Glowing hearts

There are many things for which I am grateful. A partner who is my equal (or better) in every way; three healthy, happy, adoring and adored children; and a life that has lead me down many incredible paths. Some were wonderful, some were challenging, but all have shaped me for the better. And I hope there are more to come.

Sometimes I wonder if many or any of those experiences would have been possible if I were not born in such an amazing country. I’ve made mention before of my Maritime pride. There’s no place in the world like Nova Scotia and I’m proud to be part of the club. But I’m just as proud to be a Canadian.

Our children will have so much at their fingertips. The world is smaller than it’s ever been and I have a feeling they will be itching to explore it. I hope that’s a possibility for them. I hope they hike and dine and traverse around this incredible globe, because it will help them learn more about where they came from. And I hope that they, too, are proud to wear a maple leaf on their backpacks while they do it. (I supposed that means I should learn how to stitch.)

Today, I’m feeling proud. And a little sentimental. And very, very grateful.

Happy Canada Day!

Out of character

I like to give advice. It’s a tick, like twirling my hair when I’m pensive or standing on one foot when I’m anxious. It’s involuntary. I can’t help but offer help, even if it’s unsolicited and in no way helpful. This is why my siblings stopped asking for my advice (and my father’s advice) some time ago, although that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped giving it (nor has my father).

Not everyone wants to make the same decisions as me, or desires the same outcomes. My siblings and I are individuals, and while I would love my younger sister to move into my sleepy suburb and settle down, that’s not exactly her cup of green tea latte from my local coffee shop (amenities!). Now that I think of it, I can probably pinpoint the exact moment my father realized that I wasn’t an extension of his DNA. (Although we do share the same involuntary furrowed brow, which is the gentleman’s version of resting bitch face. Much preferred.)

Just before high school graduation, after most program application deadlines had passed, I revealed to my dad that I had not applied to an engineering program as planned and submitted solely to journalism school instead. I’m sure this was shocking to him. He was eventually tickled that I would attend the same institution as my older sister, and unsurprised by my leanings towards the arts, but this was the first major decision I made without his knowledge and input, and perhaps the first flex of my I’m-my-own-person muscle.

Everyone needs the freedom to exist as they truly are. This makes our story better. What makes me happy may not make, say, my little sister happy. (This may be an exact quote from a polite but stern email she sent me a few years ago when I sent her a local listing.)

Lately, I find myself keeping this in mind when writing characters. For the longest time, I tossed draft after draft of unconvincing writing because something didn’t really click. It was probably the poorly thought out plot or the terrible dialogue, but it was mostly because of my characters. They were undeveloped. I was putting them in situations that didn’t make sense or ring true. I was writing about them, but I wasn’t getting to know them.

A few years ago I took a writing course while working on what was then imagined to be a book of children’s middle grade fiction. I remember having a chapter dissected by a group of writers (which is akin to having your abdomen dissected by a group of writers) and the most consistent critique was about the characters. Who are they? My protagonist was all over the place, because I was trying to decide who she was. The only character that resonated was a supporting character, a teenage boy. I wrote him well because I knew him. Even though I invented him, I wasn’t trying to invent who he was. I was simply writing about how I knew he would exist in this invented world.

I’ve been working on another book for a while now, and I’m really excited about. I’m excited because I’ve learned a lot since my first efforts. (It stings a bit to just abandon my previous attempt but writing shitty first drafts isn’t a waste of time, it’s a rite of passage.) I’m excited because it’s a great story, set in a beautiful place, and it’s about a dynamic, daring young girl who’s so incredibly fun to write and get to know. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.

The girl on the plane

It’s not often that I find myself travelling alone. When I was in my twenties, most of my terminal hopping and orderly boarding was done solo, but since getting hitched and having kids, my airport experiences have shifted in flight.

I no longer have the luxury of time and tranquility that comes with traveling alone. I used to love lounging in an airport, coffee-sipping and people-watching, while more burdened travellers herded their children and awkward carry-ons towards their elusive gates. (Now I am one of those burdened travellers and can say that it’s about as enjoyable as it looked to me back then.)

The first time I boarded a plane I was eight years old. My slightly older sister and I were escorted to our seats by a friendly flight attendant while we sported special buttons that read, “I’m travelling alone!” (Oh, how times have changed.) My parents sent me and my sister to Ottawa to spend a weekend with our uncle. We (and another sibling set on the same flight, also travelling alone) were whisked to the cockpit for a quick tour and given warm, gooey cookies with milk. I was hooked.

There have been other flights since. There was the Halifax-Ottawa-Chicago-Amsterdam-Nairobi-Lukasa-Lilongwe milk run to Malawi when I was twenty. There was the longest 55 minutes of my life flying over southwestern Ontario on an 18-seater Beechraft during a lighting storm (I will never again be excited to sit in seat 1A). There was the first flight that my new husband and I took together, which surprisingly didn’t end in divorce. And the first flight we took with our newborn, which unsurprisingly did end in three shirt changes and a shortfall of diapers and clean soothers. (Flying with kids lends a whole new meaning to turbulence.)

My memories of waiting in the airport are even sweeter. Waiting in for my boyfriend to arrive from Ontario while I was still studying in Halifax; waiting for my sister to arrive at Heathrow when she visited me in the UK; waiting at the gate in Calgary with each of our newborns in our arms as family from the east coast ran down the moving escalators towards us. Airports have always meant something to me. When I was young, they were a gateway to a world I was itching to explore, and now that I’m older(ish), they’re an emblem of going home.

During my most recent round-trip, I was alone again. I was traveling to Nova Scotia to say goodbye to someone and I was sad. I saw young people flying alone, couples old and new, and many, many young families making the trek ‘home’ from Alberta to the Maritimes as summer finally begins. I bought my coffee, a chocolate croissant and a certain best-selling thriller that I’ve felt compelled to read for months now, and I sat. And read. And watched. And I felt grateful for everything.

Farewell

I remember talking to a friend shortly after the birth of her first child. She felt anxious more often than not, and admitted that when she heard the occasional sirens of a passing ambulance, she immediately and unequivocally believed that someone she loved was in it. That was never the case, but for a while she was consumed with this fear of an inevitable loss or heartache.

While her thoughts were a little extreme, I doubt she’s the only person to ever think this way. At some point we’ve all had our hearts in our throats when the phone rings in the middle of the night or there’s an unexpected knock at the door. Usually, it’s nothing. A telemarketer. Sometimes it’s my dear mother calling, whose been known to occasionally forget the time difference between here and there, unaware of the anxiety provoked by a 4 AM phone call from home. Sometimes, however, it’s real.

I traveled to Nova Scotia last week to say goodbye to my beloved aunt. She had been diagnosed with cancer, but her sudden passing was unexpected and devastating. She battled, admirably, and in a way that makes you question your own strength. Could I have ever been that strong?

Her children showed the same strength in their goodbyes as the community rallied around them. Their mother was given a Nova Scotian farewell, with family, friends, fiddles and bagpipes. When my family and I return to Nova Scotia next month, we’ll visit her at her final resting place, on a hill overlooking a river that leads to the Atlantic ocean. And I’ll know that she is at peace.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming

I’ve been so busy counting down the days to summer vacation (and the end of pick up, drop offs, practices and programs) that I forgot to consider one important thing. What are we going to do with all this free time?

Before our kids started school, summer vacation was exciting (better weather, BBQ, our annual pilgrimage home to Nova Scotia) but otherwise meaningless. Back then, my countdowns surrounded my jailbreak from work for maternity leave and then my subsequent jailbreak from maternity leave to return to work. When our third daughter was born and I left my job to stay at home full time, we enrolled our oldest in pre school. We embraced the September to June calendar from that day forward, until the end of time. Or at least the next seventeen years.

Now that the final days of June are creeping hastily upon us, I should probably consider our game plan for July and August. Our family thrives on routine. I’m assuming most do. Although our schedule is sometimes grueling, it also fuels us. When I know I have to be here and there at this time and that, I can do it. We’ll probably arrive missing a shoe and a little bit late, but we will be there. I rely on our crazy schedule to keep me from going insane.

Having a routine also benefits our kids. (As long as they’re not over-scheduled. I try not to overdo it.) While shuffling from A to Z can get tiresome at times, their weekly activities burn their energy, stimulate their developing brains and provide some order in the busy, bustling business of growing up.

So again. What are we going to do when we have nothing to do?

Well, a big chunk of time will be our vacation within our vacation. To say that we’re excited to visit Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in a few weeks is the understatement of the summer. And then there’s the week or two leading up to the trip, which will probably be filled with prepping and packing. And then the days following our return to Calgary, which will be hours and hours of laundry and apologizing to our dear, darling dog who won’t be accompanying us this year. (She will be in good hands.)

That brings us to mid-August, when our daughters will attend a summer science camp where they fully plan to concoct a shrinking potion (I think I wasn’t clear enough when I read them the brochure). Then it’s basically back to school preparations. Somewhere in-between I promised the girls plenty of visits to the water park, the zoo and visits with their friends who have air-conditioned homes.

All of a sudden it’s September again. (Did I just hear a leaf drop outside?)

I’m sure there will be plenty of boredom and breakdowns, but hopefully there will also be lots of impromptu fun. Which I will schedule in whenever I can.

I’m guilty, Your Honour

I’m sure this isn’t a phenomenon unique only to me, but ever since I became a parent, I carry with me a tremendous sense of overwhelming, all encompassing, sometimes crippling guilt.

It usually surfaces, unsurprisingly, when I surface. That is, when I emerge from the clutches of stay-at-home momness and leave kid-less for whatever errand begs my attention at the moment. Whether it’s buying groceries alone, shopping alone or (like last night) getting a pedicure alone.

My trip to the salon was supposed to be a restorative mini-retreat for my soul (and callous heels), but despite my attempts to be mindful and zen, I was a jittery, guilty mess. I felt terrible that the dishes from dinner were left undone on the counter, I felt guilty that this was the second night in a row that I had met my husband and the door after work and left him to fend for himself during bath and bedtime, and I felt guilty for the time and money I was spending on my toenails when there are a million other things that could use my attention and funds.

When my solo errands are a little less me-centric, I can usually mitigate the guilt with the relief that productivity brings. I can do ten times the errands alone in the time it takes to caravan the kids around town grabbing groceries, mailing packages and depositing cheques. (More likely withdrawing cash.)

But when my nights off or weekends away are all about me (i.e. pedicures, hair cuts, very necessary and very painful swimsuit shopping) I find it hard to justify my absence from home. I worry about the state of the house, the stock of food in the fridge, the mood of the kids and the sanity of my husband who I’ve left solely in charge. I sometimes judge myself so harshly that it makes it impossible for me to enjoy my few minutes of freedom.

But this is where things get ridiculous, because as my co-parent and legally binding partner often reminds me, he is perfectly capable and totally happy to do this. He loves it. He’s an awesome dad, and the kids usually prefer their fun Daddy-time to the hours of hustle and shuffling of Mommy-time.

And this makes me feel every more guilty.

It’s no secret that during the day, parents who stay at home with their kids have shit to do. There is very little time to relax and connect with your kids, and when those wonderful moments do arise during the daytime hours, you have to be very mindful of them or you will miss them. When my husband gets home from work, this should be the time when I can clock-out of the housekeeping, bookkeeping and kid-keeping and enjoy my time with the kids. This is what my husband tries to do.

But lately, instead, I’ve been zipping out the door to try and tackle the mounting to-do list that accompanies this time of year, this stage of parenting and this mom’s attempts at maintaining sanity.

Yes, I know these private moments away are good for me. I know that I’m a better mom and partner when I’m feeling restored. I know that these feelings of guilt are not only useless and unnecessary, but a little destructive. I know the sky will not fall.

And I guess I can reluctantly admit that I love my new toes.

(In a shade called Lobster Roll, because obviously.)

Turning Albertan

If you live in Alberta and you have a pulse, it’s hard not to reflect this morning on the stunning loss (and victory) that took place in our provincial election last night.

The polls released in the days and hours leading up to the last vote cast turned out to be exactly right, even though pollsters were reluctant to trust their own overwhelming numbers predicting a New Democratic Party sweeping majority.

But they were right, and Alberta has a new governing party for the first time in over 40 years. Any political junkie in the country (including yours truly) was likely glued to their TV, phone and computer screens last night watching provincial history unfold. It was incredible to witness, and it will be interesting to see what happens next in big-C Conservative, oil-rich, cow country.

If it sounds like I’m discussing this dramatic change in governance in my own province with a slight detachment, it’s because I am. That’s not because I don’t care what happens. I consider myself a very engaged Alberta resident. I’ve voted in every Alberta election – municipal, provincial and federal – since moving here in 2008. Our kids were born here, we pay tax on our home and income here, and my weight is even cruelly displayed on a shiny blue Alberta driver’s license.

I care very much. I’m anxious to learn if the construction of our new community school, badly needed due to the population boom in southeast Calgary, will be delayed once again simply due to the transition of a new government. Like most people whose families work in the energy sector, I’m anxious to learn what will happen to that community. My husband’s commute to the downtown core has already become eerily empty due to corporate lay-offs. Are more changes coming? We’ll have to wait and see.

For the most part, though, I’ve resisted a complete immersion into the crazy world of Alberta politics because of my complete aversion to becoming an Albertan (and a slight aversion to partisan politics). As a spectator, it’s been a crazy ride, but as a citizen, I’ve remained slightly detached. I love Alberta. Our life is incredible here, and I’m grateful for everything it’s afforded us. But it’s just not home.

My husband and I talk all the time about a return to Nova Scotia. Sometimes our hearts ache so badly we think, What are we doing here? I’m sure most of our memories are romanticized, but it’s strange to think that our kids won’t have the same small-town, oceanside childhood that shaped everything about us.

When we visit Nova Scotia in the summer, we’re ceaselessly asked if we actually like living in Calgary. The reluctant truth is yes, we do. We love it. This is where we’ve chosen to live. This is where our kids attend school, where my husband works, where I hone my superpowers and where our family is totally thriving.

So does that make me an Albertan? It’s really not a terrifying thought, other than the fact that I miss Nova Scotia terribly.

Maybe I can be both Albertan and Nova Scotian (Although more Nova Scotian than Albertan. When it comes to Nova Scotia, I’m very partisan.)

I can probably live with that for now.

Author’s note: This post acknowledges the fact that my children are Albertans by birth. Also and unrelated, does there happen to be a black market for Nova Scotian birth certificates?