Monday, June 19, 2017

The Quiet Moments

They aren't the first moments that come to mind when I look back.  I seem to remember the dramatic moments most clearly of all - the night the cat died, the time we spun on ice and landed in the ditch, the times you let us stay up late to shop at Midnight Madness.

I don't remember the quiet moments so easily.  Hardly at all, in fact.  I don't remember ever fitting on your lap (although there are photos that assure me I did). I don't remember lying down with you to read a book or look up at the stars.  I don't remember tracing your skin, memorizing your hair and freckles and scars.

Each evening I lie, impatient, with my children and try to tune out thoughts of the things I need to do.  It's usually a wrestling match between the mom I want to be and the tantalizing lure of solitude.  And I doubt they'll remember the moments, the boring, everyday moments of cuddles, stories, praying.  But still we do them, night after day after night - not to be remembered, but to press into their soil that solid, steady base that I hope they aren't even conscious of.

Because while I don't remember any single instance of cozing with you, my whole life is weighted and steadied with your arms.  At some point I must have studied your face, your arms, your hands so intently that I memorized your freckles and lines.  (There is a mole on my neck now that matches yours - I love it.)  The rhythms of your speech, your breath, are calming to me - when I can't sleep, I find myself imagining I'm a kid again, curled in a nest on your floor, matching my breath to yours until I sleep.

Thank you for enduring every long and boring and frustrating day.

Thank you for filling me up with good and glad things.

I love you.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Anvils

My brother and his wife have had to go out of town - at the exact same time we needed a place to stay between houses.  So we've got their whole house to ourselves, full of toys and treats and everything we need.  We haven't needed to unload anything from the van or trailer, just came in with our suitcases and made ourselves at home.

Their house is big, but they have a super short driveway - er, parking spot. From curb to garage door, it's exactly the length of the 15-passenger van I'm driving.  Dad backed it in, and I pretty much planned on leaving it there all week. I'm a fairly confident driver but not when my mistake would ruin R&A's new garage door.

Mom and Dad left yesterday.
I don't know what we'd have done without them.  For a month they worked so hard and put up with us at our worst and most stressed out and loved us and made us laugh and cheered for our kids and babysat and took us out to eat and loaded up boxes and the trailer and our hearts with steady love and hard work.

It was hard to say goodbye. I woke up horrified that I had slept in, leaving them to pack up while caring for my kids, and I kissed them goodbye half-dressed and uncoffeed.

Before he drove away, Dad slid an anvil behind the van's back tire. 

Today was rainy and grey and Kachi wasn't feeling well and before lunchtime everyone had gotten hurt at least once.  So this afternoon I loaded them all up in the van and we took a long prowly drive, bought coffee and ice cream and visited Patrick at work.  And then I drove home and backed that big old van into that tiny little spot because my dad had made it possible for me to park. My back tire bumped the anvil and knew I was back as far as I could go before scraping the garage, and just far enough off the curb to not get hit.  Done.

And that one act, that thoughtful and kind gesture with the anvil, is so much more than just a parking aid. It's the way my parents have loved me my whole life.  Believing in me and helping me to do what I don't think I can.

If I were leaving my kids in the same situation, I think I might have slid the anvil in front of the tires, to keep the van safe and stationary.  I probably would have suggested they stay home for the week until they could park it in their new driveway.

But my parents believe in me.
And help me.
Even when they're gone.

I love you, mom and dad.
Xo.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Goodbye, TBay.

I'm writing from bed.  I'm pressed on either side by the sleeping and slanted bodies of my two oldest children.  The baby is asleep in his playpen at our feet. And the toddler is sleeping with Grandmaman.

I fell asleep with them at 830.  I don't think I've gone to bed that early unless I was sick since 1989.  (Suddenly feeling incredibly old.)  But they need the cuddles. They need the extra security of mama at bedtime because we've just turned their world upside down.  We moved away from the only home they've ever known and it's going to be a few weeks before we press our feet against the floorboards of our new home.  We're spending a week with the grands en route, and then a week house-sitting.  It's disorienting, strange.  I took V to Emergency yesterday and when they asked for our address I was all at sea. We're between addresses. Like a letter, sent, but not yet received.

And yet ... being in this limbo is special. Not easy (all four kids melted down at suppertime), and lonely (Patrick stayed behind to work), but special, because instead of just thinking about the next thing, we have time to cherish the last thing.

When we came to Thunder Bay, my parents drove us up in their Honda Civic. My dad's little trailer hauled our few possessions, and it was just the two of us hunting for a place to call our own.  Now, six and a half years later, we're going out with a huge trailer and a van load ... and four precious children.  We came to the city so empty, and we are leaving so full.

I remember our drive up to Thunder Bay, passing a sign welcoming us to the district  (about three hours before reaching the city proper). I couldn't help but read it with that ache, the sorrow of loss and emptiness that miscarriage bleeds into the future - trying to imagine what opportunities awaited, trying not to think about the empty backseat that should have held a carseat or two. I remember holding Patrick's hand and being so glad I was with him.

Prepping for moving away, I didn't have much time or mental space to wax emotional. There were kids to manage and a million decisions to make (and ohhh I hate decisions!) and goodbyes to say or not say and couches to carry and meals to cook and noses to wipe and did I mention the decisions? So I hadn't really given myself any emotional space until I saw that sign.

And I was driving past it again.  This time without Patrick -

But so, so full.

Our gorgeous firstborn was holding up a rattle for the baby to grab. The two middles were laughing and pretending to be Dora and Boots. And mom and dad were moving us once again.

Full.  I'm telling you.

My stupid heart burst wide open, and Sam asked, "why are you crying, mama?"

"Because I love you so much," I replied.

So, dear Thunder Bay, thank you.  We came empty and you sent us out full. You look industrial and adventurous and I had no idea that you would be such a gorgeous garden where our family would grow.

God bless you, city. I love you so much.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Do Not Go Fearful



A prayer at close of day, with apologies to Dylan Thomas
(read the original gorgeous poetry here.)


Do not go fearful into that strange night
Old age should burn and long for close of day;
Ache, yearning for the rising of the light.

Wise ones at their end know dark is slight
Because their shadow will be brief, though awful, they
Do not go fearful into that strange night.

Good ones know their deeds in time aren't bright,
He shines on them, the sun on a green bay;
Ache, yearning for the rising of the light.

Wild ones who ran from the eternal Son in flight
And learn, in time, He sought them on their way
Do not go fearful into that strange night.

Grave ones, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes will flare with sunrise and be gay,
Ache, yearning for the rising of the light.

And you, my dear one, there on that sad height,
Grasp His whole blessing with both hands, I pray.
Do not go fearful into that strange night.
Ache, yearning for the rising of the light.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Love Gift

Pascal is growing and changing so quickly.  He's already in the hilarious and clumsy stage where he tries to shove his soother - his sucie - into my mouth.  He shakes and pants with happiness, yanking it out of his own mouth and grinning wildly while pushing it toward mine. And while I obviously don't want it, I'm just smitten with the fact that his heart is already beating with the gorgeous truth that pervades all existence ... when we love someone, we give them our best.

Love gives.

And gives.

And gives.

And so I find myself with streaks of drool on my face, staring into the joyful generous eyes of an 8-month-old, heart pounding with love.  Because the fingerprints of the Great Giver are everywhere.  Yes - even on a raggedy old sucie.

Xo.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Happy Birthday

I wanted to wish you happy birthday.

I started to write
I'm so glad my childhood included you.
Sounded stiff like a Hallmark card so maybe

I love you. 
Too mushy, or maybe too weird without any context, and it's been ages since we last walked around the block watching our shadows darken while the stars came out, so maybe

I miss you.
I miss running through the woods with you, the way the earth felt spongy and strong underfoot.  I miss building whole-basement forts and doing homework and watching TV with you. The way I could dial your phone number without looking. That time you called to let me know my favourite song was on the radio. Sleeping out and catching fireflies. Hide and seek in the dark. That time we went to the store with your mom and at the checkout she realized her pants were on backwards and we laughed and laughed. (By the way, I understand how that's possible now.)  I always felt a twinge of pointless jealousy every time you told me about a new girlfriend but they came and went and I wouldn't have traded our endless adventures for a few months of holding hands at the movies anyway.
I hope my kids have friends like you. I hope their childhood is full and sunny and happy, like ours. I hope they have good friends who tell them when they find frog's eggs clustered around cattails in the brook, who bike with them to Ripley's for ice cream on hot and boring summer days, who build homemade teeter totters and - even on rainy afternoons - knock on the door and ask if they wanna play.

I miss you. I love you.  I'm so glad my childhood included you.

Happy birthday.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

No, Actually.

This past weekend, in the wake of too-tempting Easter chocolates, the kids were struggling to get along and needed some quiet time.

We sent them upstairs to do whatever they wanted, as long as it wasn't with each other.  Kachi cuddled up on our bed with his blankies and a story, Sam puttered with Lego in his room, and Vava stretched out on the bottom bunk with her paper and pencils.

She wasn't feeling well, so I lay down beside her and rubbed her back.  After a few quiet moments, she broke my heart with this little bit of news:

"Some girls in my class called me a loser."

I felt a rush of mama-bear anger and defensiveness, tempered with pity for the kids who had heard that term at such a young age.  Most of all, I felt a stab of fearful sorrow that she would believe them, that such an ugly label might have kerneled into her heart to grow into something crooked later. 

And I couldn't help thinking of all the insults that I've just let slide right into my heart and make themselves at home.  Even started using them on myself.

Ugly. Embarrassing. Stupid. Fat.

They've become part of me like dandelion roots.

I didn't want to overreact or give her the idea that she should hate them or use mean words in response, so after sputtering through a few false starts, I just asked her what she had done when they said that.

She told me that she had corrected them with, "No, actually; I'm an author-illustrator."

RIGHT?!

Isn't that the best response ever?
She didn't even give their insult air time.  Didn't twist her own heart to insult them back. Just shielded that attack with her own definition of herself instead. 

So now I've got a new strategy in my pocket. Next time I hear an echo of some ugly label in my heart, I'm going to slay it with a line from my favourite four-year-old author-illustrator: No, actually.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Emptying the Garbage Can

No matter what task I'm doing in the kitchen, my first necessary job is always emptying the garbage can.

Always.

Putting away groceries, washing dishes, making supper, cleaning the fridge, packing lunches ... I always need a fresh trash can.  If it's full, it's the place where everything stalls.  Junk piles up on the counter instead of getting tossed, then my work space grows cluttered, and I get cranky.  Because I need to empty that garbage can.

And you're like ... um, big surprise, Janelle. It's kind of a daily task.

RIGHT?!

But I'm over here trying to juggle my life and adding new activities and new humans and new busynesses and 

never emptying the garbage. 

So things build up and I've got about a hundred things I would like to be doing at any given time but I can't because it's full, the garbage can is full, so the counters are full so the table is full so the house is a mess and ...

You get the idea.

And the metaphorical overflowing garbage can? Migraines, or running late, or scheduling two things at once, or being unreasonably cranky (apparently, that's my overflow go-to).

So how do you empty your garbage can?  How do you clear your schedule, clean out some mental space, keep internal tidiness? What works for you, friends?  Give me some pointers.
xo.



Monday, March 27, 2017

Tell Them

My Uncle Ken died yesterday.

He was married to my mom's sister Esther, my Deedee, and I was a flower girl in their wedding. 

We loved going to visit them in the summer and at Christmas time.  The best part of the visit, hands down, was driving with Uncle Ken.  We would put on our seatbelts in the slippy slidey leather back seat of their huge white Lincoln, and off we would go.  We coaxed Uncle Ken to drive faster, faster, until we were flying over the roads and our stomachs would dip out from under us.  There was one hill in particular that never failed to make us cheer, and Uncle Ken sailed over it every time.

I thought he was wildly romantic, because he always held Deedee's hand when they drove, or else she played with his hair, and sometimes they would kiss at stoplights.  (I still think that's romantic.)

When we were a few years older, the swoopy, twisty road was replaced by a highway.  It was quicker of course, but boring to drive on ... but that didn't stop Uncle Ken.  If we weren't close to any other vehicles, he would swerve in big S shapes or pretend to pass ghost cars.  (I was embarrassingly old before I understood just what a ghost car was.)

If we weren't driving in the Lincoln, we were playing inside the bunk of his transport truck.  There were always a half-dozen air fresheners hanging from the mirror, at least two each of vanilla and leather and evergreen.  That combination never fails to call up the happiest memories of climbing up ... up ... up into the cab, pushing and pulling a million buttons, and watching - incredibly! - a tiny little black and white tv from an actual bed inside a gigantic truck.

He would pull up at our place and honk that huge horn and then take us out for ice cream or french fries or whatever we wanted.

When I was supposed to be grown-up, living on my own for the first time in Ottawa, Uncle Ken and Deedee joined my parents and sister and drove all the way to Ottawa just to see me for less than a day before they had to get back for work.  All that way, just to ease my homesickness.

Uncle Ken was fun, and loving, and kind, and patient, and generous.

It's silly - it's stupid, actually, because I'm a writer and I spill words all over the place - but I can't remember actually telling him how much I loved him, or thanking him for making ordinary things special.

So if you're reading this, and you're lucky enough to have an Uncle Ken, or Aunt Lynn, or Grampie, or Grammy, or whomever you have, please please please take some time to tell them the ways that they have made your life better, happier, sweeter.

Tell them.

In honour of my wonderful
wonderful
Uncle Ken.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Stop and Do Something

Last fall, my sister-in-law was hanging out at our house, and we were making spaghetti for supper. I sliced my finger on  the lid of a can of tomatoes, and, because the cut was so deep and I already had someone to watch the kids, decided to head off to Emerge.

On my way, I drove over a little bridge by a shopping plaza where a young woman was trying to wrestle herself out of the grip of a man.

They were on the other side of the road, but I rolled down my window and yelled, to let them know I saw them and also to get the attention of anyone else who could help. "HEY!" I bellowed with all the volume I possess, "HEY! NO!"  (And as a mama with practice yelling across an entire playground, I like to think I've got considerable volume.)

I wrenched my wheel and zoomed into the parking lot and grabbed my phone and ran to the bridge.

When I got there, the man told me the woman had just failed her driving test and was upset and he was trying to keep her safe.

Something about it all felt wrong.

Another woman pulled over and was calling the police.
The man kept his arm on the young woman and tried to walk away.

I wanted to keep them there until the police came, but obviously couldn't prevent them from going, so I tried to talk to the young woman.
"Can you tell me what happened?" I asked, and when the man spoke up I looked right in her eyes and said, "miss, I want to hear your story from you.  I'm Janelle."
'I'm Paris,' she told me, her expression carefully blank, 'I'm fine. I'm sorry.  I'm fine.'
The man kept his grip on her the whole time. They walked away and got into the backseat of a jeep. I wrote down their license plate, and drove off.

I couldn't fight the urge to do something. My bleeding finger was way less important than this girl, and you will probably dismiss me as a religious nut but I felt like God had sent me out for a drive at just that moment for precisely this reason.

I saw 2 police cars parked in a lot at the next intersection. I pulled in and told them what happened and gave them the license number.

As I finally headed off to the hospital I was overwhelmed with a feeling that my guts were right, and Paris wasn't upset about her driving test but that she was trying to escape being trafficked.

I wish I had been able to do more.
I wish I had thought about trying to get her away from the man so we could talk privately.
I wish I had some way of following up, making sure the police checked it out.

I am not interested in creating fear where none exists, but I'm sharing my story because I read this article today and it reminded me so much of my short interaction with Paris on that bridge.

Take a moment to read it, and keep your eyes open for people who might need help.

And please, pray for Paris.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Persistence and Setbacks and Perspective

This wasn't exactly my favourite day.
Vava's been sick, and after struggling to control her fever and cough for a few days, I phoned the telehealth line. The nurse recommended she be seen by a doctor, so Patrick came home from work and I set off with Vava for the walk-in.

The first one: full.
The second one: full.
The third one: closed for vacation.
The fourth one: full.
The fifth one: closed for vacation.

I'm not going to lie.  My typical tolerance level for persisting through setbacks is pretty small. But I've been trying to deliberately instill determination and persistence in the kids, talking with them about setbacks and attitude and reframing bad situations with positive words, so I guess it was time for me to practice what I've been preaching.  But after driving all over the city, dragging my feverish little girl in and out of the cold, I felt the last of my small store of pluck give way as we saw the closed sign on the fifth clinic's door.

A kind lady nearby recommended the emergency room. "They're usually a little quicker with the young ones," she smiled.

So I straightened my back and we buckled in for one last try.

And they were great - the Thunder Bay emergency room is one of the fastest I've ever been in.  We were assessed and saw the doctor straight away. Somehow there was a mix up though, and we waited for maybe 2 hours after seeing the doctor before we were sent for xrays.

Vava was awesome. Sweet and good and funny. But her eyes were red and her fever was determined to return and she was shy.  She was hungry, but told me she'd rather wait for pizza from her favourite place than buy anything at the hospital.  She cooperated through her swabs and xrays without a peep.  Finally she was diagnosed with strep throat and we left with a prescription, four hours after pulling into the parking lot.

As I helped her hop out of the van to go buy pizza, she squeezed me tight and sighed, "oh mama, thank you for a lovely outing!"

♡ ♡ ♡

It's always always always about perspective, isn't it?

What was a really challenging day for me was a chance for uninterrupted cuddles and one-on-one time for Vava.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I hope you, too, can find something in it that's lovely.  A four-year-old can almost always help.

Xo.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Grownups Have A Lot of Chores

I was cuddling Sam a few nights ago and he asked me if I was sad that I was a grownup, "because grownups have to do lots of chores?"

I laughed for a moment, then asked if he knew one of the great secrets of life.

"I know it," he said, "the secret of life is that life is challenging."

I love this kid.

When I was his age, I probably would have said that the secret of life is burying yourself in a stack of Judy Blumes. 

I don't know about you guys, but I'm feeling kind of tired by all the work there is to do. Dustbunnies and clutter and dirty dishes seem to build up endlessly. Everywhere. In my house. In my character. In my small corner of the world.

And yeah, I do still want to bury myself in a cozy place and just read til I'm a little old lady with enormous glasses and papery skin, but I'd miss out on a lot.

Because life is challenging. 

Life is challenging.

So every day I get up and feed six people and pack three lunches and dress the kids in clothes and snowsuits and put them on the bus and wash dishes and wipe the table and fold some clothes and make beds and vacuum and make lunch and sweep and feed the baby and put the kids down for naps and make snack and greet the big kids off the bus and unpack their backpacks and feelings and lunchboxes and read some stories and wash more dishes and start supper and get out the art supplies and feed the baby again and teach the kids how to set the table for the hundredth time and change bums and let someone help me cook and serve and eat supper and wash the dishes and make bedtime snacks and get the kids ready for bed and brush teeth and cuddle Kachi, and cuddle the big kids, and feed the baby and then tackle one area to declutter and

and
right about this time of night I start to think that maybe Sam isn't wrong, and being a grownup is synonymous with doing chores.  There's always something that needs doing.

And I guess the difference between maturity and immaturity is how I treat the to-do list.  Because kid Janelle only knew how good it was to ignore the list and lose herself in a good book; grownup Janelle knows how good it is to work hard. Not necessarily because it feels good to have dishpan hands, but because a clean kitchen is a great place to make food for my family. Because clean clothes and a full lunchbox are evidences of ordinary grace. Because uncluttered spaces nourish uncluttered thoughts and uncluttered hearts.  Because when I pour myself out for my family, I build something a whole lot richer than if I stayed in bed with some good books.

To sum it all up, Sam? You're right. Grownups do a lot of chores. And life is challenging.  But it's not sad.

The great secret of life is that it's worth it.
Every.
Single.
Day.