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Pansies

Pansies :: Sarah Bessey

We were driving to Edmonton because my Granny was dying and we wanted to say good bye.

So we drove all day from the west coast, heading towards Edmonton. I forget sometimes how big and unpopulated Canada really is because I am a city girl, born and raised and forever amen. But when we hit the highways north and we drive for hours and hours without seeing a gas station, surrounded only by trees and silence, it sinks in. There is wide open space on the other side of our comfortable orbits.

We ate at an old Husky station with an attached restaurant, I had an open face roast beef sandwich and I still think about it, it was so regular and good. The sign said “Last Gas or Food for 200 kms” or something like that so we filled up on gas and cheezies and pop, all the essentials because I was five months pregnant. It was my fourth pregnancy but for the first time, it seemed that we were really going to bring home a baby this time so Brian and I were giddy and young and hopeful at our core as we drove with my sister and her husband and her dog through the mountains as they began to appear out of the distance.

The family was gathering at the old hospital to be together. My uncles were driving in, my parents had flown ahead of us, my auntie and her girls and their families were already there. We came from the east and the west and the north. She was dying, there were only days left, and we were coming to bear witness, to sit the vigil, to tell stories, to hold each other as much as hold her.

The early days of April in British Columbia are filled with flowers and beauty, green growth and warm days. As we drove north east into Alberta, the green receded and the temperature dropped steadily. But there were small hints of spring here and there – buds on trees, crocuses in the ditches, and at that Husky station there were bedding plants for sale even though it was way too soon for planting – that’s what May long weekend is for, after all. I stood in front of the too-early flower display and called my husband over, “Look, pansies,” I said because purple pansies with gold hearts are my Granny’s favourite flower, they’re her icon, and we were driving to her. We climbed back in the Chevy and kept going, clicking off kilometres through the hours. I carried the sight of those flowers with me.

Years ago, when my grandfather was still alive and they lived in a trailer park community just outside of Regina, there was a playground of old tractor tires at the end of the dirt road and I can still smell it, the mix of hot melting rubber in the Saskatchewan heat and the faint smell of urine from within them because little boys would pee in them, everyone knew that. The faint rumble from the highway across the fields and the dull hot buzz of grasshoppers. We would pick dandelions from the fields and play in the blinding sunshine, turning brown as beans. We ran home, dusty, to drink out of the hose and the grown-ups sat in the living room visiting. We would eat humbug candy or licorice all-sorts out of my grandpa’s candy dish. He smelled like rum and coke with cigarettes and the smell is still a comfort to me because I had never known this tall man with a gravelled voice as anything but laconic and loving. Granny always had purple pansies in the flower beds or the pots, the royal purple ones with a darker purple hue near the centre and then the fleck of gold right at the heart. They were beautiful but ordinary, everyone’s granny had pansies.

It strikes me as an odd flower to choose as your icon. After all, most people love roses or daisies, even sweet peas for their beautiful sweet smell or lilacs for their heavy beauty or wild roses for their untamed beauty. But this ordinary bedding plan, a basic beauty easily available at Canadian Tire, was her favourite and we all knew it so we loved it, too.

We spent a couple of days at the hospital with our family. We visited and even laughed, we lifted her oxygen mask to kiss her before replacing it carefully. I sat in the corner of the room, watching my mother and her sister hold vigil, each of them holding her hands, but holding each other’s eyes. Fifteen years ago, they had done this holy work for their father. There’s an unspoken liturgy to dying, it’s the work of the people. Someone had brought a pot of pansies and it sat on the window sill right beside them. The room was old and small, the chairs were scratchy, the window faced only the early spring streets of Edmonton with winter’s left behind gravel piled in the gutters.

She died on April 9, she loved deeply and was loved deeply in return, what more could we say about a life? My cousin tattooed the image of pansies onto her skin soon after that. In August of that year, I gave birth to our first daughter.

Five years later, on April 9th, I gave birth to Evelynn Joan in our living room. She looks a lot like my Granny to me somehow: I think it’s the shape of their faces and their smiles, but maybe it’s something more in the heart or spirit, who knows. Evelynn has my mother’s eyes and her golden brown hair but with my father’s curls. She reminds some people of Brian but other people swear she looks like me. She’s a patchwork quilt of love, like we all are, I guess – it’s what makes us feel immortal.

Evie won’t ever know my Granny but we tell her stories like we tell stories of my father’s parents and we spin the yarn of their family stories so that they feel like they belong, like they know their place in the story, so they know it didn’t start with them, it won’t end with them, and there is a kind of love that doesn’t show up in the movies.

As poet Nayyirah Waheed said, “My mother was my first country, the first place I ever lived.” Every year on April 9th, there is an undercurrent of bittersweet because we are celebrating a small girl who has no concept of death or sorrow or suffering – as it should be. And yet I know my mother misses her mother: when something happens, silly or small or monumental, she still thinks, “I can’t wait to tell mum about this!” and then she remembers. Death sinks into our lives, it slowly becomes accepted reality but we always carry a homesickness for the ones we have loved, the ones who created us in a million ways. She calls her sister to talk about their mum; my sister and I call her to tell her we remember and that we will always remember.

Evelynn turned four years old last week. My mother took her to Build-a-Bear for a fun morning; Maggie Love and I tagged along. For her celebration, we had a cake with pink icing and sprinkles, she brought cupcakes to her preschool friends, we decorated the house with Frozen birthday banners and pink-blue-white balloons. Her favourite meal is sandwiches so we had cold-meat buns for her birthday feast. My sister’s family gave her a new bathing suit for the summer fun ahead and a stuffie. We got her a scooter for playing outside with all the kids. The house was filled with the noise of children from outside – they all ran out right after the party to play. After the party, my mother bathed our new baby gently and slowly, I call it Granny’s Ministry of Bathtime. I carried around a cold cup of tea and picked up bits of wrapping paper from the floor, my sister’s girls played fairies, my husband stood in the garage with my father talking about the real estate market right now.

It’s all so regular, so ordinary, so beautiful.

And sitting on the mantle there was one last gift from my mother for my little middle daughter: an ordinary pot of purple pansies.

 

image source

Continue Reading · death, Evelynn, family · 21

My preschooler is actually Buddy the Elf

I have a theory: Buddy the Elf was created by someone who hangs out with toddlers and preschoolers.

More specifically, Buddy the Elf just might be my little preschooler in disguise. Or she’s Buddy in disguise. Whatever. Watching that movie opened my eyes to the truth: I live with Buddy the Elf and she’s pure magic when she’s not pure innocent trouble-making mischief.

Here’s why:

1. When confronted with the mall Santa, she ran at full speed straight to him and launched herself into his arms: SANTA SANTA SANTA. She held onto Santa like she was Amy March and Papa had just returned from war to his little women. She hugged the elves. She hugged the trees. She nearly wept with joy at the sight of him.

But here is the thing: we don’t even really do the whole Santa thing. Santa fills the stockings at our house but even with that, all the tinies know it’s a fairy tale game that Mum and Dad play with them for fun at Christmas (because my husband can’t abide the thought of lying to them and having to experience this moment):

And yet she does this at the mall:

2. This exact thing has happened in my real life with my real child at a real airport.

Omaha, our apologies.

In her defense, her six-year-old brother totally participated in the fun.

3. “Hey, Evelynn, what do you want to eat for breakfast?

Hey, Evelynn, what do you want for snack?

Hey Evelynn, what do you want for lunch? for supper? for Christmas supper?

4. This is how we cross the street.

And walk on the sidewalk.

And really this is how she moves in general.

5. Us, at the mall, yesterday:

6. Christmas morning at my house.

Actually, scratch that: this is most mornings at my house. If we could harness her joy and energy at EVERY! NEW! MORNING! we could power a continent.

7. Not only have we actually experienced this moment in an elevator (thankfully it was only 28 floors and not the Empire State building), but she finds beauty in the most unexpected places. The other night I was scrubbing the washrooms – not the most glamourous of jobs, you must admit – and yet she unrolled the paper towels and clapped with delight over how it was SO PWETTY, MUMMY! SO PWETTY!  Paper towels, folks. Don’t waste money on Christmas gifts for this set – a cardboard box, paper towels, and a roll of Scotch tape will keep them happy for daysssssss.

8. I can’t keep up with the fresh new ways she invents to make trouble. Just when I think I have her figured out, we have had days like this. I can’t stay two steps ahead of this one; she’s too busy blazing unseen trails. And so this conversation happens on the regular, and by the time she’s done repenting for some wrong-doing with tremendous crocodile tears and sadness, I’m the one who feels like a big jerk.

9. She takes whatever we all say very literally. At the Dollar Store, she asked our cashier why she had so many keys on her necklace. The lady – no doubt worn out from a long shift – sarcastically dead-panned that they were the keys to the castle. Evelynn shrieked, “YOU HAVE A CASTLE?!? THAT IS AMAZING! YOU ARE A PRINCESS!”

10. All she wants in the whole world is to be with her family and to have fun together. This is her idea of a perfect day. And it’s my life mission to make this happen for her:

Resistance is futile, my friends.

This is her core emotion about her family and friends and, really, life in general.

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And who am I kidding? It’s totally how we all feel about her, too.

Continue Reading · christmas, Evelynn, parenting · 11

In which we celebrate two years of Evelynn Joan

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It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since Evelynn was born here in my living room.

My laughter was uncontrollable (probably a bit hysterical, if we’re being honest!) and Brian burst into tears. They covered her with a warmed towel and a hat and after a few moments, Brian looked to see if it was a boy or a girl. He said, “It’s a GIRL!” and that sent all of us off again into gales of laughter and tears. I couldn’t stop thanking God for her. She was bright eyed and quietly alert. No screaming or scurrying. She gave a couple of little cries but just seemed happy to join the party and was simply taking us all in with her wise eyes.

We had a little family party on Sunday evening. I’ve learned by now to keep toddler birthdays small, short, homemade, and low-key. (Ask me how I know…)

But Evelynn – as usual – proves me wrong. She was made for parties. Not a single melt-down, not a single I-don’t-want-share fit. Being the centre of attention suits her just fine.

Evelynn birthday 2

 

party1

 

She’s a wild child, a force of nature, pure sunshine cut with straight mischief. She has never once slept in the minivan or in her stroller, there is too much world to see out there. Relentless delight, that’s this girl.

Mothering Evelynn has been a different experience because I’m pretty sure she’s our forever-baby, the last of the tinies. And so I hold on a bit longer trying to savour the all-too-swift babyhood and she runs away a bit faster to catch up, she never looks back, so it’s all bittersweet.

We ate chocolate cake and sang songs and we laughed and celebrated.

But today, I feel a bit closer to tears, remembering the day she came into our family like a baptism. She’s a toddler now.

Where did those two years go?

Evelynn Joan newborn pictures

Last year, I put together a little video of her first year with us. I write about Evelynn here.

Continue Reading · Evelynn · 19

In which I present a day with Evelynn (in four acts)

Someone loves her Happy Meal toy.

 

Act I

We are downstairs in our house, playing all morning. I announce lunch and head upstairs to the kitchen. Normally, all three tinies troop up after me. After two minutes, I realise Evelynn has remained below stairs. I head down to get her. And discover the fact that she has painted the entire room with the contents of her diaper. (Again.) (Because this has happened before.) (Many times.)

I pitch a temper tantrum. Then I clean her up, bath her, finish lunch for the trio, start laundry, and put her to bed for her nap.

Then I scrub the basement until my hands are raw. I open every window in the house, and a stiff wind blows through. It does not help with the smell.

Act II

Evelynn awakens from her nap, sunshine and delight, as usual. She toddles down the hall towards the playroom while I fold laundry downstairs. I assume she is in the playroom with her brother and sister. (Never assume with Evelynn.) Then I hear the toilet chugging. Investigate. Discover that she has stuffed paper towels from under the sink into the toilet, clogged it and flushed it repeatedly. It is now overflowing all over the floor.

I cannot unclog the toilet. I clean up the water on the floor and resolve, like any sane woman, to wait until my husband gets home. I shut the door, put up a baby gate to block her access, and we go out to get a coffee for me.

Act III

I begin supper preparations. Evelynn is nicely looking at books, luring me to complacency. I glance away to concentrate on the task at hand. (You see where this is going.)

In less than two minutes, I hear sheets of water hitting the floor in the other washroom. Gallop around the corner and discover that Evelynn has stuffed toilet paper into the sink, turned on the faucets and is now flooding the upstairs washroom. I turn off the water. I am standing in two inches of water on the floor. I use every towel and sheet in the house to sop up the water. I cannot get the water out of the sink.

In a fit of insanity/desperation, I attempt to plunge the sink. This only results in a gigantic backspray of sink gunk flying around the room, the majority of the gunk (of course) landing in my hair and in my open mouth. I freak out thoroughly and laugh until I cry.  I close the bathroom door and call my husband. He is home in less than 30 minutes.

Act IV

Brian unclogs the downstairs sink. Mildly remarks how it smells like poop in the basement. Brings in his wet vac and sucks up all of the water upstairs. Dismantles the entire sink upstairs and unclogs the drains with Evelynn hovering over his shoulder, like a disinterested observer. He reassembles the sink.

We put the tinies to bed and I spend the entirety of Friday night deep cleaning both washrooms, washing towels, and cleaning the basement all over again. I lament repeatedly her newly acquired skill of scaling the play pen. I am out of options other than constant vigilance.

 

Epilogue

Evelynn is the happiest nearly-two-year-old-baby in the world.  She is sweet, loving, funny, sociable, outgoing, and curious. And smart. (Oh, Lord, help us, SO SMART.) And I cannot stay even one step ahead of her because her mischief is uncharted territory. She is relentless, interested in everything except age-appropriate toys and activities, and utterly without fear.

I can only pray for the grace to ensure that, when she is all grown up, she is a benevolent powerful dictator.

 

 

 

Continue Reading · Evelynn, family, humour, parenting · 59

In which Joe wants to throw a party for Evelynn

 

Evelynn and Joseph

Me:  Well, Joseph, our Evelynn Joan is turning two soon! What kind of birthday party should we have?

Joe:  A dinosaur party! A hockey party!

Me:  Well, we should pick something that Evelynn likes a lot. Like …  maybe we could have a bathtub party because she loves taking baths so much? Or a cookie party? Or a Little Bear party? What does Evelynn like best in the world?

Joe: My know! We should have a Joseph party for Evelynn! She likes me best of all the things! I’m her favourite thing because my am her best brother!

#SeriouslyThisCloseToDoingIt

 

 

Continue Reading · Evelynn, family, Joseph · 13