Spring Fever

Today was one of those early spring days that was aching to be summer. The sun was shining, the breeze was warm, and the sky was a brilliant blue. If it weren’t for my children’s pink noses and chattering teeth, you might not have known the difference.

I remember my mother standing in a shaft of sunlight in the garden, on a day like today. Her eyes were closed, and she was smiling. She was holding her hands in front of her, palms facing the sky, and she turned to me and said “you never really feel the sunlight on your palms. It feels like you’re holding the sunlight.” After the rainy season of October to March, days like today bring something more: promise. The promise of better days, warmer days. Days filled with iced tea, freshly cut grass, hot sidewalks, and fragrant air. Days of endless sun and eternal warmth that last forever and lift your spirits. If there’s anything better than three months of golden sunshine and free time, I haven’t found it.

But with the good, comes the bad. The birth of spring heralds the upcoming season that all Canadians dread: Roadwork. Every year, without fail, the streets become clogged with dinosaurs of heavy machinery, orange safety cones, and tired construction workers smoking cigarettes and holding stop signs. Your quick trip to the beach turns into a daylong slog as you crawl through traffic, switching lanes, and slowly roasting to death in your car with broken air conditioning. I remember sitting in the back seat of my parents’ station wagon, sweat beading on my face, whining that the sun was burning a hole into my arm. My mother replied, “you wait all year for the sun, and the first day it’s out, you’re complaining about it?” Darned if that didn’t shut me up quick. But it was on this same trip, as we inched along, that the frown on my mother’s face gradually deepened, and she started shifting uncomfortably. If she was miserable, she at least had the grace not to say anything.

Years later, I was the one in the driver’s seat, with my own children in the back. We were returning home from the grocery store and got stuck on a construction-blocked street. I tried to head off the whining by giving the kids snacks and water, hoping that would keep them busy. I could feel my frustration rising: why was this happening? Did this road really need to be fixed? The cracks weren’t that bad, just pretend you were on a rollercoaster as you zigzagged around them! I sat struggling with my irritation, when my daughter piped up from the back: “this sure is a fun picnic!” She was smiling broadly and munching her granola bar. To me, this was torture. To her, it was a fun moment with her family and her favorite snack.

Sitting in the hot car, I felt my temper diminish and my mind clear. I have so much to learn from my kids. I wish I could take the time to be as carefree and spontaneous as they are. This moment stuck in traffic was the perfect time for me to really evaluate my outlook on life. I never live in the moment; I constantly find myself worrying about the rest of the day, trying to rush through things as quickly as possible. If I could be half as optimistic as my children, the little things wouldn’t bother me as much.

We eventually made it home, and somehow all three of us and the groceries made it inside. And you know what I did? Instead of hustling the groceries away, I got out the ice-cream and sat on the balcony with my brood. We chatted about our exciting trip to the store, and all the funny things we had seen. It was a sweet, carefree afternoon; until I wandered back into the kitchen and found my newly purchased stick of butter melting into a pool on the floor. As I stared at the rapidly congealing puddle of goo, I made a decision: I refilled my ice-cream bowl and headed back to the balcony. The mess could wait; it was a warm, sunny day, and my kids and I were having fun – something I could always use a little more of!

The Pack-up

When you’re moving, packing always starts with the best intentions. How hard could it be? You get some boxes, put things in the boxes, and you’re done. Easy, right? Wrong. Packing up a house is infinitely more difficult when you’re still living in it, and when you have two kids who treat the full boxes like a fun new playground. Why are they tap-dancing on the box of antique dishware? Why are they eating the packing peanuts? Does any of that matter if it means they’re not crying?

The sheer amount of STUFF you accumulate as a family is staggering. The keepsakes, mementos, and precious items slowly build up in your closets, covered in dust and whispers of the past. Here is your daughter’s favorite stuffed cat, the one she carried everywhere. Here is your son’s tiny little hat that he wore home from the hospital. All these touchstones that are so important to us are now being stuffed into a bulging box that refuses to close because you can’t find the #$%&*! tape gun.

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Endless Nights

Is there anything more nerve-wracking than coming home from the hospital with your brand new crying poop machine? This marvelous little baby, with her tiny coos and little pink hands, who falls asleep on your chest as you awkwardly hold her (because god help you if you move and wake her up!) Every book you’ve read on babies tells you how important sleep is, for them and for you. As she quietly snoozes, you smile softly and slide into bed, exhausted, ready to sleep. Yet one cough, one tiny little breath from her, and you’re wide awake, heart thumping, peering through the slats of the crib at your new baby.

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Typical Chaos

A look at an average day.

7:15 am Wake up. Realize that you can’t turn your head because there was a lump in your pillow; you’re 35, and your body hates you now. Brush your teeth and try to determine what level of swamp monster you look like today.

7:30 am Get the baby, who has peed through his diaper again and soaked his pajamas, sleep sack, and mattress. Rinse baby in shower, throw pee-soaked clothes in the wash, get baby dressed.

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So It Begins

My first memory of For Better or For Worse involves a doll’s crib, wet hair, and semi-nudity (stay with me here). I’m about five years old, reading Lynn’s latest collection book while kneeling on the carpet with the book propped up on the doll’s crib. My hair is wet because I’ve just had a bath, I’m not wearing a shirt because ostensibly I’m dressing myself, and I’m kneeling because…well, kids are weird. I remember finding the book so overwhelmingly interesting that my desire to read it consumed me; who cared about shirts when I could read about a family that was just like mine? It turns out that my mother cared about shirts, because we were terribly late to the dinner party our friends were having.

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Something New!

A couple of months ago, I received a lovely letter from a young mom, telling me how similar her life was to Elly Patterson’s and how much she related to the strip. Sarah talked about her kids, the mess, her life and her dreams—and that everything was on hold now that parenting was her overwhelming new reality. I wrote back. I said “If nothing else, you are a wonderful writer—when you have time, maybe you should focus on that!”

Sarah returned my letter. She was indeed a writer and had planned a career as a playwright or a novelist, but with two little kids, there weren’t enough hours in the day. Her letter was great fun and worthy of another exchange. I asked for her email address. I told Sarah that we had been thinking about having a guest columnist create a weekly article on parenting for the FBorFW website and would she like to give it a try. She was more than happy to take a shot at it. What fun! A Zoom call revealed a young woman—so like Elly Patterson when I started the strip, it was uncanny.

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