Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Goodbye, Babushka

Apr 28/2020
For posterity, we are in the middle of a novel coronavirus pandemic and my grandmother is dying of pneumonia in a nursing home. Her condition is apparently unrelated to COVID-19, which is surprising, especially given that we received a call last week to let us know that there were cases of the virus in the building.

I didn’t visit my grandmother enough before the pandemic and I haven’t visited her at all since the lockdowns started about six weeks ago. To say that I feel guilty doesn’t even begin to cover it. I keep thinking back to ten years ago when my family’s Black Lab, Nera, was old and suffering, and I was relieved that my mother was the one caring for her. Important to note is that this is a dog my 14-year old self begged for, with all the requisite pledges and promises to single-handedly walk, feed, love, and otherwise care for this creature. I did this for all of two months before tiring of my duties and ceding responsibility, one walk at a time, to my mother. I adored Nera, though, and when she grew white and hobbled, too pain-riddled to stand up for things that used to send her into manic sprees, it was too sad for me to watch. I didn’t accompany her to the vet’s office when she was being put down. I let my mother handle the pain for all of us and I hoped that the unconditionally loving companion who was with me through my teenage years, my marriage, and the birth of my first child, would forgive me.

I feel that I abandoned my grandmother similarly over the past couple of years. My friends and family assure me that with three young kids, a demanding full-time job, and little help at home, my life has been a collection of plates spinning precariously on my fingertips. They remind me of my recent, mysterious, probably stress-induced, autoimmune diagnosis. They urge me to cut myself some slack. I hear them and I want to agree, but the guilt is always there because, deep inside, I don’t actually believe that there is any excuse.

Knowing this would likely be the last time I’d see my Babushka, I drove to her Covid-19-infected nursing home this morning, paid for parking with surgical gloves, and clumsily donned the full-body protective armour given to me by the staff at the entrance. It was hard to tie a mask on behind my head with gloves on. I couldn’t tell if I was making knots, and if I was, if they were tight enough. It didn’t help that my hands were trembling a little. 

My temperature was 36 degrees, according to the talking scan thermometer the nurse hovered near my forehead as I filled out the forms that would help track me down in the event of a proper outbreak there over the next 2 weeks. I couldn’t remember what things I touched with those gloves since coming in and I was pretty sure that my gloves touched the inside of my mask before I put it on. Any further actions to try and fix the situation would only make it worse, so I took solace in the fact that I was wearing two masks; the one I put on in the car, and the one I was given before being allowed into the elevator.

I pushed the enormous, square, Braille-embossed “4” in the elevator with my elbow, while wondering whether it was better to breathe with my mouth or my nose. I decided on my nose, since the cilia (those tiny little hairs in there) might help to ensnare virus particles if any got past the masks. Now was it better to breathe quickly and shallowly? Or deeply and slowly? It didn’t matter because I was starting to cry, and controlling my breathing was becoming too hard to focus on.

From a room somewhere in my grandmother’s hallway came the sound of a woman’s continuous, high-pitched wail. It grew only slightly quieter as I ventured past, and remained as a kind of haunting soundtrack for the rest of my visit. My uncle Peter was sitting beside my Babushka’s bed when I walked into her room. She was asleep or unconscious or in a coma, or conscious but unable to communicate (as was usually the case over the past year or so). I didn’t know. She looked tiny and peaceful and also sounded like she was working hard to breathe, despite the mask and machine that were helping her do so. 

I thought it would take longer for the grief to settle into my throat, but it was swift. Hundreds of thoughts and memories flooded my mind to remind me how deeply she adored me, how selflessly she took care of me, how her eyes would brighten every time I walked into the room. I also couldn’t stop replaying an earlier emergency hospital stay she had when she was several years younger. Her heart suddenly went into atrial fibrillation and she was told it would have to be electrically shocked to bring it back to its normal pace. She was certain she wasn’t even going to make it until the procedure. She sobbed and said she was scared, like a small child. I was terrified, but I confidently told her it wasn’t her time yet, and joked that we would have many more trips to the hospital together over the coming years. It was surreal to have the tables turned, offering my babushka, my heroic caregiver, the kind of comfort I always took for granted from her. It was her fear that I couldn’t stop replaying now. I thought about how terrified she might be at this moment, facing her actual end, unable to speak. I prayed that she was in a place of peace and dug deep to understand what my role could be in this liminal moment. 

My uncle took a phone call in the hallway and I took the opportunity to desperately tell my Babushka that I love her and i love her and I love her. I didn’t know what else to say. It was hard to find the words because I spoke in Russian to make sure that she understood me and speaking Russian is hard work for me at the best of times. As I spoke, I paused to consider that my voice suddenly sounded just like my hers. Maybe it was the masks or the tears, or a combination of those things somehow, but it was undeniable and uncanny. 

My uncle came back in and asked me why I wasn’t wearing an N-95 mask. I told him I put on what I was given downstairs! And why wasn’t I given a proper mask?! Back downstairs we went to get a proper mask. Social distancing protocols were thrown away as my uncle helped me put it on, touching the mask, my hair, my face, with his bare hands. Now I had a proper mask. Was that better?

We went back upstairs. My uncle (a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine)  held his palm to my grandmother’s forehead and a finger to her wrist. He monitored her pulse closely at all times, not to confirm life, but as a way to help communicate with her. When her pulse quickened or slowed, this told him something about how she was feeling. He told me to take off a glove and to touch her head too. I asked if that was ok, and he said it didn’t matter. I was embarrassed to say that I was also asking for myself. Whether it was ok for me.

I did take a glove off and touched her forehead, holding it there. I spoke to her quietly, telling her that I loved her again, trying to hold back my tears. I considered whether it was better to show her my raw grief or to hide it from her. What would she want?

After a few minutes, my uncle asked me if I wanted to go now. I did and I didn’t. I knew it was silly, but I was so sad that I hadn’t gotten any kind of signal from her that she could hear me there with her. I couldn’t help but want the impossible. Reading my thoughts, my uncle raised his voice to a near shout, calling in Russian quite close to her ear, “Mama! Mama! Can you hear me?” He did this a few times, but nothing changed in her demeanour.  

I was close to deciding that it was time for me to go.

He shouted again, this time telling her, “Laura is here! Laurachka is here to see you!”.

He looked at me and told me that her pulse had quickened.

Just then, her right hand began to tremble and lift up into the air. She was reaching out for me! I took her hand and shouted in the best Russian I could muster “YES! I am here to SEE YOU and TALK TO YOU! I love you SO MUCH! I am HERE!” I willed for my love to become palpable in her hand. My uncle and I wept onto our masks. I continued to hold her hand, and shouted assuredly through my sobs, “WE WILL SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN ONE DAY!”  

I made the choice to leave then, crushed, hoping that I had offered something meaningful to my Babushka in her final hours. I hoped that it was possible for a moment to possess the condensed solicitude of many squandered years. I imagined that when I squeezed her hand, my delinquent devotion finally flowed into her like sunlight, illuminating her way out.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What are you busy defending?

Thirty-six years ago, my parents fled the Soviet Union. Unlike their "comrades", they dared to think differently: they dared to dream of a life that they could barely imagine possible. They dared to dream despite the dangers of doing so. They dreamed of a life where people didn't say one thing to your face while meaning another; a life where they could be free to listen to whichever radio station they wanted to without fear of being reported and disappearing forever; a life in which they would have the freedom to discuss religious text without hiding; a life in which they were not crammed 10 people to a single room flat because that was the amount of space they "needed" and this was what was allotted them; a life in which equality was a dream of equal opportunity rather than the pipe dream of equal pay for grossly unequal effort, which stripped everyone (with the exception of a lucky few - how ironic!) of their dignity.

With only a vague plan and just the clothes on their bodies, my parents left the U.S.S.R. with my toddler brother. They had not a dime to their names, only their dreams of discovering a better version of life for themselves and their child. Before being allowed to leave the country, however, my mother - who was an engineer - was forced by her boss to participate in what can only be described as a public shaming ceremony. This was required by law to be conducted for anyone choosing to leave the Soviet Union (provided they were lucky enough to figure out how to do so, of course). A "party" was thrown in her honour, but rather than celebrating her achievements and contributions, she was subjected to vocal scorn and an official stripping of her communist accoutrements. She took it in stride and participated in this most unpleasant of Soviet experiences with the satisfaction of knowing it would be her last.

I didn't hear about this story until fairly recently. As a direct result of taking my life in Canada for granted, I never really asked my parents any meaningful questions about what life was like for them before leaving the U.S.S.R. Every so often, a story would be told, and I would listen to it the way a child listens to a storybook that she suspects couldn't possibly be true. It couldn't be real, I told myself, and continued to blindly take my own freedom for granted. This was how I behaved as a child. As an adult, however, I have a different perspective.

Today, I feel a bit of regret when I think about how much time I have wasted dreaming of a better world instead of shouting Canada's praises and embracing the ground beneath my feet. My parents arrived on Canadian soil abused, bewildered, impoverished and alone. Canada nourished them and brought them back to life. I owe my very existence to this country. I am so appreciative of it that I am sometimes brought to tears just thinking about it. I see its flaws and I still dream for it to approach a more perfect version of itself. Often, however, I unapologetically love it just the way it is.

I also regret how much mental energy I wasted opposing war as a concept and denying that human beings could have as much "bad" in them as people suggested. It turns out that although war is bad, it really only exists because people can be bad. Very, very bad. I hate to say that, and I wish I didn't believe it. To add to this truth, unfortunately, bad people aren't always stupid. That would make things too easy. Sadly, the world has produced countless examples of very bad, very intelligent, people - and these people have wreaked havoc on humanity, time after time. These bad people are the ones who destroyed the world's Marxist-Leninist and otherwise socialist experiments (and will continue to destroy future iterations, regardless of how pretty they look on paper), the ones who murdered millions of people in the name of world "purification", the ones who have convinced people to raise their children to blow themselves up and take as many people with them as possible in order to further their cause. Sadly, (and maybe this is too pessimistic) bad people will always exist, and it's more or less idiotic to live life thinking they won't strike again. Try as you might to communicate reasonably with evil, it won't meet you halfway. And if you let your guard down, you can guess the consequences. It will also apparently use the media to try to convince you that it's the solution to or the victim of, rather the perpetrator of the evil in question. As it turns out, it will often somehow succeed - probably because we just don't want to live in a world where the alternative is possible.

When talking about evil, by the way, I use Dr. Jordan Peterson's definition of evil, which I learned so many years ago in a U of T psychology class that changed the way I see almost everything. To greatly simplify, he states that "evil is the conscious attempt to make the conditions of existence more pathological than they have to be." He also explained in one of our classes - and I'm paraphrasing - that evil is the result of an arrogant disregard for the evidence leading you to a better perspective; it's the insistence on continuing to function within your paradigm despite evidence that your paradigm no longer works. To get your mind blown open by one of his talks, click here.

Working on the improvement of the world is not negotiable (and according to Peterson, it starts inside the individual), but there are some societies that invite that kind of work and other societies that kill the dream - either through brainwashing or the threat of death - before it even has a chance to take hold. I consider myself extremely lucky to live in the former, and I sing the praises of countries around the world whose mission is to keep those channels open. I've personally made the decision not to accept any excuses for evil. Poor living conditions or prior slights, for example, do not excuse evil behaviour. Not within myself and not from others. It needs to be identified and called out for what it is - and the ability to do that is one hundred percent worth fighting for.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Why write?

I rarely introspect anymore. I have two kids. I'm a busy woman. I don't have a huge amount of spare time for life's frivolities. To me, life's frivolities include but are not limited to: baths (I still shower; I'm not disgusting), watching an entire episode of something, reading more than 8 pages of a novel per day, playing an old ditty on the piano, picking up my kids' shoes instead of vaulting over them. This is clearly not an exhaustive list - just a sampling off the top of my head. Interesting, then, that what I am choosing to do right now -  at 12:30 am after a long and tiring day - is to spill my thoughts out onto virtual paper for virtual readers. If you have gotten this far in this entry, I'm flattered. That is to say that my readership expectations for this blogging thing aren't particularly high... And yet I do it anyway.

So why write?

For me, it hearkens back to being 8 years old and not being heard at the dinner table. This isn't a sob story, by the way. I'm definitely not complaining in any way about my incredible childhood but for reasons that were (and still are) beyond my comprehension, my thoughts and opinions weren't received with as much enthusiasm as I demonstrated when sharing them. Maybe I lost my family's confidence when I decided to watch "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" for the 65th time. I don't know, maybe you can't blame them. I do think I was grossly misunderstood as a child, though. All I know is that I had plenty to say and not enough people to say it to. So what did I do? I skulked up to my room after dinner every day and wrote in my journal. I still have my first diary somewhere. It's painfully weird to read it because part of me still feels like that goofy little girl, struggling to create a valid and meaningful connection with other human beings.

So maybe that sums it up. I blog because -for me- it's the surest path to another person's heart and mind...which is connected in its own way to thousands of others. An incredible opportunity to reach out and make a tiny impact through poignant words on this vast and noisy network of minds.

Excellent. Now I can sleep!

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Questionable compliment of the day #4

Maya's daycare teacher, as we were leaving for the day: "Laura, you have such a good body for someone with two kids."

Me: "Thank you so much!!!" (followed upon arrival to my car by an icky question mark feeling in my brain, some mild  introspection and finally a deep confusion.)

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Stuff my DAUGHTER says!

It's bananas, but Maya is only weeks away from turning 2! And the stuff that comes out of her mouth is priceless. I wish I could follow her around with a video camera. Logging some of these gems here will have to work as a close second.

Me: "Maya, would you like some honeydew?"

Maya: "No! Honeydon't."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Stuff my son says - Age 4 (minus 3 days)

This conversation took place in the middle of the night. I should add that his dad was out of town on a business trip:

Jacob: "Mom?" (shouting from his bedroom across the hall)
Me: "Yes? Is everything ok?" (responding from my bed)
Jacob: "We should floss my teeth tomorrow."
Me: "OK."
Jacob: "Mom?"
Me: "Uh-huh?"
Jacob: "We should also start mowing the lawn."

He is SO his dad's son.

PS: Should I be proud that his sense of responsibility is so strong that he wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about the things that need to be done, or should I be concerned that he seems to think I need to be told what to do??

Sunday, July 07, 2013


Last night, I was working on my résumé. As I looked over my previous employers and my reference list, I realized that I had lost touch with a former colleague of mine from my days in the Deputy Prime Minister's Office. Marie Jubinville-Carrière worked at the desk across the room from mine. Between us was a comfortable distance and a wide stretch of carpet that carried the feet of countless political advisers, speech writers and Members of Parliament who clamoured for the DPM's ears. Sometimes, they would sweep through the space between us, stopping only fast enough to announce their arrival to Marie, whoosh through the DPM's double doors, and fly back out with the DPM between them. One would be holding her purse, the other her coat, which floated in the wake left behind them. Our large desks, mine piled high with constituent correspondence and hers strewn with schedules and sticky notes, were the only two being used in this government office. Besides, of course, the desk of the Deputy Prime Minister herself - the Honourable A. Anne McLellan - which sat stolidly behind heavy wooden doors more often closed than not.

Marie was usually smiling, even when I knew she couldn't possibly be feeling the smile inside her. Someone had clearly taught her that complaining about life never changed anything for the better. When something ticked her off, she would just look at me and say "bon", as if to invite me in the fun of ignoring what had just happened.

Through the window behind Marie's back, I could see the on-goings of busy parliamentarians below and a large Canadian flag fluttering in the wind. Unlike mine, her desk was flooded with light because of that enviable window. I often wished that we could trade desks, but I reasoned that she had earned that spot, having worked for the federal government for fifteen years.

When we weren't buried nose-deep in work with phones on both ears - when Parliament wasn't sitting, for example - we sometimes chatted. She told me all about her many siblings with their varied personalities, her endless battle with her weight (chips and dip were her go-to after-work snack), and the fact that she and her husband, Rick, slept in separate beds - not because they didn't love each other deeply but because of his intolerably loud snoring. She gushed to me about her cat, whom she loved like a child, having no children of her own. She counseled me through a wedding planning crisis (arranging my Toronto wedding from Ottawa was proving to be more stressful that I had imagined it would be) and she loved to give me morsels of marital advice, always straight from the heart. During my breaks, I would often bring back a green tea latté for myself and rave about how delicious it was. After finally tasting mine one day, Marie agreed and would always request that I bring one back for her too. I happily did, loving that I had introduced her to something we could both indulge in while we quietly worked.

When seven phone lines were engaged at once, Marie would sometimes swear in her native French Canadian way. I always giggled when that happened, being careful to do it quietly. Nobody likes to be giggled at when they're stressed out. Despite empathizing with her, I learned not to offer help in those moments - there was nothing I could do, she would tell me, exasperated but thankful that I had offered.

These are the moments that crackle in my head when I think back to my office companion in that corner of Parliament Hill. We weren't friends in the traditional sense of the word - she was almost twenty years my senior - but she did quickly become a mentor to me in a number of ways. I was particularly grateful to share such close working quarters with someone who always looked on the bright side of life. Later, through my various future work experiences, I would learn that colleagues like that are to be cherished. Many people choose to be unhappy and ignore the gifts available to them in their lives. Marie was the antidote to people like that.

The last time I had tried to get in touch with Marie was in 2008. I knew that she was likely no longer reachable at her old e-mail address (she had been seconded from her post at Health Canada when we worked together) but I tried anyway. Last night, I tried again. I figured that LinkedIn would be the perfect way to find her. I was surprised when a search for her name produced nothing. I decided that maybe a Google search would bring me more luck. Sadly, it did. The first search result to appear was a link to Marie's obituary in the Ottawa Citizen. She died "after a courageous battle with brain cancer on January 15th, 2011 at the age of 49 years."

Despite not having seen Marie for eight years, I am still having trouble processing the fact that she is no longer here. She was vibrant and happy and showed no sign of illness when I knew her. Especially not in her mind. Now I wonder if maybe she was struggling with a terrifying new diagnosis when my last e-mail landed in her inbox. Or perhaps she was too busy praying for a successful surgery to bother with her e-mails. Or maybe she was reeling from chemotherapy. Maybe she had given up on the conventions of communication by that June of 2008, too sick or too far gone to respond. Or maybe she was still perfectly healthy, back at her old Health Canada job, unaware that there was a tumour growing in her brain that would swiftly take her life two and a half years later.

In the few moments that I stared at Marie's obituary page, I was reminded of the time that I wished we could trade places so that I could also enjoy some of the sun that streamed through our office window. Now I'm obviously grateful that she was the one who was given that privilege. It also reminds me to appreciate the rays of light that I am given on a daily basis - my incredible kids, my exemplary husband, my 92 year-old grandmother, my own and my family's health. It can all be swept up from under my feet tomorrow, so best to appreciate every minute now while I can. And so, Marie continues to be a mentor to me, even in her death. Thank you for everything, Marie. You may be gone, but you are certainly not forgotten.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Stuff my son says

As we walk quietly down the street on a beautiful spring day, we passed by a nice woman walking her black and white shitzu.



Monday, April 29, 2013

Stuff my son says

Jacob: Mom! Guess what! On Wednesday, I'm going to be the TEACHER'S HELPER!!!

Me: Wow, Jake! You sound really excited about that - I'm so happy you're so excited to help out!

Jacob: Ya! I think about it in my DREAMS!!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Stuff my son says

Over a container of strawberry yogurt:

Jacob: "What's in this, mama?"
Mom: "Strawberries and yogurt"
Jacob: "Is it for gentlemen?"

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Stuff my son says

At the end of a 90-minute long daily bedtime ritual that includes stories, talking about the day, snacks, and cuddles, my mind often starts to wander by the cuddling part to the pile of dishes in the kitchen sink, the laundry in the basement and the next episode of Mad Men that's waiting for me in the living room.

"You have to slow down cuddling, Mom. You're going too fast."

And just like that, everything else can wait.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Hungry for Change

Yes, it's another food documentary... but do yourself and humanity a favour and WATCH IT NOW. I almost fell into the trap myself of opting out of another food-related preach-fest, but it turns out that this one is quality and needs to be seen by every human on the planet before it's too late. I always said that sugar and refined flour were just like crack, heroine, and all the other fluffy white chemicals that swallow your life if you let them. Finally, people might be starting to believe it. I hope.

Actually, what I'm feeling right now is rage and that's what inspired this post. I'm so angry at myself for caring so much what other people think. Why do I feel like I have to lie about the fact that I stay away from processed foods most days of the week? Why do I have to make up excuses at restaurants with friends and family when I don't touch the bread, don't order the pasta and ask for salad instead of potatoes? Why do I feel guilty for not letting my son have a juicebox at the birthday party, at the picnic, at the baseball game? I think I'm finally through with that. That will be such a massive weight off my shoulders.

The fact is, I'm the mom. I'm here to set an example and to protect my children from the things that might harm them in this world. I know how this is going to sound, but I'm going to say it anyway: it's become dead obvious to me that people are out to get my kids. I am not being an alarmist or a psychotic paranoid. It's simply the truth. Food companies don't want to die and they will do whatever is in their power to stay alive. They will hire marketers, and these marketers will make commercials designed to get my kids salivating over the chemical cocktails they are peddling as food. Then they will have the gall to somehow package it as a healthy snack. They will also take advantage of our antiquated food labeling laws and use only the 25-letter scientific name for each ingredient that my kids (and most adults) obviously don't understand. The grocery store will then stock the fake food at just the right height for them to see it, touch it, cry for it, and drool over it again. I won't buy it for them, but when they taste it at a birthday party, they will think it's one of the best things they've ever eaten - and they will think that I must not love them if I am depriving them of something so delicious that other kids are clearly allowed to eat on a regular basis.

Please, parents, stop the insanity. We are the bosses here, not the kids, not General Mills or Kraft or McCain. Dr. Oetker is not a real doctor. Aunt Jemima is not your aunt. Uncle Ben is not your uncle. They don't care about you or your children at all. Granola bars have the word "granola" in them and that may remind you of hippies who hike, but if you picked them up at Loblaws, they are NOT healthy and do not make a good after-daycare snack. Fruit juice - unless you have squeezed it yourself (and even then it's somewhat debatable) - is not a wholesome thing. The stuff in the tetrapacks sometimes can't legally even be called "juice". They have to write "drink" on it instead and in many cases, it's got as much sugar as Pepsi. Yes, it comes from fruit, but are we really still that naive? There is no shame in saying no to these things. It would be so much easier if we were all on board here.

I honestly can't believe that I am about to quote Che Guevara, but it just seems so apt: "The revolution is not an apple that falls when it's ripe - you have to make it fall." Let's grab those apples, people!!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Stuff my son says

Jacob: "Mommy, where was I when you were 3 years old?"
Mommy: "You didn't exist yet!"
Jacob: "Was I in your tummy?"
Mommy: "No - you were weren't alive yet!"
Jacob: "But where was I??"
Mommy (at a loss): "Um, you were with God."
Jacob: "Is God a babysitter?"

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Stuff my son says

Mommy: "But I thought you didn't like dinosaurs, Jacob"
Jacob: "I like them when they're happy."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stuff my son says

When they got to chapter 3 in his bedtime book...

Jacob: "Daddy, where's my 3?"
Daddy: "What? Because you're 3 years old? That's just how old you are."
Jacob: "So is the 3 inside of my body?"


Friday, September 07, 2012

Stuff my son says

Here's a peek into what my 3-year old believes only adults are allowed to do:
"When I get older like Daddy, I'm going to drive a boat and eat pickles."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Growing pains

I know I've made mistakes in the two years and eight months that I've been a mother, but I'm in a new zone now - a tricky time when it feels like the repercussions of my actions and decisions can have long-term consequences. Though he can't articulate his feelings, my Jacob is keenly aware that life is about to change for him in a major way. He's been acting up, working to rule, and crumbling into a mommy-stay-in-my-room-forever mess each night at bedtime. Making matters more difficult (there's always something, no?), I threw my lower back out a couple of days ago (perhaps early signs of labour?) and haven't been able to be myself with Jacob since then. Tonight, the pain was so bad that I couldn't handle the emotional outbursts and cuddle demands that have become the norm with my toddler as of late. I behaved badly and raised my voice at him out of desperation, believing that somehow he would mature 10 years in that instant to understand why mommy just needed to lie down right now. Of course, yelling at him only made the situation worse (obviously). For some reason, I think I decided at some point that it would be better to get him used to mommy being around less often in the few days before he becomes a big brother. It hit me all of a sudden though, that I couldn't have gotten it more wrong. When I'm recovering from major surgery with a newborn in my arms is when life will teach him the things it needs to teach him. What I need to be doing now is pushing through everything to give him as much of myself as I can. Pain or no pain, immobility or not, I'm his mommy and he needs me now more than ever. I got a grip, swallowed my pain and general inability to move as a massive pregnant woman about to burst, and knelt down at his bed to talk and hug and cuddle. That's all it took for him to become a little ball of sunshine, adorable enough to devour. He asked me to please not yell at him next time, at which point I swallowed back an ocean of tears, which erupted when I left his room and only recently subsided. Lesson learned: as a mom, always err on the side of giving too much of yourself rather than suffering the regret of not having given enough.

Saturday, March 10, 2012



It's been a while, I know.  I've been gestating a human for the past 32 weeks and also started working full time right around when said human was conceived... so I've been a much, much busier version of myself than usual.  Busier, in fact, than I've ever had the pleasure (if you can call it that) of being.

The first 28 weeks of this pregnancy went so well that the time just flew right by.  Without the strange aches, stretching, and tugging that I remember from being pregnant with Jacob (not to mention the insanely rare diagnosis of Pseudotumour Cerebri that left me wondering on a daily basis if today would be my last day living with the gift of sight), this pregnancy was a breeze.

Since then, though, things have steadily been getting tougher.  It all started with a cold.  We all get colds; they suck.  This cold, though, was ugly, and eerily tenacious.  After three weeks of continuous and unabating symptoms, it showed no signs of easing up.  My colleagues have taken to calling me "Patient X", blaming me for the gradual demise of everyone around the office over the month of February.  And they're probably right.  The virus has found a host that won't kill it (that would be me - thanks, pregnant immune system) and it's having a blast.  I'm now entering week 4 with this bug.  I'm starting to think I should give it a name.  And no, it's not an infection that can be treated with antibiotics - that much has been confirmed by several doctors.

This all would have been exhausting enough, except that my prolonged, violent coughing actually caused me to fracture a rib several days ago, launching me into a world of pain that I can only compare to what I imagine it might feel like to be impaled by the horn of an angry wild animal.  Normally, the highest caliber of pain killers and cough suppressants would take care of the situation, let me get some sleep, and gradually recover.  Of course, those are off limits to me while I'm pregnant.  Shifting in my sleep is excruciating, breathing deeply is out of the question... and I don't think I need to explain the desperate agony of coughing.  It's been character building.

Here's to hoping these issues resolve themselves over the 8 weeks I have left to go before baby is born.  It would be nice to enjoy some restful nights before what I already know is going to be an exhausting (but wonderful) year ahead.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

You forgot a step, mommy.

I knew that going away to work all day would cause Jacob to grow up faster than necessary.  He's now apparently taken the disciplining duties upon himself, even when he's the one being disciplined.

He was having a before-bed tantrum tonight, so I asked him if he needed a time out.  All signs pointed to yes, so I put him in his time-out spot (a corner in his bedroom), and left the room.  I failed, however, to fully close the door behind me - which is something that's always part of the time-out drill.  Rather than pop out from behind the door after 5 seconds as he usually does, he pushed his door closed gently, from inside his room.  When I peeked in, I saw that he had gone back to his time-out spot to mull everything over (which is the whole point!).  He stood there for as much time as he needed to think, and then his little hands appeared on the side of the door to pull it back open.  He gave me a hug and a kiss and announced, "sleep!"

Friday, July 08, 2011

Don't bother calling.

This is really interesting to me.  Nearly two years ago, I went out and bought a portable phone base and three handsets for our home.

One day last year, out of the blue, we noticed that one of our handsets was missing.  After weeks of searching and countless fruitless "paging" efforts (the phone eventually died in the crevasse that it fell into, I guess, rendering the page function useless), we gave up on it.  We were down to two handsets.  It was a bit of an adjustment for a while, but we got used to the idea of it and made do.  Frustrating, but not the biggest deal.  Our house isn't that big.

About 6 months ago, I noticed that finding one of the two phones when they were ringing was mysteriously more challenging. Somehow, they were "both" always upstairs when I was in the kitchen, or they were "both" in the bedroom when I was doing the dishes.  Eventually, I put two and two together (or not, as this case implies), and discovered that the reason it was so hard to find a ringing phone in the house was because there were no longer two handsets to choose from.  We were somehow down to one.  Again, paging was of no use this time, because evidently the phone was already dead when it disappeared.  All signs point to phone suicide.  Very strange.

 Living with one phone in the house was an adjustment to say the least.  So much so that Dave brought home a phone with a cord that would sit in the kitchen until our lost phones decided to come home.  This worked reasonably well for us for a while.

Yesterday evening the phone rang.  For once, Dave and I were sitting down together, taking it easy.  Would've been nice to be able to chat with whoever was calling on one of our portable phones.  We scoured the environs to no avail.  We both quietly realized that the phone-with-the-cord was the only ringing phone we could hear.  We looked at each other and knew.  They were all gone.

Now we are getting used to the realities of single phone-with-a-cord living.  I can't say that it's easy, but it puts things in perspective.  I can see what's important now and what isn't.  I do want you to know, though, that all those times that you call and it rings 5 times only to be followed by our voicemail, I'm actually home, running frantically to reach the one phone left in my house.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chocolate Hazelnut Memories

I was looking through pictures just now, and came across my chocolate hazelnut torte (from Wanda's Pie in the Sky cookbook) that I totally forgot to blog about back when I made it a couple of months ago.  Take a look:

Chocolate Hazelnut Torte

If I could offer you a slice, I really would, if only to watch your reaction when tasting it.  It was truly over-the-top decadent.  See all those nuts clinging to the icing on the side (and perched on top)? Those aren't regular old hazelnuts, they are chunks of praline, which I baked the day before making the cake.

Hazelnut Praline

Making this dessert was not the easiest task I've taken on.  It was the product of an entire evening's work that made use of almost every single kitchen device and baking sheet that I own.  There might have also been a desperate trip to a bar at 11:30 p.m. upon discovering that I didn't actually have any Frangelico (a hazelnut liqueur) that was called for in the recipe.  The bartender looked at me like I was entirely out of my mind, and reminded me that it was illegal to leave a bar with alcohol.  I pulled out a tiny tupperware and whispered that nobody would ever know.  Shortly thereafter, I skulked out empty-handed, ashamed at the new low to which I descended in the name of baking.  In the end, I used Kahlua instead and it was delicious.

I think the best compliment I got was that it tasted "European".  For some reason, if I've made a dessert taste European, I feel like I've struck gold.  I also learned that shortly after my grandmother and uncle Peter arrived in Canada from the Soviet Union 30 years ago, they almost started a business of their own together whipping up tortes just like this.  Apparently, their version of the torte was so good, friends and neighbors were accosting them to make more for every possible occasion.  Soon, they were receiving orders from strangers, and making a nice buck in the process.  They even went so far as to negotiate a deal with a grocery store chain, which was more than happy to bring them on as clients... but they didn't have the means to invest in a large-scale bakery that would make the project worth their time.  Sad story.  I would have loved to have cake makers in the family.  That's one family business I would gladly take over in a second.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Since becoming a one-income family, certain things have changed around our house.  Going out for dinner, for example, has become a lot more of a luxury (especially sushi… mmm sushi).  Clipping coupons is not unheard of, and I’ve memorized the schedule of low, medium, and peak hydro usage times for each season so as not to throw away dollars unnecessarily by doing laundry in the morning, for example, when I could just as easily do it at night.  There are other things, too, whose value I’ve been surprised to find myself questioning.  While nothing is too good for my baby, I can’t help but wonder if that “Twisting Tots” class at the local parenting centre is worth the steep price tag that comes with it.  Yes, Jacob would get to twist in the company of his little buddies, but can’t I just as easily set something like that up in my living room for free? All I would have to do is invite some of his friends over, turn on some kid-friendly tunes, and lead by example.  I’m learning the hard way that being lazy is not an option for the penny-pincher.

Something else that’s become a luxury is free time.  Yes, Jacob naps for a couple of hours during the day, but that leaves me just enough time to clean up the disaster of all disasters on the main floor of the house, which was created approximately three minutes after Jacob woke up and which had to be stepped over while it grew cancerously in every room, threatening to either trip me or get stuck to me if I wasn’t careful.  My son has a sixth sense for being able to avoid the mess he creates while simultaneously adding to it.  I suppose I could leave the mess and play scrabble online until he wakes up (and I sometimes do), but those aren’t good days.  For so many reasons.

All of this then gets me thinking about the moms out there whose one income is a lot less ample than ours is.  And about those moms out there who are going at it alone, making free time a pipe dream about as likely as a winning lottery ticket.  I have the option of asking Dave to babysit if I want a night out with the girls.  I have the option of hiring a babysitter if there is something that urgently requires my attention outside of the house.  There are others who really aren’t so lucky.  When I wasn’t a parent, I had no idea how insanely expensive childcare is.  Now I get it.

Tracey Cairns (founder of WomenAide – a charity for women who have suffered spousal abuse) has thought about those moms too, and has created a website called, designed to ease the stress associated with finding and paying for childcare.  Essentially, it’s a site that brings together like-minded moms from the neighbourhood so that they can become friends and ultimately swap childcare favours at no cost to each other whenever the need might arise.  It’s one of those ideas that I wish I thought of myself.  More than once, I’ve caught myself sitting on my couch wishing that there was someone out of my mom acquaintances that I wouldn’t feel awkward asking to watch Jacob for a couple of hours while I ….. (fill in the blank) this afternoon.  I know I would be happy to return the favour.   I, for one, am rooting for Tracey and  It’s about time there was a childcare option out there that was dependable and that didn’t cost a small fortune. seems primed to change the landscape of childcare in our province.  I’m sure the rest of the provinces are next in line.  Kudos, Tracey! 

Friday, May 06, 2011


all of my plants died, except for one. They were all thriving, growing, looking relatively happy - and then I decided it was time to transplant them outdoors to do their thing on their own. You know, set down some roots, flower, all that good stuff. My green peas are looking pretty good. I'm holding out hope for them. Everything else curled up and died. Clearly I did something terribly wrong. Maybe I spread out my love too thinly. It probably would have been a good idea to maybe focus on one plant or two. It's like a first-time mom having octuplets without help of any kind and expecting everyone to be happy. It was too ambitious. It's ok. I went out and bought some more mature plants and planted those instead. Things are looking a lot better now. I'm already snacking on chives and arugula on a regular basis, which is all I really need to be happy.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Happy Spring

Hello! I've just about awoken for the year.  Today I heard a cardinal shouting at me from the tree in my neighbours' backyard, and if that's not the alarm clock that will get me out of hibernation, I don't know what is.  Seeing a couple of robins hop about in my yard is a close second, only because they do it rather quietly.

In anticipation of the end of the March that threatened never to end, I paid a visit yesterday to my gardening place and picked up twelve seed packets.  Today, I'm happy to say, I planted them all into little pots and am officially waiting for some green to poke through.  I tried this whole planting from seed thing once before, and it promised to be such an exciting experience.  It was a few years ago in a rental apartment that Dave and I were sharing.  I watched the little tendrils peak out and then curl beautifully open, and shoot up a little before dying a slow and ugly death.  I had three little pots and threw them all out before summer even began.  I'm really hoping this time it goes better - especially because I have twelve of them.  I watered the soil this time before planting my seeds (I forgot to do that last time - rookie mistake), but otherwise, I can't say that I've done anything differently.  Perhaps the little seeds are aware that I'm a mommy now and will feel safer in my care this time around.  Let's hope.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Stuff my son says

"Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii rawawa"

(Translation: "I love you, mama")


I don't understand time.  Where is it always off to? How is it possible that my son is already a year and half old; walking, learning the alphabet, communicating his thoughts and feelings to me and everyone around him?

He likes music, that much is abundantly clear.  He knows what he wants to hear and definitely knows what he doesn't.  When a song comes on that doesn't jive with him, he will take matters into his own hands.  He'll walk right up to the stereo, reach up his little arm with his nimble little fingers, and simply turn it off.  Or sometimes, he'll even press 'next' and the offending tune will be removed and replaced with the one he was hoping for.  And then he'll dance.  I just sit there and stare when that happens, overwhelmed that my baby boy has somehow become both independent and tech savvy.

He is also computer literate - or at least he's getting there.

This morning, I found him sitting quietly on my bedroom floor, typing away on Dave's laptop, which he had somehow taken down from somewhere he shouldn't have been able to reach.  It was turned off, but he was hacking away at those keys like a pro.  Had it been on, he might have written something groundbreaking, but we'll never know, now will we.

Monday, November 29, 2010

This was good.

I once heard that when you're putting your kids to bed, you should always ask them to tell you about the best thing about the day they just had, even if it was just a moment's length.  This encourages them to think positively and it sends them to sleep with warm thoughts rather than stressful ones.  That always stuck with me, and when Jacob is old enough to share his thoughts using words, we'll definitely put that into play.  I've also decided that I could really use to adopt that practice for myself.  It's so easy to focus on all of the stressful and negative things happening to you throughout the day, that all of the good stuff practically vanishes before you can even register it.

I'll go ahead and choose the following moment as today's moment because I'm fairly sure nothing will beat it.   I was slouching on the coach wrapped in a blanket, unable to shake the night off, imagining indulgently that I was still in bed sleeping, and that Jacob was too.  That wasn't further from the truth, of course.  He was up and running (yes, he now runs!) from toy station to toy station, pawing at one mound of fun and moving on to the next.  Moments earlier, Jacob had urged me to turn on the stereo, which I did, but instead of listening to that music, he went straight for one of his own music-making toys and banged away over top of the song playing through the speakers.  Too tired to get up and turn the stereo off, I watched, dreading the noise-upon-noise I'd have to endure for the next 15 minutes or however long it would take him to tire of his synthesizer.  Somehow, though, I eventually found myself zoned out (or zoned in?) to the sound of Elvis Perkins' Ash Wednesday, as though the beautiful song was actually playing in my head, with the rest of the noise now muffled in the background.  For the few minutes that it played, I think I might have fallen asleep, all the while savouring every note like melting chocolate.  It was a short, but nourishing morsel of good that's still getting me through my day.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Stuff my son says

Gleefully, while pointing urgently at the cookie being unwrapped for him:


Questionable compliment of the day #3

Background: This one was given to me by my husband's grandfather a lifetime ago at my brother-in-law, Joel's, bar mitzvah (!!!)  Its ambiguity has kept me replaying it over and over again in my mind since then.

"NOW you look good."

here you go, bro.

It's really about time I did this.
Please check out my brother's website.  It's awesome.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Questionable compliment of the day #2

Background: I received this perky compliment moments after a makeup artist completed her final touches on me  in preparation for a wedding I was going to be marching in.  I might add that I was two months pregnant at the time.

"You clean up really nicely."

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Questionable compliment of the day #1

Background: I received this compliment at a BBQ last night, straight after a 3-hour drive back to town from Muskoka (and a dip in the hot tub before the commute).

"I love your hair.  I've been staring at it all night.  It's so whimsical."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Never again, The Bay. Never again.

First off, how great is that pic? Wish I could say I took it, but I didn't.

A couple of days ago, I found myself at the Bay in Yorkdale to purchase a gift for a bridal shower that I was going to attend later that day.  Since my days are pretty scheduled now that I'm a mom, I made sure to call in advance, and put the items on hold so that they wouldn't be snatched up by someone else before I got there.  I had everything figured out to minimize the amount of time I would need to spend in the store with my almost-one-year-old, who was having a bad day.  What I failed to take into consideration was the complete and utter ineptitude of each and every single staff member working there.  "Working," is rather an exaggeration, really.  More like "staring vacantly into space while striving to answer my questions using vaguely comprehensible speech".  If that's working, then they were working really, really hard.  My friend pointed out that The Bay seems to be trying to spruce up its image lately, what with "The Room" downtown and the coolification of "the blanket" that everyone can identify, but nobody actually owns... and yet walking through the Yorkdale store is like walking around in "Today's Special".  In fact, Jeff would have definitely been more helpful, and he's a mannequin.  Speaking of mannequins, I could have propped one up at the checkout counter and ventriloquized the entire (absurdly long and slow) interaction, and it might just have worked out.  It would have made it a lot more enjoyable for me, so maybe next time! No.  Never again, the Bay.  Never again.