The Pink Hula Hoop

We went for a walk yesterday and Jude was clinging to me, refusing to walk. His shoes were wet at the bottom and Nolan’s teetering skateboard was grinding at pavement, fraying our sleep-deprived nerves because our no-longer-a-baby is still getting up at least 3 times a night. Corey was grumbling and I was edgy and then we landed in the school yard, where someone had left a pink hula hoop.

Nolan picked it up and started doing his unabashed thing and the tone of the day shifted right there and morphed into something altogether better. Thank god for hula hoops.

56th Birthday

It’s frenetic on Robson Street, it always is.  Blurred bodies crunch over fallen brown leaves: a parade of privileged boots past glittered window dressings and souped up BMWs.

Vancouver has such an indescribable Vancouverness to it:  it’s rotting forest and foreign privilege, stylish gay men wrapped in perfectly draped scarves.  It’s hard black espresso and Art Gallery Protesters, seven lilting Asian languages floating in the space of two sidewalk squares.  It’s a melting pot of expensive yoga pants and hardcore addiction.

I’ve found a seafoam green bathing suit in the new Victoria’s Secret down the road, and now I’ve promised Nolan a caramel apple in recognition of his painstaking work of controlling his brother while I hastily sidled out of my jeans as quickly as humanly possible, knowing the fall-apart window was mighty lean.

Outside of the lingerie shop on Robson lay a man in a blue quilted sleeping bag, just to the right of the stomping boots, the chatter of sidewalk shoppers.

Oh no,” breathes Nolan, keeping close to me and my loud pink bikini bag,”Oh no.  Mom. That man has no bed to sleep on.”

He’s OK,” I say, and I look away like everyone else, “He’ll be OK.” And I take Jude’s hand and walk briskly toward the blinking hand, not looking.

We stop at a coffee shop a block down to use the restroom and to purchase an apologetic chai latte and Nolan’s on his skateboard, helmet askew, while I usher Jude in his green-striped Sasquatchewan shirt through the pastried front doors.

My oldest son has stopped, rigid, near the fir plants at the front entrance and his eyes are wide, and then liquid with little kid empathy.

I turn my head to look where  he is looking and there squats a man with a mottled grey beard and a hand-rolled cigarette,  framed on the sidewalk across the street from a sleek-lined two-storey Banana Republic.  He holds a scrawled cardboard sign: “Today is my 56th Birthday.  I am hungry.  Anything helps.”

He’s not wearing a shirt. He’s skinny and too old for 56. He’s shaking in the October wind.

I usher my boys into the waft of warmth, ask the barista about the key to the restrooms and I take Jude in.  Nolan stands outside, frantically rapping at the door, “Mom, Mom! That man! He’s cold and he needs a shirt.

I get my latte, I nod to Nolan, I quietly tell Jude to stop smashing his head on the coffee mug display.

We’ll ask,” I say.

But it is what Nolan doesn’t expect. It is what I suspect, what makes me saddest.

I don’t want a shirt,” says the birthday man,”I’m hungry.”

My Mom will buy you a sandwich,”says Nolan. He’s crouching, looking in his eyes. Something I don’t think to do.”They have really good banana loaf. Or pumpkin scones with icing.

I’ll tell you what you can do,” the man says, and he looks at me hard and not at all at Nolan and Jude is off lovingly fingering the fir leaves, then plucking them.”What you can do for me is buy me a lemon soda, one of them in a can, and bring it to me.

But. You don’t want anything to eat?” Nolan asks him again, timidly. Incredulously.

A lemon soda is what I  really need,” he says,”I’m thirsty.

We watch a pretty young Indian girl regard his pasty chest, drop a five dollar bill in his cap, and hastily retreat into the coffee shop.

Why doesn’t he want a shirt?” whispers Nolan,” Why doesn’t he want a sandwich?”

He’s cold.  And he’s hungry, I think, but maybe for something other than a sandwich.”

Focused shoppers tromp by, people glance and look away, I grab Jude’s leafy hand and Nolan’s forgotten skateboard and we walk over crunchy brown Maple leafs, toward our silver car.

“Maybe he’s not that cold, Mom.  Maybe he doesn’t need a shirt.

Maybe.

One Year Ago Today

One Year Ago Today

We commissioned a photographer to come in to capture the fleeting, diminutive moments of sparkling new life. Melissa came to our house ten days after Jude was born.

We knew this might be our last-ever baby, and I knew from firsthand experience that the newborn days, though they seem everlasting, fade into staticky grey in the blink of an eye.

Jude was a grumpy-ass newborn that day, all yellowed face and squinty eyed rage and Corey and I both wore white shirts that only showed off our purple-black face sacks. Nolan displayed the strained smile of a sleepless new brother, and though our photographer is a fiercely talented woman, the photos (though artistically shot!) were a fairly dismal reminder of what it is like to subsist in a hazy sleepless fog for several weeks.

It wasn’t Melissa’s fault, but our baby looked like a constipated, jaded centurion in every photo. So we had re-takes done when Jude was a tad more jovial, in the park close to our house.

This is my favourite shot of the bunch. I wish Nolan was in it though — he was off playing on a giant tree stump. But I love the light of this shot almost as much as I love my boys.

Weekly Paleo Fave: Chicken Fajita Lettuce Wraps of Unadulterated Joy

I hesitate to put this recipe on the blog because it’s so damned obvious, kind of like putting up a recipe for (store bought) yogurt with sliced bananas.  You just do it, right?  Cause all the stuff is just sitting there and it’s easy.

But the thing is, this is by far dinner that my family enjoys the most.  And it’s quick, inexpensive, nutritious, delicious, and super customizable.  You can make a vegetarian version or a carnivore version — we use free range chicken but if you’re anti-meat, extra peppers and onions (and maybe some sliced mushrooms?) would work swimmingly as well.   This is so delicious, we make double batches so we can have it for lunch the next day too.

Image

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (free range and organic if you can swing it)

1 red pepper, sliced into strips

1 yellow or green pepper, sliced into strips

1 large  yellow onion,  chopped

handful of cashews

1 head of lettuce…I find butter lettuce and romaine are the easiest

Ingredients for salsa and guacamole.  You can buy store-bought (try to look for brands with just vegetables and herbs and spices in them) but it’s so much tastier and healthier if you can make your own.  Simple recipes for both guacamole and salsa can be found in this post.

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp onion powder

smattering of smoked paprika

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 tsp olive oil

Method

1. In a large pot, toss some olive oil and the smashed garlic and cook on medium heat until fragrant

2. Add chicken breasts and cook through.

3. Toss in peppers, onion and spices.

4. Cook till al dente, or until you suspect the veggies might be tender-crispish.

5. Cut chicken into strips, either right in the pot or on to a cutting board you’ve dredged up

6. While everything cooks, prep salsa and guac (or uncork your store bought versions)

7.Pick apart your lettuce into cups and set aside (like so)

Image

8. Grind up your cashews in a  coffee grinder, or smash with some kind of kitchen utensil.

9. Pull out any hot sauce you may need.

10. Remove chicken/pepper/onion/spice concoction from pan and place into lettuce wraps.

11. Sprinkle with cashews, guac and salsa.

12. If you’re feeling devious, add cheese (we do)

Image

Silence Blended

 

“Hi!” 

You’re on the second storey balcony of a 70’s-style walk up and you have curly red hair, tied up in a haphazard, adorable bun.  You’re wearing rolled up boyfriend jeans and a cute t-shirt and you’re at least 7 years younger than me.

I’ll be right down,” you say, shielding the sun out of your eyes, “Wait there!

I stand paralyzed in the grass in front of your apartment, gape-mouthed.  I’d expected that you should have snakes pouring out of your head.  I’d expected an absence of perkiness.

I feel the wrinkles on my forehead, my 36-year-old knee caps.  I have chalk on my Mom-ish yoga pants, bags under my eyes.

You introduce yourself on the lawn, and rub my son’s head.  You call him buddy and chatter about skiing and parades and new running shoes.  I nod because you are so very different and I don’t know what I thought, but I expected someone dire, morose, hand-wringy.  You are none of those things.

***

A few months later, you send me a text, and you would prefer it if I didn’t volunteer anymore at my son’s school on his Father’s days because you’d like the lines to be succinct between houses.  

I see red. 

I wonder who you are to dictate that. 

My son talks about the show you took him to on the weekend, the mountains you climbed and so many times my fingers hover over my iphone text box.  I want to ask you what kind of books you like and what makes you laugh the hardest and what are the funniest things my son said on Saturday?  I want to know things, but I don’t want to know too much, and I have a friend who knows us both and I think about his words:

You girls are very similar.  You’d like each other if you could.”

Sometimes I compose, and always I delete, and many times I bite my lip and just wish for open dialogue.  I want to know who you are, and then just as quickly, I don’t.

***

The text that comes from my oldest son’s father is short and to the point.  After almost 4 years, you won’t be around anymore.  I don’t know why.  I can’t ask why.  There’s still a seething wall of animosity and misunderstanding and the only logical words to him are  “I don’t know what to say.  I’m so sorry.”

To you I say nothing, because I don’t have the right.

I think of you in your navy blue pea coat, your buttoned-up emails and indignant precision.  I don’t know what happened and I never will but for four years you were a significant part of the other half of the life of my son.  I wonder a million different things: do you miss him, do you love him, do you still want to be a part of his life?  I hit compose, and  then refrain, because all I really know of you is your curly bun, your good intentions.

I want to write: “Do you miss him, do you love him, did he infiltrate your heart too?

I suspect he did, and I suspect she did too, for him, and I hope they are both OK.

 

Secret Dock + 3 Random Instagrammers

Secret Dock + 3 Random Instagrammers

There’s a small government wharf down the twisty road from our house. I’ve seen another human being on it one time in the last 5 years. The tides get very low here, and it’s not ideal for docking. But it’s exquisitely beautiful. There’s a house on the island across the water that I plot to own one day, and Corey and I sat here four years ago and talked, for the very first time, about the possibility of getting married one day. I continue to believe that there’s a bit of magic in the mist and the ocean and the clouds around here.

***
I have this photo on Instagram, along with a photo every day for the past two years or so. It’s an amazing instant capture tool and it’s my favourite social media platform by far.

There’s definitely an art to photography, even if it’s your baby laughing, even if it’s a road we’ve all seen a hundred and six times before. It can even be artistic when it’s taken with an iPhone, and I appreciate people who have a creative eye. Here are 3 ofmy tiptop fave Instagrammers du jour:

Neil Kramer – Neil would probably be perplexed to know that I remember that he was one of the first commenters on my Debaucherous and Dishevelled blog about six million years ago. I’ve seen him at various blog conferences over the years, most recently on a street in Chicago this summer, but I never know for sure if he knows who I am. I always say hello, but feebly, and he always nods politely but confusedly. Anyway, he takes amazing candid pictures of every day life and publishes them on instagram. (look up neilochka)

Gerard Yunker – Gerard is a well-known Canadian photographer who photographed Corey when Corey was Blue Steeling stuff. I haven’t met him, but he was in Vancouver a few weeks ago and Corey met up with him and came home to show me his absolutely stunning Instagram feed. He can make an East Hastings back alley look gorgeous. (look up gerard_yunker)

Ania Mari – When Nolan entered kindergarten, there was a parent orientation night at the school library where the principal introduced the school and policies and all the painful administrative details that parents must memorize. I half paid attention, because the woman sitting in the second-last row was maybe one of the prettiest humans I’d ever seen. I stared at her objectively and wondered if she knew how unusually beautiful she was and if it had impacted her mostly positively or negatively. I don’t think I ever spoke to her, though, and if she knew I was scrutinizing her, she was too gracious to glare.

Three years later, her oldest son and Nolan are best friends, and she is my hair stylist and friend. She also has a blended family, and the Instagram photos she takes of them are nothing short of stunning. (look up aniamari)

In Defense of the Personal Blog

Image

I started blogging in 2004, when I was a twenty-something living in Calgary in a dilapidated house with a hot rugby boyfriend.  My life was nothing like it is now, the Internet was a totally different animal.  I was working for a radio company, selling the emerging tendrils of digital space, and I secretly blogged in the wee hours, taking a crazy amount of thrill in each incoming comment on my free blogger.com site.  Nolan did not exist, I had no idea what Motherhood meant, my priorities were corporate ladder climbing and resisting my 30th birthday for as long as possible.  I took a lot of pictures of the trails outside my house and whispered in words about dating, doubt, early adulthood.

If I had a problem, the Internet answered.  If I had a fight with my boyfriend, my readers usually declared him wrong.  It felt like a secret club, writing for a semi-anonymous personal blog, and the space was the Wild West: the topics I wrote about were alarmingly raw and bloody.  But there was little risk, and I felt safe throwing out tidbits of my personal life.  Trainwrecks.com didn’t exist, the blogging space was obscure enough that the mean girls hadn’t yet infiltrated to kick at wounds and mount public shaming wars. I never used my real name and so the space was like a comforting elixir:  I could write what I couldn’t articulate in small talk and anonymous IP addresses would answer back: “Yes, we get you.  No, you’re not insane.  Please, keep writing because you help us know we’re normal.”

But things changed.  Anonymity became necessary, especially in the face of breakups and impending babies.  The Internet became nasty, and blogging became a business.  Words on the screen morphed from a platform for sharing our humanity into dollar signs: potential for schwag and relationships with Fortune 500 businesses.

I wanted no part of that, so  I ducked and hid for a while, sticking to  benign posts about the weather, childhood reading exercises, excellent taco recipes on for-pay sites where the anonymous bullies were swiftly deleted.

Here’s the thing though:  I missed those raw posts.

I had used the unfiltered blogs of other personal bloggers to better understand myself and my place in the world.   I devoured posts by powerful writers about cheating and animosity, self doubt and healing.

And I know that the very best posts I ever wrote were the dark ones where the emotional risk was enormous and the feedback was 100% “Holy shit, I’ve been there. Thank you for writing about being there, too.

It’s almost impossible to authentically relay ragged, true life moments online anymore, and I am positive I’m not the only one who thinks that’s a total crying shame.

***

Earlier this week, my friend Holly wrote a post about the jagged edges of emotion that transpire in the weeks following the birth of a new human being.  She gathered up the searing pain and the brilliant awe and she made an indescribable experience completely crystal clear.

The post soared in itsutter relatabilty: every single mother in the Universe could understand the bleeding emotion that Holly described.  It’s not the kind of emotion you can read about in your local newspaper or monthly fashion magazine.

In that post, Holly wrote about the fact that she didn’t feel it necessary to share the details of her son’s life.  And though I have enormous respect for her right to feel that way, I was taken aback by some of the commenters who wrote yes, thank you Holly for saying that.  In fact, they said, they had to stop reading other blogs written by Mothers who relayed stories about their children. Because children deserved privacy.

The inference was clear: Moms who write about their children online are unwise, and unfair.  Those children don’t have a  choice in their Mother’s words, and so those words don’t have right to be written.

Bullshit, is what I say.

After almost ten years in the blogging space, I believe wholeheartedly in the transformative power of the personal blog. – for the better.

We are all dots in time, and the  years fly by in a blur, and entire childhoods are forgotten because we have mortgages and the economy sucks and our parents are getting older and now is so much more pressing.  I think that my stories about my boys are a permalink  testament to my love for them, and I hope one day they will read them and realize moments they never would have known about otherwise.  I hope they will understand who I was as a person, outside of being their Mother.  I would be thrilled for them to know that their life stories matter to people even outside our direct family unit.

Many of us are Gen-X Moms.  We slid around in the back of our parents T-birds, no carseats, cigarette smoke infiltrating the back seats. We rode banana seat bikes with no helmets and ate bologna sandwiches with mustard and chemical bread and created fun by passing each other out in muddy school yards.

Any stories we have about our quirky milk grins and our first teetering steps and about the way our Mothers loved us exist mostly  in grainy Polaroids and folded-up Raggedy Ann costumes.  We don’t know who we were outside of  anecdotal, spoken evidence, which may or may not have been tempered and skewed over the last 30 years.

I don’t know about you, but I would love to read about my Mom’s feelings for me in 1979.  I would love to know her perspective on the world,  the way things were back then.  I’d love to read about her dreams, the way she saw me and our family, and her beliefs and deepest wishes for my brother and me.  I can think of no greater gift than a written diary of her fears and aspirations and yes, even her best recipe for 1980’s creamy tomato soup.

Tech blogs have their very firm place in the world, and business blogs are very important.  Food blogs have changed the way we set our tables, and fashion blogs have stabbed away at the jogging pant as a style statement.

Personal blogs, littered with our authentic stories and the lives of our children, are no less important.  I would argue that they are the most important type of record, because they can forge bonds and remove shame and provide a living testament to who we are.

Writing about the tribulations of parenting is nothing to be ashamed if, and I think it should be encouraged rather than scorned.

I’m going to write about Nolan, and Jude, and the bumpy pathway of Motherhood, and I’m going to be unapologetic about it.

I hope you will be, too.