The Easter Bunny Died On A Sunday

I wasn’t ready.  No one is.  I was sitting across from my 9 year old son in a breakfast diner.  I had just slurped down a welcome bit of coffee and was waiting on my waffles.  Suddenly, he said, “Mom, okay, you need to be a 100% honest with me:  Is there really a Santa?”  This was in May.  What kid asks this question in May?  Maybe November when thoughts of sugar plums begin to dance in their heads but not May.  This wasn’t the first time he had asked the question but I’d somehow dodged the bullet.  That was in December, closer to the ubiquitous thoughts of Christmas and I was ready for it.  Or at least, I was wondering if my then eight year old still believed in Santa.  So, I had a rough answer prepared.  But the May query caught me off guard and so, I decided in the space of 2 seconds a sacrifice had to be made to throw him off the trail.  So, I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Santa, is totally real.  The Easter Bunny is not.”  My husband, startled, looked up from his smart phone and gave me a look of what have you done ?!?!?! Which was followed by my son saying, “What?! But, everyone at school thinks the Easter Bunny is real!” Are you kidding me?  While everyone was discussing the existence of Santa in his Gr. 4 class, apparently  the Easter Bunny was off the discussion board because a 7 ft bunny that randomly hides chocolate for the amusement of children for no apparent motive, unlike Santa who has a moral undertone to his actions, is without question real in the minds of nine and ten year olds.  Go figure.

I guess a kid in his class had found unopened toys identical to those later received under the auspices of “Santa”.  He threw the class into a tizzy with his suspicions and I was left dealing with the aftermath.  I had sincerely thought the first mythical creature under suspicion would be the Easter Bunny because of the gaping hole in his back story.   Santa and the Leprechaun have loads of tales to corroborate their existence but the Bunny seems to pop out of nowhere and he has absolutely nothing to do with the spiritual gravitas of the coinciding Christian observances.  The Easter Bunny is just fluffy lore to pun it nicely.  Mental note:  children are easily fooled or at least their reasoning can be abducted with a few tasty morsels of chocolate; plan to lay out more chocolate around Christmas.

At this point you’re probably wondering what I told him to make him believe in Santa.  Well, it wasn’t that hard because some part of me really does believe in Santa.  The story I told him was evidence of some grander magic embodied by the man in red and it began like this:

When I was ten years old, we were living in a trailer on a First Nations reserve in Alberta.  This trailer was on loan to any teacher that wanted to live on reserve while they taught at the school, which my Mom did.  She was teaching special education, meaning they had cleared out a storage closet, stuck some desks in it and she tutored any student that had special learning needs.  The teacher trailers, as they were known, were relatively cheap to live in compared to the nearest town or city, which was Lloydminster, an hour drive away.  The major downside to these derelict trailers were the infestations of mice.  The trailers had never been properly sealed or if they had, there were now multiple entry points from the outside.  Trailer row was occupied by only one staff member from the school, that being my Mom and the rest of the trailers were occupied by band members since no roof was to be left unoccupied on a reserve with chronic housing shortages.  It was a testament to my mother’s economic situation which was more distressed than the average teacher at the school.  My step-dad was chronically underemployed and she being the only earner, we lived paycheck to paycheck.  The cheap rent made the money go further, even if the extra cash went into my step-dad’s pocket to play Bingo – one of his few pleasures and social outings that didn’t entail binge drinking.

Anybody who has lived in a mice infested home knows the first thing one learns is to never, ever trust a box of cereal or crackers or anything that can be chewed through by hungry mice teeth.  Upon pouring out the cereal into one’s bowl, you find a disappointing array of rice shaped black droppings and you curse yourself for having left the box lid opened.  One morning I found a half drowned mouse in the left opened honey container.  Being ten, I took this opportunity to place the distressed mouse in a cage we had kicking about and decided to give it water, some food and grass to bed on.  The mouse spent a long time trying to clean its fur but the grass kept sticking to it and it was a miserable mess.  My mother came home and demanded the mouse be returned outside which I dutifully did.  The reserve had various packs of roaming dogs, the teacher trailers being a popular spot for one group because of the readily available scraps pitched by a concentrated group of inhabitants.  Most homes at that time were built several miles apart but as the number of people grew and the economies of running infrastructure to groups of homes made more sense, rows of homes became more common.  I remember putting the sticky, sweet mouse outside and the pack of dogs sniffing and following the curious bonbon.  I didn’t wait around to see what happened.

I had a curious dream at that time, one that entailed my head being entangled in something and me trying to disentangle myself.  In the morning I found mouse droppings all over my pillow.  The mice were getting bold.  I decided I would try to catch them.  This was more for fun and to rid myself of boredom.  I propped a box on a stick with a string tied to it, left some food under the box and waited on the other end of the string.  My trap was set in the middle of the kitchen floor.  This usually never works because mice try to stay to the perimeter but by this point they had the run of the house.  I caught one, two, three, four, five.  It stopped being fun and I went to bed hoping they wouldn’t join me.

Christmas was on the horizon and that year my niece came to stay with us.  My step-dad had a daughter in her twenties and she had a four year old daughter.  It was fun having a younger kid to play with after my older sister had left home the year before.  It also made Christmas seem more exciting because Santa would have two reasons to visit. On Christmas morning, we had a plethora of gifts and the most memorable were the 4 ft cloth dolls we each were given.  I’m pretty sure that Christmas was special for my niece too because if I thought my life was hardscrabble, it was nothing in comparison to what she had and would eventually experience.

A short time later, I don’t recollect how the conversation started, maybe I was asking my Mom if Santa really existed, my Mom admitted to me there had almost been no gifts for Christmas.  She told me that as we sat in the motel room in Lloydminster, the load of groceries bought and the overdue bills paid, just a few days away from Christmas, she had just $30 left.  We were driving home the next morning so she decided to give my step-dad his Christmas present – the last $30 to play Bingo.  There was probably two reasons for this, one to keep him at the motel for the night so he wouldn’t ditch us to go drinking and two, to chance a bit of luck.  Well, he got lucky – twice.  He won $700 that evening and so they decided to keep the room another night so my Mom could buy presents the next day.  He went back to play the next day and won $500.  This was 1988 and that was A LOT of money back then.  My step-dad had also lost a lot of money at Bingo but that one time, the most important time as far as I’m concerned, he won.  As my Mom told me this story, as disturbed as I was that our fate could have been much worse and that it also implied Santa had not directly given us these gifts, I felt – no I believed powerful magic had enabled my step-dad to win.  From then on, my understanding of Santa matured from the jolly fellow that swoops down the chimney to the spirit of something much larger than ourselves, the cumulative understanding of something good and holy that pushes us to do better and create magic for the downtrodden and vulnerable.  We were not a Christian household, so the birth of Christ never factored into this epiphany but as I’ve grown older, I recognize the spiritual duality of Jesus and the Santa lore.

When I told this story to my son, he nodded his head knowingly and looked relieved.  Children understand magic.  They understand it inherently and we have to protect it  when we are trying to make sense of the world.  I feel a bit bad about killing the Easter Bunny.  My husband secretly admonished me that night, after the kids had gone to bed.  He told me he believed in the Easter Bunny for a long time.  I think a tiny part of him still does.  In future I need to be more careful in guarding those mythical creatures that inhabit my home for they also inhabit my family’s hearts where they embolden the imagination and fortify against despair.  For what is more precious than faith whether it be in a God, the universe, or in a red nosed, grizzled old man?  Who am I to judge.

 

 

 

We Got A Puppy

I haven’t had the wherewithal to publish anything in a long time.  I got depressed.  And sick with some horrible flu virus that made me understand how the flu could possibly kill someone.   Then there were the deaths in the family.   First my mother-in-law and then my step-dad.  Oh yeah, and my father had a couple of convalesces at our home after hernia and hip surgeries.  I basically hit a wall and started crying – a lot.  Then I lost my appetite, whether from the flu or from depression I’ll never know but I got locked into a horrible spiral so that I lost 20lb (best diet ever!) and could barely ingest the same amounts of food as my 3 year old.  I bought powders and canned drinks they give old people to gain weight.  I ate a lot of ice cream.  Like I mentioned above, best diet ever.  After my step-dad’s funeral I started shaking.  I thought:  Oh fuck,  I got bit by a tick and now I’ve caught Lyme Disease (sidebar: Lyme Disease creates neurological damage and is often misdiagnosed as MS).  Except, the shaking was psychosomatic because I’d shake when I was agitated and never when I was seated or resting.  Skip forward to the dreadful month of February and the doctor puts me on anti-anxiety pills.  I thought, “Great, a pill that fixes everything!  Sign me up.”  Except, it didn’t.  I still needed to go to a counselor and realize that my family was, is and will always be neurotic, eccentric and draining.

Fast forward to April.  My kids and husband had been cooped up with me for a very dark winter and I decided my priority was to create happiness for myself, my kids and my husband.  We began going for hikes again and going to the swimming pool.  We spent a weekend at a fancy hotel in the same city we live in and ordered room service and luxuriated in the hotel’s marble pool.  We started remembering what it was like to be happy and then we bought a puppy- a teeny, tiny puppy that will grow into a small dog.  It’s a ShitsPooPoo – a Shitzu, Pomeranian, Poodle cross and her name is Bella.  My husband and I had been mulling it over for a couple of years while we recovered from euthanizing our Chocolate Lab in 2014.  He had grown old, something for which I wasn’t familiar because of premature deaths of all my childhood dogs and cats.  Reasons for early death of above mentioned dogs and cats:  falling from a tree during winter (cat), getting run over (dog), accidentally being stepped on and then dying from a broken back (cat), getting run over again (dog #2), and my most loved pet, my dog Chico, being passed on to another family because we were moving households every year.  Having a dog survive to old age was a sign I had graduated from the family dysfunction of shoddy husbandry and a disruptive home but it was bittersweet.  The old boy suffered from advanced arthritis  that received little respite from pain medication and in his final year he couldn’t bear to suffer the agony of getting up to plod down four steps and squat to take a shit.  He’d sprawl on the kitchen floor and a few seconds later a couple of warm logs would roll from under his raised tail.  He’d give us a look so sorrowful and resigned that we gave up scolding him and began the reluctant conversations of when it was finally “time.”

Having a puppy is about joy; having a puppy is about pee everywhere in your home.  I’m going to give you some good advice right now:  never ever buy pee pads.  They have become ubiquitous in the last 10 years and they are totally useless because you are teaching your dog it’s okay to pee inside.  If you have a yard, let your new bundle of joy spend lots and lots of time in it so the outside becomes a natural part of their habitat and by extension, their toilet.  They’ll soon realize the green carpet outside doesn’t elicit the same groans of agony or yelling the (formerly) white carpet inside does.  If you live in an apartment: what the hell were you thinking?  Go buy yourself a house.  Better yet, a country acreage.

Back to joy: puppies have three basic tenets and they are eating, sleeping and playing.  They will do all three with you if you let them and let’s be honest, you will.  A bit of scrambled egg at breakfast never hurt anyone now did it?  The crate seems comfortable but your bed is soooooo much better.   Besides, it’s too cold in the winter to sleep on the floor even if it’s on top of a $100 feather dog bed from a boutique pet store.   And you’ll realize throwing things over and over and over and over and over again can be fun!  Especially the part where you have to play capture the ball or rope toy between every single toss.  It never gets old.  Really.  I promise.

When you bring a new creature into your home the best parts are the unexpected moments, those times you could never have imagined in your adorable baby animal fairy tales you were playing across your mind while you were psyching yourself up to make the purchase.  It’s only been two months so far but the two most memorable things about Bella are 1) when holding her she likes to lean her head back over your shoulder and nuzzle into your neck and 2) when you are pooping on the toilet she runs into the bathroom and starts sniffing the toilet bowl, scratches at the crotch of your underwear and gives you a startled look every time you grunt.  I’ve never felt so scrutinized as when I try to defecate in my own home now.  I guess it makes sense it would be your canine family member that would have the most judgement pertaining to your rear end considering this is where the meet and greet ensues at every dog park.  Still, I wonder how I stack up against the Labradoodle on the next block.

Every day with my family, including our newest member, Bella, I’m remembering what it feels like to have parts of my day injected with pleasant surprises.  This blog isn’t advocating buying a puppy every time you fall into depression.  It’s just a story to remind myself that changing up the pattern in the fabric of our lives (yes, I know this is a super cheesy catchphrase) might be what’s needed to freshen up one’s perspective and catch a few more rays of sunshine.

 

Christmas Vacation

My son is a holiday dictator.  I mean that in a good way.  He has taken our playful observances of Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas and imposed a strict timeline of decor, tradition and excitement.  He can be depended on to initiate and sometimes completely take over decorating for the holidays and only due to his short stature are we obliged to hang lights above 4 ft or help with the stove and measuring if baking is required.

Since he was old enough to talk he would come outside and help me in any way he could to prop, hang and dig our Halloween decorations into place.  It didn’t help that I would talk about Halloween starting around the end of August and build the momentum until we had baked Halloween cupcakes, bought more Halloween decorations to add to our growing collection, tried on and played with our tickle trunk of costumes for several weeks and slowly overtook the end tables, mantle, walls and coffee table with an assortment of kitschy Halloween paraphernalia.  My husband eventually imposed an October 1 start date on our Halloween madness so that no planning or purchase of  goods or early decorating could be mentioned so as to minimize his growing ire with our enthusiasm.

Valentine’s Day was forever imposed on happy memories when we took our 14 month old son to a fancy restaurant on a ‘family date.’  Most people would think us insane to attempt it but we were on kid #1 and we wanted to maintain some sort of normalcy in our relationship.  Our son recognized our attire and decorum had changed in the candle lit and flowered setting.  He similarly put on a charming display of smiles and goodwill as he wolfed down mashed potatoes and braised beef in a wine reduction sauce.  The delicate desserts of chocolate encrusted confection impressed him as much as it did us.  The crowning moment came when we handed our Valentine’s Day cards to one another which we alternatively gushed over and then handed an envelope over to our toddler; he opened it to discover a card embossed with a smiling truck and large billowing hearts.  He was over the moon to receive it and he kept opening and closing it, each time looking up to express his amazement.  Every year we go on a ‘family date’ on Valentine’s Day and believe me, kid #1 and #2 love getting their cards and sometimes a few red, shiny knick knacks to go with it.

Easter is of course the time of the Bunny and all the tasty treats waiting to be found.  St. Patrick’s Day found a foothold when the year long ban on sugary cereal was lifted by a rascally leprechaun who left an opened box of Lucky Charms and wee little gifts of tiny handwriting and a forgotten shoe (the shoe was taken to school the next day for the other children to marvel at and is now in storage in a treasure box hidden somewhere in my son’s room).

Nothing quite compares to my son’s reverence for the tradition of Christmas.  By the time December 25th had been realized this year, my son had made laborious attempts at creating a magical feeling in our household.  He was adamant about purchasing a 12 ft blow up Santa with his own savings of gift and allowance money but his father and I demurred and made the purchase ourselves.   He strung the tree with lights before I even knew he had finished and he brought up the ornaments from the basement with the fervor of reclaimed memories.  Despite the Christmas music and his little sister’s drunken delight in the glass balls and delicate figurines, he grumbled the tree was perhaps too haphazardly assembled and would require some better coordination of lights, garlands and ornamentation to be truly beautiful.   He then could not stand the hollow beneath the lowest branches and proceeded to wrap the presents he had purchased at the school Christmas flea market and even hustled to make some drawings carefully folded and wrapped so as to add height to the first stack of shiny papered packages.  Surfaces were claimed for singing dioramas of polar bears and penguins and removable hooks were attached to the walls and mantle to string even more lights.  His little sister got on the wagon of festive cheer by insisting beautiful cookies were to be made for Santa and our friends.  On Christmas eve the four of us sat around the table for several hours dabbing the final edible beads on our iced sugar cookies of trees, snowmen and snowflakes.

What happens to a boy as he grows up each year with another layer of memory and fondness for the warm glow of family and magic?  Four Christmases ago, when his little sister was just 7 month old and I and my husband were straining under broken sleep, the reality of searching out a live tree was too daunting.  The family in Saskatchewan, 7 driving hours away, was anticipating our visit and the new baby for Christmas so we told our son that we would forego a tree that year.  Our son had just turned six a few days before and he made a remarkable decision.  We had a three foot plastic tree in a weighted decorative pot with white lights meant to decorate the outdoor threshold of a home.  He asked that we bring it up from the basement and use it as our Christmas tree.  We thought it was a great idea and decided the white lights would suffice for decoration.  But, over the next several days while we were distracted with the usual baby/household demands, he dug through the Christmas boxes and finished decorating the humble tree by himself with a plethora of ornaments.  It had begun.

To give you a sense of what awaits our family you need only to watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” circa 1989.  Chevy Chase stars as Clark Griswold, the torch bearer to all hopes and dreams of Christmas past and present.  Hours are spent on a confusing array of string lights, ladder and staple gun to bring messianic splendor to his home’s and family’s exterior.  An epic crusade to the forest finds him the perfect tree which induces his daughter’s hypothermia and overwhelms his living room.   When it is destroyed by neglected watering and a reckless cigar, he is driven to a temporary insanity which finds him hacking down a front yard evergreen.  Two thirds through the movie I had my epiphany – all Clark Griswolds were once little boys who embraced the holidays with overzealous dreams and lofty ambitions.  They were the boys that hauled the boxes two times their weight up from the basement and began the decorating in earnest while mom and dad drank wine and played cribbage.  These were the boys that grew up to be men with synchronized Christmas music and light shows that choked up neighborhood traffic and were later posted on YouTube.  I saw all of it clearly and in the midst of the movie I turned to my son and jokingly said, “That’s you.  That’s you when you’re a dad.”  Except my son didn’t laugh.  He turned back to the screen, took in the frenetic joy of chaos, lights, family and eggnog and gave a knowing nod in agreement. Damned if I hadn’t raised our torch bearer.   He would surpass even my own aspirations of holiday grandeur.  Now, I just had to survive several more years before he relinquished my home and decorations in exchange for his own.  It’s a wonderful life when you got family like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Nine Years Old*

I just had the January 2017 National Geographic delivered to my house.  It is a special issue on “Gender Revolution” which examines our entrenched and evolving biases towards males and females.  Page 30 is titled “I Am Nine Years Old: Children Across the World Tell Us How Gender Affects Their Lives.” A cultural cross section of nine year olds from 80 households across 4 continents are asked seven questions pertaining to gender because “Children at this age are unquestionably taking account of their own possibilities-and the limits gender places on them.”  I was intrigued by the questionnaire because my son turned nine on December 12.  He can be a soulful little kid sometimes so this morning after he made us pancakes (I woke up to him whispering a question of how much flour and baking powder is needed and after I jotted down the recipe he measured, mixed and fried up the pancakes) I asked if it would be okay to ask him seven questions.  Here are the seven questions posed in National Geographic and my son’s answers:

1)What’s the best thing about being a boy?

70% of the time boys are more athletic than girls.  We’re very athletic.

2)What’s the worst thing about being a boy?

People make fun of us if we wear girly clothes like dresses, lip gloss, nail polish.

3)How might your life be different if you were a girl instead of a boy?

I wouldn’t be made fun of for girly stuff like dresses, nail polish, lip gloss or dolls.

4)What do you want to be when you grow up?

An engineer or geologist because I like learning about minerals and the value of gems.  An engineer because I like building stuff and creating stuff.

5)What is something that makes you sad?

Grumpy and harsh parents. People bullying me – but it also makes me very angry.

(Me in my head:  Ouch.)

6)What makes you happy?

Family is number one.

(Me in my head:  Thank God.  I haven’t messed you up too much yet.)

7)If you could change something in your life or in the world, what would it be?

Better care of the environment.  Invent new stuff that will keep the environment clean like electric cars, solar panels, electric scooters or bikes.  Keep people from using that stuff in spray cans that wrecks the atmosphere.


Just for fun I decided to ask my three and a half year old the same questions.

1)What’s the best thing about being a girl?

Sliding on a crazy slide.

2)What’s the worst thing about being a girl?

Going on a creepy slide with ghosts and zombies.

3)How might your life be different if you were a boy instead of a girl?

I would be grown up.

4)What do you want to be when you grow up?

A princess.

5)What is something that makes you sad?

Parents.

(Double Ouch. I sense a theme here.)

6)What makes you happy?

Happy parents.

(Okay.  I get it.)

7)If you could change something in your life or in the world, what would it be?

I could change into a butterfly.


After these insightful answers from my nine and 3 1/2 year old I’m led to believe they will buffer society’s expectations only as well as the padding of love and support I and their Dad offer them.  My daughter believes ghosts and zombies won’t torment her specifically because she’s a girl.  Rather, they are scary for girls and boys alike because childhood, whatever setting or context, is a shared experience.  Parents will passively or assertively influence the choices that are offered whether it be dolls, guns, domesticity or education because we’re not perfect specimens of parental nurturing.  We are constantly taking the temperature of gender equality and pushing our offspring to categorize themselves in the roles on offer-preferably highest in the hierarchy.

When my son went to daycare, I was blown away by the partitioning of interests among the majority of boys and girls.  Up until that point, I thought gender neutrality was possible.  I was wrong.  The girls liked dolls and playing house and the boys spent inordinate amounts of time vrooming.  They occasionally dabbled in other spheres:  my son would play the baby when the girls played house.  He sometimes wore dresses and frequently wore my Mardi Gras beads and gaudy faux diamond bracelets.  Eventually, the three year old girls asserted only girls could wear jewellery.  The boys didn’t care and I could point out several male rappers that blinged while they swaggered.  It seemed there was a gender partition of interests but tastes were imposed.  Unlike the body paint and finery of men in tribal cultures, many men and boys have few options to add striking color to their mundane palette.  No wonder mossy oak camouflage is so popular among white males in patriarchal communities.  Is the camouflage nature of their fashion an unconscious nod to their stylistic suppression?

My parents told me and my sister we were amazing when we forgot and we forgot frequently from the ages of 13-23. We were reminded enough to make us believe that we were capable of anything.  I’m not a perfect parent and I’m sure I’ll stumble along to get it right just like my parents did but I’m also pretty sure my kids will never doubt I and their Dad are their biggest fans.  The balance will be found in recognizing and supporting their gender differences while giving them freedom to explore and find comfort in whomever they need to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Petulant Daughters

I love my kids.  I love my son for his zombie humor and his older-than-eight-years introspection and thoughtfulness.  I love my three year old daughter for her complete and utter belief in the empowerment of little girls and in her superhero awesomeness.  They are fascinating creatures to watch – better than television.   At this stage of the parenthood game I have a few tricks up my sleeve and a well of patience I’ve dug from the multitude of traumatizing experiences of being a parent: public tantrums, pale yellow torrents of diarrhea that signal impending vomiting, horrific embarrassment after your child ‘truths’ you out to your friends (yes, I think your kid plays too many video games), and of course the epic fail of realizing the movie you watched was totally inappropriate for your 3 year old and she tells everyone she meets about the “monster sucking out the man’s eyeballs and eating them.”   When you’ve committed $60 to the movie tickets and the snacks, your moral compass gets hocked.

For all my procreating hubris, there is one challenge that I have yet to meet eye to eye – that of the petulant daughter.   Our family doesn’t have the best track record of mother-daughter relationships.  They are fraught with narcissism and in some instances, mental illness.  Sons seems better adept at rolling with the punches – thank you Oedipus and the simplified social gratification of men.  Women’s brains are hardwired for mapping out the circuitous routes of hierarchy and alliance.  We are by nature striving for the perfection of give and take and so we are incredibly perceptive of imbalance.  It only took several thousand years to begin balancing the scales of housework and career with our spouses because as you know, women have the ability to hold a grudge for a very, very long time.  It drives us to betterment. Or at least pushes us to take a step upwards on the ladder of whatever social contrivance we are trying to best.  I suppose it is no small wonder our daughters’ first rung in on the backs of their mothers.

My daughter wants power to do as she pleases.  My job is to temper her enthusiasm with facts.  Yes, you must wear a winter coat, it is -10C outside and you will catch a cold if you don’t.  Yes, you must be kind and gentle to other children because no one will play with you if you yell at them.  Yes, you must hold my hand while we cross the street because the odds of being hit by a car climb substantially if you run out on your own.  I have to remind her daily it is my job to keep her safe and teach her the social customs that will allow her to get along with the world.  I have had the same conversations with my son and he accepts these truths  wholeheartedly.  My daughter begrudges my interference.

What is a Mom to do?  Alas, I have been a petulant daughter, myself.  Inevitably, daughters will cast off what they will and accept what they wish.  It is a process as old as fermentation.  Sometimes you get a wonderful byproduct such as bread and beer and sometimes it is a rotting mess of a science project gone awry.  There is a certain comfort in knowing you are raising the next matriarch.  She will take over the planning and preparation of family feasts and will ensure the connectivity of her brethren.  It is innate.  I must remind myself to step back, step back and watch.  My daughter needs the freedom to explore her superhero awesomeness.  Today she will leap from her bed onto a pile of stuffies, gaining mementos of confidence and tomorrow she will argue and provide counterattack to perceived parental injustice.  She must do this because in the future she will battle greater foe than I.   In the meantime, I will provide her with the best memories I can (sorry about the eyeballs), keep her safe and love her with every ounce of my soul and heart.

Life and Death

My son is back at school.  I am left to quietly reflect and blog on our summer visit to Saskatchewan.  It was a trip of invigorating scenery and of unexpected death.

For those of you who hail from other parts of the globe, Saskatchewan is one of the prairie provinces of Canada.  The license plates read “Land of Living Skies” which nicely sums up the expansive backdrop of clouds, piercing blue sky and rolling storms of weather that mesmerize its residents on any given day.  The land is flat and checkered by fields of canola, flax, barley and wheat in the south and enveloped by a swath of boreal forest and stunning lakes in the north.  Rivers and feeder streams etch out valleys and ravines that are hidden in the broad swells of land and provide locals with depressingly stunted ski hills and oases for deer, bear, beaver, weasel, raccoon and migratory birds.

This summer I traveled to Saskatchewan with the kids and visited six grandparents- three remarriages after divorce.  My Dad never remarried.  My children are blessed with a generous ratio of grandparents to grandchildren.  We also stopped at my friend’s parent’s farm, one hour west of the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  She had brought her three kids and we were welcomed to enjoy several days and nights of the epic solitude their farm enjoyed.  The ditches were ablaze with native prairie sunflowers and walks along hardened farmer access roads were delightful excursions along shoulder high grasses and flowers.  The grandfather gamely offered a mini motorcycle for my eight year old to ride and also introduced him to the joys of the riding lawnmower.   The younger kids ran amok, usually naked, without the usual concerns about street traffic or passing strangers.   After three wonderful days at the farm, we proceeded to Saskatoon.  Despite their kind entreaties for us to stay longer, I respected the old adage:  guests are like fish, they stink after three days.

The visit to Saskatoon was going to be of perplexing short duration for the kids: one hour.  My mother-in-law was on a day pass from the hospital after undergoing a stroke (the clot was removed quickly with no ill after effects) and then an angioplasty three days later (which was also successful).  These surgeries followed the discovery of several concerning lumps in her lungs which had yet to be biopsied.  She was adamant  the kids should not see her in the hospital and so we agreed to meet at the house for a brief visit on our way to visit other grandparents.  She managed to will herself into a comfortable lawn chair in the backyard so the kids could expend energy in her much loved garden.  She had, through the years, created a magical world of fairy folk paraphernalia that lay hidden in surprise for curious children among the ferns, bushes and tree trunks.  She also had a basket of toys in the garden shed that were to aid and abet in their imaginations.  After an hour, the smile on my mother-in-law’s face began to diminish with the onset of more pain and fatigue.  As agreed beforehand, I took my cue and gathered the children to depart.  The kids were jarred by the suddenness.  “Aren’t we staying here?” was their response.  I had to explain Grams was going back to the hospital and we would return soon (when my husband would make a return visit after his initial panicked flight to Saskatoon after her stroke).  She needed to time get better.

We drove to Prince Albert and were enjoying a few relaxing days with my husband’s father and stepmother when I got a text from my mother-in-law: please come as soon as you can.  She sent the same text to my husband.  He was back in Calgary trying to dive back into work that he had abandoned during the previous visit to his mother’s hospital bedside.  I called my husband and he made plans to arrive at the end of the week.  We knew what she wanted to tell us; they finally had the biopsy results.  When they first discovered the lumps, she had told us that if it was cancer she didn’t want treatment.  Years of bad health and a bad heart would likely not withstand the physical onslaught of chemo.  She wanted to spend her last few months enjoying life outside a hospital.

My husband and I agreed for me and the kids to arrive a day after his arrival.  I would still take the kids north to  Prince Albert National Park to go camping.  This park is the secret gem of Saskatchewan.  Nestled in the boreal forests, the town site of Waskesiu  and the adjoining campgrounds are a serene habitat hugging the shoreline of Waskesiu Lake.  There are a handful of eateries, a local store where Parks Canada and the community pin up their summer event calendars and an old theater that plays PG and G movies on the weekends and PG-13 movies during the weekdays.  Wednesday night is community bingo at the town hall where the biggest payout is $20 and the kids can play if they know their alphabet.  Before kids,  my husband and I had gone to Wednesday bingo on a whim and between the two of us had won a record four times and walked away with our next day’s breakfast money.  The following day,  we caught strangers pointing at us and murmuring about our lucky streak.  Fame comes easy in a teeny tiny resort town.  Prince Albert National Park is also known for its aggravating mosquito population.  No one quite knows why but from year to year the mosquito, horsefly and black fly population is unpredictable.  I heard whispered rumors of a year when the locals could barely see across the street because of the horrendous swarms of mosquitoes. This year, I bought a can of 15% Deet mosquito repellent in preparation of our camping trip and we never used it.  Well, not exactly.  I pulled it out when I saw a mosquito, my prior experiences having conditioned me to spray on a thick layer at the first onset of buzzing but then I realized it was one mosquito.  I swatted it, killed it, and continued on with my day.  We also had fantastic weather:  mid 20s, with a beautiful sunset over the lake every night.  It was like heaven had descended down to earth.   My Mom, stepdad and niece drove up for the day from their home west of Prince Albert to help celebrate my birthday by eating pizza and enjoying the beach.  It was a nice distraction from the absence of my husband and the looming visit to confirm the news from my mother-in-law.

After our camping trip concluded, we drove back to Saskatoon.  The kids were excited to see Dad and Grams and Gramps.  We stayed in a hotel to be sure not to exhaust my mother-in-law and her husband.  We also made sure there was a pool; every morning we took the kids swimming after the hotel’s free breakfast so we could spend their energy.  The reality of our three days at Gram’s home was this:  the kids spent quiet afternoons in the basement watching movies while the adults tried to make my mother-in-law more comfortable and to help around the house.   My husband and I volunteered to cook.  My step father-in-law knows how to open a can and microwave a hot dog.  We made a hug pot of chicken soup and froze most of it.  I also spent every spare moment weeding the garden that had been neglected for the past three weeks.   There were two reasons for this: 1)  I knew the garden was very important to my mother-in-law and I wanted to give her peace of mind regarding its state and 2) I had always had mixed success conversing with my mother-in-law and so I felt the urgency to stay outdoors and avoid conversation under extremely sad circumstances.  We had a mutual respect for one another but I found her vitriolic rants about any number of mundane offenses to her sensibilities to be uninspiring for an intimate friendship.  It is difficult to give your affection to someone who wants your emotional investment but won’t give you the safety and liberty to do so.   For every great conversation we managed to have, I was equally frozen into silence by her negative reaction to the most innocuous of statements.  It was a no win situation.

The oncologist had give her a window of 6 months to a year to live.  After our three day visit (remember we were fish), I concluded she had two months at best.  In three days she descended further into pain and discomfort.  They had also found more lumps during the CT Scan.  The cancer was spreading and fast.

We drove home and my husband was called back to Saskatoon two more times over the span of four weeks.  Once to help his step father manage the overwhelming burden by looking after their four cats – one of which was pissing all over the house in an act of feline distress, managing the endless requests to massage her back or fetch more pills or remaining at the house for a couple of hours while my step father-in-law ran for groceries or took a couple hours of reprieve from the moans of his dying wife.  The second time was the last.  They gave her two days to live.  My husband flew out at 11pm on a Saturday and she spent her last breath at 9:15pm on the Sunday.  All the good-byes had been said over the last two months of panicked visits and brief moments of lucidity.  My husband said he had never known misery until he saw his mother dying.  From the day of the stroke until her death, 52 short days passed.  Fifty two days to unburden her heart of truths and misgivings and cry and make do with the choices that had been made during a life of seventy years.  As was her request, I and the children did not visit her while she descended into the vortex of pain and hallucinations.  We lived out life in Calgary going to play dates, the zoo and handling the mundane tasks of buying groceries and vacuuming the house.  I didn’t know how to comfort my husband at this time.  The death of a parent was something I hadn’t experienced.  I only knew that words were useless.  So, I cooked.  I made chili, chicken soup, spring rolls, cookies and every time my husband came home exhausted and emotionally drained from his visits to his mother’s bedside, there was good food waiting for him and happy children.  And he said that that was all he needed.

I am left with a strange void of knowing someone is dead but not having the sensory proof they are dead.  My mother-in-law stipulated no funeral and no memorial.  My husband is to receive an urn with a 1/3 of her ashes.  The other thirds will be given to her other son and her husband.  I will have no dead body to witness or even the communal tears of friends and family to appreciate her passing. All I have are the jarring trails of electronic correspondence.  I have a text from my mother-in-law  wishing me happy birthday on July 27th.  She died August 28th. She was good at remembering birthdays and anniversaries.   She also had a knack for giving memorable gifts and imparting them with a backstory of fantasy or intrigue.  My son has a multitude of such magical items:  smoothed glass eggs that hatch after 100 years to birth faeries, a hairy and grumpy faced porcelain troll that only moves at night – and which my son carefully checked every morning for two months for changes in location, a book to aid in casting spells.   My mother-in-law took white and black paint to the healed knots of pruned limbs on her birch tree to accentuate the relief which had an uncanny resemblance to an eye.  My daughter is now on constant look out for “eyeball trees” after being pleasantly startled by Gram’s watchful tree. It is at the dimming and final extinction of a person’s inner spark when we realize their presence allowed us to better experience our own lives.  Special occasions will pass without being heralded, the sparkle of her coveted traditions and ceremonies made acutely absent by her death.  Good bye Breeze.  We love you.  I love you.  And thank you.

 

 

 

Shotgun Soup

In Canada growing up poor is shotgun soup.   Anyone who is living paycheck to paycheck or grew up in a household that lived paycheck to paycheck might have an idea to what I am referring.  In their home it might be called “casserole surprise!” or “mishmash hash” but whatever you call it there is no mistaking the ungodly union of yesterday’s leftovers with the leftovers from last week.  My Mom liked to add water to the mix and because we weren’t quite sure what was in it, it was christened “shotgun soup” because it truly was a shotgun blast of unidentifiable food leftovers.   There is nothing like eating a twice cooked piece of pasta while pondering if the orange mush clinging to it is sweet potato or carrots.

When you are a kid running home from school, hungry to devour whatever tasty snacks are to be found in the fridge, disappointment doesn’t come much harsher than shotgun soup.  As soon as you saw the chilled vat sitting in the fridge you knew payday was two days away and there wasn’t a fresh piece of fruit to be found.  Forget cereal: the milk was all gone and you had tried Corn Flakes with water before and it sucked.  Toast?  Ha, in your dreams.  The peanut butter and jam were gone too.  The next day of school you were getting crackers stuck together with margarine and some carrot sticks that had lost their crunch 5 days ago.  You just needed to survive to Friday when Mom got paid.  Until then, you decided it was a better idea to play over at your friend’s house where they had an ample supply of Cheez Whiz.

I wish shotgun soup was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten but poverty has end members of feast and famine.   We never starved but I contemplated not eating for a few days so I could avoid tofu pie.  This was the era before YouTube and the Food Network so even though today tofu pie might exist somewhere out there on the website of a vegan hipster promoting local organic food with gourmet twists on once unpalatable food, my Mom took a stab at this sometime in the early 90s.  It did not go well.  There were two things left in the kitchen that week, besides the flour and lard which never went anywhere: tofu and jars of mincemeat.  I wish I could say the mincemeat was bought at a farmer’s market or a trendy boutique food store but sadly it was the clearance jars of mincemeat found in bins at the grocery store after Christmas.  For some reason my Mom had decided to stockpile several jars – I can only assume she knew this day was coming.  Except on that day there was tofu in the fridge and my Mom, wanting to be sure we didn’t sugar crash on mincemeat pie, added the tofu to satisfy our protein requirements for the remainder of the week.  Tofu mincemeat pie is a sickly grey color.  There is nothing that can prepare you for the first bites of this horrendous combination and I was hungry for several days before I attempted it again.  Hunger can render anything palatable.  By the end of the week, we were onto pie #3 and by then my mind and taste buds had decided tofu mincemeat pie was just fine.

Three days ago, I decided it would be a great idea to throw some leftovers into the remaining  vegetable soup.  There was steamed kale and carrots, bits of steak and the zingy background of canned soup.  I toasted slices of multigrain bread, spread ample butter to melt on top of it, and then we dipped it into the newly conceptualized melange.  It was good.  Really good.  Though my family is blessed to have a surplus of food, shotgun soup leaves a mark.  Wasting food is not an option but creative reinvention is definitely on the menu.

 

FRANCE

We got back from France on June 17.  We was myself, my eight year old son and my three year old daughter.  Dad stayed home to tend to the economic fires.  My sister and her family live in Perth, Australia so I thought it would be a great idea to meet them in Marseille, France where her husband’s family resides.  And it was great.  Great for culture, history, family and the stunning beauty of France.  And it was also hard spending three straight weeks with your kids, everyday, every hour, every minute, every second.  I woke up on day 16 to the delightful laughter and screaming of children beckoning me to feed them, feed them, feed them and to find the IPad and Princess Elsa and were we eating chocolate croissants because they love chocolate croissants.  This was into minute two of day sixteen and I lost my mind.  Somewhere in Canada my husband was sleeping deeply, spreading his carefree body across my side of the bed and drinking in the solitude through every pore of his body.  I was burning brioche in the oven and embellishing my exhausted rage with the reckless use of “Fuck.”  My sister, her husband, my nephew and my kids made a hasty retreat to the other room while I embraced the madness of burnt breakfast and unmade coffee.  It was an epic parent fail.

Let’s step back in time.  I am a lover of the unknown.  I have wholeheartedly jumped into adventures to Guatemala, Ecuador, Egypt, Belize and Mexico with nary a concern for research about political unrest, tourist kidnappings or terrorist threats.  I like to arrive wide eyed and blundering so as to catch the locals with their worried stares or offer up predatory hopes to the the knic knack vendors and con men.   After I returned from Guatemala during a university led trip (this was shortly after the end of the civil war but guerrilla groups were still kidnapping tourists), I finally phoned up my parents to tell them where I had been.  It was an afterthought because I was independent and I had paid for the trip myself.   That Christmas, my father, a man not prone to much emotional sharing, gave me a book titled, “World’s  Most Dangerous Places” with Guatemala lovingly earmarked.

Several years have passed since I’ve been on a trip that has surprised my senses or tested my character.   I’ve managed to keep our family away from resorts or Disney cruises but Hawaii or California hardly test one’s mettle.  Don’t get me wrong, a resort would be really relaxing but once you’ve crossed the line into watered down cocktails and Kid’s Club babysitting you’ve entered into easy and easy is scary.  Easy is processed food dinners with high carbohydrate and sugar content, credit cards and binge watching on Netflix.  Easy doesn’t feed the soul,  it builds debt that will eventually need to be repaid.  It doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to suffer through life – I’ve avoided crack and prostitution and still feel surprisingly whole.   I’m just saying France with two children in tow was hard and hard is good.   I found a well of patience hidden in my depths especially after the 9th hour on the plane when my three year old still hadn’t slept and was careening off into irrational fits of squawking and contortions of unrest in her seat.  She fell asleep on landing.

The two best surprises from our trip to France:  my daughter stopping to gaze intently at the same Picasso painting that had captured my attention.  Unlike most of the Picasso artwork at the exhibition which was layered with curvatures and obliques of color, this large painting was centered on a person of singular blue.  It was striking and surreal and shockingly beautiful.  The second best surprise was my eight year old son, sitting across the aisle from me on the plane, striking up a lengthy conversation with two young bearded men from Oman.  I nodded to the men so they knew I was his mother but gave my son space to engage freely with his row companions.  He showed them how to play the onboard video games and they answered his polite questions about their country and themselves.  After landing back in Canada, my son told me they were geologists on their way to the AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) conference in Calgary.   He had told them I was a geologist and I had traveled to Egypt for work and spoke a little Arabic.  The eight year old boy who arrived back in Canada was not the same boy who left for France.  In fact, none of us were.

 

My Daughter Burps Like a Truck Driver

My daughter burps like a truck driver. She somehow lets out low, prolonged belches like it’s nobody’s business.  She probably learned it from her big brother but even he can’t burp like she can.  She is almost three.  She stands on her tippy toes and tries to spin like a ballerina.  She wears taffeta and adores rhinestones.  She can also fart like an old man on a warm bench in July.  She will suddenly fart, say “fart” and then chuckle like a self satisfied old man on a warm…… never mind, you get the picture.

I suppose admonishment is what is called for in these situations but secretly, I’m impressed.  Her older brother is definitely impressed.  Yeah, we insist she says, “Excuse me.”  But, she also knows that every time she either farts or burps, our eyes will open wide and then a smile will follow and then a suppressed smile will follow after that.  She’s got the world by the balls and she knows it.

Kids are good fun.  If only we remember to laugh before we scold.   I doubt my daughter will take her burping or farting beyond her middle school years.  If she does, I may be risking the chance at future grandchildren or she marries a truck driver.  I just hopes she never stops laughing.  Even at her own jokes.

Her eight year old brother has an equally impressive talent that would offend good company.  Here is his effeminate characterization of a fashionista:

“Oh. My. God.  Look at my nails.  They are sooooo glamorous.”  Hand postured outwards, head tilted sideways, a dramatic roll of the eyes.

“Oh my goodness.  Look at what I’m wearing. I’m sooooo perfect.”  Swagger, provocative sideways shoulder glance.  Flittering eyelids. Big flashy smile.

The flashy smile gets me every time.  Only because eight year old boys are a toothy mixture of large adult teeth and awkward gaps where the adult teeth have yet to come in.

I lamely tried to copy my son’s antics one day when I was attempting to regale my friends with humorous stories about my children.   Either my son is not as funny as I think he is or I’m not funny telling people how funny my son is because they gave those painful polite chuckles when your story has fallen flat but they are trying to humor you.

We have a family joke that we’ve been riffing on for  a couple of years now.   It starts off by someone directing serious attention at another person.

“Son, I have something very serious to tell you.”  This is followed by son’s eyes getting wide and concerned looking.

Big sigh. “Okay, this is really hard to tell you.” Another big sigh. “I’m not sure if I should.”   Kid’s eyes are starting to look scared now.

“What I’m about to say may shock you.”  Look down.  Pause.  Kid has stopped breathing.

Look up with a slight twinkle in the eye. “I LOVE YOU.” Big grin.  Kids exhales a huge sigh of relief and then gives you a crazy smile.

We randomly initiate these exchanges whenever the mood hits us, trying to fool the person so they don’t catch on the I Love You bit is coming.  My son loves it and likes to parlay off of me and his father.  His little sister caught on to the concept this year except she can’t keep a straight face yet.  She does a lot of sighing while she’s trying to suppress a huge grin.  When we’ve all forgotten to play the I LOVE YOU game for awhile, it’s really fun to remember to trick someone you love.

I realize this type of humor has a shelf life along with flaxen haired dolls and G rated movies.  But, right now, it is pretty awesome.  Take that Jon Stewart and Amy Schumer.

 

What a Silverback Gorilla Taught Me About Diplomacy

I live in Calgary, Alberta.  We have an excellent zoo in our city and I have held an annual membership for eight straight years.  Let me deal with the zoo detractors now:  yes, keeping an animal in a cage is not cool, even if it is for educational purposes but let’s face it, city folk are desensitized to cramped habitat.  Our day is broken up into compartmentalized spaces:  our homes, our work, box stores, grocery stores and the gym.  When a walk in the forest or jungle isn’t an option, the next best thing is distraction. When I take my family to the zoo, we derive entertainment from watching the animals and the animals derive entertainment from watching us.  People watching is an actual thing; sit on a bench in a mall or attend a Comic-Con convention.  You get the picture.

Needless to say, we have gone to the zoo A LOT.  My eight year old son would rather not go to the zoo now but he loves his little sister and she loves the zoo.  She is two years old and the last time we went, we rode the carousel which has lovely ornate animals carved out of wood.  On her first ride (because, believe me, there were several) she started pointing and naming off all the animals: giraffe, tiger, penguin, lion, gorilla, seal, lizard, horse, hippopotamus (yes, all 5 syllables). Wow.  I actually took it for granted she was learning anything. Though, I doubt she’s concerned about habitat loss or species endangerment.  For myself, especially on quiet days when the zookeepers are starved for human interaction, I have been able to acquire juicy tidbits of zoo gossip. For example, the female hippopotamus is a bitch.  There is only one breeding pair and she is on husband #2.  She was originally paired with a fairly elderly fellow and she gave him a hard time whenever the mood suited her.  Whereas her dark grey body was smooth and folded into healthy rolls of fat, his skin was usually lacerated and puffy with pink contusions caused by her short tempered nips.  Have you ever seen hippopotamus teeth?  Love nips these were not.  He eventually died of old age but his health was made poorer by domestic abuse.   Alas, husband #2 is now showing the same tell tale signs of  abuse.  How quickly the honeymoon phase ends.

It is no surprise the best zoo gossip can be found with the gorilla troop.  Their social dynamics are most akin to ours being that both our genera started up the same family ladder.   They wrestle, tease one another, attempt displays of bravado or intimidation, nit pic each other – literally, because grooming is an important habit and generally look occupied with mutual observation and boredom.  Which is the same look I have when I’m sitting at the mall waiting for my daughter to finish up with the play area.  These play areas are usually a boxed in assortment of car and animal moulds finished with spray paint and a flexible veneer so the kids can slide easily on and off.  The walls are padded and have the occasional placement of puzzle boards with things that swish, grumble and clack when moved.  All the parents are usually numb with a mixture of boredom and fatigue and their faces are aglow with smartphone reverie.  At least the bench seats against the interior enclosure are padded.  And you have to take off your shoes so you get to sit there in socked feet.  In retrospect, I’ve experienced the anthropomorphized version of a gorilla enclosure.  The gorillas have moulded trees and rocks , ample straw to lay about and enrichment activities all the while barefoot and shrouded in the glow of smartphone camera flashes.

The Calgary zoo gorilla troop is special because of one member in particular: Kakinga.  He is the silverback gorilla or the leader of the troop.  He is paternal, calm and good natured.  He rarely if ever displays outward signs of aggression and steps in during family disputes only after holding back and observing, allowing the fractious members time to sort it out themselves.  15 years ago, a female gorilla, Zuri was brought to Calgary after a failed attempt to integrate her into the troop at the Toronto zoo.  The problem was Zuri acted too human.  She had been bottle fed and handled by the zookeepers at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs and had inadvertently picked up some of their habits and behavior.  The Calgary troop and Kakinga were her best chance at integration and seven years after her introduction, she successfully birthed a baby girl, Yewande.  What was the more significant aspect of this story was Zuri didn’t know how to be a gorilla mom after her experiences with humans.  The Calgary zookeepers taught Yewande to feed on a bottle offered through the cage mesh to avoid handling her and  Kakinga took over the majority of the parenting. I observed first hand Zuri wandering away from Yewande, leaving her young daughter in potentially hazardous situations and Kakinga quickly sauntering over to his daughter to gently nudge her to safer play and feeding areas.  He has allowed her and her playmates easy access to his private space, demonstrating exceptional patience and gentleness for a silverback.  Kakinga’s demeanor is so gentle, there was an attempt to introduce two juvenile males to the troop.  Kakinga, it turns out, is no dummy.  The males were not allowed to join the troop, securing Kakinga’s dominance and eliminating any possibility of future squabbles.

There are long panes of windows that cover roughly a third of the enclosure’s perimeter.  The female gorillas sometimes prop their feet up against the window, rest lazily on the straw while chewing their cud and take the occasional interested glance at the children smooshing their faces against the glass.  There is one gorilla that likes to randomly thump the glass to watch visitors’ startled reactions.  I’ve never seen Kakinga do this.  He displays proper gorilla etiquette, keeping his wide, muscled back to us and maintaining the aloofness as befits a noble leader.  Actually, this isn’t entirely true.  Many years ago, before kids, my husband and I went to the zoo.  It was one of those dead winter days, half an hour after the gates had closed for the day and so quiet the zookeeper told us not to rush as he did his final checks through the ape and monkey building.  We moved up to the glass and because there was no one to judge us, we squatted down and half turned our backs to the troop, casting our gaze down to show our submissiveness (yes, I watched “Gorillas in the Mist” with Sigourney Weaver).  Kakinga moved toward the glass and rested his back on the window.  He was inches away from us; he occasionally glanced over his shoulder at us and we kept our gaze down and snuck the occasional look towards him.  The other troop members made half attempts to peer at us but otherwise left Kakinga to inspect us.  We sat there huddled like that for half an hour, impressed by the strength and presence of his mass and honored that he wanted to be close to us.  We had to leave when the zookeeper came for the final sweep but I could have stayed there for hours just for the remarkable feeling of humbleness that had overwhelmed me.

Given the question of what  I admire in a person, I would have to reference my knowledge of Kakinga: patience, compassion, intelligence and an innate goodness.   As a result, his troop is happy, rambunctious and relaxed.  I like to think I’ve taken a few pages from his playbook and given my own family that same sense of safety and caring.  More importantly, I’ve learned to step back and observe and wait.  We don’t do it enough, I think:  the idea of relinquishing control to give others the opportunity to make mistakes and solve their own problems.   There is always someone out there willing to solve your problems.  They seem to live in a special land called infomercial or in the self-help section at Chapters.  Maybe we need to trust ourselves more and listen to our instincts.   While we’re busying ourselves trying to save the animals, we should pause to learn how they can save us.