Happy day-after-Mother’s-Day to all the not-my-mothers!

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day. Unless you’ve been in a coma since stores started advertising pink stuff (right after they marked the Easter chocolate down by 75%), you know that. Hopefully, you took the opportunity to show your mother that you appreciate her. If you are a mother, hopefully, you felt appreciated. Because being a mother can be a tough task (if you’re doing it right, anyway). Those little angels start by wrecking your body as they exit, and they spend years metaphorically drinking your blood, sweat and tears – and, at least for the first little while – they can’t say thank you. In fact, until they’re about four, they don’t give a damn about you and wouldn’t say thank you even if they could. As far as they’re concerned, you’re like the sun and the moon. Up all day and all night, shining for them – it never occurs to them that it could be any different. Bridget expressed utter shock, and a healthy amount of skepticism when she found out, at the age of four, that I actually sleep. And children are expensive! The amount of money I’ve spent on wine and anti-wrinkle creams since becoming a mother could have bought me a yacht by now, I swear.

For years, Ryan did the heavy lifting when it came to making me feel good about being a mother on Mother’s Day. He still gives me a beautifully worded card, and flowers or garden trinkets, makes food and does housework – and, of course, brings home a big ol’ bucket of fried chicken for dinner because nothing tells this Beth she is loved like disgustingly, deliciously greasy food. Now, though, my girls are old enough to treat me well on Mother’s Day – and they do. They gave me fancy bath junk and flavoured teas, two lovely cards and a collection of homemade coupons for everything from dishwasher emptying and lunch-making to a spa day. I had a nice chat with my mother and my mother-in-law. I scrolled my Facebook newsfeed (yes, I’m back) and marveled at just how much people had to say about mothers. Boy, do we ever love our mothers! (Well, on Mother’s Day on social media, we do, anyway.)

Yesterday had me thinking about a different category of women, too, ones that I didn’t say anything about because I didn’t want to take Mother’s Day away from all the deserving mothers out there. I owe my mother alot. More than I’ll ever be able to properly repay. But she isn’t the only woman who mothered me. Over the years, my aunts have spent hours listening to what I have to say. They’ve offered comfort and advice and encouragement. They’ve put me up in their homes and generously shared their fine cooking with me. They’ve celebrated my milestones with me. Likewise, the mothers of my good friends. I ran in and out of their houses, grabbing snacks and making messes and staying the night more times than I can count. They schlepped me to Brownies and piano lessons and figure skating and youth group events right along with their own kids. They took the time to listen to me in a way that showed me they really cared about me – they didn’t have to, and they already had their hands full with their own family, but they did. Even their grandmothers knew who I was and welcomed me at their table right along with everyone else if I happened to be there at dinnertime. Sweet ladies who gave me a hug and kiss just as if I were their granddaughter. My mother’s friends showed up without hesitation when I called them for help (which I did more than once). My mother did the same for my friends. Many of them called her “Mom Two”, and she still asks about them when we talk. I have no doubt that if any of them turned up at her house she’d be thrilled to let them open the fridge, grab a snack and slouch on her couch like they did all those years ago.

I had a series of long-suffering babysitters. My energetic, mischievous, saucy arse surely made them question how badly they needed the money my parents gave them. Yet, they made me feel like I was one of their own children whenever I was dropped off at their house. They’re still cheering for me today, from miles away, complimenting my photos and asking about my vacations and saying “I remember you when”.

I had wonderfully involved female teachers – strong role models, all. They didn’t put up with any bullshit, but they encouraged me to think critically and question what didn’t add up and proudly express myself.

Fiona and Bridget are now benefiting from the same thing – aunts who listen to them, teach them things, make crafts with them, and watch movies with them. Their Auntie Di is even letting them use their baby cousins as test dummies on which to sharpen their babysitting skills. Great-aunts who spoil them from a distance with a little gift for every occasion. Friends’ mothers who kindly open their home to them, offering gentle discipline and encouragement and endless granola bars and popsicles. Friends of mine who rarely show up at our house without a treat for the girls, chat with them with genuine interest in their thoughts and lives, send cards and letters at Christmas and Valentine’s Day and Easter and birthdays. I am certain these friends would be there for Fiona and Bridget without pause, if ever they are asked. They have had wonderful experiences with daycares of various types. The women (and, yes, they were mainly women) looking after them treated them with a tenderness and concern and emotional generosity that made it clear that Fiona and Bridget were more than just a job to them. Their teachers, from kindergarten all the way to today, have been more than just educators. They’ve been carers. Channelling Fiona’s exuberance into positive change for other students. Reaching through Bridget’s shyness to draw her out of her shell and show her how strong she really is. Taking the time to make sure neither girl is ever left behind in any subject. Finding the best in each of them, and helping them polish it to a high gleam.

Yesterday was a day for mothers, and rightly so. But today I celebrate others. Hallmark has yet to come out with cards for some of these people. I have a few suggestions:

Thank you, sixth-grade teacher, for putting an arm around my shoulder and telling me I was doing just fine in gym class when I hadn’t made a single basket in four weeks of learning basketball.

Thanks, friends’ parents, for not throwing me out of your car on the side of the highway when I led the whole backseat in yowling “There’s a Hole in my Bucket” all the way from Robert’s Arm to Springdale and back.

Sorry for my sass. You didn’t get paid enough to listen to that.

Sorry I broke your stuff even though I didn’t live in your home, and won’t take care of you in your old age.

Thanks, Auntie, for picking up the phone every time, knowing you were going to listen to God-knows-what for God-knows-how-long.

And on and on. Maybe this is more of a Thanksgiving post, but my thank-yous were already long overdue – they couldn’t wait til October. Happy day-after-Mother’s-Day, not-my-mothers!

Lived-In

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A sign I pass several days per week really irritates me. It’s an advertisement by Alterna Savings on the main level of the building I work in – for loans, I guess? I don’t even know, because I don’t want to dignify it with a detailed look. It says “your living room shouldn’t look lived-in.” For one thing, the ad is playing on a weakness common to many people – the desire for shiny, new, different, perfect. For another, the ad is implying that your living room (and, by extension, everything else in your home) is an exhibit. A thing to look at and admire rather than use and enjoy.

Our living room is a lovely place to be. It’s got two big, comfy couches and a blue armchair. None of them match. The armchair is a little rickety. We don’t know how old it is; it was salvaged from the area surrounding the dumpster in the basement of the building I lived in 13 years ago. I have always hoped that nobody died in it …. In spite of its dubious origins, it’s a favourite of Ryan, and his father, too, when he visits. People who like to sit in corners like this armchair – it is placed just-so. You can see everything that’s going on but you can’t necessarily be spotted right away yourself. We bought the checkered couch shortly after we were married. The arms of the couch are somewhat smudged from fingers covered in oil, chocolate and newsprint, and the cushions can no longer be turned over to hide stains – the stains are on both sides. The cushions are a little woolly. But that couch gives me amazing naps. Sleep has never come easy to me, but – for some reason – that couch embraces my body and eases my mind. The red couch is enormous. We bought it when we moved to our current house. It’s a bit too big for the living room, and almost got sent back to the furniture store, but then we warmed to it. It’s got plenty of room to lounge, to stretch out – and plenty of room for several people to squeeze in. There are lots of plants for the daytime and candles for the evening. A big window lets in generous pools of sunshine during the day and features a glowing street at night. There is a scuffed set of coffee and end tables. There’s a fireplace with a cracked grate and at least one loose tile. There’s a battered piano and an overflowing bookshelf. Several drawers stuffed with craft supplies, and a well-scribbled set of table and two chairs, for when inspiration strikes one of our budding artists. It’s definitely lived-in – in the best way. When we are there, we feel a richness Alterna Savings wouldn’t understand.

The terribly frightening, sad stories coming out of northern Alberta over the past few days does nothing to lesson my ire with that sign. Nearly 90,000 people made a harrowing escape from the burning city of Fort McMurray, with flames leaping behind and alongside them, taking with them only what they could fit in their vehicles. None of the survivors interviewed appear to have mentioned what’s new and expensive. They’re talking about the parks where their children played, gardens, photos, wedding dresses and baptism gowns and baby booties, World’s Best Dad mugs, homemade birthday cards with crooked lettering, beloved views and trails, church picnics, school plays. Memories, lived-in and loved ragged. Watching their painful ordeal, feeling the heavy loss of what these people will never get back, has given my own life a sudden preciousness. It has given that sign a heightened vulgarity.

Today, I attended a choral celebration. Several elementary school choirs came together to sing for their teachers and families at Notre Dame High School’s auditorium. Bridget and her choir have been practising for weeks for this. As with any children’s performance, there were lows. Two choirs appeared to be composed entirely of tone-deaf kids, in fact. But there was so much heart in each school’s offering – and there was a wonderful feeling in the air. At the end, all the choirs joined in singing “Dona Nobis Pacem” and “It’s a Small World”. Every surface in the auditorium is scuffed and scratched, and the chairs don’t match. Like every high school I’ve ever been in, it smells like sneakers, hormones and dust. But the music, and the sight of all those earnest, happy faces, filled me with joy. I was lifted to a higher place. My eyes welled with tears and I let them fall unchecked. As I drove home along the lumpy spring pavement, past sidewalks with weeds pushing through the cracks and construction and graffiti, and pulled in next to my scruffy lawn, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of my lived-in life. I wouldn’t want it any other way.