Tuesday, December 14, 2010

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Believe it or not.

If we value honesty so much, why do we tell our kids there’s a Santa Claus? One of the most elaborate lies of all time. At the tender age of 11, a friend reveals the earth-shattering truth and, upon some light investigation, they discover the gifts in mom’s closet... From Santa. From Santa my ass. But I guess this opens up a whole can of worms that reek of bullshit. Santa. The tooth fairy. The Easter bunny. Heaven. God. (Oh stop your gasping.)

On Thursday night, my brother and I went back to the homestead to attend a memorial service, hosted by the local funeral home. A tribute to all those who died in the last 12 months. Our father included.

Hymns were sung. Holy words were spoken. I heard the word “father” over and over and over. But they were not talking about my father. They were talking about the father. You know, the one with the Son and Holy Spirit to boot. That elusive, three-fold enigma.

I had brought my inner skeptic with me. Righteous dudes, who is this God person we’re talking about? I’m here to think about my father, not the father of humanity who seems more the stuff of legends than reality. I know my dad existed, and still exists in me and in everything I do. But you have to admit – the rest sounds a little sketchy.

When we sang How Great Thou Art, I was singing about dad. How great he was.

When through the woods and forest glades I wander,
I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze...”

My dad loved nature. So for me, those lyrics are about what he enjoyed, not what God created. Sue me!

Don’t get me wrong; I was touched by the event. The mutual loss. A room full of people who will celebrate (or lament) this Christmas with an empty chair at the dinner table. Words floated up into the air above our sadness, spelling out I know how you feel. The genuine sympathy of those employed by the Grim Reaper themselves, working under a cloud of death, day in and day out; a well-deserved paycheck. In the past 52 weeks, 82 people had died in our town and surrounding area. That’s about 1.5 deaths a week. And with an ever-aging community, those numbers will continue to rise. Corpses flying. In fact, another funeral home is about to open any day now. Maybe the cost of caskets will drop. Deadly.

I giggled a couple of times. A few righteous brothers were raising their hands to the sky, eyes closed, all full of the trinity and what not. Dad would have looked at me with that notoriously foolish face, subtly mocking the drama; so I did the same to mom. When one musical act was performing, a hot mess indeed, I drew a thumbs-down sketch on my program and flashed it at mom. When I saw her blank-faced expression, I took a second glance at my drawing and realized – it looked just like a penis.

How do you take the whole God thing seriously when your brain is full of dinosaurs and evolution and comparative anatomy? We came from fish, you know. Explain that, Pope. And yes, I know there are wonders all around us that defy science and logical explanation. But all in all, the God thing is a bit of a stretch. I’m not atheist; I’m just a half-assed believer. Seriously, can you blame me? (Note to self: rent Contact again.)

There are two reasons I choose to sort-of-believe...

Reason one: my dad. A super intelligent man with a faith so profound, there simply has to be something to the fuss.

Reason two: Max. I don’t want to raise a child on bullshit, but more importantly I don’t want to raise a cynic. My boy must be full of hope and possibility. I will introduce him to my religion – WhoFuckinKnowsism. The principles of this doctrine? Many things are unlikely, but anything is possible. There is no absolute knowledge; I know nothing, and neither do you. I have doubts; everyone does – and should! And if someone says they have no doubts, they’re full of horseshit.

I’ll tell Max about Jesus and all that good stuff. The life lessons of the parables beat Aesop’s fables, hands down. I’ll give Max the information (and the hope) and one day my little Christian can decide for himself.

After all, how can I tell him about Santa but not God? God. Santa. Heaven. Yes, they exist. Well, probably not. But maybe. Let’s just say it’s more likely than not that they exist. Let’s go with that. And have something to look forward to. Besides a satin-lined box in a cold, cold ground.

Max watched his first movie on the big screen a couple weeks ago – The Polar Express. I had seen it before, of course. But the theme is even more relevant to me now in my motherhood. It’s a story about believing in that which you cannot see. They’re talking about Santa. But I think they’re also talking about God.

Perhaps what feeds my inner skeptic most is the image we conjure up in our mind’s eye. Heaven: a place in the clouds where the deceased go to hang out and play harps and eat Philadelphia Cream Cheese. God: a gentle-faced, white-robed chess master way up there in the Almightosphere, surveying his handiwork but unable to interfere. (Let’s go with this theory since I’d hate to imagine an all-powerful being simply choosing not to prevent the Holocaust.) Santa: a jolly geezer in a creepy red suit, delivering toys to children all around the world in one night.

Forget the imagery; let’s focus on the feeling. An emotion without flesh or postal code. It’s believing in what is possible but not proven. It’s HOPE. And hope is more essential to life than air and water. Especially when life gets tough. Which it always does, sooner or later. For all of us.

I don’t know for certain about God, or Heaven, and I have epic doubts about that Kringle fella. The only things I know for certain: hope springs eternal and love is immortal. Love is the miracle that doesn’t rely on fantasy or organized religion. It spans all space and time, beyond death, beyond all the material bullshit in which we are immersed. Forgive me all you jovial Jesus fans, but at the memorial service I was not feeling the love of God; I was feeling the love of my dad. But maybe, and I think dad would agree, they are one and the same. I’m not saying my dad was God (although some might say he was a deity of sorts); I’m saying that God is not a person or a place or even a He. God is just another word for Love. Plain and simple. And in that case, I wholeheartedly believe.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A beaver tale...

Perhaps I was a bee in a former life. Or maybe it was a beaver. Yeah, a beaver; beavers are really busy. I had buck teeth as a kid too. That settles it – I was once a beaver. There’s a chewing on wood joke here somewhere, but I digress...

I complain about having too much to do, but truth is, I’m addicted to being busy. I need to be doing something productive – creating something, building something, making something better. Now don’t get me wrong; I don’t need to be my mother’s kind of busy – cleaning, cooking, and churning butter while knitting sweaters and polishing silverware. That’s not my kind of busy. I like to be on the move. Shopping; seeking the perfect something for our humble abode. Writing – if not for work then for myself; working on my dad’s book, or my own. Watching; feasting my eyes on the mastery of Mad Men, or the delicious debauchery of Californication. (Which reminds me – anybody got Season 3?) I need to be constantly seeking something. A new vintage toy for my boy. The perfect metaphor. A great photo opp. A new idea.

But I know, life is short; God, how short it is. So I remind myself daily to stop and smell the roses. Pet the dog. Cuddle the boy. Spank the husband. Sip the tea. Be in the moment.

I’m good at being in the moment. I’m deep like that. I’m a writer for God sake; it’s a curse. Sometimes I'm so in the moment, I forget to be in pants. But sometimes my high-speed nature gets the better of me. (Thanks for the crazy genes, mom.) Especially during this time of year with the hoards of people and endless traffic (will the Torbay shit-snake ever die?) and lists of things to do compelling me to go go go go get ‘er done NOW.

Holiday mall mopers? I hate them. And they travel in packs. So not only are they slow; they form an impenetrable wall of mope.

I start my Christmas shopping early so I don’t have to stand in busy checkout lines when the holiday rush is on  – a fate worse than death. 20% night at the Avalon Mall? No b'y. I'd rather pay 20% MORE to NOT stand in those lines. 

Tonight, the Torbay Santa Claus parade started 15 minutes late; I rained curses on the jolly old elf and his entire slow-ass posse. It was cold and I had a little boy who kept flicking his mittens off. Time was of the essence; digits were on the line. But I kept my patience, largely due to the friendly reminder I received earlier today...

A reminder to slow down, via an officer of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. Yes mom, it’s true; I got a speeding ticket. And yes, I am about to drop the f-bomb. Fuckin' ghost car! Damn those clever crime-fighters!

Despite my predicament, I was in a good mood, so I went with it. For a moment, I thought I would flutter my eyelashes a little, see if Goody Blue Shoes might be influenced by a fair damsel on her way to volunteer at the orphanage. (Or to get her hair done, whatev.) But naw, that‘s not how I roll. So I decided to just own it. I screwed up, I admit. Now, how about a bit of tomfoolery to lighten the mood? I rolled down my window to greet him and said...

“Nice moustache!”

Okay, no I didn’t. But I thought it. That lip caterpillar was colossal.

What I actually said was, “Gosh darn it, officer, ya got me.”

“License and registration, ma'am?”

I opened the glove compartment with glee. The kind of smile that hurts. “Pink sheet – check. Blue sheet – check. Got it, yay! Here ya go, officer.”

“Do you know how fast you were going, Ms. Murphy?”

“Ommm... one millllllllion?”

“90. In a 60 zone.”

“Wow. My heavy foot disease must be acting up today.”

Awkward laugh.

“Okay wait here, Ms. Murphy.” He turned to walk back to his Decepticon.

“Hurry back!” I say with a genuine Texas-size grin.

He came back with a yellow slip of paper.

“Yellow, my favourite colour. How did you know?”

There was a brief chuckle. And the slightest hint of bacon on the wind.

His parting words, “Slow down, okay?”

“Oh I will. Slowing down is my favourite.”

I’m lucky he didn’t give me the breathalizer. This encounter is not without embellishment, of course. But hey, there’s a moral to this half-true story...


It’s a busy time of year, but let’s not let it cloud our judgment. Let’s not be so caught up with the details that we forget to see the bigger picture. Let’s be beavers! Do a lot. (You know you’re going to anyway; it’s what we women do.) But do it slowly, thoughtfully, and carefully. Not necessarily perfectly. If you have to be full speed ahead to do it all, then maybe you’re doing too much. Silly beaver.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A vroom of ones own.

Thursday is garbage day in our neck of the woods. Around 8am, the big green trash eater pulls up out front. It passes by twice – once to get the trash on the opposite side of the street, and then again on its way back to get ours. When Max hears the slow groan of the truck, he scurries to the couch, climbs it like a koala bear on bennies, pulls open the drapes, and leans his face to the window to witness the glory of the big-wheeled hunk of metal. Sweet garbage-collecting action. A Thursday morning ritual.

I sometimes wonder about the nature versus nurture debate when it comes to gender, intelligence, sexuality, etc. Well, when it comes to gender at least, Max has convinced me – nature is boss. I certainly didn’t teach him to be a dirt-diggin’, train- obsessed boy; he was simply born that way. Predetermined machismo. One of his first words was vroom. Onomatopoeia – well done, Maximus Manliness. He was just seven or eight months old when he started driving a toy car up the arm of the sofa; a perfect hill. (And my boobs; imperfect speed bumps.) Who taught him that? Not I. Not anyone. He is snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, through and through. Sometimes I expect him to emerge from his bedroom with a frog in his pocket.

I admit – I let him watch too much TV. He likes a variety of shows, but the ones that really get his blood pumping are Bob the Builder, Mighty Machines, Thomas and Friends; you get the idea. Tools, heavy equipment, trains, trucks. How does he even know what these things are? He doesn’t, but he knows what he likes; it’s in his DNA. He has an innate attraction to things that have power, movement, and aggression. The vroom of Roary (the racing car)’s engine, the buzz of Bob’s powertools, the choo-choo of Thomas and his chugging chums. Give ‘er, says Max Murphy, in not so many words.

When he was about ten months old, he could use a hockey stick like nobody’s business. Check out the natural goalie stance. When he makes it big in the NHL one day, they’ll use this pic in his player bio.  NHL. Torbay rec league. Whatev.

Eat your heart out, Patrick Roy!

We take walks to the farm down the road, with an eye out for cows and horses that often graze in pastures sloping to the harbour. We are lucky to live near such breathtaking scenery. But Max has other ideas. On the way there is a big, yellow school bus, parked on a strip of gravel, off duty. With eyes as big as saucers and a twinkle to boot, Max points to it and makes a vroom-like sound in his throat, with a question mark vocalized at the end. “Yeah, that’s a school bus!” I assure him. He sits back in the umbrella stroller, satisfied. Who needs animals when there’s this big, beautiful, yellow creature before us?

I love his rough and tumble ways. But I want to show him that’s it okay to be tender too. When he pulls on Splash’s tail or hugs her a little too hard, I say “be gentle”, and he starts to pet her softly. Though his inborn nature tells him to be strong and fast, I want to nurture him to also be soft and thoughtful. I will start with a Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas. No joke. Think little boys shouldn’t play with dolls? Fair enough. But by telling your son "dolls are for girls", aren't you also telling him that caring for children is the mother’s job? Not cool. I save this debate for another post. It’ll be called Long Live Paddy Shane! Paddy Shane was the name of my husband’s Cabbage Patch Kid, circa 1983. Laugh if you want, but Paddy Shane could very well be the reason Andrew is just as nurturing as I am, if not more.

The other night, Max was walking around the living room hugging and squeezing a plush dog. A rare sight. Since birth, Max has never taken to anything for comfort. Not a soother, not a stuffed animal, not a blanket. Now, here he was, cuddling this stuffed pup. Wow, I thought; maybe he’s finally developing a softer side.

Five minutes later I found the toy facedown in Splash’s water dish. It was too late for CPR.

Sunday driving.
Playing with dinkies at Nanny's in Badger's Quay.