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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.

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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:

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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

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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.

 

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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”.

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Treasures from the greenhouse

31 Jul

Thanks to Michael’s hard work planting the greenhouse and garden this year, plus our friend Robert’s diligent watering while we were away in Europe, we now have some multi-coloured treasures to harvest.

I can’t wait to turn the tomatoes and oregano into a salad. I think I’ll sprinkle on a few precious grains of the “Fleur de sel de Carmague” salt my Oma gave me years ago; I use it sparingly on my best dishes where the salt will shine and really boost the flavour of the dish. We drove through this region last week and I smiled in recognition.

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There was a little girl who had a little curl

26 Jul

We are on our last half a day in Europe and in this one moment of stillness, I thought I would relate a trivial — but curious — discovery we made.

Jade has a ringlet of curly hair growing at the nape of her neck.

This may seem unremarkable, but the rest of her hair is straight. She was actually born with curly hair and had soft curls until after her second birthday. After her seizures started, with her hair getting longer, I noticed the hair growing in was flat. Thinking her hair was getting too long and weighing down the curls, I had it cut… and that was the end of her curls.

I supposed that this was just a case of baby hair being different from bigger-girl hair and she has had straight hair ever since. Until now, that is.

So I am left wondering if her seizures or her diet affected the curl of her hair, whether she is going to get curls all over her head, if it’s the humidity in the European air, or just one of those random, strange things hair sometimes does…