Tag Archives: theo

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 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.

Sometimes It Hurts When I Breathe

23 Oct

I’ve realized that I live in this cycle of frantic activity followed by total emotional and/or physical collapse. This has been happening a couple of times a year since my late teens, and you would think that by now I would be able to recognize the signs enough to stave off the impending crisis, but no. Apparently not.

My head’s been strangely fuzzy for a few weeks now, and my body’s been aching with the weight of something – my bag on my shoulder, my kid on my hip, all of my stupid anxieties. I kept feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath, and then one morning I woke up and I literally had a hard time breathing. So I called in sick to work, stayed in bed for the morning, and then ran some errands in the afternoon. By the next day I was fine, just tired.

I’ve been so goddamn tired these past few weeks, you guys.

I kept meaning to rest, but it always seemed like I had something pressing that needed to be done. A class to teach. Work email. Regular email. A workshop that I signed up for 6 months ago. Studio paperwork to take care of. Invoices. More invoices.  A band that I’ve been wanting to see live for ages and ages. A blog post that I’ve been putting off writing. Guest lecturing a high school English class. A friend having a crisis. Another friend having another crisis. A friend not having a crisis but that I haven’t seen for months. Matt. My sisters. My mothers. My grandmother in Spain. Housework. More housework.

And then there’s Theo. Because even once I’d checked everything else off my list, there was always Theo. How could I ever justify taking a break when I had Theo who needed my time and attention? Theo, who uncomplainingly let Matt pick him up from daycare and feed him dinner and bathe him nearly every night of the week because I had to work the evening shift at the studio or teach a class or do whatever it is that I do that seems to take up all of my goddamn time. Theo, who makes me feel pangs of guilt just by smiling at me. Theo.

So there was never a question of taking a break, because there was never a way of getting to the end of the list. And even though I will happily berate other people for not practicing proper self-care, I am terrible at it myself. Doing things for the express purpose of feeling good always seems like a terrible self-indulgence. Like, how can I justify spending an hour napping or reading on the patio or going out by myself for a coffee when it meant that all the other things weren’t getting done? How can I especially justify doing any nice stuff for myself when it means taking time away from my kid? My kid who I barely get to see these days anyway?

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m a horrible hypocrite.

I’ve spent the past two and a half weeks pushing myself through this deepening haze, shuttling from one end of town to the other, from Toronto to Kingston for Thanksgiving and then back again, from writing to teaching to mothering to hand-holding to coughing until I couldn’t catch my breath, until I was bent double and thought I might throw up in the gutter and oh god how embarrassing.

I forgot to mention that along with the exhaustion, there was a cough.

Finally, at the end of last week, I had this conversation with Nathan:

Nathan: When are you going to see a doctor?

Me: I’m fine, it’s just a cough.

Nathan: You’ve had this cough for what, two weeks now?

Me: Sometimes these things linger on. You know how it is. I’m fine.

Nathan: You are not fine! You might have pneumonia!

Me: I don’t have pneumonia. If I had pneumonia, I’d have a fever.

Nathan: You do have a fever.

Me: I would have a higher fever. I would be, like, bedridden.

Nathan: Maybe you have walking pneumonia.

Me: NO I DON’T.

Nathan: You know what? If it was me who was coughing like this, you would have forced me to go to the doctor ages ago. You would have even come with me, just to make sure that I went.

Me: Uh, yeah. That’s true. I guess.

Nathan: And you know what the worst part of it is? Your cough is so bad that I can’t even make fun of it anymore. You’ve taken away one of my few joys in life.

So I went to the walk-in clinic yesterday and the doctor sort of nodded his head and jotted down a few notes and said that it sounded like I probably had bronchitis. Then he moved his stethoscope around my back for a while and asked me to breathe deeply a couple of times. He kept bringing his stethoscope back to the same spot and pausing there.

“I think I hear some crackles in your upper left lobe,” he said. “I want you to go for a chest x-ray – you might have walking pneumonia.”

Afterwards, when I texted Nathan with the news, I received this delighted reply:

“Wait, wait, wait … walking pneumonia came up?

If you weren’t sick I would revel in my rightness, but you are, so I won’t.

I could be the first person to receive a doctorate just by watching medical dramas. 7 seasons of House, 8 ER, 3 Chicago Hope …”

I went for the chest x-ray today. Afterwards, I asked the tech when my doctor would have the results, and he told me they would be sent out in three to five business days.

“I just want to know for work,” I said. “Pneumonia just sounds so much more impressive than bronchitis.”

“Where do you work?”

“I manage a yoga studio and I teach yoga classes.”

“Let’s just say,” he said, glancing at the image on the screen, “that you might want to take it easy for a while.”

So I’m trying to take it easy. I’m trying not to think of all the messages in my inbox. I’m trying not to feel guilty about popping a kid-friendly DVD in the machine as soon as Matt and Theo got home. I’m trying to rest, and most of all I’m trying not to feel guilty for resting.

Because most of my to-do list can wait.

Because the best way to be a better mother is to get well.

Because it’s fine – good, even – to take a break sometimes.

I’m not good at this stuff. Not just because I kind of sort of maybe enjoy having a hectic life, and not just because doing stuff for myself makes me feel pangs of guilt, but also because I’m not great at being taken care of. I’m hardwired to make sure that everyone around me feels safe and happy and healthy, and I will gladly scold friends and family for not going to the doctor as soon as I think they should, or not taking enough time off work, but when it comes to myself it’s a completely different story. I hate having other people care for me; it makes me feel deeply, skin-crawlingly uncomfortable in the way that few things do. In fact, just thinking about it right now makes me want to barf, although that might also be from the super-strong antibiotics that I’m on.

But I’m going to try to be good and lie still and let other people bring me things, because right now, I kind of have to. More than that, I’m going to try, really try, to break out of this cycle that I’ve been in for the past decade. Because this shit’s getting old, this pattern is not sustainable, and I can and will change.

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How To Be A Grownup

19 Oct

It’s late afternoon on Thanksgiving Monday. I’m lying on a chaise longue on my mother’s back deck, a ratty old knitted blanket across my lap and a book that I am not reading in my hands. I am pretending to be a 19th-century invalid, recuperating from a non-specific ailment at a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps. I am breathing deeply, imagining that I am taking something called the fresh air cure. The sun is warm, its light buttery and yellow. I can hear my son laughing in the distance as my husband chases him around my mother’s small garden, and I pretend that he is a small Swiss child who lives in a nearby thatched cottage. I tell myself that he is amused by the antics of the goats he is herding. This is, I assume, what small, 19th-century Swiss mountain children do: live in picturesque cottages and laugh heartily as they herd their goats.

I am thirty one years old and I am still playing pretend.

Is this what grownups are supposed to do?

Ten years or so into my purported adulthood and I’m still not really sure how to be a grownup, or what that even means. As a kid, I thought that being an adult meant that you did whatever you wanted, although for some reason all of my grownup fantasies were oddly baking-specific. For instance, I imagined myself making cookies whenever I pleased, and thought about how I would be allowed to use the electric mixer without any help. I would, I told myself, be able to wear party dresses every day of my life. And while all of these facts are empirically true and have been true for over a decade, the ability to do these things is neither as satisfying as I thought they would be, nor do they make me feel especially like a grownup.

What does adulthood mean? What is it supposed to look like? As a kid, there seemed to be recognizable difference between adults and not-adults, but now that demarcation is becoming less and less clear. There also seem to be more stages on the way to adulthood than I’d first realized – I used to think that you were either a child or an adult, but now it turns out that, rather than being a binary, it’s more like an evolutionary process, from infant to toddler to preschooler to that nebulous age between when grade school starts and puberty begins to teenager to university student to young adult to – what? Just plain adult, I guess.

Except that I’m not really sure if I feel like an adult.

Mostly I just still feel like myself.

It probably doesn’t help that I don’t look so very different from my teenage self; sure, there are a few lines here and wrinkles there, but the basic structure is exactly the same. I dress the same way that I did as a teenager, too, or rather I dress the way that my teenage self would have had the funds been available. I don’t wear what I think of as grownup clothing: crisp white shirts, tailored suits, prim polyester dresses in black or grey or navy. I like the same things as I did when I was a teenager, more or less – reading, writing, watching painfully earnest indie movies, dressing up, acting out, telling bad jokes, sitting on people’s living room floors while drinking and playing board games. I still read Little Women when I’m feeling down and want literature that’s akin to comfort food. I still get that same funny ache at the end of Empire Records when everyone is dancing on the roof, just like I did when I was sixteen. I still put waaaay too much sugar in my coffee. When we drive past a cemetery or over a bridge, I still hold my breath.

I’m still me, and I can’t help having this weird sense of disappointment over not being the prettier, smarter, more capable creature that I thought growing up would turn me into.

Maybe  part of the problem is that I’m no longer certain of what being an adult looks like. I used to think that there was a sort of set formula: you finished high school, went to university, started a career, fell in love, got married, bought a house, had kids, then watched your own kids repeat the same steps. But then I watched as this blueprint, which seemed to be the  How-To guide accepted and promoted by family, teachers, guidance counsellors, and just about every movie or book that I’d ever seen or read, failed my parents and many of their peers. They hated their jobs. They hated each other. My father stopped being a lawyer, left my mother, and moved to the city where he lived in a bachelor apartment and worked as a bike courier. My mother was exhausted and miserable, trying to raise three kids by herself on a secretary’s salary – by the end of the day, once everyone was fed and bathed, once the homework was done and the dishes were clean and half a dozen petty arguments had been mediated, it was all she could do to sit in front of the television and fall asleep to the sound of the laugh track of some corny late-90s sitcom.

That wasn’t what I wanted for my life.

I didn’t know how else to move ahead, though, so I tried my hardest to follow that old How-To guide. As the end of high school approached, the adults in my life encouraged me to apply to universities. Or rather, there wasn’t even much encouragement – it was just assumed that this was what I would do, and any divergence from that plan seemed impossible. There didn’t seem to be any alternatives that my parents or guidance counsellors felt were acceptable. College, it was intimated, was for the not-so-bright, and with my critical thinking skills I belonged in an undergrad program somewhere. Getting a job was out of the question, unless I wanted to be stuck working at McDonald’s for the rest of my life. Even taking a year off to figure my shit out was frowned upon – I was too flighty, they said, and would almost certainly never go back to school if I left. So my mother scraped together the hundred or so dollars needed for the application process, and I filled out the forms, and it felt like we were doing the right thing.

And I don’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t want to go to university – I did, I swear I did. I just want to make it clear that it also felt like that was the only way that I had of moving forward with my life. And I was desperate for some way, any way, of moving forward.

The problem with university was that while everyone agreed that I belonged there, no one seemed certain how I was supposed to pay for it. The provincial loan system was Byzantine, the forms and online application difficult to navigate, and the resulting funding amount impossible to understand. For example, the government could refuse to give you a loan if your parents earned a certain amount per year, even if said parents were not helping you pay for your education. Lines of credit from the bank weren’t much better – I mean, they were fine, I guess, if you had someone to co-sign. I didn’t.

When I asked the grownups around me how I could possibly afford this education that was supposed to be so critical to my life, they gave these strange sort of blank stares and suggested that I get a summer job.

Because when they’d gone to post-secondary school, a summer job had been enough to pay a year’s tuition and then some. That was obviously no longer the case.

The good old How-To guide hadn’t anticipated changes like this.

I managed to finish two years of university on a combination of government student loans, kind student affairs workers and a healthy state of denial. By the end of that second year, though, my finances were so badly fucked up that there was no question of finishing my degree. Two steps in to my path to adulthood, and I was already failing the model. Or rather, the model was failing me.

I’ve spent the last ten years trying to figure out if and how I can make the old blueprints work for me. It’s true that I can check off a few things on the list – I did manage to fall in love once or twice, I am married, I do have a kid. On the flip side, I haven’t finished school, I’m not sure that I would call my hodge-podge of jobs a “career,” and I can’t imagine a time when I will ever be able to own a house. Even the things that I’ve managed to check off seem, upon closer examination, to grow a bit murkier. My marriage doesn’t necessarily always look like what I thought a marriage should be. I don’t spend as much time with my son as I could. I often worry that I’m a bad partner or a bad mother. I am slowly learning that marriage and motherhood aren’t so much accomplishments as they are a lifelong work in progress. I’m also learning that being a wife and mother aren’t necessarily fool-proof indicators of adulthood; it’s not as if some magic switch is flipped when you say “I do,” or in the moment that your child is first placed in your arms.

So where does that leave me?

It’s both freeing and terrifying to realize that the old formula for adulthood doesn’t apply to my life is both dizzyingly freeing and incredibly terrifying. On the one hand, in theory, my life gets to be whatever I want it to be. On the other hand, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing, and the potential for failure seems high. It’s like wandering in the forest without a map, or even a guide to the flora and fauna – this glade seems like a nice place to build my home, but what if it floods every year during the spring thaw? These berries look tasty, but what if they’re poisonous? Of course there’s always the possibility of a happy ending, but it seems to be equally probable that I will die alone, frozen to death, maybe, or else eaten by wolves.

Lately I’ve been looking hard at my friends’ lives, trying to pick and choose the things that I want to emulate. What’s funny is that it’s not the friends who have the most material successes, the ones with the best jobs or the nicest houses that I’m drawn to, but rather the ones who have certain traits and behaviours that I covet. I admire, for instance, my friend who makes difficult choices, who goes ahead and does things even when he’s afraid or thinks that something is impossible. I admire another friend who’s an expert at saying no. I want to be more like the friend who seems to have that extra split second to figure out if their emotional reaction to any given situation is warranted and appropriate. I want to be like the friend who seems effortlessly organized, who holds family meetings every week to figure out who will be where doing what when during the next seven days. I want to be the person who fights for their beliefs without being disrespectful or unnecessarily cruel to the people who don’t agree with me. I want to be measured, calm, and collected.

And I want to do all of this and still be able to get a little weepy over Empire Records.

What I’m realizing is that, while creating a guide to my own personal grownup life, the best place to start is with myself. I need to work harder to build the type of person that I’m happy with before extending my energy outward. I need put a dot in the middle of the map marked you are here and then radiate all other lines outward from that spot. When I write this all out, it sounds unbelievably selfish, but I also can’t think of any other way to make a guide that suits the kind of life I want to live; because before I make that guide, I have to figure out my own shit, which means answering all of the big questions like what the fuck do I want, and why am I even here, and where do I go next?

Maybe that’s the best way to be a grownup.

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How To Talk To New Parents

9 Oct

Social media can be an amazing tool for first-time parents. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and their ilk give housebound caregivers the chance to connect with other people without having to leave their bedroom. They make it easier to find others who are currently in or have been in similar situations. They provide a platform where people can ask for advice, pose specific questions (often of the is-this-normal variety), share milestones and pictures and funny anecdotes, or just flat-out vent about how hard parenting is. Because let’s be real: parenting is fucking hard.

I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend in how some people reply to these social media posts, though – some people (most often people WHO ARE PARENTS) are condescending, dismissive and even sometimes unintentionally (I hope) hurtful in their responses. I’ve experienced this myself, and lately I’ve been noticing that a few of my friends with new babies have been enduring this same unfortunate phenomenon. What I’ve noticed the most is people saying things like, “Oh, you think it’s bad now? Wait until she’s a toddler!” or “Wait until you have two!” or “It’s fine if you can’t breastfeed, you can just give formula!” or worst of all, “Just relax, this is supposed to be a happy time!”

First of all: telling someone to relax very often results in THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF THAT HAPPENING. Also? If a parent thinks that what they’re going through is bad? It’s probably bad! And how is it at all a good idea to respond to someone talking about how difficult things and how much they are struggling with the assurance that things will only get worse? WHY WOULD YOU EVEN SAY THAT? Is that intended to be some kind of warning, like, get out now while you still can? Finally, things like breastfeeding or co-sleeping or having a natural childbirth may not feel like a big deal to some people, but to others they can matter a whole fuck of a lot. I know that when Theo was a baby, breastfeeding him was literally the only thing I felt like I was doing right as a parent. If I’d had to stop, or had been unable to do it, I would have been devastated, and hearing someone downplay or otherwise invalidate how I felt would have made me feel even worse.

So with all of that in mind, I thought that it might be smart to put together a handy-dandy guide for talking to new parents. So let’s get started!

A few things to keep in mind with regards to new babies:

1. Remember that the transition from non-parenthood to parenthood is one of the scariest, most stressful, and most physically gruelling things a person can go through. If you’re a woman who has recently experienced pregnancy, your body is suddenly totally unfamiliar and your hormones are all fucking over the place. If you’re breastfeeding, you suddenly have a baby attached to your nipple every few hours, which, let me tell you, is not a sensation that’s necessarily easy to get used to. Even if you haven’t given birth and are not breastfeeding, just the very fact of having a new baby is physically draining. Like, there’s a reason that sleep deprivation is a form of torture, you know? On top of all that, your entire way of living has completely changed. Everything suddenly revolves around this tiny, helpless little being, and all of the familiar road-markers of your old life have suddenly disappeared. Worst of all, you’re often expected to map out your new life on your own, without much in the way of practical help. There is no real way to prepare for the type of culture shock you will experience when becoming a new parent.

2. Keep in mind that newborns are often terrible. Terrible! Not on purpose, of course, and this doesn’t apply to all babies, but the fact remains that infants are frequently some of the most unpleasant people. First of all, they seem to hate you. They scream all the time, and when they’re not screaming, they’re staring at you balefully. They never smile – not even when you are devoting all of your time and energy to taking care of them. They just take and take and take from you and never, ever give back. If they were a grownup friend, you would dump them in a hot second. You can’t dump your kid, though – I mean, you can, but it’s generally frowned upon. And of course you love your baby and you rationally recognize that soon the baby will start smiling and gurgling and generally being much more pleasant, but neither of those facts mitigate how terrible it feels to be screamed for ten consecutive hours a day. And when you add on the fact that new parents often struggle with things like feeding and getting their child to sleep and whatnot, it becomes pretty clear that the early days of parenthood are not always the magical snuggly bonding time that we tend to get all starry-eyed and wistful over.

3. Remind yourself that all kids are different. Just because your newborn was an angel who slept twenty three hours a day and was a champion breastfeeder does not mean that every baby will be like that. Just because your child was more difficult as a toddler than as an infant does not mean that that will hold true for everyone. For example, I find Theo much easier and more fun as a toddler than he was as an infant. Like, when he is upset, he can now actually tell me what’s wrong! We’ve also been lucky in the fact that Theo is quite verbal, which helps cut down on tantrums and meltdowns. An added bonus of his verbal skills is that we can now have real conversations about real things instead of my having to produce an endless monologue that goes something like, “Do you see the sky? The sky is blue. Blue is such a pretty colour! Your eyes are blue! My eyes are brown! Do you see the doggie over there? The doggie says woof woof! What a nice doggie! I like doggies! Do you like doggies?”

But not every kid is like Theo. Not every kid is this verbal at the age of two and a half, and lots of other children his age are much more prone to tantrums. This is a (relatively easier) age for us, but it isn’t for everyone. All kids are different.

A few DOs and DON’Ts for how to talk to the new parents in your life:

1. DO offer advice, especially if the parent asks for it. Bonus points if this advice is based on your own personal experience

2. DON’T expect that parent to follow your advice. They might, they might not. You are offering that advice because you are friends with that person and care for them, and the future of your relationship should not hinge on whether or not they do what you advised.

3. DO try to be helpful if/when you visit your friend – bring food, offer to clean or tidy, ask if the parents would like you to take the baby out for a walk so that they can shower/eat/have some time together. Feel free to offer specific services or else just plain ask the parents what would be the most helpful for them. Remember that these visits should be more about making things easier for the new parents rather than giving you the chance to cuddle a tiny baby.

4. DON’T tell horror stories, either about your own early parenting days or those of people you know. These types of stories usually aren’t helpful, and can actually be pretty scary.

5. DO listen and make sympathetic noises.

6. DON’T invalidate their feelings. Seriously. Don’t tell them that they’re overreacting or being silly. Don’t make remarks about how the human race could never have survived if every parent was this hung up on the small stuff. Just don’t.

7. That being said, DO remind them that babies grow and change very quickly, that this stage will soon be over and that things will get better.

8. DON’T tell them that you understand their struggle because you have a new puppy and puppies are actually more difficult and time-consuming than babies. Seriously. I wish that this point wasn’t based on a true story, but alas.

9. DO keep an eye out for symptoms of postpartum depression.

10. DON’T tell the parents that they should be enjoying themselves more than they are, or that this is supposed to be the “happiest time in their lives.” Probably it is a super happy time for them, but it’s likely also incredibly stressful and worrisome.

A final note:

Remember that your friends’ experiences as new parents are not about you. This is not your chance to re-hash everything about your own parenting. This is not your chance to show off your knowledge and expertise. What you should be doing now is supporting your friends as much as possible, in the same way that others hopefully supported (or will support) you as a new parent. Your words and behaviour towards your friends should be with their welfare in mind, rather than how you can make yourself look better or smarter. In short, be the kind of person that you would want to have around when things get tough.

And maybe you could even offer to change a diaper or two. Maybe.

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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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On Friendship (Or, How To Over-Think Everything)

13 Jun

This past Sunday I took Theo to the park, hoping to score a little mother-and-son quality time. We went to the “Secret Park”, so-called because of the way it’s tucked behind our local high level pumping station, an Art Deco monstrosity that’s designed to fit in with the rest of the gorgeous early 20th century architecture in our neighbourhood (rich people: even their municipal pumping stations are pretty). My plan was for Theo and I to spend the morning chilling out on the climber, engaging in some witty banter and maybe taking turns pushing each other on the swings.

I hadn’t counted on my toddler totally ditching me for a new-found friend.

This other kid was already at the Secret Park when we got there, running around like a madman, waving a huge stick in the air and screaming. Theo was immediately entranced. He watched, shyly, as this boy tore around the grassy slopes, and I could tell that he wanted to join in but wasn’t quite sure how to achieve that. I suggested that we could go play on the climber or on the swings, thinking that doing some park-type stuff might make him feel a little more at ease and thus help put him into the right frame of mind to make friends. He shook his head, though, his eyes never leaving the other boy. Finally, still not looking at me, he said with a great deal of seriousness,

“I need a stick.”

So I found him a stick, and that was all it took for him to feel comfortable enough to start playing with the other boy (whose name, it turned out, was Duncan). Once Theo had that stick in his hand, he and Duncan were running around shrieking delightedly together. Then they played in the sand doing something at once precise and elaborate and yet totally mystifying with a plastic cup and a Christmas tree ornament shaped like a chilli pepper. Then they buried Duncan’s extensive collection of dinky cars, then dug them all up again and started racing them up and down the trunk of a nearby tree.

Insta-best-friends.

I was hella jealous.

I’ve been thinking about how that situation would have played out had it involved myself and some other adult who just happened to be doing something that I found incredibly intriguing. Would I have been able to just jump right in and befriend them, without even so much as an introduction? Oh, fuck, no. Here’s how it would have gone if I’d been in Theo’s place:

Anne’s internal monologue: Whoa, that person seems amazing. I really want to run around and wave sticks with her! But probably she’s way better at waving sticks than me. I mean, I guess I could ask her to teach me, but isn’t that a little pathetic? And anyway, I’m sure that she has more than enough friends. I’m sure that she doesn’t want to talk to me. Maybe if I google “how to wave sticks and scream” I could just do it by myself? Maybe it’ll turn out that I’m really great at it? Maybe if I do it awesomely enough, she’ll come over and try to make friends with me? Do I even really want to make friends with her, though? I mean, she seems great now, but she’s probably not as awesome as she seems. I have a lot of great friends – I don’t need this not-as-awesome-as-she-seems stick waver!

Anne (out loud): Guhhh nice stick!

At what age does the ability to instantly click with someone over something like screaming and waving sticks end? At what age do all these stupid, tangled thoughts take over and prevent people (and by people I mean me) from taking any kind of initiative from befriending others? My kid is (currently, at least) the kind of person who can just jump right in and assume that his awesomeness will be evident enough that he can make friends with anyone he wants to. Or, going even further, he doesn’t even bother to wonder about the state of his awesomeness. He just does his thing and goes from there. And I’m kind of jealous. I fucking want that personality trait so badly, like, you don’t even know.

I really, really want to be the type of person who sees someone cool and is like, “Hey, let’s hang out sometime.” But I’m not, and I never have been.

Instead, I am the type of person who, when I went camping as a little kid, would get my father to visit the campsites of families with kids and act as a sort of friendship matchmaker.

I am the type of person who daily descends into the bottomless black hole of saying too much and then trying to correct that by saying even more.

I am the type of person who goes out for dinner with a writer that she particularly admires and brings cue cards full of things to say in case the conversation lags.

I really, really want to be the kind of person who says, fuck cue cards, but you guys? I actually love cue cards. And I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with loving cue cards, except that maybe it’s a problem when you come to depend on them as a sort of social crutch.

I don’t want to be the type of person who, in the middle of a nice dinner, whips out a list of interesting conversation topics, but what the fuck else am I supposed to do? Think thoughts and say words in real time? As Barney Stinson would say: please. Putting my thoughts down in a blog post is fairly easy, because I can edit and then re-edit until I’m sure that I’ve got it right. But having an actual, un-plannable, give-and-take conversation with another person is a different beast entirely.

I mean, seriously, how does anyone ever figure out the right thing to say? Because this must be something that other people are capable of doing, unless everyone else has somehow learned to be extremely stealthy with their cue cards. And how do people not only manage to say the right thing, but also avoid saying exactly the wrong thing? And how do you come to accept that it’s not actually a binary, that there is a wide gulf between right and wrong, a deep valley full of conversational material that’s perfectly fine, but for whatever reason isn’t particularly scintillating or thought-provoking.

And that’s just the basics of general small talk. That’s just beginner’s stuff. What about all the crap that comes later, once you’ve managed to become friends with someone and actually establish some kind of relationship? Then comes the really tricky stuff – carefully cultivating that relationship, making sure that you make time for that person, learning how to deal with any conflict that arises with them.

Ugh, conflict. Oh, conflict. My old nemesis.

On Sunday, I watched my kid get into an argument with Duncan over who got to hold which car. It didn’t quite come to blows, but there were definitely angry words and hurt feelings involved. Then, miraculously, two minutes later they were firm friends again, discussing the various merits of blue race cars versus red race cars as if nothing at all had happened. Meanwhile, when I get into a fight with someone, I end up spending days, sometimes even weeks, treading and retreading the same mental ground over and over and over again. I I spend ages trying to figure out what I could have done differently, as if I’m ever going to be presented with the exact same set of circumstances at some point in the future. Worst of all, I need an incredibly amount of reassurance that yes, I am a still good, yes, I am still loved.

This last one has been killing me lately. I’ve realized that a huge part of it is because when you take up residence in anxiety-town, you lose any ability to trust your own senses. So you end up feeling like you have to sort of crowdsource your thoughts and feelings, constantly asking, “Is this okay? Is this a normal reaction? Am I right to respond this way or am I going overboard? Do you still love me? Is it okay for me to love myself?” And yes, sometimes this way of coping is super helpful, but sometimes it can be totally toxic as well. Even when all of your neurons are misfiring in exactly the right way to make you feel like you are a terrible person, it’s dangerous to think that someone else can give you an accurate read on what you’re doing or how you should feel about yourself. On top of that, you might not get the answer that you want, and at the end of the day constantly demanding feedback and reassurance can make you feel pretty pathetic.

So what’s the answer? I’m not sure, to be honest. Lately I’ve been making a lot of checklists for myself (for whatever reason I find list-making to be very soothing). After a couple of days of trying to unsnarl this mess in my head that I call my brain, I now have a bunch of easily-accessible documents that I can refer to whenever I start to doubt any given situation. These lists are full of reminders about all of the empirical evidence that I have that yes, people do love me, and yes, there is value in the things that I say and do. I’ve also made lists that help me to remember that conflict isn’t the end of the world (even if it sometimes feels that way), and that it’s totally possible to have a horrible fight with someone and then move past it and maybe not exactly forget that it ever happened but also not let it be what defines your relationship from that moment forward.

All of this is to say: I really want to be the kid who one minute is screaming about how it’s my fucking turn to hold the red car, and then the next minute is fine. I want to be the kid who jumps right in without a single thought. I want to be that goddamn kid who runs around waving a stick and screaming without first having to google how and why I should do this so as to prevent myself from looking like an idiot.

Because that kid? That kid seems really fucking rad.

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