Train tracks covered in lottery tickets

I can’t work out whether we checked the lottery ticket on the same day the car got stuck on the train tracks or if these are two stories I’ve stuck together with the glue of memory.

It wasn’t far from the house, the pharmacy, but we drove anyway. You had to pick up a prescription but, more importantly, you had the lottery ticket you wanted to check. For some reason I stayed in the car while you went in. I remember that because I can still see the look on your face from across the parking lot as you walked out the door. You had won – $75 I think it was –  but it wasn’t the amount, it was the winning itself you said. You were as giddy as a little boy, your eyebrows raised, your blue eyes twinkling, face flushed.

I don’t know if it was then that we drove down the street that crosses the train tracks, if it was that day that the car stopped on the tracks. Maybe it doesn’t matter. In my mind it is the same day. In my mind, it isn’t 30 years ago.

It must not have been long that we sat there, though moments like that always feel like they stretch out into forever. You got the car running – I don’t even know now whether there was ever any danger of a train coming. We must have gone home then, down the fabled streets of my mother’s youth, wending our way through her stories, walking through the storybook of her life. I used to love hearing those stories, driving those roads.

We must have gone home and had something to eat – it would have been bacon sandwiches for lunch or chips (plain) if it was happy hour. Then you would have relaxed into your chair to listen to music, or gone out to the back 40 or the garage, and I might have played inside at your feet or, if you were outside, near you.

Just another day, another day that floats back to me, triggered by unexpected forces, bringing me back to you in the only place we can meet now, in my imperfect, treasured memories.

Shards of Memory

They’re putting coins down a hole in the house foundation, my husband and son, for the future – either their future when they think to dig them up again, decades from now, or for some unknown future, for some unknown people.

The coins, this shared moment, all our shared moments, are the shards of memory we hold onto, shards that, like light, cut through dark times – ours and the world’s. 

They are monuments to the present, to who we are now, to who we think we’ll be in the future. They tell our future selves, “this is who we were then,” and they ask, “remember?”

They are the light we shine into the uncertain future, a piece of ourselves we send forward in time.

These monuments, these bits of the present which will become memories, will remain unchanged while we, we will change in unknown and uncertain but surely vast ways. 

They are changeless while the world and those of us in it embody change.

This point in time may be remembered differently by each of us – my husband may remember this as the day he cleaned out the hole in the floor, the time he and my son bonded over a common interest; my son will remember the rusty nails that came out of the hole and may think about how he and my husband agreed to put coins in the hole, about how for a few minutes he stopped thinking about missing his first dad; I will remember it as the weekend of the Paris attacks, the first time in years my son spent a whole day with his dad, and how safe and surreal and happy everything felt at home this morning – but though we all have different perspectives, the memory and the coins will always be part of our shared identity, our shared moment.

They are among the bright shards of light cutting through our family’s complex narrative.

Growing Pains

He’s struggling, stretching between the little boy he’s been and that older person he can see in the distance, the shadow of himself he thinks he’d like to be.

Already he’s rebelling, fighting against the life he has, asking for something different, though he’s not sure yet what that something might be.

Tonight I found him separating his belongings: things to keep (books, achievements) things to discard (Lego, costumes).  Resolute, he grows the one pile, the discard pile, faster than the other.

When I ask if he’s sure about this item and that, he gives me that look, the one that tells me he has been sure for some time, for as long as I’ve pretended time was standing still, for as long as I’ve tried to believe things will never really change.

Now I can see it coming. That moment he eventually casts home into the discard pile, when life for him consists of some hitherto unknown collection of not-home items, when the past remains and he is gone.

And so tonight, when he asks me to snuggle instead of reading to him, when he asks me to warm him up, I climb willingly into his soft, dimly lit world and hold him tight. When eventually I extricate myself, insisting it’s time to sleep, I do so wondering why I didn’t just stay the whole night.

Home

The last day of school, another milestone in our lives, prompts me to reflect.

My son has barely ridden the school bus this year, but as I watch it disappear around the corner this morning with him on it, I begin to consider the neighbourhood. I take in all the familiar idiosyncrasies of this place I call home. I think about the four years he’s been leaving our house to go to school, and about how, as he has gotten older, his space on these blocks has widened. He no longer belongs just to his room, or just to the house, or the driveway. He has his own relationship with these streets. With the park. The corner store. All the little landmarks and minor memories he has made for himself between here and school, between school and his afterschool program, his piano lessons. Between here and there.

As I bike to work, I think of my own memories and experiences here. The space beside the Germany Embassy where the bunny rabbits play. The tall stately trees that were planted over a hundred years ago and the few houses that remain from that time. The grandfatherly man I pass each morning as he takes his walk along the canal. The canal.

My initial thought as I took all this in was that I finally feel at home, finally have a neighbourhood of my own after what feels a long time. Perhaps for the first time since I left my childhood home and moved to Ireland.

But what makes a neighbourhood home? In Ireland, I certainly grew to know the people, became intimately acquainted with the neighbourhoods, the familiar surroundings. And when I returned to Canada and lived up in a small, rural riverside town for a few years, I had a neighbourhood there, too. I knew the neighbours, the safe places to swim in the river, the fields and forests behind the house.

The difference between Ireland and that riverside town and the place I live now, though, is that I finally feel at home. I finally feel comfortable with myself and my surroundings. I am no longer the outsider – in my imagination or in reality. In Ireland, I was never going to be Irish and I was never going to belong to that rural town either.

But I finally feel at home where I live. I am not an outsider. I am one of the neighbours. I’m somewhere in the tapestry, a part of the weft that weaves through the warp of these small streets. It is my home now and I’m not looking around for somewhere else, somewhere I would feel more comfortable.

I’ve always understood the saying “Home is where the heart is” to mean that home is wherever your family is, but maybe my interpretation is flawed.

Home is where I don’t have to think about who I am. Home is where I can just be.

Home is where I can pop out to chat to someone in their garden, or to join a group of neighbours gathering on the sidewalk.

Home is where I can run out into the street in my bare feet and pyjamas to watch the marching band from the nearby drill hall as they practice for parades – where I will meet other neighbours doing the same.

Home is where I can have an impromptu snowball fight with my son, the boys next door and the kids across the street.

Home is where I can just sit out the front or out the back, look up into the sky and enjoy the sounds surrounding me.

Home is where I wait for my son as he walks back from school, from the park, from wherever he’s been.

Home is where I belong and it is broader than the bricks and mortar of the house that is my small dot on the tapestry.

First Flights

As I navigate through another quiet morning, another start to the day with my son out of the house, I realize I follow the same routine whether he is here or not. It is quieter, sure, but my mornings and evenings now naturally, instinctively, follow this routine. A routine that has been 10 years in the making.

Ten years of carefully cultivating a schedule. Predictability. Of feeling responsible and being responsible for guiding another life, ironically, to a place that I can start letting go, bit by bit, to see how he manages the first small flights on his own.

This is how it starts, the emptying of the nest, though there are years yet left to go. Years of adjustment for all of us. I wonder what our schedule will look like as those years change our patterns, what my routine will be when the nest is empty. But I don’t want to think about that eventuality just yet.

On Friday, our school board had a PD day. I realized this at 3pm on Thursday and almost enrolled the boy in his usual after school program, but my husband said he wanted to spend the day with him. Usually, my husband has so many work projects on the go that this just isn’t possible and he often laments the fact that he doesn’t get to spend the fun times with the boy that I do. I was thrilled that they would have some time together.

Friday morning, he told the boy to dress nicely and off they went to a fancy hotel for breakfast, while I threw some granola in my lunch bag and headed to work.

Mid-morning, they called me from the car. “We’re going to Montreal!” they shouted exuberantly into the phone. “See you tomorrow!”

All day, my phone silently flashed with pictures of their exploits. I watched from my distance, bemused.

Of course, my son heading on a road trip with my husband is hardly an emptying of the nest. But it is a change, even a small step in that direction; for 10 years it’s been my son and me, for 6 years it’s been my son and my husband and me. Only every now and then is it the two of them. This is a good thing. They are still getting used to each other, even now, after living together for almost 6 years.

Friday evenings we usually clean the house as a family. It’s an established part of the routine. Not wanting to have to face a Saturday with chores, I spent Friday evening cleaning in the solitude, my mind wandering. It took me 5 hours to get everything done but still I was in bed at pretty much the same time I would have been if they’d been here. The routine remained intact.

Saturday morning I still woke up at 7:30, still got out of bed at 8. Like clockwork. They returned home shortly thereafter but my son went off again, this time to a friend’s house for a sleepover, mid-afternoon.

My mother-in-law came for dinner, which we ate in the garden at the same time we have dinner every night. My husband and I, though we had all the freedom that comes with an otherwise empty house, were still in bed at the usual time, watching the show we’ve been watching for weeks. We went to sleep at the same time we do most Saturday nights and again, we were up at 7:30.

I have time to write before I pick up the boy from his sleepover, but that’s not vastly different from other Sundays, either.

So, here I am, writing, thinking about schedules and slowly emptying nests. I have glimpsed what my life will be like in 8 to 10 years when my son has moved out and perhaps superficially it won’t be much different, though I can only imagine (and I try not to) the size of the hole his absence will leave me with.

Maybe I cling to the routine because it makes his absence feel temporary. Maybe it’s relief that I’m feeling as I reflect on the extent to which my life doesn’t change when he’s out of the house.

Though I like to know he can fly, though it makes me proud of him, I’m glad it’s not anywhere near the time that he will fly away.