The eulogy was short, just like Cookie’s time with us.
It went something like, “Those hours you spent in our house were among our brightest. You lit up that tank like no other fish in the sea. You fought valiantly with your one fin, and didn’t even complain. You are an inspiration to all of us, and we will never forget you. Go bravely into the sewage.”
Flush. So long, Cookie.
My daughter had awoken to our worst fears: Cookie floating on the top of the tank. The other two fish seemed nonplussed, and swam on their merry way in and out through the plants and rocks. One down, two to go, I couldn’t help thinking.
Her tears were plentiful and anguished. I felt horrible, but of course was thinking in my head, “See? this is why I didn’t want to go down this road.” My instincts are always dead on, sorry for the pun. Yet even the doubting Thomasina I was expected at least a week of uninterrupted bliss before something hit the fan. Cookie was only with us thirty-six hours.
I am guilt ridden, both for poor Cookie’s plight and for my daughter’s tears. Naturally, I blame my husband, who was in charge of the treacherous transfer (“Didn’t they tell you how to do it properly?”) It relieves the burden of responsibility somewhat from my shoulders; yet my daughter does not fall prey to these tricks we learn as we age; who is responsible for this tragedy is of no significance to her, she just dwells with its aftermath. There is no bringing back Cookie.
But luckily, there are many more fish at the store, so they have traipsed back to where it all began, to find a replacement Cookie. As well as a state of the art heater, just in case cool water temperature had anything to do with Cookie’s failings. You see where we’re going with this. Broke.
My daughter was adamant: she wanted a new sibling for Christmas, and failing that, a dog.
They say the key to effective parenting is consistency. Fittingly, I have been carefully consistent in my message that I am finished with having babies – if I smell that coconut body butter that you slather on your extended belly to avoid stretch marks one more time I can’t be responsible for my actions. As for the dog, I’m conveniently allergic to fur. I am, of course, lying through my teeth about this allergy, but it is the simplest and most effective way of quelling their pleas that surface biweekly. I sleep at night, despite this tiny white lie.
I have been resistant to bringing any pet into our home for obvious reasons, the inconclusive list including odors, noises, and upkeep. But there is another major problem: they die. As much as I want to avoid the trauma for my children, it is me who I am most worried about.
I have been there, and it’s not pretty. The day we brought our family’s puppy home ranks among the most incredulous of my childhood. We loved Buffy, despite the fact that she barked ferociously day or night if anyone stepped foot on our property. She was a beautiful sandy colored cocker spaniel, with freckles on her nose and bottomless eyes with the eyelashes so long and seductive they needed to be trimmed regularly. As much as she loved our large family, she passionately hated strangers or any other thing that moved, so walking her was an exercise in restraint, literally, and not for the faint of heart or weak in stature.
Buffy lived a long life, but her death hit me hard.
In the same way I can’t watch Animal Planet lest an antelope become an afternoon snack for a Cheetah, I can’t stand the thought of any pet under our care meeting its maker, be it gerbil, cat, hedgehog, frog or fish. Besides, I watched Finding Nemo; it is the ultimate nightmare for any fish to be resident in tank cared for by a nine year old girl. Yet I was feeling guilty for denying my child the pleasure of a pet, so I caved. We got her a fish tank for Christmas, with the promise she could pick out her fish on Boxing Day.
She was over the moon excited. She skipped into our house with her plastic bags containing her carefully chosen protege, three small fish that if cared for properly would double in size over the next year. She had already named them: Elmo, Ernie and Cookie (as in Monster). We were pet owners for all of five minutes when disaster struck: Cookie got caught in the fish net during the transfer into its new home. Cookie appeared to be traumatized, if not physically marred by this procedure; we weren’t sure (he?she?) would last the night.
We waited on edge for Cookie to make a comeback. “Cookie’s gone!” she shouted, which I immediately assumed meant he had been eaten by the other healthy fish in the tank, weakest link theory. Half an hour later she reported a Cookie sighting – “I see him! He’s floating on top of the water!” – which caused my husband and I to exchange wary glances; I knew this day would come, just not so quickly. But Cookie was indeed swimming on top of the water, although slowly and like Nemo, missing a fin.
The news report in the morning: Cookie lives. We narrowly dodged that bullet, now it becomes a waiting game. If I was a gambling girl, I would put my money on a funeral conducted toilet bowl-side before the New Year. Meanwhile, I will try to remain detached from Cookie, and hope my child fares better with pet mortality than I historically have.
At the risk of sounding like a lush, Christmas dinner is just not Christmas dinner without a glass of Viognier – my favorite turkey pairing wine- or at the very least, some liquid containing alcohol, be it moonshine or cognac. Like Art Garfunkel’s lackluster solo career without Paul Simon, turkey dinner is bland and tasteless without wine, and my mood is certainly not as festive.
That I have married into a family that does not drink is a source of considering wrangling, not to mention countless thoughts of “what was I thinking?”. Imagine, if you will, spending an entire day trapped within the confines of your in-laws house, a pack of sugared-up children squealing in delight as they chase each other around, and no rum for your eggnog in sight?
Without beer goggles, hopelessly mundane conversations become unbearably hopelessly mundane. That story about the time my sister-in-law was doubling her Barbie on her bike, and turned to watch her hair blowing in the wind causing her to fall and break her wrist is not as charming the tenth time around. With a glass of wine in hand I suspect I would be more patient. I consider weighing in with my own memories of the time I mistakenly drank my father’s glass of whiskey – I was pretending I was in the Flintstones, I was Betty, Wilma was giving me medicine, incidentally – and my 5-year-old self drunkenly fell down the stairs in front of my parent’s company. I keep this memory to myself – this would be akin to blasphemy.
Years ago, when I got myself into this mess, remaining sober on celebratory occasions was not a big deal. Back when my social life was in full swing (another way of saying pre-children), waking up without a hangover, or at the very least that sour taste in your mouth, was a welcome respite on Boxing Day. Those sweet stories of my betrothed’s childhood were charming the first time around. But as my family has grown, so has my need for a cocktail once the clock chimes five. My social life now null and void, occasions like Christmas can provide the perfect excuse for even earlier cocktails.
Alcohol causes nothing but trouble, my in-laws argue. Admittedly, alcohol has gotten us into some hiccups along the way in my own family (a family where the question is would you like a dash of eggnog with that rum?). There was the time my teenaged brother fell into an alcohol induced sleep with a cigarette burning on our ottoman, and we narrowly escaped our house being burned down. But for the most part, spirits add festivity and fun to our gatherings. Those tiring stories become riotously funny. Tongues loosen, guards drop. Very rarely, scores are settled. Always people are teased mercilessly.
The hard stuff adds color. Christmas dinner with my in-laws is conducted in black and white, and yields ho-hum, stilted conversations. For instance there is much discussion over the done-ness of the turkey. The conundrum of keeping the white meat moist while cooking the dark meat properly has been dissected and debated to the tiniest detail. The hours spent on this topic would surely have produced world peace had that been the debate. This year my in-laws barbecued the turkey: a whole new day dawned. The teetotalers were so enamored by this progression that the lumpy mashed potatoes and dressing (with or without raisins – always good for a fifteen minute discussion) were scantly noted.
If you happen to be my mother-in-law, I’m sorry to be disrespectful, but offer me a glass of wine next year and I guarantee you will prefer my slightly intoxicated state. If this makes me an alcoholic, then so be it; the first step is admitting it. Next year I’m bringing a flask.
I call my nephew, Brennan, a child, but at sixteen he is caught between being a child and being a man. He still has the innocence and nonchalance of youth, but the wisdom that age brings for understanding medical terms and diagnoses. These combined characteristics have made him a dream patient for his team of doctors and nurses, but what a nightmare these past seven months have been for Brennan and his family.
Under normal circumstances, he has been a picture of health. A terrific athlete at anything but especially baseball and basketball, he was hoping to add football to his list by trying out for his high school football team this year. But last May he became ill with what seemed a lethal stomach virus, and dropped 25 pounds off of his already thin frame.
Since then he has bounced around from emergency rooms to x-ray rooms and has seen the inside of every imaginable department in the Isaac Walton Killam Hospital in Halifax. What ailed him seemed like a guessing game to the medical community; diagnosis ricocheted from a bad virus, to celiac disease, to Crohn’s disease. Finally, they settled on lymphoma. The game ascended from bad to worse.
Brennan has endured being a human pin cushion with heartbreaking stoicism and a shrug of the shoulders. He learned the hard way that you never know what a day might bring. He was deprived of food for what seemed an eternity under the Crohn’s blanket. The new, updated lymphoma diagnosis meant he could eat, but the lethal chemotherapy drugs took the pleasure out of food altogether.
Brennan finished his last round of chemotherapy last week, and the prognosis is finally looking positive, this nightmarish chapter of his life hopefully closing. He came home for Christmas and, fingers crossed, forever yesterday.
Santa came early, anything else that happens this Christmas is extraneous. Merry Christmas Brennan, and to all a good night.
Drum roll, please. I am unveiling my favorite things of 2010. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Who cares what her favorite things of 2010 were? Who does she think she is, Oprah?” But reflecting on the year gone past is the thing to do this time of year, as we begin our slide towards 2011. That, and think up new resolutions in order to break them in January. This is what we humans do, we are mired in tradition, as predictable as sheep. What better way to mark time’s passing then to reminisce over the last 365 days, and relive its highlights?
Besides, I have presents to wrap, and am in full avoidance mode, desperate for something to amuse myself. You can resume your drum roll now.
Favorite event: Vancouver Winter Olympics. If you didn’t experience it personally, it is difficult to explain the ground swell of Canadian pride that permeated from the pavement during these fantastic Olympic Games. Finally, we realized it was cool to be Canadian. We rocked those 2010 Winter Games.
Favorite album: Hands down, The Suburbs, by Arcade Fire. This album can calm any storm and soothe any soul, yet also raise the roof and uplift spirits. It does it all, from the lyrics to the message to its simple cohesion. A triumph and a work of art.
Favorite concert: Arcade Fire. The only thing better than listening to The Suburbs was watching Arcade Fire perform songs from that album live in concert. Even our nosebleed seats couldn’t take away the magic in that stadium; they clearly had more talent in their pinky fingers than everyone in that audience combined. Their rendition of Rococo took my breath away, the entire concert was larger than life.
Favorite book: The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. My first time reading this timeless novel, and I was blown away by Wharton’s perceptiveness and prose. I tend to rant and rave a lot about this book, but in this space suffice to say it is a classic for a reason, so read it, or reread it; as the case may be, it speaks for itself.
Favorite movie: A disclaimer: I see almost exclusively G rated movies, with the occasional PG film thrown in when feeling reckless, an environmental hazard of my job. Secretariat wins this race – watching a housewife overcome all odds to produce one of the greatest race horses in history is both a visual delight and a message I like to reinforce to my girls: we can do anything we set our minds to.
Favorite news story: The rescue of 33 Chilean miners. The world watched this improbable rescue en mass; since when does a Hollywood ending actually happen in real life?
Favorite gadget: Garmin Forerunner 405. This watch has revolutionized my running. Being able to glance at my distance or pace takes the guesswork out of my workouts. I set my intervals, and away I go – it’s like having a coach, but better, since it doesn’t care if I skip my workout when it’s raining too hard.
Favorite moment: Running the Boston Marathon. I should clarify, my favorite moment came after I had finished, because it was, well, hard. Nevertheless, an incredibly great experience that I will forever cherish.
Now if I were Oprah, a copy of The Suburbs, The Age of Innocence, and a Garmin watch would magically appear underneath your chair, and we would all be going to Boston for the 2011 marathon. But sadly I can’t compete with the queen of television’s empire, my audience is woefully small (although extremely intelligent), and the only thing I can give you is best wishes for 2011: here’s hoping it has beautiful moments, untold pleasures and many miracles in store.
In my previous life, bbc (before book club), the term ‘book club’ conjured visions of suburban women sitting around bitching about life. I steadfastly avoided them like the plague: my life was enough of a cliche, joining a book club would be the icing on my cake.
Besides, I’m conscientious about using any term which includes ‘club’; its exclusivity annoys me. I’m in, you’re out, it says, if you happen to not be a member. I’m more of an “everybody’s welcome! the more the merrier!” kind of girl; Maritimers never want to hurt feelings.
However I do love to read, and miss those days spent in English literature classes, trying to make sense out of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Orwell. It was interesting to share ideas and concepts with others who loved books, examinations notwithstanding. Keep the class, lose the tests. That sounded promising.
Add to this utopia the ability to tailor your studying to include mostly books you have a burning desire to read, and assemble a group of people who will not cry “FOUL!” on the odd occasion life was too busy to finish the book, and you have yourself a book club, cupcake.
Despite knowing the concept was a sound one, I continued to resist. It would take up valuable time and energy, two things I was perennially short of. I steered wide and clear.
So when my friend Ruthie invited me to hers, I naturally and quickly responded that they weren’t my thing. Ruthie, knowing me well, persisted, demanding that I elaborate exactly why they weren’t my thing. When I couldn’t, I found myself staring at an email the next day with the details of the next meeting.
A few weeks later, cursing Ruthie for getting me into this situation, I arrived on the doorstep for my first meeting, armed with a bottle of wine and a carefully annotated and sticky-noted copy of the book. I didn’t know anyone except Ruthie, and I felt like the new kid in school, which is something I had never experienced in my life. What if they hate me?
Like any well-designed storyline, where the insecure heroine finds her groove in the end, this club I had so adamantly resisted became my most treasured evening out each month. It is an incredible group of warm, savvy and adventurous women. Whoever hosts chooses the book, so sometimes I am forced out of my comfort zone to read books I never would have otherwise, but am always glad I did in the end. (Well, except for Blindness. Sorry Ruthie.) I have slowly come to know all the members, and would jet off on a girls weekend with any of them in a heartbeat (hm, idea.) We drink wine, eat like queens, and bitch about life.
And sometimes, we even talk about the book.
Parenting is truly the best of times and the worst of times. Often the parenting pendulum can swing quickly from Kodak moments to moments fraught with disastrous consequences multiple times within a twelve hour period. If I was to graph my own emotions throughout the course of one such day, particularly when my children were wee, it would look like a roller coaster ride fit for a thrill seeker. It is not for the faint of heart.
Neither is it for those who are squeamish, particularly with regards to bodily fluids. In fact, if you have a particular problem with feces, you may not want to read on. Consider yourself forewarned.
Like all of you other parents out there without a personal assistant in toe (commonly known as a nanny), I have been peed on, pooped on, and vomited on by my tiny protege. Once on an airplane, my eighteen month old threw up all over me during takeoff, causing us both to sit in this canned-mandarin-orange-and-milk imbued mixture for at least twenty minutes until the seat belt light had gone off and I could break for the washroom. Ha – in retrospect, that was nothing.
Ill timed tantrums, moments spent wedged into disgusting public toilets with a baby you can’t put down, beautiful clothes ruined from creative moments with permanent markers, chocolate-smeared faces way too early in the morning, who can’t pull a few of these out of their parenting bag? My youngest child’s preschool teacher once asked me if our family was underwear-adverse; my child had insisted on dressing herself (in dresses), and I hadn’t thought to check. All feathers in our cap we can pull out to entertain people with at dinner parties. After eleven years of parenting I feel like a bloody peacock.
But there is one moment that stands out that is much too vile for dinner party lore.
My youngest daughter, besides being cute as a button, was a gifted napper. After spending half the day cajoling my first child into her nap, I perfected my nap time routine with subsequent children into a process whereby I would announce in a sing songy voice “naptime!”, change their diaper amid hushed tones and drop them in their crib, equipped with soothers and blankets and leave the room. Miraculously this worked like a charm, freeing me for an hour or on lucky days, two, to perform my multitude of soul destroying chores, or to watch Oprah.
On one such day, a day where chores were required, although I gazed longingly at the television wishing it were an Oprah day, I dropped my youngest angel in her crib for her nap with a t-shirt and a diaper. She happily gurgled and cooed and rolled around as I darted out of the room, like usual. Did I mention she was cute? I rushed around, trying to squeeze every ounce of worth out of these moments. Passing by her door occasionally, I heard her thrashing around and continuing to speak her intelligent baby talk. I smugly congratulated myself for instigating this foolproof routine that I benefited from every day. I was born to be a mother.
Half an hour later I still heard her happy noises, and was very surprised since she was normally sawing logs within five minutes. She was babbling away, obviously amusing herself with the few safe toys that were in her crib. Third children, I said to myself, so independent, so easy. She will be super tired and surely have a long nap, I reasoned, I’m going to accomplish so much, and continued to the laundry room, within hearing range in case she started to protest her exile.
A load of laundry later, and she was still babbling. Now my curiosity was peaked; I wanted to see what could possibly be amusing my adorable cherub for so long. I cracked open the door, and both the odor and sight of mass destruction that greeted me was something I will never forget, long though I may try.
Freed from her typical onesie, she had pooped in her diaper, took it off, and played with its contents, which were obviously quite spreadable. Poop was everywhere, all over her face, body, and soother, all over her flannel sheets, all over and in every crevice of her crib, and all over the wall beside it. She had spared no available surface. In fact, the only thing it didn’t hit was the fan.
Hyperventilating, I ran to open the window, and searched my mind for the best method of dealing with this. She was surprised to see me in such a state, her soiled soother popped out of her mouth and her head cocked to the side. I flapped around like a bird who couldn’t fly, running around the room wailing, wanting to pick her up and remove the brown stuff that was on my sweet babe’s eyelashes and in her ears, but knowing this would in turn me brown in the process. I needed a plan, and I needed it fast.
The situation needed a considerable amount of damage control, if I didn’t deploy my plan carefully it could have long lasting implications on my carpet. I ran to start a bath for her, then stripped down myself before gingerly picking her up from the wreckage, arms held akimbo, using my sing songy voice to now tell her it was time for a bath. She seemed content with this new, cleaner, playground in the tub, so I dashed around, amassing every cleaning tool known to our household, and furiously scrubbed her crib and wall back to its former pristine self. That done, the smell subsided and I overloaded our washer with every salvageable scrap of material used at the crime scene. Then I scrubbed her down from head to toe, emptying and refilling the bathtub three times in the process, choking back the bile in my throat – I had seen enough fluids that day.
Finally clean, we went to pick up my older children from school. While waiting for the school bell, a parent idly asked me “How was your day?” Not knowing where to begin, and especially not wanting to revisit the massacre again, even with words, I decided this one was for the vault, and replied, “uh, fine…how was yours?”.
Surely, I am not alone. What are your worst parenting moments?