Dear Elliot

I did not know, my sweetness, what it would feel like to be a grandmother. I tried to imagine it, and I wasn’t able to, not the whole time that you were on your way. I knew I would love you, that was certain – but the rest of it was a secret I’m only just now figuring out. My own mother has turned out to be such a wonderful grandmother, that I felt a lot of pressure, so I hope I do okay. It has started like this – you are so beautiful that I have shown your picture to every person I have encountered in the last 10 days. (The lady at the wine store agrees that you are perfect, and the guy who does our taxes (your Poppy Joe sent that one) agrees. Several taxi drivers have concurred, and I like to think that the lady at the grocery store can’t wait for an update.)  I have not been so besotted of a human since your Mum and Aunties were in my arms. I cannot get enough of you, your tiny fingernails are miraculous, your little mouth, so like your mother’s, I could look at it all day. In this way, my Elliot, becoming a grandmother was like becoming a mother. You are like sunshine, I can watch you for hours, and holding your small body in my arms almost hurts, it is so divine.

It’s different than being a mother though, because I am not afraid.  I don’t worry you’ll stop breathing, I am unconcerned by your snuffles and sneezes, I am not anxious about hypothermia if your hands feel cool, and I don’t fear for your future when you sleep through a feeding. I felt that fear for your mum, and it was all used up on her. I’ve seen how it goes now, and I know you’re not as tenuously here as it seems. When your mum asks me if you’re okay, it’s with an easy heart that I can reply that your are not just okay, you’re perfect. You changed that – promoting me from fretting, over-concerned mother, to confident, unworried grandmother, and it’s a change I’m enjoying. it is no longer my responsibility to make what feel like crushing, all important decisions about life and death matters, like whether or not you should have socks on. That is for your mum and dad, and the part of me that remembers the feeling enjoys watching them fuss over you. (The present debate centres around your fingernails. Do they need cutting? Are they too long? What if you scratch yourself? How should they cut them if they are too long? They are beautifully finding their feet as parents, and seeing them take on the role and the responsibility so well is almost as compelling and satisfying as your eyebrows.)

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You’ve rippled through our whole little family, reminding me that babies are huge that way. Though you’re tiny, you’ve had an impact on all of our lives. Our whole dynamic has changed and we’re all looking forward, and dreaming, and imagining who you’re going to be, and what you’ll be like. So far, you’re easygoing, thoughtful, and worried – a lot like (me) and your Great Uncle Tupper, who’s name you bear. I’ve been thinking a lot about him this week, and I thought a lot about my own grandparents too,  as I did with your mother and aunties, wishing that they were here, wishing they could see you. I was blessed Elliot, with the most wonderful grandparents in the world, and though I only had them until I was in my teens, they remain two of the most powerful people of my life.  It was this that was in my mind when I started your blanket. The centre panel is Lily-of-the-Valley. It was an easy choice – for it reminds me of my own grandmother. It was a favourite of hers, and at her house a long bed of it bloomed every spring, and smelled like heaven. Your mother is named for my grandmother, and you’re the child who makes me a grandmother, and so Lilly-of-the-Valley it was.

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Surrounding that centre is a wee border of ring lace. Tiny, perfect circles, meant as a symbol of the whole family that surrounds you. We are a small family, but we are tight, and we know how to operate as a team. it’s been said that we’re a hard family to break into – but you, little boy, are in, and the force of the wee and fierce McPhee army stands round you.

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That motif gives way to a pattern of dog paws, meant to acknowledge your dog Penny. (She’s the border collie who keeps trying to lick your face, and comes over every time you fuss to make sure that someone is taking care of her people-puppy.)  I am not a dog person, but Penny is a very good dog, and I suspect she’s going to be your first and fiercest friend.

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The largest border on your blanket is your heritage – where you come from, in the context of the great big world. Your mother is Canadian, so snowflakes for her – and your father is Nicaraguan, so the little flowers are Nicaragua’s national flower, the sacuanjoche. (It is hard to knit one, but I think it’s close. Maybe when I teach you to knit you’ll come up with something better.)

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Finally, the edging I choose for you is an old one – unlike the dog paws, snowflakes or the flowers, I didn’t have to make it up. It’s a variation of Print O’ the Wave, and besides being beautiful, it’s a symbol of much. The water we all love to be near and in,  and the water you were born from and into, the wave of love that carried you here, and it isn’t lost on me that it looks a lot like the climbing plant in your living room that your parents both love.

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All together, your blanket is just over 2 and a half kilometres of silk and wool, soft and strong, like I hope you and life will be. It is a great thing to be resilient, and gentle.  It took me months to make it, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever made. I shudder to think how many stitches are in it, but know that I didn’t resent a one of them. They all hold my hope and joy, and there is so much of that – I couldn’t have knit a stitch less.

I know that right now, we don’t know each other very well. You’re young, and you’re perfect and you sleep a lot, and so much about you is yet to be revealed. Will you play the piano, like me? The guitar like Joe? Will you be tenderhearted, like Erin and your mum, or dangerously witted, like your Great Grandmother Bonnie or your Great Uncle Tupp? Will you be able to write like your Grammy or my Grampa, will you love crosswords and languages and travelling like Ian? Will you be fierce like your Aunt Amanda? Resilient like Samantha? Are you the child who is finally curly-haired, like me? Will you be tall? What will come from your father and his family? What will be all yours – the things that make you your own self, that we all come to think of as your gifts? We can’t wait to find out, and I am weepy and overwhelmed thinking of a lifetime of learning you.

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You will go on to do a great many things, but know that even though you are so little, you have already changed the world. Though I will do my best to stand between you and sadness, you are going to have bad days. It is my fondest wish that on those days, you remember this.  You are a wanted, longed for, and deeply loved person, and you are everything we ever hoped would happen. You are my grandson.

Welcome, and I love you.

Grammy

On the Outside

I have started and deleted this post about twenty times. Editing, deleting, re-writing, deleting, trying to say the right things about Elliot’s arrival, and what it was like. This time I’m just going to write straight through, and whatever happens, happens, because like all the times I try to write about big things, it never seems right, but now that I’ve realized I was writing about the wrong thing, maybe it just will be.

Elizabeth Stone wrote “Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.” I’ve always felt this, as most mothers do, to be absolutely true, and wonderful, and horrible and risky in its truth.  Motherhood for me has been all of those things. Fabulous and heartbreaking and easy and hard and dangerous and frightening and glorious. Usually all at the same time, and while you are doing laundry.  I tell you this, because it perhaps explains what happened to me when Megan told me she was pregnant. I knew it was coming. I’d even suspected it for a while, and I thought that when they made the decision to get married a baby was what they were really after, but somehow – when Megan said that she was expecting, I did something horrible. I congratulated her and Alex, and then I excused myself, and I went to the bathroom and cried. Not happy tears either, not “I’m so happy for you” tears, but some sort of heartbreak that took me by surprise. Everyone knew I was crying, and it was days before I knew why, or could even start to explain myself. I think that people thought that I didn’t want to be a grandmother, or that I thought she was too young (she’s not) or that I’m bad with transitions (I am) or that I was too young (I’m not.) It wasn’t that at all – I was fine with me being a grandmother.  I was heartbroken that Meg was going to be a mother. That her fine, young, happy heart was going to start going round around outside her body, and that with that, she would get all the joy, and also all the pain and work and risk that motherhood brings.

It was a maternal reaction, I see that now. Some wild urge to protect my daughter from… well. Let’s be frank. I wanted to protect her from everything she’d ever done to me, and it took me a few months to settle down, but I did. (As an aside, this trait must run in the family, because I think my mum went through the same thing.) As the months went on I started looking forward to it, and as a retired birth worker, I was over the moon when Meg asked me if I’d come to her birth. She was planning a home birth with midwives – a practice I wholeheartedly support, and the way I had my girls, and she set about preparing herself, and her husband Alex did the same. (A little note here, let’s not debate home birth in the comments. I know it is not the case in much of North America, but here in Ontario we have educated, licensed midwives who are registered primary care attendants, and they are covered in our provincial health care plan. The research where we live is clear. Low-risk healthy women and babies are more likely to stay that way if they give birth at home.) I (eventually) became beyond excited.

Let’s fast forward to last Thursday, when I was about to get on a plane and leave my daughter to work at the DFW Fiber Fest. I’d booked the work before Meg was even pregnant, and although it was a tiny bit of a risk, I felt sure that it would be okay. First babies are seldom early, and almost never that early, and so with Meg’s blessing, I got on that plane and left. Friday morning I texted her and said something like “Whew! We got through the first night without you having a baby!” and two minutes later the text came back… “About that…”

Meg was (maybe) in labour. She’d started having contractions about every ten minutes that morning. I swore, and then I went to breakfast.  Sometimes labours start and stop. Contractions didn’t mean a baby was coming – so I went to work. I taught the morning, and then at lunch, Meg texted that they hadn’t stopped, and I spent the next 15 minutes having a complete nervous breakdown. I tried to find the part of me that could stay at work and miss the birth. I tried to imagine the part of me that did that, the part of me that has been to so many births for clients, but misses my own daughters, – and then I called my friend Jen (student midwife) and she told me what I already knew. “Go home.” She said. “I’m supposed to work two more days” I said. “Imagine that it’s twenty years from now” she said. “Where will you wish you had been?”

Right around then, a representative of the DFW Guild walked into the room, and I told her everything. I might even have almost cried. I told her I was trying to be the sort of person who stayed and taught while her grandchild was being born, but that I was failing. Then I stood there, and looked at her, and… Blog, I will be eternally grateful for this…She said “Family first. What do you need to get home?”  (Here I must note: my eternal thanks go out to the executive of the DFW Guild, and the knitters who were booked to have a class with me and missed out. Your generosity and kindness was a tremendous gift, One that I will never be able to repay, though this time next year, I’ll try.) A quick call to Joe, and I was tentatively booked on the 7:30pm flight to Toronto. (It was the soonest one.) I taught the rest of the day, then checked in with Meg to see if things were still underway (they were) then Joni (the spectacular teacher liaison for the guild) drove me to my hotel, I bugged out faster than a MASH unit, and she drove me to the airport like James Bond. I was at the airport about 45 minutes after class ended.

The whole flight home, I was wild. What if the baby is born before I get there? What if I go home and the baby is born in three weeks and I left for nothing? How mad will the knitters be? I was my dear blog, a mess.  (Photo below of the guy who sat next to me on the plane, and upon learning that I was flying home for the birth of a grandchild, showed me 837364557 pictures of his granddaughter, born just months before. He was reassuring.)

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Joe picked me up from the airport at 1am, the baby not born yet, and he was so excited that when he got out of the car to put my case in the trunk, he forgot to put the car in park and had to chase it. The family text group was on fire. No baby yet, contractions continuing… Meg was going to try and rest. By 5am her contractions were at 5 minutes apart, and we all knew it was showtime. I spent the day knitting on the blanket, checking my phone to make sure the volume was on, and trying to deal with Joe, who was (still) so excited, that when he got on the phone with Air Canada to cancel his flight to Calgary that day, as he explained to the agent that his daughter was having a baby, cried from joy enough that she didn’t charge him a change fee. By late afternoon, I was crazy. I’d been texting with Alex, who kept assuring me that Meg was doing beautifully, but knowing Meg, and knowing how my labours had been, I had the feeling that she was farther along that she was letting on. I had a sneaking suspicion that her ability to cope so beautifully was making it look like her labour wasn’t intense, when really, she was about to bomb drop a baby on us. (I know this, because it’s pretty much what I did with her and her sisters. McPhee women specialize in having a grip, often to our own detriment. We are stealth. You never know when we need help.) Alex, who was doing a spectacularly wonderful job and knows this about his wife, snapped and called me and the midwife around suppertime.

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I arrived, walked in the door, and Meg fell into my arms. It was very, very clear to me that there would be a baby soon, and she settled into the birth pool, and then… oh Blog. She proceeded to break my heart into a million pieces, over and over, and over again. She was graceful. She was gorgeous. She was strong and she was gentle and she was… she was perfect. Her labour with her babe was just like my labour with her, and I was carried on waves of remembrance and of pride and while on the outside, I helped her and Alex and the midwife set up. While she breathed her baby out and let it carry her, on the outside of me, I held a cool cloth to her brow and held her hand, and laid out towels and birth supplies, and on the inside, there were no words. Never, in my life has my heart walked round more outside my body, never have I felt more keenly the cord that connects me forever to a person I gave birth to.  There are no words for her strength. She was absolutely perfect. Absolutely beautiful, and absolutely something I had always hoped she would be.

At 8:17pm, her baby slid from her, and the midwife gave him a little push, forward between Meg’s legs, and he rose up, right in front of her in the water. She sat back on her knees, looked at him swimming there, and then reached down, and lifted him up to her, up out of the water, and into the world of air, and wild things, and love.

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I had expected, Blog, that in that moment, I would be possessed with my grandchild. That his small self would be the star of the moment. That I would see him, and he would be my moon and my stars and the focus of all of my heart. I thought he would sweep me entirely… and he was lovely. He was perfect and tiny and early and his ears are like little shells, and his small hands are everything I have ever needed or loved or found beautiful, to be sure, but Blog… I was all eyes for my sweet Meg.

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My grandson is beautiful, for sure, but he was not my star.  Friends,  have you seen the glory that is my girl?

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He’s new here

Blog, please meet my grandson.

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We’d like to introduce Elliot Tupper, and he was born yesterday in the evening, two weeks ahead of schedule. He is 7lbs 3oz, and just about the most perfect human being I have ever seen, with the exception of his amazing mother.  We are all beside ourselves with utter joy. I’ll tell the story his trip, but right now I have to go smell his head again.

(PS He is only an hour old in that picture can’t you tell how smart he is already.)

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Bomb

I’m back in the airport after almost exactly 34 hours at home, and they weren’t totally all at home, because I had a Bike Rally Steering Committee meeting last night – and I felt pretty noble for turning up for it, let me tell you.  I arrived home at midnight Tuesday, slept, woke up, did laundry, checked in with my husband, did a bunch of work, wiped off the kitchen (I still can’t explain what happens to it while I’m gone) went to the meeting, repacked, slept, and now I’m an hour from boarding my plane to Texas and I’m such a knot of anxiety I can hardly cope. The blanket isn’t done, but I wasn’t planning to be done by now – just in case the superstition is real, just in case babies don’t arrive until after I’ve finished their blankets, I have made the decision not to finish until I’m safely home, and can be with Meg. The thought of missing my grandchild’s birth is a little heartbreaking, and so I’ll stack the deck in my favour any way I can.  I was planning to be a little farther along though – I was thinking that I’d get it wrapped up over this weekend but for the blocking and ends, and I’ve made myself a little visual aid so that I can see how it’s going, and it doesn’t feel hopeless.

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See that? 54 repeats around is done, and I colour in a square when I finish a repeat. Dots and stars mark progress off in quarters. I know it’s dorky, but it’s making me either feel better (when I get a lot done) or very worried (when I don’t.) I got a lot done on the flight to the retreat, and a lot done on the way home, and almost nothing while I was there. I’ll have the flight today, and then spare time while I’m teaching at DFW Fiber Fest (not counting on a lot there) and then the flight home. That’s Monday. This wee soul just needs to wait until Monday evening, which might be a lot to ask. Technically, it would make him a smidge early, and wish Meg could have given me more than 9 months of notice so that I could have booked time off,

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because look at that.  I’ll be back as soon as I can. Stay put, you two. Don’t do anything without me.

Whoosh

That’s the sound that the last week made. If you were anywhere near me you would have heard it, along with my desperate scribbling on to-do lists, as well as the gentle rustling of crumpled post-it notes scurrying in my wake. I had one of those weeks where every morning you get up and think “All Right. This might be possible if you just stay focussed.” and then by lunch you’re thinking “Holy cats I think I smoke” and by dinner you’ve resigned yourself to the whole plan being ON FIRE and by bedtime you’re swearing tomorrow will be better, full of hope and promise.  In the last week I have:

-Helped Hank make a garment for a fashion project he was doing to get ahead on his University credits.

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Yes. I just typed that sentence. Yes, he is as tall as he looks. Yes, he is turning out to be pretty good at this sewing thing.  Yes, he made this, and he got an excellent grade.

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(He even went to the fabric store by himself – and he worked in stretch fabrics and faux fur, and if you sew, you know that’s not easy. I only ripped one seam for him.)

-Worked on the baby blanket everywhere I went, and I went all over.

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-Worked hard on getting some Bike Rally stuff ready for the first training ride of the year, which I missed (but will make up for later) and thanked Cameron for showing up for both of us.

–  Hosted and taught at a fantastic retreat in Port Ludlow together with Debbi and Judith.

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-Discovered that they’d put a pair of flamingo statues in our hotel room, and did the only reasonable thing – which was to knit them a pair of leg warmers each, and then graft them onto their legs.

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-Imagined the resort staff trying to figure out how to get them off.

-Laughed all the way home, where I’ll be for one day before heading to Texas. (While hoping impending grandson continues to stay put until I’m home (Monday) and his blanket is done. (Hopefully that’s Monday too.)