Category Archives: Family

Who Are the People in YOUR Neighbourhood?

A couple of days ago, a woman I know only because we follow each other on Instagram, had a baby. This is her second – she now has two boys which of course I think is great because I also have two boys – and I also remember when she had her first son, almost three years ago now. Time flies! She and baby boy seem to be doing well, and he is the loveliest, chubbiest little fellow. My heart is so happy for her and her sweet family.

Early yesterday morning, another woman I know posted a photo of herself heading into the hospital to have her second baby. This woman I actually know IRL; her grandmother and her great-aunt were good friends of my parents back in the day, and so we’ve chatted and interacted over the years, and now she and her family live across the street from me. Small world! And, not only that but when I was around 14 years old, I attended a baby shower when she was born. Which is…weird, yeah? I held her when she was a few months old and now she is a grown woman with a successful business and a family of her own.

Which, ok duh, yes, that is indeed how time and life work, but there is a very visceral part of me that kneejerkingly wants to react with “Oh my god, I’m so old!” But there is another part of me that says “Oh wow, this is keeping me so young.”

And then I started thinking about community and about belonging.

When John and Charles and I moved to this house in the fall of 1999, we were, clearly, a young family, just starting our lives together. Charles was not even two, Max, not yet even conceived. We had hoped to add another baby to our lives and when Max arrived in July 2000, our family was complete and we began to fully settle into our home and neighbourhood. Eventually, the boys went to school, we met neighbours who became friends and we met neighbours who we knew only to say hello to. There were neighbours who moved in and stayed for a time then left, and neighbours who were there before we got here and are still here.

And as we’ve aged and our children have grown up in this neighbourhood, a funny thing happened. It seems as though, now, we are the old people. I know, right? But, at 52 (me) and 53 (John), and having lived in the same house for nearly 20 years, it’s honestly true. And I kind of love it.

I love sharing in a community of people who are at different stages of life; like the older couple behind us who were here the day we moved in, and are still living in that same house behind us. Like the family two doors down who moved in back in February and just had a baby (hooray neighbourhood babies!)  I love that nearly 19 years ago we were the ones introducing a new baby to the neighbourhood and now, going forward, we get to be the ones to do the welcoming, to introduce ourselves to the families with the tiny new additions. To look out for them and their kids, like our neighbours did and continue to do for us and our kids.

And that is our community, our physical community. And I love it. But what about the other community, the online community, the one created through follows, and the friends I’ve met through social media? Where does that fit? Does it fit? My argument is that it does. Of course, it does.

And yes, some would insist that these people, these online people cannot actually be my friends since I don’t actually know them, and to those people, I say, whatevs and also shhhhh, let people enjoy things. Because it’s 2019.

I have engaged with people online who I have not met, who I might never meet, but my heart has broken for them when they tell me/their followers that their mother is terminally ill, or that their child is being bullied. I have celebrated the births of their children and mourned the loss of their parents, their beloved pets. I have reached out to these people sometimes on their timeline or feed, but more often in a private message (should they welcome private messages) because I wanted to offer condolences or congratulations or support not in a performative way, but in a heartfelt way. This isn’t to say that all posts on timelines and feeds are performative, but much like a handwritten thank you or sympathy card from days of old, a direct message seems more personal, more thoughtful. We see a lot of “thoughts and prayers” in the media, from politicians and celebrities and regular people and the entire meaning of that phrase has been lost in the noise of the online world. Many people lament the loss of human interaction in favour of this online world, but I am not one of those people. I think if you are deliberate in your intentions and your wishes for your online friends truly come from a place of caring, a Twitter dm can be as effective and welcomed as a letter.

When Max was in hospital last fall, people I had never met, people who follow me on Instagram or Twitter for my dog or my wine and library-related antics (which are truly legendary it must be said) reached out to tell me how much my updates meant to them, how hard they were pulling for Max and for us, and how much they wished they could help. Many of these messages began, “You don’t know me, but I follow you and I want you to know I am thinking of you and your family…” and others read “Thank you for sharing and for being so open…” and honestly, some of these messages moved me as much or more than ones from close family members. Some had had similar experiences and offered an ear if I had questions. Others just wanted to send a virtual hug and a kind word. And it was lovely and it was overwhelming.

“People are too nice!” I would say, almost daily, to my husband, usually through my hiccuping tears in the midst of an ugly crying session. The thought of (virtual) strangers taking the time to send their support, their prayers, and good vibes was astounding to me. And at the same time not astounding to me, because it’s the sort of thing I do too.

It makes me so happy to be the old person in the neighbourhood now, the one that has been here “forever” as my kids would say, and I’m just as happy to be the old person on your Instagram feed encouraging you and supporting you and feeling for you too. I want to read about your struggles with getting your toddler to eat or getting your dad to go to the doctor about that mole on his leg. I can even offer advice if you want it (I would never give unsolicited advice of course) too! Please do keep in mind that my parenting skills were honed in the early to mid-2000s and any advice I have to offer is likely highly out of date, but it’s yours if you want it. And it will come with a warm internet hug and a LOT of encouragement that you are already doing amazing. Just keep going.

And, as I said way up there at the beginning of this post, being involved in this kind of community keeps me young. Not in a “How do you do, fellow kids?” kind of way, but, much like living in a neighbourhood with families and seniors and more, having a varied internet community allows me to witness life unfolding in so many different ways, and at so many different points in time, and that can only be a good thing. It is such a privilege to be able to share in the experiences and milestones of my social media friends and their families. At times it’s heartbreaking and at other times it’s glorious and wonderful. You know, just like life.

Community is community is community. And I know the internet can be a dark, dark pit of despair, but I’m not willing to give up on it just yet. There’s so much more I want to be a part of. And I like all of you too much, too.

Waxing on. And on and on…

I leave for work, as you are no doubt getting very tired of hearing, extremely early in the morning. My bus arrives at 6:50 am, and I am fortunate that the bus stop is practically at my front door, so I can dash out around 6:49 am and still make it. It’s a small luxury, to be this close to a method of transportation that you don’t own, I recognize that, and I am very grateful for the HSR and this bus route in particular.

Because I leave so early I don’t eat breakfast. At home, that is. I find it difficult to eat at such an ungodly hour, so I have been bringing breakfast to work with me, and depending on my information desk schedule I can usually squeeze my breakfast in somewhere between 8 and 9 am. Not too bad at all.

Sometimes I bring a smoothie I made that morning or the night before, but when I returned from my leave while my son was recovering, I noticed our workplace toaster. And this was quite the revelation.

It’s not new, this toaster. I am pretty sure it’s always been here – at least as long as I’ve been here – but back in February while I was waiting for the kettle to boil for my morning tea I thought “I can bring things to toast in that toaster!” and that changed my world.

So now I bring a bagel or English muffin with cheese or marmalade or something and I can have these bread products TOASTED which is much nicer than having them UNtoasted, and I honestly look forward to this new ritual every day. My life is VERY EXCITING PLEASE TRY NOT TO BE JEALOUS.

When I pack my breakfast and lunch, I mostly used wax paper for wrapping things like sandwiches, cut up cheese to have with crackers, cookies, etc. When I unwrap these things and then consume them, I fold up the wax paper (or ball it up if something leaked on it) and place it back in my lunchbox. I understand this is…unusual, or…perhaps even downright weird. It’s ok, I get it.

In high school, I began taking my lunch daily. For both elementary and middle school, we all went home for lunch unless there was something special going on (choir, sports, band, etc.) This was the 1970s, friends, and most of us lived less than 10 minutes away from the school, so going home for lunch was a thing. It was The Flintstones and Big Al’s Cartoon Capers, (“The cartoons are comin’ your way!) and tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, and it was life.

But my high school was too far to go home every day for lunch, and I also joined a lot of groups which met at lunchtime, so I brought my lunch. And I used what we had in the kitchen to wrap my sandwiches, and that was wax paper.

My mum was a big fan of wax paper. By this time, in the early 80s, plastic wrap had taken over, and that’s what most of my friends had. Sandwiches and vegetables wrapped in plastic that you just threw away afterwards. What a concept. My food, wrapped in its milky white parchment-like shroud, seemed exotic to my friends and it turned me into the one thing I absolutely hated: being different. At the time, my goal was to be just like everybody else, as much as possible. This only lasted a year or two, by grade 11 I wanted to stand out, but those first few years, eating lunch with the other bandies in the music room, I didn’t want the attention that wax paper brought upon me.

Which…is ridiculous, right? Who the hell cares what your food is wrapped in? Well, I did. And so I asked my mum to buy Glad plastic wrap next time she went grocery shopping. And I did so off-handedly like it was no big deal. And my mother flat out refused.

Wax paper, she told me, could be reused. It was sturdy, and it was biodegradable – at least more biodegradable than plastic – and, it was cheaper.

My mother, you see, was an avid recycler from way back. She saved newspapers and bottles for people who would come around to collect them to sell. She flattened aluminum tins and saved those too. She recruited me to remove the little windows from envelopes so that the paper could be recycled. Eventually, our city got a recycling program (doesn’t it feel weird that at one point everything just went in the garbage?) and the collecting people no longer came around, and all the papers, bottles, and tins went in the blue box. But until then, our front porch was a storage area for recyclables before anyone really knew what recycling was.

She was also one of the first in our neighbourhood to compost kitchen waste, and she would even save the apple cores at the school where she worked and bring large bags of these cores home to put in the composter, rather than have kids and staff throw their fruit scraps in the garbage. People thought she was so weird (she kind of was but in a nice way) but she didn’t let it bother her and she remained diligent about the importance of reducing, reusing, recycling. So much so that one year she was awarded special golden blue boxes (not real gold) for diverting nearly 90% of her household waste from landfill. I don’t remember our family of four ever having more than a single bag of garbage on any given week, sometimes one in two weeks, sometimes none at all. She was a machine.

And this is the woman that I tried to convince to buy me some damn cling wrap so I could be like everyone else at lunch. Nice try, kid.

So even today, at age 52, I wrap the parts of my lunch that require wrapping in wax paper. We have cling wrap in our household (shocking!) and we even have Ziploc bags (the horror!) but I am insistent that those get washed and reused until they spring a leak or rip. And wax paper can now, if it can’t be reused, go in the green bin. See? She sure was on to something.

My kids rolled their eyes at the sandwiches they would pull out of their lunch bags, tightly and perfectly wrapped in wax paper. But they too would save the paper, balling it and throwing it back in the bag to bring home where I could smooth it out and determine if it could be reused. If not, it went into the green bin, my mother’s legacy intact.

It’s astounding that I’ve written over 1000 words (mostly) on the subject of wax paper (and if you’re still here and reading, well thanks and congratulations I guess?) but it was on my mind this morning as I made my lunch. And then, of course, my thoughts drifted to my mum, the wax paper advocate.

On May 5 she will have been dead nine years, and it was around this time of year in 2010 that she started to feel unwell. It’s a funny thing how the body remembers, how the melancholy can start to seep into your day to day world and little, trivial things become shockingly important without you really even realizing why.

I miss her just as much as I did nine years ago, but the absence is less raw than it was. It still hurts, and it hurts a lot, but now when I remember those little, insignificant things – like how she fiercely defended wax paper and recycled like it was her job – it no longer feels like a punch to the gut. There’s more of a fondness now, more smiles, fewer tears, although the tears still do come, and often when you least expect it. I imagine they always will.

So next time you are wrapping a sandwich, considering pouring one out – or tearing one off I guess – for Pat.

 

 

 

 

 

My Year of Slow

This morning I was texting with my friend Vivian as I usually do in the mornings, and she asked what I was up to. I mentioned I had just rescheduled a couple of appointments that I had this week and that it felt pretty great to do that. I continued, saying that I’m trying to make 2019 the year I don’t overstretch myself and, at the risk of seeming precious, I am just tired of constantly running from one thing to another. I want this to be my year of slow.

My year of slow. Even typing that felt amazing. I sat back after that text conversation with that phrase in my head and considered. Slow. Slow what, though, exactly? Slow down the pace, mostly. The pace, lately, has been unreal. Let me tell you.

On November 16, our youngest son suffered a brain hemorrhage caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) which is basically a faulty blood vessel. It was something we didn’t know he had, and you can’t really know you have it unless you’ve had a CT scan or MRI for something unrelated or in a kind of investigative way – as in, what’s causing all these migraines, did that fall result in a concussion, etc. An AVM is a sort of timebomb that can happen anywhere in your body. Obviously, your brain is the worst possible place to have one, as we found out two months ago.

In a lot of ways, he was lucky. Lucky that his dad and I were with him when it happened. Lucky that it happened in downtown Hamilton, so that when I was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, we could, almost immediately, hear the siren as the ambulance made its way to us. Lucky that it was late evening, no traffic to speak of and so the trip to the ED took mere minutes. Lucky too that we live in the city that hosts the regional trauma centre and one of the best neurosciences programs in the province.

Of course, our understanding of all this luckiness came much, much later when we were able to finally breathe a little bit. At the time it didn’t feel much like anything except terror.

From that night until now it’s been a constant state of vigilance, of running to the hospital, of making sure we were around to meet with doctors and therapists. Max was in hospital from that awful night in November until the 19th of December. 33 days of pacing, of waiting, of hoping, and waiting some more.

Once he was finally home the running continued. Now to a clinic every couple of days to have the tubing changed for his PICC line, to have the PICC line flushed, to see what was causing the incessant beeping of the IV pump. These trips, while not far in distance, were often a nerve-wracking struggle. And, because of the nature of temperamental technology, they often occurred two or three times a day. And all the while Max, who bore the brunt of this, was trying so hard to recover from three open skull brain surgeries and surgery to install a shunt in his brain. You know, no big deal!

For us, life has now somewhat returned to normal. The PICC line is out, there are no more trips to the community clinic, and the only thing Max needs to do now is to attend physiotherapy twice a week to work on things like balance and to regain some of the strength he lost being practically bedridden for nearly five weeks. He is able to go out with friends occasionally and to do most of the things he enjoyed doing before his injury – video games, continuing with the screenplay he had begun writing, practicing for and attending his singing lessons, etc. – and we will never ever take those things for granted ever again.

I have returned to work and the transition has been relatively smooth, helped in no small part by my wonderful coworkers and my supervisor, and so life is actually fairly uneventful in the early stages of 2019. I hope it remains so.

Not surprising, I’m sure, that our family has taken stock over the past few months. Taken stock as to what’s most important, what can be eliminated from our lives (stress, please!) and what we want more of (family time, down time, time with friends) and so my commitment to slowing it all down began to emerge.

I used to look at my calendar and see several things listed for at least four of seven days, sometimes more than one thing listed in the same time slot. They weren’t always huge time commitments and sometimes they were really fun commitments, but often they involved driving or bussing from one location to another with little wiggle room to be on time for the next appointment (I have always had an extraordinary fear of being late, it causes me so much stress, I am actually your dad, five hours early at the airport!) and I have decided that those days are over, as much as they can possibly be.

So far it’s been fairly easy to do this, and I certainly do recognize the privilege in being able to reschedule things, to eliminate some of the stressors in my life this way. And to be honest, it might not stay like this, but for now, I am really enjoying it. As someone who was chronically overcommitted for most of her adult life, I have become a convert to the slow, undercommitted life and it’s quite glorious.

And, as a testament to this commitment to being undercommitted and embracing the slow life, I would like to reveal that I started this post on January 22nd and am finishing it today, February 12th. How’s that for commitment to a cause?

(Actually, it’s just that I am horrendously out of blogging/writing practice, pals.)

 

 

 

Wednesday night cold vibes

It’s 2018 now and Happy New Year, and let’s hope we make it through without dying in some horrible Twitter-related dick measuring nuclear strike incident! Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but there it is.

I am currently drinking orange cinnamon tea and eating toast with honey because I am ever-so-slightly under the weather. It’s just a cold, nothing serious, but it’s a good enough excuse to eat toast and honey, which I really don’t do often enough. Not just any honey, mind you. Stay away with your liquid Billy Bee is what I’m saying. I’m only here for the solid, white, slice it like butter honey. There is probably a name for this kind of honey, but it escapes me. But, this is the honey of my youth – and honestly, I didn’t know there was any other sort of honey until I became an adult – and it’s the honey I stand by. I also had it on toasted baguette because I am fancy.

When my mother quit smoking back in 1975, spoonfuls of this kind of honey are what worked for her. She also wallpapered the bedrooms in our house and did some painting to keep herself occupied, but she told me years later that every time she had a craving for a cigarette she would go to the kitchen and eat a giant spoon of honey, then go back to what she was doing. Whatever works, I guess. There were no drugs or hypnosis for smoking cessation, there was really just cold turkey. Or cold honey, in her case.

So naturally I associate honey with quitting smoking, but so far have refrained from asking smokers who are trying to quit “Have you tried honey?” They don’t need that kind of aggravation.

So back to my cold. It’s nothing, really, but earlier I did start to feel a little bit loopy like maybe I had a fever (I don’t.) I did, however, finish reading Michael Redhill’s Giller Prize-winning Bellevue Square and holy hell, now I realize that is definitely what made me loopy.

If you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil it for you. Mostly because I wouldn’t even know how to begin to describe it, other than it’s the story of a woman and her doppelganger. OR IS IT?

It’s worth reading, it really is. Redhill plays with imagery and humour, and his prose is beautifully done. At times I felt like I was the one wandering the streets of Toronto looking for her (I’m not even going to give you character names because I am still not sure of anything) it was that compelling. And like with a lot of novels that are twisty and turny – the technical terms, obviously – I felt completely unmoored at times and smacked in the face like Sideshow Bob and the rakes at other times. It’s a trippy trip, let me tell you.

And obviously, the Giller jury thought so too, so you know, it isn’t just me saying it’s a good book that you should read.

If you’ve read Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things you will recognize this feeling of not being in control of what you’re reading. I mean, I guess that’s kind of a weird thing to say, obviously an author has written the book, you don’t get to have control, it’s not like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” kind of deal, but maybe you get what I mean? I don’t know. Read it, and then we can talk about it. Just not yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Monday Feels

Like most Canadians, I’m at home today given that it’s Thanksgiving Day. And also, like many Canadians, we had our Thanksgiving meal yesterday, leaving us with leftovers for today, as we lounge about in sweatpants and eat pumpkin pie for breakfast and/or lunch. It’s a good holiday, Thanksgiving, one of my favourites.

Usually, by Thanksgiving weekend we also have lovely autumn colours and crisp temperatures, making Thanksgiving a cozy kind of holiday, where you don’t mind turning on the oven and boiling water for several different vegetables. But this year we have muggy low 20s temperatures, turning the house into a sauna, and green trees as far as the eye can see. Damn it all.

Still, we had nice later evening dinner yesterday, both boys were home, and we were joined later by our eldest son’s girlfriend, so it was fairly festive. And then I went to bed around 9:30pm.

My parents used to host Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. At least. Hordes of people. 20 for dinner IS a horde, don’t even judge me. And they did it beautifully and perfectly and damned if I didn’t just ATTEND these dinners, with very little to do. But now, it turns out dinner for 5 can just about kill me, so what is the difference between me and my parents? Probably not much. They probably went to bed early too, I have just forgotten that part of the equation.  Also, dishwasher. We don’t have one.

Fortunately for me, the rule in our house (mostly) is that those who do the cooking do not have to do the cleaning of the utensils used to create and consume the meal so that usually means I don’t do any of the post-meal cleaning up. But honestly, having a dishwasher automatically gives you loads more counter space, and I have determined part of what exhausts me so much when preparing large meals is the time I spend trying to creatively create space for things where there is no space for things. My kitchen is SMALL, friends. And the counter space therein is practically non-existent. But every time I plan a large dinner party or get-together for friends and family I 100% forget that there is no actual space to prepare foods for large numbers of people. And yet? I continue to do it because I love it so much.

To me, there are few things better than feeding the people you love. When the boys were small and we had a million places to go after work/school and I was trying to get food into their faces before we ran out the door, ok then maybe there were lots of things better than feeding the people you love. But even back then, I loved having a weekend to prepare food and the time to enjoy it with my family. Or to create something special for friends who maybe didn’t always have the time to make Sunday dinners for themselves. And just texting or calling a friend to say “What are you up to? Wanna come for dinner?” and knowing it can make their entire weekend is such a great feeling. And it isn’t that I pull out all the stops and do a massively elegant and luxurious feast (I mean ok sometimes I do) but often it’s just mac and cheese or nachos or ordering pizza. But it’s still sharing a meal, talking about our week, solving the problems of the world. As one does.

I know I inherited this from my parents. It’s in me because it was in them.

One of the last things my dad ever did before he went into hospital for the final time was to host a fish fry at our cottage for my mum, the four of us, and our neighbours. Next week will be the 14th anniversary of his death, and while a lot of the details about him are gone from my memory, (which SUCKS, trust) I don’t think I will ever forget the pure joy that was on his face during that meal. The happiness that radiated from him for just the simple pleasure of cooking for people he loved. That has stayed with me, and it’s him I think about every time I welcome the people I love to our home, offer them a drink, and encourage them to have seconds of whatever is on the menu.

Happiest of Thanksgivings, friends. Big kitchen, small kitchen or no kitchen, I hope you get to celebrate surrounded by people you love.