Pandemic Diary, the Collection from Nothing By the Book

I am, of course, blogging the pandemic. What else would I be doing?

Below is a collection of my Pandemic Diary posts, from March 17, 2020 onward. I’d say, “Enjoy,” but they’re not really fun. Yet? Maybe eventually, I’ll get funny again? One can hope.

In the meantime: I’m documenting. You’re welcome. 😉 xo

Pandemic Diary: Paradigm shift: choices, agency, uncertainty (March 17, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Navel-gazing in the time of corona (March 19, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: A love letter to this tiny, messy, imperfect house (March 20, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: On the gentle art of inconveniencing yourself for the good of the herd… (March 22, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: What is my mission? What’s yours? (March 25, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: We’re all interconnected and I wish you’d all screw off and give me some privacy! (March 26, 2020)

Pandemic Diary, or Suffering for the sake of covidiots; selfish like all the rest of them (March 28, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: A pissy note to my friends who aren’t working (March 30, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: From one sanctimonious prick on a self-righteous soapbox to another (April 1, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: On Day 23, like cabin fever but not (April 5, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Easter has been cancelled; apologies (April 10, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Even if we don’t exist, let’s pretend that we do (April 16, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: You can take your silver lining and shove it where the sun don’t shine (April 20, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Evil thoughts on Day 40+ of the Cuarentana (April 25, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: You’re losing time, but don’t worry, I’m on it (April 26, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Alberta reopens for petrosexuals’ golfing pleasure (May 3, 2020)

On this Mother’s Day: Imagine a world in which mothers stopped doing all the things (May 10, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Happy Pandemic Birthday to Me… and all 20 million of you… (May 21, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: If this is the test, I’m failing–you? (May 28, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Protests in the time of the Pandemic (June 4, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Getting out of bed to protest–also, to make breakfast–during a global pandemic (June 7, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Helplessness tastes like sand; eat chocolate instead (June 15, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: The kids are all right (June 25, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Decision fatigue is killing me, and so are empaths (June 28, 2020)

Pandemic Diary: Celebrating Canada Day with gratitude, and pain (July 1, 2020)

The Year of Hell, with the Good Bits, too (2019 Collection)

Life’s real troubles are rarely about a boy, but “survive” was definitely our family theme for 2019. We did, and we will even danced a little.

But it was an awful, awful year.

Game face on

Happy birthday (the war’s not over)

Suffering, loving, living… home

She danced, who is she?

Some words of wisdom from the House of Snot & Vomit

All the good things in the year from hell, or, conscious loving

I believe I can fly

“I’m crushing your head!”

Work, heroin, and a heroine named Clementine

Jane does Disney like this: no mouse, no rides, a hell of a lot of angst

But you don’t understand–I really am feeling stupid, or Arguing with the therapist and non-problem solving strategies

Deep Texting Conversation with My Teenager

So, yeah, I met Julia Cameron (in the flesh!): The power of story, dialectics and the creation of god

Heaven Hangover, or, thoroughly non-journalistic reflections on the Investigative Journalism Intensive, Banff Centre 2019

Manufactured Memories, for Suzie

If you want to save the world, fund libraries, use libraries, love libraries

Two in high school, one at home equals… I don’t know, I’m really bad at math

Confessions of an unreformable plant killer

Finding Water, grateful for Julia Cameron, kinda whiny anyway

The kids are all right, but you’re old and out of touch: a love letter to libraries inspired by Susan Orlean et al.

“You are amazing”—you are partly right

Her story, my story, our story

This is a happy moment

Halfway to 90: on flying, smashing the patriarchy, and other dreams (May 21, 2019)

We “celebrate” mothers but we neither value nor support them: if you’re not gonna walk the talk, take your hallmark holiday and shove it (May 12, 2019)

Kick like a girl (April 28, 2019)

Because laughing is good, even when it’s hysterical (March 30, 2019)

Privilege, burnt quesadillas, and betrayal (January 27, 2019)

Anger as Fuel: Latin History For Morons, Microaggression Defined, Calgary Artist Eman Elkadri’s Social Justice Art #raceissues (January 12, 2019)

 

52 Weeks Project (2018 Blog Post Index)

For 2018, I had set myself the goal of returning to regular–religiously weekly, actually–blogging. The only “rule” was that I had to post once a week. Otherwise, I was free to navel-gaze, freefall, freestyle, and freeform and be relatively incoherent.

The really terrifying thing about this collection? It reads so honest, doesn’t it? It fails to document–notice?–what was really going on in my family, my life, with my daughter.

It is a hard year to revisit. Nonetheless, I expect, some time in the future, I will be glad to have documented it.

Table of Contents for 2018: 52 Weeks Project

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)

Pavlov’s experiments, 21st-century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

The last thing I remember (Week 40: truth and um, not really)

All of life’s a (larval) stage (Week 41: Stagnation and Transformation)

Damn you, Robert Frost (Week 42: Angst and more Angst)

Speaking of conflict avoidance… (Week 43: Fight of Flight)

Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Day, Day of The Dead, Candy (Week 44: Neither Here Nor There)

Again with the silver-tongued Persians, and other stories (Week 45: Silence and language)

War, Famine, Pestilence, Mornings (Week 46: Mornings and the Apocalypse)

Time flies but the Christmas tree is up (Week 47: Status quo and Change)

I didn’t kill anyone–it just smells like it (Week 48: Guilt & Poison)

You have a bad memory, while I want to rest on a flower (Week 49: Mothers and Caterpillars)

Atheism, Spirituality, Boundaries, Slytherins (Week 50: This and That)

When everyone’s a special snowflake… (Week 51: Normal and Narcissistic)

The year will end on a Monday (Week 52: Guilt and Gratitude)

one last thing…

Trio on benches at laundry park3

“Mittens?”

We come out of the warm YMCA building, the chlorine scent of the swimming pool still clinging to us. Ender, with the determination only a four-year-old possesses, drags his sled down the stairs. Clunk, clunk, clunk. Slam! It lands on the bottom. He looks over his shoulder. Scowls at me. He’s tired. Hungry. Probably, despite the snowpants, sleeping-bag-jacket, and over-the-face toque, cold, because it’s the coldest, snowiest December YYC has seen in 112 years.

He plops down on the sled in a Buddha pose.

“Mittens?”

I ask, kneeling down beside him.

“No! My hands are NOT cold!”

He’s tired. Hungry. Contrary. It’s at least -15 Celsius.

I shrug. Get up. Start pulling the sled.

It’s a beautiful, clear night. The air feels clean—sparkling—even as it hurts my lungs, bites at my exposed cheeks. I pull the sled on the cleared-of-snow-but-there’s-so-much-of-it-everywhere-I-kind-of-want-a-snowmobile paths. Look at the twinkling lights. The sleeping-bag-parka-engulfed people. Turn my head.

“Mittens?”

“No.”

I shrug. Start walking again, my hands warm in my mittens. I think of what 2013 was, and what 2014 might be. I think of milestones, real and artificial. I think of hope-despair-desire-acceptance-creation-destruction-reconstruction. A plot line emerges from all those thoughts, a fascinating one, and I hear a conversation in my head that sets it up, and I fall in love with it, but it doesn’t really fit into what I want to do, ultimately, with that piece of work, and then my thoughts leap to the unBloggers Manifesto I want to write for Nothing By The Book for January, a polemic that in its current form is not doing quite what I need it to do, and I know it’s because I’m pulling too much into it, going off on too many tangents, and for a piece of writing to work, it needs to be focused, and a polemic piece of writing needs to be brutally so, digressions and tangents only work if you pull them back, at just the right time, to the central idea, the theme… or the chorus…

I turn around.

“Mittens?”

“No. Not cold.”

Mittens Pin

I cross the bridge. The lights are beautiful and almost make me forgive Christmas its existence. And I think about… beauty, definitions of, abstraction of, and that thought takes me to my daughter-who’s-about-to-turn-nine, so beautiful in mind-soul-body that it makes me ache, so full of potential and wonder that it’s that thought, and not the cold air, that stops the breath in my throat for a second… and I think about all the ways that I think fail her as a mother, all the ways that I am not what she needs, and tears swirl in my eyes—but maybe I am what she needs? And, really, what a silly question, because I am what she has and she is what I must learn—and, tears still dancing in the corners of my eyes, I turn my head…

“Mittens?”

He shakes his head. I never imagined motherhood to be this—so full of such intense joy and such paralyzing pain. So full of summits and valleys. So glorious, so rewarding—so fucking heart-wrenching. And that thought takes me to twelve different places at once, and I’m not sure how much self-awareness I want to chase in this moment, so I choose to chase the idea that self-awareness, for all the pain it brings, is also a source of power and that takes me to such very, very interesting places…

“Mittens?”

His hands are folded in his lap, and he’s bent over them. Head bopping. Falling asleep. He bops up. Scowls at me.

“Mittens?” I repeat.

“No.”

I walk faster. Over another bridge. Through the steam rising from the cracks in the ice of the river. I look at the water, ice, snow, steam and feel a shot of resentment and fear. I try to see beauty… and not next year’s flood waters. And I grit my teeth and don’t chase that thought. Find another. Oh, this one I like… I smile—my nose runs, because it’s so cold—my mouth opens and I almost stop moving because all I want is that thought and, irreverently and irrelevantly, I also glory in the fact that it came to me in this moment when I am alone… except I am not, because I am MOTHER and I am never alone, even when I am.

I look over my shoulder…

“Mittens?”

“Not! Cold!”

I can’t really run in my boots and on the snow, but I walk as quickly as I can. Home, home. I cannot wait to be home, and not just because it’s cold, and I love that thought, that feeling. I want to get home.

“Mom? My hands are cold.”

I’m about… what? 200 meters away. Maybe less. I kneel down beside the four-year-old. His hands are pulled into the sleeves of his sleeping-bag coat. I blow on his fingers and slip on his mittens. Kiss the tip of his nose.

Do not lecture, and so, enjoy the brief victory of mind over impulse. Pull the sled the last 200 meters home.

I wish I could tell you that the next time we go out in the cold, he says “Yes” the first time I try to put on his mittens. But he won’t.

I wish I could tell you I will never again doubt that I am what my daughter needs or let my thoughts go to all those other unproductive, painful places.

I wish I could tell you that, somewhere between the YMCA and home, I found the answer to EVERYTHING. Because how awesome would that be?

But, I just want to tell you this: You can fight over the mittens. Cajole, badger, plead. Force.

Or you can wait for those little hands to get cold.

And when they do—put on the mittens. Silently. Without the “I told you so’s.” Or too many expectations for the next time.

Fuck, yeah, it’s a metaphor.

Jane

P.S. Happy New Year, beloveds. I am torn what to ask of 2014. In the closing weeks and months of 2013, I rather wanted a less eventful year. But now that it’s here… eventlessness is so boring. And unfulfilling. So, 2014—be eventful. Be FULL. I’ve got plans for you. And you’d better be prepared to rise to the occasion.

P.P.S. “Jane, why are you anthropomorphizing a calendar construct?”
“Because… Metaphors. So useful.”

Coming sometime this month: the unBlogger’s Manifesto. Minus all of its digressions. Or maybe not. Focus is key. But it is digressions that make life and thought interesting…

P.P.P.S. “I love this! I want more!”
“I am so pleased. Connect with Nothing By The Book on Twitter @nothingbythebook, Facebook, and Google+. Or, for a not-in-front-of-the-entire-Internet-please exchange, email  nothingbythebook@gmail.com.”

After the flood: Running on empty and why “So are things back to normal?” is not the right question

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He asks the question with a smile, as a casual opener before we move on to “real” issues, and is shocked and appalled when I burst into tears because, well—I don’t cry.

“Are things back to normal?” he says and immediately wishes he hadn’t said it, and doesn’t know where to go from there. And I’m shocked too—I don’t know where the hell those tears have come from, because I’m fine, we’re fine, everything’s just fine.

Except, of course, it’s not.

We had this flood in YYC and Southern Alberta back in June, you may remember (my flagship post about it was unLessons from the flood: We are amazing, and if you want facts, visit the evolving Wikipedia entry  or the Calgary’s Herald’s The Great Flood of 2013 page), that devastated my neighbourhood and so much of our city. An army of citizen volunteers turned out in the tens of thousands to respond to the crisis. It was amazing. It was euphoric. It had us walking on air and out of crisis mode in a couple of intense weeks.

People were asking a week, two weeks after the flood—as soon as the rivers receded, as soon as most of the debris that was our basements, our houses, our possessions, our lives, was taken off the streets and into the dumps—“Are things back to normal?”

And in late July, August, euphoric, proud, we could smile and say, “We’re out of crisis mode.” And maybe talk a little about insurance, and the Disaster Recovery Program, and plans for reconstruction. And laud our mayor’s leadership and bitch out the provincial government and, you know, do all those “normal” things.

I’m not sure when “normal” got harder to fake. Maybe in September, when we’d reconnect with people we hadn’t seen for a few months, and they’d say, “So—did you have a good summer?”

Funny—we are so socially programmed to be inoffensively happy and placating, the autoresponse to that question, which the mouth starts to form before the brain has a moment to reflect, is, “Yes. And you? That flood thing? A minor inconvenience. Moving on. Going to Disneyland!”

I did not have a great summer. We did not have a great summer. And things are not back to normal. What does that mean, anyway?

I look at him as if he can give me the answer, but of course he can’t. And he’s never seen me like this before, or under stress before, but he’s spend the summer ripping out friends’ basements, and they’re none of them quite “normal” right now either. But they’re not talking about it. “We’re fine, everything’s fine.” So what’s going on? What’s up with us, what’s tearing us up, as we move into month five after the flood?

I struggle to put it into words.

The obvious answer is that reconstruction is not going well. The rip-outs, it turns out, were the easy part. Putting things back… Well. We’re all at different stages. Sunnyhill’s probably further behind than many others because of our need to rehabilitate all 41 damaged units simultaneously. But I don’t know anyone who was affected who’s totally “done.” Most of us—all of Sunnyhill—have been back home for a long time. But we’re living in reduced, scarred spaces. An eternal mess. That’s hard. I know every time I walk in and out of my front door, every time I see the ripped door casings, the dismantled walls, the hole where my hall closet used to be, my jaw tightens.

So. That kind of sucks. But—really—I’ve been through renovations before. Who hasn’t? We are, I tell him, the mildly inconvenienced. We know this. Bitching and complaining about naked joists, drywall dust and “what the hell did the contractors do now?” seems like such a First World Whine. And that’s the other thing.

We feel bad—guilty—over feeling bad. Because. India. Colorado. Fuck, High River.

That sure doesn’t help.

He refills my glass. He tells me about his friend, whose house is fine but whose rental property was devastated, and how guilty she feels that her own personal loss wasn’t greater. That she was, ultimately, only financially inconvenienced, while her tenants lost—everything.

Stupid, I say.

Human, he counters.

I start crying again. He gives me his napkin to wipe away tears, snot. I hide my face.

We’re exhausted, I say when I can talk again. I’m the mother of three young children who all went through severe insomniac stages—and I’ve never been this physically exhausted. And it’s not from physical labour, the way it was during the crisis. We were entitled to be exhausted then, right? But now—others are doing the work (or getting paid to do work the results of which we’re not seeing, I snarl, and I laugh, and he does too, because that’s “normal” for me, much more normal than these uncontrolled tears). We’re just doing the everyday stuff—well, a little more, and so much of the everyday stuff is more difficult, but… Not entitled to complain. Not engaged in heavy physical labour. And, frankly, letting a lot of the everyday stuff go. Never did one thing to the flooded garden this year. Cleaning windows? Ha. I barely clean the kitchen. And my kids have never eaten so much take-out, ever. So what are we exhausted from?

Living? he says, gently.

I shake my head.

Frankly—I look at him through the wine glass, and it’s the refraction of light through liquid that blurs his features, not the water still swimming in my eyes—frankly, we’re exhausted from being so fucking positive and amazing. We know we pulled off a miracle. We were awesome. We were strong.

And now we’re really tired, and we’re done—except, of course, we’re not done.

Because things are not back to normal.

But tears aren’t swimming in my eyes anymore and I heave a sigh of relief.

Jesus, that felt good, I tell him. And then—I’m so sorry. We were supposed to talk about…

He interrupts me, waves my apology away. And he tells me—how he’s been struggling. Trying to figure out how to be a good friend to his floodster (we don’t do the victim thing in YYC, and survivor’s a rather dramatic term, don’t you think?) friends post-crisis, and feeling at a loss. And how he needed to hear this as much as I needed to tell it. And how he will never ask anyone in any of the affected Calgary neighbourhoods “Are things back to normal?” ever again.

We laugh. Order dessert. More wine.

In this moment, although things are not back to normal, I’m fine. We’re fine.

Or, at least—you know. Functional.

• 

The writer engages in overt emotional manipulation, both to achieve a level of release and to communicate that which is hard to articulate. My family and friends won’t finish reading this post—they’ll be texting me in a panic before they get to the end of the first paragraph. Chill. Although things are definitely not back to normal—and for the love of any and all of the gods I don’t believe in, do not ask your flooded (or otherwise whacked by life’s events) friends and neighbours if things are back to normal, ok? Just don’t—life is unfolding as it must. And in my own beloved little corner of the flood plain, we are all doing what must be done. And—because we’re a community—we’re helping each other through it. (And possibly drinking too much wine, but. So be it.)

But if you’re on the hills and edges of the flood plains—if you’re on the edges of any life affected by a traumatic event—and you’re struggling to figure out how to help your friends who are clearly post-crisis but equally clearly not-ok, do this:

  • Listen. Don’t tell us how strong, wonderful, amazing, or lucky we are. Just listen. Let us feel bad, sad, frustrated, furious. Tired. We know we’re amazing. We kind of need permission to be… whiney.
  • Connect us to help. If you’re a local reader and you need to help a local floodster, a good starting point is the resource list provided by Alberta Health Services here. But babe, remember how I was telling you during the crisis to see the need and fill it, how saying “How can I help?” isn’t enough when people are in shock? Sending your friend the link or telephone number may not be enough. Walk the line between empathy and obnoxiousness as best as you can, but a “May I call and make an appointment for you?” is likely more helpful than “Here’s a link I thought you’d find helpful” email. For your hard-core entrepreneur friends who don’t want to do stress-relief acupuncture and roll their eyes at sacrocranial therapy etc. etc., the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has some hard-core resources—that include getting connected with counsellors if that’s what you need.
  • Recognize that we’re not as… full, or resilient as we used to be. And so—take less. In a way, take more—we’re not as patient or tolerant as we used to be either. Nor necessarily as rational. Deal with it. And, if you can, look for ways to fill us up. (Preferably not just with wine. Although that sometimes does do wonders.)
  • Invite yourself over. Our scarred houses are difficult to love right now. Sometimes, company is difficult to seek out. But isolation really sucks. Come on over.
  • Invite us over, or out. Our scarred houses are a little oppressive right now, but suck us in with all their demands. Get us out.

For my neighbours, who are awesome, and doing all the things. But who are also exhausted and running on empty, and need to have those feelings acknowledged and respected. (Especially my beloved L. So much love and appreciation for all that you’re doing.)

For my friends, who helped so much, and who are always trying to help. In the most creative, occasionally disturbing, ways. (Yeah, I’m talking about you. I’m not saying it didn’t work… but that was really weird. Still. Thank you.)

And, for myself. Cause I really needed to cry.

Cheers.

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“Jane”

Sat., Nov. 2nd P.S. You’re breaking my heart but also feeding my soul with what you’re sending to my in-box. Yes, you are free to share this piece wherever you think it needs to be heard. The private place to cry is nothingbythebook@gmail.com. Much love. J.

The AP Hair Style: I don’t brush my children’s hair. It’s a massive philosophical thing. Really

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When my kids were teeny-weeny—but already hairy—my friends and I used to joke that you could always identify the attachment-parented kids at playgrounds and playgrounds by the “AP Hair Style.” That is—unbrushed. Unkempt. Wild.

Now, ya’ might think that’s a granola-hippy-natural kind of thing.

It’s not.

And you might think—goddamn lazy attachment parents, not with it enough to perform the simple task of running a comb through their kids hair in the morning.

Screw you.

Or you might think—if you’re a self-identified AP mama, perhaps—that it’s because… well, it’s not important. And there are more important things. Sleep. Play. Breastfeeding. Perusing the fair-trade-all-wooden-no-plastic toy catalogue. (I’m not making fun of you. OK, I am, a little. But–I’ve had that catalogue too. Chill.)

Nope. It’s actually really important. The not brushing even more so than the brushing.

Ready?

I didn’t brush—don’t brush—my children’s hair when they did not want me to brush their hair—because it’s their hair.

Hold on.

I’m going to shout it.

IT’S THEIR HAIR.

Part of their bodies.

I do not assault it, when they are unwilling, with a hair brush, any more than I would assault, do violence, on any other part of their bodies.

THEIR BODIES.

Their own.

Under their own dominion—not mine.

Their wild, messy hair? Part of the lesson that they’re learning that no one—not me, not nice Mr. Jones down the street, not that creepy dude in the park, and not their first, over-eager boyfriend—has a right to do anything to their bodies that they don’t want them to do.

This is a lesson our children need to learn, repeatedly, while they are close enough to us that they will learn it, hear it.

But we don’t teach it with words. We don’t teach it with scary lectures or with fear.

We teach with how we treat their bodies. From their nose to their toes, and all the parts in-between.

And their hair.

Think about that next time you wield a hair brush.

xoxo

“Jane”

COMMENTS FOR THIS POST ARE NOW TURNED OFF, so we can all have a peaceful weekend. And for those of you continuing the debate on other fora:  a not-so-gentle reminder that name calling is not debating. Criticize the idea. I want you to. No name calling or being nasty to other commentators though, ok? Not cool.

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Other People’s Awesome

For all the parents on the verge of *that* conversation with your daughters (and sons), here is a brilliant Dear Daughter, I hope you have awesome sex piece from the Good Men Project.

For the bloggers in the crowd having social media anxiety and overdose: Joel Comm’s I am leaving social media.

For the bloggers in the crowd who want an easier way to share my stuff and to have me share your stuff, come join me on Triberr, at Ain’t Nothing But a Blog Thing Tribe or, if you’re a homeschooling blogger, at Undogmatic Unschoolers.

My neglected (by me) blogging sisters have been turning out all sorts of awesome these last few weeks. Jean at MamaSchmama wrote a beautiful I can make it home  piece into which she sneaked some lovely introductions to some of her favourite (and mine—she is clearly a woman of immaculate taste) bloggers. Kristi at Finding Ninee wrote what I think is a love letter to her son titled Forgotten Loves  that will a) make you cry and b) make you hug that squirmy love in your live extra-extra-hard—and Rachel at Tao of Poop was clearly on the same page with I Used to Love.

And while I’m tugging at your heart-strings, let me turn you over for a few minutes to Jen at My Skewed View, who delivers a birth story so poignant I’m tearing up as I remember it, and I read it more than a week ago: Eight Years Ago Today.

Jessica at School of Smock wrote a great piece about why pregnancy books now piss her off  and Stephanie at Mommy Is for Real reminded us all why we never eat out anymore. With our children anyway.

And Sarah at Sadder But Wiser Girl was also full of advice last week. She tells you to always check your underwear (and then some… you might need to change your underwear after reading Sarah. Just a word of warning). Jenn at Something Clever 2.0 also made me pee this week. So maybe read this post before changing your underwear…

Deb at Urban Moo Cow made me really, really, REALLY happy I don’t have a toddler anymore. Can I admit that? I can. I’m good with that. I don’t want any more babies, either. EVER.

But I’m super-super-super happy that Stephanie at Where Crazy Meets Exhaustion is glowing. Really. (Note to my most beloved: Vasectomy. Now. No more babies. Ever. But that’s a topic for another post, perhaps…)

Last thing: new friends. I’m getting to know these people this week:

Dysfunction Junction

and you should come play with me.

-30-

P.S. Where the hell is your like button? I turned it off. Cause if you really liked it, I want you to tell me. And I don’t really need to ego stroke from the other. xoxo J.

unLessons from the Flood: We are amazing

I didn’t really panic until I hit the first police barricade and was told I couldn’t get into my neighbourhood. The police officer and I eyed each other through my window.

“We can’t let any more cars into Sunnyside,” he said.

“I need to go get my husband,” I said.

“And our dog!” Flora piped up.

“We can’t let any more cars into Sunnyside,” he repeated. Then looked at me again. Cut his eyes to the right.

He might as well have said, “But you know the area well, of course.”

I nodded.

Sharp turn right. How many other ways into Sunnyside? The main roads would be blocked off… but, yeah. Residential streets. Roundabouts. Alleys.

Text from Sean:

“Worst case scenario, park on McHugh’s Bluff. I’ll bike up the hill.”

It’s good to have a Plan C.

But Plan B worked: about 12 minutes later, after several not-entirely legal turns—one of them right in front of another police cruiser—I was in my driveway. The sky was blue, although the clouds south of the city were terrifying, and coming closer.

And I was home… and my neighbours were throwing things into their cars… and, yet, none of us really felt a particular sense of urgency, even though we got, at 5:45 p.m., the call to get out of our neighbourhood by 7 p.m.

See, our city’s two rivers, the Elbow and the Bow, get angry every once in a while. We get massive snow melt most years; every few years, they rip our riverbanks. And there was crazy flooding already south and west of the city—but… we were so sanguine. I mean, this is Calgary. One of Canada’s largest cities. Natural disasters don’t happen here.

Still. We’re responsible citizens.

“Are we going to flood?” Flora asked, in tears.

“No,” I said, firmly. “This is a precautionary evacuation. We’re just leaving so that the emergency crews don’t have to worry about us. Chill. Grab some books, your iPad—sleep-over at Grandma’s. No big deal.”

But. Those clouds. Disconcerting.

An hour later, with some clothes, computers, and Sean’s film equipment (our livelihood) in the truck, we were in evacuation traffic. But of course, right? What in a big city emergency doesn’t involve a traffic jam? Especially when you’re evacuating 100,000 people in a city of a million?

Texts from family and friends: “Are you guys high enough? Are you safe? Are you dry?”

Our response: “Evacuating. But safe. No worries.”

That was Thursday, June 20, 2013.

It was, honestly, kind of fun.

Ender’s commentary: “Does the river have a leak? Shouldn’t someone plug it?”

We laughed.

The rain that came down on us as we were navigating evacuation traffic and already flooded bridge and road closures to get to the safety of my parents’ house—providentially on very, very high ground—was a little scary.

But. You know. It was rain.

“Kind of an adventure, hey?” Cinder said. “Holy crap, look at that thunder!”

Kind of fun.

***

It stopped being fun in the morning when we saw what the rivers had done.

Our neighbourhood looked like this:

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… and, by comparison, we got off easy.

If you want your heart torn to pieces, google “High River flood images” and see what the rivers have done to our neighbours in High River.

Not that Calgary was unscathed. The damage was… astounding. Our downtown core—the financial core, the business centre of one of Canada’s largest, richest cities—under water. Paralyzed. Some 100,000 of our people—out of their homes.

The rivers—gone mad. Still flowing, ripping.

It was, we found out, not just the worst flood ever in Canadian history, but the worst natural disaster in Canadian history.

“Well,” I told Sean—who’s from Manitoba, a Canadian province famed for its rampaging waters and regular floods, “when Calgary and Alberta do something, we do it all the way. Even natural disasters. Eat your heart out, Winnipeg! Our flood’s more epic than yours!”

And we laughed hysterically. Because, you know. If you don’t laugh…

We spent the first day after the flood doing what our amazing mayor, Naheed Nenshi, told us to do. Staying home. Staying off the roads. Letting the emergency crews do what they had to do.

It was the hardest thing ever.

You know how you watch the reactions of survivors of natural and other disasters on the news, and there’s all these people clamouring to go home, even though it’s dangerous and stupid?

I will never mock them again.

We wanted to go home.

We wanted to see home.

On Saturday—day two after the flood—we broke. We started calling and Facebooking and connecting with the people in Sunnyhill—our immediate community—and we met in a safe area… to plan? Compare notes? Cry? I’m not sure why we met. I think we needed to see that we were all ok.

And then… we broke orders. We didn’t mean to, you know. We were just going to stop on top of the McHugh Bluff to look.

But.

Home.

We walked down.

Thigh-high water in our street, spilling over sidewalks, lawns, and the adjacent Curling Club parking lot.

Water everywhere.

No way of getting “home.”

1049215_10151457921115936_1466564193_o 

We looked.

The kids played on the playground—high and dry.

I let tears flow for the first time.

I don’t think the pictures really do it justice.

There was so much, so much water.

So much destruction.

It was overwhelming.

Our children—how resilient are children?—thought it was kind of cool. “Can we swim in it?” Cinder asked at one point. “Jesus Christ, no, it’s probably full of sewer water,” I choked out. They ran. Climbed trees…

976564_10151457921200936_451385240_o

Cinder took this photo of our Common area from the Tall Pine.

… and skipped rocks in the flood waters. Ender earned himself a cameo in one of the flood videos:

 (That’s one of our neighbours kayaking through our Common. An experienced paddler, she was rescuing some of our people’s documents. You see, we didn’t really take that evac order that seriously. Some of us didn’t even take underwear, much less passports… The video is by Calgarian Bradley Stuckel and co.–did they not do a beautiful job? My filmmaker husband is uber-impressed.)

On Sunday (the flood waters came over Thursday/Friday night), Sean and I sold our children to friends, and, along with most of the flooded out Sunnysiders, waded into our neighbourhoods ahead of the all-clear from the city to see what the hell was going on with our houses.

It was, I’d like to say upfront, after seeing what we waded through, an incredibly stupid and dangerous thing to do.

But you see… it was home. We had to go see.

We reacted, all of us, in different ways to what we saw.

Sean went shopping for clean up and demolition supplies, and then to a community planning meeting.

I, unable to deal with the massive destruction on the ground floor, went up to our kitchen, and cleaned out the fridge—power, of course, was off, and had been since Thursday, and everything was rancid. And then cleaned, scrubbed the fridge. Because that, I could do.

And then…

And then, friends, my city’s people pulled off a miracle.

I think, in the future, the enormity of what the flood did to Calgary will be underplayed because of the rapidity with which the city stabilized and returned to some semblance of “normal” within a week.

We evacuated Thursday, June 20, 2013.

A week later, parts of our downtown were open for business.

The majority of the flooded houses in my neighbourhood had been ripped and disinfected: saved. All of the 41 (I said 38 in my earlier posts on calgarybusinesswriter.com: forgive me, numbers not a strong suit, ever) flooded units in my little sub-community of Sunnyhill were gutted, cleaned, bleached, demolded: saved. (Here’s my initial call for help to our friends, neighbours, and citizens; here’s the thank you and another thank you because one is just not enough—and here’s my take on why and how they performed this miracle.)

We lost, as a city, as a province, a mind-blowing amount of infrastructure. Roads. Bridges. Our beloved Zoo! Individual houses, and so many possessions (me: never buying anything. Ever again). But our response to this crisis, as a community, as individuals, has been amazing.

What grabs the headlines during so many other crises, and disasters? Looting. Riots. In Calgary, we had too many volunteers. And the Calgary Police Service wrote the citizens a thank you letter

Our people opened their houses to evacuated relatives, friends and strangers. Started a laundry brigade for the evacuees. Fed displaced residents and the army of volunteers. Turned out in hordes to rip out basements, clean up debris, help any way they could.

Laughed in the middle of the chaos:

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We put up “Need Sewer, Need Power, Need Cute Firefighter” signs in our windows:

1044617_405363556244770_417656396_n

(This isn’t my photo; it’s a FB/Twitter viral sensation–if you took it, tell me and I will happily credit you.)

Why our mayor is awesome and you should have nenvy too: “To all the people with the ‘Need Cute Firefighter’ signs in their windows’: We’re working on it,” he tweeted in response. And man, he delivered:

1011040_676062429076992_486927966_n

Ender wanted to pose with the cute firefighters. It was totally Ender. Not his mother. Really. Um. Moving on…

We have a crazy amount of work ahead of us, as individuals, as neighbourhoods, as communities—as a city and as a province.

Are we back to normal? Not quite. But we’re “back.” And we’re working on defining our new normal.

But after what YYC did in these last two weeks—we’re gonna get her done. No question about it. Because—we are Calgary. We acted as a community, to save our communities.

We are amazing.

You want to see more pictures of how amazing we are? Of course. Here are a few more:

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“Please don’t give my daughter an eating disorder. But you will. You will…”

2011. Flora is six and lives in a bit of a bubble. There’s no TV—and thus commercials—in the house. No glossy magazines. The meme videos she watches on Youtube are big brother-tested and, while generally in poor taste, rarely an assault on the self-worth and identity of a young woman. She chooses her clothes among her favourite friends’ hand-me downs, and loves them because of who they came from. “Designer jeans,” to her, are an ethically troubling line of scientific research.*

She eats real food—and lots of delicious, sweet things. She never has to clear her plate. She can eat dessert first. Or never. For breakfast or in the middle of the day. She eats when she’s hungry, and does not eat when she’s not.

She loves herself.

And then, that stupid bastard, he tries to wreck it. When she’s six.

He’s not a bad man, you know. Just a guy. With a TV and without a daughter. I think he was just trying to be nice, make conversation.

This is what he said:

You’re eating a second ice cream? You are going to get so fat.

To my six-year-old daughter.

He moved on. Forgot. The effect on her? That evening, as she comes out of the bath, my six-year-old daughter looks at herself in the mirror—for the first time in her life, critically. She thrusts out her belly. And asks me:

Mom? Am I fat?

And I, who have spent much of my adult life struggling against the eating disorder and body image damage inflicted on my teenage self, I freak. But manage to hold it in, for her. And hear the story, what’s prompting this. And engage in a little bit of deprogramming. And tell her, that the next time I see him, I will explain to him why what he said was inappropriate and wrong and ensure he will never say that to another little girl again.

I figure by the time I see him, I will be… less angry. Because, you know, I know he’s not a bad man. Just a guy. With a TV. And no daughter.

But I’m still furious, seething. And so, what comes out of my mouth, instead of the rehearsed, rational statement I practiced, is this:

I understand you tried to give my daughter an eating disorder.

And he’s shocked—hurt. Doesn’t understand. Then, as I explain—a little appalled. Both at me, and I hope, at his lack of reflection? But perhaps not. I do think, however, he won’t call a little girl fat again. Or suggest she might be getting fat because she’s eating an ice cream cone.

But he hasn’t changed, he doesn’t understand. No, I don’t think I was that effective.

He’ll never do it again, because he’s afraid the little girl’s psychotic mother, who clearly has issues, is going to go medieval on his ass. As I did.

And you know what? That’s good enough. Not perfect. But good enough. That’s what I think in 2011…

Green tea (matcha) ice-cream with red bean.

2013, now. Flora’s eight and a half. A specimen of physical perfection: healthy, strong, athletic, beautiful. She kicks ass in Tang Soo Do. Does one-handed cartwheels for fun. Can outrun just about every boy on the Common, except for her big brother.

Eats when she’s hungry. Doesn’t eat when she’s not. Snacks on chickpeas. Loves ice cream. There’s no TV or glossy magazines in the house. She’s still lives in a bubble, at least some of the time.

But when she gets out of the bath tub, when she’s in the swimming pool change room—not always, but every once in a while, I see her looking at herself in the mirror—critically.

It rips at my insides.

I thought I could save her. But how can I? She has nine-year-old friends who talk about diets—who are on diets. Too many women in her life, around her torturing themselves, hating themselves. Unhappy with themselves. Passing the message on.

It’s everywhere. She’s learned “fat” is a horrible insult when thrust at a woman. She’s learned the look, shape of her body is what matters the most to too many people.

She’s not even nine yet. She still doesn’t know about designer jeans. But she knows this.

I thought I could save her.

But you won’t let me.

Inspired by Urban Moo Cow‘s guest post on Finding Ninee in the This is Our Land Series: The Greatest Gift

* My kids are brilliant. Deal with it.

The Authoritative New Parents’ Guide to Sex After Children, Redux

(or, how to make sure you keep on doing that thing that landed you with children in the first place!)

Two Hearts

Ambitious title, but I bet I’ll deliver. Tell me afterwards. Two caveats. First, if you’re currently childless, don’t read this. It will either depress or embarrass you. Especially if you’re a guy. It’s the weirdest thing, really: when it comes to talking about sex and bodies, there is no creature more uptight than the childless male. Anyway, if you’re one of those, go read How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games or Math + Gun = or … (I’m not being sexist, am I? You can read this if you really want to. But I know you’ll be mortified… Here’s a test: let me tell you about the time my bestest male friend first saw me breastfeeding. Where are you going? Come back!)

Second, if you’ve got young children and you’re having all the sex you want—really? Honestly?—you probably don’t need to read this. But you should anyway, because maybe at the end of it, you might be having more sex. And what could be better than that?

And thirdly—I said two caveats, right? Oops—in case you haven’t noticed, this post is going to be about sex. That’s how you get children. If reading about sex makes you squeamish, stop here and go read… how about It’s not about balance: creating your family’s harmony or 10 habits for a happy home from the house of permissiveness and chaos. Or that fabulous, famous They tell you, “It gets easier.” They lie post.

Also, mom, dad, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother—um. Yeah. You’re excused. Go read how Cinder and Flora became Greco-Roman Pagans. And never, ever mention this post to me. OK.

The rest of you, come with me.

English: 3 of hearts.

OK. Here are the three assumption I’m making:

1. You have kids. Babies, toddlers, preschoolers, sentient school age kids. The babies need to be breastfed and rocked to sleep at all hours of day and night, the toddlers and preschoolers exhaust you, and them older kids stay up later and later and open doors and need help with homework and need you to feed them and take them places and…

2. You don’t have enough sex. Define enough as you will. You’d like to have more.

3. You’ve got a partner to have this sex with (if you don’t, I canna’ help you with that, but I hear there’s these dating sites…). The partner would also like to have more sex. The will is there. What’s lacking is time and opportunity AND STRATEGY. (If the will’s not there… well, I can help you with that a bit. There will be an addendum about that at the end.)

With me so far? Want to. Don’t have (enough) (at all these days). Don’t worry. There’s hope. Really. You’ve just got to rethink a few things.

Two Hearts Beat As One

First, there are three principles you have to internalize.

1. Sex is more important than sleep.

2. Sex is more important than cleaning.

3. Sex is more important than work.

Somewhere between child one and two—or maybe it was two and three?—my partner and I made the following pact: either one of us was free to wake up the other at any other time for some quick love making (stress on quick: I’ll come back to this point shortly)… unless the sleeper had a 6 a.m. appointment with the client from hell or some other such situation. We made this pact after the following conversation:

Jane: Dear God, do you realize this is the first time we’ve had sex in… oh my god, has it been three weeks? Four?

Sean: Well, by the time I come to bed, you’re always asleep. And I know you’re going to be up half the night with the baby, and then up super early with the toddler, and…

(This is why I love him so, by the way. What a guy.)

Jane: You can wake me up.

Sean: Really?

Jane: Yes.

Sean: You can wake me up anytime, too. I mean, if you’re ever awake after me. Well, unless I have a 6 a.m. shoot. Don’t wake me up then.

Jane: Deal.

Sean: Deal.

(And we draw the curtain so we can have some privacy.)

two hearts

So. Make this pact with your partner. Sex is more important than sleep. (Or watching that 10 p.m. show on HBO. Turn on your PVR, and romp. If you’re not drowsy after, then watch your show.) Agree to wake each other up when you’re horny. Agree to say yes—at least 4 out of 5 times. (I’m assuming you’re going to show appropriate discretion in when you’re doing the waking up. If partner’s got strep throat, you know, let the guy sleep. If the baby’s been going through a particularly tough phase—let the mama sleep. Find a different time for sex. We’ll get to that in a minute.)

Next: what do you do when that most miraculous thing of all happens and all your children are either simultaneously asleep, totally mesmerized by a movie or activity that doesn’t require your presence, or (gasp!) out of the house?

If you’re a mama, I bet in 9 out of 10 cases you clean. We can’t help it: the little monsters are messy, and if we clean when they’re out of the house, then at least we have the satisfaction of a clean house for a few minutes… an hour.

I’m not going to tell you to stop cleaning. But have sex first. The children are asleep—quiet—gone. Put down the vacuum cleaner, turn your back on the kitchen floor, and go fuck.

You can scrub the bath tub afterwards.

This is really easy for me, because I hate cleaning. However, if you derive some pleasure from the cleaning process, this may be harder for you. Do this: tell the messier partner to grab the initiative. When the children are asleep—quiet—gone, it’s his or her job to drag you to the bedroom, bathroom or living room rug. All you have to do is say yes.

Say yes.

Happy Valentine's day!

Sex is more important than work. In our case, we both work from home, so this is how it goes—one or the other or both of us is always on deadline. There’s always one more thing to write, edit, produce, revise, research.

There will always be one more thing to write, edit, produce, revise, research.

Have sex first.

Then go back to the computer. Have a project you took home, memos to revise, report cards to mark? Fine. They’ll still be there in fifteen minutes. Five, if you’re both properly motivated. Two, if it’s been as long as I think it’s been… Have sex first. Then work.

Now before you quote Dan Ackroyd at me,* it really is that easy. If you believe that…

1. Sex is more important than sleep

2. Sex is more important than cleaning

3. Sex is more important than work

…you will have more of it. Maybe not as much as you’d like to… but more.

To have even more, embrace the next three principles:

4. Foreplay is icing.

5. Beds are optional.

6. Matinees rule.

Valentine

Remember those hours and hours and hours of sensuous, languorous foreplay that went on and on and on and on…

Yeah, I don’t really remember either. It’s been 10 years… eleven. Well, there was that one night we sold the kids to the grandparents for the entire night exclusively for those purposes… but that might have been four years ago. Anyway. You now have kids.

That means foreplay is being alone in a room together.

Agree with your partner that foreplay is icing. Frankly, when you’ve got toddlers, it wastes precious time. You can after-play if the kids don’t barrel into the room. When you’re in one of those “OMG we never have time for sex” phases, this is your modus operandi:

A. Hey, we’re alone!

B. Clothes (but only the essential ones) off!

C. Coitus.

Everything else is icing.

Bed

Note how nowhere in the above did it say we’re alone in bed. Beds? Who needs beds to have sex? We’re alone in the bathroom. We’re alone in the kitchen. We’re alone on the landing. In the living room while the kids are in the bedroom… If you’ve got a family bed, the kids are always in the bed. Have sex somewhere else. Anywhere else. Just draw the curtains first.

Finally—especially when you’ve got teeny ones around—break the sex/night association. No law. Not mandatory. Repeat after me: you can have sex in the morning. In the afternoon. When the baby’s napping. If one or both of you has a regular Monday-to-Friday job, you’ve got less flexibility—but you’ve still got weekends. The hour before supper. You got the baby and toddler down for a nap on Saturday afternoon? Cancel the visit to Joe and Marla, and screw.

Be late for dinner at Mom and Dad’s. Don’t clean, don’t nap, don’t work until after.

“But Jane… you know… the truth is… I don’t really want to. I feel blah. Unattractive. Unsexy. Touched out.”

I know. I think every mother—and many a hyper-involved father, frankly—has been there post-partum. Babies and toddlers take a toll on you. (This part’s mostly for the mamas, boys, but read along to get educated.) Your hormones might be out of whack, and you might simply be exhausted. I’m going to send you to kellymom.com or Dr. Jack Newman’s breastfeedinginc.ca to look for some evidence-based research on how pregnancy and lactation might affect your libido, because I’m no doctor. From personal experience I can absolutely tell you this: I love my partner dearly and I love making love with him—and with each child I’ve gone through stretches where it’s just not been a priority and desire’s been hard to scrape up.

Here’s what’s helped me:

1. Exercise and sunshine. Bonus: if you do the Pavlovian “I have an orgasm after exercise” association, the motivation to exercise spikes.

2. Going to Mom’s Nights Out. Really. How does hanging out with a bunch of women help your sex life? Simple. You dress up and spend an evening with adults talking adult stuff and enjoying a meal without anyone throwing up on you. You go home—and if your partner played things right, the children are asleep. S/he’s not. Woo-hoo.

3. Put it on the schedule. OK. Least romantic thing ever, right? It sounds awful. Sex Saturday. You know what’s worse and less romantic? Not having sex at all.

4. Make it a habit. Here’s the weird thing about thinking you don’t want sex when you’re not having sex–as soon as you start having sex, your priorities shift. You think, “Sweet Jesus, this is great! Why don’t we do this more often?” Hold on to that thought… and do it more often. In the afternoon. Instead of cleaning. Before working on that work project. Quickly if you’ve only got five minutes. Hey, if it turns out you’ve got more time, you can always do it again…

Heart

Photo (Heart) by mozzercork

All right then. That’s it. To recap:

1. Sex is more important than sleep

2. Sex is more important than cleaning

3. Sex is more important than work

4. Foreplay is icing

5. Beds are optional

6. Matinees rule

Get off the computer, and go wake up your partner. And if you’ve got other tips for reigniting your sex life post-children, share them.

xoxoxo,

Jane

PS Veteran mamas, can you tell I just weaned the third? I bet you can…

PPS Play carefully, eh? Seems every time we have a frank sex post-children discussion on one of my groups or lists, someone gets pregnant. Once it was me…

English: Pregnant Elf

*(That’s Jane, you ignorant slut, the best SNL quote of all time, read about it here if you don’t know what I’m talking about, and no, it doesn’t show you how old I am, I saw it in re-runs.)

PPPS For a different point of view, visit my brilliant friend Dani at Cloudy, With A Chance of Wine and read Having kids kills your sex life, but then, pop over to when she changes her mind and tells you the 5 ways sex gets easier once you have kids. And then pop over to read Julie De Neen spew coffee all over her friend in Lying to your kids about sex toys.

PPPPS “Woman, I need an antidote to all the sex talk, cause I ain’t getting any.” I’m so sorry, babe. (But you know there are toys, right?) Go visit Wonderland by Tatu and read Hi, my name is T. & I am a screamer. Get your mind out of the gutter! Not everything’s about sex–she’s talking about something else. And, do pop on by The Sadder and Wiser Girl as she celebrates the one year anniversary of her blog–good on you, Sarah, and write on!

PPPPPS One more. The funniest thing from my over-crowded in-box this week so far comes from The Book of Alice: Wrongly Accused. It’s about boogers. And children. So you know it’s worth clicking on.

Jane out.

They tell you “It gets easier.” They lie

So there she is, stumbling down the block—walking circles around the playground—sleepwalking through the mall. The mewling baby inside a sling—a car seat—stroller. Glassy eyes, cause she hasn’t slept more than 45 minutes—no wait, two days ago, she got three hours in a row, score!—in four months. Wearing ratty pants—because they fit. And her husband’s sweater—because all her tops have been puked on and laundry, she was going to do laundry yesterday, but then the baby had a fever and…

So there she is. The new mom, the first-time mom, and she’s so exhausted and she so clearly needs—what? A hug, help, empathy, reassurance. And you—you’re a good person, and so you want to give it to her. So there you go. Run up to her. Smile. And you want to say, you’re going to say:

“It gets easier.”

Don’t. Just fucking don’t. Because, fast-forward two years, three, and there she is. Running down the block. Maybe another baby in sling. Toddler in stroller or running away. And maybe she’s getting more sleep—but maybe not. Maybe the toddler has night terrors, and wakes up screaming for hours on end in the night. Or maybe, even if Morpheus has been kind to her and the children sleep—she doesn’t sleep nearly was much as she should, because when they sleep, that’s the only time she can be free. To… think. To read. To be… alone.

The toddler makes a break for it and tries to run into the street, and she nabs him, just in time, and pulls him back, and starts explaining how streets are dangerous and he must hold Mommy’s hand, but he really, really, really wants to be on the other side, and he’s two, so self-will is emerging with a vengeance and soon he’s screaming and tantruming, and you, you can see she’s on the edge, about to lose it, because maybe this is the seventh time today—this hour—she’s had to deal with this, and you want to help. You want to give her a hug, help, empathy, reassurance. And you want, you’re going to run over to her and you’re going to say:

“It gets easier.”

Don’t. Don’t. Because a year later, there she is, with her three-and-a-half year-old. Before they left the house this morning, he put her iPhone in the toilet, cut his dad’s headphone cord into shreds, and threw $30 worth of grass-fed beef off the balcony in the compost pile. And now, his pants around his ankles, he’s chasing a flock of pigeons, penis in hand, yelling, “I’m going to pee on you, pigeons!” at the top of his lungs. And she’s trying to decide—should she catch him? Or should she take advantage of the fact that he’s distracted for five minutes, so she can change the new baby’s diaper? Because she hasn’t had a chance to even check it for the last five hours… And I swear on any of the gods that you may or may not believe in, if, at that moment, you come up to her, and you say—because you’re an empathetic, loving person who wants to help—if you come to her at that moment and say,

“It gets easier.”

she’s going to rip that diaper off the baby and throw it in your face. Followed by the tepid remains of her coffee (you’re lucky that she hasn’t had a hot, scalding hot, deliciously hot cup of coffee in three and a half years). And then she’s going to sob. And she’s going to say…

“When? When the fuck does it get easier? Because I’ve been waiting for it to get easier for two three five six years.”

I’m sitting in the middle of my living room—11 years into motherhood—and I’m in a brief picture-perfect postcard (Instagram for those of you born post-1995) moment. I’m stretched out on the couch, coffee cup beside me, laptop on my lap—and, for a few minutes at least, I’m chilling. Three feet away from me, my 11 year-old is building worlds in Minecraft, and Skyping with a friend. My eight-year-old is running with a pack of her friends just outside—I hear their voices, hers most distinct among them to my ears, through the balcony. Tucked under my arm is the three-and-a-half year old, taking a break from wrecking havoc and destruction on the world to play a game on the iPad.

I’m messaging with a friend a few years behind me on the parenting path. And she asks me, and I can hear the tears in her words even though she’s typing them (people who think texting lacks nuance do not text enough; she is weeping through the keyboard),

“When does it get easier? People keep on saying, ‘It gets easier.’ When? When?”

So, I wonder, is she ready to hear this? Is she ready to hear: It doesn’t get easier. All the people who say this? They’re all liars, every last one.

But I won’t say that. First, because I do not wish to make her despair. Second, because it’s not true. It does get easier. It really does. But when people say it, what you, first-time mother, hear it is not ‘It gets easier,” but this:

“Things will get back to the way they were before, soon.”

And that, my lovely friend, will never happen. Things will never be the way they were before. Never. Things have changed forever. Things will never get back to “normal”—as you defined normal when you were single—when you were childless. Never.

And so I tell her this, and again I hear tears in-between the words she types to me.

And now I have to deconstruct the lie to her. I have to explain. That they don’t mean to lie. It really does get easier—sort of. The stuff that’s killing you now—be it the lack of sleep, the aching nipples, the endless diapers-laundry-is-she-sick-is-he-teething or be it the toddler tantrums, potty training regressions, “She won’t leave the house!” “Getting him in and out of the car seat is hell”–all of that, it will get easier—and, in fact, end. They all wean. Toilet train. Stop drawing on walls (unless they in this house). But see, then, other stuff happens that’s really hard too. Ferocious Five. Sensitive Seven. Bullies on the playground—social issues with friends and ‘frenemies.’ Broken hearts. Explosive anger at things and issues much, much bigger than all those daily rubs that cause toddlers angst.

“It gets easier”: yeah, I suppose it does, because you figure it out, and adapt, and get coping strategies. But every time you “master” a phase—they change. Grow. Face new challenges. And you’ve got to change, grow and adapt with them. If only you could do so ahead of them…

But you can’t. And so, you see, “it gets easier” … it’s a lie.

And it’s the most destructive lie, the most life-damaging myth you can buy into. See, because if you keep on waiting for things to get easier—if you put living, changing, adapting, figuring out how to dance this dance, walk this path as it is now, with all of its bumps and rubs—if you put all that on hold until it gets easier…

Well. You’ll be fucked. Totally. And completely.

So. My dearest. It doesn’t get easier. It changes. You get better. You grow. Learn. And that little squealer—that awesome toddler—that slightly evil three-year-old—he grows. Learns. Changes. It gets better. When you learn and change and grow and all that—it all gets better.

But. Easier? No.

So. There she is. Frazzled. Exhausted. So fucking tired. And she sees you coming, and you have empathy poring out of your pores. And you want to help her. Offer her empathy. Support.

What are you going to tell her?

Hey, all, wow, thanks for all the sharing and massive Internet love. Bad day for my RSS feed link to break — this is it: RSS Feed https://nothingbythebook.com/feed/ — and even though there are a bazillion comments, I am reading and responding to every single one. Thank you so much, beautiful people. You can also email me privately at nothingbythebook@gmail.com. Or find me on Twitter @nothingbtbook. You know the drill.  xoxo “Jane”

Two great things from my weekend in-box, from the #FTSF blog hop, that fit in beautifully with the theme of today’s post:

Kristi Campbell’s post on FindingNinee.com:  I blog because of you, I blog because of us, and

Katia’s post on I Am The Milk: Closest to Me

Flora Space Art

“I Give The World To You,” by Flora (May 2013)

unLessons from the Posse

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park

Photo from the newspaper "Nogales Herald&...

As we come around the corner, the crowds scatter, jump, recoil. First one–two–three–flying like the wind, silver scooters carrying them along like lightening, legs pumping–and then four–five–bent lower over the handle bars, legs pumping even faster to keep up with the vanguard–and you think they’re all through, but no, here comes six, working harder than everyone else because he has to keep up. And me, at the end, with number seven in the bike. Calling out, “High traffic area! Everyone keep to the right!” But they don’t hear me, of course; of course, they don’t, because there is only speed, wind, the path, and the posse.

I love the posse. Three are mine, four are borrowed for the day. Four people have the temerity to ask, as we zoom by, “Oh-my-god-are-they-all-yours?” and sometimes, I would punish them with The Look, but today I am happy, so I just smile. One-half of one couple is so appalled by the procession that is us that the beautiful young woman turns to her husband-boyfriend and says, loudly, fully intending me to hear, “And this, honey, is why we always use condoms.” I’d give her The Look, but then I catch the husband-boyfriend’s look, and it is one of such joy-envy-lust that instead of giving her The Look, I give him The Grin, and we have a very quick, secret psychic conversation:

Him: Seven, eh? Six boys? Man. My own fucking hockey team.

Me: Imagine the soccer games you would have.

Him: Basketball. Camping!

Me: You’d just sit in the chair, and they’d set up the tent.

Him: The littlest one would bring me beer.

Me: You’d build them the best treehouse ever, right?

Him: Oh, fuck, yeah. Would I ever. So… um… you wanna have more kids?

Me: No, I’m done. Sorry.

Him: Okay then. Well, have a good day

Me: Good luck with her, eh?

Him: Yeah… not sure this is going to work out.

We move on. Along the river. Over this bridge. That one. I don’t even attempt to tell them to stick with me–they are a posse, The Posse, and The Posse don’t wait for no Mom. But I am wise in the ways of The Posse, so I don’t ask. I command. “Meet me at the Dragonfly!” I yell to their backs. “Go ahead–and wait for me at the crossing! We all cross together!” It doesn’t matter how fast I go–they go faster. It’s all about being alone, really. I can read the fantasy, in the three eldest anyway. As far as they are concerned, they are alone.

We stop. Regroup. Do a headcount.

Me: Fuck. Five. Who’s missing?

They: The twins.

Me: Your mom’s going to kill me. Where are they?

They: Who knows?

Me: Dudes! No man left behind! Find them!

Phew. Just fixing their helmets by some bushes. Onward. But now I have given them a new war cry. They push off:

No man left behind!

Flora scoots beside me. “Did they leave me behind because I’m not a man?” she whines. “They didn’t leave you behind,” I point out. “You came to visit with me.”

Up ahead on the path: wipeout!

Me: Blood?

Him: I’m okay.

You don’t show weakness in The Posse.

The Posse fractures. Its members fight. When we stop at a playground and they play a mad game of tag with rules so complicated it makes my head spin, my eldest gets his nose out of joint. The twins think they’re picked on. Flora feels left out. Mostly, I stay out of it. Sometimes, I nudge towards a solution. But mostly–I let them be The Posse. I’m there to make sure there is no real injustice … but they know most of the rules of engagement. They are learning how to work things out. This is not Lord of the Flies.

My final test as Mom-wise-in-the-ways-of-The-Posse comes when we hit an ice rink. The ice is melting, sloppy. But still slippery. I see the desire in their eyes. The two eldest look and do a risk analysis. Then decide to try to break their bones on the nearby playground instead. The littles dump the scooters and go to slip and slide on their feet. But he-who-will-test-me comes up to me and says,

“Can we scooter on that?”

It’s a test. Any mother in her right mind would say no, and he knows this. And I know that he knows this. We look at each other, take each other’s measure. And I say,

“I can’t fit seven kids in my car if we have to go to the Children’s Hospital… Look, keep your helmet on, and no whining or crying at all unless there’s massive amounts of blood, and you’ve lost more than two teeth.”

He looks at me. Mildly appalled. His mom would have said no, outright, his eyes tell me, and I’m clearly irresponsible. Criminally so. But I’ve just given him permission. Really. If he doesn’t go on the ice, I’ll know it’s because he’s afraid. Of blood. Losing teeth. He’ll lose face.

He puts the scooter on the ice. Scoots.

“It’s not slippery enough to be fun,” he tells me. Drops it. And goes off to join The Posse.

We pass another couple on the last block home. This time, I have a quick, secret psychic conversation with the girl:

Her: Is it hard?

Me: Fuck, yeah. But so worth it.

When The Possee’s split up, and four-sevenths goes home with Fishtank Mom, they are all exhausted. And not-a-little tired of each other. But next time–next time, they’ll gel together again. Feel the wind, the speed. Be the pack. Fight, fracture, learn. Is it hard? Fuck, yeah. But so worth it.

Photo from the newspaper “Nogales Herald” dated July 20, 1922 showing an American posse after capturing the Mexican bandits Manuel Martinez and Placidio Silvas (middle of back row) who killed or wounded five people at or around Ruby, Arizona in 1921 and 1922. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And a thank you to the fabulous Tatu from Wonderland By Tatu for including Nothing By The Book in the shininess of the Sunshine Award. As you may have noticed, I truly suck at passing these on adequately. Not out of any better-than-thouness, truly, just out of… what shall we call it… laziness.Pure laziness. But thank you muchly, Tatu, you made me all smiley and sunny on a hard day. Here’s the link to the last one of these that I’ve paid back “properly,” which includes some irrelevant facts about myself and some of my favourite bloggers.

The not-so-mysterious incident of the carrots in the milk carton

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

I.

I sleepwalk into the kitchen in search of the first cup of coffee. Boil water. Fight with the grinder. Dump old coffee grounds all over the floor. Clean them up. Make the coffee. Inhale the smell of… sheer bliss, really. If you’re a coffee lover, you know what I mean–there is nothing like it, it is the smell of perfection, the birth and end of the universe in one olfactory sensation, the promise of everything. Ah. Pour the first cup. No cream in the fridge–reach for the milk carton.

Pour.

Discover there are two giant carrots in the milk carton.

Look at them uncomprehendingly, because, you know, I have just smelled and not yet drunk the coffee.

Pour the milk into the coffee carefully. Replace the milk carton in the fridge.

Go sit on the couch beside the 3.5 year old. Drink my coffee.

II.

Sean stumbles into the kitchen in search of his cup of coffee. Lucky man, the lag between his wake up time and mine insufficient today for the first pot to be empty. Pours himself a cup of coffee. Savours the smell. And, responsible father that he is, asks the 2/3 of the awake progeny if they want to eat something. (Their mother does not speak, or serve, until she has finished her second cup of coffee. She is still on the couch drinking the first…) The progeny want cereal.

He grabs bowls. Cereal. Milk. Pours.

“Why the fuck are there two carrots in the milk carton?”

Neither the milk nor the carrots answer. I look at the 3.5 year old. He grins a wicked grin.

“I put them there, Dadda!” he calls out happily.

“Why… why did you put carrots in the milk?” Sean says. His voice full of angst and despair–and see, this is why I do not talk until after the second cup. Why suffer? And make others suffer? Let the caffeine do its work first…

“Flora was peeing,” Ender replies promptly.

I am almost done my first cup of coffee, so I understand perfectly. What he wanted to do was to flush the carrots down the toilet. However, the toilet was occupied. What else could he do with them? Aha! Milk carton!

Sean is still just smelling the coffee. And trying to understand all this. And perhaps on the verge of tears.

And here is proof that I am an excellent, excellent wife and helpmeet: although the effort involved in this is Herculean, I lift myself off the couch, stagger into the kitchen, grab his coffee cup, and put it into his hands. He tries to speak–I shut his mouth with a kiss.

I’d say drink–but I do not speak until I’ve downed the second cup of coffee.

He takes a sip. Then another. The world is slowly becoming a better place, and the case of the carrots in the milk losing its power to ruin his day.

I pour my second cup of coffee. Pour the rest of the milk into it. Shake the carrots out into the sink. Rinse them.

“They don’t look like they’ve been in there very long,” Sean says. He picks up the empty milk carton and peers into it. To determine–by what evidence?–the length of the carrot milk immersion?

Cinder, our 10 year old, stumbles down the stairs. Stops, and stares at the tableau, dominated by his father, evidently distraught, peering into the milk carton. And says…

“Did Ender pee in the milk again?”

I draw the curtain on the resulting scene. Suffice it to say, Sean was never happier that he was lactose intolerant… and Flora may never eat cereal again.

More like this: The obvious correlation between crying over spilt coffee and potty training

And some blogger love. Last week, Tirzah Duncan, the talented writer-poet-entrepreneur-cynical optimist-coiner-of-phrases-extraordinaire at The Ink Caster, passed The Versatile Blogger award on to me (which of course means someone gave it to her, congratulations, Tirzah). In addition to being a talented writer, Tirzah would be a great person to watch your back come the Zombie Apocalypse. If you don’t believe me, check out this post.

My head wasn’t quite done swelling when TJ, Sara and Jen from Chi-Town Mommy Mayhem — well, possibly just one of them, but I prefer to take the compliment from all three — handed off the Liebster Award to Nothing By The Book. Their blog is “dedicated to the uncensored mommies of Chicago” and their motto is “We don’t sugar coat anything here.” And they have kick ass tweets ( @MayhemMommyTJ).

I’m eight awards or possibly more behind doing the proper reciprocity thing, and with each passing day… Well. If you really want to know seven random things about me, read this my last Blogosphere Group Hug and find out how I once interviewed the prime minister of Canada sans underwear. For blogs that deserve to have the awards passed on to them–check out the blogs I follow, bottom of each page of the blog. Cause, you know, I only follow good ones.

The naked truth about working from home, the real post

Showerhead

I’m in the shower when the phone rings, and I hear it through the water and the door, and I know who it is even before Cinder hollers, “Mom! It’s for you!” Shampoo in my hair and my eyes, I’m leaping out of the shower and out of the bathroom without turning off the water—where the fuck is the towel?–and skidding into the combination Lego room/Sean’s office that holds the only upstairs telephone.

“Hello, “Jane” speaking,” I say crisply, sharply. Out of breath? No way, not me–the phone voice kicks in ASAP. My well-trained eldest son—the ire of the mother for misbehaving on the telephone is legendary—hangs off the receiver. On the other end of the line is a VP of a blue chip Bay Street company (like a Canadian Wall Street, but less sexy and exciting) I’ve been stalking for a few days, and I need to talk to him today. He’s in an airport—“Houston? And how’s the weather?—he’s got five minutes, what do I need? I speak quickly and cut to the chase: this, that, and, above all, a comment on that mess. The door of the room creaks open, and my daughter comes in. She sees the phone at my ear and mouths, “Mom? Why are you naked?” I mouth back, “Towel! Paper! Pen!” I cast a desperate look around the room—full of Lego and an assortment of my husband’s crap, including a printer, why the fuck is there no paper here? Or pencils? How can there be no writing implements in the bloody office?

The VP’s already talking and I see, gloriously, buried under all the Lego, a purple marker. This is how the professionals do it, boys and girls—I grab that marker and… I move to start writing on the wall, but the two-year-old comes in, and I have a brief second thought. I make desperate hand motions at my seven-year-old, and—she’s well-trained in this this too—she immediately says, “Ender? Want to watch a show on the i-Pad?”

But their exit is too slow–they’re still in the room and I start to scribble. With the purple market. Not on the wall. On my leg. I start at the thigh and work my way down, to the ankle and instep, contort myself, and write on the inner leg. Then the other one… The VP’s a gold mine. He gives me exactly what I need, and I’m transcribing every word.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I sing as I hang off. And become aware that

a. I’m naked in my kids play room

b. my legs totally covered with purple marker

c. the purple marker is a horrible, kid-friendly, washable piece of shit

d. the water from my hair is dripping onto my legs and smearing! Smearing my interview transcript!

“My laptop!” I scream, and Cinder bounds up the stairs with the lap top. “Um, and a towel!” I add. I’ve been anticipated: Flora’s in with the towel. I grab the towel, the laptop. Scrunch my hair with the towel before tossing it over my shoulders and torso. And I start to transcribe. From the top of the leg—never before am I so grateful for the remnants of the baby weight that give some heft to the thigh—down, up the inside. Down the other one.

And yeah. I got this, that, and the comment on that mess in particular. Fucking score. My heart beat slows down. I’m going to meet deadline, and the story’s going to kick ass.

What you need to know:

 a. It’s not supposed to be like that.

b. It’s like that much too often.

c. If you can’t handle life throwing that at you with regular irregularity, you shouldn’t even think about working from home with children underfoot.

I’ve worked as a freelance writer since 2000, and I’ve popped out babies in 2002, 2005 and 2009. They’ve all grown up in this: I managed three weeks off after Cinder, four days after Flora (I went into labour actually in the middle of an interview, and had to cancel another ), and with Ender, I blocked off a luxurious two-and-a-half months off… sabotaged about four weeks in by a favourite client.

What I mean when I say I’m a freelance writer: I churn out five-to-ten-thousand+ words a month for a variety on business publications and clients (my real life business portfolio here for the serious-minded in the crowd).

What you really want to know: what this means time-wise and brain-wise and child-wise. The time commitment is erratic: I’d say at least two hours a day spent in just keeping on top of having the work—that is, emailing back and forth with editors and key contacts, keeping on top of what’s happening, clearing up questions and details on what I’ve filed etc.—and anywhere from 12-40 hours a week in research-interview-writing mode. My target weekly work rate is 20-25 hours (12-low-effort-maintance, 8-12 high-effort research-interview-writing hours). Less than that, and I’m setting myself up for a hellish 40+ week down the line. (My target earn rate, by the way, is the equivalent of a full-time job within that 20-25 hours. But that’s a topic for another post…). Once or twice a year, I actively invite a hellish week or two because of a particular project, client, or painful state of the bank account.

I used to get the “How on earth do you do that with a toddler and a baby?” comment all the time; now I get the, “How the heck do you manage that with homeschooling?” And everyone who asks it is looking, if they’re honest with themselves, for a magic bullet. They’re looking for that instruction sheet, that secret, that has them visualizing me sitting at a desk typing away—or on the telephone conducting an interview—while my children quietly and peacefully play at my feet.

No such thing. How do I work from home with children underfoot?

The short, and really honest, answer is—in ideal circumstances, I don’t. My most productive and efficient output happens when another adult is in charge of them. My husband—my mother—a neighbour—a friend—a paid babysitter. That childcare and that focused time don’t happen spontaneously. I plan the hell out of my work weeks and work days. I schedule interviews for the days when the kids are planning to spend a day with Grandma. I swap child-care with my film-maker husband. I pay for it when I must. In a four-hour block of child-free time, I get two-days worth of work done. Perhaps more. On the days my mother takes the kids for a long 8-10+ hour day, I am so uber-productive my brain and fingers (and sometimes throat) hurt at the end of it.

That low-maintenance work—checking email, social media, initial research, screwing around on the Internet and calling it research—these are things I can do with kids underfoot, during the littlest one’s naps, while the older two are really engaged with something. These are things I can do in spurts, things that don’t require me to enter the flow or to fully focus. Telephone interviews? I never plan to do these without another adult in the house or the kids (under sevens anyway) out of the house. Writing? There are things I can write in spits and spurts, off-the-top-of-my head, and in 45 minutes after I put the kids to bed. A 5,000 word feature on the history of the Canada-US Softwood Lumber Trade Dispute? Or an analysis of what’s really at stake when it comes to the proposed oil sands pipelines? I need focused time and space to produce that, and I prefer not to sacrifice sleep for that.

Sleep-deprived writers produce second-rate drivel. (Unless they’re in the flow on the novel. That’s different. Right?)

So. In my ideal world, working from home still requires an investment—financial, or otherwise, in child care. But life is rarely ideal. No matter how well I plan, every story and every project has its share of surprises. A cancelled interview—spontaneously rescheduled just as the toddler needs to go down for a nap or the baby needs to nurse. An editor’s demand for a last-minute rewrite, due yesterday. A client’s panic attack requiring me to pull an all-nighter—or to rely on the house’s assortment of electronic devices to babysit the children while I pound away at the keyboard. A last minute “I shouldn’t take this story, but oh-my-god-I-get-to-fly-to-Montreal-to-interview-the-prime-minister!” assignment. And havoc reigns.

Planning allows me to ride out the havoc. The irregular regularity of the havoc trains the children. They know a deadline must be met. They learn by age four how to behave when Mommy’s on the phone (she doesn’t push it too much: tries to keep those unplanned interviews to under 15 minutes).

(Sorry, until age four—no guarantees. A DVD might buy you 15 minutes. Or it might not. The good news: with my almost-8 year-old and 10 year-old, I can handle whatever havoc hits with them taking it in stride. I now only have to outsource the three-year-old on the days when I have to write, write, write—or spend the day glued to the telephone. And increasingly, I can outsource the three-year-old to his siblings. Not for an entire workday—but for a decent stretch of time. So yes, it gets much, much easier as the kids get older. But when they’re little? It’s tough.)

And that, friends, is the naked truth about working from home with children in your life. Possible, rewarding, the only way I want to work.

But it’s work. It requires planning. It throws you curveballs. It don’t look like that sepia-postcard dream you’ve got rolling in the back of your mind in which you write an award-winning article effortlessly while a perfectly balanced and delicious meal is already simmering on the stove and the toddler is at your feet playing with dinky cars for two hours. It’ll have to racing out of the shower naked with shampoo in your hair at least once in your life, and teaching your children swear words nobody at the playground knows yet.

Think you can do it? Of course you can. Right?

More like this: The naked truth about working from home, the teaser

This post is being recycled as part of A Mother Life Hum Day Hook Up #33: 

A Mother Life

The most recent Nothing By The Book post is How we teach children to lie, without realizing it.

If it’s your first time here, I’d love to connect, in all the usual ways:

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(Split personality alert: If you are interested in my business writer alter-ego, you can find her portfolio at Calgary Business Writer and on Twitter .)

Thanks for visiting!

xoxo

“Jane”

Embracing Chaos

A61

or, unParenting unResolutions

“Mama? Big mama? Wake up, big mama. I love you so very very very much.”

This is how Ender sets up the mood for the day—ensuring that no matter what he flushes down the toilet or smashes into pieces with the meat mallet (“How the hell did he find it again? I hid it on top of the fridge!” “Judging by barstool beside the counter, and the stack of boxes on the counter, you don’t want to know.” “Oh, Kee-rist. How has this child not broken any bones yet?”), my first and most brilliant memory of the day is tickling butterfly kisses and expressions of love ultimate from the beloved beast who will spend the day terrorizing the house, the family, and if we let him outside, the neighbourhood.

He is who he is; he is three. He’s careening towards three-and-a-half (see Surviving 3.5 and 5.5: A cheat sheet for an exposition and some almost practical tips and tricks), and three-and-a-half for the boys I birth is the age of chaos. So as I prepare to say goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013, I know that chaos and the Ender crazy will dominate much of the year.

And I make no resolutions to yell less. Or discipline more. I will lose my temper, and I will yell, and there will be days when, as I survey the destruction wrought by the whirlwind in the kitchen while I absented myself from his side for five minutes, I seriously ponder just how wrong it would be to put him in the dog’s kennel. Just, you know, for a little while. And there will be days—and weeks—when I’ll be counting the hours until bedtime from 11:15 a.m. And days when, as soon as Sean comes home, I will hand over the entire parenting business to him, and lock myself in the bathroom with a bottle—um, glass, I meant to type glass—of wine.

That’s part of the ride; part of the package. I’ve written elsewhere on that the ultimate secret behind parenting is; its close twin is this: every age and stage, every journey has tough stretches, challenging stretches. And they’re all necessary, and most of them are unavoidable, and happiness and peace lie in knowing that they just are. And not seeking perfection, from myself as mother, or from the child.

He’s so lucky, my Ender, my third. His eldest brother broke me in, thoroughly, and no sooner did I start to boast that I had “cracked the Cinder code,” Flora arrived, teaching me that I had learned absolutely nothing about the uniqueness that is her (bar that nursing every hour, every 15 minutes, or, what’s that word, constantly, is kind of normal) from my first years with the Cinder. By the time Ender arrived, all I knew, for sure, was this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

As far as everything else goes? As he grows, I will learn him slowly, piece by piece, unique need by unique need. Sometimes well, sometimes badly. Sometimes I’ll fail him—and sometimes, I will do right by him even though in the moment he thinks I’m failing him completely. And maybe, at the end of it all, when he’s 30, 40, with his own children—in therapy—maybe he’ll despise me, blame me, reject me. I don’t know. All I know for sure, is this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

More like this: Sunshine of Our Lives, or, How Toddlers Survive.

Blog Hop Report: I spent some of the weekend blog hopping at the TGIF Blog Hop hosted by You Know it Happens At Your House Too. What a fascinating variety of blogs, people and approaches to life, the universe and blogging.

I’d like to introduce you, if you do not know them already, to three mama-bloggers (but so much more) with attitude:

Jenn at Something Clever 2.0  (Twitter: @JennSmthngClvr)

Teri Biebel at Snarkfest (Twitter: @snarkfestblog)

Mollie Mills at A Mother Life (Twitter: @amotherlife)

And something completely different, a woman who took my breath away with her authenticity and boldness of voice from the first line of the first post I read of hers: Jupiter, “Eco-Redneck,Breeder,Stitch-Witch,Knittiot Savant & Whoreticulturist Extraordinaire” at crazy dumbsaint of the mind. I’m not going to attempt to explain her. If whoreticulturist is not a word that turns you off, the word sapiosexual turns you on, have a visit and get to know her. Otherwise, maybe not. Safe she is not.

Happy reading, happy blogging, happy living, and I will see in 2013. My year of chaos. Your year of… what?

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. And if you’re having a slow New Year’s Eve at home with your kids and computer, check out Dani Ryan’s The Best of 2012 Blog Hop at Cloudy With a Chance of Wine.

How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games

Cinder’s just shy of 10, and the big passion of his life is Minecraft. Or Terraria. Or both, but usually just one or the other. He loves them so much, he’s convinced his Mac-using parents to get him a PC laptop so he can play them more effectively. He loves them so much that his show of choice is watching Minecraft or Terraria videos on Youtube. (A digression for a Cinder recommendation: for Terraria, nothing beats Total Biscuit and Jesse Cox; for Minecraft, Antvenom is King, and Cavemanfilms is pretty good too. Now you know where to go.)

My boy loves video games. And this is a wonderful thing.

I never thought I’d find myself saying this. Video games were never a part of my childhood, and my experience of them as an on-looker—sister, girlfriend, wife—was, well, blah. Wasn’t interested. Didn’t understand the appeal. Could tell you one thing for sure: no kid of mine was going to waste his childhood playing video games. Could rattle of spades of research about how detrimental to the proper development of a child excessive (any) video game playing could be.

Well. What changed?

Simply this: My boy loves video games, and I love my boy. He started getting drawn to them about age eight, I suppose, meeting them at this friend’s house or that, telling us about them with excitement, in vivid detail. His game-playing father entered into his interest; his game-ignorant mother started to agonize. What to do? For what reason? With what consequences?

I spare you my internal angst, as first one online game and then another (“It’s educational, Mom!” Supported by Dad’s: “Really, Jane, it’s educational.”) got introduced. Then the X-box (“It’s Kinect, Jane—they’ll be exercising and moving while they play—isn’t that good?”). Then an iPad and all the apps and games that enabled. Here’s what steered me through it, though: I love my boy. He loves these things; he’s drawn to them. What’s he getting out of it? Why? How?

I love my boy, and if I love my boy, I can’t be dismissive and contemptuous of something he loves.

So, I’d sit beside him and watch him play. Listen to him talk about the games afterwards. In-between. Eavesdrop while he talked about with his friends. Watch while they acted out game scenes on the trampoline or on the Common.

I might tell you about all the things I’ve seen him learn from gaming another time (for one example, check out this salon.com piece about Minecraft ). Rattle of spades of research about how playing video games actually makes kids smarter (Here’s Gabe Zichermann talking about this on Ted Talks). But it really comes down to this:

I love my boy. My boy loves video games. His reasons for loving them are complex—but no less valid than my love for Jane Austen novels, or John Fluevog shoes. I do not have to love them just because he loves them—I do not have to make myself play them or enjoy them as he does, just because I love him. But because I love him, I can’t say—or think and believe—that what he loves and enjoys is a waste of time. Of no value. Stupid.

Flip it. Think of something you love. Knitting? Film noir? Shiny cars? Collecting porcelain miniatures? Whatever. Doesn’t matter what. I’m thinking of my Jane Austen novels, which I reread probably half-a-dozen times a year. Now think of how you feel when someone who’s supposed to love you and care about you—your partner, your best friend, your mother—thinks that hobby or activity is of no value. And takes every opportunity to tell you so. Do those interactions build your relationship? Inspire you with love and trust for the person showing such open contempt for something that brings you joy?

I love my boy. My boy loves video games. And I love that he loves them. I love that they bring him joy.

As I finish writing this up, Ender’s having the tail-end of his nap in my arms, and Flora’s listening to The Titan’s Curse. Cinder grabs his lap top, and sits down beside me on the couch. He pulls up an Antvenom video on Youtube. “I need to get this mod,” he says. “Cool one?” I ask. “Too cool,” he says. I watch him watching for a while.

I love my boy.

“Love you, Mom,” he says. “What do you want to do when my video’s over?”

Minecraft Castle

Minecraft Castle (Photo credit: Mike_Cooke)

Five is hard: can you attachment parent the older child?

It happens to the most attached parents among us. We’ve breastfed, co-slept, and slung our babes happily. It was easy—or, it became easy, once we got into the groove and shook off Aunt Maud’s disapproving glare. We saw our children grown and flourish, loved, connected, happy. But then, at some point, the demons of self-doubt return. Our child goes through a phase we see as difficult and challenging. Almost inevitably, this happens when we’re not at our best—pregnant, tired, stressed. And we wonder—is it possible to AP the older child?

Five seems to be the milestone when these demons attack most ferociously. Makes sense: it’s such a milestone age in our culture. The preschooler becomes a kindergartener. The stroller’s abandoned; first loose teeth come. The search for self becomes super-pronounced, and our five-year-old is frighteningly selfish. (I write about that aspect of five in Ferocious Five.)

It hit one of my friends very hard when her eldest daughter turned five. She asked our playgroup community for help, and she framed her struggles under this big question: “Is it possible the attachment parent the older child? This five year-old who’s driving me utterly, completely crazy every moment of every single day? Is it time to bring out the conventional discipline–punishment–toolbox?”

This was my response. I had seen Cinder through five pretty successfully. Not yet Flora. Bear that in mind as you read. Check out Ferocious Five for the lessons Flora taught me.

Five is hard. But so is two, three, four, six, sixteen–all in their different ways. Part of the trouble is that our children move onward and forward through the different ages and stages, while we, their imperfect parents, have just figured out how to cope with the preceding one.

Is it possible to attachment parent the older child? Possible, necessary, critical. And here is where the difference between AP “things we do”–co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing–and the AP “things we are” plays large. We don’t carry our five year olds, the majority of us don’t breastfeed them any more, we’re not necessarily co-sleeping with them. The “do” stuff is gone. The “be” stuff is all that remains.

And how do we “be” with the older children? I think this is one of the points at which our paths can diverge quite dramatically. And I don’t know that there is one *right* answer. For what it is worth, based on my sample of one five-year-old shepherded through some challenging stuff to date, these are the principles that helped us:

1. Make their world larger.

At five, Cinder’s world got larger. We’re homeschooling, so the massive change that is five day a week kindergarten wasn’t part of it–but think of what a huge change that is for the average five-year-old, and how hard it must be sort out, everything so new. Still, even minus kindergarten, it was so clear to us that a five-year-old was very different from a four-year-old. And absolutely, we butted heads because while he had moved on, I was still mothering a four-year-old.

A huge breakthrough for me was to make his world larger–ride his bike on (safe!) streets, cross the street on his own, go into stores on his own, play a bigger role in everything. I can’t quite remember all the different changes we did, but they’re pretty much irrelevant–they wouldn’t necessarily work for your child. Talk with her. What would she like to do now that she couldn’t (or wasn’t interested) in doing a year or six months ago?

2. The only person whose behaviour I can control is myself.

The other thing I always come back when we run into “downs”: the only person whose behaviour I can control is myself. And if I am unhappy with how my child is acting, the first step is not to look for a way to change my child, but to look at myself, within myself, and ask myself what can I do to change how I am reacting and communicating with my children? What am I doing–reflexively, thoughtlessly–that I can change. Start with me. When I’m okay, when I’m balanced, when I’m grounded–well, very often, the problem goes away, because it was in me in the first place. My children mirror me.

And, if the problem really is in the other–if it is all my Cinder being crazy or my Flora being whiney–when I’m taking care of myself, reflecting on my behaviour, and acting from a place within me that’s grounded, well, then I can cope and talk and help them sort through whatever craziness they are going through at the time without losing it.

3. Re-connect, re-attach.

I strongly, strongly believe that any punishment–be it a time out, a withdrawal of privileges, or the most innocuous manufactured consequence–does not help these situations but serves to drive a tiny, but ever growing, wedge between the attached parent and child. The absolutely best thing I’ve ever read about discipline was in Gordon Neufeld’s *Hold On To Your Kids*–absolutely aimed at parents of older children, through to teens. We’ve talked about this before, but this is the essence of what I take away from Neufeld’s chapter on “Discipline that Does Not Divide”: “Is [whatever action you were going to take] going to further your connection to your child? Or is it going to estrange you?”

So what do I do when I kind of want to throttle Cinder? I work at re-connecting. I call them re-attachment days. Have a bath together. Wrestle (I’m not advising it for pregnant mamas 🙂 ). Go for coffee (for me) and cookie (for him) at Heartland Cafe, just the two of us. Really focus on him and try to enjoy him. So often, that’s what he’s asking for by being obnoxious–really focused attention from me.

Now if I could only ensure I always give it to him so that we wouldn’t go through the head-butting phase in the first place!

4. Remind myself of what I want to say and how I want to act.

What do I do in the moment? That’s way harder in practice, no question. When I’m really frazzled, I leave notes to myself in conspicuous places with “when Cinder does x–do not say/do this–say/do this instead.” (Fridge and front door best places. Also, bathroom door.) And I tell my children what they are–“Those are reminders to me of how I want to treat you and talk to you, even when what you are doing makes me very, very angry.”

5. Sing.

Sometimes, I sing, “I want to holler really loud, but I’m trying really hard not to, someone help me figure something else to do, I think I’m going to stand on my head to distract myself…” (This works really, really well with two and three year olds too, by the way.)

6. Forgive. Move on.

Sometimes, I don’t catch myself in time and do all the things I don’t want to do: yell, threaten (if there is an “if” and a “then” in a sentence, it’s almost always a threat)… and then I apologize, try to rewind, move forward.

7. Put it all in perspective.

And always, always, I remind myself that 1) the worst behaviours usually occur just before huge developmental/emotional milestones, changes and breakthroughs, 2) my child is acting in the best way he knows at this moment, and if that way is not acceptable to me, I need to help him find another one, and 3) I love the little bugger more than life or the universe, no matter how obnoxious he is. (This is a good exercise too: after a hard, hard day, sit down and make a list of all the things you love about your little one. From the shadow her eyelash make on her cheeks when she sleeps to the way she kisses you goodnight… everything you can think of.)

And, finally, if I want my children to treat me–and others–with respect, I must treat them with respect. No matter how angry or tired I am.

Lots of love and support, 

“Jane”

Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait b...

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it… no, wait, actually, let me change it…

I believe, rather ardently, in the power of story. If your religion is Christianity, his Islam and hers Wicca—and theirs veganism—my religion is story.

Story is, perhaps, not everything—other things must exist, else there would be no ingredients for story, and no one to tell stories to—but it is all-powerful.

The stories we tell other people, the stories we tell ourselves, they shape our reality. They change the past, define the present, and create the future. That, loves, is power.

Sometimes, in our interactions with other people, our stories clash. There’s a fight. Perhaps one loses and the other wins. Perhaps both break into bits and they create a new story from the flotsam and jetsam of both. Sometimes, two conflicting stories manage to meld into a cohesive—but tense!—single one.

One of the amazing thing about story is its fluidity, adaptability. In oral traditions, the story changes a little bit in every telling. And this happens even in our more rigid, current product-focused traditions. Look at all the remakes of movies, retellings of classical literature. Story changes. That is its nature.

That is its power.

Our personal stories are among the most powerful stories. And these can change too—we can change them. At will, almost. But it’s hard, because stories don’t exist without an audience, and we are rarely the only audience for our story. Family and friends, even if they don’t really like our old story, are used to it. They redirect us to it, in every interaction. Even when we are telling them a new story—they act as though they are hearing the old one.

That’s hard. And discouraging.

I think that’s why, when we are working to change a story, we look for new people. We want a new audience for the new story we are creating. We don’t want the tried and true audience that says, “No, that’s not what happened—I know this story, the Prince woke the Princess up with a kiss and they lived happily ever after, that’s what happens in this story, why aren’t you telling it like that?”

Because I’m changing it, love.

If you can’t listen to the new story without trying to pull me into the old one—that’s okay. It’s natural. I understand. I’m going to tell the story to someone else, who hears it.

The greatest gift we can give our friends and loves, when they are changing their story… is to listen to the new one.

Her: Suppose the new story is all bull shit?

Jane: It’s their story. Their bullshit.

This is, by the way, very hard. Terribly hard. Exceedingly hard. The closer you are to a person and the more enmeshed in their old story, the harder it is to really hear—never mind support—their new story. I’ve failed at this, in the most significant relationships in my life, so I’m not preaching to you from a moral high horse. It’s hard. So hard. Sometimes, impossible. And then, the greatest gift you can give your loves is the opportunity, space, encouragement to find a new audience for their story.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

😉

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Of sentence fragments and their opposite, and also, parenthetically, purposeful procrastination

i

Me, in bed, much coffee, a bare foot sticking out from between tangled blankets, notebook, leaky fountain pen. Morning pages done but not yet quite ready to work—unfinished business? Sneezes—not COVID-19 and not a common cold—I think I’m allergic to my feather pillows, oh, but they are so comfortable!

Achoo.

Mentoring a writer and ripping her work to shreds in a big way. I mean—editing, but a new writer doesn’t understand the process and every correction hurts. Also—“But you use sentence fragments all the time!” True. But I do it on purpose, to achieve a certain tempo, feeling. You do it because you don’t understand grammar.

Ouch.

I need to learn how to deliver life lessons in a more gentle, supportive manner.

Except… successful, published writers need to learn how to survive criticism—even harsh, unjust criticism.

Just read the comments.

(Don’t read the comments.)

ii

I guess this is still a Pandemic Diary entry because the pandemic is still happening. But man-oh-man—boy-oh-boy—why do we not say girl-oh-girl, do you think we could make that a thing—it sometimes feels like it’s not, and I still don’t know if your grandma, your son, your immune-compromised system are worth all this—I wish you’d show me they were—but I suppose what all this is illustrating is that I am just not a very good, compassionate human being—I’m sorry (not-sorry), I fucking suck, aren’t you glad I’m not making policy decisions?

The above is an example of a run-on sentence that I can get away with in a blog post (but not in an article) and that Henry James could have kept on moving for pages and pages, but which you, beginning writer, need to chop into six simple declarative sentences.

You heard me. Six.

Maybe seven.

Chop.

Ouch.

iii

Achoo.

I’m sneezing again. Another cup of coffee. Almost ready to work. (<<<— Sentence fragment used to a purpose.) (<<<—Sentence fragment used to a purpose to illustrate the purpose of sentence fragments.) Yawn. Sneeze. Curl and stretch the toes of the foot peeking out from between the sheets. Sternly tell it that no, it does not get to crawl back under and snoozle.

It’s time to work.

Achoo.

Ouch.

More coffee?

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: YYC Pride in Year One of the Pandemic

It’s sort of Pride Week in Calgary. Pre-2020, we had the best of all worlds, really: in June, while San Francisco, New York, Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver et al. celebrated Pride, some of us travelled there and some of us had micro events here, and meanwhile, we planned for the Labour Day Weekend, when Calgary has been celebrating Pride since 2009—because our June weather sucks, what with the rain and floods and what not. By mid-August, our Pride events were really in full swing and so the parade, held on Labour Day Weekend Sunday, and its after-party were really the end, rather than the beginning of a week—month—summer—long queer orgy.

Ah, the good old days.

Of course, no parade this year. But, today, Flora and I are going to an All-Ages Drag Brunch at the Twisted Element, which has transformed itself from a nightclub in which nothing happens until after midnight to a pub with table services and a kitchen, with a couple of fellow queers—(parenthetically, I really love being the mother of teenagers—they are way more fun than toddlers). Because we’re doing that, we’re missing the Pride Park Takeover at Pearce Estates Park, hosted by Here and Queer Events –but, like, you should go. Calgary Pride is also, of course, offering an assortment of events all through the week, some on-line, some live, all queer as fuck.

So while it will be a shoestring Gay Christmas this year, Glittery St. Nick will still ride through town in his ass-less chaps and the lesbian angels will sing… on Zoom, occasionally live, six feet away from each other…

Better than nothing, right? But oh, I want to dance, I so want to dance—especially as I was supposed to dance at a wedding in Warsaw today (Congratulations, Łukasz and Magadelna!) but the only way that will happen will be if someone throws a somewhat illicit house party—about which none of us will tell anyone anything because, well, y’all are judgemental pricks and, in your own way, as rabid and dogmatic and uncompassionate as the anti-maskers… there. I’ve said.

Sorry-not-sorry—unloving thoughts on the eve of Calgary’s love is love celebrations. But. Seriously. Don’t understand why getting basic human rights for LGBTQ+ people has been such a slog and we’re still fighting for every single gain—or why the queer community is so fractured and rife with racism, transphobia, bi-erasure, femme erasure et al.? Look at how well we’re tolerating different risk assessments and responses to the pandemic.

The anti-maskers aren’t the only culprits. Think about it.

I digress, but not really, because all roads these days lead to COVID-19. I’ve got my rainbow mask, I’ve got my rainbow kid, and we’re going to take our rainbow hearts and go do something rainbow and fun—and sanitize our hands thoroughly after.

And then I will dream about a crowded dance floor while spinning in a circle, alone, in my living room.

Unless you’re hosting a dance party. In which case, text me.

“Jane”

 

Melting, working, waiting: an August vignette without a moral

We are melting.

The thermometer has hit 33 degrees centigrade today—for my American friends, that’s 91.4 Farenheit, or, as we say in Viking Hell, fucking hot. The air is hot and still, although a windstorm swept through the city and the prairie last night. But it did not bring a storm or rain, nor did it break the heat wave.

I rather love it, to be frank. I wrap a wet scarf around myself when I do have to walk, I stay in the shade and in my cool hobbit-cave of a house. I sit under a tree by the river and watch it swim by lazily. I take Ender rafting—and yes, son, we will go again on Thursday—and we bike, early in the morning before it gets too hot, to get ice cream. Ice cream—yes, this is the weather for eating ice cream—no, actually, it’s almost too hot, eat it quickly, lick as fast as you can before it melts, savour it after…

I am working.

Deadline, and another one—and also this, that, and the other—and now I’m done, out of steam, it’s too hot, thirsty, sick of drinking water, cold tea? I stretch out in a makeshift chaisse lounge with a book, Stella Duffy’s continuation of Ngaio Marsh’s Money in the Morgue. It was not, from what I can gather, a great commercial success. But those of us who can’t get enough Ngaio buy it, read it—just as we devour third-rate Jane Austen retellings, Sherlock Holmes pastiches.

We all want more of what we love.

I am waiting.

I have done all the things, done my best, rolled the dice, stacked the deck, ran out of metaphors—hit send. Visualized, manifested—worked my ass off. Nothing left to do—nothing left to chance. But now, waiting. Waiting. I try to distract myself with ice cream and pleasure; fail.

I work.

I am working.

I am waiting.

We are melting.

“Jane”

Books in the Time of Corona: what’s on my shelves and what’s not, and the story it tells

First, an apology for the title slug. I know you’re all sick and tired of plays on A Love in the Time of Cholera. Still. There’s a reason we’re doing it.

Second… but really first:

i. A catalogue

I recently moved, and as part of the uprooting, I culled my physical books to the essentials. (Ok, I moved like 500 metres away, but hey, packing and thus purging was definitely involved.) Stress on the physical: thank gods for my e-readers, a library of thousands always in my pocket.

Still. I was pretty ruthless. Totally ruthless, actually. Goodbye, university textbooks. Goodbye, books from the “I was a teenage Wiccan” phase. Goodbye, big thick books that look good on my shelf and make me feel smart because I own them—but let’s be honest, I’m never going to read Infinite Jest. I tried. It’s unreadable. I read Gravity’s Rainbow—goodbye—and, frankly, wish I hadn’t, don’t remember what it’s about, and I’ll never get that time back.

Goodbye, all of Jeanette Winterson’s not Sexing the Cherry books. Goodbye, gifted books that missed the mark—goodbye, self-bought books that I read, don’t remember, will never read again. Goodbye, books I once loved but don’t anymore—that cull was the hardest.

What’s left was still heavy to move and comprises about ten shelf equivalents. But each of these books is loved. Important.

Like The Letters of Sylvia Plath and this little known book of the poet’s drawings:

I don’t actually own Plath’s The Bell Jar or Ariel. How is this possible? Note to self: must buy. Response to self: this is how it beings, hoarding, pack-ratting expansion. Don’t do it. Response to response to self: Shut up. I want my Sylvia.

All of my Polish books:

Some of these have travelled the world with my parents and me for almost forty years. The Polish translation of A.S. Lindgren’s Children from Bullerbyn (which used to belong to my dad’s sister, actually—she got it and read it the year I was born) and of Winnie The Pooh—the first “chapter” books I ever read. And, of course, Sienkiewicz, Mickiewicz, Orzeszkowa, Rodziewiczówna. Kapuścinski. The more modern poets: Zagajewski, Anna Świrszczyńska and Wisława Szymborska, not in translation.

This cultural heritage of mine, I have a very… fraught, complex relationship with. So much beauty, so much passion, so much suffering—so much stupidity, so much pain.

Governments do not define a national, a culture, or a people, I suppose. But in a democracy, they reflect the will and the hearts of the majority of the people, and, if the current government of Poland reflects the majority of the will and the hearts of the (voting) Polish people, they are repugnant to me and I want nothing to do with them. I am ashamed of them, of where I come from.

But I do come of them, from there, do I not?

Still. I keep the books. Including the one celebrating our first modern proto-fascist, Józef Piłsudski. History is complicated; ancestry not chosen.

Next, a shelf of all of my favourites.

All of Jane Austen, of course. Most of Nabokov. Virginia Woolf, because, well, it’s complicated. Susan Sontag’s On The Suffering of Others, and E.M. Forester’s Maurice—I gave up Room With a View and the others. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, not so much because I’ll ever read it again but because it was so important back then. Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, because nothing like it has been written before or since. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—I mean. I had to keep it, hero of my misspent university youth. I put him right next to Charles Bukowski’s Women, which isn’t great, but which… well. It taught me a lot about writing. Then, Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings, which always makes me cry because a) it exists and b) I will never write that well.

Edward Said’s Orientalism, the only book to survive my “why the fuck did I keep all of these outdated anthropology and sociology and history textbooks for 25 years” purge. Margaret Mead’s New Lives for Old, which wasn’t one of them, but a later acquisition, kept in honour of the woman who dared live her life, do her thing. She wasn’t the smartest, the brightest, the most original—but fuck, she dared. Fraser’s The Golden Bough and Lilian Faderman’s Chloe Plus Olivia, both acquired in my teens—the first gave me religion for a while, while I freed myself of the Polish Catholicism in which I grew up (“freed” is an aspirational word; I suspect the religions we are indoctrinated into in childhood stay in our bones forever—the best that we can do is be aware when that early programming tries to sabotage our critical thinking and emotional well-being), and the second showed me I wasn’t a freak, an aberration, alone.

Next, The First Ms. Reader and the Sisterhood is Powerful anthology—original 1970s paperbacks bought in a used bookstore in the 1990s when I was discovering feminism. Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor’s The Great Cosmic Mother—I suppose another Wicca-feminism vestige. I will never read it again, but way back when, that book changed my life, so. Here it is, with me, still.

And now, back to fiction: The Doorbell Rang, my only Rex Stout hardcover, although without the dust jacket, and a hardcover, old, maybe even worth something, with protected dust jacket intact, of P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist. Next to them, The Adventures of Romney Pringle and The Further Adventures by Romney Pringle, the single collaboration between R. Austin Freeman and John J. Pitcairn under the pseudonym of Clifford Ashdown. Written in 1902 or so, both volumes are the first American edition. In mint condition. Like the P.G. Wodehouse—and The Letters of Sylvia Plath, and the unique, autographed, bound in leather made from the butts of sacrificed small children or something, Orson Scott Card Maps in the Mirror short story collection, which is next-but-one to them on the bookshelf—they were a gift from Sean.

A lot of the books on my shelves, here with me now, are a gift from Sean.

Between them, a hard cover Georges Simeon found at a garage sale, and then G.K. Chesterton—Lepanto, the poem about the 1571 naval battle between Ottoman forces and the Holy (that’s what they called themselves) League of Catholic Europe, which I will never read again, but which is associated with a specific time and event in my personal history, so I keep it. Next to it, The Collected Stories of Father Brown, in battered hardcover, which I re-read intermittently, and which are—well. Perfect, really. Then, all of Dashiell Hammett in one volume. Then, almost all the best Agatha Christie’s in four “five complete novels” hardcover collections, topped with two multi-author murder mystery medleys from the 1950s.

Looking at this shelf makes me very, very happy.

Next, the one fully preserved collection. Before the move, these books lived on a bookshelf perched on top of my desk. Now, they are here, their “natural” order slightly altered because of the uneven height of this case’ shelves. The top shelf is, I suppose, mostly reference and writing books:

The Paris Review Interviews, Anne Lammott’s Bird by Bird, Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, and their ilk. At the end, a couple of publications in which I have a byline.

The next shelf, the smallest on the case, is a bit of a smorgasboard, but is very precious to me:

Do you see Frida and my Tarot cards? Also an Ariana Reines book that I really should give back to its owner…

Next, my perhaps most precious books.

Philip Larkin’s Letters to Monica and Nabokov’s Letters to Vera. Anne Carson’s If Not Winter: Fragments of Sappho. Four Letter Word, a collection of “original love letters” (short stories, they mean, pretentious fucks) from an assortment of mega-stars, including Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. LeGuin… a strange assortment, really. But some lovely pieces in there. Some lame ones too—and I like that too. Even superstars misfire, every one in a while.

Then, Leonard Cohen, Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman, Jack Gilbert, Vera Pavlova. Finally, Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus and Little Birds, and a bunch of battered Colettes. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer right next to Colette, of course. Then, my Frida books.

The next shelf is full of aspirational delusions.

Farsi textbooks next to Hafez, Rumi and Forough Farrokzad translations. I will never be able to read Hafez in the original Persian. But maybe? Life is long. Maybe, one day, I will have time. Then, Jung’s Red Book, Parker J. Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness, Rod Stryker’s The Four Desires, Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life, Thich Nhat Hahn’s The Art of Communicating (I failed), The Bhagavad Gita (still trying).

As I said, the shelf of delusions.

The bottom shelf is aspirational/inspirational, and also, very tall.

And so, that’s why my Georgia O’Keefe books are there, as well as The Purple Book, and Obrist’s do it manifesto. Perhaps there is room there for my leather-bound Master’s thesis, currently tucked away in the closet, right there, next to a course binder from SAIT? Then, all of my Spanish books, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera… which, also, one day, I will read in Spanish and actually understand. Life is long, right?

Next, not really a book shelf as such, but the top shelf of my secretary desk, where the reference and project books of the moment live.

The Canadian Press Stylebook has a permanent home here, of course. And I’ve got two copies of Canadian Copyright: A Citizen’s Guide there, one for me (unread, but I’ll get to it, I promise myself, again), one for a colleague. Both snagged from a Little Free Library, by the way.

Almost done.

In the bedroom, the books of vice.

A shelf of battered Ngaio March paperbacks, tucked beside them some meditation and Kundalini yoga books that I’m not using right now, but, maybe, one day, I am not ready to give up on this part of myself yet.  Below, a shelf of even more battered Rex Stout paperbacks.

I read and re-read these books—as did their original owners—until they fall to pieces. They are my crack, my vice—also, my methadone, my soother.

Below them, space for library books, mine and Ender’s:

I am finding Anna Mehler Paperny’s Hello I want to Die Please Fix Me unreadable, by the way. I pick it up, put it away. Repeat.

Will likely return it to the library unread.

Currently not on display: books by friends. Some here with me, some on the shelves in the Co-op house. There are a lot of those. Can one be ruthless… with friends?

ii. A reflection

Books, for readers and writers, are the artifacts that define us. When I enter a reader’s home, I immediately gravitate to their bookshelves. What’s on them?

What’s not on them?

What I’ve chosen to let go of, to not bring with me here tells me… a lot.

What am I going to do with this information?

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: What is normal?

August 4

i

A few normal things from the past couple of weeks: I have an in-person interview, I meet a client face-to-face (well, across a room, but still); I go to a restaurant; I take an Uber; I shop at Canadian Tire; I take my kids out for lunch; Flora and I spend hours looking for the sketchbook that defines her as an artist in a local art store—and not online.

None of it feels normal, though. We wear masks in the stores, my hands burn from the sanitizer. The client and I do not shake hands. The entire time I’m in the Uber, I’m torn between

a) gratitude that this dude is working because I’m too drunk to drive,

b) guilt that I’m endangering his health by providing yet one more contact point of potential infection,

c) mild fear the previous passenger was a COVID carrier and so now, because I’m doing this normal thing, I might accidentally get the virus and infect and kill your grandma,

d) low key hate for your grandma and your auto-immune deficient cousin and also, your respiratory illness suffering son,

e) guilt at the hate, because what sort of monster is this selfish (me),

f) OMFG, it’s just an Uber ride—can you just relax and go with it already?

I don’t know. Maybe. Let me see. No.

Because none of it is normal.

Still.

It just is.

At some point, surely, this low grade stress will recede? Perhaps, even, disappear?

I don’t know. Maybe. Let me check. No. Still there.

ii

A few normal things from today: coffee. Morning pages. Lunch with Cinder and Flora. Nap. Work. The work feels like a slog and that’s the new normal too. But maybe the old normal as well. Was it ever easy?

I don’t know. Maybe. Let me check. No. Often a slog, often hard.

Sometimes, joy.

ii

A few moments of joy from today: coffee (it was exceptionally good). Lunch with kids. The discovery of James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers murder mysteries and their televised Grantchester version. A cool afternoon breeze. Cardamom in my afternoon tea. The flowers you brought me dropping their petals on the table.

Good things, normal things. Happy moments.

xoxo

“Jane”

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant”–a break from the Pandemic Diary

Sometimes, posts, articles, opinion pieces—ideas for novels, stories—go nowhere. You keep on putting words down on paper—or screen—but they don’t really connect. There is no spine—no blood. They are stitches in an inanimate rag doll that, no matter what you do, will not come to life.

When that happens, I think the idea is not yet finished incubating. It’s not ripe, not baked.

This is draft three of today’s post. Draft one ate itself. Draft two started out strong. But in the end, had neither legs nor heart.

Draft three, to be frank, is not turning out much batter. I’m coming at it sideways. I’m starting to tell the story by talking about how some stories don’t want to be told. Aren’t ready to be told.

My advice as an occasional professional writing instructor in such cases is to—move on. Accept that right now, this is a rag doll. Throw it away or put it in that drawer (or file folder). Move on to something else, anything else.

But sometimes, an untold story stands in the way of all the other stories waiting to be told.

Does that make sense?

I think this story—it’s not going to come out in this third draft either—is such a story.

I’ve been in this situation before, with bigger work. After the flood, when I carried a novel inside me but I thought I was supposed to write a memoir about the flood and trauma. Was it a year, then, of false starts? And then, finally, the novel, in bits and pieces, out of order. But all there, all out. Even when it was done and sold, I thought I had left so much untold—and I thought, again, that I was supposed to write another story about the flood. But I wasn’t—I was supposed to write about an artist who couldn’t see colour, another novel, fiction that told the true story better than a memoir could. That one took months of fake starts, three near-complete first drafts thrown out, so many attempts to come at the story sideways, before it finally came, and I was able to move on to other work.

So now I know how to write around the story that isn’t yet ready to come. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “Success in Circuit lies.” I explore its themes and problems in indirect ways, in other work. It’s a way of working on other pieces while the untold story demands that you give it all your attention.

“Hush, beloved,” I coo to it. “This is all about you. Don’t you see? Everything I write, think do these days? It’s all about you. Everything.”

I tell students and other writers to not anthropomorphize their work. To not think of their stories, novels as their babies. That way lies madness, because of the publication process involves many, many people telling you that your babies are stupid and ugly, totally useless, nobody wants—also, have you thought about loping off your child’s right leg and sticking it in its left ear?

Madness.

I don’t think of my work, while I’m working on it or once it’s finished, as my progeny.

But I do, while immersed in it, think of it as my lover. I woo it. It seduces me. We experience great joy and misery together. We drown in each other, cannot exist without each other—all is bliss, even the shitty, bad parts have a perverse joy to them.

Then the work is done—some satisfaction—and then… I’m done, and the work is done with me too. It has moved on to being the beloved of readers, and I have moved on to the next idea, the next story…

(This is what makes submitting, promoting, marketing, all of that so hard. It’s like pimping an ex-lover. “Was really into them at one time. Can’t really remember why anymore. Um. Fuck. Let me think. What was it about them that stopped my breath, made my heart pound, soaked my panties? Um… Any chance we could talk about my current flame, my current WIP?”)

We’ve moved on, the flame has burned out, the mutual passion is gone… but that doesn’t diminish the fact that when I was in the work, it was everything to me.

Tell the truth at a slant.

Draft three.

Closer. Not quite there yet, but closer.

Close enough?

xoxo

“Jane”

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic: The Mostly Uncensored–Ok, I Lie, I Totally Censored It, What, You Think I’m Stupid?–Process Journal

July 15, 2020

I’ve spent the last seven days unplugged and locked in my friend’s apartment, writing. Well, not literally locked in. I left for walks and things. But mostly I wrote. Also napped. But mostly wrote.

The documentation of the process is exhaustive and exhausting, and it’s mostly for me, and not really for you–but if you’re struggling with shit, and reading about other people struggling with shit makes struggling with shit easier for you? Dive into my diary.

As you’ll discover somewhere around Day 6 or 7–writing doesn’t actually exist until a reader reads it. 😉

But now that I think about it–most of what I’ve written isn’t really appropriate for the eyes of internet strangers. So here’s the deal–y’all can look at the pictures. 😉

If you’re in one of those places, though, and your life will be utterly incomplete without the voyeuristic experience of ‘watching’ me pick at my scabs, email me at nothingbythebook@gmail.com and ask for the password to the protected posts. I might give it to you.

Or not.

Fun and games. 😉

Yours in the struggle,

“Jane”

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RETREAT IN THE TIME OF THE PANDEMIC DIARY; Table of Days

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 1: In which our heroine wants to be alone (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 1.5: In which the heroine arrives at her destination, and needs wifi to watch porn (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 2: In which our heroine doesn’t matter (yeah, this one too)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 2.5: In which our heroine plays with bad gardening metaphors (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 3: In which our heroine defends her addictions (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 3.75: In which our heroine tries hard not to identify with Virginia Woolf (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 4: In which our heroine regrets this, but not the other (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 5: In which our heroine is a writing machine and also, actually wants to work (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 6: In which our heroine tortures a client and finishes all the things (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7: In which our heroine counts words and embraces uncertainty (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7.25: In which our heroine has one year to live (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7.75: In which our heroine changes her mind and jumps in a river (protected)

You: Navel-gaze much?

Jane: Too much. It does seem to an essential part of the process though. 

Pandemic Diary: Creative process in uncreative times—especially when that creativity’s supposed to pay the bills…

In the process journal: A page and a half of rambling about—I’m not quite sure, either why I hate Facebook or why I hate people. Big X. Note to self: “This is not going anywhere.”

Visit to JuliaCameronLive.com. Surely, my guru has something for me? Yes. “The Power of Creativity in the Time of the Coronavirus.” Goddammit, she just peddles the Morning Pages, again, and you know, I haven’t stopped, although I do do them wrong intermittently, even though Julia says there is no wrong way to do them. The second tool she offers—another standby. Artist’s Dates. But of course. What else would Julia recommend, has the woman had a new idea in the last 30 years?

“It is my hope that during this period of uncertainty we lean into our creativity, awakening our spirit so that we feel more deeply alive.”

Ugh. Julia. Did you just tell me to lean in? Also, I feel dead inside, and also, I want to smash things not lean in or create—I feel betrayed.

Next stop: Maria Popova’s Brainpickings.org. “A Young Poet’s Love Letter to Earth and to the Double Courage of Facing a Broken Reality While Refusing to Cease Cherishing This Astonishing World in Its Brokenness.”

No. This does not suite my mood at all. Next? Who can I try next?

Matt Inman’s The Oatmeal, of course.

Well. That’s more like how I feel… except it’s probably not what I need.

Oh. “Eight Marvelous & Melancholy Things I’ve Learned About Creativity.” Yes. This. Let’s have a read…

Oh. Matt.

“In the context of your work, you don’t matter.”

Ouch. WTF?

“If you’re like me, then my advice is to buckle up, motherfucker, because you’re destined to die under a mountain of false starts and sad, exasperated poetry. You’re destined to put your personal life in the backseat while your creative spirit gets blackout drunk and takes the wheel.”

from the The Wondrous Utility of Self-Loathing” section

 

Actually, yeah. That helps.

So do the parts about killing your darlings and not making babies, and the business of art.

But especially, that. Thanks, Matt.

Except… I still don’t really want to do the work.

I don’t want to get out of bed, have a shower, turn on the computer.

I’m doing a tech/social media detox starting tomorrow and I’m claiming I’m doing it to clear my head and get myself into a creative space fuelled by boredom—but honestly? I just don’t want to do the social medial and marketing aspects of my work.

I don’t want to do any of the work.

And usually, I’d give myself the advice to just ride the allow period, it’s part of the process, just read poetry, smoke cigars, dance naked in the kitchen—but I don’t want to do any of that either.

When I say I want to smash something: I want to smash that feeling, that mood.

Myself.

Next? Hafez:

Last night, pansy addressed flowers and itself displayed
My swinging in this world, so and so’s hair would braid.
My heart was a treasure chest of secrets, the hands of fate
Closed and locked and its key, to my Beloved bade.
Physician sent the broken me to my Beloved and said
My panacea and cure, only by Your hands are made.
May he be healthy, and happy, and in bliss
That his healing hands upon the needy laid.
Take your own advice, O incessant counselor
Sweet lover and wine, whosoever forbade?
Passed by poor me, and towards my rivals strayed
Said, “my poor Hafiz has given his life, I am afraid.”

Ghazal 113
Translation © Shahriar Shahriari
Los Angeles, Ca January 23, 2000

Um. I don’t know how you’re interpreting that, but I sure hope it’s not the way I’m interpreting it…

I’m running out of gurus. Colette? Frida? Jane? Anaïs? Can one of you please send a demon down (or up, I guess?) to yell at me and tell me to get to work?

Her: The blog’s not work?

Jane: No. One, I don’t get paid for it; two, whining about how you can’t, don’t want to work is not work. Get with the program here.

What I have learned, over a career that now spans two centuries and three decades—I’m not really that old, not yet, I was just almost a child prodigy—almost a true story—is that the only cure for when you don’t want to work?

(You’ll hate this.)

It’s to start to work. Open the notebook—laptop. Get the dry paintbrush out of the jar. Pick up the rake. Fold the first sock.

(I probably meant to write towel—but I like that image—and who folds socks, by the way? Anyone?)

That, in the end, is the difference between the professional and the amateur. The working artist and the wanna-be artist. The published author and the eternally aspiring one.

One learns to work when they don’t want to work… and the other doesn’t.

I don’t want to work.

I don’t want to play, either.

But. Here I go.

Words.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Celebrating Canada Day with gratitude, and pain

 

 

i

You are, perhaps, curious as to how my decision to make fewer decisions and to just execute is going. Remain curious—curiosity is what keeps us young. I have, as of yet, nothing to report. One major decision made, but not executed. And the rest of life—not miraculously changed. Still. I am getting out of bed in the morning even though I don’t want to.

Today is Canada Day, and national holidays for immigrants and children of immigrants are a time not so much of patriotism but of reflection and gratitude. I am very grateful that my family landed here when I was ten. I am grateful for the closed border to the United States (sorry, American friends) and free public health care. I am grateful for Flora’s medication, Sean’s dental benefits. Cinder’s job.

Ender’s love.

All the self-help books are right, you know. Gratitude helps. “I am grateful” is a powerful phrase.

I am grateful.

I am an adult Third Culture kid with a twist, which means I was born in one country, spent my formative childhood years in another (three others, actually) and then finally landed in the True North (which I keep on leaving, because, Third Culture kids do that). I am grateful for all of those experiences. They make change and uncertainty the norm.

They normalize that nothing is forever.

Nothing is forever.

Everything passes.

But we celebrate permanence, not transience. You know what I mean? On this July 1, we celebrate 153 years of the apparent permanence of the Canadian Confederation, not its fragility.

Not what it replaced.

ii

I am grateful I am here.

But when I look at the history that brought me here, feeling gratitude gets harder. Am I supposed to be grateful for the 50 years of the Soviet-Communist oppression of my natal land that made my parents’ immigration a survival imperative? The germs-and-gun genocide that effectively cleared the Americas for the first waves of colonizers who established the nation that offered us sanctuary?

When I practice meditation and yoga nidra, I practice a form of intention setting called sankalpa. It’s a fancy Sanskrit name for affirmation—manifestation—intention. (Don’t mock me. You smoke week, she binges on Netflix, I future-plan while breathing in the moment. We all have different coping mechanisms.)

In the yoga nidra practice, before you set the intention, you are supposed to feel nothing but gratitude for all the things that brought you to this moment, this place.

That… instruction has always been a stumbling block for me. And it’s th ekey reason I stopped the practice in 2019. Grateful for my child’s suffering? Grateful for this pain? Fuck you, Buddha and Krishna, and don’t you dare say a word, Jesus, this is why I am an atheist.

Breathe.

I am grateful I am here.

I am grateful I am alive.

I am grateful my daughter is alive.

I am grateful we survived the various really shitty things that life threw at us. In 2020, 2019, earlier.

But grateful for the shitty things? You can take that fatalistic ideology and shove it up your left nostril. Then plug it.

iii

So on this Canada Day—I am grateful I am here.

But I acknowledge that I am here in large part because of terrible historical injustices, driven by foul ideologies.

I am aware of the suffering these have caused. Continue to cause.

I guess I am grateful that I live in a time when we are, as a nation, as a people, becoming aware of the injustice of this suffering, and the need to address it.

Pro-actively, passionately.

At a time when global events (pandemic!) and personal stresses (don’t ask, but you’ve got them too, right?) make it difficult to get out of bed.

I am grateful for this painful awareness.

Happy Canada Day.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Enjoy this gorgeous rendition of O Canada by Calgary choir Rev 52:

And then–because the world needs more Canada:

Grateful.

But also–committed to change.

Pandemic Diary: Decision fatigue is killing me, and so are empaths

i

I’ve figured out why everything has been so much tougher the last few weeks, even though, theoretically, it should have been getting easier.

Ready?

(I am so full of insight.)

It boils down to this: decision fatigue. In March and April, and into May, when everything was cancelled and closed—and the weather was shit—things were very hard and frustrating, but our decision-making wasn’t taxed. The directive was clear: stay home, flatten the curve. And even if you didn’t want to stay home—well, everything was closed, so there was nowhere to go. Except for the grocery store and the liquor store (my poor liver). The big decision we faced on most days, in my privileged family anyway, was what board game we’d play that night—or maybe, shake things up, movie? Or, enough family time already, everyone go hide in their own rooms.

These days? There are options and no clear directives—plus a lot of mixed messaging about what’s safe, what’s irresponsible—what’s allowed. And so, every time you step out the door… decisions.

Decisions, decisions, decisions, decisions.

Wear a mask? Just take it with you to put on in the store? Nobody else is wearing a mask, fuckers, and you happen to know you’re COVID-free cause you just got tested so you’re only wearing the mask to protect them and you don’t need it and they clearly don’t care about protecting you, so why inconvenience yourself for those selfish motherfuckers? Get that coffee and croissant for take-out? Or risk sitting down, eating in—even if you’re not really concerned about your own safety, you’re thinking about the wait staff, other customers. Is your presence causing them stress? Are these genuine feelings, a true sense of risk or just paranoia induced by excessive media consumption?

Touch of cabin fever hits you, and you can go—to the parks or to the mall, or hey, the library is opening tomorrow. Should you go? Wait? Haircut? Yes? No? What’s the right thing to do? Fuck it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m just going to stick my tongue down the throat of a stranger whose risk-profile and safety practices I don’t know at all—ok, I won’t, but OMG, I understand the people who do and I just don’t want to think about what the right thing to do right now is anymore.

Decision fatigue.

I have some larger, more important decisions to make these days and the brain, it hurts, it is tired, so I don’t, I put them off. I’d cut myself some slack on this paralysis except if everyone in the world cuts themselves some slack for the next two years and does nothing, because decision fatigue and also, don’t not want to get out of bed, we are fucked.

I have, incidentally, very high executive skills (I’ve been tested; if there’s such a thing as excessive executive functioning, that’s me). That means I gather data, analyze it, make a decision quickly—and act on it immediately.

I try to tap into that part of myself now: it seems to be buried under something. Not scar tissue—more like piles of wet toilet paper, snotty Kleenexes. I can get at it, if only I get all these soggy used Kleenxes out of the way.

If only.

Decision fatigue.

It’s real.

It kills.

ii

If decision fatigue is killing me, so are empaths. This pops into my newsfeed:

OMG, so true.

My insincere apologies to everyone who goes around identifying themselves to all and sundry as an empath, usually in the first two minutes of a conversations… you’re not.

Stay with me. Empathy is real and critical, and it’s something that makes the world a better place, and we need to teach it, foster it, and act out of it.

But a lifetime of experiences had now taught me that anyone who says, “Well, I’m an empath, so all this is really extra hard for me,” is actually a self-centred, selfish prick to whom the most important thing is their own feelings.

Self-awareness, of course, isn’t a bad thing. (Well, maybe. Too much self-awareness, as you and I both know, leads to too much drinking, other things.) But wallowing in your own navel while telling yourself and others that you’re deeply affected by the feelings and suffering of others—come on. Get your head out of your ass, look around and instead of shouting from the rooftops (I mean, I suppose, social media platforms) about how much the suffering of others is affecting you… fucking DO something about their suffering.

Just a suggestion.

Empath fatigue.

It’s a thing too.

iii

Grateful that I am not an empath and that I own, for the most part, my narcissistic tendencies—by the way, owning your boundaries and telling people who violate them is not narcissism, it’s self-preservation, fuck the fuck off, I may not be a fragile empath but I have feelings too and you’re stomping on them—I try to solve my decision fatigue problem.

Mostly, I think I need to make fewer decisions—which means I just need to commit to some consistent actions. And execute them.

Ok. I got this.

Maybe…

No. I got this. I got this.

Execute.

Get out of bed.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS If you wanna read that Empath Fatigue Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/RebeccaRennerFL/status/1276673896150859776

 

Pandemic Diary: The kids are all right

I don’t know for sure if K-pop stans reserved tix for the Tulsa rally as an act of protest and resistance. Mostly, I think Trump is a liar, and that one million tickets thing? A lie. But never mind that. He doesn’t matter. Really. The Orange Beast doesn’t matter and I’m not saying that just because I’m Canadian. He’s old, and he doesn’t matter—and neither, frankly, does your Grandmother, except for the fact that you love her and want her to die peacefully in her own bed and not choking on phlegm on a ventilator. Grandma’s not gonna change the world, not now. And neither is Trump: he’s old, he’s gonna die soon, worry not.

What matters is the kids—and the kids are all right.

What? Your kids suck? I’m not gonna say, you should have done a better job raising them because… what? Oh, your kids are ok. Other people’s kids though—oh, and the grandkids! Your grandkids suck. So again, babe. Who raised them kids who are raising your grandkids? And, anyway, you’re wrong. The kids are all right. More than all right. And the very fact that all you do is complain about them, it’s a sign that your time has passed. You too don’t matter: you’re over. Like the tantruming president of our Southern neighbour, you too are going to die soon. The kids are going to take over.

And thank Sheela Na Gig (google it) for that, because the kids are all right.

OMG, babe, seriously? You’re gonna continue to shit on your own progeny? No wonder they hate you. But fine. Your kids suck. My kids are all right, and they’re going to save the world.

And you’d better hope that I’m right. We’ve had our shot at it, and we’ve spent two to four generations—depending on how you count—going rather aggressively in the wrong direction. Gen Z, it’s gonna right the ship. Frankly, the best that we can do is to not get in their way.

ii

Flora—your future overlord, you heard it from her mother first—resents this burden. But also, accepts it. Her expectation that salvation—or even lukewarm support—will come from above, from people in power, from society’s “elders,” is very slim. I lie. It’s non-existent. She doesn’t expect anything from her teachers, and less from her government. You can blame me if you like—but the cause is greater than my anarchist parenting.

She is 15 now, and she was 11 in 2016. Look at the leadership example the most powerful people in the world set before her in those formative years. How stupid would she have to be to put her future in their hands?

iii

Ender, age 10, still genuinely believes all you need is love. Cinder wants money, has a job: knows that while love is great, you also need resources. Flora’s the big picture thinker who’s going to figure out how to get the resources to feed the army that’s gonna reshape the world. With love… but tough love. The revolution is going to leave tantruming dinosaurs behind.

So before you bitch about kids these days, remember:

  1. We made them. You made them.
  2. They’re gonna take over. They always do. That’s the natural order of things.
  3. They’re all right.

They’re more than all right.

And you’d better hope I’m right. Cause they are our only hope.

xoxo

“Jane”

The family that protests together gets tested for COVID-19 together…

 

Pandemic Diary: Helplessness tastes like sand; eat chocolate instead

I feel fat, which means I am very unwell and about to stop eating. My mouth feels full of yesterday’s food and I feel layers of fat and flesh obfuscating my soul. My belly–I grimace at it in the mirror–looks large and swollen.

I feel shame.

It is possible that I’ve put on a few pounds over quarantine. I’m drinking too much, people who love me are feeding me a lot of chocolate and ice cream—and chocolate croissants, with chocolate and ice cream on the side—and the other day, Cinder made lasagna, delicious, poisonous cheese and gluten, and I devoured it, gastrointestinal discomfort be damned.

So it is possible that I’m heavier. Fatter. Flabbier. But that I am having these thoughts, drowning in these thoughts? It has nothing to do with my actual weight or body shape. And everything to do with my mental health, which is, at best, shitty.

Yours, too? Yeah. I’m not well and neither are you. Nor is she. He. Them. Not to mention our therapists.

Flora’s medical team, notably her psychologist and our family therapist, fuck up big time last week. I lose it with them in a pretty spectacular way. Hang up in a fire of righteous anger that has still not burnt out.

Later, while not letting go of the anger—it’s still burning, hot—I recognize that everything I’m feeling? They’re feeling too. They’re not well either. Nobody is. So how can we help each other?

 

Over the weekend, we hold the first YYC Queer Writers meet-up since COVID. Via Zoom, still, cause half of us are waiting on post-protest COVID-19 tests (we are a cohort of socially responsible anti-racists and anarchists) and the other half don’t have the energy or will to leave the house or couch. We love each other and hold space for each other… and almost all of us break down.

I remember thinking, writing, when all of this started that the fact of this being a communal, global crisis rather than my personal tragedy helped. It kept me from navel-gazing and drowning in personal sorrow as I had the year we were trying to save Flora’s life.

I lied.

This is worse. Broken people helping broken people, mutual salvation stories? It’s the stuff of films and fantasies. Empty people attempting to fill their wells from other empty people end up drinking sand.

Yesterday’s meal, coats my gums, tongue, saliva even though I’ve brushed my teeth, once, twice, thrice. It tastes like sand.

 

The sun is out and it’s a beautiful day. Yesterday, there was rain, hail, flash flooding and a tornado warning. I looked at the pictures from around the city on my phone and then, the rising level of water in our alley—“Are we going to have to evacuate again?” Ender asked., “We need to go clear the drain, Mom, now, hurry,” and there we were, in the alley, clearing debris off the storm drain so the torrents of rain would have a place to go.

And I thought—no more. Seriously, you throw one more thing at me this year—I fucking quit, no more, no more.

We don’t flood or suffer hail damage, but other parts of the city aren’t as lucky.

I think about them, helpless. What if they felt like me—no more, one more thing, and I fucking quit—and then, one more thing, fist-size hail stones breaking house windows?

No more. I’ve got nothing left to deal with this. I quit.

I know you feel this too. And many of you are going through much worse things than I am. I have work—not stable work, mind you, thanks, Jason Kenney, for delivering on all your election promises to eviscerate education, appreciate it—but still. For now, work. And, despite the incompetence of her therapists, Flora is doing well. Cinder is working and thriving. Ender is love. The call just came—I don’t have COVID-19, so there’s that. Also, even if I ever get it—I have a robust immune system and I’ll probably just have the sniffles. Of course, I did just see the other day that obesity is one of the contributing risk factors to complications and death. And I am now fat—need to stop eating. On the other hand, a few weeks in a hospital bed—I could use the rest. Death? I probably wouldn’t die and if I did—honestly, kitten, right now, it’s difficult to get motivated about living, so, you know. We must all die sometime.

This is bad. Right? You do not want mothers, people with responsibilities—the normally resilient people who get shit done, who keep calm and carry on and do all the things to think like that, do you?

I think about this, a lot: if things are this hard for me right now, how hard must they be for people with no house security, no food security? For those families who have lost family members to COVID-19—run-of-the-mill cancers—police violence—domestic violence?

What I don’t think about, much: the future. Do you ? Can you visualize it? It eludes me, and that’s frightening. So I turn my attention to what I can control.

I feel fat. I feel the flesh on my belly, my ass and it repulses me. I can control that, make that disappear.

I can stop eating.

My form of self-violence, self-harm.

Deep breath.

An act of immense will: I eat some chocolate as if it were a Communion wafer and take the dogs and Flora for a walk in the sunshine instead.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

Pandemic Diary: Getting out of bed to protest–also, to make breakfast–during a global pandemic

i.

Another day of not wanting to do things, not wanting to get out of bed, not wanting to teach the workshop I so lovingly designed, not wanting to deal with dogs, children, family.

Sean takes our beast for her early morning walk and when I finally come up to the kitchen to start my day’s work—don’t want to do it—he is on his hands and knees washing the kitchen and living room floor. “Pee or puke,” I ask, don’t really care. “Muddy paw prints,” he says. He didn’t want to walk the dog either, doesn’t want to start his day washing the kitchen floor. I should feel grateful.

I don’t.

I do wonder—did he want to get out of bed?

Probably not—the whole world does not want to get out of bed right now.

But. We do.

ii.

Something good: yesterday, after Flora and I get back from the Black Lives Matter vigil and Sean picks up Cinder from work—Ender is violating lockdown rules and having a sleepover with his grandmother and cousins, ssshhh, don’t tell the self-appointed sanctimonious “deprive yourself of all human contact until there’s a vaccine” quarantine police—we kind of reaffirm the beauty, the power—the necessity—of the ordinary. We take our furry beast for a rumble on the hill. Then, Sean makes us gin and elder flower tonics in badly washed martini glasses. We sit on the balcony watching a storm approach. So many things we should tak about, but this calm before the storm is precious, and we are exhausted.

So. We don’t.

The teenagers come down to join us. And take us on a trip down memory lane… and alos, carefully, tenderly… look to the future.

When I start to chase Flora to bed a couple of hours later, she protests.

“I’m enjoying family time!” she says.

We look at anti-racist memes on Insta and Twitter together for a while longer.

I am, in the middle of battle and uncertainty, very briefly, at peace.

iii.

Out of bed. Pen. Notebook. Coffee. But this is not  a happy moment, for I don’t want to do any of the things that usually bring me joy, and the things to which deadlines are attached I want to do even less. Also, I hate people, all people, even you, and hate is an ugly, exhausting emotion, I want it gone.

Coffee. Pen. Paper. Words. My prayer, my meditation.

Halfway down page two, I feel at peace.

It’s gone by the halfway point of page three. Still. It’s something.

iv.

Something’s got to give, break, crack, change.

The Black Lives Matter protests  in the streets, peaceful in Canada and most other countries, intermittently crossing the line into fire and violence in the US, are an external manifestation of this individual, internal feeling in my heart, perhaps in yours. They are the foment—not yet the explosion. Not yet the change.

Something’s got to give.

The pressure is building.

v.

I get out of bed, pen, paper, coffee, words, and then, all the things, because, one day, Cinder and Ender’s children—Flora does not plan to use her uterus—will ask me, “What did you do in 2020, Babciu,” and I don’t want to say, that was the year I didn’t get ouf of bed, that was the year I suffered, whined, complained, wanted to be over.

But it’s very hard. I wonder if I’ll remember to tell them that.

I did the things we had to do. But it was very hard. 2020, the year that you will remember as the year that changed the world? That was the year that it was very hard to get out of bed.

But.

I did.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Yesterday’s vigil in yyc can be viewed here: https://www.pscp.tv/w/1mnxelybwwNJX?

Pandemic Diary: Protests in the time of the Pandemic

(Note: this isn’t really a post, it’s a collection of notes from my journal.)

i.

June 1

My son turned 18 last week and, you know, when he walks down the street? Takes the bus to work? Gets pulled over by the police for any reason, goes to a bar with friends? (OMG, my baby can go to a bar with friends now, when did that happen—right, last week!)

I never worry that he’ll be shot by the police.

Or even treated unfairly by them.

I mean, I have a lot of other worries. Obviously. I’m a mother.

That one?

Never, ever.

I never worry that my son will be shot by the police.

My Black American friends? They’re devoured by that fear every time one of their kids, loves, siblings walks the street.

I never truly understood this until this week.

I will never be able to really comprehend that fear—or how emotionally damaging it is. Simply imagining it causes me pin.

How did we build a world in which that is a thing?

More importantly: how do we change it?

ii.

June 2

I am still having a hard time getting out of bed. Doing anything. Moving.

But this week, I am attending, children in tow, Black Lives Matter protests, marches, a vigil.

I haven’t been inside a store or a coffee shop since they’ve re-opened. Not getting a hair cut this summer. Not holding any parties. Wearing a mask to the grocery store so that your Grandma doesn’t die, choking, because we’re out of ventilators.

Because everyone has the right to breathe.

iii.

June 3

As the Black Lives Matter / George Floyd protests were escalating in the US and beginning in Canada and around the world, I ran away for a day to Kananaskis Country, an expanse of wilderness, mountains, lakes and hiking trails about an hour’s drive from my city.

Yes, Paradise.

That’s privilege, by the way. White privilege: being able to run away. Step away from the conversation, conflict about race.

Black people, people of colour do not get to take a break from that reality.

That’s privilege. And so is this.

On the way to Paradise, my friend and I stopped at a gas station and my friend, who had been driving, discovered he had left his wallet at home.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They give you 24 hours to produce a driver’s licence when they pull you over.”

“They give YOU 24 hours to produce a driver’s licence when they pull you over,” he said, handing me the keys. “I’m not a white girl, remember? Here. You drive.”

Later, I tell the story to Flora. As I get to the part when I say, “They give you 24 hours to produce a driver’s licence,” she interrupts me.

“Wow, what a white privilege thing to say.”

I’m proud of her.

And ashamed of our world. Because, people, how fucked up is that? We know the police will go out of their way to NOT give me a ticket. To not inconvenience me.

My friend? He’d better not step over any lines. Ever.

We need to change this.

iv.

June 4

It’s the moment before I open the laptop, reach for the phone. The day is still ok. I’ve done my morning pages, cuddled the Ender and the dogs. An drinking coffee. Am thinking, I might do things today. Today might be a beautiful day.

I reach for the laptop, I check my newsfeeds—I fuck it all up.

I don’t know how to navigate this right now, people. Under most circumstances, I’d shut the tap off. But right now, that acts smacks more of cowardice than self-care. I think of my Black activist friends—and strangers—who just can’t do that. I think of the parents, families of George Floyd. Breonna Taylor.

David McAtee.

So many names I don’t know, didn’t notice, didn’t pay attention to. The Washington Post reports that since Jan. 1, 2015, 1,252 Black people have been shot and killed by the American police.

1,252.

(You should read/listen to this, by the way: https://www.npr.org/2020/05/29/865261916/a-decade-of-watching-black-people-die)

I am a conflict-avoidant coward. I am not an organizer. And I think most of the time, I’m a shitty ally, too wrapped up in my own story to really pay attention to the experience of others.

The least I can do right now is to bear witness.

I see your pain.

I see the injustice.

I don’t know what the fuck to do, honestly.

But. I witness.

Jane

Pandemic Diary: If this is the test, I’m failing–you?

I am afraid to look at the news today. I don’t want to read about George Floyd’s murder, or the subsequent white violence against Black protesters. I don’ want to read about the next act of despotism or terror committed by the white supremacist narcissist currently residing in the White House. I don’t want to read about the continued evisceration of my province’s education and health care systems—continuing unabated as health workers and educators have to put in 150% to keep things going—and the dissolution of its barely extant environmental protection legislation by my local moral-less Trumpling. COVID-19? Don’t want to read about that either, nor about the elder abuses the military has discovered in Ontario’s long-term care homes. Don’t want to know, read, see, anything—don’t want, come to think about it, don’t want to, don’t want to get out of bed.

Children. Students. Dogs. Work.

All the things.

Must do.

All.

The.

Things.

One of my students writes a piece criticizing an editorial that says mental health issues will become paramount after the pandemic ends. What the fuck? she essentially says. What do you mean, after the pandemic? How about now?

Things really weren’t that great on the mental health front before the pandemic—for my generation, anyway, she argues. Finally taking mental health seriously because the entire world is fucked? Too little, too late.

Too little, too late, never enough: my newsfeed—fuck, I have to turn off the news tap, again—is full of pap about mental health supports. But let’s face it—during a global crisis, when everyone is traumatized… how helpful, how resilient is your therapist, really? Any chance that she has her shit together any more than you do?

I don’t think so.

Texts with friends: “How are you?” “You know.” “Yeah, me too.” Why burden each other with details? Nothing we can do to lessen each other’s burden. She knits, you mediate, I write. Sean runs. My dad builds me a ranch—I asked for a gate; both the ask and the execution a coping mechanism. My mom makes soup. A lot of soup. Gallons of soup. Delivers it to the grandchildren she can’t see. Flora makes a conspiracy board. (Not about the Plandemic—I may have fucked up a lot of things in my life, but I did teach my children how to think critically and how to evaluate sources; I gotta tell ya people, nothing makes a journalist mother prouder than a teenager who says, “I haven’t fact-checked this yet, do you know if it’s legit?”)

Cinder punches holes in walls and wanders the hill at night—the new job is a life-saver, and I don’t care about the virus germs he might be bringing home, the man child needs to work. Ender—this week, I’m worried about him. This week, he’s not ok. This week, suddenly, he is lost, frightened, alone.

I set him loose on the Common when he hears other voices; I don’t tell him to keep his distance.

I gotta tell you, kittens, this week? I’m not sure if prolonging your Grandma’s life a few more years is worth this. I’m not sure if keeping my parents safe is worth this. I’m not sure if keeping my kids healthy is worth this.

Unacceptable thoughts, reprehensible feelings. Still, do you not think that there would be fewer Walmart-camo militants storming malls, legislatures and hot tubs (when did these become the icons of freedom?) if we were allowed to express these frustrations without being judged by the Quarantine Martyrs?

What’s so hard about staying home? Keeping six feet away from strangers, friends? What’s so hard about wearing a mask? Not getting a hair-cut? Ordering take-out instead of dining in, Zoom meetings instead of in-person workshops, online teaching instead of being in the classroom?

My “quarantine” is the quarantine of a privileged, employed person, what’s so hard about all of this?

Nothing.

Everything.

Thanks for adding guilt at my frustration and inability to deal to my plate of negative feelings, you sanctimonious “What’s so hard about staying home?” meme-sharing prick.

Sorry, that was meant to be a thought not a holler. Reprehensible. Fuck you, I don’t like you either.

Nothing.

Everything.

Today, I have a bunch of Zoom one-on-one calls scheduled with students, during which I will be trying to teach them shit they’re clearly not getting from me and the course material via on-line delivery. On my own unpaid time, by the way, thank you, Jason Kenney, for cutting my employer’s hamstrings just before they asked me to run this marathon, appreciate it, hope you get the pox and die—also, I wish cursing worked, can someone find me an immoral witch? Not one of these granola Neo-Pagan types: I want eye of newt and newborn blood in the pot, and…

Reprehensible thoughts. Because, there I will be, trying to teach, but also, really, saying, over and over again, this: “I know you’re not really functioning. I know you’re unmotivated. I know getting out of bed is hard. I’m right there with you. But you’ve got to do the work anyway. This is the test—you don’t want to. You think it’s pretty much impossible for you to do one more thing. But you’re going to do it anyway. I don’t want to get out of bed to have this conversation with you. And I don’t want to grade this work that you don’t want to do. Yeah, we’re all in this together, and if one more person says this to me, in any context, I too will need to exercise all my self-restraint to not spit in their face. Come on, honey. Deep breath, admit you hate this, you hate me, you hate Grandma, and now, get some words down on the page for me. One sentence at a time. Do the work. Write the story. It’s shit, it doesn’t matter, it’s done. File.”

I’ve told Cinder—in a split grade 12 year this semester and in the fall—that if this whole semester, year is a write-off? If he can’t pull it together enough to finish it? No big deal, That’s, frankly, the normal, healthy response: to not be able to focus on Math 30 when nothing else is right.

I can’t give myself, or my students, the same advice.

“This is the test. Do the work anyway. You don’t want to. You think you can’t. Do it anyway.”

Funny thing, at this point, I don’t even know what I miss, what I want. I just know what I don’t want: no more bad news, please. No more Zoom calls. No more statistics, directives, speculations. No more, no more, no more.

What’s so hard about this?

Nothing.

Everything.

All right.

Enough.

Negative thoughts, emotions acknowledged. Expressed. (See? Me, functioning as my own therapist.)

Time to get out of bed.

Do all the things.

But today? I’m not gonna check my newsfeed. I’m not gonna read the news.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Happy Pandemic Birthday to Me… and all 20 million of you…

Pandemic birthday, and perhaps that’s reason enough to feel mopey, the pandemic birthday coming on the heels of a pandemic Mother’s Day, pandemic Anniversary—what a mindfuck—pandemic Name Day, Easter. Nothing is normal, nothing is right, so why should this birthday be any different?

I feel beaten up and old—and also, fat and doughy—and unhappy, worse, meaningless and purposeless, a story without a plot, an editorial without a call to action. I’m lost in the saggy middle of my novel, and I have no faith that the editor will fix this mess, because, after all, I am her.

Happy Pandemic Birthday. 😦

Things to remember on a mopey pandemic birthday:

  • I am loved.
  • I am not alone.

In fact, more than 20 million people share this specific birthday with me, and so, over the last 2.5 months, some 1.5 billion people have celebrated a pandemic birthday—and before all this is truly over, everyone will have had one—you ready to surf the second wave?—and… You know what? As a cheer-up strategy? That does not work at all. “I’m unhappy but so is everyone else in the world.” “Well, I’m dying of the Spanish flu but so will 50 million others.” “The Holocaust is a bitch, but at least 6 million other Jews are dying with me…” Yeah. No. Also, now I’ve brought up the Holocaust, which, let’s face it, should put everything into perspective, because, fucking seriously, I’m mopey about what? Physical distancing guidelines meant to keep me and my fellow citizens alive? Snap out of it, bitch. Let’s reframe…

  • I am not alone.

My family made a birthday door for me, and got me two chocolate croissants and a tangerine slice peel clematis, also, lots of chocolate wrapped in a beautiful blue and gold pashmina. There are happy birthday emails and texts and phone calls and even though it’s raining, I know my parents will come and visit me on the porch and maybe you will come and we will go for a walk and know what? If we go for a walk, fuck it, let’s have a $1200 hug, because it’s my birthday and I’m not sure I can do this anymore.

How was that “things to remember on a mopey pandemic birthday” list coming along?

  • I am loved.
  • I am not alone.

When all this started (pandemic, not my life) (I don’t really remember when my life started, do you?), I actually welcomed the opportunity to be mostly alone. It had been very hard to make social small talk or engage in casual interactions given the shit we were carrying in 2019.

Conversations like this:

Them: How are things?

Me: Child sick, not so good.

Them: What about other things?

Me: What other things? Did you hear what I just said? Child sick.

Her: Hey, what are you up to? Wanna hang?

Me: Shuttling between home, hospital, and when I remember, work. I have no time to breathe.

Her: Come on, you could use a break.

Me: Fuck off you deaf bitch.

Him: What’s new?

Me: Nothing. Everything’s fine. Nice bean dip. Please, tell me more about how your kitchen renovations are ruining your life and how hard three days without a working dishwasher are.

aren’t, you know… fun. So, enforced solitude really wasn’t a bad thing—especially when that enforced solitude was solitude as a family of five. I retreated into it with relief—frankly, craved more of it. (Maybe I’d get infected, sick, or at least compromised and I’d have to quarantine alone, without my beloved family? Yesssss… Don’t you dare fucking judge me, Aunt Augusta. I love them to pieces, but this is a very small house.)

Craving, seeking deeper solitude, I killed my social media connections for more than a month—I should probably do that again. When I read your Facebook posts, I hate you, think all of your friends are pathetic losers, and have no hope for the future of humanity. Somehow, when we hang out in person, your loveable qualities are enhanced and your lack of critical thinking, poor judgement, and overall stupidity somehow muted. Fuck. Sorry. See? Even thinking about social media—Facebook, especially, Twitter a close second—makes me a bad person.

Where was I?

  • I am loved.
  • I am not alone.

Right. When I look at the physical distancing and other safety guidelines proposed for the summer of 2020—and god knows how much beyond—I want to weep. I don’t need festivals, bar services, or even restaurants, although I do miss my coffee shops and sheesha lounges. I’m ok never going to a mall again as long as I live. Even museums, art galleries, my beloved bookshops—fine. I don’t need them.

But. I need dinner parties and pot lucks. And house parties with overcrowded kitchens. Sleepovers. Work bees. Taco Tuesdays at Yvonne’s and Whatever Charlotte is Learning to Cook Mondays at Valerie’s, I’m Feeding People Soup and Crackers Wednesdays at my house. I need my people—even the ones I haven’t been able to talk to much over the past year—back in my house.

In my arms.

A pandemic birthday with no hugs?

Fuck it, no, no, no, what’s the point?

So. Mopey.

Very, very mopey.

I’ve been offended by the right-wing and libertarian anti-lockdown protests. Not because they want to kill your grandma. But… look at it. Assholes agitating for haircuts and retail therapy. The right to leave their spittle around stores and public places.

Nice priorities, people.

Except, of course, those aren’t really their true priorities. They’re just the things that are easiest to express, protest, point to. From the conspiracy theorists on both the left and right to the sanctimonious pricks running around city parks with a metre ruler and shaming members of a large extended family for not maintaining physical distance, we’re all missing the same thing.

So, what those gun-toting, flag-waving, misinformed, uneducated and unenlightened (“What do you really think of them, Jane?”) freedom-to-be-selfish-as-fuck warriors are really agitating for when they want to hold a 1000-person Go Topless Jeep Driving Beach Party (you think I’m kidding, this is a real thing) in the midst of a pandemic that’s killed more than 330,000 people worldwide, 95,000 of them in the United States?

Their need to have a beer with their buddies in their backyard. Their need to belly bump, high-five, and drunk-wrestle in a manner that’s in no way homo-erotic, why would I even suggest that?

The need to connect, physically, with other human beings.

This is a big thing to take away from people.

Things to remember on my crappy pandemic birthday:

  • I am loved.
  • I am not alone.
  • I have people in my house and my covid cohort to hug and hold.
  • I am eating a delicious chocolate pain from Sidewalk Citizen for breakfast. I have a second one to eat for lunch.
  • My little son has been Skyping with his cousins since 7 am. He’s spent more time “playing” with them online in the past 2.5 months than he has “live” in the first 2.5 months of 2020, or perhaps even all of 2019. And this is good.
  • My daughter is still sleeping and this quarantine is giving her the space in which to rest, sleep, heal.
  • My eldest is enjoying is first day off this week from his first real job, and he’s going to turn 18 in a few days as a working man, how awesome is that?
  • A skinny, mostly hairless Goblin dog is curled up beside me in my writing chair, wrapped up in my bathrobe, purring. Well, snorting. Exuding peace and contentment, anyway.
  • A furry, still-damp from her morning walk beast of a puppy is snoring quietly on the floor by my feet.
  • Sean just made a second pot of coffee and, because he’s working from home, when he comes upstairs, I’ll get a coffee refill without having to get up off my lazy, mopey ass.
  • FedEx just called and my birthday Doc Martens are getting delivered today.

  • That chocolate croissant was really good.
  • Even though it’s raining, I can still have a cigarillo on my balcony this afternoon. And, maybe, Turkish coffee.
  • I don’t have to make dinner today, because, take out.
  • I am not alone.
  • I am loved.

And… with all of that? Still mopey. Still not happy. And that’s ok. Because nothing is normal, nothing is right.

But we trudge on. Do the best we can.

I am loved.

So are you.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

 

 

On this Mother’s Day: Imagine a world in which mothers stopped doing all the things

Mother’s Day has been a rough celebration for me—definitely in 2019, but really, increasingly so over the past five years, maybe even decade, more. I don’t do well with unacknowledged hypocrisy, you know, and this what Mother’s Day is to me: social hypocrisy run amok. Mothers celebrated in memes, photos, videos, song, through gifts, cards, brunches… and then left to clean up the mess made by the party.

Flora hates is—hates it—when I acknowledge that parenthood, motherhood is hard. I get her. When I first became a mother, and my  mother offered me support and respite care for my littles, saying, “I know how hard it is,” I hated and resented it—her—too. She’d say, “I know it’s hard, you need a break,” and I’d hear, “It was hard to have you, it was hard to your mother.” And then, I’d think, “She wishes she hadn’t had me, what the fuck.”

I do not regret having my babies. I would—hard as it has been—do it all over again, only maybe… sooner. Even closer together. I do not regret the sleepless nights, sore nipples, temper tantrums—and while I wish I could have just the happy, proud moments without the weeks in  hospital for Flora, the holes in the wall from Cinder, the three years of not being able to walk after Ender, the almost daily, paralyzing “Am I enough? Am I doing the right thing?” anxiety I have for all three of them—those dark moments are the price of the good ones, the cost of admission to this not-so-secret club.

I don’t regret motherhood, I don’t regret my babies—one of whom is now twice my size, two of whom now have bigger feet than I do, and one of whom is already smarter and more insightful than I ever was.

(Yes, I’m talking about you and your scary big brain, Flora. No, I’m not saying your brothers are dumb, why would you go there? I’m saying that I can still outthink them. I haven’t been able to outthink you since you’ve been seven.)

I don’t regret, not any of it. I’d do it all, all over again—yes, my darling girl, even if I knew ahead of time what 2018, 2019… and the first weeks of 2020 would bring. Without a moment’s hesitation.

But I wish someone had told me how hard it was really going to be. And that it wasn’t going to be hard for a year or three or ten—but forever.

Wait.

My mother tried to tell me. But I didn’t believe her, I wouldn’t listen…

Maternal love changes, everything. It must, of course: basic biology. It is pure evolution, the selfishness of genes in action.

And because it’s so basic, so big, so powerful, in a society that does not value the labours of motherhood and mothers themselves, but is happy to take advantage of them, maternal love fucks mothers over.

This is the part where Flora says, “See? You wish you didn’t have us!” And I scream, “No! I wish this goddamn culture, our schools, our workplaces, our medical system, every single one of our institutions didn’t simply assume that mothers would fill in all of their inadequacies. That mothers would pick up the slack wherever it exists, that mothers would make flawed systems and structures work—because that’s what they had to do to get their children through them.

This is what mothers do: whatever needs to be done.

(Look at this pandemic.)

Every single one of our modern social structures counts on—assumes—that it will be propped up by the unpaid labour of mothers.

(If you say, “But what about fathers?” or “But men also…” just stop, no. Today is not the day to discuss the glacial improvement in the de-gendering of childcare.)

Schools underfunded? It’s ok. Mothers will come in as classroom reading volunteers, lunch ladies, recess supervisors, organize bake sales and fundraisers for field trips and school computers.

Health care system overstrained? A nine-month wait list to get child to see the specialist, get a diagnosis, care, support? No problem. Mom will do all the things until then, quit her job, function as a 24/7 nurse, support worker, therapist.

No official day care supports by the governments or employers? Why bother? Mothers will find a solution, individually. They always do.

Suppose… just suppose, we didn’t?

Seriously, think about it, just for 30 seconds.

Suppose mothers stopped doing all the things. Getting shit done, problems solved.

Not for a day, the way most women, their tanks empty, sometimes do—individually, or, occasionally, in a 24-hour daily mass protest.

But for the long haul. Perhaps, forever.

Imagine. What would happen?

The world would come to an utter standstill—or descend into utter chaos.

But, don’t worry.

It’s not an experiment or social action that you will see. Because it would make our children suffer—and we will do anything, everything for our children.

The worst thing about this on-ground frontline work is that it leaves most mothers too exhausted to fight the macro battles. I am not much of an activist, and that’s in large part because after I do all the things that need to be done—and then do my work for money, and then carve out slivers of time to do my work for love—then there are more things that need to be done, and cooking and housework and a crying child, a sick child, a frustrated child—I don’t have the energy to change systems, affect policies.

I am, very, very grateful to the people who do. But, too often, the fights they fight and the priorities they agitate for—they don’t reflect the reality of what I live. And me? I don’t have the bandwidth left to fill out the five minute online survey through which they try to find out what I really need.

So I’ll tell you today, ok?

I need a school system that isn’t driven by my unpaid labour. (I speak here as a homeschooling parent responsible for 100 per cent of her children’s education until high school—and appalled by the increase in my “schooling’ workload when my teenagers when to “real” school. Without parents’ labour, schools would not function. Is this fair to working parents, working mothers?)

I need a health care system that isn’t propped up by my unpaid labour. I won’t go into the details; I can’t right now. But if you’ve had a sick child—you know.

I need workplace cultures—and employment laws—that don’t penalize me for having family responsibilities. And that don’t assume my unpaid emotional labour and my integrity/ambition/determination will get the job done, no matter what obstacles are placed in my way.

I need reliable safe, and affordable childcare options that take the reality of workplace demands into account.

Most of all, I need a culture that doesn’t actively penalize me, judge me, despise me for not sacrificing all of me on the altar of motherhood.

Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good looking, good tempered, well groomed, and unaggressive.

Leslie McIntyre

I realize… I’m not going to get any of that, not in my motherhood journey anyway—Cinder is 18 this year, Flora 15, and my baby 10.5.

Sadly, though, I don’t think Flora’s going to get it either.

Flora: And that’s one of the reasons I just want to cut out my uterus now.

I remember my first Mother’s Day as a mother and what an amazing, amazing, incredibly joyous feeling that was.

These days, the feelings around Mother’s Day—and motherhood—are much more… complex.

I am very grateful for the tokens of love and appreciation from my children and their dad—who, in this fucked up patriarchal culture, does his best to lighten my load (but the solutions, people aren’t individual—they must be systemic!).

But I also think about all the challenges and frustrations of this path, and I also think about how I’ve experienced these challenges from a place of utter privilege. I’m overeducated (and white), and even when I think I’m poor, my line of credit (which is the result of my economic, educational, and social privilege) ensures my house security and food security are never threatened). I have an extended family to support me (thank you, Mom and Dad). I have a feminist partner and co-parent (I appreciate you a lot, Sean). I have friends who will pitch in with free childcare and meal deliveries when the world goes black (I love you very much, Paola, Dorrie, Valerie, Cathy, Lisa).

And with all of that… it’s rarely been easy.

Happy Mother’s Day to my fellow mamas. To my mama.

To me.

It’s too late for us, really, but do you think we can make the path easier for Flora’s hypothetical grandchildren?

Flora: I keep on telling you…

Jane: I said hypothetical!

Can we?

😦

“Jane”

 

Pandemic Diary: Alberta reopens for petrosexuals’ golfing pleasure

I don’t golf, so nothing in my life changed this weekend—you did hear that Alberta re-opened golf-courses on Saturday as part of its economic restart? That’s Alberta to me, in one action: who are we going to pander to? The rich! When are we going to do it? Now, now, now—they’re not so good at delayed gratification, and they need their golf courses open now.

I’m being unfair. Of all the social activities that can be done together and yet six feet apart—so long as you don’t share a golf cart, cause I’m yet to meet a golfer who shares golf clubs—golf is atop of the list.

Still. The optics fit in well with the priorities of the Alberta government.

My precious coffee shops, sheesha lounges and bookstores—also, my hairstylist, dear god, do y’all need a haircut as badly as I do?—may re-open as early as mid-May as part of a “safely staged” recovery plan through which, the politicians and pundits inform me, the world will slowly but surely go back to the way it was. Except, of course, it won’t, because, actually, we don’t really know what we’re doing and we don’t really know what’s next, and it’s all guess work, and uncertainty is hard—could we, at least, golf while the rest of you are sorting it out?

When I say “we” don’t know what’s going on and what’s coming, I mean, all of us. Everyone. From the people in charge all the way down to you and me. We’re all trying to sort fact from fantasy, best practices from delusions, whether we’re doing the sorting in our newsfeeds or during high-level briefings with epidemiologists and economists.

Do the epidemiologists and economists know what’s coming? I don’t know. I am, as you know, a borderline pandemic denier—or, to put it more fairly, I totally think there’s a pandemic happening but, frankly, it’s not deadly enough. There are too many of us and if 10 per cent of us disappear tomorrow, Mother Earth will throw a little party and then turn her attention to designing another plague that will clean house even more effectively.

Still, the part of me that recognizes the binding force of my social contract with you is staying home, wearing a mask to the grocery store, and limiting my mammalian social contact interactions to my small, safe covid cohort, and to walks—six feet apart—along with river with a handful of friends.

Having done that for—I’ve lost count, more than 40, fewer than 60—days, I’d rather do it for two, four more weeks than rush out to golf, shop, dance… and have to do it all over again, for another 60 days or more, through July and August.

I am, of course, neither an economist nor an epidemiologist, and most of the numbers about the pandemic’s infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates as well as its impact on the local and global economy make about as much sense to me as Donald Trump’s press conferences. But, from my layperson’s, mathematically impaired point of view, the world economy got such a profound kick in the gonads that two weeks more, two weeks less is not going to make much of a difference to its recovery. And Alberta’s economy, given the petrosexual fixations of its premier and ruling class, is going to recover never. So, really—wait! I figured it out!

Alberta’s economy is going to recover never—so we might as well golf now. Right? Suddenly, it all makes sense.

I don’t golf, so I didn’t golf yesterday and I won’t be golfing on Monday, but I don’t begrudge those who will be. Enjoy. Caress those golf clubs, breathe that fresh air, club those balls hard—soothe your aching petrosexual heart on the manicured, human-made unnatural landscape of the province that you so dearly love. I’ll be outdoors too, soothing my unpetrosexual heart in my own way, and not thinking about how you’ve fucked over the economy of the province I try to so hard to love.

I won’t be rushing out to do all the things on May 14th either though. I’d rather give up two, or four, more weeks of coffee shops and sheesha, art galleries and hairdressers—First World Whines, people, from us the so-very over-privileged, would the people with real problems please make us shut up?—and let others conduct the community transmission experiment.

You, however, should go out and do all the things, and maybe lick some door handles while you’re at it.

My experiment requires it.