Happy Monday, friends! Just popping in and playing catch up because I realise that I’ve skipped a blog post (or three) since my promise. On the plus side, you guys, I’ve already crossed three items off my list of 41 things to do before I turn 42. I know it’s nothing to write home about but I’m a mom, remember, which means that I have about 15% of the time and 20% of the energy that most people have.
Inspired by the lovely Astrid, one of my goals this year is to shoot a roll of film a month. It feels so good to lug around my old Pentax again. That thing is a tank. A rusty old tank with lots of buttons and settings and a bona fide light meter and a clunky click that lets everyone within a mile radius know that I’ve just taken a picture. Bear with me while I get used to her again. It’s a whole new/old world, playing with depths of field and apertures and different film. I love Instagram, I really do, but sometimes it feels like I’m taking pictures for other people rather than for myself. I hesitate, I fret over whether or not the photo is good enough, fits in with the rest of my grid, is too yellow, too red, too boring. I’m full of instacurities. The struggle is real (and a bit pathetic) and these days I’m feeling the need to slow it right down. There’s something refreshing about having to wait to see the results, even if the results aren’t always what you’d hoped for. And there aren’t a thousand filters to choose from. The film is the filter, take it or leave it. Case in point, this Fuji C200 roll came out quite red and there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it. I mean, I could Photoshop it but then I might as well go digital.
Here are just some of my favourite shots from mid-June to early July. Strawberry picking and fresh sheets on the line and birthday celebrations and BBQs and tomatoes off the vine and paddling pools. All the best that summer has to offer.
Do you shoot film? If so, I’d love to know why. Which camera do you use and what’s your favourite film?
The light these days and the way it slowly yawns across the bedroom in the morning reminds me of when we moved into this house a little over a year ago, when we were in newborn territory and the dawns were early and the evenings were late but the light made everything better. And now, the days have turned long again, and we’re getting ready to put the house on the market, the house that we literally built from squat, the house that saw Wren roll over and sit up and crawl and walk. I don’t know when we’re moving out, exactly, but it will be sometime in the next six months, and I have no clue where we’re going next, except in England somewhere, within a couple of hours of London.
I’ve moved house 32 times in the past 33 years, if you include a couple of pit stops. This next move will be my 33rd, which means that I’ve moved on average once a year since the age of eight. I’ve lived in four countries, half the provinces in Canada, five different time zones. I’ve lived in tents on mountaintops and cabins by the sea and flats in fancy mews. I’ve lived in big cities and small towns and shacks in the woods; owned and rented and shared housing. The longest I’ve stayed anywhere (as an adult) is two years. No one can say that I’ve been sedentary, that’s for sure. Thirty-two times. Three times ten plus two. Thirty-two. That is a lot of moving, a lot of packing and unpacking of boxes, wrapping of glasses in newspaper, cleaning out of refrigerators.
They say moving is one of the top five stressors in life, right up there with divorce, the death of a loved one, major illnesses and losing a job. How is it that I’m still standing? I don’t have anyone to blame, really. The moves I did, I did all by myself. They were conscious decisions, some rash, some calculated, but for the most part, I made those choices. I suppose I was a bit of a rolling stone in my 20s but let me tell you, my forty-year-old self is ready to gather some motherfucking moss and set some roots, y’all. I’m officially, unequivocally tired of moving.
So much is uncertain about this impending move and I don’t do well with uncertainty so needless to say, I’ve kind of been freaking out lately. However, in an effort to rein it in and freak out a little less about the when, the where and the how, I thought I’d take a cathartic walk down memory lane and write about all the places I’ve lived. Don’t worry; I won’t blast you with all 32 places at once. Are you crazy? We’d collapse into a collective heap of exhaustion by the time we reached my university years. Instead, I’ve decided to write a five-or-six-part series: the early years, the college years, the ex years (part 1 and 2), the single/Montreal years and the married/London years. And because music is my gateway to memory, I’ve included the one song (and sometimes many songs) that defined that time in my life. The kind of song that brings me right back to that address, like a dropped pin.
So, without further ado, the early years.
Rue Tremblay, St-Barthélemy, Québec
Soundtrack: Jon & Vangelis – The Friends of Mr Cairo
You can’t even do a street view of this place on Google maps, it’s so far up in the sticks. Dans le fin fond de nowhere, as we say en bon Québécois. I must have been between five and eight when we lived there and so I have just enough actual memories of this time to be able to write about it.
We lived in a house in the woods; my dad spent an entire summer installing vinyl siding on that house and building the front porch. The siding was yellow, like butter. The porch was brown, the kind of brown you would expect of a porch. The house sat on a cinder block foundation and daddy longlegs used to gather there, on its cool surface. One time, my cousins came over and we spent hours plucking the legs off the daddy longlegs, putting each round abdomen into one jar and the long legs in another. My adult self is ashamed of my sadistic child self and I hope Wren never ever harms another creature.
I celebrated my First Communion in that house. I’m surprised God even let me take communion after my daddy-longleg sins. I don’t remember much about my First Communion but I do remember the pistachio ice cream cake my mom made for me, which was the colour of the Luna Moth we found on our screen door one morning.
We had two kittens, Misty and Midnight; one of them got attacked and eaten by the vicious dog that lived across the street. I feel like I hardly ever saw the dog, I just knew of his presence in the dark hole of his doghouse. And I don’t remember if anything happened to the dog after he ate our cat. I just know that we didn’t have cats for a very long time after that.
The black flies up there in the woods were bloodthirsty suckers. I’d sometimes play ballon poire on my own in the back yard and look down to see hundreds of little vampires crawling up my pant legs. Our school bus was a cross between Ferris Bueller and Twilight. Cliques of weird kids sitting on orange benches and small blood smears on the windows where black flies had been squished after sucking us dry.
Those were the years when I had chronic earaches and I’d wake up in the middle of the night in pain and mom would take me to the window and we’d watch the fireflies until I felt sleepy again. Back when mom used to bake the best chocolate chip cookies and make her own pizza dough and sew our Halloween costumes from scratch and make strawberry jam. Do you know how many margarine bowls of wild strawberries it takes to make a jar of jam? Let me tell you, we picked a ton of strawberries when we were kids. And raspberries under the electrical towers that sounded like giant cicadas.
We lived a few minutes from a lake, which is where we spent most of our summer days. Swimming and catching frogs and playing in the jewelweed that popped when you touched its seedpods. I am directly responsible for the propagation of jewelweed in that area.
My grand-ma lived near the lake. She had a dog named Sunshine. She hardly spoke a word of English and couldn’t pronounce his name properly so she called him Someshine. She should have called him Noshine. That damn dog didn’t shine at all. Someshine spent most of his life curled up on my grand-ma’s lap. He was a poodle and he had an under bite that, to my young eyes, made him look even scarier than he really was. In grand-ma’s basement, there were great big vats of caramel. My cousin Denis and I used to pretend to play down there but really, we were dipping our fingers in caramel, repeatedly. One day, we got caught and my aunt Carol forced us to open our mouths so she could smell the incriminating caramel on our breath, Someshine‘s beady eyes glaring at us from grand-ma’s lap. We were never allowed in the basement again.
Dad was a construction worker but he had a passion for photography so he’d sometimes set up a little studio in the house or we’d go out back into the woods when the trilliums were in bloom and he’d take photos while we picked wild garlic. In this day and age, when you can take a thousand photos a day, it’s hard to imagine not having a photographic and video record of your life, but back then things weren’t as easy and immediate and I’m so grateful that dad took the time. He bought the film, he loaded it, he framed the shots, he took gorgeous photos, he got them developed or developed them himself in his darkroom, and we now have direct access to years of memories thanks to him, albums we still sift through as adults and cherish.
I don’t remember why we moved but we did. One day, we were in a yellow house in the woods, and the next we were in an apartment building a few towns over.
Rue Saint Dominique, Berthierville, Québec
Soundtrack: Terrence Trent D’Arby – Wishing Well; Dire Straits – Money for Nothing; Michael Jackson – Man in the Mirror; Depeche Mode – Personal Jesus; Corey Hart – Sunglasses at Night; Samantha Fox – Touch Me
We moved to Berthierville the summer before I started fourth grade. Having never been to a proper city before, this felt like a CITY, which of course it wasn’t. It was a small town. Population 3,000. We lived on the top floor of a three-storey apartment building, a five-minute walk from school and the pool and the park. It had a small porch. I used to stand on it when it rained and sing “Rain, rain go away, little Jeanine wants to play”. Or maybe I only did that once, with my cousins, and we took it in turns to say our names, truly believing that the Gods would hear our pleas and grant us a spot of sunshine.
When I think of my childhood, I don’t remember much about winter but I do remember my summers on Saint Dominique. During berry season, I spent most mornings picking strawberries. I earned a buck twenty-five a basket. Not to toot my own horn (toot toot), but I was one of the fastest pickers so I’d usually go home with about $15-$20 in my pocket, if it was a sunny day and the picking was good. After a hard morning’s work, shins itchy from kneeling on hay, I’d go to the Tabagie and buy myself a 75-cent Drumstick and one hundred sour patch kids for a dollar (back when you could count your own penny candy). Then I’d grab my book — usually a detective novel, Agatha Christie or Arsène Lupin — head to the pool with a bag of sunflower seeds, which I’d eat until the salt turned my mouth numb, and I’d spend the afternoon under the sun, reading, eating a ridiculous amount of sugar and swimming. When we were done swimming, we’d tie our towels to the monkey bars in the park, and sit in them, like hammocks.
Our apartment complex backed onto a soccer field. This is where I mastered my skills as a four-leafed-clover finder. I spent hours in that field, sat in the grass, training my eye, obsessively searching for four-leaved clovers. I don’t know how or why the obsession began but to this day, I can walk down the street and spot a four-leaved clover on the go. It’s hard to believe that I haven’t won the lotto yet.
In the fall, we built leaf forts, in the winter, snow forts. In December, they turned part of the soccer field into a skating rink. I used to go there on my own, when the sun went down and the lights came on and I’d skate to Johnny Come Home by the Fine Young Cannibals and Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat and I felt like Jayne Torvill.
This was about the age when I really got into music. I had a cassette tape player and would spend hours listening to CHOM and Mix 96, waiting for my favourite song to come on so I could record it on my Maxell tape, over the previous week’s Top 40. Imagine having to wait hours for your favourite song to come on. The anticipation! Life was so much slower back then. This was also about the time we got a Commodore 64, which happened to be our family safe word should anyone try to abduct us. I still remember it to this day.
We had a washing machine in that apartment that went absolutely berserk on the spin cycle. So my sisters and I would take it in turns to sit on it, like it was some kind of bucking bronco that needed to be tamed lest it spin its way down the hall and right out of the flat.
Those years on Saint Dominique were both good and bad years. The man next door used to beat up his wife. We’d hear him shout at her and the wall would shake when he pushed her against it. I sometimes worried that she’d come flying right through the wall and into our living room. I avoided walking near their front door and took the other set of stairs instead.
When I was in sixth grade, I suddenly became obsessed with bathing and washing my hair every single night. My teacher had made a comment about hygiene and he happened to be standing next to me when he said it and I’d got caught in a downpour on my way to school that morning so I naturally assumed the comment was directed at me because I was “poor” and therefore, probably unhygienic. I have a lot to say about the power of teachers on young, impressionable minds, but I’ll save that for another day.
My best friend at the time was Hélène. She lived down the street, on Crémazie. She was a tough girl and my dad thought maybe she was a bad influence on me. Dad was generally a good judge of character. I went from being a grade A student to smoking the occasional cigarette and drinking the odd beer from her dad’s stash and maybe stealing a few things from the local K-Mart, but otherwise we were pretty harmless. I was essentially becoming a teenager and testing boundaries and breaking the rules like most teenagers do. I can see, however, how that would have worried dad. For all his fuck-ups, the last thing he wanted was for us to end up like him.
Dad had a great job and was making great money but then he lost his good job, and left a note on the table and went away for a while. The electricity was cut off for a night and our aunts came over with brown paper bags filled with food (which was terribly exciting because they brought stuff mom and dad never bought like Cocoa Puffs instead of Puffed Wheat), and then dad suddenly came back and it was all a bit confusing.
Not too long after – a week, a month, who knows, chronology is fuzzy when you’re a kid – he left again, this time to go to rehab. I know this because we visited him there. Although I didn’t quite understand why he was there and what drugs were, my worries quickly vanished when he gave us coins for the vending machine and told us we could buy WHATEVER WE WANTED. I hesitated to write about this because I didn’t want to paint dad in a bad light. But life isn’t always sunny and we’ve all got dark shadows and shit in our closets and besides, it was the 80s, wasn’t everyone and their grand-mother doing coke? It’s not an excuse and, as a parent, it’s not the kind of thing I would ever want to expose Wren to, but I’ve long forgiven dad for his shortcomings, just as I’ve learned to be grateful for all the wonderful parts of him, of which there were many.
We left Saint Dominique shortly after. I lost touch with Hélène. I also lost all of my grand-parent’s letters in that move. Grand-pa wrote in ALL CAPS and grand-ma wrote in perfect cursive on dotted lines. It’s the one thing in the world I still wish I had. That, and my dad.
We moved to Rue Lamarche the year I turned 13. The house on Lamarche was known as the castle in the village because, as the name implies, it looked like a castle. Several days a week, after supper in the summertime, I’d walk around the block with mom. We called it a block because it was the shape of a block – four straight sides and four right angles – but it wasn’t your standard city block; it was a good hour-long walk. I did it partly to spend time with mom but mainly because I hoped to catch a glimpse of Michel Désy (sorry mom). Michel Désy was the son of a farmer and he had hay-coloured hair and tanned arms and I had a massive crush on him. BIG crush. I really did think at one point in my life that I would become a farmer’s wife. Sometimes I’d see him heading to the barn in his wellies, or out on the tractor in the field and if he did happen to be out and if he did happen to strike up a conversation, I would let my mom do most of the talking. Because: BIG crush.
Summers on Lamarche were spent reading all of Stephen King’s novels on our front porch and watching the locals play baseball and practicing for the annual lip-synching contest, which we rocked because, being the only English kids in a French town, we were the only ones who actually knew the words to the songs. Something about those contests brought out the extrovert in me and they are some of my favourite childhood memories.
Most of my time, however, was spent biking up to my friend Isabelle’s house on Saint-Joachim. Every summer, her mom would pay us $200 to do a massive spring cleaning/painting/fixing of the house. We’d spend hours working, then hours sitting by the pool, working on our tan and talking about boys. And then, at the start of the school year, we’d take our $200 and go on a massive shopping spree at the mall half an hour away.
The summer of ’89, I got into a fistfight with a girl named Julie, the village bully. I say fist fight, but what really happened was that I provoked her with a minor insult on the bus in the morning so I knew I had it coming when we got off the bus that afternoon because she said “You just wait until we get off the bus this afternoon.” I was, naturally, scared shitless, though I’d never admit it, so instead I said, “I’m not going to hit you Julie, I am a pacifist.” to which she replied with a bitch slap that left my entire cheek numb. And before I knew it my sister, the ninja, jumped on Julie’s back and yanked on her hair like a rabid monkey. Both my sisters were, and still are, tough as nails. From that moment on, I became tough too. Nobody ever bullied me again.
Dad got into a road accident one year and totalled the car. I think it was the only new car we’d ever had. I remember the late-night knock on the door, like something out of the movies. He broke one of his ribs, which stuck out for the rest of his life, like a third elbow. And I don’t think his sense of smell ever came back again. That was one of his lives. There were at least another eight after that. He was a true cat, my dad.
There was a field of tall grasses behind our house, behind our long vegetable patch, which lead to the ball park, and which was bordered by a row of lilac trees to the North. I’d spend hours lying in the tall grasses, reading, watching the clouds go by and daydreaming about living in another time. I was obsessed with the end of the 19th century for a while (probably because of a television show called Les Filles de Caleb) and then with the 60s — the clothes, the music, the peace and love.
When I turned 16, I got a job at the plastic recycling plant in Berthierville. Dad would drop me off in whatever lemon we owned at the time and then pick me up at the end of the day. That was the year I met my first proper boyfriend. He was my manager, the son of the owner. He had a car, a Ford Festiva, and his own apartment. He was a bit of a goon, but I loved him. Okay, he was a lot of a goon. Everyone thought so but nobody said so (he once bought a toy roulette wheel and spent hours drinking milk and eating an entire box of Roulé Suisse and jotting down the odds in a notebook; this went on for days). I think, maybe, he was trying to strike it rich like his dad. I think, maybe, he was my ticket out of that small town.
When I left Rue Lamarche, it was to leave the nest. I was 17. Moving out of that small town was the start of me finding my place in the world, and what a big world it has been.
PS. I can’t believe how long it took me to write this post (I was meant to post it on Sunday). The thing about taking a walk down memory lane is that it’s not a lane at all. There are so many junctions and forks and speed bumps that before you know it, you are miles away from where you started. Memories popping up like dandelions. They just kept coming and they still are. But I have to stop somewhere and so there you go, those were my early years. Back next week with the college years.
I’m sat at a café across from a woman who is holding a little boy who can’t be more than two weeks old and he has those big eyes and that blank stare that you used to have when you were that young and you couldn’t quite focus yet. Were you ever really that tiny? God, I miss you being small and squishy and all the bits that have happened since. Part of me wants to press rewind and start all over again so I can relive it all, really be in it. But then, I’d miss out on what’s to come and I have a feeling that life with you is about to get even better.
You’ve been very busy this past month. Let’s talk about your stair obsession. If left to your own devices, you would spend the entire day going up and down the damn stairs. You’re not walking yet, except for the few tentative steps you’ve taken over the last couple of weeks. The stairs, however, you have mastered. When you’re not climbing up the stairs, you’re throwing things down the stairs. The other day, you threw an entire laundry basket’s worth of clothes down the stairs, one item at a time. Then clapped, chuffed with your hard day’s work.
You’re equally hooked on the slides at the park. As long as you’re barefoot (which is 98% of the time), you walk up the slide, holding on to the edges like a boss, then you let go at the top and slide backwards on your belly. Weeeeeeee! I have a vague memory of doing the same when I was a kid. Mom tells the story of when I was five or six and I came running into the house, squeals of excitement, “Mom, mom, come see what I can do,” and then I ran back outside, straight to the swing set and hoisted myself onto the central bar of the A frame, swung upside down, hung by my knees like a bat, and shouted “I’m Wonder Woman!”
Your other obsession: books. You love hanging out in your room and leafing trough all of your books. You even leaf through mine. I won’t deny that this pleases me so. These days, during your bedtime feed, just as you’re about to fall asleep, you sit bolt upright, point at your books, shout “ook” and I say, “yes, books” and you go back to nursing, reassured, I guess, that they are still right there where you left them. Your new favourite books are La chasse à l’ours and Is this my nose? Every time I ask if you can find your nose, eyes, ears, mouth, chin, you smash the palm of your hand into your forehead. You get the idea, kiddo. The dexterity will come soon enough.
Your favourite favourite thing is to hang outside, rain or shine. “Adide, adide”, you say, pretty much from the moment you wake up. As in, are we going outside now? Pleeeeeease can we go outside? You are by far the filthiest baby I’ve seen in all of London. Your knees are always dirty, your feet and toes too. And there is usually a splinter somewhere on your body. I don’t mind that you look like a wildling. I prefer that you explore your world, get dirty, get involved. Just be careful of dog shit. And cigarette butts. I draw the line at dog shit and cigarette butts. Otherwise, the world is your oyster.
You love to bang on things. With your hands, chopsticks, spoons, the horseshoe that sits by the door. You bang on the couch and chairs and upside down canisters and flowerpots and pans and glasses and the massive can of olive oil that should have gone into the recycling bin weeks ago but it sounds like steel drums when you tap on it and it just makes you so darn happy that I can’t bring myself to chuck it.
You also love to close what is open and open what it closed and put things back in their place (caps on bottles and lids on jars, especially). This makes you sound like a neat freak, which is miles from the truth. You only have to spend five minutes in the kitchen for it to look like a typhoon has hit London, destroying everything in sight.
You’ve started to imitate everything that I do. The other day, I was hanging laundry on the rack, and suddenly there you were at my feet, haphazardly draping clothes over it too. Last weekend, we moved the couch in preparation for your birthday party and you proceeded to push all the chairs towards the wall. And these days, when daddy runs your bath, you try to play with the faucets to adjust the temperature and then you swirl the water below to check that it’s just right.
You still love to suck on bunny’s ears to help you fall asleep or if you need soothing. You suck on one ear and use the other one to rub your eyes. It’s terribly cute but also disgusting (the smell, ugh) and I’m not sure what to do about it.
It’s amazing how much you understand now. When I point at something, you go get it. When I ask you to spit out whatever rank thing you just put in your mouth, you do. When I say bisous pour maman, you lean in and give me a big slobbery open-mouthed kiss. The other day, as I was sat on the toilet, you ripped a square of toilet paper off and handed it to me. This made me chuckle, but also look forward to the day when I can take a poo in peace.
You have six teeth now. Daddy says you look like a baby dinosaur.
Your favourite breakfast this month is porridge. And it now appears that you’ve gone off broccoli. Sigh! Although I know not to stress about it, naps and meal times are still the most challenging part of being a mom.
Your left eye is smaller than your right eye (my right eye is smaller than my left one) and when you get really tired, it starts to squint.
You’ve taken to twiddling your thumbs when you are in deep observation. I’d love to know what’s going on inside that head of yours.
Dancing. You’re really into music and dancing these days. You generally stay seated and fling your arms from side to side, like you’re warming up for Capoeira. And every single time I’m even near the record player, you start to sway.
You love to clap. You clap every time I finish singing a song to you (why, thank you very much, I’m here again in an hour) and every time you think you’ve done something clever. Sometimes you do it so that I notice the incredible thing you’ve done. Other times you do it all on your own. The other day, I caught you clapping at yourself for closing the door to your toy piggy bank.
Coming from someone who spends far too much time caring about what other people think, I love watching you stare at people unapologetically, or squawk excitedly on the tube. You haven’t learned yet how you are “supposed to act” in society. The other day, a lady sat on the bus next to you and daddy. She had the longest fingernails I’d ever seen and you spent the entire journey trying to play with them. Of course, we had to teach you that you can’t go around yanking on people’s fingernails, no matter how freakishly long they are, because that’s just weird. However, I couldn’t help but love your unabashed curiosity. There’s so much freedom in watching you just be, without a care in the world. Please hold onto that.
I am filled with so much pride for who you are and who you are becoming and what we’ve accomplished together, as a family, in the past year. And at the same time, I’m feeling nostalgic for the year that has just passed and how it went by too fast, so fast that I’m not even sure I’ve had a chance to register it. It all feels like a long fog now. But all those sleepless nights, all the worries, all the doubts pale in comparison to the love we feel for you. Here’s to another amazing year together, my little pork chop. I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us.
Well, the day that I’ve both been looking forward to and dreading in equal measure has finally arrived. Today, you turned one! I’ve now known you for 366 days, 18 hours, 45 minutes and 16 seconds and I have to say… the more I get to know you, the more I love you. You are by far my very favourite human. Shhh! Don’t tell daddy.
I started writing your one-year letter at the weekend and I was really hoping to post it today but there’s just so much I want to tell you and besides, I’d much rather spend your birthday dancing around the kitchen with you and playing hide and seek and blowing bubbles and meeting daddy for lunch and rolling around in bed, than staring at a computer screen for hours. I wanted this day to be all about you.
I’ve been taking videos of you almost every single day since you came into our lives. This film is a compilation of those moments. It’s been such a crazy, amazing ride. How strange to think that we’ve already come full circle, that we are about to embark on another 365-day journey around the sun together?
Thank you for giving me one of the best years of my life. I can’t tell you how much joy you’ve brought us, how much meaning and perspective.
I love watching you grow, little one. If you could just slow it down a bit, though, that would be great.
I’ve been journaling for the better part of the past three decades. My first entries were recorded in a red faux-leather diary, the size and thickness of a deck of cards, with a little lock on it for a very small key. I saw the diary on a Bazooka comic strip when I was 10 years old. “Get your five-year diary free for 250 Bazooka Comics,” the strip said. I could have gone for a telescope, felt baseball pennants, a gold-plated ring with my initial on it, a magic magnet set, adventure novels, a sheath knife, or any number of prizes advertised on those strips, but I had my heart set on that red diary. Over the summer and fall of 1985, I ate a lot of gum — 250 pieces of pink, green and purple flavoured rubber. Of course, it wasn’t really the gum that I wanted (nor the cavities that came with it, but I wasn’t about to throw away a perfectly good piece of 5-cent gum), it was the cartoon strip that I was after, which was about as funny as an Archie comic. Eventually I collected all 250 wrappers, counted them twice, mailed them in and several weeks later, my prize arrived by post. It was probably one of the most exciting days of my life.
Once I got it, I wrote in it religiously, each letter in tentative cursive. Each page had five rows on it (one per year) and each row had five lines. Most days looked like this:
Today, Yellow Cat got into a fight with another alley cat. He now has a big scratch on his head. Then my friend Isabelle came over and we played elastics and I made it up to WAIST level. Then mémère called after dinner and asked me to scare the toads away from her doorstep.
The end. No drama.
Eventually, my daily scribblings turned to biweekly entries, then weekly, then monthly until eventually I stopped (I can see a pattern with my blog posts here).
It seems now that five lines couldn’t possibly hold enough space for all the life of a 9-year-old. But maybe things were simpler then.
When I reached my teens, I moved on to cahiers, the kind used to take notes in school. In these cahiers, I spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing over my grades and boys. You can turn the pages to any given day in 1989 and you’ll likely fall onto something like this:
I’m so upset. I only got 87% on my math test. On the plus side, today, Benoit looked at me at the cafeteria. I’m so in love.
The end. Le drama.
Note that Benoit had to look at me because I was the lunchtime cashier at the cafeteria, something I did in exchange for a free hot lunch and two bucks. Ah yes! Was this social suicide? Probably. Whatever! I was already at the bottom of the popularity totem pole. Still, it was a step-up from the previous year, when I worked as a dishwasher with my sisters and cousins. I’d empty trays (trying not to make eye contact with my fellow students… there was inevitably always some joker who took the piss) and load them into a piping hot commercial dishwasher, my crimped hair all frizzy from the hot steam. Needless to say that my life in high school was a prime example of unrequited love.
The journals from my twenties are filled with a stoner’s ramblings. Really deep stuff that doesn’t make any sense now but was so meta and inspired then. These journals are tucked away in boxes, the smell of pot wafting from the pages, in my sister’s basement (sorry, sis) so I can’t regale you with a load of self-indulgent shite today. I sometimes wonder what would happen if I were to smoke a big doobie and start writing, but nowadays I’d probably just end up pulling a whitey and getting paranoid that Wren can read my thoughts.
In October of 2010, I found a copy of The Artist’s Way in a used book store. That’s it, I thought, I’m going to become a writer. I started to write my morning pages with gusto, three full pages every single morning before going to work. But after a while I noticed that most entries ended like this:
I just hit a big fat fucking wall and find myself staring at the crumbs on my plate, looking at my text messages. Ick. I don’t want to write another word today. I don’t feel like pushing through. I’m bored of hearing myself talk. I have better things to do than to waste my time writing crap on paper. Every morning I sit to write. Every morning, my shoulder aches. The right shoulder specifically, the one attached to the writing hand that can’t write. I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write.
By December I’d quit.
I then went through an intermittent dream journal phase from 2012 to 2013. This coincides with my move to London. I suppose I was trying to gain access to my subconscious and extract clues that might help me make sense of how confused I was feeling at the time. Reading these journals just makes me feel more confused. What does it all mean, people?
Words trailed behind her head like the string of a kite, a ribbon pulled by the wind. Letters fall to the ground, dead. My dreams last night seem to be passages of a poem being built by my subconscious in the night. Words whispered into my ears by a muse who hoped I would remember what she said by morning. I do not.
Ice. Lots of ice. The roads were covered with it and I was sliding, always sliding down.
I call my first couple of years in London the lost years. Journals filled with angst and angry rants and indentations made by ballpoint pens that surely didn’t need to be pressed so hard into the page.
Today is the eve of my 38th birthday. When did I become so angry and bitter? I hate my London self. I’ve never felt so alone.
Everyone is so god damn healthy, casually jogging to work. One guy is even running in his suit and tie. His glasses keep sliding down his nose. I used to be like that. Keen. Now I’m sitting in the park, downing a double espresso and smoking a cigarette. It’s 7am. My marriage is falling apart. I don’t want to go home.
Even though I’ve lacked consistency over the years, there has always been a journal lying around the house, waiting to be filled. The common threads from those first cahiers to this current yellow one are fear, laziness and a fair amount of self-deprecation and overall negativity. If you’re looking for a feel-good read, don’t ever pick up my journals.
Having said that, the beauty of journaling is that you can see where you are progressing in life and how far you’ve come and the places where you’re stuck. If you’d read my journals from 2013-2014, you could easily have placed your bet on our divorce, and the odds would have been in your favour. Hence why I hardly blogged during those years. I’m not one to shy away from what’s real but I’d spent so many years writing about our beautiful love story… for it all to come crashing down. I was so ashamed.
But we worked hard. We worked bloody hard to make this marriage work and it’s when I read those journals that I see how far I’ve come, how far we’ve come. And now we have a beautiful, happy daughter and a healthy marriage for it. I’m not saying we’re not going to hit rough patches again. We will. Such is life. But our foundation is so much stronger now, it can take a few hits.
I guess what I’m saying is this, one journal doesn’t tell the whole story. If you feel like you’re in a rut, that you keep banging your head against the same old, tired wall, that you’re a failure, that you’ll never get to where you want to be, that you’re not growing… chances are you’ve actually come a long ways, kiddo. Give yourself some credit. But if you are stuck, start a journal today. Start with these words: I’m stuck. And write where you’re stuck. Then start getting unstuck. And keep writing for a year. If you’re still stuck, try again, try differently.
I started writing morning pages again recently. These days, most of my thoughts are on Wren and motherhood in general and the never-ending question… what will I do with my life? An obsessive thought that was momentarily squashed when Wren was born but has reared its ugly head again with my search for work. Today I feel stuck with the fear of going back to work and separating from Wren and looking for a new home and juggling all the things. But if I look to the past and all the times I’ve felt these types of fears and all the times I’ve overcome them, all the times I’ve broken through to the other side, I know it’s all going to be OK in the end. Sure, it’s a bit of a shit show right now but it won’t be like this forever. I find comfort in that. And because I have a memory like a sieve, I’m so grateful that I have journals to remind me.
Last year I turned 40, an event that was partially eclipsed by Wren’s impending birth, which meant that I missed out (opted out) on the whole turning-forty-birthday-bash thing. To be fair, I’m not a shindig kind of girl, but because I didn’t mark the event with some kind of massive celebration, I sometimes forget that I actually am… 40. That is, was 40. Yesterday I turned 41, so now I’m technically, properly, unequivocally, in my forties.
I thought I would mark this birthday with a list, because a girl’s gotta have something to strive for, right? Last time I did one of these I was 38 and only managed to check a handful of things off the list. Many of these unchecked items have been transferred to this new list; others have simply lost their luster.
So here we go. A fresh year. In the next 365 days, I hope to accomplish the following:
- Swim in the Mediterranean sea
- Switch back to an 80 percent vegetarian diet
- Start each day with fresh turmeric tea
- Read 25 books by the end of 2016 (
912 down, 1613 to go)
- Start baking again, without refined sugar
- Apply for my Canadian passport
- Make Sundays digital detox days (excluding blog posts)
- Start a happiness project
- Run a marathon
- De-clutter my phone: compile footage into monthly videos and organise/delete photos
- Find a fulfilling job
- Take Wren to a music festival
- Write more letters
- Create a personal coffee table book of our travels
- Go camping and hiking at least once
- Start a daily meditation practice
- Develop a roll of film every month
- Buy a fire extinguisher
- Start a private blog for Wren
- Go to a car boot sale in search of old mismatched picture frames, make a photo wall
- Take a driving lesson in London
- Make elderflower cordial
- Write a book (Ok. Let’s be realistic. Write the outline of a book and the first chapter)
- Buy a new bike or fix my old bike, get a seat for Wren and start cycling again
Read a Jane Austen novel (I know, shocking that I haven’t already)
- Grow a garden
- Get an article published on Huffington Post
- See the northern lights
Watch Casablanca Go strawberry picking
- Finish the baby blanket I started knitting before Wren was born
- Go away for a weekend with my husband sans kid
- Learn to speak basic Italian for our Tuscany trip this September
- Go to a taping of the Graham Norton show
- Cook an Italian meal with fresh market produce in Italy
- Keep blogging once a week and write a post that gets 5,000 hits (hey, why not?)
- Write a letter to my 50-year-old self to open on 11 June 2025
- Donate blood
- Take a Guardian masterclass
- Learn to Salsa dance with Joe
- Go to bed earlier, get more sleep
I recognise that this is a SUPER ambitious list, especially with an infant, but this past year has been completely focused on motherhood and although I suspect the next two decades of my life will also be centred around my kid, it’s important that I keep growing as a person and that I do things for myself so that I can be the best mom possible. Hell, I’ll be chuffed if I even manage to knock ten things off this list. As Norman Vincent Peale said: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Yesterday you turned 11 months old. This means that you’re a month shy from turning one, a milestone that I’m not quite ready for you to reach. I don’t know why it gives me such a pang. Is it selfish that I want to keep you small forever?
The weather in England has been particularly lovely lately. It reminds me of this time last year when my work contract ended and we moved house and I spent weeks packing and unpacking and painting bookshelves, standing at the top of ladders with my massive belly, everyone telling me that I ought to be relaxing but I couldn’t, you see, because I was so hell-bent on creating a cozy home for your arrival. Also, I knew that once you came into this world, not much else would get done. Case in point, the stairs remain unpainted, the bathroom floor too. And lots of other bits and bobs around the house remind me of just how busy this past year has been. Recently I took on the task of making a coat rack out of a few cast iron hooks and one of the old floorboards that I kept when the house was gutted. Drilling in the presence of a curious and crawling baby is no easy feat. Once you got over your fear of the drill, you were fascinated by it and wanted to get your hands on it AT ANY COST. Needless to say, I’m glad I got as much done as I did before you were born.
So much these days remind me of those first few months. The light in the house, for instance. The way it comes in dappled on the landing wall and how the shadows dance whenever the wind blows through the sycamore tree outside our window. The wisteria and lilacs are already fading. It seems they were just beginning to blossom yesterday and already they are gone. The cherry petals are now the colour of buttered popcorn, gathered in the creases between the sidewalks and the streets. The elderflower tree at the end of the road is releasing its summery scent. The roses are starting to bloom, just in time for June, your birth month. And mine too.
You’ve recently traded in your favourite word “cat” for “dog”, or something that kind of sounds like dog. You basically point and say “dat” at everything you see. Perhaps you are saying “that” or maybe you are saying a million things that sound like dat. The other day you said “dada” just as your dad was coming up the stairs and I thought you’d finally made the connection but then you proceeded to call everything and everyone dada, even me. I said “mama”, you replied “dada”. It’s an exercise in futility.
A few days ago, you stood on your own for a full five seconds. And then did the same the very next day. And every day since. You are getting very strong and confident on your own two feet but I reckon we have at least another month before you take your first step. That’s fine by me as I fear that you will skip walking and go straight to running. You are, after all, a little canon ball.
Lately, when you nurse, you’ve taken to reaching behind my waist and pinching and twisting my back fat like a lug nut. This is not my favourite thing. And we’ve also reached a point where I can’t carry both you and a bowl of Whole O’s, say, or a jar of peanut butter at the same time. You go fishing and dipping your fingers into EVERYTHING. Glasses of water are your favourite; swishing your hand in and out of the cup and then sucking on your fingertips rocks your world.
You crawled onto the terrace for the very first time last week. You’d never done it before, choosing instead to crawl to the edge of the door and flinging things onto the terrace – spoons, spice jars, shoes. But one rainy morning, there you were. You simply couldn’t resist the puddles and the water gushing out of the rainwater pipe. Before I knew it, the knees of your sleepsuit were drenched in water, your hands up the pipe, your fingers freezing and you were as happy as could be. I tried to snap a photo of you but I keep running out of space on my phone for that very reason – I take waaaaay too many photos and videos of you. Can you blame me?
Your two top lateral incisors sprouted this month so that you now look like an otter whenever you smile or laugh. You also curl your top lip up all the time, presumably because those teeth feel really weird — I call this your Mick Jagger phase. Although it looks like a sign of aggression, I assure everyone that this is your playful face… I think.
On Thursday, I introduced you to watermelon. I stripped you down to your nappy and plonked you on the terrace and presented you with a massive juicy slice. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and messy affair. You went to town, chomping at it with your otter teeth, juice dripping down your chest like a pink waterfall. I think maybe it’s your new favourite food, even more so than peas. And that says a lot — wherever there is a pea in your meal, you find it. You’re like an archeologist, digging for these little green gems with great accuracy and a delicateness that you rarely show for anything us.
I’m sad to say that you’ve outgrown your playmat. Instead, you want us to get down on all fours and chase you around the livingroom. You burst into an infection fit of laughter, curling into a ball like a potato bug protecting its abdomen each time we get close to you. All this tomfoolery does come with a price though. We placed you in the clothes basket the other day thinking “great fun”, until you tumbled out and hit the floor with your face, which resulted in your first proper fat lip (see above). Sorry about that. I’ll tell you one thing though, you’re a tough cookie. You took it like Ali.
You attended your first funeral last week, that of your great-uncle Charlie’s. You were such a ray of light, Wren, bringing hope and happiness to an otherwise sad affair. I think every single person who met you was rather smitten and grateful for the beautiful reminder of the cycle of life. This is what you do for us everyday. You remind us of all that is good and wonderful in this world. So many little joys. Thank you for opening our eyes.
You are so very loved.