Friday, November 13, 2009

Mama has a brand-new blog

Hey everyone,

Mama Non Grata is all grown up and now has her own domain name! Just like a big girl! Posting will now shift over to — please visit me over there, update your RSS feeds, browse the various pages, let me know what you think of the design (not to mention the content), and leave lots of comments. Oh, and if you like it, please tell your friends.

See you there!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Book launch today! And Baby Makes More ...


If you're in Toronto today (Sat. Nov. 7), join us from noon to two p.m. at the Toronto Women's Bookstore (73 Harbord St.) for the launch of my anthology: And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. Should be a blast.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New tricks

On November 1, Rowan came downstairs and by way of “good morning” said to me, “Candy.”

And I said, “No problem, buddy!

And then, under the tender and loving eyes of his mothers, he and Isaac proceeded to eat every single piece of Halloween candy in their bags until it was all gone.

Aren’t I a great parent?

The end.

Okay, so it didn’t go quite like that. What I actually said was, “No problem, buddy! Right after you eat breakfast.” And he did: an entire, wholesome, bowl of organic oatmeal with applesauce and plain yogurt.

And then, we brought out the candy bags. And The Wild Rumpus began.

Okay, so I should mention that the candy bags were heavily edited: the previous evening, Rachel and I had already gone through the kids’ stash and got rid of some of the particularly egregious stuff — the lollipops and Tootsie Rolls and anything else that we’d need to scrape off their teeth with a chisel. We even managed to recycle some of it immediately back out to the last few rounds of trick-or-treaters before closing up shop for the night.

But that did not seem to hamper Rowan’s spirits in the slightest. He commenced a highly ritualized Sunday service at the Church of Candy, sorting, eating, distributing and rhapsodizing about sugar, aided by Isaac, who seemed primarily interested in transferring Smarties from one tiny box into another. Rachel and I gladly accepted any and all offers of shared treats — and they were surprisingly forthcoming — shoving Nibs and mini Coffee Crisps and Twizzlers into our pockets, to be disposed of later. When Rowan went upstairs to the washroom, Rachel stood guard while I thinned out his stash yet again. But even with our subterfuge, I’m guessing he still ate upwards of two dozen individually packaged treats. At minimum.

And you know what? He was fine. He didn’t get a stomachache. He didn’t throw up. He didn’t wind himself up into a sugar-fuelled, maniacal tyrant. He just ate and ate and ate, and then he put away some of the candy, and then he went back to it, and then he went swimming, and then he came home and ate the rest, and then it was done, and then we never, ever had to negotiate with him about the candy ever again. It’s gone.

Which leaves me wondering: just what else can I let go?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


While we have studiously avoided as much as possible the Disnefycation of womanhood in our household, it still sneaks its way in through the cracks in our armor. If we are at a friend’s house, Rowan gravitates towards the costume trunks, the fairytale pumpkins, the tiaras. He has dubbed me Princess Snow White, himself Princess Cinderella, and Isaac Princess Rosebud. Rachel, crafty crafty Rachel, has managed to get away with the nickname Alice in Wonderland, even though Alice is technically not a Princess. “Oh, Princess Rosebud,” Rowan will say to Isaac, “do you want to build a fort? Do you need your blanket?” And it’s all very sweet. In a saccharine sort of way.

I mean, on the one hand, I am all for gender atypical play. And so, part of me feels that when Rowan and Isaac gleefully don tutus and run around waving magic wands, I should encourage them.

On the other hand, I mean, princesses. Come on. Disney princesses. If my sons are going to run around waving anything that represents my take on ideal womanhood, it would likely be a sign saying, “Pro-child, pro-choice!” or “When can I vote on your marriage?”

So this little cartoon — combining as it does princesses and critique — made me happy.

Happy, but not hopeful. At least, not in the immediate term. Rowan, thus far, is impervious to societal critique, has an absolutely deaf ear for our earnest political explanations. Take Santa Claus, for example: no matter how many times we explain that jolly old St. Nick is simply a nice story that other people tell their children about the holiday, that nobody — repeat, nobody — is going to come down our chimney and leave presents for him, he’s like that dog in that Gary Larson cartoon who hears only her name, only in this case, substitute “presents” for “Ginger.”

“Some people leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus,” he’ll murmur at the close of one of our diatribes.

Similarly, we keep having talks with him about the fact that we won’t shop at a certain retailer (whose name rhymes with smashmortion, I mean Gallmart) because it treats its workers badly, particularly its female workers. It makes lots and lots of money and yet won’t pay them very much or give them benefits. Rowan listens to all this, and then says, “But can’t we buy Bakugans there? Even if they’re not nice to womens? They have the big case of Bakugans. Please?”

When Rowan asks me if I want to play princesses, then, it’s always a bit of a quandary. Sure, I’ll play princesses, but can we be princesses building a house? Princesses reading books or, I don’t know, going on a peace march?

“It’s just that princesses are only important to some people because they’re pretty,” I’ll try to explain to him. “And women are important for lots of reasons: because they’re smart, and creative, and have ideas and make things and change the world.”

“But Princess Snow White,” he says to me, twining his fingers through my hair, “you’re pretty.”

Leaving me about as speechless as Ariel, the little mermaid.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This post was originally called “Greetings from the basement”

You know, the basement where I slept every other night for a couple weeks earlier this month (or was it September? I can’t remember.) because some toddler who likely won’t remain nameless started waking up twice a night and hollering for stuff. Like water, or apple juice (as in, "Apple juice! Apple juice! APPLE JUICE!"), or cuddles (as in, "CUDDLE ME!"). Or Rachel (as in, "Go away, Susan!").

Trying to pacify him often involved pulling him into our bed, where, inevitably, he would end up lying perpendicular between us, feet on my side. On my head. Leaving me sleepless but unwilling to risk moving him for fear of waking him. Because, when push comes to toddler feet in my sternum at 4:30 in the morning, I’d rather lie there in discomfort than actually have to get up and function.

At least, Christoph Niemann had the good grace to fly in all the way from Berlin and sneak into the bedroom one early morning to do a little sketch, which made me feel so much less alone.

But really, too tired to write about it all again. Besides, now that I’ve actually got around to it, Isaac (see?) is more or less sleeping through the night again. I’m sure I just jinxed that by writing it, but, you know what? I’m so past believing that any particular voodoo on my part — not least what I write about him on the Internet — has any particular effect on his sleep patterns. It’s not me, it’s him, a fact verified by what I heard him chanting in bed the other night as I walked past his door at about nine o’clock: "I’m in charge. I’M IN CHARGE."


The early-morning wake-up calls are still, sadly, the norm. But at least he makes up for them by being adorable a lot of the times. He talks a little bit like a Sprocket, full of slightly odd, almost inappropriate questions: "You want to touch my hair? It nice? It soft? You got soft hair? You got a car? You got money? In your pocket? You being friendly?" And, my favorite, his description of me nuzzling him: "You put your nose in my eye? It nice?" Yes, you crazy baby, it nice. Now go to sleep.

Thanks to M.A. for the Niemann reference.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Transitions are hard, or, Our trip to Duluth

“Hey!” Isaac exclaims every 25 minutes or so, as if struck with some version of toddler amnesia, “Where we goin’?”

We’re in the car, navigating Highway 61.

“We’re going to Duluth!” Rachel or I answer brightly. “For a holiday!”

And then Rowan chimes in: “We’re not going to Duluth! I don’t want to go there!” And drums his feet on the back of my seat in protest.

“I really wonder how my parents managed to get us all to Virginia Beach in a Ford Cortina,” Rachel murmurs, while I breathe deeply and wonder how, precisely, my mantra “It’s the journey, not the destination,” applies to this journey along the scenic north shores of Lake Superior. Because I just want to get there already, to be out of the car, to silence the protests emanating from the backseat. I find myself wishing we had brought the movie player, biting my tongue to keep myself from saying things like, “Well, I guess we’ll just turn around and go back, then,” or, “If you don’t stop that, I’m going to stop this car and you can get out and walk.”

Rowan, it’s fair to say, doesn’t rush in gladly to the unknown. And Duluth, to him, is not yet a place, not even a city, but simply a vast, unquantifiable mass of unknowableness, a break from beloved routine. He hasn’t been on board with this weekend getaway since the beginning, not even with promises of playgrounds and aquariums and swimming pools and restaurants and cable TV and the like — although he warms slightly at the mention of ice cream. He wants to bring the cats with us, our own toilet and bathtub, actually, the entire house in the trunk of the car. We explain and explain, we acknowledge his feelings, repeat them back to him, and, finally, just shut up and stop talking about the trip, knowing that until he’s actually there, at the destination, it won’t make sense.

“Hey! Where we goin’?”

I get it — I do, really, that fear of the unknown. I like to know where I’ll be sleeping at night, hate arriving in darkness to unknown cities. I get how it must feel to be plunked into the car and told, “We’re going. You’re going. And you’ll like it.” Like what?

It’s just that maybe he could chill a little bit.

And he does, in minor spurts, falling hard in love with each new experience and yet seemingly unable to generalize and apply the idea that “new” might not necessarily equal “horrific.” He settles in immediately to the hotel room, jumping with Isaac on their king-sized bed before turning on SpongeBob. But it’s a battle to get him out of the room and onto the street, a battle to get him off the street and into the restaurant where he devours Kraft dinner and red pepper and a tiny ice cream sundae from the kids’ menu. Sunday morning’s itinerary proceeds something like this:

Doesn’t want to go to the Aerial Lift Bridge. Loves the Aerial Lift Bridge. Doesn’t want to leave the Aerial Lift Bridge to see the lighthouse. Loves the lighthouse. Doesn’t want to leave the lighthouse to go to the aquarium. Loves the aquarium. Doesn’t want to leave the aquarium to have lunch. And so on. And by “doesn’t want to leave,” I mean, “pitches a fit when asked to leave.”

Still, by the afternoon, following a swim while Isaac naps, he has mellowed a bit. Is excited from the get-go to go to the Train Museum and the Children’s Museum, and, predictably, doesn’t want to leave either of them, but does not pitch a fit. Tries pakoras and papadums and chicken korma — followed by mango kulfi — at the Indian restaurant we happen upon. By Monday morning, he’s actually thrilled to take another dip in the hotel pool, followed by a visit to the utterly charming Duluth Zoo, where we get to pet turtles and a ferret and watch the bats being fed and get within a foot of a real live kangaroo. At every stop, during every activity, there are moments of pure gold, utter delight: the scale model of the Great Lakes with working locks, an absolute fascination with a 14-ton ship’s propeller and the ancient anchors along the sea walk. “Mom, can you read me the story?” he asks, pointing to each plaque we pass.

Predictably, he’s exhausted by the time we pile into the car for the trip home, and, mercifully, both kids fall immediately asleep for the first hour and a half of the journey home, during which time I try to put as much distance as possible between us and Duluth.

Isaac wakes up first. “Hey! Where we goin’? We goin’ to Doo-loot?”

“We’re going home,” we tell him. But first we’re stopping for a break and a bite to eat in Grand Marais, a tiny, picturesque town about an hour and a bit from Thunder Bay.

By now, Rowan is awake. “We’re not going to Grand Marais! I don’t want to go there!” Drum drum drum drum drum drum drum. After a mediocre experience at dinner, he loves throwing rocks in the water along the beach, jumping from one boulder to the next along the shoreline.

And later, putting him to bed, his own bed, in his own house, with his own cats and toilet and bathtub, I ask him, “Did you have a good time in Duluth?”

“Yes,” he says, snuggling down under his blankets. “Can we go there again?”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The blogger's dilemma

Saturday, early evening. We’ve had a great day: Farmer’s market in the morning, followed by a hike in the rain at Mission Island Marsh, where we spot too many deer to count and throw driftwood into the stormy waters of Lake Superior. The kids don’t mind the weather: they splash through puddles in their rubber boots and twirl their umbrellas, tearing ahead of us on the trails and the boardwalk, sliding down boulders, making up imaginary worlds.

We’ve spent the day with friends, a three- and five-year-old brother and sister and their parents, who are tag-teaming childcare for the weekend. Their dad accompanied us to the marsh, while their mom took over for an afternoon play date and dinner. Pancetta pasta with capers and cherry tomatoes from our garden for dinner — to be followed by apple-pear crumble made with fruit from I’ve picked myself. How locavore is that? Smell you, Nancy Drew.

The kids eat quickly but heartily, making our hearts swell, pushing away from the table to go play in the basement until dessert, while the grown-ups linger over wine and conversation. Rachel and I are congratulating ourselves on the wholesome choices we’ve made: to embrace the rain and the grey rather than hole up inside with rangy children and DVDs. To feed them local food, healthy food, instead of macaroni and cheese. We are all three express our disdain for the school’s weekly hot dogs and pizza days — is it really appropriate? Have they switched over to whole-wheat buns, at least? We talk about how nice it is to be able to send the kids to the basement while we enjoy adult company. We take the crumble from the oven and serve it up on plates, so that it will be cooled for the children to enjoy.

And then.

And then, we hear Rowan on the basement stairs. “We have a surprise for you!”

I walk toward the landing, just as my sons — my now Day-Glo sons — appear at the top of the stairs. “We painted!” says Rowan, holding up his hands to show me. His hands are smeared with purple and black. His feet are bare, but it looks as though he’s wearing green socks. Isaac is right behind him, his hair a yellow and green mohawk with purple highlights, his hands and feet, his clothes, thickly layered with pigment.


I’m not sure what I said, but I think it might have been, “Oh, crap.”

And then I did what any self-respecting mommy blogger would’ve done. I turned around and went to get the camera.

In the meantime, the other two mothers in the house, alerted to the scene by my tone, showed up to investigate. Our guest descended the stairs first, and then turned to Rachel, who had followed close behind, and said, “Don’t laugh. Whatever you do, don’t laugh.”

We surveyed the carnage. Before I realized the extent of it, I took one picture.

And then I put the camera away.

The four of them had discovered my acrylic paints, left over from a series of art projects, carefully packed away in a cupboard. They opened them, and then they proceeded to coat the entire basement — and themselves — with them. The alphabet tiles on the floor. The couch. Handprints on the chairs and the carpet. The toy lawnmower, the yoga ball, the wooden blocks, the baseboards. The spare bed. Covered. In non-water-based, non-soluble, paint.

(That’s Isaac, at the far right — check out his hair.)

What followed was a flurry of containment and clean-up: children stripped down and thrown into laundry sinks and bathtubs, clothing and sheets and furniture covers placed on rinse and then wash, shampoos and scrubbing, mops and rags and— “Don’t walk on the floor! Don’t go near the white couch! This is so inappropriate! SO INAPPROPRIATE! It doesn’t matter whose idea it was!” Clean clothes found and distributed. Apple-pear crumble dumped, unceremoniously, back into the pan, because none of the adults can fathom tucking into our nice little locally grown dessert after such a display of INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR. So, so, INAPPROPRIATE. You guys should know better. REALLY.

And still, in the face of it all, in the midst of the chaos and carnage, and later that evening as Rachel and I mopped and scrubbed and threw in load after load of laundry, we couldn’t quite stop giggling, whenever we were out of earshot of the kids. “We’ll all laugh about this later,” I whispered to our friend as she scrubbed her kids down in our bathtub (“How on earth did you paint there?”). “We already are,” she whispered back.

I wish I had a picture of four paint-soaked children to show you, but you’ll have to make do with the shots I took after the kids were in bed and Cleanup Part 2 began. Because the last thing I wanted to do was reward them for the destruction of the basement, and it just seemed to me that lining them up for a paint-smeared mug shots would send the wrong message: “Here’s one for the album! Aren’t you cute! Ah, kids and the hijinks they get up to!” So, at least this instance, parental prudence wins out over the best shot for the blog. Just barely.

So, bed without dessert. The next day, Rowan helped me reassemble the floor tiles.

S, R, E, K, C, star, F... Mom? What does that spell? Mom?”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My baby!

Here's the cover. I promise that the insides will be just as attractive -- details to come.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dream big, kid

“I was at the wishing well in the park and I threw a penny in and I wished that I had a marble run.”


“Yeah. And then I wished that you were a princess.”


“Yeah. And then I wished that Rachel was a princess.”

“I see.”

“And then I wished that Isaac was a princess too.”

“Didn’t you wish that you were a princess?”

Mom. I only had four pennies.”

Pass the Twinkies, Elmo

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, the Globe & Mail wants you to know, again, that family meals are good for the kids. The research shows that “the more often a family eats together the less likely children are to smoke, use alcohol and drugs, suffer from an eating disorder or consider suicide. Family meals have also been linked to higher self-esteem and better performance at school.”

What I love about this research is that — although I forget where I read this so you’re just going to have to take my word on it for now — apparently, even family meals that consist of TV dinners in front of Friends reruns are better than no family meal at all. It so lets parents off the hook. I mean, even on the day where you throw Kraft dinner in front of your kids while they watch Elmo downloads, you’re actually benefiting their brains — just as long as you sit next to them on the couch while they eat it. So sit down! Watch TV with your kids! Just make sure you eat something while you do it. Even a Twinkie will do.

And, just imagine: if you manage to get the Kraft dinner into them around the dining room table, you’re really ahead of the game. And if you get a home-cooked, organic meal with three different colours of local vegetables into them, well, just sit back and wait for those letters from Princeton and MIT to come rolling in. Even when the boat of parenthood seems awfully rocky, it’s something to hold onto, now, isn’t it?

Rowan, for one, takes such things quite seriously. So much so that, for him, it doesn’t count as dinner unless it’s around the table. And not just any table — our table. At our house. He won’t be convinced otherwise, which is why on Sunday evening I found myself conceding to him that the pizza and salad and peach pie we were about to enjoy at a friends’ home was, sure, not dinner but just a really big snack. Sometimes it’s just not worth arguing. Especially when the Caesars are flowing and the children are playing happily.

At least I know I’m not alone in having a child with this particular foible. At a birthday party recently, I said very slowly and carefully to my children, “Just so you know, THIS is dinner. We’re not going home and having dinner again.” And a friend jumped up and slapped her forehead with her hand and said, “Oh! Thanks! I forgot to tell them that!” and ran off to find her boys. Which made me feel much better. I will choose to take Rowan’s attachment to our dinner table not as symptom of a deeply ingrained inflexibility but rather as a sign that we’ve been doing something right for the last four and half years.

Tonight is the school’s annual welcome barbecue. We’ll mosey over to play in the playground, chat with friends, and eat hot dogs served by the principal. And then we’ll come home and eat dinner. Around the table. Because it’s good for the kids.

Friday, September 11, 2009

School of hard knocks

In last week’s episode, our heroine was left wondering whether her son would ever go to senior kindergarten without dissolving into a little puddle of profound unhappiness.

In a word: yes. Wednesday evening treated us to a series of conversations in which Rowan ping-ponged back and forth on that very question. “I’m not going to that school ever again,” he would say, and then, immediately afterwards, “And I’m going to play with the marble run!” followed by, “But I’m not going to school,” followed by, “And there are going to be balloons for Avery’s birthday!” And so on.

Thursday morning, I still wasn’t sure what would happen. My guess was that he wanted to go, but couldn’t quite bring himself to fully admit that — and that any hint of sentimentality or moment of doubt would set him off. So when he said he wanted to ride his bike to school, I jumped on it — until Rachel reminded me that his bike was in the shop. “I want to go in the car, then, “ said Rowan, and, a hot minute later, I had him buckled in the backseat and we were off. Like a prom dress.

I was so on the ball, in fact, that we were the first kids to arrive. We wandered into the senior kindergarten courtyard and hung out for a while until the teacher’s assistant, Mrs. T., showed up. I met Mrs. T. approximately, oh, infinity times last year during Rowan’s tenure in JK, and yet, every single time we meet her, he feels the need to introduce her to me.

“That’s Mrs. T.,” he’ll say, and then be genuinely shocked and puzzled when I explain that I know who she is. “But how do you know her?” he says, and I explain, patiently, that I have met her before, right here at school. And he looks both impressed and doubtful.

In any case, this being a new year and all, Rowan obviously felt some justification in introducing me and Mrs. T. again.

“Mom, this is Mrs. T.,” he said. “And this is my mom. One of my moms. I have two moms. And I also have a dad, Rob. But he doesn’t live here.”

He said this all, characteristically, while walking in a circle waving his hands, as he is wont is a to do when he explains things to adults. Mrs. T. and I nod and smile — she’s heard all this before. Rowan talks about his family, like all kids talk about their families — at least, when they’ve never been given a reason not to. The four-year-old daughter of my friends Fiona and Jen has been telling supermarket cashiers that she has two moms since she could put words together. Another toddler-daughter-o-dykes I know recently shouted at the corner of a busy downtown Toronto intersection, “No Dadda! More mamas!”

Which is fantastic. And not necessarily because we’re not ashamed of our queer families (which we aren’t), or because were proud of them (which we are), but because we exist for the most part in a world where we can exist, where we can talk openly about our two moms or our two dads, or our donors, and the like. We’ve never explicitly explained to Rowan that there is anything unusual or different about his family. He simply has two moms, and a Rob, who doesn’t live here — and an entire network of biological and chosen family to support him. No secrets, no shame, no worries.


So, tell me this: how am I going to explain to my sons how this:

becomes this

outside a gay bar in downtown Thunder Bay last Friday night?

I don’t know Jake Raynard, the gay man who was savagely beaten gay with bricks by a crowd of young men. The man to whom police took more than an hour to respond when the employees at the fast food restaurant called them to report his distress. The man with 15 fractures to his cheekbone, a broken palate, a broken eye socket, and a broken jaw. I don’t know Jake, but I know the daughter he helped my two friends here conceive. I know he has a supportive community in this city, who have organized a rally this evening in order to support him to welcome him back into the community, and to send the message, in their words, that our response to this action — and not this action — will define our community.

We are going as a family to the rally tonight. I suspect it will be an emotional event, a conflicted event, an event that has the potential to be healing but that could also pit community against community if we aren’t very careful. And I’m not yet sure how to answer the questions that Rowan might ask about why we’re there and what’s going on.

These are lessons way beyond the scope of senior kindergarten. And yet, our kids have to learn them, now.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This post NOT brought to you by Apple

So, I got this new computer and it has completely sucked all the life out of me and my poor little repetitively strained forearms. Seriously, sucked the life out of me. Like a Dementor sucking the life out of Dudley Dursley. Sucking. Suck-King.

To be fair, it's not so much the new computer as the voice dictation software that was supposed to make my life easier and my forearms all smiley and my limp little carpally tunnelled wrists spring to life. MacSpeech dictate officially sucks in my books right now. It doesn't work, which means that I can't make the computer work, which means that I am dictating this on a wheezing old PC that's starting to look kind of good right now. At least when it doesn't crash on me, like it did ... just ... now. Reboot. Somewhere in Georgia, two tech people are trying to solve this problem for me. I spent 40 minutes on the phone this morning with some drawling guy named Jason and it felt just a little bit like suicide prevention call. "Jason," I kept saying as the call drew to a close, "Jason, I'm scared to get off the phone with you."

"Yeah," he would answer, "I'm kind of leery about that myself."

Despite his compassion, Jason could not make MacSpeech work for me, though.

And yet, I haven't lost all hope. You get hopeful. You do, when the shiny new technology toy arrives in the box and you imagine just how great things might be. You do, when your four-year-old climbs on the school bus on the first day of school last week and you think, "Huh. That was way easier than last year."

And then, and then, the computer sits on your desk like a big shiny expensive mistake, and the second day of school rolls around and your son pulls his knapsack straps over his shoulders and then turns around for one last hug -- hugging! Damn the hugging! -- and completely melts down. Runs back inside the house. Repeats things like "I'm going to miss you too much! I want you all to come with me! I'm going to miss Isaac! I just want to be here with you!" Is driven, sobbing, by his other mother to class, clutching a blanket, continuing to sob. Setting off other kids in the class who weren't quite sure whether this was a good idea or not.

Rachel and I have been kind of mopey all day.

To take the edge off, I cycled to the bus stop after school where Rowan would meet his babysitter. He climbed down, a bit tired but seemingly no worse for wear. Told me he had homework, that we had not put a granola bar in his lunch (peanut allergies in the classroom) and that it was Katie's birthday on Thursday -- and they would celebrate.

"When it's your birthday, should we bring cupcakes to school?" I asked him.

"Yes," he said.

But I'm not convinced. Not convinced that the promise of cupcakes will get him on the bus easily on Thursday. Not convinced that my Mac will be running by then, either. I give them both three weeks to settle into the new school year. It's a tempered kind of hopeful, and yet, it's still there. Because I'm nothing if not an optimist. Or just terribly, terribly naïve.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year

As some of you may remember, approximately one year ago today, I carried Rowan, all hysterical 40 pounds of him, the four blocks to his new school and delivered him in a shuddering, tear-stained heap to his junior kindergarten classroom.

And although it didn’t take him long to acclimatize, and although he grew to love school, love his teacher, love his friends, love – like Lilly in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse – the chocolate milk at lunchtime, shades of that first morning still haunt me, have taunted me for the past couple weeks as a new school year approached.

Rowan seemed all gung ho about SK, but of late he had been balking whenever we mention it. “I’m not going to school,” he announced recently. “I’m not going on the bus. I’m just staying home with you.”

We’ve been quietly working to subtly shift his attitude. He has been somewhat mollified by the promise of a granola bar in his lunch on the first day, the fact that there will be a train table in his new classroom, the fact that we have a birthday party to attend right after class today. Still, this morning, as far as I was concerned, was a crapshoot. I was totally prepared for him to get on the bus, happy as a clam – and I was equally prepared (well, as prepared as one can be for such events) for a bloodbath.


We waited outside, the tension mounting as yellow school bus after yellow school bus drove on by, until finally his arrived, the door opened, and … the sun shone its smiling face down upon me and my boy as he climbed aboard, smiling, and waved goodbye. I think I caught a flicker of doubt cross his face just as the doors closed, but he sat down, and the bus pulled away, and I got all weak in the knees and couldn’t stop grinning.

And then he got to school just fine. His “bus buddy,” a tiny fifth-grade girl, delivered him to his locker and then to the senior kindergarten courtyard, where he dropped his bag and went off to play. I know all this because Rachel, Isaac – Isaac, who spent the morning chanting, plaintively, “I want to take the bus!” – and I followed the bus on foot and spied on Rowan as he made his journey.

We’ll do the same this afternoon as he buses to his babysitter’s. If you think we’re being overprotective, just remember that on my first day of Grade 1, my carpool driver – Mrs. Miller, my parents’ trusted friend – forgot me at school.

But! What a difference a year makes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It got colder — that’s where it ends...

Ding, dong, the fridge is dead! And long live the fridge!

Okay, it’s not quite dead, but the Eaton Viking model manufactured sometime in the early years of the Reagan Administration that has been chugging away in our kitchen since well before we moved in is slowly dying. And we are more than happy to pull the plug.

We’ve been eagerly anticipating the fridge’s demise for a while. Each time something goes awry, we call Franz, our inscrutable appliance repair guy, and I cross my fingers that he’s going to take a look, shake his head, and say, “You know, I think it might be time to say goodbye.” But he never does. Instead he tightens a hose or replaces the timing mechanism in his understated way, as I hover and ask leading questions. He never takes the bait.

“So,” I’ll say. “When, in your expert opinion, do you think we should call it quits and replace this thing?”

“That depends,” he’ll say. “But, generally, when it stops cooling things.”

It’s not quite that I need Franz’s permission to buy a new refrigerator. It’s just that it somehow feels more responsible to go purchase a major appliance “because our appliance guy told us to,” rather than “because it’s an ugly relic of the early 1980s.” I mean, take a look:

Yes, yes, I know that the newer fridges are much more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, but I just would have savoured that little nudge from Franz in the right direction. (And, why, yes: those are white melamine cupboards! They go so nicely with the flowered linoleum floor, don’t you think? But I digress.)

In any case, Rachel and I noticed a puddle of water emanating from underneath the Viking a couple of days ago and decided enough was enough. We briefly consulted Consumer Reports, measured the space, hightailed it over to Sears and picked out a new — Energy Star–rated — model in basic black, in approximately 20 minutes. Our salesperson was an odd mixture of completely not homophobic and utterly sexist: got it right away that we were a couple, asked how many kids we had at home, compared notes with us on child-rearing, but also made fun of Rachel for being “a sarcastic woman” and me for being “an opinionated woman,” while suggesting that it was a good thing we had two sons instead of two daughters — “because four women in one household – hooo boy.”

It was oddly refreshing.

So, we buy the fridge. It’s going to be delivered the first week of September. And then I mention to Rowan later that evening that the current fridge will soon be gone, to be replaced by a new one.

And he loses it.

“I don’t want the fridge to go away,” he wails. “I don’t want a new fridge. I want this fridge. I love this fridge.” Tears, shuddering sobs, snot, the whole bit. I think he might have even hugged the old Viking. It took about 20 minutes to calm him down and distract him, with promises that the current fridge would still be there when he woke up in the morning, that everything would be okay.

So, what’s with the sudden passion for the fridge? I mean, of course, he loves to stand in front of the thing with the door open while I intone like a robot about wasting energy and all, but beyond that, I’ve never known him to profess any great love for the beast. My sense is that — of course — it’s about something else.

And that something else? Just a hunch, but this: Rob is leaving soon.

If you look closely, you can just make out the face of a man in two photographs tacked up to the side of the fridge. That’s Rob, with each of the boys as babies. Rob is our cherished friend, our sperm donor, a key part of the extended family, and Rowan and Isaac’s, well, their “Rob,” who currently lives and works in a different city but who has spent the past five weeks with us, playing Chase and Cat in the Hat and Princesses and Chutes & Ladders and Pokémon and computer games with the boys, holding slumber parties and sleepovers, babysitting and hanging out and cooking and talking and eating ice cream with us and generally being a mensch.

But, summer days are slipping away. Soon, August will give way to September and school and work commitments, and Rob will have to leave.

None of us — me, Rachel, Rob — can actually talk about the upcoming goodbye. The last time Rob left, I sat with two sobbing little boys on the front steps as the car pulled out of the driveway on its way to the airport, Rachel and Rob white-faced in the front seat. The plan had been for Rowan to accompany them to the airport, but he wouldn’t get in the car, as if that might somehow delay the inevitable. But the inevitable, it has a funny way of happening in the end.

So, it’s getting colder. The fall will come, and we’ll stick old pictures our sexy new fridge — which will, undoubtedly, chill the milk much more efficiently than its predecessor. And try not to pine too much for, uh oh, those summer nights.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bonus points: Use all three in a sentence

So, it’s not just me: apparently “moist” is one of the most hated words in (North) America. I can’t decide whether I feel vindicated about my lifelong repulsion towards it, conjuring up, as it does, images of mould, bugs hiding under wet rocks, off food, earwigs in dank basements, laundry gone sour, unwashed bodies in the humidity—hey! Where are you going? I was talking about that creepily disgusting M-word, and whether I can’t decide whether I feel vindicated that it is, apparently, the “patron yuck-word of the [word aversion] movement” or simply resigned to the fact that I will never be original. According to Mark Peters of Good Magazine:

… word aversion has something to do with the sound and structure of the word itself. S]ome reactions are “…bred of the mysterious relationships between language, motion, memory, sound and ‘mouthfeel.’” I’m more used to seeing the word mouthfeel in discussions about beer, but it sure does get at the physical violation some feel when saying certain words.
For years, I had egotistically assumed that the way my stomach turned when confronted with “moist” was a deeply personal, highly idiosyncratic — and slightly adorable — quirk. Nope. Same with my next-least-favourites: “panties” and “slacks.” Everybody hates them. I’m just a demographic. Again. It's All Been Done before. Depressing, no? Might as well go mix up another round of Caesars (with the new Grey Goose vodka — which has just fantastic mouthfeel, by the way) and go join one of the many the “I hate the word ‘moist’” Facebook groups. Who knew?

Thanks to Deborah over at Peaches & Coconuts for the heads up on word aversion!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


As in, “Pretty please, with whipped cream and a cherry on top.” Are we prepared or what?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

All hail Caesar

Me, I don’t drink so much. This may come as a surprise when you consider ALL I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH, but really, left to my own devices, I’d probably go a few weeks before cracking open a real beer (the non-alcoholic O’Doul’s I got used to during pregnancy don’t count) or a bottle of wine. It’s not that I don’t like a really excellent cold beer on a hot day or that perfect glass of red wine, more that I rarely seem to think of it as a reasonable (or not so reasonable, depending on your perspective) option at the end of the day or when the children life in general gets stressy. Plus, I don’t like the taste of most hard alcohol — call me crazy, but to me a martini is about the most unappetizing drink on the planet.

My non-predilection for booze puzzles Rachel, for whom a drink at the end of the workday is a rite of passage, the symbolic closing of one door and the opening of another. This is a woman who compares the merits of one brand of gin versus another — and can actually tell the difference — who spent part of yesterday molling (it’s a verb, apparently) mint leaves with lime and icing sugar in a mortar and pestle bought specially for the occasion, in order to make mojitos. Who actually planted mint in our garden for that particular purpose.

But now — now — all that might change. Because I have recently rediscovered the pleasures of that Canadian classic, the Caesar, and all of a sudden I am finding myself thinking, fairly regularly, how nice it might be to have one. It seems counterintuitive: I mean, really, clam juice? Bleah. But, my God, the Clamato, the vodka, the Worcester and Tabasco, the lime, and the ohmygod the celery salt, and it just... works. So very, very well, especially in August. And really, the Clamato would go bad if I didn’t finish it up. (As would, I hear, the Stoli. Just watch Arrested Development.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

“Maria, what is it you can’t face?”

When Isaac was a baby — a real, bona fide baby and not the skinny toddler he is now — we used to try to comfort him on long car rides by singing what became known as the “Isaac Song.” It didn’t always work, but it had the advantage of being easy to remember, even for Rowan, as it went something like this (in the key of C major):

Isaac Isaac Isaac

Isaac Isaac Isaac

Isaac Isaac Isaac

Isaac Isaac Isaac

(Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse!)

Anyway, as he exits babyhood, Isaac seems to have outgrown Isaac Song, and so we are currently trolling around for replacements.

Which got me to thinking about the summer of 1993, when I backpacked around Europe with my friend Julie, and we met this girl named Joanna Rainbow. She had a last name, too, and I just found it in the back of my diary from that trip so now I can Facebook her — but I will refrain from posting it here.

One of the best things about Joanna was that she was about as obsessed with The Sound of Music as Julie and I were. (Although I do remember Julie gazing wistfully at yet another panoramic view of the Alps and asking, “Would you really want to climb every mountain?”) And, since we met Joanna in Salzburg, Austria — otherwise known as Sound of Music mecca — she was the perfect companion for the SOM bus tour. The gazebo! The gazebo!

Another thing about Joanna was the story of how her parents met. Apparently, her mother and father were each married to other people, and the two couples were best friends. Such best friends, in fact, that the four of them decided to take a trip to Hawaii together. On the plane, each of the women sat with the man she was not married to. And at the end of the flight, without anybody saying a word to anybody, each of the newly configured couples stayed in their new configurations, all the way to their hotel rooms, throughout the stay in Hawaii, and beyond to divorce and remarriage. I don’t remember whether they all had children before or after that fateful trip, or whether Joanna’s parents actually gave her the name Rainbow or she just added that on later in life, but – oh, those crazy Californicators.

And what does all this have to do with the Isaac song? Well, the thing is, I probably wouldn’t remember anything about Joanna today if not for her family car song, which she sang for me and Julie, which we didn’t stop singing for the entire continental tour, which I still find myself randomly humming today. I remember her telling us about how she and her brother would fight “like chickens” in the backseat of the car, but that the bickering could always be brought to a halt by the following ditty:

Mother-fucking, titty-sucking, two-bomb bitch
C C E G CC E G A- A- C

Father-fucking, titty-sucking, two-bomb bitch
C C E G CC E G A- A- C

La la la la la la la

Fill your ass with spaghetti.

The real genius in the song is that, with every repetition, you had to fill your ass with something else, like paper clips or turtledoves or bright copper kettles and whiskers on kittens. “It was just such a caring, sharing, kind of song,” I remember Joanna saying. She described how her mother and father would beam at their respective lines, about hours of bliss passing by as they sang and sang, about the creativity, the sharing.

And now, as I look for a new car song, I'm thinking, “Heeeyyyyyyy...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pineapple weed

“Look,” Rowan says, dropping to his knees on the sidewalk: “pineapple weed.”

He plucks a sprig of the ubiquitous small plant that grows through cracks in the summer pavements: green stalk and leaves, topped with a golden helmet of a blossom. It’s never occurred to me to look at it.

“If you rub the yellow part with your finger and smell it, it smells like pineapple,” he says, and does, holding his thumbnail to my nose. And he’s right: there it is, the smell of pineapple, lingering on his fingers. (Later, on a walk around the block to clear my head, I perform the same magic trick for Rachel. She is suitably impressed.)

I hold onto this moment — this moment of my son teaching me something interesting, something I don’t know already, something quirky and cool; this example of his ability to pay attention — and return to it a few days later as I sulk in the corner of the kids’ pool at the Sports Complex, fed up with Rowan’s refusal to go to his swimming lesson, at his ability to confound me in public, at the fact that he has deprived me of a much-needed half-hour swim.

It’s only later that I realize that he doesn’t actually get the concepts of “late” and “on time,” that much of him believes that the lesson will be there when he is done in the kiddie pool. “But I just got in,” he keeps saying. “I’m not ready to get out yet.”

He knows so much. Like the pig Olivia, he is good at lots of things, including — especially — wearing people out. Without even really trying, he has started to read. Recently, he showed a friend of ours how to work a program on her Mac. But there’s still so much to learn, like how to dunk your head underwater without the water going up your nose, or that Isaac will hand him almost anything if he only asks nicely.

“You’re having a hard time listening when I ask you to do something these days,” I said to him a few bedtimes ago.

“Yes,” he said, after a pensive silence. “Yes, I am having a hard time with that.” He placed his palm on my cheek.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because,” he said, after another moment. “Because my body doesn’t know so much things yet. My brain doesn’t know so much things yet.”

Mine neither, I think. But you’re teaching me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My mothers went to the Winnipeg folk Festival and all I got was this hippie relic of a T-shirt

Ye gods, people, you have no idea how much shorter an eight-hour drive is with no children in the back seat. The whole way to the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Rachel and I kept marveling at how easy this was: no backseat DJing from the three-year-old dictator, no “Are we there yet?”s, no placating a restless Isaac with chunks of Arrowroot cookie and half-grapes, passed into the backseat at regular intervals. No doling out points for every “motorcycle-go!” passed on the highway. No ending the last leg of every driving interval with a screaming baby whose limits had been pushed past breaking point. No skulking around the sleeping children in a hotel room at 7:30 p.m., only to be wakened by the very same children at 4:34 a.m. So not like last year.

Just me and my girl, on the road with grown-up music and coffee and the cell phone I finally acquiesced to. And oh my God, it was sweet.

Those of you with small children who have not yet gone away for a few days with your partner: do it. If you can swing it at all, do it. Leave them with a trusted somebody and hightail it out of town. It barely matters where. I mean, the Folk Festival was fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but the real highlight of the weekend was not being responsible for anyone else’s needs. From Friday morning — a getaway marred only by Rowan’s sudden tears and pleas for us to stay (he was fine, fine, five minutes later, as we confirmed by said cell phone) — until Monday evening, I did not have to worry about anyone else eating, sleeping, sharing, peeing, hurting, running off, waking up, being bored, throwing sand, or otherwise Behaving or Needing or just plain Existing under my jurisdiction. We travelled with three other sets of parents of relatively small children, none of whom had ever left their kids behind either, and we all walked around with slightly goofy, dazed expressions on our faces. We half-declared a moratorium on conversations that began with, “If the kids were here...,” but eventually gave up. It was just too much fun to gloat.

Even the camping — such as it was, what with nice flat fields of open grass and cooking facilities and bathrooms nearby — was magical. I slept, uninterrupted, under a duvet on our air mattress, until whatever time I chose to wake up in the morning. Our second morning there, Rachel brought a steaming mug of tea to me as a 10:30 wake-up call. And I remembered what it was like to be pampered, how easy it was to be romantic, when not pulled in two directions at once, not mentally mapping out the morning, the hour, how to entice children from Point A to Point B.

And the people! The beautiful people everywhere, eating the beautiful food that we simply bought when we were hungry, washed down by the microbrews in the beer tent when we had a hankering. The baked goods! (Rachel would like me to mention for the record that we ate fried dough in four different forms.) The swimming, the conversations, reading large chunks of my novel, the setting up of camp chairs and hanging out for hours on end in ways that we haven’t hung out in far, far too long.

And, uh, the music. “What did you see?” my sister-in-law asked when we got back. “I don’t actually know,” I admitted. Because, sacrilegious as it sounds to the hard-core festivalgoers, I didn’t really care all that much, at least after k.d. lang cancelled and we missed Elvis Costello and Martha Wainwright on the Wednesday night. Neko Case was pretty rockin’, as was a UK band called Bellowhead. I liked Iron and Wine, and I kind of thought Steven Page was a bit pathetic, what with singing all the old Barenaked Ladies songs he wrote, thank you very much.

But really? As long as it wasn’t Raffi, I wasn’t complaining.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Hey, how would you like an organic blueberry-banana smoothie, garnished with a fresh-picked strawberry, still warm from the fields? Because I have two, right here, that my children Are Not Drinking.

The little one, just woken from a nap and therefore in the state of mind I refer to as Everything You Do Is Wrong, screeched, “No strawberry! No strawberry! No moothie! Don’t want! Take it away! Away!”

“Why did you put the strawberry there?” was what the big one wanted to know. “For decoration,” I explained. He picked it up by the stem and examined it gingerly, as though it might explode, and remarked, “You forgot to cut the top off.” He briefly considered lobbing the offending berry into the smoothie glass, but reconsidered this action when I barked, “Don’t even think about it, mister!” Instead, he plunked it down on the table, took a couple of sips of the smoothie, and then forgot about it until he realized it could be used as a delaying tactic at bedtime. At which point he desired it passionately.

But, you know? It didn’t bother me. Even as I was pouring drinks and slicing strawberries and arranging everything just so, I knew that my kids probably wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about my efforts at plating. I was doing it for me. And now, for you. Because you? You appreciate things.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Orchestral manoeuvres in the dark

In the latest round of our ongoing game of musical beds, Rowan has spent the past few nights on an air mattress (yes, that air mattress) in our room, while Auntie Kathryn occupies the “blue” room he usually sleeps in.

It’s quite sweet, really, to peer over the side of the bed and see a small person, tucked up in the little nest we’ve created by the window. Twice now, he has climbed into our bed from his during the wee hours of the night, and — because I don’t seem able to sleep with his elbow in my solar plexus — I have decamped for the spare bed in what is currently Isaac’s room or gently but insistently escorted Rowan back into his own bed.

But not before reveling for at least a few moments in the glory of his almost-tiny body snuggled between the two of ours, the quiet intimacy of three bodies in the sleep-heavy night, lying under the blades of the slowly oscillating ceiling fan.

When Rowan was a newborn, a young baby, he loved the light fixture above our bed. He lay on his back between me and Rachel, cooing and kicking at the round white bulb. If we turned it on, his whole body wriggled in paroxysms of joy. He spent a lot of time in those early months lying between us, talking to the ceiling. But, back then, awash in a tsunami of sleep deprivation and consequent anxiety, I did not revel. I worried. I angsted. I fretted that we were doing everything wrong, that we were somehow harming him even as he lay happy next to me, that he would never sleep and that I wouldn’t, either. I wondered why all the other new parents I know didn’t seem to be slowly going insane, desperate with the knowledge that they had made a huge, irrevocable, mistake.

One early January morning, lying next to my nursing baby, Rachel spooning him from the other side, a tiny voice managed to work its way through the fretting. “You all look so beautiful,” it said, and for the first time I imagined what we must look like to the outside world: three tired bodies, two parents surrounding a breast-feeding child, warm under a nest of feather duvets and receiving blankets. And I realized in that moment that we did look beautiful, but that — more importantly — we also looked just fine, like we were handling things, like we were okay. Good, even. And I realized that, in fact, that all the other parents I saw with their babies must have had moments of sheer terror and desperation, too. Which, somehow, helped make things feel a bit less scary.

I hung onto that moment for a long time, reminding myself that we were okay. Which we were, all along, even if it took months more to relax into. Which is why, even as he wakes me from deep sleep, even as he jams his toes between my legs to warm them up and asks me to fetch him some water, I revel in my son’s — and now my sons’ — occasional presence in my bed. I revel that they can be there and it is at worst a mild disruption, not cause for despair. I revel in the heads heavy on my shoulder even as my arm falls asleep. And then I fall asleep, or I move them, or move me, and the night continues.

This morning at about 4 AM, I coughed, as quietly as I could, into my pillow.

“Mom!” came a voice from the side of our bed.


“You woke me up!”

“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay.”

And it was.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Bad babies

Look! It’s Friday afternoon! The sun is shining, I have a head cold to go with my bronchitis, a cherished friend is coming in for the weekend, and — yay! — I don’t have to write a new blog entry, because the following story, about how we found out that Rowan was a boy, just appeared in the wonderful magazine Brain, Child’s “Backtalk” section. Have a great weekend.

“Do you want to know the sex?” the ultrasound technician asked at my 18-week prenatal appointment.

“Yes,” I said, “but instead of telling me, can you just show me the anatomy on the screen so I can see for my—”

“It’s a boy,” she said.

O-kay. Moving right along, the technician did the anatomical scan. She kept trying to get good pictures of the baby’s various parts, but he (now that I knew he was a he) wasn’t in the right position. She tsk-tsked a few times over the uncooperative fetus, and then said, “What a bad baby.”

I was stunned. My partner was stunned. Who calls a baby — an unborn baby, no less — “bad”?

“A very bad baby,” she said again, as she tried to get a picture of his femur or something. And then, just in case we missed it, again: “Very, very bad.” I guess she’d skipped the sensitivity training day.

She sent me off to the washroom to pee and drink some water, to try to get my bad baby moving so that she could get the pictures she needed. I sat on the toilet, reeling, awash in my first moment of parental protectiveness. Who the hell was this woman? And how dare she call my baby “bad”?

I emerged from the washroom. “So,” the technician asked, wand in hand, “did you tell this bad baby to cooperate?”

“No,” I said, sweetly as I could. “I told him not to be scared of the mean lady.”

Monday, June 29, 2009

If I never play this game again...

... it will be too soon. Fortunately for me, I may never have to. Rowan has decided that I “play too slowly,” and now helpfully takes not only all of his turns, but all of mine as well, all the while narrating the game like a sportscaster on speed: “Okay, my turn: three! One, two, three! I’m on 37! Mom, I’m higher than you! Okay, mom, your turn: six! One, two, three, four, five, six! Mom! Look! You got a ladder! You go up, up, up, up, up — Mom! You’re on 84! Good job! But watch out, because if you get a three next time, you go down that big ladder. Okay, my turn: three again! One, two, three — oh no! I skated on thin ice! I go down a ladder! You’re winning, Mom! Okay, your turn: four! One, two, three, four! You missed the big ladder! Good job!”

And so on, and so on, and so on. This is a parenting strategy I like to refer to as Everybody Gets Most of What They Want, Most of the Time. Rowan gets to play his game, at the warp speed he prefers, and I get to murmur excited noises while reading the New York Times Sunday Styles section (which, in Thunder Bay, is generally delivered on Mondays, sometimes Tuesdays). In which, this week, I learned that, “Relationships between gay and straight men aren’t always easy, but stereotypes are falling.”

Oooh. Apparently, in the big city of New York, the gays and hets have tentatively figured out how to maybe be friends. At least, the guys — no mention of women. Whatever, I’m thinking: just move to a small town and you’ll have no choice.

Case in point: it was just Pride weekend. At least, it is places where they have Pride. Also known as places that are Not Here. All I wanted on Saturday was to take my children to the post–Dyke March beer garden. I wasn’t even envisioning idyllic: I would have settled for whining, demanding, overheated children in a beer garden in the middle of a city without garbage collection. Seriously, I would have. And then I read a whole bunch of blogs about moms who took their whining, demanding, overheated children to Pride, and I still wanted to be there.

My friend Tara, one half of the only other two-mom household I’m aware of in this fine city, suggested we try to create some kind of kid-focused Pride event. We discussed the idea, but the discussion kinda stalled around the question, “And which queer parents would we invite?” We scratched our heads for a while. “Well, there’s you...” she said, and trailed off. I thought of the woman at Rowan’s school with the rainbow sticker on her car: Rachel, excited, struck up a conversation with her one day, but we never got her name. There’s the woman who came up to me in the Scandinavian Home Restaurant in the winter because she recognized me from this blog — Pam! If you’re reading this: send up a flare! Jeez, if you made out with your same-sex roommate in college one drunken night and now live in Thunder Bay, send up a flare! — and then there’s, um … well. All the parents we usually hang out with. Our friends. Fine, fine, fabulous people, all of them. And all straight, as far as I can tell.

That's the thing about small places. You get to be friends with fabulous people, even when they are Heterosexual and you are Homosexual, because That’s How Things Work. In Toronto, I could surround myself with people just like me: I can, off the top of my head, for example, think of at least five other same-sex, interfaith couples with two kids, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of queer motherhood. Not to mention the dozens upon dozens of queer non-parents who are mainstays in the lives of so many of the gaybies (and their parents) in their midst.

And while I longed to be with all of them this weekend, I consoled myself with the fact that the community we have built and are building here is pretty damn lovable. And if we had stayed in Toronto, never moved to Somewhere Without Pride, I wouldn’t have known that. It’s not perfect, but neither is Toronto (even when the city workers are picking up garbage): I still long for more queer culture — not to mention more cafés, more art galleries, more patios, more walkable neighbourhoods — but it’s pretty damn good, from our mini Pride Sunday brunch with godmothers Judy and Jill to the community pizza potluck in the park that evening, where children danced in circles around giant cottonwood trees. Both versions my life — the urban and the small-town — have their ups and downs, but in the end, I suppose, Everybody Gets Most of What They Want, Most of the Time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Marlo and me

One of my less marketable skills is the uncanny ability to create new lyrics to pre-existing songs. It came in quite handy at summer camp, where I never tired of making up team songs to the Fame theme song or “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing,” or, on one memorable occasion, George Michael’s “Faith.”

Today, I find I find that the same skill serves me quite well as a parent. Rachel just stares at me and shakes her head as I come up with nifty little rhyming ditties about brushing teeth and putting toys away, all set to Sound of Music and Beatles melodies. But the kids like it, and I swear it keeps my mind younger. Never mind that I can’t remember anything that happened last week.

So when I read Lesbian Dad’s recent “Baba’s Day” post, wherein they take their kids to a Pride-sponsored screening of Free to Be You and Me — in San Francisco’s Castro, no less — I was, in addition to being insanely jealous, also immediately taken back in time to my seventh-grade production of FTB. It was 1983. I was in a class of ten girls, with my first teacher who went by “Ms.” and didn’t shave her armpits. You could say it was my feminist awakening. While I could relate to the relevance of “William’s Doll,” I also felt that it needed a girl-specific corollary. A couple of classmates and I got together, and “Gillian’s Ball” was born.

Without further ado:

Gillian’s ball

When my friend Gillian was five years old
She wanted a ball to bounce and throw.
“A ball,” said Gillian, “is something that
“I could use to learn to bat.
“A ball to catch and throw all day —
“Baseball and football I could play!
“And when it’s time to go to bed,
I’d put my ball away,” my friend Jill said.

[CHORUS] A ball! A ball! Gillian wants a ball!
“Don’t be a tomboy,” her best friend said.

Why should a girl want to play with a ball?
“That stuff’s for boys,” said her cousin Meg.
“Don’t be a jerk,” said her older brother.
“I know what to do,” to her father said her mother.

So her mother bought her a Barbie doll,
A baking set, and that’s not all:
Some knitting needles, a crayon set,
A baby doll that really wet.

And Jill loved all of her new games,
Enjoyed them all but all the same,
When Jilly’s mother praised her skill,
“Can I please have a ball now?” said my friend Jill.

A ball! A ball! Gillian wants a ball!
A ball! A ball! Gillian wants a ball!

Then Gillian’s grandma arrived one day
And wanted to know what she liked to play.
And Jill said, “Barbie’s my favorite game.
“I like to play, but all the same,
“I’d give up all of my new toys
“to go play baseball with the boys.”

“How very wise,” her grandma said.
Said Jill: “but everyone says this instead:

A ball! A ball! Gillian wants a ball!
A ball! A ball! Gillian wants a ball!

So Gillian’s grandma, as I’ve been told
bought Gillian a ball to bounce and throw.
When Gillian’s mother began to frown
Grandma smiled and calmed her down, explaining:

“Gillian wants a ball
“So when she’s on a Little League team,
“She’ll know how to bat and to run and to throw,
“And to field left and right and to pitch high and low.
“And maybe one day, Gillian will score the winning run!”

Gillian has a ball! Gillian has a ball!
'Cause she’s gonna play baseball and have a lot... of... fun!

Okay, I admit that I got just a wee bit choked up writing that down.

Yes, of course I remember all the lyrics, another slightly more marketable skill being a semi-photographic memory, especially for Trivia Relating to My Own Life, particularly the preteen years. Actually, I can quote the entire FTB soundtrack from memory (not to mention The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof) and, yes, I do, whenever we put the CD on, inspiring yet more eye-rolling from Rachel. I’m always up for a resounding chorus of “Housework.” My version, however, is inspired not so much by Carol Channing’s rendition as by the Russian-accented version of my seventh grade classmate, Lina, who had recently immigrated from the USSR: “You KNOW, there are TYMZZZES when you HAPPEN to be, just SEE-TING there, KWI-etly, watching TEE-VEE...”

It only just occurred to me now that maybe William grew up to have three kids with his husband, Steve, and that Gillian was a budding baby-dyke who’d grow up to be a human-rights lawyer and pitch for her Rainbow-league softball team. You never know — but you know they were free to do whatever made them happy. Whether you’re in San Francisco or northern Ontario or anywhere in between or beyond, Happy Pride!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

And your mothers wear army boots

When I went to pick up Rowan at school today, the JKs were playing outside in the big kids’ playground. Rowan looked up from the slide, gave me a huge grin, and yelled, “Susan! What are you doing here!”

His teacher looked at me in mock horror. Instead of commenting on his amazing people skills, though, she said, “‘Susan?’”

“That’s what he calls me,” I said.

“Not ‘Mom’?”

“No,” I said. “Not ‘Mom.’”

Why?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, “maybe if you had two of them, you would find more sensible things to call them, too.”

“Good point,” she said.

Because I am not Rowan, I did not answer, “I know it’s a good point.” But I thought it.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Dear Isaac,

You turned two this month, and I have devoted no small amount of time into figuring out how to bottle you, to preserve the essence of you at what I can only imagine is peak cute. I keep thinking the formula is nearly perfect, and then, every time I test it out, the Oompa Loompa turns into a huge blueberry and rolls away.

But first it wakes me up at 5:17 in the morning and demands a muffin and a glass of milk.

So I guess that you are going to keep on growing in the way that you have for the past two years, and I will just have to trust in the photographs and videos and, yes, this blog, to remember what you were like RIGHT NOW, barely 20 pounds soaking wet, in your goofy little frog hat that shades you so nicely from the sun.

I will have to remember your uncanny ability to wedge yourself so precisely into the space next to my body, and your almost palpable satisfaction at doing so with both white fuzzy security blankets in your arms and your thumb in your mouth. We spend lots of time like that on the couch, where we read, over and over again, books about trucks and about dogs, and you still get mad when the back cover of the board book will not open, and you try to pry apart the layers of cardboard in an effort to squeeze out just one more little bit of story. But you’re learning to flip the book back to the beginning and begin again. And each time we see that dump truck or the “six quiet dogs,” it’s just as thrilling as the last time.

For your birthday, we are buying you some leverage with your older brother in the form of two particularly coveted Sodor Railway trains. That brother of yours, one of his favorite questions is, “How come Isaac always wants to do what I want to do?” He sounds a bit put out by the whole younger sibling thing, and to some extent, he is. After all, one of your favorite phrases in relation to him is, “Coming too.” But I’ll tell you both a secret: pretty much just as much of the time, he wants to do what you’re doing, too. The two of you will disappear upstairs or into the basement for half an hour or more at a time, and your other mother and I are learning to back off just a bit when the two of you play. Because, when we do, when there’s no authority figure to provoke, your older brother becomes protective, solicitous of your toddler needs, nurturing. Many times, we’ll hear a bump, and then your cry, and then his voice, asking if you’re okay, if you want a hug or your blanket or some water. And, more often than not, you’re fine, trusting in him to make things better. He likes to lie down with you while you nap, swearing up and down that of course he will not talk and he will go to sleep. And then the two of you giggle and wrestle and natter and mess around until we finally have to escort him, protesting, from the room.

You doubled your lifespan over the past 365 days, and will double it again and again and again and still be younger than me. During that time, you learned how to walk and to talk, to feed yourself, what the telephone is for and how to climb into your own car seat. You paint, you sing, you dance, you sweep the floor. At playgroup the other day, you planted your first red runner bean. You like to mix up batches of pretend oatmeal in the sandbox and serve them to anyone who’s hungry. You are enamored of tea parties, a particular stuffed doggy, and the cats, even though the big one occasionally lets you know when to cut it out with the poking her with pens and paper clips. You have an uncanny ear for motorcycles and ambulances, and like to imitate a truck backing up, beep-beep-beeping as you shuffle carefully backwards.

You are a second child, who knows of things like ice cream and Pokémon well before your older brother ever did. When you wake up from your nap hysterical and inconsolable, your other mother and I feel bad for you but we do not worry, we do not feel desperate and wonder what we did wrong. You have grown up, thus far, not under the weight of our anxiety but rather our bemusement. Has that made a difference to your personality? Is that why you have the sense of humour you do, screwing up your face into coy little grimaces, pursing those rosebud lips into your series of funny faces? Rowan likes to get you to perform your tricks like a trained seal at a party: “Isaac, do baby laughing!” he’ll say, and you will oblige by breaking out in a series of jolly guffaws. “Isaac, do baby crying!” he’ll say, and you’ll wah-wah-wah for the audience.

And even though you’re two now, we still do think of you as a baby, our tiny, smiley little guy. You made a spectacular entry into the world, and I often find myself in the bathroom, marveling at the spot of linoleum right near the cupboard where the doula laid you carefully onto a towel before rushing off to grab some piece of equipment or other. Your other mother was on the phone, paging the midwife, who was parking her car in our driveway. Your big brother, seven months older than you are now, was asleep in his bed, barely 20 feet away. Time slowed down then for me, so that the entire world consisted of our two bodies, still joined, and the maybe six square feet of bathroom floor we occupied, me on my knees and breathless and thrilled at the turn of events that let me have you at home instead of the euphemistically named Regional Health Sciences Centre. I’d spent the day in labour, breathing through contractions and thinking about what it meant to open, to make that kind of room within myself and without, imagining you as my partner in this process and working with me to get you here, each of us trusting in the other’s instincts and decisions.

Even your 5 a.m. wakeup calls will eventually cease. On my mornings to get up with you, you eat your snack and then we cuddle up in your big brother’s abandoned bed for 45 minutes or so. You start off a foot or so away from me and slowly inch your way closer until we are spooning, me breathing in the scent of your strawberry-blond hair, nuzzling your skin, holding your tiny body close to mine for as long as I can until you turn over and sit up and say, “Go downstairs.” And I sigh and heave my weary body up and say, “Okay.” And you reach out your arms and say, “Coming too.” And we go downstairs together and squeeze out just a little bit more of the story.

Happy birthday, baby.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Magic wand, repaired

We went to a birthday party last night, an offshoot of the weekly kids’ soccer game that has become our latest mainstay. Each Tuesday evening, several families gather in the lower field of a nearby schoolyard, children and potluck snacks and water bottles and bicycles and picnic blankets in tow. J’s four children drag their nets across the street and down the field. M brings a bag full of purple and yellow cloth strips that the kids tie around their heads or their waists to indicate their teams. L brings an entire watermelon, sliced. T blows his whistle and get the kids to line up by height, somersault across the field, give him 10 push-ups to warm up. S, who lives across the street, is the default bathroom stop for kids who just can’t hold it. At least one toddler eventually ends up naked. The little girls get hot and strip off their T-shirts; boys show up in pretty dresses if that’s what they feel like today.

There is a game of sorts, and then a break, and then a kids-against-grown-ups game, and then eventually we all scrape our children together, pluck them from the trees and the hills and the sidewalks, and make our way home, past bedtime and worth every minute of it.

Last night, J’s younger son turned eight, and the soccer game expanded to include tables and a potluck dinner, candles and cake, three-legged races and stomp-the-balloon and garbage-bag crawls and a cup-decorating station and the birthday boy high on contraband Fun-Dip. Grown-ups picked up broken balloon pieces and swung random children through the air. One child wondered aloud if there was an extra piece of birthday cake for him, and his dad indicated an abandoned half-slice on a plate on the ground: “Go ahead and have that one,” he said. “It doesn’t look like anyone is eating it.” And I thought: My kind of people.

Just as all the tables were set up, all the food spread out, the canopy stretched over top, we saw two police officers slow down and then stop their car across the street, open the doors and climb out and make their way, slowly, towards us. And I thought, Oh come on. Do we need a permit? Are they going to shut us down? Can’t we just gather in the park for a picnic without the cops arriving?

And one of the officers said, “We’re looking for a little girl who’s gone missing.” And I felt a rush of shame. Were all the kids here — all the girls — present and accounted for? No one extra? “Her name’s Angelica,” said the officer. “Apparently she comes here to play sometimes.” And we all scanned the field, picking out our own children and everyone else’s, hoping to spot one more girlish body in the mix. She wasn’t there.

The cops left. We returned to our festivities, the mood picking up fairly quickly in spite of it all. Games were played, cake eaten, new balloons tied around ankles and sweaters donned in the fading light. J brought a bag of tiny gifts for the kids, including a roster of fairy wands with pink ribbons tied around them. I found Rowan, perched in the lower branches of a crabapple tree, surrounded by children, and handed him one. “What is it?” he asked. “Your magic wand,” I told him, and he was into it immediately, shouting “Alakazam! I’m turning you into a turtle!” all the way home.

Of course, magic wands in the hands of four-year-olds are delicate proposition, and so I’ve Scotch-taped this one back together. Given its provenance, I’m fairly certain there’s still magic in it. Fingers crossed for enough magic in the world to make sure Angelica is safe.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Forty years in the desert was enough

If Rachel and I ever split up, you just know that the next person she gets involved with will like to camp. Why, why, why, she’ll ask her new love, as they lie next to each other on their Thermarests, gazing out of the mesh door of their tent, which will be pitched in the belly of some provincial park or other, Why, why, why did I spend all those years with someone who never appreciated all this?

Here’s a (not-so) secret: I don’t really like camping. I’ll put up with it for a few days, here and there, for the greater good, but I never really got the point of it. I mean, I like nature and all, but I don’t really feel the need to sleep in the middle of it. Or cook, for that matter: I have a perfectly functioning stove right in my house, along with a bed. And oh, this crazy little thing called a toilet.

A lot of my camping aversion has to do with sleep. As in, I can’t — at least, not lying in a tapered, zippered, sleeping bag, with only an inch of foam and between me and the hard, hard ground, my folded fleece acting as a pillow, the whine of a thousand bloodthirsty mosquitoes droning in my ears. Sleep, as anyone who reads this blog regularly will know, is important to me, perhaps because it does not come easily to me at the best of times. And I am loath to squander it for the purported benefits of “getting away from it all” in the wilderness. One of the last times Rachel and I camped, I was five months’ pregnant with Rowan, which gave me the leverage to insist that we purchase an air mattress (along with a nifty little pump that you can plug into your car’s cigarette lighter). And now, when we camp, we camp on a mattress, outfitted with sheets, duvet, and pillows. Two of them, for me. Because I need two pillows to sleep. (Actually, in a perfect world, I also like a third pillow, just hold on to, but I’m willing to sacrifice this perk for the sake of “outdoorsiness” and keeping things simple.)

I also like earplugs, and an eye mask, to filter out the sunrise. And then I like to drink tea, with milk in it, as soon as possible after waking up. I’m becoming one of those people who contemplates traveling with my own pillows. In other words, I’m getting older, and it’s clear I’m not mellowing with age in the sleep department.

Here’s another thing: I feel ugly when I camp. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s the truth. I have hair that really does require a certain amount of product to look halfway decent, hair that, when faced with humidity and lake water and left to dry of its own accord, frizzes out into an unattractive pyramid. And I don’t tan, either. Camping, sans product and styling aids, I begin to resemble a yeti. There’s Rachel, of the fine, straight, blonde hair, getting progressively cuter and browner and silkier with each passing hour, while I grow into a Brillo-headed, mosquito-bitten, grouchy little mess. Oh, and did I mention I am prone to heat rashes? And that Rachel could sleep on a pile of rocks?

Aesthetic issues aside, sometimes I find camping just a wee bit boring. I’m a little bit of a productivity junkie; I like to keep busy. And faced with a day of hanging around the site, I can get a bit antsy. My best trips are the ones that keep me busy and that thoroughly tire me out by the end of the day: canoeing or cycling to the next destination. Or, trips where camping is a means to an end: the tent the equivalent of a hotel room while we hang out at a music festival or stop for the night on a road trip.

And now that we have children to add to the mix, camping takes on a whole new tenor. We’re planning our first session of roughing it in the bush (as opposed to in a field with other festival-goers) with the kids this summer — Rachel wanted to head to Pukasaw, a national park four hours north of here; I talked her down to the Sleeping Giant, a breezy hour’s drive, with a little town nearby for diversions. I figure, in the event that I don’t sleep well and then am woken at five by chipmunks and a toddler, I may not have the energy to keep a watchful eye as the children stray towards open water, open fires, bears, the woods. I may need to take a little walk down the street to a coffee shop, or, at worst, make it home in short notice. At least for the first time we head out.

When Rachel and I first met, the throes of new love did a lot to temper my misgivings about camping, and Rachel’s misgivings about my misgivings about camping. We thought of each other’s quirks as simple — but adorable! — errors in judgment, each imagining that the other would come around if we could only convince her of the rightness, the moral superiority, of our positions. She would make me love camping; I would make her see the charm of a B&B.

We joked that it was a religious difference: Jews don’t camp (notwithstanding my weeklong canoe trip as a CIT at Camp Hatikvah in 1986); Gentiles do. It’s a biblical relic, really: Wasn’t wandering in the desert for 40 years enough for my people?

In the years since we met, we’ve learned the futility of trying to convince each other of our rightness and have settled for putting up with each other’s foibles as gracefully as possible. We’ve done a half-dozen or so camping trips, some involving cars, some canoes, and at least one that involved bicycles and a taped ankle. We’ve slept in one-person tents and, most recently, a behemoth that divides into two rooms with us on one side and a baby in a Pack-and-Play on the other. We’ve camped at music festivals and provincial parks, on the gorgeous beaches of Pancake Bay on the shore of Lake Superior.

And we have also bailed from the tent on a number of occasions for the relative comforts of bed and breakfasts, cheesy motel rooms, and the Best Western hotel chain. On at least one occasion, she did the bailing. Because sometimes, in the pouring rain, or when the horses in the pasture next door give you strange looks, or when you have tonsillitis, nothing quite beckons like a room. With walls. That you can stand up in. And a hot shower. And beer, brought up by room service, while you watch cheesy cable TV. And tea, with milk, first thing, the next morning.

Now, that’s roughing it.