The street where I live...

The street where I live...

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Wrapped and Ready

I have neglected this blog for far too long, for all the right reasons. Life has been full of doing things I love, and there has been little time or need to stop and reflect.  However, it is a new year, and fresh, shiny new years are always a good time to reflect upon, and then walk away from, the old stuff.

2013 was a big year.  The twins turned four at the end of January, and four years old was completely delightful.  The girls are so damn much work, but so damn much fun.  They are astonishingly musical - great singers, enthusiastic dancers, and quite dedicated to banging on their electric piano and plastic food storage container improvised drum kits. They are abstract thinkers, and delight in twisting meanings and making up jokes. I love being their mom, although, I freely admit that when I consider my middle age, and think ahead to things like ushering them into and through puberty, I need to have a little sit down and rest - and that's just from thinking about it!

In 2013 MIL continued to slip into her other world, the one guided by dementia and delirium.  And then, in mid December, we got "the call." J was on his way into town to visit her as she was in a temporary respite stay at a great facility.  The phone rang here at home, and it was the case worker we have been dealing with saying a room had opened up, and MIL wouldn't need to come home again.  Now, I had been waiting for this call for months, and my first reaction was extreme relief.  I am well into my forties, and mothering two preschoolers while providing elder care and keeping house is more than a full-time job, and because I am resolutely committed to maintaining my professional life as a writer, and a visual and theatre artist, I have also been juggling contracts, doing shows, and keeping all those balls in the air. So, when I first put the phone down, I felt this wash of release and some amount of glee.  But then, something rather unexpected set in.  I felt what I suspect is a kind of mourning.  I felt sad.  I went downstairs into MIL's apartment, and all of her things had taken on a significance almost exactly how things that belonged to the recently deceased become symbols of a life rather than commonplace objects.  The sight of her hairbrush made me well up.  I looked around her cluttered, debris laden suite and thought about how I'd need to clean it all up. And then I realized there would really be no point to save anything, as she won't be needing it again.  She won't be coming back here, and she won't be moving anywhere else.  She is where she is now, until the end.  Life is so damned brutal.  Thankfully, the brutality is punctuated by beauty and joy. And most of the time brutality and beauty are all mixed up together.  So, we enter 2014 with one less resident in our house, more free time, a release from the burden of elder care, and two small children and a dog and two grown ups who are happy to be on this side of a profound episode; but who all feel the hovering empty space left by MIL's departure.

Professionally, 2013 was a welcome time of clarity when I was able to easily recognize which artistic associations to keep, and which to walk away from on good, happy terms.  I have been gradually working toward being much more in charge of my own work, and it feels solidly right.  For many years I have worked with and for others. Collaboration is a joyful, challenging part of artistry, but it can have interesting consequences. Some collaborations are fulfilling, respectful and enriching, others can leave one feeling used up and under appreciated.  I have been very lucky to have had almost exclusively the former collaborations with a few of the other creeping in from time to time.  But, even those good experiences can reveal themselves as having gone as far as they needed to go.  I have a history of being involved in situations where I have willingly allowed others to take some credit for my work, and although I do not resent those situations now, I have no desire to do that anymore.  So, I am entering a phase of being very picky about how I choose to work.  I have so many inspiring colleagues, and I know who I have learned from and can move on from, and who I will seek out for future projects.  If that all sounds annoyingly vague, it is because people read this, and I need to always be gracious about the opportunities I have had.  In short: I feel on track and excited about where my work is, and where it is going.  I am proud of the writing, performing and directing I did in 2013, and 2014 will be about furthering established projects and lavishing attention on my neglected child in terms of creativity:  visual art.  I am going to make things.  And I am going to turn my attention to starting the book I was asked to write three years ago, and vowed I would start when the kids were five. Which they are. In twenty-three days.

I spent quite a lot of 2013 in important friendships with other women. This might not be a big deal to some, but I have never been a big friend person. I have always found my need for social interaction is easily sated by my immediate family and a few periphery friends.  I have always turned away from anyone pushing me too hard toward intimate friendship.  But I am a mom now, and I need other moms.  I need other moms who are irreverent, mean in just the right way, hilarious, caring, supportive and have experience with the relentless complexities of relationships.  My mom friends save and sustain me. My mom friends are also, happily, many of my artist friends.  So, we get the place we are at in life, and when our eyes meet with a slight cocked eyebrow across a crowded room in the face of some absurd situation, all is instantly and wordlessly understood in a way that heretofore was only possible with my husband or my sisters.  I am also grateful for my woman friends who may not be mothers of small children, but who are constant sources of artistic inspiration and who make me gasp at what they can do.  All my friends make me want to be better at being myself.

2013 is a wrap, and 2014 is a week in and very much a so far so good venture.  I am grateful for, and proud of, the life I have.  I am still a cynical old neurotic, but I am a cynical old neurotic with a pretty good outlook on the coming year.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Lame Little Check In

I have not meant to ignore this blog, and the few people kind and stalwart enough to tune in.

The reason I haven't posted in months is because I have had a welcome string of professional obligations, one of which is: blogging! I have been contracted to be the official blogger for The Site.  So I am getting paid to blog elsewhere, and getting paid means I am obligated to meet my deadline every week.

Life is going very well.  I am doing a solo show one day a week at The Site, I have done a couple of directing and writing contracts, and have been able to travel a little, which is unusual for me in the warmer months as I am usually completely tied here by work.

The twins are doing so well.  MIL continues to fail, but we are now in the final months of waiting for her to get a permanent placement in an elder care home.

I will try to do better at posting here, as this blog has become important to me, and has been a great creative outlet in the long winter months.

Until next time.....

Thursday, 21 March 2013

I Suspect I am too Fierce

I suspect I may be too fierce.

My birthday is in a month and a half and my astrologer of choice is telling me it is time for my personal evaluation of where I am and who I am and where I am going, etc. etc.  I woke at 4am and my brain started in on this torturous introspection directive.  Except, as a good disciple of the western philosophy of self loathing, instead of a swift and tidy examination of where I am, I twisted the exercise into "what is wrong with me?"  The list is pretty impressive, but boils down to this one observation I have lived with for most of my life: I am too fierce. 

I haven't always been fierce.  As a very young child I was painfully shy and quite nice.  But over the years I have dealt with my natural introversion by developing a toughness of which I am not ashamed, but kind of weary.  I'm getting old, and I am tired of the hard side of myself.

How does my hard side manifest?  Well, let's see....

I have a long track record of not letting people get away with shit.  My guilty pleasure film is "You've Got Mail"  in which Meg Ryan plays a woman who laments the fact that she can never think of the right snappy comeback to say when being insulted or patronized.  I do not have this problem.  I can always think of a comeback and I almost always let 'er rip.

I am happy to lodge a complaint in a restaurant, and I am okay with abandoning friendships and acquaintances that are toxic with nary a backwards glance.  I have a quick wit and I will take the joke over the consequences on many occasions.

But the older I get the more I understand that it is not up to me to right all the wrongs of the world.  And I am flawed, so why can't I ease up a bit on the flaws of others? 

Here is a truth I know about fierce people: we are often deep, deep feelers.  We experience the highs and lows of life strongly, and our instinct to lash out is part of or way of dealing with the brutal beauty of this world. 

Still, I am tired of holding on to anger and fear and ready to free myself.  Can I do it?  Will I be able to break patterns that have held me together like glue for so long?  I have no F*cking idea.  But at the very least I have isolated the biggest problem area.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Parenting with Two Hands.

On the one hand...

I'm pretty sure I don't brush their teeth well enough.
They scream when I brush out their hair.
I don't give them enough vegetables.
I only ever bake from a mix, and that is still almost never.
I don't sit down and draw with them, and I really should.
I get frustrated with them within seconds of trying to get them to print.
I let them watch too much TV.
I yell too much.
I try to read parenting books and I yell and throw the books across the room.
I pretend I serve veggies raw because it's healthier, but really I just don't want to cook.
I expect too much of them.
I expect too little of them.
I haven't started them in music or dance lessons yet.
I should have started them on a second language by now.
I am so bad at establishing routines.
I let them see my anxiety.
I look at celebrity gossip on the computer when I could be reading fat important books, and they see this.
I say: "No, I'm too tired" too many times.
I give in way too quickly.
I hold out way too long.
I place too much emphasis on having a clean house.
I hide the Playdough because I hate cleaning it up.
When they do crafts I hide the messiest stuff.
I snap at them to get away so I can finish a blog post about how much I love them.
I swear.
I swear a lot.

On the other hand...

I let them see me continue to follow my dreams.
I have given them an artist for a mother.
I tell them I love them at least 50 times a day.
I have complete respect for their weirdnesses.
I notice who they are.
I bring them to rehearsals.
I dance with them.
I sing with them until they tell me to stop.
I listen around the corners so I can hear the magic in their play.
I remember how it was to be little.
I talk to them.
I don't mock them.
I am their champion.
I come when they need me.
I take the hits and dirty looks from people who don't like kids to be kids.
I let them be kids.
We show them a loving marriage.
We show them how to fight and make up.
We don't worship at the altar of quiet or still.
I let them see that creativity is essential.
I encourage them to notice beauty in light and colour and sound and movement.
I respect their fear.
I surround them with art.
I surround them with artists.
I parent from my heart and my soul.
I listen to myself.
I listen to them.
And I love them.
I love them.
I love them.
I love them.
I love them.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Not a Love Letter

It is the eve of the twins' fourth birthday.  And in the great tradition I have established here (ie. I did it last year) my intention was to use this forum to write a little birthday love message to my beautiful babies.  But to be honest, this day has been one for the memoirs.  I am so spent my head feels hot and prickly. I am emotionally wrung out.  If I wasn't such a complete weakling I would punch a wall or something equally dramatic but childish and futile.  So I'll take the weakling's way out and blog about it.

J is away on business.  Last night, at 3 am, I was jarred awake by a slamming door on the ground floor of our house, which is where MIL lives.  I got up and met her on the stairs.  She was clearly shaken and wanted to know how to get a key to lock out all these people who keep coming into the house.  These people are, of course, conjured by her dementia.  And the detail in her delusions is impressive.

Last night there were, according to MIL, people in the gallery space we have on the main floor and they were looking at all her stuff.  There were men in her bed and women messing up her clothes.  But the really good part of the story was her insistence that she had followed the people down the hill to a trailer where  they were playing games like bingo and cards, but by the time she got in there everyone was asleep.  Now, it has been snowing for two days and I hadn't shoveled outside, so when I asked her how she managed to walk down the hill without getting any snow on her she said something about having really good snow boots.  I walked around the house several times with MIL, to reassure her that all the people were gone.  I brought her upstairs, gave her some water, tried all the techniques - going along with the delusions, explaining the medical details of her condition, trying not to belittle her no matter how tired and frustrated I might become.  I finally got her settled back into bed and was back asleep by 4:30.  At 6 am I was awoken by O and a nightmare about being bitten in the belly by a crocodile.  I was finally able to get back to sleep and Z woke us all at 8:30.

MIL is running dangerously low on meds and tomorrow is the twins' birthday, so our plan for today was to go into the bigger town to replenish the medicine and cake making cabinets.  But there was a "heavy snowfall" warning issued for our area, and I just couldn't risk the drive.  We stayed home instead and MIL continued to be agitated, aggressive and confused all day.

My patience ran out when MIL noticed a petticoat hanging on the back of my bedroom door.  I had this garment made for me as part of a really important costume.  I use it on stage and for special appearances.  MIL insisted the petticoat was hers, that I had taken it, that she has had it for twenty years.  I am working on two hours worth of sleep right now, and I just didn't have it in me to go along with this particular delusion.  "This is MY costume piece.  It has NOTHING to do with you!"  Every time my back was turned MIL would sneak back into the bedroom and say: "Sweetie [patronizing tone], I don't know how you can say that this is yours when I have had one just like it for twenty years.  I mean, it was a different colour.  You must've bleached it."

I decided to escape and take the kids down to our local eatery for a special tea event.  If you have ever had a high tea you will know that it consists of about a million percent of the recommended daily cream and sugar intake.  So by the time we left the restaurant I was dealing with two Tasmanian Devils.

Our walk home includes one steep hill with a dangerous blind corner.  The girls were just horrible as they insisted on running away from me on the hill, balancing precariously on the side of a steep drop, jumping in deep snow, and in an impressive final  move O decided that she wanted to "crawl" up the last bit.  I was so frustrated that I ended up half dragging her by her hood for a few steps to get her out of blind corner danger.

So perhaps this explains why I don't really feel like writing a love letter to my kids at this exact moment.  But it's in me.  I'll get to it.  Maybe later tonight once the party in the bingo trailer down the hill closes down for the night.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Struck in the Middle with You

The new year comes in like a lamb when you have almost four years old twins and a rapidly failing mother in law and your husband is away on business.  I spent the evening at home, fell asleep with the girls, woke at 12:12 to discover I'd slept through both the turn of the year and the fireworks that happened pretty much right outside my door.  The only clue I had that the fireworks had happened was my MIL's quivering poodle at the top of our stairs.

New Year's Eve has a fine tradition here in our little 1930s Town.  For many years the NYE dance at the Community Hall was an awesome thing - family oriented with kids, adults, the drunk and the sober all dancing into the wee hours and spilling out onto the road to dance under the streetlights and in moonlight and starlight.  In the past few years the dance became a shadow of its former self, but this year some of our long term residents worked their butts off to bring it back.  How I pondered taking the girls, but the thought of trying to stick handle the kids by myself waaaay past bedtime and leaving MIL for an extended time ultimately made me chicken the hell out.  Next year for sure you will find two almost five year olds dancing under the stars with their mommy and daddy.  But this year I stayed in and loved my time with the twins, and had much opportunity to reflect back on one crazy ass year.

When I look back on 2012 I will think of it as the year of three years old, and the year of sixty-seven years old.  The twins turned three and were as amazing and joyful and challenging as ever.  They are such wonderful little kids.  They crack me up and drive me nuts and make me want to laugh and cry constantly. And, my mother in law, at sixty-seven, began the process of sliding deeper into a place where we can no longer reach her.

Dementia is a horrible, heartbreaking, unfair thing - but in its own, very odd way, is often fascinating.

I wish I had understood, when MIL first came to Town to be with us, that she must have already been in the early stages of this thing.  But I didn't understand and so our relationship was contentious and strained.  I found her eccentricity reckless and juvenile.  I couldn't understand the laissez-faire attitude she seemed to have toward the craziness of her life (I will not go into too many specifics, but her finances and recently ended relationship were in some pretty serious places).  She found me cold and was endlessly frustrated by my inability to accept what she saw as her help.  She felt I patronized her, which I did, because I found her childish.  She was desperately lonely, and the only "way in" she could find socially was to seek the town gossips and feed their appetites by talking about me.  Which made things worse.  Every so often we would have a big blow up, and I would promise to try to be a better daughter in law.  And I would, for a while.  I would ask her to concede on some of the points I felt strongly about.  She kind of did.

Once she moved in with us properly (she had had an apartment of her own for a few months) we were  suspecting early stage dementia.  And once we began to investigate, our suspicions were confirmed.

For many months MIL was still so able that she would babysit the girls, cook for herself, take her dog for long walks, spend hours sorting through stuff for the store she wanted to open.  But our relationship was still strained.  She wanted to be a bigger part of our daily lives, I wanted to make sure I and J and the girls spent the early years of our family time establishing ourselves as a unit, and I didn't think it fair or necessary that MIL be involved in every minute of our days.  She thought I was mean and her public bitching about me hardened me to her even more.  This is a VERY small town, and being gossiped about - especially when it was one-sided - was hurtful and embarrassing.

By the summer of 2012 things were getting crazier.  And it became clear that MIL was not going to be able to handle running a business.  And then it became clear that she could no longer be trusted to care for the girls for more than an hour or so.  And then she started to lose language and memory.  And just before Christmas she started to retreat from life and hallucinate a reality that involved scores of visitors roaming about her apartment at all hours.

And now we are living with a shadow of the woman who raised my husband.  She is rail thin, sleeps most of the day, and sees people who aren't there.  On good days she still comes up and eats with us and plays with the girls, on bad days we bring her food and help her dress herself.  We are in the process of getting her into a care facility but there will be a few months still, with her here in our house.  So I guess now is the time for me to prove myself as a caring, loving person.  Because it is all so very sad.  Yet fascinating.

There are the sad parts - watching this once magnificent woman nearly collapse with frustration when she tries to dress herself, the loss of contact with reality, the extreme frailty.  And then there are the fascinating parts - the hallucinations of visitors from all walks of life - First Nations men, boy scouts and girl scouts, hospital patients, Indians discussing current events in India.  There has always been a part of me that believes old people and children have a much clearer view into other realities, and the fact that this 1935 building has been a boarding house, grocery store, pool hall, art gallery, etc. etc., makes it all the more intriguing.  What if she really is seeing people who once passed through this place?  Who am I to assert that it is all the product of a failing brain.  Maybe her brain is opening up to other realms?  Yeah, that's a crazy thought, but one I have all the time now.

I am surrounded by a very supportive community, many of whom ask how I am getting through this time in our lives, and I must admit, there are days when I wonder that as well.  But whenever it all begins to overwhelm I take a little step outside of myself and ponder how I will remember this time, years from now, when it all slides into part of our family lore and mythology.  And here is how I will  remember it - profound.  There is extreme profundity in beginnings and endings, and right now we are helping two souls into life, and one soul out of life.  And the responsibility of it all is a sacred trust that we are trying to get right.  Sometimes we do get it right, sometimes we don't.  But right now I am acutely aware that what I do and say will be the first experiences for the twins, and last experiences for MIL.  And that is pretty big.

So there it is - my musings for the new year.  Appropriately, I am thinking about the beginnings and endings of things.  And how my middle-aged ass is right smack in the middle of it all.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Bad Things Happen

Yesterday morning I was fixating.  The first thing I was fixating on was the fact that the weather, after several days of heavy snowfall, had broken, and I needed to get to town to get groceries and some other essentials. In order to get to town and back before dark I needed to do much shoveling, dressing of kids, warming of car, etc. etc.  The second thing I was fixating on was a conversation my children and I had been exposed to the day before, about how boys fight and get over it, but girls are devious and manipulative and mean and learn it from their mothers.  I was thinking about how much I had wanted to protect my daughters from these most unfortunate words.*

And in the midst of my fixating I heard the news about the school shootings in Connecticut.  And then I didn't care that much about the other two things. Because who cares anymore?  20 little kids, ages 6 and 7, are dead.  And yes, I know, I know - children are dying everyday, all over the world and we go on as if it is nothing.  I know we, as a society, demonstrate gross indifference to child labour, poverty, abuse, murder, when it is in the context of  "far away" and "not affecting my daily life."  I know all that, and yes, I understand  the reason I (and many like me) are so destroyed by the thought of this shooting and not about the other stuff that happens everyday all over the world is because this is something to which we can directly relate.  These parents sent their babies to school, and a bad guy came to the school and shot them dead.  This could be us, this could be me. I am right there.

I started the drive to town yesterday morning listening to CBC radio, as usual, but the girls said something they have never said before.  They said: "No, mommy, turn it off."  So I turned it off and didn't listen to the half-hourly news reports that would have informed me of  "what we know so far."  Instead, the girls and I pointed to the trees, and the horses we passed, and we talked about what we saw, and we sang about monkeys falling off beds and reindeer, and Santa.

We had a nice day in town, and when I came home I read all the comments on Facebook about what had happened.  I put away groceries.  I cooked dinner.  We ate dinner.  We watched a show about a kid with a purple crayon.  We had a bath.  And then the girls went to play by themselves in the bedroom and I opened my laptop and let myself read the news and sob.

I didn't say "How does something like this happen?" because it is a meaningless question.  Crazy people go get guns and use them to shoot people.  It happens.  We've seen it happen again and again.  And after it happens we analyze the shit out of the how and whys and who is to blames. (When I was in my early 20s the Montreal Massacre happened and for months afterward the debate raged on and on about whether it was a violence against women issue or a random act  of violence issue.  Are you kidding me?  A guy armed to the teeth walked into a classroom, released the men, shot the women, and left a manifesto about hating women.  I think we can close the case on that debate.)

I didn't obsess about crazy US gun control policy, or how mentally ill people are left to navigate the world with little support, or how we exist in a culture that glamourizes violence to the point that we hardly even notice it anymore. I was too busy thinking about the parents, and how they will ever be able to get through this.

I did have a Facebook chat with my friend who has two small children as well, and we discussed how hard it is, in the face of something like this, to NOT just start thinking about raising your children in a fortress surrounded by a moat full of sharks.  But we can't.  We have to let our kids have lives, even if it means sending them off to school when, every so often, horrid things happen at schools.

And I did let myself focus on the love that everyone was expressing for a community of people we have never met in a place we have never been.  Because, as awful as these things are, they make us stop and put away the little, daily fixations, and look to one another and say: "I don't know you, but I know you.  And I can't love you, because I don't even know you, but I love you.  And I can't possibly know what you are going through, but I know that you are going through it, and it means something that your unimaginable loss is causing a mom far, far away to think of nothing but you."

* One day I will write a post about Tina Fey (who is the undisputed goddess of all things), and how important I think "Mean Girls" is, and how important the message is and was, but how the importance of Ms. Fey's  important message has been (like PMS) twisted into a blanket stereotype that does so much more harm than good.  But that's a story for another day.