glad I came: a poem

Belly laughs until the tears are falling

Splashing in rolling frothy waves

Board games in the waning light

Floating in tubes along the glistening sunset waters

Lunch in the shade of elms and oaks, talking

Movies in pyjamas

Sharing space companionably

Dares and stories and memories…

Sleepovers are not only for children,

And vacations are not couples-only.

When two friends meet for days of R&R

Even Nature smiles.

 

Kindred Spirits: How do you know when you’ve met one?

It doesn’t happen often but every once in a while I meet someone with whom I find a connection. I don’t know whether it’s inexplicable, or if it’s easy to attribute to the discovery of shared preferences, the falling into easy conversation (and being able to pick up conversation even after weeks or months of not being able to speak, for whatever reason). Like Anne Shirley was, I’m delighted and comforted with how often I find a kindred spirit — how many of them are out there.

Here is, in my opinion, how to tell when you’ve met a Kindred Spirit:

  • You seem to be comfortable with the other individual, with very little effort or need for time spent getting to know each other. In fact, it can almost feel like you’ve already met or known each other somewhere before. (Hmm — maybe Kindred Spirits are souls we’ve met already in our previous lives???)
  • You find yourself drawn into conversations with your new friend, and they’re good, pleasant, positive conversations. When you talk to the KS, you find yourself feeling better afterward, without having felt the need to push yourself to be open.
  • Spending time together is neither draining nor an effort, and even if you have to cut your time short because you’re sick or on a schedule, there’s no pressure or need to make an impression. You are who you are, and the other accepts you for that without question. In turn, you are able to accept them, without question or judgement.
  • You don’t have to spend time together every single day, although getting together regularly is nice. You recognize each other’s need for space, or are able to be honest with each other about needing self-time. You each know the other is out there, and that’s enough.
  • You connect on many levels: you share some or many beliefs, likes and dislikes, hobbies and pastimes, those little things that form the basis of many friendships. You speak the same language.

quote-kindred-spirits-are-not-so-scarce-as-i-used-to-think-it-s-splendid-to-find-out-there-are-so-many-l-m-montgomery-285066

And really, where would we be without these individuals in our lives? These reminders of the goodness of the world, personified and corporeal, against whom we can sound our ideas and lean on for strength? After all, you can have different kinds of friends: close friends, work friends, acquaintances, besties, friends you only club with, friends you only fish with, colleagues with whom you are friendly, and friends with whom you could never, ever work in a million years because you know you’d never get anything done. It’s my theory that a kindred spirit encompasses all of these things. You’ve got such a connection that work or play, it doesn’t matter — you get along, share a closeness, are able to communicate on different levels, and even if you haven’t gotten together or called or texted for many days, you can pick up exactly where you left off.

Yeah, this post is a bit of a mushy one. A tad sappy. But I had a good day.

Childfree vs Parenting: the endless debate

What do you do when someone makes you feel vulnerable, judged, and that you have made the wrong choices in life?

If you’re like me and are prone to anxiety and depression, you take it pretty damn personally.

It’s all you can think about for days.

I am working on this, learning to stand up for myself in a more articulate way and consider other people’s comments from a logical standpoint rather than purely emotionally.

As my dear friend Tara has told me, “You made your decisions in life, and you bear the consequences, good and bad…Don’t feel bad or make apologies or even feel you have to. You have nothing to apologize for. Everyone has days the burden gets heavy, and they need to vent. That doesn’t mean they want the burden to disappear, or that they are sorry they assumed it in the first place. It just means they have stress and need to release some.”

What has brought all of this on?

I had an interesting conversation — more a friendly debate, in a way — on the merits of having children earlier in life or later. One of my colleagues is enjoying her childfree life, unattached and able to travel as she pleases. I had my children during my 20s, and I am quite glad that I did, for various reasons.

I have my moments, though, where I need to vent — when the burden gets heavy.

It was a struggle to have our children when we were broke students, instead of waiting.
It wasn’t just the lack of money; I also had terrible postpartum, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I totally understand and support women like her who are choosing to put off having children, or not have any at all. In another lifetime, maybe I would not have children either, for various reasons. But I would not choose this life without my children, not at all. They are my heart. I admire my colleague and various friends for having the guts to go against conventional expectations, to live their own lives as they wish, and sure, I’m a little jealous of the freedom to travel and go by a schedule unencumbered by the needs of small people.

But what I do not understand is how someone who is child-free looks at me and judges me because I chose a more traditional life path. Not completely conventional, mind you — I have done things in reverse order to most professional women today — but I deliberately (and with some innocence and ignorance combined) picked the harder road to travel. It has brought me both gifts and challenges.

My early marriage and decision to have babies in my twenties has made me a stronger person.

I’m not good with confrontation, preferring to avoid conflict whenever possible. When I felt like I was being told that my choices (to get married young and have babies before I became a professional) were the wrong ones, I couldn’t let it go. It bothers me too much.

My first blog on this, yesterday, showed just how vulnerable I feel about this topic. I get incredibly defensive, when I’m trying to be logical. So I’ve edited my earlier post, hoping to find my way through the murk of this debate.

The risks of waiting to have children later in adult life are equal to but different from the risks of having children early.

Having a baby in your twenties or early thirties, before you have proper job security (or what passes for job security today), means for many parents a constant concern about money. So more and more couples are choosing to put off having children until they have that security (which, in all honesty, may never happen).

Having a baby in your late thirties, forties, or even into your fifties means a greater risk to your body, higher risk of problems for the infant, and perhaps less concern about money if the family has a decent income / job security.

Attempting to conceive when you’re younger means there’s more time to get help if you have trouble with fertility. But a woman’s body tends to bounce back from the demands of pregnancy and labour much more quickly when she is younger and/or highly fit.

We all know the metaphor of the biological clock ticking for older mothers. New medical procedures added to the freezing of ovum, like uterine transplants and surrogacy, help to extend that fertile period — wonderful!

Finally, there’s that question of when to enjoy the child-free years the most: while you’re young and energetic, so you can have your own toys and enjoy them, or while you’re matured and wrinkly, after your children have grown and started their own lives.

Let’s face it: our society puts a premium on people enjoying their own lives while they are young, hot, single, independent, and able to travel. We know that the older population gets less respect because aging makes the skin sag (among other body parts), so many of the toys and experiences our consumer society wants us to enjoy are marketed to the 20- and 30-something set.

Thus, my husband and I might have chosen to put off having our kids until after we had gone on adventures, bought the material possessions we wanted, and found the perfect home. I might have been able to wear that hot Princess Leia bikini while on vacation in Vegas, or backpacked around Europe with him, with just our backpacks.

We made a trade, choosing the less popular / more traditional option of waiting until our mature years to enjoy the travel and the toys.

I probably won’t get into the bikini unless I have a tummy-tuck (which my husband reassures me is not necessary), and he has no desire to backpack around Europe anyway.

What I would like to do is take our children with us on a tour of the world. Spend a year on a working vacation, watching the expressions on our son and daughter’s faces as they view Stonehenge, the Sistine Chapel, the Louvre, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China… We’ve been waiting until they were both school-aged, though I know of some fantastic parents who have been able to do such an awakening journey with babies in tow.

I wanted to wait so that they would be able to remember.

Whether we’ll have the money (and the passports) in the next few years is the question. It’s been a while since I picked up this particular dream and dusted it off. It requires my husband to have a secure job, like mine, to be able to save at the same time as doing all of the other things we need in life (like fix our ailing home). It would also be nice if he could qualify to do some work on an international level, like teaching or cooking. (Again, working on it.) And our specific plan probably needs to be more specific, like helping to build a school in Kenya or going on a research tour in Asia.

But whatever I do in the next few years, I could not dream of doing without my children and my husband beside me. They are my cheering squad, and I am theirs. We enjoyed five child-free years before the first came along, and occasionally we miss the easy intimacy of that time. It’s coming back, though, slowly. We look forward to our older years as being a time to return to ourselves as a couple, particularly considering my husband’s health is not going to last much longer than 10 years from now.

Also, I am happier having the baby-making stage of my life over with. I no longer have to worry from month to month about whether I’m sharing my body with another being. My body is my own, to share with my spouse as I want to. Nourishing a human both within the womb and through nursing, let alone daily mothering of an infant, is exhausting no matter what. ) Not having to worry about getting pregnant is, in itself, incredibly liberating. Even on the pill, there is always that slim chance that it won’t work, but I don’t have that stress anymore. I don’t have to dread it or look forward to it — it’s done. We have our children, and we are done.

Having our children younger has also been a blessing for my parents. My mother has been able to enjoy being a grandmother through her fifties, whereas some of her friends and in-laws have not had the pleasure until they hit their early or mid-sixties, with a corresponding shift in energy for different activities. My parents were concerned, of course, with our timing, but at the same time, we had our youth going for us. They had their children under similar circumstances. The apple probably doesn’t fall that far from the tree. And since I had my children at approximately the same ages that my mother had myself and my brother, I now understand her even more than I did before. I remember times when my mother was grumpy, or short, or not really listening, and being that age myself now, I understand the reasons behind it.

I’m not a perfect parent, and I put way too much pressure on myself to live up to an impossible vision. Maybe that’s why I take my colleague’s comments so personally, when really I don’t need to.

Close to My Heart (a work in progress)

    The silence on the other end of the phone revealed more than words would have communicated.  
    “I’m sorry, Mom.”  She held Anthony’s eyes as she spoke, willing her voice to stay steady.  “It’s just not going to happen.”
    “You can’t miss any more family events, Nina.” 
    She watched her husband set the baby in the playpen.  He came around behind her to rub her shoulders, kneading the hard knot that had grown beside her spine.  “I appreciate how you feel, but our kids have been through enough.  They hardly get to see their dad, I don’t feel comfortable leaving them with strangers in a strange city.  They need routine, not upheaval.”
    “We could take turns babysitting, during the wedding.  Instead of hiring a sitter they don’t know.”
    “That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.  We’re not going.”
    “Then I guess that’s that.”

*

    Nina wandered alone through the crowd of happy holiday revellers.  Although her husband’s encouragement and her friends’ cajoling had convinced her that coming out for the last night of the Dark Lake Festival of Trees was better than hiding out at home, somehow she felt more empty among the smiling, flushed faces than she would have if she’d stayed curled up on the couch.  Pausing to look over a tall Douglas Fir sprigged with blue silk bows and pearl swags, Nina hugged herself as waves of conversation rose and ebbed around her.  Conversations not involving Nina Bradford.
    Three months had passed since that last, tension-filled conversation with her mother.  Three months, and not another word had been spoken between them.
    Curling up under a fuzzy blanket on the couch with a cup of tea and a book would have been infinitely preferable to feeling sad and invisible at this holiday party.
    She drifted past a lovely spruce, decked out in traditional Victorian fashion, with tiny battery-operated candles, burgundy velvet bows, lace garlands and spicy scented balls of potpourri.  The hall was lined with six-foot Christmas trees decorated in styles ranging from futuristic to conventional, under swags of cedar boughs and plaid ribbons.  It was simply breathtaking, but Nina couldn’t see it.  She fingered a prickly branch sprinkled with fake snow, gently touched a palm-sized pink feather wreath on the breast cancer awareness tree, trying to arouse some holiday spirit.  Even though it was nice to have a break from the children, she half wished that Anthony had come with her.  No-one else appeared to be alone.  This was an event meant for sharing with a partner, family, or friends.  

*

    “The wedding, the funeral, and the reunion — it’s an opportunity for your family to meet your children.  It’s all in one weekend, so there will be less travel for everyone.  You should come and see everyone.  It’s hard for your brother, too, you know.”
    “We just can’t do it, I’m sorry.”
    “What if we paid for the trip?”

*

    Nina rose onto her toes, scanning the crowd for the tenth time in the hopes of sighting someone she knew.  Jenn, Debra, Allison — after all the fuss they’d made about her lack of social involvement, her friends and colleagues weren’t even there to meet her.   It figured.  They’d been best friends for so many years, and Nina had only known them for a fraction of that time.  She appreciated that they were nice to her, that they had included her in their movie nights and work lunches, but in the end, Nina also understood that she didn’t really belong with them.  She was a spare wheel.  The people here already had their companions, their personal connections and special friends; the evidence was all around her.    So why was she letting it bother her, the absence of these three women whose relationship had the priority of years?  Nina understood that plans changed.  Their concern that she was becoming a hermit was perhaps valid; that they had urged her to get out and participate in a community event did speak of their caring.  It was nice, knowing that they thought of her and wanted her to be happy.  So Nina had made the effort, with her husband’s support while he was home, respecting and appreciating their concern.  It just would have been nice to see them.  To have someone to talk to.  To feel like she belonged here, among the happy people.
    The brass band at the far end of the hall wrapped up their set for a five minute break.  “Still plenty of time left in the silent auction, folks!” The master of ceremonies, a spritely little old man in a tuxedo, spoke into the microphone as the players tidied their sheet music.  “Every tree goes for charity, don’t forget!”   Clapping along with the crowd, Nina watched as a tired young mother in a cable-knit cardigan passed her sleeping infant to the man in a matching cardigan, standing at her side.  Trying to observe without being seen, she stepped into an alcove between two fragrant balsams festooned with toys and hand-knit mittens.  An older woman with silver hair and a dark red cowl-neck sweater approached with a smile and embraced the mother carefully, in order to keep from spilling the two steaming cups of cider in her hands.  The baby’s father — at least, Nina presumed that he was the father — bobbed gently up and down in time to the pre-recorded Christmas music.  Nina felt a lump grow in her throat.  Her eyes prickled.  Slipping behind the tree, she began to make her way toward the coat-check, and the exit.

*

    “I can’t justify the expense of a three-day trip, not when we have so many bills to pay.”
    “You and the kids need a break.  You need to get away, have an adventure…”
    “While we have a leaking roof, and we need new plumbing?  The car needs a new engine, the electrical panel has to be replaced…Mom, if you’re offering money, I’d rather fix the house than drive around the province for three days.”

*

    The heat was rising as more bodies crowded into the hall.  Nina felt a trickle of sweat pass between her shoulder blades.  The knitted turtleneck she’d worn because of its festive pattern of leaping reindeer felt scratchy in the warm press of the crowd.  She liked it during the long winter drives from Dark Lake to Timmins, to Ottawa, or North Bay.  It was normally comfortable and breathed nicely in the snug confines of their vehicle, but in this environment, the cheery wool was giving her heat rash.  
    “Mrs. Bradford?  Mrs. Bradford!” 
    Nina stopped, only a few feet away from the counter where two little old ladies sat and organized coat tags.  At first, she couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from in the crowd.  It sounded like one of her students.
    “Over here!”
    A hand popped up, near the cider table on the far side of the wide entrance.  A gaggle of teenage girls in her way shifted, and Nina recognized the long blonde hair belonging to Kayla Sutton.  With a sigh of regret, Nina moved away from the hope of a quick, unobtrusive exit.  Kayla had struggled through grade nine and was improving her attendance this year; it would not be supportive to avoid saying hello.  Besides, Nina rather liked Kayla.  She had a wicked sense of humour and a keen sense of insight in the classroom. 
    “Are you okay? You look a little upset, Mrs. B.”
    Outside the classroom, too.
    “Perceptive as always, Kayla.” Nina smiled wryly, accepting the small cup of cider Kayla offered.  “No, I’m just a bit tired, and it’s kind of warm in here with all these people.”
    “You have to dress in layers,” Kayla nodded, smoothing her own fitted tank top.  She tugged at the short ruffled skirt.  Nina hid a smile behind her cup. Kayla, like many of her female peers, preferred to shop for clothes that were always just a little too short or a little too small, but then ended up constantly pulling and adjusting to feel more decently covered.  As long as she didn’t bend over, Nina thought.  Kayla poured another cup for an outstretched hand.  “So, are you here with anybody, Miss B.?”
    The pang made it harder to breathe. “No, I’m alone.  I wanted to get out of the house, see all the trees, you know?” Liar.
    “I really like the one you and the other teachers made up.  It’s really cute!”
    Nina sipped the hot drink and turned in the direction Kayla had indicated.  Yes, the school tree looked terrific.  Nina had helped, picking up holiday-themed school supplies — pens, pencils, erasers shaped like wreaths and snowmen, stamps, sharpeners, etc. — and creating garlands, hanging ornaments, even a star for the top.  Small wooden apples painted a gleaming red dangled from branches, beside yellow toy school buses, old-fashioned plastic rulers, and dollhouse-size desks that Nina had made with one of her classes using craft sticks and balsa wood.  She was rather proud of it.  Someone in town was going to take home a fun, yet tastefully decorated Christmas tree.  How much he or she would pay for it, Nina didn’t know.
    “Thanks, Kayla.  I enjoyed making it.”
    “Are you putting a bid on any of them?”
    Nina sighed.  “You know, if I could, it would be that one, in the corner.  With the real popcorn chains, the poinsettias, the brass horns.  I think it has lockets on it, too.  That one makes me think of Christmas, you know?  I wasn’t really in the spirit until I saw that one.” 
    “So, put a bid on it!”
    “Oh, it’s already way past my budget.” Nina thought of the tiny foot-high tree on her dining table, the best they could do for their growing family.  “We have a little tree, and it’s fine.  It makes the presents look bigger, though.”
    Kayla leaned in. “Hey, if you want a big tree, why not go out to the highway?  As long as you don’t get caught, nobody cares!”
    Nina laughed. “Somehow, I don’t think Santa or the government would appreciate me stealing a pine tree from the side of the road.”
    “Want me to do it?  My family’s made a tradition out of it, we pick a side road, take our snowmobiles, it’s really not a problem.”
    “You’re sweet,” Nina smiled, patting her shoulder.  “Thanks, but no thanks.  It’s okay.”
    Kayla shrugged, grinning.  Nina winked at her and moved away, toward the tree she had helped to decorate.  It had been wonderfully fulfilling, especially knowing that it was for a good cause.  And a fun afternoon, one of the few she had been able to spend out of the house for a while.  She had been able to bring the kids, laughed with Jenn, Deb, Allison, sang carols — it was an experience she definitely wanted to repeat.  Plus, decorating a full-size tree to designer standards was better than attaching the handful of ornaments she’d pulled out of her collection to the tiny thing on her dining table.  Anthony had held her close when they had finished.  “It’s our Charlie Brown tree,” he’d told her.  She knew it wasn’t about the trimmings or the size of the presents, but somehow, the meagre greenery only reminded her of the eight hours distance between Dark Lake and Ottawa.  Of the bruise on her heart.
    Her eyes moved back to the tall, full pine in the corner.  The glittering filigree star on the top called to her with its graceful swirling lines.  If she had the money, she would have put a bid on it right away.  That was one of the reasons why she had put off coming to this event.  Nina tried not to let their relative poverty bother her, focusing on her gratitude for what they did have: a roof over their heads, which leaked occasionally but kept out the cold; clean water and land free of mines; good medical care, a safe community to live in, and above all, healthy, happy, intelligent children.  She knew what was important.  So why did she feel like such a grinch? If she knew that material things didn’t matter, how could she explain the pain she felt when she walked through the mall searching out sales on toys, bought the bare minimum at the grocery store, or saw colleagues lining up to bid on beautiful Christmas trees to brighten their homes?
    Nina tried to turn around before Deb saw her, but it was too late.
    “Nina! You’re here!”
    Deb finished scrawling her signature and ran over to squeeze the smaller woman in a bear hug.  Nina felt the cider sloshing around in her belly as her friend jumped her up and down.  Her normal exuberance was overwhelming, but lifted Nina’s spirits, just a little.  “I’m glad to be here, now,” she said, as Deb released her.  “I was feeling a bit lonely, though.”
    “I’m sorry, we got held up,” Deb apologized.  She turned momentarily to search the crowd. “Jenn’s taking care of our coats,  Allison’s parking the car.  I just had to get in here and put down for this gorgeous thing.”
    “Really?” Nina couldn’t help her laugh. “Deb, it’s made of white feathers.  It looks like a goose molted all over it!”
    Deb’s eyes gleamed mischievously. “I know, it’s absolutely darling, really haute couture.  My mother will just die when she sees it!  Aw, honey, I’m sorry.”
    Nina brushed at the wetness that had suddenly spilled from one eye.  “No, it’s okay.  I’m just — wishing things were different right now.”  The compassion in Deb’s expression made Nina feel uncomfortable.  “I know she would love this, you know?  I wanted to call her so many times, and tell her all about our project.  Ask her opinion.  But the longer she goes without calling me, the harder it is for me to call her.  And I need my mom.” Her voice failed as more tears threatened. “Great, just what I need.  A breakdown in a public place,” she croaked.
    Right on time, Jenn and Allison appeared, lidded containers of tea in hand.  Nina swallowed, trying to smile without much success. “Hooray for the cavalry,” she whispered, accepting a hot cup and the hugs that came with it.

*

    Nina hung up the phone and looked down at her shaking hands.  Anthony came around to kiss her forehead.  “It’ll be okay,” he told her, wrapping his arms around her body.
    She sighed, turning her face into his shoulder.  “No, it won’t.” Her voice was muffled by his shirt.  “They were looking forward to having us there, I’ve let them down.  But I know our kids.  It wouldn’t have been fair for them, driving all that way, without you.”
    “Hard on you, too.”
    “Yeah, there’s that.” Nina sniffed, moving her chin so she could breathe. “I understand where she’s coming from.  I know my dad is disappointed.  He has his vision of how a reunion should be, and I’m letting him down.  I hate that.  But I don’t have the energy to do this.  Not while you’re gone for weeks at a time, and we’re broke.  I feel badly that I’m missing my Gran’s funeral, on top of everything.  I just know that the timing is all wrong.  It’s not meant to be.”

    “They should understand that.”
    “They have to get over being angry and disappointed, first.” She pulled back to reach for a tissue.  “And that could take a while.”

*

    “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so crowded in here!” Jenn glanced approvingly around them, waving at a few people she knew.  “It’s the best they’ve done, I have to say.”
    “It’s definitely a good turn-out.” Allison was texting away. As usual. Nina was both amused by and envious of her ability to multitask. “The first few years, they had a couple of hundred people, total.  But I heard they did five hundred just on the first night, a coup for the organizers.”
    “At ten dollars a person for the entry alone, they should be happy,” Deb adjusted the spangled scarf around her neck.  “It’s still a bit expensive, if you ask me.”
    “It used to be twenty.” Jenn tilted back her tea, and her face turned red. She gestured frantically before spitting it back into the cup.  “Woosh, I scalded my tongue!”
    “At least they stopped charging for the refreshments.  Pulls more people in if they’re getting more than entrance, you know?” Nina eyed her steaming lid and blew gently into the little opening before taking a tentative sip.  “The cider’s pretty good, though.”
    “Any idea what the top bids are, so far?”
    “Allison, I have seen four figures on some of those clipboards.” Nina shook her hair back out of her face. The tea was good, but the heat wasn’t helpful. “God, I’m sweating.  You should have warned me to wear something lighter.”
    “Do you have anything underneath?”
    “Just a tank top.”
    “Here,” Deb unwound the scarf from her neck.  She shook it out, revealing its width.  “You can use this as a wrap, if you want.  Put that sweaty thing with the coats, you’ll feel better.  Your face is all red.”
   
(to be continued — comments are welcome!)