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Archive for the month “December, 2014”

Seders out of Sync

It’s April 15, 2014 and it is snowing. The bunny who frequents our yard in the spring must be confused. I see him/her cowering beneath some overhung branches that are quickly being slicked down by snow. Whereas the first snow in early winter is usually greeted by oohs and aha and isn’t it pretty?, this winter has been so topsy-turvy, so brutal, that everyone had been gasping for spring, and now, here we are back to winter.

And these Passover seders will be the first without our mothers: Howard’s because of her increasing dementia, and mine because of her actual passing. Last night at Howard’s sister’s, the mood was quiet although his family recalled a childhood memory of the boiled meatballs and potatoes, a childhood Passover lunch that heralded the end of eating bread . They all decried how horrible the meal was, reliving the feeling of wanting to retch and their mother’s insistence on maintaining a tradition from her own childhood: one that did finally disappear, thankfully for the children. The last years with his mother at the seder have been trying as she usually demanded to be taken home, angry about some comment meant as a joke, not an attack. Still it felt very different not to have her physically there.

Tonight at my sister’s, I wonder if she will set a place for our mother, usually at the head of the table in the corner. My eldest daughter would sit beside her, chat and interact with her, my mother enjoying the full attention of her eldest grandchild, Ariel, kind and solicitous, making my mother laugh occasionally, a sparkle rekindled.

I heard that my son has told CJ, the 5 year old, that Baba has died and he wants to visit the grave marker. My son said he would approach it in terms of seasons, but he had the feeling that at school, there have all ready been discussions of such serious and scary talk. CJ is such a funny “dude” as his father calls him. At my mother’s 90th birthday celebration, CJ rose, looked around, found the party too boisterous and to the crowded room intoned, “ Everybody settle down”. To which a startled group responded. My mother would always recall that. It is a better memory than CJ’s brother who upon seeing her,an aged woman, would turn away and full- lunged, scream at the top of his lungs .

I remember the first Passover without my father, 19 years ago, the hubbub reduced, his place empty, absent, my mother strangely subdued, not popping up and down to gather plates, a guest, not a server or arranger of the night’s events. I think we all experienced the ghostly absence of the man who had been the pivotal hallmark of our lives, silently and painfully missing him. Jordan, a mere boy, pointing to his legs and muttering, “I miss him”, his eyes stanching tears. An emotional supper: the focus not on the coming of freedom from slavery, but the bondage that comes when a parent dies and the emotions that tie you up and entangle your heart with the pain of loss.

The night after the seder

As at my sister-in-law’s, a certain quiet although the grandkids render it wild and as always, too many people jumping up to serve food, offer bowls for hand- washing. CJ quite interested in the traditions, anxious to try the bitter herbs, the charoset ( mock brick mortar of apples, walnuts and wine), says his part in The Four Questions. He asks for the translation of the list of wine droplets we dribble on our plates: locus, darkness, vermin… and he announces, “Those are not good drops” . I hope he does not store these afflictions in his mind and later ponder them. The stories are not happy ones although his mother adds, “We don’t have to worry about them now”. I can almost hear her add “tsk, tsk”.

Chaos at the table: numerous kugels, turkey, brisket, salads and deserts. The actual reading, responsive in both Hebrew and English has whizzed by for me. The youngest grandchild, referred to as A.B (Abie?) by his mom, is watching Arcade Fire concert where the audience jumps around wearing masks. To a two year old, the flash and glitter albeit with no sound to disturb the religious liturgy at the table, is mesmerizing. I notice he punctuates it with an animation clip that involves Santa Claus. Talk about your pair of ducks.

Sadly my daughter #2 is prevented going to a seder because a huge tree has fallen across their driveway in Philadelphia. At least no one is hurt.

On the way home, darkness falls as lights and power are cut and we drive through darkened streets.

Feelings of sadness, confusion. I feel as if my body parts have been severed and I am flung about in a variety of dimensions, stretching to pull myself back into one piece. I am not a flexible person so this stretching business is difficult: maybe a prelude to visiting Frances Bacon’s paintings: they seem to mirror how I feel, viscera exploding.Maybe it is an attempt to feel my mother’s arms around me, to hold my girls close and and cuddle my grandkids who pay us no attention last night. I want to be a big ball of warmth, something that holds them all together. I don’t know how to gather everything up and make me all whole. It is a conundrum.

Words That Have No Meaning

I’m so excited,” people say about an event, a new food, a trip…I don’t suggest they are not “excited”, but like many other expressions, “ excited” has lost its meaning. When I taught English literature, I would tell my students to forego clichés and aim to express themselves in new ways, not something hackneyed because the reader just turns off: s/he has heard it so many times: white as snow versus white as clotted cream; hard as nails, etc.

You cannot insult anyone any more.Using the f-word is meaningless along with the other body parts that used to connote abuse. Previously well used to get a rise out of someone, to demonstrate rage, or just respond to annoyance or communicate with colleagues in a familial way, the f-word was part of language that could convey a multitude of emotions. Now, it lays dormant , forgotten, besmirched by over use in the wrong contexts. It has lost its oomph.

I’ll never forget playing in the schoolyard in maybe Grade 3 and coming home with a new word to insult my sister. “You’re a prick”, I hurled at my kindergarten sister in our family livingroom in front of my parents!
My father stonily replied, “ DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS?

Not quite so brave now, I shrank closer to the ground and murmured, “No.”. When he retorted , “It means a man’s penis”, I shriveled up and slunk away. Not just the word, but hearing my father say the word embarrassed me beyond anything I had ever known before. And he expressed himself with suppressed anger. Needless to say, I never insulted her with that profanity again.

There is a link to how we dress and so-called abusive language. I used to read Italian with a friend because three languages were required in my Masters Program so instead of going to class, E. and I would translate books written in Italian over tea in her sunny living room. She once remarked that –and this was in the 80’s- it was a first for people to purchase and wear raggedly torn clothes, aspiring to dress as the poor, wanting to appear in discarded cast off garments. Previously people in society had wished to emulate the rich, the aristocracy, re- enacting their manners, pretending that a rich and cultured lifestyle replete with finely made and costly clothes reflected a desire to be upperly moble. But no longer.

In an ironic twist, people seemed to prefer jeans, the uniform of the working class, with holes and tears BUT emblazoned with designer labels as if to alert the rest of the world that yes, I dress down, but these duds are expensive ones style-fully corrupted by designers Armani and Ralph Lauren. Rather than demonstrating greater allegiance with the poor’s denim work duds, the middle and wealth upper classes paid empty lip service to the working class: as style- no true sentiment attached.

Similarly swearing really does not send a message that swearing used to. Much like the holes and ravaged missing knees on jeans, clothes that individuals choose to dress and language spoken conveys no message.

Maybe that’s a good thing. After all , not everything is meant to be a symbol and be interpreted ad nausem. Maybe a cigar is just a cigar and we are free to babble in whatever clothes we throw on or carefully compose an outfit for the aesthetics it dares impart. So be it.

The game of thrones, the reciprocity of love and first borns

In Game of Thrones, Queen Cersei Lannister, in lamenting the death of her horrid son admits that in spite of being shocked by his actions, he was her first, and that the first is special. And so it is true: in boyfriends, houses, children and grandchildren. The newness of the situation marks the event, and perhaps because we are not inured, hardened or already wise, we redefine a fresh relationship that may map or define the others that follow. Reading this, do you pause to recall your first kiss, your awareness of an original, unique or seminal moment now permanently lodged in your brain?

We adore our grandchildren, but the first is well, the first. I remember hearing tales of Elaine and Lassie, the first girl grandchild on my mother’s side and on my father’s, wondrous Jon, not John, but Jon Howard, given that middle name should his surname, Levine, reveal his religion and need be substituted with one that would not cause him discrimination: so the story went.

Our grandson is named, at least in English for Joe Carter; his secret Hebrew name is for my father, of blessed memory, as they say. My son who was dragged to every art gallery and church in Europe wound up enamored, actually over the moon, crazy in love with baseball. Even as a small boy, he knew statistics, stories, facts and fictions about every player in every league, disappointing his mother who cared little for the sweating, swearing, spitting, hitting and running of men in uniforms. It was 1993 World Series and in the best of seven, the Toronto Blue Jays played the Philadelphia Phillies. Joe Carter, with Toronto ahead three games to two in the Series hit a game-winning three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6, to cement the series, only the second Series concluded by such a home run. Jordan was awestruck. And so with the monumental birth of his first, the child was named for his father’s hero.

I think sports must be in some men’s genes, though thankfully my father was only interested in watching golf, and occasionally we got out our small family to bowl at Bathurst Bowlerama, my mother handing him the balls. For the most part, his passion lay in the problemsolving of electronic matters, which would produce the brightest and purest sound. He once remarked that he was amazed he could love his grandchildren so. On Friday nights, my elder daughter would perch on his shoulders as he read her “Walter Wolf”, he, usually chortling. Which was rare. I never ceased to be surprised at his overwhelming love for my children and how like a sudden rainstorm it had surprised him so.

And although we love all of our first grandchildren desperately , there is something about the first. Yet, it is unlikely you stayed with your very first love interest forever, although he or she is more clearly defined in your head. For me, the memory is encapsulated in the smells of sweet rain on heavily laden lilac trees at Cornell University where I went to visit my first boyfriend. And deep in my consciousness is the swarthy boy Joey Mariano, my square dance partner from Grade 4 at West Prep’s blonde –floored gym. Yet my heart of hearts unconditionally belongs to my husband.

Sometimes Carter kindly tolerates us as he zooms off in his own head, isolating himself from the facts he finds useless that I offer. Or he politely attempts to dismiss or ignore my explanations to the text that interfere with our reading a chapter book. Even this week during a sleepover when we explored the vicissitudes of a long-legged mouse who was visiting Dam Square in Amsterdam, I wanted to share information I found pertinent to the telling of the tale.

Of course, I did not reveal that in the 70’s I visited that notorious pot- drenched locale for all zoned –out hippies and the rest of us wannabes. I chose to enlighten him about the tulips in the flower market in the story, a gift to Canada from the Netherlands in 1946; and the shape, originally from Turkey and Persia that connotes a turban… With endurance, he quietly repeated, “ Dinda, ( the name he calls me), Just read!” I had wanted to explain about Anne Frank, too, but figured that story should wait until he is not awoken at 3 am with scary thoughts.

When he unexpectedly takes my hand or cuddles close when we play scrabble on the Ipad, I am seized by a whirl of emotions. Yet just as easily, in a room full of people, he will ignore my presence completely; or openly announce that his other grandparents have much better toys. We are dashed to the rocks, second best.

When I was growing up, my mother in particular wanted everything to be equal between my sister and myself ; thus, we were both given Hebrew and piano lessons, our will portions exactly the same. But as a parent myself, I came to realize that the distribution cannot and perhaps should not be exactly 50-50. For example, I had no musical talent and my sibling exceled so really there was no reason for lessons for me. Did my sister enjoy ballet as much as I did? Maybe. What Howard and I tried to do: meet the children’s specific needs as we perceived them. At times although appearing unfair, we waited for occasions to arise to offer encouragement and support of a special talent or a specific need. So many paths taken or not. At the time, we did our best, but as people say, “ Hindsight is 100%”!

Child-rearing is tricky business and there are so many factors that intervene. The simple nurture versus nature is not clear cut at all. Just yesterday on receiving an anniversary photo, I was stunned to see a resemblance to my father in my cousin’s son, something about the jaw. And today, apparently one’s gene can morph in response to the environment, called epigenics, I believe. So that a mother carrying a donor egg in her womb will wash that child in her own cells and the child will inherit some of her characteristics.

It’s easier in books because the people are fictional creations, built of course from real people, but the author can mold, distort and play with the impact of events. Just yesterday a friend at lunch mentioned that a former student from Northern, Clare Cameron, had written a book “The Bear ” that described the catastrophe that befell the children after the attack. I thought immediately of ” Canada “by Richard Ford, the children caught in the drama of their parents’ actions; and then also” Room “by Emma Donoghue, the horror of growing up and being forcibly confined in a tiny room. Although all events were based on believable stories that have occurred, the author has the freedom to delve into their literary heads, scoop out and arrange her/his own reactions to the unfortunate and terrible plights. The literary license not only permits but encourages this: the telling of truth is oftentimes more shattering than fiction- as in Anne Frank’s death from typhoid several weeks before Bergen-Belson concentration camp was liberated. More and more of Anne’s life has been revealed after her father’s death as he did not want some of her most personal thoughts from her journal publicly exposed, her fame exploited.

But like many of my discourses that have found a new track upon which to travel, my topic originally concerned first borns, who are supposed to excel over their sibs because of parental attention, first borns who tweak and break your hearts because you do not know what to expect, first borns because they are afterall, first.

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

Last year, like this one, the winter was particularly ” brutal” : actually the word most people used, but eventually spring arrived. As my husband was preparing planting beds, I walked out to pick up a few things for supper. Outside of Havergal ( a private girls’ school), I notice coloured hot pink chalk markings and it looks as if someone was or practicing their Latin. I stopped and chortled for some things never change. The clever person had scribed : Semper ubi sub ubi. And for you non-Latin types, I translate,‘”Always wear underwear. “ Good advice, No? I laugh out loud.

I am catapaulted back to Grade 11 and the Latin class with the teacher nicknamed The Whip. To my surprise, I loved learning latin. It was a game as we were taught the declinations: agricola, agricolae, agricolae, agricolam, agricola, agricola: each responding to a specific placing in the syntax of a sentence, much like our parts of speech. There was a predictability to the placement of these words, somehow for me, a logic and a game of placing the puzzle parts in a particular order.

Perhaps too, I liked Latin because I was the president of the Latin class. Likely a position no one else wanted, but one I actually won in a class election. All that meant was that when or if the teacher was late or drawn away from class, I would run the show, and because I was very good at Latin, I had garnered some respect from the others.

I also appreciated the tactics of The Whip ( who later ditched teaching and went on to law school, clever woman). In several seconds, she could slice and dice through a student’s pretense of having prepared a homework assignment and reduce to tears even the most popular or haughty classmate. Strangely although. I admired this talent in latin I might have been the hapless victim in say, math or Chemistry.

Yet in this class, I guess I was experiencing Schaudenfraude where one enjoys the pain of another, and not because I could empathize but because I so loved to see one of the Forest Hill aristocracy, often the object of even fawning simpering, sycophantic teachers brought low with a few crackling brushes of The Whip’s sharp and non-emotional tongue lashings.
Did I imagine a wink at me from under her Boston brown haircut and no nonsense piercing eyes? Not likely.

As I surveyed the words on the sidewalk, I wondered if the girls at the school were also taught by someone whose mind was as razorsharp as The Whip’s and did she make even the dull-eyed, lacklustre types like myself feel they could shine.

Reading Vogue this month, an article by Hilary Clinton caught my eye. It was the same paperthin stuff one expects but then a story about her mother, Dorothy , perked my interest. Dorothy Clinton had a very difficult upbringing , raised by a hard grandmother, leaving home at age 14 to work as a nanny, etc. Hilary asked her mother how she had managed to maintain a positive outlook and her mother replied that small acts of kindness had enlivened her soul and given her hope.These were small acts, but kindly ones: when her employer noticed that Dorothy’s one shirt was washed nightly, the employer demurred that she had bought a shirt that was too small for herself and would Dorothy like it? Generous and thoughtful, people had saved Dorothy’s pride through offerings that might appear insignificant but were intensely meaningful to the young woman.

Was it an act of kindness the The Whip bestowed on me, treating me with respect and throwing the occasional smile my way when others received such scowling looks that could scorch any composed exterior?

We think of random acts of kindness that occur daily. I hold in my mind, a trip to Eilat in Israel when my foot caught in a crack along the waterfront and I tripped, falling so hard that I feared my arm was broken. My husband who did not notice I was no longer at his side , was many strides ahead, while I, stunned, lay flat out on the uneven ancient pavement. Although people gathered to help me up, one woman, pulled my skirt down that had flown up over my exposed panties.

I don’t think she was offended by the sight , but rather considered my humiliation as being laid flat and on public display and splayed, momentarily stunned and helpless. Although the arm took months of physiotherapy, my focus is on that one small act of covering my embarrassment. I remember a light hand, in a second of anonymous movement and my embarrassment was made less so.

The event also made me more intensely aware of how my father must have felt when his crutches lurched from his control and he fell, laid prone. He refused the help of others, insisting on somehow making himself erect. Only my mother might help him. For him, besides pride, I think it had to do with the concept of being a man who managed –even walking – for himself.

Jews say the best way to give is anonymously : that way the recipient does not feel indebted.I think that is wise and thoughtful. Not a huge granite cornerstone where we can murmur homage, what a good soul that was to donate…although many gifts are given in the pure spirit of giving, name or no name.. And like the unselfconscious act of Dorothy’s employer and the woman who pulled my dress back down, we so appreciate the thoughtfulness shown to us when most needed.

Take Me to the Movies

For many years, we attended Doc Soup at the Bloor cinema and every year there was a variety of documentary films: few spectacular, but usually a few that stuck in our minds ( See Alive Inside from an earlier blog). It’s an evening for us, although 9:15 showings can be hard in keeping your eyes open after a full day at work. Part of the deal is that you get 10 Hot Doc tickets and almost always, these films bring information into your life that you may not have been aware of. I ‘ve seen Paul Giamatti in John Adams TV mini series (2008) that provided me with fresh insight into American politics. And Amistad, Stephen Spielberg’s commercial film also visually crystalized slavery situations in new and profoundly unique ways: clothing words in unforgettable visual ways that mere words alone could not express.

Unlike the big films produced at huge cost, the Doc Soup documentaries are smaller kicks at the can we call life, aimed at a different market at a lower cost. They often take issues that the public may or not know about and go behind the scenes: to expose through interview, photo montage, discarded footage, or resurrected bits of information with an intent to sift more closely and get at the true meaning of an event: a kind of deeper disclosure, for the interest is less in costume, froth and spectacle, but the quieter revelations that make us gasp and focus our intellect at the idea rather than the spectacle unfolding on the big screen ; and if well done, more intense.

Last night ( April 23, 2014 ), we watched one on Pamela Smart. You may recall, particularly if you are a boomer, that she was the young, attractive teacher who apparently persuaded her students to kill her husband. The filmmaker takes several turns at his topic, perhaps complicating and making less effective a film because he loses focus on the central purpose of his story: is it the art of distortion that includes the media into a trial and how that presence can effect the proceedings? Or is it the truth of Smart’s claim that she did not commit the crime? The film maker himself when asked the question at the end of the night revealed, he is not interested in the answer to the latter- of her innocence- but rather the grey areas. With this conjecture, I agree.

For me, although my friends attending felt the film wobbled after the first engaging hour, I was intrigued by the exploration of how technology distorts, and in the case of this trial, it was the very first to be televised, before reality tv grabbed us by the eyeballs.

I liked how the filmmaker took Heisenberg’s theory that we are changed by being watched. That even our molecules respond to voyeurism: a quasi- scientific approach that linked the brilliant astrophysicist’s insights to the events of every day, finding commonalities between the disparate: two very diverse ways of thinking about science in an everyday manner ( referred to in educational scholarly articles as “bridging”).

As well the power of first person narration where the presence of the author is recognized and accepted versus the so-called objective cool omniscient voice that pretends to be detached from its content recalled for me the discussion that was fought by journals. Most decried that first person narration openly demonstrated bias as opposed to the anonymous omniscient so-called scientific one, that only pretends it to be detached- which of course cannot be true.

That the camera makes us present ourselves differently, to pose, to do our hair, to speak in a more elevated or purposely conscious fashion is real. In the same way, every researcher knows that how one construes statistics, how trials are set up, what populations are included or rejected and a million other choices make a difference; these manipulations are all charged with prejudice, so insisting that a voice other than “I” is merely a joke belies that judgments have all ready been built in and therefore nothing is as it appears. Yet for years, and maybe even now, scholarly journals and articles would not accept the use of that particular persona.

Even in teaching essay writing for many years, we strove to make the subject appear fair, unconfused by the sentiments of the writer. We employed the 3rd person to portray the stance. I will always recall my doctoral defines when the examining team queried why I had used the particular pronoun “ she”, and a feminist professor intoned, “If she changes her pronoun from ‘she’ to ‘ he’, I am outta here.” That was 1996. For some reason, identifying myself as ‘she’, rather than ‘one’ or ‘he ’provided the male professors with a bad taste in their mouths, rendering perhaps my thesis less true?. I never even considered referring to myself as male, although we know the French when including males and females in the same phrase appropriate the male adjectives to identify the group.

In any case, the Pam Smart film triggered other thoughts. It suggested that whoever tells their story best will be successful, particularly in court. That she was composed, well made up, unflinching- sounds like Camus’ The Stranger- and his cool demeanor and lack of emotional response to his mother’s death. And that Smart was good looking all impacted on her verdict: all those externals that fight with how we behave, how society has groomed us regarding grieving :in wearing torn clothes, eyes downcast, reddened from crying deemed “normal”. Ironically when immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, should they have cast their eyes downward, authorities identified them as mad and returned them to their homelands from which they fled, or sent them on to mental hospitals! It appears appropriate behavior is subject to protocols of the observer in society.

Plus that the Smart case had all ready been tried in the public domain with Bill Spencer intoning on television on her guilt, and the lack of de-questering jurors contrived to her verdict which I cannot determine was true . However, sentencing her to a life of imprisonment when the young students who actually fired the guns were now free or will be off in several years feels unjust.

“Do you think Carla Homolka should be free too?, “my husband shot back.
Of course not, I thought.

But I was also mindful of how students can create fantasies, especially about their pretty teachers and more likely if they have actually had an affair with them, as did Smart in revenge to her husband’s admittance that he too had strayed. I thought of David Mamet’s plays where professors’ reputations have been ruined, and I remembered the boys at juivy in BA Shapero’s The Art Forger who lied about their involvement in drugs , lambasting the kind teacher who came to give them art classes. And I also recall teaching in Jane Finch corridor and my naive relationship with a student many nights after class who reported that I had known about drug deals in the school: which of course I did not!

People, kids in binds and tough spots lie; actually most people twist the truth a bit or a lot.

The camera prevaricates, not overtly and we forget that what we watch has been edited, composed, cranked out to suit the purpose of the maker: to entertain, to provoke, to make a point-unlikely to tell the truth, if in deed, there is one truth. As in journal and essay writing and film making, there are diverse views that complicate. Ironically the more one begins to believe their own narratives, the more the connections, the synapses harden into new truths so we commence to believe “facts” that were created in our heads, not in the external realities that have been experienced.

Was Smart guilty? Maybe so and justifiably, justice was done. The film raises many questions on the stories we tell, the stories we tell when someone is watching, and our stories that are told by others.

Inconsistencies between life and art: a child’s version

This week when my grandson came to play after daycare, we read Mary Poppins. Like every child, he has sung “ A spoonful of sugar… Let’s go fly a kite” and so is quite familiar with the story; however, when we began to read the book, we discovered that there were actually four Banks children, not just Jane and Michael: the twins, John and Barbara, for the most part asleep in their cots. This really puzzled and troubled C.J. Why had they not been mentioned in the movie?

On the drive home in an attempt to explain the similarity among the songs “ Happy”, Let it go and “ A spoonful of sugar”, all C.J. could only focus on was the missing twins, pondering their absence. I must admit a similar revelation in that when we watched the movie “Saving Mr. Banks” that provided the backstory for Mary Poppins, we learned that the story is not about a wonderful nanny, the spectacularly inventive Mary Poppins, but Helen Goff. Goff was the author’s birth name, and apparently the impetus for penning the tale resided in her desire to vindicate her father, Travers. He was an unsuccessful bank manager and heavy drinker who died when she was 7. In the film, he is portrayed as an unreliable, but charming drunk – albeit the person who coaxed Helen’s imagination to life, and whom she adored. She took his name “Travers” as her writing signature. Father-daughter relationships ( Electra) and mother-son ( Oedipus) that derive their origins from ancient Greece have been reinterpreted by Jung, Freud , Beckett and many others.

When I investigate further, I discover that P.L. Travers/ Helen Goff in her private life intended to adopt twins, changed her mind, and took only one of the boys, one interestingly named Camillus. She never revealed the truth to the child; however, as life is in deed stranger than some fictions, the twins eventually ended up meeting in a bar as adults. It seems the truth never does stay properly hidden.

I wonder if the missing twins from the book will lodge somewhere in CJ’s mind and become one of the facts he recalls from his childhood. When I reflect on my earliest experiences in my our house on Glengarry, I can recall a red breakfast nook, tucked into our kitchen beneath a window. I remember as well a red blanket spread on the grass in the backyard where Marlene, my friend from across the street, and I were glued to The Teddy Bear’s Picnic broadcast on the radio. Was it the bright colour red that cemented these objects in my mind?

I know some people claim they recall their exits from the womb and their nascent screaming from their cribs, but if I harbour such early images, they remain darkly hidden somewhere in my mind although truly, who would want to remember, the squeeze and pressure of being pushed into the blazing light of a birth chamber. No wonder the Leboyer fanatics immediately submerge newly harvested infants into warm baths.

According to my mother, I was strongly admonished for picking flowers through our neighbour’s fence. Mrs. Bailey, my mother told me, the lady next door ,dearly loved the flowers as if they were her children, as she had none of her own. It was in this house on Glengarry where my father succumbed to polio and I began my school days.

I recall running home from school, my teacher close on my heels and announcing to my mother that my teacher was coming for lunch. My mother in her apron in a tizzy was surprised but graciously served us Campbell’s tomato soup and grilled cheeses sandwiches. My adult mind makes me wonder why would a teacher-on the word of a kindergarten child- accept such an invitation. I cannot resurrect the face of the teacher, only a vague image of her being young and rather slim and somewhat out of breath as she knocked at our door. And my mother mildly annoyed at the intrusion.

Likely it was the same teacher who lauded my advanced art ability on a Parent –Teacher night. MY picture that displayed an acrobat swinging through the stages of athletic flight must have been unusual, different from the hairpin drawings or pictures of multi-sized misshapen families that adorned the classroom walls. I can clearly recreate how warming the feeling of praise felt as it tingled throughout my body.

Years later I would hear of my elder daughter’s paintings being presented at a Grade one Parents’ Night as the top level of Piaget and certainly remarkable. Perhaps this was the only Parents’ Night I ever missed for my husband must have been out or I, ill at home. The news was reported to me by impressed parents who had been at the presentation. My girl would continue to dazzle with her unique and advanced interpretations in the arts.

I do wonder what marks us in our later life: what we will recall with pride or embarrassment; why certain events stick and others merely pass through our consciousness like a bird in flight. Or what I laughingly refer to as my “ Teflon brain”. I do know the extremes of emotion persist in us: the moments of supreme laughter or abject sadness that guide us towards our professions or predilections.

Will our grandson decide to write mysteries in attempt to discover where the missing twins might have been during the Mary Poppins movie? Will he decide to trace the pattern of fraternal twins in science? Will he move on towards the philosophical connections of fact and illusion? Maybe he will become a critic? Or will the memory vanish completely and find its place among the single socks that somehow disappear without a trace along with the errant umbrellas and the one important notice you absolutely must find.

At age 5 and 6, the world is filled with wonder and I ponder William Blake’s speculation on a grain of sand and the intensity with which so many ordinary things can light up the world with questions or curiosity, wrapping them in an ethereal light.

Maybe our delight in travel in visiting new places is derived from that desire to be lit with, to experience anew, to see freshly with bright eyes released from the cynicism of the de rigeur and the patterns that tend to desensitize us from that sudden beauty. So that, caught unawares, we suddenly gasp and “ see”.

When I taught high school, it was likewise: with students offering original insights that tickled my brain in previously unthought of ways that lead me towards that wonderful Bakhtin dialogic of building a ladder of original ideas onto the rungs of their conjectures. Maybe that is why I love spending time with my grandson, his way of looking and noticing: of re-experiencing what I have taken for granted for almost 70 years as he word paints with the glisten of surprise.

Indeed, were John and Barbara taking a bath, out for a lark, under the table or purposefully hidden by the movie maker? Without curiosity and imagination, we really are dullards.

Unlike children who make us think and wonder.

Phase Three

We are in toasty San Diego and I am pleading. “This will be our Phase Three”. At least I’m hoping that as I try to ease my husband into less work. He has all ready admonished me that he will never retire and even when he is ready, he will still work 6 months a year. So there. Maybe the Whole Food Smoothie of acai, spinach and mango isn’t quite working its breakfast magic. He makes a face and says it makes him feel sick-even sitting on a glorious sun- dappled patio.

But here we stand, researching condos in a place that is warm, and within 10 minutes, we can stroll along the beach at Torrey Pines, gawking at body surfers, and small children running to the edge of the waves, dipping their toes and quickly retreating to the safety of the shores. Above us the cliffs loom .I can imagine the children’s delighted laughter as it bounces off the cliffs.

That was Phase two for us: the kids: their growing up, their schooling, their move towards independence and their own families. Those years stretching for a very long time. Those were the years where all our energies focused on their needs.

Our first sabbatical in Europe was three months long so we could introduce them to art galleries, foods (even though the youngest ate only French fries and chocolate bars),castles and culture, so that they might use their French immersion skills nicely gleaned at Allenby. I remember how smoothly they launched into their second language, and how haughtily the French shook their heads at us, the parents, when we dropped our cool and decided to interject into the conversation.. Better to smile than to speak. And I recall our son miserably leaving his friends In Toronto, pitifully weeping; and how he cried again- bitterly- when he had to leave Paris and return home.

When one of our girls plunged into drama and the other to opera, our eyes were refreshed and we were allowed to see again as children. Saturdays we dragged ourselves from warm beds to wander St. Lawrence Market while the eldest took classes at Young People’s Theatre. No surprise she became a writer. For the younger, still hooked on fries, it was chaperoning trips to Salt Spring Island for CCOC productions of the Snow Queen. As I write this, it is as if I am looking through the wrong end of a telescope as I observe my now grownup children as once small tikes in sunhats, sandals , consuming rijstoffle in Amsterdam, pizza in Montbuono, and freshly baked chocolate croissants in the Loire Valley. Those years feel so distant now.

Later there was focus on which universities, which grad schools, which flowers for which weddings: white lilies or green orchids? Satin or lace? McGill or Queens? U. Penn or London? Decisions, letting go, providing advice (most often ignored), being supportive, reflecting …

Phase Three, as I call it, resembles Phase One a bit: when we first started out together, more than 40 years ago when we were young, perky, flirty, full of dreams for a life together, brazen and bold, daring, dipping our toes, retreating, going forward, unabashed.

With only $75 in the bank but a promise of a new job, we bought our first house. We flew at new adventures, never believing that one day we would move into this phase. As the Baby Boomer generation, we scoffed at old age. I would wear my hair in braids that swung down to my love beads; and he would continually wistfully tap his pipe and engage in thought-provoking discourses as he charted a better world. There were new journeys and we embraced it all, sailing away from the world we dismissed as being manageable and controllable.

And in Phase Three, it is somewhat similar, but now, the pace is slower, more contemplative: our aches more, our optimism less strident, for life and its burdens could not help but weigh us down; our once fierce optimism tempered by the eventualities of life’s numerous struggles and politics; becoming wise at the cost of painful realizations, comprehending the ways of the world, sadly.

And now we stand here at the threshold of being refocused, of being able to re-invent ourselves, gather the sunshine lost during an oppressive winter. Maybe this is where old hippies come- not quite to Berkley, but to California dreaming of what it was like to be young.

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