In the hall of the Gnome King

Pheasant Feathers - David Taylor

Yesterday we bought a Christmas tree, set it up in our living room, went to a pot luck at the girls’ school, and then decorated the tree with all of the decorations we’ve made.

I’m a PTA mom. I have children to enjoy the holidays with. I have a family.

Every day we are growing, and with the hope that peaceful December brings, I daresay getting stronger. I believe we are getting stronger.

The dreamy phase has been paused, and work, and life have sunk their teeth into us, creating some stress and some seriously distracted grown-ups with their faces buried in their computers, but we persevere. I work at being better, stronger, and most importantly, more trusting. This one is the hardest, and it is with real anger that I admit that. I imagine myself free of doubt, and able to sink deeply into the arms of love, and know that work distractions don’t mean the end of the world. My waking brain knows this, but there are still cobwebs that keep this message from being clearly relayed.

Sometimes when I tell my boyfriend some of the things in my head he laughs. Not because he is laughing at me, but because he can’t believe how far his own thoughts and my perceptions are from each other in such moments. I wish I could laugh at this too. Maybe that’s a good way to dismiss such moments, or put them in better perspective.

This has been an incredible weekend. When I can look up and catch secret, special glances from both of my partners each time, I know all is right with the world. We’re listening to Louis Armstrong, each working away in our brightly sun-lit living room, brunch is packed away, and the girls are playing in their now-clean bedroom. The six-year-old is wearing a crazy woolen hat that I own, and matching blue tights with crazy flowers all over them. She has a leather belt with embroidered flowers, where she’s tucked a recently acquired plastic sword. Her fuzzy red and white striped socks match the red and white furry pouch she has slung diagonally across her little self, and she is addressing her father and I as the Gnome King and Gnome Queen. She returns from her epic travels to her bedroom with treasures that she lays like offerings with a bow and a flourish; old rhinestone costume jewelery, feathers, crystals, old coins, and anything else that catches her imagination.

She is a soul-twin, of that I am sure. There are so many moments when I am convinced she can see into my head and my heart. For example, just the other day, she was playing a story game taught to her by a class mate. It goes like this:

“Once, there was a man named Gunkie Dung Gung, and he ate a slug.”

None of us knows what this means, but we have a joke that only children can say the name of this man, because it is unpronounceable to the grown-up tongue. This particular morning though, she changed the game up:

“Once, there was a man named Bookie Boo…”

Bookie Boo was the nickname my father gave me as a little girl. I’ve never told her this, nor have I ever uttered this name in her presence, but there it was. She amazes me every day.

At the pot luck, the children in her kindergarten participate in a little ritual called the Advent Spiral. The teacher lays evergreen boughs on the floor in the shape of a spiral and the path is marked with large shells or crystals or tin stars. In the centre of the spiral are individual white taper candles in fat apples. The children walk with a parent, select a candle, and walking the spiral, place the candle near the symbol that speaks to them. Our six-year-old chose me to walk the spiral with her, and it was so sweet and solemn. She didn’t want to hold my hand though. She led the way, proud and strong, selected her candle, walked with me at her side, and laid it to rest beside a large, beautiful feather.

From the internet:

“When you find feathers upon your path it could be taken to mean that you are on a higher spiritual path (whether you accept it or not), and it may be a sign of encouragement as you philosophically travel on this path.

Finding feathers on your path is also symbolic of having a lighter outlook on life or a particular situation.  When we see feathers in our midst it is considered a message that we need to lighten up, not take things too seriously, and try to find the joy in our situation.”

Light. Joy. Spirit.

Let the holidays begin.

More Mama Love


From my girlfriend’s mama:

Three in the bed and the little one said “roll over, roll over”
They all rolled over and one fell out…
Two in the bed and the little one said “roll over, roll over”
They all rolled over and one fell out…
One in the bed and the little one said “ ROOM AT LAST”…

. .. I’m a sleep on the right side of the bed person…. Middle? – not in a million, trillion years…. I hear you!

Some of my best moments are when I am completely alone. That means I am not accountable to anyone for anything other than to please myself. Remember you too need alone moments and its OK to take them. That’s why partners go on vacation without the kids and away from family and friends.

Yours is a unique relationship and it may take considerable time to feel safe and believe that everything will work out fine. I’m guessing past relationships have taught you that separation can be nasty. I’ve had some experience with that myself. When the right partner came along and it felt so right, I did everything in my power to push it away. Fortunately for me I was not successful. We invest so much time and energy into building relationships that it becomes easier to run and hide and protect ourselves from hurt again.

Your fear may be based on being surrounded by love, whole and complete given freely. As you peel away the layers, the threat becomes greater and you feel more exposed, until you are warmed by the fact that your fear was ungrounded. The bottom didn’t fall out, you were still safely wrapped in understanding, compassion, support, patience and there it is again that word…. Love. You cannot be in a relationship with anybody without compromise.

My biggest fear in this relationship is that the one person who I care deeply about will be pushed to the background. Care taker? Provider? Taxi cab driver? (none of it my business or within my control to change – acceptance is key). There is more to be discovered. You echo my fears in yourself, interestingly I see you in the forefront leading the way.

You can’t change history, only embrace it, learn all there is to know and make new memories. I’m into instant gratification and get frustrated with process, it takes so long to get to the end and when you get there the marker changes so you move forward again through a different process. It’s a lot like piecing a quilt… I hate the process but love the end result!

What happens if one or the other decides they don’t want you anymore? What happens if you decide this is a bad idea and you have been a part of shaking up a generation’s perception of what a family structure looks like. What happens if this is the best thing that has every happened in your lives. What happens if the three of you balance your relationship better than any two-party relationship and become the envy of everyone around you. What happens if the world is changing and as I am discovering, your new relationship is no big deal, everyone is happy, best case scenario. What happens if the girls love you so much that it hurts. What happens if there is another baby/child brought into the family to shower with more love.

About the bed… the purpose is to get a “good nights sleep”, make that the priority – a little cuddle and then draw straws – adios, see you later, bon voyage, … I’d be moving to the futon, love, love, love it. … You can’t think straight or feel well when you are not well rested.

Post or not as you see fit.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference


Arrivals and Departures

Picture 1
I’m standing at the edge of October, and I’m just not yet ready to dip my toes into November. I hate November. I believe it is the saddest, coldest month of all.

My cabaret company just produced and performed our first Halloween show, and I was amused to see how the show took over our entire household. My girlfriend sank her teeth into making some serious props (like a full-sized werewolf pelt), my boyfriend is still picking glitter out of his beard, and the girls are picking happily through the piles of tutus, pirate hats, and kitty cat ears in search of their Halloween costumes. My whole family got in on the pre-show prep action. I just hope it doesn’t grow old soon.

Two of my very dear friends have just had babies. Their first babies. One had a beautiful little girl, and the other a boy. I was at the hospital for the birth of the boy, and stayed in the room right up until she started pushing. She and her husband were incredible. She was stoic and brave, and he was supportive and positive. It was a real treat to be there. I spent the day filled with excitement, anxiety, and something else…something I couldn’t pinpoint until another dear friend texted to ask how I was holding up.

At first I thought it was strange that she would ask after me, and then I remembered why. I think it’s really positive that I wasn’t immediately aware.

Four years ago I had a miscarriage. It was fairly early into my last relationship. We weren’t always meticulously careful because he had told me that his sperm count was really low because he’d survived testicular cancer (I found out later that his previous girlfriend got pregnant the same way.) He didn’t think he could ever have kids, which was fine for me at the time because the place I was in was so dark that things like family and children seemed like a far away dream. I didn’t think I wanted them anymore.

Until my period wouldn’t go away, and until the home pregnancy test was glaringly positive. In that moment, my life changed.

Against all logic I was overjoyed. Timing couldn’t be worse, I had my doubts about the relationship, but I was going to be a mom. Sadly, my ex didn’t share my joy. He made it clear in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want to be a daddy. And so, we began discussing what we were going to do.
Then, the decision was made for me.

When you are in the emergency ward, with an unexpected pregnancy, and you’re leaning on the “we’re just not sure if we’re going to proceed with this “ side of the fence, people could give a shit about you having a miscarriage. It seems that they decide that you must be relieved and proceed accordingly, because hands down, every medical professional and doctor I saw during this week-long period treated me with utter coldness. Except for the technician at the clinic where I had my ultrasound who didn’t bother to read my chart properly, and decided to show me my dying fetus with complete delight.

I was still spotting, there was no fetal heartbeat, and my hormone levels were dropping.

They prescribed a medication that would cause spontaneous abortion in the comfort of my own home. This didn’t work, but DID cause some of the most horrific cramping I’ve ever experienced. The final step was a D & C, which if you don’t know, is a procedure where they put you under general anesthetic and scrape out the contents of your womb. This remains the single worst experience of my entire life.

Instead of taking a girlfriend or my aunt who graciously offered to come with me, I decided to go to the hospital with my boyfriend, who left me there for a doctor’s appointment of his own. (I’m convinced that he got a vasectomy that day, but that’s a separate entry altogether). The nurse who set up my drip had to try FIVE times before she could find a vein, and had no problem scraping around inside my arm to do so. They took away both my contact lenses and my glasses before they wheeled me into the OR so I couldn’t see anything, and I awoke in recovery totally alone, shivering from the anesthetic with only the hand-knit slippers my mom made to comfort me.

In Ontario, they aren’t able to tell you why you’ve had a miscarriage until you’ve had three. Yes, three. After experiencing one, while not even trying to get pregnant, I can’t imagine going through it again, and certainly not twice more.

People say things like “these things are more common than you think” or “it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be problems later” or “it just wasn’t meant to be” but these phrases are totally meaningless, and definitely not helpful.

Maybe it was a progesterone deficiency. Or maybe it happened because the universe knew that a baby would tie me to my ex forever. Whatever it was, it has left me feeling broken.

I want so badly to just be able to celebrate the joys of my good friends, but underneath my genuine feelings of happiness is an aching so deep that I have to fight to keep it hidden in my bones.

What if I’m damaged? What if I missed my window? What if I’m too old? What if? What if? What if?

I’ve always known what kind of life I want to live. I’ve always known the types of things I want to do. Never have I known anything with as much certainty as this; I want to have a baby, and of all of the remarkable things I’ve had happen in my life, I fear that this is the one and only thing I won’t be able to realize.

And so, because I’m so very grateful for the things I DO have, and because I don’t want to live driven by a need to pro-create, I carry on through my days breathing life into new projects and new creations.

When I got home from the hospital the other night, it was late. I said very little to either of my partners and headed straight to the shower. I emerged wrapped in a fluffy terry towel and I lay down beside my girlfriend. She took one look at me and then folded me in her arms while I began to sob. In four years this was exactly the kind of silent, knowing sympathy I needed, but never found when the wounds were fresh. I’ve never felt so loved.

My life is overflowing with riches. I’m surrounded by beauty, and love, and creativity. I have wonderful friends, incredible family, and a home filled with people who love me. I am so full.

But sometimes I feel so very, very empty.

Family Day

LDFDC LOGO 2006 copy(1)

Today we decided to do family things. As a family. All five of us.

We weren’t able to spend Thanksgiving together this year, and though our separate celebrations were pleasant enough, it felt strange and a little sad to be apart. We won’t be doing that again. There comes a time for all of us, if we’re lucky enough, to be able to create our own primary family unit, and for my own well-being, I think the focus has to be on us first.  I think we’re all in agreement here. So we’ll have to hatch a plan for Christmas.

This morning we all got up slowly, then we toddled over to Fran’s for a late breakfast, and then took in Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs in 3d. The girls have never seen a 3d movie, and they were rocked to the core. At one point, the three-year-old reached over and said “Daddy, it looks like they’re in OUR world!”

During our brunch, my girlfriend got a call from her mom, who had finally opened the heartfelt email she’d sent on Friday. We were all on pins and needles, hoping she wouldn’t read it seconds before they arrived on her doorstep for Thanksgiving dinner. They had an epic, but lovely conversation where her mama basically told her that nothing had changed, she loved her just the same, and she was happy for her new found happiness. Her Facebook status today even contained the phrase “You learn something new every day, and it’s all good.” I can’t wait to meet this woman! She also invited me for Christmas day celebrations. I was so happy watching my girlfriend’s face while she spoke to her mother. It was easy to see the conversation was going well. As far as her dad’s concerned, her mom just seems to think that he’ll figure my boyfriend is the luckiest man in the world.

When I turned 30, my boss at the time took me to see an amazing psychic named John Pothia in Peterborough. I don’t put a lot of stock in these things, but it was interesting to hear what he had to say. In fact, it was a pretty incredible experience. He said a lot of very positive things, but two things in particular stand out these days.

Rather completely out of the blue he said “Straight, gay, it makes no difference and the sooner you stop worrying about this, the happier you’ll be.”

Then, at the end of the reading, when I asked him about children in my future, he said “I see you having one biological child of your own, but also other children in a completely unexpected way. Stepchildren, or something like that.”

These people are my family. Our bond gets stronger every day. Our older girl includes me when she speaks of “our family”, and whenever this happens my heart melts a little. My mother sent an email to my partners today wishing them a Happy Thanksgiving, which was really incredible, and next week we’re all piling into my little brother’s condo, so the girls can meet “my giant” (my brother is 6’7) and we can all just be together.

I would never have imagined this for myself. When I thought about my family unit, I always had a notion that it would be a little non-traditional, but I could never have conjured this. Yet somehow I did. We did. I took the time to heal my heart and my head, and here we’ve all found each other.

In restaurants, nobody stares. In our building, the concierge desk is manned by friendly, polite security officers who smile knowingly as we come and go. In the hustle and bustle of this big city we are just another unit of people, and to most of our loved ones, this is just another way to experience life and love.

It might be the greatest joy my life has ever known.

Keeping It In The Cupboard

This is the first image I found when I Googled "inside the kitchen cupboard"

This is the first image I found when I Googled "inside the kitchen cupboard"

Last night I had a heart-to-heart with the male third of my triad. We launched into this seated on the kitchen floor, half tucked inside the cupboard where the Tupperwear is stored, because we were looking for suitable containers for the girls’ lunch.

I am the first in our triad to tell my parents about what is happening in my life. I decided to do this for three reasons:

1.) My mom can read my mind and would have very quickly figured out that something was up anyway.

2.) Once upon a time in my personal history I sort of ambushed her with really significant personal news. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time because she had so much on her own plate, but as it turns out, this is going to be on the very short list of things I regret, probably forever.

3.) My extended family has had WAAYYY too many secrets. My mom was open and honest with me about our family’s skeletons and stories from the time I was old enough to understand the answers to the questions I was asking. I’ve never lived with secrets myself, because I am convinced that they give you cancer.

I maintain that my partners should talk to their families when they feel the time is right. I really do think this is important, but part of me knows I can’t really settle into this, and really learn to feel secure until that hurdle has been met.

I’ve only met my male partner’s parents. Most of the year they live on another continent, but they’ve been in Toronto since August, and we’ve had three occasions now to spend time together. Usually in a crowded, noisy, fairly public situation. They think I’m a dear friend, and by some miracle, neither of the kids have said anything like “Are you gonna sleep over again tonight Schnoo?” or “Schnoo stays at our house all the time” in front of their grandparents. The current strategy is to have these folks get to know me as a Schnoo first, and then when the time is right, tell them the rest of the story. I am skeptical that there is ever a right time to tell your parents that you’ve taken on a second woman, who is a lover to your wife, and who you want to have more children with. Hmmm…

As for the kidlets, they also think I’m a dear friend who stays over. A lot. I suppose that’s right, isn’t it? I haven’t really stayed at the Fortress of Solitude for over a month. In November, the clan will head off continent to spend time with his family. Six weeks of time in fact. I think I’ve been stock-piling my time with them knowing how shitty November will be.

He might tell his parents in November.

So presently, as was the case last night, I am half in and half out of the cupboard. The result is a strange mixture of freedom and sadness. I just want to get it over with, you know? Face any impending shit storms head on. Engage in epic conversations with worried and angry parents now, and then really settle into my life. Our life. No more monitoring photos posted on Facebook by friends, no more pretending to sleep on the couch, no more worrying over what the children may say to their grandparents. I can make a home, we can make a home, both physically and emotionally, and that will be truly sweet.

This has made me reflect on my own familial relationships. My parents are clearly a huge influence in my world, because in my own head and heart I couldn’t really enter into this relationship until I’d told them what was happening. Maybe I seek their approval too much? Maybe I need to sever the umbilical cord, and trust that my decisions are 100% my own, and that my parents will love me whether or not they approve of my choices? I’m happy to report that I think they’re doing really well with everything, considering. My dad seemed his usual self when I finally saw him in person, and my mom, though still trying hard to understand, is making overtures of friendship and camaraderie with my partners. I’m really happy about this. Also, one of my aunts has been incredible, both as a supportive, non-judgemental ear for my mom, and an understanding confidante for me. It delights me that she can talk about God and the various ways that love can manifest with clarity and conviction.

Love like this has made me want to shout it from the rooftops, but that just isn’t very practical in such a situation. Instead, there is a particular Rubbermaid cereal container that I’ve been whispering my devotions into.

The Tribal Council


Nearly twice a week the adult members of my tribe, usually at that quiet time once the kids are finally asleep, sit down sleepily with a nightcap in hand and our latest Genius list to amuse and delight our ears. Inevitably, especially after a series of really good days, a collection of horizontal lines creases up my forehead like a tiny, fleshy accordion.

That’s when the male member of my tribe will gently trace a finger over my brow and softly ask “what’s on your mind”? And I will sigh heartily, and muse silently about whether or not to have the same conversation we’ve had about 1000 times already. Then, because I believe communication will be paramount to this relationship, I launch into my familiar litany:

Will I have to remain a secret forever?
How and when do we tell the girls?
When can we stop pretending that I sleep on the couch?
How much do we care about what outsiders think, and how open can we be with our displays of affection when we’re all together?
How worried are you about other people thinking you are having an affair?
If we decide to have another child what/how do we tell the girls?
Will I ever be able to appear at family functions? Will my family accept you at ours?
What will we do when family members start trying to set me up with other people?

At this moment, I have a three and a half year old in my lap who is licking me like a puppy…

Both of my partners listen patiently. Then we talk through possible scenarios and what ifs. We usually laugh together, and get a bit pensive. I apologize for ONCE AGAIN having to talk about all the same things, but nobody is mad at me. My male partner tells me that only through talking about my fears are we all able to address our worry, and put it into context, and take away some of its power. My female partner usually sits silently listening, but will then look up at me and the calm, quiet of her gaze says all of the words that I need to hear.

In this relationship, more than any other in my life, I am positive that I will realize everything I’ve ever dreamed of. Though we three are all very different, we have the exact same approach to life, and we all want the same kind of experience of the world. We love the same things, from music to food, we’re committed to seeing as much of the world that we can, we realize that beyond family and close friends there isn’t much else that’s truly important. When you take the lid off and look inside, it’s a really ideal diorama. However, the problem with lifting off the lid is that the rest of the world can squeak in. Some of the rest of the world isn’t so thrilled for us.

Something that I read last night stated that what we are doing is challenging thousands of years of the tradition of marriage. I think this was worded more like “flipping the bird at” but I really couldn’t disagree more. In my own Schnooie head, we are kicking it WAAAY old school. Like pre-Christian old school when tribes came together and lovingly raised children collectively. People in those days didn’t claim ownership of children. They were gifts from the gods, and a very serious responsibility for everyone. Am I naive to think that this model has a place in our modern age?

I have a lawyer friend who specializes in family law who is near drooling whenever I talk about my relationship. She says proudly that we are setting a new precedent. After years and years of helping heterosexual couples weed through messy divorces and child custody battles, she believes that we are brave and enlightened.

Last week my partners hosted a dinner party for some of my oldest, closest friends. He cooked a truly elaborate and spectacular Thai feast and she assisted, and turned the house into a lovely, tidy little haven. The girls were at their most charming, and everyone was cast in warm light, smiling and laughing together like old friends. I can’t remember the last time I was so happy.

One of my girlfriends, who has borne witness to my last two big relationships, told me last night that she has never seen me so still, so calm, and so committed. Not even to the man who I went on to marry. She doesn’t comment often on my relationships. She usually is a great ear, but will only give her opinion if pressed. Last night she offered this freely.

I think of my gay friends who have had to deal with outside scrutiny for their whole lives. Who move forward with life and love despite the popular opinion that their existence is ‘strange’ or ‘abnormal’. From the time I was very wee, I realized that I wasn’t like the other kids, and only now, at 33 am I beginning to understand exactly what that means. My new realizations, my new choices don’t change who I am. I feel like this is the next essential layer on my path to self-realization. My life feels ‘normal’ now. The restlessness I’ve always fought with has dissipated. Perhaps it will come back, but for now I’m enjoying this great sense of peace, and this near-overwhelming sense of happiness and belonging. I suppose everything must come with a price, and negotiating the judgements and criticism of the outside world is nothing new to me.

On Sunday I planned and executed the six year old’s first official birthday party. It was a huge success, and I met many of the parents of her school mates, who all seemed like warm, lovely people. We offered no explanation about our relationship, and when two of the moms asked my female partner what our relation was, she said “Schnoo is a very, very dear friend.” The both smiled and shook their heads ruefully and said “Where can WE get a Schnoo?”

I like to think they’d be even more eager to acquire one of me if they knew how my love extends well beyond party planning.

The Falling Game

Last week, my partners and I made our first “out” outing. We went to a baseball game, which I suppose is all full of outs, and innings. And switch hitters, and home runs. Anyway, I digress…

My girl was playing, and her whole team seemed to be “in the know” because while my guy and I sat in the bleachers with their darling three year old cheering mommy on, we were getting lots of curious stares. Nothing malicious, a few nervous smiles, some genuine warm greetings and conversation, but definitely more attention than we would have attracted under other circumstances.

That’s not the point of this story though.

While the ball game was being played, I witnessed another game unfold. My partner would scoot his little girl’s feet so her toes were just meeting the edge of the bleachers, and then he’d have her put her arms out, and close her eyes. As she trembled with anticipation, he would then give her a little push, and then immediately catch her as she erupted in fits of giggles. She demanded he do this over and over, and when he asked her if she was afraid she said “No daddy! You never drop me! Not ever!!”.

I was so moved by this.

My father was the kind of dad who, as I imagine was the case with most of his generation, treated child-rearing like it was my mother and grandmother’s job. (I grew up in a three-parent household). He was pretty hands off, and not really very affectionate. We had some good bonding experiences over music, but to the best of my memory, there were very few hugs, or snuggles, or kisses. As a result, it’s always been strange, and perhaps even a little uncomfortable for me to witness modern daddies being as affectionate as mommies are with their kidlets. Maybe my dad was terrified of being perceived as doing something inappropriate?

At any rate, this falling game filled me with such a strange mixture of joy and sorrow. Joy because I realized that this simple, silly exercise was in fact building layers of trust so deep that this little lady would never even really know where they came from; trust in men, trust in other people, trust in her daddy, trust in taking risks. My sadness came from realizing there was no such equivalent in my own childhood experience.

I loved my partner so fiercely in that moment for having such finely-honed paternal instincts.

It’s been almost 24 hours since I hit ‘send’ on the very difficult, very heartfelt email I composed for my dad after my mom outed me to him. I haven’t heard a peep. I thought about calling, but it just feels too raw, and too hard to form the words. We’ve never really been able to talk about personal things, and I just don’t even know where to begin with this. I feel like the reality of who I am, and the choices I am making  have taken him to a whole new level of uncomfortable where his little girl is concerned.

My mom suggested that I give him space to digest all of the information, and of course I understand this, and respect it. I’m just scared that things will never be the same, and that the special voice that he reserves only for me will be something I never hear again.

I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen my father display a lot of emotion. The first was the week that my Nana, his mom, died. He found her in cardiac arrest in her room downstairs as he returned from his night shift. He attempted to resuscitate her while the paramedics came, but it was too late. After the funeral, we were in the kitchen, and I was in the fridge getting some milk to go with our chocolate chip cookies. He was musing about growing up as an only child, and how his dad died when he was only twelve. He said “I guess your mom and you kids are all I have left now.” The warble in his voice made my throat clench up so hard that I spent an extra five minutes poking around the cheese and condiments to I wouldn’t have to see him cry.

The second moment was when he was about to walk me down the aisle. That moment is the proudest and happiest I’ve ever seen him in relation to me. He suddenly turned to me, squeezed my hand, and whispered fiercely with shining eyes. “I LOVE you.”

I’m still the same me daddy. Somewhere in all of the grown up stuff that’s been layered on is the little girl who used to fall asleep listening to your old records with your giant headphones. I’m still the duck-faced social butterfly who could delight shop keepers with my precocious vocabulary. (A snow-suited six year old me, when told by the variety store lady that I looked adorable declared “I look RIDICK U LEEZ!”) I’m still excited about watching nature documentaries and old Next Generation re-runs together. I still think you’re the funniest, smartest man I know.

I hope you still love me, and will come to embrace everyone else who loves me too.

Uncle Phillippe The Booze Maker

I hate forwarded emails. I usually delete them without even reading them, so when my uncle Don sent me a message with this subject header it sat untouched in my in box for four days.

Last night, while cleaning up my inbox, I noticed it again and something compelled me to open it. There was no message in the body of the email, just a Word document with this article attached.


I’m not sure how legible this is, or if you can read French, but here’s the gist:

My mother’s uncle Philippe was a bootlegger  from about 1940 to 1945.  The article above highlights just one of the times he was arrested and charged $100.00 out of a possible fine of up to $2,000.00 at the time. (We are a charming people, what can I say?)  The photo illustrates the set up he built himself (crafty too), which enabled him to make about 5 gallons of booze daily.

RCMP officer Gary Roy took notes and eventually took the equipment away (and later only resurfaced from his basement for his wife’s prize-winning pot roast on Sunday evenings. the children used to slide food down to him using an elaborate rigging system that involved the former kitty door and a chute constructed with cardboard tubing).

At the time of his arrest Uncle Philippe explained that because he had a big family he did this to put bread on the table. My mother’s family consisted of eleven kids. I wonder if his was bigger?

My grandfather told his sons that he and their Uncle Jonny would help Uncle Philippe with his home-made distillery, and would take the fruits of their labour across the border to the States using the same trails that are part of the family’s sugar bush and maple syrup farm. My mother’s cousin Denis Brault makes the maple syrup pictured below.


My grandfather was very proud of the fact that he could help Uncle Philippe, and received a small share of the profits for his efforts.  Later on, (presumably after the above article was printed) Uncle Philippe built much improved equipment and went underground and continued to make booze. Literally. He had to crawl into a homemade tunnel to work his new equipment and this ended my grandfather’s distilling career because he was just a little too fat to fit in the tunnel (imagine the Winnie the Pooh-like scenario that led to this discovery.)

My uncle advises us to be proud that our forefathers were crooks to put food on the table.

I secretly dream that somewhere on the family property, nestled in the woods along those trails that led to America was a pine structure with an old piano, a bar, enough seating for about 40 people, and a handful of sexy (if not slightly snaggle-toothed) women referred to as Les Belles Soeurs who kept the joint jumping. The place would have a crooked sign over the door, hand painted on a piece of tin that read: Cabane à Sucre, or Sugar Shack.

Insert your own Sugar Bush jokes here.

Spring Cleaning

My mom is one of twelve children. French Canadian Catholic. All of her brothers and sisters are quite close in age, and all remained fairly geographically close. I grew up with a giant tangle of cousins and other relations at each major holiday, which was always a huge celebration filled with food and music.

My grandfather was an alcoholic. I never met him. He died long before I was even imagined, which is another story I hope to be able to share with you one day. As a result, many of his personal demons were passed along to the next generation. Fortunately, most of the family began to deal with this as I grew a little older. My point is that once the Adult Children and Twelve Step started, the parties changed, and so too did the family. For the better, mostly.

My mom and dad are amazing people, with fairly simple needs. My father is brilliant, one of the smartest people I know, but he and my mother have a dormant sense of adventure. My brother and I sometimes joke that we were hatched or found on the doorstep because in many ways we are so unlike them. One of the beauties of a huge family, is that sometimes you can see a lot of yourself in other relations. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

About six and a half years ago, just after I got married, one of my aunts was diagnosed with cancer. The family obviously rallied around her, and this was difficult. She and I were not terribly close, but it was scary to watch all the same. She was tough as nails about her chemo, and her three adult children were really supportive. We thought she would make it, but then they discovered that the cancer had spread.

Almost one year after this aunt’s diagnosis, my other aunt was also diagnosed with cancer. Hers was immediately pronounced terminal, and all that they could do was give her more time through chemo. (It’s funny, as I’m typing this I feel like I’m describing something I saw in a movie, that never actually happened). As my aunt Nicole was dying, my aunt Jackie watched it all unfold, and saw more or less what was in store for her.

Jackie was diagnosed on her birthday. She lived just over a year, and died a week or so after her next one. That was in November. Now you must forgive me, because during that period of my life, the chronology gets very fuzzy, and this sounds extraordinary even to my ears, but if I remember correctly, in January, after Jackie’s death, my mother’s eldest sister was found dead of an aneurysm. If it didn’t happen that following January, it happened the year after. Either way, I’m sure you can imagine the incredibly bleak times we all endured. To top all of this off, my Grandmaman, our great matriarch, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and had to be moved into a home. Everything fell apart, skeletons were tossed out of closets, horrible secrets came bubbling to the surface, and I thought my poor mother would die of a broken heart.

Incidentally, this is also when my marriage fell apart, and shortly after this I started into the toxic relationship I finally ended in March of 2008. Of all of the things that happened during this horrific time, I think Jackie’s death is what affected me the most deeply.

Jackie was the person in my family who made me make sense. In my opinion, we even looked alike. It’s wild actually.

My mother and Jackie were very close, so she was always a big part of our life. She was my brother’s godmother, and they also had a very close relationship. She was beautiful, in a very soft, feminine way. Curvaceous, auburn-haired, she used to tan chestnut brown in the summers in her garden, wearing beautiful sundresses with ample cleavage, swaying to Latin music. I think she had a fantasy world in which her blood was definitely not French Canadian. Her partner of over fourteen years was a swarthy Italian, whom she had a son with; my cousin Benjamin who is really just incredible.

Jackie’s partner was very wealthy when they first became involved, so she lived an extraordinary life with him. They had numerous homes, and spent a lot of time traveling. They were very generous, and always hosted huge parties for our family and their friends. Jackie LOVED to cook. This is where I got my love of cooking from. Every occasion was an excuse to pour all her love and attention to detail into everything she touched; the food, the table. Life was filled with her artistry, down to the absolute minutiae.

My earliest memories of her were of her reading to me. As well as a love for cooking, she gave me a love for books and language. She used to bring me the most exquisite pop-up books, (I still absolutely adore these). When she would read she was so animated, and hilarious, the stories came alive and I became hooked. One of the best books she ever introduced us to was one she bought for her own son called “I’ll Love You Forever”. It’s not a pop-up, but a beautiful story about aging. There is a song throughout the book, and she made up a melody to go with it that she used to sing to us at bedtime, and we began this little ritual in our own home with our own mom:

“I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

She was always singing, and playing the guitar or the piano. There are so many photos of her young and fresh faced, wearing a tube top with her long, beautiful hair over one shoulder, throwing her head back in laughter.

When I was very young (perhaps ten) Benjamin came to live with us for awhile. We were told that his mother was very sick. She had a disease called Alcoholism. My mother explained that it was something that our family suffered from, and some people couldn’t control the amount of alcohol that they drank, and it made them sick, and made them loose control over how they behaved. She said it was very dangerous, and that Benjamin’s father had arranged for her to go to a very special, very excellent hospital in America where she would get the help she needed to deal with her disease. Ben was about four. He lived between our home and his, with his very busy father, who did his best, I suppose, at being there for him. I remember on that first night Ben, my brother, and I all slept together in my bed because he was so scared and upset.

Jackie pulled through, and her life changed remarkably. They ended up buying a beautiful home on Lake Eerie, a place called Morgan’s Point, and this home became the hub for most family events. She had a garden full of vegetables and herbs, a hammock always ready with a duvet and pillows, something wonderful on or in the stove (which often included breathtaking hand made, hand braided Challa bread) her stained glass studio, her sewing room, her painting room, and always music. I felt so alive there. Hands down, the best family Christmas we ever had was at this house. My cousins made a drum circle on that occasion and the whole family went nuts making music. The house was literally shaking with the noise, and there was a raging bonfire outside, overlooking the lake. Magic. I was seventeen.

(This is getting very difficult…)

Jackie ended up leaving Ben’s father. I don’t doubt that he loved her, but he had some issues, and those became too much for her to bear. He also lost nearly all of his wealth in a bad investment, and though she tried to be supportive, he kind of crumpled under the heartbreak of all that. Sadly, what this meant is that the house on Morgan’s point was eventually sold.

Jackie was able to buy her own small house in Welland. It was a modest townhouse, but it was hers, and she made it beautiful, with another fabulous garden. She was unbelievably good with plants, and so creative. She started making these beautiful, folky birdhouses. We all have one, and though it matches NONE of my decor, it is one of my most prized possessions. My friends are usually horrified by it.

She worked for a long while as the cook in a nursing home. She LOVED elderly people, and they absolutely adored her. The management weren’t so fond of her though, because she was also a shit-disturber, and very vocal when she saw that things weren’t being handled well. (Also something I learned from her.) She ended up leaving, which broke her heart.

Fortunately, she was hired by a local nursery. A family-run business, where she fit right in. She created a job for herself designing gift planters of assorted plants. She was over the moon about this job, and she really felt like she had found her niche. The family loved her, and she shared a very special bond with the middle son who has Down’s syndrome.

She also had this burning desire to live in an old church, so it became a fun family quest to try to make this happen. We always indulged Jackie’s crazy ideas, because she had a real knack for setting the ball in motion so that she was able to realize the things she dreamed up (something else I think I’ve got going for me).

Jackie loved monkeys.

Jackie dated briefly, but after Ben’s dad left (when Ben was about 11) Jackie never had another serious romantic relationship.

This was Jackie’s life when she learned, on her birthday, that she was going to die probably within that year.

When I got the news, my husband and I had recently moved back to Canada after trying to settle in the States. Because of September 11th, my Visa was taking forever, and something deep inside me just wanted to be home. We were living in Burlington. My mom called me to tell me the news, and I don’t remember anything after that, but Gordy tells me that I crumpled, and then started making sounds he’d never heard from a person before.

Ben was just 20 when this happened, and was in no position to take care of his mom.

Jackie put her beautiful little house up for sale, and then began giving away everything she owned. I can’t really find the words to describe how surreal it was to watch someone sift through a lifetime of their treasured possessions and hand everything off. I know purging is supposed to be therapeutic, but I can’t believe that applies if you’re doing it because you are dying.

Jackie also began to research palliative care facilities. Her plan was to use the money from the sale of her house, and her possessions to pay for care when she became too weak to care for herself. She was FIERCELY independent. And STUBBORN.

My brother was still living with my folks, and my husband and I were over for dinner when my mom told us she had something she wanted to talk to us about. She and my father were going to offer to let Jackie move in with them, and they wanted to make sure that was ok with us. It was really important to my mom that I understood that Jackie would probably die in our childhood bedroom, and she really wanted me to be ok with this. I said yes immediately, as I couldn’t bear the thought of Jackie dying among strangers.

Jackie resisted the offer at first (of course) but eventually she did move in. My mom’s employer was incredible, and arranged for her to take an extended leave of absence to care for Jackie as long as she needed to. I find it so incredibly hard to describe how selfless and amazing my mother is without getting really emotional, so I suppose it’s good that I’m typing this to you.

I won’t paint a long, drawn out picture of what this arrangement was like. My parents’ house became filled with extra furnishings, and suddenly they had a woman smoking pot every night in their backyard (Jackie had no appetite without it because of the chemo). Her tumours were in her liver and her colon, so eventually it became almost impossible for her to eat at all. Imagine a woman who loved food picking quietly at the meal I had cooked, unable to really even smell food without getting nauseous. She wasted away slowly before our very eyes.

Somewhere in here is where my marriage ended and I moved back to Toronto. I started a part time job at a talent agency, but my heart sure wasn’t in it. I also started the burlesque troupe just prior to my separation. I was fueled by the need to swallow life whole, and I made some fairly rash decisions during that time. Ben was also living in Toronto during that time, and I put him in our shows, and made sure he was surrounded by beautiful, talented women who adored him.

As the end grew closer, there were some remarkable moments. Jackie found a fairly amazing Christian centre for worship, and formed a bond with the female minister there, who she asked to officiate at her memorial. She then set about planning the entire thing from start to finish, with the help of my cousin Jeffrey, who is both charming and eloquent and who would be the m.c. It was absolutely top secret, and we were all told that we could only do the things she had requested of us, except for Ben who was allowed to do (or not do) whatever he wanted.

Also, Ben told me that he wanted to bring her a monkey. A live monkey. Our cousin Linda has always loved and worked with animals, and she had some interesting friends who lived in the sticks who had an exotic animal rescue organization. They happened to have a baby chimpanzee, which she brought to Jackie. Ben surprised her with this, and it was absolutely priceless.

Soon Jackie couldn’t leave her bed anymore. She also needed a morphine drip because the pain was getting intolerable. This was in November, just before her birthday. My father began sleeping in the rec room because my mother had to get up multiple times through the night to dose Jackie. My brother was sleeping anywhere he could so he wouldn’t have to go home.

Jackie made it clear, on one of her rare lucid moments that she did NOT want to celebrate her birthday that year. We gathered at my parent’s house on her birthday anyway, and shared a quiet meal. After supper, we all went up to tuck her in. Our little gathering consisted of my mom, two of my aunts, and my cousin Jeffrey. Jackie woke up and smiled at all of us. (at this point she was completely skeletal. The way she looked will be forever burned into my brain) She began to sing the “I’ll love you forever” song, but she was so week, she couldn’t make very much sound. We helped her, and tried very hard not to cry. Afterward, we said goodnight, and as we were about to leave, she whispered “Hey…aren’t you going to sing me Happy Birthday?” Of course we gave her one more song, then we all clung to each other in the living room downstairs.

About a week later, I woke up and felt very strange. It was a feeling similar to butterflies in my stomach, but different…I called work and told them I wasn’t coming in because I had to go home to Hamilton, then I caught the next Go Train. When I walked in the house my mom said “I’m so glad you came home today.” The air in the house felt like it was humming. My father and brother were both at work, and so it was just my mom, one of my aunts and I in the quiet of the house. The only sound that could be heard was from a baby monitor in the centre of the room. My mother was told by the home care nurses that this was a good idea to monitor Jackie’s breathing. It was terrifying because the sounds were not human, and every now and then they would just stop, and we would all hold our breath and wait to hear if they would start again.

Dinner that evening was quiet, and somber, but strangely warm. Both of my parents kept telling me how glad there were that I was home, and I felt the same.

I slept in my mom’s room that night. When we were kids sleeping in my parents’ bed was such a comforting treat. This was a strange role-reversal where I felt like I was comforting my mother. My aunt slept on the cot in Jackie’s room, so she could give her any required morphine injections. It was difficult to fall asleep. I felt as though there was nothing else in the world except for what was happening under that roof.

At about two am I woke up because it felt like the window I was beside was thrown open and a cold wind was blowing through the room. I realized I was dreaming and I fell asleep again. At two thirty my aunt came to wake us because Jackie had died.

Ben was in town that night too, at his father’s. He tells me that he had just gotten home from a bar, and was outside smoking before going in to bed, when he heard, very softly, his mother call his name.

That night, that entire day, made me believe in the idea of god again. I felt incredible power at work here, something so much greater than me, vibrant all around my family and I. I’m not sure what that means, as I still don’t identify with organized religion, but it restored my faith in SOMETHING.

Jackie’s memorial was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. There were SO many people there who really loved her. And the chapel was FILLED with the most glorious plants and flowers. She had my cousin create a gorgeous slide show to Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World (yeah, a bit cliche, but I STILL can’t hear that song now without needing to take deep breaths) My cousin Jeffrey was a fabulous m.c. and Jackie asked me to read a poem that was read at my Nana’s funeral(my father’s mother who Jackie was very close to). It is by an American poet called Henry Van Dyke:

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says “There, she is gone.”
“Gone where?”
“Gone from my sight. That is all.”
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at that moment when someone says “There, she is gone”
there are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout –
“Here she comes!”

Ben decided to share “She’s Only Happy In the Sun” by Ben Harper. He wanted to play and sing it live, but was fairly certain he wouldn’t get through it.

Watching Jackie die changed me forever. Every single day of my life I am grateful. Sometimes I am tired, sometimes I wallow a little in my own melancholy, but no matter what is happening, I am so, so glad to still be in the world, trying to savor every rich experience. Whenever I feel joy, or see beauty in the world I think of Jackie, who taught me so much about the riches that are everywhere, and I try to see things for her. I try to taste for her, hear for her, laugh for her, and love for her, simply because I can.