Thursday, 19 December 2013

Signs and Symbols

It starts with the smallest trigger. I'm driving to the GO station, listening to people phone in to a Christmas contest on the radio to win a trip to a Muskoka resort. The woman on the line wants to give the trip to her mother who, a year ago, had serious health issues and wasn't expected to recover. She did and is stable now, so the woman wants to do something nice for her and thank her for taking care of her grandson. "She's done so much for me," the woman sobs, and you can hear the love and gratitude in her voice.

And suddenly, I'm sitting the GO parking lot, and I'm crying, too. Because where is my mother to take care of my kids? And why isn't she hosting Christmas, as she always used to do? And why can't I give her something to thank her for all she's done for me? Yet even as I'm crying, I'm remembering my Mom's advice for holding back tears: "Look up!"

I don't know if it's just that I'm more reflective at this time of year, remembering this period as the beginning of the end of her life, or if there's something more to it. But everywhere I look these days, I see signs of her.

I pick up a book from the bookshelf and realize it's one of hers. I pull out a gift bag to wrap a Christmas present and, with a jolt, see that the tag on it is in her handwriting. I go to write this blog, and a calendar reminder comes up on my computer: Mom's birthday is today.

These moments, those touches—so brief, so fleeting. I dread them because they often bring dark thoughts and tears at a time of year that's supposed to focus on joy and celebration. But I welcome them, too, because they're all I have left of her.

I don't believe in heaven—though I wish I did—so I can't believe she's looking down on me and the family I've built with my husband and my girls. Still, I'm grateful for what remains: the sweater that, to this day, smells of detergent and tobacco; the scraps of paper I kept with her handwriting. The small but undeniable signs that she was here, that she left an impression on the world. That she loved me. I'll keep searching for those signs of her presence.

And look up.

Monday, 16 December 2013

I Love You, But...

My three-year-old is always pushing the boundaries: exploring what's acceptable and what's not; what we'll tolerate and what we won't; whether or not we actually do what we say we're going to do. And when she does go too far—and knows it—she's figured out ways to lessen the impact. 

Often, when we're in the middle of yelling at her for something, she'll interrupt to say sweetly, "Mommy (or Daddy), I love you." She's figured out, quite astutely, that the sentiment softens us somewhat...because who can maintain a good righteous indignation in the face of a child's innocent expression of love?

Effective as that strategy may be, it rarely causes a total about-face. Both for continuity purposes—because my husband and I agreed that, as parents, we'd make a real effort to follow through on our promises and warnings—and, let's be honest, because she can be really, really frustrating, I find myself saying, "I love you too, but...," and then continuing with the reprimand. "I love you too, but you can't take things away from your sister like that." "I love you too, but you're not behaving very nicely."

What troubles me, more than the scolding, is the "but". With that qualifier, am I inadvertently teaching her that my love for her is conditional upon better behaviour, being nice, being a "good girl"? If so, what a grave mistake I've made.

My darling girl, you drive me to distraction ten times during the course of the day—sometimes during the course of a single morning. You yell and cry and challenge my authority almost daily, sometimes bringing me to anger or tears, too.

But whatever else you may question in life, know this with absolute certainty: I love you. Unequivocally, irrevocably, unquestioningly, unchangingly. There's nothing I wouldn't do for you, and there's nothing in the world that you could do to change that.

No ifs ands or buts.