Thursday, February 18, 2010

Showered with Love: Celebrating 9 Months

Just a brief little note today. I've got three agents coming to the farmhouse on the weekend and into next week, just to give me a sense of its value and some tips on what I can do in preparation for putting it up for sale so as to maximize the asking price. I hope to have it up for sale by the end of March at the latest, if not earlier. (I sigh as I type that. A sigh of melancholy. A sigh of relief, too. I know it's the right decision for us both.) Yesterday, I could smell Spring in the air, even though it was snowing...

Frontierswoman gatherin' her firewood.

My son has now turned 9 months old. I cannot believe he is almost one year! He is as old now as the time he spent growing in my womb. Two different worlds, altogether, but our bond is the same. It is surreal to think back when I carried him in my belly. The absolute JOY of that! I never thought I'd get to know it.

Diabolical cuteness. Mwahahaha.

The day my mother and sisters held my shower was Sunday, May 3, 2009. My twin sister (who was also my birth partner) did all the preparations herself and, with my mom, helped me clean my farmhouse that morning while I waddled around trying to assist them. What would I have done without them? My twin sister actually handcrafted about 100 birds for the special day. She not only printed them and tied them together, but she's a graphic designer, so she designed each beautiful, intricate pattern on them herself. WOW.

More William Morris than Alfred Hitchcock.

Pre baby shower.

This room was a former studio space I had renovated into a bedroom for myself and my new baby, so we could share some mama-baby space for a while on the main floor of the farmhouse, conveniently closer to laundry and kitchen.


(I know Ciara, my Irish blogger friend from Milkmoon, will appreciate my apron lampshade - something I threw over the lamp to soften the light - and the Burton print from the National Gallery of Ireland, Meeting on the Turret Stairs, which portrays a bit of a tragic love story.)

Post baby shower. Birds and gifts galore!

We are now in our separate bedrooms upstairs, of course, but this is the room in which I did all my nesting, preparing for the arrival of my sweet child. There was a lot of love put into this room. And the day of the shower, a lot of birds flew around rejoicing. It was as though I had my own winged messengers foretelling the coming of the birth of my son. He was born about a week later...the happiest day of my life (thus far).

cake at my shower: robin with nest
(this photo and cake courtesy of my twin sister and birth partner)

The next big family birthday celebration is for one of my brothers who will turn the big 5-0 in April. After which, I'll be thinking about a very special cake for the following month. By then I trust my home will be sold and I'll be in that in-between stage just preparing to move without the stress of still having the house on the market. In May, I hope to still be here at the farmhouse to celebrate my son's first birthday party. My plan is to move by June 1st, if it all goes smoothly. I can't believe that is only 3 months away.

It will fly, like all the birds in the room of his first waking memories...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Prayers of an Irish Mother

I've just placed him in his crib and he didn't even cry once. He just let me lay him down, grabbed his bunny, turned himself over on his side and closed his eyes. I know this is part of his nature, his personality and I can't exactly attribute it to some kind of otherworldly mothering on my part. Especially not today, when I've been feeling not up to snuff, sniffing away with this cold.

But if I have any of the nurturing qualities one would expect of a good mother, any of her natural instincts, any knowledge of how to rock a child to sleep, what rhythm is best, how to listen to my child "speak" using his eyes and hands and facial expressions; if I have a gentle approach, if I know how to coax laughter, nay, relentless giggles (and I do), it's all down to this woman: my mother.

My mother at 17.

This photograph was taken 60 years ago. I've always loved this photo of my mum. She is so dang beautiful in it and I look nothing like her. I inherited my looks from my father's side of the family, but I always wished I had her nose, those lips. I have this photo framed in my house. It sits beside the old wind-up clock my father's father fixed however many moons ago. Each time I catch her image as I walk through my dining room, I wonder what it was she was thinking when the shutter clicked. She gazes out from this frame at me as I secure my son in his high chair these days; watches her baby feed her baby. My brother-in-law is correct in saying there is a Mona Lisa-esque quality to my mother's expression in this photograph. Is she sad? Her eyes appear so to me. I think of that time. She was so young, and World War II had just ended five years before. Ireland, which was 'neutral', would be mistaken continually for England and Dublin was bombed. My mother told me of hiding in bomb shelters, keeping curtains drawn. The curfews.

She had known my father for a year at this stage. One year; their first, together. Both of them worked at a textile mill and how they met was she, quite literally, fell for him. She was coming down the steps at the mill and she tripped and he caught her in his arms. How romantic is that? "She was wearing a green coat," he always adds. Then he got up the nerve to ask her to the company picnic. He says, on this, their first date, he kept asking her if she was enjoying herself and she'd answer, "immensely." People don't use that word anymore. "Immensely". I'm not even sure it was used all that much then. 'Course our family uses it quite a lot, if only to make my poor wee, Irish mother roll her eyes at herself and us.

Me and my mum. High Tea for her 75th, February 2008.

She is the ultimate straight man. We LOVE teasing her to death and she plays along so well, sometimes we truly don't know if she's sincerely being duped or allowing us the belief that she is. I get my acting talent from her. From her, I inherit ingenius comic timing. For instance, she had this habit of hers where she'd go check the mail every day (when the postal service still did home delivery). And she'd "come in on the door" as they say back in Eire, and we'd all turn to her to see if she had any mail to report in the mailbox. And if there was nothing in the box, she'd stare back at us, pause for effect while our eyebrows were all raised in expectation, and report, "Not a sausage!" At which point, we'd almost kill ourselves laughing 'cause we thought this was the most ridiculous phrase to do with mail you could ever choose.

I was about 7 years old when my older brother P. and my second-eldest sister, C., got it into their heads to put a sausage in an envelope and place it into the mailbox one night. The next morning when my mum retrieved the mail, we all turned to see her reaction and she came in, mouth agape, slightly speechless at first and then looked up at all of us and almost whispered, "there's a...there's a. em. a...sausage." We just fell all over the place. We were "in bits", laughing until our sides hurt.

This was the kind of shit we pulled on her all the time growing up.

Definitely not my mother.

Like how she was forever baking and it would maybe be this huge bowl of something which the recipe required to be kept cold overnight and she'd say, "Make room for me in the fridge", and, of course, she meant for the bowl but we'd empty the fridge entirely, even of its shelves, and my brothers would pick up all 5 feet of her and we'd all try to put her in the fridge door, 'cause she sure was tiny enough to fit and she'd swat at us with her spatula. "Stop foolin' around. Put me down this instant!" But she'd be smiling and her eyes would be laughing, flour on her chin.

Definitely me as a child.

When my father emigrated to Canada, my mother was left back in Ireland with two children under five and a third on the way. For an entire year, my father slaved away to save enough money to fly my mother and their three kids over to Canada to join him. He used to call "home" every once in a while, and she'd be teased terribly for putting on her best blouse and some lipstick to answer the phone. Her siblings'd all smirk at her and say, "Did he like your hair like that? What'd he tink o' yer dress?" When she joined him, she would weep inconsolably, missing those siblings and her parents so far from her. It's a running joke in my family that my mother has yet to forgive my father for taking her from the Emerald Isle. But she has learned to love this second home of hers, this country Canada. Despite the cold, snowy winters, she has warmed to this nation in the 52 years she's been here.

I've mentioned before the sacrifice they both made in coming here. I can't imagine leaving, not only your homeland, your birthplace, but your own parents, your brothers and sisters, everyone and everything familiar to you,  believing you might never see them again. And you go off to this unknown place. You're the first of each of your families to set foot on this strange soil so there's no one over here already saying, "C'mon, it's great. You'll love it. Pack an extra cardigan. Buy wellies." or "Jaysus, you'll hate it here. Don't spoil your Sunday dinner by coming over atall, atall. It's colder than a mother-in-law's kiss over here. Truth to God, 'tis."

No one warned them. Yet, she's the reason I love Canada, my homeland, the way that I do. With the passion I do.

She's the reason I love the arts. She is the reason any of her children are artistic. She instilled in me a love of poetry, of Yeats. Of crosswords. Of history. Of libraries. Of reading. Of Ireland. So much so that I shed tears of Joy when the plane lands and I wasn't even born there. I cry buckets when I leave that isle. This, I inherit from my mother.

With 'Nana', his first Christmas, December 2009.

She told me once of a quote: a rich child sits in a poor mother's lap. And how truly rich my life is for all the sacrifices she and my father have made on their parts. They continue to enrich my own son's life in so many ways. My mother's wisdom runs just as deep as her Irish wit.

What used to crack me up: she had this tiny, little prayerbook, Prayers of an Irish Mother. Seriously,  I'm not making that up. I used to think that was just priceless. Prayers of an Irish Mother. Like those kind of prayers just had to be the ones that were especially heard. Of all the prayers reaching God's ears, if they came from an Irish Mother, they were, like, somehow fast-tracked.

God: "Who's on line 4?"
"A mother from Kansas. Something 'bout a tornado."
"Well, who are the other lines?"
"Got a mom from New Jersey on Line 2, an Irish mother on line 3 and a mother from Venice on line 1"
"'Kay, put line 3 through first and keep line 1 on hold. If the New Jersey call is an Italian mom, you can put that one on hold, too. Otherwise, take messages from lines 2 and 4 and I'll call them back or my name isn' I Am Who Am."

(I told you it was real.)

And what, pray tell, is the particular prayer of an Irish mother, you well might ask?

"Please send us more potatoes and make sure they've not the blight on dem, Divine Fadder."
"Jaysus, please let me go at least one year without having another child, I beseech you."
"Would ye ever please make it stop feckin rainin' already, tanks O Holy Mary, Mudder o' Gawd. (Sorry fer swearin'.)"

That's what I imagined was in this book.

Now, she'd kill me for blaspheming in this way. But she'd be laughing inside. That's what she's good at. And she knows I can SEE right through her. She and I have a special bond. I'm her baby, her last. And we have the same highly perceptive quality. We pick up on things not everyone does. Especially as regards each other. She has lost children herself, even with her brood of six and she has held my hands through the loss of my own children, witnessed my long years of trying to become a mom myself. She has cried tears into my hair, her hands clutched round my waist as though she would cup my womb and hold it gently if she could, kiss away my barrenness when I was going through those years of struggle, never giving up hope for me that I would know this joy myself, as she has.

I can, literally, see right through her. ;)

A decade ago, when I first moved to this house, she assured me she saw a child of mine running around the old apple tree on my property. This spring, before I move from this farmhouse, her prophecy will likely come true. I am so happy she has finally witnessed me become a mother, a longed-for dream of hers, as well. I am so blessed to call her my mum.

Like mother, like daughter.

So if I can shout without reservation that I'm an 'amazing mommy', if I can feel that I've a particular knack for nurturing, if I believe I harbour an unusually adept nature, a deeper love and understanding for mothering a child than the average woman, it's down to this woman. To this woman, I owe everything. I love her so.

My mother.

This post and this song (below) is for is of you.
I'm so blessed I was born to you.
I'm so glad you were born...happy birthday!

Music: Mná na hÉireann (Woman of Ireland), Kate Bush

Monday, February 8, 2010

February Blahs

Other than miscarrying his twin, I had a picture perfect pregnancy. Zero nausea. Low blood pressure. Nice blood work. No scares. No glucose in the pee tests. No gestational diabetes. No causes for alarm. Stellar screening. Healthy baby's heartbeat during midwifery checkups. My appetite was immaculate: I didn't crave hotdogs, potato chips, ice cream or seven layer cakes, but what I couldn't get enough of was fruit and I ate plenty of it. I felt absolutely amazing. It wasn't until close to my 7th month that I got sick. And it was nothing to do with the baby and everything to do with my own stupidity. I had booked myself a week off in February last year and planned to drive to Quebec to visit my friends who lived in Montreal. Alone. At 27 weeks along. I could barely reach the steering wheel with that burgeoning belly!

When I left early in the morning, I was still in perfect health, pretty much. My trip was delayed by a day, but I still set out. Just what I thought would be a 6-hour drive ended up taking me 9 hours and I became ill half way there. I debated turning the car around, but instead decided to stick it out.

Bad, bad idea. Always, ALWAYS listen to your gut, and in this case, I had no excuse. I even had a little baby in my gut telling me it was the wrong decision. But learn the hard way (once again) I must.

I ended up spending the 3 days at my friend's place in Montreal going through three of their kleenex boxes and lying under their blankets in their master bedroom. It was awful. The drive back was equally horrendous. I finally made a healthy decision to stay overnight halfway back in Kingston because a snowstorm had begun the morning I left. Spent the night in a room at the Holiday Inn developing a fever and then making my way late at night to a local hospital to make sure that my baby was doing okay in utero. He was. My nose, however, looked like it was going to fall off since I'd blown it redder than Rudolph's.

So it should be no surprise that (once again), after a perfect flu-free autumn and christmas holidays watching everyone around us get sick as dogs (and admittedly gloating about it) save for one week back in November when my son had some diarrhea, here it is February again and we are both under the weather! And I don't care about what I'm going through, but it is sheer torture to watch my little laddie cough, sneeze and wheeze and try to wipe his runny nose the moments I'm not swooping in with a kleenex myself. He's so LITTLE. He doesn't understand what's happening, why he's so dopey, why he's so tired and why his "widdle node huwts". We spent 7 hours in the emergency room of a local hospital yesterday because he had problems nursing since his nose was stuffed and he couldn't breathe with my boob in his mouth and I was frantically worried he was becoming dehydrated. Talk about SAD! My sonshine is behind the clouds right now! We both need some Vitamin D, bigtime.

Whoever invented the premise behind Valentine's Day knew what they were doing. Choose the saddest, most blah month of winter to celebrate love because there is nothing else going for February, really. And even Valentine's Day can add to the depression of an already horrible month if you're feeling unloved or don't have that special someone in your life. (Luckily, I am made to feel loved every waking day since my son's birth so I escape the horrors of this Hallmark holiday this year, finally!)

This month always sneaks up on you and attacks as if from behind. It's like Napoleon. It's the shortest month of the year, but it still packs quite a suckerpunch. And generally, I am not one to complain about anything and generally, nothing would move me to do it 'cept the pain of watching my wee son in misery.

February. Blah flu-bug! Call me Scrooge but I only love it during leap years. Right now, quite like my nose every five seconds, this month blows...

Music: Under the Weather, KT Tunstall

Saturday, February 6, 2010

To Wit. To Woo.

It started with the mobile.

December of 2008, I was 22 weeks pregnant when a local handmade craft show took place in a church hall near where I live. My sister had her own booth set up selling handmade toys. Unfortunately, she took ill the actual day of the craft show, so my brother-in-law and I sat at the booth in shifts promoting and selling her wares. I passed much of the time knitting a sweater for my baby, due the following May. During one of the breaks, I waddled down the aisles, eyeing the other crafts. One table caught my attention almost immediately. It sold stuffed owls made of yarn and there, in the booth, hung a mobile. Suspended from an actual tree branch were three baby owls: one grey, one lavender and one white. I knew the vendor was not actually promoting it for a baby's room, but it caught my eye and a lump formed in my throat, imagining them flying over my baby's crib, keeping a watchful eye, protecting him or her from bad dreams and the like. Owls are nocturnal. And in Greek Mythology, Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom is depicted with an owl. So the owl has become associated with wisdom, the arts and the acquiring of skills. All qualities I hoped my baby would somehow inherit or embrace.

To be honest, what truly caught my fancy when I first espied the mobile was that there were three baby owls. See, I'd miscarried my first baby a decade before in May of 1998. And the second baby left me the spring of 2004, at only 8 weeks gestation. The third baby I lost was the fraternal twin of this baby I was now carrying. Thus the lump in my throat as I watched the three baby owls floating gently over the table at this booth. I bought the mobile. I felt these tiny, baby owls could represent the spirits of my baby's siblings; that somehow their spirits would have a close bond with this baby I was carrying and, crazy as it sounds, that they could be her or his little guardian angels in the form of these bits of yarn, this branch, these felt feet and big eyes. When I gave birth and brought him home, those little owls flew over his bassinette. And now they soar over his crib. His tired eyes grow sleepy watching them circle slowly above him, spinning him on his way to Dreamland.

So that's when it started. Then, I hung words made of twigs and stuck owl murals on the walls of his room. They perch on branches over shooting stars that glow in the dark. A round moon hangs above his crib as well so that when the lights go out, the shadows of these yarn owls on the mobile stand out against its peaceful, twilight glow; they seem to fly towards the moonlight as though alive. This is the image he has as he closes his eyes and moves his mind towards slumbering. And I like to imagine the spirits of his lost siblings are really present, guiding him to a peaceful night.

Since the mobile, my sister has made him a mama and baby owl, my mother gave him a handknit blue baby owl and I was given a big brown Mama owl, all the way from Africa. There's an owl made almost entirely out of twigs and birch bark; there is a felt one on his crib bumper.

But one of his very favourite owls is a specimen I purchased at a food festival in Stratford last summer. It's a wooden owl in the form of a flute. You place your lips above the hole in his head and the sound that emits from the back of his head is similar to the low, haunting hoots of an owl. And he adores it!

I kinda love that there are owls all over the house now. The very first night I moved into this farmhouse, my ex and I hauled our mattresses up the stairs and I opened the bedroom window to air out the place and admire the moonlight. As I lay my head down on the pillow, we heard a bird call in the pine tree next to the window. I sat up in disbelief. For the previous seven years, I had lived in one of the largest cities in Canada and what I could now hear singing me to sleep were the hoots of an actual, real live OWL. Just outside my bedroom window. In its natural habitat. Wild. I'd only ever heard one on the television. And I felt it was welcoming me home. It's a sweet memory I will carry with me when I move.

When May came around, the theme I chose for the baby shower was "The Forest". Trees. Leaves. Cedar needles. Birch bark. He is surrounded by woodland creatures. Foxes. Bears. Bunnies. Squirrels. Owls. Deer. My son's first name is of water, second name of the forest and third name of the sky. Part of his donor background is Irish, like me, and part holds some Native American heritage and I wanted all his names to be of nature. Of the world around him. Perhaps the owl is his totem animal. Though it could be a robin. Or a bear. Or a deer...who knows?

Whatever it is, he is sure to absorb some wisdom from all these toy owls as he grows. And I trust that, especially when times may grow dark in his life, he will be able to look far and wide, to see his path clearly and not be afraid to swoop, to soar.

For now, I extend my own wing over him. His three sibling spirits twirl at my touch as he giggles. His eyes close. Mine blur. I can almost hear their tiny hoots echoing in my breast. My breath, the breeze of oak leaves stirred. My heart, the beating of feathered wings.

towit towoo. towit towoo. towit towoo...

Owl mobile: Katie McLellan
Twig letters: The Copper Ewe
Music: In Our Talons, The Bowerbirds

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Tiger and the Snow

About a month ago, near the end of December, I rented a wonderful film called "La Tigre e La Neve" (The Tiger and the Snow). I'd never heard of it, but it's directed by that amazing Italian wizard, Roberto Benigni. I love this guy. He is SO full of life and so passionate about everything he does, as is his wife, Nicoletta Braschi, who has the face of an angel and usually plays his love interest in his films. They are such a dynamic duo! I remember beaming, giggling and even standing up in my living room applauding with excitement the year he won Best Actor at the Academy Awards and nearly stepped on Steven Spielberg's head in his exuberance to accept the highly deserved prize. Such an inspiration! Every pore of his being is drenched in the oxygen of living life to its fullest.

One of the best scenes (or, rather, several of them) in the film is a recurring dream the main character, Attilio (played by Benigni), keeps having in which he is about to marry Vittoria (played by, of course, Braschi), literally the woman of his dreams, in his underwear. He keeps arriving late, in boxers, and enters this beautiful courtyard setting where his wedding is taking place. The music starts, he stumbles forward, half naked, and every seated guest turns to follow him up the aisle towards his bride-to-be.

Benigni adds such a magical touch to all his films, a Chaplin-esque quality, even when they deal with such serious content as the holocaust in his masterpiece, La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful), or the Iraq war, as this film does. This actor/director never fails to surprise and engage his audience. Even amidst his comic genius, he doesn't pull punches about the sorrows in Life. But he does like to emphasize its JOY. He is a true poet of life, in my opinion. The Tiger and the Snow unveils what lengths a person will go to for someone he loves. No obstacle, no distance, no boundaries, no war is too great to overcome in the name of love. This film makes your heart sing. It did so for mine, anyhow.

Two of my all-time favourite performers are in this film: Jean Reno plays a beautifully understated cameo role as Attilio's long-time friend in the film; and the best part of the recurring dream sequences is listening to the most exquisite song for the wedding march up the aisle each time the dream occurs. The wedding band is led by Tom Waits and his song gives me shivers every time I hear it.

So tonight, because it's Groundhog Day (which was also a wonderful film about living through a recurring day, over and over until it's lived right) and because the end of Winter is nearing, I want to dedicate the song Tom wrote and recorded for this enchanting film to shadows. To Déjà vu. To signs. Like snow. And tigers. To believing.
Music: You Can Never Hold Back Spring, Tom Waits

Monday, February 1, 2010


Today happens to be Imbolc, one of four primary festivals in the ancient Celtic Calendar, the remainder being Samhain (November 1st), Beltane (May 1st) and Lughnasadh (August 1st). The Vernal and Autmnal Equinoxes and Winter and Summer Solstices are the four secondary festivals of the same calendar.

Imbolc traditionally marks the beginning of the lambing season, the 'awakening' of Spring beneath the snow and frozen earth and is a feast to honour the Celtic Goddess Brigid, whom the Christians canonized into sainthood since they could not prevent the worship of her. As is custom on this day, candles are lit to signify the warming of the earth again towards Spring and, eventually, Summer Solstice.

Now, I'm not Wiccan myself, but being Irish, I love the traditions and customs celebrated within the older, pre-Christian Celtic Calendar. I also love aspects of Buddhism. I admit to liking a coupla things about Christianity (but maybe only a couple). I like a mish-mash of festivities: a global calendar hangs on my wall because I love to discover what holidays are being celebrated worldwide and why and, if they're fun and they make sense to me (not that the latter is all that much a pre-requisite), I celebrate right along with that part of the globle.

Mostly, were I to attempt to categorize any kind of 'belief' system of mine at all (and I'm loathe to do so), I would say I guess I am: a humanist; a feminist; a spiritualist. Definitely on the pagan end of the scale and as far away as you can get from the orthodox-religious end. The original meaning of the term 'pagan' was not derogatory in any way, but referred to a person dwelling outside of the city limits who knew his/her plants (the rural peoples more often maintained knowledge of folklore and which herbs were good for what ailment). For me, if there is a God(s)/Goddess(es) or some kind of 'Creator Being', I see the proof of something greater for the most part within Nature, the natural world, the patterns of the universe, the stars, the sky. All that stuff fascinates me to no end.

And for me, the Celtic Pagan calendar is something I really connect with: the celebrations were tied to the harvest and crops and growing food and the Earth and soil and rain and the seasons. All of this speaks to my Celtic soul.

So, tonight I light a candle. I peek in at my own little lamb in his crib sleeping. I am thankful to whatever Power(s) brought him to me or made me capable of creating him. The flame dances shadows all over the wall and I feel truly at peace. Spring is stirring in her sleep and she is just about to roll over, to turn down the sheets, flip back her duvet and place her feet on the floor and stand. But right now, her eyes are still heavy with slumbering, though she is definitely beginning to stir herself.

And the Earth is stretching and yawning and blinking eyes right along with her. Tomorrow is Groundhog Day which will hail the approach of the end of Winter.

I cannot believe it is February already. January has flown by! This year will not be slow by any means, I'm thinking. I best grab hold of my son and hang on tight for the ride ahead.

Nice to start this next journey by candlelight...