dreaminghope: (Baby DreamHope)
Christmas always makes me think about toys. I was thrilled when I saw a news story the other day that said that some of the most requested presents for this year, after fancy electronic gizmos, are classics like Legos and Barbies.

When my sister and I were little, we didn't get random toys; new toys came at Christmas and birthdays, though we were spoiled on both of those occasions.

I was a kid in the 1980s, with many of the accompanying toys:

I had a Pound Puppy. The one I had came in a two pack in a cardboard doghouse; my sister and I each got one of the plush dogs for Christmas.

I had a Care Bear. I watched the Care Bear movie three times in the 48-hours we had it rented for my birthday sleep-over, but still only had one of the toys.

I had a couple of Barbies and some accessories, though my sister and I didn't really play with them a lot. I really only played Barbie when I had school friends over.

I had a couple of Popples, though they mostly came from garage sales, bought with my tiny allowance. I was late to a lot of the minor trends because I wasn't allowed to watch cartoons, so I missed the advertising and only tended to learn about the new toy fashions once my friends already something to show off.

I had a Cabbage Patch Kid at the peak of the craze. Long before there was Tickle Me Elmo causing riots in the toy stores, there were sold-out Cabbage Patch Kids. My sister had a little boy doll, bought still in box from the trunk of a car in the swimming pool parking lot from a mother whose daughter did not want a boy Cabbage Patch Doll, even if it was the only one left in town. My sister's friends were mostly boys, so she had no problem receiving Solomon. I had a little black Cabbage Patch Kid doll, which was perhaps unsurprisingly still on the store shelf in a small northern town where even the local "ethnic" restaurant – a Chinese restaurant with as much batter as chicken in their sweet-and-sour chicken balls – was probably run by white people. My doll came with the name Charlotte, but I just couldn't remember it ("It's something like carrot...") so my Mom and I applied to have it changed to Amanda. I bet my mother still has the revised "birth certificate" somewhere that the Cabbage Patch people sent us.

But there were a few things my parents didn't buy for me.

Mom didn't like Snugglebumms. I think she recognized that they were a short-lived fad with limited entertainment value. Or maybe she just didn't like that the name included "bum". Or maybe there weren't any available in the two aisles of toys in our small town department store. Anyway, for some reason, she didn't like them and so I didn't have one, except the one I made out of a scrap of terry cloth and some embroidery thread. Mom had to thread the needle for me.

I also never received a Teddy Ruxpin, despite my utter fascination with them when I saw them in a toy store in the "big city" (Sudbury). I spent many hours trying to re-create the Ruxpin experience: I recorded my own audio tapes, then sat my Ogi, my favourite teddy bear, in front of a ghettoblaster covered with a pumpkin-orange, rust-red, and harvest-yellow crocheted granny-square blanket. I would play the audio tape back while my sister and I would pretend that Ogi was talking. Sometimes I would do different voices on the tapes and sit multiple toys in front of the ghettoblaster so they could have a conversation with each other. This kept me happily entertained for hours at a time for weeks, using only things we already had laying around the house. My mother's wisdom shows again: I'm sure many a talking bear ended up stuffed in the back of a closet after only a couple of hours of use.

My sister and I did spend a lot of time playing with Precious Places, Charmkins, Playmobil, and Lego, all jumbled together and laid out in elaborate cities on a double-bed sized, wheeled platform that Dad made for us. The platform was brilliant because it could be rolled under the guest bed in the basement, so our games could remain intact when my mother vacuumed or when guests stayed over. We had to remove the Precious Places houses first, but all the roads and shorter buildings could stay.

However many hours we spent playing with those toys, however, we spent even more playing with no props at all. We had to: we would go camping in our motor home for weeks at a time in the summer, and there wasn't a lot of room for anything beyond a couple of packs of cards, a pile of library books, some paper and markers for drawing, and a couple of stuffed animals each. Together, we invented new worlds and spent entire days in them.

I've been spending more time in toy stores since my nephew was born. There are so many great toys out there – some new innovations and some classics – and I've had no problems choosing gifts for him so far. I look forward to buying him gifts for many, many years, but I keep returning to the idea that sometimes the best toys are the ones you didn't have.
dreaminghope: (Dancing Cat)
There's Valentine's Day, of course. And there's the Lunar New Year, widely and extravagantly celebrated in the Vancouver area due to our high Chinese population. And there's this international sporting event inspiring rarely-seen displays of Canadian patriotism. There are the red tents for the homeless. And there's this display about Delta and Richmond's cranberry fields:



Vancouver's very red right now.

Today, Russ and I joined my family to watch my Dad take part in a unique event. As part of the Olympic celebrations at suburban Richmond's O Zone, the Taoist Tai Chi Society that he is a part of brought North America's longest Chinese dragons across Canada from Ontario to B.C. to take place in a double dragon dance. Dad was one of the people carrying the large dragon; he was one of the people carrying the head.



Left: The smaller dragon: 75 metres / 246 feet. Right: The larger dragon: 150 meters / 492 feet (my Dad's holding the centre pole of the head; his face is obscured by the dragon's open mouth).

The dragons circled around the stadium, sweeping and twisting, then they each coiled up tight to watch a large demonstration of tai chi. Then they did a double dragon spiral, where they ended up coiled tight together. Many Pagans know how physically challenging a huge spiral dance can be - the strain of keeping up the pace while doing the sweeping curves - and can probably imagine doing that while holding a stick supporting a piece of dragon up above their head. Uncoiling was even more work - they literally ran to keep everything in one piece.

While the two dragons were spiralled together, they moved in for a kiss, bringing together the Lunar New Year at the Olympics with Valentine's Day:



Gung Hei Fat Choi!
dreaminghope: (Working Zoey)
As usual, I got spoiled rotten at Christmas. Russ' parents gave me, amongst other things, the new Charles de Lint book. I'm just waiting for the right day to devote to it.

My stocking was stuffed to bursting with a book, yarn, and so many other fun things. My parents gave Russ and I a new coffee table (which isn't in yet, but we've got a very nice photo of it in the meantime), plus organic cotton sheets and other goodies. My sister and brother-in-law and parents went in together to get us gift certificates to a Eating with BC's Best Dinner, which I believe we're going to use when the pastry chef is in, because, hey, pastries! Yum!



Grandma gave us the usual cheque (now added to the paragliding fund), some touristy things from her recent cruise to Alaska, some Tim Horton's gift cards (donuts!), and Christmas journals: one each for me, Russ, my sister, and her husband. In each journal, there was a note: )

My grandmother is 85 years old, and she's very grandmotherly: baking and fussing and giving cheesy knick-knacks as gifts. She's not a "cool" grandmother; she doesn't email or use a computer at all. I'm not sure she would understand the concept of LiveJournal. Mind you, I wouldn't have thought she would ever say "life partner" instead of "husband" in regards to my Grandpa, so maybe I am underestimating her. Anyway, I'm going to try to journal more often. I know the best resolutions are more specific, but I haven't figured out exactly what "more often" means to me. Still, I think my Grandma will be pleased that I'm going to take her advice.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
Do kids still call each other "scaredy cat"? I feel like they probably have harder insults now. Six year olds probably call each other "pussy".

I'm a scaredy cat. I don't have a single phobia that stands out above all others (except maybe claustrophobia); just mild generalized anxiety and a general minor-level fear of pretty much everything.

They say to do something that scares you every day, but that seems ambitious to me. I'm aiming to do one thing that scares me every year. It wasn't a conscious decision at first, but more a matter of not wanting to let fear stand in the way of doing something I want to do. It's been a pretty successful experiment:

2007 – Heights: I went zip lining in the jungle in Puerto Vallarta. Since then, I've been on the zip lines at Capilano Suspension Bridge and the Tree Course on the island. I'm hoping to try paragliding this year.

2008 – Needles: I donated blood. I've now donated six times and I have my next appointment scheduled for the new year.

2009 – Birds: For Russ' birthday, I bought us both a day of learning about falconry at Raptor Ridge, which includes actually working with a predatory bird. We were scheduled for a date in October, but bad weather meant that we've had to delay it until March. So there had to be a revision:

2009 – Babies: So many things to be scared of: They are fragile, especially when they still can't hold up their own heads. They are messy (I have a 'thing' about being dirty or sticky). And, worst of all, there's the rejection: if they cry, what if it's because you did something wrong? Maybe you held them wrong, or you smell funny, or your voice is ugly, or your face is weird, or you have bad energy...

When my friend had a baby, I could put off holding him until he was big enough to walk and talk a little, because all my friends wanted to hold our group's first baby. But then my sister had a baby in July, and it was time to get over it. Get over myself.



Doing pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Next: Birds in 2010, then maybe, one day, caving. Or maybe not.
dreaminghope: (Giggle)
I have a problem with admitting when I don't know something, and I seem to encounter a lot of people who just assume I know the things that they know – I tend to just go along and hope I figure it all out. And I usually do.

I do it at work a lot. I have a lot of regulars, and all my customers know me because I'm the one who answers the phones and answers their emails and calls them back when they need to make last minute changes and I don't have to let them, but I do. When people call me at work, I act like I know who they are until I figure out who they are. When Dave Allen calls, I'm typing in "Allen" in the search box for my customer database as he says hello, and when it doesn't come up with any results, I wonder if it's under "David" or maybe "AllAn" instead of "AllEn", and that's when I realize that he isn't asking about apples or soy milk but is talking about RRSPs, which makes this Dave Allen, my banker, and not a customer at all, and it takes me another 30 seconds or so to shake my head into personal finance mode because I was so ready to talk about fennel recipes and this week's great deal on almond butter.

As far as I can remember, my mother-in-law has never told me what her health issues actually are, but she makes passing references to them. I know she can't eat seeds and that her feet are often cold because her circulation is poor and she's got swollen hands and she's often achy, but I don't know which symptoms are of a disease and which are the results of all the meds she has to take. There's been talk of colitis and lupus and arthritis – tests and theories – but she's never sat down and told me what's officially going on. She probably thinks Russ has told me, but he sometimes seems a little confused too.

My Mom's more of a straight shooter. When she was diagnosed with cancer, there was a full discussion of what that meant. Now, mind you, she didn't tell us about the cancer scare, but only once it was cancer, and I really think we all would have preferred to have been a little scared with her during the cancer scare instead of being thrown straight into the full terror of cancer – especially my poor sister, who found out first through a call from my mother's doctor – but that's my mother. She got her diagnosis and she laid out the plan: surgery – lumpectomy if possible; mastectomy if necessary – and if there's lymph node involvement, then chemotherapy and radiation and this dreadful drug that threw her into menopause and she got these hot flashes that was like an out of control sauna from the inside. And it was all laid out like a check list: cut, poison, burn, drug – check, check, check, check. It works with my Dad's way of being – the engineer in him isn't good with grays and hinting and suggestion. He likes lines and black and white; he ignores vagueness.

My mother-in-law's all vagueness, and it gets to a certain point where it feels really weird – really embarrassing – to straight out ask "What's wrong?" What's really wrong with your hands? What is your diagnosis? This is the disadvantage of faking it; if you don't figure it out, it's really hard to back-track, and say, maybe fifteen minutes into a phone conversation, "I'm sorry, who is this, please?"
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
Baby William (middle name still TBA) was born at 4:30 AM on July 30th. He weighs about 7 pounds, is about 48 centimeters long, and has a full head of dark hair. He isn't crying much; he does get the most adorable cases of the hiccups.



Elaine started labour yesterday morning. She started pushing at about midnight. About four hours later, they discovered that the baby was "sunny side up" and couldn't be born in his current position. They started talking c-section, but the baby's heartbeat was strong, so they went with an epidural and used medical magic (and forceps) and managed to get him turned around and a c-section was avoided.

My sister is amazing. She had fifteen hours of back-labour and four hours of unproductive pushing, and has reportedly barely slept since, and she looks radiant.

She did manage to miss the hottest day on record in our lovely city... Going into labour: The things some people will do to get into an air conditioned room!
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
It happens every time I organize an event, even if it's just for the seven other members of Silver Spiral: I spend the week before thinking about it constantly. Until the ritual is designed, I obsess about it, and in between attempts to write it, I meal-plan and write shopping lists and schedule when I'll go to various stores to get speciality ingredients.* On the day of the ritual, I turn into a little whirlwind. Last Sunday, Imbolc, Russ was startled several times when I suddenly squeaked and ran out of the room, yelling "the timer!", "the bread!", or "the ginger beer!" over my shoulder.

Even after my guests arrive, I am rushing around, setting up the altar, assigning parts, getting drinks, finding cat-free places for jackets and bags. During the ritual, I'm trying to remember what comes next. Then, ritual over, the true chaos kicks in as everyone looks at me and says "how can I help with dinner?"

Last Sunday, the meal plan was simple: pasta with sauce. Of course, the pasta and sauce were both from scratch. Russ browned chicken and supervised stove-related items while a couple of people chopped veggies at one end of the table and a couple more made pasta for the first time, under the supervision of our resident home economics teacher. I fetched and gathered and assigned and set the table and opened wine... and in the midst of all of it, I suddenly feel the tension drain out of me and I remember: This is what it is all about. It is all about this steamy kitchen full of people laughing and talking and making dinner together. It's all about this family of spirit sitting down together with mismatched napkins and glasses of juice and wine. It's all about seeing everyone's face when my sister announces her pregnancy.**

It's all about needing a bigger dining room table soon.

* Speciality ingredients tend to be a must when feeding a group requires or has required in the recent past: no meat, no dairy, no nuts, no onions, no garlic, no gluten, and no alcohol.

** Russ and I had to keep that secret for six weeks, and it was hard. Now that she's put it on her FaceBook, it must be completely fair game.
dreaminghope: (Christmas)
Russ and I spent many hours working on our house over the last month. We tidied and cleaned inside and out. We hung art work we've owned for years. Russ finished the living room floor, a project that's been pending since we moved in more than three years ago. My sister's Christmas present to us was a custom-made bedroom curtain, replacing the cat-covered sheets we'd pinned up.

The prompt for this sudden productivity was Christmas Eve: We were to host my extended family, including Grandma.

In classic upper-middle-class WASP style, I spent much of my time cultivating a "oh, this old thing" style. The Star Trek books get tucked behind everything else where they can't be found, but Harry Potter stays visible – not too embarrassing, and too many high brow books might look fake. But I do leave my old poli sci books and Charles Dickens out too.

Everything was ready: seasonal music in the CD player, egg nog and homemade ginger beer in the fridge, red and green towels in the bathroom… and we watched the snow come down. And come down.

Vancouver doesn't do snow.

At mid-afternoon, after consulting with my parents and aunts and uncles, we had to call it:

Christmas Eve was cancelled.

We were left with a lot of egg nog and Satsuma mandarins and the promise that we can host next year. That gives me one more year to get the bathroom ceiling repaired, replace the sagging futon in the living room, and get a better stand for our water filtration system.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
I am almost three-quarters of the way through the latté I bought at the bagel shop before I decide that it isn't worthy of the book I'm reading (One Man's Trash by Ivan E. Coyote). My drink's overly sweet and the espresso tastes stale or over-roasted or bitter or… bad, anyway. And I've got a blueberry cinnamon bun with cream cheese icing from Uprising Breads to enjoy, so I don't know why I'm still sipping this lousy coffee.

The phone rings. Call display says "M's parents"; I answer.

"Hi. It's Mom."

She doesn't sound right. I think I know already.

"How are you?"

"Fine."

She's not.

She continues, voice strained and tense: "Your Oma passed away last night. She was in a morphine induced coma. She woke up, just for a bit, but all she said was that she was tired. She fought so hard... but she was so tired."

I think of Oma. She liked rum-soaked raisins. She could play cards for hours; it was what we did every time she came to visit or when we visited her. She loved that my sister and I could play 31 and rummy when we were still very little. She gave me her collection of old Charles Dickens books many years ago, when she realized I was the only grandchild likely to actually read them. It was hard to feel close to her: my sister and I lived halfway across the country until we were in our teens, and my Oma has nine children, twenty grandchildren, and now a bunch of great-grandchildren too. But I love her.

I express my regrets.

Her aunts and uncle up in Nelson are meeting today or tomorrow to make funeral decisions, so my Mom will let me know when she hears.

My Mom is still hosting my sister's birthday dinner tomorrow.

"Is there anything I can do? Are you OK?" because what else do you say?

"I'm OK..." she starts crying a little, "I'm sorry. Sorry. I'll see you tomorrow night. 5:30, OK?"

"Yes, 5:30. I love you."

"I love you too."

I hang up the phone and cry. I don't cry for my Oma yet. I cry first for my Mom: for her loss of her mother, for her apologies for her tears, for the space between us. I cry for her because I know she won't let me cry with her. It's just not how my family is; it's not what my family does. I cry for Oma later, when I see a deck of well-worn cards on my bookshelf and realize that she'll never beat me at rummy again.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
What Mom taught me this weekend:

I come by my complete lack of sense of direction honestly.*

The secret to a long-term relationship is to never fall out of love at the same time.

If my uncle hadn't gotten married during a certain March break when I was a kid, my family would have gone to Germany for two weeks.

If you can't give something without expectation, either don't give it at all or make it clear what you want in return... even if it is just a "thank you".

Mom once dated a guy named Skip. She liked his friends much more than she liked him. She used moving to the Northwest Territories as an excuse to break up with him.

God has nothing to do with it: take responsibility for your own life and decisions.

Seeing the ancient cedars is worth getting lost on the highway, the long drive up the gravel road, and the breathless uphill hike.

Always be suspicious of guys who are too romantic. And having someone make pancakes for you is nicer than getting flowers.

* We got lost every time we left the hotel and every time we left any place to go back to the hotel. In three days, we never went anywhere without getting lost at least once.
dreaminghope: (Happy Bug)
I am fated to play Bananagrams.

I saw them in a toy store one day and they captured my attention because, you know, adorable packaging and words, together. I didn't buy them because my money was destined for Triominoes for my Mom's birthday present.

Then my 3-Day novel needed a character to want to go to Toronto. On a whim, I decided to have him going to a Bananagrams championship.

Last night, I went to my parents' place for dinner. After dinner, my Mom brings out a little banana-shaped bag: Bananagrams!

"Oh, so you read my novel," I say, thinking Mom sought the game out after reading the story I'd emailed to her only a couple of days ago.

"I haven't had a chance yet, actually. Why?"

I got "geist" in the only round I won.

I must buy my own copy and then force everyone who enters my home to play it. Bananagrams is my destiny.
dreaminghope: (Waterbaby)
Childhood clings in random and unexpected ways. I still step over cracks in the sidewalk to save my mother's back. A certain damp snowy Spring smell can immediately take me back to walking through the wetlands, collecting pussy willow branches and admiring the soft cat-tails. Today, I found myself singing "little bunny Froo-Froo, hopping through the forest, picking up the field mice and bopping them on the head..."

Middle of the night, I'm suddenly awake for no discernable reason. There's a hum from under the floor: the dehumidifier in the basement. It's faint; I can only hear it when I listen for it in the quietest dark.

When I was a kid, there were a lot of rules, some stated and many not: no TV before the dinner dishes are done (unless Mom was watching talk shows while she did the ironing), only two cookies for dessert, no after school snacks, soda only with permission. Right from when my parents first started leaving me home alone, I started breaking those little rules: sneaking extra cookies and cups of chocolate chips while watching lots of forbidden television. Later on, it was reading naughty websites and fooling around with Russ in the living room or my bedroom.

The key to never getting caught was always the same: listening for the sound of the automatic garage door going up. No matter where I was in the house, I would hear that hum and would jump to turn off the TV, switch to a different website, put away the sugary evidence, and get dressed. The things my parents would have caught me at if they’d just once parked in the driveway and walked in the front door...

More than ten years after moving out of my parents' place, in the middle of the night, the dehumidifier comes on automatically. The hum – the low hum from below my bedroom – brings me awake and ready to hide my childhood crimes. Deep breath, a smile at my child-self, and I roll over and go back to sleep.
dreaminghope: (Thinking Zoey)
Equality

Privilege Meme )

I think there are problems with this list of privileges; I think I had the most privileged childhood possible, but I cannot answer "yes" to every question. That leads me to believe that either my childhood was not as privileged as I thought, or the list doesn't measure privilege in the way I would. Since the former is impossible, it must be the latter.

I came home from school to the smell of fresh baked cookies and homemade bread. I came home from school to a Mom who chose to be a stay-at-home-mother, and who had the financial support from my Dad to make that comfortable.

We ate dinner around the table every night as a family. At the kitchen table, I learned that whales are mammals and that two cookies for dessert is the right amount.

I had a small allowance to teach me how to save for what I wanted. It took me three weeks to save up for each Fabulous Five and Baby-sitters Club book I wanted.

We camped every summer. We crossed Canada in our motorhome to visit Expo 86 one year and to tour the Maritimes another. My Mom read my sister and I Heidi as Dad drove. Over the course of my childhood, we went to England, Mexico, and Florida. I went on class trips to Quebec and to France.

TV was very limited in our house. There were no Saturday morning cartoons – I thought they only played in hotel rooms. I don't think we had cable until I was about ten years old. I've never had a TV in my bedroom. My sister and I learned to play together. I drew, and read, and learned to knit.

The many benefits I reaped originated mostly in financial and class privilege. Although my parents were not wealthy when I was very young, we were middle-class, and my parents made careful choices about what to do with their resources. They chose a trip to England over a TV in my bedroom. They put me in French immersion in public school and put money aside for my post-secondary education instead of putting me into a private school.

Sometimes when confronted with the vast inequalities that exist even within my comparatively wealthy country, I understand why people want to believe that hard work automatically means success, and that the lack of success clearly means a lack of will and hard work – it's hard to admit that what you have may have come from luck of birth.

I did earn scholarships during university, but maybe only because I didn't have to work a part-time job at all during high school and not much during university. And my parents taught me to love to learn by taking me to the library, by reading to me, by learning themselves.

I have worked hard to save money for home improvements and an upcoming trip to Italy, but my parents gave Russ and I a huge head start by giving us money for our down payment. And my parents taught me how to manage money.

Financial well-being itself is privilege, but more importantly, it can buy other privileges: time and attention, education, travel. And I think that's where the "Privilege Meme" fails: someone whose parents were very wealthy would score very high on the test even if their parents were only wealthy because they worked all the time and couldn't spend any time with their kids. I knew those kids: they had everything a kid would think to want from the best toys to the most desirable clothes, but they never ate dinner with their parents. I was more privileged than that.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
The Giving of Thanks

Dear Aunt Judy and Uncle Pete,

Thank you very much for the lovely bear Christmas ornament. It is very beautiful and will look really good on the tree next year.

We had a very nice Christmas. Uncle Tim came and stayed with us on Christmas Eve. We're going to have a skating and sledding party in the back yard for New Year's Eve.

Thank you again for bear. I hope you had a merry Christmas!

Love,
Melissa


My mother believes in thank you notes. When we were kids, Mom would keep a careful list of who sent us what as we opened each gift. Within a week, Mom would force us to sit down at the kitchen table with her list and write the notes by hand on pieces of her stationary. Mom would tuck the notes into cards and address the envelopes; my childish handwriting would have easily filled the front of the envelopes and left no room for a stamp.

Since my mother comes from a large family (six sisters and two brothers) and only one was local to us, there were a lot of notes to write. For Christmas every year until high school graduation, every aunt on my mother's side would mail a tree ornament – often handmade – to each of the cousins. I have enough beautiful ornaments to completely cover a tree with hardly room for lights, and each one represents a thank you note written in careful black pen.

Dear Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Ian,

Thank you very much for the adorable snow angel ornament. It is very cute and will look really good on the tree next year.


"I'm so sorry I'm late making my changes," the customer on the phone says.

"That's OK; I think I can get them done for you."

"That's great!" and then she rattles off three changes and five additions she would like. I carefully note them all down and read them back to her.

"Anything else I can do for you?" I ask.

"Nope. I think that covers it."

"Thank you very much!" I conclude.

I say "thank you" automatically, and as often for when I do something for someone else as when they do something for me. Too much time in customer service.

I also apologize to inanimate objects when I bump into them, but that's normal: I'm Canadian.

I try to remember to mean it when I say it, but words are so easy. Typed thank you notes can be cheats too: copy and paste makes it simple. It is too easy.

Dear Aunt Brenda and Uncle Urs,

Thank you very much for the "Drummers Drumming" ornament. It is very beautiful and really completes the 12 Days of Christmas collection perfectly.


Some of my aunts still remember my annual thank you notes, though I haven't had to write one since my graduation ten years ago. There's something meaningful about ink on paper, written and addressed by hand, and mailed with a real stamp.

Embodied gratitude: saying "thanks" less and giving thanks more.
dreaminghope: (Waterbaby)
I was a good girl. I didn't talk back, I got good grades, my teachers liked me, I didn't make trouble, I liked to read and knit (a long garter stitch scarf; no purling), I did my homework and went to Girl Guides, I was always on time, and I never got grounded. I was good.

I come from a WASP* family. But a middle-class Canadian WASP family, which means Protestant on paper only; functionally agnostic. My mother stopped taking my sister and I to the United Church when we moved from small town Northern Canada to a Toronto suburb. I was nine. I didn't miss church.

I was ten when I "got religion". But I was still a good little WASP girl, so I got religion very quietly by praying for a long time every night (my childhood bedtime prayer followed the Lord's Prayer followed by a couple of minutes of silently meditation) and wishing that I was Catholic so I could become a nun. Or maybe a saint. I wanted to be devote.

My family didn't talk about faith.

One day in grade five my teacher handed out permission slips. They were from a local church – I don't remember which one – offering free New Testaments. At the bottom was a place for your parent to sign that it was OK to give you one. I wanted a Bible.

"Mom, I got this form from school."

"What is it?" she asks as she scans it, "oh. You don't want this, do you?"

"Um... no."

My family didn't talk about religion either.

So, I was a good girl, and a wanna-be person of faith... and I didn't have a Bible. This simply could not stand. I took the form out of the recycling bin. I took a permission note my mother had signed for an upcoming Girl Guide outing. Then I just needed a bright window and a black pen…

I forged my mother's signature to get a Bible.

Epilogue: The guilt interfered with my ability to read my new copy of the New Testament, so my acquisition ended up in my underwear drawer. Some six months later, my mother found it and asked how I had come to own a Bible.

"Um, well, Natalie had two, so she gave me one."

*W.A.S.P.: White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
As I'm walking down the sidewalk, two kids are running towards me. Their father, or maybe grandfather, is half a block behind them, ambling, smiling at the kids and at the world.

The older of the two kids is a girl, maybe seven years old. She runs facing forward. She's focused, but not in the way that adult runners are focused. Adult runners are concentrating and pushing themselves; they are working. The little girl is flying. Any destination is arbitrary; the goal is only to feel the wind and to run because she can run and she wants to run.

The little boy who runs beside her is about five years old. He runs fast enough to keep up with his sister's longer stride, and he watches her as often as he looks ahead. He runs to be beside his sister; he runs to not be left behind.

I'm on my way to the Chinatown post office, some Swap-Bot postcards in hand needing US stamps. I'm forcing myself to walk at an unnaturally slow pace; it's my day off, and I'm trying to at least imitate relaxation. I've promised myself some ice cream on the walk home from the post office.

When I was little, we used to camp at Esker Lakes Provincial Park almost all summer, every summer. We'd set up our motor home once at the beginning of the summer, then Dad would drive up to camp with us on the weekend and then back home to work during the week. Mom, my sister, and I would stay at the camp ground, and walk to the beach, or the picnic site, or the hiking trails, or the cabin where they show movies at night. And once in a while, we'd walk to the park store.

The park store was magical. There was ice cream and candy, used books (mostly romances that park patrons would trade in when they were done with them), bug spray and necessities, and, one year, the owner made big stuffed animals that all the regular summer kids ended up buying at $10 each. My sister got a pig wearing a vest and I got a seal that I named Suzi. Suzi the seal lives in my craft room now, with Ogie the bear and Fred the dog.

The park store was a long walk from our regular campsites. Well, it seemed like a long walk to our little legs, anyway. And there was a long winding hill leading up to the store, getting you all hot and ready for your ice cream treat when you arrived. Sometimes I would get bubblegum ice cream. I liked that it was bright blue. Sometimes I would get an individual pack of Twizzlers, because I liked to bite a little off each end, then suck Twizzler-flavoured air through my Twizzler straw. Also, a package of Twizzlers lasted a lot longer than a chocolate bar or even a box of Smarties (the chocolate Canadian Smarties, not the American candy). I don't remember when I last had Twizzlers.

After Mom would do whatever errand she needed to accomplish at the park store and my sister and I would get our treats, we would head back to our camp site. If we'd finished our ice cream, or if we'd chosen something that would last, my sister and I would run down the long winding hill while Mom followed. I ran facing forward; running for the bottom of the hill, and running because I could and because I wanted to.

I haven't been looking ahead this weekend. I’ve been watching Russ instead. Friday night, we went to see The Average White Band - my anniversary present to him. I've never heard them before, except for the covers Russ plays with Leisure Lab. It was an excellent show; I loved watching Russ get so entranced by the music and so inspired by the sax player's solos.

Today, it was Russ' godfather's memorial. His great-uncle Geoff was 91 years old when he passed away suddenly a couple of weeks ago, and today was the service. I had the honour of meeting Geoff several times, and he was a warm and happy man. Still, I was there for Russ, and I watched him just as much as I watched the pastor.

I walk back from the post office. I stop at the corner store and look at the ice cream freezer. There's no bubblegum ice cream, but there's some higher quality ice cream bars. I choose one of those, and walk slowly – as slowly as I can bear – homeward, thinking of the memorial service, of the band, and of kids running. Even though I walk alone, I don't look straight ahead.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
My Mom thinks that I was the sweetest and most generous little girl in the world. I guess all moms think that about their little girls, but my Mom thought she had proof; proof of my goodness in the form of a little story:

"When we moved to the house in Oakville, you gave the biggest bedroom to your little sister."

Mom's story had meaning beyond its few words; this was my mother summing up my personality as a child.

The facts are true: I gave the biggest bedroom in our new house to my sister. There wasn't a fight. I gave her the room very willingly.

The full story is a longer one, and it starts more than a year before the move to Oakville. One afternoon just before the end of the school year, my grade two teacher lowered all the blinds and turned out all the lights in the classroom. She had us all close our eyes. She turned on an audio recording of a children's story and let us listen to the opening scene.

I can't remember what the teacher's point or lesson was (or if there was one), but I remember the story:

A little girl, Sophie, wakes up during the "witching hour" and hears something out on the street. She goes to her window and sees a giant – a huge, scary giant – walking down the empty street, peering in the bedroom windows. She's terrified and tries to hide, but the giant finds her. He reaches into her bedroom window, captures her in one giant hand, and carries her away, never saying anything to her.

The recording ended there.* We all blinked into the classroom lights and resumed class. No one else seemed worried about Sophie.

I worried about Sophie, but, even more, I worried about me. We lived on an isolated road outside of town; if a giant came, he wouldn't have many other children to choose from, and there were fewer people around who might hear me if I screamed. But I comforted myself with the knowledge that the bedroom I shared with my sister overlooked the backyard, so the giant wouldn't be able to peer in our window from the street. We were safe.

A year later, we moved from the small town in Northern Ontario to a suburb of Toronto. My sister and I were promised our own separate bedrooms.

There were three bedrooms besides the master bedroom: two that faced the backyard and one that faced the street. My sister and I were basically left to figure it out between us.

The front bedroom, the one that overlooked the street, was the bigger and brighter bedroom. I never considered taking it for even a moment. I took one of the back bedrooms – which was a perfect fine room, just not as fine as the other one – and my sister gladly took the front one. I didn't tell her about the risk of being kidnapped by a giant.

"You sacrificed your sister for your own safety?" my Mom exclaimed in a mixture of amusement and horror.

"I didn't really believe in the giant, you know? But I wanted to be on the safe side. Anyway, she could've taken the other back bedroom."

"I thought you were so nice..." Mom's laughing and shaking her head.

"Well, it was still a nice thing to do, I guess, since the giant didn't get her in all those years that she slept in the front bedroom."

*I only recently figured out that the scene was the opening of one of the few Roald Dahl books I didn't read as a kid: The BFG. Anyone who knows the story will understand why this discovery was so amusing to me in light of the effect the story fragment had on me.
dreaminghope: (Flying Demon Girl)
The traditional Mexican piñata had seven points, representing the seven deadly sins. Bashing the piñata apart represented destroying the hold of sin over the people, and when the candy falls out, that represents the blessings of God raining down.



My fellow cruise ship passengers and I will have to break a lot of piñatas to purge the sins of this past week.

Gluttony: The average cruiser gains one pound per day on their vacation.

"Mister Justin, another lobster tail and prawn dinner for you?"
"Yes, I think a fourth one would definitely hit the spot."

"I can't decide between the chocolate crème brûlée and the espresso cheesecake."
"Why not have both?"
"Excellent idea!"

"And don't forget: the gala buffet is tonight at midnight."

Greed: When the ship staff pauses in its enabling of the passengers to make themselves as fat and drunk as possible, they move on to selling them on gambling. The casino, the Bingo... "you could be the next big winner!"

Sloth: We had an inside cabin – no window. There was no clock in the room. When the lights were off, it was pitch black, day and night. The only sound was the air conditioning. I would wake up and have no idea if it was 2 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon. I would sleep long and deep, then I would have an afternoon nap in a lounge chair, watching the endless ocean.

Wrath: Some of the more entitled passengers when they found out that rules actually apply to them: "Yes, I know there was an announcement that we aren't allowed to save seats. And, yes, I saw the sign saying the same thing. But my friends (all ten of them) will be here any minute, so don't you dare take their seats!"

Envy: "See these pretty glittery things, as worn by these young and beautiful dancers? No, we won't tell you how much they will cost you - it will be a lot - but we can tell you where at the next port of call you can go to buy them. And go you must, because you can see how your wife is looking at the sparkly thing... you must buy her one."

Pride: You can feel superior to those who are overindulging ("I may have eaten a lot, but at least I stopped between meals. Did you ever see him without a plate of food?") or you can feel superior to those who aren't indulging at all (as we lounged on the upper deck with a couple of margaritas: "Who comes on vacation to jog?").

Lust: Did I mention that the room was soundproof? That was a very good thing, since my parents had Russ and I's room on one side, and the newlyweds' on the other.

I'm glad I'm more hedonistic than Catholic.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
Hope is the name passed to me from my father's side of the family. My mother took my father's name when they married, as was the standard then.

One of my earliest memories of playing with language is from when I was about five or six years old, when my grandmother, a retired school teacher who married into the name, explained to me over dinner that if the "e" is left off, it spells "hop". I remember her patiently writing the two words out on a scrap of paper so I could see how it worked. This was a great revelation to my little self, and one I remember sharing with several friends, who obviously weren't as impressed as I. They were unappreciative of the wonders of words... they preferred Cabbage Patch Kids.

Hope means expectation and desire.

My aunt gave up this name when she married, but she gifted it to her first born daughter as a given name.

It took me a long time to learn to appreciate carrying the name "Hope". When I was little, I didn't think about the meaning of my name. I thought instead about its ugly sound, and how it rhymed with "pope", "taupe", "rope"... words that were unattractive and dull. The "pph" noise at the end is what did it, I think; it was ugly to my ears.

I've carried this name for 27 years, so I've heard all the dumb jokes and easy puns; plays on words about being "hopeless" or "hopeful". People still try to catch me with them. I haven't heard a new one in a dozen years (that is not a challenge).

Hope means trust and faith.

I've overcome my dislike of the sound of "hope" and learned to love it. By luck of birth, I've been labeled with the blessing of expectation and wishes to be fulfilled. Or with the curse of always wanting... though that may not be a curse if the journey is the whole point.

I don't know if I'll ever get married, but if I do, I may want to keep my family name. It has taken this long to really want the name; I'm not ready to let it go. Maybe I'll try to convince him to take my name; what better way to enter a marriage then with hope.
dreaminghope: (Squinty Puck)
Russ and I picked up a deep freeze from my parents. I was perversely pleased to find that it was dirty when we picked it up.

It wasn't disgusting; it just showed signs of having been well-used, then emptied, defrosted and left without being wiped down. It took me about 45 minutes to wipe the drip marks off the outside, get the dust and stains off the inside, and get the vinyl seal de-stickied.

I had honestly been expecting to pick up the deep freeze in near showroom condition – pristine and sterile, showing only the minor dents and marks of long years of service.

If you bring my mother a cake in a disposable dome, she will wash it before you leave, in case you want to take it home with you. If you lend my mother your vehicle, it will come back cleaner, inside and out, then when it left. When I stay over at my parents' place, my mother always makes sure there are fresh sheets on the bed and fresh towels in the bathroom, even though I know where all those things are and I am perfectly willing to make my own bed.

I am looking for meaning in the dirty freezer. Maybe it means that she trusts me to take care of myself. The stained freezer is a symbol that she sees me as an adult, capable of doing my own cleaning and of caring for myself and my partner.

Or, maybe it just means that she didn't realize it was dirty until it was too late to clean it. There's a pretty good chance that she had intended to clean it right after it defrosted, and it just slipped her mind.

Never mind: I want to pretend that it's all about me.

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February 2014

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