Sunday, December 30, 2012

Can't's and Can's. Dreams and Plans.

“I had a dream my life would be …” – Fantine, Les Miserables

My love affair with music began before I remember. The rapture that comes with the purest voice soaring crystalline, the beauty of a solitary note hanging heavy in the air, the force of emotion that builds inside as the chorus swells in lament and in glory. Half notes and violin strings. Mezzo sopranos and the deepest bass. Ancient acoustics reverberating with the songs of ages. Pulsing beats and rapid-fire drums and guitar riffs. Four-part harmonies and requiems en masse. Symphonies and madrigals. Lullabies and the latest hits.

My grandfather played the cornet with Guy Lombardo, a family treasure that now gleams in my parents’ den with a case that accommodated an unnoticed flask for border crossings. My father introduced us to centuries-old symphonies, simple notes woven together in ornate lyrical tapestries, while my mother’s loafs and crescent rolls filled the air with sweet warmth. John Denver carried us home over cross-country roads each summer, while Bing Crosby celebrated the snow blown white Christmases of my Arctic childhood.

But it is the musical – a story in song that transcends time and space – I adored.

I watched Annie until the Beta tape begged for mercy, and I imagined sounds of music rolling across the bluffs. I coerced cousins into impromptu family performances, and I remember vividly each Christmas pageant my mother orchestrated each year.

In high school, I found my voice under the guidance of a proper British music teacher who’s love of music transcended the classroom and put us in Westminster Abbey’s choral galleys on Easter Sunday, ancient Italian monasteries and let our voices float among the angels of the Sistine Chapel. House League music competitions and renditions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Webber’s Requiem blended with morning assemblies and carols by candlelight beneath the colorful majesty of the school chapel. We listened to our voices circle Roy Thompson Hall, an annual parade of boarding school tartans and choral elite. And in college as my voice faded into reality, I disappeared into the stories that came alive through other voices in Toronto’s theater district.

Music is life’s love letter. Morose and tremulous. Angry and defiant. Joyous and enraptured. Fragile and empowered. Bitter and triumphant.

And as I listened in the dark theater, the anthem for downtrodden women everywhere nipped at the edges of old wounds already smarting.

I am not suggesting that I am on an even plain with a woman so broken and used and desperate that she resorts to prostitution, shorn locks and having her teeth ripped from her head. I cannot begin to fathom such utterly wretched desperation.

But I do know what it means to sacrifice everything for your children, to believe in love only to find it beyond your reach, to feel the sting of criticism for decisions you make, and to question the true depth and motives of the humanity surrounding you. All of which I have had delivered in spades.

Standing here on the ramparts of another year past, I’ll once again raise a glass to days gone by and the life that used to be. And to the one ahead worth living.

(Maybe more than one glass. Just to make sure it works.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, silence filled the house.
Three stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 were nestled snug in their beds,
While visions of Xboxes and Monster High dolls danced in their heads.
A glass of red in hand, wrapping accessories in my lap,
I settled in for a long night of gift wrap.

In the twinkle of the tree lights surrounded by gifts,
I wished for a moment that the loneliness would lift.
Perhaps Santa would fill my stocking,
With a man that would last?

The moon in the sky left a gleam on the ground,
Lighting the new trampoline I had found.
When suddenly I heard down the hall,
The sound of tiny foot falls.

With the reflexes of a mom, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment Benadryl would do the trick.
Rubbing sleep from their eyes they came down the hall,
And I rushed to avoid an epic Christmas Eve fail!

Hobbit lego and Nuvi dolls, Angry Birds and Taylor Swift!
A Cannondale! A vanity! A hockey net and fairies and more!
To the top of the mound! To the top of the heap!
Now wrap it! Wrap it! Wrap it all quick!

With speed and agility all mothers inherit,
I intercepted them before they rounded the corner.
“It’s so late! Why are you up, sleepyheads?
“Santa can’t come if you don’t get in your beds!”

“I’m so excited. I just can’t wait.
I hope that Santa brings a puppy named Cocoa in his sleigh!”
And I gazed on my treasure made of sugar and spice,
Happy that tonight she is not naughty, but nice.

“I want proof that he’s real. A clue or two.
What if that book was true, and Santa’s really … just you?”
I looked at my too-smart young man and the Dad within,
And wished that his brain would get out of the way and let him imagine.

Too many tests these past Christmases have held!
I don’t want this to be the year that Santa was felled!
I knelt down and smiled at the presents left to me,
Their eyes bright with excitement, hearts beating impatiently.

“Remember what we say when we feel let down?
When we miss and we cry and we shake and we frown?
The most important thing of all, more than presents and gifts,
Is what we hold in our hearts, a far greater, more sparkly lift.”

“Santa is real, make no mistake.
He’s here every day, in our hearts and heartbreak.
He’s the magic around us, the warmth in the air.
He might even be the reason we share.”

Without a word they wrapped their arms around me,
Still trying to peek at the tree.
And kissing them each on the bridge of their nose,
I carried them off and tucked them in close.

And as I walked down the hall, I heard their soft call.
“Mommy, we love you so much, you’re the best Mom of all.
But can you leave the light on in the hall?
If Santa’s real, we don’t want him to fall.”

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Monday, December 10, 2012

One Lump or Two?

“Mom. You have some explaining to do.”

There was a time, years ago, when I arriving home meant that I had 10 minutes of my own. To unload the baggage of the day, both figurative and literal. To wash away the day’s drag on my face. To pull my long locks into clipped submission. To strip out of my polished veneer and into my beloved pajamas. To decompress.

But there is no defensive line to run interference.

If there was, I wouldn’t be standing two feet inside the back door, my aching feet screaming for release, my back threatening to collapse under the weight of the my work, my eyes burning with exhaustion, and a determined boy standing between me and bra-less freedom. And right behind him, his formidable younger sister.

“What is … this?”

This is, apparently, the end of innocence. Mine and his and possibly hers. Because if I had been paying attention to the pile of holiday books that come out of hiding every year I would have noticed the shiny one. The shiny one titled “Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Holidays.” The shiny one that should have come with a warning to keep out of the reach of children.

“It says right here that there is no Santa Claus. See? It says ‘Santa Claus is really all the parents in the world.’ And right here it says ‘The truth is that mom and dad buy all of your presents at the mall …’ Is this true? Is there no Santa Claus?”

The angry glare on his face and the quiver of her lip are swimming in my teary eyes and all of the words that I knit together in anger and sadness and joy and laughter have suddenly vanished. I am not ready for this.

“Sweetheart, I don’t think I like that book.”

“You didn’t answer. Is it true?”

“I believe in Santa. How else would Mommy get stuff in her stocking?”

“But you like everything you get.”

“Not true. I once got a shirt I hated. And a pair of jammies I definitely did not like. And I don’t like malls.”

I distinctly remember the year that the man in the red suit became my Dad. It was mid-summer and I saw the fur-trimmed suit peeking out of a black bag at the top of my parents closet. And Dad never seemed to be there on Christmas Eve when Santa stopped by. So I, with the authority of a child, promptly informed my younger brother that there was, indeed, no Santa Claus. And standing here watching my children, I remember my own disappointment and my brother’s quivering lip. It wasn’t that the man wasn’t real. It wasn’t that we received any less in our stockings or under the tree.

It was that something magical ended. And it isn’t just that I am not ready for the magic to end again – it’s that I wish I could find a way to give them back the years when the magic was dulled by sadness and anger. To hang on for just a little while longer to the laughter and purity of a Christmas morning when Santa is something more than presents under the tree.

To hang on to the magic in the air.

Lying beside him in the dark later that night, I hear myself in the not-so-little boy who is far too wise for his age, the quiver in his voice and the wet tears on his cheek.

“Mom, tell me the truth. Is Santa real?”

“Sweetheart, I told you I would never lie to you. I have never seen Santa, but I do believe in the idea of Santa and the magic of Christmas. Sometimes when we believe in something, it’s more than just a person or a thing.”

“It isn’t nice to make people believe something that isn’t real.”

“You’re right. It isn’t a nice feeling to believe in something and then find out it isn’t real or it isn’t true, and Mommy has felt that way before when she believed in something. But you have to believe in more than just what you see, and that’s what is magical about Christmas.”

“Do you really believe in Santa?”

“Ummmm … YES. How else would I get presents in my stocking?”

“I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too, lovely boy.”

It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

On the Border Between Somewhere and Nowhere.

The only sound in the darkness is my own. Even the blinking of the hazard lights has faded into black.

I am somewhere near the border of Arizona and California, three hours in to a six-hour drive. And the helplessness and fear that I left behind years ago is the only thing familiar in the dark landscape around me.

Glancing into the rearview mirror, I see them watching me. Waiting.

For three days, we wandered through the Magic Kingdom, a cotton-candy-fueled frenzy of roller coasters and fantasy, princesses and pirates, fireworks and wonder. We fell blind in a Tower of Terror, raced across Route 66 and shot through the stars. We flew through Neverland and took a wild ride with a toad. We splashed down mountains and found fairies. Bunkbeds and hot tubs, monorails and buffets, dancing snowflakes and Santa himself.

Three days of Disney-fied bliss devoured by panic.

It’s an odd feeling to know that there are two versions of you, the “you” before and the “you” after. It’s different than the “you” in college that becomes the “you” upon graduation. The single “ you” and the married “you.” The daughter “you” and the mother “you.”

The pre- and post-trauma “you.”

I was an independent and stubborn girl that became and independent and stubborn woman. A daughter that became a mother. A single that became a double. A student that became an exhausted career professional. A dreamer that became a realist. A spender that became a saver. A dissatisfied that was satisfied. A reader that dreamed of writing. A double that became a single. A dissatisfied no longer satisfied. A mother failing. A daughter detached. A sister lost. A friend vanished. An empty smile.

A wraith in my own body.

They tell you that the pain of childbirth vanishes in your child’s first cry. What they don’t tell you, and perhaps it is because they don’t know, is that it becomes absorbed deep within you and, like all pain, it resurfaces in moments of agony. And the agony of loss has become entwined with the agony of my greatest gift, defining the post-trauma me and crashing over me in waves of panic let loose by dread of failure and hurt.

Here in the desert, my fear of the dark and night and loss have collided. And they watch silently, waiting for the tears and gasps to disappear.

“Mom, everything will be okay. I promise. We’ll take care of you.”