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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

When You Miss the Plane But Not the Boat

March 20, 2012 4 comments

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.

Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Motherhood

March 12, 2012 4 comments

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.

Reach for the Stars, Not A Diaper Genie

January 26, 2012 15 comments

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.

Safe Topics for the Holidays: Stick to the Turkey

November 22, 2011 7 comments

People are evidently nervous this time of year. I’m seeing a myriad of “How to Survive the Holiday” topics in the blogosphere, and #StuffBetterFast is trending on Twitter. North America is buzzing with hints and tips on surviving this time of year, when we are stuck inside with no choice but to engage our extended family in scintillating conversation.

This can be a terrifying prospect, wherein the only solution can be found in the bottom of a bottle, be it ruby red or palest garnet. I, however, have been handed an extended family which frowns upon such liquids which might put a hint of joy in an otherwise morose day. My sober state has paid off in spades however: I’ve learned how to talk about absolutely nothing with ease, and at length.

If you, too, want to navigate the holidays free of catastrophe, stick to the following topics:

1. The cooking of the turkey. Is the white meat moist, while the dark meat still falls off the bone? Bonus points! This will always vary from holiday to holiday, so bears mentioning, and will allow you to explore the meals of holidays past, wistfully or otherwise.

2. The texture of the turkey. Is it gamey? Bland? Does it melt in your mouth? This can be explored while the gravy is being passed around, and don’t forget the cranberry sauce in the event of an overdone bird.

3. Where did the turkey hail from? Usually good for a tale involving lineups and holiday frenzy. Beware the temptation to sojourn into the topic of organic, free-range turkeys, however, as this can lead to polarization from one’s relatives. Ahem.

4. The turkey accessories. Do the carrots complement the dinner? What is the consistency of the mashed potatoes? Is the gravy perfectly lump-free? Is the group assembled pro-brussel sprouts or con? (For some reason we share a collective forgetfulness with this issue, so need to revisit it each occasion, but it never gets old.) The turkey accompaniments can provide you with minutes of frivolity; play around a little and have some fun.

5. The temperature of the meal. Is everything bubbling hot? The water ice cold? This can naturally send you into another blissfully safe topic to round out the meal: the weather.

Now, if you sail through these topics before second helpings are distributed, or Aunt Betty’s apple pie is polished off,  you can always revert to my standby: round table bets on how many dinners will be gleaned from leftovers. Add a quarter to the pot to add excitement and intrigue.

Generally, if you stick to the above conversational points, being sure to lean on the positives of the meal, while downplaying the negatives, you should be able to navigate your way through the entire meal without offending anyone, and you can retire to your football game stuffed, but otherwise intact. (Or in my case, a scene out of 1950, where the men retire to the football game and the women clean up the mess.)

It goes without saying that politics, greenhouse gases, the deficit, the euro crisis, whether fighting in hockey should be banned, ‘who is Kim Kardashian anyway?’, Glee, and anything else that could be considered remotely interesting, are all potentially hot topics which could leave someone in tears. Engage in these controversial subjects at your own risk, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Easter will be here before you know it.

Those Nude Photographs Will Always Come Back to Haunt You

November 8, 2011 8 comments

By my third pregnancy, my back protested. No more of this baby business, it told me by way of searing pain.

Instead of being a vessel that sent signals to my limbs and brain, my spinal cord became a rod of fire that roared whenever I was on my feet. And since my other children were four and two, that was a lot. No sympathy from the toddler corner.

I tried to grin and bear it, but that usually manifested as swearing like a truck driver and screaming at my kids.

Since I’m a sucker for punishment but not pain, this would be my last baby; the last kick at the can, the last time my stomach would bump into corners and catch my breakfast crumbs. This caused me the tiniest bit of melancholy, I did like feeling those knees ripple across my stomach and that whole creating life concept.

So I decided, against my better judgment, to have pregnancy photos taken. You know, the black and white classy ones with your private parts artfully shadowed.Then I stumbled across one of those promotions where the photographer would practically pay you to have your photos done: the proofs were free, the 8 x 10’s were free, you just gave her your email address so she could harass you for the rest of your life. Surely this was serendipity.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. (In case you are now gripped with fear that you will scroll down and scream, I haven’t posted any of these photos below.)

I hasten to remind you that Demi Moore had these same photos done and she looked pretty damn good. After that, pregnant women were waddling into photography studios in droves, so this is not an isolated incident of vanity.

  • I struck the same pose, but didn't look anything like this.

As the date for my debut shoot approached, the temperatures skyrocketed. A hot summer day when you are eight months pregnant is akin to a day in hell. So I spent the weekend submerged in a glacial lake while my husband and children frolicked on the beach.

Monday morning I woke up with what looked like large mosquito bites all over my body. By noon the size of these bites rivaled ping pong balls, and by dinner they were seething with pus. I looked like an overstuffed egg roll with leprosy.

And those little beauty marks weren’t just innocently and quietly oozing away, they were also itching to high heaven. I was so busy trying not to scratch the little buggers that I even forgot about my back pain.

My doctor told me I had swimmer’s itch, but she consipicuously leaned away from me in horror the entire appointment.

I called the photographer to explain my case, hoping we could delay the shoot, but she could only put it off for a day, and then she was going on holiday. I wouldn’t be pregnant by the time she returned, so I was stuck with Wednesday.

On a positive note, my welts had stopped oozing by this point but remained scattered over my torso in an angry, scabbed-over state. It only looked like I had misplaced acne.

The photographer recoiled in horror when I dropped my robe. I laughed nervously and said something about the powers of PhotoShop, but she explained that while it was a useful tool, it couldn’t work miracles.

I have those photos in a shoebox somewhere. To give credit where credit is due, the photographer came up with the idea of draping a white sheet over my belly, thereby disguising my pockmarked skin whilst leaving its bulging outline. (I’m pretty sure she incinerated the sheet and disinfected her studio after I left.)

I stumbled across them the other day while chasing an agile spider. Whereas Demi Moore had looked beautiful, victorious, and a bit defiant in her Vanity Fair pictures, the look in my tired eyes only said please take the damn picture so I can return to my itching.

What have you done that causes you endless embarrassment in retrospect?

Lives Lived

October 27, 2011 7 comments

There were many stories to choose from, so writing a 500 word story about John was difficult. Yet when you have known someone like him, and he is taken too soon from his life’s course, you want to tell everyone you pass in the street about this incredibly dynamic person. As if the loss will start to make sense, the more you speak about it.

So the Lives Lived section in the Globe and Mail was a natural target, and today they published my little story about John. For the link to that story, click here.

I had to virtually sum up his career of teaching kids with a short sentence – hardly doing it justice, knowing that he was a positive influence on countless students. I barely mentioned his close relationship with his wife and children. But that’s national newspapers for you.

At his funeral, his past running coach told me the story about how he ran a 5 minute mile in his hungover state one day. His coach was clearly impressed at John’s abilities, (perhaps less impressed, but still slightly amused, by his priorities). So many athletes wouldn’t have turned up for that practice at all; his youthful bravado and competitive spirit shine through this story – a story long since forgotten by John, but remembered by his coach.

Golfing with John was a treat for anyone, so that story had to make the cut. He took fewer swings than most golfers, so I think he came up with the idea of being the sharpest ball hunter that ever walked the links to challenge himself while the rest of his foursome duffed it out. He proudly told anyone who would listen how he had never in his life bought a golf ball, since he had buckets full of them from his jaunts through the rough. He would stuff handfuls of balls into my bag before we teed off. I blame him for my enduring inability to read a putt, since I would arrive on the green and he would hold his putter where I needed to aim, either to the right or left of the hole. He was always right.

Waiting for knee surgery didn't stop him from being Ella's running pal for a 2 mile race

There were so many stories that couldn’t fit. Like the time when travelers were stranded in Halifax during 911, and John ended up bringing two men home, making space for them until they were cleared to fly again. Countless stories about the times he coached Peter or Julia, about trips he and Debbie had taken, and many, many about his antics that were uniquely John. There was truly never a dull moment when he was in a room.

His large personality paved the way for thousands of funny situations. Let’s say he was no shrinking violet. But for the complete picture, he was also smart, generous, warm and caring.

For some people, the word “brother” conjures someone who they rarely speak with and can barely tolerate. The relationship means different things for people. But I was madly in love with my brother, and I know the rest of my family was, too. He was a rare and unique gift. We are missing him, but he is lodged somewhere between our hearts and our minds.

With every breath, I feel his presence.

It Only Took Me Twenty Years

October 13, 2011 18 comments

To be totally upfront, as writing careers go mine has been far from stellar.

One month after graduating from university with a degree in Journalism, my father, a local journalist and my inspiration, died; and so did my aspirations for a writing career. I wrote about this here, in my inaugural post for this blog, in case anyone besides Mom cares to read it.

Instead I got a job that delivered decent money if not bylines, and the rest is yesterday’s news.

But since everyone loves it when old dogs learn new tricks, I have a modicum of success to report. It is really little – like a freckle on Diana Swain‘s face. But it’s the most success I’ve had since putting the perfect ratio of peanut butter to jam on my sandwich last week, or ever, so I’m rather excited.

As the rain fell and the wind blew one day, I submitted an essay to the Globe and Mail. Granted, my topic was pretty lame; it’s far from Nietzsche in scope and as always short of Austen in form. It’s about the mall.

Yet incredibly, today they replied they were using it (slow essay month, I guess). They would be publishing it this Friday, October 14th.

It took me a minute before I realized that just happens to be my dear father’s birthday, of all days. So happy birthday to my father, who was more profound and witty than I will ever be, and who never lost his enthusiasm for life.


Out of the Mouths of Tweens

October 4, 2011 5 comments

The good things about kids is they tell me when I have pancake batter on my behind, or food stuck in my teeth.

The bad thing is they tend to tell me these things at inopportune moments, like when I’m talking to someone famous or one of those annoyingly perfect mothers. Okay, so I rarely meet famous people, but I do talk to other vitally important people from time to time who make me nervous, such as our mail woman and the school principal.

The other bad news, for me, is the list of things that they need to point out is growing exponentially longer by the day.

It used to be all diaper/bottle related stuff, then for a time embarrassing clothing gaffe’s like wearing my pants backwards and my shirts inside out. But lately it’s become more sliding-into-old-age related, like grey roots and wrinkles.

In the beginning of motherhood, in those blissful days before they could talk, they pointed out my shortfalls by pointing and laughing. Now it has progressed to eye rolls and comments like these:

“Mom, did you spill white paint in your hair?” means it’s time to buy one of those hair dying kits that promises to cover even the stubbornest of greys.

“Look at all of those wrinkles on your face – you look so old!” means it’s time… Well, there is nothing I can do about this since I’m averse to needles generally, so it just means I’m getting older (but wiser, I hasten to add.)

“Can you please not talk to me in public when you’re wearing that!” means it might be time to lose the tie-dye, and so on.

(Just when I was becoming confident in my own skin, and those voices, inner and otherwise, calling me a loser or dweeb have finally faded, along come come my own children to knock me down a notch or ten. Funny that.)

I’m not very observant, so it is helpful in a way. In fact, it’s making me step up my game, especially to spare myself the embarrassment when they point out my flaws in public, as they clearly enjoy doing.

Now I’m scrutinizing myself a bit more carefully each morning, in an effort to beat them at this perverse game. But I’m horrified and a bit perplexed by the things I’m finding.

For example this morning, when I tried to brush a wayward eyelash off my chin, I found it was actually attached, and therefore a chin lash. Others might refer to it as a whisker. After my shock, I found I had new sympathy for the way those little pigs taunt the big bad wolf. Apparently, I’m growing a beard on my chinny chin chin.

The bright side of this situation (as unbelievable as it is that there is a bright side) is that I discovered this myself, in the privacy of my own rear view mirror, before they alerted the neighbourhood.

Whether to pluck it or bleach it is up in the air, but one thing is for sure: I will deal with it before they get home from school.

When In France, Eat Like the French Do

July 11, 2011 5 comments

I have a penchant for competition, but I would never dream of attempting to beat the French at their own game.

Their passion for eating, that is.

It would take a serious training regime of long lunches and longer dinners – over weeks, preferably months, perhaps years – before one could possibly achieve a similar metabolism, let alone the tolerance for wine that would render one a contender.

Food and drink are their game, and they play it extremely well.

Everywhere you look between the hours of 12 and 2, and then again from 7:30 – 10:30, people are enjoying sumptuous lunches and dinners, eyes closed and conversation hushed as they concentrate on the task at hand.

Rose is consumed like water. We stopped at a little cheese shop the other day and noticed the proprietor was also doing a booming business selling rose out of a vat, filling large glass jugs for his patrons for one and half euros per liter. (It was pretty good wine, I might add.) Bottled water costs more, so it is perfectly rational to drink wine instead.

So although I freely admit I will never beat the french at this game of eating, I would like to join them at playing their game, in my own miniscule way. And so to this end we ventured to Jardin d’Ivana the other night.

Jardin d’Ivana is exactly as it translates: Ivana’s garden, which also serves as a restaurant every night. Ivan is apparently the host, server, and busboy while his wife, Nadine, concocts miracles in her kitchen. It was a short walk down the hill from where we are staying, so we struck out on foot. We felt a little sheepish walking into our neighbor’s yard, but this is how it’s done here we reminded ourselves, and went in.

Ivan greeted us and ushered us in to our table. This night their tables were all set under their sheltered veranda – the mistral, high winds that blow down from Siberia, had arrived the day before, and were whipping up the tablecloths and making waves in their small swimming pool.

In the next fifteen minutes, twenty other people were ushered in to surrounding tables, reconciling our previous worries that this was, in fact, very normal here.

The feast began.

There of course were no menu’s, just Ivan telling us what the menu would be that evening. We didn’t understand all of what was to come, so it was a bit like getting a grab bag of of delicacies – each course a little present in its own right.

It was a slow but steady procession of dishes in various forms of pomp and circumstance. Slim aperatifs were served in tiny champagne flutes. Pureed carrots laced with parmesan and cardamon arrived in glass bowls. A long slice of eggplant spooned an equally long slice of zucchini on a salad plate. A pork stew with thick sauce came in round bowls. Slices of apricot sweetened with brown sugar and some other divine sauce were set down just as I started to see double. Wine glasses were replaced with tiny digestif glasses smaller than shot glasses. Espresso in tiny vessels with saucers.

As we rolled out of their garden, I humbly raised my white flag in defeat. I couldn’t eat like that every night, but it was fun trying.

And I hoped like hell that Ivana had an industrial sized dishwasher.

Grief, Considered

July 5, 2011 8 comments

This night we danced

Grief is radically different when viewed from arms length. I read about it everyday in the news, it is almost as benign as the weather. I easily gloss over its bottomless depths when it applies to others.

Or I might begin to imagine what it could feel like, shudder, and then continue reading. Or perhaps skip to a different article altogether.

This one I can’t skip. Grief now covers my life in the same way as a heavy snowstorm can alter a landscape. Normalcy is buried far below the ground cover, and you don’t know where to begin to shovel.

The new normal is far less colorful, far less welcoming. Better to dwell in the subconscious of sleep.

The feverish hope we had been clinging to each day and night has been replaced, leaving in its place a cold grief. An unending sorrow.

Physically, this grief manifests as a faint feeling of nausea, 24-7, mixed with lethargy. You realize you need to eat, just to keep moving, but whatever you’re eating tastes like leather. It’s pure sustenance, nothing else.

Limbs that dove into exercise, previously, are hard to coax into action. The energy required to move them could be better put to use – just remembering. Remembering a recent past that was subtly different.

A time when someone was okay, that now is not.

Grief, I’m realizing, is really a mixture of sadness and anguish. Sadness because you miss this person, and would do anything to have them back, just for one more second, but preferably until you die first.

Anguish because we live in a world where extremely wonderful, physically superior, morally impeccable and outright supreme beings can be extinguished by disease, although they have lived their lives so carefully.

And yet so many others live on, careless to their humanity.

It seems so unfair. So unjust.

Rightly or wrongly I am furious at the medical community who didn’t know anything about his cancer, a sarcoma so out of the limelight that it receives no funding, no benefits of research.

Although he was accepting and gracious with the outcome, the one we feared most and could barely turn our minds to, I am not. I can’t stop thinking about the what if’s and the if only’s, desperate to piece together a different ending.

At this juncture, I remind myself that this has happened to countless others throughout existence, to mothers, fathers, lovers, friends, sons, daughters, friends, brothers, sisters.

Others, too, have been taken from this world far too soon.

But this, this is personal. This grief is a permafrost.

We can’t choose our family. But being his sister was fate’s greatest gift.