Archive for the 'Squish Squish' Category

Lucky 13

NS June 13th, 2011

Dear Noble Husband,

The first thing I ever learned about you was that you didn’t like Americans. This was conveyed to me by a third party, our mutual acquaintance, just before he introduced us at a beer festival in Germany.

I was about to turn 19 and had been in Europe for less than a week. I was a dreamer, a firecracker, a poet and all around wildchild…or at least I liked to think so. Despite my desire to blend in with the natives and distance myself from the white-sock-wearing, flag-waving tourists, I felt annoyance or perhaps even patriotism flush my cheeks. Fiercely determined to prove you wrong, I engaged you in half-hearted conversation, hoping to convey the effortlessly cool nonchalance of someone much older and more experienced.

To my surprise, you didn’t brush me off as a silly, naive, American girl and we kept chatting.  A few days later, you invited me and my friends to the pub. By the end of the evening we were the only ones left at the table, so absorbed in conversation that the others had left. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Dear Little Sis,

Your birthday is June 13th. You would’ve been 30 today had you ever made it past 7.

You know that I stopped believing in God not many years after you left, but for some reason I still imagine you up there on a fluffy white cloud, eating lemon drops, doodling in your sketch book and watching my life unfold. I don’t know if you had anything to do with making mine and Noble Husband’s paths cross that day 13 years ago in Germany, but I like to believe that, if not cosmic design, it was a coincidence that had your name on it somewhere.

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Now here we are, 13 years since that June 13th day. We have experienced the difficulty and yearning of a long-distance relationship, the tumultuous nature of international moves and the maddening but exhilarating nature of learning one another’s cultures. You’ve held me many times over the years while I cried tears of desperate heartsickness for those I left behind, listened silently as I railed against the British way of life with which I had a love/hate relationship for the first few years, and have always done everything within your power to help me maintain my connections to ‘home’, even though this is my home now. You are my home.

Together we have survived the upheaval of creating and parenting two small humans, our past lives picked up and shaken vigorously like a snow globe, each flake a tear, an argument, a broken night, a hole we never thought we’d dig ourselves out of but always did. Now the flakes have settled and all that lay beneath our feet is a beautiful blanket of snowfall, the years of their childhoods stretched out before us in what seems an endless landscape right now but which we both know will melt away much too quickly. When they leave home, the bubble we have created will be picked up and shaken again, setting us off on another rollercoaster of emotion but also, I hope, on another great adventure.

One of the things I love most about you, what I have always loved most about you, is your kind and gentle heart. Though you are a ‘man’s man’ in so many other ways, you have never been afraid to show emotion when it comes to your family. You tell me every single day how beautiful I am and how much you love me and, more importantly, you say the same to both our children. Your affectionate and playful nature has blossomed since you became a father, increasing your confidence and assurance of your place in this world. I cannot imagine feeling more content and silently joyful than when I watch you play with and care for our children.

Last weekened, we all went for a walk by the river. It was meant to be a sunny day but in typical British fashion it turned cloudy and began to rain just as we started to unpack our picnic.  I grumbled and wondered if we should eat in the car. You said, “Nonsense!” and found a cluster of trees that would give us shelter while we ate. Afterwards, once the rain had stopped,  you excitedly led us on a riverside walk. We took it in turns to carry Noble Boy on our shoulders and answer the dozens of daily questions posed by Noble Girl, about anything and everything. Finally, we all grew tired and cold and turned back. You joined hands with Noble Girl, who in turn grabbed her brother’s hand. At your suggestion, he then offered me his grubby palm so that we’d all be linked in a line. I twined my fingers around his and looked down at his beaming face, his enjoyment of our family hand-hold so innocent and perfect to behold. I smiled back and then looked up just in time to lock eyes with you. It was only for a second and we didn’t say anything but in that glance we shared identical sentiments: unconditional love for our children and eternal gratitude that we found each other and were sharing this experience together.

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul but I never knew before that moment how remarkably accurate that saying is.

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The bittersweet truth is that if you were still here, I wouldn’t be where or who I am today. Would my life be better because you were still in it? Undoubtedly. But in some ways, I wonder if the only reason I found this happiness I have now, the one I hold in my heart right this very moment, is because your death gave me the strength and the determination to make things work, to make my relationships count and to treasure each moment I have with those I love.

I wish it could’ve been different. I wish you were walking into a room filled with a thousand balloons, all your closest friends and family shouting out ‘Surprise!’ and proffering a candle-laden cake with your name written in hand-piped icing, along with something jokily derisory about being old now. I wish I knew what your face would look like today and what our relationship would be like. Would you be an artist? Would we be close? Would you be taller or shorter than me?

But also in that picture in my mind, I know that when you entered the room and smiled at me, I would be with a different husband, with different children. Or perhaps no husband or children at all. Hell, maybe I wouldn’t be there either.

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If I ever allow myself to wonder what my life would be like if we hadn’t met 13 years ago, on that 13th day of June, I draw a complete blank. Sure, there may have been exciting alternatives, a parallel universe in which I led either a completely different life or one much the same as I have now but with different characters. The beauty and agony of life is that I will never know. But frankly, I’m enjoying this life, the one I have with you, too much to care.

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There’s not much point trying to imagine a present or future based on a past that can’t be changed, I know. Like in those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books we loved as kids, once you’ve chosen your path (or the path has chosen you), you must see it through to the end. No skipping around, no cheating, no regrets for the course not taken. And if you go back and do the same adventure again after you’ve seen all the possible answers, you’d always know in the back of your mind that you made those choices because they were mapped out for you by others, not because you felt them in your gut.

Fate is what led us to the place we are now, but Future is where we go from there.

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Thank you both for making my life indescribably richer than it ever could’ve been if I hadn’t known you, even for a little while.

She gets it, even when we don’t

NS January 9th, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, after a spot of shopping, we took the kids to Pizza Hut. Though there were moments where we had to corral them back to the table, for the most part they behaved in the socially prescribed way by sitting in their chairs, eating their food and not making too much noise. It was a nice outing.

As NH and I were paying and getting coats on, our server, a young woman who looked to be in her early 20s, smiled as she watched our children tickle each other and laugh. After she handed over the receipt and my debit card, she said to them, “You two make me so happy. Watching you play together has made my day.”

She then turned to me and said, “This must be the best part of being a parent, huh? Watching them smile and laugh. I bet it makes up for all the times you’re fed up with them.”

Caught off guard by her lovely and insightful comment, I just smiled and nodded. As I watched the two blonde heads of my progeny skip out the door holding hands, the poignancy of her comment caused my eyes to briefly fill with tears.

Yes, I am lucky and yes, they are a joy to behold.

Thank you, Pizza Hut girl, for reminding me of that.

A whole new world

NS November 21st, 2010

Tonight, my daughter, you entered another world without me.

Right there at the dining room table, while your brother slept and your father was at work, you sat beside me, your face alight with concentration and joy, and jumped down the rabbit hole with both feet. You never got frustrated or scared or said you couldn’t do it, never sighed or tutted or acted as if your work was a chore.

You sounded out each letter, then each word, on every page in that 6-page book. You did it all by yourself, with only the tiniest prompts from me. You even stopped to comment on and empathise with the dog in the story with the wounded paw on his way to the vet. You can now READ the words ‘dog’ and ‘vet’ without help from me.

I’ll say it again because I believe they are the most wonderful words that have ever come out of my mouth: YOU CAN READ.

Though you perhaps don’t realise it yet, a whole new world so vast and magical and mind-blowing is opening up before you. Like a stone rolling down a hill or a room with endless doors, the potential within you is gathering speed, waiting to burst forth and transport you to places you could’ve never possibly dreamed of before.

And I am so proud I could burst.

One day soon, when you’ve got your nose in a book and aren’t really listening to me, when you don’t need my help at all, I will recount my life-long love affair with books, starting, as you have, with a simple story about a dog. I will try to convey to you how much comfort, knowledge and confidence I acquired through reading and how it changed me forever. I will remember all the times in my life when reading helped me,  sheltered me, saved me.

Hopefully you won’t pay me any attention because you will be too busy reading.

Welcome to the rabbit hole, my darling girl. I hope you enjoy the free-fall as much as I have.

Glad that my apple fell near this tree

NS May 10th, 2010

I know (US) Mother’s Day was yesterday but procrastination, as my own mother would tell you, runs in our family. Things that also run in our family: fat knees, night owl tendencies,  long goodbyes, a love of bourbon and laughing at the annual Christmas party until sides are clutched, bladders threaten to burst and asthma inhalers are needed.

Like most teenagers, I swore I’d never become my mother. Our relationship always remained largely amicable and intact but we fought like cats and dogs for many years, mainly because we were so alike in personality and spirit. I see it now in my own daughter, the similarities that will make our future relationship tumultuous. One day, probably in about nine years, she will hate me. If I’m lucky, she’ll just be embarrassed by me. If things go like they did for me and my mom, she will do both in small doses but come back to me, back to a place of love and respect, once those rocky, hormone-fuelled, independence-driven days wane as the maturity level grows.

And I know that when I call my mom to mull all this over, angry and sad and confused over my changed status and mourning the little girl lost to me, she will understand perfectly and yearn to wrap her arms around the phone, around me, and provide comfort. She won’t say ‘I told you so’; she won’t tell me I’m blowing it out of proportion. She’ll remember how much it hurt and think not of what I inflicted on her but how she can make my hurt better. Because that’s what mothers do.

I want to tell you more about her, my mom. In thinking about what a hero and inspiration she’s been to me, I tried to come up with some less-sappy and clichéd synonyms because those kinds of euphemisms are meaningless, overused and not at all my style. And the great thing about my mom? She would not only understand but completely agree. So instead of telling you in minute detail how strong she is or how she shaped me, I’ll just share a few glimpses into what kind of person she is.

  • Never afraid of getting her hands dirty or of physical labour, she drove a forklift at a factory when she was eight months pregnant with me. She can also move a sofa or bed in or out of a house, on her own, literally on her back. Her brute strength and pivoting skills are unmatched
  • My mom is the McGyver of the crafting world. Give her a bit of cardboard, a scrap of fabric, a safety pin and a magic marker and she can make a superhero outfit, an exact replica of an ancient Egyptian funeral pyre or a Native American headdress
  • She never gives up on her dreams, no matter how long it takes to achieve them or how slowly she progresses. I know that before she dies she will have put on paper the book that’s already inscribed in her mind, have taken those glass-blowing and language classes she’s talked about for years and have travelled to many of the places she dreams of seeing. My biggest dream is to be able to, one day, help her achieve at least one of these
  • She is the most honest, hard-working, ethical person I know. This is a woman who would not take even ten minutes over her allotted lunch break without docking it from her own pay. And she does the payroll! As a result, I am utterly incapable of cheating at games or not saying anything when given incorrect change that would be to my advantage
  • If caffeine were made illegal today, my mother would be in jail tomorrow for trying to procure a coffee or cola on the black market. This is the only thing for which I can envision her breaking the law
  • She is an unashamed backseat driver of the most extreme proportions. I’m not talking about little arguments over map-reading skills or a bit of bickering about speeding, I’m talking about being surprised she hasn’t actually shoved my dad out of the driver’s seat of a moving car and taken the wheel herself. My dad affectionately refers to her as The Nagigator
  • Her dedication to tirelessly advocating and caring for everyone in our family who has ever been terminally ill (including her own daughter, father, mother, grandmother, brother and father-in-law) leaves me speechless with awe. The kindness and respect she showed to the most socially awkward, mentally unstable and physically unwell or disabled people she dealt with on a daily basis in her former job, one she held for nearly 20 years, had a huge impact on me and my views towards fairness, equality and the importance of humanity
  • As a busy working mom when we were growing up, she often cleaned at night instead of sleeping, when the mess got to be too much. I would wake up in the morning to a tidied room, vacuumed carpet and new sheets on my bed, all done right under my nose while I slept. It was like magic. Mary Poppins and her spoonful of sugar crap had nothing on my mom
  • The holidays were never complete until she’d uttered the words, “Merry fucking Christmas” before slamming a door
  • She always apologised afterwards and we always forgave her because we knew how hard she worked and how much she did for us, even when she didn’t

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Writing Workshop: House number six

NS April 15th, 2010

The following was written for Josie’s Writing Workshop #20, using prompt number one: ‘Tell me about a time you decided to move house’. I may write a second part to it, describing more about the house itself (which was fascinating in its own right, and just as dear to me as the farm).

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Of the seven houses I lived in as a child, number six is the only one that ever stole my heart.

It was called Shadow Lake Farm and was off a country road, in a country town. We rented the farmhouse which sat on a 362-acre plot of land and could only be accessed by the winding, gravel path that twisted for a quarter mile from road to hearth. I walked up that lane on the way home from school many a time, kicking up gravel dust with my school shoes and shouldering my heavy backpack, unable to even see the house until I was almost upon it. At the height of summer the corn on both sides engulfed me, making it seem as though I was in a crop tunnel. Just the crickets, the corn and me. When I got to the top of the lane I would often turn, one hand shielding my eyes from the golden sun, and look all around me, at the corn and the waving wheat, the scattered masses of grazing cows, and the grain silos that punctuated the cloudless blue sky like exclamation points, clinging on to the remains of an era slipping by. My heart swelled with a quiet joy and sense of pride; ‘This is my kingdom!’ I wanted to roar. And it was.

I never needed to go to theme parks or petting zoos or hiking trails to get my fill of adventure and nature. It was all around me, every day. Anywhere my legs and imagination could carry me, I went. Book and apple in hand, head in the clouds and calloused, bare feet dangling on either side of my horse, Applejack, I could do, go and see anything I wanted. I secretly fancied myself a female Huckleberry Finn.

The land, owned by a renowned surgeon in the nearest city, included three fishing ponds, a disused cottage and an old abattoir, its red-streaked walls and rusty meat hooks evoking in me a sense of fascination and sadness on the few occasions when I stacked up bricks to peek inside the barred windows. In my younger years I often sat on a rock by the side of the pond, casting my rod into the water below, hoping to catch one of the fish darting between my submerged feet. I used worms I dug up in the gardening patch. Failing that, I would borrow my dad’s tackle box with its vast, colourful array of lures and bobbers, hooks and lines. He was usually too busy cutting the endlessly-growing grass surrounding the house to even notice. I remember looking at him on the riding lawnmower executing sharp turns, narrowly avoiding trees and rocks and forming neat rows of shorn lawn for us to enjoy for a whole week before he had to do it all over again. I sometimes wondered if he ever felt like throwing his hands up in the air, saying, “I give up!” But he never did. Instead he mopped his sweat-soaked brow with his red bandana and then headed inside for a large glass of iced tea and a rest in his favourite chair before getting up resignedly to confront another vast expanse of grass.

Down by the pond, my yellow labrador, Dino, often sat beside me, occasionally jumping in to cool off and then splattering me with the droplets when he decided to shake dry. We’d had ducks at one point but Dino, being a fowl hunter by nature, had taken them out one by one, often depositing their heads in odd places around our house. I used to joke that he was like a one-dog mafia. As far as the fish went, I rarely caught anything of size and even when I did, rarely kept it. Gutting and cleaning fish was not something I’d ever been particularly fond of, though my fishing-crazy cousin had patiently shown me how many times. One would think I’d be tempted to go vegetarian as a veterinarian-wannabe with all this animal killing going on around me, but it was just part of life at Shadow Lake Farm.

As I got a bit older and outgrew fishing and playing in the fields, I took instead to one of three favourite ‘hiding spots’: in the tree house, at the top of the hay stack in the barn or underneath a grove of pine trees near the abandoned cottage towards the back of the property, where I could sit for hours on a bed of soft, fresh-smelling needles, protected from the sun and the eyes of anyone who wanted to find me. If I grew tired of walking or taking Applejack (who often dumped me off and raced back to the stable to bury his nose in the oat bucket) to the far corners of the farm, I would sometimes hop in the golf cart or red go-cart that were kept behind the barn, alternate modes of transport for those of us who couldn’t drive cars yet.

When I ventured home, hungry for lunch, I could usually find my older sister sitting on the sofa, flipping through magazines and listening to her favourite radio station. Her allergies and asthma prevented her from pursuing many of the things I did so she was always more ‘indoorsy’ than me. I sometimes wished she could come out and go on one of my adventures with me, but at the same time I relished the independence. In retrospect, it did me a lot of good. Perhaps that is why, even today, I crave solitariness when I need to get out of head for awhile. To be joyful with other people is lovely, of course, but to be alone and happy is a gift, one I feel that time alone on the farm gave me.

On warm nights when we had company, my dad would get the grill out and barbecue some burgers or chicken. I’d always volunteer to pick a few ears of corn from the field to add to our meal. I loved standing on the edge of those majestic plants, like so many soldiers in neat rows, before stepping into the maze. I never ventured too far towards the middle, being too nervous of getting lost, but the fire flies, always thick in the sky at nightfall, lit the way home. Back at the house, I prepared the corn with my sister. Peeling away the outer layers (called ‘shucking’) to reveal the sweet, golden kernels within was almost as enjoyable as slathering the finished product in butter before it hit our plates. Oh, how I loved summer on that farm.

My childhood was a charmed one in many ways, despite its sorrows and hardships, not because we were well-off (we weren’t) or because I had a perfect family (we weren’t), but because I had the gift of space and time. Space to roam and explore and time to be and do things on my own. The land we lived on wasn’t mine, we didn’t own it, but it was just as much a part of me, and I of it, as the seeds were part of the soil.

When we left Shadow Lake for a much smaller house on a much smaller plot of land in the middle of town, I was heartbroken. Leaving my horse, the ponds, the fields, the lane, the house….it was almost too much to bear. In retrospect, it was the perfect time to leave as I was entering into my teenage years and the new house’s more central location was ideal for getting lifts, going to friends’ houses and so on, and I probably would have quickly outgrown all the wonders of the farm, but at the time it felt like a loss; another loss on top of the one we’d already suffered.

But as with many things in life, I adapted and moved on because I had to. Like a childhood friend who fades from your life but never your thoughts, this house, number six, will always live, perfect and true, in my memory.

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