Bowie and the Changes

It was 1982 and I was fourteen years old. I was a shy and awkward teen who liked horses and reading and not much else. I’d never had a date and, while I could write an A+ essay, I couldn’t talk to people.

At a time when I thought I might be an alien, or at least my hair was surely from outer space, into my life strode David Bowie. An ethereal figure made of white bones and stardust. His haunting voice sounded like the wind through the trees on a snowy moonlit night. Up to then, I’d heard nothing quite like it, and seen no one quite like him. In his mellifluous tones, I found solace and a kind of acceptance.

Somewhere between feather earrings and headbands, leg warmers and shoulder pads, I discovered it was okay to be different. I could turn and face the strange, embrace my weird self and it was good.

But I could also change. Bowie had been at least eight different incarnations of himself in the 1970s alone. If he could do that, I could become at least one other self. I could leave my high school and my hometown where I’d been the shy, skinny geek with odd hair. The idea of reinvention felt not so far-fetched and Bowie’s music became the anthem that gave me the strength to brave one more day of school hallways full of indifference and classrooms full of judgement.

I left home and it actually worked. My clipped wings grew back to the dimensions they’d been when I was still a child full of wonder and reckless abandon. University life allowed me to become who I had always wanted to be. I was still myself, but somehow better. Stronger and freer, I approached relationships with openness and confidence. I consciously tried not to judge others and found, in that way, I was less likely to be judged by them.

#

DavidBowie_ConcertT

The T-shirt I bought at the Sound+Vision concert, 1990

The year was 1990. The concert was Sound+Vision. The city was Toronto; the CNE was the venue.

My university friend, Tamara, and I had somehow scored stadium-seating tickets to David Bowie. I was apoplectic with excitement. When we found our seats, back and to the left, we discovered, to our dismay, we were sitting behind a large pole that obscured our vision. We could hear him, but whether we could see anything depended on where he decided to stand on the distant stage.

The concert was luminous, like Bowie himself, and we enjoyed it despite our poor vantage point. He completed the last song, waved and left. We whistled and clapped and shredded our vocal chords with screaming. The stadium devolved into chaos and Tamara turned to me.

“Let’s rush the stage,” she said. “No one’s watching. We can at least see him for the encore.”

So we did. We left our crappy seats and rushed out onto the floor, pushing our way to the stage, hand in hand. When he re-emerged on the stage, I thought I’d surely be deaf and mute for the rest of my life, given the noise and my own screeching.

The closer we got to him, the more mythical and larger he loomed, yet also the more human he seemed. The perfect paradox for the man he was. I remember standing at the corner edge of a stage piece that jutted out into the surging general admission audience. He glided to the end and stood right above me, shook his head, and a bead of Bowie sweat flew from the end of his hair onto my cheek. I grabbed Tamara by the shoulders and screamed, “He sweated on me! David Bowie sweated on me!”

The transformation was complete. I had grown and matured and was no longer the sad, lonely teenager I’d once been, although my hair took many more years to find its groove. (Some might argue it still hasn’t.) But you never forget those difficult years and those experiences that help to form you.

Thank you, Mr. Bowie, for being there for me, for being there for all of us who needed your voice, your strength, your weirdness.

And Rest in Peace.

Food, Travel, Memory

When was the last time you ate out? Where was it and what did you eat?

If you don’t remember, you clearly do not have a foodographic™ memory.

The other evening I was out at a restaurant with some friends, stuffing some kick-ass fish tacos into my gaping maw, and the conversation turned to the concept of food and memory. My friend’s fifteen-year-old daughter apparently remembers the places where she’s travelled based on the food she’s eaten there.

And it occurred to me that my father had been the same way. From the veal Marsala he enjoyed at a Paris bistro in 1987, to the turkey sandwich he ordered at the golf club where he was a member in 2001. He had a foodographic memory.

Even my husband — who regularly purges his memory banks of non-essentials, like the name of the actor who played Jason in the Bourne Identity — has at least one strong food memory: he claims that the best clam chowder he ever ate was with his parents on the ferry to Prince Edward Island in 1984.

What is it about food that triggers such a strong association that we can carry this memory for a lifetime? I’ve heard that the sense of smell is the strongest trigger for recollection. For better or worse, a certain smell can instantly transport us to an earlier time and place. Memory is the yeasty scent of warm pizza dough rising in a ceramic bowl covered in a tea towel atop my mother’s harvest gold refrigerator. It’s also Christmases of baking chestnuts, cranberries bubbling in an open saucepan, the aroma of a roasting turkey.gourmetfood

Obviously the taste has something to do with it. The complexity of the flavours in a rich mole sauce, or the way a squirt of lemon juice cuts through the richness of the melted butter that coats a chunk of perfectly cooked fresh lobster.

Perhaps it’s also the atmosphere of a particular restaurant — the sound of clinking cutlery, the pop of a cork, how the smoky, gilt-edged mirror makes the dining room look larger than it really is.

When I was nine years old, my parents travelled from the suburbs of Peterborough to the big city of Toronto for at least one weekend every other month. Sometimes we’d stay for a day, sometimes overnight. We would shop at the Eaton’s Centre, gaze at the architectural marvel that is Nathan Phillips Square, and have lunch in a wondrous restaurant. The dining room had high ceilings and enormous, pendulous chandeliers that had hundreds of light bulbs that formed warm, glowing orbs miles above our heads. I was a picky eater and the glorious children’s menu served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with fresh white bread. For dessert I was served a single scoop of vanilla ice cream with a face made of candy and an edible cone for a hat. Basically, it was kid heaven. I can still feel the soft bread and peanut butter coating the roof of my mouth.

Several years ago, my husband and I took the children on a trip to Italy. We drank cappuccinos in Rome, ate pizza in Sorrento and, in a small hole-in-the-wall we found on a Venice side street, I had the best ravioli I’ve ever eaten. I recall that at the time I dubbed these ravioli: Golden Pillows of Joy.

In my time here on earth, I’ve travelled a modest amount. The memories of meals I’ve enjoyed at both restaurants and the houses of friends and relations are firm reminders of the comfort and power of both food and memory. As my children move onward and my nest begins to empty, I look forward to having more time, and I hope enough money, to take my foodographic memory on a tour of places I haven’t yet explored, both mundane and exotic.

Bon appétit, my friends, and bon voyage!

The Heart Grows Not Old

When I was online the other day, I came across a piece of artwork that resonated so deeply within me, it briefly took my breath away. It was so evocative that I instantly felt the sting of tears.

Not everyone would feel the same way I felt upon viewing the image. Just like I haven’t yet been emotionally touched by some of the modern artwork I’ve viewed and moved past without truly understanding its message.

Art can be deeply personal but it also serves to remind us we are not alone. The human experience, as communicated through media such as a photograph, painting, film, song or novel, is universal. I am made up of all I have seen and done, all the people who have come and gone in my life, every joy and sorrow, every harsh and tender word. I bring all this to bear when experiencing a piece of art; my reaction is mine and your reaction is yours. But even though our sensibilities might differ, great art can show us how much we are the same, our common truth.

When I saw this image, my heart both broke and soared at the same time.

Memory

Image found here: https://twitter.com/Ou_Prg/status/579004166204465152

I am completely undone by the truth and beauty of the image, a sweet whisper that let me know someone has felt as I now feel.

My mother is eighteen. She is going to a dance with her sister after she finishes her workday as a secretary at a law firm. She loves to dance. Maybe she will meet a handsome gentleman who will open the door for her, light her cigarette, take her elbow gently as they walk into a clear, cool night.

My mother is eighty-one. She speaks very little as she sits in her chair watching television, hands clasped together. Her joints grow stiffer each day and she uses walls, counters, the back of a chair to navigate the house so she does not lose her balance and fall.

My mother is both eighteen and eighty-one.

When I grow old, I will feel young. My spirit will skip on a schoolyard, ride a golden horse through a thick forest, and hold the smooth hand of the one I love on a midnight walk under the moonlight.

Even if my body fails me and I can no longer do the things I enjoy, when I no longer remember yesterday, I hope I at least have someone I love nearby.

A piece of Veronica, by Elvis Costello:

Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?

What goes on in that place in the dark?

Well I used to know a girl and I would have

sworn that her name was Veronica

Well she used to have a carefree mind of her

own and a delicate look in her eye

These days I’m afraid she’s not even sure if her

name is Veronica

Wasn’t it Just Yesterday?

I recently took a tour of a university campus. Not because I’m planning to go back to school but because my son, somehow, is heading off on his post-secondary adventure in the fall.

How is it possible the scrawny baby who arrived three-and-a-half weeks too early and refused to nurse is about to embark on this journey?

Wasn’t it just yesterday when I headed off down highway 401 from Peterborough to Kingston in the backseat of my parents’ sedan, driving beneath overpasses that had banners hung from them, which  said things like, “No More Milk and Cookies” and “Say Goodbye to Mom and Dad.” I was terrified.

Wasn’t it just last week when I went out to a campus pub with friends from my university residence and met a skinny blond guy in a striped rugby shirt with a rip in the front? I was in love.

Wasn’t it just last month when that blond guy slipped a ring on my finger and we exited a church with bells chiming into a muggy August afternoon? I was married.

Wasn’t it just last year when someone handed me a squirming bundle of boy and we took him home and I cried, overwhelmed with the impossible responsibility? I was a mother.

My son is taller than I am and a better young man than I could have hoped for when I was pregnant and first wrote out how I felt about this child of mine. The teen years have not been without their share of difficulty. At first, I expected to escape the traumas of raising teens. I thought my sweet children would somehow not be typical, they would circumvent the cliché and be studious, forthright and lasting companions, who would not use “like” every other word, would not lie or deceive, and would not hate me. I have been disabused of these notions over the past eight years as we all struggled to navigate hormones, relationships, peer pressure, and exam and deadline angst. To find ourselves coming out the other end, blinking into the brightness of life after high school is a palpable relief. One down, one to go.

The campus we toured last weekend was not the campus of my youth but so much about it feels the same. The buildings have their lecture halls, study nooks and common areas where students gather to discuss their professors and assignments, or their weekend plans. The campus bookstore is full of textbooks and clothing proudly emblazoned with the university logo.

The spring open house was held during a snowstorm and as we trailed behind our guide we were soon soaked with melting flakes. I recalled my own long ago walk from one class to the next, trying to be on time while slipping on the snow-covered sidewalks, books gripped against my chest, shaking out my wet hair as I found a seat in the back of the classroom. The scents of paper, pencils and melting snow. The sounds of backpack zippers, books opening to page 216, coughs and sniffs as we settled into our seats.

However, I find it even easier to remember the friends and the fun. The perfect marriage of freedom and lack of responsibility. You decided your own fate for the first time in your life. You went to class or didn’t. Passed the assignment or failed it, or something in between. People came and went, in and out of your dorm room. Some you’d met, and some you hadn’t. You met more people in your first week of classes than attended your whole high school but you weren’t as overwhelmed as you thought you’d be.

I’m overjoyed that my son has decided to go to university. The hard work will be worth every formative experience. When I send him off to school in the fall, I won’t hold his hand until he joins the Kindergarten lineup. I won’t let go to watch him disappear into the school and know that I’ll be back in the same spot in a few hours to collect him and hear about his day over a grilled cheese sandwich and glass of milk.

I don’t know exactly how it will be, leaving him for the first time, but I know it’ll be right. He’s ready, even if I am not. And all I can hope is that when I next see him, he will tell me about his first semester, his ups and downs, friends and classes, over another grilled cheese sandwich and glass of milk.

Fiddler on the Roof, Sunrise, Sunset

Is this the little girl I carried,

Is this the little boy at play?

I don’t remember growing older,

When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty,

When did he grow to be so tall?

Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?

Sunrise, sunset (x2),

Swiftly flow the days.

Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers,

Blossoming even as we gaze.

Sunrise, sunset (x2),

Swiftly fly the years,

One season following another,

Laiden with happiness and tears.

How Life is Like Sudoku, But Not Really

SudokuI recently took a month off from caring for my 81-year-old mother. Granted, the month was February, the shortest month of the year, but it was the longest respite period I’d taken since she moved in with us two years ago. My brother and sister-in-law have always been available to look after her during our short and sporadic family vacations, but that has never left me alone in my own house for more than a day or two at a stretch.

A month felt dream-like and I could barely visualize it. A month. When I told a friend about Mum’s vacation, she said, “Only a month?” My friend is in a rotation with her siblings for caring for her own elderly mother. And she’s a good friend.

One of the reasons I requested my brother’s help was because it’s ski season. When a child competes in a competitive sport, in this case downhill ski racing, it consumes a parent’s life. It’s about getting up before the crack of dawn, commuting, volunteering, preparing equipment, paying fees and drinking a lot of wine. There are races at hills that are two hours away by car, and spending a few nights in a nearby hotel makes sense when the team is skiing there several days in a row.

With my mother at home, however, I don’t have the flexibility to spend the night away or not be at home to prepare dinner. Mum can manage alone during the day or evening, but is unable to prepare meals for herself (aside from breakfast). In fact, this photo shows how I make sure she gets lunch when I have to make the twice-weekly trek into the office.Mum_Lunch

What would I do for a whole month (aside from the ski obligations, my full-time job, and looking after the rest of the family whom I couldn’t farm out to relatives)? I would write, read, exercise, go for long walks, snowshoe, eat ramen noodles for dinner in front of the TV, learn a foreign language. What did I do? Not nearly enough of the things I’d hoped to do. Instead, I played a lot of Sudoku.

Sudoku is a simple distraction when your mind is otherwise occupied. Reading and writing are difficult with only half of your brain because you really need to concentrate. Solving a Sudoku puzzle takes just enough brain power to challenge your intellect but leaves just enough brain power to let you still think about other things, like where my seventeen-year-old is with my car, the deadline I have at work, or how to find time in an evening to bake a banana loaf for the volunteer lunch and watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead on the DVR.

But all this Sudoku playing taught me something. Solving the puzzle grid, with its nine little boxes that each contain nine little boxes, depends on recognizing patterns. If you can see the pattern, you can solve the puzzle. I began to notice that when I got stuck, when I just couldn’t see what the solution might be, I could take a break from it, look away, clean a bathroom, bake a loaf. When I returned to the puzzle with fresh eyes, the solution magically presented itself.

Taking a break = Fresh eyes + Magical solution.

Now, math is not my strong suit, but given this rudimentary equation for solving Sudoku puzzles, could life be like that as well?

My conclusion is: sort of. We all know what they say about absence and what grows within in one’s heart. A month without my mother gave me enough moments of solitude to reflect on my life and hers. She has spent 81 years living on this earth, and even though I know plenty of seniors who are still spry and full of wit and conversation, she is not one of them. But, however frail, Mum’s still here with us. She’s still able to give a hug, hold a hand, offer a kind word.

The other day, my father-in-law, who I love with all my heart, asked, “When do you think you’d need to move your mother into a home?” He recently lost his wife after years of caring for her while she slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s. Less than a year since my mother-in-law’s death, I can still hear the grief in his words and sense the sadness in his gestures. I thought for a moment and considered.

“When she’s no longer able to look after her personal needs,” I said, suddenly sad at the prospect of this horrible loss, should it ever happen. And I realized that some problems don’t need to be solved. Making the best of a bad situation is more about acceptance and tolerance, and then being ready to face the next challenge. Because you know there’ll be one, it’s inevitable.

One day, this phase of my life will be over and I will be devastated when my mother is gone. I will be heartbroken. I will be an orphan.

Life can be a puzzle but sometimes it’s one that you simply cannot solve. And all you can hope to do is approach it with fresh eyes and a new perspective, and accept the vagaries of its changing landscape.

Cover Reveal for Burn Baby Burn Baby by Kevin Craig

Eight years ago it was still creepy when, if someone asked you where you met so-and-so, you said, “Oh, I met him online.” It still had an eerie, stalker-ish feel about it.

These days, people connect with others online all the time. And these are real people, many of them normal, whose lives aren’t that different from yours and mine. Only the odd person turns out to be a bizarro psychopath who lives in a sewer and likes to wear raw meat. Typically you can tell who these people are by their online posts. It’s not possible to hide when you’re that whacked.

Online message boards, now and eight years ago, are, in fact, a great place to meet people with a common interest. They often provide a forum for people to share information and stories about the topic that most interests them. For me, it’s writing. In 2006, wanting to write for publication and knowing nothing about writing or publishing, I joined the forums of an online writing community, Absolute Write. At first I lurked because it was vast, international, and intimidating as hell. It was also my first foray into forums and I felt understandably cautious about revealing myself to a million strangers, some of whom might live in raw garbage and enjoy wearing hats made of pork chops.
But, over time, I got comfortable with the community. I learned who to avoid and whose opinions to trust, but most of all I learned a TON about writing and publishing. Many of the members of this forum are internationally published authors or big-time publishing agents, although most of them participate incognito.

As soon as you reveal that you’re Canadian on a site like this one — which is largely populated by Americans, with a few Europeans here and there — other Canadians start coming out to you. “My name is Caroline, and I am Canadian.” One of the first to reveal himself was Kevin. Not only was he Canadian, he lived in my province, not more than a few hours’ drive from my house. And he was one of the founders and organizers of a growing writers’ conference. He sent me the details and asked if I’d be interested in coming to his shindig. Oh, boy, was I interested! But, of course, I was terrified. I wasn’t a real writer; I didn’t even play one on TV. I’d never published fiction. I just sat in my little home office and dabbled. Conferences were for real writers. I’d be fingered as the impostor, the fool. But Kevin promised his conference would be welcoming and friendly. I begged a couple of people from my writers’ group to come with me and I signed up for the weekend.

And it was awesome! You can read about my various Ontario Writers’ Conference experiences here and here. Oh, and here. I met other writers, attended workshops, learned. But best of all, I met Kevin Craig, and he wasn’t even wearing an outfit made of rotting pork. As one of the organizers, he was busy but made sure he introduced me to other writers from the same forums, and to some of his writer friends and fellow-organizers. It felt like I was home.

In the eight years I’ve known Kevin, we’ve both enjoyed some success (mine far more modest than his) and have cheered and supported one another. He even arranged for me to do a reading of my newly released little debut novel at the conference, for which I’ll be forever grateful.

Over the years, I’ve had the immense privilege to call Kevin Craig not only a fellow writer, but also beta reader and best of all a friend. He’s a champion of writers everywhere and a writer of wonderful novels for young adults. I celebrate his success and take great joy in watching him gain confidence with each novel he publishes. He is only now realizing how talented he is.

And so, I present the cover of the latest young adult novel by my friend and mentor, Kevin Craig. Burn Baby Burn Baby is scheduled for release by Curiosity Quills Press on December 11, 2014. Get a copy and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.Burn Baby Burn 1000

Description

Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago. Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley—the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby.

The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars. If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions. Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted. Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.

About the Author

KC2Kevin Craig is the author of three previous novels; Summer on Fire, Sebastian’s Poet, and The Reasons. He is a 4-time winner of the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s Best Novel Award. Kevin is also a playwright and has had eight 10-minute plays produced. His poetry, short stories, memoir and articles have been published internationally. Kevin was a founding member of the Ontario Writers’ Conference and a long-time member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR). He is represented by literary agent Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group.

Find Kevin: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

Restoration

Vacation Restoration

I recently arrived home after two weeks of summer vacation.

I tried to make the trip a kind of therapy, designed to wash myself clean of chaos, stress and onerous responsibility. I was searching for peace.

My vacation therapy consisted of walking barefoot on the beach in the evenings under a blood moon. On a night as bright as day, the waves drummed a rhythm against the shore, the sea foam crawling up the sand like fingers, and then receding, leaving tiny white crabs that scuttled up the beach to the safety of dry land. I watched while one beady-eyed fellow burrowed beneath the surface, leaving a round, dollar-sized hole in the sand. It was then I noticed the hundreds of holes across the beach in varying diameters depending on the size of its crab occupant. There they hid, waiting. For what, I wondered. Prey to happen by, the tide to return, the morning light?

I imagined the dark silence of a sand hole.

There is always a breeze on the shore and with it came the scent of the still warm beach, the cooling waves, the salty tang of the Atlantic water. Other seaside locations I’ve been to have stunk of fish and rotting seaweed. And I realized this was one of the sweetest smelling places I’d ever been.

Wrapping a cardigan reflexively against a breeze warmer than my skin, I looked out across the vast ocean, the water glittering in the blue light of a depth of stars. The tide would pull itself relentlessly inward, until the moon whispered “enough” and it would reluctantly begin to recede in a pattern as old as time.

The sea was the future, vast and unknowable. The beach at my back was the past, dotted with crab holes, pockets of secrets in the dark.

I breathed. There between the sand and the sea was where I found, at least for a moment, a kind of peace.

Hindsight is 20/20; Wearing Glasses is 60/40

I’m over 40. I admit it. But I’m determined to enter middle age reluctantly, kicking and screaming, grabbing at table legs and dragging my fingernails across the hardwood floor. No no no!

I shall buy clothes at stores that market to 14-year-old girls: midriff-baring, spaghetti-strap tops and tight, bubblegum pink sweatpants with ANGEL written across the butt. I’ll get a tramp stamp and wear a red lace thong that, when I bend over, peeks over the top of the ANGEL on my ass.

I’ll dye my hair an unnatural shade of blonde — ash or platinum — and wear it in long curls. My hair-sprayed locks will hardly move as I speed down the highway in my Corvette convertible. Who cares if I get pulled over? My new breast implants will convince the hapless officer to let me go with nothing more than a warning.

I love the new me! I feel younger just thinking about her.

But one thing I can’t control is my vision. Two years ago, I discovered my eyes are aging faster than my psyche is prepared for. I now require reading glasses because some asshole decided to set the print on pill bottles, jars of sauce, and instruction manuals to two-point font.

I wonder if this is karma, punishment for my previous arrogance. Up until now, I enjoyed perfect 20/20 vision. Near and far, I could see it all with pristine clarity. And I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I boasted about it. I was proud of my perfect vision, as if I’d given birth to it and skillfully raised it to profitable adulthood.

Ironically, I once wanted glasses. In my early teens, with no actual personality I could identify, I was searching for ways to stand out, to give substance to a me that felt generic and unformed, a primordial being devoid of shape. Wearing a fashionable pair of specs would give me a “look.” Character would seep into me from these magic glasses through the acne-clogged pores of my face. I’d become suddenly outgoing, witty and interesting.

My father was an ophthalmologist so my family got all our eye-related stuff for free. OHIP covered eye exams but we got free goods and services, like frames and lenses, from the eye-glass shop where my dad referred patients. I suddenly wonder whether these freebies were on the right side of ethical.

Either way, I got the idea I wanted glasses. So I started squinting at my food at the dinner table, and bumping blindly into the living room furniture.

My dad took me to his office in the basement of the local clinic where I sat in the big exam chair. This was the first test I’d ever taken that I was supposed to fail; I had to convince my dad I needed glasses. When he pointed to letters on the Snellen chart, I knew I was allowed to see the big E and a few lines below that, but by what line could I convincingly pretend the letters were blurry and start guessing wrong? By what size should I mistake a B for D? I decided on the third line from the bottom. I squinted and hesitated and pretended I couldn’t see well enough to name the perfectly clear H.

“E?”

This wasn’t the only test. He handed me printed cards to read and letters set in red and green stone patterns. Partway through, I must have forgotten the mandate. I’d never failed anything in my life; it wasn’t in my nature, and by the end my dad knew I’d been faking.

“There’s nothing the matter with your eyes,” he said.

I felt dejected for days but eventually got over it and with adulthood came a strong appreciation for being able to stand 20 feet away from the chart and see what a “normal” human being can see.

And then I hit 40, goddamn it.

At a routine appointment, my current optometrist asked about any changes in my vision. I admitted I sometimes had trouble reading in a poorly lit room. He shone laser-bright light at my retinas, puffed air at my eyeballs, tested for colour-blindness and depth-perception, and this time I tried my damnedest to pass.

“You have some age-related deterioration in your vision,” he said. Age-related? Screw you, you lab-coated doofus. “These changes occur when you’re over forty. It’s happened to me too.” He indicated his own eyeglasses. This didn’t comfort me.

He gleefully handed me a prescription as if it were a winning lottery ticket and I wandered out into the bright afternoon, blinking because my pupils were the size of satellite dishes from the drops he used to better illuminate my retinas.

I needed reading glasses because I was getting older. But, an optimist by nature, I listed possible positives:Hindsight

  1. When I spend the night waiting for my teenager to return home safely from a party, the next day the glasses will hide the purple bags of sleeplessness.
  2. I can use them as a fashionable accessory, blinding others with the glint of the rhinestone-covered frames.
  3. Wearing glasses to see tiny print makes me look less geriatric than holding the object at arm’s length and squinting at it like Mr. Magoo.
  4. I’ll look smart and sophisticated.
  5. I’ll be able to see.

At the frame store, I was overwhelmed by the choice. While some frames looked ghastly on my face, so many others looked just fine. Like hundreds. How to choose? The store had a two-for-one, BOGO thing going on, so I ended up with a sturdy, practical pair that make me look bookish, and a flimsy frameless pair with bling along the sides.

I doubt I’ll actually wear clothes made for teenagers, or get a tramp stamp tattoo or a boob job. But I might save up for laser eye surgery and hope I’m a strong candidate for a successful outcome.

But if I ever need bifocals, just shoot me.

Sandwich Life: Pride in the Name of Love

Sometimes our children surprise us, these beings that once were akin to writhing amoebas, nothing but instinct and reflex.

Those early days of their lives were so infused with emotion that I remember them vividly. The tiny mouth working in sleep, a chirping sound in the night that I knew would grow to an insistent howl, perfect little feet with a toenail for each toe, soft dimpled skin, sweet scent of newness.

They grow slowly but steadily. It can sneak up on you, if you aren’t paying attention.

My son is sixteen years old. He drives a car, shaves (on occasion), has hair in places only men have hair. He is tall and strong and beautiful with youth.

He has always been creative: imaginative play and then music, dance and drama. This year, he joined the school play: Twelve Angry Jurors. At first disappointed at getting a small part, he soon ended up with the additional responsibility of stage manager. He had to make prop lists, set up the stage, attend every rehearsal, make sure water ran from the tap (they had a real working sink on stage) and that the rotating fan was plugged in.

The cast and crew put in countless hours and, on the night of the performance, the air sharp with nerves and anticipation, these young people put on a show that left me completely gobsmacked. Were kids that talented when I was in school? Well, I know I wasn’t. From the first moment, the audience was in rapt attention, pulled from scene to scene, moved to laughter and tears, forgetting for two hours that these were the babies they once swaddled, the children whose knees they bandaged.

My heart swelled and sang (off-key because I’m tone-deaf) with pride in the accomplishment of not only my son, but every one of them, from the actor with the largest part to the smallest, from the people who coordinated the sound-effects to the lighting.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m biased because my kid was involved. Well, of course. But not long after that performance, the school was rewarded with several nominations for awards. The Cappies are like the Oscars for local high school theatre. The play was nominated for:Cappies

  • Sets
  • Sound
  • Lead Actor in a Play
  • Critics’ Favourite Play

As the awards night approached, I was informed that my son needed a suit, his first. My children grow so fast, I’ve been reluctant to buy them expensive clothes for fear they’d outgrow the togs before they had a chance to put them on their backs. However, I have noticed that, since last year, his pants have stopped turning into floods every September first, so I relented.

We went to the mall and got him a single-breasted black suit with a teal blue dress shirt and tie. A man’s suit.

The Cappies gala in Ottawa is held each spring at the National Arts Centre and is treated like a mini-Oscar night. There are photographers, a red carpet, a reception area, announcers, interviewers.

Just before the evening of awards was set to start, the feeling in the building was electric and exciting, abuzz with adolescent enthusiasm.

The lights dimmed and the ceremony began. Every award announcement was met with exuberant screams from that play’s cast, crew and spirited parents.

My son’s production of Twelve Angry Jurors did not win for sets or sound. It did not win for critics’ favourite play. But the boy who played Juror #3, the young man who had moved the audience to tears, won the award for Lead Actor in a Play. The place erupted into thunderous cheers and whistles. The young man took the stage, he thanked fellow cast members, their drama teacher, his beautiful girlfriend (aw!). He received his award and a thousand-dollar scholarship toward his post-secondary education.

We were elated, my husband and I. So proud of this group of young men and women who gave their time to learn lines, block scenes, practice and practice. Not to mention the drama teacher who pulled off this award-winning feat with a school that has close to half the student body of other schools that were in the running.

Afterward, I hugged my son, straightened the collar of his new suit, and told him I was proud of him and his friends.

“Thanks, Mom,” he said.

A few days later, we were out driving somewhere, just me and him, and he said, “You know what, Mom? I’m still so happy for Brett.”

“Me too,” I said.

“I’d rather that Brett won for lead actor than all of us won for best play.”

“Really, why?”

“Because he got that thousand-dollar scholarship. And he was so happy.”

The happiness of his friend meant more to my son than winning an award.

Now that’s something I can be proud of.

Sandwich Life: Kaleidoscopes and the New Normal

Sometimes I feel like I’m waiting for the next crisis.

In my experience, just when you get accustomed to a situation, an unexpected emergency comes along to derail you and you’re thrust into a new reality you’re sure you can’t cope with. But amazingly you do and eventually it becomes the new normal.

I am constantly struck by the resiliency of the human animal. Our capacity to endure, to survive and even thrive after a traumatic event is astounding. A parent dies, a child is injured or falls ill, a teen gets into trouble, a spouse betrays the marital trust. And still we go on.

When I was six years old I got my tonsils removed. Some of the memories of my hospital stay are vivid, like waking each morning to my roommate’s bare butt in the bed next to mine, and throwing up on my brother’s shoes when he and my mother visited me after the surgery.

Memory from that age is not continuous. It doesn’t feel like this happened and then that, but more like flashes of lightning. A strobe image or episode here and then there.

My mother gave me several gifts while I was in hospital, most of which were designed to relieve the boredom. There were magazines, puzzle books and coloured pencils. And then she handed me a cardboard tube with a spyhole at one end. Attached to the other end was a round rotating container of colourful plastic beads. When I shook the contraption, the plastic pieces rattled within it.

This was my first kaleidoscope. I held the eyepiece up to the light and saw a fractured world of shape and colour. A starburst of glittering reds and blues. My mother reached out and turned the end piece and the entire scene changed. A whole new set of colours and shapes fell into place, this time predominantly green and yellow. It was different but equally beautiful.Kaleidoscope

When my father died and my ailing mother came to live with us, I thought the beads would never fall back into place, that life would never be beautiful again and I would live it perpetually suspended, everything slightly skewed.

In a way, I was right. Nothing would ever be the same. But, like a kaleidoscope, while you can’t get back that first pattern of reds and blues that you loved so much, you can find a new life pattern, and in it there is always beauty.