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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

I try to eat. I really do. But the numbers keep jumbling around in my tummy—making their way up my throat and filling my mouth, leaving no room for food. I can barely stomach the math test I’m about to endure, never mind the syrupy oatmeal my mom has been simmering on the stove top for the last half hour.

 

The sweet smell is what woke me. A deep inhale, one eye open, then the other. What normally would have made me snuggle deeper into the mattress and relish what a lucky kid I was instead made my stomach twist and turn on this particular morning.

 

I’d stayed up most of the night meaning to study, the flashlight casting a warm glow beneath the covers, right down to my toes. Though it had shed enough light over the pages of my textbook, concentrating had been impossible. The equations consumed me. Each symbol became a joint and each line, a top or bottom jaw. They’d snapped at me amongst the shadows and the sharp edges of their difficulty had left imprints upon the worried creases in my mind.

 

“Breakfast!” My mother had cheerily called, oblivious to my grief.

 

Sitting now at the table, trying to not look as miserable as I am, I toy with a small spoonful of thick oats.

 

“Cream’s on the table,” my mother sing-songs. “You might want to thin it out.”

 

Her head is buried in the fridge, pen poised over a notepad as she makes a grocery list for her morning shop, but I can tell she’s picking up on something. She’s slowly raising her head and sniffing the air, honing in on my turmoil as only a mother can do.

 

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Grandpa mutters as he shuffles into the kitchen. He’s dressed for his walk in running shoes and track pants, but his sweatshirt is crumpled in his hands in a ball of frustration.

 

“What’s up, Gramps?” I ask, quite frankly happy for the distraction as my mother’s head ducks back into the fridge.

 

“The Goddamn string,” he snarls. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” He holds up the long cord that has come loose from inside the seam of his hood. It dangles freely, no longer attached to his sweatshirt in any way.

 

My mother, clearly wanting to avoid any Grampa drama, turns her back and hums a loud, happy tune and as she opens and closes cupboard drawers, scribbling away.

 

“Let me see it,” I offer, holding out my hand.

 

He shoves the soft, grey material at me and sits down in a pout.

 

“You stay and eat your fruit,” I tell him. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

 

When I return, he’s concentrating on his getting flimsy pieces of mandarin and slippery chunks of pear from his bowl into his mouth without letting them slip off the fork.

 

“Good as new!” I announce, knowing this will make his day.

 

“How did you do this?” He asks, astonished. “I tried for so long…it seemed impossible.”

 

I take the large safety pin out of my pocket and show him how I’d pierced the string with it and fed it through the long tunnel of fabric, grabbing the pin and pulling it, and the string, further down the line as more fabric bunched up around it and until it popped out at the other end.

 

My Grandfather’s eyes widened as my mother’s rolled behind him.

 

“Amazing, just amazing.” But his pleasure is somewhat short-lived as his brain kicks into gear.

 

“What’s to stop this from happening again? I don’t want to have to do this every time I go for a walk.” His brow furrows as he brings his palms up to his face.

 

“You won’t have to, Grampa. Look.” I tie a small knot into each side of the drawstring, just at the base of the opening into the hood. “See? It’s not going anywhere now!”

 

“You’re a genius, my darling! A true genius!” The last part is muffled as he pulls the hoodie over his head, excited to be able to tug it tight.

 

I finally begin to smile as I watch my Grandfather head off to meet his pals at the park.

 

And why wouldn’t I? Geniuses after all, don’t fail math tests.

jumbled-numbers-clipart-22eb6130526643eec245bd0074ea9736-numbers-tracing-clip-art

 

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Turns out I’m a jet setter.

 

What a shame it would be to visit the fair city of Dublin simply to tour a recycling plant. Am I right? Yes, I’m right. And, because we’ve stockpiled enough points through our evil plastic cards to jet me there for “free”, I’m left with no choice but to swoop in and save the day for my overworked man.

 

This trip was booked very last minute and I’ve been in crazy town trying to get ready for it. Leaving 18, 15 and 13 year old siblings alone for ten days just isn’t as fun as it may sound. Sure, I get to take off into the wild blue yonder, but I’ll be far from carefree.

 

Bills have to be paid. (It’s always nice when the credit cards actually work and the kids are able to flick a switch rather than a lighter to see where they’re going) Emergency cash tucked away (it will be interesting to see what they deem an emergency – pizza anyone?), oodles of food (I use that word loosely), plenty of toilet paper, heaven forbid, a calendar glowing like a string of Christmas lights with multi-colored bulbs encircling the 50 events that could apparently happen at no time other than the ten days we’ll be thousands of miles away, clean clothes, rides organized, laws laid and riots read.

 

Then there’s the baking guilt. Guilt that’s been rising ever since I found out I was going away without them. Thank goodness I haven’t known for long, thank you, oh kind travel Gods, but I still can’t help myself. After all, our last two trips to the greenest of isles are amongst our family’s most treasured memories, so it’s hard to feel good about leaving anyone behind. You know, Ohana n’ all.

 

Luckily though, I’m not made of 100% pure patheticester. I am looking forward to quality time with my husband who is meeting me there after being away for the last week on business and to seeing the many family members I have living in the North.

 

Anytime guilt can be presto’d into something sweet smelling, warm and comforting we’ve uncovered a glistening, no-stick lining, have we not? And, I don’t know about you, but I’m big into magical baking.

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At least I don’t have to wear the crippling stilettos or the breathtaking (no really, I can’t breath) party frock while puzzling over extension cord hell, wading through the tangled light swamps, while fighting mean crowds for a Black Magic Box or when searching the aisles for the perfect fuzzy socks.

I didn’t mean to rhyme that last sentence, I swear. I’m pretty sure you can tell from the imbalance I created by doing so. But…’tis the season, right?

Everyone’s in a jolly, rhymy, singy type of mood. Yes, even me. Well, maybe not jolly and singy, but it seems rhymy isn’t a stretch.

If you read my post from last year I’m sure you’re worried about this one, but I’d like to ease your mind. I am in a slightly better position this time around. Our lights, although there can never be enough for the kids, are up and all are glowing. Our parlour is as finished as it’s going to get for now and looking rather festive I must say, swagged with seasonal set dec and sprouting a spriggy Spruce.

Christmas 3

I’m bought and wrapped (around each of these kid’s fingers that is) and the chimney is ready to soot that red suit.

Christmas 1

Extra! Extra! I’m shoutin’ it loud from a snow-laden rooftop near you. It’s down to the wire folks, and  I hope you’re as ready as I think I am because, as merry as it is, Christmas waits for no one. Naughty or nice.

Christmas 2

Christmas 4

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Bev’s tea is always so much hotter. It’s because she boils her water in a stainless steel kettle over a big gas range. As she slices carrots through the floral veil drifting up from my mug, I half listen while she chirps and chops.

“As for Dan, well I mean, he’s an idiot. That’s all there is to it.”

I contemplate responding, but before I have time to decide it would be useless, she’s talking again.

“I mean, ‘where’s my green shirt’ like I’m supposed to know where every damn thing in this house is. So, I say; Listen Dan, the key word in that question is my. Not green, not shirt, but my. It’s your damn shirt, Dan. You find it.”

I could suggest that perhaps Dan thought she’d taken it to the cleaners or folded it into a drawer instead of hanging it up, but I know Bev too well. It won’t matter what I say. She wants to be angry. She wants to rant. God knows I love her, but she hasn’t changed since we were kids.

Two clicks and a flame ignites under the pot she’s scraped chunks of bloody beef into. There is an immediate sizzle.

“So, what about you?” You and Ducky okay?”

There is a quick flash of Ryan, his chubby legs tangled in a hooded towel, his wet skin slick in the light of the lamp. “Ducky, ducky!” He’d shouted, madly crawling towards the yellow plastic duck he’d thrown out of the bath moments before.

“His first word!” Bev had squealed! “And I witnessed it!”

“Bev, he’s fifteen now. He hates Ducky. It’s Ryan. Besides, for the millionth time, you know that was not his first word.

“Well, it was the first one I heard.”

She slides the carrots, onions and potatoes from the thick cutting board into the pot, then mixes the jumble with a large stainless spoon.

“We’re alright, I suppose. “Ryan’s never home, really. It’s like I live alone.” I instantly bite the inside of my cheek, cursing myself for unleashing what will undoubtedly become a lashing.

Her head’s sealed in an envelope of steam but I can see her hands spritzing dashes of oregano and thyme, basil and pepper. The salty fusion wafts through the air and just about has me rethinking vegetarianism.

“And you will be soon enough. Alone, that is.”

I know what’s coming and to stall, I take a sip of my still scalding tea.

“Hmm?” I murmur deep into the cup.

“You need to find someone, Beth. You need help, someone to be a father figure to Ducky. Fifteen? No Dad? You’re asking for trouble.

I think about Ryan. Him telling me that he once again wouldn’t be home for dinner because he’d be working the late shift after school. Him explaining the horrifying reasons he didn’t want to go to any of the house parties he was invited to. The little list of chores he kept taped to the back of his computer monitor; a secret reminder of what he could do to help me out around the house. And, I think of why I’ve come to Bev’s today.

“Beth. Bethany! Are you even listening to me?” Bev’s hand is on her hip, the other still stirring the brew now bubbling on the stove. “I was just saying that Dan, when he can find the time, could have a chat with Duck.”

“It’s Ryan,” I interrupt. “He’d like to be called Ryan.”

She tsks and continues. “He could use a little guidance and Dan, despite the jackass he is when it comes to, well, most things, would at least be a male to talk to. I mean, it’s mostly me parenting, but I have to admit Dan has managed not to screw Stephen up. He’s such a great kid.”

I realize my hands are scorched and I loosen my tight grip on the mug. Stephen is Ryan’s eighteen-year-old cousin. He’d tried to sell Ryan some pills yesterday. Said he was trying to make money to get out of the house. He told him he kept his stash in a compartment under the steering wheel of his car in case Ryan ever changed his mind.

“Ryan and I are just fine on our own,” I tell her. “Listen, I gotta get going, but you should really take Steve’s car into the mechanic. Ryan said the steering wheel was shaking yesterday. He worries.”

“It’s Stephen!” She calls as I gently close the door behind me.

Rubber Ducky

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As I navigated the aisles “The Things We Do For Love” played in my head; a screechy record I’d have given anything to snap in half.

You see I had an intense headache all day yesterday. Wait, that’s a lie. It wasn’t all day. It did presto into a massive migraine for several hours or so just to mix things up a little.

But, as us mum’s do, I trudged on, driving the boys to school, continuing the laundry I’d started the day before, cleaning one of the bathrooms that just couldn’t wait another second, sorting and tidying a pile of wayward clothes that were, admittedly, mostly mine, cleaning the fish-y bowl and running up and down the stairs five hundred times or so fetching this and that for my daughter who was, to top it all off, home sick with the flu.

So yes, I hopped around like a good little bunny mummy until it finally took me out. Around four o’clock I had no choice but to surrender.

With one last swoop of my sponge, the pain grabbed hold and dragged me to my room, roughly shoving me onto the bed. “Lie down,” it jeered. “And stay down, or you’ll be sorry.”

Its grip tightened.

It was showing me who was boss and I knew better than to cross it. It pressed with all its might. It squeezed until I thought my skull would open and seep onto the pillow. I lay in frozen fear with no intention of disobeying its very clear command.

That is, until I realized with horror, that I’d forgotten about dinner.

“Who’s going to make dinner?” My panicked whisper pierced through the delirium and my throbbing brain.

“Not you,” hissed the pain. “I told you you’re not going anywhere.”

There was a moment I’d felt defeated. A moment where I thought I had to listen. A moment when I believed I couldn’t win.

And then there was the moment where I (gingerly) sat up, (stiffly) stood up and (somewhat sheepishly) spoke up; “Screw you,” I exclaimed. “My family needs to eat!”

That folks, is how I found myself staggering through the Safeway aisles, and I can literally use the word painfully here, picking out the ingredients to create a robust Spaghetti.

I almost made it too.

Standing in line, waiting to pay, reality kicked in. Still in front of me, was getting this stuff home, organizing it, cooking it, serving it and cleaning it all up and I have to say, it all just seemed a tad undoable.

As I leaned on the cart and discreetly dialed the number to our favourite restaurant, the record played on, only a little louder and little less screechy and it made me realize that when you do things for love, you never lose.

TONIGHT'S DINNER - made with love

TONIGHT’S DINNER – made with love and only slightly less agony

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Your guess is as good as mine.

What could possibly keep her from practicing her passion and fortifying her future? She has been in Maui for a week, but that wouldn’t stop her. She’s more motivated than that…isn’t she? She comes from pretty tough stock and I’m sure a touch of wonderful weather and a brilliant blue bay wouldn’t hold her back.

Westin Pool

I know her pretty well and snorkeling, sunning, swimming and a few pretty Pina Coladas could not stand in her in her way.

Maui Beach 1

Pina Colada

But as I flew home with salt on my skin, sun in my heart and memories on my mind, I looked at my family and I knew, Hazy wasn’t stopping, she was simply letting me live.

Sunset

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His hand, light as a feather and thin as paper slides off his chest onto the sheets beside him.  Blue veins press at waxy skin, somehow still managing to pulse pointless life-giving blood through his withering form.

So yellow, yet so pale.

Stiffness in every joint, I shift my chair to face the side table.  The bottom drawer becomes a resting place for my feet and I allow my head to idle, just for a moment, on the back of the vinyl chair.  The once unwelcome din of the lights overhead has become a comfort in these last silent days.  I touch his arm, ever so slightly.  He is still.

The hand so effusive, the body so hollow.

The walls are littered with drawings, cards…photographs.

“Get well soon, Grandpa.  We love you!” and  “If anyone can beat this, it’s you, Paul.  Stay strong!” 

A picture Kaylee insisted I take when his visits were finally limited to only me.  Standing in front of the hospital entrance, she was sporting a gap-toothed smile and waving; “Tell him I can still love him all better from here,” she’d said.

Composed in the midst of hope, reading them now is painful.  They had been beacons of light, splashes of color in the face of a dreary disease, now, months later, they’ve waned alongside him.

Sixty-seven years of life, laughs, labors and love all coming to an end.  Our lifetime within a lifetime.  Over.  Just like that. 

I turn on the soft lamp I’d brought from home and get up to quiet the bright overheads.  He stirs, ever so slightly as I walk to the switch near the door.

“Abi?”

His voice shocks me.  It’s been so long, days and days since I’ve heard it.  It’s dry and haggard, breathy.

“I’m here, honey.  Right here.”

“Abi.”  His eyes are the only sign of life on his dormant body, fluttering and frantically searching for my face.

“It’s okay,” I tell him.  “Rest now, love.”

“I haven’t…” he stops, unable to catch his breath.

I cup his hand in both of mine and squeeze each finger soothingly.

“No, not now, Paul.  Please, you need sleep.”

“Abigail.”

“Shh, quiet now.  There’s plenty of time for talking,” I fable, turning him into a child being told the tooth fairy is real.

“There was a time,” he chokes, “a time when…I failed you.  I failed myself.  Not a day passes…if I could change it, Abi.” 

I stroke his face, remembering the many moments he’d done the same for me, his skin cool, clammy…expiring.  Tears course over his temples and darken parts of the blue fabric covering his pillow.

“Paul, you’re upsetting yourself.  There’s no need, sweetheart.  Close your eyes.”  With the tip of my finger, his lids are gently drawn shut one at a time.

I climb up onto the bed, pull him in and lay whispering sweet nothings and savory somethings, his sharp hip poking my belly.  While recounting the first years of our courtship I laugh and cry, the silly card we’d had a fight over, the night Paula was born, the day we’d gone on a shop and ended up stuck in the snow for hours.   We ate through the groceries we’d thankfully had in the trunk while waiting for the tow truck.  Breaking off cheese and ripping chunks of bread, we sang all the songs we knew the words to and some that we didn’t.

I talk about how he patiently taught me to swim when I was terrified of the water and convinced me I was good enough to go to art school.  I tell him that he’s been an incredible father and that I’ve been so very thankful to have him in my life.  I tell him all these things, but I save one.

I make sure the intermittent beeps have become one long and uninterrupted strike piercing the room with finality before I say; “I know about her, Paul.  I’ve always known.  She just didn’t matter to me as much as you did.”

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