Being someone’s mama

Musings on motherhood popped like spring blossoms last weekend, but my favourite sentence of the ones I read came from Mary Karr: “Despite the lacy, sugar-spun horse hockey around this particular holiday, being somebody’s mama does crowbar your heart open in the deepest way.”

Yes it does.

I don’t think I say much here about being mother or grandmother. I’m not sure why. Certainly my children and their partners and families are a huge part of my life. And isn’t it the duty of grandparents to bore others with tales of their remarkable progeny?

That’s a stereotype, of course, but I’d like to avoid it anyway. I also believe having children/grandchildren is simply one way to contribute, one way to grow up, not an essential element in being human (or woman). Life, after all, has opportunity enough to wrench hearts into joy and challenge. The late Jean Vanier is just one example of that.

But it was Mother’s Day, and long ago three children crowbarred me open, so let me say for the record that they and their partners exist in that deep core where I’m most inarticulate and in awe, most reticent to speak (they’re their own story, after all), where I simply bleat “I love you,” hoping that will cover the worlds they are. They were gifts. Being done with the work they involved is also a gift. The grandchildren are a bonus, flitting about like butterflies in the spaces already cratered to the sun. If there’s work left, it’s the adjustment to receiving more than one gives.

Mushroom soup

I was opening a tin of mushroom soup for lunch today when this warm wave of recollection washed over me. It concerned my parents at the age I am now, also living in an apartment, and my mom opening a tin of mushroom soup and plopping it into a pot, which she seemed to do rather frequently. Mushroom soup was easy and they liked it. Mom’s cooking was never inspired at the best of times (the apron pictured below happens to be mine but would have suited her as well), but she was always hospitable and in those years there was so much vitality in her and conversational liveliness made up for what the meal may have lacked. IMG_7132

I keep mushroom soup on the shelf as a quick casserole or sauce ingredient, but we seldom eat it otherwise. We don’t even care for it so I’m not sure why my husband suggested it today. And maybe putting my hand to the can opener on that kind of tin would have reminded me of Mom in any case, but I’m just back from four days in Rosthern, Saskatchewan, where we marked her 97th birthday, so she’s still on my mind. The vitality is almost done for, and dementia has only tightened its grip since I last visited (for the first time ever, she didn’t remember my name), but she managed sentences like “my children are my best possession” and “I love you.” So that’s something precious, though I can’t deny I wish better for her soon. I do, I really do, and I hope it’s alright to say so. In the meanwhile, though, my three sisters and I gathered to celebrate and we had a lot of fun together, including discussion of the pros and cons of our upbringing, and in all the present-tense moments of our time with her, we could tell that Mom was happy too.

 

 

Death cleaning

I forget why I ordered The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning from the library. Why did I need Margareta Magnusson’s advice on de-cluttering when we already did our drastic clean-up, moving cross-country and into an apartment? But I suppose it’s like perusing reviews of books you’ve already read or plays and concerts you’ve already attended: was it the same for you as me? And there it was, arrived to the Holds shelf, and since it’s short, interesting, and funny, I read it immediately, in about an hour.

download (2)Magnusson, now “between eighty and one hundred,” moved often and cleaned up her parents’ place as well as the family home after her husband’s death. Her ideas resonate with current de-cluttering messages from tidy-gurus like Marie Kondo, but this isn’t about folding T-shirts as much as sparing the kids. (“Let me help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice — instead of awful.”) Well, yes, why not spare the kids? I don’t know if it’s certain personalities or my generation in particular, but we definitely don’t want to be a bother or a burden!

And it’s about getting started, since we’re older and slower and it all takes time. (Her place took a year.) So, clothing first, photos and letters and personal papers last, lest one get stuck in reminiscence and never clean up anything else. And drop expectations that that thing you really treasure will be wanted by children or grandchildren. Just find someone else for it.

“Aging is certainly not for weaklings,” Magnusson writes, but she makes it sound cheerful and a pleasure and she has some great ideas, so I’m glad I read her book, even if I can’t remember why I thought I should.

A report about my birthday

“Chronicles” assumes a report about birthdays. I celebrated mine last week. The weather here was a balmy 9 degrees so we had a pleasant walk along the Boundary Bay dyke (eagle spotting is one of my husband’s favourite activities) and greetings popped into my email box and phone and Facebook feed all day and there were phone calls with a son, daughter, sisters, my mother, a friend, and just the day before I’d received some good news from a publisher (which I’ll say more about later), so I was buoyant and grateful and contented and feeling very much loved. (Love has an agelessness about it that’s especially welcome on birthdays.) Later we enjoyed a delicious roast beef dinner and cake with our Tsawwassen children and grands at their house, followed by a lively game of Apples to Apples. A couple days later H. and I went out for a belated birthday dinner of our own and I had a dish of chicken livers which in addition to the conversation was simply perfect. The card drawn for me by a granddaughter demonstrates that 69 candles requires a rather large and multi-levelled cake, but I quite like the number, actually, with its multiple triads/trinities. And that was the birthday, happy and tucked in for another year.scan

Intergenerational skating

 

We spent Christmas week in Toronto with second Son and his family, and Daughter joined us a few days too. We had a wonderful time.

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I made these paperclip-and-felt skates at Pioneer Girls more than 55 years ago; they hang on the Christmas tree every year.

One afternoon, the agenda included skating. How many years had it been since last I skated? Twenty? I practically grew up on skates but this gradually faded from my adult life, perhaps because my husband comes from Paraguay and had not learned to skate.

The rented skates weren’t perfectly straight and I was wobbly at first but slowly I gained my skating legs, and there we were, representatives of three generations rounding an outdoor Toronto rink, snow falling lightly, the air perfectly crisp but not too cold. Every circle I took enlarged the happiness in me, this lovely activity in the lovely winter air like a breeze tugging me back to hours skating on a rink just like this one in a small Alberta town, round and round and round, perfecting my strokes and crossovers and stops and everything else.

“Hey, look, Mom can skate backwards!” Son called, as if he could hardly believe it. Then I watched him circle and power about and honestly, I was amazed at his prowess. And I found myself repeatedly praising the eight-year-old because of how much she’s advanced in her skating skills.

And so it goes, I thought, when families get together: we’re mutually astonished. That the old can still manage this or that, that adult children who just yesterday were learning (and needed help, right?) are so incredibly competent, that the little ones are bounding up behind us. It’s as if we really can’t believe any of it.

 

Watching the news

I’ve always been a news junkie. I credit my upbringing. In our family, the daily news was almost sacrosanct.

Today’s news environment, constantly looping, constantly available on internet feeds and cable networks, feels quite different from a once-a-day newscast and/or newspaper, however. What’s also different is that I’m older, thus more flexible time-wise, so when a president’s speech to the U.N. is carried live, or there’s a public hearing involving a Supreme Court nominee and his accuser, I can watch. And usually, I do.

And then, of course, it’s possible to keep checking the endless subsequent punditry and chatter. (I write at the computer.) Because an answer is continuously available, my mind continuously begs “Has anything else happened?”

Trouble is, the news may rivet, but in a week like this one, it affects me too. Disturbs, that is, not reassures.

The obvious solution, which some people seem to manage, is:  turn off completely, just live your “other” life. I’ve been thinking about that. But I’ve concluded that withdrawal is not where I land. I want to keep up. In fact, being older, I feel it something of a duty. I want to keep up because I’m still alive, and because of my grandchildren (since I have enough span by now to evaluate the word “historic” when tossed about for current affairs).

But how does a person live the calm of “watchful” instead of the anxious compulsion of “watching”? I have some strategies on the go but I have to confess, at this point it’s a big challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three views of an oak

ScanI was recently inspired to try sketching again, as I had tried for a while many years ago, not because I’m any good at art — honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing — but because it forces me to really look at things. So I took a couple of pencils and a sketch pad along on our visit to son and daughter-in-law and granddaughters in Toronto last week. One day while the girls worked at their art table on the porch I perched in front of a tiny oak tree, newly planted, and I looked and looked some more and drew what I saw. As you can (barely) see, I was tentative with my lines, light with my pencil, aiming for literal. It was fun though and I more or less got what I was after. (The actual tree isn’t very substantial yet either!)

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While I worked, the 7-year-old came alongside and did her own sketch of the tree, which she presented to me. It’s a generous, cheerful tree. She was loose with her pencils, unhesitating, and quickly captured the shape of leaves and branches. She made the trunk ruddy, the leaves an optimistic green.

Then the 4-year-old, who must have wondered why I took so long, erasing and straining over my tree, presented me with her version. There was concern in her voice. “Here Grandma,” she said. “Maybe this will help you.” Not just one tree but five, and pink flowers too, and the blue sky and a happy face (hers?) and humps of earth. Wonderful, its inclusiveness, its feeling.Scan

I’m touched by the age-related integrity of each picture but I’m studying theirs. (Maybe that will help.) I want to see with their generosity, their emotion. Maybe I’m old enough to stop being so literal again.

Fruit and flower

The six-year-old granddaughter asked what a heart attack was which got us talking about the function of the heart to pump blood to every part of the body. To illustrate, I showed her the veins on my hand. They’re raised and bluish and easy to see. Then we looked at her hand where there are vein-lines too, but narrow and deep under smooth skin, barely visible.

“Mine aren’t __” she began, and I could tell she was searching for a word that meant hers were better without saying so exactly. “Sticking out as much,” I supplied.

Attraction has a hierarchy when it comes to hands: young beats old. The girl’s hands are so perfectly contained and formed, so perfectly new, so clearly superior. They aroused wistfulness in me.

I remembered something, though, a couple of lines from George Orwell’s 1984 that I once copied into my notebook of quotes. Just before arrest, Winston has a moment of insight about the old washerwoman he sees in the yard below. Never before had it occurred to him that her work-rough turnip-like body could be beautiful:

“But it was so, and…why not? [Her] body…bore the same relation to the body of a girl as the rose-hip to the rose. Why should the fruit be held inferior to the flower?”

On the road

Further to Carolyn G. Heilbrun, mentioned last week, and the notion of being a rememberer. I don’t know if finding things in my journal that I’ve completely forgotten counts as memory, but in this way I “remember” I first read Heilbrun’s book, The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty, in August 2002 on the long drive across the prairies from Winnipeg to Calgary to deliver our daughter, our youngest child, to school at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. It was the hardest “leaving” of my life. I can’t say why I chose to read that book, I was only 52, but maybe it’s because I find it hard to do things at the last minute! 🙂

Anyway, we were on the # 1 highway, the long straight asphalt line of it, and besides the book, I was considering the scope of our journey, the reason for it, and our daughter said, “Technically, I [will] live on this road.” I considered this. Yes, of course, SAIT was on the #1 through Calgary. “I can see it in the distance,” I teased.

This small exchange gives me pleasure when I encounter it now because I know that when we deposited her there and when we left, two in the car rather than three, and parents and daughter weepy with the farewell, we drove back home along the line where she lived, and it was the line of our future and hers, separate but linked, and I can see that we all “survived” it, as parents and children do. I was looking towards sixty as well, perhaps earlier than necessary, but I’m beyond 60 now, and surviving that too. One does, in all kinds of ways.

One of those weeks

We’re not long back from a week in Toronto with second son, his wife, and three granddaughters, and everything shifts into different categories when away, including thought, so there’s not much of a theme in this post. If anything, it’s the role of grandparenting, key in such visits: enjoying the children, collecting memories, hopefully blessing them too.

IMG_20180316_104221524Theirs is a busy household — the girls are 7, 4, and nearly 2 — and I was reminded of going through those years myself, how relentless the responsibilities of work/house/family, how exhausting it can be. They seemed endless at the time, but they passed of course, a fact we can now haul out as a cheerful platitude! 🙂

Besides walks, reading, a movie, McDonalds, and many wonderful interactions, H. and I “helped”: things like mending wounded stuffies and ruffly dresses (me) or putting up hooks and mudding a wall patch (H). We quite like getting involved in this way and fortunately it’s received as meant, as love. I remember my mother-in-law, in Paraguay, back in the 80s, quietly mending for me while our youngsters tumulted around her. She was the picture of contentment, with us but useful too. Useful and content combine well at this stage.

And one night I had a dream which I actually remembered come morning, rare for me. I’m shy to recount it, but can say it radiated creativity and abundance and all that day it buoyed me, and it buoys me still.

While we were gone, our Tsawwassen daughter-in-law’s mother died. Though expected, the news felt a heavy thud. She was a wonderful woman, only 62. I loved sharing grandchildren with her. Free from pain, yes, wrote d-i-l, but “I think our hearts will hurt forever.”

One of those weeks, in other words, with a whole lot in it.