Tuesday, December 31, 2013

13 happiest moments of 2013

Here are my happiest memories of 2013 in pictures:

Disney World with my husband, kids, and parents (April). When we went 5 years ago, my daughter and I had a meltdown in the happiest restroom on earth, but this time, even though the official story is that we're both too old to believe in fairies, we felt the magic.

Attending the Sage Hill Poetry Colloquium to work and birdwatch with Don McKay, who, it turns out, believes I'm a poet (May).

Being in Prairie Fire (July) because you have to admit, that's pretty cool.

My 40th birthday party (July) planned by my loving husband and attended by poets, autism moms, church friends, mentors, and crazy cousins alike. Here I am with Sally Ito, laughing at other people's poetry, not because it's bad, but because it's about me.

And of course, my shiny birthday present from my parents.

Camping at St. Malo, Falcon Lake, and West Hawk (below). I live in a sunny province of lakes and horizons.

Dancing (badly) and hanging out with my Froese family at my cousin's wedding (August).

Reading my "To make an Aspie" poem with jazz trumpet and bass at Thin Air (September).

Dancing with Barbara Schott (centre) of Prairie Fire (who remembered publishing me as soon as she heard my name), Marjorie Poor (right) who always makes me smile, Margaret Sweatman, and Jennifer Still at the CV2 Undead party (October).

My disabilities article Can I give you a hug? (October), the highest trending mbherald.com story in 2013, that's being used by churches of all denominations as a guide for building inclusion and that brought me closer to delightful parents like Jeannette (below with her son Donovan).

Hope Centre Ministries all-day photo shoot with my husband (November). Some of the adults with disabilities we photographed had never had a professional photo taken before. As you can tell, they were a joy to capture.

My children's successes, which include: for K, a provincial science fair bronze medal, the lead in the school play, an award for creative writing, a certificate for honour roll with distinction, and his first 15-mionute presentation (on aircraft engines) at air cadets - which he too claims as his bravest moment of the year. And for G, staying on stage through the whole school concert (last year, we celebrated the success of staying up for a single song), a brilliant dramatic performance in her Sunday school Christmas drama, composing and performing a piano piece at the church Christmas Eve service, and no meltdowns over Christmas presents.

And of course, my Lily, who makes me happy every day of the year even though when I got her two years ago, I didn't like dogs.


There are also some things I can't photograph, such as finding a spiritual director and a massage therapist who helped keep me breathing normally in the less-than-happy moments.

All in all, it was a good year: I danced, I wrote, I was loved.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A bittersweet, chocolate-free, merry Christmas

Here's the story about how I visited my brother C for the first time in months.

They warn me he's been less upbeat lately. They warn me he's grown shaggy.

C doesn't cope well with the excitement of family gatherings, so my family stops at his place after Christmas dinner at my mom's.

My mom calls ahead to ask about his mood. The staff report it as so-so.

Mom says, Well, you've seen it all before and can handle C as well as anyone.

Brother T, who comes home every chance he gets, especially at Christmas, tells me, You've suffered enough at his hands. I find this rather eloquent and just a little comical.

I'd bought each of my brothers a giant (1 kg) Cadbury chocolate bar (tasty and fair trade). T got a hoot out of it. My parents had to take turns lifting it because they couldn't believe it was all one bar. Good times all around.

But when we're about to visit C, T says, He won't be happy about this; he's not eating chocolate anymore. Seriously? Yes, apparently, the former powerlifter has eschewed all sweets on this recent health kick.

Would he like a ribboned bouquet of broccoli, then? Nope, He also throws away his veggies. (My family isn't known for our logic.) 

I guess I'll just give him a hug, I say, and wait for T's reaction. I laugh: Don't worry, I value my life!

Of course the rest of the family and the staff know the chocolate taboo. Sister who hardly ever visits and never gets calls is the only one out of the loop.

So always-helpful mom rummages through her closet of goodies and pulls out a mug with a cartoon about exercise: "Why would I punish my body for something my mouth did?" - acceptable since he still drinks coffee (but only at home), except that it's got a little too much pink on it for a 6-foot-tall, muscular guy in his 30s.

A Tim Horton's card? Nope, he's cut out his favourite chilli too. They say now he'll only be seen in a Smitty's. Who knew? Everyone but me, I guess.

Mom finds a tin savings bank that say "MY wish foundation: please donate." I throw in the loonies from my wallet (not many - his staff are going to think I'm a real cheapskate.) And off we go to see what kind of C we'll find.

A bushy, lumberjack-like fellow sipping coffee greets us with a smile. I hand him our family Christmas photo. He comments (more than once) about how my husband is balder, my son is taller, and my daughter looks like me. He can't stop looking at it. And us. 

He reminds me over and over that I'm 40 now, and he'll always be younger (because what are little brothers for?).

I meet two of the staff - who've worked at T and C's house for a year - and that makes me feel bad. They offer us what C's drinking.

C brings out one of the maple walking canes he's been making and selling. He tells me where he finds the trees on his staff member's yard and makes sure I understand how hard he sanded it to get it that smooooth. I marvel at how white the wood is and tell him it feel lovely because it does.

As we drive home, I think about T's comment about how I've suffered.

T was only 11 when I left home, so he and I don't have that many memories of growing up together. He was born when I was 6 1/2, so he was more of a doll than a friend. (Who needs expensive plastic babies that eat and pee when you have the real thing?) And T's interests are more in line with my dad's: whenever possible he was in the shop handing my dad the correct screw drivers while I stayed inside, as far as humanly possible from anything motorized.

C and I are only 3 years apart. The sandbox, swing set, playhouse, and toy room in my mind always have a C in them. We built roads and demolished bridges. We made up crazy tag games. We ran our own circus. What people don't understand is that even though we couldn't discuss deep thoughts, we did share feelings: hopes, fears. Lots of laughs.

I wonder what "suffering" T is remembering: The dinners interrupted by screaming? The times my arm got in the way of a meltdown? That's just life. (And for T who lives with C, it's still life.)

I don't blame C for the past any more than I blame myself. We've both done the best with what we had.

And I don't blame him for the fact that he's been less agreeable lately. I've had my down days too.

And while I prefer clean shaven myself (and worry that some may judge him for the woodsman look), I'm proud that he's independent enough to choose his own style. We all have to go through a messy stage where we find our voice and say to heck with what others think; for me it was in college; maybe this is his time. I wonder if his self-imposed diet comes from the same need as well.

I feel like this post lacks resolution, like I need to end with "I'm going to visit C's house more often" or "My Smitty's gift card is in the mail." But maybe this post is like life: a story without a clear moral or tidy ending.

The only conclusion I can draw right now is that I love my brothers. Sometimes poorly. Sometimes passionately. Sometimes silently.

Sometimes by not giving them chocolates. Sometimes by not bugging them about shaving. Always without hugs.

And that's a story (lovely and messy) I'm not done writing.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Our one-of-a-kind gingerbread...courtyard

This weekend, we made our annual gingerbread house. We got a fully assembled, ready-to-decorate kit that promised to come out looking like this:

But when we opened the box, the house was broken. We tried to glue the roof back together with icing. 

But it wasn't working. I kept thinking, I hope this isn't a metaphor for my life.
We added more and more icing, and held as still as we could, but it just didn't stick.

We decided to make the best of it and do our own thing.

The good thing about going roofless is you get to decorate inside too.

We even rolled out the red carpet.

 And invited in some Christmas friends.

Maybe this isn't such a bad metaphor after all.


Friday, December 06, 2013

what little girls are made of

I've been getting a lot of calls from my daughter's school the past two weeks. She's extra emotional. Not sure if it's holiday stress, the start of a flu, end-of-term fatigue, or hormones (gah!), but it's been tough for her lately.

When I was a kid, if a call or note came from school, there were consequences at home. That's not my philosophy. G may or may not be aware that I know about her day, but my take is if she's already spent two hours processing strategies and delivering any necessary apologies at school, why hash it through all over again?

When she climbs into my warm car, drops her boots at my backdoor, and flops on my sofa to watch Sponge Bob, she's safe. It's a fresh start. A new day begins every afternoon at 4:00.

Tonight, after a day of tears, she wrote me a new song on the piano, and I cheered. She improvised a mime production of Hansel and Gretel, and I laughed myself silly. We watched treadmill mishaps on YouTube and read a story about stray cats. I gave her a massage and a kiss and hopefully the confidence to try again tomorrow.

Being an 11-year-old girl isn't sugar and spice; it's more like crumbled tissue and crash helmets.

Maybe it's up to parents to add the sugar.