Sixty Years of Wedded Bliss and Alberta’s Flood Waters

More than ever I wanted my parents to have a special 60th anniversary.  Sixty! – for heaven’s sake – they have been married to each other, taken care of each other, put up with each other, for sixty years – 720 months, a zillion weeks – a long, long time.  June 1953 when they exchanged their wedding vows was a rainy wet month in southern Alberta – they sloshed through the muddy church yard hauling up the bride’s dress to keep it clean.  June 2013, the year of this diamond anniversary, has involved epics floods that have devastated their city of Calgary, Alberta.

For months, myself and my four siblings have planned a family celebration of our parent’s wedded bliss involving their children and spouses, the grandchildren and spouses, and the two little great- granddaughters all meeting at our cottage on Shuswap Lake in B.C. – a seven hour drive from Calgary.  When I said, “hey, just pack a bag and we’ll make a little trip of it,”  I had never fathomed we’d be housing evacuation victims,  and glued to network forecasts on the country’s number one highway being washed right out with storming mad flood waters.

As distracted as we were with the hardships going on around us – property destroyed, power out, transportation a mess – it seemed my eighty-three and eighty-four- year- old mom and dad still deserved to have us rally to mark the occasion, but there was that matter of the main highway having vanished under muddy debris. Image

We waited it out a day and then I told the folks we would scout out an alternate route.  And there we were a few hours later jammed packed with a line of transport trucks all headed north when we all needed to go west.  We met up with fifty troops of army reserves returning from natural disaster duty – at the A and W in Red Deer, then struck off west finally over miles of land that couldn’t have been more lush as the rain came down again.  Reaching the Rocky Mountains we were forced to go south now and finally, after five hours of detour, were back to the number one.  Tell me about your honeymoon, I said to my mom, as the sun crested a peak and my dad slept in the back seat.

We pulled into the iconic Chateau Lake Louise for a late, late afternoon coffee. The waiter there, learning it was the 60th anniversary didn’t charge for the two desserts we shared, and bid them a respectful (awe struck) congratulations before we pushed on a mere half hour further to the Kicking Horse lodge in Field, British Columbia, for a evening meal in the railway town before bedding down for the night. Image

And I do feel guilty for high tailing it out of Calgary when I see on Facebook and in the news that the horrible messy clean-up is just beginning.   But the clan is gathering and this anniversary party must go on – stayed tuned for the low down – how much asparagus do twenty-seven people eat?  Should I keep introducing my folks as the ‘diamond anniversary couple’ – will the grocery store comp me my hamburger buns?  Are twenty-seven family members – twenty-six too many to spend three days with?  Will the folks share their six decade secrets of long matrimony?  These answers and more in the days to come…

Four Generation Photo Shoot Mother’s Day Madness

Mother’s Day 2013 and I realized I could repent for past sins – after a few years of living away from my almost three-year-old granddaughter our big family feels so, so fortunate to have her and her baby sister (and their mom and dad) move ‘home’.  And with one set of grandparents and one of great-grandparents back from winter escapes, suddenly we find ourselves all living in one city with three four-generation family groups. my fave four gen

Now that begs for four generation photos.  True we could have set up a few calm afternoons with the parties involved at separate locations according to which side of the family we were calling into dress-up (but not to up) and smile action.  But a windy warm Mother’s Day afternoon was picked for a massive ‘let’s get this done’ opportunity.  grandmasteeple

My youngest daughter stepped up to the plate as patient photographer extraordinaire, and I took up the job of production coordinator – a few days before the Mother’s Day event I realized I was so mentally excited that I’d only imagined my official invite to several key players.  lucy in yellowCould have been due to my distraction over shopping for teeny white shoes for new baby or finding the right shade of yellow hair bows to twist onto the three-year -olds pony tails, while directing the other guests to organize their groups into comfortable clothes that go together and trying to settle on a menu for a brunch that would go cold on the stove while we bossed people around.

 

Mother’s Day arrived – perfect overcast clouds for great photographic light –the lot of us looked exuberant – every generation, while we waited an hour for babies that needed to nurse and kids that needed to be polished up, and chairs to be transferred from suddenly too sunny spots and a very special 60th anniversary photo of my parents.  And then from the minute we shouted out the first, “Cheese” until two hours later we posed and jiggled a baby, blew bubbles at the too energetic toddler, sucked in and grinned while she zipped into the shot on a ride ’em caterpillar, called senior folks from this end of the yard to that, helped the six-year-old hold the baby who was losing it, smiled and smiled, and suddenly the window closed, the baby cried, the three-year-old collapsed and myself, the production coordinated – tried to push on, ever conscious of the photos we didn’t get at the wedding – the ones I was trying to make up for, until finally I called out, “Enough. Stop me.  I’ve gone insane.” And it was over.  I could collapse with the little ones – or maybe even relax and feed the guests, while waiting to view the wonderful joyful shots of what we’d just pulled off.   alice and adina tired

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”….

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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.

Blog, by Blog, by Blog – Until There Was A Book

Both of my daughters have struggled through long distance relationships with boyfriends.  Our eldest daughter, Zoe, was away starting university in Vancouver in her lonely (with roommate but no big family) apartment and she and the guy she’d left behind pined for each other through long distance phone calls – until it just didn’t seem like the right mix.  My youngest daughter, Lily, was later off on the opposite side of the country discovery Quebec and Montreal and devotion to studies in a little studio while working her way into, and out of, a relationship that started long distance – and ended that way.  Both girls tell me long distance is hard.  Their dad and I did it too, decades ago, so I know that’s true, but sometimes  you get lucky.

It is fall, the trees are golden, the sun is warm and all my four kids live away now.  I miss them the most Sunday afternoons when their dad and I consider a bike ride or a drive in the country with not much thought to Sunday dinner.  I come from the tradition of Sunday dinner and if any of them are home I try to do it up right.   I’m okay now – after their long and gradual departure from our too big, too quiet nest.  And now we’re the ones engaged in long distance relationships.  I have friends who are melancholy because their kids have just recently left home for places in the city.  And I’ve been reading September blogs from women – strangers to me, who are pining for their recently departed kids.  For both types of parents, who I know reminisce for a September of  grumbling about buying kids new gym shoes or calculators, and the morning chaos of getting a family out the door, I’ve decided to re-post my first few ‘letting go’ blogs.

I set up my wordpress blog two years ago while I worked at writing a book about all the crazy ways my kids left home – four kids – four different pursuits – one stunned mom.  I was still pining over the firstborn’s swift departure, and only starting to see the humor in the second’s being held at the Canada/U.S border with all his belongings in a plastic garbage bag, at the same time confused about whether it would be a positive or negative for our third child to enter an ashram, when our youngest, a sensitive homebody, left to spend five months in Italy.   It is about how during all that our family of six, learned to disconnect, discovered independence,  (sometimes scaring the crape out of both parents) and how we all found new ways of being close.  Text Me, Love Mom – Sending Your Kids Into The Wide, Wide World – the book is finished.  To go with this ‘kids leaving home’ season I’ve decided to look back at the days when Zoë, our eldest of four was first living away from us – over the mountains, beside the ocean – far from our home, and I was afraid she would fall in with west coast nudist, vegans, (which she did) and never look back….

IS THERE A PATCH FOR THAT?

So we had our babies young by today’s standards.  While mini-SUV’s stuffed with our peers offspring were trucking between Sunday music recitals and vogue over-the-top children’s birthday parties – my husband, Will, and I had already survived hip hop concerts in our basement and read the riot act at a host of eighteenth birthdays for young-adults-gone-wild.  Of course, I didn’t feel that young.  While my same-age friends were doing espressos to make it through the day, after getting up in the night with the little one’s bad dreams and winter colds, I needed a daily fix of latte and chocolate cake because one of my kids hadn’t returned a phone call in two days and another one would be calling incessantly because the road trip he was on had gotten a little sketchy.

Life is a journey and all that.  But during what part of the journey was it easiest to deal with colic and a latent thumb sucker, and when have we learned all the skills necessary to convince a sixteen-year-old that they have to take pure math and that all the kids who say they’ve had sex really haven’t?  I was only forty-two when my oldest daughter left our chaotic home in Calgary.  I can see now that I was guilty of stalking Zoë with emails and phone calls, though it’s hard to believe I had time for stalking while still immersed in patrolling two teenage boys’ covert activities, and being a choir-mom for my youngest.

I had all these cooing babies that became boisterous teens – to fill our home and hearts and consume my time, patience and energy.  For years and years, I had never thought much about them moving out and how my heart would deal with that.  It was what was supposed to happen – the launch from the nest.

Zoë found her way to leave home with her copies of Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter, and Dragon Quest gone from the shelves, her colourful collection of shoes gathered up from the closets, and the vanilla scented products stripped from the bathroom.   Were my parents just as stunned and confused to have a child slipping out of their grasp and away from their influence?  The media would have us believe that we have overindulged, overprotected and generally, now that parent is a verb, over-parented.  Could this explain why I suffered from the jitters when one by one, all too quickly, my children dispersed and I desperately wished I could visit my local pharmacists and buy a patch to help ease me off them.   What, I wondered, would be released for not NRT (nicotine replacement therapy), but rather CAHRT (children at home replacement therapy)?   A chemical that could create the sound of their cell phones chirping incessantly, or of the front door creaking and them downloading a movie at two a.m., or produce the irritation caused by the sight of their chaotic rooms, or imitate the sensation of pleasure when one of them slowed down long enough to wrap their arms around me in a hug?

An astute observer would recognize that, though I was attempting to pull myself together, I was unable to concentrate on a task and was lumbering back and forth from one activity to the next.  Bewildered, I felt like a mother bear I had seen in a film whose cub had been taken away too early.  She had rolled her head from side to side, and clumped through the forest in a distressed fashion.  Learning to deal with my first strayed cub my heart pounded, my sleep was uneven and I couldn’t concentrate to complete a task.

My kids say I could start my own lending library with my vast collection of parenting tomes, yet there was a void of information to guide me through these turbulent times, starting with the spring day that I scrunched up the envelope so I could see through its window that my daughter had been accepted at a university across an entire mountain range from home, until I realized I had worked myself out of a position with which I was damn comfortable.

They left home in the order they were born.  Not enough time passed between Zoë, the oldest, moving out and Lily, the baby, phoning from a crowded European city to tell me how hard it was to find a place to cry out loud, the way she preferred to cry.  Back up you kids, I thought.  I want to run through that all again.

Come Back, You Summer Revelers

Tell me, how can it be that my husband wants to go back to the cottage this weekend and take the motorboat out of the water.  As usual, as is my role, I protest.  “No, no, no, it can’t be time to take the boat out.  Summer is hardly over.”

It was only a month ago that we had sixteen people at the cottage, some bedding down on air mattresses or couches, others wondering if they could sleep in the boat, rocking on the water through the night.  And a few weeks after that we had loads of folks again, and in exasperation of emptying the dishwasher another time from meals of fresh buttery corn and juicy burgers and failed popsicles – I declared – “When will this end?”

And then it did.

Come back, you summer revellers.  I don’t want to put the floaties away and stack the outside chairs and tie up the canoe against the rising water of next spring.

Let’s squeeze our eyes shut from the smoky fire and then squint into the night sky at the mid- summer comets.  Let me get mildly upset that someone’s used my beach towel in their impatience to dry off from a swim so that they could slice the last peach in the box, before dribbling it with cream.

I want to not be able to decide between reading my book on the dock (yes, that silly book), and chatting with my visiting kids and their gregarious friends, or trying again to make those popsicles.

Even more so I want to take another solo early morning kayak ride on the lapping lake, watching in awe as the osprey flies over.

And so I wish now, that with each swim I had stayed in the lake even longer, floating on my back, adrift in water that was ever so, never so warm.