Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"Trust and Pixie Dust"

Tegan’s mother was forty-nine years, eleven months, and twenty-one days old.

 It is uncommon to know precisely how old your parents are — or even how old you are yourself — but Tegan had a good reason for certainly. He had been constantly calculating his mother’s exact age since Christmas when his older brother Armanti had let him in on The Big Secret.

Tegan’s mom had grown up on the westernmost coast of Canada, in a small town on Vancouver Island. With the sea in front of her and the mountains at her back, his mother had been a girl in love with the natural world, as wild and free as the whales she could watch from the harbour. As a young woman, she left the shores and rough ridges of her home for the adventures of travel and had followed the wind all the way to Ontario, where she met the second love of her life -- Tegan’s father. They built a home by the bay with the escarpment behind them. It was a new beginning, but it whispered of her beginnings just enough to keep her always happy… and just enough to keep her always homesick.

Every year at Christmas, Tegan’s West Coast Grandparents would send a box of gifts and goodies all the way across the country by train. Sometimes it would arrive in the evening, and the whole family would go down to the station to pick it up; other times it would be suddenly waiting under the tree after school one day, as if by magic. On Christmas morning, Tegan’s family would pass out the gifts as they passed around the telephone, taking turns talking with the far-away relatives, and thanking them for their generosity.

This year, though, no box had arrived. Only a card, with the customary Christmas letter, was sent and delivered by the post office. When Tegan was handed the phone, he chatted about his life at school and thanked his grandparents for their card and letter, as if nothing at all was amiss.

If Tegan had been any younger, this break from tradition would have probably made him cry, but Tegan had grown up quite a lot over this past year. His brother had noticed it before anyone else. When once Tegan would have fought to get his way, he had become rather humble; when once he’d have lashed out in frustration, he had grown patient. He was developing into a very honourable young man.

It had been nearly midnight on Christmas when Tegan woke up with his brother’s flashlight in his eyes. Before he had time to say anything in protest, Armanti shone the beam on himself and held a finger to his lips, signaling for silence. Confused but intrigued, Tegan rubbed his eyes and nodded. He followed his brother into the hall and down the stairs to the kitchen. Their dad was already waiting at the table.

Tegan listened in awe as the other two men revealed the elaborate conspiracy they had been hatching over the last few months. In honour of their mother’s fiftieth birthday, all four of them would be flying to Vancouver Island for a three-week vacation! Though their mother had flown home once or twice since she had married, they’d never been able to afford the trip with everyone. It was a big dream, suddenly coming true.

“This is a huge surprise for mom,” whispered Armanti. “We’ve been keeping it secret for a while by ourselves, but we both believe that now we can trust you to keep it too.”

“You proved that today,” 
added his father, “when you acted so cool about not getting presents from out West. Now you know that they’re saving up so that they can give us a much bigger present in the new year -- three weeks of time with your mother’s whole family.”

When Tegan got back to school, he made a secret calendar that he used for counting down the days until his mother’s top-secret birthday trip. He was fairly bursting at the seams with excitement, but he never said a word about it when his mother was in the house. Tegan and Armanti spoke about it in hushed tones, even when they knew they were alone, and mostly they didn’t speak of it at all. Tegan was supremely careful because wanted to prove that he was as trustworthy as Armanti thought he was.

As the months of waiting turned into just weeks, Tegan thought he really might explode. He channeled his energy into writing letters to his mom that he would give her once the secret was out. In the letters, he listed all of the reasons that he thought she was awesome, and how much he trusted her, and how much he loved and honoured her. They were pretty mushy sounding letters, but moms love all that stuff.

Weeks turned to days, and days into mere hours. Her three boys had somehow managed to pack all the bags and load up the car without raising the alarm. When the morning finally came, they went out for birthday brunch to celebrate, and then they drove straight on to the airport instead of going home.

Their mother had cried great big tears of joy when she learned of the trip they were about to take. Her heart was an ocean of gratefulness, filled up by a mountain of love. Tegan and Armanti hugged her until sobbing became laughter. They were soaring on joyful wings, long before the plane had even left the ground.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Merry, Merry King of the Castle"

Darren was an only child, nine years old, and rarely quiet. He loved bright colours and loud noises; he loved chaos and excitement and fun. If Darren had been a bird instead of a boy, he would have made a wonderful macaw (which is a type of Brazilian parrot known for its vibrant feathers), or else he’d have been a fabulous kookaburra (which is an Australian kingfisher with a call that sounds like maniacal human laughter).

Darren loved being the center of attention, and often did things to try and make even more people turn their heads his way. He learned to walk on his hands like a circus clown; he learned to bark exactly like the neighbourhood dogs, and would have rough vocal contests with the animals behind their tall fences. He could ride his bike without using the handlebars, and climb up a telephone pole without a boost, and sing the alphabet backwards. He was a marvel and a wonder to everyone who knew him.

Darren was thoroughly enjoying his childhood. He had cousins in town, and spent time with them regularly, but he liked being the only kid in his house. Being an only child had never felt lonely to him, and it was a nice thing to have his own room and space to try new things. But things in Darren’s house were changing:

Darren’s mother was pregnant.

And not only pregnant, but thrilled. Little did Darren know how long his mother had prayed for another child to call her own, to fill their house with even more chaos and colour and noise. Now, at long last, her prayers had been answered.

Darren had noticed the shift a few weeks before he was officially told. He came home after school one day and ran to his mom for a bear-hug like he always did, and when he was a few feet away he heard his mom say, “Gently, boy. Gentle now.” He hugged her, but not quite as tight as he had the day before. Maybe she’s feeling a little sick, he thought.

Later that same week, Darren was crashing away at the bucket-based drum set in his bedroom when his mom came and knocked at the door. “Would you mind playing a little softer today? Just a little softer?” Darren used two large paint brushes for drumsticks. He turned them around in his hands so that the bristle-end would hit the drums instead of the handles. His mother had nodded her thanks and gone.

But this kept happening around his mom. Though she was usually encouraging of his ruckus and riotous ways, the phrases “Careful, son,” and “Quiet, please,” seemed to be all she could say. Eventually, he asked what was going on, and they told him. A baby on the way, due in September, just before his next year at school. Darren had smiled -- because that was polite, and courtesy was expected in his family -- but it took a while for the idea of a sibling to settle in his stomach.

Babies grow slowly, at first. It can be hard to see any change from the outside for quite some time, and Darren had been sworn to absolute secrecy by his parents. He couldn’t tell his cousins, or his friends at school, or his coaches at Running and Reading, or even the crossing guard. So, when he simply had to talk about it, Darren had a chat with his mom.

“I think I’m too loud for a baby,” said Darren. “Everything I like is so noisy.”

“Babies are noisy too,” said his mother. “Babies are surprisingly good at being loud. The baby will need some moments of quiet, like when it’s sleeping or feeding, but those are the times when you like things to be quieter too. You’ll just have to practice paying attention for when the baby needs things to be calm; you can be noisy all the rest of the time, just like now.”

“I think I’m too crazy for a baby,” sighed Darren. “Everything I do is a bit wild.”

Darren’s mother smiled and shook her head. “That’s not quite true,” she challenged him. “You’ve got a tender heart inside that boisterous body of yours. I’ve seen you be gentle and kind with your friends, and thoughtful and soft-spoken when you need to be. Maybe you spend more of your time practicing your silly skills, but I know you are capable of tenderness and compassion too. We’ve still got seven long months before this baby arrives. Shall we work on strengthening that tender heart of yours?”

He agreed. Darren practiced being gentle and calm. He was still very loud, most of the time, but he got much better at becoming suddenly tranquil and still when asked. By June, he could walk around the house with the stealth of a great jungle cat, hardly making a sound. By August, he had discovered a love of reading and could stay quiet for over an hour, all by himself.

Darren was still as colourful as a macaw and as gregarious as a kookaburra, but he had also learned the art of the dove: tenderness and fondness; affection and peace -- just what their nest would need.