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Valentine’s Day

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I took a hard line against Valentine’s Day when I was raising my two kids. It’s for young lovers, I insisted, but still I capitulated and purchased the punch-out sheets of cards for the classroom. At least it had progressed to an inclusive observation, unlike when I was a child and only the same four or five popular kids would haul in 30 or 40 cards apiece while the rest of us settled for the one from our best friend – if we were lucky. A child’s life in those days was more Dickensian than the egalitarian approach of today.

It was a surprise to me, then, when my late daughter experienced a full-blown love affair at the tender age of eight with the character of Frederic in Gilbert and Sullivan’s light opera The Pirates of Penzance. We were a theatre-going family. Showboat, Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miserables, Little Shop of Horrors – we saw them all but it started in Penzance with Frederic at the helm. Her eyes followed his every move and she hung on to each note like a prize. She left the theatre that night a singer and music became the one lasting expression of faith that never let her down, all thanks to Frederic and young love.

This Valentine’s Day, after attending my granddaughter’s dance recital, festooned and flanked by red hearts, I am reminded of that other little girl – my little girl. She lives in my heart today, as ever.

I still crabbed about the cards even as I made them (I’ve progressed to that!) I made sure to tell her the day was for young lovers and couples that need to remember to tell their partners they’re appreciated. This time ’round, though, I’m aware of a gentler, more subtle knowledge. Sometimes a fake Hallmark holiday can evolve to mean more than the retail sales surge for which it was originally created. Occasionally, like this year for me, it brings with it the memory of music and one girl’s first brush with sweet love.

Her love didn’t stop there. It grew to include Harry Anderson from Night Court fame (although we never could figure that one out), later including Jason Priestley and real boys, then men. But it started with Frederic and, now that she’s gone, it spirals back to the start where lightness and love first meet, so much like grief unfolding on the spectrum’s opposite end. I meet her there today, cinnamon heart-in-hand. Happy Valentine’s Day, love. I miss you.

© Kim Reynolds 2013

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Where's My Kid?

 

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The Backyard Rink

It should have come as no surprise to me that my late daughter would pursue prairie life as an adult. All the signs were there early on but never so clear as the year she became determined to build a backyard rink. In Vancouver. At sea level. Good luck with that.

A girl with a lifelong passion for hockey, we’d given her a book called “How to Build a Backyard Rink” the previous Christmas. We didn’t know she’d spent the year from one December to the next analyzing the appropriate barometric pressure combinations of temperature and humidity to determine the exact conditions needed for said rink. We would find out soon enough.

It was a colder than usual winter that December in 1996. She wore that look she’d get when she knew the tumblers were falling into place – a Cheshire cat meets the Holy Grail kind of look. We knew we were in trouble when she started dragging lumber out of the garage.

She announced it at dinner. We’re building a rink – all of us – and she stared her brother down with a don’t-get-me-started look and we readily agreed. We knew, he and I, that his Dad and sister would build it together while I made the cocoa and he stoked the fire. It’s just the way our world worked back then.

Build it they did. The temperature dropped daily and the two built the frame and she checked the weather hourly. These are the days before there was a weather channel on television. She had the weather centre number programmed on speed-dial.

Down the temperature went as the humidity rose and each night we received our weather tutorial from her. It’ll snow tonight, she said. It did – for days. She’d come home from school, her Dad from work, and out they’d go – tamping, flooding, smoothing – until, against all the west coast odds, a beautiful backyard rink emerged.
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This photo here is my favourite. She’s bursting through the door, ecstatic with the outcome. I hear her voice as if she’s in the room. Come on, you guys. It’s done! It’s a beauty. And so it was. More beautiful than the rink, however, was this girl of mine and her belief that if you will it so, it will be.

She became so adept at this, she willed her body to last at least two years beyond its natural life. I’ll know when it’s time to go, when he’s ready, she said of her husband. As always, her timing was impeccable.

On this December night, the clouds gather, the temperature drops. We no longer live at sea level. Up here, high on this mountain, a fresh snowfall looms. We bought this house for her – a perfect place for a perfect rink, but she’s not here to share it. One day we’ll build it for her, though, and when we do I’m pretty sure we’ll hear her loud and clear. It’s done! It’s a beauty, all right. Just like her.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Acts of Kindness

When my daughter died in August of 2011, I couldn’t remember how to breathe. It would be some time before I could do much of what once came naturally to me. Now, 16 months later, there are still some things, some events and some people I just can’t do.

The events of the last week, watching freshly grieving parents, renewed elements of grief I thought had passed. I suspect it will always be so. I’ve watched closely the reactions, responses and words of others as they spoke about the families. I couldn’t pay attention when I was in it. I doubt they can, either.

There is one part of it all that has been pleasant to recall. I heard about the people moved to start expressing their condolences by paying forward acts of kindness and it made me remember the impact something my daughter said to me had on the people who came together to remember her. She so wanted to have children but could not. She talked about adoption but her health was too fragile. She turned then to Africa, to the children there that had so little. She asked her Dad and I to adopt a foster child with her. It was in the works but not yet completed when she left us.

We included in her obituary a plea from her to any that might be so inclined to foster a child in Africa as a way for her life to continue to have meaning after her death. At last count there were upwards of 45 children and families receiving assistance as a result of her simple request. And I was reminded of this. Sometimes it takes asking so little to accomplish so much. And sometimes it takes 16 months of grief to remember it. Today, finally, I remember it.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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After School Aperitif?

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There was a time a million years ago, back in the 90s, when the alcohol industry was just beginning to ponder what might happen to their marketplace if their beverages tasted like soda pop. My husband knew a sales rep for one such company and, thus, our refrigerator contained one of their testers – a big, plastic pop bottle of booze. I’d never seen such a thing and so I hadn’t contemplated the impact its presence in my after school fridge might have.

We were both at work. I came home to a still-dark house. Strange, considering the two knapsacks on the floor of the front hall. And I heard giggling. Hm. I put the dinner on, called hello and hopped in the shower. Somewhere around the second rinse I remembered seeing the bottle in the sink. No way. Oh shit. I ran down the stairs wrapped in a towel, dripping the whole way and there it was. One giant, empty, plastic bottle of fizzy, fruity booze. And I heard giggling.

Um, mum? Her voice was small. Unusual for her. I grabbed the empty and headed, still dripping, down one more flight of stairs and there they were. Tell me you didn’t, I said. We didn’t know, they protested and, both talking together, presented their case. It tasted so good, my daughter said. It wasn’t until we felt woozy that we looked at it, her friend corroborated. We made sandwiches to soak it up, they proclaimed together, proud of their 14 year-old problem solving skills.

I have to call your mother, I said. You’re staying for dinner. I’m not taking you home ’til you’re sober. I’m sorry, I said. It dawned on them that they weren’t going to be in the shit for this one. They began their debrief in earnest. I fell down the stairs, her friend said. It tastes so good, my daughter yelled, unaware of her volume. Yeah, you said that. Is there anything worse than drunk 14 year-olds? I think not.

Eat the sandwiches. I have to call your mother, I said.

Fortunately for me, the innocent mistake we’d all made harmed no one and was even perceived by the friend’s mum as an honest mistake thankfully accompanied by an appreciative laugh. Needless to say, I never became a consumer of that product and, as a result of the experience, developed the opinion that alcohol should actually taste like alcohol just so we remember it is. It really shouldn’t “taste so good.”

The best part of the story, though, then and now, is experiencing it with your best friend. Now that my daughter is gone and we’re left only with the memories of her life, the people she brought into our lives fill out the mental photo albums we work hard to hold onto.

This memory, those moments, how they unfolded, the people in it: It is all we have now. I’m so grateful for its sweet innocence.

When this same best friend stood at the front of the church and recited a poem in eulogy for my daughter, this was the moment I reached for. It is that day and its honest hilarity I keep close. The pain of loss permeates like acrid, filthy sweat – collecting day upon day. Sometimes you have to reach through it to the other side and find something better. And sometimes when you do, you uncover a memory like this that just tastes so good.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Talking Turkey

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My late daughter was the original Christmas-phile. Anywhere, anytime – there’s never a wrong time for yuletide. It infused all parts of her life and it was only a matter of time before she’d cook a Tom turkey of her own.

She was living in Rits at the University of British Columbia, the joint Japanese-Canadian residential program. Her four-bedroom apartment consisted of two Canadian students and two Japanese students. She, this girl of mine, took cultural exposure to a new level and she took it seriously. Not a single event went uncelebrated and she dragged her new-to-Canada roomies into each experience with a vengeance. From Thanksgiving to Hallowe’en pumpkins with toasty, salted seeds and costume parties at frat houses I worked hard to ignore to Christmas and, along with it, her commitment to provide a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings shoved unceremoniously between Term 1 final exams like some kind of mortar.
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How do you buy a turkey? Fresh or frozen? What’s the stuff inside called? Do I have to put my hands in there to stuff it? At the store, frozen is cheaper, the gizzards, yes. That was just the first phone call. We booked a phone appointment for a stuffing tutorial from her Dad – the resident expert – and away she went over course content ranging from defrosting a turkey to making trifle for dessert – my personal specialty. She opened the doors and fed the floor and when she came home from school that holiday season she brought with her a new appreciation for what it takes to put a meal that size on the table.

That year, that Christmas holiday, provides me now with one of my dearest parent memories. I was making yet another pot of coffee in the kitchen one morning, indulging the luxury of having both kids home from school at the same time. They talked in the living room while we, out of sight, eavesdropped, unable to keep the permanent grin from our faces.

Don’t you love how there’s always food in the fridge and you never have to buy it, my son said.

It’s like a warm blanket, she said. They make better coffee, too, she whispered.

We two, in our hidden perch, choked to keep the laugh inside. Sweet, sweet memory now.
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Once back at school in the New Year, her cultural quest continued unabated. Valentine’s Day gave way to St. Patrick’s Day replete with green beer, bawdy Irish tunes at the bar and tiny, matching green miniskirts covered in shamrocks procured from Old Navy. She went all-out every time and when she couldn’t explain the significance of certain customs to her roomies, she made it up.

It never occurred to me before, she said on the phone to me one fine Spring day, just how stupid the notion of bunnies having eggs is. I never heard what explanation she gave them for that. I only know she was armed with painted eggs and bunny ears for all come Easter Sunday morning. On to Victoria Day!

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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The Anniversary

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Fishing was a constant in our lives as a family. There was always a little boat, a lot of rods and a less-than-stellar fishing shack to call home. Our first foray into a remote fishing camp took us deep into cattle country and, upon arrival at the top of the world, three of us and the dog tumbled out of the tiny Hyundai while one of us refused to move. My daughter, the dog, my husband and myself unloaded the car, made the beds, built a fire in the wood stove and put a pot of coffee on the boil. My son refused to budge, insisting that we had a perfectly good shed at home that he could sleep in if he was so inclined. We knew it was only a matter of time before nature would call and he’d have to venture beyond his car cocoon. In the end, it didn’t take even that long.

The dog, Nicky, a cocker lab cross without a lick of common sense between her ears, buried her head in the cow pies that littered the path between the car and the shack. Unable to bear the sight of his dog covered in cow cack, he finally broke down and made the 20-meter dash for the door. He pushed it open expecting, well, a shack. Instead he discovered for the first time that home was pretty much anywhere that we all gathered and that you can bake a mean banana muffin in a wood stove.

Unlike her reluctant brother, my daughter was the ultimate fisherwoman. Up at dawn with her dad and the dog in the boat while my son and I slept on, she’d catch fish when the seasoned veterans were skunked. She understood them, she said. She knew how they thought. And we accepted it as the truth.

One magical fishing week, years later and a hill or two away from that first lake, she and her dad rode out the wind on Walloper Lake one frigid fall morning. It’s a good lake, with a lot of good-sized trout in it but history had it that there was an epic trout in that lake that had beat the odds and many a fisherman for too many years.

Dad, do fish ever jump in a boat? He continued to row as he considered his answer. I dunno, he said. I guess they could but I’ve never seen it myself. Right then, right that very second, the one that beat the odds and always got away, jumped into the boat and landed at her feet. They stared at each other and at it as it slipped and flipped between them and said nothing. He picked it up, she splashed it with water and they leaned over the side to release it together. No one will ever believe this, she said.

As the dreaded one-year anniversary of her death approached this past summer, we decided to go fishing. She had given our son’s daughter a fishing rod for her first birthday and the four of us headed into those same hills to take it for a spin. Now three, she amazed us all with her ability to bob along in a rowboat for hours on end. That little apple doesn’t fall far from my daughter’s tree, that’s for sure. At dusk, on the 29th of August, I said a prayer, shed a few tears and tossed one of my daughter’s cherished Hawaiian shells into the lake and as I did, a beautiful trout leapt high across the bow of the boat in a perfect arc. My husband and I stared at each other and said nothing. He hauled on the oar to turn us to shore and pulled us against the wind. No one will ever believe this, I said.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Pyjama People

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Pyjamas are underrated, particularly by those who live in drizzle-free zones. Those of us who dwell north of 49 know the value of a good pair of pjs. The warmth they generate is not solely related to body temperature.

Psychologically, a prized pair of pyjamas can make for many a therapeutic substitution. Put on the flannels; pass on the Prozac. Feeling sad? Slip on the silk. Fancy some chocolate? Slide into chenille. For me and mine, rainy day feelings provide optimal pyjama-purchasing opportunities.

One of our oldest family traditions involved the Christmas Eve gift. Though the contents of the package were no secret, the style, texture and comfort level of the surprise sleepwear were left to the imagination. Let’s face it; this was mostly a girl thing. Though my husband and son participated, they were pretty much in it for the food that accompanied the Christmas Eve gift. At dusk on December 24th, the door to the outside world was closed and from that hour until bedtime, only the four of us existed.

Gathered around the living room coffee table, dinner started with appetizer after appetizer and grew with each course until the four of us lay bloated on the living room floor begging for mercy once the Swedish meatballs were done. It took hours – enough time to work our way from Frosty the Snowman to a National Lampoon Christmas. Stuffed, weary and ready-for-bed, out came the new pyjamas, the harbinger of good things ahead.

Throughout the years of my daughter’s illness, I took the pyjama game to new levels. Her discomfort and pain called for softer and smoother and I combed lingerie departments with my fingertips. The lighter its touch, the higher the priority assigned to a given garment. In the end, in the weeks and months before her death, even I gave up hoping I would find something that could alleviate the agony half an ounce of fabric weight produced.

I knew I would not survive her death without a good pair of pyjamas. I didn’t even try. On a warm September day last year, after her death but before her funeral, I ventured out. My husband and son were sad when I came home and showed them my purchase. They understood its significance. They held me tight on the driveway while I clutched this pair with purpose. I knew they would stay with me through thick and thin. I wasn’t so sure the two who held me now were as able.

Now, months later, and with another summer around the corner, it is another pair of pyjamas I hold close. A hat-wearing cat graces the shirt and it reads I love Mommy and Daddy. These were her first pyjamas, the beginning of our mutual admiration for all things cozy. It’s true I am still comforted by pyjamas, however, it is not the pair I purchased for myself that soothes me. Each night as I seek sleep, I wedge her precious pjs into the crook of my arm and hope they’ll lure her into my dreams and back to a time when life was sweet. Such times can be hard to find upon waking.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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