Monday, March 30, 2009

Are you there God? It's me, Kelly

"I'd like to talk to Graham about God and Heaven," Graham's babysitter said last week. She is a dear family friend and was my late mother-in-law's best friend.

"That is, if you don't mind."

And I don't mind, exactly. But neither did I know exactly how to respond.

"He keeps asking me about his Oma," she continued. "I told him she was in Heaven with God but he's asking me what that means...I think it might be a comfort to him."

A comfort to him! What kind of mother denies her child comfort - any kind of comfort - when he is dealing with the loss of someone so dear to him?

"Well, sure, of course you can, I don't mind," I stuttered. "I...I've been meaning to talk to him about...that stuff..."

And I have been...kinda...sorta...eventually.

I did not grow up in a religious household. I do not consider myself a Christian, per se. I say "Bless you" when people sneeze and I accept with gratitude offers from people who say they will keep me in their prayers. I may even say I will do the same, but what that actually means is that I will keep them in my thoughts and hope for the very best for them.

Twenty years ago I was deeply touched by the reglious devotion of Grace, my former university roomate and good friend who died in 2006. Just a few months ago I was touched again and reminded anew of how religion can inspire people to be good and kind - so very, very good and kind - when her friends and family came out in droves to thank me for writing about her and to offer me their blessings and prayers.

Only once in my adult life have I felt compelled to truly commune with a higher power outside a church in a manner that was heartfelt and spontaneous. It was four years (to the day) prior to my mother-in-law's death two weeks ago when, after a year of trying, and a doctor's opinion that it wasn't possible, I saw a pink line that indicated a positive pregnancy test.

I fell on my knees and thanked God.

I have never considered myself an Atheist, as much as an Agnostic. That is to say, I think I am typical of many young, urban, career-oriented adults who wrap themselves in a comfortable, vague religious cloak woven with various threads including: "There's probably * some* kind of a higher power" and "I believe in Karma" and "Let's be kind."

But none of those platitudes seem adequate right now.

Vague notions of Karma and kindness are no match for the cold, hard realities of death and I feel silly for not realizing that religion and God, and my views on religion and God, are something I should have figured out by now, for Graham's sake and especially for my own.

Rob is very much a Catholic. He attended a private boys' school, was an altar boy and considers the Pope his spiritual leader. (Yes, he was disappointed by recent pronouncements on condom use to fight AIDS in Africa and assisted reproductive technology, but that's another matter).

When Rob and I first started dating I found his religious beliefs exotic, particularly because they were coupled with a strong scientific bent. I remember being intoxicated by the late-night debates we would have about whether someone leading a decidedly... ahem... modern lifestyle could or should try and reconcile that with their Christian beliefs. I think I fell in love with him the day he showed up on my doorstep with a copy of God and The Astronomers and implored me to read it.

I knew that Rob would go directly from the hospital where his mother died to the church where he received his First Communion and he did just that.

And part of me envied him.

Part of me feels deeply envious of people who are secure in their belief of God and Heaven and part of me feels inadequate for not having provided my son with a belief system that can sustain him throughout this difficult time in his life.

But I fear that rushing to impress the notion of God and Heaven and the afterlife on Graham now because it would make things easier for me would mark the height of hypocrisy, given that for the past three years I have virtually ignored his religious education because it made things easier for me.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sunshine on a cloudy day

That smile?

That would be Graham doing his part to help keep Opa's spirits up.

We had Opa for dinner earlier this evening and I think my little ray of sunshine did make things seem just a little brighter in these gloomy times.

And if food is love, then Opa is certainly well-fed these days. He had dinner at Peter and LeeAnne's last night where he whipped up hand-thrown spatzle and his version of our beloved Oma's special European goulash.

LeeAnne has all the details and the yummy recipes over at Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews...

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The knowing is the hardest part

It was a week and a half before Christmas and I arrived home from a work meeting just after 10 p.m. to find my husband loading the dishwasher and sobbing.

He had worked late too. My mother-in-law had been watching Graham when he arrived home a half hour before I did and relieved her. And what he saw made him cry.

"She didn't give Graham his bath, Kel," he told me. "And the place was a mess."

"Her stomach was bothering her again?"

He nodded.

"She probably just had an off night..."

"She raced out of here without even visiting with me. There were dishes everywhere. "

I remember murmuring that it had been a long day, that he was over-reacting. But my stomach sank because I knew without a shadow of a doubt then - just as I always knew despite my desperate attempt at bravado - why he was crying.

"Something's wrong Kel," he said. "I have a really bad feeling. Something is very, very wrong."


Friday, the day after the funeral, Rob and I sat deflated after an endless whirl of activity.

"Remember that day when you came home and I was crying?"

I nodded.

"It was because I knew Kel. I just knew."

I burst into tears as his sobs started anew.

"I knew that night that nothing was ever going to be the same again."


My mother-in-law died exactly three months to the day from that night and nothing is ever going to be the same again.

I received an e-mail today from a reporter for Grandparents magazine asking for a quote about what role grandparents play in the lives of parents and their children. She probably didn't expect a novel in reply, but timing is everything and that is exactly what she got.

Among other things I wrote:

"My mother-in-law died 9 days ago and I am still trying to imagine how I will parent without her. She truly was my son's second mother and I didn't resent it because it allowed me so much free time with my husband and so much comfort knowing I could meet work obligations and he would be in safe hands.

"You simply can't expect grandparents to be there for you when you need them without giving away a little bit of autonomy as far as parental influence goes: it's a trade off and for me it was an excellent one.

"The way she loved my son was a revelation to my husband and I. When he was about six months old I remember saying to him: 'She loves him as much as we do! I didn't think it was possible but she does, she loves him as much as we do!'"

She did love Graham as much as we do. And he loved her back. And he doesn't understand where she has gone.

And my heart breaks every day because I don't know how to make him understand that nothing will ever be the same again.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009


There is no question that my mother-in-law Henny Scherer left us far too soon but perhaps we shouldn’t have been too surprised because the thing is, Henny never stayed put for long.

Henny was a whirlwind. She shopped. She cooked. She gardened. She painted the house. She took a short break for a cappuccino. She played tennis. She learned about computers and home renovations. She laughed. She loved. She lived with passion and verve and humor.

She was my inspiration.

I first met Henny on a Sunday afternoon almost 11 years ago shortly after I started dating her son Robert. I learned later that she had demanded it after my name had been repeatedly dropped at a family dinner the night before. Apparently she had turned to Robert and said “That’s enough – now who the hell is this Kelly?!”

She couldn’t have yet known that soon I would be her biggest fan.

There are two things that no one can deny. The first is that Henny’s sons Robert and Peter both married very strong and outspoken women. The second is that both Robert and Peter adored their mother.

I like to think that perhaps Henny’s sons see a little bit of their mother in both LeeAnne and I, but perhaps I flatter myself, because truly, Henny was an original.

Henny was born in 1935 in The Hague in the Netherlands. Much of her childhood was spent under Nazi occupation. She didn’t like to talk about those years but she allowed this: there was hunger, there was pain and there was the constant fear that her older brother Eugene would be caught and punished for his role in the underground resistance.

Eugene was eventually caught and his death in a concentration camp was followed a few years later by her mother’s death, of a broken heart, Henny said.

But Henny, the baby of the family was already showing the determination and the resilience that we associate with her all these years later. At the earliest possible opportunity she joined the Dutch air force and immigrated to western Canada. A few years later in Toronto the gorgeous Dutch girl met a dashing Austrian immigrant named Karl Scherer and fell madly in love.

When she dated Karl Henny worked as a flight attendant. She said they would routinely pile into his little car and break all land speed records trying to get her to the Toronto airport in time for work where she was supposed to board the plane a half hour before passengers.

They never made it on time. But they didn’t care: They were on Scherer time.

Scherer time, for those of you who don’t know, runs approximately a half hour behind everyone else’s time.

Rob says one of his earliest memories was of his mom driving him to school every day and breaking more land speed records in the process. He remembers that one day the priest came over the intercom and advised all the students to keep a lookout and report on a green Chevy Nova that was loudly peeling into and out of the parking lot every morning.

Rob says he remembers how his classmates’ eyes widened around him and a whisper rippled through the room – “THAT’S ROB’S MOM!”

Yes, Henny was always in a hurry. But that was only because she was determined to make every minute of every day count. She had no time to waste and no patience for wasted time.

Right up until Christmas Henny looked after my son Graham one day a week while I was at work. I grew accustomed to arriving home to find our grocery shopping done, our house cleaned, our windows washed and our lawn and garden tended. And as for our son? He would be thoroughly loved, thoroughly exhausted and thoroughly proud of his new found ability to swear in Dutch.

Yes, I was spoiled to have a babysitter like Henny. We were all spoiled because Henny loved and cared for her family with the same zest and enthusiasm she brought to every area of her life.

Henny’s grandchildren Jordan, Cailey and Graham were her pride and her joy. She loved them with a ferocity that was absolutely beautiful to behold. She went out of her way to make each of them feel special and spend time with them individually. She really considered their personalities and thought, really thought, about how she could best try and meet their emotional needs.

Henny was thoughtful that way with all of us. She was always thinking about what we might need and was often stopping by with groceries we were short of, incidentals we hadn’t had time to buy and clothing and small gifts that she thought we would enjoy.

As a newlywed I will admit that it took me some time to adjust to having a mother-in-law who was such a big part of my day to day life. But very soon, and especially after the birth of my son, I took it for what it was: a true blessing.

I already have a wonderful mother and I like to think it is she who taught me how to be a mother myself. But Henny became my second mother and she taught me something different. Henny taught me how to be a mother-in-law: she taught me that when you have a son, if you want to stay close to that son, you must open your heart and love his wife as if she were a daughter.

And so she did.

And I loved her back. And I am all the richer for it – we are ALL the richer for her love. Karl, Peter, LeeAnne, Robert and I and especially her grandchildren. Our family’s challenge from this day forward will be to continue to love one other the way she loved us.

And I think we will.

I think we will try and love each other with the same kind of passion that she had for us. Because that is what Henny would have wanted and everyone here knows that when Henny wanted something she usually got it.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that by now that all the souls in heaven – God, the angels and all the saints - they’re all running on Scherer time.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Broken hearted

Four months ago she was playing competitive tennis three times a week, routinely beating opponents 25 years her junior and tiring out Graham with hours-long romps through the parks near our home.

On Christmas Day we admitted her to the hospital because of severe stomach pain that wouldn't go away.

On New Years' Eve we learned cancer cells had been found in her stomach area.

On February 9th she had her first chemotherapy treatment.

Today our hearts are broken.

At 3:30 a.m. this morning Rob's mom, Graham's Oma and one of the people I love and admire more than anyone in the world lost her short battle with cancer and passed away in hospital.

Our hearts are broken.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Sometimes, when the stress gets me down, the fact that my son is a musical genius makes me feel better.

We recently discovered this video together on Youtube and it has become his favorite, the one he asks for over and over.

He's yeah...I'm thinking musical genius.

And also?

Crazily intuitive about what's going on inside Mommy's head.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Loving with abandon

"Cooking is like love.
It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. "

*Speaking of cooking with abandon, Leeanne's latest offering might be homely, but boy does it have personality. Check it out over at
Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews*

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Monday, March 9, 2009


I pass him at the end of every day, walking back to my car from work.

He stands in front of the liquor store selling a weekly newspaper that for years homeless people in Toronto have produced and sold on the streets for a dollar.

And last Friday, just like I do most Fridays, I handed him a two-dollar coin and accepted the paper.

"I see you coming!" he enthused. "You're a beautiful girl and I see you coming."

"Thank you," I said weakly. I didn't feel well and was fighting the beginning of a brutal cold that I feared (correctly) would render me unable to spend time with my mother-in-law in the hospital over the weekend as planned.

"Hey wait," he said, touching my arm as I turned to go.

And I turned.

"Good karma, eh. This is gonna bring good karma for you."

And I burst into tears.


I have heard it said that the ability to cry is not actually a sign of weakness, but rather of strength.

But I don't believe it.

These days my emotions sit so close to the surface that they threaten to boil over at the slightest provocation. I am not strong, not at all. I feel weak and more vulnerable than I have ever been. I feel out of control.

I fear. I fear that the generally happy life I used to take for granted is in jeopardy. I fear that the body blows (not all of them detailed here) that my family has been dealt over the last year and a half are not merely the normal bumps in life that must be ridden out, but the new normal.

And so change is coming, it must come.

Rob and I are working on this change together. We are talking late into the night, most nights, about how we can and how we will change our lives in a manner that allows us to snatch back our happiness.

We feel that we are at a turning point. We feel as though we are at war, that we must stand up and fight to ensure that our lives and our son's life unfold in the healthiest and most joyful way possible.

Because if there is one thing that this dark period has taught us it is that we will not, cannot, wait for karma to intervene.

Stay tuned.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Diva's favorite new beauty products

It's not secret that my physical appearance hasn't exactly been a priority lately.

I have a mother-in-law who is ill, a husband who is working 70 hours a week, a demanding full-time job and a preschooler who is attempting to perfect his tantrum by way of constant practice: I need all the help I can get.

Luckily I've received a few products for review to help ensure that I appear a little more polished on the outside than I feel on the inside.

Check out some of my favorite finds over at Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews...

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

By popular demand

Please find below...the haircut.

So now you know what I mean about a haircut being primarily responsible for turning me into a blubbering pseudo-philosopher prone to waxing poetic about the mysteries of parenting.

Look how old he looks now! He's barely three! If it weren't for the remnants of his dinner and the drool on his chin he almost looks like someone I might date...

Oh wait...he does look like someone I did date.

Coming soon: Don Mills Diva waxes philosophic over whether the tendency to leave remnants of one's dinner all over the front of one's self is genetically predetermined.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

And now I know

I blame the haircut.

Graham had one - a haircut - just last weekend and once again I'll be damned if he didn't age before my eyes: if the boy, the teenager, the man he will become didn't all of a sudden start to peer out from behind his eyes, lurk around the edges of his smile and reveal teasing flashes of his presence with every tilt of my son's newly-shorn head.

And I couldn't help it, I got to thinking once again, reflecting on how this person, this child has so completely and utterly transformed my life, my heart and my very soul.

And so it was the haircut, that damn haircut, along with this thoughtful essay over at Mom Grind on the transformational aspects of parenting, that got me thinking. In her essay the brilliant Vered quotes a hostile commenter who asked her the very same question we've all heard a million times, the very same question that I confess I may have even asked myself, back in the day before something as simple as a little boy's haircut was enough to prompt me to deep philosophical ruminations on the meaning of life:

"Why do people with children act like they’re the first people to ever have to parent in the entire history of mankind?”

It's a valid question to be sure and one deserving of a thoughtful answer and so I apologize in advance because, despite days of ruminating, I can say only this:

"People with children act like they're the first people to ever have to parent in the entire history of mankind because, damnit, they can't help it."

I can't help it.

Because I had no idea that it would be like this, even though everyone told me it would be. I didn't get it, not even a little bit. How could I? How can anyone really grasp the sheer amount of effort - both physical and emotional - that it takes to raise a helpless infant into a self-sufficient human being?

I have often heard authors refer to their novels as their babies and, as a writer myself, I understand that analogy. To both would-be authors and parents seeking understanding I say this: imagine if you started work on a novel and it quickly became your obsession. Imagine that you ate, slept and breathed that novel, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out for years.

And years and years.

Imagine if from the very first minute that you conceived that novel, it took precedence in every single area of your life. Imagine if you were compelled to put it ahead of your sleep and your food and your friends and your marriage and your well being and your alone time and that it was the first thing you thought of when you woke up in the morning and the last thing swirling through your brain late at night and that, even as you slept, it danced through your dreams.

For years and years and years.

And imagine that every day your pride in your novel grew and grew and that you pressed on in your devotion, imbued with the unshakable knowledge that this novel was your life's work.

Surely you would be celebrated all across the world as an artist of fierce passion and devotion, right?

Not so much.

Imagine that no one really gave a rat's ass about your novel, much less wanted to read it. Imagine that most people weren't interested in acknowledging the effort that you put into your novel and were quick to tell you that your years of selfless effort were just par for the course. Imagine that they rolled their eyes and looked bored when you brought it up.

Wouldn't you feel like no one else in the universe really gets it?

Wouldn't you try and make them understand?

I would, by God. I would and I do. I talk about my masterpiece, my Graham, because I can't help it. I have to!

And so would you.

You might whisper at first, to others you suspect are in the same boat but finally you would just raise your voice and demand to be heard.

How is it possible, you will say, that millions of people experience the same thing? How is it possible that you're not the only person in the entire history of mankind who has worked so hard on something and not achieved greatness and glory for their efforts? How can it be that millions and millions of people throughout history have toiled, and continue to toil, in obscurity creating their own perfect masterpieces that no one, save them and their immediate family, really gives a rat's ass about?

It's incredible. It's unthinkable.

It's parenting and it's the biggest freaking trip anyone will ever take.

And I don't care how crazy I sound to the people who have never been parents, had the desire to be parents or worse, wish that parents would just shut up about it all.

Because I've worked so hard on my masterpiece that I have to believe that those people, and the person who left that comment for Vered, are just simply illiterate if they can't appreciate it.

And if they don't want to try and understand how a little boy's haircut can pave the way to ruminating on the infinite complexity of the universe and God's plans for our place in it.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

The Diva's guide to 2009 spring fashions

Spring is just around the corner, I'm sure of it.

I know it's true because lately I've had an uncontrollable urge to weigh in on the spring fashion trends that are crowding the fashion pages of the latest magazines and newspapers.

I feel positivity giddy about the trends I'm seeing this spring - clothes are boasting the kind of bright, crazy colours and bold prints and patterns that haven't been seen since the mid 1980s.

Sure, we're in the midst of a recession. But that's all the more reason to stop taking fashion so seriously. The 80s may not have yielded a lot of timeless classics, but the clothes were silly, irreverent and FUN, just like this spring's most wearable trends.

Frankie says Relax: I say, let's check 'em out.

Read DMD's take on the latest trends over at my Shooting for Hip column at Better Than A Playdate...

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