I didn’t know

I knew that you were a good human being when we first met, but I didn’t know just how good. Your mom worked across from me, and she was full of kind smiles and encouraging words. You had a good relationship with her, and I have found in my experience that a man who respects his mother is generally a man who is respectful of other women as well.  You were kind to me, the new girl at work, and you had a great sense of humour. You were a great friend to me while we worked together, and you took the time to come cheer me on when I worked up the courage to sing at an Open Mic night. You invited me to come to a pub with you after work with your friends, even though I was only old enough to drink iced tea. You made me feel included and appreciated. But you never made a “move”, and I always felt safe around you. You were a good buddy and a good person. After four months I left the job and the city to pursue my education and a relationship. I didn’t know if I would ever see you again. I should have known that it would not be the end of our story.

Four years later I got an email out of the blue. You were cleaning out your email contacts and came across mine. You could have easily deleted the info of a co-worker with whom you used to associate, but instead you sent an email asking me how I was doing. My engagement to my fiancé had just ended abruptly, right before the wedding. My father’s cancer had just metastasized and we didn’t know how much longer we would have him with us. I was travelling back and forth between two cities every week to be with my family as well as to complete my degree and work my shifts at two different daycares. You had moved to a place within biking distance of my parents’ house. Sure, it would be fun to have a cup of coffee with you and maybe visit my old place of employment. Sure, it would be fun to come to your birthday party and meet your family and friends. I didn’t know that something much greater was on its way.

You knew that I was in the middle of some difficult times, and you didn’t push a relationship agenda. You let me keep you at a distance while I took time to regroup, recover, and take care of myself. You included me in your life without asking anything of me other than my company and friendship. You let me stubbornly refuse to allow you to pay for dinner, although you knew that making the choice to eat out meant that I didn’t buy groceries that week, because you recognized that after what I had just been through, my independence meant so much to me. You didn’t force me to choose between friendship and a relationship, because you knew that it was not fair to expect me to make a commitment to another person when I was still finding out who I was. I didn’t know how patient you were actually being.

You waited as my father’s health failed. You waited as I sorted out my feelings about my failed relationship, my future education plans and my job prospects. You waited as I figured out whether or not it was safe to open my guarded heart enough to allow anyone else in. You didn’t complain about how long it took for me to finally hold your hand, let alone how long it took for that first kiss. You didn’t act upset or offended when I turned down your offer of a place to live while I was doing my placements in town. I didn’t know it then, but you were demonstrating the patience, persistence, and generosity that would hold our marriage together when times got tough.

When my father finally passed away, you held me through my grief. You silently and stoically held me and just let me cry. And cry. And cry… until I could cry no more and was emptied of the day’s grief, and the aching subsided enough to allow for stillness and sleep to seep in for a few precious hours. You did the things that I desperately needed someone to do for me but did not know how to articulate or ask for–to be present with me, to witness my pain, to allow my pain to exist without “fixing” it, and to calmly and quietly experience it with me. I spent an entire night crying in your arms, and it was possibly the best therapy I have ever received. I didn’t know it then, but you were proving that you would later have the intuition to simply know just what I needed, and the strength to be there holding me through the pain of years of infertility and loss, the anxiety-inducing pregnancy complications and bedrest, and the challenging first few weeks of Willow’s life before her blood sugar levels, jaundice and eating issues were resolved.

I joke that every three years we need to renew our relationship agreement. This stems from my reputation of looking for a new job every three years, when I felt a bit too comfortable and needed to be challenged. Well, tomorrow we are at another three year milestone in our marriage. I have never been as sure of our strength as a couple as I am right now. I have never been more convinced that I have chosen the “right person” with whom to spend the rest of my life, and with whom to raise a decent, loving and kind human being who will touch the world in ways that we cannot even imagine. You are the most amazing person and partner I could ask for, and seeing you parent our miracle baby just reinforces all that is good and true about you.

So now I renew my vows to you, to our marriage, and to the future we have together:

You have transformed my life and made me a better person with your love and friendship.

Thank you for taking me as I am, loving me, and welcoming me into your heart.

I promise to always love and cherish you, and to be faithful to you forever.

I promise to be the best person I can be for you.

I promise to be there for you, to laugh with you when times are good, and to cry with you when times are bad.

I promise to be honest with you, to respect you as an individual, to respect your values, to stand up for you, to always believe in you.

I promise to remember to be playful and silly … and to always remember that NOTHING is more important than the life I share with you.

I believe in us. I have faith in our strength as a couple and I will NEVER give up on us.

Today I give you all I am and all I am to become.

(Thanks to Chantal Kreviazuk for writing the song that was in my heart. Click on the word “song” to hear my version.).

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Baby’s First Christmas…

It’s my first Christmas! I have no idea what this means, but Mommy keeps dressing me up in “festive” (a.k.a. Uncomfortable) outfits and taking endless photos of me. She also keeps chasing me and my fur siblings away from “decorations” and “presents”. These items are obviously made for the enjoyment of kittens and babies, what with their sparkles, flashy colours and lights, jingly bells, and scrunchy paper. What child or feline could resist a little chomp here or there?

Mommy keeps playing different versions of the same songs over and over. I would approve of Raffi song covers on repeat, but this is craziness. I may need to stuff my monkey blankie in my ears if I have to listen to one more version of that song about the baby Jesus and how he never cried in the manger… come on buddy, you’re making the rest of us babies look bad.

I keep seeing images of the same creepy old bearded man dressed in red. He’s on every floor of our house. He’s in the grocery store. He’s in some of the books that Mommy reads to me. It’s like he’s always watching… as though he knows when I’m sleeping, and perhaps when I’m awake. Well, better up the ante on the refusal to sleep through the night so that I can keep an eye on HIM. Take that, old man. How do YOU like being judged?

I love to look out the window at the sparkly lights twinkling on the porch, but it seems like as soon as they appear against the darkening night sky, Mommy is scooping me up and trying to force me to lie down in that demeaning cage they refer to as a “crib”. Harrumph.

What do Mommy and Daddy actually do when I finally surrender to sleep? I bet they are downstairs right now, dancing under the sparkly lights, playing with the colourful decorations and unwrapping crinkly papered presents, listening to Raffi!!

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The Santa Conspiracy

I was born into a hybrid Buddhist/lapsed-Christian home, so I was not raised to fear a vengeful bearded man in the sky damning me to an afterlife of fire and brimstone, nor was I raised to fear a vengeful bearded man in the North Pole damning me to a Christmas with a coal-filled or empty stocking. I feared the disapproval and disappointment of my parents and teachers, but my behaviour was never connected to my expectations of Christmas morning.

Christmas was secularly celebrated at my house, with an artificial tree decorated with tinsel and lights, “Christmas turds” (handmade salt clay creations) and other cherished ornaments, a special meal of some sort (the best year was our Lebanese themed dinner… Yum!), those ridiculous “Christmas Crackers” that you pull apart with a loud ‘snap’ to find a paper hat that dyes your forehead some wild colour when you sweat and some cheap plastic choking hazard of a toy, and a stocking from Santa. Santa really liked to bring socks and underwear (and sometimes a new nightgown) to fill up the bottom of our stockings, but he also threw in candy and a toy or two. Santa didn’t bring bikes or Barbie dream houses, like on television. The whole schtick was pretty toned down. My sister and I wrote letters. We made a wish and blew out a candle in a special Santa candle holder. We left a small bribe of cookies and milk (as a child, I understood this to be a form of payment). Santa broke into our house undetected, tasted the cookies, drank the milk, and filled our stockings. Santa always came, even though we didn’t go to church, and he continued to visit even after I started to wonder aloud why he and my mom had the same handwriting.

I don’t remember ever being threatened with Santa not coming on days when my sister and I misbehaved. We were threatened with lots of other things, including the loss of our existing toys when we did not clean them up off of the floor (Dad followed through!!), but Santa wasn’t a big enough deal for us to be used in that way. It didn’t even occur to me that Santa might really pick and choose “nice” and “naughty” kids to either shower with gifts or coal, even though I had read stories, sung carols and watched videos attesting to this behaviour.

I originally thought the Elf on the Shelf was a cute toy, and enjoyed seeing friends’ photos of their elves getting into mischief… but when I found out that some parents use it as a kind of “Santa Spy” that supposedly reports all misdeeds to the Guy in Red, I suddenly lost my affinity for tiny elf culture.

Being a new parent means making some interesting choices. My husband and I both enjoyed the mythos of Santa as a child. We had many years of waiting for Willow to consider our parenting choices, including how we might handle Christmas with a child.

For now, I think that we have agreed to buy into the Santa conspiracy, but in a low-key way. We hang lights and decorate our home. We don’t have a Christmas tree for Santa to leave anything under but we do hang a few ornaments on a potted plant out of reach of our furbabies. Willow has a Santa stocking that will have three handmade presents in it this year: a crocheted rainbow tutu dress, a crocheted bib, and a stuffed monkey with embroidered eyes.

This is “baby’s first Christmas”, and she will not remember it except through pictures. There is time for us to tweak traditions, to figure out how Santa can get into a house without a chimney, and to decide how deep we really want this whole Santa thing to go. How best to encourage meaningful literacy through letters to Santa, both asking and thanking him for a gift. How many explanations we want to give. How much honesty will be too much honesty at certain ages. How to allow her to experience the magic and mystery of belief and then later on respectfully allow others (especially younger friends) to continue to experience that same magic and mystery without ruining their fun.

The best part of all of this musing about Santa? We finally get to make these choices for our real, living child, who is finally here. I don’t need anything from Santa this year. I have everything and everyone I ever wished and prayed for, right here.

Happy HannuKwanSolMas, everyone.

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