Posted tagged ‘children’

What Miracle?

December 20, 2016
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Future Santa in his sleigh?

Here we go, lying to our children. Again. About a jolly, ageless man in a red suit, miraculously popping down a billion chimneys or magically passing through walls to deliver gifts to all the youngsters of the world in a single night. Then, we’re drawn along as though by some magnetic power and forced to buy! buy! buy!

Things.

Why?

To step back from the frenzy is a) to see how ridiculous it is, or, more hopefully, b) to search for the deeper meaning in this, the last month of the year…in children’s Christmas concerts at school, in the music we only listen to in December, or in the opportunities at every turn, church, grocery store, street corner, to give to those less fortunate.

I was in a shop downtown with my six-year-old buying a present for a family member. Suddenly my son looked up at me and said, “Santa isn’t real. Magic reindeer? How does that work?”

I should have patted him on the back and sighed with relief. I should have told him the truth. After all, when the tooth fairy forgot to come the other night, and there were no questions about “real” versus “fairy” I had to wonder, are my children naive? Stupid? Gullible?

One of the books I bought for my daughter this season was A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. I couldn’t resist taking a peek. In one scene, Smith’s main character has just delivered her first baby at age 18. She solicits her mother’s advice about how to give her daughter a better life than she has had. Her mother says:

“And you must tell the child the legends I told you—as my mother told them to me and her mother to her. You must tell the fairy tales of the old country. You must tell of those not of the earth who live forever in the hearts of people—fairies, elves, dwarves and such…. and you must not forget the Kris Kringle. The child must believe in him until she reaches the age of six.”

“Mother, I know there are no ghosts or fairies. I would be teaching the child foolish lies.”

Mary [her mother] spoke sharply. “You do not know whether there are not ghosts on earth or angels in heaven.”

“I know there is no Santa Claus.”

“Yet you must teach the child that these things are so.”

“Why? When I, myself, do not believe?”

“Because,” explained Mary Rommely, simply, “the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination. I, myself, even in this day and at my age, have great need of recalling the miraculous lives of the Saints and the great miracles that have come to pass on earth. Only by having these things in my mind can I live beyond what I have to live for.”

Instead of responding to my son’s queries in that downtown shop, I allowed him the candy cane the clerk offered. I remembered the images I had as a child of a jolly Santa hurrying through the air behind his team of reindeer.

I can still hear those bells.

A song for Father’s Day

June 15, 2011

In honour of Father’s Day, I’d like to share my favourite column that I wrote when I was working at PG This Week, a twice weekly paper in Prince George, BC (it was sister paper to The Prince George Citizen until it folded a few years back). Since I wrote this, my dad is now “Grumpa” to five grandchildren. He and my mom are not only terrific parents who have always shown my brother and I unconditional love and support, but are also wonderful grandparents, which makes living far away from them that much harder.

 

In my mind, my dad sings Pony Man by Gordon Lightfoot better than the famous singer himself. This is because the song coming from the lips of my father is one of my most favourite childhood memories. He must have sang it to us once on his own – so long ago now I can’t remember the first time – but my brother and I came to love the bedtime melody with a great deal of passion. We’d refuse to go to sleep, and would chant, “Pony Man! Pony Man!” Then he’d be obliged to sing the song for us for the hundredth time.

It was an entire ritual, the Pony Man bedtimes. Dad would tuck us in, then leave us transfixed as the story of a group of children enjoying a nighttime rendez-vous unfolded.

We were impressed as much by his ability to carry a tune as we were by his creativity. He’d change some of the words to make it fit our own lives. In the verse that goes: “There’s Tom and Dick and Sally, and Mary Jo and me,” dad would make us giggle with: “There’s Tom and mom and Darren, and Carrie Lynn and me.” It made us feel all the more special – famous, even – to be sung about in a popular song. And when we were young, we could imagine that dad’s version of the song was the real one, and that everyone else who ever listened to it would know our names.

My dad has been known to sing a few songs now and then. Our family favourite from car trips was the one about the man who marries late in life, only to discover on his wedding night that his new bride has no real hair of her own, but wears a wig, fake eyelashes, and has many other prosthetic body parts. The chorus goes, in a light, lilting tone: “He’s a very unfortunate, very unfortunate, very unfortunate man.”

There have been numerous life lessons I’ve learned from my dad. Many of these are now woven into the web of my own personal values. Though always a protector and a provider, dad has never been demure about the fact that life isn’t always fair. And when it isn’t, what I’ve learned from him is to work through it. Giving up gets you nowhere.

We get a different kind of support from the dad’s in our lives than we do from our moms. As the nurturers, moms are often the parent who will talk things through with her children, everything from what to wear, to how to deal with puberty. I’ve found that mom is even, sometimes, the one who verbalizes what dad is feeling when he can’t express it in so many words himself. A dad’s silence is often his strength. I’ve acquired an awful lot of respect for that silence, for out of it comes the plain and simple truth of a matter.

It’s like the last line of the final verse in Pony Man: “We head for port again, and down the whirling staircase, so swift our ponies fly, and we’re safely in our beds again when the sunbeams touch the sky.”

That image of security, and of a locale not geographically located but a place in my own heart, is the one I cherish always as a fond reminder of my dad.

After years of shelving the song, Grumpa recently printed the lyrics off the internet, and now sings Pony Man for his grandchildren.

The randomness of relocation preparation

January 20, 2011

In my filing cabinet – my green, four-drawer legal filing cabinet, which I bought when my partner and I lived out west and, much to his chagrin, packed into our suburban when we moved back to Ontario, refusing to leave it behind – is a file of story ideas. There’s also a file of column ideas, from when I was writing my Carrie On column for a community newspaper in Prince George, BC. There’s files for important things, too, like health and banking and receipts I may or may not need to keep for seven or nine or twelve or however many years it is you are now required to keep files for income tax purposes. And a file for maps, insurance, and one for each of my children, containing, I think, their birth registrations, immunization records, mixed in with paintings of their hand and feet prints from random stages of their growth to date.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’m about to relocate for what seems like the billionth time in my adult life. And each time I move, I attempt to clean out some of the excess from my beloved green filing cabinet. Because it becomes more and more full each time I move. And because each time I find myself in this position, I get not a little bit panicky that some of its contents, which I have most likely forgotten about, will be lost in the shuffle. Oh the horror of losing things I didn’t even know I had in the first place.

There is one other prized possession I coddle during the packing stages of my existence, and that is my kitty trunk (not for holding baby cats, no, it’s a square trunk, with a picture of two white kittens repeated on all five visible sides). I’m not even sure at what point in my life it appeared, but it’s always lived in my room, or in my closet, or in a storage area probably under the stairs where it acquires a mustiness as comfortable to inhale as an old pair of slippers are to slip tired feet into.

Inside the kitty trunk are my journals. I’ve always been enamoured by old books, and in my wildest fantasies (where I’ve actually already reached the status of a published author of fiction – never mind that I have yet to complete something that could possibly be published), these journals are discovered by one of my descendants, a child of my children’s children, and published posthumously (what an extravagant word).

For now, I would be appalled at the very idea of anyone reading them. I am in awe of my parents and my husband, who have never expressed even the slightest interest in delving into them (as far as I know). A sign of my own self delusion is that I imagine that others are dying to read my ramblings, when the truth is, those who know me best are already aware of my most embarrassing and hilariously not-so-secret secrets, and they probably would rather cut off a limb than be subjected to the torture of reading my diaries. But these journals are my dearest, oldest friends. So vulnerable – a single match would light them into oblivion in mere minutes.

I’m not a linear kind of a thinker. When I sit down to write, I often start with a writing exercise, a prompt, or questions for the characters I’m writing about. I’ll write a scene, then go over another I wrote in the past. I’ll look through my journals from my own time of life that corresponds with the time of life of a character I’m writing about. I’ll read articles on writing on the internet.

This may seem like a lot of procrastination. But it’s actually a lot like parenting. You start to empty the dishwasher, then get called away to wipe someone’s bum. You put the baby to bed, tumble into sleep yourself only to be woken 45 minutes later. You never did finish emptying the dishwasher. You never do manage to get what was known to you pre-kids as “a full night’s sleep”. But if you did tap away at the keyboard for even 10 minutes in a 24 hour period, pat yourself on the back! You got some writing done.

It’s painful and frustrating, more to the point, schizophrenic, this never-completing-and-always-just-barely-getting-into-a-project, but you make the appropriate adjustments in your life to accommodate your new routines. You have a glass of wine at 5 pm – one glass is all it takes to give the world a slight glow, and stops you from letting your fatigue erupt in fits of anger directed at your family. You lay down for 10 minute power naps, in the middle of the kitchen floor if necessary. Basically, you do whatever you have to do to function in your new life as a parent. The same principals apply for a wanna-be writer.

Oh yeah and then throw a move in there. Ah, a new life. Starting all over again, yet again. More fodder for my writing fire – discombobulated, haphazard, uncertain future and all. I embark on yet another packing mission amidst flying papers. Please, no one light a match.