Family in Tapestry

How can we reconcile our years
these finite lifetimes
woven tightly into knotted tapestry
scenes of strife and sunshine
brighter than star-heart
or near death-dark,
colours combined, complex,
joyous and inharmonious and pulled
all ways – directionless blurs
splashed with memories.

We are bound, inextricable
no matter where these loose strands finish.

Written for day 2 of NaPoWriMo.

Bridging the distance

I could hear the wind howling, howling so loudly I almost got up to see what the sound was. But I was warm and comfortable in my boy’s bed, the lights were low and I was watching his face as he read. I didn’t really want to go anywhere, not even the few feet across the room to look out the window.

I don’t remember when it was that I stopped reading to him. I remember when I started. It was before he was born. And then I resumed the first day we were let out of the hospital, when he was four days old. Other than the times he’s been punished, going to bed for a few days without a book, it has pretty much continued for the full 10 years and – what? eight months? As I said, I don’t know when it stopped. I guess it might have been somewhere around Christmas.

First we couldn’t decide on a book we both wanted to read. Then there were the few that I began and he took over on his own. Lately, he’s flown through four or five when I wasn’t looking. And that got him past needing someone to read to him. Or wanting it.

Now there’s a sort of emptiness. A space borne of the time not spent together, of night after night not cuddling up with books and blankets. I feel that emptiness as I make dinner, with him upstairs, me downstairs. I feel it when he leaves the kitchen after dinner and disappears back into his space.

Space is important, and I don’t begrudge him it, but I do feel the emptiness.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to do things together, just that he wants to do things I don’t want to (play soccer, play video games) or I want to do things he doesn’t (go for a run, look at pictures, read) or he wants to hang out when I’m making a meal, cleaning up, trying to get the things done that need doing. It’s an awkward dance – I’m ready when he’s not, he’s ready when I’m not.

Tonight though, after I had finished in the kitchen, I did play soccer with him for a bit in his room. And when it was time to lie down, to start to calm and unwind, he lay down with a book and I flopped down beside him to listen to the wind. We stayed like that for a while, him making the funny snuffling sounds he always makes when he reads, fidgeting endlessly, unable to lie still, me just watching him, ruminating, listening and watching and thinking.

When I got up to leave, he wound his arms around me and said, “I love you the most.”

My sweet boy.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll bring my book down to his room. We can create a new tradition while we lie around and read.

Bridge the distance, fill the space.

Together but separate.

 

Into the Great Unknown

IMG_1417

Road to Eksteenfontein, South Africa, Copyright Silverleaf 2016

Though it’s always pitch black when the alarm goes off, though I know we will be in the truck again for most of the day, a special feeling accompanies each waking. It’s hard to put into words…

Curious, excited, expectant;

Warm, maybe, from both the gentle morning heat of the desert and the fond attachment to place that one can cultivate surprisingly quickly;

Sweet, from the scent of the plants and the earth;

Content.

Or perhaps it is best left undefined.

Knowing this is the only way to cover the miles, to see everything there is to see in the time we have available, I jump up without lingering, my body screaming defiance, my mind too sluggish to do anything about it. Propelled by what is becoming habit, and an underlying eagerness, I launch myself into the routine: toilet, shower, brush teeth, dress, gather the remaining items and pack them into the truck. It doesn’t matter that the accommodations change almost nightly. The routine is what anchors us.

I wake my sleepy son, the boy who can never be woken mid-sleep, and he joins us with groans and screeches, somehow equally ready for the next adventure. Even at this hour.

My husband makes coffee before we go and I pour it into myself gratefully, feeling a touch more human. At somewhere between 4 and 5 am, I don’t want food but I pack my trusty bag of granola, a soy milk drinking box, and a banana in the front door of the truck, at the ready.

We leave the key on the table, pull the door shut. Another destination awaits.

The fun lies in climbing into the truck, pulling out, heading off, wondering what we’ll see this time, waiting for the sun to rise over the vast, dramatic land, to see what it will reveal on today’s stretch of road.

Most of our drives are 6 to 10 hours, some are longer. All of them afford us majestic views, breathtaking terrain, and sometimes animals. We record the birds we see in a book, compete to see who can spot a new animal first, remark on mountain ranges, stop to capture some small part of the moment in the camera’s aperture, though that doesn’t do it justice – only standing in it, being there, taking it in with the naked eye, breathing in the molecules and holding them briefly as part of ourselves, only that can really do any of it justice. Sometimes I imagine spreading my arms wide to embrace it all.

This was how we explored 4500 km of Southern Africa over 11 days in early 2016. A family on the move. Exploring, learning. The world both stretched in empty vastness around us but also shrank down to just the three of us, to the confines of our truck.

Despite taking 1000 pictures, the moments I didn’t capture on film are the ones that keep coming back to me, weeks later. That early morning stop in an Upington petrol station, for example. It was still dark outside, the stars splashed across the night, but the petrol station was buzzing; a hub for those of us up early, whatever the reason. I paused as I was gathering enamel bowls and plastic cups and looked around, taking in the vibe. A truck driver and the somewhat grizzled woman at the till were engaged in a conversation in Afrikaans. Two younger men were chatting at the automatic coffee machine. It was nothing special, and yet it was all special.

There were also the times we almost ran into serious problems – a pothole we hit too hard just after crossing into Namibia, a washed out stretch of abandoned road we navigated early one morning in the silent mountains near Eksteenfontein, the time we actually did get stuck in the sand – but it was specifically because we embarked on this adventure alone, without a group, without a guide, without any safety nets, that it was so momentous.

The place became part of us. And for a time, we became part of it.

 

 

 

Unspoken 

Gird the heart and dull the tongue
so these vivid feelings we breathe –
like living though memories awakened –
don’t spurn hurtful words
delivered without thinking
driven by grief and bittersweet heart-strokes
(loss and love and, after all, just life)
and the uneven terrain of our perceptions.
Thoughts of places now disappeared
of people no longer here (seen but in dreams)
these memories haunt us when we gather,
like ribbons, their voices, faces, unfurl
and curl into the spaces between us
we look through them to find each other
reach through them when we try
to clasp hands, to seek familial warmth;
they are with us and yet far
we never cease to conjure them into our midst.

This life feels precarious
but precious
as we grasp each other
afraid to let go
yet ready to run
from the emotions
that ebb and flow and
crash each time
upon our souls.

Unfettered: The story of an evolving relationship

It has been many, many years since my son stayed overnight at his father’s. Many years since I’ve trusted my ex enough to let him have our son more than the allotted five hours. Many years since I’ve referred to my child as “ours” and meant someone other than my current husband. In fact, he hasn’t stayed overnight there since I won full custody, reduced access to five hours every two weeks and changed my son’s last name to mine. That was all five years ago. Half my son’s life ago.

It hasn’t even been very long that my son has been seeing his father, this time around. After mostly two years of his father being unreliable and absent, my son decided he had no interest in seeing him either. It was only Father’s Day 2015 that my son asked to see him again following eight months of unexplained refusal.

While I don’t know what changed my son’s mind, I can say that as far as my ex goes, things have vastly improved ever since February when he and his partner had a baby. I wouldn’t say I fully trust him – people don’t change – but I don’t feel terror at the thought of our son staying with him anymore, and that’s saying something. For now, he’s in a better place in his life and his mind and  I can’t really justify refusing to let our son stay with him. In fact, it was me who started involving him more in our son’s life again. I even organized this weekend for both of them.

I hope he doesn’t prove me wrong. I hope he doesn’t fall apart while our son is still a child, still vulnerable.

As awful as things were at their worst – lies, drinking, stealing, erratic behaviour – when he’s stable, my ex is charming, fun and able to run a business and a house. He can be a warm, relaxed person. They bond over a shared love of soccer and their shared experience on this earth, however limited it has been.

I’m happy about that. I hope that it will continue. It’s good for our son to feel unconflicted between both parents, to feel he can go back and forth between both households without incident. To spend time with both of us – and his new sister.

So, at the very early hour of 8:00 am Saturday, I packed him off for a day and a half.

My son is my heart and soul, just as much a part of me as my own limbs. Yet, he is also the independent person I have taught him to be. He is able to stand on his own, speak up for himself, and go off and do things and make his own way – the way of an only child. At 8 years old, he chose to go to sleepaway camp for 26 nights straight and he did just fine (survivable homesickness aside). He flies alone to visit his grandparents in Toronto. He walks into all sorts of situations on his own, introduces himself and gets involved. So though we’re very close and I miss him, I know he’s ok away from home.

Still, when it comes to his father, I worry. And it’s more than the man himself. There’s so much all parties invest in a parental relationship, so many hopes and expectations. Especially one as complex and fraught as this one.

It doesn’t help that I’m naturally anxious and a worrier.

I must have kept myself sanely busy, though, because here I am now, about to go pick him up.

I’m surprised to find myself looking forward to hearing all about the house, his new sister, his time with the other part of his family. I don’t feel the expected pang of regret or sadness or even fear. I just want him to be happy, to have had the weekend he was looking forward to. And I’m sure he did.

It is so much easier to abandon the angst, fear and outrage, to leave the bad of the past in the past and, while still watching out for my son, finally move forward, unfettered.