Friday, May 30, 2008

Of llamas and grandmas and slot machines

When my grandmother died four years ago today most people were sympathetic, but also pragmatic.

Her death couldn’t have been that big a shock, they reasoned. After all, she was almost 93 years old.

But they were wrong.

Because what they failed to understand is that when someone lives as long as my grandmother did, as vibrantly as she did, you start to think that maybe, just maybe, they will live forever.

And in a way she will.

My grandmother, the way my grandmother led her life, left me with a legacy that strongly endures to this day: she taught me that aging is nothing to fear.

In fact she lived her life in a manner that actually has me eagerly anticipating my senior years. Thanks to her I can’t wait to reinvent myself after I retire from the world of work and child rearing.

I often prattle on to Rob about the possibilities inherent in the third act of our lives. What will we do? Go back to school, get geology degrees and teach seismology in Hawaii? Run a beachfront café in Panama? Teach English in Japan? Build homes in Africa? Raise horses? Llamas?

Thanks to my grandmother, there is no question in my mind that all of these things, and more, are possible.

My grandmother stuck close to home and raised her children until my grandfather died. She was 67. She then embarked on the next chapter of her life: the one in which she, along with her older (!) sister, my Aunt Verna, would travel.

And did they travel!

Damn her age, my grandmother was determined to see the world. She visited Europe, South America, Asia, Australia, the South Pacific and North Africa. One of my favorite pictures ever is of her and Aunt Verna, well into their 80s, posing at the Great Wall of China, shocks of white hair blowing in the wind.

She developed a tart tongue and a taste for slot machines. She was up for anything. She was 91 when one night I was visiting my mother and the two of us decided to make a midnight run to a casino an hour’s drive away. Just for fun we swung by grandma’s and rung the doorbell.

I remember her look of bewilderment as she answered the door in her nightdress, her hair in disarray.

“Come on Grandma! We’re going gambling!”

And she just nodded. “I’ll get my coat.”

My mom and I took my grandmother to Las Vegas for her 90th birthday. On the morning of our departure we woke at 4 a.m. to catch our plane out of Toronto. We landed in Vegas mid morning and grandma went right from the airport to the casinos where she whooped it up until 1 a.m.

She was touring Belize at 92 years of age just months before she died. And she’s in my heart still.

Grandma’s curiosity, her sense of adventure and her utter fearlessness will never leave me, no matter how much I continue to miss her today, and always.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

I have my standards

Yes, my son is two and a half years old.

Yes, my son is very tall for his age – about 40 inches (yikes!)

And yes, he still sleeps in his crib.

The thing is: Graham is extremely routine-oriented. And when I say extremely routine-oriented, I mean uncompromisingly, fanatically, crazy routine-oriented.

When the batteries in his crib aquarium start to wane he screeches like a banshee. When I try to introduce a new blanket or stuffed animal to his sleep routine he bellows, rips it from my hand and hurls it across the room as if it were a hand grenade and he a soldier trying to clear the field.

And his crib?

He loves his crib. Loves it. Quite honestly I don’t ever see me moving him out of his crib. Ever. Despite the fact that he can, and does, just walk on out of it sometimes.

Is this dangerous?

Maybe. But the way I see it, it’s way safer (and quieter) than subjecting the entire house to the nuclear meltdown that would ensue if I ever, ever dared mess with his sleeping arrangements.

So yup, I’m completely resigned to Graham staying in his crib until he’s damn good and ready to leave, whenever that may be.

And Rob and I have already agreed upon some house rules with regards to crib usage as our boy grows.

To wit:

“I am not driving you to soccer practice until you have made your crib!”


“It’s not my fault you broke curfew last night, it’s almost noon and time for you to get out of the crib and cut the lawn!”

And also, if it comes down to it:

“I don’t care what your arrangements are at college, when you and your girlfriend are sleeping under our roof, it will be in separate cribs!”

That's reasonable, right?

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?

Like many people, I often wonder, What is it that people are looking for?

And like many bloggers I often check the Google search terms that lead people to land on my humble little piece of the internets.

Three words people: freaking comedy gold.

In the interest of trying to give those desperate searchers the answers they seek, and perhaps entertaining you in the process, I present, in no particular order, my favorite search terms over the last month and the responses I hope will enlighten those who follow.

1. Mama jelly tummy
Nope. I don’t care what you may have read. There is no mama jelly tummy to be found on Don Mills Diva or in her vicinity. You can’t prove anything. Move along folks, move along.

2. I’m lusting after my mother-in-law
Or having an affair with her. Or in love with her. Ever since this post eight months ago, a steady stream of mother-in-law lovers land on DMD. Methinks maybe all those comedians doing a brisk business in mother-in-law jokes are protesting too much…

3. Slutty shoes
And hooker shoes. And blue leapard (sp) print hooker shoes. I wrote this post late last year and still the shoe fetishists continue to visit in droves. I shudder to think how many marriages would collapse if everyone's mother-in-law started wearing stilettos.

4. I am doing my best to be a diva
Are you a mother-in law? If so, take off the shoes, back away from the computer and stop encouraging your daughter’s damn husband.

5. Nylons for prom?
No. Just no. Not convinced? Check out this photo. You’re welcome sweetie.

6. Bare soul vs bear soul
I’m pretty sure, if it came down to it, the bear soul would win.

7. Do girls like black shy boys with different accents?
Aww…bless your soul. You sound very sweet and I’m sure there are a lot of girls out there who like exactly that.

8. Don Mills bitches
Not these girls though. Stay away – you’re way too good for them.

9. Man never shy, if shy then he's not man
Did Don Mills bitches tell you that? Seriously, ignore them – they’re just totally jealous of me.

10. Smell in Don Mills
Oh jeez. Don’t look at me. I swear to God, it was the dog.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Sure you could have written this...but you didn't

I'm totally jealous of Rebecca Eckler.

I think it's best to just put that right out there at the beginning, instead of pretending that I'm not jealous or that it's irrelevant to any kind of a review I write about her latest book Toddlers Gone Wild.

Because a lot of us are jealous of Rebecca Eckler, aren't we? Show me a parenting blogger who's looking for readers, who aspires to make a living from their writing - or better yet achieve fame and fortune from their writing - who claims not to be jealous of Rebecca Eckler and I'll show you a bold-faced liar.

Okay? Let's move along.

Will my jealousy get the better of me? Click over to my Shooting for Hip column at Better Than A Playdate to read the rest of my review and enter to win a copy of Toddlers Gone Wild...

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Driving with the brakes on

I have always had a hard time letting people show me how to do things.

And as a result I end up doing things the hard way.

A few years ago I decided I wanted to grow tomatoes for the first time. I bought all the plants and the soil and the pots and eagerly set to work on our back porch, visions of jars and jars of homemade tomato sauce dancing in my head.

And Rob, a green thumb, from a long line of green thumbs, was thrilled to see me take an interest in one of his hobbies and was anxious to help.

Except I wouldn’t let him.

“You have to plant them really far-”

“Let me do it.”

“Ya, but if you don’t-”

“Let me do it!”

“But I’ve done it before and-”


So I planted the plants too close together and most of them died. When I tried to stake up some of the survivors, Rob tried again.

“You just have to-”


So Rob finally gave up and I tied the surviving plants way too tight when I staked them up. Every single plant died a gruesome death and we ate canned tomato sauce all winter.

I had no one to blame but myself and it was not an enjoyable learning experience.

I need to work on listening to people: I know that. Because even though stubbornness, stupid stubbornness, is part of who I am, it’s a part of me that has made my life more difficult than it needs to be.

And even worse than that, I am queasy sometimes to think that my son may be destined to go down the same hard roads I have always insisted upon treading.

Graham got a tricycle for Christmas and over the last few weeks I’ve been out with him several times, trying to help him learn to ride it.

Except he doesn’t want my help.

Time and time again he refuses to put his feet on the pedals and insists instead on pushing his feet along the ground to propel him and the tricycle forward. He frequently bumps his shins and gets his feet caught under the back wheels. As soon as he gets some momentum his feet drag on the ground, slow him down and threaten to upset him entirely.

It’s painful to watch.

“Graham sweetie, look, just put your feet on the pedals and-”


“But if you use your feet to push the pedals like this you can-”


“Just let mama push you and then you put your feet up and-”


Which I think is another way of saying “MOTHER YOU ARE NOT RESPECTING THE WAY I LEARN.”

And so I step back and let him do it himself. Because I must.

But damn it’s difficult to watch him tire himself out dragging that blasted tricycle around, getting up just a little bit of speed but then stumbling over his feet and tumbling in frustration just as the breeze starts to blow in his face.

Yup, that’s my boy.

Doing it his way, even if it is the hard way.

Just like his mama.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

The dog who saved a family!

I got my father a dog for Christmas because I desperately needed help.

It was almost a decade ago. My parents and I were suffering terribly as a result of an estrangement from my only sibling and his family and I just couldn’t handle Christmas alone.

I had only been dating my Rob for a few months and he wasn’t yet a regular fixture at holidays. No matter how hard I tried, and believe me I tried, I wasn’t big enough or loud enough or entertaining enough to fill the hole they left. I just couldn’t take up enough space.

I needed a dog.

My parents, my dad especially, have always adored dogs. Two mutts had the run of the house throughout my childhood and the younger had finally died at 18 years of age the previous summer.

Mom felt sure Dad was ready for another and gave her blessing for me to pick one out at The Toronto Humane Society and surprise him with it at Christmas. Get a smaller dog, she advised. Something sweet and low-maintenance.

And that’s what I intended, I swear.

But we can’t help who or what we fall in love with.

A pit bull-German shepherd-doberman mix (we think), he had been living at the shelter for more than three months. There was a letter taped to his cage, written as if by him, begging someone to give him a chance. I gathered from the shelter staff that his days were numbered.

I had to have him.

I took him home to my little downtown house and while he wildly raced around and around I called my mom to advise her that I found a dog that was a little different from what we discussed, but nonetheless, perfect.

And he was perfect, in his way. From the moment a few days later when I dropped him onto my blindfolded Dad’s lap and shouted Merry Christmas!, he was a perfect diversion from the sadness that back then hung like a heavy cloud in my parent’s house.

Hercules became his name and he was incorrigible. He chewed everything he could find. He climbed the kitchen table and gobbled bread baskets and pounds of butter. He ate a whole raw chicken my mother was prepping and threw it up an hour later. He was so excitable that a playful tone of voice would send him bouncing on all four legs, three or feet into the air. He was so hyper that my father was often forced to wrestle him to the ground, hold him there and coo softly in his ear, imploring him to relax and calm down.

Hercules did calm down as time went on. He became intimately attached to my father. He insisted on sitting on his lap, burrowing into chest and tucking his head under his chin and to this day he wails and cries like a baby when left alone. Dad takes him everywhere; flying him into his fishing camp and letting him ride shotgun in his pick-up truck on morning coffee runs when he is treated to a donut hole daily.

Everywhere they go people stop them. “What kind of dog is that?” they say. “That’s the weirdest looking dog I’ve ever seen.”

And Dad puts his hands over Herc’s ears. “Don’t listen to them Hercie,” he says. “You’re a fine-looking dog.”

It seems silly to make some kind of dramatic proclamation or put a cheesy movie-of-the-week title to this story, a la The Dog Who Saved A Family!

But in a lot of ways I think he did.

Hercules made us laugh and gave us something to talk about that Christmas and we needed that. In the days that followed he made my parent’s house a noisy place to be, a busy place to be and they needed that even more.

He gave my parents something to focus on during a very dark period of their life. He was so grateful for their love, so overjoyed to be in their presence, so friendly and accepting of everything and everyone in their world that it was impossible not to be infected by his happiness.

And when the rift with my brother and his children began to mend Hercules and his boundless energy was there to break the ice and relieve the tension: no one could refuse him a smile, no one was unmoved by his enthusiasm.

Today my parent’s house, being on the lake, is a gathering place for my family and friends and my brother and his children and their friends. Summers especially are a whirlwind of flying and boating and barbecues and laughter and fun.

Hercules is there too of course. Old and grey and grizzled now, he’ll join in the fun if asked, but mainly sticks close to my father’s side. And in my typical, cheesy, movie-of-the-week way I'll always think of them both as the glue that continues to keep our home and our family together.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Happy Happy

Father and Son,
Ring in 41,
And another year,
As my moon and sun.

*Edited to add - it's Rob's birthday not mine!
It'll be years and years before I turn 41*

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Monday, May 19, 2008

I'd rather keep flying

I thought it would feel different somehow. More dramatic.

I thought my first flight this year would be immediately preceded by nervousness or anxiety or sober reflection, because I have not flown since that day a few months ago when I learned that a fellow pilot and friend had lost his life to the sky.

Since that day I have done a lot of reflecting. I have thought often about the day last fall when I took flight with my precious boy. I have made a conscious effort to remember all my father taught me, to review safety procedures and to articulate why I fly and why I must fly again.

But none of this ran through my head when I actually stepped into the float plane last weekend; it was instead like slipping on an old shoe.

And yes, it was last weekend, a week ago Saturday that I made my first spring run. The fact that I am writing about it a week later speaks to how inauspicious an event it really was.

It was a windy day and I didn’t really expect I would fly at all. But as day turned into evening the wind died down and my eight-year-old niece showed up with a friend who had never flown before and had been promised a flight with Aunt Kelly.

“It’s a little windy and I haven’t flown since last fall,” I said. “Maybe I should do a run with you first Dad.”

Dad waved me off from his station at the grill. “The wind’s down. Go ahead.”

And I hesitated only a split second, not because I felt anxious, but because I felt that maybe I should feel anxious.

Then I shrugged. "Okay, I’ll take a quick run on my own before I take the girls.”

And Rob jumped up. “I’ll come with you.”

So away we went.

And it was gorgeous.

It was bumpy and lively and the sun was shining and the sky was blue and my heart swelled as the plane and I danced and she accepted my lead like we had been waltzing together forever.

I did a circuit, let Rob practice straight and level flight for a few minutes (did I mention he’s learning to fly as well?) and then brought it in for a smooth landing.

Then I taxied to shore, picked up my niece and her friend and took to the skies again.

And it was even more gorgeous, if that’s possible.

Several minutes later as I brought the plane in on short final for landing, I felt a little tug at my sleeve and turned briefly to see the beaming face of my niece’s friend.

“I’m just a little busy right now sweetie,” I said. “What’s up?”

“I was just wondering if we really have to land,” she said. “I’d rather keep flying.”

And I had to chuckle.

I’d rather keep flying too, I thought. I’d rather keep flying too.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

No spanking allowed

I know, I know.

I’m a curmudgeon and not at all forward-thinking.

But when I ran across this story in this morning’s paper detailing a new strategy to punish speeders I was cringing for hours.

It’s about a program that allows speeding drivers to avoid fines and tickets by instead subjecting themselves to jeers and lectures from local teenagers studying law at the high school down the street.

There’s even a photo of a woman – probably a mom caught rushing around doing a million and one things on her family’s behalf – surrounded by several self-righteous teens mid-lecture.

Oh yeah, I’d say she looks sufficiently humiliated – much like the one in the story who was reduced to tears after being caught doing 63 kilometers (40 miles) per hour in a 50 km (31 mile) zone.

Only one driver opted for a ticket, but was apparently jeered anyway as the teens were given free rein to do so to all the offending drivers the police pulled over.

You might castigate me for saying this (and have at me, I welcome dissent) but here’s my take: I’ve seen a lot in my 38 years. I work hard. I struggle every day to keep up with a myriad of responsibilities in this fast-paced world. I’m a good person. I’m generally law-abiding. Sometimes I speed.

And if I’m caught speeding I’ll take responsibility for it.

But do not humiliate me. And spare me any sermons from 16-year-olds who have earned neither a driver’s license nor the right to lecture me about anything.

Bottom line: I’ll take a hefty fine over a hectoring teen any day.

How about you?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It doesn't make me a bad person

Just sitting down to write this piece requires a huge act of will on my part.


In order to write this I have to tear myself away from a bounty of pure bliss, a cache of unadulterated comfort, delivered straight from my mother’s house to mine following my Mother’s Day visit last weekend.

I also have to admit to an addiction that has plagued me for almost three decades.

That’s right: my name is Kelly and I am a tabloid-a-holic.

I am not addicted to all tabloids mind you, just two of the decidedly old-school variety: Star magazine and The National Enquirer.

I mean, just because I’m an addict doesn’t mean I don’t have standards: I feel it’s important that the latest vainglorious celebrity gossip be interspersed with gruesome murder mystery cases involving average Joes, outraged (and righteous) condemnations of animal cruelty and uplifting accounts of everyday heroism and true grit.

Now, I don’t want you to think I actually buy these magazines. I would never do that. But my mother, enabler that she is, has for years carefully saved each and every issue and piled them neatly on my childhood bed. When I visit the first order of business is to put them in alternating, (Star, then Enquirer) chronological order and then work my way through them one by one.

Generally at least half a dozen unread papers travel home with me where I spend the first few days post visit reading them to the detriment of everything else in my life. Then I reorganize them and pass them on to my cleaning lady or one of my co-workers, so I can congratulate myself on being fully up to speed on pop culture and environmentally friendly.

I don’t know exactly why these rags hold me in their thrall. I have an honors degree in journalism. I publicly swore off celebrity Internet gossip last fall. I very rarely watch television or go to the movies. The last flick I saw in the theatre was Hairspray and I have never seen a single episode of Grey’s Anatomy or Lost or The Sopranos or House or Desperate Housewives or CSI or any one of the dozens of shows deemed as must-sees. Quite frankly I have never seen most of the actors I read about actually act.

But I don’t care.

It is inexplicably soothing to me, the consumption of these rags and their delicious morsels of desperation and morality and human frailty. No matter what drama is playing out in my own life, it always pales in comparison to the passion plays writ large across their pages: crime, depravity, self-loathing, drug abuse, adultery, financial and emotional bankruptcy.

One of my earliest childhood memories is visiting my late grandmother’s house and seeing a picture of Elvis Presley in his coffin on the cover of the National Enquirer. Back then my mother didn’t buy tabloids either: she would bring home stacks of them that my grandmother had saved for her when we visited. Later when Grandma moved in with us, she and my mother split the cost of the subscriptions. “I don’t care about them", my mom said. “It’s your Grandma who’s used to reading them.”

But my Grandma’s been dead for four years and each week, like clockwork, the National Enquirer and the Star arrive at my parent’s house, glossy and chock-full of possibility.

Sometimes I wonder if there will come a day when I don’t care to be courted by jesters anymore. Will I bother to actually buy the tabloids when my mom passes on or will my addiction resolve itself as I continue to age and, presumably, become further removed from the youth-oriented pop culture milieu? I do wonder.

But of course I’m not wondering about that right now because I just came back from my parent’s house on Sunday.

And I have some reading to catch up on.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Something of the marvelous

In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Piercing my illusions

I pierced my navel 13 years ago when I was 25 years old.

I had just been dumped by my long-time boyfriend. I had cried off a good ten pounds of excess weight, was working out like a mad woman and was in the best shape of my life.

It was a painful but exhilarating way of confirming my emancipation. “I am hot. I am fearless. I am embarking on the next chapter of my life.”

I removed my navel piercing almost three years ago when, almost six months into my pregnancy, I glanced down and realized that it had inexplicably migrated halfway around my back.

Apparently that was my body’s way of saying, “You are not hot. You are a mom. You are embarking on the next chapter of your life.”

Click here to read the rest of my latest Shooting For Hip column over at Better Than A Playdate. There is an actual un-retouched photo of my formerly pierced navel over there - honest to blog...

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Her name is Beverly

*Below please find a newspaper editorial I published 15 years ago in honor of Mother’s Day. Back then I was fresh out of university, running a weekly newspaper in the Ottawa valley and only just starting to see my mother as something more than a conduit for my own needs and desires. Back then the realization that she was a person and a woman, in addition to a mother, was a revelation for me.*

There’s a story I remember hearing, about the generation gap, that has rung especially true during the last few years.

It’s about a young man who wonders how his parents got so darn smart, so fast. After all, he reasoned, during his teenage years they were hopelessly ignorant.

Today is Mother’s Day and I can’t help reflecting on how much my mother has changed in the last year I’ve been fending for myself in this world, working and building my own family.

I have come to see my mother as a woman, not just a mom. It’s only now that her experiences seem to me those of a person, doing her best for her family no matter what the circumstances.

Beverly is the name of the woman who brought me into the world. She was a school teacher from the age of 18 and a city slicker, born and bred, when she fell in love with a mechanic and moved to a tiny village carved out of the bush north of Lindsay, Ontario.

Beverly left her comfortable middle class existence for one where every dollar was a struggle. She worked full time, raised two children and helped my father build a successful excavating business from the ground up.

And I remember that most of the time, like most children, I considered her slightly less than a person. I remember times when she looked exhausted, when a thoughtless remark brought a glint of tears to her eyes.

But like a lot of mothers she never said much – she was too busy creating an environment my brother and I were too young and too ignorant to fully appreciate.

There were dance lessons, piano lessons, pottery classes, and ping-pong, swimming and archery lessons. There were gymnastics, Juniors Rangers and Brownies.

One year I started a family newspaper and Beverly produced a typewriter, mimeographed the pages, sent copies to all the relatives, donated recipes and entered (and won) the poetry contest every month.

She clipped articles about story contests and encouraged me to enter. When I was 12, at her urging, I sent a column to the local newspaper and got my first job.

And when I became the first in my family to earn a university degree last year she surprised me by having it framed and mounted.

Over the years I’ve come to see Beverly for what she is – a lovely, kind, intelligent woman whose modesty would never allow her to describe herself in those terms.

But thanks to her I’ve got the perspective that allows me to see those qualities in her and the confidence to publicly admit my debt to Beverly.

I love you mom.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Monsters Inc.

Anyone want to take a guess what these three items have in common?

Yes, they are all decorative items found in my home.

But more significantly they have all over the last few days been identified by Graham as "Scary monsters."

I figure this is both good and bad news.

The bad news is I may have to do some redecorating.

The good news is, despite my earlier fears, I feel pretty confident that I could indeed kick these monsters' collective butts.

Well...except maybe for that one moose.

I mean, he has a paddle.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Shooting for health (and thinner thighs)

Before I get into my wrap up on the last four weeks I spent participating in the President's Choice Healthy Eating Challenge I'd like to direct your attention to the name of my column over at Better Than A Playdate.

It's called Shooting for Hip.

Emphasis on shooting: as in aspiring towards, trying, struggling, seeking, working on it, giving it a go, taking a crack at it, etc.

Diva though I may be, I have never pretended to be the picture of hipness and after four weeks of "shooting for" it, I am not the picture of health either.

But I have learned a few things.

What could the diva possibly have learned? Is hipness a real word? How will this healthy challenge end? Click here to find out.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Monsters be here

Rob and I went out Saturday night.

We needed it.

There has been no work for film and television workers in our city since the writers’ strike last winter and there is little on the horizon. It has been a bitter last several months for a million and one reasons and occasional nights out help keep our spirits up.

Rob's mom called just as we sat down to dinner.

Graham had thrown up and his nose was running – did I know where his cold medicine was?

There was no need to come home, she assured us. He was going back to sleep. He would be fine.

We didn’t need much convincing, to be honest and so we stayed and enjoyed a lovely, if rushed, meal. We called again as we settled up, hoping to get the all-clear to catch the first set of a band at a local bar.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “He hasn't gone to sleep. He’s really miserable and calling for his mother.”

We rushed right home of course. And I burst through the door and swept up my tired, whimpering boy into my arms and into our spare room where we settled. He clung to me even as I shimmied out of my funky dress and kicked off my heels.

It was 10:15 p.m. I wasn’t the least bit tired. I was in full makeup and my earrings dug in as I struggled to get comfortable with him sprawled across my chest. It was going to be a long night.

We lay together like that for long while. Gradually Graham’s whimpering subsided and his breathing grew more and more rhythmic.

But similar relaxation eluded me. There in the dark it wasn’t long before the worries I had been hoping to avoid that evening began to crowd my mind and fill my chest with a familiar heaviness: the unpaid bills, the stress, the future viability of our livelihood.

And then Graham suddenly awoke with a start.

“Monsters mama!” he cried, his voice thick with sleep and fear. “They scary! They scary monsters mama!”

I pulled him close to me and rubbed his back.

“No, no sweetie, there are no monsters here,” I said, pressing my lips to his head and tasting his salty dampness. “Mama is here and she’s stronger than any monster in the world.”

I felt him relax slightly. “Monsters?” he whimpered.

“No Graham. There are no monsters here, your mama is here.”

He sighed, flopped over with a contented gurgle and promptly fell back asleep.

But I lay there awake late into the night, listening to the rise and fall of his breath and the ticking of the clock. And as the darkness deepened I couldn't help but contemplate life and fear and whether I was indeed strong enough to keep the monsters at bay.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

My heart's in the right place

I am always late.

I opened my e-mail on May 2nd to see that a virtual shower had been planned over at Better Than A Playdate for three of my very favorite bloggers who are all expecting their second child – Her Bad Mother, Chicky Chicky Baby and Mrs. Chicken.

I was supposed to write a post with some advice or interesting musings on having a second child and post it by Sunday, May 4th and I would be entered to win some really cool prizes and, more importantly, I would be showing love and support for the expectant moms.

The problem is I am always late.

So I missed the contest, but I do want to send my very, very best wishes to these lovely and talented dot comrades and to offer up to them, and to everyone really, one of the very, very best reasons to have a second child.

Or a first for that matter.

Have a child, if only because there is a chance that said child may possibly turn out as cute as this one.

That is all.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

Reclaiming Arizona

Did you know that I used to live in Arizona?

Some of the people I today consider my closest friends may not even know that. Or they perhaps have only a vague recollection of that fact: an interesting anecdote about their Toronto-based friend. Wife. Mother.

I first stepped on Arizona soil 16 years ago. I was in the middle of a two- month road trip across the United States with a (platonic) male friend. The minute I crossed the state line I felt something special. I felt moved by the red rocks and wild horses and endless sky.

“Life’s too short not to live in Arizona,”
I announced to my boyfriend when I got home. He believed me. And for the next year and a half we saved and planned and researched and I dreamed of ancient canyons and blooming sage.

In June of 1994 we sold all of our possessions, jumped into a jeep convertible and started to drive. We had no jobs, no green cards and very little money. When we hit Phoenix five days later I remember being hot, tried and disoriented. But I had never felt more alive.

Carving out a life was hard. The very first night we huddled beneath the sheets in our cheap hotel room when the junkies came banging at the door, cursing and demanding we let them in. The next night a man lighting a crack pipe veered my way and fell into me as I talked to my mother on a pay phone, assuring her that everything was fine.

Eventually it was. We left the first neighborhood within days and found one that was livable. Our apartment cost $390 a month. It was one room with a Murphy Bed and sometimes we would find cockroaches, more than two inches long, that had inexplicably died on our kitchen floor. Once we found a dead scorpion almost twice as large.

We secured illegal jobs right away. I started work as a nanny and tourist guide for two preteen girls that were visiting their divorced father from out-of-state for the summer. My boyfriend hung around in front of a convenience store with Mexicans every day, waiting to be picked up by landscapers who worked him like a dog in the summer sun and paid $7 an hour cash before dropping him off at the end of the day. He always got picked first. He was white.

In the evenings we cooked our food on the barbecue grills found throughout the apartment grounds, swam in the pool and talked about how we’d make our fortune and build a huge hacienda in the desert.

In the fall we moved to a better apartment complex with a bigger pool and more barbecue grills. We joked that we lived at Melrose Place though we had never been so poor. We sold aluminum cans to recycling centers to get by. I got another job as a nanny for a wealthy family with two boys, one biological, one adopted. The adopted one had been abused as a baby and his rage and confusion was destroying the family that was trying to nurture him.

I joined a writer’s group. My boyfriend started playing trumpet for a ska band that quickly became a local sensation.

We had countless visitors from Canada and I beamed with pride as I showed them my Arizona. We visited Flagstaff and Tucson and Tombstone. On weekends we would go camping in the desert.

My best friend Julie who was living in Los Angeles at the time became suddenly, gravely ill. With one day’s notice I drove all night to a hospital in North Hollywood to hold her hand. I thanked God that I was living in Arizona and able to make it just hours before she died.

I lost my job as a nanny when the younger boy I was minding was made a ward of the state after his family determined they couldn’t control his increasingly violent and disturbing behavior. He was ten. I got a new job, baby-sitting for a family who lived in an apartment complex down the street. I admired their neat-as-a-pin surroundings until I learned the mother was a meta-amphetamine addict who cleaned it frantically when high.

I published some articles in the local newspapers. I interviewed two of Canada’s most popular bands Blue Rodeo and The Tragically Hip when they passed through. I organized a Terry Fox Run for cancer research, Arizona’s first. I met a lot of Canadians and reflected on what fine people they were.

I thought about moving back - a lot.

My boyfriend became a minor celebrity when his ska band started to hit it big but their success was nerve-wracking because local white supremacists targeted his racially-integrated band and started to cause trouble at shows. I was tired all the time. I tried to make all his gigs, but I rose at 6 a.m. to begin work. On the nights I couldn’t go, he stayed out later and later. One night he didn’t come home at all.

He knew he loved me but he wasn’t sure he was in love with me anymore. I moped for a few days before announcing I would return home immediately to spend time with my family which appeared to be faltering under its own stresses. I couldn’t hold it together if I stayed and I’d be damned if he’d see me weak and needy. After I left we’d see who loved who. Who needed who.

He drove with me to Vancouver and then snuck back across the border while I continued on to Ontario. I planned to make lots of money all summer and return in the fall, flush and confident. We’d start over.

We drove out of Phoenix in the early evening almost a year to the day after we drove in. As the lights of the city receded behind me I burst into uncontrollable tears. Arizona had been my idea, my dream. Why was I leaving? Why did he get to stay? I hated him. I hated Arizona. My heart was breaking - I think I knew I wasn’t coming back.

We broke up over the phone three and a half weeks after I returned home. I barely noticed. My family was indeed faltering and it was worse than I imagined.

I moved to Toronto. My life over the next year was all about survival and parts of it are still a blur. By 1997 I started to feel like my old self. I got a good job and my family started to heal. I cut off all contact with my ex and put away Arizona out of my mind.

It’s been 13 years since I returned to Canada and I rarely talk about Arizona anymore. Sometimes I talk to Rob in vague terms about returning, about wanting to show him where I lived and laughed and made plans to build my hacienda. But I’ve stopped dreaming about red rocks and wild horses and the mysteries of the desert. I’ve stopped waking with the smell of sage in my nostrils and an unbearable yearning in my chest.

But do you know what the damn difficult thing is about leaving your wildness behind and getting older?

It’s the reduction of youthful experiences and passions to mere anecdotes. It’s the quiet knowledge that however full your life is, there will always be, must always be, roads not traveled, dreams not fulfilled.

It’s being forced to accept that life is long and as a result some parts of you will always be unknowable to the people who love you and call you friend. Wife. Mother.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Satisfying beauty

There’s a hole in my stockings, I just realized. And I have no plans to run out for a new pair.

I’ve been rubbing a dab of lipstick on my cheeks for weeks. Because I have run out of blusher.

I can’t remember the last time I wore nail polish. It seems like so much effort.

And despite the upward creep of the numbers on my scale, I chose a pot of tea and the newspaper over exercise this morning.

I used to be fierce.

I used to take pride in the curve of my hips and the nip of my waist. In the sharp line of my haircut and the smart click of my heels. I used to revel in the power yielded by beauty and youth.

My beauty and youth.

But now it is not my beauty and youth that makes my heart swell.

Now it is his chubby tummy and the delicious way the cuffs of his jeans kiss his stylish sneakers that make me catch my breath. Now my yearning for the divine is satiated by lilt of his eyelashes and the exquisite hazel hue of his eyes.

And it is enough.

There’s a hole in my stocking, I have lipstick on my cheeks, my nails are bare and my tea is beckoning.

And that’s more than good enough, right now.

Right now.

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