Monday, March 14, 2011

The Thing With Wings

One of my sisters says: It's all about managing your expectations.

So, what did I expect?

I expected that after a solid month of car accident, multiple violent stomach flu episodes, dog bites, new jobs and more, it would not be too much to ask that we could enjoy a nice weekend away with our kids on the March Break.

A friend who had heard about our calamities laughed. I bet you kind of want to stay inside and hope a tree doesn't fall on your house, she said.

I kind of did. But hope being the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all (thanks ED), I booked a hotel room and made tentative plans.

And then.

Then, my sister's family needed our help in Toronto and so we spent the first afternoon and evening of our getaway looking after her small people. And then, my daughter woke up feeling more than slightly queasy the next morning, and sagged when we even tried to take a walk to the harbour.

Gentle Reader, I could not hear the thing with wings for quite a while.

I sat in the hotel lobby late last night, with my husband, because our daughter had insisted on sleeping in our hotel room and our big plans for booking two whole hotel rooms for our family - one for the parents only - had been squashed. We watched a couple get evicted from the hotel by security - she pulling her shirt up to flash a black bra in defiant, drunken protest - and realized it could be worse.

I also realized that it had not been what I hoped it would be, this March Break getaway, but it had not been a horror. I've been terribly lucky in so many ways for so much of my life. So much so that my hope muscles were stiff with disuse.

I started with gratitude - that we had not gone farther away; that we never had our sleep interrupted; that our hotel was directly across the road from our favourite Toronto restaurant (and we went, leaving the just-old-enough sickish child on her own with a television remote and a cell phone); that we could walk to the market and the lakeshore; that we could watch molten glass being blown and pulled and hammered and shaped; that we could skate on a broad and tended outdoor surface, that we saw a woman who dwarfed me, a man dressed like Batman, a dog the size of a pony; that there was no snow in Toronto; that we had a wonderful time with our nieces and nephew; that we could help; that we could visit our newest nephew and hold him; that there was a Starbucks within walking distance and my favourite linens store had a 50% off everything sale; that the sun on my face was warm; that I found a breathtaking basket for my bike; that we all loved each other; that there was no earthquake, no tsunami, no lifelong health struggles.

To be honest, that didn't quite do it.

We were more or less grounded by my daughter's illness and so we took turns with the boys, walking along the harbourfront and the city streets. Everywhere we went, our son Matt brought one of three cameras. Between Saturday and Monday, he shot close to a thousand images.

As we returned home today, I was weary and not as revived by the break as I had hoped to be. My daughter was still feeling unwell and I was starting to be concerned. She joined us for our simple supper, and managed to eat for the first time in days. As we finished the meal, Matt downloaded his photos into a slide show on the nearby computer and we sat and watched his impressions.

He may be a sporty teenager, but he's also an artist who loves line and shape and texture. He experiments with shutter speed and light. He has an incredible eye.

He also loves little details that most of us would miss. A fraying rope on a ship, tied up for the winter. A happy dog with a tennis ball in his mouth. An old brick building framed on either side by glittering skyscrapers. Dappled light and rippling water.

And pigeons. Oh, good glory, the boy was inspired.

Walking pigeons, soft-shoe pigeons, fearless pigeons. Pigeons and seagulls. Seagulls in flight. Swans against the black velvet harbour at night. Harlequin-like long-tailed ducks, turning to show their plumage. Pigeons with dancing children and silly adults.

It wasn't the trip we had hoped for. I'm not even sure that it was the holiday we needed. What I know is that as I watched the trip through the eyes of the boy who had walked alongside me, my heart took flight and, without words, I knew the tune of hope.

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