Saturday, April 20, 2013

yours are the sweetest eyes, i've ever seen

When the BB's were little, I'd tuck them in bed with a story and a song. BB1 preferred the stories - the more books I'd read the better, though I rarely got suckered in to more than two. BB2 liked the songs, over and over again. When he was three we went almost the whole year singing "Away in a Manger" at bedtime. 

After a while, we expanded our repertoire. Beyond "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," beyond lullabies and nursery rhymes. I made a booklet of the songs we loved, some from their favourite movies - "Baby Mine" from Dumbo and "You'll Be In My Heart" from Tarzan - and, somehow, some of my favourite love songs ended up in there as well. Of course, baby boys don't stay baby boys for long. They start reading for themselves. And then they say, as nicely as they can, you don't have to sing to me anymore, and you try not to take it personally. They do have to grow up. 

But this song, "Your Song," has remained my song for BB2. When he was in the hospital, I couldn't listen to it. I couldn't hear 'how wonderful life is while you're in the world' when he didn't want to be here. Eventually he got out of the hospital, and promised me he'd never go back. It was his birthday. Or perhaps the day before. 

And today is his birthday, two years later. It hasn't been any easy two years for any of us, but most of all for him. He has had some substantial growing pains, some set-backs, and some amazing successes. He's stronger, a little leaner, sometimes guarded, but moving forward. We're all a little more honest than we used to be. It's become essential. And also, I think a little more compassionate, if sometimes a little exhausted. 

I can't give BB2 a big house. But I can remind him, over and over, that sometimes I forget, and I get frustrated, and what I really mean is I'm so very glad he's in the world. 

PS - his eyes are blue. The most incredible blue.

Friday, April 19, 2013

dear shirley

Dear Shirley,

I wish I'd known in October that I'd never see you again. We did know you were in pain, but we didn't know why, and honestly - in the hustle and bustle of a big busy party - it was enough that you and Gerald were there. Smiling, hugging, quietly there. There were a lot of people we love in the room, but even that night I wished we could have found a quiet corner to sit in and catch up. I knew I could tell you anything, and I needed someone to be honest with - it was a hard weekend to keep secrets. I know you would have made it okay. I thought I had a picture of you that weekend with your big smile, and Gerald right behind you. I did have a picture, but it was fuzzy so I deleted it. I wish I hadn't. 

You know how some people are always in your life and you think they always will be, even when you don't see them for years? You were one of those people. I don't remember life before the Bennetts, I suppose because you were already in my family's life before I was. My parents have such amazing friends, and even with our sizable families, we grew up loving those friends like our own aunties, uncles and cousins. My heart breaks for Karen, Carla, Pam and Chris - and for Gerald, yes, though I can't even really fathom his loss. 

My favourite memories of you are from your house in Vernon - the best of places to vacation. I remember feeling so out of place - being the youngest in that sprawling brood of teens that our families created. I was the tween tag-along, tolerated, but mostly just. And you'd always be right there, keeping me busy, herding me through my years-long unrequited crush on your darling golden boy. I wished to be as beautiful as Karen, as big-hearted as Carla, as fun as Pam. My sisters had dibs on those friendships - those five older girls sure didn't need me butting in, but you made it okay to just be me - to sit with a book in the crook of a giant cherry tree and read and eat sun-warmed cherries until my stomach ached. 

I remember things that probably weren't at all the way I remember, but that's okay. What's left are not snapshots so much as puzzle pieces - a fold down divan, your work worn hands, your warm broad smile. All that's left now for any of us are the memories, and so we cling to them, frayed and fuzzy and partial as they may be. Mostly your smile and your laugh - I have no illusions that yours was an easy life, yet when I think of you I think of you smiling and laughing. 

We have no claim on missing you now - you have a partner of more than five decades who will have to learn how to go on without you. Your children, your grandchildren, your siblings - they will all need so much love to fill the void you're leaving in their lives. And still, we will miss you. I'll miss hearing about your adventures with mom and dad. I'll miss those increasingly rare occasions - the birthdays and anniversaries - when we get to see you, however hurried. 

Thank you. Thank you for letting a gawky book lover sit in your cherry tree. Thank you for your wise words, your big smile, your strong laugh, and your model of faithful love. 

You are missed. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

brain glitch

So I have this weird thing that happens. I'm quite sure that I'm not alone in this, but here it my particular version. When someone - particularly someone I hold in high regard or authority - compliments or encourages me in a public endeavour, I stop. It's happened over and over in university, grad school, singing, etc, and more than once here. 

Which is why after several months of very frequent writing and feeling some momentum and breaking through some barriers to say things that really matter, I've been a little quiet for the last nine days. It's one thing when your friends and family say they read your writing, but when other writers - writers you truly admire - send you feedback and encouragement. 

Stage fright. Sudden shyness. 

And this from a girl who LOVES the limelight. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

now starring ...

A few days ago at work The Boss was joking (with someone else entirely) about who would play a colleague in a TV comedy based on my place of employment, and I butted in and said "as long as you don't cast Rosie O'Donnell as me, it'll be okay."

I was joking. And not. But she graciously said "oh no, not her, I'm not sure who I'd cast as you. Who would you want? Think about it. I'll watch your blog for the answer."

And so, here is my answer: Megan Hilty. Lovely, vivacious, blonde, buxom, curvy and capable Meg Hilty. She's one of the stars of one of my favourite guilty pleasure shows "Smash." She's the me I picture when I picture a me who had chips fall in a different direction. She's who I might have been had I been willing to put the effort in. Singer. Actor. Bombshell - and we all know how I feel about bombshells. I'm not saying I in any way have her talent ... just that that was the dream.

I have 50 (or 80) pounds and 20 (+) years on her. But still ... I'd be okay if Megan Hilty was cast as me. I mean, c'mon. Look at her. LISTEN to her!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

in a new york minute

I got out of bed long after I should have been fast asleep, compelled by swirling memories of New York. I was inspired, as I am each week about this time, by tonight's episode of Smash - by the gritty kid trying to make good, the innocent girl from the hinterland learning the rough trade of the theatre world, the soaring songs, and the dramatic stories. It gets me every time, but that's not unique to this show. 

I was reminded, through the guest appearance of Bernadette Peters, of my chance meeting with Madeline Kahn. Meeting is too strong a word. I was dazed and awed by the experience of shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue when I heard her unmistakable voice. She was already dying of cancer then, and was shopping for scarves. I watched her for a moment before shyly smiling at her and saying 'thanks for the laughs' and walking away. When she died later that year I was glad I'd said something, even something idiotic. 

My whole week in that city was captivating. As I've mentioned before, (more than once) when I think of my most alive moments, many of them happened that week. And so I return to those memories when I'm faced with deep questions about who I am and what I really want out of life. What was it about walking the streets of Manhattan, about spending two days in the Metropolitan Museum, about wandering and soaking it all in that was so ... inspiring, in the true sense of the word? 

I've had other fantastic trips - some might even say bigger or more important trips. But for me, New York is the one what always draws me back. I've looked through my old photos - taken on what was then my first really good camera, and what is now archaic technology. Photos on film that were printed when I got home, and shoved in a photo box ever since. The secret is not in them. 

What started all this looking back was this set of questions posed by Gabrielle Roth and posted by UberCoach on my facebook wall yesterday: "When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?"

I don't have any answers, yet. I just know the feeling that long ago me had - that Mary Tyler Moore spin around and throw your hat up in the air because life is so perfect and you made it that way feeling - isn't confined to  New York City, and that if I can find it there I can find it anywhere.

Monday, April 1, 2013

what i should have said

I overheard a conversation yesterday in which a friend's daughter said something so reprehensible that I didn't know how to react. She was quoting something she found funny that mentioned both killing people based on their religion and beating women. I left without saying anything - she's not my child, not someone I even know aside from my ancient friendship with her mother. And yet it bothered me all evening and throughout the day today. If I don't say something, who will? If I tolerate these 'jokes' how can I ask others, my sons and my partner most of all, to interrupt them? So this is what I wish I had said. She may never read it, but I don't actually have the right not to say it. And a sincere thank you to Rosie Bitts, who challenged my silence. 

Little Sister - is it alright if I call you that just for this instance? I don't mean it to be belittling, it's just that this is a serious conversation, and I want you to know where I'm coming from - this is the kind of conversation I think an older sister should have with her younger sister. It is the kind of conversation I think older women owe younger women. This conversation that is only worthwhile because you matter enough to me for me to take the time. I could just as easily be talking to any of several friends' daughters who I know more, or to my nieces, one of my sons' friends, or a young cousin. I hope you'll hear my words in the spirit in which they are offered. 

I don't know you aside from the highest and lowest moments of your life - the things that get shared by people catching up over time and distance. I know how talented you are. I know some of the losses and stress you've survived, and some of the accomplishments you've celebrated. I know that you have the torn allegiances of any child of divorce. I am aware of the assumptions I make about all of that, but I don't claim to know you, really. 

It's just that the thing you said yesterday, the thing you and your friends seemed to think was so funny, it's really not okay. I should have said something then, but I didn't want to embarrass you, and I didn't want to come across as yet another humourless feminist and social justice advocate. I assumed you wouldn't listen to what I had to say, and so I didn't say it. That was cowardly of me, and does you no justice as the intelligent and informed young woman I believe you to be underneath all your swagger and bravado.  

The thing is, there are women - women you love dearly, who have been in your life in various ways for months or years or always - who have been beaten. The statistics in our country alone will bear out the fact that someone you know and respect has been beaten. They probably never showed you. It takes a kind of grace to hide that pain from the people around you, but most women who are abused hide it well for years. You may never have any idea who they are or what their circumstances were, but when you joke about women being beaten, you demean them. I pray, truly, that you never have to know the determination, the cunning, and the strength it takes to be with a man who says he loves you but controls, belittles, rapes, beats, steals from and cheats on you. I have never had to live through that, but women who matter to me more than I can say have survived that and more. They deserve my speaking up, and they deserve your respect. 

I don't know why, when someone dear to my heart was with someone who beat her, she wasn't able to tell me. I didn't know when it was happening, and I wasn't who she turned to when she had the unbelievable courage to leave - to call the police, to make a plan, and to disappear from the life she had known and the dreams she had dreamed. All I know is the shame of not being the kind of friend she could call on to be there - whatever her reasons for protecting me were, I wasn't that person for her. I hope you never have to say that about a friend. I hope you never feel the shame and disappointment in yourself of being someone who couldn't be counted on when your friends needed support just because you said something that was supposed to be a joke. 

I couldn't stand up for my friend at the time, so I owe her at least my voice now. I also owe the women I work with, women who every day stand - sometimes literally, but every day spiritually and emotionally - between women and the (mostly) men who claim to love them even while they abuse them. My co-workers help these women keep themselves and their children safe until they are ready to leave, make plans for leaving safely, find shelter during the storm, and begin their lives again. My co-workers and the women they support also deserve your respect. If women can't count on each other to stop treating relationship violence like it's not only acceptable but even funny, what hope have we to encourage men to stand up with us?  

As for the issue of religious genocide, I feel I somehow have less ground to stand on. I have the privilege of being white, educated and middle-class in a culture that values being white, educated and middle-class - life is automatically easier for me because I am these things. At your age, I too made racist jokes - not about killing, though not so far removed that I have a high moral ground from which to preach at you. Growing up when I did and where I did left me with certain specific prejudices that I have had to choose to overcome. Our society, because of my privileges, will not force me to give them up. I choose to disrupt my own patterns that say it's okay to be prejudice about this group or that group. That it's okay to be 'a little bit' prejudiced. It is not okay. My prejudice demeans me as much as it does the groups I belittle. Your joke was beneath you, as are your prejudices. Do better, and I will continue to try to do better alongside you. 

One great blessing of life when I was your age was that our foibles and weaknesses and attempts at humour that were not at all funny were not broadcast electronically for everyone in our lives to see, 'like,' or comment on. That the conversation I removed myself from yesterday was electronic does not in any way remove its impact on me, but it does have different implications for you. You have youth's folly of indifference - you can pretend you don't care who sees or reads or dislikes what you say. But will that be true when you apply for a design contract with an exciting social justice agency and they love your work, but oh, there was that thing you said online? Will it be true when your little sister tells an offensive joke, and you want to have a conversation with her about it, but here's your history to show her where you really stand? 

I only know you through our online connections - it is the only evidence I have to go on when I think about the kind of person you are. And, likewise, it is the only place where you get to see who I am. And so, a day late, this is who I am. I am someone who says "no, stop, I'm not okay with that" when I hear a joke that is offensive. I am someone who cares enough to interject. I am someone who thinks you are better than that joke was, and I am someone who will stand by you as you grow and learn and become the amazing woman you're meant to be. 
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