Today I am the exact age my Dad was when he died in a freak ski accident. Back then, I was sixteen: self-centred, emotional, athletic, and focussed. He was forty-three and nine days: broody, generous, heavy-handed, and hot-tempered. Sometimes we collided. Often I hid.
He remains the biggest mystery of my life thus far; a murky, shadow figure. As a grieving teen, prone to cast only villains and heroes, he lived a short time on my sparkling, crystal pedestal. And he would’ve stayed there longer, were it not for a phone call, an “I’m grieving, too, please forgive me,” missive to my mother from his other woman. Other painful memories resurfaced then: bloody, jagged shards of broken glass I’ve tried in vain, over the years, to puzzle back together.
“Who was my father? How did he think? How could he do that?” are questions which have rattled in my brain and affected, inadvertently, the course of my life. My personality? Opposite to Dad. Career pursuits and spouse selection? Opposite to Dad. Childrearing Philosophy? Pin that thought.
If I could spend anywhere today, it would be on his mountain, the one he loved, ideally all covered in snow-topped trees and moguls. I’ve taught my children to ski and they adore it too. This spring, they zoomed past the entry to Dad’s final ski run, their heads full of positive stories of him relayed by me on the chairlift. I felt it was ironic that they appeared closer to this man than I had ever been. Until today.
Today I recognize that no parents are perfect. We all make mistakes. We all feel anger. But we drop our hands and go yank weeds. Or hastily scrub dishes. Or testily sort recyclables. Or boot that soccer ball over the goal posts into someone’s yard. I hear my father’s regret from the grave and I can forgive him now because I fully believe that no parent intends to intentionally hurt their child. I know this because my father’s father told me what he would say to his son, were he still alive. And the apology rolled in tears down his face to dissolve a generational cycle of flying fists.
At forty-three and nine days, I know that parents burn out and all marriages need both overhauls and regular tune-ups. With three kids still in elementary school (my parents had five), my parenting marathon isn’t even one-third over; I’m running without a route marker in sight (and I’m sure all talk of a ‘finish line’ is myth or legend). But because of my father’s death, I’ve discovered that life is not a race but a brief, precarious, icy slope, often without any indicators of hazards or an end to the course. I juxtapose these two metaphors in my head and try to live somewhere in between the marathon and the double black diamond run.
Some days I am discouraged, anemic, or mentally exhausted and just want to pull the covers over my head. I’m sure my children wonder at times, “Who is my mother? How does she think? How could she do that?” So I make my bed again and resolve to show them—not just with words— that they are in my heart’s centre; that I am doggedly determined to act on their behalf for good.
Recently, my youngest confided to me, “You used to be more fun!” I laughed in response, delighted that he felt safe enough with me to be honest. I could rarely do this with my dad; mostly because as a child experiencing stress and distress, I would lose my words. My son’s feedback helps me raise my game, in this case, at the amusement park and into a more intentional season of light-hearted time spent with him. It’s what he says he needs. To be honest, I could use that now, too.
Today, at forty-three and nine days, I have enough experience of death and loss to ascertain that the waves of grief never fully diminish but there is a variation of time between sets. There has been healing at different stages over the years; different aspects of coming to terms with Dad’s life, death, and loss. And so today, I can finally accept that, having reached my father’s age at death, I will never know my Dad. At least, not as I would desire: as two adults would, shoulder-to-shoulder engaged in an honest conversation loaded with apologies and resolution. But God-willing, I aspire to give this to my children. Someday they will fully know me.
Today, I change my perspective as I step past this epic milestone. Today, I resolve to remember more of Dad’s laugh, his best intentions, his generosity, in short, the green side of his volcano-sized personality. I tell myself that if I wake up tomorrow, I will have survived my father… at least by a day. And to make that day count.
This was my evening:
1) Wait for a press conference announcing whether BC Teacher’s would strike. Check other news stories.
2) Stay up late to blog. Inspiration strikes and I combo two different news stories together.
3) Press “send.” Time? 2:30 am. Toss and turn. Can’t sleep.
4) Wake up feeling a bit like Jerry Maguire. Mutter while washing face: “What was I thinking? It was only a mission statement! Did I really just break the cardinal rule of writing non-fiction? I’m supposed to sleep on it, edit the next few days and if I still like it, consider sending it off. (The rule of writing fiction is the same except instead of days, substitute months or years, depending on the length of your work.)
5) Wake up to find my Inbox is empty; a very good sign. Story has been rejected.
6) Check online newspaper: My blog is on the front cover!
7) Blow into a paper bag. Then put paper bag on head and go to work.
Here are some links of my foray into blogging about non-fiction issues, particularly classroom life and defending public schools.
Before the strike, I was cleaning out my classroom files and found something I thought I’d lost: the photocopied page of a book I’d reserved in the Reference Section of the SFU library, way back when. I still remember the lightning bolt sensation when I first stumbled across this page, exactly as one would experience finding buried treasure. This is from the book (or chapter?), Towards a More Humane Society. The author notes that the quote below was first written by Benjamin Franklin in “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America.”
At the treaty of Lancaster, in Pennsylvania, anno 1744, between the Government of Virginia and the Six Nations, the commissioners from Virginia acquainted the Indians by a speech, that there was at Williamsburg a college with a fund for educating Indian youth; and that if the chiefs of the Six Nations would send down half a dozen of their sons to that college, the government would take care that they would be well provided for, and instructed in all the learning of the white people.
The Indians’ spokesman replied:
“We know that you highly esteem the kind of learning taught in those colleges, and that the maintenance of our young men, while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinced therefore, that you mean to do us good by your proposal and we thank you heartily.
But you, who are wise, must know that different nations have different conceptions of things; and you will not therefore take it amiss, if our ideas of this kind of education happen not to be the same with yours. We have had some experience of it; several of our young people were formerly brought up at the college of the northern provinces; they were instructed in all your sciences; but, when they came back to us, they were bad runners, ignorant of every means of living in the wood, unable to bear cold or hunger, knew neither how to build a cabin, take a deer, nor kill an enemy, spoke our language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for hunters, warriors, nor counselors; they were totally good for nothing. We are however not the less obligated by your kind offer, though we decline accepting it, and to show our grateful sense of it, if the gentlemen of Virginia will send us a dozen of their sons, we will take care of their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them.
(Quoted by J.H. Eedle, Forward Trends, June 1972.)
“Can I read you the rest of my story, Mom?”
It’s five-thirty and I’m waiting for the truck to warm up, defrost on high. It’s a foggy morning and my blurry, pre-dawn thoughts are focused on staying awake more than tracking with a story. But his chirpy enthusiasm is enough for both of us; he reads with fluency and expression in the strong voice of his character, filling in the back-story as necessary, probing me for research points, asking me how self-publishing works, ribbing me that his book will win two awards, unlike mine. I wake up to this morning’s not-so-little miracle, brought to me by… technology.
My son has dyslexia and dysgraphia with a healthy dose of ADHD. Over the years we’ve been faithful with tutoring, medication, and speech-language therapy but we haven’t yet been able to crack the C minus ceiling above his Language Arts mark. Last year in Grade 5, we both had access to iPads—his through a gift using my brother’s Save-On More points, mine through my principal—and we both began to explore the potential of this technology. He used his at home as a toy; I became part of a pilot project committed to exploring ways, beyond content apps, that these devices could increase student engagement. I was hopeful that, as a teacher, I’d eventually become the expert but have since surrendered to the fact that most six year-olds discover in five minutes what adults do in an hour. I also realized that we were both vastly under-using what we had been given. So this September, we erased the games off his iPad and allowed him to purchase (with his summer reward money) the necessary keyboard attachment and Pages software to enable the iPad to be his substitutionary pencil.
The results are incredible! He uses his iPad for every subject but PE and Math and manages his own homework daily, emailing his assignments to me when he wants help with editing, or to his teacher when it’s due. He keeps track of his schedule each morning, reminding us when his team—or mine—have games. His confidence has blossomed with his level of increased responsibility. And he actually loves reading and writing, evidenced by this morning’s early commute. As we pull up to the rink, I realize something wonderful: whatever the upcoming report card declares, his latest story says it all.
So, summers off? Is that when you write?
That’s always the plan but by definition summer is becoming my least productive time. For the last two years, I’ve averaged about a page per day while “working” (’cause you know Momma’s always working at home!) but in the summer my output equals zip divided by nada.
This summer it was going to be different. In June, with all my extra classroom duties and reports, I’d somehow managed to squeak in a third edit of my 100,000 word book, all in hopes of starting a fresh, new project July 1. And I did… sort of. I read through notes and made a story plan; all very productive. Then I clocked many hours this summer on wonderful reading trails: WW2 Biography, Endocrine & Stress, Nutrition and Health. For my birthday, I was given a course on 19th Century literature and discovered Milosz, Dickinson, O’Connor, and Dostoevsky. We vacationed in our home town, swam, gardened in our backyard, and enjoyed our newly adopted, rescued rabbits.
Several years back, after the birth of my third child, it became necessary for me to keep my home’s interior pristine and ultra-organized, as if the chaos of preschoolers and a new baby could somehow be better managed by OCD cleanliness! After I put the kids to bed, I’d complete a variety of home projects (painting, organizing, etc.). [Proof, I think, that sleep-deprived parents suffer logic sinkholes.] At a workshop, I’d met up with two fellow writers. To the question, “what are you working on now?” I’d answered truthfully: nothing. The first author put on her disapproving face, as if I was letting myself down and should know better. After all, writers are defined by one sole activity: they write and they actually have to clock time putting pen to paper. Ouch. But the second author, aged 80, gently touched my arm and reminded me, “you’re just filling up your well.” These six words were therapy for me and when that bit of postpartum madness wore off, I set to work on another novel (in truth, not a very good one… still puts me to sleep!)
This summer I discovered that just as the practice of fallow is part of productive agriculture, seasons of apparent unproductivity are valuable and necessary. Even Oxford backs me up on this one.
FYI: I eventually kicked the postpartum insanity and discovered that a messy house, with the right priorities, can be a place of peace and happiness for children… and their parents.
I’m counting the nights until the CWILL gala on Friday, June 14. I’ll be Anne of Green Gables in honor of my late grandmother, Katherine. “You should try reading Lucy Maud Montgomery,” she’d told me, with a mischievous twinkle in her sightless eyes. “I think you’ll like Anne.” And I’ve been proud to be a Canadian reader since. I’m just off to pick up my costume, assuming all the other Anne’s haven’t purged the shops!
The Walking Read Gala Event is a CWILL BC sponsored costume gala benefiting BC Children’s Hospital Foundation and features a Silent and Online Auction. Tickets are $60 and include food, drinks, live entertainment, and a $40 swag bag. For more details check out cwillbc.wordpress.com. Hope to see you there!
I will not get sucked into hockey fever even though I am surrounded with crazed hockey fans. I will not discuss the merits of Luongo vs. Schneider with my goalie son. I will not listen to Sports Radio in the car. I will not wear a Canucks uniform to work on game days. I will not hang a Canucks flag from my patio. I will not watch the pre-game, game, and post game to extend the drama. I will not cry for my city when millionaire athletes lose Game 7. I am not a hockey fan anymore, at least not until my son starts Pee-Wee in September.I’ve matured in great ways over the past year… and I have great plans this month to rewrite a book and start my yoga membership. Then I’ll map out a future book and be ultra-prepared for my June report cards. I will. It’ll be a great, productive month and if you just give me a minute to check the score, I’ll tell you all about it.