Saturday, December 29, 2007

Another example of how we are all our mothers' daughters

I love lists.

I love how organized I feel after writing a list. I love how I can compartmentalize any task into a series of lists and make any undertaking manageable. I love a clean sheet of paper on my pad of list paper or a crisp, clean page in a notebook. One of my definitions of bliss is to sit down with a hot cup of tea, a pad of paper and a good flowing pen. My current favourite pen, designated as my "list pen", is not very pretty to look at, it's a freebie from the Medicine Hat License Centre, but the ink flows out of it smooth as silk so I am able to forgive it's ugliness.

I grew up watching my mom write lists. She wrote grocery lists and "To Do" lists and a list titled "The List You Love To Hate" which could have also been called, "While I'm At Work And You Are On Summer Holidays Please Get Done The Following Chores". Oh how we hated that list. Every day of summer holidays, after finally dragging our teenage selves out of bed, we would walk anxiously to the kitchen table fervently hoping not to see that dreaded sheet of lined paper. However, to offset the dreaded list my mom also writes a highly anticipated list, the "Christmas Celebration" list, which she tapes to the bathroom mirror on Christmas Eve, and is an agenda of our evening; 4:00pm - light the candles, 5:00 - appies, 6:30 - dinner, 8:30pm - special presentation, 9:30 - open presents etc. Growing up with all these list surrounding me how could I not be a list-maker?

I write a lot of different lists. I write daily "To Do" lists of things I want to accomplish the next day; wash the sheets, check the mail, call Heidi and book a playdate; and I write a yearly "Things I Want To Accomplish" list. I write lists of books I want to read, movies I want to see and things I want to look for on Ebay. When events like a birthday party come up I write multiple lists; "To Do", "Who to Invite", "Goody Bag items to Purchase", "Things I Need to Buy". Then I break down my "To Do" list into the days, (or weeks, depending on the event), leading up to the party; on Wednesday I will buy the goody bags, on Thursday I will buy the food items, on Friday I will clean the house and bake the cake...and so on and so forth. Like my mom, I also write a grocery list. But unlike my mom it is not a random list written on the first piece of paper close at hand. I sit down with my list-making notebook, (yes I have an actual notebook dedicated for the sole purpose of making lists), and start by writing a list of the meals I'm going to make in the upcoming week, flipping back and forth between my recipes and a second list of the ingredients I will need. I then take the rough ingredients list and write a good copy, putting all the items in the order that I will hit the aisles in the grocery store. Writing this down I am realizing how nuts this sounds. I am actually so neurotic about lists that in addition to my list notebook, I keep a pad of paper and pen beside my bed so I can write lists in the middle of the night. Nothing helps me sleep better than a well thought out list. I have even been known to write lists of the lists I need to make. And I have to title all my lists even if the title is just "List". Hugh calls all this list-making borderline obsessive-compulsive but I say it's just good plain organization.

Sometimes when I'm writing my lists the kids will come over with a pencil and ask if they can colour with me. It's all I can do not to cry out in horror and leap out of my seat clutching my notebook to my chest. Instead, after a few deep breaths, I say gently, "No sweethearts, Mommy's not colouring. Mommy's writing a list."

On the last day of preschool before the Christmas break Tristan and Ava brought home some drawings of Christmas trees they had coloured. I had hung the tree pictures on the fridge when Ava walked over carrying a piece of paper that was covered in broad yellow sweeps of crayon. When she saw her tree picture on the fridge she got all anxious and cried out, "No Mommy! Not that one!" Holding out the sheet of yellow scribbles she said, "My list Mommy. I want you to hang my list."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A coming of age story...sort of

I own a fridge.

It's not a hand-me-down from someone else who was getting a new fridge, and it didn't come with the house when we bought it. It's a fridge we bought specifically for this house with our particular family in mind. I can fit 6 gallons of milk in this fridge at one time. Milk consumption in our house is astronomical. It's a consideration when buying a fridge.

Not only do I own a fridge, I also own a dishwasher, stove, above-range microwave and deep freeze, complete with frozen meals, freezer burn, and random things like ice cube molds, left-overs of last years Christmas baking and some deli meat we got on sale two years ago, that will probably never resurface unless I defrost my freezer.

I remember when my fridge used to be a clean slate with a few magnets that I would have considered "cute" or "fun". Now, my lists and pictures are held up by the letter "X" and half of a purple sheep. It has happened slowly over the last three years but somedays I look at my fridge and I'm surprised by all the clutter on it and what it says about my life and who I am.

Right now there are letter magnets strewn in a haphazard manner on the bottom half of my fridge. My kids are getting so big; they used to only cover the bottom third. There are pictures taken out of colouring books that have been coloured in broad sweeping strokes across the page, regardless of where the lines of the picture end and begin. On the upper part, the freezer, I have pictures of my friends with their families, notes to myself, and the occasional newspaper clipping. In short, I have the fridge of an adult with a family. In short I have my mom's fridge.

Most days this is ordinary, normal. Other days, like today, I am struck with an overwhelming sense of unreality and I have a hard time believing I am actually an adult. When did I stop being the kid? I have become to other people who my mom was to me as a child. Did she feel the same way I do, like she was just pretending? Some days it's like I hear a voice in my head saying, "And the part of the responsible adult will now be played by..."

I heard that voice earlier this month when I turned 30. Birthday's have never been an issue for me and I embrace 30 with open arms, It's just that it's hard to believe I'm 30 when I feel like I just turned 22, again. I also heard that voice this year when we hung Christmas lights on our house for the first time in our marriage and then again on Christmas day as we watched our kids look, with wide-eyed wonder, at the crumbs on the plate of cookies they left for Santa. It was a milestone of familyhood. A milestone of my family. My family.

They say the kitchen is the heart of the home and I believe the fridge is the heart of the kitchen. It was certainly the centre of activity in our home. It was the place we went when we got home from school for a snack, where we'd drink milk right out of the carton in great gulps after playing outside with our friends and where we'd stand when we were bored, leaning on the open door. The fridge is also the source of great nourishment and comfort. Growing up, our moms made dinner night after night out of ingredients from the fridge, feeding our bodies and souls with their loving sacrifice as they assured us there was someone who cared. And what is better than coming in out of the cold to a kitchen warmed by an oven full of baking cookies scenting the air with sugar and cinnamon? Our olfactory sense is our strongest memory trigger and the scents of our childhood are like an anchor; we are weighted down and rooted in a sense of place. We can go forward to be and to do because we know where we started. And now I am responsible to provide this for my own children. My own children.

A few months ago, in September, Tristan and Ava turned three. When I called my mom to declare my disbelief that I could actually have children who are three (after all I'm only 22!), she laughed and said, "Wait until they turn 30!"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The definition of "inevitable"

As soon as you've finished the grueling process of getting everyone into their snow suits, and are standing with face flushed, gasping for breath with your coat undone and gloves in hand, longing for the bite of cold air to cool you down, someone will have to pee.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A rookie mistake

I love Christmas - the music, the lights, the family memories, the food, and lets not kid ourselves here I also love the presents. Stockings especially are a big deal in my family and have always been my favourite part of Christmas morning. In Hugh's family the stockings are mostly about food. Along with assorted chocolates they would get pickled herring, oysters, sardines and other equally gag-inducing items. In my family we get stuff - fun stuff of the smallish variety. Saying it out loud they might not sound all that interesting - pretty change purses, accesories, kitchen gadgets, fun socks, a book or magazine - but stockings have always been a highlight for my sisters and I.

Our first Christmas together Hugh and I weren't going to be with either of our families so we spent quite a bit of time sharing family traditions and planning our first Christmas. I said to Hugh "stockings are really important to me." And Hugh heard me. Really heard me. As I was mildly saying "stockings are very important to me." He was hearing "don't screw this up or you will wreck this Christmas and possibly every Christmas to come."

Then again, I may have actually said that. Out loud. Possibly. While gripping his hands and looking him in the eye. Maybe. Hugh was understandably stressed out. In hindsight I think the pressure was a good thing. It upped the level of play if you get me and my stocking was amazing.

Fast forward 8 years to this Christmas. After 8 years Hugh is no longer a rookie at this. And by this I mean understanding me, getting me, hearing me. So you think that Hugh, no longer a rookie,getting me,hearing me etc. would have known the right thing to do when I came downstairs the first Saturday morning in December and said "this is the ugliest tree I have ever seen. I think we should take it back and get another."

What he was supposed to say was, "you are absolutely right. Let's get this ugly thing back on the van immediately and exchange it." Unfortunately, I may have complained about the tree prior to Hugh's morning coffee so I don't think the synapses in Hugh's brain were firing on all cylinders yet because instead he uttered 2 fateful little sentences, "nah, I think it's fine. We can make it work." I mean honestly, does he even know me at all?

I realize that buying a tree from the Superstore is sort of hit and miss. The trees are all wrapped in twine so you don't actually know what your tree looks like until you get it home and unwrap the twine and pull the branches down into place. For 8 years Hugh has said he wants an artificial tree and for 8 years I have said I loved the smell of a real tree. So for 8 years we have compromised (and by we I mean Hugh) and bought our real trees from the Superstore.

One year our tree was so full that trying to get the lights on between the branches resulted in some serious pine needle injuires. Sticking our raw, bleeding hands into that tree (and by our, I mean Hugh's) was becoming a supreme act of bravery until we recalled our proud Canadian heritage and pulled out the hockey mitts that somehow or other every Canadian family manages to own. But most years our trees have been sort of scrawny or had a decided gap in the branch placement. Those are easy fixes - turn the tree just so, fill with decorations and voila, a full gorgeous tree.

Imperfect trees are a trademark of having a real tree and I am fine with that. In fact I think that is part of the charm. What I'm not fine with is a tree that does not resemble a tree. A tree that does not have the classic triangle shape, narrow at the top and gradually filling out as it reaches the bottom. A tree that goes straight down and tapers in. A tree that resembles skinny jeans. Which, by the way, are not a good look for me or a Christmas tree. I took one look at our tree that Saturday morning and all my happy dreams for a Norman Rockwell family day dissolved.

To back up slightly, we had taken our kids out for dinner on Friday night, bought a Christmas tree from the Superstore and taken a drive to look at Christmas lights. Friday night was magical. The kids were incredible at the restaurant, delighted by the idea of having a tree inside the house that they could put a star on, and in awe of all the twinkling lights. It was a heart-full evening where everything goes as planned and turns out better than you expect and becomes something that you will remember for years after. That was Friday night.

I fell asleep Friday night dreaming about the wonderful day to come - Listening to Christmas carols, eating shortbread, the kids helping to decorate the tree while we laughed easily and basked in our familial bliss while, strangely, all wearing matching red sweaters with snowflakes. On Friday night I managed to forget the Hugh is not always a morning perons, I am not always reasonable (a shocking admition I know) and that the kids who would be helping us decorate are both 3.

I definitely remembered all that on Saturday morning. Saturday morning that I was certain was going to be equal to or better than the night before was not getting off to a great start. As I wasn't about to haul the tree out of the house myself and as Hugh had very definitely decided he wasn't going to, and as the kids have a very small window of cooperativeness, I had no choice to but suck it up and decorate the dang thing. And I honestly tried. Really I did. But when we were twist-tying branches together to try to make the tree full enough to hang our lights on I said again, "don't you think we should just take the tree back before this goes any further?" But no.

We managed to get the lights on, the garland and the beads. And although I kept trying to overcome my attitude towards this reject of a tree I may not have entirely succeeded. At one point Hugh said, "I think you need a drink." Irritated, I replied "I'm not thirsty." Then I heard Hugh mutter, "I don't mean water."

So I removed myself from the situation and gave myself a little peptalk. "This is not a big deal. Who cares if it's an ugly tree. It's just a tree. It'll be a memory to laugh over. It's not a big deal." Then having gained some perspective I walked back downstairs, good attitude in hand, ready to decorate the heck out of the tree. I took one look at the tree and wanted to fall to the ground. It was that ugly.

So at 6:00pm, tired and cranky and coming off our shortbread/buttertart/gingerbread cookie high we took the decorations off, the beads, the garland, the lights and hauled that thing back to the Superstore. We weren't going to make the same mistake twice so we unwrapped the twine on a few trees, didn't see what we liked and took home the display tree.

And I didn't even say "I told you so." I may have said, "don't you wish we had just done this in the morning like I wanted?" But I didn't say "I told you so." Not even once. I would say that's growth, wouldn't you?