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A Very (COVID) Birthday

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my mother threw me a surprise birthday party. Well, the “surprise” part didn’t happen. My neighbourhood friend Kenny sort of gave it away early on. We were playing at his house a few days before and he couldn’t help saying “I’m so excited! I can hardly wait! Oops!” covering his mouth and giggling. I knew something was up.

On the day of the party, my mother sent me across the street to play in the park, while she secretly decorated the back yard. When she called me home, she put a blindfold on me and took my hand to lead me outside to the yard. It was very still and quiet, until I heard a giggle. Yep, it was Kenny. He just couldn’t keep quiet.

My blindfold came off to reveal all of my neighbourhood friends gathered to celebrate my birthday. It was a wonderful day.

Birthdays are a far more complicated event for parents these days. Theme parties, dress up parties, movie parties, adventure parties…you name it, there’s a way to make a kid’s party out of it. It’s exhausting to think about.

But this year…

Yes, this year, it’s a whole different story. Suddenly you can’t just book a party room at the movie theater, or arrange for a pool party at the rec centre for your kids. Even something as simple as my little surprise party in the back yard is better left for another time.

There have been some pretty inventive alternatives, though. Decorating the front yard in birthday balloons and paraphernalia, for instance, so that people can honk and wave happy birthday. Or sending your child an “animal gram” in the form of a video created for them with their favourite animal.

A birthday parade is a big hit this year, with friends and family decorating their cars and driving around in a fancy show. There are even virtual scavenger hunts and, in some special cases, the local fire department will drive one of their big trucks by the house and turn on the siren as a birthday wish.

My oldest adult daughter’s birthday was not ordinary this year, but not because of COVID. It took place back in mid-February, before there was any thought about Armageddon. We were in Hawaii, where she had never been, to celebrate a special year of accomplishments for her. We even went to a Luau the night of her birthday to celebrate. All was well in the world, and it turned out that she had the most normal birthday out of all of us.

Because by the next birthday in our household, my husband’s in early May, we were full fledged into the pandemic. I wasn’t ready to go into the mall to buy a card yet, even though the mall had opened by then. I ended up creating a book of photos from a big trip we took a couple of years ago, and making the card myself, the one pictured here, after researching some ideas online. We ordered in some food, had a little cake with candles, and did our best to make it normal.

This past week, my other daughter and I had our birthdays a few days apart. We’re in a different kind of birthday routine now, adjusting to a new way of doing things. In fact, it’s my birthday as I’m writing this. I’ve spent most of the day doing what I love to do, writing and painting, so it doesn’t take much to find my happy place. But right now there’s some whispering in the kitchen, and a match is being lit.

Something’s going on.

I swear, I can hear Kenny giggling…

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Canada Day – A Different Way

Last week, I asked a few of my students what their plans were for Canada Day. Usually, that’s just a casual question you ask when a holiday is on the horizon. This year, however, the responses were decidedly different.

They would stop for a second, stare off somewhere, maybe chuckle, and shrug their shoulders.

Some had definite plans. “We’re going fishing,” one said. That seems safe enough. “Off to our cabin for a couple of days,” said another.

But most had no plans at all. No picnics or barbeques, no street parties, no fireworks or live shows to watch. Not even the usual Canada Day show from a stage set up somewhere in Ottawa, with all the Canadian stars and politicians in attendance.

Oh, there were other shows. Some live streaming and some on TV. But we’re getting used to those new formats now, aren’t we? They’re either live from their living rooms or some kind of “virtual” celebration. Or ninety-three people singing Oh Canada on Zoom.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We’ve come up with a lot of wonderfully creative ways to celebrate special occasions lately, from solitary graduations to drive-by birthdays and weddings, and holiday car or bicycle parades. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to celebrate, and we Canadians love to do that. Especially on Canada’s birthday.

Normally, our family would either go down to the lawns of the legislature and be a part of the living flag, or maybe over to Fort Rodd Hill to celebrate our nation’s birthday there. At night, from our back deck, we always hear the fireworks going off. And the inevitable screech of seagulls flying above as they escape Armageddon.

My husband and I decided that this Canada Day it was time to see and be with our friends. In person. We have a great group of four couples who golf together, spend Christmases and birthdays together, and have done so for many years. It’s very unusual for us to go any longer than a month or two without seeing each other in person, but the last time we had been together as a group was last Christmas. That’s more than six months.

So we decided to host a back yard get together at our home on the afternoon of Canada Day, where everyone would bring their own appetizers and beverages, and we’d all sit an appropriate distance apart and just spend some time together. And it was great. It was wonderful to laugh together again, to share our COVID stories and experiences, to catch up on each other’s news and views. It lasted about 3 hours and it was perfect.

Three years ago, on Canada’s 150th birthday, I wrote a blog about having recently returned from Europe on our first big vacation there. I remember, very vividly, seeing Labrador through the plane’s window on the flight back, marveling at how massive Canada is and how little I’ve seen of it. It was a wonderful European vacation, but it was an especially warm feeling to come back home.

But this year, on Canada’s 153rd birthday, to be honest, I was really just happy to be here. Weren’t you?

We Canadians might have our disagreements. Okay, who am I kidding? We have lots of disagreements. We are certainly not perfect and still have a lot to work out for ourselves. But in spite of our differences, I think most of us would agree that we are darn lucky to live in this great country. And that has become so much more evident in the last few months as we’ve negotiated this strange new and frightening pandemic.

One very important reason for our luck is that we’ve had some well educated and intelligent people leading us through it all. And our humanity has been brought to the surface; instead of fighting each other, we’ve come together to help each other. We’ve learned to follow the protocols, listened to those who know what they’re talking about, and put up with new, uncomfortable rules. It’s been rough on a lot of us, and we’ve still got a long way to go.

But, Oh, Canada! I’ve never been prouder to stand on guard for thee.

We Must First Set Our Hearts Right

Leave It to Beaver (season 2)Image via Wikipedia

My daughter often jokes that my mother, who passed away in 1972, was a real “Leave It To Beaver” mom, and that I’m nothing like that. My mother was the typical housewife of that time; she was a great cook, kept her house spic and span, took care of me and my Dad, and we were her whole life. Of course, there was a lot more to my mother before her life with us, and I found out some things about her long after she died that gave a much more complete and realistic picture of her. But in the years before she became sick, I had a wonderful childhood, and being an only child I was the centre of my parents’ universe.

I guess my daughter is right, it felt like a “Leave It To Beaver” life. I was lucky!

Realistically, families are nothing like that idealized 50’s version from TV. Partners split up, certain members don’t get along, and in some cases become permanently estranged. There are family secrets, disagreements, jealousies and it can get worse from there. More often than not, divorce takes its toll, kids get shuttled around and life gets very confusing.

In my case, after my mother died, my father remarried and we became a blended family, which is quite common. I inherited a different culture, different traditions, and a whole bunch of new family, many that I have heard of but to this day have not met. I had two new siblings but they were older than me so we never lived together. However I can imagine that when the kids of two families suddenly have to live in the same house and share everything, that can be challenging.

But even in families that remain relatively intact, there can be many problems. Personalities clash, circumstances change, fortunes come and go. Good relationships can occasionally become stressed by the changes that are inevitable and even the closest of families have their burdens to bear. Not long ago my sister and I were sitting over coffee discussing family matters, and we reached the same conclusion.

Family relationships can be complicated, and this can become much more evident when big changes happen such as older members becoming sick or passing away and decisions having to be made because of it. The cream rises, but so can the crap! True personalities suddenly come to light, loyalties change, and it can be a very trying time for everyone involved.

All of you out there reading this are probably nodding your heads in recognition of the disappointments that happen in families. You likely find yourself closer to some family members than others, maybe you feel you have to put up with someone who you would never have chosen to associate with had they not been in your clan. And for some of you, it has been necessary to estrange yourself from an unhealthy family situation completely.

Over time and since the idealistic Leave It To Beaver days of the 50’s, we have learned to accept that there is really no such thing as the perfect family. Or have we?

If there is one occasion, one time of year that brings out the familial disconnections and disappointments, it’s Christmas. For many, there are people in the family you love to see at Christmas, and those you have to see. There are great expectations and devastating disappointments that occur every Christmas that have nothing to do with getting the gift you really wanted.

And now I’m finally getting to the point of this particular blog…expectations. The psychologically healthiest people in the world are the ones who have let go of expectations and found a way to appreciate the family they actually have. We can’t allow ourselves to be sucked into the happily-ever-after Hollywood view of things, it simply doesn’t exist. A “picture perfect” family can mean many things now; for example, it can be comprised of people you choose to be with whether you are related or not. There may be only one parent, there may be two of the same gender. Children can be of mixed races, religions and cultures. And sometimes you have to accept that a member of your family, doesn’t want to be.

For years I used to refer to my siblings with the word “step” in front. And yet, they had no trouble simply calling me their sister. One day I found myself questioning why I had this difficulty, and realizing it was because I STILL harboured this idealized view of my old family, the one I had until I was 14. Maybe that’s a natural reaction…it wasn’t my choice for my mother to die, and it wasn’t my choice for my father to re-marry. But that is what happened. And in the last few years as our parents have aged and we have become more involved in their care together, without any demands or expectations, my sister and brother have taught me what family is really about.

To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” – Confucious

No, blood isn’t always thicker than water.
Thank you DL and DC.
Love,
Sis

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