Tag Archives: relationships

Shrevolution! Or, I Hate Valentine’s Day

14 Feb

I’m just going to go ahead and put this out there: I’m not exactly the world’s biggest fan of Valentine’s Day.

I mean, it’s fine when you’re a little kid. You make sure to wear something red or pink, tell your parents how much you love them, and draw hearts all over every-fucking-thing. Everyone in your class gives you a card, your gorge yourself on chocolate, then spend the afternoon in a sugar-fuelled frenzy and throw up all over your babysitter’s carpet. End of story.

Then you hit puberty, and Valentine’s Day becomes this huge, looming thing. Like, it’s the only day where you can truly prove just how much you love (or, at least, want to fuck) another person. You can be in a happy committed relationship for every other day of the year, but if you happen to be single on Valentine’s Day, then you, my friend, are the most pathetic person in the world. Or at least you’re made to feel like you are.

My dislike for Valentine’s Day has slowly evolved over the years. In grade school I thought it was fine, maybe even sort of fun, and in high school I endured it, handing out ironic valentines to friends and crushes alike (go ahead, ask me how well that worked in the dating department). By university, though, I was ready to declare open season on V-Day.

I decided that the modern-day, grown-up version of Valentine’s Day was nothing less than a capitalist nightmare, chock-full of obligations to spend money: on flowers, on dinner, on chocolates, on jewellery, on sexy lingerie. There were other, insinuated obligations, too. For example, women were expected to pay for all the attention and money lavished on them by putting out, whether they wanted to or not. I even once had a male friend say to me, “If I buy my girlfriend flowers for Valentine’s Day, she basically has to have sex with me, right?”

Uh, no, dude. She doesn’t.

And, I mean, seriously, out of all the thinly-Christianized pagan celebrations to take hold this side of the Atlantic, how did crappy old Valentine’s Day manage to make it onto that list? Why can’t we celebrate May Day and dance around may poles? How come we don’t do anything for St. John’s Eve, a.k.a. Midsummer? I would way rather build some bad-ass bonfires in June than hand out ugly, mass-produced cards in February.

All of this was part of the reason why my roommates and I decided to throw an Anti-Valentine’s-Day party during second year. My mother had put a package of pink, heart-shaped Post-It notes in my stocking that Christmas, so we used those to decorate our apartment, scrawling things like, “LOVE IS AN ILLUSION” and “FUCK YOU” on them. You know, the usual romantic stuff.

Aside from the fact that a girl that no one liked and no one would admit to inviting ended up vomiting red wine all over our bathroom, the party was a resounding success.

The next year, my friends and I celebrated Valentine’s Day a little differently. Our plans started innocently enough: we were going to go eat greasy, delicious, non-romantic food and then go somewhere for drinks. There were four of us, two of whom had boyfriends, and all we really wanted was a quiet, Galentine’s night out.

Once we got to the pub, things went downhill fast.

A few drinks into the evening, the ranting began. And, naturally, the more we drank, the more belligerent we became.

“Fuck Valentine’s Day!” said one of my friends, “People think it’s all about women, but really it’s all about dicks getting some action.”

“Yeah, fuck dicks,” said another. “I mean, don’t actually fuck them, but also, fuck them.”

“Valentine’s Day should be for clits, not dicks! Dudes should be obligated to prove that they can perform proper oral sex before taking a woman out for V-Day,” said someone else. “Clit not dick! Clit not dick!”

Clit Not Dick ended up becoming our mantra for the evening. We repeated it frequently and loudly. We decided that we were going to start a revolution based on our new slogan, one that would free women everywhere from the oppressive shackles of Valentine’s Day. We began approaching romantic-looking couples at other tables to ask if they’d hear the good news about Clit Not Dick. We harassed the band with demands for songs by Veruca Salt, Hole, and, strangely, Counting Crows (they actually did end up playing Mr. Jones, probably just to make us go away).

This was back in the days when you could still smoke in bars, so we started chain-smoking to go along with our drinking. Soon our ashtray was overflowing, and our table was surrounded by a blue haze. We decided that we should pact that night, the four of us, to continue spreading word of the revolution. We touched the glowing tips of our cigarettes together and called it a cigarette pact because, we said, cigarettes don’t lie.

Later, we spilled out onto the street and, arm in arm, began marching down Spring Garden Road singing We Shall Overcome. Whenever we saw a girl getting into a car with a guy, we would run over and try to convince her that she didn’t need him, she only needed herself! We proselytized about the revolution to everybody, shouting CLIT NOT DICK at random intervals.

We found a phone booth and somehow managed to cram all four of us into it. We dialled the tips line for the local newspaper and left them a long, rambling message about capitalism, the revolution, and how Valentine’s Day oppressed women, and, naturally, clit not dick. We finished up by saying that we expected to see something about this in the next day’s paper.

“GET ON IT,” my friend yelled into the phone before hanging up.

One of my friends was so drunk when she got home that she was slurring her words. She tried to tell her boyfriend It’s the revolution! but apparently it came out sounding like Shrevolution! 

Naturally, once the rest of us heard that word, we adopted it as the new name for our movement.

The next year we held another Shrevolution, but the year after that I met Matt, and everything changed.

I learned to love Valentine’s Day and everything that went with it.

PSYCH. I still hate Valentine’s Day. Matt, who is kind of into it, has had to accept that I’m just not a very romantic person. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we’ve tried to celebrate it, if only because it seemed to mean something to Matt. But I think he realized pretty early on that it wasn’t my thing – the fact that for our first Valentine’s Day together he gave me a red silk pillow with I Love You embroidered on it and I gave him a swiss army knife may have helped tip him off – and now we’re pretty low-key about it.

But tonight, the Shrevolution will ride again. A bunch of my old Halifax friends are now living in Toronto, and three of us are going out to the Drake tonight to eat fancy, romantic food and get trashed on overpriced cocktails. Because as much as I might laugh at my younger self for some of my ridiculous Shrevolution antics, I can’t say that I entirely disagree with her thoughts on V-Day: that it’s too commercial, too capitalist, and there’s too much obligation to spend money that you might not have. Also the fact that you should celebrate your love for someone every day, not just spend one day a year in the back corner of a third-rate restaurant because that was the only place you could get a reservation, exchanging cheesy Hallmark cards and crappy gifts. Because you know what? Love fucking deserves better than that.

So while you are sitting there trying to whisper sweet nothings in your lover’s ear over the din of everyone else trying to do the same, I will be laughing raucously, swearing like a sailor, and yelling rude things.

Happy Shrevolution, you guys!

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How I Told My Friends That I Was Getting Married

23 Jan

Last week, I wrote a post for the Good Men Project on why, from a feminist mother’s perspective, I think that fathers matter. The Marriage editor of the GMP then asked me to write something about feminism and marriage (which will probably end up being something like: “get married if you want to! don’t get married if you don’t want to!”), and so I went hunting for the email I sent my friends after Matt proposed to me. You know, as evidence that I thought I’d never get married and also used to hate marriage.

In my head I remembered this email being a few lines long and slightly awkward. But no. OH NO. It is so much more than that. It’s actually kind of horrifying. Naturally, since I’m pretty embarrassed about it, I’ve decided to make it public. Because that’s a thing that I do, apparently.

Check it out!

Hey dudes,

So, I have some news for you. Before he left for
Ontario, Matt asked me to marry him, and I thought
about it for a while, and then I said yes. I’ll give
you some time now to start pacing around the room and
yelling about how shitty marriage is and why the hell
do all your friends get married and then maybe you
need to call each other and yell some more. And then
maybe throw some things.

I’m actually really scared you guys will think I’m
incredibly stupid for doing this. And I know that
marriage is lame and old-fashioned, but the thing is,
I’m pretty lame and old-fashioned, too. And I’ve
realized that I don’t want to be with anyone else but
Matt, and I want to have a party with my friends and
family to celebrate that. I know I don’t get mushy or
talk about love much, but I really love him a lot, and
I want to spend the rest of my life with him. He’s one
of the few people that I know who can deal with my
awful moods and he puts up with all of my shit without
complaining, and he treats me really, really well, and
also (again) I love him a lot. It’s kind of hard to
put this down in writing and have it sound real and
not ridiculous, but there you have it.

Kat, maybe you remember this and maybe you don’t, but
you said once that that if you ever wanted to have an
abortion, you knew that I’d be right there beside you,
supporting you,  even though it’s not a choice I’d
make for myself. So, I guess it’s kind of shitty to
compare my wedding to an abortion, but I hope that you
can stand by me and not think less of me, even though
it’s not a choice you might make for myself.

I hope that both of you (once you’re done yelling and
smoking and stuff) will be happy for me, because for
once, I’m happy for myself (and that doesn’t happen
often).

Love,
Anne

….

YOU GUYS, I COMPARED MY WEDDING TO AN ABORTION. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

No, but seriously.

At least I clean up well:

IMG_0957

Now You Are Two

18 Jan

Dear Theo,

You are two.

That shit is crazy.

It’s honestly hard to imagine what life was like before you came along. I mean, sure, I remember going out on dates with Matt whenever we wanted to, and never having to worry about things like babysitters. And yeah, I remember stumbling home drunk in the wee hours of the morning, then sleeping in the next day with no consequences. Okay, and yes, I remember not getting up a bajillion times a night to nurse my still-breastfeeding toddler. And I guess I remember what it’s like to be able to have sex whenever I want, without suddenly hearing “Mama? Where are you?” while mid-coitus.

But you know what? Trading all of that stuff for you, my perfect, smart, funny kid, was worth it. Totally, totally worth it.

Two years ago today, a team of doctors pulled you feet-first out of my belly (offering Matt a peek as they did so, which nearly made him pass out), and I heard someone exclaim, “it’s a boy!”

And you know what? Even though I’d kind of, maybe, sort of been hoping for a girl, when they told me that you were a boy I cried because I was so happy.

Two years later, I’m still happy – not because you’re a boy, but because you’re you. Wonderful, amazing you.

You are so much fun right now. You’re like a sponge, and you just want to soak up everything. You chatter non-stop, morning til night, even when there’s no one there to listen to you. You love narwhals and totem poles. You will only sleep while cuddling a stuffed squirrel on wheels that your Auntie Erin knitted for you. You offer guided tours of the European Galleries at the Royal Ontario Museum, pointing out the two lutes, the harp, and the exposed breast of the woman in the Rococo-era painting. You love books, and will happy sit and flip through them on your own or with your dad and I, pointing out every tiny detail in the pictures. You know all of the letters of the alphabet, and all of your colours. The other day at the art gallery, you pointed to a Frida Kahlo painting and said quite clearly and loudly, “Fee-da! Kah-lo!”

In fact, Frida Kahlo is one of the three public personalities that you’re most readily able to recognize – the other two, strangely enough, are Jesus and the Virgin Mary. You like to tell me that Jesus lives in the church, and today you came home and said, “Fee-da Kah-lo doll, where are you?”

You also love bagels. That, along with your admiration of Frida, is enough to convince me that, even though you still look exactly like your father, there’s some of me in you, too.

Today at dinner you told me that your daddy’s other name is Matt.

When I asked you what my other name was, you looked confused for a moment, then happily exclaimed, “Matt!”

You are so great.

These past few months have brought a lot of changes for both of us. After spending 19 months at home with you, I went back to work full time, and you started daycare. I miss you, even now, five months later. By the time I quit my gig as a stay-at-home mom, I was so ready to be around grownups all day long and leave baby-town behind. And you know what? I love being back at work. But I miss you.

The good news is that you love daycare, and you’re flourishing there. Your language has progressed by leaps and bounds over the last little while, and I love hearing you talk about your friends at “school”. You enjoy the routine there, and I think that the structure is good for you. Your teachers tell me that your favourite toys are the trains and the trucks (no surprises there), and that you love story time and music class.

You’re pretty easy-going for a toddler. You don’t tantrum (yet), and you wake up smiling every day. Our main struggles with you are getting you to eat, and getting you to sleep (or rather, to stay asleep). In spite of these difficulties, you’re happy, healthy and meeting all of your milestones. I mostly don’t think that I could ask for a better kid than you.

I’m so excited to see what the next year will bring. Watching you grow and learn is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done, and when I realize that you, perfect, adorable, hilarious you, actually come from me – well, that kind of breaks my brain a little. Whenever I’m having a really tough day, being around you is the only thing that can cheer me up. Whenever I’m upset about the fact that my life isn’t going the way that I expected, I think of you, and that puts things like career, writing, money, etc, into perspective. Because, yeah, while I might not be where I thought I would be at thirty in a lot of respects, I have you – scratch that, I made you – and that makes me really fucking lucky.

I love you so fucking hard. I’m so thankful to whatever god decided that I was the one who should be your mother, because seriously. Kid. You are the best.

Together, you and I are going to rock this world.

Love,

Mama

Unwilling to put down his bagel, even for a birthday picture.

Unwilling to put down his bagel, even for a birthday picture.

You’ve come a long way in two years, baby:
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That Time We All Had The Plague

7 Jan

On the days when I think that God might exist, I’m convinced that if he is out there, somewhere, he is some kind of divine troll who thinks that everything is an elaborate joke.

How else do you explain the fact that, five minutes after posting my last entry, Theo started throwing up all over my bedroom floor.

It’s like God reads my blog and he was like, “Girl, you think you are in crisis? Let me show you crisis.”

If you’ve ever read the Bible, you know that God is pretty big into plagues. Like, remember when he wanted the Egyptians to free the Isrealites? And he inflicted TEN PLAGUES on them? I mean, I get that his chosen people were enslaved or whatever, but ten just seems excessive. That is, like, a LOT of plagues. I am just saying.

Luckily for us, we haven’t been keeping any Israelite slaves, so we got off easy with just one plague. Still, though, I’m thinking of painting lamb’s blood on our lintels for the next few weeks, just in case. Better safe than sorry, right?

For the first day or so the plague was manageable. I mean, sure, Theo was throwing up every 15 minutes and none of us got more than two hours of sleep Thursday night, but it wasn’t too bad. We were sure that we could handle it. On Friday morning we called Theo’s daycare and they said that five other kids were out sick with the same thing, but all of them had stopped vomiting after about 6 hours. Great, we thought, the worst was behind us.

We started making plans for the weekend.

That was obviously our first mistake.

My friend Artem used to quote an old Russian proverb at me: “If you ever want to see God laugh, try making plans.”

And oh, how God laughed. He laughed and laughed and laughed.

Theo was still throwing up all day Friday. He kept crying for water, but every time we gave him some, it came right back up. If you ever want to see the most pathetic thing in the world, just imagine a toddler wandering around crying, “More water! More water!”. And then imagine me cleaning up his vomit over and over again.

By Saturday Theo seemed better on the puking front, but still wasn’t himself. He just wanted to spend the whole day lying on the couch. That was fine with us, because by that point none of us were feeling great. Matt was nauseous and worried that he was coming down with the same thing that Theo had; I was feeling off, but was also in a healthy state of denial. I forced myself to eat breakfast, telling myself that food would make me feel better, then called Telehealth to find out what to do about Theo. They told me to bring him to the ER, which is really the only thing Telehealth ever tells you, so I could probably have saved myself the ten minute phone call, but whatever.

I dragged myself through my clothing-and-makeup routine, packed Theo into his stroller and then headed out to catch the bus to Sick Kids. Matt was feeling too sick to come with us, but my friend Eden was going to meet us there. Thank God.

We got to the hospital and I had the delightful experience of having about five different people ask me, “Is there another adult with you?” which I guess is code for, “Are you a slutty single mom on welfare?” I fought down the urge to say, “YES, I AM A SINGLE MOM, IS THAT GOING TO BE A PROBLEM?” and instead said that there would be another adult joining me shortly. I was kind of hoping that Eden and I could pose as a couple, and wondered if lesbians would draw more or less attention than a single mother.

As the afternoon went by I felt worse and worse, but I told myself that it was just because I was tired. I texted Matt and he said that he was feeling better, so there was no way that I could be sick, right? I figured that if I just kept telling myself that I was fine, I would be fine. I mean, The Secret and laws of attraction and positive thinking and all that. I considered making a vision board of me not being sick, but realized that the ER waiting room lacked the necessary art supplies.

An hour or so after Eden showed up, I went to buy a bottle of water. While I was waiting in line, I started feeling kind of awful, but I used The Secret to tell myself that I was just dehydrated and water would fix me right up. By the time I made it to the head of the line, my vision had gone grey and I knew I was going to pass out. I sat down on a nearby chair and put my head between my knees, amid cries of “Miss! Your water!” from the confused Subway employee.

After a few minutes of sitting down, I realized that I wasn’t so much going to faint as I was going to throw up. Frantically, I tried to figure out what to do about this fact. You would think that if you were going to puke, the hospital would be the perfect place to accomplish this, right? That being said, the hospital food court probably wasn’t the best place in the world to get sick.

I ran to the bathroom, and made it into a stall just in time to throw up everywhere. I mean fucking everywhere. To make matters worse, the cleaning lady was right there to witness my shame.

“I’m sorry!” I kept saying to her, between heaves. “I’m really sorry! I’m so sorry!”

She just stood there, silent. Finally she said,

“You want some extra paper towel?”

“Yes, please,” I answered pathetically.

When I made it back to the waiting room, Eden took one look at me and said,

“You look green.”

Theo, of course, looked great. The Pedialyte the triage nurse had given us had worked miracles. Even the doctor, when we finally saw her, said that he seemed to be totally over whatever bug he’d had. Turning her gaze to me, she said,

“You look like you’re not feeling so great, though.”

Understatement of the year.

We’re all feeling better today – Matt and Theo are basically back at 100%, and I’m, well, not throwing up, so that’s a plus. I’ve spent most of the day in bed, reading trashy fantasy novels and tweeting at Wil Wheaton (we have a really special relationship where I tweet hilarious things at him and he ignores me). Between my last post and a few desperate Facebook posts from yesterday and Friday, I’ve been overwhelmed with kind words from friends and strangers. People have offered to help, either by looking after Theo, letting me crash at their place, or coming over to do laundry or dishes. I’m not normally the sentimental type (nostalgia is really my forté), but I would be lying if I said that all this love hasn’t made me tear up a bit. Maybe even a lot.

I love you guys, almost as much as I love my pukey, plague-bearing kid.

I’m pretty sure he’s worth all of this:

theo_shirt

Home for Christmas

24 Dec

By the time I finished high school, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Dodge Kitchener. Actually, that’s a lie – I’d been planning my escape since sometime in my early teens; it’s just that in my final semester of secondary school, my need to leave and branch out on my own was becoming dire. Part of it was that I just plain hated Kitchener (sorry, fellow Kitchenerites – I’ve since revised my opinion somewhat!); I was a pretentious kid who read French existentialists and smutty Leonard Cohen books, and I saw myself as being too big, too smart for my provincial hometown. Part of it was that I was sure that people only thought of me as a loser geek because they were accustomed to doing so; I thought that if I moved somewhere where no one knew me, my new peers would be sure to recognize me for the super smart intellectual with a killer fashion sense and razor sharp wit that I was. But probably the biggest reason for wanting to leave Kitchener was my family.

As the oldest child in a single parent family whose siblings were 6 and 11 years younger than her, things were, well, less than stellar. For one thing, I did a lot of free babysitting duty, which made it hard to get an after school job and earn a few dollars for myself. This, in turn, made it hard to keep up with classmates whose families were better off than mine; my clothes weren’t as nice as theirs, I didn’t always get to go along on class trips, and in my last year of school, I couldn’t afford the $20 student card, which meant that I didn’t qualify for any of the student awards. Because my mother only had a certain number of sick days per year, and because little kids tend to spend a lot of time getting sick, I was often the one to stay home with my sisters when they were running a fever or had the flu. Worst of all, or so it seemed to me, I was perpetually stuck in little-kid land. Our family television was occupied with an endless loop of Barney, The Lion King and (worst of all) Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen; I wasn’t allowed to watch any of the shows that I wanted, because they were all “inappropriate” (like, whatever, the X-Files is clearly fine for all age groups), and even just suggesting that we could turn the television off and enjoy some peace and quiet was met with a chorus of screams and protests.

I mean, sure, none of this seems that bad in retrospect, and some of it even makes me sound downright whiny, but when I was 16 all of this stuff felt like a Big Deal.

So when it came time to apply to universities, I pinned all of my hopes on one way out on the east coast, nearly 1,500 miles away from my mother’s house. I received an early offer of acceptance, which I jubilantly waved in my mother’s face. When my sisters asked if they could come visit me, I smiled and said, sure, but secretly I was thinking, so long suckers. Freedom was so close that I could taste it.

In September of that year, I packed a huge rubbermaid container full of clothing and books and set out on my 36 hour train trip to Halifax. As I hunkered down in my seat, staring at the Eastern Ontario woods and listening to Tori Amos on my discman, I thought about the fact that no one on that train knew who I was. I was finally free to be whoever I wanted to be.

University life, of course, wasn’t exactly the dreamland I’d pictured it to be. For one thing, it turned out that, even stripped of all my history and baggage, I was still a loser geek. After a few years in Halifax I would find a way to make that work for me, but that first semester was tough, sometimes bordering on downright awful. For one thing, while none of the people I met had any preconceived notions about my nerdiness, the flip side of that was that they didn’t have any positive associations with me, either. Determined to prove that I was just as cool as they were, I became unbearable, trying to show how smart I was by loudly talking over people, attempting to make “interesting” and “daring” fashion choices while actually making a fool of myself, using alcohol to get over my shyness and then spending the rest of the night throwing up in my dorm room sink. By the time late November rolled around, it was pretty clear to me that I was failing miserably at convincing everyone that I was witty and cool. Worst of all, I was surrounded by people who thought that I was a huge loser 24/7. I realized that there was something to be said for having a family who was obligated to love me unconditionally to come home to every night.

I distinctly remember the moment that I realized how homesick I was. I had a part-time job working in a clothing store, and one evening, as I was folding t-shirts, I started crying when Judy Garland’s version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas came on the radio. Although I tried to be discreet about wiping away my tears, my boss noticed that I was a snotty, sniffling mess and asked me what was wrong. “I miss my mom,” I howled, running towards the stock room to hide my shameful, babyish sobs. What the hell had happened to the hopeful, confident girl who had left Kitchener just a few months ago? I honestly didn’t know; the only thing that I was certain of was that I wanted to go home.

The day after I finished exams, I flew into Toronto’s Pearson airport, then from there took a bus to Kitchener. When my mother and sisters met me at the downtown bus station, I hugged them all tightly. I could tell by their faces how excited they were to see me, and I wondered how I could have ever left people who loved me so damn much.

Of course, a few weeks at home reminded me of all the little, irritating things that had driven me away in the first place, but when the new year rolled around and I left once again for Halifax, I had a better appreciation of all the good things I was leaving behind along with the bad.

My relationship with my mother and sisters has greatly improved over the last decade. Now I love coming home to visit; it’s hard to put into words the comfort of being around people who have had the same experiences as you, who speak the same family shorthand, who understand all the in-jokes. Of course, that also means that they probably know all, or at least most, of your excruciatingly embarrassing moments, but the further I get from my teenage years, the more those memories seem funny instead of painful. And, anyway, I know enough of my sisters’ embarrassing moments to give back as good as I get, which all part of how nature intended the family eco-system to stay in balance: everyone has dirt on everyone else, and dredging up your sister’s awkward past means that your own becomes fair game. This means that my family’s golden rule is, don’t dish it out unless you’re sure you can take it, and by “take it”, I mean, laugh at yourself.

Being home this year has reminded me of just how true the old adage about it taking a village to raise a child is. We’re pretty isolated, family-wise, in Toronto; getting some time to ourselves means a lot of planning and orchestration. We’re lucky to have several fantastic babysitters for Theo, but, of course, their fantastic-ness means that they’re in high demand, and it can be tricky to book time with them. And, of course, having to pay for someone to watch Theo whenever we want to go out to see a movie makes date night thrice as expensive as it used to be, so sometimes Matt-and-Anne time just isn’t financially feasible. Here, though, we can hand off Theo to his Gran and Aunties just about anytime we want, and they, of course, are delighted by the chance to spend time with the grandson/nephew that they rarely get to see. And Theo, of course, is downright thrilled to be around my mother and sisters. He loves his babysitters, of course, but there’s really no substitute for a grandmother, is there?

After a tough few months during which Matt and I were both pulling a lot of hours at work, coming home for Christmas this year feels a lot like it did in my freshman year. I thought we were doing fine on our own, I thought that we were free and independent and grown up, but being at my mother’s house has made me realize just how much I’ve missed my family.

theo_tree

Grampy

4 Nov

Today is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Thirteen years ago today, my Grampy died.

I didn’t find out that he was dying until just a few days before it happened; he himself had only known for a few weeks. He’d gone in to the hospital to have his gallbladder removed, but when they opened him up they discovered that he was full of cancer. Riddled with the stuff, was how my father put it. I pictured the surgeons gasping as they peeled back his skin, and instinctively looking away, as if the sight might blind them. I pictured them gingerly sewing him back up, as if they were putting a ticking time bomb back together. There was too much in there, he was already too far gone; there was nothing else they could do.

I’d seen my grandfather that spring, when he and my grandmother had come from Nova Scotia to visit us. When my father told us about the cancer, I wondered if Grampy had already been sick in the spring, without anyone even knowing it. I thought of the secret things your body could do without you ever being aware until it was too late; I thought about how my body, in its darkest recesses, might at that very moment be doing something to betray me, and how there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

I think that my mother and sisters called my grandfather shortly after they found out he was sick; I know that if they did, I didn’t talk to him. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk to him, it was just that I didn’t know what to say. I needed time to think about it, time to work up the courage. In the meantime, I decided that I should send him an email – that would buy me at least a week, I figured.

I didn’t get a week. He never even saw the email.

I flew to Nova Scotia for his funeral. My grandmother’s house was crowded with relatives, and she and I had to share a bed. At least, we would have shared a bed if she’d been able to sleep, but instead she stayed up all night, cleaning and baking. My main memory of the funeral is how crowded it was; the church was standing room only, with people spilling out onto the street. My grandmother had put three roses at the front of the church, to represent my sisters and I. When she told me this, I started to sob uncontrollably; when my grandmother saw me crying, she leaned across me and hissed to my father, for God’s sake, Frank, put your arm around your daughter.

Every evening that I was there, family and friends would crowd my grandparents’ living room, telling drinking and telling stories about my grandfather. I was underage, but a drink always seemed to find its way into my hand; I felt lucky to have it, because I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation. For the first time, I realized how little I knew about my grandfather.

The main memories I had of him were filtered through the lens of a little kid watching her grandfather, but the problem was that I wasn’t a little kid anymore. I was seventeen, and more than old enough to start getting to know my family as individual people, rather than just the peripheral roles that the played in my life. Like most teenagers, though, I was totally self-absorbed, and had a hard time caring about things other than myself. I figured that my family was sort of obliged to love me; it didn’t cross my mind that I was getting to the point where I would have to work for that love, or reciprocate the kindness they showed me. The worst part is that on some level, I knew that I was pretty awful, but I figured that given enough time, I would come out the other side of that awfulness as a shiny, mature, newly-minted adult. What I didn’t realize was that not everyone in my life had enough time left to wait me out.

I started trying to figure out my grandfather after that, started trying to piece his life together like a puzzle. I knew that it was too late, but it seemed important. I asked my father to tell me about my Grampy; I started to write things down, tried to keep a record. When I moved to Halifax a few years after my grandfather’s death, I began to look for the places that I’d heard about in family stories – St. Mary’s Boy’s School (which now houses archdiocesan offices), and South Park Street, where I knew he’d lived for a few years while growing up. I bought a copy of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum because I knew he’d loved it. I looked for his brother’s picture in the Dalhousie law building. At my aunt’s house I stared at old photographs of him, wondering what he would think of me.

My grandfather was a genius, with a photographic memory (traits that I sadly didn’t inherit). He was funny, too – witty, even, in the way that only really brilliant people can be. He was an atheist, but he loved talking about religion. He had a beautiful voice, and had even sung in the opera in Halifax. According to my father, Grampy had rules about drinking, rules which I still try to follow – don’t drink beer until you’re drunk, just until you feel buzzed; if you want to get smashed, drink hard liquor; wine should be consumed with food; always drink beer out of a glass.

I remember that he loved to teach me things, but at the same time loved to spin a good yarn. My grandparents house had giant glass jars of marbles in the dining room, and he told me that my grandmother had won them all off him. I remember that he expected more from me than most of the other adults in my life, but he was also more willing to respect my opinion and listen to what I had to say.

I wish I could say that his death taught me to cherish the people around me, and make more of an effort to show them daily how much I love them, but that’s probably not true. It did push me to make more of an effort to get to know my grandmother, which is something that I’m profoundly grateful for because she is just the best. But even though I would say that I’m pretty close to my grandmother, I’m the first to admit that I still don’t make as much of an effort to stay in touch with her as I should. I mean to email her more regularly; I know she loves to hear from me, especially when I include pictures of Theo. It’s just that I get busy, or else I procrastinate, or else it doesn’t occur to me to email her until it’s the middle of the night, and I’m comfortably in my bed. Let’s be honest – in a lot of ways, I probably haven’t changed much since I was seventeen.

I dreamed last night that I was in my grandparents’ old house in Mahone Bay. It was a beautiful old place, full of dark polished wood and immaculate turn-of-the-century furniture. My grandparents were antique dealers, and every inch of available space in their house was crowded with a wealth of fascinating curiosities. One of my favourite parts of their house was a “secret” staircase that led from the kitchen to a small upstairs room that adjoined the master bedroom. At one time, that would have been the maid’s room, and the staircase existed so that she could get to the kitchen early in the morning without waking anyone else up; as a child, I would spend hours climbing up and down the staircase, or hiding behind the door at the bottom, spying on whoever was in the kitchen.

I think it was my memory of that staircase that inspired my dream. In it, I was trying to find a secret attic room that I was sure existed. I’d played in that attic room as a child, and knew that it was full of wonderful things. I ran through the house, searching for some way, any way to get to this room, but I couldn’t find it. I just wanted to see the room one more time, but it was impossible. The way there had disappeared, and I knew that it was gone for good.

In a way, my grandfather is a lot like that room. I know that he existed, and I know that he was wonderful. I wish that I could find him again, wish that I had some way of telling him how much I love him, but I don’t. Like the secret room, my grandfather is lost to me forever.

I miss you, Grampy ❤

Grampy explaining something to me

Motherhood (or, a few things that I’m ashamed to admit)

3 Nov

Sometimes I wonder if I was meant to have kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Theo. I really, really love him. He is the greatest. I mostly can’t imagine what my life would be like without him. So let’s be really clear on all that stuff right now.

But sometimes I just wonder if I’m really cut out to be a mother. Like, I think I might just have the wrong personality for it?

It’s not that I think that I’m a bad mother; I think that I’m a loving, attentive parent. When Theo’s around, I spend my time interacting with him, reading and playing and doing puzzles. We sing songs and give each other high fives and plan our imaginary trip to France (or at least, Theo points out France on the globe and yells out Mimi! Mimi!, the name of the French teenager who used to babysit him, while I tell him how great the shopping and dining are). It’s fun, I guess, but I’m just not sure I really get enough joy out of all this. I mean, I am supposed to enjoy it, right? Not just endure it?

I do enjoy some of it, of course. But a lot of it is mind-numbingly boring. Are mothers supposed to find their kids boring? Jesus, I mean, I sound pretty awful here, don’t I?

In many ways, this age is a lot easier than when Theo was an infant. But when he was pre-verbal, I could at least pretend that we were interested in the same things. Lecturing him about feminist rhetoric or telling him long, complicated stories about my favourite historical figures would earn me the same look of wide-eyed interest as reading Goodnight, Moon or singing him the alphabet song. As long as I kept up that sing-song baby voice, or used funny accents, I was golden. The Second Sex, in case you were wondering, sounds great when you alternate between a crisp upper class British dialect and a slow southern drawl. Now that Theo is talking, though, he has definite opinions on what he does and doesn’t like. For instance, he’s really into tractors; unfortunately for me, he’s not so much into Henry VIII.

I tell myself that it will get better. It’ll be easier when he’s older, when I can really teach him about the things I love, like history and science and bad 80s sitcoms. I like that kind of thing; even now, I love taking him places where he can learn something new. For example, he’s probably the only 21-month-old who can point out the lute at the local museum. As soon as he sees it, his eyes light up and he starts shrieking, lute! lute! like a maniac. We talk about how the lute is a lot like Matt’s guitar, and how people used to use it to make music; he seems to understand, and my heart swells when I realize how many new things I help him learn on a daily basis. I think I’m good at that kind of thing, you know? I mean, lute-splaining in particular but also teaching things in general.

Much of the rest of parenting I just find to be grinding and dull, and I feel like I spend a lot of my time alternating between trying to find ways to keep Theo entertained and following him around saying, no, no, no, stop as he attempts to destroy my house. Mealtimes and diaper changes often turn into a power struggle, and by the time they’re over I nearly always feel like a total pushover, and then wonder whether or not my tendency to give in way to easily will result in my kid being a spoiled brat. When I’m home alone with Theo, more often than not I’m counting down the minutes until Matt walks through the door. On weekends, when my friends are making all kinds of fun plans, I’m envious of their freedom and spontaneity. When Monday rolls around, I’m thrilled to be able to pack him off to daycare, and I celebrate by having a quiet coffee all by myself.

One thing I hear a lot about mothers who have nannies for very young children, especially live-in nannies, is, why did she even have kids if she doesn’t want to raise them herself?

I wonder what they would say about me if they knew the truth.

I always thought that I wanted more than one kid, but now I’m not so sure. I’m not sure I ever want to be pregnant again, and I dread the possible recurrence of postpartum depression. And to be honest, I found having an infant really fucking hard all on its own; I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like to have an infant and a toddler. I get tired just thinking about it. I know friends who have done it, friends with two or even three young children, and they make it seem easy. When I look at them, though, I think, better you than me, buddy.

I guess I might just be too selfish to be a mother, or maybe too lazy. It’s possible that I value my quiet personal time way too highly; it’s possible that I flat out don’t have enough patience or endurance for this type of thing. Whatever it is, it’s something that’s wrong with me, not with Theo.

I love Theo with all of my heart. I love him so much, often more than I ever thought possible.

I just don’t always love how he’s changed my life.