Push

screenshot-2016-12-30-at-10-56-30-am

Dear 2017,

My word this year is ‘Push’.  You will hear this single word when you try to slow me down.  I will push back if you try to trip me up.  I will push to stand up if you try to knock down.  I will push a little harder if I feel I am out of fight.

I.  Will.  Push.

I’ve worked hard the last two years.  2015 was my doorway.  2016 brought me beauty.  I have put so many things in place.  2017 will be when I will push to cross off the big items from my list.  It will be the year I push the boundaries.  It will be the year I push myself to overcome challenges.  It will be my year to push.

Mom, I’m going to be late…

Occasionally I get a glimpse into what my children will be like in the future.  I got another glimpse this morning when my oldest added an alarm to my phone to remind me of something I need to do today, while my youngest claimed she’d lost her pants, again.  

Christmas Eve, 2032

*a telephone rings

HALIA:  Hello?

MOM:  Hey, Squish!  I was just calling about dinner tomorrow

HALIA: *sighs  Yes, I just sent the file to you.  I’ll be leaving my place at 3:07pm, which means I’ll arrive at 4:30pm.  In the file is the route I plan on taking, as well as a link so you can follow my progress on the way.  I didn’t recieve your meal plan for tomorrow, so I took it upon myself to order in some groceries yesterday.  Did you recieve them?

MOM: Yes, I did, but –

HALIA:  I also included the recipes in the file.

MOM:  You know, I have done this before, Halia…

HALIA:  Yes, I know you have, Mom.  I just want to make it easier for you.  I’ve sent notifications to your phone to let you know what time to preheat the oven and when to start cooking the turkey.  I’ll take care of the veggies when I get there.  

MOM:  I was thinking we could have…

HALIA:  We are having turkey, Mom.  No substitutes this year.  

MOM:  OK, fine.  Have you heard from your sister?

HALIA:  No, but I did locate her phone.  

MOM:  Oh, where is she?

HALIA:  Maybe you should just call her.  I’m sick of having the same conversation with her.  

MOM:  OK.  I’ll see you tomorrow

*a telephone rings

LEONA:  Mom!

MOM:  Hey Squeakers!  Halia told me to call you about Christmas dinner.  

LEONA:  Yes, for sure!  When is that?

MOM:  On Christmas day, of course.

LEONA:  Oh, yeah, I knew that…

MOM:  That’s tomorrow.

LEONA:  Oh, um, I’m going to be late.  

MOM:  I haven’t told you the time yet.

LEONA:  Yeah, um, Mom, the thing is…

Hang on…

*there’s rustling over the phone and Leona speaks to someone nearby

Excuse me, could you tell me where I am?  

Are you sure?

Well, yes, I suppose most people would be sure of where they live

*Leona comes back to speak to Mom again

The thing is, I’m in New Delhi  

Mom, are you still there?

MOM:  Oh, Leona…

LEONA:  Mom, I can explain!  I’ll be there for New Years!  I promise!

MOM: That’s in a week.

LEONA:  Make that Valentine’s Day.

MOM:  Just bring me back something nice.

LEONA: Speaking of buying things…

MOM: *sighs  Yes, I’ll send some money.  

LEONA:  Thanks Mom  

Be Good.

I had to google how to write a eulogy.  In my mind it seemed so cut and dry that I thought for sure I was missing something.   

  I’m supposed to tell you how my mom was born in Brantford in 1951 to Betty Foster Hamilton, and George Jones, both of whom passed away before her 20th birthday.  I’m supposed to tell you she had a brother, Robert, who also passed away before her.  I’m supposed to tell you she grew up poor, and died not much richer.  I’m supposed to tell you a synopsis of her life but none of that will matter tomorrow.  

 But I can tell you what she’s leaving behind, and what will be missed.  

 Becky, my mom taught me the value of friendship.  She met her best friend, Karen,  when she had barely started public school, and they remained best friends through loves and loses, births and deaths, health and sickness.  I’m proud to say that I know my mom’s best friend well enough that I could recognize her laugh in a crowd.  I hope that I’m lucky enough to have you as my best friend not only for that long, but for my girls to know that they have someone looking out for them just as much as I am.  My mom taught me how important it was to be friends, and to keep them close like family.

  She left behind her laughter with my brother, Matthew.  Mashed potatoes behind the furniture.  Food fights.  Tripping over someone’s face.  Karate kids crossing the street, applecores and bad jokes.  The ability to see the punchline before the joke has been made.  The unique talent of laughing straight from the gut.  Her humour is in my brother and sometimes the only thing left to do is laugh.

  She left me the rules on being a woman.  She showed me that it’s okay to be beautiful, smart, funny, strong and independant all at once.  She taught me that I should be proud of that, and never hide it away.  She taught me that Prince Charming might be a fairy tale, but that’s no reason I can’t be a legend.   

  Halia and Leona, your grandmother left strength behind for you.  Your grandmother had balls of steel.  

  Great.  Big.  Fucking. Shiny ones.  

  She took life obstacles head on, bashed her way through, and came out stronger on the other side.  She didn’t always aim her fight in the right direction, but she was a force to be reckoned with, nonetheless.  Life handed her a lot of shit, but she still fought on till the end.  If I ever teach you anything, I hope that I teach you to have even half the strength that woman had.

  When we have reached our final day, our whole life will only amount to the legacy we leave behind, the lessons that carry on beyond us, and the standards with which we held ourselves accountable.  

  In my last conversation with my mom, she told me to ‘be good.’  Such a simple sentiment, but one we often take for granted.  I’m sure part of my mother’s message was intended to remind me to stay out of trouble, but the greater lesson was to be a good person.  Be the person you want to be.  Be the person you wish the world to see.  Be the standard that others live up to.  

Just be good.  

Thank you.  

20161110_131514

Thanksgiving 1989

  He sat down at my Mother’s table, in my father’s spot, even though he didn’t ask if he could.  My mother, brother and myself were each seated in our usual spots, so my father’s spot was the last remaining one open, but still, he should have asked.
  My mother was all smiles that Thanksgiving, instead of all cursing, and when I looked at her from my side of the table, I noticed she was wearing my dangly earrings; my only dangly earrings.  She didn’t ask either.  Everything he said required my mother to nod emphatically with him, and those dangly earrings nodded with her, keeping beat each time they grazed her cheek and neck.  They were stupid earrings anyways.
  I gnawed on my turkey, watching those stupid earrings when I turned to look at my brother, who was already staring at me.

We locked eyes and identical, crooked smiles formed on each of our faces.  We had a mission to complete.

  Not wishing to draw any suspicion from Mother, we turned our attention back to our plates, waiting for the moment our plan would turn into action.
  He talked for what seemed like hours, always boring topics.  My mother spent most of her meal with a mound of mashed potatoes on her fork, perched in her hand, half way between her plate and mouth, always smiling, nodding, and only taking forkfuls of food when he turned his own attention back to his plate.
   Finally the conversation died away, and just the scrapes of the fork on the plates and between teeth could be heard.  The tension between my brother and I suddenly grew thick.  Surely Mother would be alerted.
   I took a deep breath, and as calmly as I could, not taking my eyes off the plate I said “Applecore”.  I said it so much louder than I had planned.
   “No!” my mother said.
   “What was that?” he asked Mother.
   “Oh, nothing.” My Mother said and smiled sweetly to him.
   Quiet fell over the table again.  I could hear everyone chew.  It dragged on so long, the silence, I thought for sure my brother had aborted the mission.
   “Baltimore” my brother finally said.
   “No!  I mean it!”  My Mother said sternly.  There was no smile this time.
   Braver now, not to be out-dared by my little brother, I said “Who’s your friend?”
      “Don’t you dare!” My mother hissed at us.
      He stared at us, brows furrowed high on his vast forehead.
      My brother put his fork down, and raised his napkin.  Oh, No.  Surely he wasn’t admitting defeat in our mission now!  We were so close!
   He used his napkin to wipe his mouth, turned and beamed at me.  

   “Len” my brother said.  

   I stabbed my boiled-to-perfection brussel sprout with my fork with gusto.
   “Amanda…” my mother said.
   I turned my fork in my right hand, tines to the ceiling, handle gripped in my fist.  The brussel sprout slide further onto its spikes.
   “Don’t!” Mother said, placing both hands on the table.
   “What’s going on?” he said.
   I raised my fork a bit higher, my left thumb finding the right spot on the tip of the tines.  I pulled back the catapult.
   “No!” Mother said.  Here comes the cursing.
   This was my mission and I couldn’t let my brother down.  I released the fork catapult and that brussel sprout flew through the air in a courageous ark, in a direct flight to its target.
   My mother reached out to try and grab the brussel bomb in mid flight, but missed.
   “Dammit, Amanda!” Mother said.

   My brother laughed.   I sat up tall, proud of the missions direction thus far.  

   The brussel bomb made contact with its target, leaving a green skid mark across his bald head, and finally falling to the floor right behind his chair.

      “What the fuck?!” he yelled and ejected himself from his seat, pushing the chair backwards.  “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
      My brother stopped laughing.  I held my breath.
      “They’re just being kids.  She didn’t mean any harm.”  My mother said.  She leaned towards me in her chair, her hand reaching towards me.
   “They’re being fucking brats!” he said, still standing.  He leaned towards my mother, over the table, his face getting red, and pointed a meaty finger towards her.  “What kind of mother are you?”
   “You should leave.” my mother said with such calmness that both my brother and I cringed with the fury that was about to be unleashed.
   “Fine!” he said, and pushed his chair back towards the table.  As he stepped back, he stepped right onto the brussel bomb, grinding it right into his socked foot.  “Fuck!” he said as he limped towards his shoes and the door.   He grabbed his jacket and out the door he went with a slam.

   Mother returned to her meal, as we listened to his car pull out of the driveway, spewing more gravel than necessary in his wake.
   “I’m sorry, mom” I said.
   Mother continued to eat, with a pace much faster than she had during the first part of the meal.
   “I didn’t mean to-” I started
   “Applecore” said Mother quietly.
   “What?” I said.  I must have misheard her.
   “Baltimore?” my brother said sheepishly.  He and I looked at each other.   We were out of our element now.
   “Who’s your friend?” mother said, not lifting her eyes from her plate while she pushed her mashed potatoes into a tall mountain.
   “Um… Amanda?  Please?”  My brother said.  He leaned back in his seat as though the table might bite him.  I looked at my brother again who looked just as confused as I felt.
   I looked back at Mother “Mom, I- ”
   And then the counter attack happened.  The fork catapult launched the mountain of mashed potatoes that only moments ago had been on my mothers plate and splatted them right in my face.  Some made their way into my open mouth, some on my glasses, some making their way into my hair.  I had been hit!
   I looked at my mother, searching for a trace of a clue on her face as to what had just happened.  
   “He had bad breath anyways.  Are you ready for dessert?”  Mother said.  

I am an author.

When I first found out that I was pregnant, after the hysteria passed, I got excited about all the things I would teach my child.  I would teach them everything I had learned.  I could show them what I knew of the world.  I planned on teaching them the same lessons I was grateful to have learned, and would avoid the lessons I wished I hadn’t learned.  But mostly I wanted to teach them the lessons I had learned too late; the ones that stung a bit too much to learn the hard way.  

Let me tell you, I was a way better parent before I had kids.  I was so wrong.  

When I met Halia, she let me know quite quickly that we weren’t going to be following my plan, because she had one of her own.  Halia has been my mirror since the day she was born, showing me how the world sees me, and always demanding to know the next step.  She’s kept me accountable for my actions, and forced me to be the best version of me I could be.  

And then I met Leona, who had a much different lessons for me.  

With Leona I’ve learned to stop and look around.  I’ve learned it’s okay to wander away from the crowd and dance when there’s a good beat, even if I’m the only one who can hear it.  I’ve learned the joy of being silly, and that it’s okay to wear plaid, florals and stripes in the same outfit as long as you have the attitude to go with it.  I’ve learned that everyone has a story, there’s an adventure to be found anywhere, and that there’s no limit to the number of times she can make me question my own sanity.  

So, having learned all these valuable lessons, I did what any parent would do: figure out a way to profit from their children.  

I’d like to thank everyone for coming and for those who helped make yesterday possible.  It’s been a fun ride and I’m humbled by the love and support I’ve been given.
A big thank you to Christina at Starving Artist Gallery Cafe for hosting the event and for her help throughout the planning process.  Everyone raved about the food, the art, the venue.  Everything was perfect.  And I even came home with some new art.
I can’t even express the gratitude I have for Becky, English Dave, and Del Davis.  Without their encouragement I might not have even tried.   I don’t know how I got so lucky to have such amazing friends as these three, but I am so grateful I do.
Thanks goes out to John, who still loved and supported me even when I was going (still am) a bit crazy with stress and being stretched too thing.  And of course for the flowers.
A big shout out to Chris Brown, an amazing and talented musician who played the entire event.  I received so many compliments on the music.  I’ve always been a supporter of musicians, but this guy… I’d fund every project he wanted to work on if I could.  

I was asked quite a few times yesterday if I am working on more books.  I am working on the second book in the Halia and Leona series with the working title “Mom, who’s Mackulay Culkin?”  

My kid brother is a jerk.

screenshot-2016-09-23-at-5-03-23-pm

My little brother, when we were young, liked to come up behind me when I was busy with other things, kick me, push me, or just plain bug me, and then skip away giggling.  It was annoying at the time, but hind sight has that thing it does…

The last two weeks were tough for me.  I was completely overwhelmed with everything.  The list of things piling up, piled higher.  Work was more stressful that it should have been.  My personal life was more stressful than it should have been.  My personal demons were clawing at my back.  I felt like I was drowning.  I felt like nothing was going right.  At one point, I stopped in the middle of doing three different things, and for the life me, I just couldn’t remember why I was trying as hard as I was.  What was I trying to accomplish again?  Why was it so important?  What’s the harm in just giving up?

That feeling stayed with me for a few days.  People told me I looked tired, and I was tired.  Tired right down into the very soul of my existence.  My uphill trek had gained me no ground.  I felt like a fraud, spouting off bullshit phrases about working hard, being positive, and progress being progress.
I almost didn’t make it, but I dragged myself to the first yearly meeting of my writing group, and had my battery recharged a bit when I received applause for the upcoming book launch and by being with those wonderful, creative people.  And then had it charged a bit more when I learned I had come in third for the poetry writing contest.
The next day I went to my publishers office, and held the proof copy of my book in hand.  I saw the pictures, the text, and my name on the cover.  It was one of those ‘Holy shit, I did it!’ kind of moments.

Progress is kind of like my little brother.  It arrives quietly without ceremony or a parade. It sneaks up on you when your busy doing other things, kicks your ass, and skips away giggling because of the trick it played on you.   Hindsight being what it is, I still think he’s a jerk.

Over the last two years, I’ve re-written my life.  I’ve bought rental property and renovated it.  I’ve started two businesses.  I’ve gotten a book published, and am working on more.  I’ve done so many new things, learned so many things, and grown in so many ways.  Sometimes we all need a kick in the ass to remind us to look behind us for a moment.

Work hard and don’t be an asshole.
Stay positive.  And if you can’t be positive, smile till you are.
Progress is progress, no matter how small.

Squeakers vs the Dolphin

My daughter punched a dolphin.  

“Nope,” she said, pulled back, and slugged him.  

And that’s when I learned my lesson, she is not like my other daughter.  She is not like me.  I needed to travel 4, 500 kilometres away from home to figure that out.  

My youngest daughter and I made our first trip together earlier this year, and chose to start out small and hit up Cuba, mostly because it was something much different than my oldest first trip, but partially because I was concerned that a longer flight might make my always fidgety Squeakers lose her shit.  

We had a wonderful time, did lots of fun stuff.  Tried lots of new things.  But as usual with travelling, the lessons I learned were my best souvenir.  

The first thing I learned is that my youngest talks a lot.  I mean, a lot.  Way more than I could keep up with, or even respond to.  Sometimes she was talking to me.  Sometimes it was to strangers nearby.  And a lot of the times, she was just talking for the sake of talking.  A few times I would interrupt her, hearing that she was in the middle of a conversation that I didn’t know she was part of, question if she was indeed talking to me, only to find out that I was not a part of the conversation and I was not even invited.  

Which begs the question, why didn’t I ever notice that before?  Well, it’s pretty simple.  I couldn’t hear her before.  Unless she is in some sort of distress, and then she can reach decibels that can shatter glass, my youngest speaks softly.  She’s just plain drowned out at home.  Besides the music always playing at home, and my oldest who just overpowers her, I just didn’t hear my little one.  I don’t talk unless I have to (and even then, I have no issues with letting an awkward silence bloom in favour over having to fill it with surface banter) and yet my youngest doesn’t stop.  

The second thing I learned is how much better she is at meeting people than I am.  She introduced me to so many people and told me their life stories.  There was a family who she formed such a bond with that not only did she become best friends with the youngest daughter, but somehow managed to learn the names of the entire family, learn their history, where they lived, and even organized a party at their house when we all got back to Canada.  She had interesting conversations with these people, in both English and French, and I’m struggling and failing to make small talk.  

And the last and most important thing I learned was that she is a details person.  I am not.  Neither is my oldest.  Give me the big picture, and I’ll fill in the details as I go along.  My oldest is the same way.  I tell her the plan, maybe a few pointers if it’s something new, and away we go.  
My youngest needs the details.  She needs to know what size of bus we’ll be travelling on.  She needs to know what we’ll eat while we are there.  She needs to know as many details as I can pour into her head.  She needs to know that when we are swimming with dolphins, the dolphins will be close enough to touch her.

Our morning started out great.  I had told her the night before that we were swimming with dolphins.  She was excited the next morning as I re-told her the plan.

Get ready, get on the bus, go swim with dolphins.

She was still excited when she learned that I neglected to inform her that she would be wearing not only a life jacket, but goggles as well.  

And she was still excited when she learned that I neglected to inform her that we would need to walk down a long pier, climb down a ladder, and float around in an ocean pen with dolphins.  

But when said dolphins started to swim towards her, invading that detail-seeking bubble of hers, well, that was her final straw as far as missing details.  My soft spoken little girl lost her shit.

Fearful that I might not know this detail as well, she let me know, in ear piercing shrills, that the dolphins were getting closer.  

And when that failed to somehow get my attention, she then proceeded to try and drown me by attempting to climb up and stand on my head.  

And when that still failed to get me to move into action, to whisk her away from these dolphins who apparently didn’t know the plan either, she socked that misbehaving marine mammal right in the nose… er… beak.  

Don’t worry, there were no animals harmed in the making of this life lesson.  The dolphin simply swam on, unfazed, and even returned later to try again.  Squeakers and the dolphin made up and hugged it out at the end.  

But my lesson was learned.  I made sure she knew every detail of our adventure the next day.  She was an expert on snorkelling the next day, without ever having donned flippers.  

(Except for the star fish.  But that’s another story.)  

I keep the music just a bit lower now and make sure I listen to for her little voice so she doesn’t become drowned out again.