Monday, February 28, 2011

Open Letter to the Squidlets

Dear James, Hannah and Jonah,

Guys, I want to tell you something. Maybe a few things. Things that I sometimes whisper to you when you’re asleep, things that I think when you’re not around, and things you couldn’t possibly know I’m thinking. Or maybe you do.

First off, I love all three of you. There. That’s not going to change. You’re all so different, and changing faster than I can keep up, but even though I get distracted with making sure you guys are all bathing, eating and not beating each other up, I love you. Yes, I shout. More than I want to. And yes, sometimes I have to say “no” to you, but that doesn’t change the simple fact: I love you.

Love’s a pretty important part of life. No, man, I don’t mean the snogging that you aren’t supposed to see (and that makes you embarrassed) if you accidentally (on purpose) turn on the TV when the soapies are showing- not that love- I mean real love- that you are part of somebody’s life, and they are part of yours. You’re an extension of me. That might sound a little self-absorbed, but I can’t imagine a life without you. So there you have it: I may find it hard to express between stopping you from calling each other “doofus-head” or “monkey-face”, or while I’m checking to see that you’re not putting your dirty socks back on, but in case you ever doubt it: I love you.

I wish that I could be there all the time- sometimes it feels like you guys are a trapeze act, and I want to be your safety net, and that’s ok, but sometimes I have to trust that you’re learning how to swing, how to catch and even how to fall safely. I underestimate you. One of the best parts of watching you all growing up is when I see you doing something I’d never have thought was possible, whether it’s making a wise choice or managing to colour within the lines. Then I wonder at how you made that leap, and I feel like a spectator to something awesome.

Awesome. Yeah, that word gets tossed around more than fries in a fryer at McDonalds, but I do get caught dead in my tracks sometimes and go: Wow. These kids are awesome. That’s exactly how it should be. You teach me how to be impressed.

You also help me to understand my own fragility as a person, but also my strengths. I know that much of what we do is a response to our environments, a reaction to events and situations, and that can be a little scary when we can’t control it, but being your dad has shown me that I can be responsible. Sometimes. You’ve also helped to turn a microscope onto my frailties- my moods, temper, lack of self-control, and I hope that I’ve learned a little more about how to be a better person. I’m sorry- sometimes I do lose my cool- and I hope that you all understand that it doesn’t change the fact that I love you- not one little bit.

But I do want you to know that you are all incredible people. You’re not grown up quite yet, and you have lots to learn, but you’re so full of possibilities: gifts, talents, future. What a privilege to be a witness to that.

So don’t let other people mess with your confidence. When there’s teasing going on, keep telling yourself that you are bigger than that. Don’t listen to haters, and avoid cynicism. I know you all have a sense of humour, and that helps. I love seeing you laugh. Best feeling. Being able to laugh will chase away so many clouds. Promise.

I could go on and on, but I know you have short attention spans, so perhaps I’ll save some for another letter. Just wanted you guys to know I’m cheering you on, and loving you to bits.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

When I grow up, I want to be a gateau.

I remember peeling the corrugated paper off the bottom to reveal the soft sponge below- slightly paler than the rest of the thing- the colour of straw or the hair of a toddler after a long summer in the sun. This was after chipping the icing off the top- wait- and that was after plucking the damp sweet from the centre of it. It was a complicated affair, eating a cupcake.

Most parties when I was a kid involved sitting in some friend’s lounge, the furniture shoved to the perimeter of the area giving it the feel of a dentist’s waiting room- sometimes shrouded in sheets to protect the already-stained upholstery. The adults would be hunched over, hands on their knees, trying to coax the guests into having a blast at pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, or musical statues. It was in the Midlands of England, and most often the party would be held indoors to avoid the rain.

Next to the kitchen, there’d be a table with paper plates and some trays covered with the kind of food only someone under the age of ten would enjoy: iced biscuits, cups of jelly, sweets in bowls and huge mounds of orange crisps. Some parents would do savouries, too: pretzels, buttered slabs of gingerbread, and cocktail sticks with squares of cheddar and wedges of pineapple impaled on them. Mostly, the sweet stuff would vanish fast.

But it’s the cupcakes I remember. Heaps of them. Some parents iced them neatly with water icing, and some stuck closely to their home economics classes and used perfectly measured butter icing. I never got tired of planning how to eat them, or choosing which one would be the best. Would the chocolate vermicelli be as satisfying as the miniscule crunch of a silver ball? Choices.

If the parents had had enough time, and they were wise, they’d have made at least two per guest. Then you could eat one as if you’d just returned from an expedition to the jungle- guzzle it down whole- the icing squeezing out of the corners of your mouth, and the sponge melting into one dry, sweet mouthful. I don’t remember if perhaps one parent had used rice paper cups, but form then on, I’d eat the paper, too, chewing it if it wasn’t edible until it was just a wad of soggy paper, and spitting that discreetly into a bin (or a pot plant).

The parties would be loud and over-organised- the kids would have to line up to do this, crowd around to do that, and the only time we’d really relax is when we could eat. And we ate. By the time the birthday cake came out at the end, most likely decorated to suit the birthday boy/girl’s tastes, we’d already had enough. Mostly, the big cake would get dissected but remain uneaten, to get squashed into a mess wrapped in a paper towel on the way home.

It’s the cupcakes I remember: Small pretenders to the cake throne, but always usurpers when it came to satisfaction.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Happy Story of Piles

I’ve got piles. Before you wince and discreetly pass me a tube of Preparation H®, I don’t mean piles-piles, I mean piles. Things that gather in corners and teeter and tilt like Dr Seuss creations. Papers using a vertical archival system understood only by me and that crazy old woman at the end of the road- you’ve probably got one of those, too- she’s got newspapers piled on top of newspapers, back issues dating to the point when newspapers were hand chiseled on tablets by whip-scarred slaves. She has cats slinking over her crocs® to get to food bowls which haven’t had a good scouring since, well, ever. One of those people. She’s wears some sort of gown/robe that doubles as pyjamas and clothing. If you were to slip in close, and give a sniff, you know exactly how she’d smell. An earthy mixture of potting soil with the sharp tang of newly chopped onions. Irish stew. That’s it. She’d smell like Irish stew.

I don’t smell like any sort of casserole or wear crocs or collect newspapers. I don’t have cats- not that being a cat-person prejudices you towards being domestically disadvantaged, but if I did, they’d be lost in the piles along with my birth certificate and a medal I once received for extreme bravery. Ok, the medal was essentially for attendance, but, since it doesn’t actually exist any more, that’s not too serious. The corners are stacked high with miscellaneous objects I was loathe to throw in the bin.

Last year I spoke to someone who said that your living environment is a reflection of your inner state. In which case, mine is mostly neat, but with pockets of mayhem. If someone should remove a strategically placed object or paper, the piles threaten to cascade down and carpet even the tidy bits. That happened briefly last year, but I carefully managed to throw out so many useless things that I was almost clean. Still am. It makes sense, really- half the challenge of cleaning is positioning everything so that it’s easier to maintain. And the fewer things you have to position, the better. So you designate places where it’s acceptable to have some accumulation, and keep others free.

One trick: Don’t let the stuff pile up above your head. Once you do, the potential for smothering is enormous. Keep the piles low and maneuverable, keep everything mobile, so you can shift it or get rid of it entirely if possible.

I like some clutter, though. Can’t help it, with the kids, for a start. I enjoy finding their old drawings or toys, and recalling some happy moments. I like the clutter K leaves- the feminine accoutrements which give the bathroom a homely feel- don’t get me wrong- she’s a tidy person- but there are bottles and tubes of stuff I’d never have had on my own, and it’s part of what makes me feel safe here. It would be disturbing, to me, to have the pristine minimalism of an architectural journal illustration around me instead of books gathering dust, and a couple of plates in the sink. A stray doll hiding under the couch. A lego block which makes your eyes water when you stand on it in the bathroom. Some of what makes up a home will always be mess.

It’s the lego blocks inside my head that keep me from just settling into routine- every time I step on one, it’s an awakening. A reminder that while routine can help to produce inner calm and order, a sprinkling of chaos helps to keep things slightly risky- anything could happen.

They’re my piles, and I know what’s in them. And they know what’s in me.