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Tell them about the love that doesn’t show up in movies and love songs

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You have been travelling a bit more than usual, and I was in the home stretch of another week of solo parenting. My parents had graciously (read: heard the desperation in my voice and taken pity on me) invited us all over for pizza on the last night. On our way home in the minivan, a motorcycle sped past us, and a new line of questioning was introduced by the tinies. They asked if we ever had a motorcycle and, of course, no, because well, we aren’t risk takers, you and me, are we? And maybe because we had just been at Granny and Papa’s house, who knows, but they wanted to know if Papa or Granny ever had a motorcycle.

Without a thought, I told them the story I knew so well: the one about how my dad used to have a motorcycle when he was a teenager because well, he was that kind of kid. But when he showed up for a date with my mum, she wouldn’t get on the motorcycle because her father had forbidden it. Papa was incredulous – after all, he is the kind of guy who just does what he wants and screw the rules and the rule-makers – but sure enough, she stood her ground and let him ride away.

“That could have been the end of the story, but no,” I said. “Your Papa, well, he was already in love. Your Granny was so beautiful – she had a long sheet of golden brown hair, just the colour of Evelynn’s hair, and she had blue eyes just like you three here with me, and so instead, your Papa sold that old motorcycle and the next time he asked her out, he had a car to drive. She said yes, of course, and then they fell in love and got married. At the end, I said, you see? Your Papa loved your Granny more than any old motorcycle, right from the start. She was worth it.”

Their eyes were big as saucers, you know how they get. But they were silent – for once. And then they asked to hear the story again, and so I told it again, just the way I remembered it anyway, because that is the story I heard all the time as a kid. We arrived home, and I put them to bed after all of the rituals, and then I sat around and watched television by myself. I stayed up too late because you weren’t there to make me go to bed. I changed the countdown on the kitchen cupboard blackboard: 5 4 3 2 1 more sleep until Dad is home!

You came home on Saturday. Later on in the weekend, you were in the car with Annie and from her perch in the backseat, she asked you if you wanted to hear a love story. And of course, you said yes, and then she said, “Well, once upon a time, Papa had a motorcycle….” and then you listened to her re-tell the old story I’ve told you a few (dozen) times, using my exact phrases and expressions.

As she wrapped it up, she said, “Papa loved Granny more than any old motorcycle.”

You were amazed at how they remembered every word, and I thought of another generation growing up in the safety of our family fables.

Darling, let’s remember to tell them our stories, too.

Remind me to tell them about the nights we used to spend laying on the hood of your old car, stretched out with our backs against the windshield, staring at the Oklahoma nights. Remind me to tell them about how we danced to old Garth Brooks songs from an AM radio station on the side roads. Remember to tell them about the first time you saw me walking across the gym in university, knee high black boots and a mini-skirt among everyone in their workout gear.

Let’s spin our own yarns here at home, beloved, among all the books littered on the floor and buried under their pillows. Let’s tell them our homemade fairy tales.

Let’s tell them about our sacred places: the side yard in Texas, perhaps, the parking lot of the Mabee Centre, the little booth in the Earl’s near our Vancouver apartment. Don’t forget that creek we found as we drove through Arizona during the hardest year of our lives: the one we heard before we saw it. And we scrabbled down a red rock embankment covered in dust, just to sit on the stones and soak our swollen hot feet in the clear water. Remember how the sun came through the trees, and we began to feel something like hope, perhaps stirring, fluttering, through the leaves, descending to us again. Maybe we’ll tell them about the night we went camping in the mountains of New Mexico and a blizzard blew up, so we drove down the mountain to stay in a hotel, leaving our kit and tent all set up. We had a shower, ate bacon and eggs, and then went back up the mountain later in the day to finish the trip.

Maybe we’ll tell them about the night you proposed in the moonlight, kneeling in the grass with a mix tape playing Six Pence None the Richer songs on the portable CD player, holding up a ring paid for with the tips from Tulsa oil tycoons at the club where you worked. Maybe we’ll tell them about the guys in San Antonio who play the pan flute at the Riverwalk mall, and the mariachi bands, and the way we lingered over tables with bright umbrellas above us. And the way we used to hold hands as we wandered through Gruene, listening to Americana music through clapboard walls of an old dance hall. Maybe we’ll tell them about Kananaskis but probably not.

Because let’s not kid ourselves: our best – and our worst – stories will always be secrets, just ours, always.

Maybe we’ll tell them something about our wedding, but I’ll have to be honest: if I had to do it again, I’d have married you way sooner, and we could have run away together. That sounds nice to me now.

Let’s fill their little minds with the thousands of ways we’ve convinced ourselves that we were meant to be: let’s tell them about 28 May 1989 and the weird way it connects us because that was the day you decided to become a Christian sitting on the edge your parents’ bed in Omaha and at the exact same moment in a church in Winnipeg, I was descending into a water tank for my baptism into the faith. Maybe we’ll talk about Naples and Riadoso, that one field somewhere in the middle of Kansas where we had a picnic after I met your parents, oh, and the Silverthorne Village Inn on the winter nights of Colorado when we sneaked out of the communal condo and stayed up all night, talking, over terrible coffee.

We’ll talk about the way you drove up to see me in the dead of a Canadian winter, staying the night with my uncle and aunt. You’ll laugh and tell them about how everyone made fun of your old Monte Carlo because you didn’t have a block heater for the cold night ahead, and how my Uncle pulled his own car out of the garage, just to put your old maroon Monte inside, so you could leave first thing for the last leg to Calgary to me, our first Christmas together. And then – you loved this part – he went out on the deck, in minus 30 degree weather, and grilled you a steak at 11 o’clock at night, and you sat at their kitchen table eating meat and talking about nothing for a few more hours. You fell in love with Canada that night, I think.

Maybe we’ll talk about fear and sacrifices, about choosing each other’s best first, about deep sadness and the way we’ve clung to each other through dreams unfulfilled and longings unsatisfied and the still-waiting of right now. Someday maybe I’ll tell them about the babies who aren’t here with us, and about the night you stood in the darkness of their childhood room with another little lost one bundled into a kitchen tea towel and how I stood in doorway and listened as you cried and cried and cried. We’ll tell them about the nights they were born, the way I always burst out in laughter and you always burst into tears after they were safely earthside. Let’s tell them about the mundane beauties of their lives, and how we used to have them tucked in between us in our old bed so we could meet eyes over their downy heads to silently telegraph our disbelief at our luck – look at this! a real little person! –  at each other. We’ll talk about how we lived pay cheque to pay cheque, and it was worth every single tense conversation about the budget. We’ll tell them about the greatest part of parenting – witnessing them become the people they were meant to be all along – and how it made us love each other even more than we thought possible. We’ll talk about the teamwork of parenting, about how you always knew when I was at Noise Capacity and would whisk them outside for a street hockey game.

Let’s tell them about the vast middle part of love, too, this part right now, the part that doesn’t show up in movies and love songs, the part where my hips have widened and your hair is greying, and some of our dreams are languishing at the same time that others are coming true. About how we’ve become better acquainted and more appreciative of the fruit of faithfulness and gentleness as the years go by.

We’re still choosing each other, over and over and over again, this is what we want, this is what I want, this is what we want, you are who I want, still, then, always.

Let’s make them feel like they’re part of a love story, let’s tell them how love looked for us.

Let them catch us slow dancing in our pink kitchen to Patty Griffin songs, let them hear us say it out loud: we used to sit in an empty baseball stadium in the middle of the night and kiss behind home plate. Oh, and how when they were little, we put them to bed early for two reasons – first, it’s best for them and second, it made sure we had a few hours together every night to talk or make out or just watch telly.

Let’s hold hands on the gearshift of the vehicle, the way we do, the way we’ve always done, until we’re old and we will tell them the stories of their grandparents and their great grandparents, about Nebraska and Saskatchewan, Alberta and Oklahoma, Texas and beautiful British Columbia.

Let’s go to preschool graduations and high school graduations and university graduations, and then let’s stand in our empty nest house someday and cry because it went too fast and try to figure out the rest of it, and then laugh because there is still so much life ahead, who are we kidding? Let’s go to Paris and London, India and Cavendish together, all the places we never got to go because of money and tinies and plane fares, then let’s stay home and watch the sun set in the sky we love here, and let’s drink a bit too much and kiss until the stars come down.

We’ve had a regular sort of life perhaps, not too special to the outside eyes, but it’s enough to keep us warm.

Wrap me up in the ways we’ve loved each other, darling, and let’s keep on spinning.

edited and updated from the archives

Continue Reading · brian, family, love, love looks like, marriage · 19

In which love looks like the pilgrim soul

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Thirteen years ago today, our marriage began. I brought out the big wedding album for the tinies to see us in our wedding finery. Do kids today still have the big official albums? We said our vows long before Pinterest and digital cameras, let alone iPhones with apps. Instead, we have this heavy leather-bound gold-embossed album with nicely staged photos in the stock poses. Here we are lighting a unity candle.  Here we are with our parents. Here we are walking away into a soft-focus background. But you can still see the real us peeking through the tulle and the tuxedo: our enthusiasm, our youth, our joy, our curiosity, our hope. Remember when we were that certain boy and that know-it-all girl?

To celebrate, we went out to the ocean town for supper last night. I shaved my legs, you put on a clean t-shirt, aren’t we getting fancy? We stood on the western shoreline before supper with our arms wrapped around each other, staring into the abyss. Teenagers were just down the shore from us, taking selfies and posing by the water. Thirteen years, we said in a sort of disbelief. I suppose this makes us grown-ups. In some ways, these years have flown by – weren’t we always together? – and in other ways, we see every single day of it, stretched out to the horizon, remember this, remember that, remember the dozens of men and women we have been throughout these years? We’ve gathered shadows and light.

I briefly considered writing an article with thirteen things we have learned in thirteen years of marriage. But who are we kidding? It’s an art, not a science, not the fodder of click-bait on the Internet, not a performance. We’re not reductionists. It’s a mystery, a thin place between the heavens and the earth, made all the better and richer for the secrets we keep for each other and the freedom we enjoy. I could write those damn thirteen-things-we’ve-learned-in-thirteen-years-of-marriage but I’d still be left with an inadequate shrug and the je nais sais quoi that defines all marriages. We’re still that slow dance under-the-stars, finding our steps together, moving further and further out onto the water. Sure, there are practicalities we’ve learned about how we move through life – budgets and bills, babies and basketball practices, sex and laundry, communication and callings. But underneath it all, really, we’re still curious, we’re still saying yes, it’s poetry that makes the prose worth living, and it keeps us a bit wild, hosanna. 

We sat in the cool spring sunset to eat seafood. When you kept refilling my glass, I asked if you were trying to take advantage of me and you waggled your eyebrows at me: “absolutely.” The bottle of Pinot Noir was empty by darkness.

We talked a bit about the years that lay behind us, of course we did, but really we wanted to talk about the years ahead. We talked about our curiosities: what sounds like fun to learn about? If I wanted to follow a rabbit trail of knowledge for a while, where would I begin? I’m curious about seminary, oh, and I think that after this second book is done, I might try to dig out that novel again. You want to geek out about furniture building for a while, oh, and gardening again. You’ve turned into quite the tree hugger. Perhaps you could find a way to use all of your business expertise towards justice and peace-making. I think I’d like to chase a bit of knowledge about the French woman’s aesthetic, quilt-making, fashion, maybe think about a doctoral degree in what? women’s studies? poetry? who knows? oh, and let’s talk again about living abroad. Maybe England? Which part of England? Holidays in France, of course. So much to discuss and dream.

Over these thirteen years, we’ve often felt like we’re running to catch up with the consequences of saying “yes” to God, yes to our best hopes instead of our worst fears. Would we have been so agreeable and fearless if we knew how much courage it would take to abandon our neatly laid out plans for life, let alone how much we would change? I think so. I hope so. Maybe it’s best that we don’t know what waits at the end of the aisle. Let it come, we’ll keep walking together. I like you curious.

We drove home in the moonlight, listening to old songs from back in the 90s when we were dating. I slipped off my shoes and put my feet up on the dash. You kept your hand on my bare thigh, the window was down, we took the the backroads. Your hair is scattered with grey now – it suits you – but that Midwest-boy grin is the same, can’t you drive a bit faster?

Maybe this is the oneness of marriage then: there is no editing for any part of our selves. We bring it all to each other and abide into the end of it all: body soul spirit mind past present future dreams despair curiosities evolutions desire deference silence song weariness wonder.

You’re waking up again, I think. You’re re-imagining life, emerging into yet another new self. I’ve loved every iteration of you. You have always loved those lines from Yeats for us:

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face

I write now and again about what love looks like for us.

Continue Reading · brian, love, love looks like, marriage · 18

In which we are living in a renovation zone

Hardware stores on a Saturday. Bless it.

Hardware stores on a Saturday. Bless it.

We are always living in the midst of a renovation project of some sort over here. It’s funny that I never talk about it online because it’s a rather big part of our life so I thought I’d write a bit about what we’re doing.

We bought our semi-attached home four years ago a bit below market value because it needed some serious work – for instance, there was a home salon in the basement so the plumbing and drywall had to be reworked. (And we had A LOT of other people’s hair clippings in the carpets to deal with. *shudder*)  Plus, there were – yes, we counted – 37 different colours on the walls including a glossy black wall in the main living room, damaged floors, stained carpets, that sort of thing. There were a lot of basic restoration and repairs that had to be done here. Now we’re at last turning to the other projects.

A few months ago, we relocated and redesigned the downstairs washroom with the idea of creating a master suite. It’s nearly finished, hallelujah. Then we’ll paint and finish Joseph’s room, then move Evelynn downstairs to her own room near us because she is an early riser, and then the upstairs bathroom will get done because the shower isn’t working, and then our Very Pink 90s Kitchen is coming up … and so on. Brian has projects planned out until the fall of 2019 apparently, may God have mercy on our souls and my sanity.

There is not a weekend of our lives when we are not at the Home Depot or Rona or Canadian Tire. The proud tradition of dragging one’s children to hardware stores on Saturdays is alive and well at the Bessey home.

We are devoted enthusiasts of HGTV (the tinies and I all think Brian should compete for Canada’s Next Great Handyman competition but he’s unimpressed.) We like to watch DIY shows because the real estate ones tend to drive us a bit crazy. I don’t know if there is anyway to be on House Hunters without sounding spoiled and entitled.

“I don’t know about this perfect little bungalow, I really really really need stainless steel appliances….”

Sure you do, honey, sure you do.

Joe in particular has become Brian’s “helper” for almost all projects. Check out this short little video of him “teaching” us how to fill screw holes with dry wall mud.

“Voilá! No screw!”

He’s only five! He’s a genius! He’s wearing a Calgary Flames green hardhat left over from the 2003 Stanley Cup run!

We don’t have a huge budget or a tight timeline, we get industry discounts because this is Brian’s line of work (or cast-offs from my parents as they do their own renovations – I’m not above taking their old light fixtures and putting them into my bathrooms), Brian does all the labour himself from finish carpentry to electrical and plumbing. He’s a big believer in knowing how to do things for your own self and then teaching those skills to the tinies. (I prefer to pay professionals.)

I say “we” in all the above paragraphs, but I had absolutely nothing to do with these renovations beyond nodding my head in agreement to whatever Brian dreamed up and then saying “it’s lovely, darling!” when he’s finished.

Many, many years ago, I was banned from helping with home projects because, while he is a Perfectionist, I am a ‘Good-Enough-ist’ and those two temperaments should NOT attempt home renovation projects together.

I drive him crazy because I tend to do things quickly and sloppily and then say “ah, good enough” before cleaning the paint brushes inadequately. Then he has a vein pop out on his forehead: “this is NOT HOW YOU CLEAN BRUSHES, WOMAN.” Also, he’s a professional, and apparently professionals prefer to just do their job in peace while listening to old U2 albums for the thousandth time.

So I go back to pinning ideas for him on Pinterest and stay out of the way.  My hobbies are of the more sedentary pursuits: reading, writing, knitting, Doctor Who….

And every once in a while, I do things like paint things on our stairs for fun.

Some people like to play video games or listen to music or watch television or run marathons.

Brian likes to tear out ceilings, rewire basements, and renovate bathrooms for funsies.

 

Are you the DIY-er in the house? Or is it your significant other? Do you like to watch HGTV? Any reno projects or veterans here? 

Continue Reading · brian, home · 18

In which romance shows up in the interruptions

I think that someday, when I am old, I will be glad that I wrote this down. (These are the days we will have to remember someday.) Isn’t that the way it is with these moments? The small moments, the small decisions, make up a life worth remembering and I want to make more room in my life (and so my writing) to remember them. Even if it’s just for me. Simple stories still matter to me.

The girls were playing dress-up while Joe was downstairs playing Legos after supper. I left Brian to the dishes to pretty up their hair and apply my bright lipstick to their small mouths as a special treat. We sprayed perfume into the air and moved through the mist. They paraded up and down the house, grandly greeting each other turn after turn: “Why hello, Miss Evelynn, pleasure to see you.” They decided to have a ball and so I opened iTunes on the computer. The laptop keys are sticky and there are smears on the screen: family computer, it seems.

Brian and I switched spots and he scooped them up in his arms, a dish towel flung over his shoulder. The girls danced with their dad, and I cleaned the kitchen, humming along, watching them all. The girls drifted off to another game and we settled back to our work, we always do. There’s a lot to do: a lot of work, a lot of bills, a lot of commitments, go go go.

On these nights, romance smells like butter and garlic, dish soap and clean skin. On a whim, I turned on Andrew Peterson’s song “Dancing in the Minefields” and, without words, we turned to each other, held on and danced. Romance shows up in the interruptions.

Even when we are tired or we aren’t speaking the same language or we are out of step, we still know enough to turn towards each other when the music starts.

Evelynn came barrelling in to the room (she barrels into every room) and charged at us: me too! me too! me too! We picked her up and we danced, and Anne wormed her way in, then Joe wandered upstairs and we were dancing like a messy rugby scrum, shuffling and swaying and out of step, five people crammed into one embrace.

I laid my head on his chest like I haven’t done in a while, he kissed my hair, I knew he was smiling, and Evelynn laid her face right next to mine, nose to nose. Anne was hanging on to me at the south, Joe to the north.

I make a lot of mistakes in this marriage, I’m sure he’d say the same, but we always find our way back to this. I found myself singing along: at the end of all my fear, to the end of all my days, when I forget my name, remind me. 

Continue Reading · brian, family, love, love looks like, marriage · 28