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

 

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Unwrapping

You’d think by now I would know my own family. Some of us have been together for 14 years (our wedding anniversary is today) and we’ve spent countless hours talking, working, laughing, fighting, observing, and sharing the same space. But despite the time we’ve logged together, I’m still surprised by them. Still discovering who each one is. Still trying to figure them out. Every day, if I’m paying attention, I find more clues as to who these people are, their gifts, what makes them tick, and who I’ll want to live with when I’m an old woman.

Belén and Susanna were designing their dream homes the other day when each tried to convince me to live with them. Belén showed me her piece of paper and told Susanna confidently, “Mom will like my place. She’s more like me. See? All I want is a tiny cabin with no electricity and a garden.”

“But Mom,” Susanna interrupted her. “I don’t want that much either. Just a five-story house–you’ll live on the top floor!–with servants, a pond, and a Ferris wheel. In New York City.”

Sometimes it reminds me of the shower game where you pass around a present, unwrapping it until the music stops. Living with other people is like peeling off layers of paper; each interaction a chance to get closer to what’s inside. Raising children is one of the quickest ways to strip your spouse and exposes things we might never see otherwise. With our third child, I’m seeing a different side of Stan. It was there all along, but it took Vivian to help me see it.

Not long ago we were at church and I decided to leave Vivi in the nursery so I could go back to the service. While I slipped into the seat beside Stan he mouthed, ” Where’s Vivi?” I whispered back, feeling proud of myself. Training our older daughters to stay somewhere without us had been such a trial, an epic journey wrought with comparisons (how do other parents do it?) and worry that we pushed through. Now, I thought, he would be pleased I was launching her towards independence, but his look was more questioning than congratulatory.

About ten minutes later I was called back to the nursery. Vivian was a mess. Her face was wet and swollen and she looked like they’d left her out in a violent rain storm. Her body shuddered with each ragged breath while the young volunteer explained how they couldn’t do anything to calm her. On the way home, I told this to the rest of the family and Stan surprised me with his response. “She shouldn’t have to stay with anyone else if she doesn’t want to. Why would we take her to the nursery if we can hold her? There’s no need for it.” After pulling our car into the driveway he got out quickly, making sure he was the one who got to unbuckle Vivi and take her out of her car seat. Making sure she knew he was her rescuer. Then he nuzzled her neck all the way to the backdoor. Another layer pulled back.

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And then there are some things that never change. We took Susanna to an orthodontist recently and afterward, while thinking about all the work that needs to be done and the resulting bills, I tried to look on the bright side.

“Imagine if we were living in a garbage dump with no opportunities?” I said. “No doctors? Or dentists? You’d be stuck with your teeth problems for the rest of your life.”

To which Stan replied immediately, “Well, now. That’s not necessarily true.” Then he said without a shred of doubt, “I would do it. I would fix her teeth.” And of course I know he’s right. I can picture him now, scavenging recycled metal and rubber to wire up our daughter’s mouth.

But he’s more than just our back-up dental plan; our family would be less, and certainly do less, without him. My daughters wouldn’t be running drills or jig saws, wouldn’t be veteran back-country campers, wouldn’t be talking about Gregor Mendel’s plant experiments, simple machines, how glass fares better under compression then tension, or, should they ever be in a pinch, how they might repair their boat with spruce pitch and bear fat. This isn’t to say they’re his little protégés, that they’re always enthused, or even listening to him, but that he makes them–and us–who we are. And I’m so glad I get to keep on finding out what that means.

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Looking for newborn calves at Michelle and Kevin’s

Happy Father’s Day everyone. Keep on unwrapping while the music is still going!

Tricia

Different

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Lamb’s quarters

If you have jumpy little black bugs in your garden, and if the arugula you planted has holes in it one day, is shriveled the next, and totally gone the third day, you might have flea beetles. I love arugula, especially with feta cheese, toasted pecans and cranberries, so I plant it every year. This year I planted it twice–both times the seedlings succumbed to flea beetles resulting in my sixth consecutive arugula crop failure. Which of course doesn’t matter one whit when I consider real crop failure and livelihoods on the line, but in my little world it is something to take note of. Don’t plant arugula…will not survive flea beetle.

Besides the arugula fiasco, I’ve taken note of something else. Just about the same time my second planting of arugula went down, lamb’s quarters started elbowing out the Orca beans. I always have these weeds in my garden, and I often munch on them before pulling them, but today I had an idea. Why don’t I let a few of these silver-powdered plants reach maturity, harvest their seed, and dedicate a whole plot to them next season? It’s a nutritional powerhouse, doesn’t cower to the flea beetle, and best of all, grows like a weed!

Once upon a time, lamb’s quarters greens received more respect. Their ancient name was “all good,” and all good they are. They contain more iron and protein than raw cabbage or spinach, more calcium and vitamin B1 than raw cabbage, and more vitamin B2 than cabbage or spinach.  According to Joan Richardson’s Wild Edible Plants of New England, lamb’s quarters “even outclasses spinach as a storehouse of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C, and great amounts of vitamin A, not to mention all the minerals pulled out of the earth by its strong taproot.” (from Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association)

What makes arugula so much better than lamb’s quarters anyway? I did a taste test with the greens I harvested from my garden today (butter crunch lettuce, red leaf lettuce, spinach, and lamb’s quarters) and enjoyed the young lamb’s quarters as much as the rest, if not more. The nutty flavour is not as bitter as the lettuce and will go fine with pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve read the seeds are also edible and can be ground into flour or cooked whole (like quinoa), but will update you further when I have some more first-hand information!

***

Our annual skip-school day is a sacred tradition the girls talk about months beforehand. This year I send them ahead with Shelly while I stay home for Vivian’s first nap, hoping she will be well-rested and ready for the dunes just like her big sisters. While she sleeps, I ready the back-pack carrier and envision walking for miles along the shore, like always. I grab wieners and anticipate roasting a perfectly salty hot dog. Like always. I fold my towel and look forward to laying in the sun, water evaporating off my freshly cooled skin. Like always.

When we arrive at the dunes the sun is high. It’s just past noon and Vivian is starting to get hungry. Should I feed her now or put sunscreen on her or try to build a lean-to shelter for shade? I set her down to look for baby food–which I forgot to bring, while she cries and eats sand. There are tent caterpillars everywhere; on our blankets, our water bottles, our sandals, and our legs. I flick one out of Vivi’s hand and try to cover her up from the sun with my long-sleeve cotton shirt. It doesn’t work. She crawls forward and bungles her knees in the fabric, the sun beats hard, and I’m wondering if it’s okay for her to eat chips all day. I’m also wondering how long we can last.

This isn’t like I planned and doesn’t match my memories of visiting with the other moms, laughing while kids vault off sandy cliffs, and joking with them about what “all the children in school are doing”. I haven’t taken one picture of the girls jumping off the dunes or heard any of the conversation around me, much less contributed to it. I am too worried about Vivi, the worms, the wind, getting her to sleep again and why this feels so different than last year. After nursing her awhile with her fleshy white legs jutting out from my sweaty belly, I know we need shade. I walk down the beach while the wind pushes hard against me and dig my heels into the sand. Towel whipping in the wind and cooler tugging on my shoulder, I yell back to my mom trudging behind, “The ambiance isn’t quite like I’d hoped!”

It’s true, the ambiance is different with a ten-month-old. My mom and I whisper about it while Vivi snoozes on the blanket beside us; how this summer will be hard and so will the next, and then maybe, by the time she’s three, things will go back to normal. How relaxing at the beach really means multitasking: conversations that ebb and flow while chasing a little one, filling up buckets of sand, monitoring liquid intake and readjusting sun hats.

When I worked as a liaison with high school exchange students, their orientation manual included a section on making judgements and how things don’t have to be “better” or “worse”.  Sometimes they are just different. Now, like the exchange students, I am learning about my new landscape; calibrating expectations so my internal gauge reads different instead of worse. Instead of leisurely roasting my own hotdog like I imagined, I go without until Belén finds us in our new spot. She comes back shortly, kicking up sand and running with a sizzling wiener at the end of her stick, cooked just for me. Later, Susanna and I count to three and dive under the water. It feels like freedom and I manage a few strokes before my Vivi radar turns on. I look back to see her with my mom at the water’s edge. They are just fine.

Back on shore, the day stretches into its finest hours–the wind dies down and the sunshine sweetens into a gentle heat. Belén is dangling her feet from the dinghy and Ainsly floats beside while they make up terrible jokes in a secret language. Susanna is throwing a football with Jack, and Shelly sits nearby in the sun. I watch water droplets disappear from her tanned shoulders, instead of my own, while sitting with Vivi under the shade of a poplar. Vivian is bare-bummed (sure to pee any minute), her mouth is mustached with grit, and I just gave her another potato chip, but she is quiet. Perfectly still. This is when I decide we can stay just a few minutes longer. Everything is going to be okay.

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My mom and Vivian

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Tricia

PS. Here’s a quote I forgot to add to my last post. It’s one of many I highlighted in Ueland’s book:

“Art is infection. The artist has a feeling and he expresses it and at once this feeling infects other people and they have it too. When I read this in Tolstoy it seemed like a great flashing discovery. But perhaps I would not have been so struck by it if it had not been for my class. I saw in their writing how whenever a sentence came from the true self and was felt, it was good, alive, it infected one no matter what the words were, no matter how ungrammatical or badly arranged they were. But when the sentence was not felt by the writer, it was dead. No infection.”

 

 

Poetry and Sauerkraut

Have I mentioned our library before?

Oh.

Well please humour me some more then.

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They advertised a book spine poetry contest which we eagerly participated in and then promptly missed the submission date. The girls were awfully proud of their free verse creations but didn’t seem too upset when I told them I’d forgotten to send them in. But that’s how it is with writing. The thrill is in the doing or just finished doing, not what might come next. Then again, I’m not a very reliable source; I’ve never won any literary accolades so I’m only supposing how unfulfilling it all might be. 🙂 Belén composed two of these and Susanna the other. Can you guess who wrote what?

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On the home front, we’ve settled into a comfortable routine this fall. With only one music lesson to get to each week there isn’t a lot of running around. My days, too, are simplified. I’ve decided to pass on all the baby enrichment activities–baby yoga, baby music, baby swim classes, etc.–and keep my schedule open. I’ve been surprised how each day passes quickly, often with an impromptu visit or walk with a friend, and it’s reminded me how doing less can lead to more. When people ask me when I’m available I get to say, “Now. And anytime after that”. It’s really quite nice having no life.

Another reason we’re opting out of music classes is that Vivian seems to get enough of it at home. She is Belén and Susanna’s fan base. (You add the word “base” to fan and it doesn’t sound so singular–a lesson learned from The Flight of the Conchords). Of course, now they not only fight about where each gets to practise, but who gets Vivi during practise time. Today I divided her attention between the two; fifteen minutes of Vivi salivating, gurgling, and grinning along with Belen’s finger-picking, then fifteen minutes of her staring up at Susanna’s flashing bow. Everyone was happy.

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This morning a stranger peered into my stroller and asked me kindly if she was a “good” baby. Years ago when I was up to my neck in parenting books, I read that every baby is good, only some are more spirited and sensitive than others. This comforted me a little, I knew my babies weren’t bad just because of their nocturnal screaming habits, but it still wasn’t easy. In fact, sometimes I felt like there was nothing “good” about babies at all. This time around it feels different. It makes me wonder if we should invent a larger vocabulary for motherhood, like the Inuit and all their words for snow. What I call being a mom, and your experience of it, may be the difference between wet slush and dry flakes.

By now I’ve stopped waking up to check on Vivi at night and only thank her, God, and my lucky stars that she seems to like uninterrupted sleep as much as I do. I never had a chance to worry about SIDS with my other girls, or check if they were still breathing, because they were always awake. By the time they would finally stop crying I’d be practically unconscious. But this one? She sleeps. And guess what? I’m doing it all wrong! I don’t care how many times I feed her, when I feed her, or what side I feed her on. I don’t care when she sleeps or if she does it on her back or side or belly. (See, I told you I’m doing it all wrong.) But… she is a stinkin’ good baby. I tell you this just in case you are like I was ten years ago, heavy-lidded and nearly hopeless. If you are wondering what you’re doing wrong, I can’t say for sure, but I bet it’s nothing. Babies are different and they call for different measures. I’m doing the same “wrong” things I did a decade ago that made me think I was incompetent, only now they make me feel like a pro. What works for one kid will fail with another. Amazing isn’t it? How we as a society, and even individuals like myself, have a hard time grasping that one.

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By now you must be itching to get to the sauerkraut part of the post. Well, you’ve arrived. Though it’s the first stop on most people’s journey with ferments, I had never tried sauerkraut, until now. A jar-full of cabbage always seemed far less interesting than, say, fermented salsa or even yoghurt, but my prerequisites have changed. Easy is more important than interesting these days and sauerkraut definitely fits the bill. In fact, I’ve thrown out my kefir crystals, dumped my kombucha, misplaced my buttermilk cultures, and retired my sourdough. You do what you gotta do. I probably wouldn’t have started with sauerkraut except that Stan is in charge of the groceries now and he keeps buying cabbage after cabbage. What’s a woman to do with it all? Leave it on her counter, of course. Whew. Crisis averted with a little chopping, salt and patience. It’s that easy.

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The sauerkraut was ready last night. It took two weeks on our counter to get there. My sister says it takes only 4 days at her house, so if you try this keep tasting and testing as you go.

Have a great weekend,

Tricia

Ps. Thanking you for reading my lament in the last post, for commenting, and praying. My friend, Shelly, amazes me; in the midst of everything she invites us over to carve pumpkins and roasts the seeds while hooking up the feeding tube, she never forgets to ask me how we’re doing, and still manages to make every conversation funnier when she’s a part of it. If they cross your mind, please continue to pray.

 

Dear Mommies

Dear mommies,

Not long ago I was sitting in a room full of you when I started to get worried. We were watching babies struggle through tummy time like little miniature beached seals, talking about new teeth, sleepless nights and rice cereal. You all seemed kind and friendly but I felt vaguely trapped, as if in a small room that was slowly collapsing. I racked my brain looking for a window to afford me an expansive view–a glimpse of your passions, opinions, and ideas–but nothing worked. Despite asking several questions, each potential conversation promptly derailed itself. One infant started crying, another spit up, and then a two-year-old sibling rolled a ball my way, babbling something I interpreted as an invitation to play. That’s when I gave up, rolled the ball back to my incoherent little partner, and began to tremble at what’s ahead.

The fear is mixed with curiosity and a measure of arrogance. Having birthed my last baby almost 8 years ago I wonder if I was ever like you. Did I engage in discussion that didn’t address bowel movements or baby food? How long could I attend to an adult conversation before unclipping my nursing bra or making faces at my toddler? And, will it be the same this time around? Will the world of babies consume enough of me I won’t remember what I used to talk about before the birth of my third child? I ask these questions well aware I may be eating my words in a couple months; that sleep issues might eclipse subjects like good books, relationships, plants, the supernatural, long-term goals, and teaching, or anything else requiring more than a 2-minute attention span.

But I’m still comfortable in the saddle of my high-horse for now. It feels good to imagine myself as more interesting, more evolved, and beyond something–even if it’s just one of many parenting phases. I could stay up here for awhile and enjoy a long canter except for one thing: what you mommies are doing makes all the difference in the world. Your small talk and single-mindedness matter.

When I see children who don’t have enough words to function in a classroom or communicate basic concepts I’m reminded of you. When you talk to your kids in that grating monologue voice (why is it always so loud?) at the grocery story, telling them you want more bananas, or a bigger watermelon, or the bagel beside the cookies, they are learning. When I hear children–children much older than yours–unravel with fury, sobbing or screaming and unable to cope with even the smallest reversal, I think of you. Shielding myself, especially my swollen belly, from their unpredictable limbs makes me wonder about the scenes of rage they’ve witnessed or endured themselves. Remember this. When your little ones won’t stop crying and frustration crawls through your body like a trail of biting ants, your children are learning to deal with anger. When you yell in their cherub faces to GO TO BED and then apologize later, kissing their sweaty foreheads, they are learning how to say sorry. When you face disappointment and they watch your face crease with stress before you remember to breathe, they are apprentices in the school of resilience.

And so dear mommies, don’t stop, no matter how boring you might be. Please don’t stop. I can listen to another poopy story. Or feign interest in how much your child eats or weighs or pukes or cries or sleeps. Your devotion matters even if it costs you a few years of stimulating conversation. I am grateful for your keen intuition and instincts, the sacrifices you make, your unwavering focus, and the tight grip on the task you hold in your hands. Your commitment to a few little bodies makes this planet more liveable. You are growing people, not wild animals; in these few short years your children are discovering empathy, kindness, self-control and what it means to be human. And that’s worth it for all of us.

Tricia

 

 

Flawed, But Worth Keeping

“Da-a-a-a-d,” she yells from her bed. At this time of night it’s always something urgent: they can’t go to sleep, they need to pee, they forgot about their homework, or something equally distressing. Tonight’s emergency is her Strawberry Shortcake doll.

“She’s broken. Her legs are all ripped apart and her bum is cracked. Can you fix her?”

Stan is handy. Stan is resourceful. Stan is mechanical. Stan also hates Strawberry Shortcake. I think his disgust has less to do with the star of Berry Bitty City than it does her origin. Any mass-produced, petroleum-based toy promoted by armies of marketing professionals tends to have this effect on him.

He emerges from the girls’ room muttering, “Where is this Strawberry Shortcake?” By his tone,you might think he’s looking for a rat.

I point to its dismembered body lying in the corner of the living room and assume he’ll throw it in the trash. I’d warned the girls earlier that Daddy probably wouldn’t fix the doll, explaining that some things are just beyond repair, but minutes later I hear Stan humming through the floorboards. I can tell he’s in his basement workshop and I’m curious about what he’s doing. Could he be tending to Strawberry?

I go downstairs and see him turning a tiny piece of steel on his metal lathe.

“It’ll be a double hip replacement,” he says with satisfaction.

I take in the full scene as Stan details the necessary surgery: Strawberry’s remains scattered on his workbench amongst tools, screws and safety goggles; the bare light bulb hanging from the rafters throwing a shadow of his tall figure onto the cluttered floor. Then I picture him as his pre-parent self, looking into the future and watching with horror as he sees himself nursing a plastic doll back to health with power tools. Perhaps, along with the horror, is an element of fascination while the 30-year-old contemplates his certain evolution brought on by fatherhood. Because, while this whole episode can be partly explained by his innate drive to fix things, most of his new-found intimacy with Strawberry Shortcake hinges on one factor… his daughter.

And in the morning, when this same daughter wakes up and sees Strawberry’s legs rotating on an elegant piece of shiny steel, she’ll know her Daddy can do just about anything. Which is partially true; he’ll do just about anything for her.

Now Reader, at this point you may be bursting with pride (if you’re my mother-in-law) or more likely, gagging on all this sentimentality, but don’t worry–things are about to get real. Even though everything in the previous paragraphs is true, it isn’t entirely representative of our co-parenting relationship. I’m often critical of my husband’s ways with my children instead of being complimentary. Of all the things we disagree on, parenting has to be near the top of the list, which is unfortunate, because we spend a lot of time parenting, and when I could be celebrating his virtues; the energy he spends explaining how the world works, how he prioritizes family time, they way he comforts them when they get hurt, I rail against his flaws.

The next day I ask Stan how Strawberry is recuperating. (I’d gone to bed before he was finished with the fix.)

“Well, it appears there are some complications with the hip replacement. I put too much resin in when I attached her legs and the don’t work like they used to–she’s suffering from loss of mobility.”

I’m sure the girls won’t mind the error, they’ll just be happy to have her back. After all, her hair is still lustrous, her monstrous head expressive and wide-eyed as ever, and her fragrance as sweet and synthetic as always, so why focus on some stiff legs? She’s more believable if she’s less than perfect, and even with her flaws she’s still worth keeping. Kind of like Stan.

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Notice the spine graft protruding from the artificial hips.

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Bench vise traction

Sincerely,

T

Christmas Tree Hunt

My girls are draped over the back of our comfy chair, staring out the window at the lit-up Christmas tree inside our neighbour’s living room. I am standing back to admire our own tree, alone. “What do you think? Isn’t it pretty in it’s own way? I love the berries, don’t you?”

Without shifting their longing gaze, one of them replies, “It’s just a bunch of sticks, Mom.”

Stan comes quickly to my defense. “Do you know how much you’d pay for this at Bed, Bath and Beyond, kids? Big bucks… real big bucks.”

This piques their interest a little and Susanna turns around. “Really?” she asks.

“Absolutely,” my dear, faithful husband replies.

Belén remains unmoved. “It’s dead,” she says. “Isn’t that the whole point of a Christmas tree–that it’s alive and green?”

The branches aren’t dead–dormant would be a better descriptor–but they certainly aren’t green or flush with pine needles. Instead, our Christmas tree this year is a floor-to-ceiling bouquet of red willow branches, cut from a ditch outside of town. I grew up Christmas-tree hunting and want to carry on that tradition… only we’re adapting it a little. In a place where saplings and young spruce aren’t as easy to find (or legal to chop down), I figure red willow is the next best solution; artificial trees aren’t an option, and store-bought pines trucked in from farms seem a little too perfect. I’m used to “bush trees” with uneven branches–it’s the spaces between that make them beautiful–so a willow-tree is a logical leap.

It’s not the first time we’ve done this, but the girls are suddenly much more opinionated this year. Maybe because they’re older. Maybe because hundreds of years of tradition are hard to compete with. I get that. But I’m also not ready to give in. “This is an exercise in seeing something old in a new way,” I say. “Trust me.”

Stan, knowing their trust might need a little scaffolding, adds confidently, “Don’t kid yourself. Your mama knows what she’s doing!”

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Gathering the raw material

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we convinced them to leave their snow blocks behind

A few days earlier I’d collected a bowlful of mountain ash berries. My mom and Belén helped me string them…

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mountain ash berries waiting to be hung as a garland

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The tree, all decorated. We’ve added a few more homemade decorations since this photo, but not much.

It would be inspiring if I could end this little vignette with some resolution. Like, my children came around and now embrace our unique tree and the entire concept of change. The are eternally committed to flexibility and adaptation. In reality, Susanna is convinced we’re the laughing stock of the town and Belén is already looking forward to next Christmas (I promised we could alternate years between willow and evergreen.) Despite Stan’s loyal support and encouragement our team remains divided, but that’s okay. It is just a Christmas tree after all.

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Which traditions are you willing to tinker with? We’ll be back to the ol’ pine tree next year so I’ll need some new ideas to play with…

Have a lovely weekend,
Tricia