…And then some things never change

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I will always be a mother. Even when we’re out of pink rubber boots and sparkles. Even when my kids are 43 and 51 and 53.

Stan heard this song on the radio, on his way home from work, and made the girls listen to it. They learned it a couple days before Mother’s day, and instead of breakfast-in-bed they sang it while I was still in my pajamas. I made them repeat it at least 4 times. I’ve since played Brandi Carlile’s video over and over, and requested they perform the song at an upcoming coffee house. Both of them think that would be weird, since they are 11 and 13 and neither are mothers. I told them it doesn’t matter and please sing it and play guitar and fiddle and harmonize and make me cry! They are not convinced.

Here’s the official video since you might never hear it from them.

The Mother
Welcome to the end of being alone inside your mind
You’re tethered to another and you’re worried all the time
You always knew the melody but you never heard it rhyme
She’s fair and she is quiet, Lord, she doesn’t look like me
She made me love the morning, she’s a holiday at sea
The New York streets are busy as they always used to be
But I am the mother of Evangeline
The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep
She broke a thousand heirlooms I was never meant to keep
She filled my life with color, canceled plans, and trashed my car
But none of that was ever who we are… (see video for more)
Songwriters: Brandi M. Carlile / Phillip John Hanseroth / Timothy Jay Hanseroth
Ps. This post is an addendum to the previous post, titled Change.

Change

I’m packing lunches at 7 am when Susanna picks up her violin and starts playing Air Tune. She’s practising for an upcoming recital, but even if there were no recital, this is the song she’d be playing. She’s been playing it for the last 5 months–ever since she started in the back of our van, fiddling her way through Manitoba, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, on the way to Indiana for Christmas.

“Wait, wait, let me try the harmony,” I call from the kitchen while I butter bread for her sandwich. I grab my violin, sit on the piano stool and tune to Susanna’s instrument. Something’s not quite right, but I’m not sure what.

“You’re G is off,” says Susanna.

“Can you play yours again?” I say, plucking, tuning and plucking some more.

She doesn’t say anything, just leans over–fiddle under chin–turns my fine-tuner between her forefinger and thumb, then steps back. I pluck it again. It’s perfect. For nearly seven years I’ve been tuning her fiddle (even though she has better pitch than me) because that’s what moms do. Now she’s tuning mine.

We start playing the piece and I scramble to keep up. She stops mid-way through and looks at me. “I don’t think you should slide into that F,” she comments.

“But you do,” I say. “I love it when you slide into that note!”

“Yeah, well, you go too far,” she says grinning. “You have to stop right here before it gets too sharp.” She grabs my finger and places it on the finger board. Like a teacher with her beginner student.

*

We come home just before six, pull the barbeque chicken out of the grocery bag, and sit down at the table.

“When I’m in university I’m going to invite Belén over for bought chicken every Friday night,” announces Susanna.

“What if we don’t go to the same University? What if we’re not living in the same city?” Belén responds. A heated conversation ensues about who’s going where. “What if I want to go to Montreal? To study law at McGill?”

“Mmm,” I say, chewing my chicken, “that sounds nice.” I think of the concert we took the girls to on campus a few years ago and climbing Mont Royal…

“I just looked it up last week,” says Belén.

“You what?” I say, putting down my fork.

“I looked it up online,” she says, as if looking up universities is something we do in this house. As if university is a pressing concern or even something we talk about regularly.

Suddenly, I am no longer Tricia who toured through Europe, worked in the NWT or hitch-hiked in South America. I am my father.

“Montreal! It’s so far away. What’s wrong with Parkland College? You could live at home, save some money and get just about any degree you want!”

“Ah, mom, that wouldn’t be any fun,” says Belén.

“But you’ll marry some crazy French guy and never come home,” I say.

All I can think about is the Bible college on Hwy 83 on the outskirts of Swan River, where I grew up. The one with the green, corrugated metal siding, the one that seemed only to attract eastern Europeans who wore funny clothes, had funny hair and spoke a funny language when they walked around town together. My dad thought it was a perfect fit for me. You should go to Living Word, then settle here and marry a nice farmer he always suggested.

Now I know exactly what he meant.

*

Every time we go to the fishing spot something is different. Sometimes the water is high, other times we have a wide beach to build a bonfire. Sometimes we get 30 ticks each and sometimes there are none at all. Sometimes we catch only a handful of fish and sometimes we get enough to feed a hungry crowd.

I’m hooking a minnow through it’s eye and back, when I look up and scan the shore for Vivi. I see her holding a walking stick and hear her faint melody. She’s humming Jingle Bells and wandering alone. “You know, this is the first year I’ve been able to relax, and fish, in a long time,” I tell Stan and Shelly. It takes me about three years, after having a baby, until life gets back to normal–or a new normal. Which explains why this time feels different.

But it’s not the only change I notice. Of course, Jason’s not here, not fishing beside us. But we talk about him; we drive his truck and park it in the same place he always did; we fillet fish and reminisce about the time we caught 70 walleye and perch; we rig our lines with nuts the same way he used to. We remember.

And the fire. The fire is always the same, but the conversation is different. This time the kids are more chatty than the adults. They outnumber us tonight. We listen to them talk and laugh, and join in occasionally. The flame illuminates faces then flickers. Bright one moment; throwing shadows the next.

Always changing.

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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.

 

Failure #16: Hypocrisy

“You should be done by now,” I remind Susanna as I stick my head into a roomful of steam. “Get out of the shower!” I yell as I pass the bathroom, again, a few minutes later. “You’re using all the hot water! Your time is up!” I say while marching to turn off the tap.

Belén is waiting to shower, and there are only a few minutes left before the bus comes. How long would she stand under the water, wasting time, if I didn’t push her? I wonder.

Later that evening it’s my turn. I dial the faucet as hot as I can stand it and let the day wash over me. My mind wanders to paragraphs and sentences, conversations and phone calls, possibilities and peculiarities. I solve problems and come up with new perspectives. All while wasting time, just like my daughter.

“Wow, Mom,” Belén interrupts me, “how long have you been in here? Probably a half-hour, at least.”

“Nah! It can’t be more than 15 minutes,” I say. “Besides, our water bill is part of the cost of creativity in this house. I need time to think without distraction.”

“The cost of what?” she asks. “Never mind, I can barely breathe in here it’s so foggy.”

I hear the door close and feel a bit sheepish, reminding myself to be more patient with Susanna tomorrow morning.

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morning view outside our window

*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

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

 

Happening Here

Susanna pounds out the Russian Sailor Dance on our upright piano. She plays it about five times faster, and eight times louder, than necessary. Our living area echoes with minor chords until no one hears what anyone else is saying even though we are all shouting. I marvel at the sheer quantity of sound produced by this piece of wood and metal, well over 100 years old. Once I sit down to play the teacher duet part with the bass notes, neither of us want to stop. We play it over and over, faster and faster, louder and louder, laughing and thrilled with ourselves. A half-hour later we will forget our excitement and camaraderie. A half-hour later the moment will have evaporated into anger. She will cry. I will lose my temper. She will refuse to change her attitude. I will yell. But for now we are dancing together with the ivory keys.

*

Stan is bee crazy right now. He’s ordering all the supplies and bees he needs to try bee-keeping again this spring. (The wild hive he captured a few years back didn’t make it through their first winter). He spends hours researching, contacting bee-keepers and chuckling about all the honey we’ll be harvesting. His buddy Kevin is in on it with him, and they scheme and text each other like two teenagers.

*

I wonder if the famous lines of Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day are often taken out of context. The way I read it, she’s not asking people what their career plans are, what they want to stroke off their bucket list, or how they will use their influence, fame or money to leave their mark on this world. In fact, the poem is not really about doing anything but, rather, just being. It makes me happy to look at the words on our chalkboard even if nobody else who reads them has ever seen the rest of the poem.

*

Registration is now open for Wonderscape on the Prairie and I feel like I’ve just jumped off the high diving board. I’ve spent hours planning, researching venues, contacting artists and musicians, writing emails, putting details together on the website and now my role changes. As people sign up it becomes more of an experience created by the community of participants and less of the-project-that-lives-inside-my-head. Come to Last Mountain Lake, SK and be a part of it. I’d love to meet you!

*

Susanna carefully draws the mini-greenhouse and adds the label watermelon to 3 squares on our map. She and I have each made a few concessions; she gets to plant flowers and watermelon again (she insists the fruit were huge and sweet last year, I remember them as a puny waste of garden space), and I get to plant more than my share of basil and tomatoes. After all the seeds are covered and set in the sun we stare at the earthy possibility of tomatoe sauce, fresh bouquets, and dessert. A few days later I hear a shopper complaining about the price of cucumbers. “Why are they $2.50 here? They’re only a dollar at Walmart right now! ” he informs the Superstore employee. Has this man ever saved seed from a rotting cucumber? Has he ever covered this seed with a blanket of dirt and waited for it to burst forth with life? Or set his transplants out, an hour a day, to harden them to the reality of the outdoors? How many hours has he weeded and watered, then weeded some more? And what about the harvesting and cleaning? Has he stopped to think about all this while he holds a long, perfectly shaped cucumber, in the middle of March, that only costs two dollars and fifty cents?

A couple days after seeding, the first sprouts appear. We try to guess whose plants came up first; I’m rooting for the basil, Susanna hopes it’s one of hers. We consult the map and identify them as morning glories! Susanna is thrilled and so am I. They’re not edible, but they’re still a green miracle.

*

“Who wants to go for a walk?” Rebecca asks.

“I do!” Belén answers emphatically. She’s been busy lately with play practise, guitar lessons, piano lessons and youth group and is relieved to have an evening off with nothing to do but walk to nowhere. By the time they are ready to leave the house their group has swelled from two to eight walkers, ages 2 to 39. None of us want to stay inside when it is almost 7 o’clock and still light outside. Once we get out of town I shout, “Who wants to run?”

Free starts counting, “One, two, three…” and we are off. Clomping, skipping, and shuffling in snow boots, galoshes, heeled boots, and runners. We risk breaking through paper-thin ice and slide on frozen puddles, we cartwheel on a mat of dead grass, and we look at the clouds. We are like children waiting for their parents to wake up on Christmas morning. Wake up world! Wake up dead grass! The light is coming back! It’s time to wake up!

*

Susanna’s Ukrainian Easter eggs. More to come…

Babies Become People

I should have known babies become people.

When I let mine cry for so many nights, hoping the parenting textbook would win in the end, I didn’t realize who I (and the author) was up against. I forgot Susanna was actually a person. I knew, of course, that adults have unique personalities and are unpredictable, but babies, according to my book, were supposed to be different. It promised they could be managed with a few simple formulas and I figured if every other baby could learn to sleep after three nights of crying, mine could too.

It took 39 nights of listening to her screams before I admitted perhaps my child didn’t fit the mold. I finally caved and went back to nursing her whenever she wanted, thinking both she and I had failed miserably. I didn’t know then that this should have been a reason to celebrate, to toast the child flailing in the crib with the chubby cheeks and wild hair and say, “My, what endurance you have! How passionate you are! What great things will you accomplish, my baby?”

I couldn’t have known the same perseverance that fueled her cries as an infant would keep her bow on the violin until she got all the notes right. How at five years old she would practise a fiddle tune for an hour before giving up. Or that when she was eight she would decide she was going to send $450 a year to a child in Uganda, without any allowance or reliable income. To this end, she and her sister have thrown themselves into selling garlic, ice cream, and baking, but recently Susanna decided she needs to diversify her fund-raising efforts. Now she wants to sell entertainment.

“We’ll have a talent show and people will pay to see it,” she says while scribbling a list on her notepad. So far there are two names under performers: “The Walkers”, our family friends (this is your heads up by the way), and “Vivian”.

“Okay, so where are we going to have it?” Susanna asks.

She mentions the biggest theatre in town and I get nervous. Who will sign up? And who will come watch? I envision kids plunking out notes on the piano, awkward skits, and audience members with pained expressions, and quickly realize this is something I don’t want to be in charge of. Then I remember I’m not in charge, she is.

The dedication she showed at 9-months-old in the middle of the night is the same dedication she pours into her self-appointed role as our family activity programmer.

“Don’t forget to sign up for Adventure Night this Tuesday!” she booms into her paper towel roll. “Step right up, ladies and gentlemen… This Tuesday night!” She throws down her home-made megaphone and adds more slots to her sign-up sheet with unwavering optimism.

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Her endurance also manifests itself in her culinary interests. For months she asks me to order the cookbook Ratio, which is more of a guide on the chemistry of ingredients than a recipe book. I finally give it to her for her birthday and the next few days she takes it everywhere. I imagine her on the bus, squished between fourth-graders and backpacks, reading about the proportion of liquid to flour in onion bread, or how to infuse ginger and orange zest into heavy cream to make truffles. When she comes home from school her first words are often, “Mom can I bake something?” to which my response is almost always negative. Still, she keeps asking.

The passion I used to hear in the timbre of her cries I now see in her love of words. She consumes books and reads her favourite novels many times over; when friends come to play I keep my eye on her to make sure she doesn’t sneak away—I’ve found her in a corner with a book before, leaving her company to entertain themselves. She likes writing as much as she does reading and has a file on our computer with several manuscripts in process. She is a poet, lyricist, and as of last week, a religious devotional writer. I found this reminder on my pillow recently:

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Years from now, if my daughter has her own little one who insists on crying through night, I might, for a split-second–if I am feeling very small, think it serves her right. But then I will remember the singing fiddle, bake sales, shows and adventure nights, and say, “Congratulations! You’ve been given the gift of baby who is actually a person! With a unique personality that will probably frustrate, surprise, and entertain you, but most certainly, amaze you.” Then I’ll raise my glass and say, “Cheers!”

Tricia

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We played the Amazing Race (on foot) for Susie’s party. Here I am giving the first tickets…

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looking for coins in the woodpile at 7/11 to buy a treat for our librarians

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Everyone had to learn how to make a perfect duck call from our friend, Roger, before getting the next clue

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Ending the night with Mary, her birthday twin.

PS. Wait! Don’t leave yet! You forgot your treat bags. First, there’s this title to check out of your library: The Merchant of Marvels and the Peddler of Dreams. It’s bizarre, creative, and beautiful and will make you want to write poems, draw, and give crazy gifts. (We gave it to Susie for her birthday.)

Then there’s The (Kirsten) Collective, a blog authored by my brilliant friend living in Nairobi, Kenya. I particularly loved this lecture on writing. I also use her life uninterpreted section to get me warmed up, and remind myself how to be an observer, before I start my own writing. Enjoy!