Merry Christmas!

We dream, as photographers, of those families who are so connected, so in love with each other, that taking bad pictures of them is impossible.  We also dream, as photographers, of those incredibly photogenic types who are impossible to make look awkward, ever.  And we dream, as photographers, of people who are not afraid to be themselves in front of the camera, whether that means laughing, frowning, crying, smiling, kissing, sprinting, or squinting.  And when you happen to get all of the above, it's like Santa visited.  Thank you, J, T, and smalls, for a lovely visit and for your patience and understanding, but above all, for giving me an early Christmas present.  














a million and one things...

I've had one of those weeks where everything has piled up on top of itself and I kind of feel like I've been puddling around in quicksand.  And right now, there are a million and one things sitting on my "to-do" list - client sessions to process, a Fair programme to finish up, undelivered USB keys, Relay images to upload, dishes and laundry and... work deadlines are slipping past me and I'm feeling helpless to ever catch up...  Someone else said today, "I'm up to my ass in alligators," and I thought yup, that's me, too!

And the last 3 days, I've been so terribly distracted from giving a damn about those million and one things.  Because there is something much more important occupying my mind.  Two somethings, actually, a young man named Wil and a young man named Kaelan, my sons, who are graduating high school and junior high respectively this year.

I want to tell you a little bit about my sons.

~~~

Kaelan is the proverbial rebel child.  He does everything his way, doesn't put up with BS from anyone, sticks up for the underdog, and marches to the beat of his own drum.  At least now we can say it this way - growing up he was described as irritating, belligerent, an ignoramus, stupid, stubborn, and "a bad egg" as one teacher so sweetly put it.  He has been suspended for anywhere from one or two days to two weeks, at least twice per year, since kindergarten, for doing stupid things that he finds funny or entertaining.  Like in Grade One, he decided he was going to hide in a stack of fluffy winter coats behind a door in the hallway because he didn't want to go out for recess.  He hid there for about 2 hours, the entire school in lockdown, while the police chopper, the community foot patrol, several teachers, a couple of friends, and a very frantic Hope scoured the neighbourhood in sub-zero temperatures.  He got busted when someone heard him giggling while they were announcing a missing child on a radio station -he had been behind the door right beside the school office the entire time, and knew everything that had been going on in Command Central.  Last year, him and a friend brought cap guns to school to have a shoot out by the bike racks.  This was separated by about 12 days from that time they tried setting fire to pieces of newspaper with a magnifying glass in the middle of the soccer field.  He got suspended for climbing the tree in front of the school, after being told not to about 50 times, and even once for just forgetting to take the whittling knife he uses (with our permission and blessing) for making feather sticks out of the bottom of his backpack after a weekend at the cabin.  And he hates French.  He has, from day one, flat out refused to put any effort into it, though he took to Spanish with a tutor like a fish to water.  It wasn't that he couldn't learn because he was too stupid, it was because he wants to learn Spanish, not French.  Period.

This type of behaviour (obviously) earned him quite the reputation, and I don't care what anyone says - people treat children differently if they think they are a write-off, "a bad egg," if you will.  For years I fought for him, with his teachers, counsellors, principals, and even my own family and friends.  I assured them with unwavering confidence, "He will grow out of this!  He's a shithead - even he knows that - but this too shall pass.  Eventually, his maturity will catch up with his brain."  The school wanted him medicated.  They wanted him diagnosed with something, anything, so they could put him in a special classroom.  They wanted him to be compliant and necessarily obedient.  During the many years and countless meetings with counsellors and school officials and all the other "experts" we were herded through with the school's desperate hope someone would finally convince me to medicate him or put him in remedial school, he was diagnosed with what I like to call ASS: "alphabet soup syndrome."  This means that independently, none of "experts" could agree on what was "wrong" with him - ADD, ADHD, ODD, PQRST...  Eventually, some 7 years of fighting later, we got a correct diagnosis: RAD. As far as the RADish parents are concerned, Kaelan is a rare "bio-radish," as the disorder usually affects kids who are suddenly removed from their parents and placed in foster care after a traumatic event, as opposed to those who fail to bond within their own home due to factors like undiagnosed and untreated PPD and the stress of divorce, both of which applied in our case.

Two years of the prescribed "aggressive hugging" and basically just loving the crap out of him... and this afternoon I will attend his grade nine farewell awards ceremony, where he will be receiving an academic award.  This, in spite his failing grade in French and being a RAD ASS.  To top it off, he has been accepted into the Advanced Placement program for grade 10.  He has spent most of his birthdays for the last 8 years postponing his celebration to hang out at Foote Field during the Relay for Life, which invariably falls on the weekend closest to his birthday, unapologetically sports a huge shaggy ginger afro and a secondhand size XXXL jacket from the Remand Centre, rides his longboard on school property, and picked out a sweet-ass blue tuxedo complete with a top hat for his dance on Friday night.  He will probably get in trouble for something while he is there.  I am chaperoning.

The moral of this story is: Do not ever let someone put limits on your child with words and labels.


~~~

Wil is my oldest son, my first-born, and no matter how you slice it, a Mom's relationship with her firstborn child is always something special.  We make all our first mistakes and learn about parenting the hard way: by diving in with our heart and soul and doing everything we can to protect, nurture, and love the snot out of this tiny wriggling pink thing they let us keep without a license with like we know what happens next.  We hang off their every coo, gurgle, snort, fart, and burp, make complete asses of ourselves to hear them giggle, pee our pants when they say their first words and walk around the house putting grubby Cheerio-chunked fingerprints on the furniture and walls, squeal with delight when they poop in the toilet, and cry like wimps when they hit each milestone that says, "adulthood is going to come, with or without your blessing."

You're never prepared for parenthood.  Read all the books you want and you will never know the agony of seeing your child with an earache, the way your gut wretches to see them hurt or upset, the way your heart feels like it's encased in concrete when they break a bone or come home too late without calling, or how horrible it feels to say something to your child you can never take back, until you've been there, done that.  And so, our firstborn children are really experimental "practice" kids.  I very quickly learned where I stood on spanking, developed an opinion on breastfeeding vs. formula, suddenly figured out how to operate car seats and child safety locks, and became a master of deception not only special occasions to play Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy but each and every day, hoping he felt secure and loved and that we were doing great even when inside I felt like I didn't have a clue if I was doing it "right."

This past Wednesday, my son Wil walked across the stage at his Grade 12 Commencement.  I was a hot mess, and barely managed to keep from embarrassing him by bursting into tears every time he blinked, smiled, breathed, walked, or talked.  He towers over me by several inches and has hairy man legs and a bulging Adam's apple.  He plays video games with his best friends, stays up and sleeps in too late, and volunteers on Tuesdays handing out sandwiches and hot chocolate and clean clothes to street kids in the Boyle Community. He's late or misses math class at least once a week, scares the shit out of me when he goes out bike riding or snowboarding, and kicks my ass at trampoline wars, every time.

I was really young when I had Wil, just 3 weeks before my 21st birthday, and while I've always been told I am an old soul, the truth is I was just a kid myself.  And in that, Wil and I grew up together.  He matured me, softened me, moulded me into the tough, strong, squishy, unrelenting sappy cow that I am today.  He taught me first what it was like to truly to love without boundaries, and prepared me for what it means to watch a piece of your soul walk around on the outside of your body and because of this I was ready, willing, and able to embrace my other children fearlessly when they each arrived in turn.

When I was 21 years old and people said, "You won't understand until you've been there," I would look at them smugly, because of course, like all 21-year olds, I knew everything.  Now, I say to those of you who are just starting out, or somewhere along the way to Commencement for your kids, you honestly won't understand until you've sat in the hospital with your sick or broken child, until you've seen their heart and spirit broken by bullies and mean kids, until you've heard them tell you a story, made you laugh and cry and laugh until you cry...  you won't understand until you've been there what it means to see your child walk across the stage in all their awkward glory and shake hands with a bald guy who flips a tassel from the right to the left...  It's very much like that first day a parent drops their off at play school or kindergarten, the child's tiny hand clutching their parents', them full of equal parts curiosity and trepidation about what the future holds while the parents stand there, apprehensive about letting go of that hand, fireworks in their hearts, an ache of pride and sadness and excitement, hot searing pain and excruciating, overwhelming happiness, holding a secret hope, "Now, if we can just make it to grad..."

Of course there are still exams to write before the year is over, but when Wil dresses up in his suit and escorts his girlfriend to senior prom tonight to celebrate getting through 13 years of education to start the rest of his life, the last "milestone" before marriage and kids will be a reality for both of us.  He stands there poised on the cusp of letting go of my hand again, full of equal parts curiosity and trepidation about what the future holds, while I stand here, apprehensive about letting go of that hand, fireworks in my heart, an ache of pride and sadness and excitement, hot searing pain and excruciating, overwhelming happiness, holding a secret hope, "Now if we can just make it to... everything that comes after!" And oh, I think my heart may truly burst or break or beat itself into ethers!

~~~

I never understood why I could never (still can't) read Robert Munsch's "Love You Forever" without breaking down.  Like, "You're freaking me out , Mama - are you going to be OK?" kind of can't make it through the story.  I actually bring Kleenex for the event and finish it up with a quivering voice and a million and one extra sappy hugs and kisses, because what I know now, is that I still know nothing.  Despite how we as a culture tend to joke about how great it will be when our kids finally graduate and get on with their lives so we can have ours back, the "parent" switch doesn't actually just magically turn off like a light switch.  The same worry and hope are still here.  I don't believe it ever ends.  I don't want it to.  I understand now why that story kills me every time - because it's true:

I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always
As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be

The theme for Wil's grad is, "the rest is still unwritten."  We are somewhere in the middle of the Munsch book and while I know it's meant to inspire the grads, really, the message is for me as a parent, too, a reminder that the book isn't over, just a couple of chapters, and that I will keep embracing every possible moment I have - the frustration, the pleasure, the irritation, the celebration, the good times and the bad - to just keep reading with pride and gratitude what each of my amazing children write on the pages of their lives even when, perhaps especially when, it means ignoring a million and one things...