It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen my Dad, so Father’s Day can be difficult. All those ads for barbecues and razors fill me with sadness because I’m not part of the marketing frenzy this holiday presents. Instead, Father’s Day is simply a time to reflect, a time to remember my Dad and who he was and what he meant to me.
It was cancer, an explanation used too often, but there it is. He died the day before Father’s Day, when the lilacs were in full bloom and the the dichotomy of that has never left me, lilacs being my favorite flower. He’d had cancer and a heart attack before, so it was somewhat of a shock to my naive twenty-two year old self that this happened, that he could actually die.
He was a character, my father.
At times he drove me crazy, as parents are likely to do. There were moments when I wished he were different from who he was. Perspective is a funny thing, because looking back, it’s these same differences that made him wonderful.
Ah, there’s the rub, that’s what he would say.
He wasn’t perfect, but as a parent myself, I have a better appreciation for him now, knowing what the constant pressure of raising a family feels like.
And I only have three children. He had nine. It puts his fatherhood into its own category, right alongside the crazy category, but I’m thankful my parents persisted, being the ninth. Sacrifice was not fleeting, it was a way of life when you have nine children. I could not have done it.
But he was indefatigable. He thrived in the chaos of our family, he was our wise and fearless leader, larger than life and full of stories. When he laughed, he threw his head back and it could be heard for miles around. The man loved to laugh.
Looking back, he seemed to be involved with anything that came his way – the church, the cancer society, the Kinsmen, whatever that is. On top of supporting us, he made time for positions on boards and volunteered heartily – yet frequently when I was walking home in the pouring rain, his car would appear and the door would fling open. He drove around until he found me.
He appeared in unlikely places at unlikelier times, and when no one else was thinking of me, he thought of me.
I once read that when you lose someone you love, it’s like a crater landing in the middle of your life that is never again filled; you simply learn how to navigate around it. And so it is. I miss him, but I’ve learned to live life without him, as you do. The world keeps turning. Last week I was in a used book store in Washington and I took a picture of a set of books he would have appreciated, maybe I would have given them to him for Father’s Day. In that moment, I felt the hole of his absence. Grief does that, creeps up on you, and you feel the loss and the shock, all over again.
He’s gone but not forgotten. I have his blue eyes and skinny ankles. His impatience and stubbornness, his passion for words, his love of sports. I see myself reflected in him, both his good traits and his bad.
He wasn’t perfect, but he was mine.
Happy Father’s Day to all dads, and especially to the fathers who are still with us in spirit, wherever we go.
It’s June, and I’m tired.
Tired of making lunches and putting grapes into plastic containers that are returned at the end of the day unopened, or worse, at the end of the week as a mold experiment. Tired of washing an endless cycle of water bottles. Tired of cleaning out knapsacks with crumpled bits of paper I was supposed to read last week. Tired of nagging my kids to do their homework, put away their rain boots, and for the love of Miss Carroll, hang up their school bags.
The routines and good intentions of September melt into puddles of torment by June, and I need school to end already so I can fantasize about summer.
But aside from the rivulets of hell that June represents to parents nationwide, June also means local strawberries, and local strawberries, for me, can mean only one thing. Strawberry shortcake. Because what’s life if you can’t take something perfectly healthy and make it into something naughty?
Aha. Stop right there. Strawberry shortcake need not be naughty. Nope, nada, nien. Substitute the whip cream or ice cream for vanilla flavoured Greek yogurt and voila, a healthy dessert is born. I discovered this when I opened the empty ice cream container that was in our freezer, and was determined that my strawberry hulling would not be in vain. Who does that? Who among you puts an empty container back in the freezer?
I’m not known for my culinary genius, so when I make a rare discovery in the kitchen, I need to get out the megaphone. And it fits within my criteria of five minute turn-around, leaving me time to dream about swinging in a hammock this summer. Like that’s going to happen.
Whole Lot of Protein Strawberry Shortcake: Feeds 4 and takes 4 minutes, unless you mistake your thumb for a strawberry, which I may or may not have done.
1 pint of local strawberries
1 packet of tea biscuits (Whole Foods makes them better than me)
500 ml 0% vanilla flavoured Greek yogurt
Clean and chop strawberries avoiding thumbs, spoon over halved biscuits, top with yogurt, and thank me tomorrow. Off to buy my hammock.
If ever there was a mother who didn’t desire her daughter to be a cheerleader, it is moi.
So naturally, my teenage daughter is hellbent on being one. With Naomi Wolf as my witness, I didn’t see this one coming. Either irony is beautiful, or else someone is playing a divine trick, I’m not sure which.
Note: this is a cheer club, not wave a pompom when the football team takes the field, cheerleading. The idea is they work on routines (at ridiculously inopportune times) and enter competitions (in the middle of nowhere). If anything, it is even slightly more pointless.
Nothing against cheerleading, except for the stereotype. And the fact that they wear more makeup on their faces than clothes on their body. And it objectifies girls not yet women. And it attracts a certain person that may not be the best influence. And there are a thousand other activities I would rather her spend her time on. The debating club, for instance.
There are many reasons I don’t want her to join competitive cheerleading. Everyday she asks, and everyday I throw out a different way of saying no (you could break your neck being today’s flavour). But somewhere in my head I worry that I should let her be who she wants to be. I agree it’s important that kids express themselves, and that those parents who get in the way of that expression are doing a disservice to their children. When she wanted to wear mismatched clothing, I was cool with that.
But this is different, and so I’m choosing to ignore that little voice in my head, and go with my gut instinct, the instinct that draws the line in the sand just before cheer club, and makes me unpopular. The consequences are large and possibly, unforgiving. I might pay for this for years to come, but then I may thank myself, too.
These children should have come with specific directions attached. What would you do?
Her name was Miss Ritcey. She wore tweed skirt suits, sensible shoes, and a hint of a smile.
A few of us were pulled from our classrooms once a week and taken to the library to spend the morning with her. We sat in table groups, hardly believing our luck.
On our first day, she called us into a circle, and said quietly, “A boy wants to go home, but there is a man with a mask in his way. Who is the man in the mask?” We were allowed to ask her questions with yes or no answers. We fell over ourselves coming up with possibilities, before realizing the key to the answer was asking the right question. We finally got to the idea of sport, and then baseball, and the answer: the man was the catcher for the other team – the boy was afraid of being tagged out. It was drastically different from the Halloween or horror ideas that initially popped into our collective heads.
From then on, we were hooked. Unaccustomed to learning being fun or engaging, her class was like a mirage to a delirious desert traveler. Days spent in our regular classroom dragged by, while we waited for that quiet knock which signaled her presence in the building.
She lead us in discussions ranging from books to science. We did the talking. She mostly listened. Everything fascinated her.
When she did speak, she was quiet and deliberate and began all of her sentences with, “Now, people.” As though we were adults. As though we were important. As though she was giving the Throne Speech instead of addressing a motley group of kids aged ten to twelve.
For those few hours each week in the library, it was cool to be a geek. No idea was ridiculous. No question was stupid. No contribution went unnoticed.
We became our very best selves. Freed from chalkboard pointers, we dared to dream. We learned what it meant to think outside the box. We were encouraged to be different. We were encouraged to be daring. Miss Ritcey often smiled, but never laughed. We emulated her, and listened carefully to our classmates, used our powers of critical thinking to debate ideas rather than dismiss them out of hand.
She didn’t need to raise her voice. Robbie and Jennifer – prone to misbehaving – sat quietly for a change. We were all in awe of our wise teacher, mesmerized by her serene aura. Lulled by the calm oasis she created, despite it being in the basement of the school, where three rows of books amounted to the library. Her presence induced a pavlovian response to learning, cobwebs cleared from our brains and we readied for takeoff.
From grades four to eight, Miss Ritcey parachuted into our school, a Mary Poppins amongst mortal teachers. After that I never saw her again. I never kept in touch. She was constantly on the move, rotating schools around the city, and it was long before email existed. Dropping by to see her wasn’t an option. I haven’t seen or heard of her for thirty years, but I will never forget. Her voice was one of reason, her body was one of composure, her pores reeked wisdom and the palest scent of Chloe, and especially the unwavering respect she showed each and every one of us.
Miss Sally Ritcey, wherever you are, you encouraged us to believe in ourselves, instilled in us a hunger for knowledge, and a desire to be different. Thank you.
“Wisdom begins in wonder.” – Socrates
Who was the teacher that made a difference in your life?
I’ve always meant to get acquainted with the inner workings of our house. Being the biggest investment I’ll ever make, I thought I would find the time to learn what the hell all those pipes and wires are all about.
My intentions were pure.
But our first house was a fifty-year old split level, and the mechanical room was located in what can only be described as a decrepit dungeon. The furnace and some other contraptions were perched on a mass of exposed rock. Many a creature made their homes amongst the dirt floor and granite, cobwebs made up the vast selection of art in the corners.
My enthusiasm for the details waned.
When I turned up the thermostat, the furnace kicked in. The water flowed plentifully from the taps. The mice staked their territory, and upstairs, I staked mine. All was good, and perhaps ignorance was bliss.
Then we decided to build a house, and I assumed this would be my chance. The mystery of what pipe held what would naturally unveil itself to me as I laboured alongside the many trades that came and went. But the only thing that unveiled itself to me was my impatience with the project, and how interminably slow it was. The plumbers and electricians came and went with their leather holsters and tape measures, and honestly, I was just happy to see the back side of them leaving.
In my haste to have it finished, I missed it being built.
So in the following years, when things occasionally went wrong, and I needed to direct a handyman/plumber/man with toolbox to the mechanical room, I would wave them in the general vicinity, because truth be told I couldn’t tell our air exchanger from our wifi portal. A couple of the wisecrackers, who understood my vagueness for ignorance, commented, didn’t you build this house? And I did what I always do when caught out; I pretended not to hear.
So when our hot water started disappearing three days ago, I willfully ignored it. But freezing cold showers can only be ignored for so long.
A nice boy from the local heating and plumbing shop (is it just me or do they seem younger and younger?) donned his booties and asked me to show him the water heater.
I froze. I should really have located the water heater before he came. Then I babbled about how we had just moved in, all the while moving towards the mechanical room where, surely, the water heater must be. Or was that the central vacuum?
As soon as I switched on the light he confidently strode towards a box in the corner, and I exhaled. There is nothing I loathe more than feeling like the dumb housewife that I am. I seized on this opportunity for learning; no tradesman gets to quietly go about his work undeterred in my house at $100 an hour.
So, how does this thing work, anyway, I asked.
To his credit, he actually tried to tell me. But as soon as he started talking, my mind left the mechanical room and entered the arena of what I should make for dinner. I instantly regretted my feeble attempt towards self-fulfillment. He rambled on and on. I stared past his full head of hair (not one of which was grey) at the maze of pipes, but then noticed he was quizzically looking past me. He stepped around me and flicked a switch that was beside my shoulder. A piece of masking tape above it read boiler.
There you go, problem solved. On his way out the door, I launched into my (now familiar) spiel, about how silly I am, I can’t believe I didn’t check that switch. Not that I knew that switch was there, mind you.
No problem, happens all the time, he lied. All this to say that ignorance, while blissful, can also be expensive.
Instead of reading her a story, I laid down with my eight-year old, Ella, and I told her about the Boston Marathon that would take place the next morning.
I told her it is the most popular and iconic marathon in the world, it is the crowning glory for thousands of runners, who log hundreds of solitary miles in preparation. It overtakes the city for the weekend, packing out the world famous pasta joints in the north end and clogging Logan International with runner-clad travelers. It has an atmosphere all of its own, uniquely Bostonian, and someday, I hope she will experience it first hand, and I will come and cheer her on.
It is chilling and saddening to think this very same conversation could easily have been repeated in the household of eight-year old victim, Martin Richard.
It’s been three years since I ran Boston, and being there was a dream come true – as boring as that sounds it is crazily accurate. A seed was planted in my head with a surprisingly fast (for me) half marathon time.
That was it. This odd thing on my computer screen told me I could qualify for Boston, and I decided it would be foolish of me not to try; computers aren’t dumb. I trained, qualified, and registered for the race I had always dreamed of doing, but never believed I could. I tell you this because people who are not runners may not realize that Boston is more than a race, it’s a lofty badge of honour.
In racing terms, my result was disappointing, but the experience of running it was anything but. Every mile was filled with laughter and inspiration, and kinship with the other runners in my midst. Some things you can’t put a clock to, Boston being chief among them. I didn’t want that race, that journey filled with people – the very best of people – running into their dreams, to ever end.
And so, for someone to mar this event, this moment for thousands of amateur runners like myself, who feel like running Boston is the closest they will come to glory on a grand stage, is particularly vile and upsetting.
My friend, who had finished the race and was waiting to meet his buddy when he heard the bombs, wrote an emotional email to his many supporters after the tragedy. He wrote, “marathon runners are such amazing, peaceful people, and everyone is walking around with their heads down instead of celebrating.”
But of course, there is another side to the story. Someone – maybe just one person – planted those bombs. Hundreds, and by now likely thousands, in different ways, jumped forward to help. I responded to his email:
“When things are senseless, there’s no point in trying to make sense of them. On another note, though, did you see the people who immediately ran towards the smoke? See, there is hope and humanity all around us, let’s concentrate on their huge contributions, and not the crazy bastards who attempt to ruin our world.”
For its victims and their families, their worlds stopped yesterday, and for those people we collectively grieve and mourn. Yet, I can’t stop replaying the images of the hundreds of people trying to help. To all those who didn’t think of dangerous consequences, and selflessly did what they could for the injured, thank you thank you thank you for your bravery. You give us hope.
So for me, Boston will still be Boston, filled with unlikely heroes and courageous runners, spectators and officials alike. And maybe one day, my daughter will run this marathon, and I will stand on Boyleston Street and cheer her on.
As a parent, there is nothing better than introducing your children to things that you loved as a child, and watching the amazement on their face as they likewise are enamored by that same thing.
Or not, as may be the case. In fact, as always seems to be the case. That is to say, if I loved something as a child, it is almost a certainty that my children will abhor it.
Now, in both my and their defense, things like technology have come a long way in my thirty or so years (#liar!). With movies, for instance, special effects have evolved to the point where it is almost impossible for my kids to enjoy the same movies I loved. When I staged a screening of Pete’s Dragon for my children, my hopeful enthusiasm that they would cherish Eliot and Pete’s friendship as much as I did quickly went south when they started laughing in all the wrong places. Same thing with Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Shaggy D.A.
But they are vintage, I explained. It was a simpler time, you have to ignore the grainy picture, the poor acting, and the strange voice-overs.
They choose their movies now.
I moved on to books, and enjoyed a small window of success. I introduced my charges to The Paper Bag Princess and Where the Wild Things Are, with huge fanfare. When they asked me to reread these at night, my confidence in my tiny self was restored. Oh yeah, who’s your momma now?
As a fan of books, my kids are used to me shoveling them down their throats. I know, I know, I should back off, let them come to titles on their own terms, but I can’t help myself. YOU. MUST. LOVE. THIS. My enthusiasm gets the best of me. I can’t be tamed.
Yet with certain things I truly
obsessed over loved, I tried to take a more delicate path, in order to ensure success. Since I know from past experience, when I return from the library with an armload of books for my kids, I’m met with three eye rolls, I have purposefully kept my lips sealed about the best book ever written for adolescents. The Outsiders, duh.
I speak for the generation of teenagers who listened to Kool and the Gang when I explain what The Outsiders meant to me. Despite never knowing how to properly pronounce The Socs, this book, about a family of orphaned boys and their peers, the Greasers, stole my heart and my imagination and made me pine for chocolate cake for breakfast. I went on to read every book S.E. Hinton ever wrote and wore out our Betamax machine replaying Francis Ford Coppola’s movie adaptation. Ponyboy, Sodapop, and Dally, ripped from Teen Beat magazine, adorned my walls. I committed half of the screenplay, including Robert Frost’s poem that Johnny reads, to memory, and in times of trouble I quietly utter, ‘stay gold, Ponyboy,’ which has been met with quizzical looks.
This gem of a book I’ve been saving, wanting to offer it to my own flesh and blood at just the right moment. Several times I held it in my trembling hands in the library, only to kiss it and replace it on the shelf. It’s not time, said a voice in my head, similar to Darth Vader’s.
Then, goddammit, the school system stole my thunder, and my daughter brought it home for required reading – required reading being the kiss of death for any novel. (Note that the school telling you to read a novel and your own mother telling you to read a novel are radically different.) It took me years to come around to Charles Dickens after being force fed Great Expectations, so I can relate.
But surely, reading a book with your mother hanging over your shoulder, you know, just in case you had any questions about the context, or a need to expand and discuss on the themes presented, would only help someone enjoy it more. There is nothing worse than ambiguity, after all. I made myself available.
So, I asked her once or twenty times, what do you think? She looked at me with one of those looks. I backed off, but noted her progress, and when she neared the end I
begged suggested we read it together. Savour the moment. Surely, this would be her ‘aha’ moment.
We snuggled in bed with the book between us. I bawled openly. She looked at me with a new strangeness. Through my tears I tried to bestow the magic that the book itself failed to reveal. S.E. Hinton couldn’t make her love it, but surely I could.
Yeah, that didn’t work.
It’s a hard lesson for me to learn, but I’m taking ownership. Thou shalt not expect my children to love what I loved as a child, ever again. I do, however, have my very own copies of Jane Eyre and The Catcher in the Rye, underlined in all the poignant places, should she ever want to take them for a spin. #HopeSpringsEternal
Why aren’t you blogging, my friends ask me.
Truth be told, I get tired of my voice sometimes. It rings hollow and whiny in my ear and I can’t bear to expose it to y’all. Go read Slate, your time will be better spent. But lately the urge to write has been spluttering down there amidst my undigested Easter chocolate (did you notice how Reese’s jumped on the bandwagon this year? Pastel wrapped bunnies, eggs, lambs, roosters, Edward from Twilight, you name it they produced it in peanut butter and chocolate. Mmmmmmm). Back to my other urge, the blogging one. It generally appears when people I’m chatting with take the words out of my mouth. They say something – okay, maybe it’s a complaint, whatever – and I say, yes, exactly, a little loudly and over-enthusiastically, causing the other person to back away. Cue the blog post.
Lately, it’s about our spring schedules. That is, our over-scheduled children’s spring schedules and the driving involved.
The problem is that spring has sprung, but no one informed the winter sports. So they are continuing, even accelerating to two or three practices a week, while we are dusting off our field hockey sticks and baseball bats and trying to make our children well-rounded athletes. Not if hockey and soccer have anything to say about it.
The pitfall, of course, is the children will be those two words that every parent fears – left behind – if they don’t carry on with their winter sports, even though it’s spring. So us well-meaning parents, also known as suckers, try to do a little of both, and drive ourselves mad in the process.
It could be worse – I could have sired hockey and baseball players, or had nine kids. I feel for my friends with boys who have schedules much crazier than mine. There is always the just say no option. I took that route before – that lonely, higher ground – and my kids did pay for it. I feel cornered and bullied into enrolling my kids for yet more soccer (a winter sport in Vancouver), while the reasonable voice in my head wants to just play field hockey, perhaps dabble in track and field, or here’s a thought: go for a bike ride with my kids.
Did I warn you that this would not be uplifting? There’s no winner here. If I sound bitter it’s because I am.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been twenty-four years since my last confession.
I grew up in a Catholic family and, as the youngest of nine children, feel somewhat indebted to its doctrines, particularly the one that frowned on birth control. But from an early age, I recall being miffed by the absence of women on the alter each Sunday. Quite simply, any church which marginalized women could be no church for me, no disrespect intended to my parents. A feminist was born, aged five.
Its treatment of women was only the beginning of a slew of reasons to turn my back on the church: sex scandals and mistreatment of children, attitudes towards homosexuality, and in general an unwillingness to move with the times combined to make me wary of organized religion.
And yet, there are good memories; chief among them my bi-annual obligatory confession. I looked forward to a little tete-a-tete with a faceless priest, to explain whatever was heavy on my heart, and generally got very good advice from behind the iron screen. It was like free therapy. (My siblings preferred General Absolution, whereby you were resolved of your sins just by sitting in the congregation, but that seemed impossible to me, logistically.) Besides the boredom of attending mass each week, religion had an overall positive impact on my life.
So despite eschewing the church as an adult, I’ve been interested in the recent developments in the Vatican, and I suppose in the same way I cheer for the Canadian water polo team during the Olympics, affiliated by country, I’ve been cheering for the Catholic Church, affiliated by my upbringing, and for reform possible with the appointment of a new Pope.
And with the selection of Pope Francis, a Jesuit from Buenos Aires, who is by all accounts humble and saintly, not to mention the first Pope from the Americas, I feel a twinge of hope for my religious Alma Mater.