Monthly Archiv: April, 2015

Mother Arranged Marriages

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I met Brian Gillespie in grade two. We were both short and loved to imagine, talk, and write. He wore coke bottle glasses.

After grade two, my family moved, but my mother never forgot Brian Gillespie.

“He’s okay,” she’d say if I told her in high school that I liked someone, “but he’s no Brian Gillespie. I’m telling you, Brian Gillespie is the one that will make you happy. Your brother, by the way, is marrying Lizzie Burdick.”

Lizzie Burdick is too little, I tried to point out.

“Now she is, but she’s the perfect girl for him. She used to help me clean the house for fun while you guys were out playing. I like her. I know what I’m talking about. A mother knows these things.”

Fast forward to now and I’ve almost narrowed the search:

I chose Boy one’s wife at a Christmas concert. She sings like an angel. Plenty of power but nothing grates.  She performed at the talent show with another girl and a boy who can’t talk but loves music. And she has short hair. Do you know how many normal looking girls wear their hair short these days? That’s right, almost none. Girls are born, walk into factories, assimilate to as many uniform qualities as possible and walk out. The ideal model is disturbingly free of any kind of original thought or impulse and almost always has long hair. I don’t need to meet this girl to be sure; she has a heart and she thinks. What else is there?

Boy two is a little trickier. My top choice is cheerful, silly,  kind, and friendly to kids and adults alike. Having never done sports, she ended up on a team by default and did crazy things like ask questions, try again when she messed up, and accept advice. She is a big time team player in every sense of the word. And like I said, she is quite silly.

I met Girl one’s future husband at her second birthday party. Other children arrived with the usual gift bags assembled by mom. Husband 2B had done it himself. In fact, in addition to some fancy markers, he had drawn crooked lines on a lot of pages, stapled them together, and drawn a cover that said, “Girl One’s Journal.” I knew you liked to write, he said. The last present was the story of a miller. It was a favorite of his so he had carefully copied the words of the entire story out and added his own illustrations. His father said he spent hours.

Girl two is not yet seven. I remind myself that we still have time. The best candidate has major focus issues and wears rubber boots to gym class, but I’ve got one of those already; they’re not so bad. Candidate runs fast, tries hard, and isn’t the least bit intimidated by Girl two trying to yell him down on the playing field. His birthday request is what rocketed him to the top of the list.  He’s in love with WWII planes. His mother suggested a book about them, and I began to hear the bells ringing.

The truth is, I am happily married to someone other than Brian Gillespie. I don’t even know what became of him. What I can say is that as a mother now, knowing what I know, if God forbid anything were to happen to my husband, before I’d go posting on personals and checking the local availabilities, I’d first figure out what exactly the status was on my good friend from grade two, Brian Gillespie.

Not alone

compliments of Kenia from morguefile.com

compliments of Kenia from morguefile.com

We are not alone. None of us are. We’re stumbling in the dark trying to figure out how to be it or do it. Hold on to it or let go of it. Sometimes we don’t even know what it is –  except we’re sure that everyone else does.

Voices whisper that there is no one like us. No one would understand. We are lonely and afraid to be ourselves. We live expecting someone to come through the door and tell us we’re not doing it right.

If it’s not we, at least it’s me. My childhood was soaked through with confusion. Life was a puzzle with the box missing and it was never clear which picture we were trying to assemble. I prayed, went to the library often, and wished I knew who to talk to.

As far as I could tell, talking wasn’t what people did. It took years for me to understand that this was because most people assume that they are alone. That they believe their feelings of inadequacy (and all the proofs thereof)  are unique to them alone. Life was, I discovered, a great deal of pretending. Performance and appearance are some of our world’s most sacred values.

I’ve made some new friends who don’t have it all together. They don’t try to hide their struggles. No one has any energy or interest in pretense. My friends are giving me something that I want and without meaning to, I find myself studying them, trying to understand it.

This caught my eye in a paragraph from writer, Heather King talking about what we have to give each other. We have, she says, “our wounds, our holy longing, our groping in the dark.”

What we have to give each other is the truth that we are not alone.  Despair and shame assail, but against the sharing of “our wounds and holy longing,” they are rendered mute by the voice of love.

It’s like we live in ditches, sitting up to our armpits in mud with the garbage of every car that’s gone by squishing up against us. We can see neck and shoulders of the person across the road. We’re equipped with a washcloth, a voice, and a curling iron. Standard etiquette is to keep your face clean, your hair curled, and make frequent reference to the sunshine or the birds.

One day the unthinkable happens. The woman across the way stands up from her stretch of supposedly manicured lawn. The ear rings you’ve admired from afar are the last nice thing about her. Not only is she muddy, she only has one leg. A diaper and a squashed coke can are stuck in the mud on her.

Relief floods you. Tears wash down your face. You are not alone.

In your ditch, there might be diapers and coke cans. In mine, there is a winter’s worth of dog poop, some very frustrated dreams, uninvited levels of emotion over little things, a lot of uncertainty, some recurring unhealed mess that is completely fine until the days it isn’t (which really ticks me off unless it makes me cry), shame, self doubt, and an abiding loneliness. My bounce backer function is also behaving rather erratically these days.

We are not alone. This is the truth that we have to offer each other. These are the words of our gift until the final word which is love.

Letter to my patron saint

Spiral stairs in Saint Istvan Basilika in Budapest

FYI for those with an alternate calendar of the saints: Erma Bombeck died 19 years ago this week (April 22nd).

 

 

Dear St. Erma,

Any time I’m asked what it is that I do my mind goes blank. I have no idea. Perhaps I do nothing? I wrote a list to prove it isn’t nothing.

Recent Accomplishments

I made space for my children’s novel by not cleaning my house for almost two weeks.

I have had no wasted leftovers for weeks or possibly months. Family survives because I eat everything they hate at lunch or repackage it so they don’t see it coming.

For the second year running I have convinced my husband to help me clean up the part of the pasture where the animals eat hay all winter. He finds the idea of tidying a pasture irritating and ridiculous. It’s one of those things he wouldn’t want his friends to know. And yet, I have prevailed.

I did not swear where anyone could hear me when I saw the state of the garage/storage space.

I took the emergency brake off a trailer transport then rushed out and laid down in front of the tires. With the truck snugly on top of me, I was able to hold down my fears of bad-people-disasters and allow my 11 year old to bike to school from his grandparents’ house. He is angling for a weekly event. I am costing out the tractor trailer rental from now until June.

I have given up gray. I’ve developed an allergy to nuance so am going back to black and white. All questions will have a yes or no answer. Having dispense with gray, I stepped on a scale to see if I was as light as I felt. The scale didn’t respond appropriately so I threw it out. I thought you would approve.

If you have time to pass this on to my mother, here are two things I’m actually proud of:

1. I’ve learned to love some of the kids who made me crazy when I first started doing the PE classes.

2. My relationship with one of my kids – the one who has caused me the most head scratching about how exactly they got from their odd little planet into my stomach in time for delivery – has blossomed this year. In trying to make things better for them at school (and not finding answers anywhere else) I figured out how to help because I had to. It has made all the difference. The relationship I used to feel guilty about not knowing how to improve has become a source of great joy for both of us. The common interests I thought we might never find are many and lovely.

I’m re-reading some of your best quotes. This one is my meditation for the day:

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.” (Erma Bombeck)

St. Erma of the Bombeck, pray for us from your spot at the everlasting dessert bar.

 

Brilliance in the becoming

 

saw this happening out the window and got the camera

saw this happening out the window and got the camera

 

Turns out this was the goal. :)

This was the goal.

 

Boy two has a bruise on his head. During our work day he began taking the split logs in his hand as they came off the splitter and tossing them behind him onto the wagon without looking. He stopped after one log flew straight up and came straight back down on his head.

——

Girl one is reading a novel to Girl two as we drive back and forth to school. It’s a mystery with illustrations of art in parks. I tuned in to catch this.

Girl one: It’s crazy, but sometimes in really old art there are sculptures of naked people.

Girl two groans loudly in protest.

Girl one:  I know. It sounds weird, but it’s the way they were learning about the human body. They didn’t know very much so they made sculptures of it so they could learn about it.

Girl two resigned herself to the senselessness of our ancestors with an exhausted, okay.

——

Boy one recently completed a submission for an essay contest. The potential prize money is big. Aided by the whole optimism disorder, he decided to give it a try. I was quiet about the possibilities of winning. For a few months my secret service, reverse psychology skills have been frequently required. Due to stealth constraints about my actual interest in him completing the project, the number of times I could say, “how do you not see your current state of not finished as an emergency!” was limited. The essay was due at 11:59 on a Friday night. Around 11:50, his father asked him where he was supposed to submit the project. He wasn’t sure. Turns out there was a form to fill out. The fact that the project was submitted at precisely 11:59 is something he’s immensely proud of. He sees it as a kind of good luck charm.

——-

Boy two announced that he is kicking Boy one out of the solemn brotherhood. He says he can no longer tolerate someone so obsessed with hygiene. Boy two does not have this problem. Following a thoroughness inquiry from this interested mother after a recent shower, he explained that he had indeed washed everything from the top of his head down to about six inches below his knee.

But why would you stop there? I asked. That means you didn’t even wash your feet.

Who would ever wash their feet, he wanted to know. All the soap from your whole body goes there.

——

There was a knock on my bedroom door recently. Most knockers wait for my invitation then nudge a few inches through the open door to ask their question. This time the knocker closed the door behind them, strode across the room to the other side, and turned to look at me.

I’m almost in tears about everything. Do you know what’s wrong with me?

Family Work Days

wood cutter

Wood Cutters, by Tom Roberts. 1886. (Gratefully, not the way we do wood splitting!)

 

Spring has inaugurated the pecking season. That season where one never finishes but faithfully pecks at the list whenever possible until October. Saturday was a family work day. The sheep barn is clean, we put in some hours with the wood splitter (a shiny red machine, not a person), we made a start towards cleaning up some more of the pasture, and we spread brown treasures around the property. Our manure spreading is shovels and pitch forks from a wagon pulled by the smallest tractor driver who can still reach the gas and brakes. We also leveled some places for our new hives, picked them up, and got them in place.

Not a single child was excited about family work day. The older three accomplished quite a bit. The youngest did a little. There were lots of complaints, some good natured, some not. Feet drug in a range from periodic to emphatic. The after lunch return to labors was especially unpopular. It ended like this:

“I actually really like family work days,” I said. We were stacking some more of the wood we’d split.

“Me too,” said voices from every side of me.

“They’re one of my favorite times together,” I said.

“I know what you mean,” said one.

“Me too,” said another.

They began recounting all they’d accomplished, especially impressed that some of them could no longer reach the top of the stack we had started along the wall of the shed on the ground that morning.

Family work days give me hope. Not because we ever come close to what we thought we might do. (Why my husband and I spend such large amounts of time debating what should be done on the list which we never complete is a good question.) Not because everyone is happy all day.  My husband and I disagree on and off about how best to do it all. Once every fifteen minutes or so, someone hides in the bathroom, stomps off incensed at an egregious insult, or insists that they are starving, exhausted, or seriously injured. I tell myself as I re-motivate another child that work days are like democracy: the only thing worse than doing them is not doing them.

Conclusions:

Before this year, there is no doubt that my husband and I could have accomplished more in a day working by ourselves than with the family. But the scales have tipped. Not a lot, but a little.

Family work days say that work is an important part of life, but efficiency is not everything.

Knowing in the moment, the difference between failure and success, might not be a particular human specialty. Maybe the point is to keep at it as best you know, celebrate the stacks of wood and piles of poop you have, and leave the rest of it as tomorrow’s problem so you can go inside eat meatloaf with baked potatoes.

The buzz of the impractical

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To our great satisfaction, our bees remain alive. Hive #2 is vibrant and buzzing madly. Hive #1 (which we worried about due to our human error) is not nearly as vibrant as the other, but it is alive. Buoyed by these wild achievements,  :)  we are with trepidation and a little excitement expanding our partnership. A friend is getting out of the bee business. Weather permitting, we are picking up two more hives over the weekend. Or should we get three? We can’t decide.

A brief list of the things I know:

  1. We don’t know very much about bees.
  2. We might not have what it takes to stick with it. Continued investment into something which has yet to produce a jar of actual honey is questionable.
  3. Bees are the only place where Boy one and I meet as two people who can’t do it without the other person’s help. In the rest of life, he’s struggling to find his feet in ways that don’t require stomping on other people’s heads. With the bees, it isn’t like that. I read, ask questions, try to figure out what we aren’t thinking of that we should be. (My most remarkable ability is that I can do something at an undesirable time because it needs to be done.) I am also ten times as afraid of the bees as he is. This is not a secret, but he never mentions it. I don’t tell him he has to do all the things that make me scared, he does them without me saying anything. 80% of the physical work on the hive is done by him. 100% is done by him until I observe that the bees are calm and work myself up to an approach. This doesn’t bother him.
  4. Boy one never self selects to do the next thing on the bee list. But when a teacher asked his class to fill out descriptors of themselves, he wrote down: trombone player, soccer player, beekeeper.Boy one is a mirror image of my quick, sarcastic, best defense is a good offense, approach to interpersonal conflict. In the winter I proposed a contest. We put a chart on the fridge. A point if you could respond to harsh words with a gentle reply (actual unfairness not required, just the perception of harsh). Boy one loved it. (When he started losing he found a ball and bounced it behind me one day for five minutes waiting for me to snap so he could come back with a gentle reply.) We kept at it for a weeks, awarding points to each other with grace. The whole thing reminds me of the bees. Where losing could still be winning.
  5. At the hives we’re not young man and a forty-two year old privileges/duties dispenser. We’re two people trying to figure out the art of bee keeping. One of us understands that it will probably prove beyond us. The other is a non-cheque writing optimist, with no concept that failure is standard practice for more than half of life’s experiments.
  6. What we are doing is not practical: but there might be more to it than honey.

 

 

 

Spring turtles and old age planning

The pond in it's overflowing spring glory of three time the usual size.

The pond in it’s overflowing spring glory of three time the usual size. Note tiny rock a third of the way in just in front of the fence.

 

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The mad happiness of spring on same tiny rock

 

 

This is the turtle’s favorite part of the pond and therefore mine. I cannot get past my love affair with turtles.  Do you know what turtles do? Absolutely nothing spectacular. They are slow (except in the water), shy, and unimpressed by humans. Despite a rather staggering record of survival success (they are some of the oldest reptiles – 220 million years and counting by some estimates) they are unphased by their accomplishments. One would be hard pressed to describe turtles as self confident. Were we to find a way to communicate it is almost certain we would find them somewhat withdrawn and anxiety ridden. And yet oddly confident too. Who else walks across the fields past cows, dogs and sheep whenever they feel like it with their only defense strategy being to curl up and wait it out if the dog is curious?  We’ve got metaphors for quiet people involving turtle body parts, yet to my knowledge not a single turtle has ever sought therapy in search of tools to help them leave their shell. They keep it handy and use as they see fit . . . dog boredom device, solar panel, party dress.

I’ve said this before. When my grandchildren are born I’ll still be saying it. When my great grandchildren come visit me and sit arguing in front of me about what it is I’m actually trying to say and if it proves my attachment or disassociation with reality, I’ll be on the patio pointing at a turtle.

They always get to where their going. It’s just not fast, I’ll say.

Does Grandma think it’s time to go?

Did she say fast? What if she’s going on a hunger strike or something?

That’s not what she said, another will say.

But that’s what she meant. I’m calling mom.

At this point I will take my cane and strike his/her mobile device to the ground, whereupon I will totter over to it. Unable to crush it with my bedroom slipper, I will content myself to sit down on it and refuse to move.

The more high strung among them will go to fetch a nurse and possibly a tranquilizer.

To any who remain, I’ll point again at the turtle, who by this time will be four feet away and almost to the top of a rock.

They always get where they’re going, I’ll say. It’s just not fast. One step at a time.

If anyone gets it, I’ll get up off the cell phone and totter into my room. I’ll get some of my wooden turtles off the shelf and give one to whoever’s there with instructions to put it out where they can see it.

One step at a time, I’ll say. They get to where they’re going.

Post Easter week snow and the troubador

photo compliments of morguefile.com

photo compliments of morguefile.com

 

Good Friday was warmish. We saw green bits in the brown of the grass and smiled. Easter was cold but the afternoon warm enough for a walk through wet paths and fields. Easter Monday it snowed. My husband did dinner dishes yelling every time he forgot and raised his head that he refused to look outside the window. On the way to school, Boy two remarked how strange it was, here it was one of the most beautiful snowfalls of the year and we weren’t happy about it.

It’s true. The trees were lightly covered in just the right amount of snow. No plows had gone through throwing brown sand around the edges. The roads had fixed themselves. Their black winding path went through a world of unbroken white. Fields and branches perfectly baptized, a grey blue sky was especially free to shine as the only real colour in town.

My son has this same problem right now. I have always wanted him to love music. To share this part of joy together. He loves music now more than I’d dared to hope. Except he doesn’t play what I think he should. He plays loud pieces when it should be quiet. He practices endless chord sequences instead of scales. He teaches himself songs from musicals or rehearses pieces from two years prior when I know he should be preparing for an upcoming evaluation.

If anyone had shown me a picture of the snow on Tuesday morning, I would have thought it impossible for my response to include anything other than rejoicing and gratitude. Likewise if anyone had told me four years ago listening to my son’s great boredom and disinterest in music, that he would be sticking his trombone out the window to serenade whatever country neighbours might be driving by, that he would be unable to stop singing or humming as he went about the business of the day, or that he would be unable to pass the piano without setting his hands down to play a few bars, I would have bet the farm that the tidings would bring nothing but joy.

In both things I have been wrong. I want to say to son and God – timing is everything. And if it is not everything, it is at least something. But the hoped for vision is the grander one.

We prayed for snow leading up to Christmas. We don’t want it anymore. Yet there is no denying it’s perfection. Shimmering and glinting in the morning light. I spit out my no thank you, and it stands unheeding. Behold all things are new. Come, dance. The music that you love is playing again.

I made my peace with the snow (which was good because it snowed like five times last week before it finally left). Perhaps there will be grace for the chord loving, composer dreaming, discipline eschewing troubadour as well.

Becoming Lazarus

La résurrection de Lazare (English titles: "The Resurrection of Lazarus" or "The Raising of Lazarus") by Leon Bonnat, 1857.

La résurrection de Lazare (English titles: “The Resurrection of Lazarus” or “The Raising of Lazarus”) by Leon Bonnat, 1857.

Sometimes when things are not good or safe, you separate yourself into pieces. In hospitals and battlefields, this time honored tradition is known as triage. There are not enough resources to save everyone, so you save those most likely to live. Losses are unfortunate but inevitable.

Growing up and into my twenties, the survival of some of me came at the cost of the rest of me. This has been a source of grief. Not to mention a long and bitter war within myself. (The parts of me scheduled for early demise were not that cooperative with the parts of me giving the orders.) I wasn’t happy about the executions, but then again I didn’t exactly see other options. The ferocity with which some parts tried to live troubled me. I worried that if they did not die, they would spread through my bones like cancer, and then there would be none of me.

I got them before they got me – those other parts of me. But the death bothered me. It might have been the only way I knew to survive, but it wasn’t right. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Through the years against my wishes and without planning to, I would find myself like Mary and Martha weeping inconsolable at the tomb.

Engulfed in sorrow, I mourned the loss. But I did not dream of resurrection. In matters of life and death there is no going back. I did not think of Lazarus. Dead is dead. What’s done is done. These are true things which even a child can verify.

At least they were true until yesterday. On a Tuesday after Easter, some irrevocably done things were undone. The dead were invited to live. Love spoke and the parts of me long wrapped in grave clothes and buried were called forth.

I believe in the necessity of risk. I believe in betting on the gamble of love. But sometimes you don’t do anything. You aren’t even hoping terribly hard (on account of being dead and all). From the depths you begin to hear a voice. This is strange because dead people aren’t known for their listening skills, but the sound of your name becomes unmistakable.

It is shocking. So much so that you don’t do anything about it for a very long time. Months. Years. Dead people don’t lie around anticipating change or feeling urgency. (It never crosses your mind to remember that the dead lie waiting to be called forth.) The voice is insistent, beguiling. It dances invisible in the air around your corpse until it seeps into you. Until it is moving through you like blood from the determined heart of a lover. One moment you are resigned to death; the next you cannot lie there another minute agreeing to accept it as a permanent condition.

You rise up not knowing what waits. You find it a surprisingly long walk from where you were lying to the entrance of the tomb. You walk blind, shaking and stumbling because you aren’t dead anymore but you aren’t used to being alive either.

You look, sound, and act like you came from far away because you did. You don’t know for sure how to take off all the chic death wrap but you’re looking forward to it. How much help you’ll need or what you can manage alone you’re not sure. But you don’t care. He’s there. It’s an Easter story. It’s not a metaphor, it’s a resurrection.

Whatever the word on the street, death is not the last act. And resurrection isn’t earned. Resurrection is offered, with it’s power hidden behind such tenderness that it takes your breath away. I know because yesterday, this was me.