Tag Archives: theo

Dispatches From The Dark Side

1 Feb

Trigger warning for talk of suicide

If I was writing about almost any other health issue, I wouldn’t hesitate to post this.

If I had diabetes, or cancer, or liver failure, you wouldn’t feel strange reading this.

If I started out by saying, “I went to the hospital last night because I had the flu,” no one would think twice about this. No one would call it oversharing. I wouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.

But I didn’t go to the hospital because I had the flu.

I went to the hospital last night because I wanted to die.

I mean, I say that, and that’s how I felt, but the truth is that I didn’t really want to die, did I? If that had really been my intention, I would have just done it. I wouldn’t have talked about it, wouldn’t have told anyone, and certainly wouldn’t agreed to go to the hospital.

Intention is tricky, though, slippery, even, all tangled up with impulse, drive and desire; I don’t think I’ll ever understand what it is that I actually want. It’s like peeling an onion, folding back layers and layers of truths and semi truths, never able to really get to the core of how or why I feel these things.

I’m not writing this because I want your pity, or comfort, or advice (although you can offer them if you want to).

I’m writing this because I want to be honest. I want to be like someone who paints their self-portrait and doesn’t spare any details; I want to show you my pimples, the dark smudges under my eyes, the crease that bisects my forehead, evidence of a lifetime of squinting because I didn’t want to wear my glasses.

I’m writing this because I don’t want to be embarrassed or ashamed anymore, and for some reason saying these things publicly makes them easier to bear. It’s like racing to tell all of your darkest secrets before your ex-best friend can betray your trust; you get to keep some kind of control over the situation. Sort of.

I’m writing this because I want to talk about it, and this is the only way that I know how. I’ve developed this online voice, this sort of character that’s both me and at the same time an amplification of me, a louder, brasher, more combative version of myself. It’s easier for me to write about this in this character; I would never be able to look you in the eyes and say these things.

I promise that we don’t have talk about this in person. The next time we meet, we don’t have to refer to what’s written here.

But right now I do want to talk about wanting to die. If you’re not up for that, I totally give you permission to stop reading right now.

I wish I could tell you why I want to die, but I can’t. The truth is that I have a good life, maybe even the best. I’m married to someone that I love a whole lot, someone who loves me in return. My son is amazing; I’m not even sure that there are words to describe how great he is. I enjoy my work. I like where I live.

On paper, I should be very happy.

But still, I want to die.

I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you what it feels like.

It feels like all of the days ahead of me are grey and blank and empty. Not empty in the sense of possibility, but empty in the sense of being hopeless.

It feels like wearing a shirt that’s rough, scratchy, uncomfortable, and that shirt is my skin and I can’t take it off.

It feels like discovering that all of my favourite foods suddenly taste like cardboard, but I eat and eat and eat anyway because I need something to fill all that empty space.

It feels like standing in direct sunlight, feeling in on my back, my shoulders, my head, but never having my brain think sun. All it can think is heat. Like there’s this distinction, this appreciation that I can’t make anymore; everything is broken down to its most basic elements. Nothing is good or beautiful – everything is awful and dull in its own way.

It feels like the life-support system in my brain failed, and no one bothered to install a back-up. So now the ship is going down and the lights are flickering and we’re running out of oxygen and everyone is panicking.

It feels like being tired all of the time, like never being able to get enough sleep. I just want to sleep.

I do things. I go out, and I spend money on things that I used to enjoy, in my former life, the life that, on the surface at least, is nearly indistinguishable from the one I live now. I don’t enjoy anything anymore, though, and spending money that on things that don’t make me feel better only adds another layer of shame and guilt onto what I’m already feeling.

At home, at night, I feel trapped. The lights are too bright, the air too dry. I can’t sleep. I can’t read. I can’t watch TV. I can’t write. I can’t talk. I pace and pace and pace, trying to get rid of the prickly, irritable energy that’s building up in my veins, in my bones. I think that I could feel better if the apartment was clean, if the dishes were done and the bathroom sink scrubbed, but I don’t know where to begin, so I pace some more.

I just don’t want to feel anything anymore. I don’t even want to feel the good things. I just want to go to a place that’s beyond feeling.

And I know that suicide is selfish. But I also know that if I was dead, I wouldn’t care about anything anymore. I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about the people that I’ve left behind.

But I can’t help imagining Theo, what it would be like for him if I were to die. How he would cry and cry for me. How he would never be able to understand that I wasn’t coming, not ever. I think about how I would break his heart, think about the fault lines that I would trace along that tiny, powerful muscle, cracks that would break over and over for the rest of his life and never, ever heal.

I don’t really want to die.

I just want to sleep and sleep and sleep forever.

But it sort of amounts to the same thing, really, which is why I went to the hospital last night. Because I love Theo and don’t want to leave him. Because even if I couldn’t feel anything anymore, I would still find some way to miss him.

I live in a big city, so there’s a special hospital just for head cases like me. It even has two sites, one downtown and one in the west end. I went to the one downtown.

They lock you into the ER waiting room. There is a sign on the door that says AWOL Flight Risk. I wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t think they would like that.

There was a woman screaming in a room at the end of the hall.

There was a young man in a suit brought in by two police officers.

There was an unconscious woman brought in on a gurney. Her feet were bare.

There was a girl on the bench next to me, lying with her head on her mother’s lap. Her father was there, too. He said,

“You said that at the last minute something told you not to jump. What was it?”

But she didn’t answer.

While I was there, two code whites were called, which means that there’s a violent patient somewhere in the hospital. One of them, according to the man on the intercom, had a weapon. Both calls sent the ER staff into a flurry, running for doors and phones and elevators.

And I thought, I don’t belong here. I am not having an emergency. These people are having emergencies. I am someone who is fine, only a little sad sometimes. I am coping. I get up every day, go to work, take care of Theo. I am fine. I just have to be stronger, better, less self-indulgent.

And I wanted to leave, but I didn’t.

Finally it was my turn to see the doctor. She was young, kind. Her outfit wouldn’t have looked out of place in my closet, and I coveted her glasses.

She listened to me, took a few notes. Recommended a few things. She said that her main prescription was to try to prioritize things that make me happy.

I’m not sure how easy that will be to execute, but I like it anyway. I’m strangely pleased that instead of having me try another pill, a different pill, she handed me a piece of paper telling me to prioritize my own happiness. It seems like something that would happen in a book, or a movie, and I’ve always wanted to live in a book or a movie.

So how do I feel now?

Raw, I guess.

The same, I guess.

Maybe a little more hopeful, so that’s a start.

I still can’t stop reading Anne Sexton’s Wanting To Die.

I still can’t stop reading Ted Hughes’ book Birthday Letters, or poem his Last Letter.

But maybe I’ve read them a few times less today than I did yesterday.

I am trying to find some happy way to end this post, but I can’t think of any. I want to offer you some kind of hope. Then again, if I had cancer, or diabetes, would I feel that same urge to comfort you, to take care of you? Maybe. I don’t know.

I will leave you with this, one of my favourite quotes from the Bell Jar. It’s as true for me now as it was for Sylvia Plath when she wrote it more than 50 years ago.

“Don’t you want to get up today?”

“No.” I huddled down more deeply in the bed and pulled the sheet up over my head. Then I lifted a corner of the sheet and peered out. The nurse was shaking down the thermometer she had just removed from my mouth.

“You see, it’s normal.” I had looked at the thermometer before she came to collect it, the way I always did. “You see, it’s normal, what do you keep taking it for?”

I wanted to tell her that if only something were wrong with my body it would be fine, I would rather have anything wrong with my body than something wrong with my head, but the idea seemed so involved and wearisome that I didn’t say anything. I only burrowed down further in the bed.

I would rather have anything wrong with my body than something wrong with my head.

But since I do have something wrong with my head, I’m glad I’ve got all of you to listen.

For anyone who is in a state of mental health crisis, here is a link to the Mental Health Crisis line. You can also call Telehealth, if you’re in Ontario. If you are experiencing any kind of depression or are having suicidal thoughts, please, please call one of the numbers above, or else contact your doctor or local mental health crisis line.

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Now You Are Two

18 Jan

Dear Theo,

You are two.

That shit is crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are so great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mama

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

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

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

7 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

We started making plans for the weekend.

That was obviously our first mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She just stood there, silent. Finally she said,

“You want some extra paper towel?”

“Yes, please,” I answered pathetically.

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

“You look green.”

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

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

Understatement of the year.

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

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

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

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Winter

30 Dec

I am not a winter person. Given my choice of the seasons, I’ll pick summer every time. I love the heat, and I even love the humidity. I like it when stepping out my front door feels like walking into an oven. I like the sun, the warmth, and the long evenings that are perfect for picnicking or taking your kid to the park or drinking sangria on patios with friends. I love lying in the grass and reading for hours on end. I love summer.

Winter is a tough time for me. It’s not just the fact that it’s so cold that, after coming in from a long walk, I have to stand in a scalding hot shower for fifteen minutes until I feel warm. It’s not just the fact that my muscles ache because the cold makes me tense up, makes me walk around hunched over in a desperate effort not to freeze to death. It’s not even the fact that it’s already too cold for me, and I know that it’s going to get colder still. It’s more than that, and it’s subtler than that. It’s the light, both the dim, chilly quality it assumes this time of year, and its waning quantity, meaning that we only get to see the sun for a few paltry hours every day. Even though we’re past the solstice and, logically, I know that the days will be getting longer from now until midsummer, it still, somehow, feels as if the days are growing shorter and darker as we head into January.

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.

Part of it might be the fact that everyone seems to be making their year-end posts, tallying up all their successes and bundling them together into one neat little blog post package. I thought about doing one of those, but I know that I won’t. Every new year always seems to me to be like a fresh, white sheet of notebook paper, but by December 31st it’s so marked up, so wrinkled and worn, so covered with revisions and smudges and holes where I rubbed the eraser too hard that I can’t make sense of it anymore.Rather than dig through my year to find material for a year-in-review post, I just want to throw the whole thing out, baby, bathwater and all. As 2013 approaches, 2012 is still too close to give me the perspective I would need, and all my hurts and failures feel too fresh for me to be able to dissect them. Even my successes seem slippery and hard to pinpoint. The other day, as I was watching the hundreds of comments going up on the article I wrote for the Good Men Project, I messaged my friend Audra and said, “Is this what success is supposed to feel like? Because I feel awful.”

Sometimes succeeding feels just as bad, just as anxiety-inducing, as failure does.

Mostly I just want everything to be over. I don’t mean that I want to die or anything like that, but just that I’m so tired of trying to guess what’s coming next. I’m so tired of trying to figure out what to do next, how to take my next step, or which direction I need to go. I want all of my experiences to be over and done with so that I can sift through them and sort them into boxes labelled “good things” and “bad things.” Then, once I’ve done that, I’ll be able to sit back, write a life-in-review post, and judge whether, when looking at the big picture, the scale tips more towards happy or sad.

I’m so tired. So goddamn tired. The worst part is that I can’t even begin to imagine when I won’t feel like this. Maybe next year? Or maybe when Theo’s in grade school? High school? When he moves out? I can’t help but feel like it’s partly my fault, or even mostly my fault, for not sleep-training him, for breastfeeding for so long, maybe even for choosing to have a kid in the first place. I love my son, but I don’t think I can function like this for much longer. Then again, what would not functioning even look like? Will my legs just give out one day, my knees buckling under my weight, and I’ll have to lie on the ground until I’m rested enough to get up again? How do these things work?

If you asked me what I needed in order to feel better, what it would take to make me feel happy, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you. That’s what’s hardest about all of this: feeling as if it’s whatever it is that’s going to save you is totally beyond your control. If there is something that can save you. If that something, should it exist, ever manages to find you.

Sometimes I think that all of the little things that happen throughout my day, the meals, the conversations, the rote interactions, are nothing more than activities designed to get me from one minute to the next until I can finally lie down in my bed at night and sleep (or not). When seen this way, a life is nothing more than a string of days, days made up of pointless experiences meant to propel you through time. I mean, of course my experiences aren’t meaningless. Or maybe they are. I’m not sure.

I’m trying to think of some kind of life lesson to put in here, some kind of moral to this story, but I’m coming up totally dry. Maybe you can try to find your own moral, because sifting back through this mess of feelings seems like so much work. Everything seems like so much work, to be honest. I feel as if I’ve been sucked totally dry of any and all will or ambition or desire.

The winter here is beautiful. The snow, and the quiet, and the bare trees are beautiful. There’s a hush this time of year that you never feel in the summer, and I know I would miss it if I never felt it again. I don’t hate winter, and I don’t even necessarily need for it to be over, like, right now. I don’t even think I would like to live somewhere that was hot and sunny all year long. I just need something to pin my hopes on, something to look forward to, something to hold out for. I need something to focus on when everything seems so dark and cold that I don’t think I can stand it for one minute longer.

I just need to know for certain that spring is going to come.

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Home for Christmas

24 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

theo_tree

Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School

14 Dec

Every weekday morning Matt and I go through the same routine of getting Theo up and fed and dressed, making sure that he’s ready for another day at daycare. Every morning I kiss him goodbye, and, if I’m lucky, I get to hear him tell me that he loves me. He doesn’t really know what that means, of course, but he knows that it’s something that we say to each other, something that makes people smile. He knows that I like to hear it.

Every morning I watch Matt push Theo’s stroller out the front door and down the sidewalk, and I feel good, because I know he’s safe. He’s safe with Matt, and he’ll be safe at daycare. I know that I won’t have to worry about him all day long; I will be able to devote all (well, most) of my thoughts to yoga, writing, and all of the daily tasks that are part of managing a yoga studio. I can focus on things like drafting invoices, digging through endless paperwork, and updating our studio website and blog.

I don’t worry about Theo because his daycare is a good one. We chose it carefully, after polling local friends for recommendations and doing exhaustive online searches for ratings and reviews. Theo loves his daycare, and I know that the staff and other kids there love him. He’s always excited to be dropped off in the morning, running into his room without even a kiss goodbye for Matt, and in the evening he often doesn’t want to leave.

It would never occur to me that daycare wasn’t a safe place for him.

Just like it almost certainly didn’t occur to parents in Newtown, Connecticut to think of their children’s school as an unsafe place for them.

As you’ve probably heard, 27 people were killed in a shooting today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

At least 20 of those people were children.

An entire classroom is still unaccounted for.

Although there isn’t much information available, sources are saying that most of the shootings took place in a kindergarten classroom.

Why on earth would someone want to shoot five year olds?

Seriously, why?

This is the kind of thing that my brain has a hard time processing. Less than two weeks before Christmas, 20 families have lost a young child; countless other families will spend the holidays in the hospital with sons and daughters who are fighting for their lives or else enduring tedious, painful recoveries. I don’t know why the fact that it’s nearly Christmas, and the fact that tonight is the 7th night of Hanukkah, makes this tragedy seem, if possible, even more devastating, but somehow it does.

Maybe because I can’t help thinking about those 20 families, and how every December from now on they’ll have to watch the world around them celebrate while they are forced to confront painful memories of their child’s death. I can’t help imagining how every time they decorate a tree or light a menorah, they will have to think about that one person who isn’t there to hang ornaments or add their voice to the blessings sung as the candles are lit. Every time they draw up a shopping list for holiday gifts, they’ll notice that one name is conspicuously absent. Every festive meal will have one chair empty. The holidays will never not be a time of death and mourning for them.

What is especially awful is how commonplace mass shootings are starting to seem. You start to wonder if you have room in your heart and your mind to remember all of the victims, regular, every-day people who went to school, or the mall, or a movie theatre and thought that they were safe. You start to wonder if anyone is ever really safe, and then realize that you can’t live your life thinking that way. You start to build walls, emotionally and mentally, as a form of self-protection. You don’t think about it because you can’t; after the initial shock, you try hard to forget, knowing all the while how lucky you are to be able to do so, while others have to live through constant reminders of what they’ve lost.

In the days to come, there will be a lot of talk about gun control; people who are for it, and people who are against it. The NRA will issue its typical statement, something along the lines of, It’s not guns that kill people, people kill people. Conservatives will talk about the second amendment. Liberals will be told not to “exploit” this tragedy to further their own agenda; they’ll be shut down with cries of, Today is not the day to talk about gun control.

As a friend of mine said today on Facebook, those people are right. Today is not the day to talk about gun control. That day passed many years and many homicides ago.

Gun-related violence is a problem, one that is only growing worse. How is it exploitative to look at a tragedy like this, dissect it, and try to figure out how to prevent it in the future? How is it exploitative to point out that, without a semi-automatic pistol, the shooter would not have been able to injure or kill nearly so many people? How is it exploitative to wonder what laws need to change in order for something like this to never, ever happen again?

And yeah, you can say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but there’s no way that a guy with a knife or a sword or a bow and arrow would have been able to create this kind of tragedy.

I’m glad that Theo is still so young, because that means that I won’t have to try to explain this to him. I can hold him close, and cover him in kisses, and cry quietly into his hair without him wondering why; at not-quite-two, I’m sure he’ll just write it off as another weird mom thing. And if he does happen to notice that I’m not really myself right now, well, he’ll be able to forget about it soon enough. Sadly, there’s a part of me that wonders how soon it will be until I can forget about it, too.

But forgetting makes it easier to avoid having to deal with what’s happened. It makes it easier not to ask the difficult questions, or make difficult decisions. Forgetting means that we don’t have to change anything, that we don’t have to be confronted with this kind of rage and sorrow until the next shooting happens.

Forgetting guarantees that this will happen again.

And to anyone who thinks that I’m trying to take their rights away from them, I’ve got news for you: I’m not.

I just want all of our kids to be safe in all of the places where they should be safe. They deserve that much, at the very least.

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Red Fraggle is a Feminist Icon

13 Dec

It wasn’t until I learned that I was pregnant with Theo that I suddenly realized how very little I knew about, well, babies. I mean, in theory they’re great, but in practice they’re kind of terrifying. Like, I was going to be responsible for what now? I could barely even take care of myself, never mind another person, and one who was tiny, helpless and incontinent at that.

Being the book-o-phile that I am, my solution was to immediately run out and buy a ton of books about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. I also went online and joined a bunch of mommy communities, which were, um, interesting. After sifting through all of the information available to us, Matt and I began to try to come up with the Best Plan Possible for raising our kid. Because, you know, that’s totally a thing that’s going to work out.

Babies just love plans, and are definitely going to turn out exactly the way you want them to.

Sorry, I’ll wait until your done laughing your fool head off before I continue.

One of the things that Matt and I decided was that we were going to follow the AAP’s guidelines and not expose our children to any television under the age of two. That wouldn’t be overly challenging, we figured; after all, we barely watched television ourselves, and surely it would be easy to watch what little we did after our bundle of joy went to bed. Anyway, we thought, what benefit was there in letting our children watch television? Especially when the world around them was so fascinating? Surely we would be happy to engage and entertain our children at all times. Surely we would never, ever want a short, say, half-hour break from them.

Of course, one of the first things you do when you become a parent is break all of your own rules. You quickly learn that there aren’t very many hard and fast rules, and the few that do exist weren’t created by you. Sure, it’s great to be consistent and back your words up with actions, but when you become a parent you learn how valuable flexibility can be. It’s easy to be an expert on childrearing when it’s all still theoretical; once you have an actual, physical, screaming baby, it’s often advantageous to revisit your policies and re-evaluate what your priorities are.

All of this is to say that we totally caved on the no TV thing.

When Theo was fourteen or fifteen months old, we started watching short YouTube clips of Fraggle Rock at bedtime. It was nice to spend 10 minutes every evening curled up together on our big bed, watching nostalgic television by lamplight. Afterwards, we would talk about what we’d just watched, and then I would nurse Theo to sleep. It was a pretty great way to end the day.

In the course of revisiting one of my favourite childhood shows, I realized something: Fraggle Rock was pretty fucking progressive with regards to gender roles.

I also realized that Red Fraggle was probably my first real feminist icon.

When it came to strong female role models, I was actually a pretty lucky kid. I had my mother, who was and continues to be a kick-ass inspiration, a woman who always worked outside the house, raised three kids on her own after my father left, and recently purchased her first home after spending year and years saving up for a downpayment. I had my grandmother, a women who also worked outside the home for her entire adult life, and who once took her employer to court because he wouldn’t allow women to wear pants in the workplace. I had my aunt, an Egyptologist who travelled to the Middle East for archeological digs. I had my great-aunt who, as a missionary to Niger in the 1960s, dedicated her life to educating girls. I definitely wasn’t lacking for real-life women to look up to and be inspired by.

But I wasn’t able to relate to those women and their accomplishments in the same way that I could relate to an adorable red-headed muppet who was about the same size I was and dealt with a lot of the same issues I did.

Red Fraggle is just awesome. She’s smart, funny, opinionated, competitive and likes to be in charge. She speaks her mind, like, frequently, and the other Fraggles almost always listen to what she has to say (even if they don’t ultimately agree with her). She’s adventurous, athletic and generally pretty fearless. She doesn’t wear pink (except for her hair ribbons). Oh, and she’s sarcastic. So delightfully sarcastic.

She also has some of the best lines spoken by a female character in a children’s show, like, ever. The following is from season one, episode fifteen, ‘I Don’t Care’:

Red: Hey Mokey! They gave me somebody else’s lines for this scene!

Mokey; Uh, let’s see, you say, I know my prince will come and rescue me.

Red: Who needs a prince? I can rescue me!

Mokey: And then you say, hark, I think I hear the hoofbeats of his fiery charger.

Red: Oh good grief.

[a brief interlude of dialogue between Mokey and Boober]

Red: But I don’t have to be rescued, Mokey! I can climb on this trellis! Better yet, I’ll swing on this vine. Why don’t we call it the Tale of the Triumphant Princess?

What’s great is that Red has no issue being a princess, she just wants to be a princess who can take care of herself. She’s totally fine with being feminine and girly, but she doesn’t want to have to rely on anyone else. Instead of waiting around to be rescued, she wants to take charge of her own destiny – a pretty admirable trait.

Red challenges traditional gender roles, both openly and tacitly. One of the best things about Fraggle Rock is that the other characters are totally fine with her behaviour. Sure, she can be abrasive and obnoxious at times, and yeah, she has a hard time admitting when she’s wrong, but these aren’t presented as being character flaws because she’s female; they’re presented as being negative traits because of the impact they have on herself and other people.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Red is the best swimmer in Fraggle Rock. Better than any of the boys, even.

The neat thing about this show is that it’s not just Red who challenges gender roles; it’s Boober and Wembley too. It’s presented as being totally fine for Boober, a male Fraggle, to prefer to stay home all day washing socks and cooking. It’s also fine for Wembley to “wemble”, i.e. waiver with indecisiveness. That last one is especially interesting because a lot of Wembley’s “wembling” comes from a place of not wanting to pick sides when his friends argue and, ultimately, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s pretty rare for a male character to be shown as being so openly emotional. Rare, but awesome.

Mokey and Gobo, the two remaining Fraggles in the main cast of characters, are more typical of their genders: Mokey, a wispy poet who wears long flowing robes and speaks in a vague, dreamy voice is the sort of den mother of Fraggle Rock, and Gobo, bold, adventurous and a natural leader, spends his days exploring the rock and coming up with escapades for his friends. They participate in breaking down gender barriers, though, by letting their friends be who they are and encouraging them to do the things they love. They never ask Red, Boober or Wembley to behave in a certain way because of their gender; they only ask that each of them treats the others with respect.

Anyway, I guess it’s clear that we’ve totally, unapologetically broken our rules about television. We still don’t watch much of it; mostly just Fraggle Rock and Mister Dressup (okay, and sometimes Jay-Z videos, but only because Theo specifically asks for them). Children’s television, especially newer shows, are still pretty much a foreign country to me, one that I’m sure I will someday have to explore. Until then, I’m happy with my Fraggles and the lessons they’re teaching my son. For example, swimming before breakfast is great, music and dancing are a necessity, and boys and girls are totally, happily equal.

Sounds like utopia to me.

Red

Odds and Ends

28 Nov

Just a few quick things:

1. I have another post up on Shameless Magazine’s website. It’s called Rape Culture in Popular Culture and includes hot pictures of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Something for everyone!

2. I am now a regular contributor to Shameless Magazine’s blog, rather than just a guest poster. YUS. WRITER CRED.

3. In the wake of Savita Halappanavar’s death, many people have been wondering if there’s anything they can do to help other women who might be in her position. The Abortion Support Network helps women travel from Ireland to the UK in order to get abortions. They provide financial support, emotional support and accommodation for Irish women seeking abortions, and are a pretty awesome organization.

4. I love, love, love this article from Vice, You’re a Pussy if You Think There’s a War on MenEspecially this part:

“Yeah, no shit men are “pissed off” about “competing” with women. It’s pretty simple—decades ago, lazy men didn’t have to worry about talented women taking their jobs because they were largely relegated to being housewives or teachers or nurses. Now that women can dictate the terms of relationships and don’t need to latch onto a man as soon as possible, they aren’t willing to start pumping out babies and taking care of a household the way some guys would like. Boo-fucking-hoo. Cry me a river.”

Haaaaaaah.

5. I actually cannot stop listening to this song right now. Frig, I hate winter.

6. My kid is hella cute:

An Open Letter to Margaret Wente (please stop perpetuating gender stereotypes)

23 Nov

Margaret Wente wants me to know that I don’t care about my son.

Well, not my son, specifically; she thinks that I don’t care about any boys. Or, at least, any “real boys”, whatever that might mean.

See, Ms. Wente recently wrote this lovely and super-balanced article for the Globe and Mail about the gender gap in education. For this piece, she interviewed the principal of Upper Canada College (one of our country’s most prestigious boys’s schools), two of his colleagues, and the executive director of the International Boys’ School Coalition (a not-for-profit coalition of schools that promote the “education and development of boys world-wide”) – so, all people who have a vested, financial interest in promoting the idea that boys need to be educated separately or differently from girls. She did not interview anyone who does not make money from boys-only education. See what I mean? Balanced.

It’s a fairly well-known fact that, percentage-wise, less boys are entering university than girls, and that more boys are dropping out of high school. Margaret Wente, and others like her, argue that this is because Canadian education today favours the learning styles of girls over that of boys. However, I find it interesting to note that the percentage of males obtaining a university degree has, in fact, increased by 5% since 1991 (though admittedly the percentage of females has increased by twice that amount), and the high school drop out rate for both males and females has been steadily declining for the past 20 years. Also interesting to note is that the gender gap is much smaller for those enrolled in college – there is only a 2% difference between the number of male and female college students. So what, exactly, am I trying to prove with all these numbers? That things maybe aren’t so dire as Margaret Wente makes them out to be, because according to her the situation is pretty dire. See, Margaret Wente thinks that we’ve reached some kind of boy-ocalypse that will certainly end with the extinction of males in academia.

Ms. Wente wants us to believe that women have “stormed the gates of medicine and law” (which may or may not be true – it’s hard to say, because she provides absolutely no sources for any of her claims), but interestingly she neglects to mention that a heavy and persistent bias against women in science still exists, or that most law firms are little more than old boys’ clubs. Ms. Wente wants us to know that,”In the most prestigious programs at some of our leading universities, the gender ratio has reached 70:30″, although she totally neglects to tell us what those prestigious programs are, and which leading universities offer them. It’s kind of hard to argue with someone who provides you with no reference for her “facts”, but I will say that my department at university (Classics) was overwhelmingly male. It’s possible that my program just wasn’t prestigious enough, or that Ms. Wente doesn’t consider Dalhousie to be a “leading” university. Who can say? I mean, other than Ms. Wente, that is.

Anyway, after a whole bunch of hyperbole, Margaret Wente finally gets down to brass tacks and explains what, exactly, she’s trying to get at: she feels that our school are not addressing boys’ needs in the classroom. Fair enough! So, what, according to Ms. Wente, are those needs?

Let’s take look, shall we?

“Boys’ existential issues are different from girls’. For a boy, the two most important life questions are: Will I find work that’s significant? And will I be worthy of my parents?”

Huh. That’s funny, because those things are both really important to me, too! Ms. Wente neglects to mention what the two most important “life questions” are for girls, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she believes they have something to do with marriage and babies.

“When boys themselves are asked what they need, they say: I need purpose. I need to make a difference. I need to know I measure up. I need challenge. Above all, I need a meaningful vocation.”

Well, that makes sense, because those are all things that are definitely not very important to girls. I mean, except for the fact that I would say that most of these are the driving forces in my life.

‘Boys also need to imagine themselves in heroic situations. When girls are asked about Vimy Ridge, they say, “Whew, it must have been horrific.” When boys are asked, they imagine what they would have done if they’d been there. “Our most powerful assembly is on Remembrance Day,” says Mr. Power. “Every boy is thinking to himself: How would I have measured up?”’

Well, I’m sure that that has nothing to do with the fact that we live in a culture that glorifies violence and war, right? Also, and this might just be my vagina talking, I tend to think that “horrific” is a pretty accurate description of Vimy Ridge.

Boys love rituals, trophies and tradition. Those also make them feel part of something bigger than themselves.

None of those are things that girls like. Ever. Girls hate working to achieve something, and if they do somehow manage to stumble upon an achievement, they definitely don’t want a trophy for it.

So far, I’m kind of having a hard time seeing what Ms. Wente is getting at, but then she decides to really lay it out for us. The problem with boys and education is that we’re not allowing them to be manly enough.

Many commentators – men as well as women – blame male culture itself for the problems with boys. In their view, what we need to do is destroy the death star of masculinity and all the evil that goes with it. What we need to do is put boys in touch with their emotions and teach them to behave more like girls.

This argument might make some sense – if you’re someone who believes that masculinity is nothing but a social construct. But people who care about real boys know that’s not true.

See? I told you that Margaret Wente doesn’t think that I care about real boys!

Time to get real, you guys. I’ve been pretty flippant up until now, but I have to tell you, it makes me pretty fucking angry that Margaret Wente likens understanding and acknowledging your feelings to behaving like a girl. First of all, I don’t think that there is any way to behave “like a girl”. Second of all, I think being “in touch” with your emotions is an excellent idea for anybody, regardless of their gender. Third of all, I am so fucking sick of people equating breaking down gender barriers with making boys “behave more like girls”. How about we just stop insisting that people fit into narrowly-defined gender roles?

The funny thing is, it’s those gender roles that are responsible for so many of the issues that Margaret Wente is complaining about.

Here are some examples:

The dominant narrative around difficult boys – at least in the public school system – is that they’re unteachable, unreachable, disruptive and threatening.”

But why doesn’t she question the fact that we live in a culture that puts value in boys behaving in a threatening way? Why doesn’t she wonder how, in our fucked-up view of masculinity, we equate violence with power?

[Women have] all but taken over pharmacy and veterinary work.

Gee, do you think that’s maybe because those career paths have come to be seen as more typically feminine? Do you think that there’s a chance that less boys are entering those fields because they’re afraid of compromising the masculinity that Ms. Wente praises so much?

Before the Industrial Revolution, boys spent their time with fathers and uncles, often engaged in strenuous physical activity. Now they spend their time in the world of women, sitting behind desks. If schools threw out the desks, they’d probably be a lot happier.

It’s interesting to note here that Ms. Wente fails to mention that before the Industrial Revolution it was only boys who permitted to attend school. And guess what? Schools back then included desks as well. In fact, I would argue that, in the past, formal education involved far more sitting at a desk than it does today. And you know what? If we’ve come to equate the idea of school as being part of “the world of women”, then that gender stereotype is likely one of the reasons boys aren’t thrilled with being in school.

Look, I’m not here to argue with the idea that boys are lagging behind in our educational system. I’m not here to say that things don’t need to be changed, or that I don’t believe that boys develop differently from girls; having watched my son and his peers I know that, for example, girls tend to have an easier time with language, whereas boys excel at spatial awareness. I’m not even against the idea of educating boys and girls separately (although I would be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns about the equality of the education they would receive). What I am saying is that I don’t think that re-inforcing gender stereotypes is what is going to fix this. In fact, I think that those gender stereotype are what got us into this mess.

What if, instead of having this be a battle of boys vs. girls, we use this as an opportunity to find a way to meet each student where they are. Can’t we engage our students as individuals, rather than saying that the whole curriculum has to be rejiggered to benefit one or the other? Is there any way to find a curriculum that will be the perfect middle ground? Or will we constantly be going back and forth between uh oh now the girls are doing better, no wait now it’s the boys, no wait the girls without ever finding a balanced way to address the subject?

I hope that when Theo starts school, his strengths and weaknesses aren’t treated as being boys’ strengths or boys’ weaknesses; I hope that they are treated as his own individual issues, his own successes and failures, and that his teachers are able to see past his gender and appreciate him for himself.

That’s what we all want, isn’t it?

On Faith

20 Nov

A few years ago, when we still lived on the east coast, Matt and I drove to Prince Edward Island for a long weekend. We booked a room in what was maybe the coziest bed and breakfast of all time, and in spite of the raw, grey November weather we were ridiculously excited by the chance to explore and get lost in a city that wasn’t our own.

Matt was still a student back then, and I was making minimum wage working retail, so little getaways like this were few and far between. This meant that I’d planned for our three day mini-break with the same focus and attention to detail that others might apply to a two weeks tour of Europe. I bought a guide book and filled it with highlighter marks and post-it notes. I spent hours poring over travel websites, trying to plan our every little detail of our trip. I talked to (at?) Matt endlessly about the things I wanted to see, trying to convince him to use the highlighter and post-it notes with as much enthusiasm as I did. My excitement grew to such a level that I was basically banned from mentioning the words “Anne of Green Gables” or “Gilbert Blythe” in his presence.

One place that I knew I definitely wanted to visit was the All Souls’ Chapel, which is attached to Charlottetown’s St. Peter’s Cathedral. All Souls’ Chapel is designated National Historic Site and, I learned from my guidebook, a good example of the High Victorian Gothic style of architecture. I especially wanted to see the interior of the chapel, whose walls feature sixteen paintings by local artist Robert Harris. The only problem was that the chapel was only open during services, and the only service held in the chapel was evensong. We decided to sneak into the back and ogle the artwork during Saturday’s evening service before heading downtown for a romantic dinner.

Late Saturday afternoon, Matt and I fell asleep on our room’s giant, king-sized bed. We woke up to find that it was dark outside, and realized with a start that it was nearly time for evensong. We thought that if we hurried we might still be able to make it. We were wrong, a fact that we realized as soon as we stepped into the chapel’s entryway and heard someone chanting inside.

We peeked in through the door, and before us lay one of the loveliest, heart-in-your-throat sights I’ve ever seen. The room was lit by just a few candles, leaving most of the chapel still in darkness. The flames flickered and occasionally grew strangely, eerily tall in the close chapel air, throwing grotesque, menacing shadows on the painted walls. In the middle of this little cave of light stood an old priest, his long robes faded to a greenish-black and his collar slightly wilted. He was all alone, this priest; no one else had come to evensong. Still, though, he stood in front of the lectern and recited from the huge crumbling book that sat there, repeating the same words he must have said on a near-daily basis for years and years and years. They were nice words, too – the text of the Anglican evensong is strikingly, intricately beautiful, a sort of poetry, in a way.

I thought about this man who, in spite of his lack of parishioners, went on with his service and turned it into a private communion between himself and his god. I wondered what he thought of the words that he was sending out into the darkness, and what personal meaning they might hold for him. I watched this man, who, unaware that he was being watched, slowly wended his way through the service, speaking at length to a god who never seemed to answer him. I thought to myself, this is what faith looks like.

I grew up in a pretty secular household. My mother usually dragged us to the local United Church on Sundays, but that was more boring than it was religious. I spent my time there sprawling out on the shiny wooden pews, making up stories about pictures in the stained glass windows and harassing my mother with whispered demands to know when Sunday School would start. Sunday School meant a craft, a game, a snack, and little else. Oh sure, we would read Bible stories, but they didn’t seem to me to be much different from Grimm’s fairytales, or the stories found in my giant Hans Christian Andersen book. Meanwhile, my father, an avowed atheist, would stay home to sit in the basement and burn incense while listening to classical music on vinyl.

I went to a Catholic school, so I did receive some religious instruction there, but because I was Protestant, no one really thought that it was necessary to indoctrinate me. I was often left out of things, either because my teachers didn’t think it was appropriate that I be included, or because they thought I didn’t care. I was curious, though –  and to be fair, who wouldn’t be when your classmates’ religion means that the girls get to dress up in lacy white dresses and partake in a secret ceremony to which you are not invited? After my class did their first communion, they got to eat the strange, flat, holy bread and drink real wine – meanwhile, in the United Church, there was no special initiation ceremony, and our communion was nothing but regular bread and boring old grape juice. School made the Catholic religion seem mysterious, fascinating and a little dangerous, whereas my time at the United Church had taught me that that institution was the opposite of all those things.

Super secret confession time: I have a thing about churches – a dark, guilty, secular thing. I love churches, especially old ones, especially Catholic ones. The right kind of church makes me feel quiet and awed and sort of holy. Maybe it’s because I love history, or maybe it’s the antiquated architecture. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for symbolism and ritual, or maybe it’s my love of Latin. Maybe I’m a closet Catholic. Whatever it is, it made me drag Matt into church after church when we went to Paris; it made me stand in the middle of Sacré Coeur Basilica, eyes closed and totally blissed out, listening to a choir of nuns chanting, well, I’m not quite sure what, but whatever it was, it was beautiful.

If I were Catholic (which I’m not), I would basically be the worst Catholic ever. I’m pro-choice, I use birth control, I had sex before marriage, and I think men and women are equal. I hate the Catholic church’s backward stance on pretty much everything, and I can’t stand the Pope (although, much like Kate Beaton, I have a great deal of fondness for JPII):

You know what’s terrible, though? Even though I know that the Catholic church is awful, even though unspeakable things have been done in its name and its leaders have been complicit in terrible crimes, I still love a lot of things about it. I love the singing, and the smell of the incense. I love the big old stone churches with their colourful windows and dark, mildewy corners. I love the priest’s fancy outfits, and the slow procession down the aisle at the beginning and end of every mass. I love going into an empty church and lighting a candle for the sick, or sad, or deceased. I love the tacky religious statuary. I love communion, even though one of my grade school teachers told me that if a Protestant eats a host that’s been blessed by a priest, it will burn a hole in their tongue. I love the idea of midnight mass, of staying up with a group of strangers until way past my bedtime; there’s something so ancient and lovely about staying awake with a group of people, waiting together amidst wreaths and bows and candles and music to make sure that Christmas Day is, in fact, going to come.

The thing is, if I’m a bad Catholic, then I’m an even worse atheist. Even though I know, logically, that there’s nothing out there, that science and evolution explain life on this planet, not some faraway magical spirit with a beard and a white robe, I still sort of believe. Even though I know that religion is awful and whatever good there is in the world comes from people, not from some godly presence, I still sort of believe. I’ve tried really hard not to believe. I’ve dabbled in other religions; like most people, I had a pagan phase in high school which involved chanting nonsense in the woods and spelling magic with a k. My childhood best friend was Jewish, and I tried my hand at that, too. But I still, embarrassingly, kept coming back to the Catholic church.

Why is this? I mean, the fact is that I disagree with their stance on, well, just about everything. Public religious displays make me deeply uncomfortable, and people who try to preach at me annoy the crap out of me. Once, a few years ago, Matt and I went with his mother to a Good Friday service at the Catholic church in Keswick, and they did this bizarre thing where they brought out a giant crucifix and made everyone line up and take turns kissing it. People were looking at Jesus and sobbing, I kid you not. I wanted to yell out, SPOILER ALERT BUT GUESS WHAT YOU GUYS HE GETS RESURRECTED THREE DAYS LATER. It was ridiculous. But still, I sort of believe.

We had Theo baptized in the Catholic church, and my reasons for this were pretty lame. I wanted an excuse to dress him in a frilly white dress and throw a big party for our family; I guess we could have had a special Baby Transvestite celebration, but a baptism seemed like something my grandmother was more likely to understand. I also know that he will likely go to Catholic school, and I don’t want him to feel left out like I was. Another thing is that in a weird way I think that it’s important to raise a kid with religion, so that they have something big to question later on, when they go through their philosophical existentialist phase in high school. Also, I sort of believe, so there’s that, too.

Sometimes I think about Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, and how Sarah, the unfaithful wife, becomes strangely, almost unwillingly religious. There’s this really beautiful passage near the end of the book, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it really resonates with me:

I believe there’s a God— I believe the whole bag of tricks, there’s nothing I don’t believe, they could subdivide the Trinity into a dozen parts and I’d believe. They could dig up reasons that proved Christ had been invented by Pilate to get himself promoted and I’d believe just the same. I’ve caught belief like a disease. I’ve fallen into belief like I fell in love.

Mostly I just wish that I believed in something, anything as much as that Anglican priest on Prince Edward Island did.

Plus, you know, Theo looks really, really good in a dress.