The Swing of Things — Chapter 1

IMG_0571I have moved back into my office. It is a Sunday morning and the Rose of Sharon in my yard has recently begun to bloom. The flowers out front are all associated with bushes or plants that need little or no care. I had stipulated this when I had the gardens done. I also said that I enjoyed flowers. As the summer passes each of the plants takes turn coming into bloom. There are several plants that bloom and all of the flowers are pink.

What I remember most about my first home was the great expanses of time that seemed to be structureless. There was a lot of space and there was a lot of free time and I have very few memories of adults being involved.

The backyard was a wonderful place with lots of room to move and play and climb. I also had a very best friend. She was born a few weeks after me, a few doors down from me. We used to sit together in my sand box and have intense conversations about what kindergarten would be like and the new clothes that her older sister had bought. Sometimes we would even have the company of some of the neighbour children.

Occasionally, we would go over to her house and play. I remember that her older sister and her sister’s friends could colour really well. The shading was so neat and professional, it made me wish that I could colour in the lines like they could. When I contemplate these memories it makes me wonder if my children ever felt this timeless feeling of doing very little. I have a few memories of television programs, mainly cartoons, but I have way more memories of just paying attention to whatever was in front of me be it toys, crayons or friends. It was a feeling of falling out of time. These memories do not seem to be bracketed with limitations. There was no thought about when dinner was or when a show was going to be on television or even when we needed to be ready to go somewhere. We stayed outside until we were called home by our parents or when the streetlights came on.

This was a common curfew for us and all of our friends. We could all stay out until the streetlights came on, or rather until it got dark. This is so different from my view of the lives of my own children. Not only did they seldom play outside, requiring me to call them to come home, but also they were certainly never told to be in when the lights came on. For most of the evenings of their lives they were already in the house, or out at some supervised activity like hockey or soccer. At home they would be either in their rooms, watching television or sitting on a computer, not out playing kick the can, tag, hide and seek or any of the other group games that we used to play with the neighbors.

Even at this early age I thought that it was disappointing that there were two school systems. There was a public system and a Catholic system that effectively meant that you only got to go to school with some of the kids in your neighborhood. It seemed wrong to me then, as it does now, that we are not working towards building a system that brings our children together but rather one that separates them early in life into ‘us versus them’. But, for the purposes of hide and seek, everyone played together.

A key feature of our neighbourhood was our swing set and one of the coveted experiences was the underdoggy. For those of you that were not children during this time, the underdoggy is the ultimate push for someone on a swing. Anyone, including parents and grandparents can stand behind a swing and give it a push and then repeat with the same enthusiasm as the swing approaches each time. This is fun and adequate for the person on the swing, but it can only go so far.

The underdoggy is only for the enthusiastic and the agile. My father first showed me the thrill of it in our backyard. Instead of simply standing behind the swing and pushing it when it comes to you, the underdoggy goes one step further. You run with the swing and keep your hands on it until you have lifted it above your head. Then, you continue to run forward as the swing progresses way up, further into the air than you could get with a regular push. This results in a spectacular swing of great height and speed.

My sister decided to try an underdoggy with the glider. The glider was much clunkier than a normal swing and much heavier. She convinced me, after some discussion, that it was going to be great fun. At this point of my life I had yet to recognize the importance of that grey- army green feeling that I sometimes get in the core of my body. I know now that it is a significant red flag that could be loosely interpreted as, “Run Away!, Run Away!” But I did not know this yet and even though I felt it at the time, I still got into the glider. Vicki positioned herself behind me and tried to gain enough speed and height from a stopped position and failed. Then, she decided to work up to the underdoggy by allowing the glider to pick up speed over several pushes. She gathered her resolve and tried again.

With all of her effort she managed to push the glider up and over her head. And then she stopped completely. Exhausted from the push and lift it never occurred to her that in the next moment the glider would reach its full height, return to the starting position and come right back at her full force with the weight of her little sister added to the weight of the metal frame.

I hit Vicki full force in the back of the head causing her to fall flat on her face. The glider was going too fast for me to get out right away and it went back and forth over her one more time before I could get out. Hearing my sister scream, my mom came running out of the house. There was a large V-shaped gash in the back of Vicki’s head that was gushing blood at an alarming rate. The next memory that I have was of being at the hospital. This was a familiar setting for me because my mother liked to be at the hospital so we were often there.

Vicki received several stitches. I don’t recall if she had to stay the night or what was said about the injury and I largely forgot about it until she was about 22 years of age. I don’t think that I’ll ever fully be able to forget that I knew in the pit of my stomach that I should not let Vicki do this. I did not know why or how I knew, but I know I knew. A majority of my memories, despite what I have recalled here, were not about accidents but were rather about walking to school, playing in the school yard, playing outside and having pets.

Keep Reading: Everything Changes

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

MBI Books & Resources

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Only the Edges are Sharp — Chapter 1 (Beginning of Book)

IMG_1129I’m sitting at my new MacBook Pro looking out the bay window of my office, which faces exactly east. I can see into my front yard, which is in terrible need of water. It has been a gorgeous July if you like to swim and sun bathe, which I do, but a terrible one if you are into water conservation. You would never know that there are any watering restrictions, or restrictions in the use of herbicides, for that matter, in my neighbourhood because it is the ultimate, multiracial, middle class neighbourhood on the edge of a university town, population 100,000.

Life is jubilant. I am in good health. Solvent. I have a lovely home, a great dog, four daughters, good friends and a steady job. I really did wake up in paradise, which raises the question, “How did I get here?”

My earliest memories are of a small A-frame house; the kind that were made by the thousands to accommodate the soldiers when they returned from WWII. It was built on a child friendly crescent. The road had too sharp of a bend for cars to drive quickly and they had no choice but to slow down. It encircled a small grass lawn which was common area for the children to play on, which we all did. The house was about thirty years old by the time that I remember it and the trees reflected that. I had several really large trees of my own in the back yard.

There was a row of tall, pointed trees on the property line. My father explained that this type of tree had been planted because they grow so tall so quickly. He remarked that no one considered how hard it would be to cut them down, in the small backyards, once they towered above all of the houses. My yard also boasted a mature maple with broad dark green leaves that my father built a tree fort in. He also built a sand box in the back corner of the yard. We were lucky that the grade in our yard had not been done properly. After a rain, or a melt in the winter, a puddle often formed in the middle of the yard. This meant for great body surfing fun in the summer and a maintenance free ice rink, of our very own, in the winter.

We also had an old metal swing set that had a slide going down one side and a glider in addition to two swings. The glider was like a small two sided porch swing designed so that you could enter from the side and sit across from someone. When the slider was pushed, you went first toward the person you were facing and then away from them.

This idyllic setting belies the fact that if examined by today’s standards, I was not cared for very well. My most prominent type of memory is one of being alone. I remember sitting in front of the television alone; climbing up on the kitchen counter to reach the food that was safely stored in the upper cupboards, alone; knowing that I would get in trouble if I woke my mother, alone.

I have memories of “swimming” in garbage cans that were kept in back of the house and had become full of water and maggots because they had been left without lids in the rain. I remember fights about milk going missing and cereal that was unaccounted for. There were great arguments between my parents. I was ever so afraid of doing something wrong, but I did not know why. I have vivid memories of stealing chocolate barrels that were filled with caramel and covered in a yellow gold foil. My mother bought these chocolates in a bulk mixture and they were intended for ‘guests’.

One evening my parents were getting ready to go out. The house had the characteristic feeling of anticipation. I could smell my mother’s perfume and my father’s aftershave. It was late and the sun was already down. There was light pouring out of the bathroom, where my father was, and the odd accent light on illuminating an otherwise dark house. The babysitter was expected and I knew that meant that there would be a 69 cent bag of potato chips purchased, which I’m guessing was a full pound of potato chips, but I don’t know for sure.

I was trying to answer a scientific question. My father used a hand held razor. By turning the handle, the top of the razor came apart in the centre and the two halves opened up from the middle leaving an opening for the blade. Inside there was a flat surface for the blade to lie against with a screw in the centre that held the head of the razor onto the handle. When the blade was dropped into its place the handle was turned in the opposite direction to close the housing on the blade. The blade itself was a rectangle with two long sharp sides that were the cutting blades and a keyhole shaped opening in the middle that kept the blade in place and made room for the screw head that was attached to the handle.

My question was a simple one. Was there something inherently sharp about the metal or were only the edges sharp? There was a very direct way to find this out. It was simple. All that I had to do was to take a razor blade and stick my finger into the hole in the centre to see if it was as sharp as the edges were. I knew that I was not supposed to touch the blades. There was no question that what I was doing was not permitted, so when my mother walked into the living room I thrust my hands under the pillow on the sofa. Unfortunately, when you are holding a razor blade in your hand, making a fist around it to hide what you are doing under a pillow is not such a great idea.

All I remember after that was that there was a great amount of blood and my mother being very upset. I don’t remember if they went out for the evening. I know that there were other evenings that they went out. An examination of my hands now does not reveal any permanent scaring so I couldn’t have hurt myself too badly.

By the way, only the long edges are sharp.

Keep Reading: Jumping to Conclusions

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Read the entire book, now available

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My Sister Vicki — Chapter 4 text

ImageMy sister, Vicki, always seemed to have bad luck. She was hit by a gliding swing when she was young that left a great gash on her head and she broke her front middle tooth in an accident a couple of years after that.

Vicki adored me. There is nothing quite as lovely as having someone in your life that thinks you are the cat’s ass. She was my personal cheering squad. She made sure that I knew that she loved me and that she thought that I was doing well. This made it even harder to watch her lose her mind.

After the incident on our shopping trip for bridesmaid’s dresses, she stabilized enough to manage in her life. She got a college diploma that secured her a job working with mentally and physically disabled individuals. She moved to the city where she took the diploma course and rented one bedroom of a two-bedroom apartment. The other bedroom was rented by a guy. I don’t know if she had known him before or if she had met him because he was renting out one of his rooms.

This guy was a normal type of guy. He seemed nice and non-distinctive. I only met him a couple of times. This arrangement worked well for my sister. She hated the fact that he would take her groceries instead of going out to get his own and there were other roommate squabbles but all in all, they had found a way to live in the same apartment together. I believe this arrangement lasted for a couple of years.

As some point, she was either fed up with him taking her groceries or a one-bedroom apartment became available in the same building and she moved out. He could not handle this. He drove his car at top speed across the parking lot at the fairgrounds and into a brick wall.

Needless to say, his death hit my sister fairly hard. She did not handle it well and went into a period where she needed to be hospitalized. I visited her in the hospital and it was hard to find the sister that I had known in the person  to whom I was talking. She assured me that she spoke to God and angels and that they were telling her all kinds of important things that she needed to share with people.

I acknowledged that she was being spoken to and I explained that others would not be so understanding and that she should probably keep those conversations to herself. Unfortunately, the messages were too important and she had to let people know. I heard a couple of these messages and I was never sure what she was trying to say or even what the message was.

At some point, a man moved into her apartment. He had a checkered past and had suffered an almost fatal knife wound to the chest at some point. This injury still created some problems for him physically, but all in all, he seemed to be good company for my sister. They lived together for about a year and then one night while they were watching “The Comish,” I believe, he died on the sofa.

Each time that Vicki got sick, she did not come back fully. At this point in my life, I was losing both my father and my sister in waves that would wash over them and leave a fraction of their former-selves behind.

Vicki was in and out of the hospital more and becoming more and more delusional. During one of my daughter’s birthday parties she showed up with a man that could easily be mistaken for someone that was homeless. It sounded as though the two of them were driving around together and had decided to visit. I got the impression that they had run out of money and knew that I would feed them.

Bob was furious. He conjured up a whole litany of stories about how people would react to seeing the two of them in our home while they were picking up their children. He thought that people would reasonably be scared for the safety of their children if they saw these people in our house. He was mad that he had not known in advance that they were coming and he made the entire visit very uncomfortable for me.

I cannot accurately remember what happened next. I knew that I was put into the impossible situation of having to choose between two people. I think that Vicki stayed for a while but she knew that she was unwelcome. Anyhow, it makes me really sad that I did not have her stay for a longer visit and if she were here, I would apologize.

Read the entire book.
Read the entire book.

www.wendypowell.ca

The Swing of Things — Chapter 1

IMG_0571I have moved back into my office. It is a Sunday morning and the Rose of Sharon in my yard has recently begun to bloom. The flowers out front are all associated with bushes or plants that need little or no care. I had stipulated this when I had the gardens done. I also said that I enjoyed flowers. As the summer passes each of the plants takes turn coming into bloom. There are several plants that bloom and all of the flowers are pink.

What I remember most about my first home was the great expanses of time that seemed to be structureless. There was a lot of space and there was a lot of free time and I have very few memories of adults being involved.

The backyard was a wonderful place with lots of room to move and play and climb. I also had a very best friend. She was born a few weeks after me, a few doors down from me. We used to sit together in my sand box and have intense conversations about what kindergarten would be like and the new clothes that her older sister had bought. Sometimes we would even have the company of some of the neighbour children.

Occasionally, we would go over to her house and play. I remember that her older sister and her sister’s friends could colour really well. The shading was so neat and professional, it made me wish that I could colour in the lines like they could. When I contemplate these memories it makes me wonder if my children ever felt this timeless feeling of doing very little. I have a few memories of television programs, mainly cartoons, but I have way more memories of just paying attention to whatever was in front of me be it toys, crayons or friends. It was a feeling of falling out of time. These memories do not seem to be bracketed with limitations. There was no thought about when dinner was or when a show was going to be on television or even when we needed to be ready to go somewhere. We stayed outside until we were called home by our parents or when the streetlights came on.

This was a common curfew for us and all of our friends. We could all stay out until the streetlights came on, or rather until it got dark. This is so different from my view of the lives of my own children. Not only did they seldom play outside, requiring me to call them to come home, but also they were certainly never told to be in when the lights came on. For most of the evenings of their lives they were already in the house, or out at some supervised activity like hockey or soccer. At home they would be either in their rooms, watching television or sitting on a computer, not out playing kick the can, tag, hide and seek or any of the other group games that we used to play with the neighbors.

Even at this early age I thought that it was disappointing that there were two school systems. There was a public system and a Catholic system that effectively meant that you only got to go to school with some of the kids in your neighborhood. It seemed wrong to me then, as it does now, that we are not working towards building a system that brings our children together but rather one that separates them early in life into ‘us versus them’. But, for the purposes of hide and seek, everyone played together.

A key feature of our neighbourhood was our swing set and one of the coveted experiences was the underdoggy. For those of you that were not children during this time, the underdoggy is the ultimate push for someone on a swing. Anyone, including parents and grandparents can stand behind a swing and give it a push and then repeat with the same enthusiasm as the swing approaches each time. This is fun and adequate for the person on the swing, but it can only go so far.

The underdoggy is only for the enthusiastic and the agile. My father first showed me the thrill of it in our backyard. Instead of simply standing behind the swing and pushing it when it comes to you, the underdoggy goes one step further. You run with the swing and keep your hands on it until you have lifted it above your head. Then, you continue to run forward as the swing progresses way up, further into the air than you could get with a regular push. This results in a spectacular swing of great height and speed.

My sister decided to try an underdoggy with the glider. The glider was much clunkier than a normal swing and much heavier. She convinced me, after some discussion, that it was going to be great fun. At this point of my life I had yet to recognize the importance of that grey- army green feeling that I sometimes get in the core of my body. I know now that it is a significant red flag that could be loosely interpreted as, “Run Away!, Run Away!” But I did not know this yet and even though I felt it at the time, I still got into the glider. Vicki positioned herself behind me and tried to gain enough speed and height from a stopped position and failed. Then, she decided to work up to the underdoggy by allowing the glider to pick up speed over several pushes. She gathered her resolve and tried again.

With all of her effort she managed to push the glider up and over her head. And then she stopped completely. Exhausted from the push and lift it never occurred to her that in the next moment the glider would reach its full height, return to the starting position and come right back at her full force with the weight of her little sister added to the weight of the metal frame.

I hit Vicki full force in the back of the head causing her to fall flat on her face. The glider was going too fast for me to get out right away and it went back and forth over her one more time before I could get out. Hearing my sister scream, my mom came running out of the house. There was a large V-shaped gash in the back of Vicki’s head that was gushing blood at an alarming rate. The next memory that I have was of being at the hospital. This was a familiar setting for me because my mother liked to be at the hospital so we were often there.

Vicki received several stitches. I don’t recall if she had to stay the night or what was said about the injury and I largely forgot about it until she was about 22 years of age. I don’t think that I’ll ever fully be able to forget that I knew in the pit of my stomach that I should not let Vicki do this. I did not know why or how I knew, but I know I knew. A majority of my memories, despite what I have recalled here, were not about accidents but were rather about walking to school, playing in the school yard, playing outside and having pets.

Keep Reading: Everything Changes

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

MBI Books & Resources

www.wendypowell.ca

Only the Edges are Sharp — Chapter 1 (Beginning of Book)

IMG_1129I’m sitting at my new MacBook Pro looking out the bay window of my office, which faces exactly east. I can see into my front yard, which is in terrible need of water. It has been a gorgeous July if you like to swim and sun bathe, which I do, but a terrible one if you are into water conservation. You would never know that there are any watering restrictions, or restrictions in the use of herbicides, for that matter, in my neighbourhood because it is the ultimate, multiracial, middle class neighbourhood on the edge of a university town, population 100,000.

Life is jubilant. I am in good health. Solvent. I have a lovely home, a great dog, four daughters, good friends and a steady job. I really did wake up in paradise, which raises the question, “How did I get here?”

My earliest memories are of a small A-frame house; the kind that were made by the thousands to accommodate the soldiers when they returned from WWII. It was built on a child friendly crescent. The road had too sharp of a bend for cars to drive quickly and they had no choice but to slow down. It encircled a small grass lawn which was common area for the children to play on, which we all did. The house was about thirty years old by the time that I remember it and the trees reflected that. I had several really large trees of my own in the back yard.

There was a row of tall, pointed trees on the property line. My father explained that this type of tree had been planted because they grow so tall so quickly. He remarked that no one considered how hard it would be to cut them down, in the small backyards, once they towered above all of the houses. My yard also boasted a mature maple with broad dark green leaves that my father built a tree fort in. He also built a sand box in the back corner of the yard. We were lucky that the grade in our yard had not been done properly. After a rain, or a melt in the winter, a puddle often formed in the middle of the yard. This meant for great body surfing fun in the summer and a maintenance free ice rink, of our very own, in the winter.

We also had an old metal swing set that had a slide going down one side and a glider in addition to two swings. The glider was like a small two sided porch swing designed so that you could enter from the side and sit across from someone. When the slider was pushed, you went first toward the person you were facing and then away from them.

This idyllic setting belies the fact that if examined by today’s standards, I was not cared for very well. My most prominent type of memory is one of being alone. I remember sitting in front of the television alone; climbing up on the kitchen counter to reach the food that was safely stored in the upper cupboards, alone; knowing that I would get in trouble if I woke my mother, alone.

I have memories of “swimming” in garbage cans that were kept in back of the house and had become full of water and maggots because they had been left without lids in the rain. I remember fights about milk going missing and cereal that was unaccounted for. There were great arguments between my parents. I was ever so afraid of doing something wrong, but I did not know why. I have vivid memories of stealing chocolate barrels that were filled with caramel and covered in a yellow gold foil. My mother bought these chocolates in a bulk mixture and they were intended for ‘guests’.

One evening my parents were getting ready to go out. The house had the characteristic feeling of anticipation. I could smell my mother’s perfume and my father’s aftershave. It was late and the sun was already down. There was light pouring out of the bathroom, where my father was, and the odd accent light on illuminating an otherwise dark house. The babysitter was expected and I knew that meant that there would be a 69 cent bag of potato chips purchased, which I’m guessing was a full pound of potato chips, but I don’t know for sure.

I was trying to answer a scientific question. My father used a hand held razor. By turning the handle, the top of the razor came apart in the centre and the two halves opened up from the middle leaving an opening for the blade. Inside there was a flat surface for the blade to lie against with a screw in the centre that held the head of the razor onto the handle. When the blade was dropped into its place the handle was turned in the opposite direction to close the housing on the blade. The blade itself was a rectangle with two long sharp sides that were the cutting blades and a keyhole shaped opening in the middle that kept the blade in place and made room for the screw head that was attached to the handle.

My question was a simple one. Was there something inherently sharp about the metal or were only the edges sharp? There was a very direct way to find this out. It was simple. All that I had to do was to take a razor blade and stick my finger into the hole in the centre to see if it was as sharp as the edges were. I knew that I was not supposed to touch the blades. There was no question that what I was doing was not permitted, so when my mother walked into the living room I thrust my hands under the pillow on the sofa. Unfortunately, when you are holding a razor blade in your hand, making a fist around it to hide what you are doing under a pillow is not such a great idea.

All I remember after that was that there was a great amount of blood and my mother being very upset. I don’t remember if they went out for the evening. I know that there were other evenings that they went out. An examination of my hands now does not reveal any permanent scaring so I couldn’t have hurt myself too badly.

By the way, only the long edges are sharp.

Keep Reading: Jumping to Conclusions

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

www.wendypowell.ca

My Sister Vicki — Chapter 4 text

My sister, Vicki, always seemed to have bad luck. She was hit by a gliding swing when she was young that left a great gash on her head and she broke her front middle tooth in an accident a couple of years after that.

Vicki adored me. There is nothing quite as lovely as having someone in your life that thinks you are the cat’s ass. She was my personal cheering squad. She made sure that I knew that she loved me and that she thought that I was doing well. This made it even harder to watch her lose her mind.

After the incident on our shopping trip for bridesmaid’s dresses, she stabilized enough to manage in her life. She got a college diploma that secured her a job working with mentally and physically disabled individuals. She moved to the city where she took the diploma course and rented one bedroom of a two-bedroom apartment. The other bedroom was rented by a guy. I don’t know if she had known him before or if she had met him because he was renting out one of his rooms.

This guy was a normal type of guy. He seemed nice and non-distinctive. I only met him a couple of times. This arrangement worked well for my sister. She hated the fact that he would take her groceries instead of going out to get his own and there were other roommate squabbles but all in all, they had found a way to live in the same apartment together. I believe this arrangement lasted for a couple of years.

As some point, she was either fed up with him taking her groceries or a one-bedroom apartment became available in the same building and she moved out. He could not handle this. He drove his car at top speed across the parking lot at the fairgrounds and into a brick wall.

Needless to say, his death hit my sister fairly hard. She did not handle it well and went into a period where she needed to be hospitalized. I visited her in the hospital and it was hard to find the sister that I had known in the person whom I was talking to. She assured me that she spoke to God and angels and that they were telling her all kinds of important things that she needed to share with people.

I acknowledged that she was being spoken to and I explained that others would not be so understanding and that she should probably keep those conversations to herself. Unfortunately, the messages were too important and she had to let people know. I heard a couple of these messages and I was never sure what she was trying to say or even what the message was.

At some point, a man moved into her apartment. He had a checkered past and had suffered an almost fatal knife wound to the chest at some point. This injury still created some problems for him physically, but all in all, he seemed to be good company for my sister. They lived together for about a year and then one night while they were watching “The Comish,” I believe, he died on the sofa.

Each time that Vicki got sick, she did not come back fully. At this point in my life, I was losing both my father and my sister in waves that would wash over them and leave a fraction of their former-selves behind.

Vicki was in and out of the hospital more and becoming more and more delusional. During one of my daughter’s birthday parties she showed up with a man that could easily be mistaken for someone that was homeless. It sounded as though the two of them were driving around together and had decided to visit. I got the impression that they had run out of money and knew that I would feed them.

Bob was furious. He conjured up a whole litany of stories about how people would react to seeing the two of them in our home while they were picking up their children. He thought that people would reasonably be scared for the safety of their children if they saw these people in our house. He was mad that he had not known in advance that they were coming and he made the entire visit very uncomfortable for me.

I cannot accurately remember what happened next. I knew that I was put into the impossible situation of having to choose between two people. I think that Vicki stayed for a while but she knew that she was unwelcome. Anyhow, it makes me really sad that I did not have her stay for a longer visit and if she were here, I would apologize.

Read the entire book.
Read the entire book.

www.wendypowell.ca

The Swing of Things — Chapter 1

IMG_0571I have moved back into my office. It is a Sunday morning and the Rose of Sharon in my yard has recently begun to bloom. The flowers out front are all associated with bushes or plants that need little or no care. I had stipulated this when I had the gardens done. I also said that I enjoyed flowers. As the summer passes each of the plants takes turn coming into bloom. There are several plants that bloom and all of the flowers are pink.

What I remember most about my first home was the great expanses of time that seemed to be structureless. There was a lot of space and there was a lot of free time and I have very few memories of adults being involved.

The backyard was a wonderful place with lots of room to move and play and climb. I also had a very best friend. She was born a few weeks after me, a few doors down from me. We used to sit together in my sand box and have intense conversations about what kindergarten would be like and the new clothes that her older sister had bought. Sometimes we would even have the company of some of the neighbour children.

Occasionally, we would go over to her house and play. I remember that her older sister and her sister’s friends could colour really well. The shading was so neat and professional, it made me wish that I could colour in the lines like they could. When I contemplate these memories it makes me wonder if my children ever felt this timeless feeling of doing very little. I have a few memories of television programs, mainly cartoons, but I have way more memories of just paying attention to whatever was in front of me be it toys, crayons or friends. It was a feeling of falling out of time. These memories do not seem to be bracketed with limitations. There was no thought about when dinner was or when a show was going to be on television or even when we needed to be ready to go somewhere. We stayed outside until we were called home by our parents or when the streetlights came on.

This was a common curfew for us and all of our friends. We could all stay out until the streetlights came on, or rather until it got dark. This is so different from my view of the lives of my own children. Not only did they seldom play outside, requiring me to call them to come home, but also they were certainly never told to be in when the lights came on. For most of the evenings of their lives they were already in the house, or out at some supervised activity like hockey or soccer. At home they would be either in their rooms, watching television or sitting on a computer, not out playing kick the can, tag, hide and seek or any of the other group games that we used to play with the neighbors.

Even at this early age I thought that it was disappointing that there were two school systems. There was a public system and a Catholic system that effectively meant that you only got to go to school with some of the kids in your neighborhood. It seemed wrong to me then, as it does now, that we are not working towards building a system that brings our children together but rather one that separates them early in life into ‘us versus them’. But, for the purposes of hide and seek, everyone played together.

A key feature of our neighbourhood was our swing set and one of the coveted experiences was the underdoggy. For those of you that were not children during this time, the underdoggy is the ultimate push for someone on a swing. Anyone, including parents and grandparents can stand behind a swing and give it a push and then repeat with the same enthusiasm as the swing approaches each time. This is fun and adequate for the person on the swing, but it can only go so far.

The underdoggy is only for the enthusiastic and the agile. My father first showed me the thrill of it in our backyard. Instead of simply standing behind the swing and pushing it when it comes to you, the underdoggy goes one step further. You run with the swing and keep your hands on it until you have lifted it above your head. Then, you continue to run forward as the swing progresses way up, further into the air than you could get with a regular push. This results in a spectacular swing of great height and speed.

My sister decided to try an underdoggy with the glider. The glider was much clunkier than a normal swing and much heavier. She convinced me, after some discussion, that it was going to be great fun. At this point of my life I had yet to recognize the importance of that grey- army green feeling that I sometimes get in the core of my body. I know now that it is a significant red flag that could be loosely interpreted as, “Run Away!, Run Away!” But I did not know this yet and even though I felt it at the time, I still got into the glider. Vicki positioned herself behind me and tried to gain enough speed and height from a stopped position and failed. Then, she decided to work up to the underdoggy by allowing the glider to pick up speed over several pushes. She gathered her resolve and tried again.

With all of her effort she managed to push the glider up and over her head. And then she stopped completely. Exhausted from the push and lift it never occurred to her that in the next moment the glider would reach its full height, return to the starting position and come right back at her full force with the weight of her little sister added to the weight of the metal frame.

I hit Vicki full force in the back of the head causing her to fall flat on her face. The glider was going too fast for me to get out right away and it went back and forth over her one more time before I could get out. Hearing my sister scream, my mom came running out of the house. There was a large V-shaped gash in the back of Vicki’s head that was gushing blood at an alarming rate. The next memory that I have was of being at the hospital. This was a familiar setting for me because my mother liked to be at the hospital so we were often there.

Vicki received several stitches. I don’t recall if she had to stay the night or what was said about the injury and I largely forgot about it until she was about 22 years of age. I don’t think that I’ll ever fully be able to forget that I knew in the pit of my stomach that I should not let Vicki do this. I did not know why or how I knew, but I know I knew. A majority of my memories, despite what I have recalled here, were not about accidents but were rather about walking to school, playing in the school yard, playing outside and having pets.

Keep Reading: Everything Changes

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Read the entire book, now available

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The Swing of Things — Chapter 1

IMG_0571I have moved back into my office. It is a Sunday morning and the Rose of Sharon in my yard has recently begun to bloom. The flowers out front are all associated with bushes or plants that need little or no care. I had stipulated this when I had the gardens done. I also said that I enjoyed flowers. As the summer passes each of the plants takes turn coming into bloom. There are several plants that bloom and all of the flowers are pink.

What I remember most about my first home was the great expanses of time that seemed to be structureless. There was a lot of space and there was a lot of free time and I have very few memories of adults being involved.

The backyard was a wonderful place with lots of room to move and play and climb. I also had a very best friend. She was born a few weeks after me, a few doors down from me. We used to sit together in my sand box and have intense conversations about what kindergarten would be like and the new clothes that her older sister had bought. Sometimes we would even have the company of some of the neighbour children.

Occasionally, we would go over to her house and play. I remember that her older sister and her sister’s friends could colour really well. The shading was so neat and professional, it made me wish that I could colour in the lines like they could. When I contemplate these memories it makes me wonder if my children ever felt this timeless feeling of doing very little. I have a few memories of television programs, mainly cartoons, but I have way more memories of just paying attention to whatever was in front of me be it toys, crayons or friends. It was a feeling of falling out of time. These memories do not seem to be bracketed with limitations. There was no thought about when dinner was or when a show was going to be on television or even when we needed to be ready to go somewhere. We stayed outside until we were called home by our parents or when the streetlights came on.

This was a common curfew for us and all of our friends. We could all stay out until the streetlights came on, or rather until it got dark. This is so different from my view of the lives of my own children. Not only did they seldom play outside, requiring me to call them to come home, but also they were certainly never told to be in when the lights came on. For most of the evenings of their lives they were already in the house, or out at some supervised activity like hockey or soccer. At home they would be either in their rooms, watching television or sitting on a computer, not out playing kick the can, tag, hide and seek or any of the other group games that we used to play with the neighbors.

Even at this early age I thought that it was disappointing that there were two school systems. There was a public system and a Catholic system that effectively meant that you only got to go to school with some of the kids in your neighborhood. It seemed wrong to me then, as it does now, that we are not working towards building a system that brings our children together but rather one that separates them early in life into ‘us versus them’. But, for the purposes of hide and seek, everyone played together.

A key feature of our neighbourhood was our swing set and one of the coveted experiences was the underdoggy. For those of you that were not children during this time, the underdoggy is the ultimate push for someone on a swing. Anyone, including parents and grandparents can stand behind a swing and give it a push and then repeat with the same enthusiasm as the swing approaches each time. This is fun and adequate for the person on the swing, but it can only go so far.

The underdoggy is only for the enthusiastic and the agile. My father first showed me the thrill of it in our backyard. Instead of simply standing behind the swing and pushing it when it comes to you, the underdoggy goes one step further. You run with the swing and keep your hands on it until you have lifted it above your head. Then, you continue to run forward as the swing progresses way up, further into the air than you could get with a regular push. This results in a spectacular swing of great height and speed.

My sister decided to try an underdoggy with the glider. The glider was much clunkier than a normal swing and much heavier. She convinced me, after some discussion, that it was going to be great fun. At this point of my life I had yet to recognize the importance of that grey- army green feeling that I sometimes get in the core of my body. I know now that it is a significant red flag that could be loosely interpreted as, “Run Away!, Run Away!” But I did not know this yet and even though I felt it at the time, I still got into the glider. Vicki positioned herself behind me and tried to gain enough speed and height from a stopped position and failed. Then, she decided to work up to the underdoggy by allowing the glider to pick up speed over several pushes. She gathered her resolve and tried again.

With all of her effort she managed to push the glider up and over her head. And then she stopped completely. Exhausted from the push and lift it never occurred to her that in the next moment the glider would reach its full height, return to the starting position and come right back at her full force with the weight of her little sister added to the weight of the metal frame.

I hit Vicki full force in the back of the head causing her to fall flat on her face. The glider was going too fast for me to get out right away and it went back and forth over her one more time before I could get out. Hearing my sister scream, my mom came running out of the house. There was a large V-shaped gash in the back of Vicki’s head that was gushing blood at an alarming rate. The next memory that I have was of being at the hospital. This was a familiar setting for me because my mother liked to be at the hospital so we were often there.

Vicki received several stitches. I don’t recall if she had to stay the night or what was said about the injury and I largely forgot about it until she was about 22 years of age. I don’t think that I’ll ever fully be able to forget that I knew in the pit of my stomach that I should not let Vicki do this. I did not know why or how I knew, but I know I knew. A majority of my memories, despite what I have recalled here, were not about accidents but were rather about walking to school, playing in the school yard, playing outside and having pets.

Keep Reading: Everything Changes

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Read the entire book, now available

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Only the Edges are Sharp — Chapter 1 (Beginning of Book)

IMG_1129I’m sitting at my new MacBook Pro looking out the bay window of my office, which faces exactly east. I can see into my front yard, which is in terrible need of water. It has been a gorgeous July if you like to swim and sun bathe, which I do, but a terrible one if you are into water conservation. You would never know that there are any watering restrictions, or restrictions in the use of herbicides, for that matter, in my neighbourhood because it is the ultimate, multiracial, middle class neighbourhood on the edge of a university town, population 100,000.

Life is jubilant. I am in good health. Solvent. I have a lovely home, a great dog, four daughters, good friends and a steady job. I really did wake up in paradise, which raises the question, “How did I get here?”

My earliest memories are of a small A-frame house; the kind that were made by the thousands to accommodate the soldiers when they returned from WWII. It was built on a child friendly crescent. The road had too sharp of a bend for cars to drive quickly and they had no choice but to slow down. It encircled a small grass lawn which was common area for the children to play on, which we all did. The house was about thirty years old by the time that I remember it and the trees reflected that. I had several really large trees of my own in the back yard.

There was a row of tall, pointed trees on the property line. My father explained that this type of tree had been planted because they grow so tall so quickly. He remarked that no one considered how hard it would be to cut them down, in the small backyards, once they towered above all of the houses. My yard also boasted a mature maple with broad dark green leaves that my father built a tree fort in. He also built a sand box in the back corner of the yard. We were lucky that the grade in our yard had not been done properly. After a rain, or a melt in the winter, a puddle often formed in the middle of the yard. This meant for great body surfing fun in the summer and a maintenance free ice rink, of our very own, in the winter.

We also had an old metal swing set that had a slide going down one side and a glider in addition to two swings. The glider was like a small two sided porch swing designed so that you could enter from the side and sit across from someone. When the slider was pushed, you went first toward the person you were facing and then away from them.

This idyllic setting belies the fact that if examined by today’s standards, I was not cared for very well. My most prominent type of memory is one of being alone. I remember sitting in front of the television alone; climbing up on the kitchen counter to reach the food that was safely stored in the upper cupboards, alone; knowing that I would get in trouble if I woke my mother, alone.

I have memories of “swimming” in garbage cans that were kept in back of the house and had become full of water and maggots because they had been left without lids in the rain. I remember fights about milk going missing and cereal that was unaccounted for. There were great arguments between my parents. I was ever so afraid of doing something wrong, but I did not know why. I have vivid memories of stealing chocolate barrels that were filled with caramel and covered in a yellow gold foil. My mother bought these chocolates in a bulk mixture and they were intended for ‘guests’.

One evening my parents were getting ready to go out. The house had the characteristic feeling of anticipation. I could smell my mother’s perfume and my father’s aftershave. It was late and the sun was already down. There was light pouring out of the bathroom, where my father was, and the odd accent light on illuminating an otherwise dark house. The babysitter was expected and I knew that meant that there would be a 69 cent bag of potato chips purchased, which I’m guessing was a full pound of potato chips, but I don’t know for sure.

I was trying to answer a scientific question. My father used a hand held razor. By turning the handle, the top of the razor came apart in the centre and the two halves opened up from the middle leaving an opening for the blade. Inside there was a flat surface for the blade to lie against with a screw in the centre that held the head of the razor onto the handle. When the blade was dropped into its place the handle was turned in the opposite direction to close the housing on the blade. The blade itself was a rectangle with two long sharp sides that were the cutting blades and a keyhole shaped opening in the middle that kept the blade in place and made room for the screw head that was attached to the handle.

My question was a simple one. Was there something inherently sharp about the metal or were only the edges sharp? There was a very direct way to find this out. It was simple. All that I had to do was to take a razor blade and stick my finger into the hole in the centre to see if it was as sharp as the edges were. I knew that I was not supposed to touch the blades. There was no question that what I was doing was not permitted, so when my mother walked into the living room I thrust my hands under the pillow on the sofa. Unfortunately, when you are holding a razor blade in your hand, making a fist around it to hide what you are doing under a pillow is not such a great idea.

All I remember after that was that there was a great amount of blood and my mother being very upset. I don’t remember if they went out for the evening. I know that there were other evenings that they went out. An examination of my hands now does not reveal any permanent scaring so I couldn’t have hurt myself too badly.

By the way, only the long edges are sharp.

Keep Reading: Jumping to Conclusions

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Read the entire book, now available

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