Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: family

The thing about annoying people

The thing about annoying people, is that they don’t really exist.  Only annoyed people exist.

Normal people turn into annoyed people for lots of different reasons.  Loud noises.  Funny smells.  Hearing ideas we don’t like or seeing facial gestures that rub us harshly.  Certain perceived attitudes in others can do it.  Songs and styles and the ways people walk down the street — all these arbitrary things can turn us normal, happy people into annoyed people.

But not annoying people.  Because they don’t exist.  When I call someone annoying, I’m talking about myself more than anything.  I’m laying out the weaknesses I have in my personality that make it so when my son turns on this video for the eighth time, something yucky happens inside of me.

But it’s not the video.  It’s not my son.  It’s not anything at all but me.

And I think that means something.

The thing about university and family

Life is what goes on.  Life is what I’m doing.  Right now, even.  Writing this blog is life.  It’s not something I do in life.  Right now, it’s life.

My family is life.  Because it’s what I do.  When I roll around on the floor with Joseph, it’s life.  When I build Lego spaceships and princesses with Asha, it’s life.  When I crawl out of bed at 3am to feed Deva, it’s life.  When I slump into a chair beside Ruth for a pleasant moment with tea and anime, it’s life.  It’s not something I have to do.  It’s what I do, and that makes it life.

University is life.  Because it’s what I do.   I feel bad for these teens who have been stuck in school for twelve years.  University is just the next grade for them and I can’t imagine how hard it must be.  But for me it’s easier.  The essays and papers are not obstacles.  They are what I’m here to do.  They are life.

I have a whole lot of life going on right now.  It’s a totally different game from the one I’ve been playing.  It’s a harder game.  The controls are a lot more complex and the levels are tougher to beat.

But who wants an easy game, anyway?

Our Birth Story

When birthing our first and second children, Ruth coped through medical technology.  Both experiences were mostly negative, which I guess is what we were expecting anyway.  I mean, who sets out to try and enjoy labour?  Even the name we give it–labour–suggests that it’s not going to be a fun thing.

Three KidsSo for our third child, we wanted to try something different.  We got hooked up with the amazing wonderful people at Kensington Midwives.  Their care and nurturing concern for us and the nascent little human freed us to look at childbirth in a different way.  No as a medical condition to deal with, but as an act of creation to enjoy and experience.  So when the contractions started on Thursday, April 25, Ruth was excited to greet them with Zen-level mindfulness.

Ruth played with her contractions as they grew and spilled over onto Friday.  She would see each one coming and, instead of bracing against it, she would breathe and watch.  She would mentally acknowledge the contraction, thank it for preparing her body for birth, and gratefully send it on its way.  And it worked.  We spent the day doing all the same things she had been doing since before the pregnancy began—walking, jogging, taking the stairs, getting hot oil massages and having wild sex.  Pretty much normal life for us.

In the wee hours of the night, Ruth woke up.  The contractions had been steadily growing in intensity and consistency and had reached a point where Ruth was having some difficulty managing while in bed.  She woke her vigorous husband at 3:00am, who drew her a bath and vigorously went back to bed.  Ruth spent half an hour in the tub, rolling with the contractions as they went through her.  After a time she got out and started pacing the house, kneeling, squatting, going on all fours, searching for a position that would give her a bit of an edge as she dealt with the tension.  And even though she had to move around the house and use all of her mindfulness to get through them, they were bearable.  Not only that, it was enjoyable and she was glad to have the opportunity to face them alone.  She woke her husband at 4:20 and they called the midwife.  The time was close.

She almost called too late.  Our on-call midwife, Sara, was half an hour away.  Sara arranged for Houley, another wonderful midwife from Kensington Midwives, to come as well, because she was already in the area finishing up another birth.  Houley arrived just as Matt finished setting up the bed for birth.  She did all the lovely midwifery stuff that midwives do, and told Ruth that if she felt like pushing she might as well go ahead and do it.

Sara, our main midwife, arrived at 5:00am, jogging with her big backpack of midwife gear.

Isaiah Dev arrived at 5:08am.

Sara caught our son as he came out and handed him to Matt who rested the child on Ruth’s belly.  He was warm and slippery, covered with the broth he had been cooked in.  And that was it.  There he was.

Out other children were born in good, modern hospitals—the first in Canada, the second in Pakistan.  Both were very safe, highly professional places.  Sanitary, organized, business-like.  Both births were very much like watching a mechanic work on your car.  There was no magic, just mechanics.  We didn’t touch our children until they were appropriately cleaned and prepared.  And even then we had to give them back so they could endure some time under that blindingly warm light with that odd goo on their eyes.  The doctors who delivered our children disappeared immediately after it was over.  Sara stayed with us for hours.  The doctors told us what choices to make.  The midwives gave us information and asked us what choices we wanted to make.  In the hospitals Ruth was a patient with a condition to be cured.  With the midwives, she was a holy person creating another person.

Sara and Safire at Kensington Midwives completely blew our minds.  We never expected the level of care they gave us.  Because of them and all the other midwives and students and staff at Kensington Midwives, Ruth not only endured her pregnancy and labour, she enjoyed them.  Labour stopped being a painful thing to get through, it became a rare and vibrant experience to drink in.  It was not labour.  It was birth.

We learned things.

We learned that labour is not a trial to be endured—it is an experience to revel in.
We learned that your mindset will determine a large part of what your experience will be.
We learned that everything goes better with mindfulness and everything goes worse with worry.
We learned that Ruth is an awesome creator of humans and had no need to wake her husband or cry out for help when it was time to give birth. She is mighty enough to rely on her own strength.

That’s our story. We cannot thank the people at Kensington Midwives enough. Thank you for showing us how powerful a mother can be. Thank you for being a part of our person-making project.

To Temia and Frances

My niece and my grandmother both died very recently.  The youngest and oldest members of the Cook family.

When a baby dies, the pain is harsh and visceral and immediate.  There is an unnatural flavour to it.  We are not wired to easily accept death in the generation below us.

When a grandmother dies, the loss is more spread out.  The end of an era.  It’s like having the house you’ve lived in all your life torn down over your head.

Things touch me in strange ways.  The way the funeral home is now a familiar place.  The way my niece’s death struck me when I noticed the shoes her body wore in the tiny coffin.  The way my grandmother’s voice floated to me while the congregation sang old hymns I grew up with.  The shifting, uncertain way I approached the pulpit to give my words at both funerals.  The scent of flowers, beautiful and arranged with love, giving a sense of life and renewal, even though they also were cut and would not live long.  The carrying of my grandmother’s coffin up and down the same stairs we used to carry her up and down when she went to church, laughing with her as we went and joked about how heavy her wheelchair was.

Memories of my grandmother.  How she gave us all Swiss Army Knives one Christmas, and we went home bleeding and grinning.  How her little white house on Spruceside Crescent as a sort of second home—a safe and warm place full of people and food and a kind of freedom that only grandparents can give.  The message she whispered as I laid her coffin down atop that deep, deep grave: “I lived well.  I loved freely.  I laughed loudly.  I made my home an open place, devoted to the making of peace and pies.  I trusted my grandchildren enough to give them knives for Christmas and I didn’t freak out when they cut themselves on them.  Remember my whole life, not just the last years since my stroke.  It’s not the last words or acts that matter.  It’s the whole thing.

The spark of light buried deep in the shock of my niece’s death.  The vibrant life that shone in her for six months, no less full for the quickness in which they were spent.  The focused and determined play my daughter had with her during the short time I was blessed to visit with her.  The serious depth that struck my son when he heard of it, took her photo off the fridge and cried as he held it—overcome with emotion at the age of seven.  The message that she whispered to me as I stood in the funeral home and stared at her shoes: “I lived well.  I never learned to waste life on things that gave me no joy.  I never learned to give up on my dreams.  I never learned cynicism or how to be judgmental.  I spent my short and beautiful life clinging to the people who loved me and letting them cling back to me.  I left the world undefeated by it—something very few people can say.

I have a deep and uncompromising contempt for death.  It is legitimate and true, I suppose, to view death as a doorway to the next grand adventure.  But that does not overcome the deep, visceral view that lives in each of us—death is a tragic and evil thing.  Death is the first and universal enemy of mankind.  And even if I look at death as a portal to another, better world, it is still my enemy.  It is still something that I will not enter willingly.  I will still rage, rage against the dying of the light.  And I will lose.  Death will take me, though not quietly.

But my grandmother Frances and my niece Temia remind me that the best way to spit in the face of death is not to fight it when it comes near, but to live while I’m alive.  Like they did.

I miss you, Grandma.  My memories of you bleed together, making my stories a sort of collage that only I can fully understand.  You were a pillar and a foundation.  My life is missing something without you in it.

I miss you, Temia.  The light in your eyes and the authentic smile on your lips.  The way you look either curious or excited in nearly every photo I look at.  You are an inspiration and I long to have some of that light and curiosity and excitement.

You both touched me in a deep place.  I’m sad you’re gone.  Thank you both for being awesome.

Eighth Year

     The problem with expressing sentiment, especially romantic sentiment, is that it can so easily seem trite. Most folks wander on to Facebook on their anniversary, armed with dozens of exclamation points, and throw down one of many packaged statements about how happy they are that they married whoever they married. Everyone does it. And that’s what makes me approach this subject with trepidation.
     You see, my marriage is better than everyone else’s.
     I know, I know, that sounds arrogant and maybe even a bit offensive. But I really believe it. You know all those things that married people fight about? Money, sex, kids, events, family. We don’t. Like, ever.
     And you know how married people can’t wait to get away from each other and do the guy’s night out and the girl’s night out? We don’t really understand that.
     And you know how they say that your first year is the honeymoon and it all goes downhill from there? Well, to be completely frank and honest, that’s just bullshit. I have no other word for that destructive idea and if you ever find yourself uttering it, please jam your foot deep inside your mouth.
     Sure, I have problems in my life, just like everyone else. But my wife isn’t one of them. But how can I express that without blending into the crowds of people who can hardly stand their spouses most of the time but give them lip service on special days of the year?
     Maybe I can’t. Maybe there’s no way to sound unique and special. And, in the end, that’s fine.
     Because the second month of marriage to Ruth was better than the first. And the third was better than the second. And the ninety-fifth was better than the ninety-fourth. So every month seems to be the best month of my life. And that’s pretty cool. I may die of happy soon, and I can’t think of a better way to go.
     So here’s to you, Ruth. Here’s to the love we feast upon and the luminescent beings we are evolving into together. The ride’s been great so far and I feel like we have hardly even started yet. May our love continue to cast out all fear. May our hope always endure. May our faith in each other and in this radiant Universe in which the mystery of love happens grow and flourish.

Writing with Mom

     I’m going to a writer’s conference in May. I went last year. It was a blast. You should come.

     I went alone last year. It was fun, but I wanted company this time. So I called my mom. That’s right, my mom. I can hear the snickers from all those cool guys who never brought their loci of identity inside.

     I feel bad for those cool guys. Because it’s never very fun to be cool. When you’re cool you can’t be yourself. When you’re cool, you can’t hang out with your mom. Because hanging out with your mom is decidedly uncool.

     I’ve wondered why. Why don’t people hang out with their parents? I mean, sure everyone gets together around holidays and stuff. But I go to coffee shops and conferences with my mom and I go camping and hiking with my dad. We hang out. We do stuff. Like buddies. I get the impression that other people don’t do those things with their parents.

     I can’t say for sure, because I’ve only had one set of parents, but I think mine are just generally more fun than most. My mom is into literature and geocaching and fiction. My dad is into computers and film and outdoorsy stuff. It’s just fun to be with them. And I think that all us siblings feel the same way.

     Remember that time when all the kids were trying to get to Jesus and the oh-so-serious bystanders were trying to stop them? Ever wonder why the kids were trying to get to Jesus? Do you suppose they were thinking, ‘Hey! This is a great teacher who comes bearing the message of light and love.’? Naw. There’s only two ways to get a kid to come to you. One is candy, and I doubt Jesus had much. The other is fun. Jesus must have been fun.

     So after looking at Jesus and my parents, I realize that it’s wildly important that my kids think I’m fun. So I’ll play DDR 2 with my son (though I guess I’d play that even if I didn’t have kids). I’ll colour pictures with my daughter. I’ll build a snow fort. I’ll wrestle on the ground. I’ll stand in the frozen park across the road watching my kids play on the monkey bars. Whatever it takes to make it so that when my kids are 29 and they want to go to a writer’s conference or a weekend trip, they invite me. Whatever it takes.

Can’t Have it All

     You can’t have it all. Where would you put it?

     I never really wanted it all. I wanted a lot. But not all. Some things just don’t appeal.

     I wanted a lot, though. And it seemed reasonable. I wanted to excel as a family man. I wanted to write novels and get paid for it. I wanted a stellar blog that was updated every day and earned a million positive comments. I wanted to get a degree of some kind, like mathematics or anthropology. I wanted to like under a Neem tree in rural Sindh. I wanted to rock faces at WoW, 3v3 (Shadowplay ftw!). I wanted to read every book ever written. I wanted this. I wanted that.

     But where would I put it all?

     A day is like a room. It only fits so much. And when it gets overcrowded, you run the risk of damaging some of your stuff.

     Can’t have it all. Gotta toss some stuff out. Or at least cut back.

     I tried so hard to blog every weekday while writing sermons and novels and playing with my kids and dating my wife and practicing guitar and doing yoga and reading Urdu and playing craft and doing protests and going to work and reading Hemingway and HOLY CRAP ARGH!

     Can’t do it all. Because when you try to do it all, you suck at everything.

     So I’m going to do it some.

     People first, of course. Especially the wife and kids. Because that’s where love and the future are.
Writing second. That’s the dream and I’m not ready to let it go after so much progress.

     Everything else?

     Don’t rush me. Still trying to find shelf space for the first two.

     How much are you trying to accomplish? Is it too much?

Pakistani Picture Parade

A glorious sample from all the neat old photos we just found!