me


**My arm is stupid after I decided to drop something heavy on it. The pictures are talking because words hurt right now. I’m fine, but will complain if encouraged.

***If it doesn’t look like me or my children, it isn’t. No I’m not pregnant.

This summer has been big, in all ways possible. Big fun, big challenges, big life. The challenges come from two children who are rapidly becoming real people, who take up the same space, physically and mentally, as any one else. The big fun comes from tagging along while all the Big happens.

There were big chairs.

 

Big lego.

 

Big tubes.

 

And big water.

 

There were big hills.

 

Big summits.

 

And big fences.

 

We traipsed through big streams.

 

With big slime.

 

We caught big cray fish.

 

Built big bridges.

 

And big castles.

 

There were big trees.

 

Big towels after big rapids.

 

And big, beautiful bellies.

 

Mostly it was big happy.

But sometimes it wasn’t. (no picture necessary).

Sometimes it sucked. Okay, sometimes it fucking sucked. Sometimes I wanted to give Kate and Simon to another family, abandoning the plan only when I recognized that at 4 and 7  it would be harder to find “takers”. Sometimes summer is too big.

And then your children hug.

 

And hold hands waiting for the bus on the first day of camp.

 

And it isn’t about big things anymore.

 

 

It’s about small things.

 

And coffee.

 

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I’ll always remember the sick feeling that morning I went to open our garage door and found it locked. To most, especially fellow Torontonians, the idea of not locking a garage door will seem nothing short of insanity, but I’d never even considered it.  At least not yet.

Our garage is detached and situated at the back our property like most downtowners. Our car and bikes access it through a regular garage door in a laneway, and our bodies access it through a regular door-door from our garden. For three years our garage was locked from the laneway only because, well, people will steal anything. The oddity of the locked door-door struck me instantly, and worse was the sight I encountered, through the small slit between the door and the jam, of our wagon in not-its-spot. I had to run around the block to get to the lane because I had no idea where the key was, because… you know. As the garage door opened and I saw what remained of the contents my heart sank. Two bikes, 2 pairs of roller blades, three squash rackets a tennis racket (and untold other, less obvious items we only discovered missing over the following months, always pausing in the midst of the fruitless search with the recognition that yes, that too had been stolen). Even a large paper Gap bag, full of clothes bound for Goodwill was seen, mistakenly I imagine, as bounty for the mighty thieves who hit the absolute mother lode of unlocked-garage-full-of-easily-sold stuff.

garden, door, lane, ignore winter, you get it.

Thankfully what remained was our shockingly expensive double stroller and bike trailer, either of which likely fetching more on craigslist than the whole of what was taken. It’s a small mercy that petty thieves have no idea a moutain buggy duo has enormous secondary market value.

A $500 deductible and resigned acceptance that much of what was stolen we didn’t really need to replace made a house insurance claim a waste, so off to Duke’s we went to replace the only things wehadtohaverightnow – our bikes. Used bikes would have been a more affordable option, but I was so angry and violated, and Igor Kenk had only been in police custody for like three minutes, and I really felt any used bike was probably a stolen bike, that I just…  I just couldn’t.

My new bike is prettier than my old bike. My new bike is has a nicer saddle than my old bike. My new bike has a deep step thru accommodating my hobbit-like inseam (both bikes are 14″ frames – yowsa) better than my old bike for on/off ease. I should have loved it, but it sucked. A lot. Some asshole came through my back garden, past our froggie sandbox, myriad bubble wands, dump trucks and sidewalk chalk, opened the door (no breaking needed) and cleaned. Us. Out. During the weeks that followed I woke up at every noise convinced someone was breaking into our house, our garage, our neighbour’s house, our neighbour’s garage. Marc regularly, sleepily, was forced to stumble downstairs to find the source of the noise, always reappearing with the assurance I’d simply heard the house, not the thief.

new bike. pretty bike. not-stolen bike trailer.

Eventually I stopped being upset, road my new, pretty, easy on/off bike, accepted that it could have been much, much worse (An unexpected, violent downpour meant Marc left his new bike at the office that fateful day in favour of the subway, otherwise making the bike loss total 3 instead of 2), and moved on. In autumn when we went hunting for the air conditioner cover, found it gone and deduced it had been used as a bag to help in the “carry-out”, I was only mildly irritated and  pronounced myself healed, turning the unpleasantness into an anecdote about life in the city. And the merits of locking your garage door.

Let us fast forward a number of years from July 2008 to March 2011, and now there are four bikes- two grown up ones, two little kid ones, a DOUBLE locked garage and a healthy respect for the throbbing, but not always trustworthy city we live in and love. It’s a balmy day at the end of March Break and Kate and Simon atop their new spring bikes are practicing riding (Kate on two wheels Simon on four) along College street in pursuit of Manic Coffee, Jessica and baby Ada. As I busied myself steadying an unsteady Kate on her newly minted, training wheel-less bike, I nearly sent her flying when I stopped without warning dead in my tracks. I stopped because I saw my bike. My old one. The one stolen three years before out of my unlocked garage past my little kid sandbox and perennials. The 14″ frame. The kickstand. THE BELL.

old bike, 2011

What the picture doesn’t show is the rusted chain, flat front tire, wonky rear tire, or the crate filled with trash. Clearly this bike, a bike I believed to be my bike, had sat outside for months unloved and unwanted while I rode around on a new bike when clearly my old bike was not in use. Insert expletive.

I thought about it a lot, half hoping sheer mental force of will would dissolve the U-lock cementing my bike to the post-and-ring, dreaming of the sweetness of a getting back what I should never have lost.  Marc found the 3-years-gone-but-found-down-the-street scenario compelling,  but didn’t completely understand why I cared so much: Even if we could prove the bike is mine did I really want it? Didn’t I have a new bike, a better bike? Wasn’t I over it anyway? Um, yes, yes to all of that. And yes I still want it back. Badly.

I asked police officers chatting in a cruiser, I asked bike cops standing lazily in a park, I phoned the non-emergency number and asked a cop paid to talk to people like me, peppering each with the same  burning question: “I found my stolen bike locked up on College street, what do I do?”  They all said the same thing: “take it.” I said “but I’ll have to destroy the lock.” They all said “it’s your property ma’am, you can take the bike.” Um, okay.

Fast forward a bit further, a couple of months this time to mid-June. With two friends (Tanya and Louise) I helped organize a children’s bike event offering, among other things, free tune ups for little bikes. The time and tools were graciously donated by the owner of a local bike shop (who I have yet to ask permission to blog about, and who might, as will become clear, have an opinion about that. Let’s call him Nice-guy since he’s so much more than just a bike-guy). At the end of our event I asked Nice-guy  about some random clicking on my front derailleur then quizzed him, with bikes on the brain and a possible expert on hand, if he knew how one might want to break into a new-ish U-lock to liberate their bike that was stolen maliciously out of their garage by terrible devil-people marching straight through their garden amidst children’s toys and other wholesome, victimless things. Without missing a beat Nice-guy looked me square in the eye and said “with my cordless grinder, I’ll get your bike for you.” I was taken aback completely. I stumbled, spluttered, was uncharacteristically lost for words, said “oh, um, but you wouldn’t want to do that.” His response was inflectionless and immediate: “yes I would.” Period. And there began the plan for bike liberation, ousting of the bee stuck in my bonnet, resolution of a 3-year-old wrong made right, promises of veggie poutine, beer and banter, all in exchange for a burnt out bike I don’t really need anyway and will have to invest money into to make right, and I didn’t even feel a little bit crazy.

In a final fast forward of just a week-and-a-half we’re all caught up with dates, and Nice-guy, Tanya (Louise was sailing) and I are standing together, looking at the bike. Then I’m lying on the sidewalk with Nice-guy trying to read the serial number, because it turns out nice guys who are also bike guys, really, really don’t want to be bike thieves. After Marc texted me the serial number (he’s a lawyer, fastidious, saves everything, including credit card statements from long-closed credit cards, transcripts from grade school and invoices from everything we’ve ever bought. Ever), we tried awkwardly to read upside down an unreadable number, looking terribly suspicious with a grinder on the ground, manhandling a dilapidated bike. The many passersby were curious but in true Canadian style said little, and were easily deflected. When the woman whose bike was locked opposite returned to fetch it, she looked alarmed and literally ran away from us. Her bike’s departure gave us all the room we needed to take a hard look and find out if it could really, actually be true. I mean, what are the chances? Three years. My neighbourhood. Lots of people have red bells and kickstands. I don’t know what the odds are, but that bike, the one parked sadly for ages and ages, the one abducted so long ago I don’t remember what it feels like to ride, the one that woke me up at night and made me feel violated and angry, the one that was sitting right there for longer than I know, had a dozen little numbers and letters matching right up to the ones on the bill of sale. Exhale. Nice-guy suggested locking new bike to old bike because wouldn’t it be “just the way” that while we ate, drank beer and chatted (we’re not animals, things need to be done in order) the “owner” of the bike came out and took it home. And that’s what I did. And that’s where it all still was when we emerged a few hours later. And here we are undoing what never should have been done.

grinder. sparks. liberation.

And then I found something, in new bike’s crate (probably because old bike’s was full of garbage). A love letter.  I think. Some nights are just perfect.

poetry bombed, 2011

 

 What did we do with the lock we broke?

we left it there.

Kate turned seven. Simon also turned four, but that was back in November and along with the one year anniversary of this blog, I didn’t get to writing about it. Much.  I’m not going to write about Simon or the blog but I am going to write about Kate. I don’t like Kate more than Simon (if it’s a competition, the blog beats both of them anyhow), it’s just that a lot of time is spent fussing over how awesome Simon is. Which he is. It’s nothing in particular, but he’s generally a favourite of people and people generally gush. Not so much about Kate. She’s equally awesome, but it’s quieter, more subtle, the kind of cool you have to get to know. Besides, Simon’s current shtick involving declarations that “he” decides everything, “not parents” suggests the kid could do with a little less air time. So happy belated birthday Simon. Whatever.

Kate was born early on a freezing January morning seven years ago. While a very well-behaved child, Kate does things her own way, and arriving on the living room floor after an unexpectedly speedy labour was just the beginning. Kate was a fitful, cranky baby who we couldn’t put down but no one else could hold – unless they wanted to hold a crying baby. Most people blamed me for her temperament (Marc changed diapers and took turns holding her which made him the kind of hero no woman can ever be  for doing twice the work. Yea motherhood), which at the time I was too tired to address. Even though we are totally, absolutely, completely finished having children, I secretly harbour a desire to have one more, cranky baby. (Simon sucked too, our babies are cranky. Period). I want another cranky baby just so I can tell people to fuck off. No one would do it though because back then I’m pretty sure people could smell my fear and attacked knowing I was weak. I’m seasoned now, people would retreat. Okay that’s a pretty poor reason to have a kid, but this is my blog and I make the rules, so I’m going to realise my dream and give a great big retroactive “fuck off” to all the people who weren’t good to a new mum (whether it was me or someone else) when they should’ve been.  You know who you are.

Ahem, sorry about that.

Kate transformed from a cranky-pants baby into a charming and insatiable little girl. Replete with uncanny humour and unwavering compassion, Kate’s untroubled manner is such a departure from her tumultuous baby-dom, I can’t help but think this, her childhood,  is Kate’s way of saying “thank you.”  Well thank YOU Kate, thank you for teaching me everyday what generosity and kindness looks like when it asks for nothing in return. Thank you for hugging me every time I see you in the hall at school, even when I’m distracted, my arms are full, and don’t realise how much a hug is just what I need. Thank you for the way your mind is always ticking with new ideas and explodes with stories and songs from your imagination. Thank you for the snuggles we get from you every morning when you climb sleepily into our bed, waiting for wakefulness to come while nestled next to us. Thank you for all the everythings and nothings, each day is a little bit better and fuller because you’re part of it.

It’s hard to imagine the wriggly baby, choking on tears, vomiting so violently it hit walls, has grown into a little girl who isn’t all that little anymore. She’s 7, which means nearly at the end of early childhood, on the brink of middle childhood, which gives way to adolescence and… let’s not talk about what happens next, this is too sentimental to talk about those likely dark days.

The impossibility of untangling you from my life, of even imagining life before you, is a sentiment I could barely conceive before becoming a parent. Quite frankly Kate, you’re awesome and I feel fortunate to witness it. Happy, happy birthday babes, here’s to many more…

12 days apart, friends since birth.

… But I might wait a few years before I make bubble gum with five of your friends again.

gum. seriously.

And by way of my friend Paul, and because when I told Simon I wanted to play him a song about January he danced with me with his arms wrapped tight around my neck for the entire three minutes, and because when I put him down he said “that was a pretty song mummy”, and because that’s a true story – you should enjoy it too (and the entire album, but this is a good start).

Marc was in Las Vegas last week and that was fine. Being a single parent would be exhausting and difficult, but four days of not having to think about Marc was sort of really nice. The day before he came home I told Marc he’s either a slob or being in a relationship with him is such an impossible time suck I don’t have time to be tidy, because without him there, the house was spotless. That’s when he said “I’ll stay for another week than since it’s so great without me.”  And that’s when I responded “sure, go ahead, we’re fine WITHOUT YOU.” And that’s when I decided we missed each other and should say that instead. So yes I missed you Marc, I just didn’t miss your mess.

Toronto was finally blessed with a proper snow fall to make the doldrums of cold winter days bearable by having something to do outside other than walk to school.

SNOW, 2011

I recognise this picture hardly represents the scale of the snowfall, having a picture, any picture, obscuring the rotting, threadbare shingles of our garage made me feel better. It made me feel like don’t have a problem under all that snow. Nope, no problem. I’m going to look at this picture forever. Especially in the spring.

Toronto got snow which is fun. Vegas got no snow AND was chilly. When I do the math, chilly + no snow = not fun, therefore:

Toronto – 1

Vegas – 0

Our Friends Jess and Chad invited us over for dinner and I didn’t have to cook OR clean up the kitchen. It was amazing, a gift, I practically floated. We made our own little pizzas, which were delicious (though mine and Jess’ were most delicious). Kate and Simon didn’t really eat because when we visit Pizza Jess (the endearment is a literal one), Super-tall Chad (yup, also literal) and baby Ada (totally a baby), it’s a little too fun to bother with food, but they pretended. At least for a few seconds.

eating. sort of.

Yes they are drinking coke. Yes it’s the only thing they finished (other than the popcorn Chad made after they didn’t eat their dinner). Yes everyone wished I’d brought them a teeny bottle of coke too.

Unfortunately I don’t have a shot of Baby Ada, who is really so delightful and lovely and cute and I wanted to put her in my pocket and sneak her out of there, but I do have one of Jess and Chad even if happens to be a wee bit out of date..

2002, 2011

For those of you who know Jessica and Chad you might find this photo surprising. Especially the Chad part of it. Whoa. It was taken at our wedding (I met Jess in junior high), where instead of a typical guest book we fitted corners into a scrapbook, left it on a table with a Polaroid camera (I know, what’s that?) and gold pen, and people basically got the idea. I’m sure when our guests saw they were given half a page for their message instead of the usual one line, they were really, really happy.

Marc had dinner out that night too, but someone always cooks for him so that makes it less special. Obviously. 

Toronto gets a whole point, Vegas – half.

Now it wasn’t all snow days and dinners out while Marc whooped it up in Nevada. There were also birthday parties, two of them. So what if Vegas has gambling, night clubs, fine dining and… other things, it doesn’t have parties with birthday cakes for loot bags.

cake 1 of 2.

Two kids, two loot bags, two cakes.

 Toronto – 1

 Vegas – 0.

The best thing in Toronto, and something that absolutely, 100% could not be found in Vegas:

better than vegas, 2011

And one of these:

also, better than vegas.

I’d like to offer up “me” as a final reason why Toronto beat Vegas this weekend. Sure, Vegas has a fair streamlined system for replacing spouses (albeit often temporarily), but why would Marc avail himself of such things when he as this:

better than vegas?

Simon took this picture when we got home Friday night, making it an honest illustration of our time Marc-free. Hard to beat? You betcha!

For the two children, 1 point each. For the accommodating, irreplaceable wife, 1.5 points. Vegas got Marc though, which is a point (cue sappy music) but he loses half for anything stupid he did I don’t know about.

Toronto – 2.5

Vegas – 0.5

Grand total:

Toronto – 6.5

Vegas – 1.0

The numbers don’t lie folks, the clear and expected winner is Toronto. I’ll let you know how the city fairs when I’m in Northern New Hampshire for four days in the spring. I suspect the good times come with me, but we’ll see.

Aaaand for the two of you who give a shit:

sweater, 2011

4 – The number Simon turned at the end of  November.

animals that belong to other people are fun for kids at parties (yes, Simon is also taking pictures).

 

17 – The number of commitments we had, individual and family, between December 5-21st.  I’m not sure why I stopped counting on the 21st, before Christmas and before fulfilling all our commitments, but every time I counted, that was where I stopped. The holidays beat me.

48 – The number of times I swore silently to myself because Simon is short and got stuck in the back row during the Kindergarten songs at the school Winter Concert. The only snap I could get was this blurry one as they were filing out:

argyle simon, 2010

When all I really wanted was one like this. But singing:

songless simon, 2010

0- The number of presents/anything Christmas-related Marc organised before December 23rd. 

1 – The number of people Marc decided he was responsible for this Christmas.

1000 million – The number of reasons the holidays are so much cooler now that we have kiddies.

reindeer kate, 2010

5 – The number of things we got up to between Christmas and New Years. Apparently we don’t learn.

7 – The number Kate turned at the beginning of January.

last kate photo of 2010

1 – The number of Queens in the hive at the museum we went to on the last day of December.

last simon photo of 2010

7 – The number of (adult) revelers around my friend Judy’s table on New Year’s Eve (the children were in the basement. Destroying it).

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

innumerable – The number of ways I’m fucked because my friend Steph, a fine knitter who happens to TEACH speed knitting, just declared the sweater we are knitting together (separately, two sweaters, but at the same time, a knit-a-long) wasn’t a race. And I know Steph, and that totally means it fucking is. Steph has a furnace war every autumn, trying to out-freeze participating family in separate households to see who can go the longest before turning on their heat. There is no prize, only the glory of… winning? Of freezing voluntarily (a freeze-a-long?) for no particular reason? Knitting is way more comfortable than that, and the outcome so much sweeter. She has two sleeves and part of the body. I have this:

wool. not a sweater.

2 – The number of mittens I have to finish (Christmas gift- knitters I know you understand) before beginning the sweater.

almost mittens, 2011

1 – The number of lessons I learned about starting a knit-a-long with Steph.

Happy New Year folks!

man, 2010

Dear Man under the Dora the Explorer Blanket, you were right, I’m sorry.

Expectations are funny things. For something that can’t be touched, or seen or smelled, I marvel at how something so seemingly invisible could be so not-invisible. Visible?

I am always tripped up by my expectations, sometimes because I expect something to be different (better) than it is, but mostly by expecting people to do things the way I would do them. I’m reluctant to admit feeling my way is the right way, but unrequited expectations can only mean that very thing. Because really I imagine I’m the nicest, most smartest, most thoughtful-est person in the whole widest world, and anybody who would do anything different must be doing it wrong. Poor Marc, marriage for him is a particularly dangerous mine field – I expect.

I was recently saddened by what I can only describe as mis-matched expectations. I zigged, they zagged, and despite explanations that resonate completely with the zagger, my zigger just couldn’t get it. I tried to listen and understand, because despite my aforementioned perfect-ness, I really do recognise I’m nuts and try to accommodate the sanity around me. Yet there we were, round and round, back and forth, cosmos filling the void between us, and we could do nothing to bridge the disagreement gulf. I imagine the zagger would say we parted ways on conduct, I’d say I zigged over feelings, but either way, we each expected the other to act, then react, differently. So here I am, with all my ideals about  having a moral compass, respect and integrity, and all I have to hold is frayed disappointment, which is about as weighty and invisible as the expectations that caused it.

All grown up and in firm control of what I do with my expectations and the disappointment that may or may not arise from them, I realise my conundrum is really a parenting one: is there a way to teach Kate and Simon to have a strong compass, to embrace compromise but not at the expense of their integrity, to be understanding and thoughtful and to believe the world is full of like-minded people? And can it be done without making them expectation-full and relentlessly let-down by the differences that make people unique and interesting?   I want them to treat people with dignity and expect it in return, and to know when it’s missing, and walk away when it is.  That it’s possible for a boyfriend or girlfriend, or friend, or family member or fellow transit rider/shoe shiner/roofer/gardener/boss/colleague/barista to be as committed to kindness and respect. Are you not always surprised by someone who honks because you’re not turning fast enough, or swears at a cashier in a grocery line for forgetting to ring in a coupon, because I am. I am surprised everyday I see strangers yell at other strangers for getting in their way, and when it happens to me personally, stranger or otherwise, the shock is a thousand fold.

So maybe I’m enormously a tiny bit sensitive, but there has to be somewhere in between it being okay to holler over a mistaken no-foam-but-got-the-foam-latte and horror over the hollering. Certainly there a few, incontrovertible expectations most of us can heartily agree on. For instance, at least as far as I can tell, we’re in agreement that murder is generally bad, we don’t want people to do it, and in fact expect them not to. When someone does engage in the murdering, we are disappointed, collectively, and collectively, expect it not to happen again. Even when it does. Again. And again, and again, and again. Same for driving drunk, abuse, hurting children, ATM charges, system access fees and the impossibly (and infuriating) short supply of the iPhone 4. We expect these things to be different from they are, is that wrong?

After considering the crude list above, I realise the argument lies in that few things are in fact incontrovertible, that for every obnoxious cash machine in a corner store, there’s someone bottle feeding instead of breast feeding and the argument isn’t so clear anymore. I suppose I answer my own question on the nights I’m too exhausted to spell my name and dump a box of Kraft Dinner into a pot of boiling water instead of steaming broccoli and grilling portobello mushrooms. I suppose it’s also how you negotiate your life and the relationships with the people around you. And as hard as it is to relate when Meursault “kills the Arab“, I suspect we are all as capable of that as we are of losing our shit over a latte, given the right circumstances.

For now I’m comfortable with my disappointment, which I assure you persists. Not because I’m oddly committed to feeling bad, but because I’ll take the disappointment as a natural consequence of what I hope is the standard I hold myself to.  I’m still a tad unsure of the best way to teach/model expectations without judgment and strength with compromise, but now that I’ve talked it through I feel even more like it’s possible. Thanks.

And because she only reads my blog to find her name, hi Alison.

alison walking, 2010

p.s. I apologise if you read this before I spell-checked. My secret is out, I spell expectation wrong every time without help.

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