For the past few years, I’ve been struck by intermittent doubts about whether we’re raising our children “right.” Our house is filled with a gaggle of teenagers. As our eldest nears university, his upbringing is a done deal, the question a moot point. As for the others, it is said that parents have a diminishing influence over their children around the age of 12, when peers take the upper hand. Continue reading Love Your Children Well
Note: this entry was written in mid-February but posted today.
For the past two weeks I’ve been back in Vancouver for my annual journey “home.” But this year was different. I returned to find permanent lodging and care for my father, whose Alzheimers has taken a significant turn for the worse. I simultaneously advocated for my dad and provided moral support to my mom. It was mentally intense, scrambling to make all the care pieces fit while reflecting on our family’s past and future. Everything, it seemed, was changing.
One morning, mom and I hopped in the car for a pilgrimage to my childhood home in the suburbs of North Surrey. We lived at 12377-95th Avenue from the time I was six, and my brother eight, until after my graduation from high school.
Although I hadn’t driven the area for years, the muscle memory was so ingrained that I could have navigated with my eyes closed. I was surprised at how many familiar landmarks still stood. Driving up 96th Avenue, I knew the trees, the corner stores, the strip mall, the lone apartment building and the individual houses that remained amid the redevelopment and infill.
We turned onto 124th Street and I was slightly discombobulated by a few newer houses that sat where original, generous rural properties had been. But there was no mistaking 95th Avenue, the place where we lived, played and grew up. Almost nothing had changed.
From the street, our stucco and clapboard house had frozen in time. It was painted the same charcoal and bone white of my childhood and even my mother’s roses continued to flourish in place.
I hopped out with my camera bag and made a beeline for the front door. A van parked in the driveway made me hopeful that the current owners were home and might welcome a curious distraction. I knocked and, after a few moments, the door opened.
“Hi. I’m sorry to bother you,” I said to the man who answered the door. “But my name is Andrea and I grew up in this house.” I handed him four slightly-yellowed photographs. The man, his wife and teenaged daughter were delighted with their unexpected ghosts from the past and invited us in to look around. But what I saw inside shocked me.
The owners had done a lovely job updating my memories of orange and avocado wallpaper and the green shag carpet was, thankfully, long-gone. But what surprised me most was the size of the house. I just didn’t remember it being so, well, small. I felt like Alice in Wonderland when she drank the potion and grew too big for her britches.
I peeked inside my old room, the first door on the right. All of the French Provincial furniture, followed by Holly Hobby wallpaper, then posters of Sean Cassidy, and finally early IKEA, had been replaced by the favoured style and accoutrements of the current teenaged daughter. I remembered my brother’s room as always cool. He had the queen-sized waterbed, the furry comforter, a poster of Farrah Fawcett, and a great stereo. Memories of my parents’ room were fuzzy, but the robins egg blue fixtures in the bathroom were definitely gone. The pool table and black naugahyde bar had disappeared from the basement, having made room for a live-in suite for the owner’s father.
I don’t mean to harp on size – the house is just under 2,000 sq. ft – but I associate this place with people, lots of them, and I can’t seem to reconcile our large family get-togethers, many overnight guests, and frequent drop-in visitors with the space I see. Doesn’t entertaining take Great Rooms, eat-in kitchens, multiple bathrooms, and ample room for the ample furniture and bodies? Later, I searched the hundreds of family photos looking for evidence of discomfort. But the pictures show, in their truncated 4″x4″ format, happy people snugged in, but not particularly squished, eating homey food, talking, laughing, celebrating, dancing in our classic basement rec room, and spilling out into our suburban backyard. Evidently a big heart was more important than a big space when it came to entertaining in our house.
The backyard had barely changed. But again, time played tricks with our spatial memory. Although generous in size, both mom and I remembered the yard being deeper, providing more of a buffer between us and the neighbours behind.
I look out and see neighbour kids playing tether ball and badminton, my beautiful dad treating us to mini-bike rides around the yard, my energetic mom hollering “AN-DREE-AH!” down the street, our cat Percy stalking prey across the lawn, my older brother soaking up the sun on a hot summer’s day, and Grandpa and Grandma sitting in the shade, taking in everything. A thousand phantom images of our younger selves pass before our eyes, standing in a backyard that is no longer ours.
We are invited to stay for refreshments but my mom is agitated, feeling stressed about getting back to visit dad, and so we graciously decline. We thank the man and his wife profusely for their kindness, take a few exterior shots of the house and street and drive away. We are both quiet and I feel a lump forming in my throat.
Growing up and moving out was an inevitability for my brother and I. But my parents moved out of the old house and neighbourhood by choice, encouraged by my gentle urging to “move up.” Somehow, we all ended up owning homes in, or near, White Rock. Then fifteen years ago I moved to Ottawa to be with my future husband and start a family of my own. My brother and his young family followed suit a few years later, ending up four hours north of Winnipeg. Our lives stretched like a rubber band, triangulated by more than 5,000 kilometres. Together, apart. Together, apart. More apart than together.
As I write this, I ponder that lump, which I am uncomfortably aware of more often these days. It makes manifest my gratitude and sorrows, my gains and losses, indelibly marked by my choices and happenstance. I move seamlessly, though not frequently enough, between my two realities – my two “homes” – and I am resigned to accommodating the inevitable ghosts in each.
How do you like your tea? Sweet? Or very, very black?
On moving day, a little girl gives a tea party for her dollies in the garden of her new home. However, her parents are unaware of her unusual ability to channel the spirit of John Rambo.
I never had one myself, but a scale replica dollhouse is the object of envy for many small girls. Here, Monica and Phoebe of Friends engage in duelling dollhouses, with disastrous results. A cautionary tale in four parts.