Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Flight

There are a lot of ways to die and this isn't in my top five (peacefully sleeping and death by chocolate being among the favorites) but I buckle in and lay my whole life into the hands of one dorky brother-in-law as we vibrate down the little country airstrip, headphones crackling and bodies bouncing in the cramped back seat.  And, like it's nothing, we're airborne.  We're flying.  The taillight perforates our little cabin with blinking red and ice rings the lake beneath us like cool frosting.

The world is smaller from the air.  Owen Sound and Mount Forest are neighbours meeting nightlight bloom in a sky that rocks and holds us on wings of nothing.  We bank tight and Walmart is a dollhouse and cars are just fireflies drifting along Highway 4 and for one small moment I am wildly free...

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Restless Eve

"Mommy?"  His pajamas are too small and his hair is too long and his bare feet wiggle against the kitchen floor and he twists his fingers together because he's sure that he's in trouble.  This is his third time up.

My hands are sticky with sweet marinade and the wrapping up of water chestnuts with bacon and I turn to him without lifting my hands from the cutting board.  "Liam, you have to sleep...Santa won't come."

He sniffles.  "I was dust heawing Zander banging his feet and screaming, 'Santa is here! Santa is here!' and I tan't sweep."

There are heavy bags beneath his eyes and he's so tuckered from the long day he spent with me at work and the long night with the magical candlelight service and his stellar 'O Come All Ye Faithful' lip syncing from the mezzanine and the picking of the choicest clementine for Rudolph because of course reindeer need Vitamin C as much as everyone else.  He crosses the kitchen and wraps his arms around my waist.

"Was Zander really doing that?" I ask, stabbing a toothpick through a chestnut and finally washing my hands.  He doesn't let go of me as I turn to the sink.

"Nooooo," he wails, burying his face in my sweater, tears in his voice. "It's dust all in my head and I tan't sweep."

I unwrap his arms from me like I'm opening a present and I bite against laughing at his overacting imagination.  "You have to sleep, Liam."

"I know," he whimpers.  Then he wipes his nose on my sleeve and stumbles back to bed after and quick kiss on the top of his head.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Love Letter For A Stranger

The day is ugly like the sun forgot us.  Grey rolls in heavy and dim and it still feels like night when the kids stumble - heat-starved - out to catch the bus.  Winds groan and there's no way it can be five days until Christmas because the grass still waves it's 'you-should-have-cut-me one-more-time' face and mud coats the car like armor and these snow tires are kicking up back-road filth instead of any snow-globe magic.  I think about carving BAH HUMBUG into the thick dust along the passenger door.  I'm trying.  Really, I am.  Trying to catch a moment to catch the season but it's all floating about like some demented dead leaf that doesn't realize it should be buried beneath a blanket of pallid beauty.  Where are you, Christmas?

Tires growl over all this dirt and I pull into a line too long but I can't face the cold so I take my place behind the white SUV with it's white custom family stickers and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  And we're a contamination train and we're puffing our hot exhaust breath out into this world that's dying all around us and I'm pretty sure Santa is crying and baby Jesus is crying and we're all crying because...UGH!

The line crawls.  I place my order.  The line crawls.  They're talking on the radio about some poor woman who is fighting for her right to wear a niqab on the witness stand and I think 'who is anybody to tell anybody what they can or can't wear?'

I come to the window and I'm right grim.  I hold out my coin that can't catch a gleam because the sun forgot to get up this morning.  The girl at the window holds up her hand in refusal, fingers peeking out the end of cut-off gloves - her face all merry and bright.  "The lady ahead of you paid for this.  She wanted me to say, 'Merry Christmas'."

And I take it like a punch in the chest and things are strangely brighter and I take the cup and the smell of sweetened cappuccino fills my filthy car and like the grinch I feel my heart grow three sizes.  I rush forward to catch the white SUV before it pulls in to traffic, sneak up beside her and try to catch her eye with a wave.  I don't think she saw me as she pulled away.  Just a normal woman.  Just a stranger who gave $1.94 to restore my faith.  I feel the prick of a tear and the warmth of a hope and the swallowing down of a lump of guilt.

Ah, Christmas...
        there you were there all the time, weren't you?...
                I just stopped looking.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Venture For Life

Therese was a hero in the same vein as my father: one who would lay down their own life for a time and take up the cross of another.  To my knowledge she was never in a position to wake with a prison rat on her chest but she did abandon her own daily trivialities to cross Canada on foot in order to raise awareness for the Pro-Life movement.  Fresh from the seventh grade and eager to be part of what I deemed a massive political movement I enthusiastically agreed to spend a few days with her as my father drove the crawling camper that followed her along the shoulder.

I had expected it to be a rather glamorous and shiny experience - truth is, I spent most of the time reading Cynthia Voigt and sucking on sugar cubes in the bunk over the cab.  I did walk with her for short distances - sometimes just the two of us, sometimes a small crowd as we journeyed through the little towns of southwestern Ontario.  Often, the mayor would greet us and offer us their town pin which I would proudly attach to my "Venture" t-shirt as a trophy of all this good I was helping to accomplish.  Television cameras came once and filmed us walking past a grave yard - a little band of save-the-children and acid-wash jeans marching with purpose. 

I was very proud and thick-banged and when I entered the eighth grade that fall I boasted of my "adventure" that surely saved a thousand unborn babies from abortion and a thousand elderly people from euthanasia.  I was a hero in my own brain - and who could argue the difference I made by riding in a groaning motor home with my bare feet propped on the dash, taking the biggest piece of Skor bar for myself while I saved two thousand souls from untimely demise.

Truth is, it's an experience I cherish.  Those times of listening to my father sing or whistle from behind the big wheel, Therese rubbing her aching feet at the end of the day but not even dreaming of stopping, the ancient priest who blessed me for being part of something big - who bent down on protesting joints to present his wrinkled cheek for a kiss, the pride I felt when kicking up dust along the edge of a big highway or a quiet road...I wouldn't trade those days.  Somehow they have shaped me, convicted me, moved me to always think beyond myself and that's a precious, precious thing.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Motion For Fun!

Zander is the grade six rep to Student's Council for his class.  This is an important role in which he gets to contribute to the discussion about important things.  And this is the inspired motion he brought before the council at their last meeting:

"An activity we could run is a tobogan day. On tobogan day the students could bring several tobogans and for the last block we could WOOSH down the hill. 1:50-3:10 and I think it would be a BLAST!  From Zander"

Now that's using politics for good!  My favorite part is the "WOOSH"  So proud!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sick of Sick

Even her hands are hot with fever.  She traces my eyebrows with warm fingers, following down along my jaw, my lips, my nose - touch tender and sweet.  She's memorizing the lines of my face, her eyes half-focused and glassy in their mission, making sure she can remember me if I get abducted in the night while she sleeps.  "You're sick and I'm sick," she says.

"We are," I agree.

"So, we have to take tare of each udder?"

And I tuck her up close against my chest and set my chin against her hair and squeeze with whatever strength the fever hasn't sapped from me.  "Yes, we have to take care of each other."

I don't really know how she does it - wrapping up this sickness in sweetness because all I want to do is sleep or cry.  She spends her time nestling against me, lacing her fingers through mine over and over again and whispering, "Are you feeling better yet, Mommy?"

And because this wretched cough has stolen my voice I can only whisper back while my eyes water and my throat burns, "No!"  And her hand will come up and find my hair and she'll tap my head affectionately until she falls asleep, sickness breathing out of her in what sounds like the strange purring of a feral cat.

Days and nights and they're all the same and children's television programing becomes increasingly obnoxious and I actually miss going to work and I can't be there to support my sister and her presentation and suffocating on a cough while I realize I've never taught my six-year-old about 911 and I have visions of myself lying dead on the bathroom floor but then it's over and he just says, "What was dat all about? Were you like chocking or sumting?" And sudoku and six movies and cough syrup that knocks me flat on my butt and Tina Fey wrote the funniest book I've ever read...

Please, God, let it be over.

Tonight I tuck her beneath her pink blankets and kiss her nose and whisper how sorry I am that I can't sing to her.  She just pats my face and says.  "Dat's okay.  Are you felling better yet, Mommy?"

"I think I am," I tell her.  "Are you feeling better yet, Noa?"

"A little bit," she says and her eyes fall closed before I can even leave the room.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mailbox Musings

It leans towards the west like it knows that's where we came from, pressure-treated wood scarred from a hundred storms and a thousand letters.  There is something right about it - about the way it stands guard, here at the end of our beginning - some stoic sentry of blue-grey and stick-on font, red flag worn by weather and after-school fingers.

We've lived here four months now and still this placed is named for Austin.  It is the final nod to it's history - that last piece yet to rend from it's past and shine up with our future.

And I am loathe to change it.  Cringing against the idea of ripping that name from this sign post and bragging my own - even though the old is still mine somewhere deep inside me.  Maybe I'm crazy, but somehow that name makes it feel more like home and I feel an overwhelming need to preserve it in some manner, I just haven't decided how.

So, for now, it waits - like a silver tomb stone marking for the what was and all the good that past stands for.