Tag Archives: family

Now You Are Three

19 Jan

Dear Theo,

Yesterday was your birthday. Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the day you stopped being this strange creature that inhabited my body and started being your very own small, wrinkly, independently-breathing person.

In three short years you have gone from this:

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To this:

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You are the funniest. You are outgoing and charming and engaging, and honestly I don’t know where you get any of those qualities from, because both your father and I are strictly introverts. When you see another kid who looks to be about your age, you’ll walk up to them in a way that would make John Cleese proud, wave your hands around and start shouting gibberish. This is your approach to making new friends, and weirdly it seems to work for you. You take an enormous delight in the sublimely ridiculous, and I can’t say that I blame you. It’s certainly better than my own approach, which, as a teenager, involved dressing all in black, reading the French existentialist canon, and glaring balefully around me muttering, “life is absurd.” You might agree that life is, indeed, absurd, but so far you view this as to your benefit rather than to your detriment.

You love language, a fact that tickles me right past pink and well into magenta territory. You often come home from school and announce that you have a new favourite book, and at bedtime you beg for just one more story. You can already spell a few words – Theodore, Mama, Dada, Papa, Noah and Canada – and you recognize them and “read” them when you see them. You’re starting to sort of maybe kind of sound out words when you see them, and the thought of you learning to read makes me so excited that my head might explode. You love memorizing things, and can recite entire books by heart. You are developing into a fine book nerd, and nothing could make me prouder.

If you inherited your love of language from me, then you almost certainly inherited your love of science and technology from your father. You’re all about space these days – there are times when all you want to talk about are orbiters and external fuel tanks and solid rocket boosters. You got upset the other day when I told you that we were on a mission in the grocery store – you thought that only astronauts were allowed to go on missions, because they have mission control. You’re into other tech-type stuff too – when your great-grandmother gave you a fleece shirt with a puffy vest for Christmas, you exclaimed, “Oh, a robot suit!” You love building things, whether out of Lego, wooden blocks, or these wonky connecting-straw things they have at the art gallery. You’re never happier than when we let you put together your train tracks all over the house, a crazy railroad running from the living room to the dining room and out to the kitchen. Maybe you’ll take after your grandfather or aunt and become an engineer.

Lately you’re all about defining yourself by your likes and dislikes. You love telling me about all of your favourites: your favourite colour is green, your favourite doll is your Cabbage Patch Kid, Sammy Kyle, your favourite books are Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and The Gruffalo. Your favourite foods are spaghetti and chicken fingers, and your favourite pants are skinny jeans. Your favourite truck is a fire truck. Your favourite car is Lightning McQueen from Cars, even though you’ve never actually seen that movie. Your favourite streetcar is the St. Clair car. Your favourite city is Toronto, and your favourite hockey team is the Toronto Maples Leafs, but also sometimes the Habs. Your favourite astronaut is Chris Hadfield (or, as you call him, Chris The Hadfield). Your favourite painting is Soldier and Girl at Station by Alex Colville. Your favourite musician is John Coltrane, and every time I go to put a record on you ask for Blue Train. You are a fine little hipster-in-training.

You hate sleep. I mean, you really hate sleep. You spend the hours past your bedtime trying to engage me in conversation, promising that you have to tell me something or ask me something, or else you try to delay the inevitable by asking for just one more glass of milk or one more cuddle. We’ve found ourselves having to invent arbitrary bedtime rules (only three stories, only one glass of milk, the baby gate goes up if you come out of your room five times) because otherwise you will never, ever sleep. You sometimes stay up until past ten, which drives me bonkers because that’s the only time alone I get with your father, but you’re never cranky in the morning. In fact, your daycare teachers often remark on how you always seem to be in a good mood. There isn’t much that seems to faze you.

You’re still nursing, a fact that simultaneously surprises me, slightly embarrasses me and makes me strangely proud. I didn’t even think that we’d make it past the first month of breastfeeding, let alone three years. And yet, here we are.

Here we are.

You’re asserting your independence a lot these days, in ways both big and small. Being your mom can be challenging sometimes, most often because I’m not always sure what to do when you’re ignoring me or else being flat-out defiant. I don’t like yelling, and I don’t like giving time-outs – I guess what I really hate is being the bad guy. Especially since your arguments can be so funny and persuasive. But I know that setting boundaries and disciplining you are a form of loving you, so I figure that the best I can do is to try hard not to react emotionally to your behaviour. Instead of punishing you because I am angry or sad (although I recognize that I am totally entitled to those feelings), I try to stay calm, react rationally and not take your behaviour personally. Because it’s not personal; this is what small children are like.

There is so much to admire about you. Your kindness and compassion still amaze me, although they probably shouldn’t by now. You’re so good at reading other peoples’ emotions, and love to comment on what you think other people are feeling. You are quick to offer a hug if you think that someone else is down. One evening, when you overheard me crying in the bedroom, you ran in and asked if I was crying because someone had shouted at me. You tell me all the time that you love me, and you have an ongoing list of the other people that you love: your father, your grandparents, you aunts and uncles, you cousins, Nathan, Audra, Jairus, Nico, Frances, Nico’s Dad (who I’m not even sure you’ve ever met), Eden, Isadora, Michael. Pretty much anyone that you can think of ends up on that list. You have two best friends – Noah and Malcolm – and you often tell me that the three of you are the three musketeers. Baby’s first literary reference! Unknowingly made, but still.

You are a wonder. Your words, your thoughts, your actions amaze me on a daily basis. And when I say this – all of this, everything that I’ve written here – it’s not because I think that you are better or smarter than other kids. I’m sure that you’re exactly average, and if you weren’t that wouldn’t matter one bit. But you’re not average to me – to me, you are a very particular set of characteristics that add up to something incredibly remarkable. I cherish each and every single tiny thing that makes you you, even the stuff that I find frustrating and difficult to handle. Because those are the things that make up who you are, and I love you entirely. Yes, I love all of the things that are easy to love – your charm, your humour, your never-ending desire to know – but I also love the challenging parts, too. I love all of you.

I am so excited to see what this coming year, this year of three, is going to bring. Because, knowing you, it’s only going to be bigger and brighter than what’s come before.

Much love,

Mama

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2013 In Review: Part 2

6 Jan

Read about January through June here!

JULY

Hands down, the biggest part of July for me was speaking at BlogHer’s annual conference. When I received the invitation to be part of a panel discussion about blogging and mental health, my first thought was that there had been a mistake. They couldn’t have meant me – they must have meant to ask some bigger, more famous blogger. But nope – they wanted me. I had the honour of working with the wonderful Aurelia Cotta, A’Driane Nieves  and Arnebya Herndon, and because of their awesomeness and enthusiasm the panel was a breeze.

Professional blogger at large - LOOK AT HOW MY NAME TAG SAYS SPEAKER, THOUGH

Professional blogger at large – LOOK AT HOW MY NAME TAG SAYS SPEAKER, THOUGH

Speaking on the panel

Speaking on the panel

BlogHer ’13 was pretty great. Highlights include seeing keynote speeches by Queen Latifah and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Also lots of delicious free food. I kind of sucked at the networking part of the conference, but free food. I am such a fucking sucker when it comes to free food.

How is this my life

How is this my life

And

AND

AND AND AND BEST PART OF THE CONFERENCE: I GOT TO MEET SHANNON FISHER

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We’d been friends online for months and months and honestly I thought we’d never get to meet, because she lives in British Columbia and I’m not exactly a frequent flyer, BUT THEN WE WERE BOTH SPEAKING AT THE SAME CONFERENCE. How flipping lucky is that?

I am the luckiest. Not just because I got to meet Shannon, but because I get to have friends like her in the first place.

Chicago itself was awesome – seriously, what a fucking great city. THEY HAVE A CHILDREN’S MUSEUM AND A FREE ZOO. Matt and Theo had a total blast exploring while I was conferencing, and I joined them whenever I could. We ate deep dish pizza, rode the El Train and had a great dinner with our super-smart neuroscientist friend Jess. Best vacation ever.

Theo playing at the Children's Museum. I think he was in heaven.

Theo playing at the Children’s Museum. I think he was in heaven.

Checking the horse's heartbeat

Checking the horse’s heartbeat

Giving medicine to the chicken.

Giving medicine to the chicken.

The city

Lunch on Michigan Avenue

Lunch on Michigan Avenue

Three words: Deep. Dish. Pizza.

Three words: Deep. Dish. Pizza.

Not sure why the Chicago River is this colour...

Not sure why the Chicago River is this colour…

Lion at Lincoln Park Zoo

Lion at Lincoln Park Zoo

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Waiting for the El

Waiting for the El

The lions at the Art Institute

The lions at the Art Institute

My favourite painting from the Art Institute of Chicago - Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys

Favourite painting from the Art Institute of Chicago – Degas’ Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys

I also had the chance to take in the Daniel Clowes exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Daniel Clowes is the genius behind Ghost World, aka my favourite graphic novel of all time. I also like pretty much all of his other stuff.

I was in heaven.

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Chicago was a blast.

The rest of the month was pretty rad, too. I spent a lot of time working on my book, which meant that the blog was somewhat neglected, but I did post a few things: I wrote about how much insomnia sucks, how ashamed I feel over my lack of education, how privilege colours the way that white folks talk about Trayvon Martin, and what it’s like to be Not That Girl.

Other highlights of the month include spending all day every day outside, going on a fancy date with Matt, and getting Theo his own bed in his own room (yes, he’d been sleeping in our bedroom all this time).

We spent Canada Day with Eden, Michael and their daughter Isadora. Iz and I climbed on the giant spiderweb at the park near our house!

We spent Canada Day with Eden, Michael and their daughter Isadora. Iz and I climbed on the giant spiderweb at the park near our house!

Matt and Theo jamming with Iz

Matt and Theo jamming with Iz

"MAMA LOOK HOW BIG I AM."

“MAMA LOOK HOW BIG I AM.”

Because sometimes you lie down to nurse your kid and the cat is like THIS SEEMS LIKE A GREAT TIME TO PILE ON TOP OF YOU.

Because sometimes you lie down to nurse your kid and the cat is like THIS SEEMS LIKE A GREAT TIME TO PILE ON TOP OF YOU.

Fun times and high-waisted shorts at the wading pool

Fun times and high-waisted shorts at the wading pool

My little shark <3

My little shark ❤

Date night - dinner at Frank and movie at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre

Date night – dinner at Frank and movie at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre

Found a giant Boober Fraggle at Value Village aka HAPPIEST DAY OF MY WHOLE STUPID LIFE

Found a giant Boober Fraggle at Value Village aka HAPPIEST DAY OF MY WHOLE STUPID LIFE

Theo liked him too

Theo liked him too

More splash pad madness, this time with Matt manning the spray thingie

More splash pad madness, this time with Matt manning the spray thingie

HIS OWN BED. HALLELUJAH.

HIS OWN BED. HALLELUJAH.

We got to meet my friend Melissa's daughter Juno - or, as Theo calls her, "Baby Judo."

We got to meet my friend Melissa’s daughter Juno – or, as Theo calls her, “Baby Judo.”

July was the month when my hair got funkier. And yes, that is a Bell Jar t-shirt http://shop.outofprintclothing.com/The_Bell_Jar_book_cover_t_shirt_p/l-1018.htm

July was the month when my hair got funkier. And yes, that is a Bell Jar t-shirt http://shop.outofprintclothing.com/The_Bell_Jar_book_cover_t_shirt_p/l-1018.htm

AUGUST

So the most important thing that happened in August is that on the sixth it was MY BIRTHDAY.

As I do every year on my birthday, I paused and remembered the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It’s a weird event to share a day with, but I’ve sort of grown to love? appreciate? something? the time I spend reflecting on that anniversary.

Then I had some cake.

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I also had a fun birthday soirée (and by soirée I mean all of my friends came over to my apartment for drinks and snacks and we spent the night laughing uproariously/listening to Elvis Costello).

I’m old, you guys.

I spent a lot of August lounging around in parks, going to the island for picnics and making trips to Value Village with Audra and/or Eden. I also spent a lot of time sitting in coffee shops NOT writing my book. I did manage to get a fair bit of other writing done, though. Here’s some of the stuff I’m proud of:

Ten Lies Depression Tells You (which has been shared and viewed a whole bunch of times, a fact that warms the cockly cockles of my heart)

What It’s Like To Be A Writer Who Is Also A Woman

How To Talk To Your Son About His Body (which I wrote with Nathan but which he basically refuses to take credit for. SUCK IT NATHAN I AM GIVING YOU CREDIT ANYWAY.)

A Few Truths About Love

I also wrote about Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance, which resulted in a small internet shitstorm. The piece, when republished in the Huffington Post’s music section, became the most viewed post in that department, which is bananas. I had a lot of really amazing people support and share my work, and I also had a lot of crap slung at me. One guy even invited me to suck his dick, which, I mean. Good thing we are living in a post-patriarchal world where the best insult you can think of is asking a woman to perform a sex act on you.

August in pictures:

Theo and Iz. She's old enough to babysit, right?

Theo and Iz. She’s old enough to babysit, right?

Reading Theo's all-time favourite book. He has the whole thing memorized.

Reading Theo’s all-time favourite book. He has the whole thing memorized.

Important life lessons with Auntie Catherine

Important life lessons with Auntie Catherine

Bringin' back the Ninja Turtles

Bringin’ back the Ninja Turtles

FEMINIST KILLJOY

FEMINIST KILLJOY

On the boat to the island

On the boat to the island

Future archeologist

Future archeologist

Swimmin' hole

Swimmin’ hole

For Matt’s birthday we went to the Ai Wei Wei exhibit and then out for fancy tapas for dinner. My lovely friend Liz, who blogs over at The Stretch For Something Beautiful, babysat Theo so that we could have a fun grownup time.

From the Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the art gallery

From the Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the art gallery

At Matt's birthday dinner - naturally there are no pictures of him from his own birthday, because I am a narcissist

At Matt’s birthday dinner – naturally there are no pictures of him from his own birthday, because I am a narcissist

At the end of the month we went to the Canadian National Exhibition, which is basically the biggest, smelliest most crowded and awful fall exhibition that you can imagine, except that it’s ALSO amazing. Theo loved the farm pavilion, was mildly terrified by the idea of riding on the merry-go-round, and enjoyed his 99 cent spaghetti. And I got to ride on the SWINGS. Success all around!

At the CNE with Amy

At the CNE with Amy

My favourite fair ride of all time

My favourite fair ride of all time

SEPTEMBER

September was PRETTY RAD. I spent two weeks in Alberta with my in-laws, and since I’m afraid of flying, I got to spend THREE NIGHTS AND TWO DAYS ALONE ON A TRAIN. Since we didn’t think Theo would do well spending that long cooped up on a train, and it didn’t seem like a great idea for my kid to see me super fucked up on Ativan (which is the only way I can fly), that seemed like the best arrangement for everyone involved.

I GOT SO MUCH ALONE TIME, YOU GUYS.

Train by night

Train by night

My little bed!

My little bed!

Train selfie. Sorry.

Train selfie. Sorry.

First day on the train is spent in Northern Ontario. From my journal:

“We stopped briefly in a town called Hornepayne and had the chance to get out and stretch our legs. I walked all the way through the town to the woods that surround it, and then back to the train tracks. It was such a strange, eerie little place.

The sky there was cloudless and very blue; the air was warm. It was a Sunday afternoon, so you would think that people would be out and about, but no. It was all empty streets, empty yards, empty swings on rusted old swing sets creaking and blowing in breeze. The only other sound was a faint wind chime somewhere not far away, but the sound was so blurred and indistinct that I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I felt as if I was a visiting a place where everyone had died fifty years ago.

One house had a tattered, faded confederate flag hanging flying from its front porch. Another building had a sun-bleached sign for now-defunct restaurant and general store painted on its side. There was the hulking carcass of an ancient Ford pickup truck (by the look and shape of it I would guess it dated back to the 30s or 40s) sitting a few feet into the woods on the north side of town; ragweed and tall grasses grew thick through the truck’s windows and along its dash.

There was an old train station and hotel by the tracks, all steadfast sun-baked brick and rotting wood. The windows, their glass smashed long ago, are now just dark, gaping holes surrounded by paint-peeling windowsills, exhaling the cold smell of mould, damp and ghosts.”

Day two started out in Winnipeg:

In Winnipeg I visited Louis Riel's grave!

In Winnipeg I visited Louis Riel’s grave!

But by the afternoon we were in Saskatchewan:

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Not too many trains come to Melville...

Not too many trains come to Melville…

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Alberta was a blast. We drove into Banff one day and spent some time in the mountains (I didn’t take any pictures, though, wtf). We went to Heritage Park, which is an old-timey village thing:

Theo riding the steam engine at Calgary's Heritage Park. I think this was everyone's favourite day in Alberta.

Theo riding the steam engine at Calgary’s Heritage Park. I think this was everyone’s favourite day in Alberta.

Theo just about died of happiness when he got to ride on a steam train

STEAM ENGINE

STEAM ENGINE

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Studying hard.

Studying hard.

Little log church

Little log church

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We found a house that was JUST THE RIGHT SIZE for us:

In the tiny dugout house

In the tiny dugout house

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We climbed a tree:

In a tree!!

In a tree!!

And visited VULCAN:

Vulcan, Alberta aka HEAVEN ON EARTH

Vulcan, Alberta aka HEAVEN ON EARTH

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This is the best fucking town ever

This is the best fucking town ever

Me n my boyfriend Spock

Me n my boyfriend Spock

I was preeeeetty stoked

I was preeeeetty stoked

Bev <3

Bev ❤

Seriously though they had the best murals everywhere

Seriously though they had the best murals everywhere

And public transporters!

And public transporters!

On September 12th Matt and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. I don’t have any pictures of the super lovely dinner we had (courtesy of my wonderful mother-in-law, who babysat Theo, made the reservation, paid for our dinner and sneakily brought a picture of Matt and me PLUS A REPLICA OF MY WEDDING BOUQUET to the restaurant), but here’s what we looked like on the big day:

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Married four years. And as of this coming April, we will have been together for nine years.

Holy shit.

I mean, holy shit.

Matt is the best, you guys. He is the most loving, patient, appreciative partner, and I am so lucky to have him in my life. So lucky.

Dude, I love you so much.

Another big Alberta event was that my sister-in-law Erin brought me along to her roller derby practice. She taught me how to skate and, more importantly, she taught me how to fall.

Erin is the coolest and let me just say right now that I feel so lucky to have married into a family that includes her. She has always been funny and kind and smart and a huge support when I’ve needed her the most. Erin, you are super rad and I love you.

Derby life

Derby life

I learned how to skate! Sort of!

I learned how to skate! Sort of!

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We also went to the Calgary Zoo:

The Calgary zoo had some ... odd ... attractions.

The Calgary Zoo had some … odd … attractions.

Theo was SO EXCITED about the shopping carts at the local grocery store

Theo was SO EXCITED about the shopping carts at the local grocery store

Another moment of excitement from my time in Alberta – meeting Danielle Paradis after months of online friendship. You guys she is super smart and funny and gorgeous!

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The trip back was pretty uneventful. Just prairies and more prairies and then Northern Ontario.

The prairies are kinda bleak, you guys

The prairies are kinda bleak, you guys

Because of the weird timing of the train in conjunction with when Matt and Theo were able to get cheap airplane seats, I got back to Toronto a full thirty six hours before they did. Nathan met me at the train station and took me out for a greasy diner breakfast and then to see a movie. Then we made cookies. And dyed his pants. And watched bad TV. And made dinner. Basically Nathan is great is what I’m saying here. I am really lucky to have him in my life, too.

ANNE: LUCKY IN DUDES, UNLUCKY IN … OTHER THINGS?

The last big thing to happen in September was when I wrote about David Gilmour. Someone on CBC found my post and wound up interviewing me, the Toronto Star interviewed me, and a local high school teacher invited me to come speak to his 12th grade English class. It was all pretty exciting, but I think speaking to a high school class was the best part. First of all, I got to write PATRIARCHY in giant letters on a white board. I mean, that right there is a fucking dream come true. And the students were smart and engaged and had so many interesting things to say. We had a really great discussion about gender and feminism and intersectionality and it was all so exciting that I was high off of it for the rest of the day. Shout out to City Adult Learning Centre! I love you!

A few other posts from September that I am pretty proud of:

You Are Worth It (yes, you!)

Slut-shaming, Suicide and Mrs. Hall

Tips For Writers

OCTOBER

October was kind of a write-off, because I had pneumonia for half the stupid month. I spent a lot of time lying on my couch watching the X-Files which I mean, hey, there are worse fates in life.

And anyway, October did have its share of rad moments. For one thing, I got to have a sleepover with Jennie, Audra, Alexis and Shannon (with Eden joining us for dinner)! Not only that, but we had it at the owner of Peach Berserk‘s house. WHICH MEANT THAT WE GOT TO TRY ON DRESSES.

SO GOOD.

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ALL THE DRESSES

ALL THE DRESSES

Matt and Theo and I went to my mother’s house for Thanksgiving. The weather was gorgeous and we spent a lot of time outdoors.

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(My mom made the hat!)

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Also in October I CLEANED MY BEDROOM.

Yes, I am a grownup.

No, my bedroom is not often this clean.

I … oh man I am such a disappointment to myself sometimes. Hah.

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In October Theo was consumed with toddler ennui.

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We tried being a two-kid family for a night so that Melissa and her husband Mike could celebrate their anniversary. It was pretty successful?

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It was my beloved Sylvia’s birthday.

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And Hallowe’en!

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Theo dressed up as (in his words) a “big kid preschooler engineer.”

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This was the first year that we took Theo trick-or-treating, and he had a blast. Of course, he kept freezing up and forgetting to say trick-or-treat, but otherwise he had so much fun. And then after two days he totally forgot about the candy and Matt and I were like, JACKPOT.

I also wrote some things in October:

Gilmour Girls: A Reading List for David Gilmour

How To Talk To New Parents

How To Be A Grownup (spoiler alert, I don’t actually know how, as evidenced by how rarely I clean my bedroom)

High Tech Panties Won’t Stop Rape

NOVEMBER

In November MY BOOK WAS PUBLISHED.

HOLY SHIT I PUBLISHED A BOOK.

A BOOK THAT YOU CAN BUY HERE AND HERE AND HERE  AND HERE AND HERE

I HAVE A BOOK AND IT LOOKS LIKE THIS:

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That was basically the best thing that happened in November.

Other November awesomeness includes the time Liz, Amy and I went to the rare book fair at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was the first time the two of them had met in person, but they so similar that I knew they would get along like wildfire. Turns out I was right!

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This is what heaven looks like, by the way:

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We also went to the Santa Claus parade in November. Do not ask me why it’s held in November. I was kind of worried that Theo would get bored and want to leave part way through, but nope. He was so into it.

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Yes, I was knitting during a parade. So?

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In November, Theo experimented with weird sleeping positions:

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I helped Nathan housesit for Audra, and got to cuddle these guys a bunch:

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Also my friend Annie DREW A PICTURE OF US (plus our friends Nancy and Melissa) AS THE KIDS FROM STAND BY ME.

HOLY CANNOLI I LOVE THAT MOVIE SO MUCH.

I’m Gordie, of course. Annie is my Chris ❤

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Theo had his preschool picture taken in November, and it was neat to compare what he looks like now vs. what he looked like a year ago.

November 2012:

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November 2013:

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At the end of November I went to the first meeting of the Young Adultery Book Club (run by my friends Cat and Alicia). Our first book was Flowers In The Attic. Somehow I had never read this book before which, I mean, what is even wrong with me?

I’d only managed to finish the first three quarters of the book beforehand and thus spent the entire meeting shaking my head in disbelief, saying, “I don’t understand how this is a BOOK. WHAT IS WRONG. WAIT THEIR MOTHER DID WHAT?”

YOU GUYS THIS BOOK IS CRAZY

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Some things that I posted in November:

On Learning to Love My Nose

Guest Post: Life as a Mountain Hike (written by my husband Matt)

DECEMBER

Holy shitsnacks we’re finally at the end of the year!

December was mostly ok. My sister Claire had an accident at the beginning of the month, which was pretty scary and stressful (especially for her).

Claire is the prettiest, in case you were wondering:

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I super love her and I am glad she’s ok.

Other than Claire’s accident, the month was pretty good. I went out with my friends Graham and Susan for Susan’s birthday, then got drunk and took bathroom selfies and THEN watched Drunk Trek. Although sadly I was so boozy that I passed out about twenty minutes in. Whoops. At least that prevented me from drinking anything else and thus hating myself a lot the next morning.

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I saw my friend Liz do a reading of her poetry as part of an arts collective:

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We went to Casa Loma …

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… and visited Santa Claus

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We found a Theo-sized hole in one of the towers

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They had a mini ballet version of Peter Pan – Theo immediately decided he wanted to learn to dance ballet

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Then the ice storm came:

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Buuuuut I still went to work. At least Theo came along to help me clean!

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On Christmas Eve, we drove down to Kingston with Nathan, whose family also lives there. When Matt and Nathan get together it’s like insta-best-friends, so Theo and I napped in the back seat for most of the trip while the two of them high-fived each other for three hours over how awesome they are. Pretty great, you guys.

Also pretty great? Christmas itself.

Theo reading a Christmas Eve bedtime story with Gran:

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Opening presents Christmas morning:

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Theo spent the rest of the day running around the house saying, I’M A REAL HOCKEY PLAYER

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Then we took him for-real skating, and he wasn’t too sure what to make of it:

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I wrote some stuff in December, too. I talked about how I am a feelings machine, and I made a list of all the stuff that isn’t feminist, I had some stuff to say about why we obsessively document our lives, and, in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, I discussed Canada’s own apartheid.

In mid-December, I wrote a guest post for The Outlier Collective on how to deal with negative/trollish blog comments.

Then, for my last post of the year (not counting the first part of my year in review), I wrote about how virginity is a social construct. And I got freshly freshly pressed! Again! For the third time this year! BLOGGING HAT TRICK!

I ended the year with a fan-art tribute to Patti Smith, in honour of her birthday. I love you Patti Smith!

I am a nerd.

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It’s been an amazing year, you guys, and y’all have been a huge part of that amazingness. Thank you so much for reading and commenting and sharing. Thank you for being awesome. You’re a big part of the reason why I keep writing here.

Happy 2014 ❤

2013 In Review: Part 1

29 Dec

It’s been a wild year, you guys. Mostly amazing, though. I mean, there was some not-so-great stuff in there for sure, but in my personal 2013 the good definitely outweighed the bad. Weirdly I feel like I’m one of the few people who can say that.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

JANUARY

I started the year off by making myself a flower crown which was somehow THE BEST THING IN MY LIFE (I am really into flower crowns and didn’t realize I could actually MAKE THEM FROM STUFF I BOUGHT AT THE DOLLAR STORE):

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Then I went to my friends Jennie and Red’s New Year’s party:

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On our way home from the party our subway was delayed by a girl who may or may not have been threatening to somehow harm herself. It seemed like an ominous beginning to the year.

2012 had gone out not with a bang but a whimper; on December 30th I’d published a post about how hard I was finding it to cope – re-reading it now makes me feel so incredibly relieved that I’m no longer in this place:

These days I feel as if I’ve lost the capacity for joy. I’ll catch myself mid-laugh and realize that I’m faking it, and I’m faking it so well that I’ve nearly got myself convinced. In the same way that it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that spring will ever come again, it’s also hard to believe that anything will ever make me feel good or happy again. I have these thoughts, like, hey, maybe at the beginning of my life I was handed out a finite number of good experiences and now, in the winter of my 30th year, I’ve somehow managed to spend the last one.

I’m grateful that this December I still, somehow, believe in the promise of spring.

The rest of January was tough. I was depressed for a lot of it, and to make matters even worse, early in the month Matt, Theo and I were struck by a stomach bug that led to the enchanting experience of throwing up all over a bathroom stall at Sick Kids.

There were a few highlights that month, of course. Shortly after New Year’s Day we participated in an Idle No More rally at Yonge and Dundas, which was pretty amazing:

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And then on January 17th it was Theo’s second birthday, which was pretty rad:

Theo the morning of his second birthday

Theo the morning of his second birthday

Also Wil Wheaton tweeted at me, which, I mean, HIGHLIGHT OF MY FUCKING LIFE.

Other than that, though, January was pretty hard. Depression-wise, things came to a boiling point at the end of the month. I won’t get into the gory details, but by then I was suicidal and sick with guilt over the fact that I felt that way. I went to my doctor, who increased the dosage of my antidepressants. I talked to my therapist, who listened and kindly nodded. I talked to my friends and family, who had advice that ranged from well-meaning to useless. Nothing seemed to do anything; the days just dragged on and on, weak winter light bleeding into blank, sleepless nights. It’s funny – now that things are so much better, I can’t really remember how those days felt. I can only remember that they were the emotional equivalent of the sensation and sound of fingernails on a blackboard. They were unbearable.

On January 31st my friends Audra and Jairus took me to the CAMH emergency room. I saw a psychiatrist there and spent nearly an hour talking to her. She was nice – not condescending, not pushy, not mean. Just nice. And young. And I totally coveted her wardrobe.

After that, things started to slowly, inexplicably get better. Somehow seeing her gave me permission to feel what I was feeling, and having the guilt over what I felt lifted made an enormous difference.

FEBRUARY

February was a weird sort of in-between time. I felt like I was in some kind of borderland, not quite here but not quite somewhere else, either. I spent a lot of time trying to pull myself back together, and I think that by and large I succeeded? One of the things the CAMH psychiatrist had “prescribed” was to take more time for myself. She said that I should try to do one thing a day just for me, so I did exactly that. I went and sat in quiet cafés and wrote in my journal. I took mid-day trips to the art gallery and drank in all the gorgeous around me. I went to the water spa and sat for hours in pools of salt water reading the Game of Thrones series. I tried hard not to feel guilty over all the selfish things I was spending money on.

February 11th was the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s suicide, which seemed strangely important. That date felt like a sort of arbitrary line in the sand, and I thought that if only I could get past it, things would get better. Part of it was that I felt like I was lucky enough to be moving on with my life, while she was constantly frozen in her 30th year, at the height of her poetic career but what must have seemed like the nadir of her personal life. I wrote about how strange it was that this year, when I turned 31, I would suddenly be older than she had ever been.

At some point towards the end of month I cemented my friendship with Nathan, who, at that time, was working at a fancy food store a block away from the studio that I manage. I would talk to him every time I went in to eat all the free samples or buy discounted day-old stuff, but we weren’t really friend-friends until one day I went to pay for something and he saw my copy of George R.R. Martin’s Dance With Dragons sticking out of my purse. After that we sort of fell into deep smit with each other and we’ve been pretty inseparable ever since. Nathan is mostly a super tall dude version of me with really good hair who makes me laugh a lot. I keep trying to put into words how amazing he is, and I keep coming up stupidly short, so I’ll just leave it at this: Nathan is one of the best things that has happened to me this year.

Other February highlights include:

This super rad Star Trek sweater I found at Value Village

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As is my tradition, I spent Valentine’s Day with my girlfriends instead of with Matt. We ate a fancy dinner and then got drunk and mouthy, which seems like the best possible way to spend that stupid holiday. I also wrote about how much I hate Valentine’s Day.

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I wrote an article for XOJane about breastfeeding, for which Matt took what might be one of my favourite pictures of Theo and I ever.

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The two biggest events in February were definitely the two nights that Matt and I had on our own away from Theo, just two grownups doing grownup things without a manic two year old to interrupt them. The first was early in the month, when my friends Eden and Michael offered to babysit Theo overnight. Matt and I spent our sacred time away at the Gladstone Hotel, in a super fancy room:

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It was the first time we’d ever been away from Theo overnight, and things went well for all parties involved!

Then, at the end of February, Matt and I went to a classy whiskey-tasting event in Kingston and spent the night at the same B&B we’d stayed at the night of our wedding while my mom took care of Theo. Turns out I super like whiskey:

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On February 27th I deleted my Facebook account for a week, which was pretty much exactly what I needed to do right then.

MARCH

March was pretty much a red-letter month for me in 2013. This year could, among other things, be called The Year I Fell Totally Head-Over-Heels In Love With Patti Smith, a process that was cemented by seeing Smith in concert at the Art Gallery of Ontario on March 7th. There had only been a handful of tickets to her performance there, but I’d somehow managed to score one by going and waiting in the freezing cold outside of the gallery the morning that they went on sale. It was so, so unbelievably worth it.

I WAS THIS CLOSE TO PATTI SMITH YOU GUYS:

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AUGH

Other Patti Smith highlights of this year include: seeing her exhibit Camera Solo, reading her book Just Kids, getting Horses on vinyl for my birthday from Nathan, and tearing through one of her all-time favourite books, Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin. PATTI SMITH I LOVE YOU.

I wrote some stuff that garnered a bunch of pretty rad attention in March, including 15 Assumptions That Might Be Useful To Make, which was my first post ever to be Freshly Pressed, I wrote a ridiculous alphabet poem for International Women’s Day which was shared by some pretty cool people INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO the Girl Guides of Canada, and I learned what it really, truly means to have a post go viral after writing a post called “I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter” in response to the Steubenville rape trial. That post, which has had half a million views to date, was shared by super crazy professional publications such as The Believer, Mother Jones and The Atlantic. YOU GUYS THOSE ARE WHERE THE REAL WRITERS ARE. I think March was maybe the first time I’d ever felt like a For Real Writer Lady.

Other March highlights include going to Montreal for my grandmother’s 85th birthday, an event that was notable for three reasons:

1. My grandmother (centre, age 10) celebrated her 85th trip around the sun

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2. Theo looked SUPER ADORABLE in a kilt

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3. I figured out how to do a sock bun

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As the month was waning I got to experience my first ever Write Club, where I watched the super charming Ryan F. Hughes read his work.

I also wrote another post that went viral, this time about a meme that I kept seeing pop up claiming that the holiday Easter is named after the ancient Babylonian goddess Ishtar. SPOILER ALERT, EASTER IS NOT NAMED AFTER ISHTAR YOU GUYS.

At the end of March I went to an awesome reproductive rights party with Audra and Jairus and I GOT TO HOLD THIS TINY KITTEN.

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CLEARLY I WAS NOT KIDDING WHEN I SAID MARCH WAS GREAT.

APRIL

In April I started painting again after about ten years of not painting. It’s one of those things that wholly absorbs my attention, which is kind of a nice vacation from the rest of my life. I haven’t painted much since the spring, and putting this post together is a good reminder that I should start again.

We had a lot of family art time in April

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Among my masterpieces were this weirdo fox

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And this New York skyline for my sister Claire

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In late April, I met and had dinner with Sheila Heti and I am not going to be weird and fan-girly about it here but uh it was pretty great. I wore a dress and put flowers in my hair! I made up cue cards with talking points in case I got really awkward and couldn’t think of anything to say, but I shouldn’t have worried because we pretty much just sat and talked for hours. It was, as Sheila said, a good first date.

On April 27th I went to my high school reunion (well, it wasn’t, like, a reunion-reunion, it was the 25th anniversary of the special arts program that I’d participated in, but it was basically a reunion). I’ve been pretty vocal about how un-fun my high school experience was, and I told everyone that I absolutely, definitely WAS NOT GOING, and then of course I went. And I had fun. So I guess that’ll show me.

The good news is that I looked cute:

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Channeling my inner Patsy-from-Ab-Fab

Channeling my inner Patsy-from-Ab-Fab

Dancing my little heart out

Dancing my little heart out with Graham and Susan

I wrote some pretty serious stuff in April, including the ways in which Dove manipulates womenRehtaeh Parsons’ suicide, the Boston Bombing, and the kidnapping and sexual assault of a five year old Indian girl. I also experienced one of the worst hangovers of my adult life and wrote a 13 step guide to hangover survival. So, you know, it was kind of a mixed bag in terms of content. Also I was STILL FUCKING HUNGOVER AT 8:30 PM THE NEXT EVENING. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I WATCH STAR TREK AND DRINK TOO MANY MARTINIS.

MAY

From my journal, dated May 2nd:

I’m sad tonight. The air is warm and smells of new earth and the heavy sweetness of flowers. As I walk home through the Annex I can hear soft laughter and the clink of dishes, comforting post-dinner sounds from all the surrounding houses. The kids are out tonight, smoking pot in the park, playing on the swings, daring each other to go further, higher. Everything is unbearably lovely, much more lovely than it ought to be. I want to hate this world, but I can’t. I can’t love it, either. I’m stuck somewhere in between.

Spring is always the time when I feel like everyone else is out having more fun than I am. Spring is when I worry everyone is doing a better, more interesting job of living than I am. I feel like there’s something stirring inside me, wanting to wake up, but it can’t, or else I won’t let it. Being miserable in the winter isn’t so bad, because everyone else is miserable, too; being miserable in the spring and summer, when everyone else is out having fun is another thing altogether.

I felt better as the month went on, though. Matt’s brother Adam came to visit, and Theo had a blast hanging out with him:

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That month we went to Adam’s CD release in Sarnia. You can download his music for free here (although I do encourage you to make a donation).

On May 20th I read my own work at Write Club which was SUPER GREAT AND AMAZING. Also I won my round and am now the owner of a much-coveted tiny plastic trophy. I am really lucky to have a wonderful group of friends, and Audra, Ryan, Lili, Frances and Nathan were all there to clap super hard for me (Jairus would have been there if he hadn’t been sick!). What why am I so lucky.

On May 30th Henry Morgentaler died and the Huffington Post asked me to write a sort of tribute to him. Which, I mean, I find it kinda hilarious that I am the first person they think of when they need someone to write about women’s reproductive rights. LET’S ASK ANNE, SHE’S ALL OVER THAT PRO-CHOICE SHIT. Fun fact: I wrote that post while sitting on a bench at the corner of Yonge and Eglinton right after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness.

HI ZACHARY QUINTO, CALL ME MAYBE.

Other highlights!

We went to Riverdale Farm and I experimented with mint green short-shorts:

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Matt and I went to see Fiddler on the Roof at Stratford. I don’t have any pictures of the show, but here’s one my mom took of us before we left Toronto:

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My friend Brendon held his annual friendapalooza barbecue, and he and Theo wore matching outfits:

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I finally visited Jack Layton’s grave:

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I discovered this amazing old picture of Alex Trebek:

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I also wrote about the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh, why I’m not a huge fan of Mother’s Day, and self-loathing.

JUNE

Here is my June in pictures:

Theo got his nails done by a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Hilary Clinton

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I read in parks

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With Nathan

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We spent a lot of time outdoors

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I saw The National and Mikal Cronin at NXNE (not pictured: The National or Mikal Cronin)

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I was a hilarious drunk

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Annie and Michael visited from Halifax. OH MAN was it ever good to see them

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I dug up a bunch of my favourite Matt and Theo pictures for Father’s Day

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Ancient Romans invaded the Royal Ontario Museum

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I had my first PRINT article published in Shameless Magazine

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I made a flower crown for Audra

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I stole Nathan’s Jays hat

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I stole Nathan’s I Wanna Be Your Dog t-shirt and cut it up into an awesome tank top

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Not pictured: I STOLE NATHAN’S WALLET (kidding, kidding)

We visited Kingston and Claire showed Theo the kid-sized train at her work

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It was maybe the best day of his life

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On June 1st I went to see my friend Drew’s band play and realized that I had no fucking clue what to do when drunk folks start calling people fags.

One of my favourite high school teachers, Roland Muller, died and his death was so much harder on me than I’d imagined it would be.

I wrote 10 Signs that Feminism May Not Be For You for the Outlier Collective, and it wound up being my second post ever to be Freshly Pressed. Yay!

I wrote some advice for Sheila Heti.

I started writing my book, and then wrote about writing my book. META.

So that was the first half of my year. I was originally gonna do this whole thing in one single post, but I’m only halfway through and I’m already at 3,000 words, so I think that I’ll stop here.

Coming up next: 2013 PART TWO: THE RETURN OF 2013.

Guest Post: Life As A Mountain Hike

7 Nov

My husband Matt wrote the following post about how challenging it can be to have a partner who is depressed. If you are at all technically inclined, you can check out his own blog, Quoth The Runtime, “Segmentation Fault”. He mostly writes about programming, but he also posts some pretty great stuff about the rampant sexism and misogyny in his industry.

LIFE AS A MOUNTAIN HIKE

I’ve come to the conclusion that the best metaphor I can conceive of for everyday life is that life is a mountain trail. Some days you have to work hard to make any progress, other days are simple, and some are nicely balanced. You can see beautiful vistas, or find yourself in the bottom of a dark valley. The weather can be reflective of your mood, a lot like what you see in movies (there’s a reason why it always rains during movie funerals). Some days the air’s become so thin that it’s a struggle to do anything of any great significance. You see your friends from time to time on the trail, and perhaps you’ve arranged to meet sixty miles up the trail in two days, and you only hope it’s downhill or level at worst, because you have a lot ground to cover in not much time.

So, given that life is a mountain trail, what is it like when your partner is depressed? It’s like hiking with someone with impaired lung function. They need to carry oxygen, and some cases are worse than others. Some patients need to basically have the mask on the whole time, while others can operate normally with a couple of deep breaths every once in a while.

How does this affect your relationship? You both have to take more load. Your partner has to carry the tank, so you offset that increased load into your own pack. But you’re also thinking about their oxygen supply. Sometimes it’s “do they have enough air in the tank,” but when you’re really paying attention, it becomes “do they have enough airflow”, and usually that only happens when their depression becomes apparent again. The big problem with depression, not just socially, but functionally, is that it’s invisible. Depression quite literally changes how the patient thinks, both on and off treatment. Enough airflow from the tank, and your partner is brought up to baseline.. except for the fact that they’re still carrying the extra weight, so you’re still taking some of what would otherwise be their load! With the right treatment, the patient can feel reasonably close to “normal”, but if they don’t maintain the treatment, for some reason–maybe a disrupted routine means not taking their medication for a few days, or maybe they’re feeling so good they self-moderate to a lower dose–or their circumstances change and now they just aren’t getting enough air (perhaps their brain chemistry has adjusted), then they can’t perform as well… and as their partner, it’s up to you to keep an eye on that. It’s not just your partner’s concern.

Living with a depressed partner is hard. In addition to everything that normally comes up in any relationship, you’re ultimately their partner in managing their depression, too. Whether it’s as simple as giving them some slack on the harder days, and letting them do their thing while you pick up the housework, or something as detailed as collaborating in their treatment plan, their depression will always be there, whether it’s forgotten, or it’s the elephant in the room, or it’s something than can freely enter the conversation as necessary. But remember, it’s invisible, and it’s insidious. Because it’s part of how your partner thinks (and not, say, an obvious but treatable impairment, like a significant limp) it’s all too easy to forget that it’s even there when it’s well managed.

It’s easy to become resentful that you’re doing more of the housework, because it’s easy to forget that it’s not that your partner is being lazy, they’re depressed. It’s easy to forget that depression manifests itself in more than just tears; it can also be lack of energy, lack of motivation, or lack of interest. When depression isn’t obvious, it’s all too easy to forget that it’s there, and then it’s all too easy to establish a mental separation between your partner and your partner’s depression, because you might only think about it when they’re well and truly despondent. While you and your partner may not want their depression to be a part of their identity, it’s critical to remember that it’s always there, in the same way that an amputated limb is always missing, even if it’s been replaced by a prosthesis.

And when you’re in a long-term relationship, you’ve been carrying the extra weight for as long as you have, it’s easy to forget that what you don’t see in your partner’s backpack is their failing lungs and their oxygen tank. If your partner’s been having an easy time with the hike–perhaps a couple of huffs on the tank a day is all they’ve needed for months–it’s easy to forget why you’re carrying more of the weight. It’s easy to forget that it’s so that they can simply keep up with the pace of every day.

But when the depression becomes apparent again, naturally, you respond with compassion and empathy. You encourage your partner to talk about it, or you give them their space, but if you forget, or don’t realise, just how bad their depression really is when it’s in force, then you may forget how your partner may really need you to respond when their depression strikes. Of course, the deeper problem with this is that your partner is an adult, or at least competent to make their own decisions. It’s very difficult to convince who a person who doesn’t believe they need air–they’re just a tired today, or the trail’s harder than they expected–that they really do need air… At least, it’s hard to do that without coming off as condescending and paternalistic (and, let’s be honest here, if anyone is liable to be offended, and rightly so, by paternalistic talk from her husband, it’s Anne) when you’re in a partnership of equals.

My own overwhelming desire to respect Anne’s agency and autonomy has meant that, on a number of occasions, I’ve dropped the ball badly, because I have a pretty significant mental block around telling anyone I love, “you need to do x.” Particularly so when I know that the thing I believe they need to do is something they would ordinarily object to. Anne has already told the story about how her postpartum depression drove her to pharmaceutical help; but I don’t think she mentioned in that story her difficult history with pharmaceutical treatment, or with psychotherapy. I had broached both ideas in the past during lesser episodes, and met with resistance on every occasion. I didn’t want to press the issue again (and I didn’t know had truly bad her depression had become until I read that post), and every time her depression has resurfaced since, I’ve had a hard time finding the strength to ask basic things like “have you been missing your medication,” or, “have you been using your blue lamp,” because I want to be able to trust that she has, and I don’t want her to think that I think she’s forgotten, or incapable of taking of herself. I don’t think that she can’t take care of herself, but I worry, at those times, that her depression will colour how she hears these things, or tell her that her treatment isn’t working, and that she should just give up.

But as her partner, she does need me to be able to say these things (whether she’ll admit it or not). She needs me to be able to tell the difference between herself talking and her depression talking. She needs me to be able to see that the trail’s too hard for her today, and figure out what needs to be done, whether it’s replace the tank, try to open the flow more, take more of the load (or straight out jettison some stuff, or find someone to help), or even just make her stop and sit for a while. Maybe she needs me to call for help, but I’ll never know–and she may never admit it, even to herself–if I can’t talk to her about her depression.

We’ve both recently started following TSN anchor Michael Landsberg’s Twitter feed. Landsberg, if you weren’t already aware, also suffers from clinical depression, and has written about it on his blog for Off The Record, particularly in light of Wade Belak’s death. Landsberg has been promoting a topic on Twitter, #sicknotweak, in the buildup to launching a website of the same name, in order to promote a change in how we, as a society, view depressed people–that they aren’t weak, but they’re sick, just with something that isn’t normally visible. It’s an important paradigm shift that I need to keep in mind, particularly when Anne’s depression comes to the fore again. Depression is, fundamentally, a disease like any other that needs to be managed.

Just like a hiker with a bad lung needs to manage their air intake.

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Nostalgia Machine: Re-watching The X-Files

28 Oct

I’ve been re-watching The X-Files since I’ve been sick, and it’s weirdly been more emotional than I thought it would be. I mean, yes, I snarkily posted this mini-review on Facebook:

So the x-files is basically a show set in the far distant past, back when they didn’t have cell phones or digital cameras. It centres around a 15 year old boy with daddy issues named Fox Mulder. He sulks around and breaks rules and believes in every ridiculous thing ever and uses his Feelings and Troubled Past to justify everything he does. He has a lot of Feelings, by the way. The show also features an actual bonafide adult named Dana Scully who is literally the most patient, tolerant person on the planet and also understands how things like Science and Logic work.

And I still stand by all of that.

But, still.

Emotions.

I was eleven years old when The X-Files first came on the air.

I looked something like this:

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I was in that weird place between childhood and puberty; I had the beginnings of breasts, but no period yet. I liked boys, but had no idea what to do about that fact. I read grownup books, but still secretly played pretend. The siege of my childhood had begun, and I wasn’t yet sure whether to welcome the invading army or fight at all costs.

As if there was even a fight to be had.

I don’t know why I started watching The X-Files – I think I overheard someone talking about it at school, or maybe it was because my Aunt Carolyn, the arbiter of all things cool, was a fan. I’m certain that most of the appeal was because the show seemed so forbidden in our house. My mother has the lowest threshold for fear when it comes to scary movies; even Jumanji was too much for her to stomach. She saw one episode of The X-Files, said that it was disgusting and grotesque, and swore that she would never watch it again.

So of course I had to find a way to see it.

I would tape it off the television, onto cassettes labelled Star Trek or Road to Avonlea. Even though we only had one VCR in our house, this wasn’t so hard because the X-Files aired at 9 pm on Friday nights, at which time my parents were either bribing, cajoling or threatening my sister Catherine to go to bed, or else they were holed up in their own bedroom, trying to pretend for an hour or two that they had no children. If they happened to be in the living room when the VCR started clicking and whirring, I would make up a lie about taping some old movie musical off CBC and then change the subject. Somehow, I never got caught.

I would set my alarm for one in the morning, and when it went off, I would creep downstairs and settle myself into a little nest of blankets and pillows on the couch. I didn’t dare turn any lights on, so the house was completely dark. I would sit there in rapt attention, drinking in every tiny detail of Mulder and Scully’s weekly adventures, even the stuff that I didn’t understand. Especially the stuff that I didn’t understand. Afterwards, I would rewind the cassette to the beginning and tape an hour of test patterns or infomercials, so that no one would know what I had been up to.

I was a cautious kid by nature; nothing that I’d done up until that point had ever felt so daring.

The X-Files gave me the same queasily excited feeling that I got from looking through the Victorian medical dictionary we had in the basement. I didn’t exactly enjoy poring over highly detailed drawings of deformed fetuses or diseased genitals, but I couldn’t seem to look away. Those crumbling onionskin pages had some sort of pull on me that I couldn’t quite explain. And as much as aliens and deadly parasites and ageless dudes who wake from their hibernation every thirty years in order to gruesomely murder people and eat their livers terrified me – and let’s be clear here, as an eleven year old, The X-Files fucking terrified me – I couldn’t look away. Part of it was that I was sort of daring myself to be cooler, less wussy than I was, but part of it was that I was genuinely, horrifyingly fascinated.

It wasn’t long before that horrified fascination somehow turned into love. I loved Mulder, whose deadpan goofiness fit perfectly with his desperate need to believe that there was something, anything out there. I loved Scully, with her take-no-bullshit attitude and her scientific smarts. I loved Skinner, and Deep Throat, and the Cigarette Smoking Man. I loved their stupid basement office with its stupid UFO poster. I loved all of it.

I guess I sort of grew up with The X-Files. That show might have been the first inclination that I had that the government didn’t always have the good of the people in mind. I learned about conspiracy theories, and unethical experiments carried out with the full knowledge of legislative officials, and exactly what happens to the people who go against the official party line. Most of all, I learned to trust no one, and if there’s ever been a more fitting slogan for being a teenager, I haven’t heard it yet.

The X-Files also acted as a touchstone between my father and I after he left. He started watching the show too, and during our weekly phone calls we would compare notes on the latest episode. My father had always had strange nightmares about being abducted by little grey men, so aliens were already a bit of a family joke; once my father and I were both watching The X-Files, that joke amplified in and echoed across the distance, both literal and figurative, between us. We would buy each other alien and spaceship-themed presents at Christmas and on birthdays, and those became a sort of code between us, a code that translated to mean, “I love you. I’m proud of you. No matter what.”

I kind of lost the thread of The X-Files plot towards the end of high school. The mytharc was too complicated, and anyway, I was too old to be watching the same babyish shows that I’d liked when I was eleven. I had new and more exciting ways of feeling daring, like drinking and kissing boys and smoking pot. I didn’t have time for Mulder and Scully anymore, in the same way that I didn’t have time for my family anymore. And then in the last season Mulder wasn’t even there, which, I mean, fuck that. Right?

I did watch the last episode of the show, though, which aired just a few months before I turned twenty. And when I say watch, what I really mean is cried through the entirety of. Because, fuck, man. The Lone Gunmen were dead. Mulder and Scully were finally together. And the siege of my childhood was definitely, without even a shadow of a doubt, over. The city was conquered, the population killed or enslaved, and the buildings razed.

I was a grownup, and The X-Files was gone.

But re-watching it? Re-watching brought me right back to that dark living room twenty years ago, the light from the screen flickering across my impossibly young face. It was like rewinding the tape to the beginning, back to the hard, bright cynical innocence of the early 90s, back to Scully’s boxy suits and Mulder’s enormous wire-framed glasses. It was falling asleep and dreaming something lovely, or else maybe like finally waking up. It was perfect nostalgia.

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Hiroshima, 1945

6 Aug

It’s my birthday. I’m thirty one years old, and although I’m still not sure whether I feel like a grownup or not, I’m now far enough in to this new decade to be able to say with confidence that I’m in my thirties.

It’s also the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, a fact that gives this day a complicated patina of heartache, remembrance and a funny thankfulness that, in spite if everything, this dear old planet and I have managed to complete yet another whirl around the sun. I’ve always felt a little haunted by the hundreds of thousands of people who died thirty seven years and half a world away from my birth. I’ve always felt a sort of funny debt to them, as if I owe something to them, though I’m not quite sure what. You would think that as the Hiroshima dead fade further and further into the past that their weight would begin to feel lighter, less real, but instead, the reverse is true – the more distant this event becomes, the more the bombing of Hiroshima colours and shapes this day for me.

Where do you even begin to try to figure out what happened in Hiroshima? You could start by bring the camera in as close as possible, fiddling with the settings and watch as shapes dissolve into other, smaller shapes, the image adjusting and readjusting until finally the atoms themselves are in focus.

The physics of nuclear fission sound more like poetry than science – a single neutron is fired at an atom, in this case an atom of uranium-235, and splits the nucleus apart. Out of each split nucleus will fly several more neutrons, which will smash into other atoms, which will, in turn, split and release their own neutrons. The fracturing of each and every atom releases another tiny bit of heat and radiation; when a chain reaction like this occurs in the millions of atoms that make up a pound of uranium-235, the resulting explosion is enough to lay waste to entire cities.

All of this can be much more simply and elegantly expressed in one neat equation:

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Now pull the camera back, watch the atoms coalesce into more recognizable shapes, objects and buildings and people, until your view is that of the Japanese sky a few hours after sunrise.

At 8:15 am on August 6th, 1945, the Enola Gay flew over Hiroshima, releasing Little Boy, a gun-type fission bomb. Little Boy missed its intended target of the Aioi Bridge, and instead detonated directly over the Shima Hospital. The hospital was destroyed, the staff and patients reduced to a pile of bleached bones by the heat of the blast. The centre of the city was destroyed, an estimated five square miles turned to scorched rubble. 80,000 people died that day, and another 80,000 more died over the course of the next few months either from the effect of burns, radiation sickness or other injuries.

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One hundred and sixty thousand people.

Because of one bomb.

I’m not sure how old I was when my parents told me that the anniversary of my birth is also the anniversary of this annihilating atomic flash that was responsible for so many deaths; it feels like something that’s always been a part of my personal mythology. I remember poring over the entry for Hiroshima in our battered green family encyclopedia, nauseated by the descriptions of peeling flesh and charred bones but somehow unable to stop reading. I checked books out of the library about atomic bombs, books from the adult section with mostly incomprehensible text and lurid, technicolor photographs of fiery mushroom clouds. Someone gave me a book when I was seven or eight called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, about a little girl whose blood cells, irradiated and mutated by the bomb, developed a form of leukemia.  Remembering an old Japanese legend that said that the gods would grant any wish to a person who managed to fold a thousand cranes, Sadako began frantically making cranes out of every scrap of paper she could find. She died in October of 1955, after folding only 644 cranes.

After that, I learned how to make paper cranes.

It seemed like the right thing to do.

Because I felt like I had to do something; I felt like I had some kind of responsibility to the history of this day that gave me my first breath, my first sunrise, my first wailing cry. I still feel that way. And though I’ve all but given up on origami, I try to find other ways to honour the dead.

So I spend an hour or so every birthday looking at pictures from Hiroshima – the survivors with their twisted limbs and thick, ropy scars, the cityscape smashed flat and littered with debris, the shadows burned into walls and sidewalks, marking the places where people stood looking up at the sky during their last moments on earth.

I look at these pictures and take the time to consider that these are the things that we do to each other. These are, in fact, the cold, calculated atrocities that humans perpetrate against other humans. These people are the people who died because of us, because of the endless machinations of our stupidly cunning species. The wards full of children lying helpless as the atomic leukemia slowly, agonizingly leaches the life from their bodies? That was us. The old man bloated and swollen from radiation sickness, the raw skin peeling off his face and hands? That was us. The people vaporized in an instant who left nothing behind, not one single thing to be treasured by those who loved them? Still us. The groaning, bleeding, charred mass of people who lingered on for months and months, each day a living hell? Us.

As if being alive isn’t difficult enough, as if there aren’t enough tricks and traps ready to ensnare our brittle bodies, we have to go and do these things to each other.

I want to remember how easy it is for us to live side by side with these atrocities. I want to recognize that when I go to sleep in my clean, comfortable bed in my safe, comfortable city, somewhere out there are people whose lives are little more than grinding daily pain. I want to know the names of all the Iraqis who have died, all the children in Afghanistan who have become collateral damage in this war, all of the people everywhere out their whose agony is directly attributable to other humans. I need to know and remember these things, because the not knowing and not remembering are so much more dangerous.

I’ll leave you with a poem written by Sadako Kurihara, a survivor of the Hiroshima blast. I’ll leave with the thought, the question, really, of how each of us can be midwives in our own lives. I’ll leave you to, hopefully, take a few moments of your own to remember.

LET US BE MIDWIVES!

Night in the basement of a concrete structure now in ruins.

Victims of the atomic bomb jammed the room;

it was dark – not even a single candle.

The smell of fresh blood, the stench of death,

the closeness of sweaty people, the moans.

From out of all that, lo and behold, a voice:

“The baby’s coming!”

In that hellish basement,

at that very moment, a young woman had gone into labor.

In the dark, without a single match, what to do?

People forgot their own pains, worried about her.

And then: “I’m a midwife. I’ll help with the birth.”

The speaker, seriouly injured herself, had been moaning only moments before.

And so new life was born in the dark of that pit of hell.

And so the midwife died before dawn, still bathed in blood.

Let us be midwives!

Let us be midwives!

Even if we lay down our own lives to do so.

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My birthday last year, making lanterns and paper cranes with my sisters at the Rally for Peace:

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It’s Just A Piece Of Paper

13 Jul

I’ve been thinking a lot about my education, or lack thereof, lately.

I’m sure that a lot of this is because of my book; I’ve been editing the shit out of it this week, and it feels like it’s sort of taken over my life. Most of the book takes place in 2003, right around the time that I had to drop out of university. That personal failure, combined with a bunch of other stuff, made that autumn one of the lowest points in my life. In fact, leaving school was a huge part of the reason that I ended up being hospitalized for depression that year.

I’d always known that I’d go to university; there was never any question about that. My father was a lawyer, and my mother spent most of my childhood finishing her Bachelor of Arts in night school, graduating when I was sixteen. I can still remember what I wore to her graduation – a long, sort of shiny black skirt with pinky-purple flowers on it, and a pink tank top with spaghetti straps. Fuck, I can even remember what I had on when my father was called to the bar. I was four years old, and my mother insisted I wear this red flowered dress with a huge white, lacy collar. I hated that dress, because that damn collar made me feel like a clown. After the ceremony, my father took me to meet a supreme court judge. Trying to think up something suitably grownup to say, I shyly said to her, “I certainly admire these burgundy carpets.”

So education was always a big part of my life, and I grew up with the understanding that I would earn at the very least an undergraduate degree. And considering the fact that, after earning her BA, my mother took a leave of absence from her job in order to earn her Master’s of Social Work, I don’t think that it’s much of a stretch to say that my parents hoped I would go on to complete a graduate degree or two as well.

Look, before we go any further, let’s get this out of the way now: I’m smart. I know that. I’m not trying to be vain or conceited; I honestly don’t think there’s anything vain about knowing your strong points. And for a long time, “smart” was the only thing I had – I wasn’t pretty, or popular, or especially talented in any of the ways that I wanted to be talented. The funny thing is, back then I would’ve given up being smart in a heartbeat if that meant that I could have been any of the other things on that list, especially the oh-so-desirable “pretty.” But I couldn’t, so I stuck with being the brainy geek.

In my final year of high school, I applied to a bunch of universities, all of them at least a couple of hours away from home. I knew that there was no fucking way that I was sticking around Kitchener; I’d been waiting pretty much my entire life to get out of there. I was thrilled when I got into my top pick, Dalhousie, and I moved to Halifax in August of 2001.

I was a good student. I got As or Bs in all of my classes, even Astronomy which, by the way, was technically a physics class (although, to be fair, it was a physics class geared specifically towards arts students). I’d thought that I wanted to study English, but in first year I fell in love with Latin and that class, along with Ancient History, was my favourite that year. In my second year, I officially declared Classics as my major, and settled in for the four year slog towards a Bachelor of Arts with honours. And you know what? I loved every fucking minute of that slog. I loved my classes, I loved my profs, I loved the other students, I loved the stupid wine and cheese events my department had, I loved all the nerdy Classics jokes, I even loved studying and writing papers. I loved all of it. Most of all, I loved learning.

Unfortunately, sometime during my second year, things started to fall apart for me financially. My government loan suffered at the hands of a bureaucratic fuck up, and I couldn’t get a student line of credit because I had no one to co-sign for me. I ended up somehow doing a full year of classes without paying for them and Dalhousie, needless to say, was pretty pissed. Then, when I tried to figure out how to register for my third year, I discovered something tricky: you can’t register for classes if you owe the school money, but you can’t get a government student loan if you’re not a registered student.

Can anyone say Catch-22?

So, after spending a month enduring a ridiculous circle-jerk involving various student services employees (with a couple of useless assists from the student aid office), I realized that I had to quit. Finishing my degree just wasn’t going to happen. Not then. Probably not ever, if I’m being totally honest with myself.

That moment, when I went from thinking of myself as a student to realizing that I was now one of the working poor, was one of the most shameful in my life. I can’t think of anything else in my life that embarrasses me as much as the fact that I had to leave school. Even now, it makes me fucking heartsick to think about; in fact, when I was talking about it with a friend today, I started crying. Ten fucking years later, and the memory of having to leave my degree unfinished still turns me into a stupid, mascara-smeared mess.

I guess I’d thought that I would’ve been over this whole lack-of-education thing by now, but I’m not. Oh boy, am I ever not. When I meet someone new, I’ll mention that I went to Dal, and that I took Classics, but unless I absolutely have to, I will never, ever admit that I didn’t finish my degree. If, somehow, it does come up, I will always carefully point out that I had to leave for financial reasons, and not because I failed any of my classes. When faced with well-educated people, I have a borderline pathetic need to prove how smart I am, to the point of being obnoxious about it.

The funny thing is, when I tell people that I wasn’t able to finish my degree, they’ll often laugh and say, “Oh, it’s just a piece of paper.” Which is easy to say when you’ve come out the other side with that piece of paper clutched firmly in your hands. But to dismiss it as being just a piece of paper is to ignore the fact that it’s a very, very expensive piece of paper that has the ability to magically gain respect and open doors. I get that saying that is an attempt to put me at ease, to make me feel like the playing field has been levelled, but let’s be honest: the field will never be level. You and your degree will always been on the higher ground, and I will always, always be down here, feeling small and stupid and mean.

We talk a lot in our society about how education is pretty much a cure-all for all kinds of social ills. Poverty, neglect, abuse, poor health and hygiene: you name it, and a bunch of people will tell you that education is the key. But what we don’t talk about is how fucking unattainable post-secondary education is to a huge part of our population. Oh, sure, there are government loans, but they can be hard to get, and they often fall short. Student lines of credit aren’t available to kids who don’t have someone to co-sign, and working full time over the summer just isn’t enough to cover tuition anymore. And all of that doesn’t even touch on the fact that tuition fees are rising at an alarming rate; I don’t even want to think about what they’ll be like by the time my son graduates from high school.

Higher education is a business, and don’t you ever forget it. We may like to have these misty-eyed ideas that we live in an egalitarian country where everyone has an equal opportunity for success, but anyone who honestly believes that is seriously fucking kidding themselves. Universities and colleges want your money, and if you can’t find a way to pay them, well, they’re not interested in educating you. You could be the smartest kid in the world, but if you’re poor – well, I’m not going to say that post-secondary school is impossible, but I will say that you’ve got a way harder road ahead of you than most. What makes all this even more difficult is the fact that most people who’ve earned university degrees don’t seem to be aware of the luck or privilege that helped them along; they truly believe that it was all their own hard work and sacrifice.

Which is really just another way of saying that poor people don’t work as hard or sacrifice enough.

Whenever I talk about my half-finished degree, someone will inevitably tell me that I’ll finish it someday. But the truth is that I probably won’t. What’s the point? Why shovel tens of thousands of dollars into that hole when all that I’ll get out of it is a piece of paper that says that I’m pretty good at translating things into Latin? I mean, sure, I would love to someday earn my BA, but if I’m being honest with myself, I know that there are so many other things that I would need to spend that money on before I wasted it on myself.

My kid, though? My kid is going to earn that piece of paper. We started an education fund for him when he was born, and we’ve asked our family to contribute to it in lieu of presents. My kid is never going to have to quit school because he doesn’t have enough money. My kid is never going to have to sit through two months of classes without a textbook because his loan hasn’t come in and he can’t afford them. My kid will never have to live off of one crappy cafeteria dinner a day because he had to cancel part of his meal plan in order to pay his phone bill. My kid is going to accomplish what I was never able to.

And once he has his degree, I will never, ever refer to it as just a piece of paper.

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