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what african guy?

May 18, 2016

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“Motherfucking cocksucker motherfucking shit fucker what am I doing? What am I doing? I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m doing the best that I can. I know that’s all I can ask of myself. Is that good enough? Is my work doing any good? Is anybody paying attention? Is it hopeless to try to change things? The African guy is a sign, right? Because if he isn’t, then nothing in this world makes any sense to me. I’m fucked! Maybe I should quit. Don’t quit! Maybe I should just fucking quit. Don’t fucking quit! I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to fucking do anymore! Fucker! Fuck shit!”

Some days I feel like Jason Schwartzman in I Heart Huckabees. What does it all mean? What is everyone doing? Why are we here? Why do we die and where do we go and why can’t we make collect calls to heaven and ask for advice about life from the dead — it’s short, they would say — and where the hell is heaven anyways, if anywhere?

Ever since the day Wren was born, I’ve carried this low-grade anxiety with me. A primal survival instinct kicked in that morning, something telling me that I must stay alive at all costs, for as long as possible. Whereas before the idea of dying was rather inconvenient, now there’s downright no room for death in the calendar. Sorry death, I’m terribly busy raising this child, she needs me more than anything and you can’t really expect me to drop everything for you, can you? Go find someone else to play with until our scheduled meeting in 2075.

Joe’s uncle passed away suddenly last Tuesday. His death was unexpected, but perhaps unsurprising given his lifestyle. He was far too young, 62. My first feeling, after the initial sadness, was anger. I was angry at him for not taking better care of himself. Angry that he won’t be around to walk his girls down the aisle. Angry that his kids’ kids won’t have a grand-father. I realise now that most of my anger was misdirected. That this event triggered old resentment towards my own father for leaving us too soon. It hurts every day that he never has and never will meet Wren, not on this physical plane anyways. And now that I am a mother, it raises the question, wouldn’t you do anything in your power to stay as healthy and as full of life as possible for your children? Wouldn’t your love for them trump any addiction? Wouldn’t you quit smoking, lose that extra weight, go to therapy, eat your vegetables… anything to be the best version of yourself you could possibly be? Or is that just self-righteous thinking? And maybe even selfish?

Death walks with us every day. It doesn’t only knock on the doors of little old ladies. It is indiscriminate. There’s not always, almost never, time to say good-bye. It seems cruel and unfair and far too risky not to be your best self. We are on this planet for such a short time, a blip really. We have a mere moment to unapologetically embrace who we are, to share our own individual gifts with the world, to dream big, to check things off that bucket list, to fly our freak flags, to shine our light. To do otherwise seems disrespectful to whoever created us (our parents, for starters) and to the dead, who constantly remind us from the ashes on the mantel piece and the gravestones in the cemeteries that life is finite. All those names engraved in stone of people who no longer walk among us, how strange to think that our names will someday join theirs. There is no truer truth.

So maybe I don’t smoke a pack of cigarettes every day, but I do have my own bad habits — I’m quick to anger, it doesn’t take much for me to press the panic button and expect the worst, my fears are so big sometimes that they swallow me whole, I place far too much worth on what other people think of me and I spend a lot of time moaning about shit that just doesn’t matter.

I want to be stubbornly glad and fearless and fully alive. I say this with all the woowoo-but-true realisation that comes with the loss of someone. A realisation that is all too often temporary and then we get on with our lives. We carry on because we must, but we don’t have to forget the lesson. And it’s such an important lesson: death is ironic in that it shows us what it means to be alive.

I am typing this post with one hand. Wren has a cold and is sleeping in the crook of my right arm. Her hair is covered in pesto from today’s lunch. Her cheeks are the colour of crab apples in October. She sounds like a piglet with her stuffy nose. Someday, when she tells me that she wants to be a singer in a punk rock band or an astrophysicist or a circus clown or a horse whisperer, I’ll tell her that she can be whoever she wants to be, that she can do anything. I want her to always feel safe expressing who she is, to have a positive outlook, to create a life with purpose and meaning, whatever that means to her… but telling her these things won’t matter if I don’t embody these values myself.

This week, when we lower Charlie into the ground and pay our respects to a man who brought so much joy to everyone with his cheeky smile and kind ways, I want to honour him by honouring life and trying my best to kick my own bad habits.

So long Charlie, until we meet again. Heaven just became a whole lot more fun with you up there. Say hi to my dad for me, will you?

xo

 

the secret life of objects

May 8, 2016

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For the first time in twelve years, I was living on my own, in a new apartment. I arrived at Casgrain Avenue with very few possessions — one bowl, a couple of plates, some cooking essentials, a kitchen table and chair, a small dresser, a few boxes filled with books and a Sia CD that played on repeat the better part of those first few months. The two-bedroom apartment echoed in its emptiness, a constant reminder of the “fresh start” that I hadn’t asked for. I hit the yard sales hard every weekend that summer, driven as much by necessity as a need to keep busy. In short order, I scavenged vintage yellow glasses, a cast iron skillet, mismatched silverware, a bookshelf, a bed and a Poang chair.

All that was missing was a couch.

I’m not picky. How hard can it be to find a couch? After scouring flyers and furniture stores, my search for a couch began to seem like an endless, circling odyssey. If it wasn’t too leathery, it was too beige, too small, or too L-shaped. It was too plain, too patterned, too poofy, too rigid, too soft, too flowery, too shiny, too upholstered, too IKEA, too fancy, too cheap, too something my family had in the 80s, too someone else’s basement. In short, either I was more discerning (read: picky) than I thought, or finding a great couch was something of a Holy Grail hunt.

Turns out I simply had something specific in mind because the moment I laid eyes on the green velvet couch, I knew we were meant to be.

How to describe the sofa that stole my heart? Massive, for starters. And characterful in a retro meets chic kind of way, meaning that it could have just as easily fit into a pot-smoking hippy’s shack as in Marie-Antoinette’s parlour. Born in Montreal, sometime in the late 1960s, this funky Chesterfield was covered in bright velour, the colour of unripe olives. It was perfect — and if you can believe it, free.

Its current owners were moving back to Germany and they couldn’t afford to ship it home, plus at seven feet long, it was too much of a challenge for anyone less than an intrepid soul. I may be picky, but back down from a few logistical obstacles? Never.

Fortunately for me, the two movers who blithely replied, “No problem,” when I told them of the size of the sofa, were not quitters either because if finding the couch had been an odyssey, getting it home into my new apartment was positively epic.

It took the movers forty minutes and knocking on three tenants’ doors to gain access to a few feet of space just to get the couch down four flights of stairs and out onto the street. Traveling the three kilometres between apartments was the easy part; getting this baby into her new digs, however, was another hour-long feat. Sixty minutes filled with blood, sweat, scratches, bruises, one broken light bulb, some wall damage and no shortage of French curses and piss-takes, one mover going so far as calling the other a tilapia fish, which to this day remains the strangest insult I’ve ever heard. But, by 10 pm that Saturday night, the movers were gone and I blissfully sank into the velvet queen’s plush cushions.

As I lay there, replaying the last two harrowing hours in my head, I started to think about all the other stories woven into this couch. I couldn’t help but wonder who else had struggled to bring it into their home? What other adventures in narrow staircases had this wild child survived? What kinds of conversations had it been privy to? Was it witness to kisses? What dreams were dreamed on it? Did it see many cocktail parties; was it wiped clean of spilled martinis? How many coins and remote controls and socks had it swallowed?

I felt this irresistible urge to know. I started my research the very next day.

I began with Eric Bodden, the German doctoral student who had posted it on Craigslist. When he and his girlfriend moved into the apartment on Durocher in the summer of 2008, there was a hole in the hallway ceiling and a giant green couch in the living room. Inbal, the previous owner, had donated the couch to them, very much aware of the logistics of moving the beast.

At first,” Eric said, “We didn’t really like the couch. It was green! What a dreadful colour!” But as the months passed, they grew quite fond of its cozy cushions, so perfect for snuggling and watching movies on long winter nights.

With Eric’s help, I was able to find Inbal Itzhak, who moved to Montreal from Israel in the summer of 2005 to start a PhD program at McGill. Inbal inherited the couch through an organisation that helps to connect newcomers with people who wish to give away old furniture. When she and a mover came to pick it up from a young family in the city’s West End, Inbal recalls: “It was very difficult to load it onto the truck. It was even harder to get it up to the fourth floor apartment.”  The mover paid a toothless homeless man to help him cart the couch upstairs, a slow and painstaking affair. To get it into the apartment, they had to disassemble the door, and the couch ended up making a gaping hole in the vestibule ceiling. “It was never fixed during the three years I lived there,” said Inbal.

Of the couch, Inbal says: “As magical as this couch was, it wasn’t the coziest. My boyfriend and I always laughed that it was made to prevent people from being naughty because it was simply not comfortable for making out. But I really loved this couch. Everyone who saw it loved it, it was special and had character and a funky colour. I used to tell people as a joke that I got it from Buckingham place.”

When asked if she remembered who the previous owners were, Inbal was able to find a faded name and phone number on an old calendar and from there, it wasn’t difficult to track down Mike Deutsh. “My wife and I got the couch as a gift from her great-aunt Sylvia, who was the original owner,” he said. “Before we got it, it had been sitting her a basement in Cote-St-Luc, probably untouched for 40 years. The whole room was in a vintage state: wood paneling, thick carpet, matching 60’s coffee table (which we still have).

Eventually, the springs started to give out (I like to think it just hadn’t been used for so long, rather than my body being exceptionally dense). So my dad and I did one of our weekend special projects and added a layer of plywood or wood beams, you should be able to tell by looking underneath. I still have a jar full of the original tack nails that were holding the thing together.”

According to Deutsh, great-aunt Sylvia had the couch custom-made in the 1950s by an upholsterer on Park Avenue named Patak. It was their main living-room sofa for many years. When the kids moved out and she and her husband were able to afford it, they purchased a new cream-coloured couch, and the green one was moved to the basement. “It didn’t get much use down there, which explains why it seemed musty when I got it,” said Mike.

Now sitting on that same couch, years later, I started to look at the secondhand objects around my apartment with renewed curiosity. What secret lives had they lived before moving into my home? Have you ever picked up a mug at a yard sale and wondered where it came from? Did it make the long journey from Taiwan, did it ride the conveyor belt in a factory in Wisconsin or did a potter shape it in a studio by the sea? How many people enjoyed their morning coffee in that mug before you brought it home? How did it get chipped? What’s the story behind it?

That summer, I sold most of my belongings and boxed the rest and moved to London. The vintage yellow glasses — I chipped one of them one night when a friend came to visit from Vermont and we opened the whiskey and before I knew it the bottle was empty and she and I were having a dance party in my kitchen — the Poang chair, the mismatched silverware found new homes. The couch was the last thing to go.

I miss my giant green couch. It was good to me at a time when I needed goodness. Set against an aubergine and cream wall, it gave life to my living room. It took care of me in times of sickness and loneliness when all I could do was watch reruns of Grey’s Anatomy. It served as a scratching post for a friend’s cat on numerous occasions. It overheard some of my deepest secrets. I curled up and fell asleep on my love’s lap while he read The Wind in the Willows to me on that couch. I spent mornings lounging on it with friends, in pyjamas, drinking bottomless cups of coffee.

My chapter in this couch’s story may have come to a close, but its story isn’t finished yet. It now sits in my friend’s yoga studio in Montreal’s Old Port. I often wonder how it is doing in these new incense and Om-filled surroundings. I hope it provides comfort and inspiration to new visitors every day. I hope it beckons animated conversations. My old couch is ageing, entering its 60th year, but it still has a good 40 years left and many more chapters to fill and I’m curious to see where it goes next.

They say one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. What distinguishes rubbish from gold depends, partly, on personal taste. But when an object also comes with a great story, it becomes imbued with emotional significance and therein lies the treasure. So don’t be afraid to ask questions next time you hit the yard sales. Invested with meaning, the objects you buy may be worth more than you bargained for.

 

 

 

 

 

dear wren (10 mo)

April 30, 2016

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I’ve written this post in small chunks over the past thirty days, a sentence here and there, in the quiet moments, few and far between. I’ve written it, fingers frozen, on park benches while you slept in the pram; in cafes, surrounded by strangers; on my phone, one-handed, while you nursed; dictated on the fly on the way to the corner store; handwritten in a notebook, with the door to the dishwasher conveniently left wide open — all knives removed — giving you free rein to the cutlery tray in exchange for five uninterrupted minutes.

Hence why this post is disjointed, like a patchwork, with the only thread tying it all together being your cheerfulness, which continues to cast a spell on everyone you meet.

You turned 10 months old on Wednesday, which begs the question, “Am I stuck in some sort of time warp?” Wasn’t it just last week that my waters broke on the way down the stairs and your dad had to run up to the bedroom to get me some fresh pants while the taxi driver waited to rush us to the birthing centre and we got stuck in traffic on a Friday night at the height of a heat wave and I was crouched down in the foot well, 9cm dilated, making feral noises with every contraction and your dad was afraid that I might give birth right there and then?

Whoever said the days are long but the years are short was right.

This month you figured out how to climb the stairs. You had absolutely no interest in them until you saw another little girl climb them. You watched her tackle those stairs like a boss and thought, “Oh! Is that how you do it?” and up you went. I can already see a bit of a competitive streak in you.

You recently started to say cat. Except that you don’t say cat. You say Ca…Ta, with a pause between the Ca and the Ta. I give you ten thousand points for enunciation. The reason you say cat is because your dad has been stubbornly trying to teach you the word even though you have zero frame of reference for it, except for Owlcat, your species-confused stuffed animal (it has the eyes and ears of an owl with the tail of a cat, hence its name). You now call every animal in every book and in every field Ca…Ta. I want to correct you except that, first of all, you’re far too young for grammar lessons and secondly, I see your reasoning: it’s furry, it has four legs, it must be a cat.

Some of your favourite things to do lately include: opening and closing cupboard doors, swimming at the local pool on Saturday mornings with your dad (i.e. hurling yourself off the edge of the pool into the water a foot below), and taking cards out of my wallet. You pull a card out, examine it closely, chuck it on the floor, and then proceed to do the same with every single card. And when you are done, I place all the cards back in the wallet and you start over again. This is a great trick when I want to carry on a conversation with a friend but eventually you get bored and I become one of those moms who can’t actually carry on a conversation. Apologies to all child-free friends, we mothers know that we have crappy listening skills and we feel awful about it.

I’ve started taking you to Stay and Play dates every Friday. As soon as I set you on the floor, you are off like a flash, approaching everything and everyone with complete fearlessness. I’m fairly certain I could step away and you wouldn’t even notice. Someone said the other day that you had a very confident face. I think there’s no better compliment for a mother, especially one who hasn’t had the best track record for high self-esteem. I hope you’ll always remember that you are made of stars, that you are unique, that you can do anything you set your mind to. I hope I’ll be there to remind you every step of the way, while also teaching you a thing or two about humility because there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance and you don’t want to be the latter. Nobody likes a twat.

What else have you been up to? Teething. You’re getting ready to sprout a massive tooth and you’re not happy about it. And if you’re not happy, nobody is happy. You need extra cuddles to fall and stay asleep and I’m reminded this past week of the early days, when I survived on only a few hours of sleep every night. How in hell did I manage that? I’d give you something for pain relief but Calpol might as well be baby crack for the way you suddenly spring to life like Tigger, in the middle of the night, your batteries charged to one thousand percent. So, cuddles it is for now.

Teething is giving you a whole new face. Your cheeks are pink with fine capillaries on the surface and weathered like your great-grandma Lambert’s and you keep curling your lips back, like you forgot to put your dentures in. We’ve been calling you granny Wren all week.

You’re all about imitating lately. If someone coughs at the table next to us, you cough right back. If your dad toots, you make a tooting sound with your mouth. Your parroting skills are pretty impressive, which means that we might soon have to start rethinking a few of the unsavoury words we use around the house… or at least, start replacing them with French equivalents.

I love the little freckle over your left ear. Has it always been there? And the way your hair is starting to curl at the back and grow over your ears. You look a bit like Darryl from The Walking Dead. Your dad and I think it’s funny so we’re just going to let it grow and see where it goes. We get our kicks where we can.

Here’s a list of things you’ve put in your mouth recently: the oregano that you spilled all over the kitchen floor last Monday (your breath smelled like doobie for the rest of the day), toilet paper, a huge clump of soil, all sorts of leaves, grass, twigs, and shampoo. And here are things you very nearly ingested: a goat turd, metallic star confetti, little balls of Styrofoam and maca powder, which makes me wonder how the human species has survived this long. You generally give yourself away when you suddenly turn quiet. This is not your natural disposition so I always know that something is up when the da da da’ing stops.

What else? Oh! You poo standing up, which make sense, I guess, because… gravity. But it looks really weird. Just this morning, papa was brushing his teeth and you crawled over to him, hoisted yourself up, grabbed on to his pant leg and proceeded to take the biggest dump known to man, locking eyes with him, grunting, red in the face. I swear if you could talk you would have said, “Mind if I just stand here and take a poo? I’ll only be a couple of minutes.” Someday, you’re going to hate me for sharing this on the Internet but I do believe part of my role as a parent is to tease you, just a bit, so that you don’t grow up to take yourself too seriously. It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself.

You now understand how to put things together. You don’t quite have the coordination to stack things gracefully but you know that they are meant to go together and so you use brute force – like, Gladiator force — to get things to do what you want them to do. You can also be uncharacteristically gentle, like the way you took my hand the other morning and then took daddy’s hand and joined them together. It was the sweetest thing.

Vbc vcvds=^çè23as mnq1      W     ZÙZA!!AA b muy06. This is a message you typed on the keyboard while I was trying to blog (precisely why I need quiet moments, ahem). You love the laptop, especially when sounds come out of it and if you press the right key, the music stops and then starts again LIKE MAGIC. I can’t see this laptop lasting much longer with you pressing every ounce of your 17-pound frame onto it.

Still, I like your coded message. I like to imagine that if I decipher it, I’ll discover the meaning of life, which I think I caught a glimpse of the other day when you were sitting by the window and the afternoon light hit you just right and you were completely fascinated by a sprig of parsley and I thought that’s it, that’s it right there. That’s what it’s all about. That complete sense of awe and wonder for the simple things. And my how we adults whizz by it all, so fast, so fast. The days are long but the years are short.

Thank you for being my little guru.

Love,
Mama

a new kind of mini-break

April 22, 2016

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Write. Before you drive away and forget it all — the goats with their alien eyes and wizard-like beards, the three shy sheep and two blind pigs, the hens, the ducks in the pond, the rooster named John, which you assume was named after John Wayne for the way he walks legs wide apart, a broad swaggering gait, to stop his spurs from cutting into his shanks.

Write while the sun is still shining, while your croissant with the homemade jam is toasting on the wood stove, while your campfire coffee is still hot, while Wren is busy crawling in the tall grasses.

Write before you romanticise it all. While the idea of goats roaming around your shepherd’s hut is romantic, the reality isn’t so nice when you are desperately trying to get your baby to sleep and it’s nearly 9pm and they are scratching their horns on the underside of the hut and the dog is barking at the sunset and all you want to do is sip your cider under the stars — all I want is to drink a bottle of cider by the fire and eat a freaking sausage off a fork, is that too much to ask? — because you refuse to believe that you can’t simply do things the way you used to before you had a baby.

Write, quickly, while you have a few minutes to spare because time is fleeting.

You foolishly thought you would have so much time — to finish that Virginia Woolf book and write a couple of blog posts and organise all your photos and shoot an entire roll of film and make a few videos for Instagram. Oh! How idealistic. In your magical musings of life in a shepherd’s hut, you hadn’t factored in the child, who clearly had her own agenda. Those two hours at night when you had planned to do all those lovely things? Vanished. Quickly eaten up by a hyperactive and over-tired kid who refused to go to sleep. And when she finally did fall asleep, you followed suit, exhausted from having all three been tucked into a twin bed the previous night, top and tail “sleeping”, plugging any air gaps with the duvet because the fire died down around midnight and the wind kept blowing through the cracks in the window sills.

You both used to love that shit. You still do. At least, you still desperately want to. But your bones aren’t those of a 20-year-old anymore and your hips need a bit more cushioning than they used to and all those small comforts are compromised when you have a little break dancer kicking your face in the night.

You can see, in that moment, how easy it would be to just stay at home all the time rather than packing what feels like the entire contents of your house into one car for a mini-break, which, by the way, is a misnomer when you have kids.

No, you certainly don’t do it because it’s easy or relaxing. You do it for something else now. You do it because if you don’t, you risk becoming lazy. You do it to share new experiences with her. You do it to watch her pet the goat in this weird state of fear and fascination, a quick yank of the ear that surprises both her and the poor goat. You do it so that she will, hopefully, grow up to appreciate nature and be adventurous too. You lead by example. You do it precisely because you are forty, dammit. And because you don’t want to be an old parent (on the inside, at least). And because if you are curious and open enough, she can be your doorway to wonder.

You do it even though there are no guarantees. No matter your best efforts she may still end up wearing the princess dress, begging for a Barbie, frightened of bugs, completely uninterested in mountains and rivers or anything to do with the out-of-doors. But you do it anyways because you believe that if you sow the seeds and fertilize them enough, she’ll make her way back there someday, even if only as an adult with fond memories and a willingness to do the same for her own children. You do it because if you wrap her in a fleece blanket and head into the sunset, the pink, the orange and the purple will swirl and dance around in her head and when she is older, watching the sun go down, wherever she is in the world, she’ll get a warm feeling inside and she won’t be able to pinpoint what it is but it will be love. And you keep doing this. You keep leading the way until she’s ready to forge her own path.

And the same goes for you. You’ll learn to pack less and MacGyver more — nothing like your period starting unexpectedly on a long walk in the middle of nowhere to transform a nappy into an emergency pad. You’ll learn that you can’t be rigid on holiday, you have to show a modicum of flexibility. And it’s not the end of the world if she eats cheese toasties made with cheap white bread or if she goes to bed hours after her bedtime. Sometimes you need to relinquish control. It gets easier each time you set off on a new adventure and harder the less you do it, like most things in life.

And in the end, it’s worth it just to catch a glimpse of the look on her face when she sees all the animals from her bedtime stories come to life. She now has a whole new set of experiences under her belt: she watched her dad build a fire, ate dinner with a massive pig grunting at her feet, heard ocean waves for the very first time, felt the salty air on her skin, tasted citrusy sorrel hearts, sat in a patch of bluebells, saw tadpoles swimming in a puddle, devoured her first pudding — Apple Charlotte — patted a dog named Red, heard cows moo, walked Cheddar Gorge. All those things in life that we take for granted are things that turn her eyes to the size of two-pound coins, inciting squeals of delight. Everything is SO AMAZING when you are nine months old.

We are heading home today a bit more tired than when we first arrived. But it’s the good kind of tired. It’s the kind of tired that comes from full days spent outside, camping, slow living — long walks, drowsy mornings, cold cheeks, warm hearts, little sleep, lots of tea. The smell of campfire still clings to our sweaters and our heads are filled with just enough romantic notions to plan the next mini-break.

 

must you really chew that loudly?

April 7, 2016

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You guys, I am writing this blog post in the worst possible conditions. The woman sat next to me is doused in perfume — I think maybe she was suspended over one of those dunk tanks at the fun fair except that the tank was filled with Exclamation! and the ball hit its target one too many times — and she’s tapping away on her Mac with her fake fingernails like a bloody triceratops. These are two of my least favourite things, things that make me want to hulk out.

Now, before you start to unfriend me on Facebook, let it be known that I don’t hate perfume. I hate bad perfume* and too much of it — less is definitely more in the world of fragrances. I’m always amazed at how people can walk around in a corrosive, eye-burning cumulus cloud of perfume, completely unaware that folk are dropping like flies all around them.

*Side note: cheap perfume reminds me of my days as a flea market sales assistant, when I was 16 and worked for a dirty old man who had a little stall in a massive warehouse and I had to get up at the butt crack of dawn every Saturday to make a few bucks. He sold generic Shalimar (the smell of Shalimar, to this day, makes me vomit in my mouth) and cheap plastic toys that made all sorts of annoying sounds and porn on VHS, which meant that I technically sold porn but I directed customers to him for payment so that made it okay (imagine the days when you had to rewind or fast forward porn to the good bits?… who has that kind of time?). The grilled cheese sandwiches at the canteen were good though and the hot chocolate kept my fingers warm. I make it sound more glamorous than it was. But that’s a story for another time.

Anyways… in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m one of those hypersensitive people. Sensitive to noise, sensitive to smells, sensitive to too much of anything. It’s very uncool, I know. However, I read somewhere that hypersensitive creatures are often highly creative so maybe it’s ok. I’ve always known this about myself but it became even more apparent when my sister, who is also averse to certain noises, visited us last week. The number of times our husbands exchanged knowing looks, shaking theirs heads as if to say “I feel your pain, bro”.

The truth is, I hate being so easily irritated by sounds. The noise is amplified in my brain to such a level that I can’t ignore it. “Sorry, you were saying?”, spoons clinking. “Yes, the situation in Syria is heartbreaking.” Who the fuck keeps banging their spoon? Is there a one-man band in here?

So, to make light of it – don’t they say you should put an arachnophobe in a room full of spiders? – a cathartic post about sounds that annoy me. I loathe the following noises with the single-minded devotion that Trump haters hate on Trump (with bloody good reason). You’ll notice a trend here: masticating, or any mouth noises in general, sets my hair on fire.

  1. Hearing people’s music through their headphones. You’d think I’d prefer to hear Kanye West somewhat muted and muffled through a big set of cans but the truth is, I don’t want to hear Kanye at all. I would not like to hear him here or there. I would not like to hear him anywhere.
  2. The crunch of crisps (chips in America). I don’t care if it’s Lay’s or Doritos or if they’re hand cooked in organic olive oil. They all sound the same to me. Crunch, crunch, crunch. And no, eating one crisp at a time doesn’t make the pain go away. You are only irritating me for longer. I’m not saying that all crisps should be banned. I’m just saying they should come with a warning label: eat at your own risk around people with misophonia.
  3. Chewing anything while talking on the phone. You might as well pull out a megaphone then hit me over the head with a hammer for good measure.
  4. When someone is talking and they obviously need to clear their throat and all their words reach my ears through a layer of phlegm like static on the radio. And don’t even get me started on loogie hocking.
  5. My husband’s Star Wars ring tones – Chewbacca for text messages, Darth Vader for incoming phone calls, R2-D2 for new emails. It’s like we’re living on the fucking Death Star over here. (I love you, baby)
  6. People who talk during movies at the cinema are probably the same people who fart on airplanes**. No respect. Hell hath no fury.
  7. When Wren has a spectacularly shit day and whines incessantly. I love my child more than anything else on this planet but her all-day-whining is the aural equivalent of a mosquito buzzing in my ear.
  8. Noisy next-door neighbours. Last year we lived in a first floor flat, which is like being the cheese in a noise sandwich. That doesn’t even make sense. But you get the idea.  Downstairs lived three children who clearly had lead feet and jumped, every single morning at 7am without fail, from one end of the house to the other (back and forth, and back and forth). And upstairs lived a couple who wore their shoes (clogs, I’m convinced) at all hours of the day. And I’ll never forget the neighbour who blasted Unbreak my Heart by Toni Braxton 32 times in a row one Sunday morning in 1997. She’s now buried in the back yard of that apartment complex.
  9. Really piercing laughs. I love laughing. I believe laughing is God’s gift to mortals. But the kind of laugh that makes you jump out your seat, a machine-gun burst, an explosive howl that leaves your ears ringing? Not my super favourite thing.
  10. Spoons clanking against bowls, forks scraping on plates.
  11. Loud electronica – the kind of music that escalates until it hits the highest frequency on the sound spectrum – when I’m eating. Eating is not a sport. I don’t need to get pumped up to eat, nor do I want to.
  12. Open-mouthed gum chewing. Are you a camel? No. So why are you chewing your gum in a figure-8 pattern?
  13. Slurping. Makes me want to yank my cochlea out with a fork, like a mussel from its shell.
  14. Loud motorcycle mufflers… that wake my kid up from her nap. RAGE.
  15. People talking loudly on their mobile phones on public transport. I don’t need to hear your halfalogue. “Ok, but like, what did she even mean? No, but like, did you tell her what I said because it’s, like, super important? Can you hear me? Can you hear me now? OMG! Shut up! She did not say that?” If I wanted to listen to a bunch of dim-witted valley girls, I’d watch Gossip Girls.

If I sound annoyed it’s because I am. I’m so sorry you guys. This woman’s loud tapping is making me feel the opposite of zen. My coffee tastes of her perfume. I literally want to high-five her in the face. I was aiming for funny but I think maybe I’ve only given you the urge to punch something. So to soften the blow, here are some sounds that I love, sounds that make my ears feel like they are being wrapped in a big bear hug.

Thunderstorms, spring peepers, crickets, cicadas, red-winged black birds (all of these remind me of Canada on a hot summer’s day), steel drums, ocean waves, crackling fires, the styrofoam-like crunch of snow underfoot, church bells, coffee brewing in the morning, toast popping, Joe’s heartbeat, rain drops on my bedroom window (especially in the middle of the night when I’m cozy under the duvet and there are many hours to go before dawn), seagulls, foghorns, whale songs, the scratch of old vinyl, the sing-song of a Jamaican accent, overhearing kids talking (just now on the tube: “nobody wants to hear your diarrhea songs, Jesse”), Morgan Freeman’s voice, symphony orchestras, the warbling song of the wren, leaves rustling in the wind, train whistles, the shutter on my Pentax K1000, synthesizers, lawn mowers strangely (reminds me of being a kid), Tibetan chanting, silence (does silence have a sound?), brass bands, the sound of om at the end of a really good yoga session, music, music, and music. And Wren’s giggle, which is just about the most heart-warming sound I have ever heard. I’ll never need earplugs for that… unless it turns into one of those annoying explosive laughs.

**Full disclosure: I’ve totally farted on an airplane, maybe even more than once. I didn’t mean to, you guys. Cabin pressure is a bitch.

dear wren (9 mo)

March 28, 2016

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Dear Wren,

On Sunday you turned nine months old, which means that you’ve been living out here in this big wide world for as long as you were floating around in inner space, give or take a few days. In only nine months, you’ve gone from being a little dumpling with a bald head and acne that rivalled most pimple-faced teens to a proper girl who crawls and stands and giggles and claps and waves and makes genuine sounds rather than gurgles and babbles.

I can’t believe how much you’ve grown in the past 275 days:

 

You started crawling on Valentine’s day and have since travelled Olympic distances on all fours. Nothing stops you from getting to where you want to go. You are like one of those wind-up toys; as soon as we set you down, you are off like a torpedo. And now that you are also standing, gripping your little fingers on anything that remotely resembles a ledge (or a chunk of my arm) to hoist yourself up, nothing is safe anymore. When you are quiet, I know something’s up. “Wren? What’s in your mouth?” The excited look you get on your face when you’ve found something you know you’re not supposed to eat — eggshells, a piece of plastic, dust bunnies, used tissues, a snarl of my hair, paper, a bay leaf, hard leftover chunks of whatever you threw on the floor at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Anything your minuscule fingers can get a hold of in the cracks between the floor boards, things my 40-year-old eyes can hardly see from 5 foot 7 above. You turn your head towards me with twinkling eyes and a smile full of mischief, your little gums chewing away like a baseball player on a chunk of gum. I practically need the jaws of life to pry your mouth open. The other day, I plucked a pencil sharpener from your mouth and was forced to concede that it is most definitely time to start baby proofing the house.

Your nickname these days is jitterbug. You are by far the squirmiest baby I’ve ever met. I thought maybe all babies were this “busy” and chalked it up to curiosity. But I’ve been hanging out with other babies lately, babies your age, babies a couple of months older (and supposedly more mature) than you and it turns out that not all babies have ants in their pants. I’m afraid to say that you are the most mental one of them all. You will not. sit. still! How can one person move so much? If I could harvest the kinetic energy you spend in one day, I’d have enough power to heat our entire house for a week. Your dad and I are a little worried that you might be hyperactive but you’ve been like this since day one so it seems it’s just part of your colourful character. You popped out at 3am, wide-eyed, completely alert and ready to see what this whole “being alive” business was all about. You were practically doing crunches when you were 10 days old, constantly craning your neck to get a better look at things. This weekend, on the train, you crawled up to complete strangers, tugged at their pant legs and said ba-ba-ba (or dadada or mamama or nanana or lalala or any combination of those syllables), which I assume meant “Ready to be entertained now! ” It’s exhausting chasing after the Tazmanian Devil all day but I can’t wait to see what you do with all this energy and your innate sense of adventure.

Your two bottom teeth have sprouted this month. This has completely changed your face and makes you look even more cheeky, if possible. You’ve already left your little rodent marks on the edge of the counter and every time you sip water, we can hear your tiny teeth clinking against the glass. You chew on EVERYTHING but your favourite is the iPhone cable. Not the one we gave you for that express purpose, but the one we use on a daily basis. The one that now prompts an error message on my phone when I plug it in because iPhone cables are not meant to be chewed on by baby shark teeth.

We started feeding you solids in January and you devour pretty much anything we give you. But bread, bread is by far your favourite. You are just like your father who, at the young age of two, declared to his mother “I only hungry for dread”. Sigh. You have an equal love for pasta. I’ve now learned to cut your penne in half otherwise you just swallow it whole like a boa constrictor. By the time we are done with breakfast, lunch and dinner, you look like you’ve spread peanut butter on toast with your face and the floor is a Jackson Pollock painting — a broad stroke of sweet potato, splashes of yoghurt, a touch of avocado. It’s a messy affair but I rather enjoy this phase, you and I eating our favourite breakfast together in the morning, toast with almond butter and banana.

Last week, we took you to the Lake District with your aunt Michelle and uncle Michael, where you summited your first mountain in a bright green Osprey carrier (your little mini penthouse as grand-ma calls it), like a maharaja on the back of an elephant. You were such a trooper for the first few hours until suddenly you let us know in no uncertain terms that you’d had quite enough. You were SO disgruntled, we thought maybe you desperately needed a nappy change so there we were, like a Formula One crew at a pit stop, precisely timed, perfectly choreographed, changing your nappy on the edge of a cliff, a mere mile from the summit of Red Pike, your wails traveling on the howling winds, royally pissed off because: wet lady bits exposed to arctic winds. I can’t blame you. Nobody likes cold bits. Never has a nappy been changed so quickly in the history of nappy changing, after which you urgently lunged for my boob and immediately quieted down. Turns out you were starving. Total parenting fail (we’ve had a few of those in the past nine months, your recent roll off the bed at 5am being one of them – oops).

After your feed, we marched straight back into the howling gale. (Sidenote: we found out the next day that Storm Katie was in the area, brewing something fierce and she was just getting started the day we hiked up that mountain; the following night she battered England with gusts of wind up to 106 mph.) I could sense your disappointment by that point. I think perhaps you were even doubting your choice in parents. Dad huffing up a steep incline, straining under your weight, uncle Michael desperately trying to distract you, aunt Michelle bounding ahead like a gazelle so that all I could see were flashes of her bright pink rain coat as she frantically searched for the trail that would lead us towards the back of the mountain, where we would be sheltered from Katie’s fury. And me walking ahead because I felt helpless and didn’t know what to do to make things better except walk faster. As we summited, the wind picked up 20 notches, at which point you fell asleep (you fell asleep as we summited… we have much to teach you, little one) and as soon as we got to the top, your dad started to descend without so much as a glance at the magnificent view for fear that the wind would pick him up by your palace, like a parachute, and fling you both off the mountain. I’m not going to lie to you, it was pretty harrowing.

But I’m so proud of you. We really did push you to the limit and you were a tough cookie. Do I think perhaps we took it a bit too far and were slightly optimistic and maybe unrealistic for your very first hike (10km, elevation of 2,476 feet)? There was a moment, up near the summit in that split second when my face was being blown off when I thought maybe this isn’t such a good idea, but you’re half British (your dad hiked that mountain in a t-shirt like a boss) and half Canadian, the land of harsh winters, so we figure you’ve got badass in your genes. Another experience under your belt, a bit more character built. You never cease to amaze me, Wren. Your blue eyes watering in the wind, taking in the world, a gallon of snot leaking from your button nose and you still managed to end the hike with a smile on your face.

There is so much I want to remember about these past nine months, which have been pure magic. Your knee dimples, your double chin, the favourite pages of your favourite books — that’s not my monkey, its tongue is too fuzzy — the sounds you make to put yourself to sleep, the way your fingers wrap around mine like tendrils when you’re nursing, how your arms are always outstretched to each side, wrists twirling, like a Bollywood dancer.

Daddy always says you’re good value and I agree. We certainly got a bang for our buck with you, kiddo. It’s such an amazing journey to grow with you. I recently read that motherhood changes you at a cellular level. Every day you teach me patience, the art of letting go, the importance of staying curious. You are my little Buddha (except with crazy fluffy hair) and I’m so grateful you chose me to be your mom.

Love,
Mama

how the nra got me writing again

March 20, 2016

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Remember that scene in Dirty Dancing when Baby helps to carry a watermelon? And Johnny asks his cousin, “Hey cous, what’s she doing here?” and his cousin says “She’s with me” and Baby is all “I carried a watermelon… I carried a watermelon.” Here, let me refresh your memory.

I always thought that she meant “Dude, I only carried a watermelon, get over yourself.” But as I write this post (and I had to re-watch the scene, just to be sure), I think she meant “OMG! Johnny is so hot and I just totally embarrassed myself. I carried a watermelon? What was I thinking? Now he’ll never want to have sex with me.” Little does Baby know that some rumpy pumpy awaits her in the not-too-distant future.

Had she meant the watermelon comment the way I thought she meant it all these years, it would have been totally relevant to this story. It is now not.

All I did was innocently invite a couple girlfriends around for lunch. I cleaned the house and prepared a pitcher of water with slices of lemon and cooked roasted sweet potato soup made with homemade veggie broth. Yes, you can buy vegetable broth. Yes, you can even go a step easier and bouillon cube the shit out a soup but I went that extra mile, because I believed they were worth the effort.

We talked about everything. I really opened up, you know, in an effort to get down to the source of my fear of committing to a creative life. I had so many excuses. I deflected every suggestion, each little bit of advice, every ounce of encouragement, all the praise in the world with a fresh excuse. And then, over tea and mandarin muffins, the million dollar question. What if I said you have to write a blog post a week or donate $5 to the National Rifle Association. BAM!

All I did was carry a metaphorical watermelon and before I knew it, I’d been bullied into writing a weekly blog post. Never one to shy away from a challenge, in fact, generally needing one in order to get anything done, I took the bait. Maybe that’s what friends are for, maybe they are there to push you when you’re not strong enough to do it on your own. Maybe the bitches deserved the homemade vegetable broth after all.

That was last week. And since then, I’ve done what I normally do in preparation for a task. I did everything else except write a blog post, leaving that very task until now, mere hours to midnight on my first week’s deadline. I did a spring cleaning of thousands and thousands of photos, repaired the rain cover on my daughter’s pram, vacuumed between the cracks in the floorboards, organised my pantry, made a list of all the bands I’ve ever seen and sewed the buttons back on the duvet cover (is there anything more annoying than having a duvet poke out of its cover? – this was a very important and long-overdue task, friends, and I really don’t think I could have written a single word knowing that my duvet was up there, waiting to taunt me tonight).

Everything. but. the. task.

Part of the reason for this blatant procrastination is that the most exciting thing that happens to me these days is when Wren takes a morning poo before I’ve had a chance to change her nappy, meaning that I only have to change her nappy once, not twice (the second time usually being about 5-10 minutes after I’ve changed her first nappy… what can I say, the kid likes to poo in fresh nappies). Exhilarating stuff, but not necessarily blog worthy.

And the other reason that springs to mind is, when all the procrastinating is done, whenever will I find the time to write?

This morning, the answer arrived in my inbox, via the 3191 newsletter where Mav shared this thought:

“Is all of the downtime we used to have taken up by our smart phones? Do we grab them every time we have a pause in our day? Is the constant checking in with things like Facebook and Instagram (fun checking in but needless checking in nonetheless) making us feel like our day is more full?

Maybe try this: When you go to grab your phone in a free moment just don’t do it. Stop yourself.

I stopped myself from picking up my phone in down moments the other day and I did it 13 times! It sort of blew my mind. 13 instances at 4–5 minutes each … that’s about an hour! What did I do with those minutes before I had a smart phone?”

Maybe that’s where I find the time. Maybe I don’t need to check my emails and Instagram several times a day. Or maybe I don’t have to watch an episode of Gogglebox and Happy Valley in one sitting. Maybe the housecleaning can wait. Maybe I can pick up a book or a pen or sit in silence for a few minutes instead. Maybe I can write in 5 minute chunks. Maybe it doesn’t matter if what I write is solid gold or shit, so long as I write.

So there, no excuses. A blog post a week for the unforeseeable future… unless the duvet buttons pop off again.