Tuesday, 28 June 2011

My friend Frank and his son

In middle school, Frank was my best friend. We were part of a larger gang, mostly boys - a few girls, who congregated at the end of Frank’s driveway on Bellevue Street after dinner every night when the heat of the Tucson days relented a little. There was never alcohol. No one in the group smoked. We were good kids. Mostly we stood around talking about movies we wanted to see, sports and our favourite albums. It was around the time Footloose came out, around the same time I fell madly in love with Kevin Bacon.

When my parents announced we were heading back to Canada, they might as well have informed me we were on our way to a remote camp on the planet Jupiter. I was inconsolable; a heartbroken mess of a girl who couldn’t imagine life without her friends.

I received regular letters from Frank for a few years but inevitably we stopped writing. I always wondered how his life had turned out. When the world wide web showed up, I Googled him but nothing came of my searches. And then last July, 25 years after I left Tucson, I received a comment from a Frank on one of my posts. When I logged onto Facebook, there was a message from him. He told me how sorry he was to hear about Matthew, and that sadly, after years of searching the internet, it was through my brother’s obituary that he was able to find me.

I saw that while Shaune and I were dilly dallying our way to a grown up life, breaking up, getting back together and then breaking up again, Frank was busy getting married, getting divorced and then getting married again.

On his info page Frank had written in all caps I LOVE MY KIDS AND WIFE. Everything seems to finally be falling into place. I knew in that instant some people never change. I felt vindicated in having always known what a true and pure person he was.

Through Facebook I fell in love with Jesse and Mikayla his kids; found myself wishing I was friends with April, his wife . I learned that Frank and April started to worry a little about Jesse their first child, right around the time he turned two. People looked sidelong at them on outings because they didn’t seem to know how to “control” the toddler who was throwing “tantrums”. Frank said they noticed that any words he’d learned up until that point, he started losing, so that instead of advancing in language skills, he seemed to be regressing. It took a few years to finally get a diagnosis.

Jesse, it turns out, has high functioning autism.

So began their wretched battle with the school system which set them firmly on a path of advocacy. First their sweet little boy was placed in a classroom with mentally disabled children even though Frank and April fervently protested. When they saw how this was hindering his progress, they decided to try and home-school Jesse. But realizing how unequipped they were, they took the advice of other parents in similar situations and tried to place Jesse into a regular classroom. They were denied. For two months they had to settle for their son, who required a stable environment in order to flourish, being shuttled between a room full of autistic children and short stints in a regular classroom. They withdrew him again when they saw that it was doing Jesse no good. Finally they were able to enrol him in a charter school where he will soon attend grade one.

Frank says that Jesse is really, really smart. He excels at math, spelling and reading but doesn’t do so well with speech and social skills. It’s been hard for all of them. Mikayla, at age four, understands that Jesse has specific needs but acts out sometimes when she notices that her parents’ attention necessarily goes to her brother.

I can’t imagine what it must be like. On my worst days, I am exhausted by the time the kids are in bed. And I didn’t have to do battle with the school system or worry about how the major surgeries to my son’s Achilles tendons went to prevent him from walking on his toes.

I can’t imagine.

I'm pouring my heart out with Shell.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

For a long time we were a family of eight

I nibbled on the sandwich and tucked my seven fries neatly into the saran. We never got our own when we came here; forget even hoping for a hamburger or Happy Meal. My mother packed tuna or baloney in the big red cooler. By the time we got to them, the sandwiches were damp and flat. The loose ice cubes had begun melting and seeping through the plastic wrap.

Soggy tuna.

On rare occasions we were treated to a large coke to split between us all, but more often she asked for water in the plastic cups they served the pop in. Thankfully we ate outside on the picnic tables.

Only a stray family or two ever witnessed my humiliation.

Inside was packed with people who’d ordered full meals, munching on Big Macs and Quarter Pounders. I peeped through the window and spied a girl my age. I watched her laugh, a fry halfway to her mouth. Her wild copper hair was tamed neatly into two braids. I couldn't be a hundred per cent but I was willing to bet she was covered in freckles. And my toes curled inside my dirty old sneakers when I saw the gleaming white soles of her Tretorns peaking out from under the table as she stretched back into her chair. 

Her lunch was spread out on the table, the yellow paper of her cheeseburger flattened to hold the burger and fries, a treat-of-the-week still in its wrapper. An older boy sat across from her, his mouth full of McChicken –I could tell because the meat between the buns was not dark like that of a hamburger. I assessed the little family; mother, father, brother, sister – perfect fit at the table for four. No need to add chairs, no reason to track down the manager for an extra table.

I looked around at all of us. My two sisters were quietly eating their sandwiches, the baby on my mother’s lap was grabbing at a straw. The other two boys were chasing each other around the small courtyard. The red cooler sitting in the middle of the table announced our deficiency like a beacon in a deserted night sky.
 The prompt asked us to write a 300 word piece of flash fiction about Life. I would call mine creative non-fiction. I'm also joining Lisa at Two Bears Farm for Memory lane Friday.

Growing up, there were many aspects of large family life, that bothered me. Now that I'm a parent myself, I know those were the aspects that helped shape me into an appreciative, live-within-my-means, type of person. I realize that no matter how often I wish my kids would take better care of their toys, or really "get" how lucky they are, they will never ever grasp the abundance they are fortunate to be a part of.

Monday, 20 June 2011

I am the mom of boys

The first time I realized that I was the mother of boys was after our fishing trip a few weeks ago. Growing up I was never one of the guys. No one accused me of being a tom boy. I liked dolls. And sewing. I wasn't sporty. I read a lot- mostly Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie until I discovered Judy Blume and Danielle Steele. And if I could get my hands on a pretty dress, I wore it with exultation.

When boys did come into my horizon, I was just like all the other girls - passing notes, yearning for acknowledgement, and completely mystified.

I was never one of the guys.

And yet here I am, surrounded by them. I still like pretty dresses and writing notes. But find myself yearning more than ever for their acknowledgement.I want to fit in. I want them to like me, really like me. I studiously learn the difference between an excavator and a backhoe. I pride myself on knowing all of Thomas and his friends. And because I refuse to be mystified anymore, I devour books on the best ways to raise them and get downright adversarial when people misunderstand a boy’s nature.

I wonder sometimes how I’ll survive a lifetime of fart jokes and bathroom humour. I’m certain I will never enjoy touching the damned toilet seat and even though my mouth will be shut, I’ll likely roll my eyes every time they insist on wrestling it out.

I think it’s okay that I wore my pink frilly blouse to go fishing. I don’t want my boys to believe girls need to change who they are to be around them. I may not be willing to worm a hook but I brought the Doritoes and the sunscreen.

And I made sure all their outfits matched! 

The ladies at the Red Dress Club wanted us to use the prompt The first time I _____ed, after I _______ed.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

I'm a walking cliche

I have to tell you a story that has left me struggling in shame. I’ve tried to force it down into that space where such stories can often live for years, sometimes forever, without another person ever hearing them. But this story refuses to hide in the darkness of my heart. It’s been on the tip of my tongue in every conversation. It threatens to jump out of my mouth without my consent.

I see no alternative to writing it down. I see no other way it will set me free.

It began a few weeks ago on Naveen’s first “visit” to the infant room at the daycare which was intended to ease his transition into our upcoming change in routine.

That’s when I met her.

I was hoping she was the mom of one of the babies. She easily could have been one of those moms of an indecipherable age. Maybe a really busy single mom, I thought. With a gaggle of unruly kids demanding every ounce of her exuberance, leaving her lethargic and haggard.

The poor woman. No wonder she scowled when I smiled nervously at her. I knew how much yelling was involved trying to keep one naughty preschooler in line; I could just imagine the shrieking required to bring this mythic tribe of hooligans in her charge to order.

And she was obviously sleep-deprived. The dark under-eye circles were a dead giveaway. I of all people could spot a weary mother. And how selfless of her to bestow such little thought to what she was wearing. A pair of men’s grey jogging pants, dirty scuffed white tennis shoes and a sweatshirt festooned with a kitten and the phrase It’s hard being purr-fect.

I wouldn’t blame her for having a few extra glasses of wine once her wild brood were finally in bed. And our eyes met long enough for me to see that hers were bloodshot, possibly the result of putting her feet up with a few too many cold ones.

“Hey, I’m Gene,” she pushed an un-manicured hand my way. Large man hands. “I’m here on Mondays and Tuesdays.”

“Oh good!” I croaked, “I’m Kim.”

And as I walked out of the building leaving my baby in her care for a full hour, I prayed to God that Naveen not give this woman any reason to unleash the fury she looked to be capable of.

This past Monday, after I dropped the kids off for the second week, I made a shaky promise to myself to not call the Daycare. I knew that if anything was really wrong, they would call me and it had only served to make me feel even more torn and helpless the previous week when I could hear Naveen crying in the background during each of my phone calls.

So at the end of the day, when I rushed in to fetch my baby, you can imagine how stunned I was to see him nuzzling Gene’s neck, smiling peacefully, while she stroked his back. And before she noticed me, she grabbed him by the middle, held him up above her face and the two of them giggled like old friends, like mother and child. I watched her face contort this way and that, making him laugh madly.

I knew in that moment I had a lot more work to do on myself.

I'm joining those ladies at the Red Dress Club in their prompt physical beauty. I took my own approach to it.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

I think it's safe to talk about Baby sleep

A friend who has twins a week older than Naveen asked me how many teeth he had.

“Eight,” I told her, “but he’s working on four more as we speak.”

“Wow, I can’t believe that! The twins only have a few each. But then Kiana had twelve teeth by the time she was a year old.”

Excited that her preschooler experienced a similar first year to Naveen, I continued, “Yeah, I think that’s why he hasn’t slept through the night until now, he’s been teething his whole life.”

“Hmmm, well Kiana slept. Through the night that is.”

Her last statement was like a punch in the arm. Because as parents we are constantly looking for answers, reasons why our child might be different from another. Why he isn’t reaching a milestone when every other kid around is. Sleep has been such an issue in our household.

As if I had to tell you again.

But I think it’s safe to remove that lucky rabbit’s foot I engineered above Naveen’s crib in lieu of a mobile. I can probably eliminate the complicated Swahili sleep jig I’ve been performing from his bedtime routine. I feel certain my combing search of our backyard for four leaf clovers prior to bedtime is no longer necessary.

Because finally the kid is sleeping.

And just like with Deaglan, no amount of reading helped along the way. It wasn’t E.A.S.Y., there was no crying it out, he would not be Ferberized and co-sleeping left me wide awake and co-onscious because he slept for forty minute stretches for the entire first six months.

And it was to my detriment that I demanded every parent of a newborn within a fifty mile radius detail their bedtime routine so I could mimic it step-by-step. It was a dangerous practice because when my baby still didn’t sleep, I began finding reason upon reason to get these people out of my life for good. We obviously had nothing left in common since they’d given birth to seemingly magical sleeping children.

I officially don’t hate you anymore.

Because just as mysteriously as he’d stayed awake for all those months, making me question his sanity and mine, he began sleeping. All night. And sadly, now that I am on this side of it, I have no advice for those parents currently suffering from sleepless baby syndrome. I have not one concrete recommendation. My experience has taught me nothing.

Well that’s not true, I learned that I could have saved a lot of money by using the library and that the Baby Whisperer has been dead since 2004.

But I digress.

And also?

It’s one more thing Shaune and I can stop blaming each other for. If he came home and mentioned one more colleague’s baby who slept for twelve hours straight, I may have needed a padded cell to contain my crazy self in. I am not easily prone to jealousy but knowing our friends and neighbours were luxuriating in lengthy periods of nocturnal bliss had me twisting with resentment.

Now that Naveen is sleeping, I can free up my resentment for other things.

I'm pouring my heart out with Shell.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Back to work reality

This is my non-fiction post for the prompt we'd like you to write a scene that includes a happy ending. So far being back to work has been exhausting and emotional. I know that once we all adjust, we'll likely experience more happy times. I didn't include a happy ending because, well, so far it's been exhausting and emotional...

“How’s he been?” I whispered to Miss Kylie.

“You know what? For his first day, he did great. Like we told you on the phone, when you called again this afternoon, he had lots of moments of realization of where he was, then started crying. But that’s to be expected.”

“Mmhmm. What about food? Did he eat?”

I fired off one question after another, wanting to hear that something went right. It was Wednesday, the third day in my first week of being back to work. Nothing was going as I’d hoped.

“He ate some bread, a little yogurt, a few grapes. But you probably went through this when you went back after Deaglan right? It’ll just take a few days for him to adjust. And, for you to adjust.” She tilted her head, looking at me with sympathy. I blinked back my tears. I walked out to the deck where Miss Sandy and Miss Debbie were watching three of the babies play in the sun on the enclosed space.

“Naveen, look who it is! Is that Mummy?” Miss Sandy chirped. She was Deaglan’s favourite when he was in the Baby Room two and a half years ago. I picked up my tiny boy, who collapsed into my arms, crying and grabbing my face. Where have you been? he demanded with his miniature fists.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, my sweetheart,” I whispered into the warmth of his sweet soft neck.

On Monday morning he woke up with a fever, watery eyes and clogged sinuses. Shaune took a sick day from work so I wouldn’t have to miss my first day back. On Tuesday, Gramma and Grampa drove the hour to London to watch him so I wouldn’t have to miss my second day. Wednesday was his first full day at Daycare.

And each morning, Deaglan had to be peeled off of me, wailing, “Mama, don’t go, mama don’t go.” I pressed my palm against his cheek, reminding him of the Kissing Hand, the story about Chester Raccoon who didn’t want to go to school either. Chester’s mother tells him about the kissing hand, a kiss on his palm from his mother he could access anytime he felt lonely. I promised that I would come back at the end of the day, pick him up and we’d sit on the front step at home and eat fudgesicles.

This morning I got into the van after dropping the boys off and drove the three minutes to my parking space, wondering how I would ever get used to being away from them for eight hours each day. I thought long and hard about those mothers in primitive cultures who kept their babies on their bodies in packs for the first year, nursed them right into and through toddlerhood. A pain shot through me, remembering Naveen’s incredulous crying when he realized that I was leaving him there that first morning.

And as I stepped out of the van into the small puddle I’d parked beside, the buckle on my black sandal broke off and fell into the muddy water. I fished around, found it and climbed back into the vehicle to slip into the heels I was saving for the soft carpet of my workspace. When I stepped back outside, I lost my balance for a second and dropped my envelope full of snapshots of the kids into the same puddle.

I don’t know what I was expecting this first week back to work.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

It's not easy being three

Sometimes in the midst of a tantrum, or when I’m doing the equivalent of mouth-to-mouth on our goldfish because Deaglan climbed into the top drawer of his dresser and dumped a full container of fish food into the tank, it’s hard for me to empathize with him. Yet normally, I’m a deeply compassionate person. Lately there have been a few times though, when my heart has ached for my preschooler. Coincidentally, Naveen’s been sleeping through the night for going on two weeks now.

On Thursday when I put in The Land Before Time II because I needed the break I was so desperately attached to from when he was still napping (he stopped just about the same time Naveen started sleeping through the night – you draw your own conclusions about the cruel tricks the universe plays). I was going to roll up my sleeves and really get some writing done while he watched this sequel which according to reviews was written specifically for a younger audience.

About an hour into the movie, my boy was crying. Not whining, or tantrum-type screeching, but profound, distressed sobbing with long slopey tears. I asked him what was happening, because I hadn’t really been paying attention to the movie. He told me he was sad because Chomper was gone. I held him on my lap and hugged him. I asked him if I should turn it off but he was torn. So he snuggled in the reassurance of my arms and we watched the last bit together. After it was over, he cried some more. We discussed the movie and I was truly moved by the depth of emotions it had stirred in his three year old self.

Then yesterday on our way to the park when we saw our neighbour, Deaglan cheered out gleefully, “Hi Doug, we have ants all over our house!” Anything else you want to tell him honey, I wanted to ask sourly. Maybe you could tell him about the state of our laundry room or how long it’s been since Mommy washed the kitchen floor.

I thought about this age he was. How hard it must be for him. His world is getting larger, no longer just our family circle; a life he knows how to navigate. This week he’s back to daycare five days a week, away from all that is familiar. In three months he is going to junior kindergarten, where he’ll have to eat lunch from a lunch box, be a part of a class of 24, and even wipe his own bum on the toilet.

Oh I know it’s a part of life. We all lived through it. But still, my throat aches for him, for all the changes he will have to endure in the next while.

I heard it over and over when Deaglan was entering preschooler-hood. Three is the new two. As in they should call it the terrible three’s  instead of the terrible two’s. They were right. However I think three needs a catchy name all its own. And if we are going to dub it appropriately, we need to ensure that it captures all of the passion, the energy and the heart-rending pureness.

Because the the three year-old of my heart, embodies all of this.
And much more.

I'm joining Shell and pouring my heart out.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The cake eater

We made sure Naveen understood completely what happens on his birthday. This is the third time he's had chocolate cake in two weeks. I'm on the phone with the dentist now.