Seven Months to Fifty: Lone Rider.

I need a new mountain bike.  I went for a ride yesterday and I could hear and feel that it is time for a new one.  It’s been a faithful friend over the years though. I have had her since I lived in Brockville, well before kids were even a thought in my head.  But second the boys were old enough to ride without training wheels, that was the bike I used to teach first, Adam, then Logan, how to ride in the street and along the trails.  Yesterday was the first time since they were born that I have ridden alone. They still do these sort of activities with me if they feel like it but they are teenagers now; a far cry from the ages where this sort of thing was part of our day to keep them active, teach them things and to make them nice and tired by the end of the day.

scooter scoot and skatescoot and skate 3

As I rode along the route, I remember stopping at the bridge with them, taking the time to look at the people fishing and looking at the large heron we used to see perched on this massive rock in the middle of the river (Wonder where he’s gone to? Wonder if he is still alive?)   heron or crane

I remember Logan’s endless questions and non-stop chatter and Adam’s intense stare as he quietly took in everything, building a massive vocabulary in his head without uttering a word until of course, we rode under the bridge where he would join Logan and yell “ECHO” and laugh until we were clear of it.  I yelled “ECHO” yesterday too, for old time’s sake irregardless of the stares.  As luck would have it, I rode under the bridge while the train was crossing and I remembered how fast Logan would pedal from under there because he was always scared of the loud noise of the wheels on the track above and was concerned that the bridge would collapse under the weight of the train (“and fall and qwash our heads Mummy!”). Then, because we had Adam with us, if a train was crossing, we had to stop in the pothole laden parking lot of the yacht club to watch each car go by until they were out of sight.  Autistic people are flabbergasted by trains while their younger “regular” brothers like messing around with the gravel and mud in the potholes much to my disgust (there was never anyone dirtier than our”Pig Pen”, Logan James).

 IMG_0711

Closer to the marina’s boat launches we would often stop at the Duffer’s counter for an ice cream or a freezie in spite of the dead-fishy smell.

freezie 2 freezie 1

Logan had an eye for locating dead fish and depending on the time of year, he had an eye for large mating fish who’s bodies would emerge out of the water, splashing wildly as their bodies tumbled around like laundry in a clothes dryer.  This caught the attention of every child on the path which led once again to Logan’s most frequent question “How come those fish are fighting?  What are they doing then if they not fighting Momma?” followed by “But why?” At the middle of the trail, there’s another bridge which is a perfect spot for watching the turtles dive off the rocks and into the mossy water and on the other side you could look out onto the bay and see a family of swans as they swam by marveling each time we rode down there at how quickly the babies grew.

IMG_0687   swan

A few steps away is the playground  where I always promised them we would stop so they could play on our way back from the end of the trail where they would practice skipping stones at the rocky beach near the rowing club.  After the thousandth rock was skipped and they exhausted themselves at the playground, they would gripe about having to ride home, but they did anyway.

IMG_0722 IMG_0721 IMG_0720  IMG_0717 IMG_0716 IMG_0715 IMG_0708 IMG_0586 IMG_0584 IMG_0583 IMG_0574 IMG_0573 IMG_0570 IMG_0569 IMG_0567 IMG_0566

Our bike rides to the waterfront would take about two hours when all was said and done, three if I ran and they took their roller blades or scooters instead of their bikes.  Yesterday the ride was part of my exercise program.  I was able to ride in high gear the whole way there and back in an hour.  For the first time in a long time, I only had to look out for myself on a ride.  I didn’t have to shout out directions, or reminders to look both ways before walking our bikes across the street.  I did not have to worry about drivers seeing them or them paying attention to the traffic signals.  (And to think I sometimes took other people’s children with us.  I must have been some kind of sucker for punishment!) For the first time, I did not have to yell at 8 year old Adam to slow down or tween Adam to keep up.  I did not have to sandwich a highly distracted Logan (at every age until he was 11) between his brother and me as we rode along the path.  I did not have to remind anyone to stay to the right and watch for pedestrians (though I did have a chuckle as I recalled a very blunt Adam not using his bike horn but preferring to yell, “Move out of the way, old people”  as he rode past them on the path, hands behind his head like a circus act …and me with the disclaimer “Sorry…he’s autistic”)  Yes, for the first time since I became their mother, it was just me on my bike and it was kind of strange but nice … and it was relaxing and it was freeing, yet quite nostalgic now that I think about it.  I was alone but not lonely because as I rode past each of our “spots”  I could see them with their big colourful bike helmets on,

IMG_0093   their Hot Wheels sunglasses and their Ninja Turtle water bottles,   I could hear them too, “Look at this Mom!”  “Whoo hoo!  I jumped it. and I didn’t die!”

scoot fast IMG_0088

“Push me harder mom!  Want swing higher, please, Mom!”  “Mom, come quick, Adam fell down!”  “Mom….Logan…it’s crying. It has a bleed!”

blood cleaned  Were all these moments that long ago?

They are young men now and so much has changed and they have changed me in many ways. I remember feeling so tired just keeping them busy, teaching them, raising them and more specifically trying to enhance Adam’s life and give Logan the most “normal” life we could give him.  I remember wondering how long it would be before they could do more for themselves, be more independent and of course, if Adam ever would be independent enough to do anything on his own.  It felt sometimes their childhood and their helplessness would last forever yet once they reached their milestones I never noticed  right away because I was caught up in the next issue or phase I had to get them through. But suddenly here they are now; capable, independent, happy (with the most interesting personalities and senses of humour) and I don’t know where the time went or when they got so big and tall.  It was hard raising these two, and it was joyful, it was tiring but it was and still is worth it. 

The baby who shavedadam recent When Adam was diagnosed Tom and I made the decision to do all we could to help Adam and keep our family whole.  I sacrificed my career to stay home with my children for as long as I could.  Even when I went back to work, it was on a part time basis and even now that Tom has established his own business, I still work very flexible, part-time hours.  It has been and still is my pleasure to have made the decision I did.  I was here for every first, I was here for every tear, every bloody nose, skinned knee, very lump, bump, fight and every triumph.  If Adam was not autistic, I might have very well missed out on all of what are now the most cherished moments of my life.  I was here for them then as I am now because I believe it was and is important and worth the sacrifice.  I still feel that they need me to be available.  Not that I want to micro manage them, but I want to be here to lend my support during these teen years on the days that are absolutely shite and to be there to high five them on the days when something awesome happens.   Conversations in a day or a week occur less frequently now, but when they do, they are long and in depth because there is an openness among all of us.  Logan is comfortable speaking to both Tom and me and he trusts what we have to say even when he feels he has to be objectionable.  Adam is still a man of few words, but over the years he has learned in all his independence that he needs our help from time to time and seeks it whenever he can in the best way that he can.  He does not like long conversations, and the three of us respect that but still do find ways to bring him out of his shell verbally.

Logan is a typical 14 year old guy and is the best teacher Adam has ever had when it comes to him fitting in and has been so crucial in helping us recognize what in Adam’s demeanor can be classed as puberty and what is autism. Looking at these photos, and many that we have taken over the years, makes me realize how much they have done together and how close they are in their unique way…Logan, the mouthy self proclaimed big brother, Adam, the silent, thinker who adores his brother and sees him as a best friend.  I used to worry that the autism would alienate them but they spend a great deal of time together and I think there is nothing they would not do for each other.  And as Adam gets older, he is showing more compassion for others especially Logan, and does not like it and actually feels badly when something has upset his brother.  It is the sweetest thing I have ever seen from Adam, whose condition makes regular and appropriate human emotion almost impossible for him to understand or display.

Adam has given the rest of us in this family a special ability.   He has taught us how to speak in ways that he could understand, do things in a way that he might be included and to think outside of the box pretty much for everything we need to accomplish with him.  He has taught us how to help him be successful while challenging him with the same high expectations we have of ourselves.  Knowing it is important to speak to people, Adam has been practicing the arts of texting and  conversation and he has some rehearsed phrases and sentences that he knows are effective in helping him get what he wants.  Lately, he has taken to coming up with great ideas and usually they are great ideas that benefit him.  Every week when we go for our ice cream treat, he is insisting we go inside the store to practice placing his order and paying for it.

He’d say, “Hey, Mother! I know! How about we go inside the store and get the ice cream there. We don’t have to do the drive through today!”

He is so insistent and so passionate about this that it is a joy to watch him at the counter, his bank card in hand, shouting his order to the cashier who might come away a little bit deaf after being exposed to his loud deep voice  but hey, we’ll work on volume in the fall.

Now that he is a teenager, Adam and I have a musical bond.  He is  my in car DJ, switching between Hits 1, The Pulse, and Pop 2K finding all his favourite tunes. We chat briefly about the song, who sings it and why we like or dislike a song.  On long drives, I get a kick out of looking at him out of the corner of my eye as he air drums or when we both start giggling when we catch ourselves miming and bobbing our heads to the beat of song we enjoy.  When I sing he tells me how terrible I am and when he sings I tell him how wonderful he is to which he promptly replies, “Thanks, I know,”.

I have not been perfect with them by any means.  I have made many mistakes as a mother and I am just as flawed as the next person but I do have and appreciate my special connection with each of my boys. Now, I think a proverbial torch has been passed from me to their father.  They like going to the movies with him, they like going to Canadian Tire (a hardware store and then some) with him, like going fishing with him and Grampa when he is feeling well (Adam mostly likes to drive the boat)

fishing 2 fishing 1   and they like going to the gym with their dad too.  It’s absolutely a man thing because I am politely not included and it’s perfectly fine.  When it comes to getting their uniforms for school, they want to go with him because they are more comfortable fitting on the different sizes with him there as opposed to MOM being there and making it awkward much like how they prefer to go underwear and razor shopping with him too.  It’s nice to see their man bond with their dad but I will admit I do miss their little feet, their little shoes, their

scabby elbows and knees, all things Thomas, Star Wars Clone Wars, WWE,  

wrestling obsession

YTV, Teletoons  and when Spider Man and Superman were like God to them.

IMG_1397 IMG_0911 IMG_0912

I miss finding them asleep in their tent;   sleeping babes  I miss the stuff in their pockets like a toy car, a rock or some dead bug.  I miss dirty hands and faces and their over-sized heads … sometimes …. many times…. all the time.

Their childhood went by quickly in my opinion but they still have some time for old Mom and they have their memories that’s for sure and it’s really nice when we look back at the photos Adam remembers because we often wondered if he did at all. They are almost men now and as bittersweet as it is to say goodbye to their childhood, I get to watch the best part now.  Where will their path lead them?  Whatever will they become? Time will tell and hopefully their father and I will be here to see it all unfold for years to come.  But for now, maybe I’ll start looking up bikes on line…see what’s out there that this Mom of almost 50 will enjoy riding … alone.

.bay

Almost One Year to Fifty … Christmas and Me

I’ve been having a little difficulty getting into the Christmas spirit this year.  I thought it was because of the hectic nature of the last three weeks with deadlines at work, moving offices, dealing with stuff at school with the kids and of course running the household, but I’m no stranger to busy so I knew it had to be something more and as I started writing this I started to uncover why my mood has been a little less festive than usual.

I have always loved Christmas.  I loved  the Santa, North Pole, reindeer fantasy and magic of it as a child and was so grateful to be able to create that wonder for my own children.  I love the joy and cheeriness of people and the extra effort they make to be kinder and more generous and loving and I have always felt that Christmas gives many of us a chance to perhaps redeem ourselves, give of ourselves and to have a chance to end the year in a positive and uplifting way so we can start the New Year with a clean, fresh slate.  Having been raised Catholic, I also cherish the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ.

nativity

The birth of the man who walked the earth advocating a way of life so simple, it is hard to understand why we have made it so complex and why we have let greed, competition and hatred turn a simple life concept based on love into this unattainable goal of peace and unity.

I have always loved Christmas, be it green and hot or white and snowy, it has and always will be my favourite time of year.  Like childhood, I feel that Christmas is too short, so my benchmark for the start of my Christmas season is the American Thanksgiving holiday.  To me, it is the perfect time to start thinking of putting up the tree and decorating the house to create that warm, inviting, family feeling that is so comforting to me and mine.  It is a perfect time to start planning when to host or visit family and a perfect time start thinking of that special little gift for each person in my life and thinking of ways (with the boys) to make someone’s life in our midst a little better.  It is a perfect time to start my personal countdown to  at least three days when I am surrounded by family, relaxing in the comfort of our home without having any work, school or extra curricular commitments to interrupt our time together.

black cake triniI have always loved Christmas with all its sights, sounds and smells.  I close my eyes and can smell the warm smokiness of Mom’s ham, the aroma of the seasonings she used to prepare the turkey wafting throughout our flat, and the hearty scent of the stuffing and pastelles that confirmed it was Christmas chez Barsotti.  I remember Daddy squeezing his eyes shut in the delight of opening the jars and having the tangy, garlic, mouthwatering smell of uncle Manny’s, Aunty Barbara’s and the Abreu’s garlic pork hitting him in the face, and year after year savoring the delicacy, unable to decide which sample was the best.  I also will never forget the sweet, fruity, rummy smell of every aunty’s black cake and if I keep my eyes shut long enough I can taste it all too…the pastelles, the sorrel, the ginger beer

sorrel

 

 

… because with my eyes closed I never left Trinidad, I am still a child and everyone …everyone who is supposed to be there, is there.

 

That’s it you know…that’s why I am having a harder time getting into the Christmas spirit this time around.  I find myself at almost one year to fifty realizing just how many of us are gone. During all these years spent creating Christmas memories with my husband and children, there was an unconscious comfort knowing everyone who made my Christmas memories special were still around.  It’s like the pieces of the puzzle that created my Christmas were still in place keeping my foundation solid so that even though I was far away creating new memories with my own family, the essence of who I was and who I am was still there.

I have always loved Christmas carols and songs that bring back so many wonderful childhood memories that involved the significant parts of the puzzle of my foundation that are missing now. I don’t know how much it has changed, but when I was younger and lived in Trinidad, Christmas seemed to last longer than the ones I have experienced while living abroad.   I was always dancing in some end of term Christmas pageant, singing at the hospital, hospice, old folks home or at the big Creche at the St Ann’s Gardens and of course the celebration of Midnight Mass all of which to me was the best build up to the greatest time of my year.

st joes christmas

I remember my mother wrapping presents for her sisters and brothers and our dozens of cousins and how excited Reina and I were to go with Dad, and deliver them to their homes and having a little visit at each stop.  I remember admiring each of my aunts trees, each decorated with a similar Yee Foon style with a flash of their own flare.  Each year on Christmas Eve, Daddy’s brother, Uncle Frank would bring our cousin Natasha over for a visit.  When we were little we played from the time she arrived until she left and as we got older we moved around less while our mouths moved more as we chatted endlessly about things and people at our school and what we hoped we would get for Christmas.

I have always loved the childhood memory of the pride people took in readying their homes for the arrival of Baby Jesus.  You see, I grew up in the Caribbean at a time when people would sometimes use Christmas as the perfect time of year to splash some paint on their walls, maybe sew and hang new curtains and freshen up their place a little bit.  I grew up there in a time when people, no matter how much or little they had, took pride in a clean, inviting presentation of their home and always had some kind of refreshment to offer folks who stopped by to wish them all the best for the season.  As the end of November approached, you could hear Christmas music on the radio, never mind we were sweating in the heat of the sun as Bing Crosby belted out how much he was dreaming of a white Christmas … and as my mother readied her ham, pastelles her turkey, ginger beer and her sorrel, she swayed her hips and shuffled about out kitchen to the merry notes plucked on the quatros and guitars that was our Parang.   I don’t think I know anyone who grew up with me who don’t know at least 10 Christmas songs and carols word for word.  What was even more astounding was whether we understood them or not we all sang along to popular Parang songs in perfectly pronounced Spanish.

And even after I outgrew Santa Claus, Christmas Eve through Boxing day was the crescendo of my Christmas season.   To me, there was so much goodness in the atmosphere I couldn’t help but be happy…so happy I could burst and I will be forever grateful that I was blessed to have been born and had the opportunity to grow up for 20 years in a place where life, cultural events and holidays were celebrated by all regardless of ethnicity or creed or race.  There we all were, on a hot sunny island, the pieces of the foundation of my childhood memories – my parents, my aunts, uncles and cousins and dear and cherished family friends dancing and eating and celebrating in somebody’s house every weekend as Christmas approached.

ham

Aunty Meiling and Uncle Mike were always ready to host a party.  At Aunty Moye’s and Uncle Kit Sang’s there was always the most delicious food and a lot of jokes and laughter. At Aunty Jean’s and Uncle Joe’s it was always spic and span, beautifully decorated and there was always some ditty or treat you never tried before and, of course, Uncle Joe’s Punch de Creme that he was always willing to share.  Aunty Yvonne was always one for for her kind words and her deeply felt well-wishes for us all and I will forever have the carefully crafted, beautifully hand made pieces, family artists Uncle Archie and Aunty Pat would give to our family every year. I will never forget my parents’ dear family friends, Nicky and Jean Inniss who had live paranderos and a steel band at their home where life and holidays were to be celebrated by all.

parang

I will always fondly remember the fantastic Christmas floral arrangements and the spectacular decorating job my mother’s friend Aunty Barbara would create not just in her own home or for her friends but in the shopping malls and business places alike, lending her signature style to an entire island. I will never forget my sweet Grandad who took us to church and walked everywhere and took the most time to carefully ponder what would be the most mentally stimulating and interesting presents to give Natasha, Reina and me. To this day, I carefully open and turn the slightly yellowed pages of the English grammar books, the dictionary and special interest books he gave to me all those years ago, even if just to read his handwritten inspiring note to me  and to touch something he once held. I will forever remember Mrs. Sylvia Hunt, who for years, shared her culinary prowess with our tiny twin island nation on television. Sylvia became a family friend and all I have left of her are two not very flashy and simply laid out, stained-by-ingredients-over-the-years cookbooks that guided my hands as I fought my way through certain local recipes so I could add my heritage to my boys’ palette.

Now, almost one year to fifty, I look back on those days with pride and joy but tonight I am weepy as I write and recall.  You see, short of Mom, Aunty Meiling, Uncle Mike, Aunty Moye, a few other aunts and uncles and the cousins many of these dear people are gone and I feel sometimes that part of me is gone too and because I live away from the land of my birth, the memories I am making now with my family are wonderful but so very different and alas, I find my Christmases now, a little shorter and colder and I am not talking about the weather. While I know, like anywhere else, Trinidad has changed, I can tell by posts on line by my family and friends, the atmosphere is pretty much the same.

I wish Christmas everywhere was less commercial. While it’s fun to shop and get special gifts for our family and friends, it has become out of control because we let ourselves be controlled by the things we see that we feel we must have. Everyone is too busy to get together and just sit and spend time chatting during the holidays. And while presents and prices have gotten out of hand, we like to shove that politically correct stick in the spoke of the Christmas wheel that chastises people for saying Merry Christmas.  You know what, as a Christian, I have said nothing as non-believers and non-Christians piggy back on the celebration of the birth of Christ just to take advantage of retail sales and receive presents.  They have no clue that the exchange of gifts is the commemoration of the wise men and shepherds bringing gifts to the baby Jesus – they just know guy in a red suit, retail frenzy, exorbitant costs and Boxing Day sales.  More, more, more. Me, me, me.  I also really wish those “wannabe non-offenders” would stop offending me by trying to tell me I can’t say “Merry Christmas”.  If I say “Merry Christmas” to you and it doesn’t apply, it’s okay and easier to nod and either say “thank you” or “same to you”.  “If someone came up to me and said “Hey, happy Kwanzaa” I’d be all, “Right back at ya.  Happy Kwanzaa,” So much easier than making much ado about absolutely NOTHING.  I wish people could just stop for a moment and dial Christmas back to a time when it was less about stuff and sales and bargains and political correctness and more about friends and family being together. I wish schools could call a Christmas pageant, a Christmas pageant and that kids could sing carols about the birth of Christ  without a lot of fuss from tightly wound-tightly-over-nothing adults in control.  Wow…that was a rant in the middle of a heartfelt piece….sorry I digress.  Re focus, Daniella.

I have always admired and respected the effort my parents made to give us the best childhood and the most special Christmases they could.  I remember while doing their best to give us better than they had, they taught Reina and me what the true meaning of Christmas was.  One of my earliest Christmas memories was of Daddy taking us and several toys to the orphanage to distribute to the children there.  We spent time making meals for the homeless and with our Dad and with our school we spent time with the elderly who very often had no family,  We were taught the importance of giving and remembering that it only took a minute to think of people who were poor, ill or lonely and another minute to share what we had with them and spread joy. Reina and I did receive a lot but we knew it was important to our parents for us to give even more and it is something I have continued with my sons because as their mother, I have an obligation to put two good and decent people on the planet.

I think in the days to come I will get into the spirit of the season. At this very moment, my heart aches because I am missing those who are gone and I am missing being able to jump in the car and go to my cousins.  At this very moment I want to be downstairs in the courtyard of the Inniss’ home in Santa Cruz, dancing with our friends and family to sweet parang.  I want to sit and watch Aunty Moye in the kitchen  and I want to go by Uncle Joe and pick up a bottle or two of his delicious and potent Punch deCreme.

pastelles I want to see Aunty Yvonne’s tree with the big fat gold tinsel wrapped around it and I want to watch from the corridor in Aunty Meiling’s and Uncle Mike’s Valsayn home, at the aunts chatting and fussing in the kitchen while the uncles clink their scotch glasses toasting the season then talking about cricket and politics and whatever else tickling their their fancy.  I want to be dressed in my Christmas nightie and be fascinated by that strange, little, yellow Chinese lantern bulb on that old string of lights Mom would string on our tree.  I want back the Christmas of my youth and I want all those who have died to be alive and those who are far away to be near again but I can’t have that.

save me from santa

What I do have though, is confirmation from Logan that I have given and continue to give him and Adam their own special memories of Christmas.  He said he and Adam also have ornaments on our tree they fixate on.

decorations

Ornaments that remind them of special events and special presents they’ve received.  He remembers helping in the parades on those cold nights when his father and I worked for the local radio station.  He remembers learning why filling the special shoe boxes with crayons and paper and pencils to send to kids in less fortunate nations was important and he remembers the food drives I helped them do for those threasanta 1tened by hunger in our community.  He looks forward to Christmas Mass with us and he has told me so much about what he remembers that I am able to take solace in my effort to give them similar experiences to mine at Christmas.  I hope to be able to share many more Christmases with my three men, my mother, my sister and her family and my husband’s family and create many memorable moments. But for now, I am going to take the time I need to miss those far away from me and those who have died.  This is the phase of life I have fo
und myself in now… after all 50 is less than a year away.   But as I drink my eggnog and pretend it is Uncle Joe’s Punch de Creme, I toast all the pieces of the puzzle of my foundation who live miles away and I remember with love, honour and respect, my sweet father and his brother, my grandparents and aunts, uncles and friends who have left this earth.  With my cousins and my friends who are the children of those who have passed, I will share a bit of sadness and grief but I know who we are is a direct result of what they gave to us and they along with all these wonderful memories will not be forgotten.This jumbled mess of words is dedicated to all my friends and family far away with a special dedication to those of us living without our loved ones – Gabrielle and Dominique, Janine and Ryan, Sui Yen and Meiling, Kim and Sue, Nicole and Jo Anne, my sister Reina, my mother Angela, my aunt and God Mother Ruth, Sean and Barry, Richard, Brian, Ian and Leslie.  And to my cousins aunt and uncle who I really need to make a better effort to see – Susie, Marcus, Sharlene Michael Jr. and Sarah, Meiling and Michael Sr.  –  Merry Christmas to you and a Happy New Year.  May you be wrapped in peace and love for all your days to come ~ Danie.

christmas sled