Big feelings

30 Jan

Today is Jade’s birthday. She’s 11 years old. Can I just take a moment to feel somewhat flabbergasted that I have an 11-year-old?

… (Seriously. How can I be old enough to have an 11-year-old? It’s amazing. And also awesome.)

Jade had a sleepover party on Friday, but this post isn’t really about Jade’s birthday, although it started with Jade’s birthday presents this morning. Halia thoughtfully got up early and wrapped a present for Jade; she improvised wrapping paper by using a colourful napkin because she didn’t want to wake me to ask for gift wrap. (Greatly appreciated by me!) Halia was almost as excited as Jade was about seeing what the presents were.

Jade’s last present was a heavy box from Michael, which turned out to be a giant box of dog biscuits. The biscuits were a stand-in for the real gift: Michael plans to take Jade dogsledding. Jade was excited at the prospect and Halia immediately asked, “Can I come, too?!”

Michael said he’d have to see, maybe, but probably not. (Generally, two people can take one dogsled, one in the sled and one behind, so with Michael and Jade, the sled would be at capacity.)

Let me just say that this is not a post about solving the problem of how to give Halia what she wants. I can already feel some of you wanting to give suggestions on how to resolve the situation, because I know you already foresee Halia’s reaction: envy and disappointment.

Jade carried on with opening a birthday card and Halia sat sedately (not like her usual self at all!), blinking a litte faster than usual. I could see she was wrestling with her feelings, so I held her and let her try to sort herself out.

As we moved on to start getting breakfast ready, Halia went and sat in an armchair in the living room, facing away from everyone. Michael asked her what was up, and she burst into tears, wailing that she wouldn’t get to go dogsledding.

It’s a tough reality that our feelings can be inconvenient to others. Small children don’t face any dilemma because they let their feelings be known as soon as they feel them, but Halia has reached the age where she knows that her feelings can conflict with other people’s feelings. I was very proud of her at that moment because I had seen how hard she had tried to be brave in the face of disappointment. She knew that being upset was “inappropriate” and that her disappointment could be upsetting to Michael and Jade. She had done her best to rein in her big feelings and keep them to herself.

So I held her a while and let her ride that out. I told her about a time I remembered feeling envy and disappointment and how difficult that was. I told her I saw how brave she had been.

Later on, after breakfast, I was able to talk to both Jade and Halia about naming our feelings and recognizing them, about honouring and understanding them. Mindfulness meditation teaches us to observe our feelings without judgment, without rushing to “fix” them or make them go away.

When I was a young child, I remember overhearing my mother telling a friend, “Fawn never cries!” (I was a pretty tough little kid. I could fall down and skin my knees and get up and keep going with seeming indifference.) I recognized the pride in her voice and I treasured it. Well into my early 20s, I rarely let anyone see me cry. If I had big feelings of sadness or disappointment, I’d wait until I was in bed or in the shower to sob out my heartache. Journalling was my way of talking through my feelings, but outwardly, I was staunchly stoic.

I don’t mean to imply that this one statement by my mom caused me to hide my feelings for years. It’s just a memory that crystallizes what most of us have been taught to do: to not make other people uncomfortable with our feelings, to not show weakness, and to deny, even to ourselves, the difficult things we feel.

This past year, I’ve been working hard on letting myself experience my emotions fully, without running from them, covering them up, denying them… or wallowing in them, either. It has been a powerful experience. This morning, while talking to the girls about it, I had the insight that my inclination to cover up my feelings contributed to some very unhealthy habits in my marriage. Sometimes I was afraid that my feelings would cause conflicts, which I wanted to avoid. Sometimes, I was afraid of the feelings themselves, because they implied big changes that I didn’t want to face. But how could we, as a couple, deal with conflicts that were never named? How could I, as an individual, deal with a conflict I refused to acknowledge to myself?

For Halia today, simply being seen and understood was enough. I didn’t have to try to convince her that her feelings weren’t okay. I didn’t have to be angry with her for reacting in an inconvenient way. I didn’t have to solve the “problem” by promising that I would take her dogsledding. I helped her to name her feelings and I let her know I was proud of her for her bravery. I let her know that I wanted to listen. I acknowledged the conflict between what she was feeling and what she knew she was “supposed” to feel. And just feeling seen and understood was enough. By the time I left for work, she was back to her usual self.

I hope that these “small” moments will let Halia and Jade (whose gentle spirit also gives her the instinct to hide her feelings) figure out healthy ways to acknowledge and understand their emotions. There are more big feelings on the horizon, with tweendom coming in full force. I hope that they can learn to feel compassion not just for others (important as that is!) but for themselves, as well.

I know firsthand how important it is. And how challenging it can be.

 

 

Sold

21 Jan

A house, when it has been lived in a while,
Becomes alive.
It is a living thing,
A breathing thing.
It has a heartbeat.
It holds you in the frame of its bones
And you hold it in the frame of your bones.

A house, when it has been lived in a while
Becomes a home, of course.
Its imperfections are part of its charm
Just as your crooked smile is a part of yours.

A house, when you leave it
May not cry for you
At least, not in any way you can discern.
But you will cry.

That is,
I will cry.

For the warm sunshine deck memories,
For the sweet honeysuckle scent,
For the maydays in bloom,
For the waving poplars beckoning,
For the memories of childbirth,
For sledding and dogs and hot chocolate gatherings,
For the ashes buried umder the flowers,
For the wild strawberries rampant,
For cozy fireside tea,
For hot-on-the-vine tomatoes,
For the neighbours,

For this house.

1223488_102

A mouse named Mi

25 Sep

Once upon a time, Halia had a mouse named Mi. Halia forms very strong attachments with certain critters, and Mi was a constant companion. He had a little keychain clip on him and usually she kept him clipped to her backpack so he went to school with her pretty much everyday. She’d detach him and play with him around the house, too, and he even went to birthday parties. mi-the-white-rat(Here he is at a birthday party photo booth.)

And one day, sometime in early spring this year, he was gone.

We didn’t think that much of it at first because we figured he’d turn up. Mi is a small mouse and easily lost. Halia’s room was not exactly tidy most of the time.

But he didn’t turn up, and still he didn’t turn up. There were many, many nights when Halia would cry for him. We thought it might ease up with time, but instead it intensified.

Let’s face it, this is not an easy time for the girls. No matter how gentle we are trying to be, the separation and imminent move to a new house are big, emotional changes for everyone in the family.

She did report one day that someone else at school had a mouse just like Mi clipped to her backpack. I told her to ask that other girl where she had got it. Halia reported back that it had been a gift from a friend. (“Well, if there’s another one around, it must be possible to find a replacement,” I thought.)

I tried looking online for a new Mi, but I didn’t know what brand he was. My searches for “white mouse toy”, “white rat keychain”, “small plush mouse”, and every combination I could think of yielded no results that looked like Mi.

Halia couldn’t remember where we had procured Mi; she thought maybe the Vancouver airport or possibly the Ottawa airport. She was pretty sure it was an airport. (But she’s been in a lot of airports.) (“White mouse airport” yielded no better results.)

I realized that the nightly tears were probably mostly a channel for Halia’s tough emotions around our changing family, but it was heartbreaking and persistent. Finally, I decided to ask the school secretary to put me in touch with the older girl’s family so I could find out who had given the gift so I could get in touch with that family to find out where the mouse had been purchased so I could find a replacement.

I talked to the secretary this past Friday, feeling utterly ridiculous. She passed the message along to the vice principal of the school and he called me to assure me that he would put some time into investigating and had already talked to the student’s teacher. I felt even more ridiculous, taking up precious administrative time on a quest for a mouse. He assured me that these are the things we do for our children’s well-being. He promised he would follow up with me on Monday.

But Halia came home from school on Friday and shouted for me as soon as she came in the door.

“Guess what?!”

“What?” I asked, mystified.

And she held up a scruffy white mouse.

The student with Mi had sought out Halia after school and given him to her. And I swear to you that Halia was over the moon and happier than I’ve seen her in many, many months.

image1.JPGNow I could finally look up the brand: Schaffer. A search for “Schaffer white mouse” immediated turned up results. Not only that, but he’s a “Rudolph Schaffer Mi Mouse” and sold mainly in Europe. So it seems Mi was named before we even brought him home and he must have come from the Frankfurt airport. Which means the Mi the other student had been carrying around truly was Halia’s all along.

Such a small thing, but it really feels like a cloud has been lifted. Mi is home and Halia has gone right back to carrying him everywhere with her. I know it won’t last forever, but for now, she has exactly what she needs.

 

End of the curse

4 Aug

Decades ago, around age 6 or 7, I’d say, my sister and my parents and I were out on a lake in northern Ontario. We were in our red canoe, my mom at the bow, my father in the stern, and my sister and I at the bottom on either side of the middle thwart.

We were all fishing, but since we were so young, my dad gave us kids rods without reels. We knew pretty much nothing about fishing, except that we should be quiet. Nemmy and I sat as still as we could, with our hooks dangling beneath the canoe, listening to the gentle “whirr” of my dad’s rod when he would cast.

Suddenly, there was a tug on my line. A mighty pull. I think I started to pull the rod up, but a second later, a shining body leapt out of the water and flashed in the sun. It landed with a great splash and my line went light. Gone was the fish − a pike, I should think − and gone was the hook.

And that was the last time I caught a fish.

I went fishing a few more times on family camping trips. And there was that deep-sea fishing experience in PEI the summer before grade 12, where everyone on the boat caught something. Except for me.

I was convinced that mighty northern pike had cursed me for trying to hook him. None of his fishy brethren would ever come near me again.

These past 6 months have been very heavy for me as Michael and I begin the process of separation and divorce. It has been an intense period for many reasons and I have had some very dark and broken days. Part of my strategy to redefine myself is to do things I have always wanted to do, but never have got around to. Last Saturday, for example, I went on a 6-hour solo hike up a mountain. I don’t think I’ve ever actually done that before.

Earlier this week, I contacted my friend Valery and asked her to take me fishing. And tonight we did just that.

We drove out the Hidden Lakes, a couple of which are stocked with rainbow trout and kokanee. Valery explained how to rig and bait my line for trout and showed me how to cast. She said that since it had been such a warm day, the fish might not actually come close enough to shore to bite, but we’d have a nice evening out, at least. Since I had no expectations, that was fine by me.

A wee 4-incher nibbled at Valery’s line early in the evening. After that, the fish were pretty quiet, though we enjoyed the company of a loon calling a few times, and a beaver and a muskrat showed up, as well. Valery would tell me little bits about fish behaviour in between casts, and I worked on getting my hook out a decent distance from shore.

And then suddenly, there was a tug on my line.

I wasn’t sure at first that it was a fish. Perhaps my hook was simply caught on an underground log. But the waters near the shore are clear and in moments, I could see the silver body of a rainbow trout fighting the pull of my line. Moments later, I had landed it on the shore.

Valery was every bit as delighted as I was. She showed me how to bleed it, and then she also showed me how to clean it properly. It was a female trout (Valery showed me the roe!) and 13 inches, so not huge, but a respectable size so everyone in the family can have a taste at dinner time tomorrow. We’d have taken a picture at the lake, but neither of us had a working picture-taking apparatus. So this kitchen shot will have to do, instead:

13876467_10157063540300012_3216048377044402170_n

Thank you, Ms. Trout, for the gift of your life. Thank you for breaking the curse, and thank you for feeding my family.

And thanks to Valery for showing me the “ropes”.

Halia the Brave

14 Oct

IMG_7469.JPG

This morning, Halia shouted out at the breakfast table in great excitement, “Mama, it’s loose!!!” In the way of small children, Halia has been waiting impatiently for her first loose tooth, feeling as though she is behind everyone else.

Yesterday we noticed she has an adult central incisor already coming up behind the baby tooth, but didn’t notice the baby tooth being particularly loose. But this morning, it was moveable.

By the time Halia got off the bus after school, the tooth was positively precarious and Halia spent a lot of time crying as she ate her afternoon snack and kept accidentally bumping it. Finally, while I was cooking supper, I had a closer look and realized it was barely hanging on.

“Halia, do you want me to just pull it out for you?” I was surprised when she nodded a tearful yes.  (Jade has adamantly refused to let us touch her loose teeth.) “It will hurt for a moment,” I said.

“I know,” she said. “I want you to pull it out.”

I decided the best method, rather than using my fingers, would be to do the old string-attached-to-the-door trick. We got a long length of floss and it took me three tries to get a good knot around the wibbly-wobbly thing. Then I got Halia to stand right by the door and tied it onto the knob.

“Okay,” I said, “now stand back a bit so we can slam the door.” She stepped back. Further than planned. And the tooth was suddenly hanging on the end of the line, swinging from the doorknob. Halia and I looked at each other in surprise and she burst out laughing.

I’d tied such a good knot to the tooth that it took me a minute to extricate it. Halia gleefully took the prize into her eager hands and ran off to show her sister.

As you can see, she’s pretty proud of losing her first tooth.

 

IMG_7473.JPG

Poems for the season

7 Oct

I started a morning routine of taking Nanuq for a walk after seeing the girls off on their school bus. Fall has long been my favourite season and I’ve been relishing the day-to-day changes in the forest paths behind my house. Lately my morning routine has grown to include composing a few lines to capture the mood of the forest.

With my phone invariably in my pocket, I started posting these little vignettes to Twitter; this adds the constraint of keeping each poem to less than 140 characters. You may notice that many of my daily poems took the form of haikus, but not all.

Since these fragments will eventually get buried on Twitter, I thought I’d collect them up and post them here.

September 16
Leaves litter the path
Yellow on brown earth, blue sky
Glorious autumn

September 16
Sentier de feuilles mortes
Brun de la terre, bleu des cieux
L’automne glorieux

September 22
The forest floor is a muted quilt.
The remaining leaves above tremble in anticipation
Of the climax, the descent,
And then sweet sleep.

September 25
Misty grey of frozen ground
Crust of ice in dimpled earth
Unbroken, untrodden,
But resigned to the coming sun 

September 26 (driving home from downtown)
Blinding bright sunshine
Mysterious river mist
This autumn morning

September 29
skeletal branches
reach up in supplication,
pleading for winter

September 30 (first snowfall!)
Limbs stretch out to sleep
As a blanket of wet snow
Embraces the trees

September 30
The path treacherous
Slips and slides under my feet
Good day to stay home

October 1
Oh deceitful trail
Lulling me with soft cover
Icy trap beneath

October 1
Yes, we may complain
But we’re winter fatalists
Seeking attention

October 1 (on my way home from an evening concert)
Low-slung moon hanging heavy in the sky
Half-hid in shadow, half-face bright
Sweeping the earth, drawing my gaze
Crown jewel of the night

October 6
The earth falls asleep
Nature sighs, hibernating
We go back to work

 

 

 

 

Pleased as Punch

21 Sep

Jade is going to be a little Harlequin doll in this year’s Northern Lights School of Dance production of The Nutcracker. She is pleased as punch about it!

Speaking of “pleased as punch”, I decided to read up a little bit on the history of the Harlequin character and learned a number if interesting things, including that commedia dell’arte is the ancestor of the British “Punch and Judy” shows.

I’ve only ever heard of Punch and Judy in books and songs, but have never actually seen one. I didn’t realize that many of the glove-puppet characters I’ve encountered in my life are actually typical Punch and Judy characters.

On top of all that, reading about Punch and Judy suddenly reminded me of a song I learned a long, long time ago, probably in the very first year I was taking piano lessons, so perhaps just after I turned 4. I haven’t thought of the song in years and at first just the first line popped into my head. After about an hour, I think I have recalled the rest of the lyrics, as well as the melody.

“Punch and Judy are in town,
Oh, what fun to see them clown.
Hurry, hurry, sister Sue,
Show begins at half-past two!”

Strange how music can stick so firmly in our brains and be recalled three decades later.

I’m betting Jade will long remember the thrill of being a little Harlequin doll in The Nutcracker. I know that I’m delighted for her.

And it’s not just because I feel a little smarter now that I know whence comes the expression “pleased as (an apparently often self-satisfied) Punch”.

IMG_7262.JPG