smitten stuff

you are sleeping and for a minute, mouth open, curled small in your bed, you look again like the curly-headed toddler whom i still expect to see, some mornings before my brain entirely catches up to the present.

you are big, long now, leaner, solid. your Buddha belly is only a memory. you have a front tooth coming in. you will have been here six years tomorrow.

i believe it in the waking hours.

yesterday morning, i drove you to school and before Posey and i were even out of the car, you’d grabbed your dinosaur backpack and were running away across the spring frost, all badass in your new jean jacket, and i grinned before i called you back for a hug. you came. later, when you whinged “MumMY” for the seventeenth time in a minute and i barked like a fishwife, your resilience, your unto-your-self-ness, was a glorious thing to observe. i marvel at you, child, i do.

yet in the half-light of dawn, still sleeping, you are a different sort of marvel. i reach out my hand and my fingers in your hair tell me, yes, here. safe, mine.

you, Oscar.

six years later, i am still a doubting Thomas of a mother.

you were my unexpected child.

oh, you were planned, calculated, hoped for against thin and fragile hope. but never had i imagined you, until you came. and never did i bargain for all you’d be.

your brother was my firstborn, the child i’d invented and daydreamed of since i was the size you are now. i am a firstborn, my mother’s only. my father is a firstborn. my friends, all my growing up, were firstborns.

your sister is my daughter, my longed-for girl.

but the second-born son? was no one i’d been expecting, ever. until you came.

i forget now, how i was in our first days together, when this blog was new and i was still brittle from your brother’s death and the fear and the long months four hours from home in the hospital where he was born and died before you. it had not even been a year.

i was afraid you would not make it. i was afraid i was too broken. i was afraid i would want too much from you.

i didn’t know the term “rainbow baby” then.

but that’s what you are. the beauty after the storm, the covenant. the rainbow does not negate the destruction that came before, but it brings wonder to the process of rebuilding.

you are the rainbow that has not faded.

and still, six years in, i marvel and reach out to touch your hair, full of wonder, full of grace.

(Oscar, almost six: thank you, sweet | salty Kate)

you learned to read this year, to ride a two-wheeler. sometimes you to remember to say “please.” you try. mostly.

you can multiply, years ahead of your time, and your father and i half-hold back on scaffolding these worlds, knowing full well smart only goes so far in life.

you love music: you want to be Mick Jagger when you grow up. you play the spoons. you have a curious affinity for Scottish martial tunes that i confess to entirely indulging in spite of myself.

you are moving past your love of dinosaurs into a Star Wars and Star Trek and Space Oddity sort of phase, where each morning when we leave the house in the car you count backwards from ten when the ignition starts.

you are learning to draw. your rendition of David Suzuki at the art gallery the other day kinda blew my mind.

you’re still working on jumping with two feet.

tonight, before bed, i will dig out your hardcover Winnie the Pooh book and read you the poem below…or perhaps you will read it to me. and i will likely smile a little over-bright and some small part of me will wish it could be true, because i would keep you, Oscar, the way you are right now except that would only be for me and you are far too much of a marvel unto yourself to want to hold you back from rocketing out into the world.

and so i will just tousle your hair to remind my fingers again that this rainbow remains, and i will kiss you goodnight, and say happy birthday, my sweet boy.

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

– A.A. Milne (1927)

last week, in the midst of going on about class and education on the theoryblog, i waded blindly into a Twitter fracas about privilege.

i was befuddled. i’ve noticed lately that people seem to reaaaaally dislike the idea of privilege. as in, violently resent it. and possibly want to throw tomatoes at it. (not to mention the people using it. ahem. *waves brightly*).

during that Twitter conversation it also became evident to me – for about the sixth time, but i am the sort who needs to learn things a few times before i can retain them (unless they are related to calculus in which case you can spare your breath entirely) – that while i happen to find privilege a really useful concept, i do a shitty job explaining it. and also – maybe more importantly – explaining why i find it a useful concept.

after the conversation fizzled to a close and i – and probably everyone involved – had a mild headache, i sat down to look at the comments that had trickled in from my theoryblog post. my comments get emailed to me with the post title in the email header position.

i caught sight of them and i began to laugh, and laugh, and also maybe snort a little bit.

because if you want to talk privilege, the title of my post was dripping with it. Exhibit A: All I Want for Christmas Is a Nice Fresh Myth. yep. and with a particularly insidious version, no less, perhaps the most dangerous one of all to bring up in polite company: Christmas privilege.

get the tomatoes and the rotten candy canes, friends. i’m going there.

see this pile of cuteness above? this is Christmas privilege at work.

it is also my daughter adjusting her, erm, pants in the middle of stage. right before her black velour snowman hat fell down over her face halfway through a song. this little spectacle was one of the sweetest, loveliest stage shows i’ve had the pleasure of giggling through, proudly.

yep, proudly. yep, it’s still privilege. the two can co-exist.

please be clear, dear readers: this is not the Fox News annual War on Christmas (except that the Fox News annual War on Christmas IS actually Christmas privilege being whipped up into a defensive frenzy, but i digress.) i like Christmas. i like my children. i like my children in cute Christmas stage shows singing carols. look at those elves! that little Santa in the back! the angels on the wall! the kid looking for his parents! the one tying his shoe! they’re like Dr. Suess’ Whos, these tiny, funny, adorable people.

so why would i call it privilege if i don’t hate it?

because it is. the corollary between naming something privilege and shaming it – or being seen to shame it by those named – isn’t a necessary one.

but calling other people out on anything is usually a great way to shut down a conversation. so i’m calling mySELF out.

my name is Bonnie, and i have Christmas privilege. it’s unearned, and mostly invisible to me unless i look really hard.

but here’s how i can recognize it:
1. i know all the words to all the Christmas carols i hear on endless public repeat throughout November and December.

2. when i see ads with people in reindeer sweaters hanging stockings, i am equal parts non-plussed and reminded of my dear Drunkle Bill.

3. i get all blurry and misty-eyed about the idea of keeping Christmas in my heart the whole year through (even if i tend to forget by February).

4. i think The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is the pinnacle of animation as an art.

5. if i am at a Christmas-themed event, i don’t need to worry that my presence may make others feel self-conscious or defensive.

6. when people say ‘Merry Christmas’ to me, i don’t wonder if they walked away kicking themselves for forgetting. again.

7. when our kids’ public school advertises its Spectacle de Noel i don’t think “i guess i should speak up and maybe explain OUR holiday to my children’s classmates too”. nope. i think “yay! real carols instead of stupid Silver Bells!”

(note to culture: Silver Bells and Santa and reindeer? still Christmas, people, just secular Christmas. secular Christmas is not actually any more inclusive than religious Christmas. you want a real holiday concert? you need to find ways to celebrate Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and solstice and preferably all kinds of traditions that may not even include a December shindig in the mix.)

i don’t need we haven’t quite come to terms, at this juncture, with either secularism or pluralism in our culture. we try. it’s messy. understanding how privilege works actually makes it a whole lot less fraught, though. seriously.

the problem with conversations about privilege is that they tend to be dead serious. and they make people feel attacked. they criticize world views that many of us have held and cherished as normal for most of our lives.

privilege is, at its core, about the critical societal mass needed to hold the belief that any particular position is normal.

it’s about being dominant, or in the dominant cultural group, in a particular arena.

so, yes, Virginia, i have Christmas privilege. i’m in the dominant group. most of the people i know celebrate: where i am, it’s still the norm. and most of the people i know who DON’T celebrate it are still really very gracious about the whole Santa-down-the-throat quality of this time of year. even when i title December posts that are entirely unrelated to anybody’s holidays this time of year with kitschy Christmas-themed titles that allude to Chipmunks’ songs.

here’s where it gets touchy. do i need to be ashamed of my Christmas privilege?

in my opinion, no. it doesn’t make me responsible for every Clark Griswold atrocity that kneecaps the power grid this time of year, nor for the small but real feelings of alienation and second-class-citizenship that kids whose traditions don’t include Christmas may feel when every second adult they see during December assaults them with the shrill commercialism of “so what is Santa bringing YOU?”

i can watch my privilege, though. i can learn to see it, and to consider the ways in which it both includes and excludes other people. and i can try to focus on changing my practices to be more inclusive where i can. i can learn more about other people’s traditions, even if acknowledging that i don’t know makes me kinda uncomfortable.

we aren’t ever going to get beyond the nasty feelings that the idea of privilege brings up unless those of us who are dominant – in ANY arena – figure out how to work through our discomfort with talking about difference and dominance.

(dominance, to be clear, doesn’t mean you have it easy. it just means you can take certain forms of belonging for granted that others may not.  just like owning your privilege doesn’t mean you suddenly morph into some charmed creature who’s had everything handed to her. or him. it just means you know where your path has been smoothed by factors outside your control. knowing what those things ARE? tends to make living in a pluralistic diverse society a whole lot easier.)

most of us have privilege in some places and not others. i’m white. i’m taken up as straight. i speak the dominant language of my culture, and i speak it in ways that mark me as educated and middle-class. all these things mean that i am more likely to be advantaged – seen as neutral, normal, trustworthy, whatever – in a random encounter over someone who does not code the same types of cultural belonging. now, i’m also female, which isn’t necessarily the same advantage, particularly at a table of power if i am looking to speak. privilege is not a monolith. it’s a complex collection of unearned attributes that make certain situations easier because you fit the norm of the people you are likely to encounter.

if someone is white and poor and male and Christian and queer, or female and well-educated and wealthy and Hindu, or aboriginal and disabled and a successful small business owner, they’ll experience a different mix of dominance and non-dominance. even wealthy, able-bodied straight white males who celebrate Christmas have all kinds of personal obstacles in their lives. but they don’t face the same structural, societal assumptions and perceptions that, say, poor, disabled, gay, black female Jews might.

here’s the other touchy point. people with privilege – even LOTS of privilege – aren’t any worse or better than other people. neither do people with a particular form of privilege owe something to those without. Except – again, in my opinion – the decency of simply acknowledging and owning their privilege, doing the work so they can see it. if i can see how the way i walk through the world makes, say, participating in Christmas concerts easier for me than it is for you, then we may be able to come to a common understanding of how we can work together to create a concert that includes what both of us value, without feelings of marginalization or defensiveness.

so my kids’ decked-out celebration of Christmas privilege was not inherently bad. or something to mock, destroy, or ban.

but it isn’t neutral. it’s a choice among available choices in a diverse and pluralistic society. you see that elf above? the adorable one in the middle holding Santa’s hand?

i’m thinking next year maybe i’ll see if he’s interested in finding out more about Hanukkah from his Jewish first cousins. and maybe teaching his class something, or doing a little song.

making room for more than Christmas doesn’t take away from Christmas.

Christmas, at its core, is about the ultimate symbolic gift: the gift of a child to an undeserving people. while i may personally struggle with the idea of a God who gives his son as a sacrificial lamb, i do know that this time of year perhaps more than any other, i feel kinda like an undeserving people, blessed with the gift of two sweet small children, over-sugared and dressed in funny hats though they may be.

they are an unearned privilege, like so many of my blessings. it doesn’t mean i don’t work hard, to parent them or to provide for them or to succeed on a variety of fronts. but nothing i do makes me particularly worthy of the gift that they are: they simply ARE.

so it is with privilege, of all kinds. i try to see it because when i do, i am more grateful, less resentful of all the things i do not have or cannot change.

thus endeth my soapbox.

what say you? what do you think of concerts and Christmas privilege and the whole idea in general? feel free to toss all rotten tomatoes in my Christmas stocking. Happy Holidays, friends.


you bounce, of course.

you always bounce, legs like Tigger and a spirit to match. but when we are forty feet off the floor and you are hanging partway out the viewing window cut into the cinderblocks of this old gym, i get nervous. my hand seeks purchase on your wiggling person: i grip the back of your Elmo panties as if they were a harness. my tightrope walker.

we are watching Oscar. your birthday coincided with the opening day of gymnastics, this year. you and i went to the kindergym. you climbed nimbly and walked the balance beam all on your own, and you sat on your mat this year, which surprised me most. on the rings you let me flip you upside and over and you laughed like sparkles and shouted AGAIN!

but Oscar, he is in the Big Gym with the big trampoline and the big beams and bars and we are in the gallery and you want DOWN. NOW.

i want to go THERE, Mama! you lean as far as the Elmo panties clutched in my deathgrip will allow and point down, at the marvels spread below us, the little groups of gymnasts hopping and swinging.

i smile. you will, love. next year, when you’re bigger.

that was the wrong thing to say.

i feel your outrage before i see and hear it. your body, sprung to bounce, tightens for the explosion. your face turns to me, wounded, plaintive, offended to your core.

i am the most bovine and unfair creature you have ever encountered.


you puff up like an indignant turkey and glare at me, daring me to contradict this Fact. as you should, really. your impending Bigger-ness has been impressed upon you for weeks now. you are proud of your Big. you look to me for reassurance that you are Doing It Right.

i have betrayed your faith in this bounteous inevitable.

the force with which you feel things always stuns me. someday this child will curse me, i think, a beat too late every time. then you forgive just as quickly, wholeheartedly, and i am again your sun and stars. i bask, and i pull back to breathe, all at once.

it will not be long, now. three years ago, on the day you were born, three seemed remarkably far in the distance for all of us. Oscar was just past two. toddlers and babies were all i knew. close, immediate, intimate. so needy. so sweet-smelling. and i thought i will get the hang of this eventually, find a balance, find ENOUGH of me for both of you.

suddenly he is in kindergarten, striding and stretching away from me into the world of cool and peers and independence, and you are hot on his tail and i look around me at this hectic maul where i cannot even pee by myself and i feel it slip like sand and i see, oh. there is no balance. there is too much. then not enough. you will bounce away, leap by leap and i will blink and find myself clutching a pair of ancient Elmo panties and waving, thinking how the hell did this happen?

it is as it should be.

yet…i see now why people have third, or fourth, or seventh babies. the promise of one more shot at balance. the realization that all those little old biddies were right, and it really does go So Fast. one more chance to do it better, because not one of us will ever get it perfect.

you are my last baby, Josephine.

i bend down to meet you, eye to eye. you ARE bigger, i say, and i beam at you. you’re SO bigger. but all those kids are four or five, sweetheart. when you are four, you can go to the big gym. you are three. Three. TODAY!

the chirp in my voice does not convince you, and your eyes well up. you are embarrassed. you were so sure.

next year, i promise. next year. but you don’t need to rush to be four, honey. three is GOOD. three is the bounciest, best thing in the world, okay? believe me. and don’t lean out the window like that.

i feel your small hand snake around my thigh. you lean in, and we stand together and watch the big kids below, my hand in your hair. the whole while i hear you whisper BIGGER, BIGGER, BIGGER under your breath. the eternal prayer of the younger child.

i pull you close to me and i try not to whisper, take your time.

happy birthday, my Big Girl, my love.

we don’t call her princess. but when her little feet get weary in the Canada Day Parade, he treats her like one.

happy long summer weekend, North America. we’re up to our ears in real princes & princesses here in PEI. hope you’ve got your feet up just like Posey.

my boy.

we spent your last day of four home sick together yesterday. this morning you are five and the cupcakes for the preschool party are iced in blue chocolate-milk icing, a jujube dinosaur parked garishly in each.

you have a cough that will not quit, but we will go to preschool with the cupcakes no matter what. what are germs amongst cupcake kindred?

all is ready.

five, Oscar. by your next birthday, you’ll probably be reading.

you can sound out words, already, and when you print your name your “s” is more and more frequently right-side-up. you love to make things, grow things, imagine things. you hoard my empty tin cans for building robots and dinosaur pod-cars and pirate ships. you lust after Bakugan, but i am not sure you know why, not yet.

in the last few weeks all the people you draw have eyes of a matched size, two perfect circles in their face. it disconcerts me in its suddenness, that fearful symmetry. but there it is: it seems to have come to stay. your cock-eyed days are behind you, my son. welcome to the tyranny of aesthetics. don’t ever let it win, entirely.

i still don’t quite know if you are right- or left-handed, at five. your teacher is baffled. i am amused. i tell her maybe you are neither. or both, like your uncle Stephen before you.

five. the year most kids start reliably remembering things.

SCREECH. dammit. i think i missed my window.

there i am, meandering my way through a mother’s love letter when my legs begin to spin in thin air like Wile E. Coyote in that split second before gravity triumphs and the freefall begins.

before my fingers can even telegraph it all to the keyboard i clamp down. i am aghast.

it’s not that he will not remember, these castles and kingdoms and Jurassic days and too-early mornings. i know it and i knew it every day of these past five years even if i waited until today to acknowledge it to myself, aloud.

it’s that i waited anyway. suddenly i realize that the time is not coming back: that he will remember. that his own narratives will take over, soon…that they already are. that he will read soon. that all those last gasps of truth and nuttiness i always wanted to somehow convey to my children when they were small and helpless and believed everything i said?

i waited too long.

one day he wakes up and the dinosaurs start shooting at each other and i say, “dude, that’s violent. that’s not okay in our house.” and he says “Mom. you’re dead. bang.” and just like that, the window closes.

Oscar, my heart.

when you are reading, i suppose i’ll need to make some adjustments to the wishes i write down for you.

(not that someday these words won’t be all yours – yours and your sister’s. but what is here is for the someday you. not the five-year-old who makes dinosaurs into wild and ravaging pirates on a paper boat.)

this morning i told you five was magic, because five-year-olds can listen extra good. and it worked and you zipped up your coat when asked just like a little Prussian and i was shocked and grateful and terribly impressed with my own genius but here’s the secret.

i want you to be a little Prussian and i don’t want you to be a little Prussian. for the moment, in the right now, i fuss with all these manners, this making your bed, this silliness. it is my job.

but it is my job, too, to teach you that the world is heartache and beauty and worth living in. what life does, little one, is rips by you until last week and twenty years ago seem equidistant and you do. not. believe it but there it is. a fact. you won’t believe me, now. you can’t, i know.

but take pictures, Oscar, so you remember.

and here’s my advice, on life. for five-year-old pirates and fifty-year-old pirates, because i secretly hope you’ll keep a little of your swashbuckle.

the world requires more than politeness and tidy beds to be a decent place.

(ssshhh. don’t tell.)

sure, be on time. and look people in the eye, always. and say thankyou and i’m sorry. especially i’m sorry.

but don’t stop being fierce. don’t stop throwing yourself into the arms of those who love you. don’t stop being able to say, i’m scared. keep working on doing stuff even when you are scared. keep making up naughty rhymes to songs. try not to sing them in front of your Nannie.

you told me yesterday you weren’t really turning five; that you were already eighteen. and i looked at you and realized i will blink and it will be true.

but you will shine, then, like now. i know it. just don’t let them steal your shine, kid; the real pirates, the ones who try to make us all conform.

because you are amazing the way you are, and you have been from the moment five years ago when they first laid you in my arms.

i write this for the someday you, so you will know what it was i meant to tell you, all these busy, distracted, beautiful days. soon the window will close, and you will not hear me much, for years. but if you ever wonder about the sounds my mouth is making? it’s just this stuff.

it says i love you. happy birthday, Oscar boy.

love Mama


Valentine’s Day embarrasses me.

it’d be too much to say that i hate it. i don’t hate it. i like chocolate too much to expend any energy actually hating prefabricated holidays. but it makes me blush and freeze up, confused.

i avert my eyes. me? nah, you can’t be talking to ME. just toss the chocolate on over the fence and be off.

for me, Valentine’s is like a door-to-door religious proselytizer, calling me out to love Jesus. i mean, Jesus is a perfectly good guy. we could hang. but whatever he’s got to do with that nasty eternal damnation scene they’re selling in their handy magazine escapes me: i do not accept the premises. i could talk faith, hope and charity all night long but a fundamental philosophical black hole would still gape across the doorstep because – at the core – we do not speak the same language, and they do not know how to call my name.

Valentine’s is the same goddam thing. it stands there, smiles perky, looks me up and down. instead of being blindly judged as a sinner, i feel like i’m being nudged to go trim the hedge, already, write a sonnet, and then frock up in some weird drag parody cross of June Cleaver and a Playboy Bunny. sex? obligatory, says the spectre of culture parked on my threshhold. never mind that there’s absolutely nothing more sexless than obligatory sex. you will Like It. didn’t you get roses, after all?

i’d like to put V-Day over my knee and pull its hair. let me tell you how you got love wrong, i’d say, and the words would come.

now take those poor wilting flowers and get out of here. come back when you can surprise me. leave the chocolate.

these are the words i think i’d steal, for the occasion. for Dave. who calls my name.

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

Edna St. Vincent Millay – 1931

dear Oscar, dear Posey…

this is your mother speaking.

you won’t fully remember this Christmas, not either of you, not yet.

(hell, neither will i. in this life you never fully remember anything, my sweets. especially when you start Christmas day off with Baileys in your coffee. take that one from your old mother.)

by the time you read this – if you ever do – you’ll have figured out that the jolly jelly-belly who eats the Christmas cookies – and most of your Hallowe’en candy – is really Mommy. or your father. or whoever can get to them first. but for this year, in spite of our refusal to entirely corroborate the idea that a fat man will squeeze himself down our non-existent chimney, you’re both pretty sure that Santa’s on his way.

we exist right now in a magical in-between world, where Christmas is a wild mythical mix of Santa and Frosty and Cindy Lou Who and Mommy’s overblown renditions of O Holy Night. the fact that you like my caroling has secretly earned you each an extra present under the tree.

i’d like to wrap this time up in tissue paper, like all the precious things. but time isn’t like that, little ones. it’s now, and only ever now.

you are two and four. you like each other, mostly. and yet, the autumn has been hard. and so i write the now for you, for someday when all is different and you wonder if any of this was even real.

Posey, you’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that you used to be a baby.

sincere and earnest, as if sharing a secret, you offer up this story of yourself and time and the mystery of change, over and over. i suspect you’ll want your own blog, soon.

last night, on the solstice, you woke at 11 pm and promptly threw up all over us both. you said your neck was sore. and you were calm and strange, your sweetest self but oh so quiet, limp in my arms, and i was afraid. and so we slept on the floor in the playroom by the glow of the Christmas lights with a windstorm howling outside, so i could watch you. the longest night of the year indeed. your fever broke at 4am and you stood up and announced, “i’m feeling better.” and then i could sleep.

Oscar, all you asked for from Santa this year was Hungry Hungry Hippo. but last weekend, on an ill-advised trip to a giant store to pick up last-minute gifts for extended family, your eyes lit on a giant walking IronMan. and so it came to pass that later that evening, as i stood in front of the children’s toothbrush display at the drugstore, i found myself weighing a Diego toothbrush in one hand and an IronMan toothbrush in the other and wondering about the magic of superheroes and singing Puff the Magic Dragon, a right maudlin old elf.

for the record, you got the Diego toothbrush this year. but Santa did spring for a small IronMan transformer. because you are growing, leaps and bounds.

you teeter on the verge of boyhood, thrust suddenly into the power games, the shows of force that are both play and practice, uber-serious. you came home from school the other day with a scraped up nose and a scraped up heart, left out of playing monkeys and then pushed around under the jungle gym. and you tried to turn your face from me to hide your hurt and your confusion, and i wanted to gather you to me and hide us all in the house until you’re twenty. maybe twenty-six.

but we talked and we role-played, you and i. strategies and encouragement. such a thin armour. yesterday i talked to your teacher and sat with you at the daycare lunch, staring down les amis.

i wanted to stand up in the middle of that classroom and tell you you’re doing a good job. that i hope with my whole heart it gets easier for you, that it doesn’t take you as long as it took me to figure out that power’s just a game, and there are always other circles if some try to shut you out.

i wanted to shout Charles Bukowski from the tiny tabletop: don’t let your life be clubbed into dank submission! be on the watch! there are ways out!

Bukowski isn’t on the pre-k curriculum, of course. but i hope you hear me, somehow. i hope you feel the hands that have your back. always.

one late Saturday afternoon in December, almost dark, i watched the two of you string ornaments on the short fat real tree your father dragged home – our first real tree in the ten Christmases he & i’ve spent together. he did it for you, this funny little tree. you won’t remember, because you were too young to notice, but i shot him a deadly look when he squeezed it in the front door and announced its presence. all i could see was needles all over the floor and the fact that we’re not even here for Christmas this year and my papers weren’t done yet and i was rushed and panicked.

but the two of you gazed at that tree like it was the loveliest thing in the world. and so we opened the boxes of old ornaments – most of them relics from my own childhood, knitted monstrosities my Nannie bought me annually from the Women’s Institute Christmas bazaar – and you slung them on the small tree’s ample hips and the sight of them in your hands was good for my grinch soul.

somewhere in the mayhem, Oscar, you shot this, your first-ever photo using the big camera. perfect. the blur is your sister.

in your stockings, you’ll find letters made of chocolate, and wooden tops and an orange each. but what’s really in there is just a big jumble of love and hope and happiness and vomit-covered laundry and our own childhood fears and this deep, gutting gratitude that you two are here. just our regular lives, lit up by strings of lights.

love you. Happy Christmas.


my Posey girl is two today.

last week, from the back seat of the car, she piped up, when i was a baby, i was CUTE!

she then rocked her back and forth Stevie Wonder-style with her surefire cute-as-a-button face on, revelling in her former status as something adorable. i suspect Oscar may have been reminiscing for her. she’s at the age where nothing is cuter, in her mind, than a baby.

in truth, her wise, sweet, chatty, constantly-in-motion little self, with her apple cheeks and her wild pique and her guerrilla hugs, gets cuter every day. she blows my mind, surprises me at every corner.

but when your baby is able to say things like, “when i was a baby…” in complete sentences, you gotta face it. you don’t have a baby anymore.

you started big-girl school this week, Josephine…and it has been hard on you. a classroom, for the first time, and all in French, napping on mats: it is a lot for a little soul to adjust to. it broke my heart to wonder if yours was broken, when you burst into tears that second morning.

but you bounce. it seems to be your way. i went to your classroom yesterday afternoon, early, with cupcakes, to make sure you were okay and celebrate your birthday with your new petits amis. you were lined up at the door, a party of one, hopping up and down and squealing, i want to go outSIDE! then, oh, hi Mommy! oh, hi cupcakes! it’s a SPECIAL day!

it is a special day, indeed, my girl. my big girl. my bright and beautiful smallest, my sweet wild thing.

we stayed home today, together, you & i. we snuggled, we iced a cake, we played in the yard. you made me laugh. you made me want to pull my hair out. you made me stop, in the middle of my kitchen on a mundane Friday afternoon, and sweep you up in my arms and give thanks from my bones for the gift that you are.

you’re right: when you were a baby, you were cute. but every day, you grow more lovely, more headstrong and yet considerate, more entertaining, more full of wonder. keep it up. happy birthday, my smashing Josephine.

it was the clinic doctor last Christmas when both the kids had ear infections. he looked up from the white-draped table where Posey reclined obligingly. i was wrestling Oscar’s turtleneck back over his head now that it was his sister’s turn. i thought i’d misheard.


it came out more snappish than i’d intended. i am not snappish with doctors. i have occasionally wished in hindsight for more snap, but when it is Christmas Eve and you are the physician kindly humouring my family through the investigation of ear pus and “mommy, it hurts” mere minutes before the pharmacies close for three days, any snap you get from me is just weariness. i promise.

you know she has a heart murmur, right?

my head tilted, as if to accommodate the weight of that tidbit. its meaning registered in stages, internal standup comedy. heart. those are important. but MY children have lung issues, not heart problems. don’t be silly. Finn’s lungs, underdeveloped. Oscar’s asthma. all those visits to pediatric recussitation. i don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no heart murmurs. Posey is my healthy one, my never-once-admitted-to-the-hospital baby. fuck off, heart murmur. what the hell does that MEAN, anyway?

i remember feeling profoundly stupid in that moment, neglectful in my ignorance, as if i’d failed to read the fine print on the instruction manual that had come with my daughter.

is that a big deal? i asked, hesitant.  no, he said. and so i nodded and more or less promptly forgot about it.

when you experience a major medical catastrophe with a child, the kind where doctors start speaking in hushed voices and you feel like you’re probably being superdramatic to ask if it’s bad but they say yes and then the bottom sinks out of your world and everything changes, there are two ways you can go, after.  you can live scared for a very long time. you can fret over coughs and lather with Purell and generally treat the world like a bus waiting to hit the precious ones left to you. which, with all due respect, it kinda is.

or you can build a wall behind which you hide, where so long as nobody ever speaks the words “he probably won’t recover” ever again, you’re golden. untroubled. pretty much everything else sounds petty next to that, after all.

so when you rush an eight-month-old to the hospital in the dead of winter gasping for air and they speed you through to the oxygen tents and then say, oh, probably asthma, you exhale with an almost palpable relief. you have to catch yourself, actually, and stand up straight and ask all the right questions and try not to look so bizarrely grateful. and your brain does take a circuitous loop through the swamps of guilt where you wonder how this prognosis will impact the life of the once-again pink and happy baby in your arms…but your brain does not remain there. it is too busy hightailing it back behind its wall, where inhalers look pretty damn pasty and thin compared to the shopvac wail of the NICU ventilator you still hear in your sleep, sometimes.

obviously, i chose the wall. or it chose me.

Oscar was a relatively sickly baby, by most standards. by the time he was fifteen months old, he’d been hospitalized on six different occasions, in two different countries, and had spent almost a month of nights in neonatal and pediatric wards. he had respiratory issues and colic and a variety of possible allergies. and it exhausted me and worried me, in the sense that i worried whether i was doing right by him with every choice we made about milk and reflux meds and steroids, ad nauseum. but never did i actually, seriously, worry about him. compared to his 2.2 pound brother with the tube forced through his chest wall, Oscar was hearty and breathing pretty fine.

and with her brothers as a baseline, Josephine was the Gerber baby. sure, she had jaundice for a few days at birth, and the cursed colic, and from the time she could roll over showed a terrifying predilection for banging headfirst into anything that could possibly get in her way, but this one, she was healthy. roly-poly. fiesty. sweet as pie and tough as nails.

so the heart murmur news caught me off-guard. but when the clinic doctor and Dr. Google both concurred that it was no big deal, i shrugged and booked the ECG and went along my merry way, behind my Wall of I’ve Heard Worse.

i stayed there through the ECG, which was prompt and painless, and straight through the followup appointment with the pediatric clinic a few months later, because i was so damn chill i forgot to actually take the child to her appointment. as did her father. yes, we got coupons with our Parents of the Year awards.

but i think my wall is crumbling.

we had the followup to the followup today. Posey beetled around the doc’s office in a diaper and socks and pigtails, admonishing the toy blocks to stay put and then shouting, look Mama! i RIDIN’! as she scooted across the linoleum floor on an eight-inch-long plastic schoolbus. she sat, watchful but patient in my lap as this new specialist listened to the mysteries inside of her little chest. he took a long family history, listened some more, checked her pulse at various points throughout her body. and he then lifted his head and i asked, what do you hear? and he said, well, i think we should do more tests.

it’s not a big deal, not in any serious sense: just not the innocent murmur i’d hoped. a thickened muscle, possibly, perhaps with a hole or ventricular septal defect. no immediate risk. possible surgery down the road, if it doesn’t close on its own.

we got to go straight down to xray, then for another ECG. there will be an echocardiogram at some point, later. followups. pediatric cardiologists. not a big deal.

but still a bit of a deal. an uncertain deal.

by virtue of lack of exposure, my armour is slipping. i spent all my pregnancies in and out of the doctor’s office and the big regional specialist hospital, constantly subject to poking and prodding and ultrasounds and blood tests. between Finn’s calamitous birth and two months of hospitalization before Oscar was born and then his many admissions, i was hospital-proofed, inured. not only had i heard the worst, but i never got far from the sharp alcohol tang of the hospital handwash. until Posey. since Posey was born, my only trips to the hospital have been for Oscar’s ear tube surgeries.

i was not ready. when i called my boss to say i’d be late for our lunch meeting, juggling Josephine and a sippy cup and a sheaf of requisitions in my hands, i felt it for the first time in years, that metallic taste of fear.

because here we leap, naked and vulnerable, back into the world of medical machines and systems i am glad for, grateful for, but would far prefer to never see again as long as i live.


the doctor asked today, is she fragile? timid? does she get overexerted easily? i laughed.

i do not know much about heart murmurs, would appreciate anything you can tell. so i can bolster up my wall with knowledge, and keep exhorting her to bounce higher.

Posey at the bouncy castle

suddenly, it is cold.

there is an old adage here that after Old Home Week, the mid-August local exhibition/horserace/parade extravaganza, summer’s over.  my mother likes to repeat these little kernels of local lore, intoning them like scripture, benedictions of wisdom our infidel ears might need to hear as we march round the calendar. i like to scoff in response, the taint of living away so many years bleeding through in my scorn for her small town liturgies.

but my mother must’ve paid off the weatherman this year, because after three weeks of unusually sweltering humidity the weather dropped ten degrees overnight the very day that Old Home Week ended. wham, bam, and goodbye and good luck, Madam Summer. the temperature’s continued to slide, until we’re left whiplashed and shivering in our suddenly unseasonal sandals.

i put away the kids’ summer clothes today, to make room for the woolies and long-sleeved things i’ve foraged for across town this week. Oscar was okay, mostly – he still has long-sleeved tshirts from last year, and sweaters that i bought a size too big, and his size 2 jeans are only just beginning to show signs of growing short. but Posey, my wee Posey, was suddenly looking distinctly urchin-like in her scanty little cotton frocks, chubby legs chilly and bare as the leaves hurry to turn.

she’s spent the summer in dresses. gingham and smocked and ruffled, all carrot-dribbled sweetness and light. they were mostly gifts and hand-me-downs, dainty things with puffed sleeves and tiny buttons down the back.  i remember looking at them lined up in the wardrobe last fall, bafflingly voluminous for the six-pound baby bird in my arms, and wondering how i’d ever find enough occasions to dress up one little girl in so many fancy things.

Posey solved that problem for me by having the fattest little baby thigh known to humankind. with her stumpy dumpling legs and the mushroom bubble of her cloth diapers, she hasn’t fit into any of the pants she owns since, oh, April. so dresses it was, day after day. for the park or the beach or nowhere at all, they became, simply, her clothes. they were easy and cool, and my fierce, smiley girl was adorable in her rumpled finery.

this change of seasons has caught me off guard. a baby’s outgrown clothes are not so hard to leave behind; the baby him or herself makes it clear that these soft little things once washed and folded and exclaimed over with such anticipation are now done, finished. they have had their day. their time is past, and straining snaps and too-short sleeves and too-tight legs announce it unequivocally, no matter how mama may sniff and sigh.

but with these wee dresses, it is only time and the season getting away on us. they still fit. her body has not yet left them behind. their soft folds and eyelet trim speak of this summer, my daughter’s toddling, cruising, bruising first summer, and i am bereft, have to leave that behind so suddenly, with only a folk proverb for warning. i hung them fresh from the line in the closet last week, pleasantly oblivious to the fact that they will never again flounce around the dimples of her knees.  i tried them with leotards, just to be sure; they looked like diaphonous hankies hanging above the wooly tights.

and next summer, when the weather finally warms again, they will be relics, too small, ridiculously so.  i will hold them up and marvel that she was ever this tiny.  and so today, i stroked them gently as i folded them away.

i have never been a fancy girl. i recently took to wearing mascara for the first time in my life; the black raccoon smudges it leaves are a novelty that makes me feel all womanly.  but mostly i’m a no-makeup & jeans soul, the sort who always imagined her longed-for daughter not in dresses, but overalls.

still, i longed for that girl. there is another old adage, not so local this time, that once haunted me. one crow sorrow, it rhymes, two crow joy. three crow girl, four crow boy.

the first year we moved home, the city was maggoty with crows, like a neverending episode of Hitchcock’s The Birds. and three days before my water broke with Finn, too early, already leaking, Dave drove me to the hospital for an extra cautionary ultrasound. on the way, i caught sight of a crow alone on the stark April branches by the water. my brain remarked on it, on the oddity of seeing one of the legion all by his lonesome, and the old rhyme began to play in my head. then two more crows swooped up and landed next to him. three, i told myself, three.

at the hospital, my OB found nothing wrong, no sign of fluid loss. and she told me my baby was a girl.

i thought about that one crow after. adrift in grief’s magical thinking, i looked to the trees for portents of what another pregnancy might bring. to this day, i hate the sight of a single crow.

the day we drove to another hospital in another city for the ultrasound that eventually revealed Josephine’s gender was also a spring day. there were buds on the May trees, and as we pulled into the hospital i saw a dark flapping out of the corner of my eye, and turned my head. two crows, birds on a wire by the big tree at the front of the instition, the one i could see out my window during the long months i waited there for Oscar to be born.

i looked for a third. then, horrified by my greed, my stupid hubris, my silliness, my brain clamped down on my eyes like a vise and shut them, literally. two. joy. two. joy. i repeated the mantra all the way up to the seventh floor. one should not be cavalier with the luck one gets. joy meant a baby still kicking, a heart still beating, an amniotic sac still sound. i told myself i did not care about gender.  i definitely did not care about dresses.  i wanted the joy of continued hope, of a cervix that showed signs of holding.

and i also wanted a girl.

for once, i did not have to adjust my expectations; i got my three crow girl. wish fulfillment, random luck.  i would’ve loved a boy, too, and deeply, but i got my heart’s desire. and with her a crateload of dresses, never looked for yet utterly perfect, girl-ness embodied. this summer, in the daily rotation of Posey’s little frocks, i lived my two crow joy in the tactile delight of tiny blue gingham dresses with apples embroidered on them, in pink confections with grosgrain ribbon. those days after days of little dresses were the physical embodiment of an old, deep dream, one that, after Finn, seemed too petty to even acknowledge.

it has healed something, this summer of silly frocks.

she has new striped leggings and little sweaters for fall, and hand-me-down long-sleeved onesies of her brother’s that i am happy to greet again, old friends from seasons long since committed to Rubbermaid storage. she will be a pint-sized tornado no matter she wears. but she looks taller in the little pants than she did in her dresses; she reminds me that these last vestiges of babyhood are slipping away from our house.  Posey’s clothes will not go into storage, to be saved for the possibility of another child someday. she is my last baby.

so today, as i smoothed each dress, a mascara-riddled tear snaked blackly down my face, with the bittersweetness that is the flip side of two crow joy. but i am smiling.

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