What do you say when your sweet little girl, the one you still think of like this
is suddenly a quarter of a century old and marrying the love of her life? Well, you write a speech telling them to basically not listen to advice because nobody knows how things are when you are alone together and nobody has the right to tell you what to think, what to feel, or how to live your life. Then you tell them to always honour the relationship because that’s the foundation of your new family. Never forget the reason why you’re together in the first place and it will all be fine, I said.
Not living in the same province limited my ability to be a hands-on mom with the pre-wedding preparations but that’s okay; that’s what her friends are for. I did not (I hope) become part of a narrative of the dreaded mother-of-the-bride. Yeah, that evil mom-in-law type, that’s not me.
I still believe that the world needs more compassion, and that you don’t always have to like what people do with their lives but you should try to love unconditionally. I don’t claim to do that. I do claim to be able to share my life with an ex-husband and a common-law spouse and we all get along so well it didn’t hurt to share the same house for two years when it was necessary, and it didn’t hurt us to have everybody be in the wedding party. My daughter and her husband I am so very happy to say are very caring people who open their world to people who treat them and others nicely. It’s not a lot to ask of people is it?
When you have a baby your world suddenly changes. Oh you think you’ll be that cool, calm collected mother with the full-time job and the well scheduled kids classes and the clean house and the well tended couple life with your husband. You never think that the birth may be nothing like you imagined, that teeny tiny babies are utterly scary and it’s you they’re counting on to literally stay alive, that you’ll go for months or even years without a full night’s sleep, that most of the shoulders of your shirts will have spit-up, that you won’t have a hot cup of coffee for weeks if not months, that a shower will be considered a luxury and you wish you weren’t either a screaming meanie or a crying wreck because of the aforementioned lack of sleep. Oh, and there’s nothing sexy at all about a mother of a new born who is wearing the extra strength ladies’ umm…stuff…and who has those in her bra cups too and the dark circles under your eyes aren’t from your mascara running after you being out dancing all night. Yup. Reality hits in a really big way when you have a child.
My beautiful daughter is my first born so she got the pleasure of all of my experiments and all of my parental fears. When you’re having a baby you read as much stuff as you possibly can and think you know it all. People are only too happy to give you bountiful amounts of useless and sometimes downright dangerous advice (start labour on a late baby by using a knitting needle? uh…pass). Perfect strangers think it’s a-ok to pat your belly and marvel and tell you either how small or how big you look. Acquaintances will tell you wonderful things like, “Oh you’re pregnant! Thank God! I thought you were getting fat!” Guess what, well-meaning elevator person from 26 years ago: I am fat, bwahahaha! Mmm, just a little bit. Which is something you can never say about pregnancy. But I digress.
The thing is that when you have a baby, oh how the days are long and when it’s 2 a.m. and you’re in a rocking chair singing “All My Life’s a Circle” for the umpteeth time that night it doesn’t seem remotely possible that a blink of an eye later, this loud red-faced doll-like person will be the lovely lady in the white dress marrying the man of her dreams.
Funny thing though. Next you know you’re once again pregnant and your sweet little doll isn’t a baby anymore, she’s a young child and an older sister!
As a mom you don’t realize just how much your baby has grown until you have another one. One more step on the ladder of independence for your little one, one more reminder for the parents how quickly a child really grows.
We had the million-dollar family: a boy and a girl. There is a bit of a difference between them – 5 years – and there’s good things about that but she did miss out on having a little person in the family close in age to her, so she filled that with her friends all the while loving the fact she had a baby brother. As a mom who worked full time, that 5 year difference let me have one child in school and one in daycare which is a little better and I think it also gave me a little bit of an easier time with not having to chase after a toddler while tending to a newborn and my little toddler was a busy girl indeed.
She would walk around our little block every night saying hi to friends along the way, me running behind. I was in fantastic shape in those days. One of those street friends of mine became her after-school babysitter when she was old enough to be full time and take the school bus. One of her daughters was the same age, and as it happens was in the same grade. This cute little girl was my daughter’s maid-of-honour. My loving daughter never lets a friend go unless she has to. How wonderful is that?
The thing about being a parent is that you think you know your children. You do but you don’t really. Think for a minute: how well did your parents know you? Part of growing up is doing your best to break away from your parents because that is a healthy thing to do. Your job as a parent is to slowly but surely lead your child into experiences like school and various after school activities that foster their self-worth, build on their strengths and foster the growth of their indepence. You hope that that indepence is done in a good way and not rebelliously with illicit substances and unsavoury friends but let’s face it: the more you as a parent tell your children to stay away from certain things and people that’s exactly what they want to do. So I tried always not to be pushy but I hope more informative and let them understand what the consequences can be in a gentle way. Or I could have just been another mom with the speeches. I can’t say, I wasn’t in their shoes.
What I can say is that in a certain way I was in their shoes. Life at home by the time son was 4 wasn’t too great. Mom and dad just didn’t get along too well when they were home together which wasn’t often unfortunately. Mom grew up in a home of anger and scary things and swore not to do that to her children. Try as she might, this was the one thing she couldn’t fix and so after two years of depression and worried about the future and what her children were learning from their parents’ behaviour mom called it a day on the marriage.
This was a dark time but if I can say anything in my defence and be understood, I truly didn’t want my children growing up in anger and silence in between the anger and I wanted them to know how men and women treat each other with respect. What we were doing wasn’t that, and we were both to blame. At the end of the day both of us were good parents who happened to be much better as friends. But it was hard for the children, I do know that. It hurt terribly to see them hurt. Daughter said her words of wisdom and did her best to make us all happy because that’s just how she is. She made new friends in her new home alongside her current friends at what was now dad’s place.
A year later, Jim entered our lives after a long friendship through an online creative persons group. A phone call after 9/11 somehow turned into love after an opportunity to meet in person the next spring. He came up to Canada for the summer and by September we knew that we were so good together that we had to try to be a blended family. It’s hard for children to understand and I will say that for the most part they were accepting of Jim. My family not so much for religious reasons initially but we were 500 km away so there was that space to keep things civil.
I had been trying for a few years (since my father took ill in the mid-1990s) to go back to my hometown and after one false start in 2002, in 2003 my boss phoned me up and said he needed me in Ottawa was I still interested in going? Was I? Yes!
My children were 12 and 7 at the time and I did something that was one of the hardest things a mother can do: I gave her the choice to stay where she was or come with us to Ottawa. I did this because I know my daughter. Yes, I do realise that I said earlier you don’t know your children but bear with me. I was 12 once and my family was not in a smiley happy place at that time. I had no voice. At age 13 I was in very bad shape emotionally, and at age 14 I gave up and ran away. I didn’t want my daughter to ever feel so trapped and unlistened to that she felt the need to do something like that. My family will never forgive me for giving her that choice, but then again, read the previous sentence. I would not do that to my children; daughter was old enough and very much wise enough to be given the choice.
What I honestly didn’t know was whether she’d choose Ottawa or stay. She came with us on the house hunting trip, discussions were made about what school the kids would go to if we moved close to my family, and then before the final house hunting was arranged daughter chose to say with dad and her friends. I will someday write more about this but I will simply say that I felt proud to give my daughter a voice that I never had at that age and her choice was her following her heart. Her heart is very big and so many people were in her hometown, not my hometown. So for all the people at the wedding who were scratching their heads about what Jim said about us moving, that was it.
We moved, many road trips were taken between Ottawa and Mississauga and life went on. Then came the crash of 2008. Erin’s dad’s job situation was not as good as it had been, he had to sell the house. On to Ottawa and a rental duplex after the start of what was her grade 12. The semester system was not what she had in her high school so she couldn’t go to a school that had the semester system. That ruled out the school in mom’s area and most of the schools in Ottawa. But there was one that would let her go. The beginning of December she started in the middle of a city bus strike in an Ottawa winter (kinda scary for a GTA girl) and there in the library was this tall friendly boy who offered to help with her homework and the rest is history.
I like that as her new Father-in-law said they’ve already moved more than 1300 km in 7 years and they are just starting their lives. A parent’s job is not to mold your child to be a mini-me (though when I was younger and skinnier we were forever being told how much we look alike) or to dictate their soul’s purpose. I don’t know her soul’s purpose. She does. I am the the facilitator of her entry into the world, the rest is up to her. And you know what? If there’s anything I know about my daughter, it’s that she doesn’t make decisions lightly but once she does, she’s in it heart and soul.
As for my being a mom-in-law you know what? I think I’ll just be me. I’m not big on titles, they know I’m always there for them in whatever way I can be.
(c) 2016 Catherine M. Harris
- I changed the wording in one part of “All My Life’s a Circle” to “all my roads have Bens” when my son was born.
- Somebody pointed out rather loudly in my reading at the wedding ceremony that I shouldn’t say “when I became a woman, I put away my childish things” because it wasn’t about me. Yes, they’re right. I was thinking of that piece as a singer because I change the gender in songs. For readings, yeah, I shouldn’t have changed it. Would’ve been nice if they hadn’t been so loud about pointing that out in the middle the ceremony though – just saying.
- My name really is Harris. I overheard on part of the video of the wedding somebody telling someone who didn’t know me that my name is really Davies. It’s not. The law in Ontario when I was married was that as long as I was married I was allowed to use Davies but to officially change it I had to do go to court for that because I wasn’t born in Canada. I didn’t. When I got legally separated 15 years ago I had to turn in my marriage license and lost my legal right to call myself Davies. Hope that clears things up. Kinda makes me sad I even have to explain that after all this time though.
- Later on I would play Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle” on the guitar because I loved the song, and because their dad and I both travelled a lot for work. Still brings a bit of tear to my eye when I play it.
- In my speech I referred to an essay I wrote about my own wedding. Here’s the link: Our Wedding and Other Miracles.
This is from a comic strip I started way back when. My mother was there at the wedding, and it meant the world to all of us that she was there enjoying it.