Friday, April 29, 2011

Eenie, Meenie...I Don't Know....

My quest for voting clarity has drawn to a close. Here's the sum up:

Last week, I met Pat Larkin, the youngest - and greenest, coincidentally enough - candidate. Immediately drawn to his direct gaze, easy confidence and unadorned speech, I was further impressed when he was able to quote directly from my letter, while addressing the issues expressed therein. Pat's sincerity and faith in Elizabeth May's Green Party has stayed with me and I'm delighted to report that due to Facebook/blog updates about his quick response to my invitation, several of my previously non-voting friends have pledged to vote Green this election. Ah, the power of Pat and the pen!

On Monday, a tall and graceful Michael McMahon filled my doorway and then these tiny rooms with his musical voice. While the children ran amok his gaze never wavered from mine as he verbally mapped out the NDP's vision for Canada's future. Educated, well-travelled and well-spoken, Michael has not forgotten the challenges of raising two small children in an uncertain world. Perhaps this is why, in his company, I felt not only understood, but also heard and therefore grateful. Fuelled by his own passion for this country and his belief that Jack Layton is the best man for the job, Mr. McMahon swiftly gained my attention and my respect.

Wednesday morning,  Luke in tow, I met Liberal candidate Peter Tinsley. We chatted easily, as we had done two nights earlier on the phone. What struck me immediately was the incongruity between Peter's shock of white hair and his youthful smile and boundless energy. He spoke generously of his boss, Michael Ignatieff, and with fierce pride, offered up his party's plans for a stable economic future and safe harbour for our aging population. Impressed as I was by his intelligence and warm welcome, I was also impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of his office staff - for the Liberal cause but mostly, for Peter himself. Powerful and smart.

Yesterday afternoon, the ferocious wind blew Conservative candidate (and present MP) Daryl Kramp through the kitchen door and into the chaos of my child-filled house. Affable and relaxed, he spent more than an hour with us, describing his reasons for choosing to run for office again and offering several examples of how his party consistently strives for balance. I surprised myself by enjoying his visit as much as I did. Even when I expressed my discontent with the Harper government specifically, Daryl listened thoughtfully and replied with consideration and aplomb. He is a genuine gentleman and in asking Daryl Kramp to run, Stephen Harper chose wisely.

Throughout the week, I have received several emails and had many conversations with friends and family, wondering if I've made a decision. Yes, I have, but if anything, meeting my local candidates has made the decision more difficult because each man so eloquently and passionately believes that his party is the best one for our country. It's been a wonderful conundrum, actually. One I'm very grateful to have muddled through.

On the whole, the election candidates of Prince Edward-Hastings have taught me and my children a valuable lesson about being a part of the democratic process. No textbooks will ever give them such a tangible, vivid example of the power of one's voice, raised.

Because of this, I implore my fellow Canadians, especially those of us who've ridden our parents' political coattails for too long, to set aside your apathy and discontent and do what's right. Be, as the saying goes, the change that you want to see in the world.

On May 2nd, 2011, vote.

Make your voice and your power heard, on election day. For my children. And for yours:


Thursday, April 28, 2011

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be My Kid

Some days, I don't know who's raising who around here - am I teaching the Reds or are they teaching me?

Sometimes, I am less than kind. Sometimes, I have no patience and pitch petulant, ugly tantrums because things haven't gone my way and no one is listening to me and I am picking up dinky cars yet AGAIN.

When the boys throw a fit (Luke) or whine because they aren't getting their way (Matthew) or they stand at my elbow, tugging and begging for attention (both), I am quick to scold, to scorn, to lash out.

But, in that awesome way of children, they shine a light on the witch I can sometimes be and God help me, it's an ugly sight indeed.


I was drying Luke after his bath - rushing through our nightly routine and speaking in clipped tones.  Matthew appeared, and rightfully pointed out that I was using HIS towel to dry his brother, at which point Luke - naturally - melted down. I growled at both of them and then, not-quite-under-my-breath, muttered nastily, "Leave it to your brother to stir the pot."

Matthew froze. When I raised a quizzical eyebrow and then narrowed my gaze icily, he lifted his chin and said, "You shouldn't talk about your son that way, Mummy. It's not nice."

I set my jaw stubbornly. "Really, Matthew?" (Oozing sarcasm) "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that you shouldn't talk that way. You always tell me to think about what I say before I say it. You should think about things, too. You're not talking nicely about me."

Big, HUGE pause for that absolutely shameful truth to settle around us. Even Luke stilled, knowing that something important was happening.

I took a deep breath. Faced my son.

"You're right, Matthew. You're absolutely right. I AM being mean and I'm sorry."

"It's ok, Mummy. You're learning, too."

Sometimes, I don't deserve to be their mother. I am so very glad that they forgive me my many failings. Without these little people, I would be entirely lost.

Every day they show me, in a thousand different ways, who I want to be when I grow up.

*Do your children inspire you? Who do you want to be?*

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Mom-ing the Vote" with Matthew

It's been an interesting week, so far. In response to an invitation to my local election candidates I have heard from the "Big Four": Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Green Party candidates.

Initially, I heard from only the Green Party candidate, after the letter was published in the Belleville Intelligencer last weekend. Having heard nothing from the others by Monday evening, I blogged my disappointment, hired a sitter and headed down to an All-Candidates debate here in the city. The next day, I wrote them all again, expressing regret and frustration that I'd not heard from the last three.

On Tuesday, my phone started ringing and by Friday, I was delighted to have spoken to everyone.

By week's end, I hope to have met all of them face-to-face or had more than a quick, "Yes, I got your letter," phone call with each one. By Friday, I hope to have made a voting decision and will blog it all here.

In the meanwhile, this is an almost verbatim conversation I had this morning with Matthew, aged 5:

"Mummy, do you have a special meeting again today?
"No. I will meet with a man on Wednesday morning though."
"The man who was here yesterday?"
"Mr. McMahon? No. A different man."
"Does he want to be the boss of Canada, too?"
"No. Like Mr. McMahon, he works for another man who wants to be the boss."

Pause for cereal-munching and thought-formulating.

"Mummy, Mr. Miciman was nice."
"Yes, he was."
"Did you like him?"
"Yes, I did."
"His voice sounded like music, didn't it?"
"Yes, it did." (It did!)

More cereal-munching and then:

"How come you're talking to these mans, Mummy? Why do you have special meetings with them?"
"Well, I wrote them a letter and asked them to talk to me about stuff."
"You wrote them a letter? And they said ok?"
"Well, I wrote them a few letters, actually. And I kind of bugged them."
"Did you nag them?"

Pause for me to snort with laughter. From the mouths of babes...

"Yeah. I nagged them."

"So,  why don't you want to be the boss of Canada?"
"Because my job is to raise you and Luke."
"Are you the boss of us?"
"I guess I am."
"And Daddy. Daddy's the boss when you're not here, right?"
"Yep. Daddy's the boss when I'm not here."
"But it's mostly you, right?"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Hear that?

It's silence.

Well, not silence exactly. Just muted sound - that heavy, cotton-y feeling that settles over the house once the children have fallen asleep and TV is turned off. It's the sound of night and socked feet on the stairs, carefully easing past the creaky ones.

It's life, only muffled.

It's also what Matthew hears, every day. Turns out my sweet cherub, shrieking, bouncing, singing, never-stops, bike-riding, beloved son can barely hear.

"He's deaf," said the specialist we visited this morning. He showed me the tool he uses to measure the eardrum's mobility. Inserted into an ear, the instrument emits a "beep" and the results are translated onto a graph: in a normal-hearing ear, the mostly straight line spikes when it registers sound.

The graph of Matthew's ear showed a straight line with tiny wiggles. No spike whatsoever.

I am not surprised that Matthew's hearing is low - only that the lack of it is so profound. He's had several ear infections since his premature birth and in recent years, has been felled with a variety of colourfully-named infections, including an awful bout of the H1N1 flu last winter.

But for a slight boy, he's a tough customer and so he may well have suffered through more pain than even I knew about. This is often the case, I've since learned, for children who suffer ear infections and such. They simply absorb the discomfort and carry on - perhaps a bit irritable, or flushed but for all outward appearances, fine.

He will have tubes put in and his tonsils removed - a fair exchange, really, offering him the chance to fully engage in the world around him. I am hopeful that his snoring, which began shortly before Christmas, will disappear allowing him -and me, counting the seconds between his noisy breaths from across the hall - a better night's sleep. I hope too that the overwrought reactions to everyday frustrations will lessen and that he will not be so quick to lash out at his brother or to melt into tears over the smallest thing.

I am confident that the wonders of modern medicine and the surgeon's sleight of hand with a tiny tube will allow him to explore and discover his world with all of his senses. Am thankful that he has learned to turn at my touch and watch my mouth as I speak, but hope that soon he will no longer NEED to do so, in order to understand the words that tumble from my lips: I love you. I'm proud of you. Thank you for being my favourite 5-year old EVER.

I am trying hard not to feel immensely guilty for assuming that his hearing problem was merely one of the selective variety and that he deserved to be hollered at for not listening. Inwardly, I cringe at the number of times that I have wagged a stern finger in his face, expressing - LOUDLY - my displeasure at his lack of focus, of obedience, of hearing.

My brother was born deaf - only multiple surgeries and several sets of tubes allowed him to experience a world that was not entirely silent. The day he came home from the final procedure, a little boy still, he heard - for the first time - the fridge click and groan and ran to it, pressing his ear against its cold surface. The look on his face - such joy, such wonder!

I hope that Matthew will experience this same miracle and that soon - again - he will hear my voice - soft and low, Mama, soft and low - whispering love, from wherever I am and wherever he may go.

If a Vote Falls By The Wayside...

Will anybody care?

Unless it's the Green Party, apparently not.

HOWEVER when last week, I impulsively sent an email invitation to local election candidates, I foolishly assumed that there were only four eligible candidates in my riding, representing the following parties: Conservative, Liberal, Green and NDP.

In doing so, I excluded the Independent and Progressive Canadian Party candidates and to both of them, Tim Hickey and Andrew Skinner respectively, I extend my sincere apologies.

I can only hope that they might (might still?) have accepted my challenge - to visit me in my home and convince me to vote in their favour. In the meantime, I attended last night's local election debate and listened as both men delivered impassioned speeches about their hopes for the future of this country. Well done, gentlemen.

Before I offer up my own impressions of the debate, (heckling and booing and hissing, oh my!) I'll just quickly recap, shall I?

Wednesday, last week: Disheartened by yet another election and disillusioned by the parties I might normally vote for, I emailed local election candidates, asking them to sit awhile with me, here in my home, to help rekindle my faith in our political system and to win my vote.

Thursday: Heard nothing. Loaded link "How to Win My Vote" to Twitter and Facebook and waited, checking my email almost hourly, waiting, hoping, indeed expecting a reply. Honestly, I expected to be gently let down, knowing how jam-packed an election schedule can be. I thought perhaps I'd receive a polite "thank-you-but-I-am-far-too-busy-though-I'd-love-to-touch-base-here's-some-literature."

But I received nothing and so forwarded the letter onto my local paper, the Belleville Intelligencer.

Friday: Nope. Nothing.

But my blog traffic had gone crazy, especially after friends tweeted Margaret Atwood and she sent my link out into cyberspace. Spent most of Friday clicking the "Stats" button on my blog and feeling awed at the power and scope of social media.

Saturday: "Open Letter to Election 2011 Candidates" appeared in the Intelligencer. Shortly after 8:00 a.m., Pat Larkin, the Green Party representative for this riding, sent along a lengthy, warm and informative email. I was delighted to have been both heard AND answered. Finally.

Sunday: Day of rest and "Stats" clicking. Blogged about how life USUALLY goes around here, when Mama's knickers aren't in a knot about being ignored, feeling unheard and wondering whether to even bother getting the "good" cream for coffee. If I buy it, will they come?

Monday: Still, one lone reply sits in my inbox and my spirits sink. Really? Really??

Two of my husband's co-workers called - they read the letter and thought it great, had I heard anything back? "Anything?" theme repeats on Facebook, Twitter, via email, the comment section of the newspaper and phone calls from friends and neighbours.

My bummed answer: Of the four, only one. Lovely. yes. I suppose it IS to be expected, but shouldn't we expect MORE? Don't I - don't we - deserve, at the very least, a simple reply?

Tweeted to the two candidates who use Twitter - waited for  replies until the sitter arrived and left to attend the local election debate. Within minutes, I was shaking hands with candidates greeting folks at the door. But I didn't even have a chance to give my name before two of the four let their gazes drift past me, above me, beyond me and just like that, I was dismissed.

As for the debate itself, I was fascinated by the whole thing. Too much mudslinging for my liking: don't tell me what the "other guy" isn't doing, tell me what YOU will. I was surprised and embarrassed by the heckling and the hissing, joined in with a lot of the applause and scribbled madly in my notepad, trying to capture it all.

Of the perhaps 200 people in attendance, only 20 or so were under the age of 30. Another 20 made up the middle passage of 30 to 50 and the rest of seats were a sea of white and gray. That made me sad - where are the voices of my generation, upon whose future this election also rides? Why do we, the children and grandchildren of the baby-boomers, continue to let them make choices on our behalf? Haven't they done enough?

But I digress...

Today: About five minutes into the writing of this post, I received a call from Giselle, on behalf of Peter Tinsley, Liberal candidate. Mr. Tinsley had read the letter in the paper and had instructed her to track me down - he is anxious to speak with me. When I gently offered that my number (and address) had been made available in my initial email, she seemed confused. What letter?

Perhaps Mr. Tinsley never received my email. I am willing to accept that possibility, just as I will accept his promised phone call. His aide assures me that, at some point today, he will call.

We shall see.

Whether he does or not, I will cast my vote on May 2nd - and will tick the box beside the name of the man whom I believe offers something to strive for and values I can live with - both today and for tomorrow.

But for today, I think this:

The reason that so many of my fellow Canadians do not vote is because they feel unheard and unnoticed. Because they feel that their one measley vote won't make a difference anyhow, so why bother?

I get it. This week, for possibly the first time, I get why so many will not be urged out of their apathy by pushy, though well-meaning friends like me ("It's not just your privilege to vote, it's your responsibility!") - because they feel let down and fed up and unheard.

As though they've opened their door to the leaders of tomorrow, only to be greeted by stony silence and a gaze that won't quite meet their own.

Democracy. Ain't it grand?

*** Tuesday, 9:13 pm: Have just received a phone call from the NDP rep here. He apparently did not receive my initial email - is there a Bermuda Triangle for political emails AND socks in the dryer? - but is eager to meet with me. And so, we will. Monday morning. I supply coffee, he brings his best game. I look forward to it! Gawd, I love the internet! ****

*** Wednesday morning: I've been out all morning, but have just returned to several phone messages.
I have now been contacted by the "big four" candidates. Only one of whom received my initial email, another who only received the second and the last two, the big two, have been busily tracking me down as it appears as though they've received neither the first NOR the second email. All of them read the letter in the paper, but it did not include my contact information (me thinking they'd received it already).

Naturally, I have checked and re-checked the addresses I found online - presumably updated ones. If, for whatever reason, my letter was not forwarded to the candidates, I will feel sheepish and a bit badly that I've been so ticked at being ignored.

I am, however, DELIGHTED to have finally heard from them and look forward to the coming days! ***

Monday, April 18, 2011

Political Invitation : An Update

My husband and I have always been polar opposites, politically-speaking, which has made for some loud, tense moments in our marriage. As expected, whenever we attempted even a general discussion about the state of the nation, things quickly unravelled and it often took days to come back from a door-slamming, finger-pointing, hair-pulling, political "discussion".

To survive, we agreed to disagree, avoid all conversation that may lead to a "lively discussion" and look away as we cast our votes. This "don't ask, don't tell" policy has been working for us for a few years now and I'm happy to report that lately, we've been able to offer gentle opinions without bloodshed.

Last week, I crossed all lines when I openly expressed my frustration about the upcoming federal election.

"How am I supposed to choose when it feels as though NO ONE is trustworthy, " I fumed, half to my husband, half to the air. "It's frustrating because they all have something worth believing in, but not ENOUGH to win my vote."

My husband nodded agreement - not yet willing to commit to an out-loud reply.

"And another thing, " I continued, encouraged by Mark's silence, "I need to be sure that the local guy, the one I'm actually voting for, is trustworthy, too. Why am I focusing so much on the federal debates? Do you think most Canadians vote for their local candidates or for those we see on TV? What are YOU gonna do?"

 Mark shrugged. "For once, Liz, I am not arguing with you. I don't know, either. I'm sort of waiting for you to work it out for yourself and then I'll do the opposite."

I tossed a throw pillow at his head and we both laughed, relieved to have made through the conversation alive.

 But I remained perplexed and later, impulsively fired off an invitation to the local election candidates to visit my home and convince me to vote for them. Blogged it. I waited another day before sending it to the local paper, but did post a link on Twitter and to my Facebook page.

Oversharing. It's what I do!

Since then, the letter has made the rounds on Twitter, across my friends' FB pages and the traffic here at Life With Bellymonster has been through the roof. In and of itself, that part's been pretty cool. I love that so many people have written to me, expressing their frustrations and hopes for their own family's future. For many, I gave voice to their own thoughts and they simply wanted to say thank you.

The letter was printed in the Belleville Intelligencer on Saturday, and has garnered a few replies and a few more phone calls. Cynicism aside, the question is always the same: is anyone coming to visit?

So far, I have received one reply. Pat Larkin, the Green Party candidate here, wrote a lengthy letter early Saturday morning. In it, he expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to share his - and his party's -vision for the future and his hope that we might find a time to sit and talk, over coffee.

I've since prepared a list of questions specific to his party's platform and my own perceptions of it, and look forward to meeting with him, ideally this week.

From the others? Nothing. Not one word.

As of this posting, I've not heard, received or read a single response from any other local candidate. In all honesty, I expected to receive a gentle "we're-very-busy-here's-some-literature" response from everyone. And while I'd have been disappointed, I wouldn't have been surprised. It's a busy time for all candidates and they have many commitments to keep. I know that. Appreciate it, even.

But at the silence, I am both surprised AND disappointed. I realize that mine is but a single vote and in the larger scheme of things, means very little. But it still matters - locally and otherwise.

Doesn't it?

What do you think? Did I expect too much? Do I still?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Children Left Unattended...

Dear Johnson and Johnson Inc.,

I thought my youngest son could be trusted to simply change his own pants after his pee refused - yet again - to listen.

I was wrong.

When he came back downstairs, pantless but grinning, I knew something was amiss.

It was THIS:

In case you're wondering, it takes one 3-year-old boy approximately four minutes to spritz an entire room with Johnson's Baby Powder.

It will take this 30-something mother approximately four HOURS to vaccumn it all up and put things back to right.

My second floor, however, smells as fresh as a newborn baby's bum.

Thanks for that.

Yours truly,
Luke's Mama

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to Win My Vote: An Open Invitation

An Open Invitation to Election 2011 Candidates of Prince Edward and Hastings Counties:

I am Canadian - one of millions proud to call this great country "home." I have been blessed with incredible family, good health, and a husband who works long hours to provide for our growing family. While we are not rich, we are not quite poor, either. Mostly, we are getting by and trying to enjoy ourselves along the way.

It's not always easy. My husband lost his job during the recession and we were forced to sell our first home and move to "The Friendly City" when he finally found work after six long months of searching. We have spent the past few years settling into a life here and trying to climb out from under a mountain of debt - a challenge facing many Canadians.

We do not live large or take vacations. My husband drives a 12-year old car and we're hoping to get one more winter out of our 42-year-old furnace. Our children do not wear designer clothes unless they've been handed down and we eat a lot of potatoes. I am a menu-planning, strictly-budgeted coupon clipper.

I stay at home with our two children and have done so for almost six years. It is a sacrifice, but one we've made willingly. Happily. Besides, even if I wanted to find a job outside of our home, daycare costs would soak up any financial gains. Trust me - we've crunched the numbers over and over: until our youngest son is in school full-time, I will be here, trimming the budget and raising the future.

My husband earns a decent wage, especially for this area of the province, but in order to do so, he works more than 60 hours every week. Like so many others eking out their living, we are practically paycheque-to- paycheque, and every month, bemoan the loss of all those long hours to taxes.

Yes, we have access to healthcare and appreciate that we will - eventually - receive compassionate care should we call the doctor's office, visit a clinic or end up in the hospital ER, feverish child in-arms. Our children do (and will) participate in the French Immersion program in a Catholic school mere blocks away and their grandparents have graciously offered to pay a portion of their sports-related fees.

We are lucky - to have each other, our children, great neighbours and family within a two-hour drive.

Still...we worry. We worry that the price of groceries will continue to rise, the cost of gas will cut further into our already-tight budget and that the day will come when our children will be accepted to university and we will not have enough in the coffee-tin coffers. (RESPs are presently on hold because we simply do not have enough left over at month's end. This, in particular, bothers my husband, who is still paying off his OSAP loans.)

I worry about our aging parents and wonder what will happen when they can no longer care for themselves. How will they afford the best possible care? Will they be able to afford any care at all? Will they be separated - a heartbreaking, shameful reality for many of our nation's seniors. If not, how will we afford to care for them, should it come to that?

I wonder what sort of lessons we're teaching our children when we tell them that this is the best country in the world, but that they hear us say that we have little trust in those longing to "be the boss" of it.

We pay our taxes, pay tithing, pay the piper and always, it seems, are paying our dues.

But as we do all of this, while raising our boys to be earth-friendly and globally-minded, what will YOU do? If I tick the box next to your name on May 2nd, what will YOU bring to this city, in need of change, of restoration, of hope? What will your party bring to this country, reeling still from financial setbacks and a depressing job market?  What will your party bring to all of us who've been frustrated with governmental power or  felt disappointment that those we chose to lead, were not chosen?

I invite you to visit me here, in my home. It's small and bursting at the seams with the stuff of boys, but the coffee is hot, the chairs are comfy and the door is always open.

I invite you to share with me - and my children - how your party can and will offer new direction for this country, fresh ideas for a clean and bright tomorrow. Please, convince me to have faith in your promises and tell me how I can add my voice to yours.

Tell us, an average Canadian family, how we can help to shape the future.

Do this and I will give you my faith...and my vote.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lost and Found: Dreams of a Daughter

My birth mother was 33 when we met for the first time. It was the first meeting for both of us, as she'd forced herself not to visit me in the NICU after my premature birth. She knew that if she did, she'd never be able to let me go. For that strength and awareness and utter selflessness, I have always been grateful. Awed.


 I called her M.E. from the very start, not Mom or Mother. I wanted  to spare my beloved Mum the loss of her name and her role as she bravely stepped aside to let me - and M.E. - find ourselves:

As we gingerly eased into our new roles as mother and daughter, lost and found, we realized that new boundaries would need to be created, in order for all of us to be comfortable. Discovered that families are grown every day, in different, wondrous, crazy ways and that it was ok to overwhelmed by it all.

At 17, I was completely overwhelmed by the responsibility I felt toward her and the tender, tentative relationship we were building. It wasn't easy, even though in some moments, it was effortless. It was a delicate and difficult thing, learning to be the daughter of someone whom I had never known, but who loved me entirely, just because.

Still, we forged on, determined to love and be loved by each other and everyone who shared our worlds - separately or together. Together, we introduced me to friends and family, amused and heartened by their surprise, their tears, their love. Together, we often sat quietly, trying to fill - with and without words - the spaces we'd carved out of one another, 17 years before.

Alone, I began to dream of a coastal town which I had never visited, but felt sure existed, in real life. In the dream town, all the brightly-coloured buildings were connected - some by  airy, outdoor walkways, some by underground tunnels, lit by unseen lanterns.

The roads were sandy and all of them veered away from the centre of town toward the ocean. The laughter of children rang constantly, even when night fell and always, always music played.

In my dreams, there was also a sense of urgency to complete a task left undone. It was my job, MY task to complete and yet, frustratingly, I knew nothing. I traispsed through town looking for clues - hoping that I'd know a clue when I saw one and that somewhere along the way, I'd work out what to DO.

In my waking life, I analyzed the world I inhabited in my sleep and decided that the town represented my life and that each building represented a person in it. What I could never shake was the sense of longing that drifted through the place. It wasn't a sad longing, exactly, but it wasn't a settled, bittersweet one, either.

(Years later, when I saw B.C.'s coastal mountains for the first time and breathed in the beauty that surrounded me, I felt that longing in my waking life. It - the beauty and the longing - brought tears to my eyes and an ache to my heart and  then I swear I felt  it whisper, "Welcome home.")

One night, about six months after these dreams began, I awoke in  in a blind panic, sweating and weeping. I'd been in my dream town, wandering aimlessly about when a stranger came to fetch me - my Dad had been injured, was quite possibly dead and I needed to hurry.

Hurry! Hurry!

Fear clutched my heart and I tried to run after the messenger, but alas, in the awful way of dreams, my limbs melted into sllllooowww-moving molasses and all I could do - with agonizing slowness -was put one foot down and pray the other followed.

Eventually, I stumbled off the sun-dappled streets and  into a family restaurant, filled with happy, singing strangers. It was loud and boisterous and I found myself covering my ears as I wound my way through them all, searching for a familiar face.

Suddenly, the crowds parted and there, in the middle of the room, sat my Dad. A bandage covered half his head and he was sitting in a wheelchair, but he was smiling and alive. I THREW myself into his lap, sobbing and babbling incoherently. He laid a gentle hand on my head and said simply, "You worry so, daughter. You cannot control everything, you know."

Baffled, I gazed at him, but before I could ask what he meant, the kitchen doors swung open and there was a woman with a cake and  the entire place exploded into a rousing, slightly manic round of "Happy Birthday!"


A sudden, deafening silence, even as the candles dripped onto the three-tier cake. And then, my bio-mother emerged from the kitchen, trailed by her family - my family now, too - and they sang, in child-like, sing-songy voices:

She's my daughter, she's your daughter. Whose daughter is she?

Behind me, the question was echoed by my family and friends, their voices mimicking the same school-yard tone:

She's my daughter, she's your daughter. Whose daughter is she?

Round and round and on and on they went, getting louder, getting closer, getting louder, getting closer until I squeezed my eyes shut and I shouted, loudest of all, "I'm ME!"

And then I woke up.

And the night after that, I slept without dreams, my new identity - my task - complete:

Beloved Daughter. Doubly-Blessed.

Tell me YOUR dreams...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When Lives Collide: Meeting My Birth Mother

January 1st, 1991.

At 8:00 a.m. I was up, dressed and staring out the front windows, waiting for an unfamiliar car to pull into the drive.

My birth mother and her husband were due at noon and to say that I was giddy with anticipation would be the understatement of the century. Giddy, I was. I was also scared to death but trying hard not to show it.

But my Dad knew better. He handed me a cup of tea before settling down next to me, more appropriately dressed in his well-loved, suddenly achingly-familiar housecoat.

"What do you  think my father's name is?" I blurted out, my voice too loud in the morning quiet. "I think it's Gus. Short for Augustus."

"I don't know. We never knew that, Elizabeth, " he answered quietly. "How about Biff?"

And then we burst out laughing because really, when the only life you know is about to be forever altered and rearranged, what else is there to do?

* * *

Noon. A stranger's car turned into the lane and up the driveway while I began a slow panic:

"What do I do? What am I doing? What do I say? What do I do?" I turned in circles, flapping and fussing, trying not to cry. Failing miserably. When one's most fervent wish is about to come true, it's a bit overwhelming. Trust me.

"Elizabeth!" My Mum used her "teacher voice", effectively bringing my meltdown to a swift halt. "First, calm down. You're going to freak her out and she's likely already feeling nervous. Go upstairs. Wash your face. Wait in your room until I call."

And so I did.

Downstairs, my Dad guided M.E. into the house, while my Mum chattered happily away, as if her daughter's mother showed up on the doorstep every day. I have never been prouder of her, actually. She was a superstar.

And then, finally - all too soon - Mum called up and I came down and tumbled blindly into M.E.'s arms where we rocked and cooed to one another, surrounded by my parents and her husband, all of whom were crying.

Finally, I pulled back to look at her face - MY face, only older  - and grinned: "So, how've you been?"

* * *

We spent the day trading photos and stories and discovering the serendipitious nature of the universe:

M.E. recognized my Mum as the Choir Mistress from church and my Dad thought her husband looked familiar, which in the end, he was: Throughout my whole childhood, a farmer's field separated our two families - neither of which started out in Bowmanville, but both of which called it "home."

I learned that I bore an uncanny resemblance to an auntie's sons and that they too, lived in Bowmanville. In fact, it was Auntie N's high school best friend who read my letter to the Star and called Auntie N in a  happy dither, exclaiming, "I know where The Baby is. I've found The Baby!"

(Incidentally, P, whose sharp eye caught the "Amanda Ellen B" part of my letter? Went blind a year later. P. remains a warm and cherished part of the family - and one the most miraculous parts of our story.)

N. waited until Christmas Eve, when she pulled M.E. aside and handed her an unmarked envelope, containing a miraculous secret. M.E. and her husband spent the Christmas holidays working out how best to approach me and how to tell their two daughters that I existed.

Jerry made the intitial call, after Christmas, ending his planned introduction with this: "I believe that my wife is your daughter's mother."

Years later, M.E. told me that there was a full minute of silence before my Dad politely replied: "Would you hold the line an moment, please? I'll just go and get my wife..."

A minute later, my Mum came on the line, excited and congratulatory asking when were they coming to visit and wouldn't Elizabeth ,who wasn't home at the moment, what a pity, be happy? In the background, my Dad was frantically holding up hastily-written notes, asking for proof, which Jerry and M.E. eagerly offered:

A tiny white bible from my Mum to my mother, forwarded by the Children's Aid. And a hand-written, unsigned letter saying, "Thank you."

* * *

Some other things I discovered the day my mother came for lunch:

I share her laugh, the way she clasps her hands, crosses her legs and tells a story.
Her daughters were shocked to learn that their mother had given birth to another child, but were looking forward to meeting me, just as soon as I could wrap my head around their existence. Sisters!
Every year on my birthday, my aunties would secretly light a candle and send up a prayer and wishes for happiness.
The gap between my two front teeth is entirely hereditary.
Ditto the need for eyeglasses, the love of words, laughter, wine and family.

And most interestingly:

My surname began with "B"
Bio-father's name is Gus. Short for Augustus.
Like the fairy princess mother of my childhood fantasies,  M.E. did indeed have long red hair.

What's YOUR story? Do you remember the day you were SO proud of your parent(s)?