Mother's Day in Ottawa

Mother's Day this year was a glorious spring day, a beautiful reprieve from a very busy month with our homeschool co-op drama production. To celebrate the day and to celebrate spring the five of us took a little roadtrip to the Ottawa Tulip Festival.

The last time we visited Ottawa was fifteen years ago. We drove up from Maine to meet my parents who had flown in from Alberta to run the Ottawa Marathon. The seven of us, including our three young children, stayed in a family room at one of Ottawa's hostels.

It was May then also, we celebrated Celine's fourth birthday that weekend.

four year old Celine, baby Brienne in her pjs

Although our family's first visit to Ottawa was with my parents, Ottawa has a lot of significance for Damien's side of the family. His mom lived in Ottawa during her teen years, graduated from high school and attended Teachers College there. Mom and Dad Tougas were married in Ottawa and studied for another year before going up north to teach on native reservations. They returned to Ottawa six years later for Damien's birth and for Dad to complete his teaching degree at Carleton University.

After all these years of living in the east, I still find the eastern roots to our family story unexpected and comforting. It reminds me I haven't landed in such a foreign place after all. We come from here.

A lot has changed since that first family trip to Ottawa (which the kids don't remember). We now live just a couple hours away from the nation's capital and my parents of course have moved to Canada's ocean playground, Nova Scotia.

The way life changes through the years, where we land and live, makes me wonder about our children's future locations. Will they live close to their respective birthplaces in Alberta, New Jersey, and Maine? Will they move the family back west? Will they root in the east, land of their upbringing?

It's impossible to know the twists and turns that a life will take, the potential routes of family and individual migrations. It's what makes life both interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking.

I loved Mother's Day because the five of us were all together exploring a new place.

Celine 19, Brienne 15

This is something we do as a family, part of who we are. We like to hit the road, or hit the woods, to go places and see what there is to see. What's the view from this mountain? What can we discover in a new city?

We spent all afternoon and early evening walking around Ottawa. Commissioners Park to Lansdowne Park, up Bank St. through Downtown to Parliament Hill and back the way we came. It took all afternoon because of the time spent photographing the tulips and then shopping in The Glebe district. We like putzing around thriving commercial districts, on foot, popping into the unique stores, sometimes buying, mostly looking.

It was pure delight for me to be with my kids exploring Ottawa for the day and to have them as delighted with the beautiful tulips as I was, just as eager to photograph the blossoms on their iphones as I was on my camera.

(I had a happy homeschool moment also when Laurent spotted The Famous Five statue of five Canadian women who were significant in the political efforts to advance the equality of women in Canada, and he proceeded to tell me what the statue commemorated and I disagreed with him, and he turned out to be right. There is nothing more satisfying as a parent trying to raise intelligent, thinking people than having those people prove you wrong about your assumptions and misinformation.)

Earlier that morning, as we drove the road from Montreal to Ottawa Damien and I phoned our own mothers. My mom was finishing up a weekend hiking summit in Cape Breton, NS where she had presented on two New Brunswick hikes - The Fundy Footpath and the Coastal Trail in Grand Manan. Both highly recommended, by the way. (We introduced my parents to hiking and backpacking and now my mom is on a mission to get other people, especially women, into the outdoors.)

We enjoyed a long chat with Damien's mom who was spending the day with Damien's siblings, first at our five year-old nephew's birthday party and then watching our teenaged niece play soccer. All the special and regular gatherings we miss living far away from family. Mom talked about her memories of Ottawa and I talked at length about what the kids are up to these days.

Everything is not well with our family back in Alberta. One of our nieces, who is just a toddler, was recently diagnosed with epilepsy, and one of our nephews is seriously ill with an autoimmune disease that he has been fighting for years, that is expressing itself once again with a vengence. Children battling diseases. And families struggling with serious financial burdens and challenges.

And the ache of it all sits in my awareness, hangs on my heart, right next to that warm glow of a mother's day spent with my children enjoying beautiful flowers, in the city of their father's birth, a place in their grandparent's love story, the capital of the country our family calls home.

I just finished reading the book Hope Heals. It's the story of a young mother's life-threatening massive brain stem stroke, her subsequent disabilities and physical recoveries. It's a story of loss and hope, of suffering and faith.

Reading it has challenged me with what I would do in similar circumstances. And left me insecure at times as I wondered if I'd have the same support system in a similar crisis. And it raises the question of why some people seem more blessed than others in their relationships and community support.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones in this regard, but I still wonder, would my network be enough to sustain my family through a trial like this? And do I do enough, invest enough, to build that kind of community? Am I there for people? Do I cook enough meals, attend enough services, write enough emails, host enough gatherings?

To be destitute and without support is a core anxiety of mine, it's mostly an irrational fear but there is a measure of truth in there - community and strong support networks can sustain people through times of intense trial.

Do I have that kind of community? Do I build it?

In the story Hope Heals, Katherine and Jay Wolf don't just have a stellar community but also an unshakeable faith, and both things carried this family through years of struggle and physical hardships.

Do I have that kind of faith? And if I didn't could I pull through anyway? Is it about the faith, or is it about a person's resiliency? Is it about their mindset or their spiritual grounding? And is the spiritual grounding just a type of positive mindset to begin with?

I see what I'm doing here. I'm trying to find the formula for surviving hard things. I'm trying to shore up my security.

But to be fair to myself, I'm also asking real questions about community and faith, and trying to understand the nature of spirituality, the physical brain, and the conscious mind. Questions I don't have a lot of hope I'll answer in a truly satisfactory manner in my lifetime, never mind these blog posts.

to be continued...

« Blog housekeeping (shorter posts, sharing, and spiritual talk)
What does it all mean? »

You can subscribe to comments on this article using this form.

If you have already commented on this article, you do not need to do this, as you were automatically subscribed.