School of Mom

Things my children have taught me:

  • The importance of play, even for grown-ups
  • How to inject new life and meaning into household tasks/chores
  • A whole new pleasure in cooking for (and with!) my family
  • How to view everything like it’s fresh and new
  • How to slow down
  • How to lower my expectations of perfection (from myself)
  • How to be okay with not being on time sometimes
  • How to be creative and make art every single day
  • To enjoy sewing!
  • To be thrifty and frugal
  • Patience that I never thought I’d have
  • How to laugh at myself
  • To turn inward and really work on my own struggles
  • To respect money and resources
  • That I want to be a writer, who writes books for them to enjoy
  • To be reverent and terrified of the passage of time
  • That there are one million outlets for my imagination
  • That their opinion of me is the only one that matters (after my own)
  • How to melt away my hard exterior
  • To (always try to) speak with love and respect even when I’m feeling frustrated or tired
  • That their ideas, insights, theories and notions are often more touching, profound, brilliant and pithy than those of most adults I know
  • That I am a good mother and dedicated parent
  • How to (strive to) make them feel how loved and cherished they are all of the time
  • That I belong somewhere, to someone
  • That my family, in all of it’s quirky, evolving, unusual glory is the most important thing in the world to me
  • That their amazing, delightful, beautiful selves are proof positive that I am good and doing something good for the world

35 Days

Today I am 35 weeks pregnant and have 35 days left to go.

Last night I had a dream that the clinic that helped us get pregnant called to tell me that my trial fertility run was over, and that my abortion had been scheduled and they were ready to inseminate for real. I was shocked and horrified and I turned to both of my partners, but they were nonplussed by the news and took me to the hospital for my appointment, asking me what else I expected. I kept pleading with them, with doctors, etc to just wait out the next month so we could have this baby, but everyone kept telling me “That’s not the way it works.” Finally I faked needing to use the bathroom to make my escape and woke myself up, but felt so profoundly that my dream was real. Needless to say, there was no going back to sleep for me. It was 3:00 am.

My Babycentre pregnancy app tells me that I have 35 days left to go. Last week I would have told you that felt like a lifetime. This week I can tell you it doesn’t feel like enough time.

I don’t think I’m a good parent. More accurately, I know I’m not the kind of parent I would like to be. I’ve been working really hard in therapy, and with my own reading and research to unlearn a very deeply ingrained way of thinking that was largely instilled by my paternal grandmother who helped raised my brother and I; this idea that children and adults are not equals, and therefore don’t receive the same kind of respect; this notion that being stern and needing control is equal to good discipline; the “because I said so” school of thought. I would venture that many of my peers were raised the same way I was, as this seemed to be the North American standard of our generation. We weren’t unloved, but we realized we had a very different place in the hierarchy of our households, and we were constantly reminded that this place was below the adults.

The Daddy in my family today was raised a very different way. As he tells it he was constantly spoken to with respect and love and patience. He always felt valued and important. There was nobody barking commands at him, and every request was punctuated with a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Sounds Utopian, no? Mama S had about ten good years of witnessing this kind of parent/child interaction through Daddy’s family before her babies came, but here I am in year three of my massive learning curve, and I feel like I’m always getting it wrong.

So yeah, maybe my body has done a great job with growing this tiny man for the last 8 months, but what the hell happens once he’s out in the world? How can I possibly get my shit together enough in 35 days to be the kind of parent I’d like to be and do great justice to the lives of not only my bio offspring, but the two amazing stepdaughters I’ve been blessed with?

How with lack of sleep and raging hormones do I find greater depth in my seemingly shallow reservoir of chilled out patience? How do I switch off the need to control the children’s actions (so they don’t hurt themselves, others, or god forbid develop unhealthy habits) and just really relish in their experience of childhood?

How do I prove to my partners in 35 days that I am worthy of the monumental task of parenting? How can I stop sounding like my stern grandmother when I’m not having a great day? What can I do to help the people around me relax and trust that I’m growing and changing and learning and that I’m not going to become perfect overnight? I need the benefit of the doubt to be able to grow, just as my precocious, wily, headstrong six-year-old does.

How do I push through all of this fear and trust myself enough to let my body take over the task of bringing this baby into the world? 35 days just isn’t enough time.

The Wild Geese

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
call to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
Mary Oliver

This week in Schnooville

We adopted a six-month-old bunny. After conclusively deciding that my man is only mildly allergic to rabbits (a very hilarious trip to the Menagerie Pet Store involving a rabbit face-rub was our scientific study) our tribe decided it was time for our first pet. Floppy was the first rabbit I discovered with my lady on Kiji, after the kids had been tucked into bed. Her family was near by, and had made the sad decision to give her up because she was terrified of their terrier. Terriers were bred to hunt small game and rodents. Sigh. They described her as gentle, fun-loving, eager to be pet and stroked, mostly litter trained and adorable. Their photos supported the adorable theory, and she came with her massive cage and all of the goods for a very reasonable price. A steal, really. I sent a note and the next day we went to gather her up. The children decided to call her Ella because she is a lovely mottled grey, and elephants are also grey. She is as affectionate as described – perhaps too much. She keeps making chortles, giving me little nips and peeing on me. Based on my bunny research, she is trying to do what rabbits like better than carrots. Ella will be spayed on Friday which should help with her marking and garlic-smelling poo. So not okay. Nothing I read told me her crapola would smell like cooking. Feeding her more parsley only made it smell like French cooking. Hmmm…rabbit stew. Just kidding, I’m already quite in love.

I have the weirdest cold. One day I’m just a tad sniffly, the next I can’t talk, am hacking up a lung, and wondering whether I might be expelling brain matter from my nose. The cold arrived before the rabbit, so I’ve dispelled the possibility of my own allergies. I’ve cleared my social calendar completely and am behaving like what my friend Natalie would call a “nana” – like a contented old lady who takes naps and sips tea by the fire.

I discovered the amazing poet Mary Oliver through the lovely Liz Green – thank you Liz! I’m hungry for her words like I haven’t been in a long time, and look forward to reading more of her work.

One of my ‘Besties’ (a title reserved for my very closest friends) is relocating to Los Angeles. He’d already moved far away to Montreal, but his lovely Toronto girlfriend kept luring him back for visits. Now they’re shacking up and heading off for new adventures. I’m thrilled for them, but he will be missed. I can only hope that they will follow through on their plans to settle in Toronto permanently.  Spring has me thinking of babies, and I’d like to rear all of my young with my friends who I love so dearly close by.

I’m trying to do good and right by the ones I love. I’m taking big steps, reaching out, and reaching in. This week I came to realize how profound one of my big-time low moments in life has affected my present tense. When you have royally fucked up, there are always consequences. My former tendency was to run, under the guise of sparing others from the misery that I decide that I’ve caused them. Grown-up Schnoo is willing to stand and face the music and do whatever it takes to make things as amazing as they can be. It’s abso-freakin-lutely terrifying to stare down the barrel at your own weakness and stupidity. I want to crawl out of my skin or disappear in some moments, but there is such immense power and tremendous love in humility. I wish to foster humility in my girls, because I was only able to embrace it after smashing my head repeatedly in the same spot over and over again. I’m still learning how to really embrace the humble openness that seems to consistently make magic. Nothing is scarier than being that open for a Schnoo like me. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. I’ve been whispering my feelings into the Internet for several years now. Naming them to real-live people is another matter entirely.

With that, off I go to my head shrinker. We’ll have lots to discuss today. I’ve fueled up on a giant maple flavoured coffee while I’ve been typing here. I hope your Hump Day is happy. Tell someone you love something brave and beautiful that is deep inside your heart, and then congratulate yourself for being so bold.

xo

Eternal Sunshine and My Spotless Heart


2011 is off to a very, very good start. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

My world is being put back together very carefully, and with so much love. I am so very lucky to have another opportunity at forging the life I’ve wanted with the clarity and awareness and understanding that I now have. That we all have. We are truly blessed.

So many of you reading this have reached out to me with your own stories, and your encouragement, and your love. I really can’t thank you enough. I have no secret solution for solving matters of the heart, but I can try to distill what I have learned, and what I am learning.

You cannot love or be loved without the willingness and ability to make yourself vulnerable. The more you fight that, the more you will encounter strife, grief, and heartache. It’s terrifying to open yourself up, particularly once you’ve learned a thing or two about life, but nothing less will work. Especially when the one who loves you is willing to open themselves up for you. Vulnerability is essential, and sometimes impossible. It’s a constant struggle to check in and identify what is preventing your heart from opening up.

Trust is paramount. You simply have to give it over. For me, giving over trust was like stretching my hamstrings. It fucking hurts, and at first I could only stretch a little bit, and the next day I’d be aching. Eventually, as my body realized I wasn’t going to rip or tear anything by trusting, the hamstrings of my heart began to relax and I could go further and further. I was hurting myself and everyone around me a lot more by tensing up and resisting. Strains, sprains, and tears everywhere. Not pretty.

Trust cannot be taken away. At the end of the day, trust is not about hoping people won’t take advantage of your vulnerability and annihilate you. We really have no control whatsoever over what other people will do. Trust is about trusting yourself and your heart to survive anything life might throw your way. Trust is about knowing you have the strength and tenacity to rise above whatever difficulty or heartache you face.

Love is everything. When you find someone who loves you well, for who you are, who believes in you and inspires you and makes you want to be a better person, hang on to them. The way to hang on to them is to constantly strive to know and understand yourself. Understand what you are contributing to the relationship. Understand how you might be damaging the relationship. Know yourself. Love yourself. Understand that you are worthy of their love and that you won’t make a mess of it.

Don’t listen to fear. Though it may roar louder than the angriest ocean, it is almost always false. The more you have to lose, the louder the ocean of fear. Only you can quell it. Take a deep breath, do a quick survey of what is actually happening around you, understand the difference between what is happening and what you are afraid might be happening and tell fear that it is simply reminding you of how much you have at stake. Then be grateful for the abundance that you have and move forward. This will have to be repeated on a daily basis for some of us.

Communicate. Open your mouth and breathe out the things in your heart and your mind. Breathe them to your loved ones, breathe them to your confidantes, breathe them to your diary, breathe them to yourself, breathe them to the Universe. Speak with love. Listen with love. Listen with more love to the things that are difficult to hear. Accept difficult truths and embrace them with love. Understand why they hurt you and understand the call to change. Answer the call with love and resolve. Understand when words should be ruminated upon and when they should be shared. Share with calm and with peaceful intention.

Banish anger. It will eat you alive. Hear it, look at it, hold it in your hand and then send it away. Find other words to describe that feeling, peaceful words that open the door to transformation. Anger is a wall that is high and mighty and will shadow you from the healing light of love.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m sure there will be many more lessons to share. I welcome your lessons too. Share them here, in comments, so we can all grow wiser.

In the background some chilled out trance music with a smooth beat and a sitar woven through its rhythms acts as a backdrop. This quiet moment where I can share my heart with you feels like an awakening.

I know what I want. It’s what I’ve always wanted. I have it, I accept it, and I am eternally grateful for it. This is my time to shine. Are you ready? I finally am.

All the Bells Rang Out, There Were Tears of Joy and Laughter

In the face of so much uncertainty, I know this is true; I never want the holidays to feel like this again. This has always been an important time of the year to me, and I want to honor it without so much confusion and sadness for all of the rest of my days. Perhaps that’s naive, but this is how I feel today.

Initially, I thought I would forgo the extended family Christmas Day feast, a tradition I’ve observed since birth, every single year of my life. I’ve been so emotional lately, and putting on a brave face seemed totally impossible. I was also worried that I would be facing judgment, which is difficult on a good day.

As the days leading up to Christmas unfolded however, my reality shifted once again, and I found myself yearning for something as familiar as the sight of my own face in the mirror.

I felt great calm wash over me as I arrived at my parents’ house, my house for my entire life. Right after walking through their door, I knew I had made the right decision. As the day would unfold, I knew I was where I should be, but I also knew that four important people were missing. I felt their absence as profoundly as I felt the waistband of my jeans constricting around my turkey-filled belly.

It was a beautiful day in my aunt’s beautiful home. My family were generally warm and unobtrusive. I was so happy to play and snuggle and dance with my cousins’ beautiful children. We went through a spell where there were no little ones for several years, but now my generation is pro-creating and there is tinkling laughter and the exuberant energy of little monkeys all over again. I still hope that one day my own little ones will be part of that music.

Yesterday I learned that members of my family are actively reading this blog. I also learned that reading this blog seems to create some confusion for some of them. For those of you who are confused about who I am writing to, or for, or about I would like you to just ask me. Please send me a note. Please don’t speculate and create further confusion and possibly hurt feelings. This made for a really awkward moment on an already difficult day for me yesterday.

I have great love, respect, and admiration for my collective family. They have survived a lot of pain and loss. Despite this, we continue to come together. For me, that impulse comes from honoring the idea that there are some constant, deeply rooted things that tie us to the earth, and add meaning and purpose to our lives. Family is one of them.

Watching everyone spontaneously rock out to Boney M after dinner, with percussion instruments in hand or babies in arms reminded me of where I come from. Life is deeply painful, incredibly confusing, and exquisitely beautiful all at the same time. I come from people who deeply understand this.

The people who make us can’t fully know us, the people who know us can’t really make us. Our hearts belong only to ourselves and are our beautiful worlds to govern.

This heart of mine needs family. Deep, true, real family that I can belong with and belong to. This is at the top of my New Year’s wish list, and will shape the woman I am in 2011.

I hope that your Christmas Day was warm, and that your Boxing Day will suitably be devoted to eating too much, drinking too much beer, and watching the Canada/Russia game. This is what will keep me rooted to the world today.

People shouted ‘Let everyone know, there is hope for all to find peace.’

Chrysalis Life, Day One (Morning)

Bailey's Winter Coat

I drifted in and out of sleep, waking only once with the panic of feeling like I was having a bad dream (and that dream was in fact my own reality). Instead of being woken by my step-children, I was greeted with a tiny dog that looks like Samuel L. Jackson crash-landing on my sternum. In a flurry of slimy dog kisses and the faint aroma of corn chips I regained my bearings and rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

I quickly realized that my low-carb, high protein lifestyle does not match my parent’s peanut butter and jam toast for breakfast routine. At least coffee is universal and the grocery store is on the corner.

As I woke up slowly, instead of packing tiny lunches, I opened email after email from concerned friends. Some who I’ve known for years and who really are my family, some who I barely know at all who wanted me to know that I was loved. This made it possible to imagine the next few steps in my day with some measure of lightness in my heart.

My parents insist on keeping their home like a meat locker. Thankfully, it’s a cozy home, despite this sub-zero climate. I donned my fingerless mitts to hunch over my computer like some red-headed lady Bob Cratchet.

Cooking is path that leads to happiness. There will be cooking in my future, and I’ll be diligent about sharing recipes here. We can call it the “Broken Hearted Feast”. Then I’ll publish it like a cookbook and make millions of dollars. Don’t steal that.

(LATER MORNING)

I’ve just done some actual Coquettes work to set a client up with everything she needs to convince her board to let us show our tatas in Owen Sound. Fingers crossed.

Before that, I took my mom’s ridiculous little dog for a walk around my old hood. He has a new winter coat which he seems to be terrified of. I think with firm patience I’ve broken him of this paralyzing fear, because his little legs finally got moving and he was able to make a poop. Tiny victories.

This simple stroll around the block was a snapshot of my entire life in The Hammer. My parents have had the same house since 1975. I think their refusal to move had less to do with economics and more to do with their desire to give my brother and I the stable home that neither of them really had as children. They live in a complex of townhouses, and I think they are one of three original homeowners who remain here from the glory days.

When they bought the house it was a promising little suburb surrounded by orchards and farm fields. Now, it’s The Hood. Two clusters of low-income apartment buildings sprung up, and the neighbourhood deteriorated accordingly. This place went from a sea of kids who were similar in age to a land with few children who could speak the same language, blue collar workers, and immigrants who are trying to get a foothold in their new life.

As I grew older, the parks and playgrounds got meaner. Used condoms, hypodermic needles, shifty, greasy men in dark corners, strangers with slow-moving cars, crack dealing public school thugs and angry girls with babies in their tummies became more and more common.

The family-minded neighbourhood die-hards stood their ground. There is a handful of home owners who insist on maintaining pristine gardens that they tend with love (my mother is one of these). One of the low-income housing buildings even takes up a tenant fund to create a glorious landscape of hollyhocks and snapdragons each summer. Some of the people in this neighbourhood have real pride in where they live, and a great number of our neighbours are one welfare cheque away from having nowhere to live at all.

Welfare cheque days were the most dangerous in this neighbourhood growing up. From what my parents have told me, the new immigrant population has now outnumbered the white trash conglomerate, so things aren’t as exciting as they used to be. I clearly recall Friday evenings spent dodging beer bottles soaring from balconies across the street, parties that lasted two days with the strains of Waylon Jennings floating from open screenless windows, and the police here, in multiples of three from 9pm until way past my bed time.

And yet, my mom and dad managed to carve out a little oasis.

Now, my old school is an adult learning centre. The public school next door to where my school was shares it’s massive field with a recreation centre and fully-loaded playground, and there’s a cricket field, soccer field, and cluster of benches under a group of trees where the Sikh gentlemen sit conversing and sharing food year-round when the weather permits.

Bailey wore his powder blue and silver coat, and I floated along my route to school and my usual trick or treat route in a cream-coloured Calvin Klein coat, a brown Valentino scarf, my Coach sunglasses and a vintage fur hat. The men I encountered were ruddy-faced middle aged white men who seemed to have nowhere to go, and the women I saw were scale tipping ladies and girls who poured themselves into jogging pants with words written across the bum. And of course the Sikh gentlemen.

My point here is not to establish status. My designer articles are things I loved that are the product of my extraordinary ability to source mad bargains. I don’t spend insane amounts of money on clothes and accessories. My point is to illustrate that in this place, since I was six, I have always felt like a stranger in a strange land. How many other twelve year olds have had a collection of signature scarves?

As has always been the case, I felt everyone I encountered eyeballing me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve grown so comfortable in the spotlight in my adulthood? Embracing the attention has certainly been useful in my life.

Our therapist made a very astute observation yesterday that I hadn’t even arrived at yet. My experience of the relationship I was trying so hard at was that no matter what, I would always be the outsider. I’ve felt like an outsider for my entire life and have experienced some real pain and feelings of inadequacy as a result. My struggle to belong has shaped me as an individual, and the pain of struggling for acceptance in the context of my relationship was simply too great.

I regret deeply all the hurt my honesty has  caused. There are so many people who, when faced with their own difficult truths, can brush these aside and exist in a place of denial and trying to maintain status quo. I did this once, for four years, and I promised myself to never, ever do it again. It pains me to think of my loved ones feeling so sad. We tried to do something quite unique, and we discovered some amazing things about ourselves, the complexities of love and relationship dynamics, and each other as individuals. I don’t feel like it was a failure, but rather a very necessary journey for us all. I hope that through the pain we now face each of us can hold on to that. I hope that we can hang on to the love we’ve found, in the way that mature, open-hearted, self-aware individuals can do. I also hope we can shelter our children from the complicated nature of adult relationships and cushion them through these transitions with all of the love and security they deserve.

Sadness is like a deep well right now. I have to make sure to hang on to the bucket.

I’m making dinner tonight for my parents and my brother. Here’s the menu:

Roasted Sweet Potato

Sauteed Green Beans

Braised Red Cabbage

Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Shallots

Perhaps some time in the kitchen will make me feel a little bit better.

Updates to follow.