We have some big news around here an I am so excited to share it with you, dear reader.
As you may recall, I enjoy having a bigger-than-typical family. Our crew of four boys brings me joy and I am grateful for them all and the (mostly) delightful chaos they bring into our home. Some well-meaning friends have suggested we get a dog to add to the mix. Hilarious.
We are not getting a pet (beyond the beta fish that has miraculously survived longer than its three departed predecessors). There is no cat, hamster, or guinea pig on the horizon. We went in a different direction. Five of us were on board with this decision right from the start. It took some convincing, but eventually my husband saw the wisdom of procuring our new family member.
Please help me welcome, Big Bag of Chocolate.
Happy holidays! May your season be chocolate-filled.
I have been inside schools my entire life. First as a student and then for the past two decades as a teacher. That is a lot of hallways, classrooms, and offices. And smells. Oh, the smells. Wet shoes, basketballs, the glue we are no longer allowed to use due to “health concerns”, paint, and crayons.
Any time I smell that sweet tang of a fresh box of crayons I flashback to my elementary school. Not my high school or the first school I taught in. Always and forever that smell reminds me of a very specific time and place. I went there for eight years, but the memory is always of grade three and me wearing a green t-shirt. An oddly specific yet at the same time unimportant memory.
Memories are funny that way.
Just like an 80s sitcom that decided to phone it in and do a flashback episode, I can be instantly transported to the past by just a smell. Maybe it’s my superpower, who’s to say? I have yet to unleash its full potential, that’s for sure, and it is definitely competing with my other power of disposing of secret snack wrappers. But it is real and I feel like it is getting stronger with time, much like the cracking sound my knees make BUT WE AREN’T TALKING ABOUT THAT TODAY.
Every spring when the peonies and lilacs come out I find myself riding my old blue ten-speed bike with a bouquet of freshly-cut flowers for my teacher. They are wrapped in a wet paper towel and I clutch them tightly with one hand while navigating the short ride to school with my other. I can still see them atop Miss Zondervan’s desk in a green vase.
Walking into a home that has coffee brewing is a direct pipeline to my Aunt Steffie’s kitchen on a Sunday morning. Our families alternated homes for post-church “coffee” (it’s a Dutch thing) and one whiff of that sweet elixir being made and I can see the machine in the corner of her kitchen while she places sweets on a plate as if I am standing there today.
Winter brings early evenings, Christmas lights, and cozy fires. I might be in the van or taking a walk when the distinct scent of crackling fire from a nearby home is in the air, and bam! I am in our maroon Oldsmobile 88 on a winter night heading to my Uncle Jake’s house for a Christmas party. The kids all hung out in his basement with the massive console TV and ate chips in freedom from the adults laughing it up in the living room. Those were the nights that if you stayed out of sight long enough your parents forgot you were there and you could stay up extra late with the big kids.
Did you ever have a pair of mittens that fit great when you first got them, but soon the thumb hole on one didn’t line up and you were forced to wear them with your one thumb cramping from being held at a weird angle? That’s not just me, be honest. If I smell a wet wool mitten, I can feel my left thumb tingle with the memory of a pair of mauve mitts from 1980-something. Stacey in my class had the same pair and we often mixed them up when they were drying on the heather in the hallway. But we could always figure out which pair was mine because FAULTY THUMB HOLE.
I could write a whole series of posts on memories conjured up by simple smells:
Jiffy Pop = Mrs. St. Pierre’s house on a Friday night.
Black licorice = the jellybeans my grandpa kept in his shirt pocket.
A freshly-lit candle = my childhood kitchen.
Newly-applied nail polish – getting my nails painted gold by my big sister.
Freshly-scooped pumpkin guts = roasting seeds in kindergarten with Mrs. Laurence.
Just-opened bag of chips = playing games with my cousins at Auntie Ina’s house.
Tim Hortons chocolate dip doughnut = getting ready for a family road trip by picking up a party pack.
These memories seem to all be chunked into my early years. I’m not sure about its significance or if there is any rhyme or reason. But it happens more and more and I’m not complaining.
These are simple memories, not the trips we took or the long-coveted gifts I received. They are every day events. The common factor is that they are all connected to family and friends. Sharing those day-to-day moments with people who mattered are what I keep conjuring.
Sometimes I worry that time is going by too quickly and we haven’t done enough or been enough for our kids. But we eat dinner together, play card games (even though they cheat at Old Maid), brew tea and pop popcorn. Maybe we’re depositing into their olfactory memories and one day the smell of freshly-baked brownies will cause them to pause and call their mom. Or text. I’ll take it.
For twelve years the house has been the battle ground for a war no one saw coming and no one wanted.
Good versus evil, dark versus light, brother pitted against brother. Wait, no, mother versus all the boys.
The invasion was slow and insideous at first. A few dinky cars here, a rogue block there. Then another son was born, and the arsenol grew. Legos entered the fray, more dinky cars. Soon action figures could be found strewn across the steps. It was no longer safe to traverse the basement, a talking toy could be triggered at the slightest movement.
This home was no longer the mother’s domain, the children had taken over.
As the offsprings’ numbers and independence grew, so did the snacks. The crumbs, sweet Moses, the crumbs! Entire muffins were decimated and left as a warning to future carbs. Beware, no bread product is safe from these kids. RUN WHILE YOU CAN.
Silly Putty in the furnace ducts, abandoned socks on coffee tables, Nerf bullets in the toilets, Star Wars figures in the nativity sets. The horror.
The mother’s cries of “THIS IS NOT A PRESCHOOL” and “WHY ARE THERE MARBLES IN THE FRYING PAN?” were met with silence or half-hearted attempts to tidy. She raised the stakes and threatened “if it’s on the floor it’s out the door” but everyone knew she wouldn’t follow through.
“I just want one clear space for my coffee cup,” the mother whisper-cried as she tossed “art” into the recycling bin. “Everything has a home! Let’s keep our things in their home and please stop using my scarves to build forts” she sing-songed manically while gathering up granola bar wrappers from the underneath the couch.
And then it happened.
Was it just a happy little accident, that years of stepping over Lego minefields seemed to solve itself? Perhaps.
Her weapon? Bobby pins.
Did she leave them in her pockets on purpose? Was it her plan all along that the pins would end up going through the wash? Did she know that this oversight would result in bobby pins ending up in bedsheets, hoodie pockets, and bath towels for the family to disover with great annoyance? Was her subconcious exacting retribution? And now that the family has discovered how frustrating it was to have a house overrun with tiny and pokey objects left haphazardly in her wake, would she be more careful?
We took you for granted, I see that now. All those years you sat by, quietly supporting us. You welcomed our friends and family with no questions asked.
Slightly greasy in some spots.
Oh, Curb Couch, you’ve come to mean so much to us. And it wasn’t until now, as we set you outside for pick-up that I recognize your true value.
You, our faux-sueded wonder.
Majestic two-person sofa.
As with all things, your season has come to an end. You can no longer take a jump like you used to. Despite my many Pinterest-inspired cleaning attempts, that black Sharpie isn’t going to come off. Nor will the half-eaten red lollipop I recently discovered behind your cushions. So to the curb you must go, old friend.
Not many pieces of furniture receive a custom-made photo essay farewell tribute. But not all are worthy enough to be called the Curb Couch.
Gone, But Not Forgotten: a Tribute in Photos Taken on My Phone
Was I worried that we would look less than classy with living room furniture sitting by our driveway? I don’t think Curb Couch is going to change our neighbours’ opinions of us me that much. They’ve seen me strolling to the park in my pajamas or shuffling slowly by looking for a signal when our wifi is out. There’s little I can do to surprise them at this point.
But wait! Our time is not over. We have been gifted with another two weeks of our mystery-stained, but surprisingly comfortable, chesterfield. How? Our youngest child informed the garbage collectors that “nope, it’s staying” when they stopped to collect it. Never trust a five-year-old sitting on a curb couch. THEY ARE NOT RELIABLE.
And now, sweet Curb Couch is being held in furniture purgatory in our garage.
Come on by.
Sit a bit.
I’ve got mediocre snacks and a great view.
We’re the house with couch sitting by the curb. Intermittently.
“Cleanliness is next to godliness” – ancient proverb
“Out of clutter, find simplicity” – Albert Einstein
“Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions” – Barbara Hemphill
Oh, yes. I agree – clutter is the worst. Once upon a time I was organized. Everything had a place. What a sweet, sweet time that was. Counters were clear, laundry was folded and put away, recycling was taken out, and if something wasn’t needed then off to donation box it went. The floors were clear and end tables held only lamps and maybe a coffee cup (okay, definitely a coffee cup).
Glorious days, my friends. Glorious, tidy, streamlined days.
Then we had kids and our house became inhabited by these little people and all their little people things. But I was determined to keep our home clutter-free. We bought storage containers and decorative baskets. There was a Car Basket and a Book Basket and a shelf for puzzles. For a little while this worked, but eventually the grown-ups were outnumbered and the children were expected to take on some of the cleaning responsibility, and things changed.
“Clean” became “clean-ish”. Tidy meant that stuff wasn’t laying around on the main floor, but only a brave soul would venture into other regions of the house. And closing the basement door was all that was necessary for it to be deemed “put-away”.
Standards were lowered. But not forever and not completely. The anti-clutter side of me comes out every now and then. The family knows it’s coming when I start saying things like, “this is not preschool!” and “EVERYTHING HAS A HOME PUT THINGS IN THEIR HOME”. This generally results in me being offered some “quiet time” and Bearded Husband quietly ushers the children from the home amidst whispers of “she’ll be fine, everything will be okay, just get in the van boys.”
That’s when the magic happens.
Jackets are hung up on their hooks. Bedding is folded and placed on the correct shelves. Receipts are thrown out and library books are gathered for return. The craft area gets purged and all the art supplies fit in their decorative bins. When the house is tidied, I feel calm and smiley. It’s a great feeling.
And then the family returns and this happens.
(These photograph have in no way been altered or staged)
EVERYTHING HAS A HOME
PUT THE THINGS IN THEIR HOME
One day I will miss the clutter and chaos that a house full of kids brings, it’s true. But I wouldn’t mind being able to close a closet door all the way. Just once.
When I was little I was afraid that my sister turned into a vampire at night. I was scared of what might be under my bed. I feared a tornado would rip through my window and that would be the end of all of us.
Then I was afraid that my big sister was going lose her leg to cancer. I walked in on hushed conversations, saw my parents cry quietly when they thought we weren’t looking. Mysterious phone calls that seemed to last forever. Friends and family taking care of the rest of us kids while my parents went to appointment after appointment.
We were sheltered from much of the fear and worry that my mom and dad carried. They were honest with us about what was happening, but protected us as much as possible. How they did that when one of the worst things imaginable is happening, I couldn’t fathom. They leaned on their family, friends, and faith to see them through.
They were courageous.
There is more to that story, but it is theirs to tell.
What I remember is the courage. The strength. The bravery. The faith.
I see it more now as an adult, this courage. Facing things that are frightening. The more I experience and listen and observe, I see that courage has many faces.
Courage is asking for help when you feel like you are drowning. It is answering honestly when asked how you are doing. Courage is making yourself vulnerable. It’s admitting, “I don’t have all the answers.”
Courage is bringing a gift for your friend’s newborn when you are struggling with infertility. Or deciding to opt out of a celebration because it is more than you can handle.
Courage is confronting a friend who has hurt you, or apologizing when you are the one at fault. It takes bravery to have those conversations that risk a friendship because the relationship is worth it.
Courage is putting on a brave face, or not. It is knowing what you can handle and honouring your limits.
It is courageous to let go of control when all you want to do is grab on with every fibre of your being lest the unthinkable happens.
For me, I trust in God. I cannot do this alone. I cannot be the mom, friend, teacher, or partner that I need to be without Him. I have fears, but I do not worry, because God is bigger than my fears. I find my courage in knowing that I am not on my own on this journey. And He has brought people into my life that give me strength and encouragement.
May your sorrows be few, but when you face struggles, may you be courageous.
Dedicated to one of the strongest, bravest, kindest and most courageous people I know.
“Let me see your hands,” she said as she held out her own to me. As she cradled my twelve-year-old hands in hers, my cousin went on to tell me how they looked like my grandmother’s. She gently stroked my fingers and described how kind and gentle my grandma was, how she spoke with her hands flying, the quiet presence she maintained in a loud and rowdy clan.
Grandma was the matriarch of a family of eleven. She had her share of losses and heartbreak, but anytime someone shares a memory of her, it is always one of admiration and fondness.
I’ve been thinking about hands a lot lately. As I clip our boys’ fingernails, I see how much they’re changing. When I type out a new post my own hands catch my eye and I notice the freckle on my left ring finger and how it is slowly fading as I age.
Holding my mom’s hands during church and examining her rings, her fingernails, all the spots and imperfections. She hated her the age spots, but I carefully traced them and memorized the uniqueness that was hers. I can close my eyes now and picture how her hands looked and felt to five-year-old me.
Adolescent me spent Tuesday nights watching “Growing Pains” and “Who’s The Boss” while carefully painting my fingernails. I took meticulous care of each one. Filing, buffing, and pushing back cuticles. These were my glory years – before the endless handwashing, dishwashing, laundry, and scrubbing that came with adulthood. I believe my last manicure was just before our wedding. My nail maintenance is mostly done at stoplights these days. My hands reflect who I am.
You have your grandma’s hands.
Tell me I have tiny fingers. Say that they look like little sausages. Tease me for being a hand-talker. That’s okay. I have my grandma’s hands and I will always be proud of that.
Hands are for helping.
Lend a hand, please.
Did you wash your hands? With soap? Let me see.
Hold my hand, it’s a busy street.
Recently I held my hands up to my oldest’s and noted that mine are not much bigger. Those tiny fingers that curled around my pinkie as I cuddled my newborn are now becoming little man hands. Soon he will have outgrown me.
So I will quietly slip my hand into his and hope he holds it, just a little longer. Because I’m not quite ready to let go. I want him to memorize my hands, trace my emerging age spots, know who I am.