Linda Rogers

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Linda Rogers is a novelist, essayist, journalist, editor and songwriter. She is past Victoria Poet Laureate, Canadian People’s Poet, and President of the League of Canadian Poets, and the BC Federation of Writers. Linda has published 29 books—including poetry, children’s books, fiction, non-fiction—and has been included in a number of anthologies. She has received the Leacock Prize, the National Poetry Prize, the Dorothy Livesay Prize, the Gwendolyn MacEwen Prize and the Milton Acorn Award in Canada, among others. Linda is the mother of three, step-mother of one, grandmother of four and is married to blues mandolinist Rick Van Krugel. She values and celebrates children and families and believes “a healthy world depends on healthy children.” When asked to take part in GRAND’s Q & A being a grandparent, she answered: “…there is NOTHING more important to me. You could give me an option, “…talk about grandparenting or receive the Nobel Prize” and that would be a no brainer. I’d LOVE to answer your questions.”

Q. How many children do you have? What are their names?

I have a stepdaughter, Eva, and three sons Sasha, Keefer and Tristan, plus a bunch of kids we regard as family who outgrew us in different ways, some of whom revisit with affection. Others are spirit kids now, the ones who didn’t survive the trauma of colonisation: Tony, Clyde, Russell.

Q. How many grandchildren do you have? What are their names and ages? Where do they live?

Four grandchildren: Sophie, 28, James Sage, 26, Olive, 19, and Isabel, 13, all of whom live in Victoria. Wahoo!

Q. What do you love most about being a grandparent? Least? 

What I love most is knowing that child-love is an inherited characteristic. When children are respected, it is learned behaviour. I love watching my family nourish their children the way they grow their gardens, and no matter how embarrassing I may be as a non-adult adult, something has resonated: respect for human rights and especially the rights of children. I love having a hand in the development of their passion and watching them grow into themselves.

I least like what I love most, watching them grow, because growth means independence and my ultimate redundancy except the part about retaining the important things, passion for truth and beauty, respect for life in all its forms.

Q. How is being a grandparent different than being a parent?

Not much different except instead of opposing our parents we occasionally oppose our kids who might sometimes feel the temptation think we are inspiring crazy in their precious life projects. One of them mentioned “Undermining authority.” Yes. Right. Bring it on. That is the job description. The only rule is kindness, kids.

Q. What was important to you as a parent when you were raising your own children?

It was important to me that my children knew their own worth and respected the value of others. I hoped to lead them into experiences that would give them joy for the rest of their lives and that they would be kind. As a feminist, I realised that what my sons observed and experienced at home would affect their attitude toward women. Sometimes that led to some infamous lectures. I admonished them to “behave and respect” in front of girlfriends, who were, I hope, grateful. One of my favourite experiences was “the Lothario one of infinite charm,” changing a very challenging diaper in front of an old girlfriend, as in old friend, who said. “This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.” Hahahaha. I hoped my kids would be good people leading good lives, and so far, so good.

My kids grew up on a sheep farm between two reserves. The benefit of learning about an old, albeit horrifically assaulted, culture from their friends, the honour of being included in ceremony, reinforced their home values.

Q. What is most important to you as a grandparent?

Nothing much has changed. A new child is like falling in love again. This time, your hands aren’t so much on the wheel, so the ride can be even more exhilarating. Almost irresponsible love. My worst transgression as a grandparent is standard grandparent behaviour—babies are to be adored and given in to so long as it is safe. If their parents entrust them to us, they can just forget about their expectations. Mine are that they have a beautiful time. As before, I have one rule. Be safe and be kind.

The only time I doled out discipline was when my grandson, going through the 10-year-old chubby stage before he went vertical, was called “F*****”—by a FRIEND??? As he got in my car, he yelled back “F*****!” so I dumped him out and suggested he and his friend, the little horribles, could walk home from school and make nice. Luckily, that stage passed.

Recently, when our youngest, Isabel, brought two girlfriends over for popsicles, I started in on a homily about mean girls and exclusion. “We know that,” they replied in unison and rolled their eyes. When I told our grandson-in-law, Sumeet, about this reaction to grandma wisdom he said, in his wisdom, “You’re not 13, Linda.” True.

Just because I know everything at my advanced age, does not give me licence to rattle on. No one is paying me to lecture anymore.

Q. You have said “a healthy world depends on healthy children.” How can we, as a community/society, help ensure our children—and in turn our world—stay healthy?

It starts in law, in writing like the sermon on the Mount, the lovely beatitudes and in other spiritual prescriptions. The commandment should say, Do unto others, especially babies. The way we nourish children will determine their world view, the way they become custodians of nature and each other. There is enough in this world for everyone. No one needs excess. We do great harm expecting children to sacrifice childhood to compete for excess. They need to play together and to pass on fair play to the next generation. That is what we owe them. To each according to his need, the justice of moderate need. Sadly, that needs to be legislated because we have not yet as a capital-driven civilisation been able to absorb the holy laws without twisting them into competitiveness.

 Q. It has been said that you and your partner, Rick Van Krugel, are really adult children and that the inside of your house looks like the inside of your brains, very cluttered and whimsical. How do these qualities lend themselves to being a grandparent?

It is true. We are naughty children, sharing a perverse sense of humour and delight in the phenomenal world, most of which we have brought home to the disgust of our children, who foresee our deaths as cleanup jobs and delight of our grandchildren, who will inherit the stuff. We are known as the Honorable Cluttertons in some circles, Rick, who must adopt and fix everything, is far worse than me, and our house is a veritable museum of friendships and enthusiasms. Unfortunately many of our friends have been artists and they are all present on our walls and in the air, constantly chattering, pictures words and music all around us, all the time.

Q. You jumped off a mountain in Turkey? Why?! 

I am not physically brave, but we were travelling with Naomi, the 16-year-old recklessly-brave daughter of the band leader of Sweet Papa Lowdown, and she challenged me to jump “to impress my grandchildren.” So I did. After a scary start (not enough wind) it was glorious. My grandchildren were not overly impressed, but they were used to my impulsivities so maybe it seemed normal.

Q. What part did your grandparents play in your life? What did you learn from them?

I had two grandmothers, one of whom died the week I was born but may have left me with spiritual thirst and flapper gaiety, and the other who was shrouded in the martyrdom of war casualty. Her husband, my grandfather, was a brilliant young man gassed at Ypres and left with a chronic case of TB which didn’t kill him for 40 years, all of which they spent in quarantine.

My grandfathers were wonderful. The one who was an invalid had every talent imaginable, the delight in which he passed on because we broke some of the rules of his isolation. He was a phenomenal athlete (and was still allowed to golf) who had played soccer for Scotland and also represented Scotland as a singer at the Chicago World Fair. He was the Seaforth Highlander who sang for the Germans at the famous Christmas armistice. His life was a tragedy in some sense, but also a triumph over adversity because he passed on his love of art, reading, music and gamesmanship. My other grandfather, a descendent of the Trollope and Hopkins literary families gave me another sense of the importance of story and love of animals. Two lovely men.

Q. What do you hope your grandchildren learn from you?

I think they have learned to laugh through their tears, to do what they love, to raise beautiful kids and create beauty from whatever is in front of them, whether it is 26 notes, a lump of clay, a 2’x4′ or a sidewalk begging for chalk.

Q. How have you passed along traditions and skills, in particular poetry? Music? Writing? Story telling?

I was thrilled recently when our granddaughter Olive was told by her lit teacher that her writing was full of surprises. That made me so happy because “surprising” means embracing risk, going for truth and beauty, no matter how elusive. The bonus was that, almost simultaneously, Joyce Carol Oates wrote the same comment about my writing when she was awarding the Carter Vanderbilt Cooper short story prize. I love that Olive is free to express her ideas. I hope I gave her permission.

My husband is a, can I say, brilliant musician. He is very uptight about screwing lids on jars, which makes me insane, but totally reckless when he is playing his mandolin. I love that. He has passed on that enthusiasm to the kids, one of whom is actively playing. The problem with Sophie, who writes songs, is that she has so many enthusiasms and gifts, encouraged by her parents and grandparents, it is hard to find time for all of them. Now that she is a mother, artist, carpenter, jewelry maker, singer etc she is giving the quality time to her son. No wonder he is in tune already and actually said “Grampa” at four months. Lucky, beautiful boy.

There is a stubborn dyslexic gene in my former husband’s family, which inhibited confidence in reading and writing. My kids spelled phonetically. Too bad they didn’t grow up speaking Turkish, a phonetic language. My youngest, Tristan, and I co-conspired to write Frankie Zapper and the Disappearing Teacher after a sadistic teacher sent him to the blackboard to spell onomatopoeia. They are all readers now and Olive is one who might be a writer if she chooses.

Of course, they have been exposed to everything we love and they pick and choose.

Q. How did you help your children—and how do you help your grandchildren—find their talents and strengths? To explore their creativity?

My children have warned me not to be toooooo responsive when their kids express enthusiasm or show aptitude because that can be the kiss of death. I am liable to jump in the air and drown them in praise and accessories at the slightest provocation. Sage recently told me he has enough art supplies for a lifetime. Okay I get it, no more pastels. I LOVE pastels, the beautiful colours. Creative selves are happy selves. I love to see kids overcome by joy, but sometimes I have to listen and hold back. They get to choose, not me.

A while back, I was with Kwagiulth artist Billy Cook and his kids while Billy finished a silver belt buckle for my husband. In his culture, kids learn by watching. I jumped in and ran around the studio he shared with his brother Rande, stealing Rande’s coloured pencils and paper. “They want to draw!” I said. Of course they did. Billy also knew they needed to watch and learn patience. William, who cried that day because he wanted a belt buckle, was told he would get a buckle when he made it himself. Now that is cultural teaching. William is becoming a beautiful artist and his dad will teach him to engrave when he is ready and has promised I can gift him the silver. I cannot wait!

Grandparenting is not only your own family but all the families. I love it when grown-ups I have known all their lives still call me “Gramalinda” although one granddaughter, who will remain nameless, threatened to put her best friend’s cheeks in the toaster for calling me that. They remain best friends and I stole her line for The Empress Letters.

Q. What are some of your favourite things to do and places to go with your grandchildren?

That is the hardest question to answer because, at this time (during the pandemic), the only possible trips are in our heads…no high tea at Venus Sophia (sadly shut), no mucking with germy clay or cooking together, and certainly no concerts, theatre or galleries, no promised excursion to London or elsewhere for the two youngest whose turn it is to choose a destination. I like to go any place with my grandchildren from film to farm, especially the spit on the Armour farm at Saltspring Island where extended family also waits for this to be over. At last.

We have had birthday parades, messenger and skype this year, all sadly lacking. I paint cards and order gifts online, catching hell for air transport pollution from one zealot. July was a blessed window before Delta dawn (and yes we are writing a song about that) and we went to Butterfly World and Sea Cider Winery via Tally Ho Tours to celebrate Rick and Sophie’s birthdays. Now we are knuckling down again after a few wonderful hugs for a brutal winter.

This year I hope to publish a book called Mother, the Verb, Swan Sister Treasures, which is a collection of art, writing, photography, music and filmmaking by activist women and allies. My granddaughter, Sophie Rogers Dhaul’s art is on the cover. Youth contributors include Isla Cook and Olive Rogers. We are all mothers of invention and I hope the book will be a celebration of renewed awareness of the value in matriarchy, balanced culture, the old leading the young and the young leading the old, that came out of a very dark time in our shared history.

Q. What do you wish for your grandchildren?

I wish them lives that are as gloriously fulfilling as the one I have had, where, as a feminist, I fought for rights they enjoy and, as a human, tried to live the beautitudes. I wish them luck in finding partners who love them and work that fulfills them. I hope they are able to give and receive with grace. I hope that they are in the majority of humans who respect other cultures and life forms and strive to protect the planet from greed.

Q. What would you like your grandchildren to remember most about you?

I would like them to remember that, although I was a person who talked to everyone and dressed the way I felt, sometimes to comic extremes, my intentions were good. I don’t mind if they have a retrospective laugh about everything but the day I risked my life and possibly his job wearing a unicorn mask into Capital Savings to greet my granddaughter’s then boyfriend, Sumeet. Hey, I wasn’t carrying. I would like them to remember my bread and my lettuce wrap, my frittata and curries, my chutney and trifle, but not the year I made Brussels sprout salad at Christmas.

Q. Do you have any wise words or stories to share with other grandparents to help them in their role raising their grandchildren? 

I have the same advice I give about life in general. Be authentic. Kids and cats know the difference. Share your joy and be honest about your sorrows. Give generously. It is true there is more joy and giving, but also remember to receive with gratitude. They are treasures. Show them the ways in which expectation is the enemy of joyful creativity. The act of creation is its own reward. Show don’t tell. They learn by mimicry. Love them and then love them some more. There is never too much. Don’t be afraid to phone an adult child and leave embarrassing singing messages their friends might hear on their answering machines, “I just called to say I love you,” because those old tapes are your most valuable legacy. IMHO.

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