October 18, 2012

Uncharted Territory on Duncan Avenue

Last night, as sleep eluded me, partly due to my husband also tossing and turning beside me (we've ordered a new bed), and partly due to the strong cup of tea I had enjoyed late in the afternoon, I remembered a lullaby I had written long ago for my children, and I believe, for myself. A mother of three under five years old at the time, I had rare bursts of creativity in between the long, sleepless nights with an often sick baby and trips to the Tot Stop where mothers with young children went in search of company and sanity.

We were renting a lovely old house on the leafy end of Duncan Avenue in Courtenay on Vancouver Island. The house, added onto over the years, had a strange layout typical of houses of its age, with bedrooms right off the long and somewhat dark living room and the main bathroom off the tiny kitchen, but what it lacked in spacial sense, it made up for in character and homeliness. The wood stove gave lovely, warming heat, and was surrounded by an iron grate to keep it safe from little hands. It was an elegant looking house from the outside, with a peaked roof, and wraparound veranda, cedar shingles and teal blue trim. The yard was perfect for our children with a paved area for hockey and tricycles, a sandbox, and a swing hanging from the large tree near the end of the grassy plot - we even tried our inexperienced hand at growing vegetables.  My husband worked from his home office upstairs, so most mornings I took the children out to give him some peace and quiet. The house was a few short blocks from the main street, which was full of interesting shops to explore on rainy days, all with a 'family friendly' policy - a basket of toys in the corner for the children of shopping parents. No shop was more popular with my kids than Whale's Tale Toys. A large Brio train set was set up in the front of the shop, and children were encouraged to play to their heart's content. We purchased many, many fine birthday presents at Whale's Tale: Lego, Playmobil, sand toys, marble tracks, trains, dinosaur figurines, games, puzzles...

On fine days, we risked the narrow sidewalk and bridge which led to the park with our stroller packed with baby Emma, snacks and essentials. The boys held on to the stroller, one on each side - most of the time. With relief, we entered the large park by the Puntledge river, and the children spilled out from under me, running for the climbing apparatus. On one of these days, I met my friend Barbara, who also had two small boys with a girl soon to follow. We had a great deal in common, and are still friends to this day, I'm happy to say. When it was time for lunch, we packed up our gear and braved the narrow trek home. I still remember how nerve-wracking it was to keep the kids close to me while the traffic whizzed by, cars occasionally honking at us for our audacity in walking by a busy road. I could have driven to the park, and sometimes did, but I have always had a rebellious attitude toward driving a distance easily reached on foot in fresh air. Besides, I needed the exercise. The sidewalks widened once we made a right turn onto Anderton Avenue, and then the boys could let go of their hold on the stroller and skip on ahead a bit. Home again, with Daddy down from his office for lunch, we reported our adventures to him. Afternoons were for quiet time and playing in the garden or with toys inside.

Twice a week I went for a long power walk with a walking group. Sharing parenting stories and tips and talking about our husbands and their work, our work and the challenges of potty-training, and the excitement of our children's 'firsts', we fought the battle of the thickening matronly waistline while we circumnavigated the neighbourhoods of our little world. We took a much needed break from chores, small tugging hands and the urgent high pitched calls of  'mo-o-o-o-m!' We walked by the river, mostly, but sometimes we drove over to Comox and walked down the Dogwood tree-lined hills to the ocean. Often we ended our walks with a visit to a cafe where I usually ordered a newly discovered favourite, steamed milk with a shot of vanilla syrup. My husband was on a Comox soccer team at the time and had many days and evenings out, so I took my turn too.

Still, amid these happy times on Duncan Avenue were interspersed some long spells I like to call 'The Black Hole'. Driven to tears by lack of sleep and a Houdini of a baby in the grocery store, by living far from family, and from riding the waves of a fairly new marriage to an energetic Type A personality husband who I am sure was sometimes baffled, albeit lovingly, by the fits and starts of his elated, exhausted, disorganized partner in life, I spent days on end in mere survival mode. I believe it was when coming out of one of these Black Holes that I wrote the aforementioned lullaby. For years, my children requested this imperfect poem set to music, among many other night-time songs which embedded themselves in the fabric of their beings.

One day, perhaps, these songs will be brought to light again with their own children, just as the songs my parents sang to us were carried down through the years, at first silently hidden and then emerging shining like gems once again with our own voices, exuding warmth, comfort and safety to both the hearer and the singer, lulling them to sleep after a long day of work and play.

Spirit of slumber, come down to me,
Settle my restless mind
Still my body, let my thoughts roll away like a parting sea

Sail on through, sail on through
Ship of slumber
Deliver me to
That uncharted territory,

The photo above is one I took of the house and garden on Duncan Avenue, shortly after we moved in. The three foot evidence of the moving-day snowstorm had obviously melted by the time I took the picture.

Happy Weekend everyone, and sweet dreams!


  1. Replies
    1. I'd a think on this over night. Do you mind me asking a few Q's. But let me set the stage a bit first.
      Men, well this one anyway, tend to be a bit OCD and autistic. Our hormones incline us that way. Pattens and plans are our friends for they keep us away from too much mental confusion. We tend to become more a rock the rougher the sea. This is achieved by a focus on the narrower and narrower ever narrowing. Then we meet and breed with a woman and in our mind they move from outside other to become a part of our mental core. A bit like when you expect us to know what you are thinking, we've moved you to where we don't need to think on you anymore that we would an arm. But then you go haywire, we look at our arm in total confusion, try to understand and fix in our clumsy way.
      OK to the Q's then. How much was due to the exhaustion of three kids under five, managing a home and being a helpmate to your man. And how much was hormonal in that you had an otherwise very healthy female body demanding with ever increasing insistence that you put it to use and get growing babies.
      You see I think you women don't do each other any favours by not discussing this. Especially when a mother has had a form of 'depression' and doesn't tell her daughters that it's very likely they will be similar.
      Well, for what it's worth, I think a good percentage has to do with diet. Of course that doesn't help matters if you are experiencing depression at the moment.

    2. But we women need that rock, and biology is there for a reason, I should think. I don't think we can overemphasize the role exhaustion plays in our ability to function. I know that a good night's sleep(and now) made a world of difference to every bit of the life I lived back then. Those 'black holes' I spoke of were, perhaps, hyperbole for what they really were...extended periods of learning my limits as a mother, wife and woman. I was young, had never known what it was like to be pushed so far to the edge of what I could handle. There had always been an 'out' for me until then. I have always been a person who needs to sleep. Naps were an imperative.
      And from a distance, a mother can only help her daughters to a certain degree. My mother was very open about her own experience as a young mother, and yes, that certainly helped me to assess my own situation properly...however, every family has its own dynamic to deal with. My parents had the attitude that I was a grown up now with a husband and I had better figure things out for myself, relying on the good tools and inner resources I had been given growing up. I'm a fairly optimistic person, except when badly in need of a good sleep, and I'm here, still happily married (more so) and fairly organized, too, so all those tough times did make me a stronger person.
      As for diet, I had to stop drinking coffee completely when my kids were little. The caffeine made me agitated and likely to react badly to situations. Green tea was much better. I probably ate too many simple carbs at the time...I know I did.
      Cheers, Vince. I hope I have answered your Q's. There's always the Irish to read between in your writing :)

  2. It's a beautiful lullaby. Much better than rock-a-bye baby...happier ending.

    1. Jen! Good to hear from you..and Vince...like old times :) And thanks.

  3. Such a sweet story of your past. And the lullaby is perfect, even for a grown up. I tend to not be able to quiet my mind at bedtime. It happened last night...ugh!

    1. I can only sleep if I've read first to concentrate my mind on something besides, well, everything else!
      Great to hear from you :)

  4. Rebecca, once again you strike a chord with me :) Courtenay is home for me and I can see the house on Duncan avenue and walk carefully on the road to Puntledge Park where I played many a fastball game. I too lived there with wee ones but didn't experience the lack of sleep or the absence of family. I certainly did experience though the tumultuous times that come with finding ones way through marriage, extended family, children and a need to have a bit of time to oneself. My walks to the ocean in Comox started when I was 14 and to this day the Spit is the place I go to in my soul when I need to breathe deeply. It is also the place we hope to retired to. Such lucky children to have a mom who writes lullabys and shares her stories with them!
    Thanks Rebecca!

    1. Thank you Roxanne :) I thought maybe you meant to retire back there...you always spoke of it so wistfully to us.

  5. what a cool little lullaby....ha...funny thinking on the creativity that comes from teh sleep deprivation of having children...smiles...sounds like some nice walks along the way as well...having kids is a treasure for sure..

  6. Love the photo. That house has personality.

    Boy, how I could relate to this post - from the days when my kids were also little and all-time consuming. Wasn't that just a year ago or so??

    The lullaby is beautiful. Full-time moms often get stereotyped as being unable to do anything else. You squash that SO faulty notion!

    1. Why thank you, Abby! I do like to see myself as squashing faulty notions now and again.


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