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she sees whales

Quite some time ago, I vowed to write about play. Play as antidote to fear. Play as means of coping, even thriving in a quickly changing world.

 

After I wrote this an event happened that stalled my writing, halted my sure and steady movement through my well planned days,

and once again brought uncertainty into the picture.

My step-mother died very suddenly of a brain aneurysm.

 

In a moment everything changed.

I remember a teacher colleague once saying, many years ago, that it is not usually the anticipated events that rock our worlds, rather it is that unexpected phone call on a Monday afternoon.

 

The day it happened ~

I had just had coffee and a slice of chocolate cake with a dear friend, a great inspiring visit actually full of good laughs and exciting future plans, and then as I  left the cafe and  walked towards my vehicle I checked my phone.

 

Three calls from Dan.

 

When I called him back he said right away,

‘Where are you? I don’t want to tell you over the phone what I need to tell you. I want to come and talk to you in person’.

My heart pounding,  ‘No, tell me now. Please just say it.’

In our most secret unspeakable depths, we all prepare for those calls, don’t we?

 

That Monday afternoon call that will force us to put everything we thought was important on hold for weeks perhaps, and then re-calibrate our entire perceptions of the world, our very place in it.

 

Once again.

 

After we hung up I cried out openly, there on the street, in agony for my dad and for this new loss that he was forced to bear. I stood there tears streaming, waiting for Dan, and looking everywhere for my friend who had already gotten in his truck, already gone.

 

Feeling so alone.

 

Wanting to call my friend back so that he could reassure me that things would be ok.

Wanting somebody, anybody, to tell me that we would get through this one.

On that street corner all by myself waiting for Dan who was coming because he was worried for me, I realized that every maternal figure I have ever had is gone ~my mentor, my grandmothers, my step-mother now,

and my mother.

 

It is just me.

 

Even my friend had gotten in his truck and driven away.

 

Then.

Over Easter,

after the hospital and the funeral and the tears and the big conversations and the grief and the family everywhere and all the missed school and work and the beginning of finding a way forward for my dad,

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we went whale watching in Victoria.

 

We had gathered there as a family over the break and we spontaneously booked a tour on our first morning. We had always promised George we would go on a whale adventure, but then had always found reasons not to.  That day,  however,  the weather seemed particularly good, we had nothing else planned, and I can tell you honestly that I knew, absolutely knew, that we would see whales that day if we went.

 

We had to go out fairly far, but it ended up being what they call a T-party of whales. Whales in every direction. Not even knowing which way to look because as one would surface, there would suddenly be another sighting on the other side of the boat.

Families of whales. Young whales pressed against their mother as they swam. An independent male on his own  surfacing then going under as we all watched with anticipation, wondering where he would pop up next.

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All around us, a whole pod, a matrilineal community of interrelated magnificent communicating, beautiful orcas.

Orcas that have visited me in my dreams since I was a child. Magical dreams where I watch them, down from a cliff at night or my face pressed up against the glass of a huge aquarium,

half of me afraid of their power and strength while the other half is delighted, transfixed, comforted and healed.

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Orcas drawing by George

A show that day that just went on and on. Our kind tour guides were willing to stay on past the allotted time because the day was perfect and the whales just weren’t leaving.

And then finally not being able to linger any longer, we reluctantly turned back towards the mainland.

The orcas swam back with us in the same direction, stealth-like and fast, underwater, towards a cropping of rocks covered in lounging elephant seals.

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Such dramatic suspense.

 

Our captain stopped the boat for us to watch the hunt unfold; the orcas surfaced at the rocks and surprised their prey who were by no means helpless, fighting back with vigor. It was over quickly, and the whales were again moving on, having been rewarded with one unlucky seal.

 

A nature documentary in real time.

 

Continuing on, bathed in glowing late afternoon sunshine, the whales headed towards the shore and swam right up against a cliff nestled on top of which was a park where families often recreate. From the boat we watched as children ran along the cliff following the orcas, screeching with delight.

 

I truly don’t know if I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing such a perfect moment of spontaneous play, natural and true, uncomplicated and wild.

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It is never just me. It is Dan and I, the kids and I, us. It is this beautiful extended family that I love so much that were gathered for Easter fun. It is my dad and I. My friends.       My wonderful neighbours. It is new acquaintances and the grocery store cashier that I exchange friendly words with ~

It is all those I have lost, living in me with every heartbeat.

 

It is all of us…

 

navigating the heartache and the uncertainty yet still forging creative ways to joyfully be in this brave and beautiful new world.

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And it is whales, meeting me at sunset after a lifetime of knowing each other in dreams. The promise is the same. It’s going to be ok.

 

 

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On kid art, sick time, and mother’s day

Every week I am going to speak to three topics: anecdotes, books, ideas, products, or innovations that I believe are peace-building, heart-opening, community-celebrating, love-spreading vehicles. Complaining and criticizing are easy traps to fall into, but I am convinced that building up holds far more power and transformative energy.

So, my sweet friends, here goes…Our world is a beautiful village and peace does begin at home.

What I am thinking about / loving this week….

1) Kid Art

A few months ago, I picked George up from school and he proudly handed me a note indicating that a piece of his art had been chosen to be displayed in our local gallery’s (the Southern Alberta Art Gallery) annual student art exhibit, which showcases works from local schools. ‘Art’s Alive and Well in the Schools’ is a tremendously well attended event and brings in hordes of new people to the gallery. It also allows kids the chance to experience the  joy of showing their work publicly.

Both of George’s big sisters have managed to create art that was chosen for this show, so it was especially heart-warming that he made the cut too.

What a boost. The gallery was packed to the brim with families and enthusiasm. We drank apple juice, visited, and checked out truly wonderful pieces.

By the end of the show, however, George asked me if ‘we could please go home.’ He quietly confided in me that he wasn’t sure he had the energy to ‘show his work to one more person’.

My son. He is no bubbling, self-promoting extrovert,

but his watercolour of birch trees along a wooded path was beautiful, especially according to his mother.

Actually, everything about this type of endeavour makes me tingle.

Kids making art. Kids sharing art. Kids and parents valuing art. Communities gathering to celebrate art.

It’s all so good.

Art promotes peace, of that I am absolutely certain,

and kid art holds its own special brand of magic.

George at the 'Arts Alive' show at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, posing with Mayor Spearman

George at the ‘Arts Alive and Well in the Schools’ show at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, posing with Mayor Chris Spearman

2) Sick Days

We have all been quite healthy this year, but this week Olivia was absolutely walloped with a bad case of the stomach flu.

My poor girl.

What we assumed would be a productive and full week ended up being 4 days of her lying on the couch watching SpongeBob and renovating and home flipping shows,

while sipping warm gingerale and herbal tea,

and munching on saltines.

Actually, it is not uncommon for her little body to dramatically pull out  of life once or twice a year for several days.

To be honest, it never really surprises me and it always feels/looks like a re-booting of sorts.

Olivia is a perfectionist and is deeply persistent and driven. She has achieved excellent grades this year, but it has taken her a ton of dedicated effort given that she has dyslexia. From the moment she was born, she has been sensitive and kinesthetic,

always moving to a beat, singing a song, or acting out something she just saw.

Every so often, though, her sweet active, constantly wiggling body tires and her soul seems to say…..enough.

Stop. Rest. Retreat.

And so I let her. I have the blessing of working from home and so I also have the luxury of being able to let her sleep and stop,

and watch countless home and garden network episodes.

She will catch up, and I will help her.

I get it.

Sometimes it’s all too much. I feel that way too.

It’s okay to hide inside the house for a while.

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3) Mother’s Day

As we lead up to Mother’s day, I am feeling reflective about the role of mother, and how motherhood has changed me.

I am also deeply aware that, like every other holiday, it can be an emotionally challenging day for some…

Mother/child relationships can be complex,

perhaps the day may bring up pain around not having been able to have children for some,

and in so many cases there has been pain or loss  – loss of a child or parent – that surfaces.

Certainly, I am deeply aware of the absence of my mom at our table each year as we sit down to brunch together. Though it was hardest the first few years after she died, I still ache for her and feel as if I always will.

Yet.

Sunday is a lovely opportunity to honour the energy, the beauty, the essence of ‘mothering’ that is nurturing and in some ways is always accessible to all of us,

whether it be through friendships, mentors, extended family, or even through finally learning to properly nurture ourselves.

For me, though, this Mother’s Day, I will celebrate my relationships with my children.

Alex, Olivia, George.

I am deeply aware that I have been gifted the deepest honour of guiding these beautiful people to adulthood.

Though it has not always been easy and I do not mean to downplay the many challenges of parenting,

and though I have often struggled with my identity that has often felt mired and lost in the haze and blur of these extended mothering years,

I still know for sure that I would not change a thing about the way my life has played out.

To learn to step-parent, then parent, and watch these babies grow and blossom has thrilled me to no end. It has been the greatest wonder of my life, and continues to be.

I am grateful beyond words.

This Sunday,

Happy Mother’s Day and peace to all mothers, of all forms.

In all ways, you hold up the earth.

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Alex and her ‘two moms’, Mother’s Day 2013