Monday, December 31, 2012

Well, it wasn't the end of the world afterall...

So that WAS 2012?  No world ending events just a mixed bag of crazy with a dash of wow thrown in for  good measure.  I sit here watching Ryan Seacrest host the tribute to the late, great Dick Clark on New Year's Rockin' Eve.

The Pumpkin is with her other parental units and has been since Christmas Day.  I assume she is having a good time or I surely would have gotten a call to retrieve her.  This makes me happy.  The biggest 'rip off' for kids of divorce is reality that they get limited time with their parents.  She is with me most of the time.  I host her main launch pad and continue to do the day-to-day parenting stuff that was always part of my job description.  Her dad is a good man.  He was always a great parent.  We do it differently, but perhaps that is the silver lining of divorce -- because those differences would probably have lead to conflict between us as our child makes her way through the maze of adolescence.

Speaking of adolescence, that is one of the big developments in 2012.  The Pumpkin is now fully into that wonderful, wacky world of hormones, growth and discovery.  Strangely, I am still wondering where the raving, unreasonable, door slamming teenager is.  The one I live with seems content and no more volatile than she's ever been -- hold it, age 3 was a rollercoaster -- but other than that, she's been pretty easy going. She makes interesting observations about her posse of friends and classmates with an understanding that belies her age.  My mantra of "this too shall pass" seems to have rubbed off.

That is not to say we haven't had a few 'teachable' moments.  One of her Homestuck buddies invited her to a birthday party that involved movies and a sleepover.  Movies, okay.  Sleepover, not so much.  The friend is a guy.  "But, Mom he's gay."  Sure, whatever.  It's nothing personal, but even gay guys are often 'straight curious'.  We compromised.  She went for the movies and I drove to the other side of the city to pick her up at midnight.

She also got her learners permit.  As in learning to drive.  Now, to be honest, she has no interest in driving.  Cars are big pieces of metal that she says are scary.  But, with her dad's encouragement she passed the written test.  That was in the spring.  She hasn't been behind the wheel of anything yet.  One challenge at a time, I guess. Between not wanting to learn to drive and routinely forgetting her cell phone [or neglecting to turn it on] she may get her teencard revoked.

Work for me continued to be a way to pay the bills.  Thankfully I work with a great group of people to break up the day-to-dayness of it.  Our office moved in the summer.  The upside of the new building:  it has a gym and I actually go and spend 30 minutes or so on the treadmill several days a week.  The downside: we share a floor with the in-house cafeteria for a seismic company.  I want to adopt their chef.  We are assaulted daily with the wonderful smells of roast beef, baking bread, and turkey with all the trimmings.  Oh my.

The Pumpkin also graduated to the big leagues, aka high school.  While she is at a school that is massive (as in the school population is close to the population of the town where I grew up), she is in a sub-program of Arts Centred Learning.  This means she is with many of her classmates from her junior high and the curriculum allows her to flex her creative muscles while learning the subject matter.  I do have my concerns - - she is getting great marks in gym and LIKES it.  What the?  Like I said above, I do go the gym at noon.  I do NOT do it because I like it.  I do it because I have seen my health future and unless I get my cardio system into better shape it isn't going to be a long one.  But she likes gym.  Blame that on her dad...

She and I also did a couple of road trip vacations this summer.  First we drove to the beautiful Okanagan where I delivered her to her other parents after a visit with her two Godmothers.  Vernon and area is amazing and beautiful and spending a few days with two of my besties (including a mini wine-tour) was wonderful.

At summer's end, we took another trip that is an example of why staying friends with your ex is a good thing.  Renfrew and OM (the 'other mother') have a vintage Airstream trailer.  In August, Renfrew took it down to our old hometown and set it up for us to use for a week.  It was great.  We were able to take the canine critters with us and spent a week visiting with old friends and just chilling before school started.  My kind of camping.

This fall brought the fifth anniversary of my 'life quake'  that upended my reality.  As I reflected and mourned the loses, I also realized I am finally healed to the point I may be able to make a go at a new relationship in the new year.  Guess we'll see.

So as the curtain closes of 2012, here is my wish that those around me have learned the lessons presented to them and that they are all ready for the new challenges and miracles in 2013.  Namaste my friends.  Namaste.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Marriages Breakdown over CHORES -- Stop the Presses! [NOT]

The elevators in my workplace have little monitors that run a cycle of 'news' stories and weather reports to give the occupants something to stare at during the ascent and descent.  Last week one caught my attention.  It seems a group of UK divorce lawyers did a file audit and discovered that the common denominator in more than 1/2 of marriage breakups was HOUSEHOLD CHORES.  Well . . . duh . . . that is hardly news.

That being said, back in the day when I was actually a divorce lawyer, my observation was that the arguments about the socks on the floor, really were not about the socks on the floor.  They were a symptom - - much in the way that an emotional or actual affair is not really the problem in a relationship, but a symptom of the problem in that relationship. 

As someone who has never professed to be Debby Domestic or Suzy Homemaker, I marvel at my friends whose homes seem to always look company ready.  My house can look company ready, but I need a good 24 hours' notice.

Given that I share my dwelling with the Pumpkin, 2 canines and 2 felines, the landscape can get a bit crazy.  The cats consider EVERYTHING either a toy or something upon which to shed.  This means that it is not uncommon to find random small objects kicked under the sofa or entertainment unit, or worse, sitting in the middle of the hallway just waiting for the unsuspecting human to step on them -- think pop bottle lids.  The dogs are more selective . . . socks are meant to be carried from place to place (one at a time), discarded kleenex is a snack food and windows are to be decorated with nose prints and drool deposited whilst barking at the neighbourhood squirrels.

The girl-child is trailed by an assortment of food containers, dishes, school papers, craft supplies and totally unclassifible items.  She has finally learned that the answer to the "where is X" question most often results in a blank look from her mother.  Hey, kid, I can barely keep track of my own things, you're on your own.

The fact that I am an adult with ADD does not make things easy.  Being as distractable as a 2 year old at Toys-backwards-R-Us often leaves me standing in a room holding some item or other and asking myself "what is this, and where was I taking it?"  With any answer being interrupted by my "hey, look a butterfly" mind.  I set whatever I have down and then 10 minutes later realize what I was doing, but can't remember where I left the item I now need. 

I know for a fact that my less than Martha Stewart style was part of my contribution to the pile o' crap that ended my marriage.  The fact that Renfrew's style of dealing with almost any issue was practiced passive aggression did not help matters.  Also, the fact he conveniently forgot how to do much of anything around the house while he was in Mountie training did not help.  [Believe me I apologised to the WiL for any part I played in his selective amnesia about such things as the inner workings of dishwashers and the role of brooms and vacuums, but I have since caught him sweeping the floor at their house, so I think he may have found a memory spell somewhere.]  The girl-child has informed me that his ability with large appliances (like clothes' dryers) hasn't improved...she has a great new collection of very soft sweaters thanks to his laundry efforts. 

But the housework issue wasn't the death of us.   The housework only represented our disregard for each other and for each other's time and effort.  The more he stopped contributing and participating in the day-to-day stuff around the house, the angrier I got.  The angrier I got, the less I did.  My requests for help were treated as nagging demands, so I stopped making them.  By the time all was said and done, we weren't taking care of ourselves, much less each other.  Yes, it was about more than the socks on the floor.

What did I learn?  I learned that ignoring an issue doesn't make it go away.  And I learned that sometimes the smartest thing to do is hire a cleaning service -- and use the time you would be cleaning to focus on what matters:  each other.





Friday, November 16, 2012

Has it really been 5 years?

Exactly five years ago this weekend my life imploded with a cosmic *SMACK*.   Life as I knew it was over [for the whole gory story go here LifeQuake ].  LSS - marriage ended on Friday, Mom died on Sunday.

It would be easy to say that I grieved, did the emotional and psychological work, and moved onto a wonderful new life in record time and with minimal disruption.  It would also be a lie.  The combined losses of my marriage and my mother, in that order in that many days flattened me. 

For the first while, I went into autopilot.  I knew what I was supposed to do and what the 'right' responses were and I kept to the script.  Honestly, the 'role' of responsible, directed woman planning both her mother's funeral and her husband's move from the matrimonial home at the same time came easy.  It felt like I was in a 'Lifetime' movie. . . perhaps being played by Valerie Bertinelli (before she lost the weight -- we want authenticity here).

I wrote the obituary and the euology.  I sat with my siblings to select a casket and plan the order of service.  I scurried around the music store to locate a copy of the sheet music to Amazing Grace (I still shake my head in wonder that it doesn't appear in the hymnal of the Church I attended as a child).

I gave Renfrew the time and space to move from our home to a nearby friend's house with the plan that the Pumpkin and I would move to the City once we found a place.  But for the time being, she and I would stay in the house.

Three weeks after my LifeQuake, I went back to work.  My siblings and I had cleaned out most of Mom's apartment -- shredding 30 years of bank statements and old cheques, receipts for everything from utilities to her Readers' Digest subscription.  Furniture that could be used by family members was re-homed and that for which there was no current purpose was donated to the nearby thrift store. Everyone who wanted a memento was allowed to take something that reminded them of Mom.

It was time for things to get back to "NORMAL"... Normal, I now know is simply a setting on the washing machine.  That December was unquestionably the lowest my life has ever been.  Slowly, and I do mean S L O W L Y, I started to find a new way to be in the world.  During the course of my journey I learned some pretty amazing truths:

Failing at marriage did not mean I was a failure.  My marriage was, truthfully, everything to me.  I had made that commitment with the view that it was irrevocable.  Divorce was NEVER in my playbook.  But I had to recognize that marriage was making Renfrew miserable and he did not believe that it could be fixed.  I had no choice to let go.  It was a slow and sticky process and I am the first to admit I did not handle it gracefully at first. I cried buckets of tears.  But as the 'process' moved along, I began to realize that the ending of marriage did not nullify the years we had shared -- most of them pretty happy.  

Don't get me wrong, there is still a small part of me that mourns not having a life partner to whom I can say "remember . . . ." and have him smile.  The shared history still exists, but it is no longer accessible.  I just read in a book about marriage end (a memoir by a woman who lost her husband not to your average mid-life crisis, but to his gender change to a woman) that one of the hardest losses in a divorce is the loss of the collective memory of a family.

Slowly I cried less and smiled more.  I would heal and the edges would soften around the wound. Then something would pull the back the scab and I would bleed tears again.  At some point, the tears more or less stopped.  My focus moved away from what was lost to what remained. . . a beautiful child and a friendship with her other parent.

My kid is both smarter and stronger than I ever imagined. Shortly after we separated, we (I) dragged the Pumpkin to a clinical social worker.  I figured she'd been handed a couple of biggies, just like I had been and as a good parent it was important to give her someone to help her debrief.  Her assessment of our separation:  "If living together makes you unhappy, why would you live together?"  Wisdom from the mouth of a 9 year old.  In the intervening time, she has continued to grow -- and WOW.  She is self-possessed with a confidence and sense of humour about life that will take her far.

Forgiveness is truly the path to Peace and Happiness.  Along my way I discovered A Course In Miracles .  It is not a religion (and I remain as irreverent as ever), but a spiritual mind training program, the goal of which is to FORGIVE everyone for everything as a way to PEACE. 

Trust me, I did not WANT to forgive Renfrew for pulling the plug on our marriage.  I was hurt and, for a time, I was pretty good at trying to reach out and hurt him too.  It wasn't until I was given the 'miracle' of seeing things a different way, that I forgave.  It was a conscious choice I made initially for two people:  my child and myself.  I knew carrying anger and resentment toward her father would spill over onto her.  I also got really tired of trying to move forward with that stone around my neck.  I set it down . . . at first for only seconds at a time, but eventually I left it in the distance. 

I have gotten SO MUCH out of that one choice.   In addition to a child who sees her parents behaving like adults, when Renfrew married my Wife-in-Law (or WiL as I'll call her) three years ago, I got a friend and another co-parent for her.   Seriously, Renfrew always had great taste in women (with a few exceptions that occurred during his post-marriage break up craziness), so why would I not like his choice in a partner?  And if I did, what on earth would it say about me?

Now, I am substantially healed.  I am not the person I would have been if neither of those losses had happened.  I am stronger.  I am more cynical.  I am more patient.  I am less trusting.  I am more at peace.  There have been losses and gains.  It was a weekend . . . and I sincerely hope I never have another one like it.






Monday, November 12, 2012

This is not a light, fluffy post . . .

Although much of what I read on a regular basis is pretty fluffy - - psychological thrillers, serial killers, all manner of supernatural creatures (except sparkling vampires, even I have standards), self-indulgent memoirs - - I occasionally read something that makes me stop and think.  Yes, every once in a while I read a book that raises questions that are larger than can fit between the covers.  A Handmaids Tale did that.  To Kill a Mockingbird did that.  Most recently, I read a book called "Unwind", which is part of the genre known as 'young adult fiction' aka something my kid would read (and she has).  This book raises more issues than Readers' Digest.

As with many books that encourage reflection and question commonly held views, it is set in a dystopian future where the Second Civil War (known as the Heartland War) has been fought over abortion and the right to life.  The two sides, polarized and neither willing to consider the other's side are bent on destroying each other -- the original issue all but forgotten.  In the midst of this with both sides holding intractable positions, the military (who have been caught in the middle and who are, frankly, tired of the fight) make a proposal:

“With the war getting worse,” says the Admiral, “we brokered a peace by bringing both sides to the table. Then we proposed the idea of unwinding, which would terminate unwanteds without actually ending their lives. We thought it would shock both sides into seeing reason–that they would stare across the table and someone would blink. But nobody blinked. The choice to terminate without ending life–it satisfied the needs of both sides. The Bill of Life was signed, the Unwind Accord went into effect, and the war was over. Everyone was so happy to end the war, no one cared about the consequences.”

In trying to be King Solomon, the military unwittingly sets up an even more grotesque tableau.  Abortion is outlawed.  But this does not lead to a culture of pre-marital celibacy or vigilant birth control use.  Every indication is that unplanned pregnancies arise as often as they do today.  The difference is that pregnancies are all carried to term.  After that, well, the swell of unplanned and unwanted babies often end up in State Care Homes . . . a newer version of orphanages.  As these facilities fill to bursting, children are periodically sent to the Harvest Camps to be unwound, thus freeing up space.

Another possibility  is that the unplanned infant gets 'storked'.  Upon giving birth to an unwanted child, the mother can essentially drop the baby on someone's doorstep and it becomes a strange game of finders-keepers.  That is if the finder gets caught finding the baby -- it is theirs, just as if that person had delivered it -- no give backs.   However, we learn that some stealthy finders simply 're-stork' the baby to a neighbour before anyone has noticed.  As can be imagined, this can have disasterous or fatal consequences for the baby.  The helpless infant gets passed from home to home with no one providing 'care'.  One of the central characters experienced such a scenario resulting in the death of an infant after several days of being passed around.

One of the characters considers the question this way: “[w]hich is worse, Risa often wondered, to have tens of thousands of babies that no one wanted or to silently make then go away before they were even born." 
Unwinding, as we learn, is a process where youth between the ages of 13 and 17 are systematically disassembled and their body parts used for transplant into other people.  They are not 'killed', as the live on in a 'divided state'.  The unwinds are a mix of kids from the State Homes, surrendered children whose parents have signed them over (usually because they are difficult to manage or have other behaviour issues) and Tithes.  Tithes are children who were specifically born to be harvested.  Seriously.  They are seen as an altruistic gift from their parents to society.

Perhaps the most disturbing chapter in the book tells the story of a character who gets 'unwound'.  His thoughts, interspersed with the comforting words of those engaged in harvesting his body, are both serene and horrifying.  Essentially, unwinding is seen as okay as essentially ALL of the person continues to live.  Body parts that wear out or that are defective in members of the population are simply 'replaced' with portions of the unwound.  An endless supply of young, healthy body parts for transplant -- everything from limbs and organs to skin and tissue.  The more you are willing to pay, the better quality your new parts will be.  The corollary to this is that treatment of illness and disorder is taught less and less in medical school.  Why treat an old worn and damaged heart, when you can just replace it with a 16 year olds?  Teeth are replaced in their entirety and a full head of hair is just a surgical procedure away. 

"[O]f course, if more people had been organ donors, unwinding never would have happened... but people like to keep what's theirs, even after they are dead. It didn't take long for ethics to be crushed by greed. Unwinding became big business, and people let it happen."

I was very impressed by the author's use of his characters' voices to discuss large issues:  WHEN does life start; WHEN does it end; WHO makes those decisions; WHO should be making those decisions; WHERE are our memories stored.  He doesn't give the answers, but rather let's the characters put out the possibilities for discussion. 
 
“I wrote Unwind for lots of reasons, and it poses questions about a lot of subjects. To state it briefly, I wanted to point out how when people take intractable positions on an issue, and stick to extreme sides, sometimes the result is a compromise that is worse than either extreme. I meant it as a wake up call to society -- and to point out that sometimes the problem IS that we take sides on an issue, when a different sort of approach is needed. It's also to pose questions about what it means to be alive.
Where does life begin, where does it end -- and point out that there is no single answer to these questions. The problem is people who think there are simple answers. People who see things as simple black-and-white right-and-wrong are the type of people who will end up with a world like the world in Unwind.” Neal Shusterman

Like life, this book is about more than the issue it is about.  It is about what taking sides without questioning does to a person.  Belief without examination and critical thought is limiting.  Being able to say both what one believes and the 'why' behind it is what makes us human.  When I took mediation training I learned a lot about positional thinking.  When two people are locked in a conflict, until they can at least consider that there is another way to view the situation, nothing can be gained or changed.  This book is a consideration of what happens when society itself becomes so positional that no resolution is possible and the only alternative is something that neither side would have imagined.
To put it in the words of the author:  You see, a conflict always starts with an issue–a difference of opinion, an argument. But by the time it turns into a war, the issue doesn’t matter anymore, because now it’s about one thing and one thing only: how much each side hates the other.











Friday, October 19, 2012

Somedays I miss having a man around the house

Today would be one of those days. . . I am trying to install blinds in my bedroom.  It is NOT going well. At this point, not only have I not succeeded in the installation process, but I have also managed to break a drill bit AND done something that has resulted in the drill NOT wanting to disgorge the broken bit.

For the record, I am a pretty handy girl.  I was raised by a single mother who did it all.  My late father's toolbox did not sit idle when something needed to be done around the house.  She put up shelves, she repaired doors and windows, she cut down the swing (hold it, that's another post -- about not fighting over the tree swing and waking up a woman who has worked 21 straight night shifts at the local jail).  Anyway, you get the picture.  She was a great example of 'do-it-herself' confidence.

So, I do it myself . . . have been for 5 years now.  But it does get old . . .


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Let me tell you about Homestuck . . . .

From the Urban Dictionary:

"A web comic pertaining to an incredibly complex network of intertwined relationships between the space-time linear parallels of a group of juvenile human beings and a slightly larger group of juvenile troll-like humanoid extraterrestrials who must work together to stop a rogue villain from destroying our universe, communicated through and perpetrated by a with the ability to manipulate time and space while simultaneously bringing about the end of the world, interspersed with interruptions from an omniscient talking cue ball as well as a separate group of gang-involved beings hellbent upon exacting revenge on a rival group of gang-involved beings, all tied together by a characteristic ironically ridiculous and self-deprecating sense of humor with homage to both classic character archetypes from throughout human history as well as the familiar internet-central humor of today’s youth." [http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Homestuck]

My own definition is a bit more personal.  It is a web comic, sure.  But it is also something that has created a social group my girl-child (also known as the "Pumpkin") has found commonality with.  These kids (most are age 13 to 20) are incredibly funny, creative and aware.  They even let an old lady play with them on occasion, even though I have not read the 4000+ pages of Homestuck and do not get many of the 'inside' jokes and references.  I have managed to grasp a few of the names . . . Jane. .Dirk. . .Gamzi (or is it Gamzee). . . Jade.  

The characters seem to morph and change daily but the trolls can pretty much be counted on to have candycorn coloured horns regardless of whether they are humans, sea creatures, dogs, cats, dragons or even My Little Ponies.  Not all of the incarnations are the work of Mr. Hussie, in fact it seems most are created by the fandom of Homestuck devotees.  

There is much "shipping" or romantic pairings of the various characters, something of which I know from my own journey into an almost as crazy fandom on the 1990s -- that of the X-Files television series.  Much fanfiction and art work has been inspired by Homestuck, and my child occasionally shares it with me.

And then there's the costumes.  Oh boy are there costumes.  The Pumpkin's first costume was a doozy.  She spent several months creating a full head mask for a character named Bec Blanc . . . who is apparently a dog-like creature with wings and a sword. Well, see for yourself.  She test drove the costume at the Calgary Comic Convention in April. . . which is where the above photo is from.

In May, there is an amazing event held each year at the University of Calgary called Otafest.  We went last year. . . before the Pumpkin discovered Homestuck.  That year was sort of like an experiment.  She dressed as an Anime character and observed.  This was when she apparently saw some Homestuck fans. . . and asked them about their characters.  The rest, as they say, is history.

This year Otafest was. . . well EPIC.  I tagged along . . . spent much time sitting in the Student Centre reading my books and occasionally going to different sessions with the Pumpkin.  There was a Homestuck "Panel" where I got to learn about Homestuck . . . or try to . . . as I said. . . it's COMPLICATED.

I learned about some of the characters.  I learned about the girlchild's friends.  I learned about 'cuddle puddles'.  

Yup, these kids are fun.  They are funny.  And they even let an old lady play dress up with them.  Yes, a few weeks ago when the Homestuck kids got together for a rollerskating party, my kid dressed me up and I discovered I can still skate!  



Yup, my kid -- she dressed me up as a Homestuck character . . . which character -- why MOM of course.



So what is the point of this Blog post?  To tell you about Homestuck.  Sort of . . . it's about what being a parent means to me.  It is about learning about what makes your child happy.  What makes her light up.  And THAT is what HOMESTUCK really is . . . something that lights up my kid.  And for that, thank you Andrew Hussie.








Monday, September 24, 2012

What are the odds . . . .

Turning 50 . . . the BIG 5 - 0 . . . over the hill . . . 50 is the new 30

Whatever. . .

The more time I spend on the this planet, the younger I feel.  Age, like weight, is simply a number.  And numbers are things we spend much of the first part of our lives trying to make obey rules.  Less than.  Greater than.  Adding.  Subtracting. Multiplying.  Dividing.  Shortly after we master these concepts about numbers, new and more confusing ones arrive on the scene.  For example, dividing by zero.  Quadratic equations, square roots and geometry.  Before long calculus and trigonometry join the game, and then everyone's favourite, Sadistics . . . err. . . statistics.  I admit it, I ditched high school math before having to deal with calculus or trig. 

I took my last math class sometime in my twenties.  A psych stats class that was required for my degree.  It was NOT a good time.  The professor, who was a million feet tall, dressed in the 3-piece suit look of the 80s with flowing Rapunzel hair to boot, paced the front of the room like a tennis ball between Federer and Roddick.  You could tell statistics was his religion.  Having just gotten out of one, as not in the mood for conversion.  Dutifully, I took copious notes, supplemented them with the notes my older sister took the previous semester when she took the class (also required for her nursing degree) and read the text book.  Just when I would feel a concept solidify in my hands, whoosh, it would get swept away into the haze of my brain.  I did pass the class. . . thankfully the professor was of the view that we could bring anything into the exams to help us, with the exception of someone who had previously gotten an A in the class.  Somehow the combination of my sister's old notes and tests and my own gut instincts got me a B. 

Now I am looking at the kind of math that makes Psych 2000 look like counting to 100.

I have now lived 50 years on this planet.  Five decades.  That works out to roughly 438,000 - - give or take.  Two thousand six hundred weeks (and consequently weekends!).  Of that time, I spent 9 years in post-secondary school of one kind or another.  Over 100,000 hours being a parent.  Over 170,000 hours being a wife. 

At one point over the past few years, I made up a bucket list.  I just looked back at it . . . and laughed.  I have now come up with a new list which I call:  What I'm going to do in my fifties!

1.   Finish writing the book I've been working on for the past several years.   Thumping around in my head for quite a while has been a novel.  I know the plot outline.  The characters talk to me at odd and random moments.  I just need to get the bloody thing down on paper.

2.   Fall in Love again and, more importantly, be successful at keeping love alive and growing over the long haul.  As they say:  Second marriages are proof that optimism outweighs experience. 

3.  Take my girl-child on a BIG adventure trip.  Right now we are planning to go to the U.K. the summer after high school, which would be 2015.

See, I told you it was a short list.

What didn't make the 'cut' were places where I'd rather not waste my energy: getting over my fear of heights, learning to play the piano, drive the Alaska Highway, do daily yoga.  One of the things I think I'm becoming is more focused.  And for the functional ADHA poster child, this is something I am proud of.  Now, if I can . . . . ooohhhh look a butterfly.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

No Regrets

A person does not get to age 50 without a few regrets.  Looking at my life, I probably have more than some people and less than others.  From questionable fashion choices in the 80s to even more questionable career choices.  In retrospect I could have made my life both easier and more enjoyable (not to mention more stylist) if I knew then what I know now.  But that is not how life works.  I believe we are here to learn and to grow; to make mistakes and to learn from them.  In all seriousness, there is only one thing in my life about which I have never had second thoughts, even for a moment.  That is becoming a Mother.

I did not come easily or lightly to motherhood.  Growing up in a culture and community where motherhood was revered above all other possible choices for a woman, I did the sensible thing and rebelled.  While my childhood friends were busy choosing baby names for their future offspring, I was planning not only my escape from my hometown, but my wild and crazy life full of excitement that did not include the mundane task of rearing offspring. 

When my now former husband and I married, I was honest in saying I did not know if I would ever want to have children.  My future had 'career woman' written all over it in large New Times Roman letters as I studied law and planned how I would change the future of the world.  Renfrew, having come from what could be described as a challenging family background, was nominally okay with my position -- at least I never remember him making parenthood a deal breaker.  My dear Mother-in-Law did frequently inquire as to our 'family' plans, since he was the only one of his siblings (including his 16 year old sister) who was childless. 

If I had to pick a moment when I realized that I wanted the honour of becoming a mother, it would be August 14, 1994.  That was the day that we lost a pet -- Jennie, a sweet energetic bundle of terrier who had escaped our backyard and was struck by a pick up truck.  We rushed her to the Vet, but there was nothing they could do for her but end her pain.  In the aftermath of that loss, something in me clicked and I realized that while 'parenting' pets was rewarding, I did not want to live my life without experiencing motherhood. 

Although it took almost four years, the Pumpkin was more than worth the wait.  Now, I cannot imagine my life without her. 

She makes me laugh at least daily.  Her way of seeing the world has opened up new adventures and experiences that I would never have encountered without her.  She has introduced me to music called 'alternative' but what I would simply call excellent.  I have found myself surrounded by people in costumes of all kinds having fun.  How often does an adult get to play dress up?

She has an insight into human nature that is beyond her years . . . or maybe we all have that understanding when we are young and lose it as we age.  The empathetic child her father and I watched on the playground, has grown into a young woman who has the ability to see beyond the obvious in situations. 

I was just reminded of the 'joy' of age three by a blog I follow http://dooce.com/2012/05/10/dreaded-year and, yes, age three was a challenge.  Other times, as well, have tested both my patience and my faith in my ability to parent.  But all in all, so far the ride has been an adventure and I have made the following observations about my philosophy of parenting:

First, our job as parents is NOT to mould, train or educate our children into the adult they will be.  Our job is to give them a safe place to figure that out for themselves.  It isn't OUR life and when we remember that fact and do not give into a need to preach to our children what WE believe to be the Truth, our kids will grow beyond any limited idea we may have for them.  I specifically remember my own mother NEVER telling me that couldn't do something -- even if she knew I couldn't.  She let me figure it out on my own and I am glad I recognized that 'gift' and was able to thank her for it while she was still on this earth.

Second, if you don't have your child's back, who will?  When I was in college, I remember going home for a weekend and telling Mom how one of my classmates had been afraid of going home for the break because she had gained a few pounds and she just knew "my Mom is going give me a hard time".  My Mom, without looking up from her coffee said:  "I don't get that.  The world gives kids so much negative and criticism, parents shouldn't add to it."  Criticism, even 'well meaning' criticism, eats away at person's confidence and joy.

Third, get to know your child's friends, classmates, teachers -- basically their 'world'.  I've heard many parents of teens say that they can't connect with their kids.  While this breaks my heart, I want to ask what steps they have taken to nuture and build the connections they are missing.  I work overtime or take vacation days so I can go on school field trips and participate in my daughter's activities.

I still remember the first time I had to make a 'choice' between career and the Pumpkin.  She was in preschool and I was still working as a lawyer in the North.  I had taken a Legal Aid file with a custody trial set for November 1.  About 2 or so weeks before the trial date, the Clerk called to ask if I would be okay moving the trial to October 31, since the matter for that date had settled.  My answer was no, I had other plans.  Those plans (as you may have guessed) were the Hallowe'en party at the Pumpkin's school.  My reality check was that in 10 years no one  would remember what day the trial was held, but I would remember if I missed the Pumpkin's  party -- and so would she.

In sum, the parenting philosophy I learned from my Mom is simply that we are here to support, love and cheer on our children.  If we do our job right, our children will become all they are meant to be.

Today I am blessed with a confident, funny, smart, loving and beautiful child.  Whether I get a bouquet of dandelions or breakfast in bed for Mothers' Day, I already have the BEST gift:  A Daughter who is beyond Amazing.  LOVE YOU PUMPKIN and thank you for letting me be your Mom!






Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I don't know why anyone is surprised my child takes fandom seriously.  When she was just a cluster of cells the size of a pea she went on an X-files Fan weekend in Vancouver.  I was (and still am) a proud X-Phile having done the on-line newsgroup, written X-files fanfiction and generally been a geeky uberfan. 

Now I pass the torch to my child.  Unlike her mother, the object of her fandom is an on-line graphic cartoon series called "Homestuck".  Initially the Pumpkin went through a Japanese anime phase collecting and reading books with such titles as Ouran School Host Club, DeathNote, Peach Basket, Pet Shop of Horrors and Souleater. 

Last year I dusted off my sewing machine and made her an orange kimono as part of an anime character costume for the annual Otafest in Calgary.  Despite the fact I thought my kid's costume ROCKED, she was much harder on herself.  No one, it seems, recognized her as the character she was portraying.  Okay.  I get it.  I think.

The past 12 months she has been busily planning, revising, rejecting, re-planning, sketching, Googling, researching and basically focusing her attention on having not just one, but two costumes for this years' festivities.   The amount of time and energy she has joyfully invested in this project is amazing.  Once she settled on her choice of characters, she looked at what others had done for CosPlay (a term representing a joining of the terms "Costume" and "Play").

The 'main' characters in Homestuck are a group of 12 'trolls' who are each represented by a zodiac symbol.  I'm not all that clear on the origins of the trolls but gather it involved some type of apocolyptic event where the only survivors were a small group of teenagers.  The story/online comic has been evolving for just over two years. 

This past weekend she 'test drove' one of her costumes at the Calgary Comic Expo.  This particular character is named Bec Blanche and, as far as I can garner, is a winged dog/warrior who has the power of teleportation. 
The costume, as you can see, is not your 'throw a sheet over your head and call yourself a ghost' variety.  The head alone took my kid hours of work.  She carved the doggie snout from florist form, using our 4 year old terrier as a model -- which confused him since her normal reaction to him coming near her bedroom is to chase him out.  Not only did she not chase him out of her room, she came and scooped him up off the sofa and plopped him on her bed to pose!  I did sew the skirt and I covered an old t-shirt in ribbed fabric to give the character the look of bandages it sports, but the concept and idea were all hers.

Anyway, we took her costume out for a test run.  It is clear that the only thing more fun than riding the C-Train is riding the C-Train in costume.  Watching people do double and triple takes was pretty entertaining.

We arrived at the location of the Comic Expo and spent about an hour in line.  Next year, we buy tickets in advance.  Apparently, people who came even 1/2 an hour after we did, did not get in on Saturday.  Although the venue (even as large as it was) was pretty packed, we had an adventure.  At least 50 people stopped and asked to take the Pumpkin's photo.  She even posed with a couple of little kids -- who thought she was very cool. 

Part of the reason for going to the Expo was to meet up with other "Homestuck" fans -- and that we did.  I got many photos of the Pumpkin with other fans of her favourite on-line comic.  The trolls not only have grey skin, but they sport horns that look very much like mutated and overgrown candy corn.  There were several other non-troll characters, which the Pumpkin took pains to try to explain to me. 

Although we left after about 3 hours -- all that walking around was exhausting and there wasn't anywhere to sit and relax.  The day was a success.  Pumpkin has figured a few things to 'tweak' on her costume and I have decided that this month, when we go to Otafest, I am definitely going in costume.  You are never too old to have an adventure. . . . .

Friday, March 16, 2012

Under the "B" . . . .

March 17 would have been my Mom's 90th birthday and to celebrate several of us are going to play Bingo at various locations.  I'm sure for many people the afternoon or evening at a Bingo hall would not qualify as a memorial event, but for us it is that and more.

One of my early childhood memories is of my Mom (and whomever was around the house) playing televised Bingo on Saturday afternoons.  The local Kinsman Club had a TV Bingo game with a prize of $3,000 and the catchy name of Kingo Bingo.  At that time (the 1970s), this was a considerable amount of money -- this was when a new car cost around that sum.  Bingo cards were purchased at various merchants -- in my hometown it was generally one of the local pharmacies -- back when drug stores still sold cigarettes and other instruments of vice.

In those days, we would pull out the TV trays and set up our Bingo cards, using pens to cross out numbers as they were called.  Mom would have a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee nearby.  Although I got to play a card or two, if one ever turned out to be a winner, I knew Mom would be the one phoning the station to call "Bingo".  We didn't need to worry about that.  In all those years, we never won.

Sometime in the 80s, Bingo Halls began to open in various locations.  They were staffed by a handful of paid employees, but the real workforce was made up of volunteers from various organizations in the community.  The clubs, sports teams and service organizations were able to make some money and the Bingo Halls were run as not-for-profit businesses.   Mom discovered "Winners Bingo" in the nearby town and she was hooked.  Roadtrips were frequent occurences with whomever was in town getting brought along for the fun.  My next older sister first went with Mom when Mom was visiting my sister.  My sister took along a book to read, believing she would not be playing.  Rules being what they are, she had to play in order to sit at the table with Mom.  My sister won her first game and the rest, as they say, was history.  She was pretty much hooked.

Before long, going to Bingo whenever we were together became a family thing.  Before the government decided that 'children' shouldn't be allowed to gamble, anyone over the age of 12 was brought along and initiated into the family tradition.  When I married Renfrew, his mother would join our Bingo adventures.  It became a family bonding ritual at its best.

Occasionally someone would win, but just spending a few hours together, was enough of a prize for me.  Stories were shares, memories were made and community groups were supported.  It was a win/win situation.

Before smoking was outlawed in public places, Bingo was a complete sensory experience.  We would, of course, sit in the "non-smoking" section, which was somewhat like the "non-peeing" section of a public swimming pool.  Mom had quit smoking before we began the Bingo tradition, but my still-hooked sister and nieces would scramble to the smoking area between games.  I'm not sure why as I am pretty convinced we were all maintaining a pretty high level of nicotine just by being the hall.
In the last few years of my Mom's life, Bingo kept her active and busy.  She would drive her friends to the local Bingo hall and they would spend the afternoon or evening visiting and playing.  It was always great to go along as she took great pleasure in introducing her daughters and granddaughters to her friends. 

So this Saturday my sister, niece and I will raise a Bingo dauber in honour of My Mom.  Who knows, maybe her spirit will nudge the right balls out of the machine and we'll even get to yell "BINGO".



Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why is anyone surprised Whitney Houston is dead?

Please people....nothing surprising here -- shocking perhaps, but surprising no.

Whitney Houston was a woman with demons.  The demon of being a 'kid wonder' with a voice that was bigger than the world.  The demon of meeting, falling in love with and marrying a man with an impulse control problem.  Spousal abuse doesn't just happen in the poor part of town.  Whatever demon was driving her, drove her to the escape of drugs.

The stories of her trips through rehab have surfaced periodically over the last few years.  But her demons had a grip on her that wouldn't let go.

Regardless of the cause of her death, the Cause was lack of Love.  The illusion of Ego clouded her reality and she did not see that she was LOVE.  The rest . . . well it was all just details.

Now she can rest . . . her spirit, which was always pure, sweet and innocent will take the lessons from this bumpy, painful ride.

Rest in Peace, songstress.  May your next journey be an easier ride.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The California Aunt -- Auntie M

They say you do not remember days, you remember moments.  One moment (well, it lasted a bit longer than a moment) that sticks with me was the summer I was almost 16.  My mother's siblings had come to Southern Alberta on their annual pilgrimage from the South (California and Arizona, specifically).  Each year they would come up and start some project or other in the 'Big House'.  The 4800 square foot, two storey brick home where my grandmother lived with my maiden aunt (didn't everyone have one of those?) and my perpetually childlike uncle. 

One year they expanded the back porch so that it covered the entire area between the backroom (aka summer kitchen) and the far corner of the house.  It gave us a large space not only for barbeques and hanging out in the summer, but also an area to stack wood for the fireplace in the winter.  The new porch and steps also had the advantage of not crumbling under foot, as the old concrete had seen much better decades and was starting to randomly give way without warning.

This summer's project was more massive than anything to date.  They were going to turn my grandparents' old bedroom into a large, expanded bathroom.  Grandma was getting well passed the age where getting in and out of the cast iron clawfoot tub in the main bath was easy or safe.  A walk-in shower, complete with a chair, was going to be installed and a door created between what had once been the "rug room" which would now serve as her new bedroom and the new bath suite.

Anyway, as the adventure continued my aunts and uncle discovered that simply knocking a hole through the wall for a door sounded easier than it was going to be.  Why?  Well, my great-grandfather had the foresight to make the house a solid structure.  Solid -- as in 3 layers of bricks for the exterior walls and 2 layers for the inside walls solid.  Yes, this was going to take more than a reciprocating drywall saw and wheelbarrow for the debris.  It was going to require sledgehammers, muscle and possibly explosives.

So, there they were: three middle-aged women and one man going at the wall with an assortment of tools.  It was messy and, at times, hysterically funny. BUT the thing that I remember better than anything was my Auntie "M".  

Auntie M was smack in the middle of the 'Change'.  This meant hot flashes . . . intense hot flashes.  Add to that the summer prairie heat and a house without air conditioning.  One moment she was just standing in the kitchen having a glass of iced tea and the next she had whipped off her top revealing a bra reminescent of Marilyn Monroe or early Madonna (but this was, of course, before Madonna).

She was my mother's younger sister and the undisputed rebel of that generation.  She married for the first time at age 15. . . to a man who would be considered by many of us her love of a lifetime.  Even after they divorced, not too many years after they first married, he continued to visit the 'family'.  I, in fact, remember him stopping by the Big House in the 1990s to visit Auntie M when she was doing her caretaking duties.  It was like watching time wind backward.

Auntie M went on to marry twice more . . . with the last marriage ending in her mid-thirties.  After that she had what I believe was an active social life, but she had decided to pass on those marriage vows again.  I remember her comment to me (when I was nursing my own broken heart at her place when I was 21) about marrige and men.  She said that she much preferred being 'the other woman' because she didn't have to do the man's laundry and when he got on her nerves, she could send him home.  Although I have a different personal view on daliances by married folk, I have to say she had a point.  And it worked for her.

Her last marriage produced her only child, my cousin B.  To say he was the light of her life would be an understatement.  He was more of supernova.  From birth he was larger than life -- with blond hair and dazzling blue eyes that produced more than one crush among my friends when they would visit from California in the summer.  B was the quinessential surfer boy and we had a teasing relationship that grew from the fact we were both doted on by our mothers and, as was often pointed out by family members, spoiled.

Sadly, B developed stomach cancer when we were in our early thirties and passed away at a time when he should have been delighting in his three growing children.  Thanks to Facebook, I see much of him in his daughters and son.  Auntie M, well, I think her spirit only comes along once every few generations.  I don't think the world is quite ready for it again, yet.  But her oldest grandchild is pregnant, so you never know!