Monday, May 18, 2015

Nature's artistry

I can't take my eyes off of it.

To outsiders, it's just another painting of a river and some trees, but to me it's a reminder of the innocence of summer from so long ago.


It's called Glenora Summer / MacKinnon Ravine, and the artist is Lori Frank.

This is a scene I've looked upon hundreds of times, and yet I never tire of taking in its natural beauty.

It's my favourite part of Edmonton. And now it hangs in my kitchen.






Saturday, May 16, 2015

Silence, solitude, and togetherness

I watch her navigating the park, gravitating toward another little girl and making new friends so effortlessly. She's so different from me in this regard and so much more like her dad.

"How old are you?" she asks the little blonde girl as they begin swinging side-by-side on the big-kid swings.

"I'm five."

"Oh, I'm only four-and-a-half. And I have a brother who's still zero."

"Hey, there's my dad! He's 71. Wait, no. My Papa is 71. My dad is 45, and my mom is 44.

"My Nonna is 78, but she died already."

"My Uncle Pete is 92, I think."

"He must be really tall!"

"Want to build a rock cake in the sand with me?"

"Okay!"

Later, a woman comes by -- her grandmother, maybe -- and tells the little blonde girl that they'll be leaving soon.

I smile politely at the woman, but I have no desire to begin a conversation. It's not that I'm being anti-social, per se, but I just don't feel like talking.

Again, this is where my daughter and I differ. She seeks people out and makes a point of acquiring new friends. And she talks non-stop.

I think back to my childhood. Was I like this, too, at that age? When did I stop being so carefree?

It was probably in my pre-teens, when the world became harsher and more judgmental.

But to my daughter, the world isn't like that. It's just a place full of new friends that she hasn't yet met.

I try to justify my behaviour by acknowledging that I already have plenty of worthwhile friends, and I'm okay with not seeking out new people to talk to each day.

I feel like I'm in constant communication with dozens of people everyday anyway -- whether they be friends, family, business associates, or the parents of my daughter's friends -- and I sometimes just want to shut the world out and enjoy some quiet time alone.

And so I don't strike up a conversation with the little blonde girl's grandmother.

Instead, I just stand back, enjoying the late-afternoon breeze, and watch my daughter innocently play in the park.


The little blonde girl's dad comes toward us. "Lauren, it's time to go!"

"I have to go now," the little blonde girl -- Lauren -- turns to face my daughter. "See you later!"

"Okay, bye!"

And she walks away, my daughter's newest friend, toward her family.

"Can we come back here tomorrow, Mama? I want to see her again."

We begin the walk home ourselves, passing another dad who has just arrived, pulling two kids in a wagon.

"Are you going to be at the park for very long?" my daughter approaches the man.

"Yeah, we'll be here for a little while."

"Here, then you can play with this!"

My daughter hands one of his children a toy shovel that she'd found in the sand and was using to make her rock cakes.

"Oh, thank you!"

And, with that, another new friend is made. So effortlessly.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Selflessness


Yesterday marked the passing of my first Mother's Day without my mom, which certainly made for a bittersweet day. 

I remember last year at this time, we celebrated Mother's Day with her in the hospital. I was pregnant and pretty much only thinking about myself, wishing that I could lay down and put my swollen feet up somewhere.

My mom, who always put her family ahead of herself, also told me to go home and rest. She insisted she was fine and didn't want me spending so much time at the hospital when I had a family to take care of.

That, just like the quote above, is what defines a good mother. And my mom had selflessness in droves.

The plan all along, once she was completely healed and out of hospital, was that she would help take care of my son once a week when I went back to work. Though she wouldn't be able to care for him four days a week, like she did with my daughter for nine months, she still wanted to help out in some capacity.

When it became clear that she just wasn't going to get better, my mom came to live at our house in between hospital stays. She didn't have the strength to lift up my son, but she could hold him for a short time if placed on her lap. And so that's what she did when he needed his bottle.


I was always hesitant to leave her alone with him, but on one day I had no other option. He was napping upstairs, but I had to run out and pick up my daughter. And so I left him alone with my mom.

Her instructions were that under no circumstances was she to go upstairs to pick him up. Regardless of whether he woke up early or began crying, she was to leave him up there, as I would be back within minutes anyway.

But, of course, when I came back home, my mom was upstairs, looking over him in his bassinet and speaking to him in Italian. I don't know how she made it up the stairs without falling herself, but she did it because she couldn't leave her newborn grandson up there all alone to cry.

Then, a few days later, my mom even attempted to help me shovel snow. I was out there clearing the driveway while my son napped, only to find that my mom had put on her coat and came outside to push snow off our deck. 

I'm sure the weight of the snow was at least half her own weight, but she did the best she could despite her grave condition. 

Less than a month later, she was gone.

None of us are perfect individuals and, by extension, none of us are perfect mothers. I make parenting mistakes on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

My mom was no different, except that she lived the quote above and always put the well-being of her family ahead of her own. 


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Shoreline of wonder

Maybe in my next life I'll be as carefree as Noelle Hancock. But, for now, I can only admire her life from afar.

Hancock's thought-provoking tale recently appeared online for Cosmopolitan, where she explained to the world why she left her nearly-six-figure Manhattan job to go live on an island and scoop ice cream.

There are plenty of times I've dreamed of doing something like this, but let's face it. I don't have the guts to go beyond dreaming.

What I do have, however, is a family, a mortgage, and other elderly relatives to care for.

So, yeah, even if I wasn't so afraid of the unknown, I still would not pull up stakes and just move to the Caribbean.

Plus, where Hancock is the free-spirit, I am the worry-wart.

What if I get sick? What are their doctors and hospitals like?
Do they have a legitimate education system down there?
And is it a safe place to live? Is their police force corrupt?

I know, all these thoughts of mine are closed-minded and feeding off of negative stereotypes. But that's what fear does to people, and I am definitely too afraid of making such a life-altering change.

I remember once, on a visit to Barbados, my mom and husband and I went on a jeep-riding adventure where we visited a wildlife reserve and went off-roading past some sugar cane fields and various neighbourhoods.

During a pit stop on the eastern coast bordering the Atlantic Ocean, our driver spoke to us of all the places he'd traveled in the world. And despite all he had seen, nothing took his breath away like his native Barbados. He was happy to make a simple living there, rather than living a different life in a richer country.

At the time, I remember thinking that his life seemed plenty rich already, given his surroundings and relatively stress-free lifestyle.

My mom and husband, enjoying a well-deserved break in Barbados.

But despite all these yearnings I have to live a similar existence to that of Hancock and the driver, I know that my destiny is to just visit these places rather than making them my home.

Like I said, maybe in my next life things will be different.


--


As an aside, Hancock is also the author of the current book I'm reading, My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir.

Here, Hancock makes good on Eleanor Roosevelt's famous advice to "do one thing every day that scares you."


I've only just begun reading this book but, so far, I'm already feeling inspired to do and achieve more..... even if I never do move to the Caribbean.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Magical

For those times when I'm stuck at home because my son is napping, or when my mind is just too scattered for me to do any decent writing (or anything else resembling productivity), I like to read. Which is good, because it's a much healthier escape for me than just venting my frustrations online.

And, as my husband often relays to our daughter, books are magical because they can take us anywhere.


About a month or so ago, I finished reading two very different, though equally engaging, books.

It Was Me All Along: A Memoir is a sad, yet uplifting story by Andie Mitchell. She tells the tale of growing up overweight in a dysfunctional home and then, ultimately, losing all the weight while on her own in university. 

Sure, there are plenty of stories out there just like this one, of women who have beat the odds and changed their lives for the better, but hers makes for a remarkably inspiring tale. It made me feel like I could do it, too. 

In fact, when I was done reading, I just wanted to set the book down and go for a jog or something, except for the fact that, you know, my son was napping. Ahem.



And then there's Holy Cow: A Novel, by television's favourite paranoid Special Agent, David Duchovny. 

Unlike the above novel, I can pretty much guarantee there is no other book out there quite like this one. 

As is widely known, this is the story of a gallivanting cow named Elsie who travels the globe and unwittingly solves the world's problems.

And while it sounds bizarre and unconventional, I really did enjoy this book. It was a page-turner, and my husband and I were both able to finish it in less than 48 hours.

It's a good thing Duchovny was able to put his Master's Degree from Yale University to use after all, as he really is a terrifically fun and witty writer. 

Here's hoping he continues this writing trend.



Aside from these two novels, there was actually a third book I checked out late last month as well. 

Alberta 100 Years a Home was put together several years ago by articles from the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. And it is fascinating. 

We're often inundated with histories of other provinces or nations, only to neglect our own, which is why this book is so magical. The photos alone are mesmerizing, if not a little heartbreaking.

This book is a must-see for any good Albertan looking for a sense of local history.



Monday, May 4, 2015

Drowning

I feel as though I'm drowning.

It's almost midnight, there are a million other things I should be doing right now besides blogging, and yet I just need this escape.

At first glance, the idea of having a year off work to care for your newborn baby sounds like a relaxing endeavor ...... but as one of my favourite sayings goes, "The days are long, but the years are short."

And so here we are, mere weeks before I'm expected to return to my day job, yet feeling as though my son has gotten the short end of the stick in terms of parental care this year.

And, quite frankly, I feel as though I need another year off work myself just to tie up all the loose ends and recover from the hell our family has been through in the last 12 months.

Just to recap, the first half of my maternity leave was spent caring for my dying mother, and now the second half has been spent caring for her estate. Between lawyer visits, mortgage negotiations, and interviewing property management companies, I've barely had any time to actually empty and clean my mom's home.

And, oh yeah, I also have that baby to pay attention to from time to time.

My mom has been gone for nearly five months, the lawyer fees long ago surpassed the five-grand mark, and my employer rejected my proposal of returning to work on a part-time basis for the remainder of this year.

Either I go back to work full-time in June, or I don't go back to work.

And given those lawyer fees and mortgage payments -- among other things -- it looks as though I'm definitely going back to work full-time in a few weeks.

It wouldn't be so bad if I had just finished up everything at my mom's, but that's way behind schedule. Her house and yard and garage are in a state of transition (read: chaos and in need of repair).

Plus, my own house is also in complete shambles, with stacks upon stacks of boxes piled in every room, in every hallway, and in the garage.

We consider it a small accomplishment when we're able to actually fit both vehicles in there these days.

And it also would have been beneficial had my childcare options not fallen through on me for the summer, thus leaving me scrabbling to find adequate care for my son at the last minute.

(Did I mention that I have to go back to work in just a few weeks?? And I have NO CHILDCARE.  I wonder how well it will go over when I just bring the kid in with me on that first day.)

On top of all this, I also have a deadline coming up in which three articles are due next week. Three articles of which I have yet to research or contact the involved subjects.

And then there's our taxes! I file all the taxes (Canadian and American) for our household and a couple of other households, and it looks like the final three remaining sets are going to be a little late this year. (Frankly, it was a small miracle that I even finished the first five sets on time.)

I know it's unbecoming of me to rant like this, but sometimes a girl needs to vent. Even though my time is better spent doing any of the above outstanding tasks required of me, I just needed an outlet in which to express my frustration.

They say that God never piles more on your shoulders than what you can handle -- and so of course things can always get worse -- but this girl's had it.

I need help. And, most of all, I need more time.