I’ve emerged from the inside of many cardboard boxes in time to catch our plane to Nova Scotia, to reunite with my sprawling family and kick back in a cottage on the beach. I’m two plane rides away from summer.
One final thought on the moving process: I’m hoping it’s like labour, where you quickly forget the pain you went through to arrive at the prize. We are a lighter, streamlined version of our former selves. We now call a smaller house with a pretty Japanese garden home, in a hood filled with children and dog walkers. In three days I was more intimately acquainted with our neighbours than in three years at our other house, and children are knocking at our door all day long, wanting to play with my kids.
My back breaking work is paying off. Now it’s time to eat lobster and drink beer with my favorite people in the world – those remaining boxes can wait.
If you stare straight at the sun, it burns your eyes. And so it is when you lose someone you love.
It’s been a year now. There is a yawning crater where once there was an incredible person, and it’s difficult to navigate. John was a unique blend; he had the wisdom of a village elder coupled with the energy and enthusiasm of a puppy. He was a shooting star in the Milky Way, someone we gazed at in wonder. His friend said God needed John to liven things up in heaven, and that seems to be the only explanation that makes any sense.
If I ruminate over those last moments together, or the injustice of it, or just the fact that he is gone, it scorches my heart and torches my mind. Reality blinds me as though I’m gazing, unblinkingly, into the sun. Life becomes a game: do what you can without thinking about it.
It’s easier for me. I’m thousands of miles away and have three kids to distract me. Much harder for his wife and children, and for our mother.
But still, I have trouble living in a world without my brother, who was no less a superhero to me than Superman himself. Some days are more successful than others. The minutia of life keeps me away from my thoughts, and I skate along the surface of life, doing what needs to be done. Occasions are trickier. When his two children graduated from university last month, I’d guess their focus was more on the one person missing in the audience, than the occasion at hand.
Times like these, waves of memories are too strong to be swept aside. The thin ice that I skate on gives way to shockingly cold water.
The thing about grief is that it doesn’t abate in a clean, linear line, once the empties have been cleared from the funeral reception. It’s more like the tide; it stems and flows and visits you relentlessly. It is a common misnomer that time heals all wounds. Time doesn’t heal anything. Grief hovers beneath the surface of your life, it’s just a matter of how good you become at masking it.
Of course, I don’t want to forget. I will never forget. Who could forget? His smile. His energy. His wit. His intelligence. His light. His magnetism. He was one in a million. He was one in a lifetime. No, I will not ever forget. If grief means remembering, then so be it. I will learn to shield my eyes when I stare at the sun.
And still, I know. John is in the whisper of the wind, the whitecaps on the lake, and in the beautiful blooms in his garden. He’s absent from this physical world, but lives on in our hearts. Someone of his magnitude, who made an indelible mark on so many lives, can never be gone. He’s everywhere.
Most of us don’t live with extended family in our homes like our ancestors of yesterday. Our houses or apartments aren’t bursting with in-laws and grandparents, uncles and aunts are not on the other side of the thin wall. Chaotic family dinners are not a nightly occurrence, but reserved for Thanksgiving and special birthdays.
Although we don’t have to listen to our mother-in-law drone on about her gravy everyday, she isn’t around to make chocolate chip cookies, either. Or to hold our infant when our two-year old falls off the swing. Or to babysit for that far too occasional date-night.
I live on the opposite coast of Canada from my family, and my in-laws are an hour’s drive away. Raising three children, there have been times when I could have used that village, but it wasn’t physically there. The miles were gaping, and I was my own island.
At first, it was lonely. Used to the buzz of an office filled with co-workers, I missed adult interaction. But slowly and steadily, I met other mothers with infants, and we bonded over chitchat of breastfeeding and stain removal. My mom friends advised me where to find the best highchairs and how to soothe my baby to sleep. They taught me how to use sign language before my child could speak, advised which laundry detergent to try when skin rashes arose.
My mom friends walked me through first playdates, and took my toddler to swimming lessons when I had another baby to care for. When I miscarried, they brought dinners and muffins while I sat on the sofa and cried. Sometimes, the only time I would speak with an adult during daylight hours was at the doorstep of my daughters playdates, where we would discuss drop off and pick up times, and then discuss life. Those five minutes made a big difference in my day.
My mom friends have morphed and changed overtime, as children move schools and choose other best friends and different activities. Now, my children are in school and involved in sports. Since it’s hard to be in three places at the same time, my mom friends arrange carpools and cheer on my kids when I can’t be there. They tell me who is doing what on the playground according to the rumour mill. They are the eyes that are watching one of my kids when my own eyes are across town watching another. They have my back.
It still takes a village to raise a child, and my village consists of my husband, myself, and my mom friends. By this point in time, of course, my mom friends have become, simply, my friends. We get together for hikes, family dinners, and sit side by side at assemblies (and soon, graduation). We volunteer in rain, snow, sleet and, less frequently, sunshine. We huddle together and shudder at the thought of high school and the teenage years. We have been known to party.
It’s not always easy being a parent, but my friends make my life both easier, and so much richer. My village doesn’t live underneath one roof, but rather is scattered in different pockets along the North Shore, an extended Block Watch from days past. When my own two arms are not enough to hold what needs holding, I have others outstretched behind me, catching what falls through the cracks. And luckily for me, my village loves to dance.
Here’s to my village; I couldn’t do this without you.
When BC Premier Christy Clark invited mom bloggers to a round table discussion about how to make things better for BC families, there was one resounding answer: create affordable and accessible daycare.
As you know, my days of daycare are long since over, thank whatever God you will. Because it was a nightmare, and one I’m not keen to revisit, even in my memories. But for those of you foreign to the issue, here’s a recap.
The statistics were not in my favour; for all of the children in need of daycare in our province, there is space for about 20%. I knew this, going into my first pregnancy. But I was stupidly optimistic. Other people had trouble finding daycare, but surely my little cherubs could scale waiting lists just like they would one day scale mountains on their way to conquering the world. Somehow, I would find an in, and my career would continue to flourish as fast as my body shrunk back to its former size.
Reality, however, proved drastically different than the world I inhabited in my head.
As my maternity leave came to an end, no daycare spots magically appeared, just like the baby weight did not fall from my hips. I remember strapping on my Baby Bjorn and knocking on the door of every licensed daycare in our community, in a futile attempt to make headway. Surely, they couldn’t turn us away in person?
Surely and easily, they did. I looked at licensed at-home daycares, and finally found one I thought would work. My daughter, predictably, screamed like a tyrant everyday I left her before fighting the morning commute. I thought it would abate after a week, but it never did. “You’ll know in your gut,” everyone told me, “if it’s a good situation or not.” Everyday, I felt sick when I said goodbye to her. If I listened to my gut, I would have to quit my job, since there were no other childcare options. (My husband and I were not comfortable with leaving our baby with a nanny, which was the solution for most of our friends.)
Everyday was a struggle. Everyday I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Everyday I evaluated the importance of my career over my daughter’s well-being.
A couple of daycares and a year later, I was ready to go on maternity with my second child. If you think it’s hard finding daycare for one child, it’s almost impossible to find places for two. And at double the cost, economically, it makes less sense. I threw in the towel, gave up my job, and have been out of the work force ever since.
Of course, I’m one of millions of women who have done the same thing, there is nothing special about my situation. However it left an indelible mark where my career once lived. A path unexplored. A giant piece of me taken away, not to mention a livelihood. How many other women feel the same way? Likely, millions.
Christy Clark was brutally honest, if nothing else, about the situation. For starters, BC can’t afford a system of daycare similar to the costly Quebec model, she told us. Quebec has higher provincial taxes and receives transfer payments, which help fund their program. And secondly, it’s hard to convince voters to care about childcare, since it affects people for a small window of time (roughly five years, from birth until age five).
My children are now in school, but this doesn’t mean I am short sighted about the need for a better childcare system in our province. It no longer affects me directly, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want things to improve for other families, and especially other women. Our society and province would only stand to benefit from a strong childcare system that enables women to continue on their career paths.
I may not benefit from a better provincial childcare system in BC, but I have three daughters that are intent on conquering the world, and they just might.
A coalition of child care advocates, who are much smarter than me, have put together a compelling and comprehensive plan for a better childcare system in BC. For details, check out their website at http://www.ecebc.ca.
Friday nights mean a lot of things to different people – clubbing, high calibre reality television, Quidditch, poker – pick your poison. At one time in my life, Friday’s meant parties, dates, and the heady possibility of sleeping in on Saturday. But introducing children to my life has effectively squashed those options, making room for new traditions and more family-friendly rituals. Friday nights have evolved into family movie night, alive with the possibility of escaping to the wintry depths of Narnia, the vestiges of piracy in the Caribbean, or perhaps days gone by in Hollywood or Hogwarts.
I like doing errands almost as much as I like scrubbing toilets, but going to fetch our Friday night movie is one errand I enjoy: my store of choice is located next to the liquor store, a marriage of convenience if there ever was one. One competent double play – wine, video – guaranteed a night of fun. But recently, as I pirouetted towards the video store entrance, singing that annoying song “It’s Friday, Friday, Gotta get down on Friday,” I came face to face with an Out of Business sign.
I was stunned. To ensure this wasn’t some sort of hoax I pressed my face to the glass, and sure enough the shelves were empty, workers already in the process of dismembering the counter where I used to stand and make small talk with the red-shirted employees.
This, on the heels of my other neighbourhood video store going bust a couple of months ago. I’m officially in no man’s videoland. It is the end of an era, before I was ready to be done with the era. As I did when the bootcut leg gave way to the skinny jean, I am recoiling and resisting, lingering in my outdated video sense.
I know there are alternatives. I simply don’t like them as much as my weekly jaunt to the video store. My cable company provides a video on demand service, but the selection is paltry and depressing. People are buzzing about Netflix, but gathering the family around our Mac isn’t enticing, and our Wii is hooked up to an old t.v. in the basement; switching it seems like too much work (and likely impossible). I bought my husband Apple TV for Christmas, but it’s not up and running – something to do with the seventeen remotes we have for our main television. (Whoever set up our system never heard of KISS – keep it simple, stupid.)
It’s not like I’m resistant to change. When winemakers ushered in perfectly acceptable vintages with twist-off caps, I barely batted an eye. I gladly sign up for a web-chats with my bank rather than wait on hold for a live person. Volleyball did away with side-outs, and I sucked it up. I roll with the punches pretty good, for the most part.
But the death of the video store has caught me with my boot-cut pants down. I’m aghast and dismayed, not to mention video-less. If video killed the radio star, then who, in turn, killed the video? Netflix, I’m looking at you.
If I were to pluck a parenting book off a shelf, I’d wager there’s something between those pages about the importance of consistency. As in, you should react roughly the same way in similar situations. As in, the same rules should roughly apply for each member of the family. Roughly, right?
It sounds simple on paper, yet is astoundingly difficult in practice. When it comes to parenting, the only thing I am consistent about is being inconsistent.
I ruminated on this when I woke up clinging to the edge of our king size mattress, as my seven year-old lay stretched out like a snow angel in the middle of the bed, and my husband clung to the opposite side. We had been militant about not bringing our first and second children into our bed, lest it become a habit. Yet our third child lands between our sheets on a nightly basis, and we barely bat an eye. (We were right about one thing: it is habit forming.)
We barely recognize ourselves, and hardly know how we got here. Are we simply too tired of resisting? Are we susceptible to her status as our baby? Or have we simply relaxed our views on co-sleeping? Probably a little of each.
When my oldest child was two, I enrolled her in swimming lessons, gymnastics, preschool, and skating lessons. For the skating lessons, I recall dressing her like she was about to summit Everest, and then watched her crawl – CRAWL – around the ice with a marker in her hand, colouring on the ice, for twenty minutes. The dressing up and dressing down took longer than the lesson itself. It was ridiculous in so many ways, but to be fair it was as much about me getting out of the house than about her learning double axels.
In comparison, my third child has recently taken her first set of swimming and skating lessons at the tender age of seven, and only because she begged me. The reasons for this one are more obvious: I’ve learned that until a certain age, these activities are useless, and I’m already too busy driving my other children around.
These are just the tips on my parenting iceberg. There are so many other examples – I can’t recall one time I have punished kids number two and three beyond telling them not to do something. Yet my first child has had so many time-outs it rivaled her time-ins. We have reels of videos of our oldest saying her ABC’s before she was two, but I had to give my second child a crash course on them the day before she started kindergarten.
With each child I’ve birthed, my parenting persona has done a triple toe loop. My over-bearing grip loosened with my second child, and then relaxed almost completely with my third. I’m inclined to blame it on my laziness, but I see it happening in families around me as well: generally speaking, parents chill more with each passing baby.
I once read a book about how your birth order affects your personality, suitably titled Birth Order and You (there was no chapter about being the ninth child, however, so no clues into my own quirks and oddities – judging by my own parenting, it’s amazing I was even named.) Otherwise, it was strangely accurate in its depictions of oldest, middle, youngest, and only children – I recognized a few of my siblings, and lots of my friends, in its characterizations. It’s fair to assume these personality traits are borne from the expectations and treatment by their main influences, their parents.
So I’m part of a predictable trend that creates headstrong firstborns, peacekeeping middle children, and smart but spoiled youngest children. (As my baby hogs my pillow, I detect a slight smile on her slumbering lips, and although my shoulder is killing me, I don’t dare change positions in the event that I wake her.) At least there is comfort in numbers.
Do you fit the birth order stereotypes? And if you’re a parent, have you unwittingly changed your tactics as your herd has grown?
Flat Ella was packed to go on our Hawaiian vacation a week early. She stood on her tiptoes in my child’s coat locker (she was laminated, so sitting was impossible), waiting patiently for our departure date and her moment in the sun.
How Flat Ella missed the flight is anyone’s guess. Some might blame it on the mother. The mother might blame the father. The child might blame her older sisters. Suffice to say once our error was revealed, there were lots of fingers being pointed. But the reality was once we pulled away from our house, fashionably late for our flight, the checklist we ran through went something like: passports? wallet? flight information? bathing suits? oven off? alarm on? Flat Ella didn’t make the list, just like she didn’t make my child’s suitcase.
Catastrophe’s of this magnitude tend to be revealed at the moment she is least equipped to deal with them: the instant before her delirious head hits the pillow. And so it was, after a long day of line ups and airports and time zones, I lay down with her in her vacation bed, with visions of Mai-Tais dancing in my head, certain she will be asleep in a flash, only to have her bolt up into a sitting postion and wail, or should I say WAIL, that we forgot to bring Flat Ella. “Flat who?” I asked, so far was Flat Ella from my stream of hula-ing Mai-Tais.
Incidentally, Flat Ella is a project inspired by the book, Flat Stanley, whereby a hand-drawn, paper version of a child is photographed in adventurous situations. When I was a keen super-achiever parent, a Flat Stanley project once caused my friend to be stabbed by a potentially poisonous cacti in Phoenix. My, how the mighty have fallen.
A plan was concocted quickly lest we all lose an entire night of sleep: after spending a day on the beach, we would hightail it to a store to buy bristol board and markers, and a new (better! improved!) Flat Ella would be born. The lack of lamination was a stumbling point, but I assured her we would figure something out – at worst, no surfing for Flat Ella.
The next day dawned sunny and warm. We lounged on pristine beaches watching whales breach in the distance. We snorkeled with sea turtles and rainbow fish. We boogie-boarded and found sea cucumbers in tidal pools. But apparently nothing could be enjoyed, either in paradise or ever after, without Flat Ella. We packed up our loungers and headed for the mall.
After much input and erasing, a Flat Ella emerged that looked more like a brown-haired Tinkerbell in a strapless blue cocktail dress than Ella, but the most important among us was pleased with the result. Ingeniously we bought some clear tape and managed to create a water-resistent prototype. Flat Ella was alive and well, although another happy hour was lost to the cause. Our vacation was potentially saved: all we had to do was snap a few inventive pictures.
The next morning, we loaded Flat Ella, our beach chairs, snorkel gear, boogie-boards, towels, and yes, cooler, and trotted towards the beach. Passing the pool, the real Ella spotted her teammate from soccer, and promptly ditched Flat Ella to better accommodate her beach buckets and shovels. She was so intent on playing with her friend (and torturing sea cucumbers), she didn’t mention Flat Ella again, leaving us to pick up the slack.
Normally, I’m not one for completing my kids’ projects – but forfeiting happy hour had to amount to something.
It’s such a normal, predictable equation: go to university, start your career, get married, have a baby. In my hurry to be a grown up, I went “check, check, check, CHECK GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY WHAT HAVE I DONE?”
I was unprepared for the permanence of motherhood. I vividly recall my teachers droning on about how difficult university would be. “No one will write this on the board for you in university,” they grumbled as they fed their chalk into the holder that never held. In university, professors warned us about how trying life was in the real world. “If you’re late, you’re fired,” they reminded me over their round spectacles when I breezed into Poli Sci 101 fashionably late. As for marriage, it was easy to see that had its trials – normal, everyday encounters with couples, and sitcoms like The Jeffersons, prepared me for a union that is difficult at the best of times – As George said about his marriage to Weezy, We tied the knot forty years ago, and I been swinging from it ever since.
Which brings me to motherhood. I would have liked a few more “Heads up! Be careful what you wish for!” warnings, but once the bun is in the oven, it’s a little late for those. I eagerly digested “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” only to throw it over my shoulder when I spied “The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy” on a bookshelf. It was like reading Cosmo after a owning a yearly subscription to Family Circle. Vicki Iovine prepared me for pregnancy, but no one prepared me for motherhood. (Incidentally, Vicki has split up with her husband, so I’m guessing “The Girlfriends Guide to Divorce” is on its way.)
This topic is on my mind these days, since my twelve year old daughter’s loftiest goal in life is motherhood. I’m sure this is a passing phase, but nevertheless I am arming myself with an arsenal of reasons why becoming a mother – while it’s the highest calling and all that crap – is actually something one should put it off until they can’t any longer. I’m not going to stand idly by and let my child think it is all baby powder and toothless grins – because there is a lot of shit to add to this equation, both figuratively and literally.
1. Your body will never be the same.
After housing a person for a gestation period, delivering a rugby-ball sized person from where the sun don’t shine, and allowing them to both pacify themselves and feed themselves by sucking on your breast, perhaps this is obvious. But my old college roommate said it best when she exclaimed “What happened to your boobs?” a year after the birth of my second child. My once perky chest had shrunk in size (What? It only stands to reason they should grow…) and could now belong to a circus act demonstrating how far one’s skin can stretch. It’s a party trick I have yet to pull out in public.
2. You didn’t know the meaning of patience (or worry, or fear. or anger.) Until you’re a parent.
I thought I was an easy going person until I had a child. A little spilled red wine didn’t bother me in the least. But watching my (once sweet) two-year old play wheelies with my newborn’s stroller while she is strapped into it sent me into a rage so quickly it was like emotional whiplash. If my reactions could somehow be measured, they would look like an altitude watch after a day of downhill skiing: several peaks of joy, followed quickly by plummets of despair, with confusion, panic, fear and anger thrown in on the way down. No wonder I’m exhausted by the end of each day.
4. Forget about vacations for eighteen years.
Whereas you once woke up and wondered how to spend another leisurely day in paradise, vacationing quickly becomes more work than life with children. By the time you’ve force fed them, applied their armor of suntan lotion, blown up their floaties, and wrestled their hats on their heads, it’s time for lunch and a break from the sun. Then the whole process starts over again. That bestseller in your beach bag is purely for show.
5. Even though you keep your receipt, the store will not take them back.
When I dream of things strangling me, I wake up gasping for air to find one of my children’s limbs – arm, leg, whatever – thrown across my neck. Even in my own bed, there is no such thing as self-time. As I type this, my kid is at my elbow because her DS is plugged in to my computer. Being a parent means you might never be alone again. I’m not condoning those mothers who hit the road, never to be heard from again, but there are moments when I understand what they were thinking when they stepped on the accelerator.
Babies are adorable until you spend an overnight flight sitting beside one with an earache, and life can bring plenty of earaches. That’s all I’m saying.
My daughter is nesting.
She spends every spare moment surfing Bed, Bath and Beyond for new bed linens. She scours paint colour wheels for a new shade to compliment her walls. She’s chosen new light fixtures. I am finding scraps of paper doodled with lists of baby names.
I’m terrified. You’re twelve, I tell her. Go play outside.
Of course, attempts to intervene are rebuffed, and only intensify her longings for domesticity.
We discuss career paths, but she is only dreaming of motherhood. Inwardly, I’m aghast. Outwardly, I gently encourage her that motherhood will be there for her, but she should first go to university, explore the world, have some fun. What could be more fun than being a mother, she asks.
I bite my tongue.
There was a time in my life that I could have related with this maternal instinct of hers, but it was twelve years ago, when she was in utero. It lasted about a week. I’ve moved on. Her instinct, though, is more stubbornly rooted, despite the absence (thank God) of potential suitors.
When I was her age, I vividly remember doodling career options, not baby names. Dreaming of travel, not diaper bags. A pied-a-terre in New York, not a house in suburbia. Notwithstanding I ended up with the diaper bag and house in suburbia, but let it be known I never intended for this to happen. I certainly never dreamed about it.
It’s just a phase, my friends tell me. But I detect a look of horror in their eyes.
Every ounce of me wants to stage an intervention, but instead I keep my mouth shut, knowing when she picks up my disapproval she will run with it. It would be easier to deal with pink hair. Pierced eyebrows. Friendship drama. Boy trouble. I hadn’t counted on dreams of domesticity.