Game face

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Last summer, when I was in the midst of feeling like shit, this poor girl went around telling everyone we were having a festival in our backyard. She was desperate to be surrounded by anyone with life left in them, since her mother clearly had none.

She picked a date. She made invitations. She invited about 30 people. I entertained the notion for a few random moments — I desperately wanted to let her see it through — but eventually had to break the news that it just wasn't going to happen. Not only did I then feel like shit, I also felt like an asshole.

This year, I'm functioning on a scale much closer to, well, functional. So I decided to take the advice of a friend who is wiser than her years should allow. It was originally given before Christmas, when I was loathe to supply my children with another mound of presents in the absence of what really mattered: cousins, chaos, and memories.

“Write your own story.”

I’m sure those words have come to me in many forms from many people on many different occasions. But here's a funny thing about advice: it's only good when you're ready to take it. After all, taking good advice usually means doing a lot of hard work — either by yourself or, perhaps worse, through asking people for help. Horrors!

This particular chapter of the story involved organizing a block party to celebrate Neighbour Day, and also to make up for crushing my child's dreams. It sent me knocking on every door — even the scary ones — to get signatures for our permit application, chasing a neighbour down the street in my pyjamas, driving to the strange traffic sign graveyard to pick up road blocks from a short, round, grey-bearded dude named Walter or Wiley, and perhaps most challenging for me, purchasing hot dogs. Yes, I have an issue with nitrates. All I can say is, I’m working on it.

I had absolutely no clue how to put on a block party but, miraculously, it all came together. There was food, a ridiculously small bouncy castle (rented under the guise of it being “Large”), music, street hockey and, of course, a water fight. Children played past their bedtimes. Adults drank until past theirs.

The best part didn't happen until the next day. The doorbell rang. It rang again. I opened the door to see a five-year-old boy standing there, the grandson of the woman I chased in my pjs. 

"Is she here," he asked, poking his head in the door. "Can she come out to play?" Clearly, he had forgotten her name. Or maybe he never even knew it. Kids don't seem to waste time with those kinds of formalities. I remember picking up E from bike camp and having her point out her new BFF, then drawing a blank when I asked for said BFF's name. Kids just want to play, and here was this new child asking mine to come out to do just that.

With that, the Neighbour Day chapter was officially written. Next on the list: summer adventures. Dear God, let it not be a cliff hanger.

Wake me up when September ends

IMG_3325 Kindergarten is the modern world’s dunk tank into cold, hard reality. One day, you’re sleeping til you’re done, eating a lazy breakfast, and getting dressed when the mood strikes. The next day you’re ripping yourself out of bed, being blinded by the rise of curtains and shovelling down food in an attempt to provide sustenance before the bell rings.

I’m sure it’s been tough for E, too.

After three hard weeks I’ve come to a startling conclusion: September kind of sucks. I had notions of sliding into a gloriously well-oiled routine after a summer of lackadaisical free-for-alls. Clothes would be chosen the night before. Bedtime would be easier (since she’d be tired from all that learnin’). Then we’d have a happy skip to school before she faced another exciting day of mind expansion.

That fantasy played out for the first few days. Then sometime in the middle of week two, E woke up and asked me how much longer she’d have to go to school. At first I thought the truth would be a hard blow but then I remembered she has no concept of time. I also realized that no matter what I said, it wouldn’t be the answer she wanted, which was likely something along the lines of, “just a few more days, babe.”

In the last few weeks she’s gone from excited to tired to annoyed. Now we’re at just plain pissy. And I’m here thinking, good gravy this is going to be a long thirteen years. Luckily, I know people who’ve been around the schoolyard a few times. I’m told everyone’s shit hits the fan near the end of September. The kids have caught on that this school business is an actual thing and it isn’t going away. Apparently, they lose their will to fight after Thanksgiving (the Canadian one).

(I’m sure there are exceptions. We all know those people whose social media feeds have us believing they’ve found the key to the perfect family life. No one yells, their kids do the dishes and everyone plays Jenga together on Friday nights.)

It also doesn’t help that E is convinced I’m the one who made school start at eight in the morning. What kind of crazy fool does she take me for? In a fit of irrationality, I tried to introduce reason to our conversation.

“How could I possibly be responsible for forcing hundreds of kids to be at school that early? More importantly, why would I ever do that??” I suppose I should be flattered by the reach she assumes of my power, although also concerned that she thinks I’m capable of such lunacy.

When her anger first started to rise, I wondered whether something bothersome was going on at school. Unfortunately getting pertinent information out of a five-year-old is like trying to get shoes on a two-year-old. Both are incredible frustrating activities that usually result in footwear being thrown across the room.

Then I found this list of great questions. I tried ones like, “did anyone do anything nice for you” and “who made you smile” but another thing about five-year-olds is that they have no concept of gratitude. I was asking these idyllic questions of the same child who, a week prior, cried over the future absence of ice cream while she was still eating the ice cream.

Last night, I took a different approach:

Who did you sit beside? Noah. If someone in your class could be the teacher, who would you want it to be? Me! What’s the hardest rule to follow? NO TALKING!!

Little by little, I’m shedding light on the mysteries that unfold behind those closed doors. In this respect, I’m happy Alberta has bucked the trend of subsidized daycare and kept kindergarten at a half-day. It gives us a bit more time to prepare for that day when they go off on their own, forget that we exist, and only call when they need money or advice about how to do laundry.

Day One

Myers First Day 2

In the days leading up to this moment, all I could think about was how the hell I would ever get the Queen of Stall Tactics to school on time. I've been ruminating on that point since about May, back when we learned school would start at the ungodly hour of eight o'clock in the morning. I imagine it was my brain's way of creating a diversion from the actual task at hand: letting go.

Friends had told me how they melted into puddles of tears the first day their little one marched off to school. I couldn't imagine why. It's not like we're shipping them off to boarding school. It's kindergarten. It's less than three hours long. You can't even do Costco in that time.

Then it was my turn. Luke stayed home late that morning to help get everyone out the door on time. As I mentioned, I was worried I would be dragging a half-dressed, underfed fit of defiance to the school yard to greet the new teacher. On this day, she was standing by the side of the bed, fully dressed and raring to go before I had both eyes open. Excitement, fear, nerves, whatever we were working with, it certainly made my life easier.

It all seemed rather idyllic. We walked hand in hand in hand, the three of us, towards the schoolyard we know so well. She has spent many an afternoon exploring its playground or running through the field. It's where she learned to ride a bike and where she flew a kite for the first time. Despite my agonizing over school options, I think we always knew she'd some day join them on the inside.

The teachers stood outside in front of the swarm of nerves. Parents and children alike staring silently as they waited for a name to be called. Some ran to stand in line without looking back. Some ran the other way. All of them with their massive, snack-filled backpacks smacking the backs of their knees.

E had a few last minute tears, then walked up the steps and disappeared. All of a sudden, it was just the parents, standing there watching the doors close behind kids that two minutes ago were taking their first steps, saying their first words or eating a grape for the first time without it needing to be cut into a million pieces.

How the hell did that happen so fast? Why the hell did I want it to? Now it's all coming crashing down around me, all this time that I can't get back, and I finally empathize with the ugly cry set. We're not sad that they're growing up (we all talk about how wonderful it will be when they can get their own lunch or walk to a friend's house without a secret service detail), we're sad that they're doing it at the speed of light.

We're sad that with each new milestone, the previous ones seem to fade in our memories. We long for the feeling of their baby soft skin sleeping against our chest, for the fuzz of their hair tickling our nose, for the squeak of their voice as they learn how it works. We long for them to be small and vulnerable and close just a little while longer. Then they let go of our hand and walk away.

 

Everything

IMG_1313-2There is something intoxicating about photographs of Luke cuddling our babies. I could look at them for hours. Perhaps it's that I know how comforting and empowering his embrace can be, housing strength, love and protection all in the space between his arms and their tiny little bodies.

Wisely, these children yearn to be close to him, sometimes descending to such unloving acts as pushing and shoving in order to get the best seat. When he is away, or even if he has a few late nights at work, they start to wilt like cut flowers in need of fresh water. As far as children goes, this can mean becoming either incredibly sensitive or downright cranky. The only antidote is a swift reunion.

Sometimes I wish I could clone myself (I imagine every parent does, but in this instance I mean for reasons other than having someone else make dinner and change diapers) in order to capture similar moments shared with me. I'll be sitting on the bed braiding hair or holding a tiny hand as the blender makes its unsettling racket and I will take a snap shot in my mind. Like many photographer parents, I not only want my children to have beautiful memories of their youth, but to have evidence that I was part of it.

I have experimented with taking my own photograph, but often it feels weird. The idea behind candid or documentary photography, or whatever catch phrase is used for capturing real life, is that it isn't contrived. In theory, we shouldn't move water bottles out of the way to get a clean shot or ask someone to repeat their actions under better light. I'm struggling to decide how balancing a camera on a stack of cookbooks in order to capture a manufactured moment fits into all of that. It's not like this scene hadn't played itself out a thousand times over. It's just that this time, I made sure the camera was there.

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I guess we can leave it at this: if you happen to see a photograph with me in the scene, it's likely a set up (this was an exception). Same goes for anything involving clean children sitting nicely and looking like angels. Everything else is as real as it gets.