating herself further by having to learn Italian.  Her siblings went to school on the west coast, but she headed east to Concordia University in Montreal.  Now, trading another cold Canadian winter for a foggy one, she was taking part in Concordia’s school abroad program by doing a year at SFSU in San Francisco.  “People here have their own friends.  I’m the new one.  I have to call them,” she explained further.

I was alone in our renovated, too big house, when she’d called.  Her dad had taken two of our nephews to an early hockey game.  The weather outside was shifting, from a Indian summer to light flurries.  Earlier I’d been in the yard pulling down sweet pea vines and raking leaves, and wishing I was cooking a Sunday dinner like some of my friends would be, for kids who stayed in the city for jobs and school.

“What are you doing right now, Mom?” she asked quietly.

“Missing you guys.  Dad’s gone to a hockey game.  I was going to make toast but the breads gone moldy.

“Mine too,” she said.  “My bread’s gone bad, too.”

“I guess we need each other to finish a loaf of bread,” I said, from where I watched the sky turn dark outside the living room.

“Yeah, we do.  I miss you guys so much.”

“You’ll get your numbers back, Lily.  You’ll run into people.  And some friends will call.  It just seems bad now.  I’ll email you Zoe’s and Hudson’s and Cole’s and your cousin’s numbers.”

“Will you do it now?”

Of course, I told her, yes, I’d do it right away.  And I would add a note to her email, about how brave she was, and how I knew the next time we talked she would be okay again, having found her friends.

I DO, I DO – Wedding Do’s and a few Do Not’s from a Recent M.O.B

T’is the season of summer engagements and mid summer weddings.  All four of my twenty-something kids have been invited to witness and celebrate friend’s nuptials on hot afternoons and long summer nights.  Because love is clearly in the air I’m re-posting the bit I so eagerly wrote after my eldest daughter’s sweet, romantic – but not entirely perfect wedding.

…The rose petals have settled.  The five hundred photos have been printed.  The gorgeous dress awaits the cleaners with bits of grass and twigs in its elegant bustle. Though we never thought of it as a destination wedding per say – our eldest daughter and her groom choosing to be wed on a coastal island three and a half hours from their Vancouver home involved some degree of strategic planning. Let’s say “it was an adventure” and I do love an adventure. though there who didn’t quite see the ‘fun’ in not being able to get off the island the day after the nuptials because of a  unseasonal storm that kept the ferries from traveling the rocking seas.

I started out a bit lonely in my stretch as a mother-of-the bride. ie. a MOB, but by the time I hung up my MOB dress –  (elegant, classy and reserved and not sexy, loud or scene stealing ) –a few friends had joined my ranks as MOB’s themselves and were asking if I could jot down a few bits of advice.   Of course, every journey is unique, and the journey involved in helping someone else plan a wedding, will be as distinct from this as apples and oranges, or rather as a six layer marzipan topped fruit filled cake extravaganza compared to a tray of fanciful butter-cream topped floral cupcakes.

The first step is finding the venue.  To do that you need to determine your number of guests.  Everything follows suit after that step has been taken.  Zoë and her guy’s wedding was on a weekend in late Sept. because of booking issues, though a wedding during the summer or on a long weekend would make it easier for guests to attend.

Zoё printed the guest’s addresses on clear labels with a lovely cursive script.  She researched the etiquette on handwritten  vs. printed envelopes and found both are considered acceptable.  She had the foresight to print up copies of the sheets of labels for shower thank-yous, wedding invites and wedding thank-yous and had them on hand over the months. 

Oh, we’re big fans of all those glossy wedding magazines – a friend coined the term ‘wedding porn’ for them – for their addictive, seductive qualities causing an  – I need to see more and more of those over the top dresses, those exotic veils, the juicy center pieces, the stunning bouquets – reaction to them.  My daughter definitely borrowed ideas from them – an example being purchasing ballet flats in her wedding colours to peek out from under her dress. It lent a surprising and sweet pop of colour to catch glimpses of her fanciful magenta flats .

One of the easiest additions to the fun was little bottles of bubbles we ordered from a Canadian company (weddingfavours.ca) that came with optional labels with the couple’s names on them.  Guests of all ages (seriously) loved blowing the bubbles after the ceremony and during the couple’s first dances – they gave the celebration a joyful quality (the photos, too).  I surprised the bride and groom with inexpensive retro match books with their names and wedding date printed on them – from the same company.

About registering.  Guests really do like to shop from a registry BUT Zoё found that they didn’t do it until quite close to the wedding date.  The bride and groom registered early and then found many of the items were seasonal and not available when their guests went to purchase them.  They registered at a large department store and a popular more modern kitchen and bath shop.  Young people shopped at the first, and older people at the second.  I’d recommend registering or updating the registry closer to the wedding date.

Here’s an annoying point – people of all ages (who should know better) don’t RSVP!  We had to chase down responses.  I think older people (relatives) thought we knew they were attending – true- but maybe what they aren’t accustomed  to because this wasn’t the case ‘back in my day’ is that we gave them a choice between a meat entree, a fish entree and a vegetarian (which I was surprised to learn is the common practice these days) and had a space for guests to indicate special diet requirements (again not done in my wedding era) so we wanted to get the card back.  Accept the idea that you will have to hound people for responses.

Zoё created a  seating plan which involved her own art all over the large chart – (as did the invites and thank-yous.)  She was attempting to arrange where guests would sit early on, but now she recommends leaving  a space of time five days before the wedding to make the seating plan.  Once older guests said they were coming, they were committed, but young people canceled right up to the last week putting the seating plan out of whack.

Aside from the weather and incredible scenery– an entire day of gorgeous sun during a week of rain and coastal storms – the most talked about ambiance of the wedding was the musical selections of the DJs.  They played the crowd like a book.  It was 80’s and 90’s tunes that had everyone, young and old, on their feet dancing the warm autumn night away.

We were advised to not let people wait too long for the cutting of the cake or the garter and bouquet toss – lots of older people are waiting for those events to happen so that they can retire for the evening.  Speaking of cake – another little endorsement –Zoё ordered stunning and life-like sugar paper butterflies and had the resort’s chef decorate the  wedding cake with those, from a company called SugarRobot – off the etsy.com web site.

We all agreed that we were glad we never pre-determined when to close the bar.  We decided to close it when it appeared that people had enough to drink.  A few complained half-halfheartedly, but they were the ones we were cutting off and the rest were happy on the dance floor.

My final bit of advice, I’ve always thought this – I think that the bride and groom should go away on a honeymoon for a least a few days RIGHT after the wedding.  It is so chaotic and stressful in the days leading up to the big event and so nice for them to go just be calm and happy together – even if they are planning something else in the future.

My daughter and I both like to entertain and looked forward with delight to the chance to plan and carry out a wedding.  I advised her that she had to enjoy the process because the day itself would pass in a surreal blur.  A dear friend who runs a wedding planning business  preeminent tip was this nugget – the purpose of the day is to celebrate the ceremony. The reception, dance, and dinner are important, but don’t overlook the fact that everyone is there to witness your wedding ceremony, so put thought and time into it – making it unique and special to the two of you with personal music and readings or poetry.

The most sage piece of advice from another young bride was simply – ‘remember to have fun’You’ve been planning and thinking about this magical day for so long, stop worrying (leave that to all the people you’ve hired or friends you’ve delegated, or your mom) and really enjoy your day with your groom and everyone that came to celebrate this exhilarating occasion with you.   Brilliant advice – that.

To read the book about all four of my kid’s with their rock star mentalities and the chaos of family life as they hop from one adventure to the next go to http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

* photos by Chris Stash

It’s a Wedding – Not a Jungle Expedition

Four days – my eldest is getting married in four days!  We (I) got a kick out of buying those bridal magazines (wedding porn, a girlfriend called them –referring to my ever growing stash).  So, yeah, I’ve flipped through a few and a good friend gave me the  survival guide for the MOB book and I read it cover to cover – Mrs. Bossy survival guide author and all those magazines  tell me we have to prepare the Bride’s/bridesmaids/groomsmen’s/Navy Seal type Emergency Kit.  My daughter has enough on her hands – temporarily living on a island, taking care of the soon-to-be cutest ring bearer in the world and dealing with that seating chart.

I happily  took on the Emergency Kit task.  So dear bride, we are set.  I have assembled in little sandwich bags inside of bigger freezer bags (bless those bags)  – safety pins (really what do you actually safety pin on the wedding day?), lip gloss, throat lozenges, needles and thread (did that son actually get his pants hemmed?), static guard (someone please ask me for static guard on the big day so that I can exclaim – yes, yes, I have it right here), handi-wipes, a stain remover pen, bug spray (for those late season bugs), sun screen (they are predicting clouds), bobby pins, hair elastics, duct tape (oops – did I forget the duct tape?), drugs – lots of them, aspirin, cough syrup, pills to plug sinuses – pills to unplug sinuses, back pain relieve, head pain relieve – also blister pads (lots), band-aids, lotions, deodorant (better get more)  protein bars (can’t forget that – but wouldn’t a nervous bridesmaids rather have a Nanaimo bar – got those too.)

This morning I woke up worried about having enough hair dryers for the sure-to-be overworked hairdresser, whose agreed to travel to the island – taking those two short ferries to get there – and what about mirrors?  I don’t know how our rental cottage is equipped with mirrors. Somebody told me about a fold up mirror (?).  Now I understand those families that you see at the airport from other countries with loads of suitcases, and duffels and taped boxes.  They aren’t going to the home country for a month, like I used to think.  They are going to a wedding for four days.   

I was busy adding to my list – smaller cooler, a spare sleeping bag for an uncounted for guest, eye drops to clear red eye ( in case we can’t sleep and then cry too much) – and that’s when it struck me – after the wedding I would leave straight for an African Safari –  I just need to throw in the tent and some mosquito netting  – and I’m set.

Hey Granny, You Better Buy an Easy-Peasy Umbrella Stroller

So I bought the bright red  stroller for wonderful grand-baby – and was shocked at what a buggy cost!  That said, I do remember saving hard for a double buggy when two of my own darlings were eighteen months apart, and in fact this stroller is built with the future in mind.  When you have baby number two you can purchase another contraption for the teeny new one to lie above this one (or something convoluted like that) and IF number two is followed by number three, everyone shoves over and you buy a little step to attach to the back so number one’s little feet still don’t have to do the walking!

So one-year-old granddaughter was in my charge while we visited Windermere B.C. and I took her to ‘town’ to have a little stroll around and pretend people were whispering, “Mom, or grandmom?”  Of course, the gig (in my dreams) was up when baby woke from napping and I needed to adjust the stroller back to let her sit up, and had to ask a youthful shop owner (of childbearing age) to assist me.  Baby and I wandered off down the sidewalk window shopping, with me picking up her flowery sun hat as she threw it down (“good game, silly grandma”) until I noticed that now the fancy buggy straps were so loose grand-baby could haul up and run off if she so desired.   I was struggling to tighten them – baby bouncing on my lap and stroller sliding all over the walkway when a kind couple came by – my peers, I might add and the silver haired gentleman, introducing himself as a experienced grandfather, offered to assist.Okay, we were all – the other couple and I, the grandparent type you see on the vitamin bottles in my bathroom – the just barely 50, might need a boost of vitamin type, you know that fit, but slightly graying sort from the freedom 55 comercials frolicking on the beach?

But could any of us fit-frolickers understand that millennium baby stroller? Nope – for full comprehension we needed a buggy from the eighties.  I finally had to tell this guy thanks for his trouble but obviously the darn, modern, high tech stroller had outwitted us all.  I slid baby back in and had the forethought to ask my would-be helper to demonstrate the four-way clip that held the whole harness together.  He obliged, but I guess, given the circumstances, my short attention span was timed-out.

After I fed my dolly a cup of strawberry ice cream for her lunch, I figured we should make our way back to the car.  There I was in front of  my ride trying like mad to undo that child-proof four-point clip and thankful that grandpappy and I had  never tightened the darn harness, as it was becoming clear that if we would have succeeded I’d have had to abandon my vehicle and stroller stuck-baby many miles back ‘home’ – instead I was taking off her shoes and preparing to lift and slide her out of the bottom harness when who should rescue us?  Kindly grandfather-man, probably wondering why I hadn’t paid closer attention last time.  Okay, I’m definitely the grandma – the universe was making that loud and clear – baby’s mom was at a music festival calling up her mis-spent youth and dancing her little heart out, and I was considering how badly I needed a teeny little afternoon nap.

Bridesmaids, Popcorn and Babies

Now here is something that didn’t exist when I was home with babies –  Stars and Strollers, the afternoon matinees just for parents ( and grandmas, and eager aunties, and friends) and – get this – babies.  My daughter,  Zoe, and my oh so adorable one-year-old granddaughter came to visit and we decided we had to give this a try.   We picked a movie that we really wanted to see (maybe that was a mistake), which unfortunately was only playing way, way across the city (perhaps our second boo-boo) and headed off to meet a friend of Zoe’s and her one-year-old little guy, and to observe the darling chaos of it all.

The movie was Bridesmaids and for a Wednesday afternoon there appeared to be a pretty big turn out of mostly new mommies and teeny weeny babies. I noticed a few grandmothers in the crowd, amongst the stroller pushers.  My youngest daughter, Lily, wanted to see the movie, but not as much as she wanted to hang with her out-of-town tiny niece at the theater, so she was with our group, as well.

The lobby was a stroller-a-thon though the  two women purchasing tickets ahead of me were being charged regular price for not having a under two-year-old with them (which is what the fine print on the Cineplex web site says would happen), but they successfully argued they should be entitled to the same discount the rest of us were getting for the inconvenience of being surrounded by all those babies.  Now I have to say right off, if they really came to enjoy the movie, the constant interruption wasn’t worth the discount, but if they came to take in the sight of forty plus moms trying to take pleasure in a movie while nursing and changing and soothing and bouncing forty plus babies – now that was worth the price of admission.

Our driving across town had given grand-baby the chance for a solid nap so after a short period of calmly taking in the dimly lit room full of her baby peers, and then staring at the larger than life characters of Annie and Lillian on screen,  she was ready to sit on mommy’s head, or travel from mommy’s lap to grandma’s lap to auntie’s lap and back again, while experiencing the new sensation of being fed little iddy bits of popcorn. None of the babies cried for very long, rather they all took turns at crying for short periods of time.  Zoe and her friend were critical of the character development in the zany comedy, but who the hec knows how they could have possibly have followed the plot lines while keeping their babies entertained – though they and their movie going peers were all learning to be the mothers-of-all multi-taskers.

I figured twenty-one-year-old Lily would say that sitting amongst a roomful of wah-wah-wah-ing babies was a stupid way to watch a flick, but she loved her niece’s visiting her seat-side to press crumbs of sticky popcorn into her mouth, and insisted she was able to tune out the babies bawling over top of  clever lines such as the bride, Lillian, asking her messed-up bridesmaid, Annie, “Why can’t you be happy for me and then go home and talk about me behind my back like a normal person?”

At the  front of the theater was a changing table, a slightly lit-up spot where you would not miss a second of the soundtrack, but the audience had a clear view of you tending to your infants soiled diaper needs.  We noticed only one man in the entire theatre, and when he was the one to come stand in that light and expertly change his baby, I know most the moms were watching this macho figure in his baseball cap rather than Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph and wondering if their own baby-daddy would be so bold?

Stars and Strollers was an event, a gathering, shared camaraderie amongst a group of pretty new moms, allowing themselves – despite the squawking and wiggling of their infants – a  bit of entertainment on a weekday afternoon.  But I think I’ll go see Bridesmaids again – because I don’t feel like I’ve seen it yet.