Facing Forward

We are spending the week some blocks north, at the house shared by my mother and my brother and sister-in-law. We’re taking care of the cats, while Mike and Karen are taking a much-deserved break in Ontario. To be clear, Lisa and L. are taking care of the cats, and their needs for petting, loving, injecting, feeding. I am cleaning the litter box.

I love the idea of cats; actually executing cat life is a high-level logistics exercise. I tip my hat to those able to do it day after day after day. And I tip my hat to Lisa, who has become completely comfortable at administering units of insulin to the scruff of the neck.

CatCamp has its virtues. It’s a staycation where we can return to the mothership to pick up underwear. And we are getting to spend a lot more time with Mom—eating meals every night together, and taking a daily constitutional. It’s also a kind of limbo: life, but tuned a few MHz out of phase. Come Thursday we’ll settle back down the street, happy to have facilitated. And happy that our underwear is closer. Maybe I’ll even miss the cats.

The weather, meanwhile, has turned from dark rainy depressitude into summer. In the Sobeys checkout line yesterday there were a lot of people responding to “why don’t you pick up things for the BBQ on your way home” calls. Myself included.

When I was a kid, growing up in Carlisle, I’d start every summer day yelling downstairs to my mother “MOM, SHORTS OR LONGS?!”. This was followed by a 50 year period where I dressed uniseasonally, wearing a significant “this isn’t relaxation, folks, take life seriously” chip on my shoulder. Or maybe I just thought my schlumpy body didn’t look good in shorts. But yesterday, facing a 24ºC school run on bicycleback, I switched into the smart shorts I bought last summer, when things first tipped toward summer sensibility, and I ended up wearing them all day, including to our improv class. Which made me feel strangely like Robin Williams minus the suspenders.

We have been cycling with L. to school almost every morning for the last two months. When we started we were wearing gloves and winter coats. While the parentheses surrounding the school day can feel constricting—as any parent knows well—I love cycling, and the mornings that L. and I cycle to school, just the two of us, we have good conversations. Talking while moving is always better: I know that from raising Olivia. I know that from walking with Lisa. (I had a client once who insisted we conduct business meetings while walking, at a good clip, from Springbrook to Long River, on Saturday mornings, before sitting down to breakfast at the Kitchen Witch; despite the hassle, and his pace, it was surprisingly effective).

Our friend Silva turned 60 a few weeks ago, and there was a big party in the architecture office with good people and good food and artisanal rum drinks. It was fun (that in itself is saying something; as part of the shed snakeskin of my younger years, I’ve cast off a lot of my social anxiety, and now kinda like going to parties).

Silva and Catherine were the same age, 1963 babies. So Catherine’s would-have-been-60th birthday (Olivia’s wording) would-have-been this Sunday, June 18. Olivia misses her Mom, and wants to have a big birthday party for her. It’s hard to explain to her why I don’t want to have a birthday party for her.

Catherine turned 30 the year we moved to Prince Edward Island. We didn’t know anyone, and so that birthday was just the two of us. I don’t remember what we did, but I remember it was something good, that I mustered well, and we were happy. Ten years later, for her 40th, I attempted to rise to the occasion again, and somehow failed. It might have been less that I didn’t rise to the occasion and more that Catherine was in a funk about turning 40, and nothing I did would have registered as maximum fun. 

What did we do for her 50th? I have no idea. Or maybe we went to The Pearl? Or The Dunes? Maybe there was another funk? Maybe it was lovely. I don’t remember.

When I think about Olivia’s persistent insistence that we celebrate Catherine’s birthday, and my persistent reluctance, I think of Lisa’s coaching, encouraging me to “stand in the ‘win for all’ ”, and so standing for what Olivia wants. And for Olivia to do the same. That’s hard. And uncomfortable. The memory of Catherine, what Catherine meant to us, lives so differently in the two us: what offers her comfort can trigger me, what she wants to draw closer to, I want to face forward from. Maybe that’s why trying to stand for what she wants is a route out of our impasse. Today, in any case, is the day to find our way through.

Meanwhile, fresh off the morning school-cycle, I’m sitting at one of the back tables at The 5th Wave, my new morning coffee spot of choice (good coffee, good tables and chairs, good soundtrack, open early). I’ve just finished the last sip of a nitro cold brew, which is as effective for its name as its essence (it’s not hard to imagine it confers temporary superpowers).

I’ll shortly depart, crossing the street to The Bookmark to pick up my copy of Linocut: Learn in a Weekend, just arrived as a special order. And then I’ll plunge into work, having blocked off today for a big push on several Almanac.com projects.

Later we’ll cycle to pick up L. We’ll figure out supper together. I’ll make a playlist for Olivia to go to sleep with. I’ll ask her how her day went. The cats will get fed. Maybe we’ll watch a show.

And then I’ll climb into bed beside Lisa, and, right then, all will be right with the world.