Tag Archives: theo

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.

vintage-women-typists

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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The Extra Bicycle

28 May

There are three bicycles on my balcony right now.

Normally there are only two – my shiny blue bike, with its giant seat and extra-wide wheels, and Matt’s sturdy green mountain bike. But for the last week or so there’s been another bicycle out there, one with a funky wire basket and a badly-warped frame frame.

This third bike belongs to a mystery woman who was involved in a cycling accident at the foot of the hill that I live on. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I do know that she landed face-first on the pavement, and I know that by the time the paramedics arrived her breathing was shallow and her heart rate uneven.

Her bicycle ended up on my balcony because Matt and Theo happened to be walking by the scene of the accident shortly it happened. Theo is fascinated by and and all emergency vehicles, so the sight of the firetrucks and ambulances was an instant hit with him. Ever since that day, he keeps saying:

“The firefighters took the woman away. The firefighters took the woman to the doctor to make her better.”

For Matt, the scene was a reminder of my own bike accident, which happened almost five years ago. Seeing that woman being strapped onto a stretcher and loaded into the waiting ambulance triggered all kinds of memories for him of my ill-fated tangle with a set of streetcar tracks down at Church and Adelaide. That was why he brought the bike home and left his name and number with the paramedics – because he remembered the kind stranger who had dragged my bike out of the road and locked it up, then given me his business card in case I couldn’t find it when I went to get it back.

I think about that accident fairly often. It’s hard not to, to be honest; the stiffness and occasional ache in my left knee are a constant reminder of the fact that my leg is packed with hardware. And anyway, that crash was a sort of turning point in my life; I’m not going to get all dramatic on you and say that it was a near-death experience or that it changed my view of humanity, but it definitely altered the course that I thought I was on. At the time, I was upset, even angry about that, but now I’m mostly thankful for it, because if I hadn’t fallen and banged up my knee, who knows where I would be now? If I’d kept on going in the direction I was headed in, I probably wouldn’t have Theo, for one thing. For another, who knows if I’d be writing, or teaching yoga? Who knows where I would be at all?

The reason that I happened to be at Church and Adelaide that morning was because I was starting my second week of George Brown’s Sign Language Interpreter program. I was running late, and I probably, almost certainly, wasn’t being as careful as I should have been. I’d always been wary of streetcar tracks, because I knew of other people who had had dangerous interactions with them, but I guess that I let my guard slip a bit that morning. I remember that I had to turn left onto Adelaide and I had to move into the left lane to do that, so I was simultaneously pedalling furiously to make it to the intersection before the light changed while signalling the lane change with my left hand and also looking back over my shoulder, watching out for cars. Just as I was getting ready to turn, I felt the traction change underneath my front tire – it went from rumbling over rough pavement to, for just a moment, skidding sickeningly, uncontrollably over smooth metal. Then with a jolt my front wheel slid neatly into the groove of the track, and I was stuck. At the same time my back wheel jerked forward, causing my bike to jackknife beneath me.

I knew that I was going to fall, but I thought, for some reason, that I could prevent it. I put my left foot down to try to steady myself, but my bike’s momentum was too much. I went down.

I don’t actually have any recollection of falling. I remember realizing that I was screwed, and then I remember lying sprawled on the hot pavement, my bike upended beside me and its wheels spinning pathetically in the air. I don’t think that I blacked out or anything – I’d somehow managed to avoid hitting my (unhelmeted) head – but I guess that whatever I was experiencing in that moment was too much for my brain to handle and it just shut down or somehow blocked it all out.

I remember thinking that I should stay sitting there in the middle of the road, even though cars were zooming around me, because it seemed like the safest place. A crowd had gathered around me soon after I’d crashed, and a few of them had to convince me that it was much smarter to get over to the side of the road. Two people helped me up, and that was when I realized that I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. It didn’t hurt, exactly, it just didn’t work. So these two people had to half carry me over to the curb, while a third person went and rescued my poor bike (her name was Frida, by the way, as in Frida Kahlo, and she had an elegant if  heavy vintage solid metal frame with a beautiful, now-smashed, wicker basket on the front).

By the time I reached the side of the road I was crying, hard, and hyperventilating. Not because I was hurt or scared, but because it had suddenly hit me that I could maybe, possibly have died. A woman sat beside me and told me to breathe while someone else called an ambulance on their cell. A third person handed me their phone so that I could call Matt. Back then I didn’t have my own cell phone, so I told him that I didn’t know where they were taking me but would call him from the hospital once I got there.

Once I got to the hospital no one, myself included, thought that there was any rush to look at my leg. I was certain that my knee was just sprained or twisted – after all, it barely hurt at first, and I hadn’t even torn my jeans. But by the time Matt got there, my leg was aching something fierce, and he found me huddled up in a wheelchair in the waiting room, crying quietly, trying not to bother anyone with my sobbing.

Eventually, someone called my name, Matt wheeled me through the big metal door, had some x-rays done and then sat for another hour or two on a hospital bed. Finally, a doctor came in and said brusquely,

“Your left tibial plateau is fractured. An orthopaedic surgeon will be coming to discuss the details of your surgery with you. Okay bye!”

I mean, I’m sure it didn’t exactly play out like that, but that was the general feeling of it. The doctor’s routine view of what I’d managed to do to my left knee was miles and miles away from my experience as a person whose life had just been turned upside down by a few brief sentences. Everything suddenly started to sound like it was very grainy and far away, and my vision began to go dark. I had to lie down before I passed out.

The technical details of what happened were this: my left femur, that big, heavy, club-like thigh bone, had, in the course of my accident, slammed into my tibial plateau (the place where the tibia and fibula meet to form the bottom part of the knee joint) hard enough to dent it. Surgery was needed to build the surface of the plateau back up, or else I would almost certainly walk with a limp for the rest of my life. So they took a bone graft from their bone bank, and held it in place with a metal plate and a series of large metal pins.

Why yes, this does mean that I have a dead person’s bone in my body! I kind of hope that it comes from a murderer or a genius or a murderer-genius or some other interesting type of person, but of course you can’t be too picky in these types of situations.

After surgery, I didn’t walk for three months. I went from having a giant, heavy cast to a much lighter, foam-and-plastic brace. When the took the cast off, I’d lost so much muscle mass that my thigh was narrower than my knee joint. It was gross. Oh and speaking of gross, if you ever want to terrify your needle-and-generally-medical-phobic partner, please invite them into the room while your cast is removed and the twenty six enormous metal stitches in your knee are suddenly revealed.

Yeah.

Matt had to leave after that.

Once I was ready to start putting weight on my leg again, I discovered that I’d somehow forgotten how to walk. I went to physiotherapy twice a week and, slowly and painstakingly, re-learned something that I’d mastered at the age of fourteen months. I still walk funny, even now, five years later – my left arch collapses and my entire left leg rolls inward, so that if I’m not thinking about it, I walk with a tiny bit of a limp. A limp, mind you, that becomes much more exaggerated when I’m tired or the weather is bad.

It goes without saying that I had to drop out of school – for the first few weeks after surgery, I could barely get out of bed, let alone go to class. On top of that, I was totally, totally loopy from the drugs I was on. I was so loopy that I read Twilight and thought it was good. No joke.

So I left school and, once I was able to function like a person with two legs again, returned to my nearly-minimum-wage retail job. I started trying to put my life back together and figure out what I wanted to do with myself, but I was at loose ends. I’d written a book the year before, and had had it tentatively accepted by a publisher and an agent, but the summer after my accident both of them ended up rejecting my manuscript. I didn’t know what to do with it, or myself. My life felt totally directionless.

In the summer of 2009 I married Matt, as planned. Eight months later I was suddenly, unexpectedly pregnant. And now, nearly five years after my accident, I have a hilarious toddler and a fantastic partner, I manage a yoga studio, I teach yoga, and I’m sorta, kinda, maybe accepting the fact that I might be a writer.

If I hadn’t fallen, there’s a chance that I would still be in an equally good, equally happy place in my life. But I’m not willing to take that gamble – if given the choice, I would always, always pick the prize on display over whatever’s behind the closed door. A bird in the hand, etc. So I guess that in a weird way I’m kind of thankful that my wheel slid into that streetcar track. I’m thankful that I ended up sprawled out on the ground, and I’m thankful that I smashed my knee up badly enough to need major surgery. Because all of that, every single little aspect of it, lead me to be right where I am.

I also think that falling off my bike was a big part of what helped me learn to love Toronto. I’d only been living here for a little over a year, and so far the city had seemed strange and unfriendly to me. If you’d asked me before my accident what would happen if a Torontonian fell off their bike in the middle of traffic, I would have said that everyone on the street would have gone about their business while that poor unlucky soul got run over. The people at Church and Adelaide that day proved me wrong, though, and since then I’ve learned over and over again that this city can, when necessary, have a heart.

The mystery woman, the woman whose bike is currently taking up real estate on my balcony, called this past weekend. She’d spent three days in the ICU, she said. She’d bled out into her brain and nearly died, she said. She kept thanking Matt for saving her life, and he had to tell her, over and over, that he’d only saved her bike.

She’s home now from the hospital, and her nephew is coming over sometime soon to pick up her bike. I hope she ends up being okay. I hope that someone told her just how many people stopped to help her, how much love and care she got from total strangers. Most of all, though, I hope that however this accident changes her life (as it certainly will) it ends up somehow being for the better.

Me, on crutches, out for brunch with friends

Me, on crutches, out for brunch with friends

Mother’s Day

12 May

I’m gonna be totally honest here: Mother’s Day makes me feel weird.

I think that part of it is that I have an automatic distrust of anything that’s gender-specific. Like, why is it Mother’s Day? Why not just Caregiver’s Day? Or Excellent Parental Unit Day? Or, as a friend of mine mentioned on Facebook, Gender-Diverse Parents’ Day? I mean, I get that it’s supposed to be about how hard mothers work, and how under-appreciated they are, but something about this sentiment seems … off to me. We spend most of the year crapping on moms, picking apart their parenting choices and publicly lambasting mothers that we disagree with, but suddenly we’re supposed to spend a day talking about how great they are? It sort of reminds me of the way that a good friend spoke about her ex – he was great at the big things (like buying her lavish gifts and taking her on fancy vacations), but not so much with the little day-to-day stuff. And really, it’s that day-to-day stuff that keeps the world turning, you know?

I guess that part of my ambivalence comes from the fact that Mother’s Day was never a big deal when I was growing up. We would make cards for my mother, and maybe bake her a cake or something, but it never went much beyond that. I mentioned once or twice that I might make my mother breakfast in bed, but she always vetoed that idea, saying that she would be the one left to clean up my mess (which was, to be fair, probably true). Even when my dad still lived at home, we never went out for brunch or anything fancy like that. I think I remember really wanting to make it a special day for her, because school and television and books made me feel like that that’s what I should be doing, but not being entirely certain of how to about that. I realize now that the best gift I could’ve given her would have been a kid-free afternoon or more help with household chores, but those things didn’t occur to me at the time. I wanted to either go big or go home (and I had no way of knowing just how “big” a few childless hours would have seemed to a single mother).

I guess that what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t really understand how HUGE Mother’s Day is for some people until I became a mother myself. Then, all of the sudden, people wanted to know what I was doing for Mother’s Day – they seemed especially interested in what, exactly, my husband was going to buy me. As my first Mother’s Day approached, I heard more and more about all the gifts I should be expecting. What do you think you’ll get for Mother’s Day? people kept asking, as if I had submitted a list of desired items months ago and had only to use my mad deductive skills to figure out which one my husband would pick. When I told them that we would likely go out for a nice family brunch and then go to the park, they seemed disappointed, as if I was somehow missing the whole point of the holiday.

The whole “Mother’s Day is too commercialized” thing has basically been done to death, but you guys? It’s pretty much true. It’s now more about picking out the perfect jewellery or the cutest card or the fanciest chocolates than it is about honouring the hard work your mother does. And to get back to that weird gender thing, why are we so obsessed with honouring how hard our mothers work? Or rather, why are we only interested in thinking about it only once a year, and why is our solution to throw sparkly things and candy at it, and then ignore the issue for the next 364 days?

I can’t help but notice the differences between how Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are marketed. Mother’s Day is all about honouring the sacrifices your mother made for you, showering her with pretty, mostly useless things as a sort of payback for all that she “gave up” in order to raise you. Father’s Day, on the other hand, seems to be about high-fiving your dad for being such an awesome friend, and maybe thanking him for somehow, occasionally having had a hand in how you turned out. Even these lists of suggested Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts are pretty telling – a whole lot of stuff to make Mom look and smell pretty (with a few gardening items thrown in), and then a bunch of fun, boozy, outdoor-adventure stuff for Dad. I mean, I’ll be honest – I would way rather read a book on my Kobo while sipping a glass of nice scotch than put on a stupid scarf and spritz myself with floral-scented chemicals. Not unexpectedly, all of the gifts for mothers are about her appearance, whereas all of the gifts for fathers are about going out and having a good time.

I guess that, at the end of the day, what really bothers me about Mother’s Day is this idea that sacrifice is somehow inherent in the idea of being a mother. And also that there’s something sacred about getting knocked up and then giving birth, as if that raises you on a pedestal above all other women. I feel particularly irritated by this image from Indigo’s website:

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Because, you know, everyone doesn’t have the best mom in the world. The ability to be sperminated and pop out a kid doesn’t really mean anything; I definitely know enough people with awful mothers who pretty firmly disprove that rule.

Instead of celebrating how much women have to give up in order to have children, why don’t we look at ways that we can even the playing field? Instead of insisting that mothers have to be the nurturing caregivers, how about finding ways to help promote these behaviours in fathers? And instead of having Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, why not just a day that celebrates all of the people who help make our kids the way they are? Why not have a day that acknowledges the fact that some people owe more thanks to their aunts, uncles and grandparents than they do to their mothers or fathers?

But if we have to have a Mother’s Day, I would much rather celebrate Julia Ward Howe’s proposed Mother’s Day for Peace. I would rather honour the sentiments put forth in her Mother’s Day Proclamation than receive a bunch of flowers that will be dead in a week. Because you know what? This is a Mother’s Day that I can really get behind:

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace, Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient And at the earliest period consistent with its objects, To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions,

The great and general interests of peace.

—Julia Ward Howe

 

To those of you who celebrate Mother’s Day, I hope that you have a wonderful day. To those of you for whom this day is painful, I hope that it passes quickly and peacefully for you. And if you’re someone looking to give a mother that you know a really amazing gift, consider finding a way of giving her some time to herself. I promise you that she’ll love that more than almost anything else.

And finally, to the amazing kid who came along two years ago and made me a mother: thank you. The same goes for Matt, who does more than his fair share of co-parenting. I’m super lucky to have these two dudes in my life. It’s been a hell of a ride, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else.

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On Wanting

22 Apr

I.

The problem is wanting.

Sometimes I think that the trick to living a happy life is to stop wanting things. If only you could not want anything, not even happiness, then you could be happy. But then you end up wanting to not-want, which is maybe one of the weirdest paradoxes ever. How does one achieve a state of not-wanting? I could probably ask one of the many pseudo-Buddhist white ladies that I know, but to be honest, I’m not sure that they’d have a good answer. They’d just tell me to maybe read the Bhagavad Gita and then meditate, but I’ve already done both of those things, and no dice.

The main problem with wanting is that sometimes you actually get what you want, and in some weird way that actually feels worse than not getting it. Like, what if you get what you want and then you’re still sad? What if you get what you want and it just doesn’t feel as good as you thought it would? Do you then A) start wanting something else or B) actually try confront your existential sadness crisis, since it seemingly cannot be solved by fame or love or material objects?

I guess that choosing option A is how capitalism works. You want and want and want but then nothing is ever enough so then you want some more, and then everybody makes money off of each other or whatever.

II.

I wanted a kid because I thought that having one would be like taking on a massive, life-long project. I liked the idea of being able to shape a person. I thought that if I just knew the right things to teach my kid, then he would end up being an artistic, scientific super-genius. Honestly, though, I don’t know why I believed that I was the type of person who knew all of the right things to teach my kid, but I thought that probably I could just learn from all the mistakes that I’ve made in trying to be a good human being. Then if I taught him to do all of the opposite things to what I did, probably he would turn out perfect.

It’s weird having a kid. Like, one day you’re just sitting in the hospital, minding your own business, when suddenly you’re handed this little bundle of raw potential. And you’re supposed teach this totally empty, blank little creature about how to live in the world, but the truth is that you don’t even know how to live in the world, so how can you act as a reliable compass for someone who can’t even hold up their own head?

How do I explain all of the arbitrary rules of life to him? Like, when I make dinner but he doesn’t want to eat his dinner because he’s still playing, what reasonable basis do I have for saying that my desire trumps his? Because I’m bigger? Because I earn the money that keeps him fed and clothed and housed? Because I can pick him up and carry him over to the table and force him to sit down in his chair?

I mean, the real reason is, of course, because his still-developing brain lacks the necessary critical thinking skills that he needs in order to competently make decisions for himself. If it were up to him, we would play with his train set all day, pausing only to eat cupcakes, and never go to bed. Which would be fine, if no one ever had to worry about going to work, or paying rent, or getting scurvy.

But I guess that what I really need to know is how I am supposed to train him to be a polite, conscientious, productive member of society without sucking all the joy out of him. He has all of these things that he thinks would be fun or good to do, things that seem perfectly natural to him, and here I am telling him to ignore all of his spontaneous wants.

Like, how do I teach him not to burp at the table or play with his food or splash in the bath without making him second-guess his every want or desire? On the other hand, I can’t send a kid to school who thinks that, for example, throwing toys or saying rude things are acceptable behaviour. And while, yes, all kids burp and fart and think that it’s hilarious, probably those aren’t things that future employers are looking for. But do I want to raise a kid who is exactly what future employers are looking for?

Where do you draw the line?

Maybe raising a kid is really just about teaching them to want the right things? But who gets to decide what’s “right”?

III.

Whenever I meet someone and they ask what I do for a living, I say that I’m a yoga teacher. Then I pause and say that I’m also a freelance writer (I think the word “freelance” makes it seem more legitimate, although to be honest most of what I do is blog about my stupid life).

Then, as soon as I say the word writer, I stop talking and gauge the other person’s reaction.

Because when I tell someone that I’m a writer, what I’m really doing is asking, Do you think that I’m a writer?

And then depending on how they respond, I think that they’ve either said yes or no.

I have no issues calling myself a yoga teacher, because I paid $5,000 and spent a year learning how to teach. I even have a certificate with my name on it that tells everyone that I’m a yoga teacher. I don’t have any certificates that tell people that I’m a writer. I don’t even know what the criteria for being a writer are. According to some people, it’s being published. According to others, it’s being paid to be published. And then some folks think that if you write, no matter whether you write for an audience or not, well, then, you’re a writer. But if you go by that logic, then isn’t everyone a writer? I mean, wouldn’t you consider anyone who’s ever made a grocery list or left a note for someone or sent a quick email to be a writer?

The problem is that I want so badly to be a writer.

IV.

How would you even live a life without wanting anything? How would you ever get up in the morning, or go to work, or write a blog post about want?

Why would you ever procreate if you didn’t want a hilarious, incontinent, miniature version of yourself?

How boring would it be to eat food just because it kept you alive and not because you loved the taste and smell and the satisfaction of filling your stomach? How awful would it be to get dressed just to protect your body from the elements and not because you love the colour, fabric, texture or cut of what you’re wearing? How sad would be it be to have a kid just because you feel as if you’re under some kind of obligation to perpetuate the human race, and not because you wanted a sweet, stinky little bundle of wriggly joy?

What kind of a life would you live if you did things only because you had to and not because you wanted to?

And if you were to get rid of that want, what would fill you up instead? How would you spend your days? Would the absence of want truly make you happy? Or would it just make you feel emptier?

I don’t really have any answers, so I apologize if you’ve made it this far and thought that you were going to have some kind of epiphany. I’m not very good at epiphanies, anyway. I don’t think I’ve had one since I was about eighteen, and even then, it was kind of a pitiful epiphany, to be honest.

I do think that it’s important to find the balance between wanting and not-wanting, and I think that it’s hard not to fall into any of the tricky traps that desire sets up for you, and I think that a lot of the times our wants set us up for misery.

I’m just not sure how to find that balance.

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An Open Letter To My Son

4 Apr

You.

Sometimes I wonder about you.

I wonder, for instance, where you came from. I understand the dry facts, of course, the complex mechanics of ovulation and ejaculation. I understand how cells divide, and then divide again, their numbers growing exponentially as seconds tick by. I know a thing or two about gametes and zygotes and embryos.

What I don’t understand is how all of that made you.

The facts of your existence seem like they would be better explained by alchemy rather than biology. We made you out of nothing, or rather, we made you out of two randomly-selected bits of genetic code that we unintentionally sent slamming into each other deep in the darkest recesses of my body. And out of those tangled strands of DNA grew you, incredible, beautiful you, with your father’s blue eyes and my heart-shaped mouth.

It feels more like magic than science, really.

I don’t know that I believe in souls, but I do know that I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that there is now an entirely new, unique human being on this planet who has never been here before.

And I wonder how I managed to carry you for eight months inside of me without somehow fucking it up. I mean, this is me we’re talking about here – the person who is totally incompetent when it comes to the most mundane, run-of-the-mill tasks. I can’t swim or drive a car or even whistle properly, for God’s sake, but somehow I made an entire kid from scratch? How does that even work?

I’ve spent two years watching you unfold from a scrunched up, red-faced, newborn cipher into something that’s starting to bear a remarkable resemblance to a human being. You walk, you talk, you have feelings. You have preferences, even, very specific likes and dislikes that seem totally arbitrary to me. You have a sense of humour. You make jokes, on purpose, just to make me laugh.

You tell me that you love me and I wonder what you think that word means. At thirty, I’m still getting a handle on all of the possible interpretations of love, all of the implications and connotations that it might bring with it. I’ve learned to use the word cautiously, sparingly, oh-so-carefully, because those four innocent letters can be so incredibly loaded with meaning. But you, what do you know about meaning? You don’t know anything, or at least certainly not enough to overthink things the way I do; you just love me.

And oh God I love you so much. So fucking much.

And I wonder, how on earth do I protect you? How do I keep you safe?

Like some poor, naïve fairytale mother, I’m trying to help you navigate your way through a forest that’s by turns enchanted and haunted. The path is familiar, as if I walked it once years ago, but different, too; overgrown and seemingly impassable in some parts, and unexpectedly clear in others. And as we pick our way through the undergrowth, as we do our best not to trip on twisted roots and sharp stones, I try to remember the lessons I’ve learned from all folktales I used to know.

For example, I won’t make the mistake that Sleeping Beauty’s parents did when sending out invitations to her christening. Unlike them, I’ll be sure to invite the dark fairy godmothers as well as the good ones, because I know that they’ll come anyway, slipping in through back doors and lurking in corners where you least expect them. I’ll let them give you their murky gifts in broad daylight, so that I can look them in the eye while they do so. Then I’ll smile and thank them, recognizing that I have to let life give you the bad as well as the good.

And when I send you out into the world alone, as I know that I will someday have to, I’ll give you something more substantial than bread crumbs with which to find your way back home.

And I won’t make you go to your grandmother’s house alone until I can be sure that you can tell the difference between an old woman and a wolf in a nightgown.

I look at you and wonder what will happen once I’m not there to navigate this forest path with you. I wonder what trolls and goblins and clever tricksters you’ll have to face. Will your monsters look anything like mine?

I wonder what else I’ve passed on to you, along with the shape of my eyes, my love of books, and my brilliantly trenchant wit. What ticking little genetic time bombs lie dormant inside of you? My anxiety? My depression? The weird nail on my right big toe that turns black and falls off every winter?

If and when these things surface, what will I do?

Will I even be able to help you?

And how will I teach you about a world in which you, a white, middle class boy, will have more privilege than most?

And how do I teach you that it’s your job, among other things, to give a hand up to those less privileged than you, when everything else around you will seem to be telling you to grab whatever you can and run with it?

And how do I teach you that you’re allowed to cry, that you’re allowed to feel afraid or weak or inadequate?

How I do I help you decode all of the toxic messages that the world will try to shove down your throat?

What I want for you most of all is a place of safety. I want our home to be a place where you feel safe making mistakes, a place where you have a healthy respect for but never a fear of consequences. I want you to feel safe being yourself, whoever that is. And above all, when you’re out there, alone and afraid, I want you to know that you always have a safe place to come back to.

I will always love you, no matter what.

Photo by Diana Nazareth http://www.diananazareth.com

Photo by Diana Nazareth http://www.diananazareth.com

Checking In

20 Feb

I know that I haven’t written here in a while (SIX WHOLE DAYS, LIKE, YOU PROBABLY THOUGHT I’D QUIT BLOGGING OR SOMETHING), and I just wanted to check in and let you guys know that I’m doing all right.

More than all right, actually. I feel better. Frighteningly, miraculously, tentatively better. It’s so new and so strange that I’m a bit hesitant to write about it yet or even say it out loud – like I could jinx it or something. But I also want you to not worry about me, so I thought I should tell you: I feel better.

I don’t know if I would say that I was happy exactly, but then I’m not sure that “happy” is the opposite of “suicidal”. I’m coming to distrust the idea of being happy anyway – I hear the word thrown around too much, hear too many people talking about how they deserve happiness. But I’m not sure that anyone deserves happiness, you know? There’s a quote from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth that the cynic in me has always loved, and I feel like it might apply here:

You hear girls in the toilets of clubs saying, ‘Yeah, he fucked off and left me. He just couldn’t deal with love. He was too fucked up to know how to love me.’ Now how did that happen? What was it about this unlovable century that convinced us we were, despite everything, eminently lovable as a people, as a species? What made us think that anyone who fails to love us is damaged, lacking, malfunctioning in some way? And particularly if they replace us with a god, or a weeping madonna, or the face of Christ in a ciabatta roll—then we call them crazy. Deluded. Regressive. We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that there might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship. Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.

I’m starting to think that maybe not everyone deserves happiness all the time. Actually, I think I’m just getting tired of hearing people talk about deserving anything – I’m tired of people’s sense of entitlement, their willingness to trample over others in order to acquire something they feel that they deserve.

But anyway, I digress.

I’ve been trying to follow the hospital psychiatrist’s orders and prioritize things that make me happy, and I think that by and large I’ve been succeeding. I’ve started keeping a proper, paper journal again, and it’s actually wonderful to be able to write without thinking about having an audience (except that I basically always think about having an audience, but I’m figuring that no one will read my journals until I’m dead and thus don’t care). I’ve been taking time out of my day to go to hip cafés where I sit and scribble happily in my notebook while sipping a latte, feeling like everyone looking on must know that I am a For Real Serious Writer Lady.

I’ve been doing other things too – things like spending an hour or two at the art gallery, or wandering around Roncesvalles and checking out the cute shops. Today I went to a friend’s place and lay on her couch for three hours, sipping gin and tonics, dissecting Salinger books and watching Star Trek. It was nice – more than nice, really. And I felt like myself, for the first time in a long time. But I also felt guilty.

Let me see if I can explain the guilt. It’s like this: I constantly feel like I’m running out of time. I don’t just mean that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done (although I do feel that way) – I also mean in general, in my life. I feel like I spent too much time fucking off (read: being depressed) in my early 20s and now I’m 30 and all of my peers are ahead of me and I’m struggling to catch up. And I know it’s not a race, but it still feels like one, and I feel like I now have to work extra super hard just to prove that I should even be allowed on the track.

Anyway, what all this amounts to is that I have a hard time doing anything that I don’t view as useful or productive. Even spending time with Theo fits into this category, as I see parenting as a way of creating and shaping an awesome future adult. And yeah, being Theo’s mom is pretty rad, but sometimes that seems more like a pleasant side effect of parenting rather than the main point.

I also feel guilty because it’s like, who am I to get to do all these nice fun things? Like, why do I get to go out and see my friends and hang out in coffee shops while Matt has to stay home and parent? How is that fair? What if he starts to resent me?

Do I actually believe that being depressed gives me special privileges or something?

And then I think, if I were sick with anything else and the doctor’s orders were to take it easy, would I feel guilty?

No, probably not. But if I were sick with anything else, there would be blood drawn, tests run, and hopefully some kind of irrefutable scientific proof that I was sick. But with depression there is no proof, not really. You all have to take me at my word that some days, I feel like dying.

And what happens if you ever stop taking me at my word?

After years and years of talking about suicide but not actually dying, won’t I start to seem like the boy who cried wolf?

I don’t want to lose you guys. Because I love you. Because I’d be lost without you. Because your support has mostly been what’s kept me going these past few weeks.

Anyway, all of this is to say that you don’t have to worry about me, because I’m feeling better.

And that means that, at least for now, I don’t have to worry about losing you.

xoxo

Annabelle

P.S. On a lighter note, just in case you were wondering what a Shrevolution looks like:

shrevolution!

Sometimes I’m Tired Of Being A Mom

4 Feb

“Sleep when the baby sleeps!”

I started hearing it the day Theo was born. Actually, I probably started hearing it way before then, but it’s likely that I didn’t pay much attention. I just filed it under “obvious advice is obvious,” and thought nothing more of it. Of course I was going to sleep when the baby slept. Just like of course I was going to have a natural birth, breastfeed like a champ and have a kid who slept through the night at six weeks. Because, unlike all the other moms in the world, I’d read all the right books, bought all the right products, and participated in a million online discussions about how not to fuck up your kid. I was so set.

I was sure that motherhood was going to be so fulfilling. I mean, yeah, I knew it would be hard, but hard in a being-super-brave-through-tough-times-like-Florence-Nightingale sort of way, not hard in a grinding, miserable, I-hate-my-life way. Surely I would come out of those long, desperate, sleepless nights glowing with motherly love, just happy to have been able to offer my screaming child even a modicum of comfort. Surely I would be happy to sacrifice any and everything for my kid.

Surely I would never, ever resent him.

After Theo was born, people kept reminding me to sleep when he slept. But I didn’t want to; I wanted to stay awake and just stare and stare at this amazingly tiny new human I’d just created. I’d just made an entire new person that had never existed before – how could I be expected to sleep after doing that? Besides, I remember thinking, I’ll sleep later. Because, up until that moment in my life, there had always been a later. Whenever I’d had a long week at work, I’d been able to plan to sleep in on the weekend. I’d been able to look forward to vacations when Matt and I could grab catnaps together between fun activities. I’d always, always been been able to think ahead to a time when I would be able to catch up on my sleep, maybe even take some kind of sleeping aid to ensure maximum restfulness.

When you become a parent, there never seems to be a later when it comes to sleep. You either grab it when you can, or you go without. Not long after Theo was born, I learned the hard way that I couldn’t do the former – when Theo slept, I was too anxious to rest, and when I did finally manage to fall asleep, I was awakened by every. single. tiny. noise he made. I don’t know if it was because I was so fucked up on hormones, or if it was the postpartum depression beginning to rear its ugly head, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t sleep when he slept.

And you know what’s the worst? Not being able to sleep when you are bone-fucking-tired and you know that your kid is going to wake up screaming soon and then you won’t get to sit down for the next five hours.

At some point towards the end of that hazy first week of motherhood, I remember thinking, “When is someone coming to take this baby away so that I can go back to my real life?”

And then I realized that this baby was mine, and no one was going to take him away, and this was my real life now.

With that thought came a bizarre mixture of guilt over wanting to go back to my non-baby life, and blind panic of the “holy shit I have a kid, what the fuck have I just done?” variety.

In all the months I’d spent preparing to have a kid, I’d never fully realized what it would be like to have a kid.

Sometimes having a kid sucks. A lot. I love him, and I love being his mom, but sometimes I’m so tired of being a mom, anyone’s mom. Sometimes I just want to be myself. I want to go back to my old life, the life where I slept in on weekends, watched TV whenever I wanted to, and sometimes spent all day having sex with my husband. It doesn’t help that my life now bears a striking surface resemblance to my old life; I live in the same apartment, wear many of the same clothes, eat the same foods. I even look pretty much the same, except that I’m a cup size bigger than I was (thanks, breastfeeding!). I’m surrounded by reminders of the way I used to live.

It also doesn’t help that most of my friends still, in some ways, live in my old life, staying out late, drinking too much, and going to the bathroom without having a toddler follow them to watch them pee. And I promise that I’m not trying to be all, having a kid is so hard and my non-mom friends don’t get it, but let’s be honest: most of them don’t, really, in the same way that I didn’t get it, either. And I’m jealous that they don’t get it, jealous that they don’t have to watch what they eat or drink or smoke because they’re afraid of contaminating their breast milk, jealous that they can go to bed and not have a whimpering toddler wake them up five times a night, jealous that when they go home at the end of the day, their work is done, while mine lasts forever and ever and ever.

Sometimes I’m so tired of being a mom.

Sometimes I’m so fucking tired. Period.

And you know what sucks the most? Knowing that all of this is my fault. I don’t mean so much in the sense that I chose to have a kid (although that is true), but more that I haven’t done any sleep-training, haven’t tried too hard to night-wean and, at 24 months old, still can’t really imagine being away from him overnight. Know why? Because I’m a wuss, that’s why. Every time I think about sleep-training Theo, I think of all the crying that will be involved, and I wince. I’m not the crying-it-out-will-ruin-your-kid-forever type, but you know what? I just can’t. I’m sorry, but I can’t. Hearing him cry makes me feel like every nerve in my body is on fire. And it’s one thing to hear my kid cry because I won’t let him splash his hands in the toilet; it’s another when he’s crying because he just wants to be held, or sung to, or breastfed.

And that’s why my 24-month-old still sleeps in my room and still breastfeeds pretty much whenever he wants at night. Because I am too tired and too wussy to do anything about it.

I’m tired and you guys?

Sometimes I still miss my old life. A lot.

And that makes me feel really awful.

anne_theo