Facing Fears

February 3, 2014 5 comments

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I’m sitting in a classroom, trying to slink underneath my desk so that the teacher won’t call on me. I sit amongst my clique, my fiction group. The poets are in the front of the room, young adult genre and non-fiction groups occupy the left side of the room. Three weeks into our year-long course and alliances have formed, we gravitate quickly to our own kind. A familiar feeling from twenty-five years hence. It’s high school all over again.

Actually, it’s the Writer’s Studio at a downtown university, my year to study creative writing. The crucial word here is creative, also known as my personal nemesis. By throwing tuition into this course, I’m banking on acquiring some. Or at least chiseling away cliched layers of assumption and habit to reveal whatever lies at my core. I’m hoping to find a garden planted with seedlings of inspiration, but fear a black hole.

The people that surround me are so brimming with creativity that I’m terrified into submission. A girl, wearing a hand-knitted toque, reads her reaction to a homeless woman she encountered during our break with such emotion in her voice that we fall over her words, and into stunned respect for her gifted prose. Sweet Caroline, I think, don’t make me read my vacant observation next.

We are each handed a blank piece of paper and asked to create a three dimensional sculpture to illustrate our currently writing. My heart sinks because in a pinch, I can pull an unusual adjective out of my pocket, but this requires imagination and craft. I fold and rip my piece of paper so that it opens inwards, like my protagonist, while other students produce works of origami, sculptures of mountains, vessels with twirling rudders attached, and a chess board. With dread and reluctance, I stand to show the room my crude structure.

This course not only inspires me, it terrifies me. And it’s the terror that tells me it’s the right thing.

My Annual Christmas Bitch Session

December 13, 2013 1 comment

I’m walking a tightrope, stretched between two Christmas trees, taut with the pressure of time, money, and expectation.

On the one side is the me that loves Christmas. Loves! The hype, the decorating, the giving, the madness, the merrymaking. The stories, the movies, the traditions, the magic. Did I mention merrymaking? I buy in. I believe.

Christmas cookies aren't  one of my strengths. Party tricks, on the other hand...

Christmas cookies aren’t one of my strengths. Party tricks, on the other hand…

On the other side is the me that loathes the tremendous hassle involved in making it all happen. And by all, I mean all. Food, decorations, charity, presents for the world at large. It’s a lot for one sister’s shoulders.

As I teeter on this thin wire, below me is the pit of despair, experienced in Christmas’s past, that I can fall into if things go awry. Trust me, it’s not fun down there. Life does not imitate art. If the Grinch steals all of our gifts, or Santa or I fail to deliver the coveted items on their list, my children will not hold hands in a circle and sing.

Oh no.

Yet I somehow magically order things the day after they can guarantee delivery to Canada by Christmas. Never the day before or, say, weeks in advance. Who thinks of this shit in November? It’s much more exciting this way. Will it arrive, or won’t it. My legs quiver with anticipation, and that pit is looking uncomfortably close. Back ups are stashed. And then I forget what I’ve stashed. And where. This is life on the edge, right here.

Come December, I could use thirty-hour days. Because while Christmas must be extraordinary, still, life goes on. Which is why I lost it when my children remarked on the cleanliness lacking in my car yesterday. Something’s got to give – a trashed car over myself, ideally.

Obviously, there is room for improvement in the process. In my world, best case scenario means Christmas Eve is purely for stocking stuffers. And a rum and eggnog-infused search for that thing I know I bought, but likely won’t find until Easter.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without that special feeling – that I’m losing it.

Notice the wrapped presents? I'm impressed, if you're not.

Notice the wrapped presents? I’m impressed, if you’re not.

Surprising Things I’ve Learned About Parenting

November 19, 2013 5 comments

I had preconceived notions about motherhood before I joined the cult.

I thought that newborn babies slept all the time. I imagined I’d set our round kitchen table for three balanced meals a day, but not much else would change. I believed my children would flock to me for advice, and once they were comfortably seated at my feet, I would begin my teaching moment. I thought my children would be exactly like me, just smaller and with better hair.

I remember thinking these thoughts, and now gently ask myself, self: were you on crack?

If motherhood is anything; good, bad, ugly, wonderful, transcendent, frustrating, confusing, beautiful (it is all of these, and frequently within the space of fifteen minutes), it is mostly full of surprises; reality has tossed my crazy ideas right on my perpetual ponytail.

Too late, I learned that newborns rarely sleep (except when you want them to be awake). Our place mats still have price tags attached. My life bears no resemblance to its former self, back when I mattered. The more advice I offer my kids, the less they want to hear. And my children are as different from each other as they are from me. But with better hair.

So, preconceived notions cast aside and thrown in the garbage alongside an astounding amount of candy wrappers, everyday I learn new things about motherhood that surprise me. Shock the hell out of me, in fact. A short list of recent surprises:

  • I didn’t realize I would be the butt of all jokes in our house, and that the only thing that unites my children is their collective laughter at me. Apparently, and without even trying to be, I’m hilarious. Forget surviving middle school relatively unscathed – if I can survive my daughters scorn, I can survive anything.
  • We spend more time discussing my teenaged daughter’s social life than socializing.
  • No matter how many groceries I buy, my kids can’t find anything to eat in our house.

I’m not exactly that all-knowing role model I expected to be. Surprise. But, and sorry to overuse the word, another surprise. Mostly, it is my children who teach me. I knew (or hoped) it would happen in time, but I’m astounded by how fast it’s happened. Here’s a short list of things I’ve learned recently, courtesy of my daughters:

  • The eldest educates me about important things like eye primer (did you know there was such a thing? She owns five.) and the vast difference between my mascara and the BEST mascara. Needless to say, I’m not meeting her expectations.
  • My twelve-year old patiently explains the rules of hockey to me. Every week. (Penalty! No mom, they’re allowed to do that.) She doesn’t play the sport, but grasped an understanding of the game – even an appreciation for the fighting – that I have failed to achieve in my lifetime. (Still, those refs are blind.)
  • My nine-year old signs me up for Instagram, and then explains the apps I should download and the filters I should use for an optimal experience. Her fingers fly across my iPhone like butterflies around a flame, and I’m like but wha – whoa – hey – where – wait a – how did you get there? Kids these days.

And then the more profound surprises, of course.

I knew I would need patience, but the frequency with which I meet its limits is astonishing.

I knew my children would need me, but didn’t realize how much it is actually I who needs them.

I knew I would watch my children grow, and by definition, overcome obstacles, but didn’t think about the pain and restraint involved in watching them struggle.

I knew I would love my children, but the depths of which I love them, still, is shocking.

Motherhood hasn’t been a smooth ride – on the contrary, it’s filled with potholes, sharp curves, and the occasional road block. And no driver’s test required, amazingly. It’s not a one-way street, and frankly, I’m not always in the driver’s seat.

But oh, the places you can go.

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We Remember

November 11, 2013 1 comment

Powerful. Moving. Emotional. As usual, I required a box of elusive tissues, and sniffed for an hour instead.

It’s not Hollywood’s latest blockbuster, but rather, the annual Remembrance Day assembly at my kids elementary school.

Imagine a world that knows no hunger, my daughter sang.

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Because watching children on bleachers recite In Flanders Fields will never grow old. Seeing veterans sitting tall and stoic in front of the children is remarkable. Listening to children tell stories of heroes in their family is amazing. Poppies made of tissue paper, and pop-art peace doves adorn the gymnasium walls.

Imagine a world where children are free.

The children sit still. Chins rest on hands. They are listening. They are learning about sacrifice, bravery, and loss. Learning things it almost hurts to tell them.

Imagine a world of infinite beauty, given for all to share.

We remember our past, and dream of a future where war is only a memory.

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Have You Seen My Teeth – Chilling Words On Halloween

October 31, 2013 2 comments

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I regretted the words as soon as they were out of my mouth.

My kids are all set, they’ve given their costumes a few test runs. They’re totally ready for Halloween.

This non-apologetic brag comes after years of running around like the headless horsemen without their horse on Halloween morning, as the kids dressed in costume for school. I felt entitled. Like I’d earned the bragging rights after so many disasters. It had taken a lot of costume mistakes to arrive at this comfortable spot.

Still, I should have known better. Because every parent knows, the instant you brag about your kids, the bragging fairy will turn on you and bite you on the ass.

And so, as I lounged a little longer in bed, listening to the pitter patter of my children donning their costumes, I heard the words that made my blood curdle.

Where are my teeth, asked my nine year-old vampire. Her black gown with elaborate red lace cost $34.99, but it was the $1.99 set of vampire teeth that were the clincher. The teeth that she had put for safe keeping in her miniscule plastic goodie bag that she’d received on the weekend at the Haunted Village. The plastic bag filled with candy wrappers that I had thrown away Monday morning.

It’s always the accessories that come back to haunt you.

It was also, bizarrely, at this moment when I heard the garbage truck’s banging progress down our lane. I had a fleeting nightmarish vision of me, standing in line at Spirit of Halloween, or worse, Walmart, today along with fifty other frantic parents, only to be told all the vampire teeth have been sold out since Tuesday, since Bella from Twilight has made vampires a hit with girls of all ages.

Fortunately, for both her and me (but not, you’ll see, my husband), it was not garbage can pick up day, only recycling and green bin day. Our garbage was intact. It would only take rooting through a few or six bags of garbage to find the missing vampire teeth.

And that’s where my husband comes in.

On the Corner of Soul and Cycle

October 8, 2013 2 comments

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There is a class where cycling and souls collide. Since I mentioned class, I can hardly believe it; classes, especially of the fitness variety, not being my thing. But this was a class unlike any other. It inspired a wardrobe – I’ll get to that.

Close your eyes and imagine a hip hop concert, a yoga class, and a bicycle ride all mixed together in a sweaty stew. The bubbly mixture is simmering on the best burner on your stove, a pinch of salt away from Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. If you smash your plate after you lick it clean, shards will hit the Pacific Ocean.

Like everything else in LA, this stew is gluten-free, and it fortifies your resolve while you sweat out negativity. Natch.

One-two-one-two-unh, says David, the leader of this SoulCycle class and guru. He has four candles burning around the pedestal that holds his bike. He is part dancer part drummer part cyclist on his chariot. His feet spin so fast he looks like the Roadrunner.

I didn’t know spinning required coordination. With David’s class, it does. One-two-one-two-unh.

David asks us to turn our knobs to the right, but he doesn’t like to call this turning up the resistance. He prefers turning up the courage. David challenges us to go deeper. I’m hyperventilating, but I’m under his spell. If this is a religion, sign me up. I’m a disciple of David. Oh, hang on…

No seriously, my arms are buckling under my one pound weights (don’t laugh), but I will. Not. Stop. Because David is two feet in front of me, off his bike and watching his perfect self in the mirror.

The playlist meanders from smooth hip hop remakes to Billy Jean and baby, we are sweating in the dark, the wine I drank the night before is seeping from my pores in pool of regret underneath my bike. Unbelievably, an acoustic version of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams is followed by Philadelphia, and David tells us that when he heard this song this morning, as he held his baby, he burst into tears, because so many people don’t see the beauty in this world that is right in front of them.

Under normal circumstances, you might think, like I might, flakey. But in the mecca of SoulCycle it was touching.

And so I was moved to buy a t-shirt on the way out. Like when you’re leaving a concert, and you feel the need to commemorate the moment. Bottle the vibes and keep them for future whiffs.

Yeah, I got soul, and the t-shirt to prove it.

Lean In, Loser.

September 23, 2013 1 comment

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I took an entire day off of work to host my book club last week (I work from home on small contracts, so no work means no pay). Since the book was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, in which the COO of Facebook encourages women to go for gold in their careers, and stop settling for less, this was ironic.

Two things occurred to me while I was stashing shoes under beds and spearing mini bocconcini with toothpicks: There’s no way Sheryl Sandberg could be in a book club, let alone host one. And secondly, the Cyndi Lauper anthem that I grew up with, girls just want to have fun, does not apply all women. So we have our differences.

But I digress. Back to the book.

I was prepared to love Lean In. Feminism just happens to be my thing, don’t let my SAHM status fool you. I’m quick to support anything that advocates more women in power positions and equally represented everywhere (I’m looking at you, government). But before you think I’m just another jaded housewife, jealous of successful women like Sandberg and her ilk, let’s get a few things straight:

1. I am a jaded housewife.

2. I am jealous of successful women like Sandberg and her ilk.

3. I would feel differently about this book if I was twenty-one year-old graduate of Barnard College, and about to start my MBA at Harvard (naturally).

Because unlike Betty Friedan‘s The Feminine Mystique, which was more universal in nature, Sandberg’s book is most applicable to women in privileged positions. Take, for example, her advice for women to take risks with their careers, like she did when she left Google to work for the then little known start up, Facebook. Perhaps that’s easier for someone who counts Arianna Huffington and Oprah Winfrey among her friends.

While it’s not Sheryl’s fault that she had the highest grades in her Harvard business class (and felt she had to hide them). Or that Larry Summers, the white house economic advisor, kept jobs open for her, in the hopes she would move back to Washington. Or that she rubbed elbows with (or was patted on the head by) people like Tip O’Neill. This was her experience, and it’s the only place she can write from. But her advice would have a softer and broader landing if her life wasn’t so charmed.

Yes, the woman is brilliant. Yes, she has worked hard for every inch of progress. But for those of us with resume’s that don’t read like a who’s who of Silicon Valley or People magazine, it seems full of unobtainable goals. If there’s one thing women don’t need, it’s yet another brass ring, dangling out of reach.

I love that she wants to improve the world. I agree it would be better with more input by women. She gives great advice about sitting at the table and encourages women to be more assertive. She advises women to ask for raises and recognition when warranted. And most importantly, she encourages women to continue with their careers after having children, even when the cost of childcare seems to override the decision. Ahem. All valid points. All great advice.

Where were you when I needed you, ten years ago?

Her many good points aside, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Sandberg’s shiny house is more like the diamond variety, consisting of Ivy League schools, complete with Gloria Steinem on speed dial. Comparatively, straw and mud huts require constant attention.

I wish I could tell you what my book club thought about Lean In, but I was outside barbecuing salmon when they had the discussion. So really, my book club is like the advice Sandberg dishes out: good in theory, but at the end of the day, we all need to eat. Sometimes, real life gets in the way.

10 Signs That I Need to Get A Job

September 16, 2013 3 comments

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This is not to say I don’t work. I work alright. I work day and night, weekends and holidays, with no pay cheque in sight. A bit like slave labour, but legal. It’s called Raising Children. Not to be left behind in these texting times, we even have acronyms, SAHM, SAHF, SAHP, or CEO when the mood strikes.

Lots of people have opinions about this job; but I’m not going there. Let’s just say I’m hanging them up – whatever they may be. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. Six years to be precise. But you know how the universe sometimes speaks to you? Well, now it’s screaming. Louder than the two-year old next door, which I didn’t think possible. It’s yelling at me by way of signs.

Here are one or ten signs that I need to get a job, depending on your attention span.

1. Garbage day has become freakishly important in my calendar, now ranking somewhere between Christmas and Labour Day. I know, it’s not a holiday, but it’s even better because it involves purging. And two men show up right at my door to help me do this – when else does this happen? Never, that’s when. (Note: those garbage bins are filled with stuff I’m sick of picking up. Bye bye.)

2. I’ve installed a water cooler in our house, and I find myself hanging around it, asking what my weekend plans are.

3. There is a glare on our television during the daytime that drives me insane when I’m trying to watch Orange is the New Black. While folding laundry, naturally.

4. I’m not done my bitching and complaining, not even close, but I’ve run out of people who will listen. Time for new material.

5. I used to have six hours of peace and quiet. Now I field about twenty texts from my children between 9 and 3. Mostly about their social calendars, which only serves to rub salt in my wounds that I have none by comparison. I was fun once.

6. Homicidal thoughts can’t be healthy. Purely mariticidal, I hasten to add.

7. Delivering their forgotten lunches and homework to school ignites me with rage that they have no respect for the work I do and the sacrifices I’ve made.

8. Complaints about my cooking fill me with rage that they have no respect for the work I do and the sacrifices I’ve made.

9. I’m developing anger issues.

10. The fact that I’m at number ten and haven’t even mentioned shoes yet, speaks volumes. Hello, mama needs a new pair of shoes? And then when I do indulge, that conversation. You know, the one where he says “Where are you going to where those? It’s not like you work.” Then I lose it. See number 6. Now you know the definition of mariticide.

I can’t find fulfillment at the bottom of a wine bottle. Trust me, I’ve tried. Time for plan A.

In your opinion, what is the absolute worst thing about being a stay at home parent? We’re venting here, so keep it negative.

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The Trouble With Lunch

September 6, 2013 2 comments

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While I am absolutely ecstatic that my kids are back at school and I am back to being productive (which may or may not involve Downton Abbey), I am not thrilled about the nightly ritual of making lunch. Also known as fruitless labour, since it involves assembling food that is sure to return uneaten.

There’s a law in my house: if I make it, they won’t eat it.

Yet, I persist. Not only because the school would call Child Services if I sent them without lunch regularly, but actually because I’m hellbent on hearing the words, “That lunch was awesome today, thanks mom!”.

To be fair, food is not my strong point. Knowing this, I frequently turn to them for help. So, what are the other kids eating for lunch that you would like to have? Apparently, those little bags of mini-Oreos are all the rage. No, I mean food that actually has a nutritious component? Silence.

Every now and then I get excited about an idea – buoyed by their initial response to a product. It may not have been super positive, but it wasn’t one of disgust, either. My enthusiasm inevitably sends me to Costco, to buy a year’s supply of the damned things, only to have them return in their lunch bags after school. I thought you liked Cheddar Bunnies? No, we’re sick of them now.

Swear words run through my head, vision of sugar plum-like but with symbols.

It’s beyond tiring. The natural peanut butter and almond butter they find disgusting. Putting grapes/carrots/orange slices/something healthy into little containers is futile. Putting anything between bread besides Nutella is useless. They’re sick of bagels. Going to the trouble of making a salad or wrap for them is like straightening my hair for the windstorm – why would I bother?

So, I don’t go all out with lunch. But old habits die hard, and I find myself wandering the aisles in the grocery store in the hopes that something will jump of the shelf, at the same time nutritious, inexpensive, and already prepared, that I can send to school with them, that will not end up in my overflowing kitchen garbage. I’m looking long and hard, but still haven’t found anything.

Whichever mother came up with the phrase “Let them eat cake”?  – I totally get her.

Summer – In a Word

September 3, 2013 1 comment

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It’s the generalization I have trouble with. And it’s always the summer. When was the last time you casually asked someone, how was your winter?

When people ask me tomorrow, on the first day of school, “How was your summer?”, as is friendly and customary, I’m momentarily confounded.

First of all, I have trouble remembering last week, never mind a two month period. Three months, if you want to get technical, but that hearkens us back to June and June is always a white-out . A cupcake laden, certificate wielding (best reader/runner/joker/slacker) month of gift bags of wine for teaching/driving my child/managing the team/feeding my family. Surely, June can’t count as summer.

Really what they mean is how was your July and August, the time since I last saw them. August was really only 4 days ago, if I need to break it down. I can get there, that’s not so far. July is a stretch, but August is doable. An image is coming – a soccer ball, a concert, sushi takeout. Okay, so that was the Labour Day weekend, not exactly August, but close enough.

It will do in a pinch.

My short-term memory aside, I couldn’t possibly summarize my summer in the three words it will take to past my acquaintance, so I leave it at “Great!”. Although not strictly true, there were moments of great, alongside those moments of frustration and wanting to clone myself.

Summer is never as idyllic as I hope. Or as simple as the name suggests. But it’s inevitable end is tempered by those three magical words.

Back. To. School.