Archive for November, 2013|Monthly archive page

Miles still to go

So, we went to Toronto for the weekend.

Partly to celebrate our umpteenth anniversary, partly to practice traveling with a baby again (prior to our upcoming trip to Iqaluit for Christmas, where pharmacies and Tim Hortons’ are not just around the corner), and partly to get Bonhomme up the CN Tower.

We’ve come back aged.

How is it that our 6-and-a-half-year-old was at least 3 times harder than our 8-month-old? With the baby, we had disrupted naps to contend with, strange hotel sounds at night, a playpen that barely got slept in, hunting for solid foods that she could eat, hours stuck in a car seat, poopy bums, soaked bibs and constant overstimulation. And yet, she was easy. Our angel child. Happy to go with the flow, smiling at every stranger she met, ready for anything. With the big kid, everything was a battle. He’d argue over whether or not he needed to blow his nose.

Bonhomme couldn’t, and can’t, listen to a single instruction or thoughtfully worded request without questioning it, complaining about it, redefining it, arguing about it, whining about it, interrupting AND then either forgetting or ignoring to actually do it. Like going potty before leaving the hotel room. Washing his hands after going potty. Washing his face after getting half his meal all over it. Putting his socks on. Picking up his towel. Not letting go of the stroller. Not getting into an elevator without a parent. Holding hands on unfamiliar streets. Telling us he had to go potty when we were in the car BEFORE it became an emergency. Using his quiet voice in restaurants. When playing in the pool, he had to dictate, and then control every aspect of his complicated little game – plain old tag would never do. Everything was to be discussed, denied, explained, described, by Bonhomme. Out. Loud.

Stopping to get a small snack to tide us over until dinnertime was a scene. Tossing a ball about was a disaster. Waiting for ANYTHING was torture.

With Hibou, everything is simple. With Bonhomme, nothing is.

I am becoming resigned to simply waiting until age 6 is over. Maximizing our son’s time spent with other people, activities outside of home, away from we parents – since we have somehow, mysteriously, become The Enemy. Nasty, boring, endlessly repetitive Enforcers Of Doom.

This morning, chatting with Grampa about his weekend, Bonhomme excitedly described how the wind almost pushed him over at the almost top of the CN Tower, and then gleefully explained that he hadn’t gone higher to do the Edge Walk harnessed like a rock climber hundreds of meters above the ground because his dad was too scared.

Was it worth it? Will he remember the whining, and the yelling, and the crying? Or playing with gravity at the Science Center? The nagging, or the endless watersliding at the hotel? Will he remember the dozens of train tracks and the skyscrapers, or just that his little sister chewed on his stuffed penguin?

As I puzzle over why I feel not just exhausted and disappointed, but saddened by our adventurous weekend, I realize that it’s that my daughter makes me feel so competent, and my son makes me feel so incompetent, and I fear that it will always be so.

We’ve proven that we can travel with a baby just fine. It’s the big kids you have to watch out for – and each other, when your kids have eaten, and eaten, and eaten away at you. When we are not our best selves as parents, we are most definitely not our best selves as spouses.

This is why we celebrate anniversaries (although preferably without the children along). Not to acknowledge where we are, but to acknowledge where we’ve come from. Years and years of living life together.

We’ll remember the whining. And the cost. And the traffic, and the emergency potty breaks, and the poor sleep. But I’ll also remember my first cup of hot, strong coffee at the breakfast buffet, and the sight of Hibou bonelessly passed out on the bed as we pack later that morning, and both Dearest and I nauseated as both kids sprawled on their stomachs looking down through the glass floor of the CN Tower. This is certainly one anniversary we won’t forget. One more reason to toast “We did it!”.

Today, the morning after the anniversary trip, home, sitting in a cozy chair sipping tea and listening to CBC Radio while the rest of my family is either napping, at school or at work, I can appreciate this. I can appreciate the years that have come and gone, and the years that await. Like Hibou, who cooed in delight in rediscovering HER toys, and HER high chair, and HER change table and kitchen floor and crib, I too can most appreciate the presence of familiarity, of home, from its absence. Memories are always better when you’re not in the midst of making them.

I’m left with a small bit of hard-earned wisdom from this grueling weekend: when going on a road trip, like it or not, the whining comes with you.

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What hallelujah means to me

I’ve been listening to “Hallelujah” incessantly lately – not from Handel’s Messiah, but rather The Good Lovelies‘ cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

It’s ethereal, mesmerizing, uplifting, soul-searching. A prayer, a plea, a homage – it’s pain and pleasure and very, very human.

I went hunting for Leonard Cohen’s original, and came across an interview he gave where he talks about depression, and its impact on his music. He said something that struck me: “Suffering doesn’t produce good work – good work is produced in spite of suffering, as a response, as a victory over suffering.”

A victory over suffering.

As I sing to Hibou, to teach her, to please her, to distract her, to soothe her, sometimes just to overpower her penetrating complaints, I think about this. About how we must celebrate. We MUST celebrate. We must acknowledge victory over suffering, we must capture and rejoice in the beauty, the awe of life. Because it’s too hard not to. Life is too hard when we don’t.

Cohen is right – it’s a cold, a lonely, a broken hallelujah. But it’s still a hallelujah. When we praise, no matter what, no matter how, it’s still praising. It’s still acknowledging, celebrating – even when we’re on our knees and begging, face covered in tears and pressed against the floor.

Anyone who’s been there – wet, cold, huddled, terrified, alone – if you’ve been there, then you know that there is always an after. An after when it gets better. An after when we can get up, when we can sing, when we can celebrate. When we can produce good work.

They’re both human, you see. The broken moments, and the whole.

A good friend of mine is discovering what it is to see the middle of the night with a new baby. To see night after night, sore and tired and lonely. My husband is struggling with seeing the middle of the day with a busy but boring job, chores and whining and more work to come home to. To see day after day, frustrated and angry and overwhelmed.

And I – I am grateful. I am grateful, in as many moments as I can notice, of how I’ve been there. And now I’m not. I may be again, but now, now I’m not.

I’ll sing a different Hallelujah in a few days, my annual Messiah practice and community concert coming up. It’s so very different, such a different form of praise – yet, to me, the same. It reaches the same place within, where the dark and the light are one and the same.

“I did my best, it wasn’t much. I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch. I told the truth; I didn’t come to fool you. And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.”

We all pass that way, or this, somehow. Some of us less, some of us more. Some of us celebrating just a little harder, a little louder than others, recognizing the victory for what it is. All of us trying our best. Some of us singing hallelujah.

Flying

Wings flocking,
A storm of white.
Too orderly for raucous gulls –
Oh, but there are thousands!
Wave upon wave,
Landing,
Threads sewn on the sky.
Tangled skein on the grass.
Black wingtips,
So big, even from my distant car window.
Snow geese.
Snow geese!
A sight I’d seen only in picture books.
Until now.
They are bringing the snow I will drive through this afternoon,
The first of the season.
Snow geese.
Flying South, winging in cold.
Like my baby’s first tiny handprint later,
Home safe in the driveway,
Her first touch of snow.
I too shiver in wonder.

One Sky

Some days, everything is the same. Over and over, I have my coffee, I take my shower, and I go about my day. The same day. The errands change, the outings, the meals – but it’s all the same.

And then, a baby niece is born. A dear friend’s loved one is killed by militants on the other side of the ocean. Leaves and snowflakes fall, and my son outgrows more clothes. Grampa’s cancer spreads. A second precious baby girl is born to another dear friend, and none of it, none of this give and take makes any sense at all.

The beauty, and the horrors of the world come calling, and I can hide from neither.

I wrap my hands around a steaming cup, and wrap my heart over the hurts. One family grows and another shrinks and I cry for both.

Every day is the same, and so very different, at once. The school buses come, the rooks fly streaming by, and the wide stretching sky covers us all.