Waiting and Watching; Advent 2017

It feels like we’ve been celebrating advent for awhile around here. The waiting part, that is. Susanna has been battling a lung infection for the last two weeks and we’ve all spent many hours rubbing her back, wiping her brow, giving her medicine, serving her orange juice, and waiting, waiting, waiting for her to get better.

A friend stopped by yesterday and when she saw Susie laying on the couch she exclaimed, “I knew something was wrong! I barely recognized her voice on the phone because it sounded so normal!” Instead of the usual fake accent and you’ve-reached-the-pizza-parlour, or some other crazy response, it was only a weak “Hello” that threw our friend off.

Waiting for Susanna to return to her exuberant self is a little like the waiting we do before Christmas. During advent we are waiting for Jesus, waiting for the Light to pierce the darkness, waiting for brokenness to be made whole, waiting for the restoration promised us by a baby born centuries ago. But advent (meaning a coming or approach)  is also about celebrating the arrival; that Divinity, indeed, has already come and is here with us.

I draw up a new chalkboard sign to remind me of all this, but I’m not sure it helps. I’m still trying to figure out presents and am worried I don’t have enough. I stress about coordinating holiday plans and dates and traveling. But I see a glimmer of hope. I don’t worry about the baking (we all know I’ve given up on that one) and I notice things. Like this…

*

I’m washing dishes when I overhear Vivian playing “refugees” for a second time this week. I dry my hands on a towel and walk over to watch her where she can’t see me.

“We have to go. Pack up every-fing” she says herding plastic figurines into a toy van. Ernie, Bert, Polly-Pocket and a pony, or two, are fleeing together. “It’s a new country,” she murmurs to herself and her toys. “You’ll be safe here,” she reassures them.

*

I’ve had a bad day and feel like crying. I call Stan to see when he’ll be home and if I have time to go for a walk. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” he says.  I decide to stay home so we can eat as soon as he arrives. A moment later he calls me back. “Don’t wait,” he says. “Go for a walk now. The sun is setting and you’ll like it.”

*

I take Belén home after a midnight pool party with the youth group. Instead of going straight to bed, we plug in the kettle and brew some tea. She looks at my literary magazine on the table, the one with the weird poetry that neither of us understand, and makes fun of it. Then she tells me about an image from her day that she wishes she could capture.

“Why don’t you write about it in your journal?” I suggest.

“Ugh! No way! That’s too much work. Besides, it’s frustrating. It’s like I’ve got all these words, but when I put them together they don’t hold anything. Like an empty box.”

“Mmm,” I say while sipping my tea, glad she’s not journaling after all. Glad she’s talking to me.

*

The Cree drummer and pow-wow singer invites everyone from the bleachers onto the gymnasium floor. He tells us to hold hands and dance in a circle. Slowly people get out of their seats and reach for other hands. The singer beats his drum and wails his foreign melody while we step in time. I see the Nigerian obstetrician, whose clinic is just down the street, and the Jamaican lady who works at McDonald’s. The politicians, who came to deliver their obligatory speeches, are now holding hands with mothers who have babies on their hips. The Indian dancers, dressed in white turbans and tunics, slide along beside old men with stiff legs and cowboy boots.

*

I’m not sure how, or why, but in these moments I feel Advent. I feel His coming. These random, mostly-normal moments in my mostly-normal week are reminders for me. God is here… in my three-year-old’s empathy, in my husband’s prompt to watch the sunset, in late-night conversations with my teenager, in a round dance, and in the waiting for Susanna to get better.

Let’s keep waiting and watching together.

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Resources: We watched this 2-minute video in church this last week and it got me thinking about advent again. Also, this post by Rachel Held Evans gave me some ideas that we will use this season.

 

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Seeing the Gifts

When I’m around my children all the time it’s hard to see them for who they are. I get so caught up in making them set the table, practise their instruments, harvest tomatoes, stop fighting with Saron, go to bed and get out of bed, that I lose perspective. Even though it’s all unfolding around me–a daily unwrapping of gifts, skills, intuitions and leanings–I’m too busy dealing with the riffraff at the party of our daily life to ooh and aah over any gifts. It takes a certain kind of distance to do this. Just like I can’t tell how my daughter is growing until I drop her off at school and notice the hem of her pants riding at mid-calf, I need to see things from a few metres, or years, away to get the whole picture.

But sometimes, like when I was in the concert theatre last night holding hands with both of them, I notice stuff. I watch Susanna’s eyes shine while she holds them fast on the fiddle-player; I lean over to Belén and we whisper about the show. These kind of moments make up approximately 2.5% of our family life, but they still happen. It all goes on right before my eyes. Amidst all the herding, huffing, feeding, mediating, nagging, and managing that I do, the gifts are being opened steadily and surely. Layer after layer…

This morning I get get up, eat breakfast, dress, and then flop back into bed. I’m moaning about my headache, plugged sinuses and stomach cramps when Belén follows me and sits on the bed beside me. I lay with my socks draped limply over my stomach while we talk about the day ahead. Mid-discussion, Belén reaches for the wool pair I’m clutching and without saying a word, takes them apart. She holds my right foot and slips the heavy sock over my toes then pulls it up so the heel slides into place. We’re talking about what to put in their lunches and the games we planned for youth-group tonight when she starts with my left foot. It is an act of service that almost feels like a foot-washing. I am warmed.

*

“Did you see the email your Susanna sent me?” Rebecca asks. When I tell her I don’t know what she’s talking about she goes on to explain the professional nature of Susanna’s correspondence regarding Saron’s fiddle lessons. As her self-appointed teacher, Susanna is taking Saron’s music education very seriously, developing detailed schedules and curriculum for her young protégé. Part of her motivation is her love of music, but a lot of it has to do with her love of simply making things happen. Anything at all. Whether it’s a show, garage sale, “committee meetings” with family, Christmas-gift shopping 10 months ahead of time, or announcements on our oral hygiene, if it requires CEO material, Susanna’s on it.

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When Belen comes home exhausted from a long day of cross-country, volleyball, guitar practise and baby-sitting (all of this besides school), Susanna dances around and questions her about the details. Her sister is overwhelmed and not in the mood to talk about any of it. Susanna sighs and says, “I wish I could be so busy. I keep trying to fill up my schedule but there’s never enough to do.”

*

It’s 4:30 pm and I am determined Susanna will put in a decent practise instead of flitting room to room with her violin, making up little ditties, as she usually does. She resists, at first, when I set her in front of the sheet music but soon she is playing Ashokan Farewell with the same timing and feeling as the old guy on YouTube. She has figured out most of the song by the time Stan arrives home from his hunting trip. He drops his backpacks and gun to the floor and comes into the kitchen without taking off his muddy boots. I can smell the wood smoke on his fluorescent orange toque and camo sweatshirt as he nears Susanna and me. It’s only been about 15 minutes since she started learning the tune but Stan says, “This is the kind of music that can bring you to tears.” Which is the same thing I was thinking.

*

Belén and I edge to the start line and take off once the clump of runners ahead of us begins to move. This is the first 5k race I’ve run in many years and I’ve practised for months. I tell my daughter, childishly, that she has to stick with me the whole time. She does. Until the very end when she starts to push hard. I push too but my legs don’t seem to work like hers. She sails past, like a horse heading towards the barn. I arrive at the finish line red-faced and unable to talk, hoping I don’t collapse or faint and cause a scene. Belén looks like she’s just getting started.

*

Before I leave all three daughters with my parents for the weekend I take Belén aside and tell her seriously, “I don’t want Grandma to have any extra work with Vivi, okay? You make sure you get her up on Sunday morning, brush her hair, dress her, wipe her face and get her out the door to church. She is entirely your responsibility.”

Belen looks confused during my last-minute pep-talk.

“What?” I ask. Is she overwhelmed by her task? Will she balk at the burden of caring for her younger sister?

“Mom,  I do that every week.”

I’m a bit stunned by the truth of it. I’m not sure whether to feel good (I’ve got such a helpful daughter) or bad (Why can’t I get myself together enough to look after my own children?), but she’s right. She’s always ready first. She gets us out the door, whether it’s packing sand toys for the beach, getting snacks or hauling suitcases to the car.

*

Susanna was born with an itch to move a bow across strings, pound chords on the piano, dance and buy gifts for people. All of this is as effortless for her as it is for Belén to run 5k or braid Vivi’s hair. These gifts aren’t things I’ve taught them. They come free, along with a whole host of other miracles, including cell-division, starting with their stint in amniotic fluid. And although they haven’t worked for these inclinations and talents I hope they work with them to become something deeper and richer. But that is beside the point right now. Right now I’m concentrating on their gifts and what I can see from where I am today. I’m celebrating the seeds, impulses and soul-material that would show up no matter how I raised them.

What are you noticing in your family and friends? Imagine yourself in an entirely different world with those people. Which traits and gifts would show up in the ones you love? I guarantee, if we were living in a garbage dump without money for music lessons, Susanna would still be banging tin cans together. And Belén? She’d be organizing our hut, then getting us out there when the pickin’ was good.

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Susanna; canoe trip 2017

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Belén; canoe trip 2017

Happy belated 13th birthday Belén.

Cheers to your 11th Susanna!

Love Mom

 

Not about lacto-fermented carrots

I’ve read that successful bloggers always have something to offer their readers: a recipe, a bullet-point list on raising children, or step-by-step instructions for homemade deodorant. When I started this blog I anticipated doing the same but I don’t have nearly enough helpful hints as I thought. Take for example, my lacto-fermented carrots. I took pictures while chopping and prepping them, sure the process would be ideal blog material and today, three weeks later, when I should be uploading those photos all I want to write about is the November rain collecting like beads of glass on the plum tree, or the faint smell of smoke on my husband’s neck after he checks his honeybees. My inclination towards the poetic, instead of the practical, is partly due to the way my experiments usually turn out. Out of the six jars of pickled carrots, three are developing a furry cap of blue-green mold (more adventurous fermenters wouldn’t bat an eyelid at a little surface mold but I don’t need to eat carrots that bad). The other three jars turned out perfect, full of crunchy, zingy carrots marinating in probiotic goodness, but a success rate of 50% takes the wind out of my publishing sails. And even if I had loads of fail-proof DIY advice I’m too self-indulgent to dispense it. It’s more fun, and even addictive, to describe than prescribe. To relive a conversation or a scene that touched me, or made me laugh, or for some reason I don’t even understand won’t leave me alone. So today, all I have to offer are my eyes. It’s quite likely you’ll walk away empty-handed and for this I am sorry; you can scroll to the end of the post to find a link on fermenting carrots.

***

The line of vehicles outside my friend’s house surprises me. Could there be that many people here? I see the women through the lit-up kitchen window and her uncles and nephews in the driveway. A few of them are building a hunting blind and others are smoking in the garage. As soon as I step inside I’m offered a chair at the table and a drink. The baseball game plays on TV while one auntie snuggles her nephew in the recliner and another serves up beef on a bun. Grandma sits at the table, listening to her daughters and granddaughters make each other laugh. If a stranger walked in they wouldn’t guess anyone was sick here, but they’d be impressed by how much these people like each other. And they’d be right on the latter account. It reminds me of the velorios, or wakes, in the Bolivian village where I used to live–how the entire community would gather in the house of the bereaved family all night long, visiting, wailing, joking, playing drinking games and eating, but never leaving the family to face the dark alone.

***

The boy from down the street takes off his superhero mask when he comes to our door for treats. I hold Vivi with one arm while I drop chips and chocolate bars into his bag with the other. When they leave, Vivi starts barking (a breathy impression, vaguely reminiscent of the sound dogs make) and I know why. She’s trying to tell her daddy about the boy that just came to the door, the one we’ve seen once or twice with his new puppy.  We clap when we realize her message–she recognized the boy and made the connection! I tell her how smart she is. Stan says, “We’re so happy. You DO have a brain in there!”

One of our favourite things to talk about at the table is Vivian, and the barking incident is perfect content for our meal-time entertainment. The girls love it when I re-enact something that happened during the day and often beg for a re-telling as soon as I’ve finished my story. On Sunday it’s Stan’s turn. He recounts what happened on Saturday night after the girls left their Halloween candy unattended on the couch. How Vivi quietly unwrapped the foil from a ball of chocolate. How she licked her finger after touching the treat tentatively and then investigated further by scratching it with her fingernail, as if she were a scientist. And how she brought this small sample to her mouth for a second taste. While Stan watched from another room he could tell she’d reached the conclusion of her experiment by what came next: a high-pitched “Oooh… ringing with unexpected pleasure. Maybe this is just what babies do when they discover something all on their own, something brown that tastes of milk and sweetness, but we don’t think so. We think it’s another sign of her brilliance.

***

The church is solemn and quiet while the pastor begins the communion service. “It’s a celebration,” he tells us. “Just as Christ wanted his disciples to remember him every time they ate and drank together, we do likewise.”

Then I think the same thing I do every time. Why so little? Did Christ really want us to nibble squares of bread or stale crackers, as if we have appetites of small birds and enjoy awkward parties? Personally, I think Jesus was picturing something more natural, with real food, wine, maybe some music, and good conversation. The guy sitting in the row behind us must be thinking the same thing because he interrupts my thoughts in a loud voice.

“Hey Stan, I saw a documentary on TV this week.”

Maybe the guy isn’t thinking about communion after all.

Stan turns his head half-way around but doesn’t make an audible response. Soft music is playing. People are searching their souls and praying quietly.

“It was about wasps.” The man continues, detailing more fascinating facts.

I doubt anyone within 20 feet of us is praying anymore. They’re thinking about fatal wasp attacks. Stan nods slightly, as if to say I hear you but won’t be adding any more to this conversation. I turn around and see his wife’s sweet, God-bless-you smile shadowed by worry. She leans in on her husband and tries to cue him with her hands but he doesn’t notice. Or if he sees her, he doesn’t care. Her expression turns to a grimace and she whispers urgently. I feel sorry for her and wish I could tell her I don’t see her any differently, no matter how loud her husband’s interruptions, and that it’s too hard for any of us to hinge our identities on our husbands’ behaviour. At last he heeds his wife and quiets down.

Stan doesn’t say anything about it until we get home and he comments, “Well he certainly took the celebration part to heart, he sure seemed relaxed enough.”

***

Stan strums his guitar and shrugs his shoulders up and down to the beat. Belén sings an octave higher than her dad, matching the soul in his voice… I am a poor and wayfaring stranger… She concentrates on her finger, sheathed in a piece of steel conduit custom-made by her dad, skating along the frets while improvising a slide-guitar solo. Her face creases with a frown/smile as she experiments with the syncopated beat and searches for the right notes. The sound is wrong. And wrong again. Then it resolves itself and everything is right, even what I thought was wrong.

***

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after our first snowfall last week…got more today

***

Here’s the lacto-fermented carrot recipe I loosely followed. I added garlic, dill and a grape leaf (the tanins maintain crunch)to each jar. The jars bubbled and got really foamy on the surface for about a week and now they look flat again. I think the bacteria have stabilized and should keep the carrots in good shape in my basement for a while. The taste is what I’d hoped it would be.

Two books, a baptism, dry skies and magic

I got one! I got one! I got another great book! Reading feels a little like fishing sometimes. When you have a keeper on the line you have to shout out to anyone listening. The one I’m reeling in right now is my favourite kind–non-ficiton essays–about writing (or painting or acrobatics or inventing or anything you love to do) and creativity. I didn’t find it on my own though. When my friend Kirsten emailed me from Kenya and told me I had to read Brenda Ueland’s If you Want to Write , I knew I would buy it (which is unusual for me since our library stocks just about anything I want). I told Stan while punching in our credit card number that if “Kirsten says it’s good, it’s good.” I don’t think Solomon wrote anything about this in the book of Proverbs, but it seems to me there should be a maxim about it. Something like: better than rubies or gold to have a friend whose taste in books you trust completely. I’m only on the seventh chapter (I’ve re-read every chapter twice before going on to the next) but what I’ve read makes me smile to myself on the way to the computer, even if I only have ten or fifteen minutes to write. Because she is right; when we write or play ukelele or turn cartwheels or carefully stack tinder before striking a match, we are in the present, creating like we were meant to. And that is worth doing.

We also just read One Came Home aloud together. That is, when we weren’t interrupting each other. We interrupted to predict what might happen next and I, unable to quiet the teacher in me, couldn’t help interrupting to point out how the last sentence was all showing and no telling, or how easily we could picture this or that paragraph. We let the phone ring off the hook while listening to Stan, and by the end the author convinced us enough of her story we all wished we could have been the editors to make it turn out like it was supposed to.

Belén got baptized last Sunday. The dunk-under-the-water, confess-Jesus-as-Lord-and-Saviour kind of baptism. After the opening songs the Pastor got up to announce that the baptismal candidates should meet outside the sanctuary for instructions. I looked around for Belén, remembering she had taken her cousin to the nursery a few moments before. Did she know what she was supposed to do? Where was she?  Just before I went to find her, someone signaled to the Pastor that everyone was ready. Whew. Belén must have found her way there on her own. She knew what she was doing. By the time it was her turn, I had relaxed and watched her read the paragraph she had written explaining how she experienced God and why she was doing what she was doing. While standing up to her thighs in cold water she answered yes to the Pastor’s questions, then plunged into the water, and came back up to the applause of the congregation.

It was only then, her wet hair dripping and shorts stuck to her skinny legs, that I stopped watching what was happening and rushed to the front to meet her. She would be cold and wet! What was I thinking? Other mothers would have been waiting in the wings for their child, ready with open arms to dry them off but I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Instead, at the last minute I rushed to pick up the towel she had left for herself at the side of the stage.

Isn’t it strange how much we influence our children, how important we are as parents, how much they need us, and then also, how independent they are? How other they become, with their own agendas and ideas? When Belén told us she wanted to be baptized, I asked her why and she said, “Because Jesus told us to do it. I read it in the Bible.” Just like that, plain and simple. One minute we’re reading stories to them while they snuggle beside us, the next they’re coming out of a baptismal tank and reaching for their own towel. I managed to pick it up just before she did and we shuffled towards the bathroom together. Me squeezing her arm and saying I love her; she swinging the plastic grocery bag she had stuffed with her freshly-ironed dress.

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Unfortunately we don’t have any good photos of the baptism–just the fun with family afterward.

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with Tim and Kristalyn

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Rain. We need it. The crops need it. While I draft this post clouds are gathering in the West and we keep checking the computer for the forecast, but all we see are little suns lined up for the next seven days. I can water my garden (though it somehow feels like cheating) and it doesn’t matter to me what colour my grass is, but it’s the farmers I’m worried about. Namely, my dad and brothers. It’s hard not to get discouraged thinking about their seedlings trying to suck moisture out of dust.

And then there’s this kind of optimism… Susanna always wants to sell something. Whether it’s baking or household items, or this most recent attempt–magic tricks. She made posters (Magic Tricks! 25 cents! Workshop included!), gathered her supplies, posted the signs at our nearest intersection, and waited in the front yard expectantly. Nothing happened. While she propped up her poster against the stop sign I saw a car full of teenagers nod in her direction and laugh. That was the biggest response she got all afternoon. No one stopped or wanted to learn her magic. Well, except Vivian. But she’s a pretty captive audience, especially when Susanna has a mind to hold her.

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Thanks for sticking around and reading these sporadic posts–it’s more fun to write if I know someone will read them:)

Tricia

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Seven Good Things

It’s Sunday afternoon and I decide to go for a walk. All by myself. While the rest of my family plays a board game. I know, crazy isn’t it–going off on my own instead of spending quality time with my husband and children? But it gets worse (or better, depending on your point of view). I head to 7-11 and attempt to purchase a few chocolate bars before realizing I’d scooped up Mexican pesos from our change box. Because I don’t have enough Canadian currency for all the bars, I buy only one. The one I like best. On my way home I nibble slowly, face towards the sun, crunching on peanuts and sucking on caramel. I walk back and forth on my own block just so I can finish it before reaching home to dispose of the evidence. While the wrapper floats to the bottom of our garbage bin I slip in the back door and try to keep from smiling suspiciously.

***

The woman ahead of me in line watches while I nose my full cart into the cashier’s lane. It doesn’t take long before she meets my eye and launches into conversation.

“Did you hear about the baby that almost drowned? It was a car crash and the mother died but they found the baby, still strapped into its seat.”

I told her I hadn’t heard the story until now. Then she added, “It was alive,” as an afterthought. “How old is your baby?”

“Seven months.”

“Mmm… babies. So many things to worry about. Terrible things. The accidents that could happen… And then, when they get bigger–”

I’m not sure I want to hear more but I say, “It must get even harder as they get older.” I sense she’s just trying to make conversation, even though she sounds like a church bell ringing the death toll, because people do that. We say weird things, even offensive things, just because we’re clumsy at connecting.

Then the man in front of her jumps in and the next moment we’re not talking about tragedy anymore, but curling. The cashier gives her opinion on the Brier and the conversation veers again while the gentleman tells us exactly what he thinks about “those Albertans.” By the time I have my bags packed I feel like I’ve been at a local coffee shop. In the parking lot I see the man who was ahead of me in line and he waves and nods. Friendly places are like this, I think, where goodbyes are needed after standing in line with strangers at the grocery store.

***

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***

The meeting is getting long and there are no windows in the room. I’m wondering if the sun will still be shining by the time we leave when a man gets up to speak. At first I lean forward to pay attention and then I realize he’s not like “us”. Not normal. I try to appear engaged but inwardly I lose interest. His gestures are getting bigger now and he’s repeating his spiel for the fourth time. I look around the room and see some smiling patronizingly; others are starting to fidget. How long will they let this guy keep going? Who has the nerve to interrupt him? His words tumble out fast, like a train building momentum–unable to stop itself even if it wanted to. Then someone else clears his throat and without pausing starts speaking over the first guy. Immediately I feel uncomfortable, dreading the public awkwardness sure to follow. But it doesn’t. The new speaker directs his words to the one he just interrupted and they come like a long, cold drink of water. What you are saying is important. I understand you. We appreciate hearing this. Thank you for sharing. Everyone relaxes. Then we are clapping. A bit of grace.

***

These books:

  1. The Story-If you think the Bible is just for little girls in pretty dresses to carry under their arm on their way to Sunday School, read this. It’s all about bloodbaths, cowardly men and woman, feuding tribes, supernatural powers, and the ancient culture that still informs the lives of millions of us today. As I’ve read I’ve laughed aloud, cringed, and most of all, wanted to know more. Was Ruth’s heart pounding when she sneaked in to wake Boaz on the threshing floor? What exactly was Saul thinking while he cowered in the supplies closet to hide from those who wanted to crown him as king?
  2. Animal Dialogues-Beautiful essays that will make you want to trek in the wilderness for days on end.
  3. Bread of Angels-More Christian stuff that’s well-written enough you might enjoy it even if you’re not Christian. I’m reading it slowly, hoping I don’t reach the end of the book.

***

Before the girls leave for school they get the birthday chair ready for their dad. Presents are wrapped, balloons inflated, and seats are lined up so the audience can watch Stan’s expression as he opens each gift. He does not disappoint. The mushroom farm elicits smiles and curiosity; the pair of chopsticks, a bear hug; the four Coffee Crisps, many lavish thank-yous. It was just what they hoped for.

***

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A pleasant moment during a photo session in which I managed to bring at least two of my children to tears.

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Be well,

Tricia

 

One Little Vanilla Pudding; another way to look at sibling rivalry

I can hear their voices jabbing each other even though I’m at the other end of the house. Without looking into the kitchen, I picture the scene: one of them is standing on the counter, reaching into the highest shelf where we keep our snacks and processed lunch foods, swiping the last vanilla pudding. The other sister is dancing around the stool that has been pushed up to the counter, clutching her empty lunch kit and claiming the last pudding for herself. Of course there are granola bars, yogurt, crackers, apples, carrot sticks, sunflower seeds, oranges, and cheese available but that is irrelevant now. Now that everyone knows there’s only one pudding left. Now that there’s something to fight over.

Their arguing crescendos while I hunker over Vivi’s change table and decide to stay put. The lamplight throws soft shadows on her nursery walls while she sucks on her toes. I take my time, rubbing calendula salve on her bum cheeks then packaging them up in a diaper, and tickling her under her neck. No way do I want to leave my sanctuary and head out into the war zone now. Unfortunately, my daughters don’t wait; they bring the battlefront to me instead. I hear them come closer: stomp, stomp, stomp down the hall way. Loud shrieks. Names growled in exasperation. Su-S-A-A-A-N-na. Buh-L-É-É-É-n. Keeping my hands on Vivian, I balance on one foot and lean to shut the door with the other. It doesn’t help. In the next second they’re in the room, tripping over themselves and their words.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, NO,” I interrupt the onslaught of accusations. “I don’t want to hear it–”

“Butit’snotfairBeléntookthelastpuddingandIdon’tget–”

That Susanna. She’s good at getting the last word (or many words) in and interrupting. Almost as good as me.

“Get out of the room and work this out in the kitchen. By the time I come out I don’t want to hear one word. Not one! You can figure this out yourselves.”

And I mean it. I mean, I sound like I mean it but I’m not sure. Can they figure it out themselves? Are they able to? You might think it’s nothing; two sweet girls and one little vanilla pudding. What’s the big deal? Well it turns out that two sweet girls and one little vanilla pudding are a combustible combination. Explosive, actually, according to all the “YOU NEVERs” and “I ALWAYS” crackling in the air. I figure I may as well pretend to have confidence in them even if I’m doubtful. One of my favourite techniques is the ignore-it-til-it-goes-away approach. I could try to pass this off as parenting tool, but it’s more of an exhausted surrender. And quite honestly, I’m tired of channeling Marshall Rosenberg. Tired of posing questions like How are you feeling right now? Have you told your sister what you need? and trying to be a professional mediator. I reach over, shutting the door with my foot, again, and their voices recede to a background static.

Over the last few days we’ve been watching Twelve Angry Men. It’s an old black-and-white movie with lots of talking, no action, no ice castles or princesses, and no interesting scenery. In fact, the script is played out in a single room while twelve jurors argue around a table for the entire movie. Astonishingly, the girls love it–they even ask us to pause it when they have to go to the bathroom. At first I wondered if this was downright weird. Which kids are interested in watching somewhat incomprehensible dialogue between Henry Fonda and other, now long-dead, actors? Then I thought about their lives and the amount of time they spend convincing, accusing, complaining, and provoking each other. Perhaps they loved the film because they could relate so well. Or maybe because at the end of the story, all that fighting and arguing saves the day, or more specifically, saves somebody’s life.

It’s probably a stretch to draw a connection between the movie and our lives to redeem our own domestic conflicts. Mostly, I can’t foresee anything worthwhile resulting from all the nattering, much less anyone’s life being saved. And the main reason the girls (and their parents) argue is because it’s not easy to accommodate someone else’s ideas and egos when we’ve all got our own to nurse. But maybe a teeny, tiny part of their need to argue is wired in them for a purpose. To figure out how to negotiate, to persuade, to feel the resistance of another’s point of view–like a tiger cub wrestling with their sibling–and learn how far to take the fight. Just like play is actually a survival tool for children– necessary for brain growth and development, maybe so too is fighting. Could it be impossible to keep my daughters from arguing precisely because they need to build those skills?

About ten minutes after the shouting peaks during the pudding incident, Susanna unzips her backpack. She takes out her lunch kit and opens it up. There, in her lunch kit, sits an untouched pudding. A vanilla pudding. Just like the one they were fighting over.  Belén looks incredulous.

Susanna glances down and says, “Oh, that’s left over from yesterday. I don’t even like pudding.” As if that should explain it.

Belén looks even more incredulous.

Then Susanna adds quickly, “Oh, let’s not talk about that, I’m feeling jolly right now! Don’t even worry about it.”

Don’t even worry about it? Feeling jolly? Really? That’s it? That’s what a morning’s worth of conflict and angst boils down to? It’s so incredible I almost start another round of family fireworks. But I don’t. We’ve had enough of a show, and more than our share of skill-building, this morning.

 

 

Slippery Elm Lozenges and a Winter Holiday

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When I’m feeling healthy I don’t think about swallowing. I just do it. There, I did it again–without thinking or wincing. Isn’t it amazing how we appreciate even the simplest functions when our body isn’t working the way we are used to? When I have a cold, and daggers line my throat, I wonder how I could ever take good health for granted. Then I get better and forget all about it. Until the next virus shows up–when I’ll search my site to find this recipe again. These homemade cough drops soothe the throat, don’t contain refined sugars* or artificial colourings* like commercial lozenges, and are easy to make.

Recipe for Herbal Lozenges

1/2 cup slippery elm bark powder (mucilaginous herb useful for treating inflammations)
1 tablespoon cinnamon (an antibacterial and antiviral)
1/2 cup licorice root tea (treats sore throat and cough)
4 tablespoons of honey (for flavour and antibacterial qualities)

Boil water, brew licorice tea, and sweeten it with honey. (This tea is extremely sweet–be sure to taste a drop before you add it to see for yourself.) Mix with elm powder and cinnamon and shape into little balls. Keep some powder aside to help roll the dough (dip the balls in it while you are forming them) as it will be sticky. Place lozenges on a cookie sheet and leave to dry. You can dehydrate these or place in a warm oven to speed up the process. When they are dry they will not be as hard as conventional cough drops but they last just as long in the mouth.

Belén and I love the way these taste and eat them like candy. Susanna, on the other hand, won’t touch them. When I offered some of my last batch to Stan he responded with, “Do I have to?” I kind of don’t blame him, they look a lot like deer droppings. But they seem to help and that’s good enough for me.

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*Disclosure: I avoid all artificial colours and sugar unless they happen to be in Skittles, or anything else I want to eat. I’m also the kind of person who drinks my kombucha with hotdogs and potato chips. Just so you know.

***

We’re at the fiddle contest and I’m trying to jiggle Vivian to sleep at the back of the hall, when I spot two other little girls heading for the water fountain. Arms linked and tripping over each other’s winter boots they whisper and giggle, the way most nine-year-olds do. Except they’re doing it in French. Later when Belén and I are waltzing in the swirling crowd of dancers she hears it too. Young people, middle-aged people, and old people, all speaking the language of instruction at her school. And they’re doing it voluntarily. On the drive home from Winnipeg I ask the girls if they noticed it.

“Yes,” Belén says, “And I kept wondering why they were doing it when nobody was making them speak French.”

Which is one of the reasons we like to go to the Festival du Voyageur; so our girls can hear people singing, dancing, partying, and joking in French–a language they associate with math and science, teachers and textbooks. This time we went with my parents and made a little vacation of it, skating on the river, going to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, staying in a hotel and eating out.

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At the Museum for Human Rights. I love this picture of my dad and Vivian. My mom is to the right of my dad.

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Our favourite group at the festival–Bon Débarras

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I got them to look at me for the photo but they mostly entranced by the step-dancing on stage.

My parents at one of the Festival snow sculptures

The sky darkens and our bodies are starting to ache from the cold when the next singer comes on stage. She strums a few chords then yells out to the crowd, “If I were you, I’d have stayed home tonight!” The tents are warmed with huge propane heaters but we can still see our breath and can’t shake the chill of spending the day outside. A few more notes ring out from her guitar. “But I had to come because I’m playing!” The crowd laughs and claps with mittened hands. Soon we’ll go back to the hotel where I’ll run the hottest bath I can handle, the older girls will run back and forth between Grandma and Grandpa’s room and ours, Vivian will finally be able to nurse without distraction, and Stan can kick off his boots after accomplishing another day’s holiday. Which is a bit what it feels like as we get used to traveling with an infant again. She’s been mostly content but it’s not like we haven’t noticed her, and that’s good, but still harder. In Vivian’s defense, she hasn’t had much time to be a baby; like lollygag in her playpen or suckle in a quiet corner. There is too much at the museum to see, maple syrup taffy to taste, and too many miles to skate.

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My parents with B and S behind

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Skating on miles of river trails. They had wooden chairs outfitted with skis to give people a break:)

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Vivian is under that pile of plastic and blankets in the stroller.

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 Stay warm,

Tricia