THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME

First, there was Penelope.

Made from the ingredients provided by her papa, Jeremy, one of my twin sons, and her mama, Anne, who also grew up in Pointe-Claire, Penelope entered the world four and a half years ago.

Penelope
Penelope.

I’m not ashamed to say that when her parents first announced that she was in the making, I felt both elated and apprehensive. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel ready to love her; it was that I felt too ready to love her, and knew in my gut that I would constantly be torn between my working life and my desire to be with her and watch her grow.

I’d been lucky enough to avoid making such a heart-rending choice raising my own sons in their first years. A generation later, it caught up with me.

This part of the story worked out just fine, because I’ve simply acknowledged that the professional life it took me so long to fashion is essential to me. I’ve accepted (with no small measure of regret) that there are tender and wonderful experiences in Penelope’s life that I won’t be there to see. It worked out because in spite of all that, I love her to death and she returns my love with a sweetness that would melt a heart of stone. And, most importantly, it worked out because there’s a small army of people who also adore her and spend as much of their time as possible with her.

Graeme at 2

Then, there was Graeme.

Made with as much love and equally miraculous ingredients from Jeremy and Anne, he was born two years after his sister. She weighed six pounds thirteen ounces; he weighed nine and a half pounds.

 

Graeme arrives.

From the moment she was able to focus them, Penelope’s eyes have had a disconcerting, penetrating and knowing way of looking at everyone. When she was still an infant, her uncle Christian called it getting “the ocular pat-down”. All I know is that when her large, round, intense brown eyes locked onto me, it was like being scanned down to the molecular level, and it was all I could do not to confess: “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”.

Penelope at 13 months

Graeme’s eyes seemed to see the world differently. They smiled, even when his mouth didn’t. To her intensity, sensitivity and emotional life that is still always barely skin deep, Graeme brought a good-natured temperament and a fondness for the company of females and cuddles. He’s naturally funny, and she has a terrific sense of humour.

It’s hard to imagine two children getting more love than Penelope and Graeme, and an ocean of it comes from their uncles Simon and Christian, who were felled the instant they held Penelope in their arms, just hours after her birth.

Simon’s experience is unlike anyone else’s, because, as the identical twin of Penelope and Graeme’s papa Jeremy, Simon can claim a genetic kinship with them that none of us can match. They are of him to a degree beyond us. Simon was away in France doing post-doctoral research for the first six months of Penelope’s life (though he was here on the day of her birth!), which was a torment, and which he’s been making up for ever since. Thank God for Skype, which allowed him to see her daily on her mama’s lap.

Graeme in his papa’s arms, with Simon

 

Simon with P&G

Christian was away in London from September 2014 to September 2015 living an extraordinary year and was always anxious that somehow, Penelope especially (because Graeme was just a baby) would forget him or that he would lose that trust and closeness he had nurtured with her. He says that the day she was placed in his arms, just a couple of hours after her birth, something inside him opened up and he knew that he would do anything for her. Always.

 

Christian with P&G

All of this was useless fretting. Children recognize love and devotion instantly and move closer to it as to a source of warmth and life.

With Christian. September 2016

 

Christian with Penelope, summer 2016

These days, everyone is in Montreal at the same time. We often refer to the children as P and G in conversation, though Penelope is also Beans, a name chosen by her papa in honour of a favourite lunch dish. It’s what Graeme calls her. Mostly, he’s kept his name. While his papa and Simon often call him Buddy, the rest of us are happy with his given name which is solid and sweet and upbeat when it rolls off the tongue.

 

Simon with Graeme, Christmas 2015

The world got so much bigger with P&G in it. With a two-generation gap between us, they’re my intimate connection to a future that I will not see, but that now has several new and beloved inhabitants. They’re our progeny too. That’s how we feel about them, and it’s why we have reshaped our vision of life around them.

Having fun. Spring 2016

One of the strange tricks love plays on us is that it exists out of time.

I love you and will always love you. My love is limitless.

Every now and then, my mind will wander into the grey shrouded future, wondering what difficulties lie in wait there for my children, what hardships they’ll meet. In one such moment, as I visualized Simon, Jeremy and Christian aging and becoming more fragile and dependent, it struck me full force that of course I wouldn’t be there to help them and to love them. I didn’t give a damn that I’d be dead; what mattered was that I wouldn’t be there to care for them.

I mentioned this to Simon one day and he said: “But we’ll have each other. Siblings, mum, they’re so important.”

 And then we talked about Penelope and Graeme, and how good it was that they have each other.

With their mama, Anne, October 2016

 

This piece ends with a smile. To a degree that seems impossible really, Penelope and Graeme get along fantastically well. P is such a compassionate child that retaliation of any kind is never her first response to any of her brother’s transgressions, which are few. She’s grateful to have a companion in life, a sidekick. She’s happy being one of two. Graeme, in return, worships her, follows her, and mimics her before experimenting on his own. His go-to phrase is “Me too.”

They’re two peas in a pod. Last week, on her “Special Guest Day” at preschool, Penelope chose to invite Graeme. This was a breach of protocol because in the past, young siblings have proven to be uncooperative guests. But not Graeme. He moved through his sister’s routines alongside her like a small diplomat. When, after reading a story about an adventurous squirrel, Miss Honour or Miss Maria asked what the squirrel’s name should be, Graeme responded BEAR! which made his sister roar with laughter.

I see their mother’s vigilance, constancy and loving presence in the bond between them. They’re so well suited for the role of a lifetime.

With my two sisters thousands of miles away on the West Coast, I have found sisters in my closest friends. Siblings—ours from birth or chosen over time— embody our desire to love and to be loved and supported in intimate, lifelong networks.

But being a brother or a sister (if you are lucky enough) is the role of a lifetime.”

― Holly Goldberg SloanAppleblossom the Possum

 

GETTING MY GEEK ON AT THE STAR TREK ACADEMY EXPERIENCE

 

startrek50th

I was a little girl when the first episodes of the original Star Trek series aired.

Sometimes I think that it was a miracle that I ever found it at all on TV because ours, which sat atop the piano (or some other high piece of furniture in the livingroom that forced me to look up, much the way people do now with their big screens mounted on the wall), was strictly controlled by my mum, who at that time was 100% stay-at-home and always vigilant.

But there must have been a day when conditions were right and I managed to watch it.

Like almost everything else about my childhood, I can’t recall any of the details of this exactly. My memories aren’t stored in neat episodes. They’re mostly telescoped inside my mind, and tugging on any one of them pulls several out in one long tangle.

What I’m left with, though, is enough. I remember watching the first season of Star Trek and feeling pure wonder and happiness. Like it was a miracle. Like I had found a place outside of every other part of my life that was populated by people who saw the world a lot like I did—that is, with openness and optimism. I always left the Star Trek universe reluctantly.

ST_TOS_Cast

I think what I had found, really, was the first TV show beyond my favourite children’s programs that conveyed the same essential benevolence and yet was ADULT.

This was perhaps the shocker for me. To discover that there were people like Gene Rodenberry who unabashedly adored life and the human race and refused to succumb to what, eleven years later in another imagined universe, would be described as the dark side. Pessimism, cynicism and disguised despair.

In these memories, it feels like I was watching the show alone, but that’s unlikely because our house was small; my sisters must have been nearby. But I don’t think either of them felt the way I did about Star Trek.

My mum, well, she was listening in from the kitchen.

I remember that she didn’t GET IT. My very bright mother— the product of the post war years in Quebec, which were profoundly traditional and Catholic, and who reached her twenties in 1955—couldn’t help herself; she just felt threatened by the show.

She saw in Star Trek a menace to her faith and thus my faith, and she said this to me in exactly those words. I think it may have been her first serious exposure to science fiction, and it unsettled her. She couldn’t see how something that expanded our view of the universe and our role in it, the way Star Trek did, could be compatible with Catholic cosmology.

My memories of how this made me feel are very clear: I desperately wanted her to see what I saw when I watched Star Trek. Rodenberry’s future contained all of the recognizable evils and suffering I was already aware of: illness, death, poverty, war and destruction. But in this future, the predominance of diversity, inclusion, cooperation, benevolence, sharing, acceptance and understanding were matter-of-fact.

Enlightened, essentially good people would always strive to bring everyone on board. The power-mad and the destructive would be dealt with swiftly and justly.

TNG_combadge

What young mind wouldn’t be swept up in a world that presented endless what-ifs and ways of being, and then threw Captain Kirk and his crew into the mix to see how they would all make it through?

Even as a grade schooler, I felt vindicated by the idealism of Star Trek.

I also had a mad crush on Captain Kirk.

That’s how Star Trek entered my life, sharing space with Batman, Barbie, Willy Wonka and Thierry la Fronde.

I don’t remember how many of my friends were Star Trek groupies, but I do remember ersatz communicators  turning up in our play, sometimes fitting into our improvised Batman-inspired utility belts.

communicator-840x637

The Star Trek universe and I grew up together.

A dry spell followed those years of my childhood, and when the next great wave of space adventure hit in 1977, I was just emerging from adolescence. When I exited the cinema after seeing Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time, the only sounds I could muster were: WOW!

WOW.

We forget that these were the VCR years, when Sony Trinitron TVs were considered hot stuff.

No one had ever seen anything like it.

The original Star Wars movie was one of the first things I ever taped on our VCR, in 1986 or ’87, when the twins were 3 or 4 years old. It was a version dubbed in French (it was a great translation!), that they watched over and over and over and over till the cassette wore out (is there a little boy alive who can’t make legit lightsaber sound effects?).

And THAT was the beginning of my sons’ slow indoctrination into Star Trek, Star Wars and everything sci-fi/fantasy/geeky.

I’m the resident sci-fi and fantasy buff in the house. My husband, who was also wowed by Star Wars in 1977, is nevertheless made of different stuff. There isn’t a nerdy or geeky bone in his body and he isn’t prone to even the shortest flights of fancy.

Happily, it fell to me. They’ve taken up the torch with a vengeance, and have outpaced and outstripped me by light years.

USS_Enterprise_(alternate_reality)_at_warp

Cut to last Wednesday, when my son Simon (Twin One) organised our trek to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa with Christian (Son Three) and our friend Cindy, so that we could share The Star Fleet Academy Experience.

 It wasn’t lavish or super-impressive. It was a straightforward interactive experience in a setting designed to be boxed up and moved to a different city every few months and it was a blast.

farpoint 3
Data and Captain Picard on the bridge: Star Trek, Next Generation
Simon and Christian on the bridge
Simon and Christian on the bridge

It featured animations and quizzes and simulations and when I was done, I received an evaluation that was later emailed to me:

Thank you for taking part in the Starfleet Academy Experience at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.


Attached to this email you will find:

  • Your Starfleet Recruitment Certificate
  • Your Starfleet Personnel File
  • Your Species Selfie
  • Your Transporter video

We hope that you enjoyed your visit.
Live long and prosper.

How cool is that?

I wasn’t shocked to read that Star Fleet Academy had accepted me to study in the field of Communications.

Data commands the bridge: Star Trek-Next Generation
Christian commands the bridge

Pumped and in full geek mode, we passed the time during the drive home quizzing each other.

Questions started like this:

Who’s your favourite Star Trek main character? Secondary character?

There was lots of debate: Do you mean just the shows or are the movies included? All of the series?

Answers included Picard and Kirk, of course; Data—well yes (sigh); Ensign Ro, the Traveller, Q and a host of stragglers.

Favourite Star Trek movie?

Wrath of Khan dominated, but emotional responses also supported The Undiscovered Country and The Voyage Home; and I have a soft spot for Tom Hardy’s stunning performance in the role of Shinzon, going head-to-head with Patrick Stewart in Nemesis.

Then we veered off into the superhero cannon: Captain America or Iron Man?

(is that even debatable? Of course its Captain America; I have reasons coming out my ears!)

Which was worse: The most recent Superman or Batman VS Superman?

I hated the latter and had been warned by my sons not to see the first, but it was the winner of that debate.

We of course veered all over the place, and there were all kinds of leaps from genre to genre and medium to medium (how could any of us forget books, graphic novels and comics?), and the 200 km drive home passed in a flash.

I’m a lucky woman indeed. I can now boldly go where no one has gone before–into the undiscovered country– with a crew that includes family, friends and soon, my grandchildren, Penelope and Graeme, who are gently being brought into the fold.

I hope to live long, and have already prospered beyond my wildest dreams.

Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”
Gene Roddenberry