This week's Hummingbird Award goes to Kathleen (not her real name, of course). Kathleen is an exceptional mother--which of course is not why she is getting the award, but bear with me because I want to tell you about what an exceptional mother she is because it is my segue into the story about the tsetse flies.
Kathleen has two kids. The oldest, Esmerelda (not her real name, of course) is this brilliantly smart teenager who plays piano like you wouldn't believe. Sometimes she comes over for parties and Allyson (n.h.r.n, o.c.) and I convince her to play so that we can sing, and she is amazing. She never yells at us once, even though we are constantly issuing instructions with no awareness that playing piano is even slightly hard. We will hand her the original score to the Phantom, or Les Mis or something, and then demand that she play all the parts sight-reading. if she slows down at all we yell that she is wrecking our groove. Or we say helpful things like "go faster", and "can't you tap out the drum part with your feet?" or "I want you to transpose this part down three quarters of a tone as you're playing it."
This kind of diva behaviour is acceptable in Allyson, who has a voice like an angel floating on a sea of diamonds. Myself, I have a voice like a seagull choking on a handful of diamonds. But Esmerelda is all about the poise. (How could you not be, with a fake name like Esmerelda? I originally chose "Vannah" as her fake name because it rhymes with her real name and I wanted her to be able to recognize herself in the blog. You know, so she would know which of the mistreated pianists I am referring to).
Kathleen has a second kid, who is not named Aaron. I picked Aaron because nothing rhymes with this kid's real name. Who names their kids something you can't rhyme anything with? Mothers with forethought skills, that's who. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Aaron is also a really neat kid. He does trapeze with us. Well, that's an exaggeration. One time he came to trapeze class. ("Class" is also a very big exaggeration, on so many levels. We go to gymnastics drop in with a trapeze that I made out of scrap wood and duct tape. Allyson and Lizzie get on the trapeze and I hold up youtube videos on my ipad and yell things like "go faster" and "do the trick more like in the video". Oh, I am like Yoda).
So anyways, Aaron came once to trapeze class and got freaked out because I told the joke about Lucky the Chicken and Aaron was raised better than that. Now he's a teenager, though, so it doesn't matter how he was raised, and so he came to the party we had a week or two ago when MF#2 was in town. (Lest you worry about us throwing wild bashes at our house, I must correct your perception. We do not have wild parties. We play board games, talk about politics, and eat lamb curry. Sometimes, when we get really wild, we yell instructions and teenagers while they play piano. One time, things got a little wild when Cam and Allyson (ten and twelve years old at the time) got into a fight about the details of the Allegory of the Empty Cage. Note, that is not the Allegory's real name, of course).
So, we all got to talking politics, and Aaron knows all kinds of amazing stuff. Man, both of those kids are brilliant. Historically, I have not cared much for knowing stuff--you can look at my school transcripts if you do no believe me. But with all the ministry school, I am realizing that I need a better basic working knowledge of the world. I don't want to be discrediting my profession by running around uttering idiotic things like "There were two world wars?" or "Isn't an Integral defined as the area under the curve?". Oh, I still remember the time when David was fifteen and I embarrassed him by saying that Integral thing in front of all his friends from school.
So I was commenting on Aaron amazing knowledge of politics (he is reading a book on pivotal figures in Canadian History. He says it is called Bozo's and Boneheads) and as I was saying all these nice things about him, he said "Oh, whatever. You need to learn the difference between people who know things and people who are using tricks to look like they know things."
So, I am passing on these tricks on to my loyal readership. I figure, this blog can be more than just nesting tips for the Hummingbirdbrained. It can also feature tips and tricks of appearing well read and snooty. In case any of you could use a spruce up in that department. And, since the only thing I know about your reading habits is that they include this blog, I am guessing you may not exactly be a Harvard graduate.
Tip #1: Guess stuff that sounds really smart, and then back off of it if it turns out someone in the room knows more than you do. Aaron says "See, when you said that statistic before, and everyone made that 'what the heck' noise because you were clearly wrong, you have to act like you were exaggerating. You say 'well, of course I didn't mean literally…' and then you go from there." I get it. People will believe that I exaggerated, trust me. I am very talented with the hyperbole.
Tip #2: Direct the conversation. Pick a topic you know something about, and steer the conversation back to that all the time. I did try this tip, but it turns out that it works better if you know about a larger range of topics than trapeze and the local zoning laws as they pertain to building Tumbleweed Tiny Houses.
Tip #3: Pivot. Apparently, if you don't know something, you can change the subject. Like, hypothetically, if you didn't know who the most recent prime minister of Canada was--the one before Harper, since Harper is not so much a prime minister of Canada as governor of the 51st State--then you can change the subject back to something you do know about. Again, it helps if you know about more topics than trapeze and zoning laws, but you can fudge this. For example, I tried yelling "Gary voted for Harper!" in the middle of the dinner party, and it was very effective. (Gary has never voted for Harper, by the way. See Tip #1).
Anyway, greatest kids ever--but I'm not making the case that this is cause for an award since I don't believe that people should live through their kids' achievements. Of course, if my kids were oozing sophistication at cocktail parties--or even reliably wearing pants--I might feel differently. (I am referring to the younger kids, here. David, please do not shut down the internet on me for making that joke--I wasn't referring to you).
I don't tell you about her incredible parenting because it is cause for a Hummingbird Award. No, you can't get this award merely for raising two perfect kids while simultaneously having a fabulous career and keeping a perfect house. (The perfect house almost disqualifies you, actually). You can't get the award for volunteering at every good cause from school to church to that time I got everyone to dress up as fairies and trolls and run a several hundred person quest through Kathleen's yard. You don't get the Hummingbird Award for hand painting art for your families' walls, having solar panels on your house, or for having a pesticide free yard with a sign and everything. (I have a pesticide free yard too, but no sign--I am worried that it would function as a warning to people considering going pesticide free). I just tell you these things so that you will understand the magnitude of her true achievement.
This one mothers' day, (oh look, Mothers' day theme!) we did a church service on motherhood, and we were all talking about the real ups and downs, and during response time, Kathleen told this story about when Esmerelda was three. Esmerelda had been an absolute terror all day and Kathleen was under a deadline to get Esmerelda and new baby Aaron out of the house for some appointment. After explaining the rush using I messages and all that good stuff, Kathleen started trying to put on Esmerelda's coat and the little twerp grabbed it and chucked it down the stairs. And in that moment, clear as day, Kathleen saw the tempting vision of chucking Esmerelda herself down the stairs. Apparently, the urge was overwhelming.
Of course Kathleen would never do anything like shove a kid down the stairs or even leave the labels on the tin cans when flattening them for the recycling pickup. But she thought it really loud in her head. And then she told the story in church. And I have to tell you, as a mom of a three year old at the time, how encouraging that story was. Because Kathleen's family is great. Not in the oppressive weird perfect kind of way-they're just great. And the only thing more inspiring than a role model is a role models who has experienced the overpowering urge to throw her three year old down the stairs.
I still remember the time when I was going crazy three months of horribly painful nursing with my first baby, and my friend the midwife came by and said "You're doing everything right. Sometimes it's just really hard. Hang in there."
Sometimes, we find inspiration in the good stories--the expression on the face of a kid who just learns to ride a bike, or that happy afternoon spent picking lilacs. Sometimes, there is inspiration in the quiet evening around the fire playing board games. And sometimes there is inspiration in the story of the Very Worst Day, or the words "You're doing fine. Sometimes it's just really hard. Hang in there."
Because someday, the three year old who is shrieking like a maniac will grow up to be a poised, polite, talented young lady. And then you will bring her to a friend's house to a party, and they will shriek at her like a tribe of crazed banshees while she tries to play piano.
"We couldn't agree on which song to do next. Play these two together--one with each hand. We want to see who can sing loudest."
(BTW, Allyson can sing loudest. Hands down. Her voice is beautiful like an angel on a sea of diamonds, but also loud like nuclear war).
Happy Mothers' Day!
Editorial note: I did ask Kathleen prior to publishing this post. She said yes. And she told me it's segue (from the italian), not sedgway. And tsetse fly, not tsi tsi fly.