The cozy cocoon-like bed and waterfall music are almost enough to lull me into believing this facial will be different.
Maybe my skin care regiment is finally working. While not onerous, it still costs me money I would prefer to spend on things I care about, like chocolate sea salt gelato, and the ten minutes I spend cleansing, toning and exfoliating cuts into time that could be better spent with Orange is the New Black. Surely, these sacrifices are producing glowing results.
You can convince yourself of anything in that dark room of serenity.
The esthetician bounces in, looking like she went to cosmetology school fresh out of kindergarten. My hopes sag like the skin around my eyes, because the only thing that’s worse than getting lectured about your skin is getting lectured by someone half your age.
She places a cloth over my eyes that does nothing to block the blinding glare of the spotlight she switches on to study her canvas. She audibly gasps, sucking in her breath like she has just revealed a lizard on her table instead of a human.
Have you ever heard of sunscreen, she asks. I try not to grit my teeth because the microscope picks up on those things, and answer that yes, I use SPF 50 every day. Yes, I reapply, and yes, I use it in the winter and in thunderstorms.
She continues to batter me with the onslaught of questions that every esthetician uses, like a script, to get to the bottom of how my skin can be so dry, dull and dehydrated. I answer dutifully, hoping that maybe this time, together, we will determine the magical solution to my flakey woes.
She asks about the products I use (professional, hawked on me by my last esthetician), whether I exfoliate (three times a week, naturally), if I use hydration masks (honey, I could write the book), whether I drink coffee (is nothing sacred?), how much water I drink (buckets, on account of my coffee habit), if my diet is healthy (Gwyneth has nothing on me), how often I get facials (I enjoy this inquisition so much I should come weekly instead of once a decade), and whether I exercise (I’m known to do the odd marathon or triathlon).
She was stymied – and in fact, getting a little panicky – until she hit on the exercise thing, saying all of that salt is very drying, and perhaps I should think twice about that, or else carry a toner with me to spritz on my face mid-run. When I went to pay my bill, there it was, the toner she recommended I carry in my running belt, alongside my bear spray and water bottle. I demurred, and in that moment learned the concept of being comfortable in your own skin, parched though it may be.
Cosmetology schools should offer courses in diplomacy. Jesus, some people have dry skin, it’s not a crime against humanity.
It took seven minutes for the tickets to sellout online.
From the moment the date was announced, there was a collective clamoring for babysitters. The emails have been flying around, fast and furious, about what to wear. Once the women were sorted, the emails sailed around once again, this time asking whether tuxedos or simply shirts would suffice for the menfolk. Then began the chatter about the before parties, and for those with more stamina, the after parties.
Thrown in to the regular hectic schedule of shuttling children to activities and feeding them their vegetables this week, a rush on pedicures at Four Seasons Nail Salon, and an unusual amount of coiffed women walking the hallways.
(I have even made my own feeble attempts at beauty, to be honest. I exfoliated my elbows in the shower yesterday, and last night I slathered self-tanner on my legs, which triggered my eczema to kick in at around 2 am. Instead of getting out of bed to find my cream I scratched and tore at my skin like a madwoman, and woke up with an angry rash all over my calves, and orange palms. My elbows, however, are very smooth and dazzling, so I’m hoping people will look no further.)
The only thing that can whip our little elementary school into a frenzy of this magnitude, and make me worried about my so-white-I-look-sickly skin, is the Fundraising Gala, which is being held tonight at a very generous parent’s swank home. Donations to be auctioned off have been gathered, the tents have been built, the caterer has been dicing all day. Typically the hottest thing on the auction block is the class art projects that our children have laboured over. Tonight, these will be auctioned off at an enormous expense, and this year it is my mission to not get drunk and monopolize, or perhaps sit on, the donation sheet. (If I got out more, and experienced open bars on a regular basis, I would not be like a kid in a candy store with the free booze. This I know.)
It’s not the Academy Awards, but let’s face it, for me it’s as close as I get, which makes it all the more exciting. I am looking forward to drinking champagne and eating tiny little quiches that will burn my fingers and leave spinach stuck in my teeth. I am looking forward to laughing about nothing in particular and not worrying about the soccer carpool. I am looking forward to finding a corner to dance in, although there is no dancing advertised (I scrutinized the invitation). We will do all of this and raise funds for our children’s school, an investment in their future, hoping it will make things a bit easier for teachers, and make their excellent school even better.
The elevated atmosphere around our school and the hype in the air reminds me of the formals my university held every year at a local hotel, way back when I was a student. The big difference being, of course, there were no children to care for the next day while nursing that hangover. But that’s tomorrow. Tonight, we party.
If I’ve learned one thing as a parent, it is how to nonchalantly cajole my children into situations that – if I were in their shoes – would cause me to quiver more than the cellulite on my thighs.
Whether it concerns skiing down an icy pitch or eating lima beans, I begin by reassuring them they will live to tell the tale, and that it will be good for them in the end. In the middle I may regale them with stories (completely fabricated) to send my point home. And although I try to avoid it, it usually ends with a bribe. The turnaround time from patiently explaining attributes to desperately tempting them with candy is about one minute.
I have this act down-pat: “Be brave! You can do it! I watched a two-year old do this last week! Seriously, we will celebrate with Skittles when this is all said and done.” Change a few nouns, adjectives and bribes, and this accounts for most of my conversational life.
Yet, when I find myself in their shoes and on equal footing, I crumble faster than my shortbread recipe. Since the show must go on, meaning they must be tricked into various scenarios, I have resolved to never let them witness my cowardice. You know that old adage, “Never let them see you sweat?” After my recent trip to the dentist, I have adapted this to “Never let them see me with a dental dam.” If they saw how their tough-talking mother behaved, I would never be able to drag them to the dentist again.
My dentist has been wanting to replace one of my fillings for five years. I have put it off for excellent reasons: I’m too busy, I tell him. There are groceries to be bought, children to be chauffeured, nails to be filed. He usually rolls his eyes, but this time he wouldn’t waiver, and booked me for the following day. Something about a crack and an emergency – he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Before I could vigorously floss my teeth to remove a week’s worth of sesame seeds, I was back at the dentist, waiting for the major procedure. Replacing a filling is not as easy as it sounds. It involves needles. And pain.
They called my name and the funniest thing happened: I found I was rooted to my seat, and rendered immobile. I did, however, manage to overcome my sudden nausea and held on to my digesting oatmeal. The dental hygienist was smiling and gesturing, and all I could do was shake my head and babble. The receptionist got involved, and then my children’s hygienist, Molly, walked by. For ten years she has witnessed me encouraging/bribing my children, and she got a kick out of seeing me on the receiving end of the drill. Pun intended.
Sometimes it takes a village, but that day it took an office to get me to walk down the hall to my very own torture chair. I asked William, my dentist, to explain the procedure, and once he finished his detailed answer I asked him to explain it again, slowly this time, at which point they bound and gagged me with the dental dam. Before they snapped the plastic in place, I begged him to be liberal with the happy gas, and encouraged him to be all he could be, professionally, on this day.
I attempted to lose myself in an old episode of ‘Friends’ that was playing on the ceiling as they pricked and prodded and drilled and suctioned. The happy gas made me a little loopy, but it’s no champagne. I tried my best to breathe through the plastic and keep my drool in check, and when things got dicey I quelled my screams by digging my fingernails into the arms of the torture chair they thoughtfully provided. I vaguely recall Molly and the receptionist peeking in to see how I was faring. Finally – sooner than I expected – they were done, and although my mouth was frozen into a sideways elliptical shape, I was free to go.
As I sprinted down the hall, I thought what doesn’t beat you makes you stronger, and congratulated myself on my valiant effort. Then William called after my retreating backside, “The temporary tooth is beautiful – just avoid solids on that side until we do the other half of the procedure.”
The receptionist handed me a tissue for the saliva that was dribbling down my chin. Seeing the sorrow in my eyes, she fed me the same annoying line I feed my children, “Don’t worry, it will be over before you know it!”
My timing is always off. By the time I was done with strollers, luxury all-terrain vehicles were gliding past me on trails. When I was done with maternity clothes, everyone from Michael Kors to Old Navy were in the business, and the tents of my gestation were replaced with sleek skinny jeans. So it was no surprise that I happened across a parenting book that finally spoke to me, just as my children are leaving their glorified toddler years: Go the F*** To Sleep, by Adam Mansbach.
The storm of controversy that followed its release occurred months ago, but I am not particularly well versed in news that doesn’t constitute traffic and weather. In keeping with my poor timing, I’m wading in.
This brilliant book perfectly chronicles every night of my life for the past twelve years. And if you happen to be one of those people who say to me, “Oh, I never have any trouble getting my child to sleep.” Or worse, one of those parents who coo, “My baby has slept through the night since the day we brought her home.” Or someone who has an endless amount of patience, or a prude, then this book isn’t for you.
But for the rest of us mortals, who labour each day to clothe and feed children whose limbs don’t want to be covered and whose mouths don’t wish to devour nutrients; bedtime is a ritual which puts us tantalizingly close to the person we once were, yet hovers out of reach as our children put us through a marathon bedtime session. By the time I’ve finished with the agonizing task, I’ve not only put my children to bed, but myself as well. The carefree, fun-loving interesting person I was before I became a nag remains in hibernation.
You see, the idea of laying down with my offspring to quietly whisper words of wisdom from Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, or Sandra Boynton, until their eyelids droop shut and I tiptoe out of their bedroom sounds magical, but rarely ends with the ‘eyelids drooping’ detail. Every night starts this way, but ends up with me wearing down the carpet between their bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen as I go through the motions of appeasing their every whim and desire they can come up with in order for their eyelids to remain wide open.
I approach each night with both a sassy verve and forlorn sense of hope that tonight, by God, will be different. Tonight my children will not beg for one more book, one more hug, one more snack, one more bathroom trip, or complain of growing pains or monsters under their beds or being hot or cold. Each night I am disappointed.
I come by this honestly. Eating and sleeping were not my strong points as a child – singing and dancing, yes, basics of life – not so much. I remember fighting sleep with every scrawny scrap of my being, so I’m particularly good at empathizing for the first twenty minutes of nocturnal attempts. After that, my patience fades and is replaced by fury. As Adam Mansbach suggests so eloquently, “A hot crimson rage fills my heart, love. For real, shut the f*** up and sleep.”
From the fury, I typically spiral down to self-loathing and personal failure, which again is perfectly and poetically encapsulated in one line: “My life is a failure. I’m a shitty-ass parent. Stop f***ing with me, please, and sleep.”
Like any book worth its salt, and life itself, it doesn’t have a tidy or neat ending, but a more realistic one that is repeated in my household – even still – on a nightly basis.
I weep with love for my children as they lay sprawled in their beds or curled around their teddy bears. I breathe in their sweet aroma and fall in love with them all over again at the sight. But getting them to that spent state takes indefatigable stamina that I can barely muster, night after f***ing night, and finally some angel of mercy has recognized this.
Adam Mansbach, I never seem to bump into parents like you, but wish I did. Thanks for keeping it real, and giving us something to laugh about – it sure beats screaming in isolation. This book is like a giant, group hug for parents who, in pursuit of smooth bedtime transitions, taste defeat nightly.
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.
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.
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?
I’ve read the Facts and Arguments page in the Globe and Mail steadfastly for years. Truthfully, some days it’s the only page I read; I thumb past the political hoopla more quickly than I should and head straight to the back of the Life section. (The Saturday Arts section is also divine and renders me weak in the knees, but on weekdays I have to satisfy myself with the essay.)
On the Facts page they showcase an essay submitted by random Canadians, and run a clever illustration alongside. Often they are lighthearted musings, occasionally poignant, and sometimes delightfully funny. There’s enough space for the writer to delve into the heart of the matter, and dissect it accordingly.
In retrospect, I should have given more thought about my topic, which unfortunately is my love/hate relationship with the mall, but I’m seeking solace in the fact that Adam Gopnik‘s topic for the upcoming Massey Lectures is simply winter. And he’s speaking for a whole week on that one.
When someone asked Gopnik “why winter?”, he replied he was waiting for a bus on a cold day in NYC when he received the offer to give the lectures, and he decided then and there to talk about winter. Right then and there! Shouldn’t he have perhaps consulted Margaret Atwood or Douglas Coupland? Or at the very least Googled “top ten interesting topics for scholarly discussion”? Past topics of Massey Lectures have included The Unconscious Civilization and Globalism and the Nation State. Winter is so simple it’s profound, perhaps.
(In any case, it works for me: winter holds more appeal for my simple mind, I refer you to my aversion to politics.)
Not to draw similarities between myself and Gopnik, because surely there are none besides sharing a few letters in our names and a country of birth, but I stumbled across my topic in a similar fashion. My daughter had asked me for the umpteenth time that week to take her to the mall, when I felt the bile rising in the back of my throat at the thought entering its revolving doors. Instead of taking this frustration out on her I very maturely picked up my laptop and wrote about them. Then for some god-forsaken reason I emailed it to the Globe, and the rest, as they say, is in today’s broadsheet.
Click here to link to the article, and keep in mind I was using the mall as a metaphor for suburbia itself, of course.