issue stuff

my mother tells me i walked at nine months old.

she has been telling me that for as long as i can remember. she’s also prone to mentioning that i spoke in clear sentences by two, and stayed dry through the nights shortly after.  

oh, i was a starbaby, clearly. and my mother’s pride in the accomplishments of my infant self has been a reliable camp stove for the cockles of my heart for, um, ever.

sure, i’ve done other things in my life. i have a good eight or nine years of post-secondary education under my belt, been around the world a few times, have written a few things i’m proud of.  but ask my mother, and you’ll get the distinct impression i peaked in 1973.

it took me a good 35 years to figure out the sad truth about my child prodigy status. 

being the first among my little friendlets to walk never actually made a better walker than they were.  i spoke early, yes, and admittedly i haven’t stopped…but once you hit grade three or so, being a monolingual, publicly verbal creature ceases to be so impressive. and i seldom wet myself, true, but so far as i’m aware, neither do many other thirty-somethings.  (well, except for those unfortunate post-partum bladder indiscretions…HUSH. for years i was continent, people. totally, reliably continent.)

my mother has spent my entire life exuding beatific pride in perfectly normal milestones that almost all typically-developing children meet somewhere within a twelve-month period.  i was no freakin’ Mozart, composing symphonies in Pampers, for crying out loud. i walked early. i stopped pissing myself a few months before some of my friends. 

i spoke in sentences probably a full year before my son did. but now that he’s reached what the charts call age-appropriate fluency…whaddaya know? he says stuff just as smart as the kid who started talking a year earlier.

my handy-dandy parental primers, mostly used as helpful doorstops since the early days of Oscar’s infancy, all have the same message: the  delicate self-esteem of a child has its first roots in the reflections cast back to said child by his or her caregivers. you are good, you are special, we communicate to the little folk, and THIS is why.  

i made them doorstops because they all communicated to ME one troubling message: my self-esteem is rooted in the very same old sacred cows that i’ve been railing against since i turned thirteen.  dammit. 

my mother, bless her good and earnest heart, wasn’t trying to set me up for a middle-age of nagging insecurity. she is, to her core, a believer in Authority. she appeals to it, honours it, makes an occasional shrine of it.  and left alone young, with an infant to raise, she turned to Authority to bolster and validate her efforts.  enter Dr. Spock, with his normative charts.

if i walked early, she must be doing a good job. spoke early, and without that pesky island accent? she was offering rich language development resources in the home environment. toilet trained before two? clearly, despite the pinched disapproval of single parenting amongst the Good Families of the city in that time, she must be morally upright enough to earn some stamp of approval and seal of quality, else i’d have been soiling myself all over town until well past three.

you see where all this goes wrong, right?  i grew up with the idea that doing things early was not only a marker of my great, if vague, potential…but that it was a good in itself.  i was good because Authority declared me good. and prompt. that is all. thanks for playing.

my mother’s Dr. Spock book – i read the damn thing myself in adolescence whilst plowing indiscriminately through her bookshelf – stopped at age three.  and so did any discussion of my skill set, my qualities as an individual.

the school system eventually took up where Dr. Spock had left off, as Validating Authority for my mother’s efforts to raise an acceptable (and preferably slightly above average) child.  the school system was generally kind to me, because i had been raised with literacies it appreciated.  and when the school system was done with me and had convocated my Honours-achieving hind end out its doors – early, yet again, as i graduated high school at 17 and had completed two separate bachelor’s degrees at 22 – i assume my mother believed some other benign system of authority, some Dr. Spock of the professional world, closed to her but in her mind a meritocracy clearly waiting to welcome me with open arms, would step in to take me up on my promise, my potential.

for a brief period, she even stopped talking about my potty training achievements and instead offered up my degrees as social appetizers at every occasion, even having them framed at her own expense and hung in her apartment.

but i did not arrive.  i worked hard, but had no idea how to leverage the skills i had into opportunity.  i didn’t even understand the concept. 

when i finished school, i knew i’d walked early and toilet-trained early, but other than that my personal canvas of self-description was filled only with my own adolescent graffiti.  “i like to imagine myself as David Bowie’s personal concubine” is not a self-description one could go far with in the depressed Canadian economy of the early-90’s recession.  and so i floated, town-to-town, up and down the dial, always working, trying every path. and  i came to find myself in my late-ish thirties, writing about tutus and wondering what i want to do with the rest of my life. 

and my mother, who loves me and whose ambitions for me only ever extended so far as me being acceptable to Authority – a line i’ve been falling on and off of like a wagon since junior high – has gradually settled into an apparently contented relationship with my achievements, wherein her acquaintances relate stories of their adult childrens’ law practices and government pensions and sojourns with Doctors without Borders, and mom chirps “Bonnie’s always been gifted with words. Do you know she could speak in full sentences by the time she was twenty-two months?  Of course, she walked at nine months…she was always bright…and she was dry through the night by the time she turned two. Children these days seem to be in diapers right until kindergarten…have you noticed…?”

…and then all the maters cluck in unison, and magically, any discussion of my current skill set disappears entirely from view.

which i’m starting to see the benefit in.

 if my mother wants to bask in the glow of my prodigious tippy-toeing across a carpet during the Trudeau heyday (or Nixon’s China visit, for you south-of-the-border readers)…well, that’s her prerogative.  it keeps my potential open. and i’m beginning to think maybe there’s potential in being a late-bloomer, after all.

so as Josephine closes in on nine months happily flat on her puffy diapered ass, i say dandy. pass the cookies. take your time, kiddo.  

what was your sense of your own potential, growing up? where did it come from? and do you think you’ve fulfilled it, in any way?

years ago, after a few shots of honesty absinthe on a concrete balcony one October evening, Dave and i got to talking about having kids.

i was thirty, he was turning twenty-eight.  we were living in separate apartments in the bleak  post-Soviet suburbs of the Hapsburg Empire, where we taught English to aspiring supermodels and went broke for awhile, soaking up kultur.  we were both in the middle of long, ex-pat divorces.  we were happy.

then he said, i worry about your anger, with kids. i worry that you couldn’t control it.

and my head spun round and i ate his off in one big bite, munch.  end of story.  what anger? whatever could you be referring to?  braaaawww-kk. urp.

erm, or not. but i remember being gobsmacked by the conversation, the vein of indignant righteousness popping out on one side of my forehead while the other brow fell in shame at being judged and found wanting.  so, he’d seen me lose my shit at an officious customs officer AND an on-the-take taxi driver only the week before.  irrelevant, i told myself.  they were adults. if they’d been children trying to fleece me with their petty little graft schemes, i’d have been much more patient.

besides, i might have occasional temper control issues – they run in my family, i heard a voice say petulantly, and cringed – but he was the chronic pain in the ass, after all.  look to thine own molehill, or however the proverb goes.  i was the Nice One of the partnership. he could ask anybody.

i don’t know if he did. i know that we never really revisited the conversation, just kept on keeping on, the way people usually do when neither of them is perfect.  i took my umbrage at his comment and channelled it into trying to be a calmer person, mostly.  it was good for me, i found.  and possible, which surprised me more than i could ever have said.  i occasionally pointed ostentatiously to examples of me holding my temper, especially with Dave himself, and for his part,  he slowly grew into less of a pain.  we were still happy.

and eventually, with much ado and struggle along the way, we found ourselves living in a house with two very short people, both of whom seem to require an inordinate amount of attention. right now.

and mostly i do okay.

not always.

this morning i woke up with a cold like two Mack trucks had parked themselves in my sinuses overnight. i’m drippy and blurry and my head hurts like a sonofabitch and i sneeze every twelve seconds and i’m home all day with a 3 year old going through a whiny phase and a baby who seems to be teething. again. because every 8 month old needs to be able to rip apart raw steak with her 87 chompers, right Mother Nature? yeh. fuck off.

by 10:30 this morning i had morphed from weary, slightly self-pitying maternal figure with a cold into John Goodman in The Big Lebowski.  Oscar demanded milk again, after having been told he’d had enough, reminded to use his pleases and asked to just get on the ever-lovin’ potty for what felt like the fifteenth time that minute.  his last caterwaul of miiiiiiiiillllllk woke the baby from a nap already previously interrupted by the alarm clock in their room going off mysteriously, thanks to his early morning curiosity about the buttons and my inability to figure out the snooze on the damn thing.

i found myself standing in the middle of the bathroom, having separated myself from both the children in some instinctual act of species preservation. i was seething, in full tantrum. my face was red and my voice trilled shrilly up and down.

i was muttering, shut the fuck up, Donny. shut the fuck up, Donny. shut the fuck up, Donny. louder and louder, angrier and angrier, all theatrical pitch and emphasis and vicious rage.  it felt good.  it felt remarkably good.  i was vaguely wishing i’d named BOTH the children Donny, just to make it all the more satisfying. i was also considering tearing out my hair, which seemed like a perfectly pleasant idea at the time.

then Oscar appeared at the door.

it’s not Donny, he said.  it’s BONNIE. silly goose. bbbb-Bonnie. and he walked away.

good. now i’ve taught my kid to cuss me out.

i got him some milk. and thought maybe Dave had a point, all those years ago, and is 10:30 am too early for a shot of absinthe? i have swine flu a cold. it’s medicinal.

do you, uh, get angry?

there’s this little girl i want to meet someday. her name is Lily. she was four weeks old yesterday.

her parents live here, in this smallest of capital cities. i don’t know them…though in the newpaper clippings they look vaguely familiar, as if perhaps i’ve brushed by them in a grocery store aisle or a coffee shop over the years.  i may happen on them again someday, later, our daughters in the same gymnastics or driver’s ed class. i may. i hope i do.

they are not here right now. they’re in Toronto, with their daughter, at Canada’s foremost hospital for sick children.  Lillian O’Connor is four weeks old. she is waiting for a heart transplant.  without one – and soon – she will not survive.

there’s another little girl in the same hospital who i’ll never meet. her name is Kaylee. she was two months old yesterday. she has a rare and fatal brain malformation…there’s nothing doctors can do to save her.

Kaylee’s parents want to donate Kaylee’s heart to Lily, if there is compatibility and the ethical protocol can be met…and if Lily does turn out to be highest on the recipient list when Kaylee is declared dead.  the story is an emotional Paaschendale…mud and tragedy enough to drown in.

21 years after the first successful infant heart transplant, infant organ donation is still a very messy issue.

i’ve been waking up with Kaylee and Lily’s parents on my mind the past few days.   i’ve been waking up a lot, admittedly, with a teething baby whose bronchiolitis has her jacked up on ventolin and sleeping in torturously small 45 minute increments the past 36 hours or so.  crawling out of bed at 2:30 am, and 3:30, and 4…i consciously force my brain to remind itself, i’m glad she’s here. i’m glad she’s relatively healthy. this too shall pass...and it can hurry the f*ck up and not let the door hit it on the…grumble grunt…zzzzz. the reminders keep me from cursing quite so flagrantly.

four years ago i would have eaten glass for the luxury of waking to soothe my baby.

i think Lily and Kaylee are both first babies, as Finn was.  i peer into the picture of their parents’ faces, these four new parents, on my computer screen and wonder.  any time a death sentence is pronounced upon your child, the world crashes in on itself.  when it is your firstborn, and parenthood is a new world you’ve turned your life inside out to embrace, the crash is perhaps particularly bewildering, because you become that contradiction our society has no words for…a parent who has no child.

i wonder what will happen to them, to Kaylee’s parents, to Lily’s. about waiting by the bedside of your daughter, waiting for news of a transplant heart, every cell trained on wishing and praying and willing the universe to provide; about the helplessness and heartbreak of knowing mercy can come only in the form of another family’s hell. i wonder about Kaylee’s mother waking in the middle of the night a month from now, and whether some small part of her will rail that it was not her girl who could be spared. i wonder how their sorrow will mark them. her mother is only twenty…i heard her voice on the radio this morning, and it made me cry. i hope her strength is long, enduring. i hope nobody is fool or cruel enough to say to her, “you’re young. you can have another baby.”

i wonder at the grace shown us, strange backhanded grace, that we were never given hope after Finn’s first lung collapse at an hour old.  i knew his death came because nothing more could be done for him…not because the cure didn’t come in time, not because there were no donors to save him.

nobody talked to us about organ donation when Finn died. he only weighed a kilogram, hefty for a 26 weeker, but – as vital organs mostly need to be transplanted among people within similar weight ranges – probably too small for any recipient baby to have undergone the transplant procedure.  his corneas? probably too underdeveloped. and the oxygen loss he suffered when his lungs failed him at birth – that probably made him a poor donor too.

or so i tell myself. in truth, the possibility of donation didn’t cross my mind during the hours we had with him. and it was never mentioned, probably for all the reasons above.

if it had been, in that strange underwater blur of clanging ventilators and harsh lights and fear and beauty that was the lifetime lived in the blink of an eye beside that little incubator on which i wrote his name and all my fierce, defiant hope on a piece of masking tape, i might have resented it.  it takes time to process the shock of having had a baby at all, let alone a baby whose prognosis is suddenly more dire than ever imagined…and time is precious when you don’t have much of it and thinking about after when he was still here was something my mind flatly refused to do, full stop, except to cram in as much of the sight and the smell and the feel of him, tiny fingers squeezing my own, as i could while i could.  because i did understand, right from the moment that first doctor clapped hope shut all over my eager face, that time would be too short and time with him was all that counted.

and yet, in the same breath, i would’ve said yes, had it been an option. because some part of him, then, would have had more time. even if that part was not for me to touch, to know.  the hardest point of coming home with just a blitzkreig of memories and an urn was that my child – in the eyes of the world – disappeared. i could do nothing to help him. but to help another child live through him? that difference would’ve been staggering, i think, on the long road to my own peace.

organ donation among infants is relatively rare, and controversial. even when a child’s  physiology is incompatible with life, as in the case of ancephaly or the brain anomaly Kaylee suffers from, the requirements for declaration of death are often not met until healthy organs have deteriorated past the point of transplant.

the rules exist to protect the living from having organs harvested, obviously.  and yet the system works particularly poorly with infants because definitions of death – brain death vs. cardiac death – are inconsistent and because the organs are so small and easily damaged.

as it stands at latest reporting, Kaylee’s parents plan to take their little girl off life support today.  they plan to make her heart available – so doctors will stand by, waiting for her heart to stop beating, and for the full five minutes to pass before she can legally be declared dead. and Lily’s parents? they have to decide whether to accept the heart, to risk having their daughter prepped for surgery and readied to receive the heart, without knowing whether or not after the five minutes required by law have past Kaylee’s heart will still be viable.


and i sit here in Lily’s hometown, what should be Lily’s hometown someday, my heart in my mouth.

these two families have found each other in Toronto over the past week or so, and in each other found the possibility that their daughter’s stories may merge, two hearts into one life.

Update: the story only gets more fraught…last night, Kaylee’s parents said goodbye and their daughter was brought into surgery to attempt donation (though it apparently isn’t clear whether Lillian was, in fact, the designated recipient), but Kaylee stayed awake when life support was removed. as her condition means her organs only fail when she’s asleep, the surgery was obviously called off.  it doesn’t mean her prognosis, unfortunately, is any rosier, and her family is vowing to try again for donation if circumstances make that possible.

at precisely 9:37 am this morning, i woke up.

i’d been up for hours, obviously. people who sleep until 9:37 with two little children in the house usually have Child Protective services knocking on the door…or so i comfort myself. morning coffee is most scrumptious dark and bitter.

but at 9:37 i became conscious.

(gives head a shake, looks around warily. flexes muscles. discovers muscles – mental and physical – have atrophied. shrugs.  notices that shrugging hurts.)

i’ve been  housebound – thank you bedrest, colic, and interminably freezing winter – for about ten days short of a year, now.  it’s made me alternately shack-wacky, morose, and, uh, lazy.  but also eerily phlegmatic.  contented, even.  i march to the frazzled low-grade ommm of Radio Free Mama.

once you give over to the idea that you don’t control your days, you’re free. absolved.  you’re not going to cure cancer, you’re just going to get through today. smile at that baby. keep the house at a dull roar. clean yourself. change a few diapers, read what snatches of posts you can, empty the potty.  even do some contract work, but blearily, one foot in front of the other.  no long-term plans. no sustained focus. no pressure.

until you wake up. and you notice that you have been operating on the intellectual plane of a Stepford Wife.

oh, i think. i fret, even.  but for the best part of a year, other than ponying up to the bar of past birth traumas, i haven’t done any significant fretting about ME.  being just a vessel – for life, milk, and stray eyebrow hairs – is kinda refreshing.

then you remember that vessels eventually have to GO somewhere.

so there i am in mid-stride on a weekday morning and i suddenly notice that i am not bone-shakingly exhausted. i glance in the mirror, but barely know myself without my eyelids down around my knees. i cast about for something to focus the energy on, and discover that showering and laundry suddenly no longer feel like Olympic accomplishments.  this is disappointing.

what in the name of god do i do NOW?

send life purpose, please. must be compatible with parenting small children and preferably enjoy being squeezed into ten-minute intervals and be achievable from the comfort of my home couch.  nothing requiring extensive sustained focus need apply. copious monetary reward an asset. should challenge mind and preferably do something for thighs as well.

perhaps i will start an Ashram. online. i will be its guru.


being home with baby for nearly a year after birth, with maternity benefits that help pay the bills, is a privilege. i’m grateful, o Canada.  i’m a parental leave proponent.  but mentally, the always-on-call nature of parenting and the cloistered compartmentalization of being at home makes it altogether the most isolating and exhausting thing i’ve ever done, bar none. i learned this when Oscar was small.  i forgot, until today, because i was too tired to remember.  when O was fourteen months old i started a new full-time contract outside the home, and for the first while that forty-hour week really felt like going to a goddam day spa.

(please not to stone us. we bruise like a peach. and i am totally boggled and awed by you wild Americans who end up back at work with six-week-olds.  both my kids had nasty, sleep- and sanity-destroying colic for at least four months and i’m quite sure i would have killed someone, possibly the children, had i had to get up for work every morning and actually dress myself and drive somewhere, let alone perform job duties. not kidding. you have either my utmost respect or my deepest sympathies: i’m never sure which is appropriate.)

i’m just sayin’ there comes a point at which i begin to fray from lack of adult interaction, from the absence of the casual verbal contact that feeds my extrovert self, from a desperate need to engage in the back-and-forth of social capital.

hence Twitter and Facebook updates and the occasional post when i manage to focus long enough. social media pundits critique these forms of communication as a bunch of people talking at each other, but i’m not sure they’ve ever gone to a playdate with a bunch of stay-at-home parents trying desperately to carry on a conversation over howls and wiggles and toy-retrieving – tweets are positively linear and interactive by comparison. and i get to make someone laugh without nibbling their toes.  not that i don’t love toe-nibbling, but now, a year into my odyssey of A Hundred Years of Semi-Solitude, i am beginning to wish i lived on a kibbutz. or a commune. or in a climate where taking the children outside on the first day of spring wouldn’t need to involve snowsuits.


what was/is your experience of being at home with the little people?  and do you think i need saffron robes for my online ashram?  and perhaps cupcakes?

i’ve been thinking a lot about food lately.

two separate flu bugs in the first three days of 2009 actually started the year off with weight loss, for once. worry not. i’ve made up for it since…those Christmas chocolates were at risk of spoilage.

food is my crutch, my weak spot, my pleasure, though we try to have a straight arrow relationship these days. Posey’s digestion seems depressingly sensitive to what i eat, so i’ve cut dairy and most legumes from my diet entirely. add in the fact that my gourmandaise star turn into artichoke cauliflower soup the other evening turned her little gut into a kettle of gas, and we’re back to keeping the cruciferous vegetables in check too. for ethical/environmental/financial/ colon cancer prevention/save the children reasons i’m also trying to rein in my rather outlandish meat consumption, and yep…the prospect of making dinner with what’s left drives me to break out the chocolates again.

unfortunately, as i learned – however unwillingly – from Mad a few months back, chocolate isn’t exactly a food choice without a footprint. i kinda knew that before, but i was ignoring it. thanks to the Lorax The Just Posts, i am now trying to green my chocolate purchasing. i won’t single-handedly end child slavery, but i need to at least take responsibility for not making the problem worse.

i’m still coming to terms with the idea that not only does everything i eat impact my body, but it comes from somewhere. it impacts the earth, it impacts an increasingly global system of capital and resource exchange, it impacts what seeds farmers can plant in rural India and whether kids eat in Botswana.

i like the idea of the hundred-mile diet.

then i look out my window at the five feet of snow blanketing my neighbourhood and i quake at the notion of ever seriously adhering to something so…disciplined. i live on a small island in Canada, people…unless i want to go out and jig for fish under the ice six months of the year or subsist on sprouted spuds all winter, my options end up even more limited than they are already. yes, we have a fine farmers’ market and some local organic growers, but i’ve asked about out of season products at the Saturday market and discovered that their fat spring blueberries come from Chile, just like those at MegaGroceryMonopolis. except more expensive.

though, everywhere, even MegaGroceryMonopolis, food seems to be more expensive these days. part of me laughs and says, good thing we all resolved to eat less for January, huh? part of me knows the distance of irony is a privilege. the inflation will mean some hungrier kids, some emptier food banks.

i’ve been wandering the aisles of my local grocery stores noticing that all the produce – even the goddam potatoes, in a province almost synonymous with spuds – are from locations crazy far away. i also noticed, just yesterday, that while all the apples at MegaGroceryMonopolis A are imports, even the Macintoshes, which grow locally and should still be quite nice this time of year, the organics were actually the same price as the non-organics. this is the first time i’ve ever seen price equity. and the whole web of supply and demand is so complex that i don’t even know if that’s a good thing. it’s good for me. it means Oscar will get his beloved apples sans pesticides without us eating up more of our budget to buy ’em, and since apples are one of the few things still left for me to bloody eat, they’re a significant part of that budget right now. i guess it means that if more people buy organic apples, maybe more growers can go organic, thus indirectly and eventually creating less profit for companies like Monsanto, and maybe less pressure for farmers to subscribe to ecologically and financially ridiculous proposals. but these organic apples still appear to have been shipped thousands of miles to make it to my fruit basket.

maybe i should’ve tried to be more hundred-mile and, uh, canned the pile of apples we picked at the local organic orchard back in September. but who eats canned apples?

i dunno what to make of all this. i don’t want to spend as much on food as i do. i don’t want to eat as much crap as i do. i want to make informed choices wherein what ends up on my plate has logged as few travel miles and oppressed as few living creatures as possible, while still being, y’know, delicious. and preferably chocolate.

i need ideas. ideas about what to eat that’s non-dairy and non-gassy and preferably grows somewhere at least in the northern-ish zones of North America without massive amounts of pesticides. cheap would be nice. recipes would be awesome. and in the interest of full disclosure, i am that odd Maritimer who actually does not eat fish or other sea creatures. they’re gross, don’tcha know? except tunafish from a can, but that’s all full of mercury and endangered to boot. sigh.

what do you eat? what are your priorities in terms of making choices…cost? health? environmental impact? likelihood of toddlers to actually consume it? tell me what you love, what you know, what you eat. because stew and spinach huevos rancheros (sans cheese, sniff) are getting waaaay tired up here.

tonight, before bed, Dave was reading The Lorax to Oscar. it’s a Suess i missed out on as a kid, so i only heard it for the first time this past year. it’s a thinly veiled anti-industrialist Book of Revelations or An Inconvenient Truth for the younger set…or more likely, really, for their parents. in it the Lorax, who “speaks for the trees”, is the unheeded prophet of a grim future that the narrator ultimately brings upon himself.

as Dave launched into the story, i felt my ears cringe, fold over at the edges, shut themselves off. i knew what was coming, and tonight, i didn’t want to go along for the ride of guilt and broken-heartedness and complicity. i didn’t want to hear – i was busy fiddling vapidly with my own personal Thneeds. like most of us, i am all for righteous living so long as i don’t have to get uncomfortable. but sitting there half-listening, half-trying to turn my ears away from the sad story the tale weaves, i realized that the Lorax sounds awfully familiar.

Mad and Jen, with Suzanne, and for a while, Hel, have thrown their heart and soul, in stereo, into The Just Posts for two full years now. they’ve spoken for the trees, the seas, the hungry, the homeless, the gay. they’ve collected our voices, and helped us use the blogosphere to spread information and ideas about what we think might make a better world. i’ve participated, though less frequently of late. i’ve heard the call for contributions and glanced at my to-do list and thought, yeh, i’ll get to that. and then the tenth of the month has rolled around, and around again, without my lifting a finger, and my ears have closed off a little, because i am all for social justice so long as i don’t have to get uncomfortable. or say, make an effort.

i’ve been treating them rather like the Lorax. sigh.

and now, with life and parenting and moves to the jungle and maybe a little weariness with the blogging world and with the whole Lorax role, the women who started the fine thing that is The Just Posts are retiring. and i get it, and i am sad at the same time, because i’ve learned a lot from the roundtables. things about greening the environment and about the American health care system and mental illness and what a joke i am when it comes to committing to DO anything. they inspired me to get off my ass and volunteer at my local soup kitchen, only i got put on, uh, bedrest. then i got inspired to start a local cloth diaper exchange, which has kinda flopped thus far and possibly miscarried, but hey…if anyone out there in the Charlottetown area wants to work with me or just wants some diapers, super cheap, gimme a shout, i’m swimming in prefolds. i have most recently been inspired to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in a clerical capacity…easiest with a colicky baby, i figure….but they, uh, haven’t called yet. nonetheless, i remain inspired. because knowing that people are out there trying matters to me, and is the thing about the Just Posts that has called me back month after month, helped me unstopper the shame and inertia that builds up like earwax and deafens most of us to the disconnect between our lives and our beliefs.

as a parting gift, the Just Post hosts have asked that we out there who care about this baby they’ve grown and nurtured for the past twenty-four months commit to putting our money where our mouths have been, and write about a cause we believe in and support financially.

i figured this at least i could do without fucking up.

it’s Old Christmas today, Epiphany. in the internal calendar of my mind, set back in a childhood far more canonically observant than the adult moi can even remember, i haven’t completely missed sending appropriately and timely holiday wishes/messages/cards so long as said missives go out by epiphany. today i wrote to my friend Susie.

happy new year
, read my (very creative, non?) message. Pakistan, eh, Suse?

on December 28th, Susie left for northern Pakistan for her fourth tour with Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders). i copied a letter she’d written from her second tour, to Chad, the fall before last. before that, it was Darfur. since then, a cholera camp in Congo. this time, Pakistan. i’m hoping she’ll have internet, as otherwise my holiday message won’t reach her ’til May. there’s no pretending that’s on time.

on her way to the airport, she sent this note. “We are setting up a program in an area that MSF hasn’t been before, and because of all the cultural/political intricacies in the area the going is slow. There is no acute emergency like cholera, and there are no IDP’s/refugees in this area, but the people have very poor access to health care. Especially the women, and this will hopefully be an area we can improve. Because of the divide between men and women, especially marked in these more remote tribal areas, it is hard to even get an good idea of the health needs of the female population – as a female doctor I should have more access then the men and so hopefully be able to help a bit. It is also an area that was hit by the 2005 earthquake and that has affected access to healthcare. There are areas of the coutry that probably have a greater need for help but they are a little too unsafe at the moment, so we will start out in Darband and see how it goes. One of our goals is to start up a Cutaneous Leishmaniasis program, since there seems to be an outbreak in the mountain villages. (for the non-meds, that is a skin infection caused by a parasite and spread by sandflies. It is not fatal but can leave a lot of scarring and has a significant social stigma).”

for a year, when Suse first went to Darfur, Dave and i gave monthly to MSF. since then our charitable donations have been focused more on the local children’s hospital where Finn was born and died, and where i was followed closely through my pregnancies with Oscar and Josephine. this, and cancer and the War Amps and whatever local groups happen to get to my door first have been my particular personal commitments. but this year there will be no more babies. and this year, i think it’s time for us to look a little further afield again in our giving, to commit again to MSF, and maybe…in appreciation for this luxury of being able to feed and raise these two beautiful kids in our house, sponsoring a child too. i’ve looked into World Vision in the past, and Foster Parents’ Plan. if anyone has any caveats or suggestions about groups who coordinate child sponsorships, please make free with them in the comments.

Happy Old Christmas, Just Posts. thank you for your courage, for speaking and inspiring even when some of us tried to close our ears.

…and we Canadians can finally get our lives – and our news channels – back.


this morning feels historic, even way up here north of the border. i fell asleep before the race was called last night, but i watched Obama’s acceptance speech on youtube this morning, and damned if there wasn’t a whole lot of sand in my eyes. i wept like a baby before i even got my morning coffee.

because Obama does represent hope and change, even to this white Canadian chick/woman. it’s not just the audacious, breathtaking fact that a man of colour is President-Elect of the most powerful nation in the world. it’s not just that he speaks eloquently and intelligently, and that he conducts himself with decency and calls for dialogue and cooperation between the partisan factions that have increasingly divided the continent over the past decade. those things are big, and they set an immediately and significantly different tone from what i’ve seen from south of the border before.

but for me, the tears came when he thanked his family. his patchwork family, with his grandmother at the centre.

Obama didn’t just overcome racial prejudice to rise to the pinnacle of visible power. he overcame his own – and my – generation’s antipathy towards “the broken home” and its products, us children of divorce in a time when divorce still carried stigma. he doesn’t have an American apple pie family, tidy and iconic. he has had to learn to love and forgive and accept people’s limitations in coming to terms with the word “family.” he has had to make his way without his father’s name and connections paving his path. he has had to work to exceed people’s expectations of what he appears to be, on paper. a small part of me sang in pride and vindication watching Obama this morning, because his family structure looks more like mine than i’m accustomed to seeing in the halls of power, on either side of the border.

i’ve heard him called elitist, during this campaign. and i howled with laughter, because to me he looks like the very model of a modern meritocracy in action…finally. he is not a scion, not the son of a dynasty. he’s achieved what he’s achieved based on intelligence and hard work and ambition and the love of an unconventional family, particularly a grandmother who taught him to believe in himself. he’s the American dream.

and this morning, just as millions of African-Americans looked at him and felt their horizons of possibility expand, just as people across the world looked at him and felt hope for leadership and healing, i looked at Barack Obama and felt all the whispers and pitying looks that dogged my childhood and my perceptions of myself go poof, invalidated finally and completely by a man who stands tall and proud and humble all at once and says “we can.”

how are YOU this morning? what are your hopes for Obama and his presidency? do you believe this is the beginning of a sea change…how?

so…we had an election, eh?

nah, i’m not time-travelling. up here in the Great White North, we cast our ballots two weeks ago. our conservative minority spent millions on an election…that resulted in another conservative minority. whee. curb my enthusiasm.

i’m a bit saturated with election talk this fall, from both sides of the border…though at least the races have been lively. (well, the American race is lively…and historic…and mind-boggling. a right smart honours degree in political science and i’m apparently still too thick to comprehend the true meaning of the word “socialist”. duh me.) up here the election proved largely a testament to the inherent clusterfuck of a five-party first-past-the-post electoral system.

to recap, for the non-Canucks, we have one national conservative party (relatively centrist by American standards), one separatist party (vive la Quebec libre), one traditional party called The Liberals (centrist, campaigned in part on an environmentalist carbon tax platform this time round), one traditional third party called the New Democrats (the closest we come to actual socialists, but still social democrats), and a more recently emergent Green Party (who failed to get any federal seats but did snag a chunk of the popular vote).

all parties had an environmental plan or strategy as part of their platform. for the Liberals and the Greens, it was particularly high-profile. together with the NDP, they captured 51% of the popular vote…compared to nearly 38% for the now-ruling minority government. we don’t do coalitions here much…rather a pity. but the line i’m suddenly hearing from major news outlets is…the environment failed as a political strategy. with all these crazy economic times befalling us, green is dead.


the implication here is that because half of Canadians voted for a centrist or left-of-centre party with an environmental platform that was key to their campaign and would entail major changes to current policy (and we’re not even talking here about the Quebecois whose vote went to the separatist party, whose environmental policy aligns reasonably closely to the three aforementioned), Canadians don’t give two shits about the environment. nope, our politics are now solely about keeping money in our pocketses.

certainly, the fact that our national delegates just managed to keep lucrative Canadian asbestos off an international list of hazardous chemicals might suggest that that’s the tone our government plans to run with.

i’m angry about this little turn of the spin. because spin and rhetoric affect discourse…the ways people are able to think and talk about issues, about citizenship, about their lives. and a discourse that green is dead seems to me to handicap a groundswell that’s possibly too little, too late but still all we’ve got to build with in terms of, um, you know, maybe saving the planet. from ourselves. for our kids.

i think the media is doing us a disservice here, simplifying a complex electoral decision down to a “green is out, belt-tightening in” kind of message. particularly because it suggests that green initiatives are inherently more costly at the consumer/voter level…which is not true, as buying less imported crap and purchasing both less overall and locally where possible would be environmentally friendly and cheaper for many of us, if we cut the chaff and really did tighten our belts. the idea that we’re entitled to our current levels of consumption, despite the fact that across many sectors we’ve known for years they’re unsustainable, is at the root of the whole financial bust in the first place.


Canada will likely see another election within three years. when it comes, i hope that green platforms remain a visible part of the various campaigns…and i hope that even more citizens are willing to accept the notion of a little belt-tightening in order to make those platforms a viable reality. if we haven’t been spun back into complacency about the important things by all this stock market drama by then.

but hell, see…i really am a socialist.**

**okay, not really. i don’t even like pink. but compared to the US presidential candidates – either of them – i’m bleeding red. and bemused and aghast all at the same time by the McCarthyite parody the word seems to unleash south of the border. can anybody explain this to a poor brainwashed victim of socialized medicine?

i have this list.  it involves things i like to fantasize that i will do in order to make myself more sane, more human, more humane…just more.  it evolves, changes daily sometimes.  more frequently, it gets shoved to the back of my mental clutter drawer, ignored until some trigger calls it forward, calls it back to my attention.  often, in regular life, i get too busy and consumed to pay much attention to it.

one of the gifts and cruelties of bedrest is that i am not too busy to pay attention to it.  it worms its way to the front of my subconscious and perches there, accusing me in the lulls between work phone calls and doctor’s appointments.  it shouts, you could be writing the great Canadian novel!  you could be learning tax law/saving children in Botswana/improving your French/organizing the back porch recycling pile!  you could be doing something useful!

it’s not wrong.

and the longer i turn a deaf ear on it, the worse i end up feeling.  so last night, with work winding down in a couple of weeks, and another three months of bedrest to go if all goes well, i sat myself down and let the list reel out, loose and wild.  i came up with a couple of things, all of which were salient reminders right now – as i bob helpless and prostrate on the waves of whatever shores destiny has in mind for me, feeling more like an aimless couch lump with every swell – that i am still making choices, even if i don’t control everything i’d like to.

1. i need to stop eating corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup.  i have insulin resistance, for chrissake…mild insulin resistance, but hell, mild diabetes doesn’t really sound nearly as good as no diabetes.  i have eaten three entire bags of red licorice in the last week…i’ve gone on a Nibs kick, and have been eating them like they’re a drug.  which, given their contents, they kind of are.  it’s not just the gestational diabetes heebies on my mind, either; it’s the whole subsidized corn industry in North America, my discomfort with the ubiquity of all this over-sugared, processed corn in every bloody thing.  we protect corporate giants whose products infiltrate our grocery carts like secret spores, even when we try to make finer choices.  i do not want to be a part of it.  i do not want the poison.  erm, except, of course, it is so silky and sweet in my mouth…but i will stop.

2.  i need to start cooking in general.  pregnancy does weird things to my appetite, makes me ravenous and finicky all at the same time.  vegetables molder in the fridge while bananas get consumed as if Curious George lived here.  Dave cooks, and i wrinkle my nose and crave corn syrup, impossible to please.  the work of food – the sheer labour of it – makes me feel defeated and paralyzed and like there are no decent easy options and then comes the whole poison lure again.  but cooking makes me feel creative, and even frugal and virtuous if i approach it as challenge rather than chore.  i can chop sitting down, and choose recipes that don’t take a lot of physical exertion or standing to cook.  i can.  i’ll feel better.

3. i need to get out and interact with other human beings not interested in taking my medical history at each encounter.  i called one of my oldest friends last night and asked her to take me out on a dinner date next week.  i called the local food bank and asked if i can volunteer to make sandwiches there and serve them (whilst sitting) one lunch hour a week, so long as i’m not in the hospital.  i need a place to be that is not here.  i need to feel useful, part of something outside this house.  i need random encounters with people…little conversations, snippets of other lives to intersect with, concrete things to do.

4.  i want a wife.  Dave and i are taking applications, actually, for a mutual wife of the Betty Crocker variety, if anyone has any candidates they’d like to volunteer.  there’s a sweet-faced farm girl at the local market who’d be perfect…she makes the best lemon squares, and is hearty and capable, like she could whip the place into shape in no time flat, making our home more organized and economical and wholesome and preferably installing solar panels on our porch in her spare time too.  she’d weed the garden, which is choking to death already, before the window boxes are even planted, and would have a dustbuster concealed under her apron to suck up all the cat fur congealing in the corners.  she would bring me cold water every hour, whilst i write on the couch.  she would be all the caretaker – cooking and childcare aside, we can handle that – that Dave and i want to be but are unable to achieve in these strange, imbalanced days…me invalid and him overloaded, flotsam piling up around us.

5.  i need to create something, engage in making something tangible, more permanent and protectable than consumable meals and mortal offspring.  not the great Canadian novel, probably, but something.  four summers ago, i spent a week in the Swiss alps with filmmaker Peter Greenaway, as part of the Ph.D that languishes unfinished and largely unmissed behind the letters in my name.  Greenaway, famous for “The Pillow Book” and “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover,” is a piece of work, a charmingly fierce and self-replete personality…and inspiring in ways i never expected.  what i took away from that week of mornings sitting around boardroom tables watching short films and doodling in my notebook is mostly encapsulated in this four word note: dude is obsessed with lists.  his work, from the earliest days, is all about cataloguing, layering narrative with signs, permutations of order, rosters.  i groove on this.  my imagination was fired by this.  fiction and history with trivia and minutiae…squee. so i am making a private list for my daughter, this long-imagined daughter whom i still cannot believe my own fortune in getting, whom i still cannot believe will cross safely into my arms.  we are fifteen days before the threshold of viability, this daughter and i…and this list will be fifteen stories of mothers and daughters, my lineage, what i know.  i figure i’ll finish it sometime before she learns to read.  or will have something to prove to myself she was here in the now, squirming as i type, no matter what.

6. i cannot be a lover right now, on strict pelvic rest, but i need to find ways – beyond desserts – to inhabit this swelling body that i’ve been ignoring now for months on end, eyes averted not from the externality but from the inner secret of this divided house, afraid to be madonna, not allowed to be whore.  i spent years of my early sexual life disconnected from myself, caught then in cycles of self-loathing i did not believe i’d ever heal.  fear is more disembodying than self-hatred, i discover.  and yet i long to relax into myself, loosen myself, stop living closed away like a prim, crisp bakery box that might spring open if even looked upon too lushly.  milkshakes are not cutting it.  i miss the loving, the release.  but what i need is to find ways of being present in my body without those, for now.  preferably without involving the young farm wife.  advice welcome.

i am still here, still abiding.  i am trying as hard as i can.

i may have, erm, mentioned that i went to see Leonard Cohen the other night.  i may have mentioned i was going in a wheelchair.  i may have made some flippant, agist cracks about how he’d probably find me more alluring that way, anyway.  and how i was gonna get me a little Children’s Wish Foundation sign that read Leonard, I – insert husky significance here, and little cartoon hearts – have a wish, wink wink, nudge nudge, and hold it up high whilst waggling my eyebrows.  pelvic rest (and our respective partners) be damned – it’s Leonard Cohen.  in town.  purrr.

he’s nearly seventy-four and yep, his hair is gray and he has a bit of a wattle and he stoops like he really does ache in the places he used to play…but oh, oh, i could overlook that for an evening. a jug of wine, a pack of smokes, and thou, Leonard. that VOICE. that poetry. that melancholic face under a gray fedora, earnest and compelling, arrogant and monkishly humble. in his words, beauty out of sorrows. in his songs, shameless celebration of the complexities of being human; the sacraments of wounding we inflict on each other and call love, religion, mythology. in my fantasy world, you could sit in front of Leonard Cohen and tell him anything – the deepest darkest, the pettiest, the saddest – and his old-world eyes would shine and say, i know. you are known. now crawl up on my lap and let me worship you. and then there would be nothing to hide from, anymore.

i had a friend in university, a male friend, who was convinced that Leonard Cohen was a dirty old misogynist pig. and i used to look at this friend and smile, and think, and that, dear Kevin, is why you are so utterly single. not because i’m into misogyny – i’m not. but Kevin missed the point. Leonard Cohen, with all his talk of women and sex and stereotypes, is the man who taught me the dignity of physicality, of sexuality; taught me that the cerebral and the poetic need the body, too. his writing is full of muses, sure, and muses do not make a full personhood to aspire to. but i wouldn’t have minded being one of his muses, nonetheless: his muses have power, are agents, make choices and are instruments of their own complicated destinies. he loves them, richly and without romance – and they are truly women, not ingenues or Barbies. his muses always have their own side to the story.

so it was with all this pent-up one-sided intimacy between me and Leonard that i rolled into the concert the other evening.   Dave dropped my friend and i at the stage door, so he could park – my friend went about procuring the wheelchair the commissionaire had said would be available.  it was.  we went through the entertaining little production wherein i transitioned magically before said commissionaire’s eyes from hale, hearty chick to the actual person wanting the wheelchair, but he adjusted with remarkable grace.  then we wheeled into the crowd.

and i swear not one person in that full house, all gathered about the lobby, mingling, electric with the ‘pinch me’ shock of an artist of Cohen’s stature and reclusivity performing here, made eye contact with me.  in this town i grew up in, at a concert where i spotted forty casual acquaintances without even trying, not one saw me.

it’s no affront to be rendered invisible when you’ve chosen the chair as a way of bending bedrest rules…when at the end of the concert you can sing out, “Praise Leonard! Hallelujah!  I’ve been healed!” and rise from your chair and walk, self-consciously but with no pain, no struggle, to the car that will return you to your couch and your temporary invalid status.  it is amusing, even, a social experiment of sorts.

but it is a hell of a lesson, too.

i learned from Leonard Cohen years ago that the body cannot be left out of the equation, that dignity is in being seen and embraced for all you are, raced and gendered and sized and abled and damaged and sexual and cerebral and individual and role, all at once. everyone deserves that dignity.

but the number of times, always in pregnancy, when i’ve been out and about in a wheelchair and realized that only kids are meeting my eyes…i don’t think we’re getting that message, as a society.

just a note, folks…the woman in the wheelchair trying to scoot by without rolling over your feet?  she may be ripe with designs on Leonard Cohen that would knock your socks off.  she may not.  she is often rendered so invisible as to be the anti-muse.  but she, i can assure you, still has her own side to the story, and is worth a look, a moment.  there is nothing to hide from…i swear.

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