All the things I really don't need to say ... an ode to my Goddaughter

You're exhausted.  You're exhilarated.  You're depressed.  You're ecstatic.  You're beautiful.  You're horrendous.  You're giving.  You have nothing left to give.  You're happy.  You're sad.  You're everything and nothing all at once.  You're something you've never been before.  You're something no one could ever put into words.  There's no time at all left for you, and yet you're EVERYTHING and EVERY MOMENT to someone.  

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The Soft Place to Fall ...

A 35-year-old 5th grade teacher passed away at my daughter's school this week, leaving behind his wife and two small children.  

My 4th-grade Kiddo came home after learning of this news ... she told me what had been said and done in class to deal with the grieving process.  I asked her if she wanted to talk a bit and she said ''no, I'm okay, I think I can handle it, we talked a lot about it in school today''.  

She went up to bed, and when I went to tuck her in 15 minutes later she was crying.  She'd written a letter to ''God''.  She'd asked him why this had happened, how his family would cope, and she confessed her ''sins'' (about thinking this particular teacher was weird when she crossed him in the hallway because he had an earring).  She felt so guilty.  And she couldn't understand why he was gone.  She felt bad for his family.  She couldn't forgive herself for having judged him.  

I sat cross-legged on her bed, listening to this child of mine expressing the guilt that all of us have felt at one point in our lives for judging someone without reason.  And I felt such pain knowing that she would never get to set this right with him.  I listened, and I told her it was ok.  He was up there somewhere in Heaven with her Pepere, and they were laughing and reminiscing about what an awesome kid she was.

And she said ''no, Maman, he didn't know who I was.  I was just another kid in the hall.  Just another kid who thought he was weird. But now, NOW, I wish he'd been my teacher Maman.   Because the 5th graders said he was awesome.  Why was I so mean in my head, Maman? He was just a good person and a good teacher, and now his family don't have him anymore.  His babies won't ever be able to love him the same way again.  Why Maman?"

And of course, I had no answer for her.  All I could do was listen and hug her.  I asked her if she wanted me to get her Papa to talk about it.  She said yes.  I went and explained to him what was going on.  I asked him to come talk to her.  He came, but he didn't talk to her.  He said ''Grab your blanket, you'll sleep with us tonight.''  So she did.

We lay there in bed, the three of us.  Last night.  And she whispered to me ''Thank you, Maman.''  And I asked ''Why?''  And she said '' You always listen to me, and you're always there for me.''  And I hugged her.  

And we fell asleep.

And I felt ok.  Because even though my child was in pain, we'd delivered on our promise to always keep her safe.  No matter what, we've promised ourselves we'll always be her soft place to fall.

 

MomME ...

There was a point in time, a fairly significant point in time, when I thought the dream was forever.

We had six kids.  Three boys, three girls.  All about a year apart.  They all had curls, rosy cheeks and boundless energy.  They were gigglers, and putting them to bed was a 2-hour affair.

We had a house in Northern New Brunswick, set on 42 acres of land.  There was a huge garden, a horse pasture and stables.  

We had a swimming pool, and in the summer we'd spend afternoons splashing around as water babies do, and evenings sitting by the fire pit roasting hot dogs and marshmallows.

In the fall, the maple trees in the front yard shed flaming leaves, and no sooner would my husband scoop them into a pile than the kids would dive into them, scattering them to the wind, imprinting their unique Picasso impressions in my heart.  

There was a trail that led into the woods behind the house.  If you followed it far enough, it led you to a lake that expanded steadily each year under the constraints of a high-rise beaver dam.  In the winter, we would walk down the beaver dam trail to chop down a tree that would infuse the house with the bright smell of pine and serve as shelter for the gazillion gifts that would magically appear on Christmas morning.  

It was the stuff dreams are made of.

It was all a DREAM.  

I had the house, and the 42 acres, and the swimming pool, and the beaver dam.

But the kids never came.  

Try as we might, the kids never came.

Thankfully.  Because they likely wouldn't have survived the dream that morphed into a nightmare.

The visions of children diving joyfully into piles of leaves morphed into the sight of my ex stumbling up the driveway stoned out of his skull.  

The sound of children giggling was replaced by his drunken ravings.

The image of family time by the pool was reframed with drug-and-drink-infused impromptu and inopportune pool parties.  Waking up to random strangers sleeping on my living room sofa the next morning.

There was a point in time, a fairly significant point in time, where I thought the nightmare was real.

And then it ended.  Almost 12 years ago.  

And I woke up here.  With Smilin' Vic.  With Kiddo.  Somehow, miraculously, with Kiddo.

The 42 acres, the house and the dreams went to the ex in the divorce settlement.  I got a cash payout and kept my car and the payments that came with it.  And my dignity.  And self-respect.  And renewed appreciation for unanswered prayers.  Because God only knows what would have become of those 6 curly-haired kids had they ever come to be.

I didn't get the six kids I'd dreamt of.  I got one.  That's what the stars blessed me with.  But as I tell her:  ''God told me since I could only have one, he'd give me the very, very, very best one.  The most special one.  So he gave me you.''

This wasn't the dream I pictured when I bought my first house at the age of 24.  

Of me remarried.  Of me living on a compound in the ME, with a back yard the size of most people's living room.  Of me, mother of 'one'.

Yet somehow I'm living the dream.  As much as I miss having the beaver dam and the changing leaves and the wooded pine trails and the beaver dams.  Without these two, without Smilin' Vic and Kiddo, my life would mean nothing.  

I've realised everything I wished for wasn't everything I needed.  I've realised I spent years trapped in a web of ''what I wish'' and ''what I hope" and ''what I dream of'' and ''what could be''.

And today, I'm realising ''what I've been given'' and ''what choices I made'' and ''what I have''.  I'm realising that life surprises you, and that sometimes if you give them the chance to do their thing, the stars all align.

I dreamt of having six children.  I was told I was barren.  And yet I had one.  I had ''THE ONE''.  I had Kiddo.  I'm the luckiest mom ever.

Hats off to all moms tonight.  

Hats off to all moms in the Middle East: ''MomME's''.  

We all come with a past.  

We all come with a dream.

Sometimes our dream, the one that's so great we can't even imagine it, actually comes true.

Happy Mother's Day.

''Oh, a Very Merry Un-birthday to me, to me ...'

 Birthday breakfast mini-cake.

Birthday breakfast mini-cake.

I remember desperately wishing my birthday would fall in the summer months.  Summer is definitely the best season for birthdays in Canada.  The very luckiest June/July/August-born Canuck kids get to have pool parties, splash around all afternoon, cool off with cherry and banana popsicles, and finish it off with barbecued hot dogs, ice cream cake and gift openings around a picnic table or under a beach parasol.  

When Kiddo was born in July, I was like ''YES!  I can now live vicariously through my daughter, re-inventing a childhood of dreary-month-of-March birthdays as luau parties!''  (Insert fist pump here!)

Unfortunately, Kiddo only got to enjoy one Canadian summer birthday, because when she was fourteen months we packed up and headed for the ME.  

And so my one chance at redeeming those pool party dreams got quashed because, quite frankly, July birthdays in Qatar suck.  The reasoning behind my disenchantment:

  1. It's 300 C in Doha in July.  It is the hottest month of the year on average.  People have successfully fried an egg on pavement.  (Bacon would probably work too, but public pork roastings would be frowned upon in these parts.)
  2. Humidity in Doha in July sits at about 98%.  Most mornings sunglasses are useless as they fog up the very moment you step out the door.  The hair on your arms starts to frizz, toenails start to sweat, and it's so humid sometimes even cigarettes won't burn.
  3. When it's not humid, it's windy.  And either way, it's still really flipping hot.  When the wind combines with the heat, it's like walking into the blast furnace from Hell.
  4. Last year, this year and next, Kiddo's birthday fall smack dab in Ramadan, which means no drinking, eating or general cavorting during daylight hours.  Which means no trips to the water park, nor to the movies, nor to one of the dozens of indoor amusement parks until 7:00 p.m.
  5. There are about 12 kids left in Doha over the summer months.  June marks the exodus of most stay-at-home expat moms and kids.  I think Kiddo is officially the only 9-year-old in town today.
 4:30 p.m. on a weekday afternoon in July ... it's still daylight, but the dust is blocking the sun.  

4:30 p.m. on a weekday afternoon in July ... it's still daylight, but the dust is blocking the sun.  

So it is that every year we plan an ''un-birthday'' in May, before the sweltering summer exodus.  Two years ago was a beauty salon theme, last year Master Chef, this year Inner Artist.  Although always a resounding success because of our tendency to overcompensate (working parent guilt, only child, and all that), we are still endlessly at a loss come the real deal in July.

Last year the three of us went to Paul's at sunset.  Paul's is a little mall bistro that makes Kiddo's favourite buffalo mozza sandwich.  This year, Kiddo asked if we could order pizza from Fabio's.  Since tomorrow's a working day, we were more than fine with that.  

(Speaking of work, this year, her birthday also gives me a legitimate excuse to skip the work team-building 10:00 p.m. Sohur.  While I'm up for any excuse to enjoy a meal at one of Doha's finest hotel's Ramadan tent, the thought of supper at 11:00 p.m. and bedtime at 2:00 a.m. on a work night makes me shudder.)

So last night I made preps for today, the Big Day, the True Birthday, the 9th Anniversary of Kiddo's birth.  I set about making mega muffins for her to bring to Summer Camp today.  One batch of vanilla and one batch of chocolate.  No nuts, just in case.  I also made a tiny cake in a mini-loaf pan.  For Kiddo's birthday breakfast - a mix of chocolate and vanilla.

Then I set about making home-made icing ... my first time attempt!  And it was delicious, albeit a bit runny ...

Next ... the cake.  Every year, I seem to top the baking atrocity of years past.  As much as I love to cook, I am decidedly NOT a baker.  NOR am I a cake decorator.  Nonetheless, I always give it my best.  This year, I decided I would make a piano cake since Kiddo has been doing so well at piano and all.  Convinced it would be my greatest masterpiece EVER, I proceeded to produce THIS:

 It looked so much better on Pinterest ...  still, I admit I'm still smarting somewhat from the gales of laughter this picture evoked when I showed it to the folk at work.

It looked so much better on Pinterest ...  still, I admit I'm still smarting somewhat from the gales of laughter this picture evoked when I showed it to the folk at work.

Chef d'oeuvre complete, I began wrapping gifts.  I always look forward to gift wrapping.  Until I actually sit down and start.  Then I get really grumpy.  So it was last night.  Three paper cuts (on wrapping paper ... how does one DO that?) before even getting started.

The first wrap was fancy indeed!

 Comments from the Peanut Gallery on the fact that the folds are crooked NOT WELCOME.

Comments from the Peanut Gallery on the fact that the folds are crooked NOT WELCOME.

I underestimated my paper requirements on the second.

 Yes, that is a Sketcher's shoe box peeking out where I ran out of paper.  But in my mind, the box colours complement the wrapping paper quite nicely.

Yes, that is a Sketcher's shoe box peeking out where I ran out of paper.  But in my mind, the box colours complement the wrapping paper quite nicely.

The last one was a pair of roller blades.  WITHOUT A BOX!  

 By this time, I've just wrapped an entire roll of paper around the skates and haphazardly plastered Scotch tape around it.

By this time, I've just wrapped an entire roll of paper around the skates and haphazardly plastered Scotch tape around it.

Seriously?

But in the end, it doesn't really matter does it?  Kiddo had cake for breakfast, Happy Birthday was sung at Summer Camp, the house is decorated, the pizza's ordered, the cake and the unwrapping are anxiously anticipated.  Plus we've managed to wrangle a random 11-year-old and 5-year-old wandering the compound to partake in the celebrations.  BONUS!

 Silly putty party favours for the kids at Summer Camp.

Silly putty party favours for the kids at Summer Camp.

 A duct tape wallet gifted to Kiddo from a little girl at summer camp.  This is serious craftsmanship by a 10-year-old (it even has slots inside for pictures and credit cards, and has Kiddo's name etched out in red and white tape).  I have a feeling someone is spending a lot of quality time with a Doha stay-at-home dad living out every man's duct tape crafting fantasy.

A duct tape wallet gifted to Kiddo from a little girl at summer camp.  This is serious craftsmanship by a 10-year-old (it even has slots inside for pictures and credit cards, and has Kiddo's name etched out in red and white tape).  I have a feeling someone is spending a lot of quality time with a Doha stay-at-home dad living out every man's duct tape crafting fantasy.

And Kiddo still insists that my cakes are the best and most beautiful ever.  She says she would be very unhappy with some fancy shop-bought confection.  Bless her.

 The cake was even worse for wear after a night in the fridge ... my black icing keys bled into the homemade cream cheese icing.  

The cake was even worse for wear after a night in the fridge ... my black icing keys bled into the homemade cream cheese icing.  

This is the real day.  It's not about the fluff, or the number of kids around the table, or the pool-side activities or lack thereof that we arrange for the un-birthday.  Un-birthdays can happen any old day.

Today's so much better than all that, despite the sand and the heat and the humidity and the isolation.  Today marks the day that Kiddo entered our lives and changed us forever, nine years ago.

Today's the day that has made every single moment of my life worth living.  Happy Birthday Kiddo!