It’s our very last track on The Clearing – Tradition! If you made it this far, thanks very much for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about what inspired the songs on this record.
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About the Track
Tradition takes you back to sometime around 2002/2003 when I was about 13 or so. It’s inspired in part by the feelings I felt then and things I’d find myself thinking a lot about as I got older, so it seemed the most fitting song to cap off the record with.
When I was younger it was our family tradition to spend Christmas Eve’s at my grandmother’s house in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto where we’d have a traditional Polish meal, play in her old house and watch classics like Mr. Bean. She passed away when I was 10 years old but we continued that tradition in that same house for a couple years, since it was passed down to my aunt.
I think I was about 12 when I’d starting putting a few pieces together that things were not wholly okay within my own family, but being so young I wasn’t sure what it was until I’d come across some paperwork that I probably shouldn’t have seen.
Back then, my parents would keep those big bulk packs of gum in one of the drawers in their bedroom and for a few years I was a bit of a gum-fiend, so I’d often go in there to grab a pack or a piece. On one occasion there happened to be a lot of envelopes stowed away in the same drawer and being the curious kid I was, I flipped one of them over to see who it was from.
I glanced up to the top left corner to see a stamp that said “barristers and solicitors” and frankly had no idea what that meant.
I put the letter away, took my gum and left.
But it nagged at me in a way I didn’t expect. I found myself thinking about it much of that same night and into the next day. At some point I hopped onto the communal family computer to type those words in and see what they meant.
Turns out it means lawyers, and now my curiosity was sufficiently peaked.
So that next day or so, I went back into the drawer and I pulled out the envelope again, this time choosing to open it up wholly and read what was inside.
And that was how I found out my parents were separating and on their way to getting a divorce.
And I being 12 didn’t know what to do with that information but I think it jarred me enough that I started paying closer attention to the general dynamic of my family as things proceeded.
At the time I was already struggling with general-12 year old things and this was entirely too much information to process given that absolutely no one was taking about this and I of course didn’t want to admit that I’d snooped a letter and found this out, so I spent the next few years just holding this in and waiting for the day when they’d tell us.
Which meant I spent a lot of time imagining scenarios like moving away from all my friends, moving to a new town, maybe not seeing my siblings every day or every week, or every month.
I didn’t know anybody with divorced parents at the time except for my best friend and from what she’d told me it was one of the worst things to go through as a girl, and it’d been years since hers had but she still felt the effects of it regularly. I’d often be late coming home after sitting on her front porch stoop with her while she venting about this or that, all the while never telling her what I was going through, still unsure what was happening, if anything at all.
When I talk about sitting at a dinner table with some relatives in Tradition, I’m talking about the first and only time I ever went to Christmas Eve dinner with just my dad when I was 13.
Again, they were in no way telling us that they might be separating (and still lived together through all of this time), but there were signs of things progressing, like when my dad took me on a drive to Cookstown where he was looking at a new housing development. To purchase, he didn’t out right say, but there is no other logical explanation about such a trip.
But it was that winter when we all sat down for a bit of a family meeting where it’d be declared that my mother wasn’t going to come to dinner and the rest of us had a choice in whether or not we’d like to.
I was mildly stunned when all my siblings chose to stay home with her instead of go to dinner with my dad and I, but they said they didn’t want to leave her alone on that day – and I, the same for my dad.
And when I think about this day now it’s when I see the clearest divide between my siblings and I and it’s where I’m arguably at the most frustrated with my parents for putting us in the position.
I spent weeks mulling over that decision. Was I a bad daughter for going to the dinner? We always go, I almost never see my relatives otherwise. Am I a worse daughter if I let my dad go to that by himself? There’s no easy answer, especially at 13.
And it would be years later still before my dad would sit us all down, not with my mother, to tell the 4 of us that he and my mom were going to get divorced. I was 16 or so then and I can still picture the entire meeting. Where my siblings sat, where my brother stood, where my father paced.
The silence when he said it. My brother breaking it by saying, “I already knew,” and me, relieved to finally expel my own secret, “yeah, me too”.
And I know it was hard for my dad to say that that day, and I think about this often. But I also remember feeling virtually nothing at all when he finally told us. After years of thinking about it, I was completely numb to the idea. I didn’t care, I just wanted to know next steps.
So for the next few years I waited again for that shoe to drop, which never did.
Only there were no next steps and they never ended up divorcing after all and now as an adult I struggle with the fact that I spent so much time and energy worried about a what-if that never occurred.
And we still don’t talk about it, it just sits in the background, poking through here and there with every petty argument or snide comment that comes out just a little too curtly.
I don’t know if parents ever consider these things when they’re making these decisions or if it’s a bit more of an afterthought as they work to preserve their own sanity while they figure out the best way to move on with their own lives, and by these things I just mean, the way your children perceive the way you’re carrying yourself, the way they’re intently hanging off every word you say and playing mental gymnastics about them at night when they can’t sleep because they so badly want an answer that they’re just not getting, or will ever get.
I don’t fault my parents in any way for handling their relationship the way they did, but when it all comes down to it I always wish they’d handled us better – the conversations.
It’s made me weight heavily if I ever would even want to have my own kids, because I know I wouldn’t know what to do if it all came to a head. I wouldn’t want my own kid to ever feel the way I did growing up and I’m not wholly sure I’d ever have the right tools to ensure that doesn’t happen.
This situation, and so many more like it, are largely why I released this record.
I’d always rather clear the air with the honest truth than hold it in. I can’t even explain to you in a single blog post how much I have held in in my short life and I don’t intend on living a life where I feel like I have to.
Even if it makes someone upset. Even if it offends. Even if it hurts.
Because nothing is worse than holding it in and nothing good comes from avoiding that hard conversation.
I remember they fell slowly that day
Shimmering off the rooftops
As they place themselves upon them
as if to say good morning
It’s normally too warm to see snow so early
I should be smiling, but I’m not excited
I draw a blank until about 6pm
When I’m at a familiar dinner table with some relatives
From the next room he sneaks a glance
Is she alright, does she need a hand?
She turns away, afraid to look
Her face grows hot as she plays with her food
One for the books
Yeah it’s how it looks
One for the books, yeah it’s how it looks
See, I’m the youngest but I’m not that young
I know that something’s wrong
but no one will say what’s going on
So I tip toe back home
Up the stairs to the last open door
Don’t make a sound
Though they’re all awake
Something is wrong but no one will say
Cradle my legs as I drift into dreams
Morning brings it all back to me
And I start to wish I could just stay asleep
Yeah I’m the youngest, but I’m not that young
I know something is wrong
But no one will say what’s going on
And I’m getting anxious for the reason
I’m already having trouble sleeping
Overwhelmed I’m faking fevers
So many questions, I evade them
Back under the covers, a quick fix reaction
I’m not suicidal but I get how it happens
Nothing to hold, no composure
A knock at the door, no reaction
Yeah I’m the youngest
But I’m not that young
And I know that something is wrong
But no one will say what’ going on
Yeah I’m the youngest
But I’m not that young
I know that something’s wrong
A Little More
It’s sort of a poetic irony to end the record this one, bringing you from my 2020 back to 2003 in this way, but I don’t think many of us who write songs and music (or novels or poems) go about life in a very systematic or chronological way. In a single day I can dive in and out of a plethora of experiences I’ve had from childhood to now and I imagine most of my music will follow this same type of thinking.
I feel like in writing these blogs, I’ve done an adequate enough job of explaining what these are all about, but I also know that I’ve left a lot on the table, too.
As I’ve said before, this project by design is intended to bring light to things, people, situations and experiences that otherwise maybe don’t get the attention I personally feel they deserve. The intention is always to offer an alternative viewpoint to learn from, whether you agree or not is entirely up to you. They’re not meant as a sort of rule book or theology on what to do or not do, they’re just things as the way I view them.
I recognize that the way I sometimes bring fourth my opinion is not always characteristically “right”, my own word choices can sometimes be poor but I have never felt like this alone was a reason to condemn or shame someone – languages are hard.
But we get nowhere without the conversation – you’re welcome to participate as much or as little as you’d like.