Friday, January 30, 2015

The world of "would have been"

Today, January 30, 2015, would have been my mom's 80th birthday.

As I write that, I'm struck by the words "would have been."

I used to say that kind of thing often.  For instance, if Allison and I went to an event like the Music Lovers' House Tour (where you go around and view fancy homes to raise money) or the Miniatures Show (with displays of miniature houses, people, clothing, etc.), I'd say, "Mom would really have loved to do that with us!"  The unstated implication, though, was "We'll do that again some day when she can come with us."

Those "would haves" have changed.

Richard and Allison and I go to the Barra MacNeils' Christmas concert and afterward we say "Mom would have loved that!" -- but she won't be going to any concerts with us.

I go to Value Village and pick up a few nice things at ridiculously cheap prices and think, "I would have loved to call Mom and tell her all about my finds" -- but I can't.

I publish a blog post that seems to strike a chord with people, and I think, "Wouldn't Mom have loved to read this?" -- but she won't be reading any more of my posts.

Dad surprises us by picking up the phone and ordering Christmas gifts for his kids from PEI Preserve Company (currently we're enjoying the blueberry-raspberry jam on our toast every morning) and I think, "Mom would have been proud of Dad for doing that on his own" -- but of course he wouldn't be doing it at all if she was still here.

"Would have" is a strange world to navigate.  It's a sad place because everywhere you turn there are reminders of what won't be.  Yet it's also a joyful place because doing the things that person would have loved make you feel closer to them for just a moment.

Mom, I would have phoned you today to wish you a happy birthday.  I'd probably have made some joke like "I hope the next 80 years are just as good as the first 80."  But I won't be calling.  I still can't quite believe that's true.  It's OK, though.  I know you are celebrating now, in a place where there is no such thing as a sad "would have been."

"In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; 
if it were not so, I would have told you; 
for I go to prepare a place for you."  
John 14:2

Monday, January 19, 2015

Stumbling, falling, and other highlights of a Monday morning

This morning Jonathan decided he wanted to be loud.

And silly.

It was 6:30 a.m.

Richard had left for work; Allison hadn't got up yet.

Jonathan likes doing this thing where he puts his hand up beside his mouth for maximum megaphone effect, and lets out this indescribable shriek.

(Sometimes Richard says "At least it's a happy sound" -- to which I feel like replying, "Yeah, it's nice that he's happy while curdling my blood.")

This is what Jonathan decided to do this morning.  Repeatedly.

I said "Stop that" approximately 20 times.

I yelled.

I turned the TV off.

Eventually I did what I should have done earlier:  ignored all inappropriate communication.  Quiet descended as Jonathan worked on a puzzle, and I thought, "It's not even 7:00 on a Monday morning, and the day has already been a disaster."

Breakfast and bath were completed without incident, and at 8:45 it was finally time to walk Jonathan to school.  The sidewalks were a bit slippery in spots, so we were walking pretty gingerly.  

Then Jonathan slipped and down he went. He sat on his bum on the wet sidewalk and screamed.

I got him up -- a process reminiscent of this scene in the movie "A Christmas Story" -- and we moved on to the edge of the road where the footing was a little more mushy.

A block later he wiped out again.

Trying to strike the right balance between sympathy and encouragement ("Sorry that happened, now PLEASE GET UP"), I helped him to his feet again.

He looked tearfully at me and said, "Home."

I knew exactly what he meant.  Why not just give up now, go home, and crawl under the covers?

We made it to school without further mishap; tears turned to a smile when he greeted Mr. O and then headed off with the other students when the bell rang.

This whole episode made me think of one of my favourite Bible passages, Isaiah 40:30-31:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;  
but those who hope in the Lord sill renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; 
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

What these verses say to me is this:

Sometimes we're just going to fail.  We're going to respond in a way we don't want to.  We're going to stumble and fall.  That's reality.  

But there's still hope.  We can get back up again and keep moving forward, knowing we're loved and accepted no matter what.

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Two Different Worlds" - a guest post by my daughter

Today I'm featuring a guest post from my daughter, Allison.  She wrote and presented this speech for her Grade 11 English class a couple of months ago, and it contains a message I think we would all benefit from hearing.

Two Different Worlds

It would seem that we in Kingston are doing a lot to support and encourage people with special needs in our community. We have Best Buddies, Special Olympics, and a number of other programs designed to help people with disabilities feel appreciated. These programs are well-intentioned and do achieve their intended purpose. But they also separate people into two groups: “special needs people” and “non-special needs people.” It’s almost like there are two separate worlds.

It’s often the same at school. Special needs students have their own buses, their own programs, their own lunch tables and sports teams and activities. This can lead to us subconsciously thinking that they are all the same.

In reality, this is simply not true. There are many different types of disabilities, such as autism, Down’s syndrome, learning disabilities, and many more. All of us, whether we have a diagnosis or not, have our own personality and interests and strengths and weaknesses. It’s about as difficult to find a common thread between the students in a special needs classroom as it would be in any other classroom. 

Society often views people with disabilities as they view small children: as friendly, harmless, entertaining beings. Though we do a good job of being kind, we often fail to show interest in taking them seriously and in understanding their deepest feelings. Or in giving them a chance to achieve beyond what anyone expects.

It’s like there is a barrier separating “normal” people from special needs people. It’s time to break down the barrier. It’s time to look past the diagnosis and view everyone as simply a person. It’s time for greater inclusion in schools and youth groups and all other community programs. It’s time that we stop saying “they” and start saying “we”. 


If you'd like to read more of Allison's excellent writing, I recommend you check out her blog novel, Poor Girl, Rich Girl, which she wrote for a Grade 8 project.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Quick Lit: starting the year off right

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly "Quick Lit" post where we share what we've been reading.  I've begun my year's reading with two very different but very good pieces of nonfiction:

  An Altar in the World:  A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor.  Her focus in this book is how the spiritual is found not just in church but in the everyday, earthly things of life:  coping during an ice storm, experiencing physical pain, getting lost, saying no, and other topics that we might not, at first, think of as carrying spiritual meaning.  I had read a few of Brown Taylor's essays before, but this was the first complete book of hers I've read, and I enjoyed her unique and personal observations about the integration of the sacred and the mundane.

When We Were On Fire by Addie Zierman.  As a teen in the 1990's, Zierman was immersed in Christian culture:  attending prayer rallies, going on youth outreach trips, making vows of chastity, and trying to be everything she thought God (and her boyfriend) wanted her to be.  After marriage and a year teaching in China, Zierman returned disillusioned with Christianity and desperately seeking friendship and community.  Her struggles to to find meaningful connections and her problems with alcohol and depression are depicted honestly and unflinchingly in this book; at times it's tough to read about someone in so much pain.  But there's a lot of hope, too, and she writes with humility and with grace for others and  herself. 

What are you reading right now?  Did you get any good books for Christmas?

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Shake it off": things Jonathan does that make me smile

Maybe you haven't noticed, but people you love can drive you crazy sometimes.  

When Jonathan is repeating -- for the hundredth time in the last hour -- questions about what we are going to do the next day, 

or screaming in rage because there are no muffins left containing chocolate chips,

or tearing the cardboard edge strip off a jigsaw puzzle and then demanding, "Tape it!"

or asking for an egg for breakfast and then flatly refusing to eat it,

well, it can be difficult to be patient.

But there are also many things he does that make me smile.  Here are a few.

How he can immediately identify Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off" just from the percussion at the start of the song.

How, when we're saying grace before meals, he interrupts to list the things he thinks we should mention, such as "Daddy work ... Allison youth group ... green beans..."

His new interest in shovels. He notices how most houses have at least one or two shovels out front, and he will comment on them or sometimes walk up driveways to get a closer look at them.

How he mixes up certain words: such as seeing a comb on the counter top and calling it a "pine cone."

How he will look up from something he is doing, flash a beaming smile, and say "Happy."  Like this.