"When we look back and say, 'Those were Halcyon Days,' We're talking about Jubilee" -- Mary Chapin Carpenter

Monday, July 2, 2012

Happy Canada Day

Yesterday was Canada’s 145th birthday.

While you’re away, I wonder what you will say when people ask you about Canada.  You sure know your way around a map.  You can pronounce Iqaluit and name the provinces and their capitals in both languages.  But, how will you define what it means to be Canadian?  Will you have the words (in any language) to explain?

Canadian is hard to pin down.  Often, “Canadian” is explained by what it is not (meaning – we are not American).  When I ask a classroom full of college students the question, “What is ‘Canadian’?” the answers flounder, presenting a mixed collage.  Multiculturalism, respect for diversity.  Distance, regionalism.   Maple Syrup.  Hockey.  Beer.

I became most aware of my own Canadian-ness when I was in Australia.  In that beautiful country, the leaves on the trees were all the wrong shapes; the air was too hot, the seasons too similar.  The birds were too brash, the insects too enormous. Don’t get me wrong, Oz is a fantastic place, but I woke up every day feeling disoriented. (Or, if to orient is to find your place in relation to the east, perhaps I was dis-northernated).  It wasn’t until I was sure that I would be able to return to Canada that I was able to enjoy Australia.

Even now (after a Master’s Degree in literature and teaching a course in Canadian writings) I have a hard time coming up with the exact words to define Canada.
I hope you and I will always share one word for this place: Home.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Letting Go

      In the last days before your trip, everyone has been anxious; your sister has pouted relentlessly.  Today, your brother was actually ill.  No one wants you to be away.

     I helped you pack and re-pack your suitcase; somehow you got your mask, snorkel, and flippers in your suitcase.  I’m not even certain you’ll need them, but you were so pleased with your masterful packing skills that I couldn’t argue with you.

“Your snorkel?”

“Yyup,” you nodded.  “I need them.”

     When you packed your copy of Mockingjay, I know it is strictly for my benefit; we both know you’ll only use your iPod, but you realized that I can’t wrap my mind around the concept of bookless travel (I tend to have a novel in my purse at all times). 

     On the drive (which took about an hour) to the International Student Exchange meeting, I find myself lecturing on good manners and speculating on what you should expect.  In 72 hours, you’ll know more about Europe than I do, but you listen to me, grinning.

“You have to use vous when you talk to adults,” I insisted. “It’s rude if you use tu.”

“Don’t worry, I will.”

“I would have felt better if you had answered: “Ne vous inquiétez pas””.


     At the meeting, the exchange organizers tried to provide the parents and students with some useful tips.  They were particularly descriptive about alcohol use, and they indirectly told parents who endorse prohibition: “Too bad for vous.”  They described European habits of embracing and kissing, and they warned us that Canadians are considered cold, because we are known for backing away from these affectionate greetings.  You shifted from leaning into your dad to snuggle into me.  I’m so glad that you’ll be hugged while you’re gone.  

     You are the most affectionate person I have ever known.  I have tried to show you my love through a simple rule: I’m never the first to let go a hug.  Most of your hugs are quick; when I feel you pull away, then I let go.  Sometimes you hold onto me longer; I am there for you as long as you need me. 

     Outside of airport security, I held you for a long time.  Then, I felt you pull away.  Bravely, you turned and went.  Your dad and I watched you, until you passed through the barrier. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Changing Landscapes

How many times have we come here to our Innisfil Beach?  I remember hovering over you as you toddled through the waves, worrying about the sharp shells against your soft feet, your fingers clinging to mine.  Today, you swim blithely, far, far out.  I hold up my empty hand when I see you stand on the sand bar, shielding your eyes from the late afternoon glare as you look back at me.

Early this spring, excavators reshaped this shoreline; the grass and rocks moved aside to create wider sandy beaches.  When you were little, you would have loved to watch the construction, to see the “Mighty Machines” at work.  We spent hours back then, going for walks around our neighbourhood, watching the diggers scoop out basements from the empty fields.  When we drove out a few months ago to see the construction, you barely looked up from your iPod.  I watched the transformation, alone.

At the time, I thought about how we had read that Lake Simcoe is a remnant of prehistoric Lake Algonquin; the ice dam had melted and the water levels went down, leaving us our lake.  How long had it taken for this shoreline to emerge?  The construction rumbled forward, indifferent.  By the summer rush, the sandy beaches would be wide and welcoming to tourists.

Now, the first day of summer, I watch you swim back to shore, jubilant.  You shake the cold water off, leaving your hair furled in the back.  You throw a ball with your little brother, who chuckles in his way.  He is the baby of the family, a replica of your smaller self.  Along the wet sand, you write with a stick, I WAS HERE.  A wave tumbles in, swipes away some of your letters.  You laugh at the game the water plays, and write your words again.  

In a few more days, you will board the plane for France.  You have been waiting, eagerly, since you heard of the Summer Exchange program at school months ago.  “I should go to France,” you had announced, all confidence.

“Yes,” my answer surprised and thrilled you.  How could I say no? You are young, only thirteen, but you will learn so much from a month away from home in Bordeaux.

Now, at my feet in the sand, scribbling with a stick, you seem so small.  Am I hurrying you to grow?  Carving at you in a rush?  Or is it just time for certain waters to recede?  Watching you, I see a strong, smart, big boy, with a bright quirky smile; at the same time, I see the baby I cherished so, so much.  The waves agree, shifting your message. I WAS HE.