Ghosts and Ancestors, a Farewell to 2018

I started writing this on the eve of Christmas Eve, a little earlier than my usual New Years Eve missive and that’s fine.  I thought I’d take some time and really think through what I want to say because this past year and a half have been hard for me.  Not long ago Jim and I were in the car and it was a sad day for us because we had just lost our old dog but as we drove the sun was shining and rays of light were beaming through the clouds and Jim says, “It feels like we’ve turned a corner today.”  I agreed, it was just a feeling but it did seem like we’d entered a new phase or something.  I don’t know why but I hope it’s true.  We’re due for a bit of good I think.

More than anything I have really felt the fact that I’m over 50, though physically and mentally I don’t.  Still, the world doesn’t operate on how you feel, it operates on what it sees and yes, I’m sorry to say I do look a bit like your basic middle aged lady.  The days of doctors telling me I really should gain weight are long since over.  There’s an entire essay on being 50 begging to be written someday soon, so for now here’s just a bit of what’s been on my mind.

Being 50 is a lot like being a teenager.  Seriously.  The hormone changes that usher you into your next half century is similar to 13:  you have mood swings, you feel weepy sometimes, angry other times, a little lost and awkward.  You feel invisible.  Powerless.  Not always, but enough. I don’t know when exactly I started feeling that way but taking an early retirement for a few months when I turned 50 was probably it.  That and menopause.  I remember my dad going through something similar and me doing my twenty-year-old best to reassure him that he wasn’t worthless, that people did want him and there were still opportunities.  My dad was fatalistic about things though so no matter what I said often he felt he was on the downhill slide to oblivion.

That he died at aged 63 isn’t lost on me, and perhaps that weighs more on my mind than it should.  What I also remember is that my paternal grandmother died at age 50 and my maternal grandmother at age 61.  I look at those 3 people who lost their lives to cancer and I know that even though the two grandmothers died more than 50 years ago, only one would have possibly survived longer today.  My mom’s mom died of the same type of tumour that Gord Downey had – only she died a few weeks after VE day.  I like to think that I take after my mom in this; at 99 she is still with us, though she is lost in dementia these past few years.   She, like her sister who lived to 86 or her grandfather who lived into his 90s has the good genes.  I cross my fingers and hope I do too because most of the time I feel like there just isn’t enough of it to do everything I want to.  And I don’t know how time has sped by so fast.  I don’t want to admit it, but maybe I am getting older.

The other night I watched Bruce Springsteen on Broadway.  Wonderful autobiographical piece from an artist I truly admire.  He’s an icon of my generation and I remember my friend Russell’s wife Robin – a New Jersey girl herself – wore a black arm band for days after he married his first wife.  Now Russell is another one who never made it beyond 50; it was such a shock to me when he died (I was in my early 20s) that I became ill for several weeks and still have the allergies that cropped up after I got over the walking pneumonia.  Death was not a secret to me, my mother being so much older I was forever being taken to funerals with her mostly I think for the company and because I was brave enough to do it.  But this one oh how it broke my heart.  To this day I miss him.  He had so many plans for the great day he could retire and write those funny stories he was so good at.  I wish I’d kept a copy of the ones I’d typed up for him.  Life was more complicated when we were dealing with IBM typewriter balls and white out and carbon paper.  It really was that long ago.   But it was also only yesterday.

Bruce Springsteen has a part in his show where he’s describing sitting at a table with his father. He’s expecting his first child and his father has come to him to set their relationship on a new footing.  He said we have family who are ghosts – they’re just names who have no lasting effect, and we have ancestors.  These are the people whose influence is profound and lasts for generations – hopefully in a good way – and that’s what we should aspire to be.  I have made sure that my children know my father even though he died when my daughter was small and my son was born after.  My dad was a complicated man, and it’s too easy to focus on what was difficult.  What I want them to know is how smart, charming, funny and handsome he was.  He admitted that he wasn’t the world’s best father but he was a best friend for 20 years.  Some of my happiest memories are the two of us singing together.  It’s funny, singing in the choir with my mother is also one of my favorite memories.

I love researching my ancestry because for me, I grew up in a family divided and there was my mom’s side of the family and my dad’s side and I was placed firmly in the camp of my dad’s side from birth because of how I look.  I am not even remotely blonde so there we have it.  Me, I like to think I come from both sides of the family and that both sides have merit.  They’re both mostly Irish though from different sides of the religious battle and I grew up both. I walked away from that a long time ago.

Faith should never be used a weapon.  I’ve spent way too much mental effort trying to figure out how to be true to myself and please others when the reality is I can’t.  I want to be an ancestor but my creeping fear is that really I’m not.  It’s hard knowing that somewhere I crossed the Rubicon between belonging and not.  So be it.  A little bit of misunderstanding can go a long, long way and sadly, it morphs which is what has happened and since no one wants to hear the truth from the person who lived it, it is what it is.  Still hurts a bit though.  My mom and I always got along well; she understood why I’ve got the life I have and was accepting… so … yeah.

My mom. Definitely an ancestor.  A lot of who I am is because of how she raised me and by that I mean in a very good way.  She had two degrees and was a career woman when my friends’ moms were all at home; in fact she was the main breadwinner and married a man 13 years her junior.  She started her family when her contemporaries were becoming grandparents.  She lived in several places around the world and she traveled Canada. She made sure to take one of us with her on those trips.  She was always compassionate and accepted people for who they are.  I like to believe I learned that too.

One of the hardest things in the last 5 years has been the loss of the compassion and concern of my mother.  I miss our hour long phone calls where we’d talk about everything.  In me she knew she could tell me stuff when she worried how others would react and I appreciated her telling me those things.  She didn’t always like my decisions but she always understood me.  I feel a little adrift without that to be honest, but here we are.  I am fortunate indeed to have had her as long as I have even if I’m not in a position to visit right now since I’m not close by anymore.

In the last 5 years I feel like I’ve lost so much that things have to turn around.  Really.  We’ve seen the passing of all of our animals to various forms of old age (3 cats and a dog), Jim’s mom and his cousin, 1 pre-teen best friend and a 20 year friend of mine, my former mother-in-law.  For most of last year I had to exist on about 35% of my pay which was a whole special kind of fun.  Selling my jeep that I couldn’t afford to keep fixing.  My children are grown which is a good thing but it also means there’s a huge part of my life that’s done now, and it’s hard not to feel a little irrelevant.  Family rifts have gotten deeper and wider.  All of this is stuff that is outside of my control.

So going forward I need to concentrate on what makes me happy regardless.  That means not worrying about the unchangeable, of missing things I can’t get back, of feeling like I don’t belong.  I belong wherever I am, and if people don’t always understand me, that’s fine too.  The people who truly know me are the ones who matter.  The ones who know that I’m a writer first, a painter, a singer song-writer; the little girl who could be found up high in trees is still up high on ladders fixing things and under cabinets installing sinks or building pallet furniture.

Since I can’t change the past or erase unhappy memories, for 2019 I’m going to start my year with gratitude.  I am grateful for my little house, the big-boat van that stills runs, I have my children,  I have my partner of 16 years now, I have a regular pay cheque,  I have my health, I still have a mom on this Earth, I have my gifts and I have a little hope.  That is most of all what matters.

Take care in this new year, and please people live your life with compassion.  Now more than ever we need to put aside our differences and embrace our truths.  The divisions we see are mainly manufactured for somebody elses’ gains, not yours.  So how about making this the year we listen and we treat each other with kindness and respect.  You don’t have to always understand why people behave the way they do, but you can’t expect them to live it your way either just because what you do suits you.  Remember that.

À la prochaine,

Cathi

©Catherine M. Harris 31/12/2018

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Cathi’s Comments for May 13, 2018

It’s Mother’s Day today and it is also my own mother’s 99th birthday. It is wonderful that she has lived such a long and full life, but at the same time the fact that I haven’t had a conversation with her in four years hurts. She is still with us but her mind is elsewhere. She has dementia. She lives in a home in my old hometown, looked after by my sister and her family. My daughter visits when she can since she lives in the same province now but of course she has a busy life and I get to know how mom’s doing when she updates me. It’s all good but I do so much miss our long heartfelt conversations with her either by phone (which it usually was since I have spent more of my life away from the Ottawa area) or in person when we could. One of my happiest memories lately has been the weekend that she, my daughter and I spent in Pembroke enjoying each others’ company while my daughter was attending school there.

It’s so hard to see those you love and who have been a huge part of your life fade away. I saw that with her sister – my aunt – who suffered from a series of strokes. It was different with my dad who died of cancer, but again to see that force that was so present diminish is just so so painful. Any time you see a loved one pass in tiny steps it’s the mourning you start when it is obvious there is no coming back from this that wears on your heart. So forgive me a little if on this Mother’s Day I really just feel like crying.

I’ve been writing a novel for several years about a man who loses his mother to dementia. At the time I started writing it was more the reality of those I knew than as close to home as it is for me now though even then my mother wasn’t quite herself. It’s been a bit harder for me to continue on my novel (if you’re curious it is “Late Night Cleaners Club” at Tablo.io – you can read what I’ve written so far on there by searching the title) as there are days I just feel sad and don’t want to write about dementia and aging even if my novel is fiction. A little too close to home right now. I have been following Jann Arden’s Facebook and Twitter and my wonderful daughter bought me her book “Feeding My Mother” which I am enjoying in small doses and again, there are times I absorb myself in the subject and other times I just want it all to go away and let me pick up the phone and talk to my mom for hours again.

You never stop being your mother’s child, even if there are stormy waters under the bridge. I am fortunate that she may not have always liked what I did or the direction I was going but she was always there for me regardless. Not everyone is so fortunate and I hope my own children know that I am the same way. I may not always understand my childrens’ paths but I will always be there for them in some way, shape or form even if it is a late night “Mom you up?” text.

Right now though, this piece isn’t about me. It’s about my mom and how very much she has shaped who I am, in her own quiet way. So that’s the first point: you don’t need to be loud to get your point across. Just be smart and think about what you say. Which leads to the second point which was to let unkind words be like water off a duck’s back. Much easier said than done I’m afraid. I’m an Aries, I don’t bite my tongue well so this is something she always kept reminding me of. However, I had always told her that sometimes you do need to stand up for yourself, to not be taken advantage of and let people know when they are stepping on your toes. You can’t always let the water slide off the duck’s back if the water is mainly acid. Ah well.

My mom was the middle child of 4 children. She was born just after the end of the First World War during the great Flu epidemic. She is actually one of the very few people still alive who has antibodies to it. Can you imagine? Her parents and their immediate family all moved from Charlottetown PEI to Ottawa to start their careers. One thing I’ve discovered is that people who worked for the Federal Government at the time were invited to work. So my grandfather and his brother both got positions and later there was a great-aunt who became a Translator for the UN. They did well for themselves and lived good lives. My mother told me tales of having milk and butter delivered by a horse-drawn carriage; of iceboxes and ice delivered in big blocks from a truck; of coal delivered down a chute; of model A cars and flags that stood in for eventual turn signals; of Depression era men who would make marks on their fence telling others their house was a good place to stop for a bowl of soup. She grew up in the Depression and when the Second World War came around her older sister took her application form for the WRENs and joined while her father insisted she stay home. She worked at the Bank of Canada and got a degree. Her older sister and brother having gone to war, when it was over she was determined to see the world too so she joined External Affairs.

My mother’s travels to Ireland and Italy and Switzerland with External Affairs is a story in itself but it did lead to a later marriage to my father (she was in her early 40s when she had me). She got a Master’s in Library Science and worked in government as a librarian for many years and it was a period of time I remember. I spent many an after school reading ancient Warden’s Logs from the penitentiaries (I loved the ones from the 1880s and up to the turn of the century) as well as the magazines they had about policing. Later when I was working for the government myself we would go for lunch together, which was great. But while I was growing she travelled a lot in her job and I got to go with her many times. That was fantastic. So while there were times I wished we had a mom who stayed home like everybody else’s mom, who else did I know got to leave school and go spend a week in Springhill that included going a mile down an old coal mine and standing in absolute darkness? Or how about the lobster boils we always seemed to go to when we went to the East Coast? I loved our trips to Vancouver – we did this by train and by air. I loved those journeys so much I tried for a bit to move to BC when I first left home to no avail. Now I’m on the East coast and I love it here by the ocean. I just wish she had stayed healthy enough to come visit me after I moved.

Well, I could go on and on about my mom and some day I will. But for now I have to get ready for my own work trip to BC this week, and yes, as always I will think of her when I walk those streets again.

À la prochaine,

Cathi …..

Cathi’s Comments for December 31, 2017


I’m a day late writing this, mainly because a big part of me wasn’t sure I even wanted to post it. But then I thought, why shouldn’t I? If I go back to my very first Cathi’s Comments there’s a whole lot of water under the bridge, so much soul searching not only in the time when I posted almost every day, but also I’m constantly doing that in my essays and poetry and in a more abstract way in my fiction. So yes of course I should post my thoughts on this god-forsaken year.

I’ve been depressed since late last summer and I’m doing my best to keep my head enough above water to keep functioning and on really good days, be laughing but it isn’t easy. I try to look always at the possibilities of things but again its hard when the outcomes all seem kind of dark. When that silver lining is just aluminum foil, what do you do? For me I look at the causes then figure out what, if anything, I can do to make stuff better and if I can’t, what to do to get out of the situation. I’ve got a lot situations right now.

In short they are: family, money, work, perception of self, future of my career. Kinda heavy stuff. So let’s see: it’s a long story but one year I made enough because of one-time payments (one of which I paid back at gross for over two years) put me in a higher tax bracket. I owed taxes but in a few years this would go down by itself because I always get tax back. This August I found out I was losing 30% of my net pay for almost a year. Add to that the acting position I’d been doing for over 2 years was ended and I went back down two levels at the end of October. Somewhere in all of this there are still bills to be paid and I really don’t want to or even know how to get a part time job here. Jim tried for 3 years for a part time job before he gave up. I’m not sure what I’m going to do so I’m just putting my faith in the fact there’s always something that saves me just before I go over the brink. I just have to find it.

Family: it’s no secret there’s people in my family who won’t have anything to do with me. Why? Because I don’t fit the mould, and they won’t listen to my explanations of why my life has gone the way it has. I don’t live up to their expectations, and they didn’t listen to me so they’ve made up stuff that unfortunately is now being fed to other people which I find out about of course. If any of them read my essays or my comments they’d know what they think is wrong, but they don’t. Unfortunately I find myself in another situation where I’m blamed again for things that are misinterpretations. Rather than listen to my explanations, it’s discounted and erroneous stuff is believed. And it hurts to be in that situation. Nevertheless, I won’t apologize for falsehoods and for decisions I made for reasons that people don’t know the whole story of. I also am very good at keeping secrets. Where it’s important I won’t be telling the whole story even if it hurts me. So there we are. I can only be who I am, live my life the way I see fit, and if people really want to lay down the sword and actually come talk to me and then believe me when I tell my truth then maybe there’ll be some hope. I’m not holding my breath. It’s just that this year someone I didn’t expect did the same thing to me and so yes, I’m at a loss because if they aren’t willing to understand the truth as I lived it, well…. That one came out of left field because I honestly thought they knew
me better than that. So I can only let the ache die down and carry on.

Work and perception of self are kind of tied in together though perception of self is also a part of my family issues. Here’s the thing: I’m 55. I have officially 36 years service in my employment though it’s actually a little longer. Now I could – and did if you remember 5 years ago – retire. Thing is, as much as I want to, I can’t. I still have bills to pay that go back to when my ex and I split up 16 years ago if you can believe that. It’s almost paid off but it’s still there. I can’t retire really until all my bills are paid off and I have enough to live on for at least a year, preferably a year and a half. That’s how long it’s taking to get pensions these days, not everyone but many and I have no doubt I’d be one of the ones waiting and living on nothing. For me to pay off stuff I need to get paid properly. I also need not to be paying back pay at gross or back taxes at insane percentages. I need to be in a job that pays consistently at the level I have been for the better part of the last 8 years but for some reason can’t be it officially. A couple of years ago I was told “hey you came in third (for a promotion that had 2 positions) but you’ll have lots of acting. It’s all just pensionable time, you have 4 years to go don’t you?” (this is paraphrasing but the words are the same). To me that was age discrimination but to nobody else I’ve complained to it is. I was recently put on a waiting list for a course I needed for my certification after someone told me they told the person organizing the course I didn’t need it because I had 35 years service. It was one of the last ones I did need for the certification. I complained. At least that one got corrected and I took the course. Then came the news that the new way of hiring is based on pools, and the pools were “upping the bar” – you had to have a degree, a diploma or certification. Gone was the high school with x years of relevant experience. Last summer I was an expert. Now I’m nothing. So if I wanted to apply for my job at the moment, I couldn’t. So much for 36 years of my life devoted to what I do. This hurts. A lot. I have some things to still do for certification but it’s hard when my heart isn’t in it, knowing they don’t really want me. Maybe it’s the depression talking but that’s how it feels.

The thing is, 55 isn’t old. Most places you can’t retire before 65. Many people of my age range who would like to retire and even are allowed to at full pension simply can’t because life got really expensive 30 years ago and it hasn’t stopped. We’re the people who were crazy enough to buy houses at 20% interest rates, who saw credit cards go up to ridiculous levels and wages get frozen so we used them, especially when our marriages went down the tubes. So yeah, freedom 55 is a pipe dream for an awful lot of people. And most of us reject the notion that 55 is old, especially when we’re healthy. My mom is 98 years old. Don’t put me out to pasture yet, in many ways I’m still just starting.

I am pleased with myself in that I did submit to the CBC Creative Non-Fiction contest – I didn’t win but it feels awfully good have submitted. This can be read at mrssauga.wordpress.com under Essays. I also submitted to the CBC Short Story contest for the first time in a few years. I don’t expect to win but I will say the same disclaimer I do with all my fiction: it’s fiction, if you want the truth read my essays; and, my mother is wonderful person who has been a strength in my life, the character in the story is not my mother 🙂 You’ll get to read it whenever it’s rejected or if they accept it, when it’s published.

I’ve also been painting (in the middle of a painting called Ben After The Rain), and playing my guitar again. I’m still working on other writing and yes, I keep saying this but I do intend to update this web site to something more relevant to me now.

Here’s hoping that 2018 is the year I reverse all this nonsense and my money and career problems are solved. I can dream can’t I? I wish every one the very best and I truly hope that you live your life with compassion, show empathy for others and maybe just try to put yourself in someone’s footsteps before you react. Things are never as they seem. Remember that.

À la prochaine,

Cathi …..

Cathi’s Comments for December 31, 2016

This has been such a roller coaster year, with a wonderful high of my daughter’s wedding to the deep low of the loss of Jim’s mother.  In between I very nearly lost my own mother and by some miracle she was able to be present at her granddaughter’s wedding.  We travelled this year for specific reasons:  first an urgent trip to Ottawa to see my mother for what I thought would be the last time, and to come home and turn around and leave for a memorial for Jim’s mother in Connecticut.  Then in late August, back to Ottawa for a truly lovely wedding.

Being such a busy year with sudden changes – not just at home but a work too – there just wasn’t the time to do everything I had planned.  I started sketching out the illustrations for my Troll of Barondale story but am nowhere near finished; I have the canvases for 3 paintings I’ve been planning to do and they still aren’t sketched out; I got as far as the title of a chapter for Nanowrimo which of course meant that the book I was going to finish wasn’t; the pallet garden swing didn’t even have the pallets moved from the wall they are leaning against.  I’ll stop now before I get sad thinking about it.

I did start, and then stop for a bit doing the elliptical but I’ll be back on it again in the new year.  Our dog had a torn leg tendon and sore hips that had us worried we were going to lose him at age 9; instead we found a good new vet and began walking him 15 minutes a day.  Between walks, fish oil and glucosamine he’s almost his regular self.

So what did I learn this year?  Well, that after 15 years I felt the need to once again defend the legal reasons for using my own name which quite frankly burns my butt that I have ever had to do that at all. I think I’m tired of fighting over stuff that shouldn’t even be questioned. I still wonder whether it was wise going back to work, my soul sings when I write and paint and do my thing; I find myself spinning my wheels knowing I have things to offer but not quite fitting the bill so where am I more valuable?  I wish I had the luxury of answering that honestly; I have bills to pay and food to put on the table.  So for now I tread water holding my breath, waiting for who knows what.

The good news:  daughter’s wedding of course!  Son’s grade 12 diploma.  Jim and I got a family doctor, and tests show that I am a low risk of heart disease.  Good to know.  Seeing my mom again after 3 years of no time and money to travel back to Ottawa and even though she lives in shadows mentally, brief minutes of lovely clarity brought her back to me.

Where do we go from here?  For now, our little deer visited home in the outskirts of Fredericton is our place.  I am basically thankful 2016 wasn’t worse than it was for us – it’s been such a bad year for so many people.  I look forward to continuing things I put aside and I hope finally moving forward on new works.

What I have to say now to everyone is:  believe in yourself, treat others with respect and kindness, do something that matters, show heart in what you do.  We the human race need to face up to the fact that we cannot continue living our existence in division and hate.  There has to be room in everyone’s heart for acceptance and understanding even if you personally don’t like someone’s viewpoint or lifestyle please look past that to the person underneath.  If we continue on the path of hatred that is being spewed our world in serious trouble.  Most of all, please have compassion for others, it’s what the world needs most.

À la prochaine,

Cathi

I’m a Mother of the Bride and This is My Story.

What do you say when your sweet little girl, the one you still think of like this

erin-70

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.

the happy couple

The Happy Couple

 

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?

erin-39-snuggly

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!

benbirthdayerindoll

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

p.s:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. In my speech I referred to an essay I wrote about my own wedding.  Here’s the link: Our Wedding and Other Miracles.

 

amazgrac2

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.

 

Cathi’s Comments for December 31, 2015

As 2015 winds to an end I find it’s been quite a strange year all in all.  Personally, the year started with saying goodbye to Erin and Alex who continue on with their life journey in Toronto.  Then was the loss of my cat Domino, who passed away at age 14.  We now are down to one dog and one cat.

It’s been a year of decisions.  My jeep that has been sitting waiting for money to get the brakes fixed since November 2014 now has a dead battery and at last look either a dead battery cable or dead starter or both.  I put it up for sale in August but people either want it for almost free or they want it running and certified, which, sadly so do I.  If it were I’d be driving it.  I could have used the money if it sold but as the year ends it still sits there in my driveway.

It’s been a year of discovering my own truth.  I discovered that there really is a bias that happens at 50 and you will get denied opportunity.  I won’t go into detail but it was said to my face so I have to believe it.  It makes me sad that once again I’m forced to see that no matter how good you are or how much knowledge or experience you have it’s all about agendas and where you fit into it.  And I don’t.  So.  That leads me back to decisions.  I have no idea how long it’s going to take me to pay off everything we owe and bank enough to pay the bills for a year but that’s my plan.  Whenever I do leave this next time it will definitely be my last.  I will not go back to work where I’m not appreciated again.  Unfortunately it’s going to take a long time because I’ll never get a real promotion again I don’t think.  At least that’s the way it looks to me right now.

I say that I need a year’s worth of bill paying ability because as of this date we are still waiting for Jim’s not so great Old Age Security, one year and three months after he turned 65.  CPP by the way is pocket change, not a real retirement sum so if you do have any chance to have input on upping the CPP payout, please agree to it.  Someday you’ll thank yourself and the people already retired who are getting a pittance will thank you.  I also think that the Guaranteed Income Supplement should be based on individual income, not family income.  It isn’t fair to dual income families who suddenly wind up with one person making pocket change and waiting forever for marginally better OAS while the other has to carry the load. Not many middle income earners have planned for one year or more of nothing coming in.

Carleton Park at Dusk But on the bright side, I finally started painting again. I have one painting that is now donated to The Ville, and I have the canvas for 3 more that I’ll be starting shortly. It’s been a good year for me creatively.

Off-Air is finally published in paperback and as a Kindle edition, I Ching Jukebox finally made it as a Kindle edition, my poetry book as well became a Kindle edition.  I also posted my very first novel and am in process of posting my second novel that I wrote in my 20s.  I am also in the middle of writing a novel that started with Nanowrimo 2014.  I did try Nano again this year but ran out of time.  I’ve been very busy but I’m glad I did attempt it.  So you see, me and Genève Blue have been working away.  I also submitted an entry into the CBC short story contest for the first time in forever.

So – looking forward, 2016 should be an interesting year.  There is a wedding to attend in September (yay!!) and aside from my paintings to do I plan to finish the two novels in progress.  I will also take my Troll of Barondale children’s story and create the drawings for it so I can publish that one too.  I actually woke up on morning seeing it as an animated short but unfortunately, like the other ideas I have for animation I’m not sure how to do that without some pretty decent software.  I need to take another animation course I think, but probably not this year.  Time and lack of money forbids it.

Beyond that, who knows what 2016 has in store for me.  So on that note I will say, please people follow your heart and treat others with compassion.  Don’t let the darkness steal your light away, the world needs it.

In love and light, à la prochaine,

Cathi

Resolutions

I did something last night that I haven’t done in many years.  I wrote some New Years resolutions.  As I wrote them the memory of previous resolutions bubbled up:  the inevitable quit smoking (I did, 13 years ago), the exercise more (I have a love-hate relationship with exercise), the basic flogging myself for not doing as much of a talent like writing or painting or music, the “get thee to a university” one which I did start 13 years ago and gave up on 3 years ago after about 1 year’s worth of courses.  Most of those previous resolutions (and a few I won’t name) are either done or a moot point now.

What could I possible resolve to do now that so much water has passed under my bridge?  Well, there is the small matter of needing to get back down to at least the weight I was when I moved to New Brunswick.  I have been exercising for half an hour a day on the eliptical but recently upped that to an hour after realizing I haven’t lost anything, I just look more toned.  The real truth of the weight that isn’t normally on me has to do with stopping my night time cleaning (1 hour a night for 4 nights then 4 hours on the weekend – worked out to about 10 km of walking every week). Add to that the fact that I had to stop chewing my beloved nicorette (I have an off and on again love affair with that gum) because I simply didn’t have money to buy it any more since last February and has meant that little bags of candy replaced the gum.  Not that wise a choice I think.

So one resolution is really two; watch what I eat and cool it with the candy for snacks.  I need to go back to feeling like myself again.  For someone who has spent most of her life on the almost underweight side of things, these past few years of peri- and post-menopause weight gain is a little alarming really.  Annoying most certainly.  Jim says I’m not fat.  Bless his heart.  I’m not obese, true, but still more than the upper limit of healthy for my height.

The others are more specific and boring so I won’t put them here, except for one.  I will start to write in a journal again.  I feel this urge to put pen to paper and say what’s inside in a place that isn’t in the ether.  I used to write a journal; my first one I got when I was quite young:  7? 8? It was purple and had a gold lock.  I still have it and I have the series of journals I wrote ever since.

There’s the one I wrote all in code because my sister had prying eyes and was happily telling whoever would listen all the awful (in her mind) things I did.  I wish I had the code for that one, I have no idea what I said for about a year or two when I was around 9.  I have one from my teenage years that is pink and is really a long and thin lined notepad that I folded over and tied up with a pink wavy ribbon from a sewing project I did.  I have the ones from a time in my teenaged years that was pretty dark, and the slightly less dark ones when I was alone and single but on my own and hopeful.  I have the ones from my mid- to late teens where I fell in love and my friends were closer to me than any relative could ever be.  That is until they disappeared or pulled a nasty.  I think we’re equal numbers on those two events.

Then there’s the broken hearted one where for years I fended off well meaning people in my life trying to tell me to get back together with my high school sweetheart.  They never could understand why I broke up with him and rather than being supportive and sympathetic I got chastized for doing that.  This was the beginning of what has been a long history of that kind of “help” in my life.  So.  I did what was the best thing:  don’t give them the ammunition to use against me because the more I tried to explain the more it became all me.  Can I, in the interest of honesty and the passage of time now say why, lo these 34 years later?  Why not?

Here goes dear well meaning people.  The truth on my first love of my life:  He fooled around on me with one of my best friends.  They thought I was clueless enough not to catch jokes between them when we were all riding in a car one summer day.  Boyfriend did not realize that women recognize another’s scent.  I didn’t want to believe until I did and blasted that friend with angry words.  I have said there’s only two or three people I would rather never speak to again in my life.  She’s one.  As for boyfriend, so in love was I, I forgave him.  It was difficult but we were “The Couple”.

Sadly that forgiveness and trust was misplaced because he thought forgiving meant it was okay.  There were others.  One called me on the telephone saying, “I know you’re not going out anymore but you’re still friends so can I ask you to tell him to stop calling me?  Tell him I’m not interested?”  I just said, “Actually we are still going out.”  And hung up.

Another time a friend I had when I was about 6 and hadn’t seen since then came up to me in a parking lot and said hi.  After a few minutes of chatting and isn’t it nice to see you again (from me) he told me, “You’re going out with that XXXX XXXX person right?”  I said I was.  He told me to tell him to stop bothering his girlfriend who works at Brown’s Cleaners, she’s really not happy with that.  A heart sinking moment.  I mumbled thanks and watched my very young childhood buddy’s grown up back walk away.  He didn’t want to know how I was.  He just wanted my person to leave his person alone.

It wasn’t long after that that I said enough already.  A relationship can slip away in moments or they can explode in one bright flash.  The end was more like a death to me.  One morning I woke up and realized that I simply didn’t love him anymore.  I’d had enough.

I honestly wish I hadn’t had to defend my decision.  I did, without telling the whole truth because a part of me didn’t want to dim their idea of this friendly fellow they liked, but mostly because I knew that it had been decided that I was what? Flighty?  A slut?  Who knows and what could I have said that would have made anyone say that I was right when they’d already decided I was wrong?

My journals kept on until the time my son was a toddler.  Then I worried more about what I wrote because some things that had bothered me for about nine years were wearing on my soul.  I couldn’t write the words for fear they’d be read.  And besides, I had already written them when I was single and when on one of those weeks my husband was out of town I decided to read them I realized how very little had changed since that time.  I was foolish to think I could change someone, and foolish to think I wouldn’t change.

I did, and like my first love, there did come a time when all those words didn’t matter any more and I simply gave up trying.  I had no more love to give for love is a vessel that needs to be replenished once in a while by its source.  My love was for my children and when I could I said good bye because I also knew from experience that children learn from what they see and I didn’t want them to think that relationships are all about anger and the silence in between.

It’s been fourteen years since then and oh, I’ve made a stab at a written diary but found that blogs and my web site filled the gap nicely.  But it kind of doesn’t.  There’s things I’m not allowed to say, things that I shouldn’t say. There’s no continuity.  There’s no way to download one of my blogs for instance, and I really want to port those posts to somewhere else so even if it’s on a memory stick I can go back to them and read them.  Perhaps it will become a day or two cut and paste project for me.

I keep my diaries in a locked box, have done for years.  All my teenaged angst, all my childhood frustrations and wondering.  My hatred for “shepherd’s cack” that they served oh so often when I was ten or so and going to Elmwood School.  My elation at winning awards or happiness at making a new friend.  It’s all there.

So now that I’m in the autumn of my life, I do feel the desire to continue on with that.  Because you see, the more life appears to change, the more it stays the same.  I know there’s nothing I can do to stop some not-so-well meaning things that have been said about me but at least my children are now old enough to ask what is the truth.  No, I didn’t cuckhold my husband (and no, the person who relayed this doesn’t speak Victorian English but I know people who do), and yes, I can cook.  Pretty well actually.  I just don’t invite people over to prove it that often.  My plate is full with life and living it. These are thoughts I am saying outloud today.

My little daily thoughts and angst that can’t be shared with the world at large (at least for now) deserve a place.  And the stuff that can?

It becomes an essay.  Like this one.    To quote Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men,   “The truth?  You can’t handle the truth!”  Well, maybe you can and maybe some truths arrive in small doses on blank pages late at night.

So with firm resolution, I will begin 2016 by turning over an old leaf.