So, you want to be a parenting writer? Prepare to be humbled. And maybe saved.

I never get tired of seeing my byline, gotta say.

I never get tired of seeing my byline, gotta say.

Back in the summer, I got an assignment from Today’s Parent magazine to write a story for the “behaviour” section of the book. The topic? Ha. A thousand words on — wait for it — why kids don’t listen and how to get them to. 

You know, no biggie.

I’ll admit it: wrapping my head around that topic and writing a coherent article nearly broke me. Such a huge subject, so many perspectives, so few words, so much at stake. In a behind-the-scenes article for the magazine’s website, I talk about exactly why this article ate my emotional lunch, and what I learned from it:

I was … wracked with anxiety. How on earth would I ever do justice to the topic when I couldn’t even get my own kids to close the refrigerator door or come downstairs for breakfast? And how on earth would I even begin to approach a topic that enormous? Almost every parent I know could fill pages just listing the ways in which their kids ignore their seemingly reasonable requests: What could I possibly say that could make a difference? […]
I realized that I needed to rethink my whole approach to the subject—not to mention the way I interacted with my own children. Here are some things that I learned:
First, kids don’t listen to us, their parents, because kids are human beings with their own agendas. And sometimes—often—our agendas simply don’t match up with theirs. My agenda might be to make sure everyone gets to school on time. My seven-year-old’s agenda, though, might be to find and rearrange all the glittery rocks in his room into a three-dimensional collage that simply has to be finished right now, because that’s where his creative vision lies. My nine-year-old’s agenda, on the other hand, might be to read the book that he is reading, in bed, in his pajamas, even though, “Breakfast is ready, Rowan. Rowan, breakfast is ready. Rowan, if you don’t get up and get dressed right now and come down for breakfast you’re going to be late. Rowan—are you listening to me? I’m not going to say it again: You’re going to be late!”
[Ten minutes later: “Late!”]

You can read the rest here. The full article — with all its transformational tips and tricks and insights and good stuff — is out now in the magazine’s October issue (and online). Check it out! And fill free to leave me a comment with your best tips or your most maddening “not listening” anecdote. Or both.

 

Space

Lately, I’ve been craving vastness.

I’m blaming it on small-town (fine, small-city) life: not enough urban density, strip-mall architecture instead of cityscapes and soaring buildings, the same old same old round of a half-dozen restaurants and bars and cafés. I keep thinking of big cities, everywhere I’ve been in the last 12 months — San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles — and I’m chafing against the familiarity of this place, the way I can recognize the supermarket cashiers, the way everyone looks the same. I’m longing for somewhere big enough to be anonymous at the same time as I’m aching for my far-flung comrades. I’m chafing against the stark contrasts between home life and vacation life and my desire to integrate them, find some way to find the common ground between room service and no obligations or bedtimes and packing lunches and taking out the garbage and, oh, working for a living.

I’m blaming it on this parenting gig, the way it circumscribes my schedule, keeps me close to (closed in by) home as I navigate life with two small people in tow. Rachel is out of town, and so I am feeling acutely the pull and stress of amusing children, getting them to their various activities, the driving and the drop-offs and the back-and-forth of where are you and are you safe and can you wait to talk to me until your brother is done? It’s hard to leave the house some days with these two sets of often-competing interests, but of course staying home all day on a rainy Sunday leads to sure and utter disaster. The kids are alright, just fine, but I’m telling myself that parenting isn’t necessarily expanding my horizons at this very moment.

I’m blaming screens. I’m blaming the one I’m staring at right now as I compose this blog. I’m blaming the ones about which my children negotiate constantly. I’m blaming the tiny one that goes with me everywhere, its constant feedback or lack thereof both a lifeline and a stranglehold. Again, it's the problem of integration: how to come to a place of peace between virtual and physical worlds? How is it that the vastness of the Internet can fit into my pocket and give me tunnel vision? I had a massage yesterday, and my lovely, snarky massage therapist worked all the angry muscles in my neck and arms and shoulders and said, gently, “Do you think that you might look down a lot at your phone? Do you ever take a vacation?”

I’m blaming, I’m blaming. And even as I blame, I know that all this railing and blaming don’t particularly expand my horizons. And so what I try to do when things feel small, when my ribs constrict my lungs and my heart doesn’t have space to beat and pounds against my chest, is to stretch, find space.

On Sunday, that meant availing myself of a lovely friend to babysit and then getting on my bike and riding as fast as I could to the movie theater to see Boyhood — revelling in the big screen, in the Houston and Austin cityscapes and the hugeness of Big Bend Ranch State Park. Last night, it meant actually shelling out for a babysitter and watching (with the same friend) Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster, and Vanessa Kirby in A Streetcar Named Desire — even if I couldn’t be at the Young Vic Theatre in London, I could watch the live satellite stream of the production, and that was pretty amazing. (Yes, what I wouldn’t give to have been in the flesh-and-blood audience, but I’m trying here, people…). It means playing hooky from the obligations in my head to have a beer with a grieving friend on a weekday afternoon, and finding myself surprised by the intensity and emotion of the conversation that ensued at that bar. It means taking a chance on Tomlin, a new restaurant in town, and feeling life relax and melt over pork chicharrones and charred broccoli and grilled trout in a lovely space that could have been anywhere else I’ve been over the past year.

And, many days, making my life feel bigger means this: the Cascades. You walk a short distance through the woods and then end up on a vast, exposed chunk of the Canadian Shield, some of the oldest rocks on Earth. You can't get cell reception at there. Yesterday, a friend and I went there. We had planned for a quick walk around the neighbourhood to save time, but she showed up at my door and said, “I really think we need to go to the Cascades,” and I hugged her. And we scrabbled up and down the worn stone, next to the rushing water. And we talked — another one of those so many conversations I’ve had of late that brings tears, unexpected, to my eyes, nothing in particular so sad, just that everything right at this phase seems to bubble and rush to the surface.

And in that space, so big, so old, so primal, things shift — at least temporarily — into the proportions that I need. For a few moments, in this exact space, in this exact moment, life is the right size in relation to everything else.

I'm trying to learn how to hold onto that.

Little boxes

I've mentioned before that one of my superpowers is getting artists to sell me works of art that they don't actually want to sell.

It's not as though I'm some mercenary art trafficker, stealing art-babies from their sad parents just for kicks (which makes it sound as though the LAST thing that any working artist would like to do is — horrors! — sell a piece of work). It's more that I seem to hone in, coincidentally or not, on the pieces that resonate with their creators. I prefer to think it's not coincidental, that I am in fact some kind of artist-whisperer who can tell, just tell, when an artist is truly in love with something they've made and then earns their trust enough to let me give their work a new home.

All of which is by way of saying that Kathleen Baleja did not want to sell this little series of nested glass boxes to me. And yet, here they are:

I bought these pieces when Rowan was a baby. Kathleen was participating in a cross-border studio tour featuring Thunder Bay and Northern Minnesota artists, and we packed the baby into the car and went for a drive to see pretty things, counting on him to be fairly placid in the car and to fall asleep on the drive back. Which he was, and did, and it's nice to have memories of when babies did sleep as well as all the memories of when they didn't. I remember, vaguely, singing lots of "If you're happy and you know it" on that little road trip, and popping in and out of studios to see whether Rowan was still asleep in his carseat. It was during that stage of babyhood where I could leave him for 45 seconds to, say, pee, and he would grin and coo and clap his hands when I came back into the room. EXACTLY like he does now. Except silently, in his head, while reading a Big Nate book.

BOXES! Sorry.

I've always had a thing for tiny treasure boxes, vials, wee lidded ceramic jars, what have you — they hold the possibility for endless potential, for surprises every time. Isaac has a similar fetish: his room is littered in layers of mason jars; fish tackle boxes filled with beads and Rainbow Loom elastics, sparkly rocks, coins pressed into clay, sand, glitter, Valentines, metal curtain brackets.

And these stained-glass boxes take the concept to an entirely new level: one inside the other like rainbow-hued Russian Matryoshka dolls (also totally fascinating and evocative to me as a child — and check out these ones), until you get to the red one (the size of my thumbnail!), which holds a tiny feather. Kathleen said that she was experimenting to see just how small she could go to create a functional container, and that was it.

Both kids adore the glass boxes, and will frequently ask to look at them. Sometimes I say yes, when I can handle the thought of a child’s fingers opening and closing delicate glass lids, sliding one highly breakable tiny glass box into another. Sometimes I tell them I'm simply not up for the stress. I want the boys to get as much tactile and visceral pleasure from the work as I do, but I also want to work to survive. So, mostly, they sit quietly on my desk, and sometimes when I'm working, I un-nest them and line them up next to me on my desk (they are lined up just so right now), and I open and shut their hinged lids just like Isaac and Rowan do, and I check that the feather is still there (it is). And I stack them one on top of the other, and I, eventually, put each one back inside its sisters, and I took them gently away in my little desktop altar of things that inspire.

My gay husband — New post on VillageQ

IMG_1539[1].JPG

Hey there – today on Village Q, I'm talking about why everyone needs a Gayhusband, even queer women:

Back in August, I came home one day to find my gay husband on my back deck, sweaty and intense, his arms elbows deep inside my … barbecue. What did you think I was going to say, gutter mind?
My gay husband, whose actual name is Rob, was deep-cleaning the barbecue. That’s one of his jobs, as was assembling the barbecue. He also washes dishes, makes lattes, occasionally batch-cooks vast quantities of stew or gazpacho (depending on the season), acts as our in-house tech troubleshooter, and holds the ladder while I clean out the eavestroughs. (He holds the ladder with one hand, while in the other, he manages to balance a latte and browse Grindr on his phone.)

Go thee and read the rest  posthaste. 


Labour Day

Skipping stones, Hazelwood Lake, last light.

It's Labour Day. With a U, because we are in Canada. And I'm writing this at 5:24 in the morning, because — yet again — I can't sleep. Which reminds me of what it was like to be pregnant and constantly awake. Which is making me think about how the summer itself parallels pregnancy: nine weeks, instead of nine months, ending with a Labour Day.

At the beginning of it all, you're sort of surprised and giddy and excited and just slightly nauseated at the thought of summer: on the one hand, I mean, you made it through that craptastic winter. But now the reward is, you know, nine unstructured or only semi-structured weeks to carefully fill with day camps or travel or camping trips or — what we're doing right now — JUST HANGING OUT.

By the middle of the summer, like the middle trimester, you're more or less used to how summer works — the slower, more casual pace, the later bedtimes, the raspberries and swimming, the not deciding what will be for dinner until half an hour or so before dinner when you throw something on the barbecue. You're even enjoying yourself. It's like it's always been summer/like you’ve always had a tiny human growing inside you and it always will be/and you always will. And it's manageable, sometimes even pleasant, if occasionally slightly unsettling.

But now, at the 11th hour of summer vacation, at Labour Day, I'm done. I am done with the free-flowing schedule and the lack of structure. I am done JUST HANGING OUT and its accompanying nonstop requests for screens or to bake cakes or to arrange playdates, of juggling work obligations with childcare, of trying to write between 7 and 9 AM and conducting magazine interviews with two boys and two friends thundering screaming to the house. I am ready for these children to vacate the premises, much as one is ready, at 40 weeks, for said infant to vacate the uterus and give you back your body.

Except. Except that our school district, in its infinite wisdom, has seen fit to add a [insert loooong string of exclusives here, beginning — ironically — with "mother”] PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT DAY IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING LABOUR DAY to the school schedule. What kind of asshats schedule a PD day for the day after Labour Day? (I know what kind: the number-crunching, budgetarily minded kind, but that's a different blog post.) For the record, I really haven't experienced full-out labour: Rowan was breech and therefore a planned C-section; Isaac emerged naturally after approximately eleven minutes of intensity. But I kind of imagine that this is the equivalent of being told, after 24 hours’ worth of mind-numbingly painful contractions, that one is only two centimetres dilated and, well, nothing to do but push through the next 24 hours.

Which is what we’re going to have to do.

When these two children leave the house for school on Wednesday (Wednesday!), I will take their picture, and I will hug them both tight, and I will — very likely — get teary. And those tears will be equal parts joy — at my two enormous, beautiful, growing boys making their way out into the world — and part relief: that the labours of summer are over and those two enormous, beautiful, growing boys are back, thank God, in school.

An open letter to my son, on who gets to be safe on our streets

– Hey Isaac?

– Yeah?

– How did you feel about walking to B’s house all by yourself yesterday?

– [Two thumbs up]

– Did you feel like you knew you were doing?

– Yes.

– Like you knew where you were going?

– Yes, but I had to stop and smell some of the roses along the way.

In my post this week on Today's Parent, an open letter to Isaac about just which of our sons get to be safe on our streets:

[,,,]

You probably could’ve taken this step—this series of steps—earlier. You’re seven, starting second grade. But we’ve held off  for several reasons, chief of which is fear. Not fear that you couldn’t do it. Not fear that you might be abducted, hurt, or worse. We were scared of what people might think of us for letting you walk down (not to mention cross) neighbourhood streets alone at age five, six, seven. We were scared that we might get arrested, or cited by the Children’s Aid Society.

 Which is ridiculous on so many levels. Statistics Canada reports that Canada’s crime rate is the lowest it’s been since 1972, both in terms of absolute numbers and severity. Child abduction by strangers is astonishingly rare here, too—overwhelmingly, children who go missing are taken by family members and close “friends.” In other words, our kids may be better off playing alone or with their peers in the park than under close supervision by people they know—although you wouldn’t know that when police in the United States lock up parents of seven-year-olds and nine-year-olds for walking by themselves to or playing alone at the park (things I did freely at your age, by the way, Isaac).

I resent that fear. I resent its effects on your own freedom and independence, as well as on mine. I resent the warped view it gives us both of society and its relative safety. I resent the misplaced focus on this so-called well-being of our children, of the misguided reliance on police involvement to keep them safe—and I resent it these days especially in light of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the police shootings of so many other young black men in the United States. Sure, lots of people are not safe on North American streets, Isaac, but (and this is entirely unfair) you’re not one of them, at least not on our street. And I deeply resent, on behalf of society as a whole, the sharp racial and class divides that make going to the police unthinkable for some people and entirely too easy for others.

You can read the rest here. Have a peaceful weekend, everyone.

Friday favourites: Platinum Dirt, Ski Queen, Until the End of the World

Here's some stuff that's inspiring me lately:

P1040049.JPG

The soundtrack from Wim Wenders’s Until the End of the World. I saw the movie with my friend Peter sometime during a Montréal summer in 1991, and then I listened to the soundtrack obsessively for years. I pulled it out it out during a recent road trip and it's still so evocative. I need to watch the movie again. The premise — (loosely) people becoming addicted to revisiting their dreams — seems so prescient/relevant these days, when so much of our lives is chronicled and available online. How long will it be until we can see each other's dreams? Here's my battered CD copy.

(Speaking of movies, we watched the original Karate Kid for family movie night a week or so ago. Still totally awesome, and I love the kookiness of its premise: in six weeks, YOU TOO can not only get the girl but ALSO become California's reigning black belt karate champion! All you have to do is landscape Pat Morita’s yard! More seriously, though, I love how director John G. Avildsen just lets the story unfold in its own sweet time. They don't make patient movies like that any more.)

New pens! I’ve been writing with these since forever and still love them.

My new “shark” bag from bag Platinum Dirt: I splurged on this one while I was in California, and am now regretting not splurging further on a couple arm cuffs and other accessories. You guys, this bag curves around my body and is made from recycled Cadillac leather upholstery. Plus it has two inside pockets and one of them is lined with fuzzy, fuzzy material. It holds everything, and it doubles my cool quotient just by wearing it. Plus it looks like a shark fin in backpack mode. 

This cheese. I hear Norwegians eat it for breakfast, which is another reason why Norwegians are so sexy. It's like caramel. But cheese.

An atheist walks into a synagogue with her kids…

I made these. For reals.

I made these. For reals.

My latest post on Todays Parent explains why, as an atheist, I still take my kids to synagogue. Reason #1: Community.

Community: We live in Thunder Bay, Ontario, population 110,000. Of that 110,000, approximately 50 people are Jews. I’m not kidding. When I take my kids to synagogue and they celebrate Shabbat and Hanukkah and Rosh Hashanah with a couple of dozen (or just a few) other Jewish people, it lets them know that they’re not alone, that they’re part of something larger, that they’re not freaks.

You can read the other reasons here

 

On pain

cracking up, holding together

cracking up, holding together

I’m working on a big client project right now. The subject? Ha. Pain. Specifically, pain for cancer patients: what it is, what causes it, what it feels like, how to talk about it, how to treat it, people’s fears and emotions around it. Yesterday, I spoke with a lovely, lovely man who was so open and generous with me about his (ongoing) physical pain: what he lives with, how this disease has bankrupted him, how difficult it was to make his needs for relief to hospital staff understood and respected. He broke down a couple of times during the conversation, and we sat in silence for several moments while he collected himself and I focused hard on keeping collected.

And yet, the first thing he said to me when we got on the phone was, “You sound tired.”

I am tired. I’m not sleeping all that well. These are painful times for so many of us, at so many levels. Acute and chronic individual physical pain; anxiety and depression, as so many of the responses to Robin Williams’s death have brought up; the ongoing atrocities in Ferguson, in Gaza, in Syria, in places too numerous and scary to mention. It feels as though we’re all living a little closer to the surface right now, more nerve endings exposed, rubbed raw and referring outward, pinging off of other things so that we don’t know exactly why we’re weeping in the grocery aisle, doubled over in the archway between the kitchen and living room.

From this project and others similar to it, I know that people find it hard to describe their pain, to remember it once it’s passed, to articulate it in the midst of it. Personally, I've found it difficult to say much articulate, coherent, about world events, but I'm not comfortable sitting in silence either as people's humans rights are violated, over and over. I don't want to be the hospital nurse who could do something to alleviate the pain and chooses not to. It’s exhausting to live in the midst of pain, to get up as it literally and figuratively knocks you over again and again, to stand and move forward. Some of us don’t get to stand up and move forward. Too often, that’s through no fault of our own but an accident of geography, chemistry, skin colour, gender, sexuality, heritage. And guess what? In my research for this project, I came across this: “Inadequate pain treatment in patients with cancer remains a significant problem and appears to be more frequent among minorities,” who are nearly twice as likely as white patients to receive inadequate pain treatment. 

No wonder I’m so anxious these days.

Pain is information. It’s a sign that something is wrong, that something needs to change. We need to change things, because we are all too tired, rubbed raw and living too close to the edge. We need to take care of each other, every single one of us, to ask what we can do, to do what we can without being asked. We need to say, "You sound tired,” to open up about what’s going on and — if nothing else — sit in silence for a moment or two of acknowledgment, and then find some way to speak up, to help. 

My new digs — aka, Why you need to redesign your blog

Let’s backtrack a bit here: have you noticed this blog redesign? This entire new website? Are you kvelling the way I am over this new space? Because — I’m just going to say it — it’s gorgeous, isn’t it?

It was a long winter, as you may recall, and maybe the longness and coldness of that winter lulled me into thinking that I’d feel more like writing once things had thawed. And that may have been at least partially true, but a truthier truth was I didn’t feel like writing in large part because I had outgrown this blog’s old home.

When I first started blogging, 35 weeks’ pregnant with Isaac, who is now seven, it was a side project, an experiment with a platform and a technology and a practice. I began blogging as a way of creating a sustained personal writing practice, without much understanding — and how could I have known? — where it might all go. The short version is that it’s gone many, many places and that, now, blogging is no longer a side project but an integral part of my career and my (writing) life.

So I talked to writer, website designer (and friend and roommate extraordinaire) Elan Morgan over at Shmutzie.com about how to create an online space that reflects more accurately my creative and professional writing. And together, we (by which I mean mostly her) came up with this.

Early on in the process, Elan sent me a design questionnaire. When I couldn’t easily pick a single colour palette or choose the top 10 words that describe my writing (ironic, I know), I countered by sending her photographs of things in my home that I love to look at. Including several sculptures by my friend and client Sarah Link, a local ceramic artist with an international reputation.

I don’t think I’ve written yet about Sarah, which is a shame, because I’m constantly in awe of her work and amazed and grateful that I get to be privy to a small part of her creative process. I first became aware of her brilliance when Rowan was about two. You know when you’re at a gallery and for weeks after you regret not buying a piece that spoke to you? That’s what happened. In my defense, Sarah had gathered together a dozen or so delicate, creepy, ocean-inspired clay sculptures in a low wooden box filled with sand. And all I could think was, “I love that, but I have a toddler.”

But then I couldn’t stop thinking about those pieces. And I searched out Sarah online and made contact. And she very gently blew me off. And then, a few Octobers ago, I discovered that she was participating in a local home and studio tour. And that she lived two streets over. And so I gathered up Isaac (because what I really liked to do back then was to take my four-year-old to pottery studios) and hustled over. And Isaac was reverent. And so was I.

I don’t know if you know that one of my superpowers is getting artists to sell me things that they’ve decided to keep for themselves. I honed in immediately on two huge ceramic bowls in Sarah’s studio — the last two pieces, she told me, from a residency at the Medalta historic kilns in Medicine Hat, Alberta. (I love this fact: those tiny holes in those bowls? Made with the tip of a ballpoint pen. Over and over.) They weren’t for sale, she explained, because she needed to keep them to remind herself of that time. And I commented that maybe that was the key difference between her kind of art and mine: if I sell a story, I still get to hold on to it. And she said, “You’re a writer?”

And the upshot is that those two bowls are sitting on my kitchen counter, and Sarah can come over any time she likes to visit them and all the other wonderful pieces of hers that make my home more beautiful. I write articles about her and her work for various galleries and trade magazines, and she pays me in beauty. I’m totally winning.

But that’s not even the real point. The real point is that Sarah and Isaac have built their own friendship. The real point is her ridiculous generosity; the way she has spent hours with him at the wheel, showing him how to build pots, and glaze them; the way she takes his creative vision so seriously; the way he brings her pretty rocks that he thinks she’ll like and the fact that she displays them on her studio shelves next to her own work.

So when I sent those photographs to Elan, and she said, “You know, what really stood out were those sculptures,” I knew we were onto something. With Sarah’s permission, I set about photographing the various rocks and eggs and pods and other works around the house — many of them touchtone pieces that I hold in one hand while I’m trying to figure out an approach to an article — and sent the photos to Elan, who helped to shape them into what you see here, on this site.

So, sure: on the one hand you could argue that I sit alone in my office at my computer for hours each day. But the truth of the matter is that this so-called solitary writing life is always a collaboration. You just have to know where to look.

(P.S.: Shameless self-promotion, but in celebration of the relaunch of the site, don't you think you should sign up for e-mail subscriptions or — if you haven't already – like this blog on Facebook? You can do both with the handy links to the right. Thanks.)

 

When an eight-year-old asks, "Who's the real mom?"

No one asked them. Toronto, circa 1972.

No one asked them. Toronto, circa 1972.

I've got a million strategies — some more effective than others — for dealing with invasive questions about my family. But what happens when the questions come from kids? That's the topic I take on in my most recent Today's Parent post

I can easily see how the subject could become contentious: Forcing a kid (or a grown-up) into an inane conversation peppered with unanswerable questions seems like a surefire recipe for frustration, or worse. I, for one, do my best to be matter-of-fact and move on. Because, frankly, either you get queer families, or you don’t. If you do, we generally don’t need to explain the more philosophical questions about exactly what constitutes a “real mom.” And if you don’t, well, then you’re generally not looking for answers to your questions. Too often, you’re trying to get me defensive about my family. And I have better things to do than defend my family’s reality against people who can’t really deal with the fact that it exists, right there in front of them. Reality bites sometimes, dude.
But I will talk to kids, because kids do what kids do, which is test, and ask questions, and gauge from your words and your openness and your body language just how comfortable you are with a given subject. When kids ask questions—questions they already know the answers to—they’re trying to figure out the bigger picture, to solidify their own place in the world relative to everyone else’s, and see how we all fit together.

Two nice counterpoint to this whole discussion are my blog-girlfriend Casey Casey-Brown's recent post on SheKnows: Stop Asking Me Where I Got My Daughter, and Vikki Reich's (to whom I am blog concubine) article "How many moms does she have?" on VillageQ.

Between 10 and 19

I have two anniversaries, as one does: the anniversary of the day we first got together, and — as more and more of the gays do these days — a wedding anniversary.

Today is the first anniversary, marking that evening that in 1995 when Rachel and I both showed up at that big old house in Toronto’s Annex, where our friend Kathryn was house sitting (for one of our mutual women’s studies profs, natch) and had decided to have a sleepover party. I remember arriving, tingling, knowing that that girl would be there. And we sat under a grape arbour in the lush backyard, all vines and leaves entwining over our heads, and I was thinking of John Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic novel when Rachel said, “Have you ever read Day of the Triffids?” And I was all like Deal, sealed.

Funny, that.

We got married in June 2004. I was pregnant, as one is. And at our wedding our friends Jodi and Caitlin gave us a bottle of wine and told us to open it on our 10th wedding anniversary. And then June 2014 came and went and she was at a soccer tournament and I was away and then she was away and children and life and commitments and I don’t feel like drinking tonight and it took until two nights ago for us to finally crack open that bottle, closer to the second anniversary than the first, but somehow that seemed appropriate.

You guys, I worried about uncorking that wine. I was surprised that the bottle had lasted as long as it had — that it hadn’t broken, hadn’t been accidentally drunk at a party. Frankly, I was also somewhat incredulous that we had lasted the full 10 years, not to mention the 19. Because relationships are hard. Relationships are work, a lot of it, almost all the time. A lot of that work is boring: as Isaac is fond of saying to us, "All you guys ever talk about are washing machines and refrigerators." And then you add in one baby and then another and the actual work that pays you money if you’re lucky, and getting older, and all the other things that make up a life and it’s a wonder any of us stay together for more than a drink or two.

 

But there we were two nights ago, with the entire house to ourselves and doing the kinds of things that parents do when their children have been whisked away by angelic other people — cooking a real dinner (risotto with local chanterelle mushrooms, since you asked); eating late, outside, music on; lingering over an entire bottle of wine.

We hadn’t stored the wine properly — just stuck it on the top shelf of the wine rack and let it be, subject to light and heat and temperature fluctuations. When you have toddlers, children, a single bottle of wine has to fend for itself, a couple of rungs lower than the cats. And I thought, Well, if it’s corked, that’s not a sign. It’s just a thing that happened. We’ll open something else. It’ll be fine either way.

But, really, I wanted it to have lasted. I’m too hooked on metaphor and imagery to not have had a pang or two for the bottle that represented so much hope a decade ago to have withered away to vinegar.

The wine wasn’t corked. It was rich and complex and interesting and delicious. And we ate our dinner on the deck we built for the house we bought together. And it was lovely.

Look: I have no idea where I’ll be 19 years from now, 10 years from now. Even a couple of years from now is a quantifiable unknown. Around me, relationships crack and heal and scar and dissolve and re-form, although you wouldn’t know it on Facebook, at least not until after the fact. I can tell you what I do know about me and that girl at that house in the Annex: I know that wherever we are, it will be as the result of doing that daily work and how well we do it. I also know that even if we do a great job, the results aren’t guaranteed.

So this isn’t going to be one of those “Happy anniversary!” posts where I say, “Here’s to the next 19 years, babe!” Because who knows? What I do know, for sure, is that no matter what happens (and so, so much fantastic stuff could and likely will happen) over the next decades, no matter where we end up, that I hope to always be able to sit down with you over a great bottle of wine, and spend an evening in rich, complex, interesting, delicious conversation. 

Baggage

I’m trying to learn how to travel light.

It’s an ongoing quest, this push toward bare essentials. I fantasize about perfectly organized, lightweight suitcases; about wearing everything I bring and longing for nothing. The reality is a little messier: just one more black T-shirt, one more pair of shoes, the perpetual agony about whether to pack workout gear, the tension between bringing the clothes I know and love and wear every day and bringing the more experimental, “special,” clothes (hello, funky silver pants, blue dress!) that I feel I should wear but never quite do.

I pack for weeks in my head before any significant trip. It’s a coping mechanism to deal with travel stress; I know this. If I focus on acquiring travel-sized toothpaste; that go-with-everything lightweight black wrap; a party clutch that will hold my phone, a couple of chargers, business cards and room key; then I don’t have to think about the leaving, the people, the money spent, the social interactions, whether I’ll make an ass of myself at a conference session or on the dance floor. If I can just get that magical packing part down, then everything else will fall into place and the pre-trip deadlines will meet themselves and I’ll even sleep the night before I leave.

Oh, I’m adorable.

I’m getting better — I managed to get everything for my recent weeklong trip to California and the BlogHer14 conference into a single carry-on (plus a fairly hefty “purse”). And this is because, instead of packing for weeks in my head, I finally caved to my demons and made a proper list: toiletries, jewelry, tech, documents, a list of outfits for each occasion, lingerie and sleepwear, reading materials, shoes. Always the shoes. I used fancy headings and columns and checklist bullets, and my stress levels decreased almost immediately. That’s one of the best things I ever learned from life-hacking guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (read it; it’s life-changing): things are on our minds because (a) we don’t know what we want, (b) we don’t know what to do next, or (c) because we know these things but we haven’t created some kind of trustworthy system — i.e., a list — for remembering them:

“Until those thoughts have been clarified and those decisions made, and the resulting data has been stored in a system that you absolutely know you will think about as often as you need to, your brain can’t give up the job. You can fool everyone else, but you can’t fool your own mind. … Even if you’ve already decided on the next step you’ll take to resolve the problem, your mind can’t let go until and unless you write yourself a reminder in a place that knows you will, without fail, look. It will keep pressuring you about that untaken next step, usually when you can do anything about it, which will just add to your stress.”

Amen. So, the list. The day before the trip, I gathered every item on it, threw it on my bed (my voice dictation software keeps typing in “threw it on my dad,” which I find inexplicably funny, but no mind), rolled up everything into tubes and stuck it in my carry-on. And then I threw in a few more things, until the suitcase was full.

The upshot? Middling. The photo at the top shows everything I took with me to California. The pile on the right is all the stuff I actually wore. The pile on the left contains things like the silver pants and the blue dress and the extra black T-shirt — mostly, stuff that wasn’t on the list.

I get that life is too short to strive for packing perfection. I get that packing is not a zero-sum game. (And, yes, it is understood that if one can blog about one’s special silver pants from the safety of one’s own home then packing is a first-world problem.) I get that sometimes you need to bring a bathing suit or a warm jacket that you will never wear but that you might need. I get that maybe the hotel will have a gym and you’ll be really happy you brought your sneakers, but that mostly you won’t. I get that sometimes you don’t know exactly what a trip, a city, an occasion, will call for and that it is always good to have a party dress and shoes you can hike in — and that life is too short to dance in shoes that hurt. I get that I might want to wear the same thing three days in a row, or I might wear the same thing at this conference that I wore at the last conference and that I’ll just have to hope that it’s true that nobody really cares, or even notices. I get that you may leave your favourite jacket on a train, and that you can always, in a pinch, buy more underwear.

What I’m learning, though, is that at least half the weight of my baggage is emotional, and that maybe I can learn how to leave that stuff behind.

As an editor, sometimes I get so caught up in the cutting, in honing down stories and paragraphs to their barest essentials, as though efficiency is writing’s only or best virtue. But of course it’s the flourishes — those extra, well-placed quirks or digressions — that, ultimately, add personality, make the piece. And the same, perhaps, is true for baggage: you know, less is more, except when it’s not.

Also, I bought the shoes, because the Internet told me to, And because they may just be the sexiest things I own.

Also, I bought the shoes, because the Internet told me to, And because they may just be the sexiest things I own.


Ink

So, this happened.

Of course, it didn't quite just "happen": like I woke up from some bender with a typewriter on my arm. 

But it happened, in the sense that I walked into San Francisco’s Black Heart Tattoo on Valencia with one idea — a sailor heart with “MOM” on the banner — and ended up with this instead. But that’s sometimes how these things go: all the planning, all the analysis, and then you find yourself in the chair, being inked with an image that came to you in a flash and that you knew, immediately, was completely right. Or at least close enough.

My dad worked for IBM when I was a kid, and one of the highlights of visiting his Vancouver office in the early 80s was getting to call my Toronto friends long-distance on the company dime. The other was typing for hours on the heavy, humming IBM Selectrics that populated the office, crunching out words and sentences in analog before we even knew what that was. 

I wanted one of those machines, desperately, but they were out of my price range even with the family discount, and so when I was 13 I plunked down, on a whim, $300 for a lesser-quality electric typewriter at Woolworth’s. That machine — more specifically, seeing my words in type — gave me such a sense of power: what a rush, to press a key and have a machine respond so immediately, so eagerly, to my touch, to feel the speed and the weight of metal keys striking real paper, nothing between them but ink.

I don’t remember what I wrote on that typewriter, nor do I know what became of it — our family acquired a PC and a dot-matrix printer shortly thereafter, and that’s what I begin using for school assignments, letters, stories. My dad got me my very own PC when I started my undergrad degree, and it was on that computer’s internal modem that I first hooked up to the Internet sometime in the mid-90s. (“Guess how many e-mails I got today?” I once remember my friend Kim asking excitedly: “Twelve!”)

And the rest, you might say, is history: from e-mailing and primitive online chat to Facebook and Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Instagram, all of which I participate in fully, knowingly, even as I no longer actually type — three-quarters of a lifetime on keyboards and mice long ago blew out my forearms and wrists, and so now I dictate into my computer and my words and images appear magically on the screen, all over the world, with the silent push of a button and who knows what kind of behind-the-scenes machinations.

“What do you all do?” asked Cody, my taciturn tattoo artist, inking in the keys. (Everyone in the place was taciturn, not quite unfriendly but definitely not going to give me the benefit of the doubt — just another fortysomething walking in off the street without a clear vision and mostly virgin skin. The resplendently tattooed Farrah Braniff, who was with me and took all these photos, was determined to warm them up with a steady stream of Texan charm and tattoo cred, and eventually Cody got talking and laughing.)

160A8723.jpg

"Um, I’m a writer,” I said, gesturing to the stencil of the typewriter on my right bicep. He asked what kind of writing I did, and I explained: magazine, essays, blogs—

“Hey — there’s a blogging conference going on in San Jose!” he said, and we laughed, because that’s where we had just come from: BlogHer 2014. “A couple ladies came in last week were going to that.” And so we put two and two together and midway through my tattoo I was Twitter DMing, one-handed, with Tiffany and Christine, whom I’d met at the conference, and who now sported Cody’s seahorse and butterflies respectively. And of course I was fielding Facebook chat about the process, all the while Instagramming the ink, as Farrah took and shared photos.

Funny, isn’t it? The way these two worlds have merged? I spent a week in California, three days deep in Silicon Valley, discussing new paradigms for publishing, the increasingly visible Web, live-tweeting everything, texting and DMing and Facebook sharing privately and with the world so many of the details.

And yet, as always, what the conference was really about was direct connection: conversations over lunch and brunch and dinner, a quick coffee grabbed between sessions (thanks, Liz — and now I’m noticing sentence fragments everywhere, including the ones in this post), stealing away with my roommate/blog girlfriend for blog-girlfriend conversation the midst of it all, all the dozens of micro and macro connections made in real time, the way you can meet someone for the first time instantly know she’ll be your favourite.

And, as always, the best conversations and moments are probably the ones we don’t necessarily Tweet right away, or ever. Instead, they inform our writing, our work, our perspectives, get distilled into the words and the art, the bigger picture, keep us thinking, help keep us focused on the next project or adventure even when we can’t quite see how it will turn out.

I didn’t bring my computer to the conference — one more thing to weigh me down when I already have baggage about carrying too much — but after a week in California without making time to journal, I wrote eleven (yes, eleven) longhand notebook pages on the plane, taking up the better part of two hours just getting down thoughts and impressions, barely any analysis.

I didn’t take enough photos, don’t have the energy to write out all eleven pages’ worth of details here, and even if I did you wouldn’t want to read them all. But what I came away with from the conference is that, for me, blogging is still about the writing. Even if writing is no longer only about ink on paper. I led a session with Meiko Patton on self-editing at the conference, and when people asked about things like SEO, I just shrugged my shoulders. It’s not that I don’t care about the numbers, about visibility. Of course I want my posts to pop up first in searches, to reach a wide audience. But mostly, I want to play with words, write headlines that will make me happy, even while the blinking light in my SEO indicator stays firmly in the red. I don’t care if it goes green — I just hit publish when the words are ready (enough) to go.

In a world where so much is digital, it’s good to remind myself of that. It’s good to come away from the epicentre of technology reconfirmed in what I’ve almost always known: what I want most is to get the words out, to get them down, indelible. What I need most in this loopy, hybrid, digital/analog world are the words, as immediate as possible. Pen on paper, metal keys striking through the fabric ribbon, or my voice transmuted through microphone onto a blank page — that’s what that typewriter reminds me of, Cody’s hands etching it into me, metal needle on skin, nothing between the two but ink.


In between nothing at all

IMG_1325[1]
IMG_1325[1]

I am in between right now.

That’s the best way to describe it. At this very moment, in between lunchtime pickup and collecting the kids from camp and childcare to take them to the dentist. Waiting for one load of laundry to finish washing and another to be put away. I am in between worlds, trying to follow what's going on in conflicts across the globe, caught between my desire to know more, to try to make sense of it all, and the overwhelming amount of information and opinions masquerading as understanding. I am in between jobs — everything is at design or with its editor or waiting for approvals, and I sit here with my checklist full of checkmarks, wondering what might next come down the chute. I am in between “work” and “vacation”: I head out tomorrow for a weekend in a tent with Isaac (I know, I know ...), and then next week to California and BlogHer, and I am so excited about that that I want to pull a Madeleine L’Engle and wrinkle time so that I can get there without all this messy business of being in between then and now, here and there.

(BlogHer, California: I want to see you, and you, and you, some of you whom I’ve met before in person and some of you for whom it only feels like it; I want to close the circle between the richness of last year’s conference — and the one before that — and this upcoming one, refuel with the physical presence of all you on-liners, and chance encounters, and spoken words, and dance-floor shenanigans to get me through another year.)

And so I’m in that space where I find myself saying, “I guess we’ll talk about that in August. I guess I’ll see you after I’m back,” as though nothing real can happen, no plans can be made, between now and then.

(Even this website is in between — you can’t tell right now, but it’s under a serious overhaul as I grow it up, take the ultimately rewarding also occasionally profoundly uncomfortable steps of shedding an old skin, moving to an online presence that’s a more accurate reflection of who I am, what I do (and what I want to do). Nothing like taking a hard look at all the work you’ve done over the past decade and a half and trying to quantify it. Nothing like talking about yourself for pages, struggling to find the happy place between honest portrayal and marketing-friendly. Especially for somebody who so loves to use em-dashes and parenthetical asides.)

It’s not my favourite state of being, this liminality, hovering between what’s happened and what’s next. I don’t like waiting for the ping of my e-mail (one just came in, by the way, from a magazine: they love that essay on Star Wars, but can’t use it, in case you want it), for the likes on Facebook, the reply to the text, as though they and not I will determine next steps.

I should be doing something, but what? Write, work, or step away from the computer, pull the kid (the one not at a beloved summer program this week) out of the babysitter’s, and head out on a river hike with a friend and her children — out of cell phone range, off the grid.

Because, these kids, they know how to be here now. We hiked (walked, meandered, skipped) through the wooded path out to the rocks and the river, until they suddenly stopped at a pool filled with tadpoles and baby salamanders, where they stayed for the next two hours, catching and releasing and processing and engaging in the usual discussion of the ethics of taking home living things in plastic bags. (“And what do you think it would be like if a giant monster came down and picked you up and said, ‘He’s so cute! I think I’ll take him home and put him in a jar and feed him motor oil! I'm sure he’ll like that!’”)

At one point, we asked — as grown-ups do — if the kids might like to walk a little further, a little higher up the river, and they replied immediately, in unison, “NO!” As though the idea was preposterous, even offensive, which it was: why on earth would they want to be anywhere but exactly where they were, right then? And who were we to ask?

They were right. And so we stayed, and played, and lay in the sun, and peed in the woods, and found a frog, and a spider with an egg sac, and a carnivorous plant, and looked and looked at the sky and the rocks and the trees, none of which were waiting for anything at all.

The kids are still all right, already

enhanced-buzz-22233-1388450045-2
enhanced-buzz-22233-1388450045-2

Guess what? It turns out that kids of queer parents are still doing just fine.

In my post this week at Today's Parent, I talk about the findings of the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families, released Monday.

In fact queerspawn aren't doing just fine — they are doing the same as or better than their straight-reared peers, a finding that is consistent with other studies on the subject showing that queer families do better in part because we're less likely to abuse our children, divide up childcare and household responsibilities more equitably, talk to our kids about how their families were created, and teach our kids about activism bullying, and standing up for the underdog. Just for example:

Specifically, children of LGBTQ parents showed no difference on factors such as temperament, mood, mental health, and self-esteem, and scored six percent higher in the areas of general health and family cohesion. Researchers collected data from 325 families with a total of 500 children. […]

What I find striking about all the studies isn’t that kids of queer parents are just fine — better than fine in fact. What I find striking are two things. First, it’s astonishing to me that we still need to study the issue at all, rather than accepting as a foregone conclusion that kids with loving and committed parents tend to do well.

Second, and more important: good parenting outcomes don’t depend on sexual orientation or gender identity. Any set of parents, gay or straight, could divide up chores equitably. No parent ever has to hit a child. We could all learn how to tell the stories of our family’s origins and what makes us strong — and we could all teach our kids to stick up for themselves and for the underdogs. We could all stand up to bullies.

Read more…

Photo Via Australian Marriage Equity

And thus was born a new tradition

IMG_1250[1] “Mom, who left the two dollars under my pillow?”

“What two dollars?”

“The one for my tooth.”

“You left a tooth under your pillow? Why?”

“For the tooth fairy!”

“Don’t you mean the tooth garbageman?”

“Who’s the tooth garbageman?”

“He’s the guy who looks around under your pillow and says, ‘Ew, a tooth!’ and throws it in the garbage.”

Living in sin

[gallery ids="3275,3274,3273,3271,3272,3276"] Way back when, in our hip, pre-children, pre-homeowning, student days, Rachel and I shared an office in our apartment just off Queen West in Toronto.

(Already, I have to digress: our landlord was the now-defunct Toronto Housing Corporation, which at the time owned several properties throughout the city, which it managed in an entirely corrupt, Kafkaesque manner. We got the place not because we filled out a form and our names came up in some kind of orderly, fair lottery, but because we lived next door to the previous tenant and we knew she was leaving and the whacked people at the THC — apt acronym, that  — were happy not to have to do extra paperwork and just handed the place over. It was rumoured that the previous tenant — a lovely woman — had been a (cough) former mayor’s (cough) mistress for many years and that she lived rent-free. Other neighbours used to describe the black limousine that would pull up in front and discharge the mayor, who would disappear into our apartment for a couple hours at a time.)

(TORONTO! What's with all the mayors with secret lives?)

Anyway: back in our hip, pre-children, pre-homeowning student days, Rachel and I shared an office in our notorious, den-of-iniquity, checkered-history apartment just off Queen West in Toronto.

It was a two-bedroom place. We slept in the smaller bedroom, and worked in larger of the two. It was quite a lovely arrangement. There was something rather soothing about working in tandem, each of us at our own desk, humming along on our various projects in our own computers. At its best, the set-up pushed us to keep at our work, not to break the spell of more or less steady concentration with idle chatter or Facebook. (In any case, Facebook didn't exist — which is good, because it would've been incredibly slow on a dial-up connection.) Occasionally, we’d break the silence to confirm grammar points or to bounce around ideas about opening lines or hypotheses.

And then, we moved up here, and bought this house, and we got our own offices. And while this has mostly been a good thing, we have also occasionally missed each other’s company, especially during the stretches of time where one or both of us is working on a longer-term project — you know, the kind that requires you to sit at your desk for hours and days on end even when you don't really feel like it, which is much of the time. That kind of work can get isolating (with teeny, tiny amounts of euphoria thrown into the mix, just to make sure you don't give up entirely). Having another body there, working alongside you in companionable silence, can make a difference.

And so yesterday we decided to create an extra workstation in my office. I hadn't imagined how there could be any room for it, but it turns out that an extra desktop fits quite nicely in the room’s southeast corner once we moved some plants out of the way. My filing cabinet and my copy of the Riverside Shakespeare are now holding up a corner Rachel's new desk, and we will experiment with sharing a workspace at least part of the time. Even if she isn't in here that often, I'm already realizing just how useful a second desktop can be — last night, I used it to move forward on a sewing project (which I have since carefully tidied away so that the space is still there for Rachel).

I love this about functional spaces — how, with a bit of imagination and repurposing and rearranging we can make something from nothing, or, rather, a workstation from an old IKEA tabletop and a filing cabinet and a book that's been one of the most useful I've ever owned, and not just as a desk prop. I imagine at some point I'll have to refer to my Riverside Shakespeare again, and then we will have to hold up the desktop with a phone book or something. But for now, it's me and my girl and Will again, and maybe something like poetry will emerge from it all.

Crab/apple

IMG_0921[1] The giant crabapple tree in our backyard is finally in bloom — a month later than normal, granted, but in bloom nonetheless, its delicate white flowers wafting their subtle fragrance through the weekend air, shedding their petals slowly onto the lawn.

So of course what the boys are doing is whacking away at the tree with a garden rake and booting a soccer ball in amongst the branches in an effort to knock down as many petals as possible. They have a friend over — another neighbourhood kid — and he is helping with the flower massacre when he is not trying to set the deck on fire using the sun’s rays and a magnifying glass.

I’m witnessing all this from the kitchen, where I’m scrambling eggs for the three of them. I’m vacillating between the three “As”: annoyance (The tree is in bloom like this for only a few days – can’t they just leave it in peace?), amusement (Those crazy, creative kids!), and acceptance (This is what kids do. At least they’re playing outside and not watching cartoons.)

“Mama?” Rowan comes in through the screen door and hands me a sprig of crabapple blossoms. “These are for you.”

A wave of pure love for him washes over me as I tuck the flowers behind my left ear. “Thank you, honey.”

“Can I have sour cream and salsa on my eggs?”

“No problem.”

And then he’s back outside, and in the next minute the three boys decide that what would be a really good idea would be to sell the flowers to all the neighbours. Fifty cents a bunch! Listening to them, I groan inwardly (maybe also outwardly), because I’m already envisioning the overexcited kids running in and out of the house, door slamming behind them as they make and change plans and shout over each other. I’m already rolling my eyes as I imagine the multiple discussions I’m about to have around the fact that, “No, you cannot go door to door and ask the neighbours to buy the flowers that grow in our very own backyard.” And one kid wants me to make a sign and another one is trying to find something out of which to build a table, and another is now dragging the cooler up from the basement to use as a table and Isaac is shrieking “Flowers for sale! Give us all your money!” up and down the street even though he’s been told is not allowed to yell on the street (“It’s ADVERTISING!” he protests.). Part of me wants to applaud their entrepreneurial spirit, while another part of me cringes at the thought of the racket they’re trying to run, coaxing quarters out of neighbours. Why does everything have to be for sale? Why can’t you just give some flowers away? I want to ask, and at the same time I’m marvelling at the innocence of children, how enamoured they are of their plans, the way Isaac thinks that this will make him rich. RICH!

I love my children, but sometimes they are tiring.

And then, thankfully, it’s time to leave for Rowan’s soccer game, and — even more thankfully — it’s Rachel’s turn to take them, and soon all of the chaos will stop for a couple of hours, during which time I will write this post about all the conflicting desires and emotions that come with bringing these small, wild humans into your life. But first, I have to help Rowan get his soccer cleats laced really, really tight.

“Um, Mom,” he says, looking at the flowers still tucked behind my ear as I kneel over his foot, “You owe us fifty cents for those.”

“Nice try,” I tell him. “Nice try.”

Seven-year-old, II

IMG_0954[2] Dear Isaac,

We spent this past weekend together, just two of us, while your other mom and your big brother headed off for an out-of-town soccer tournament. I haven’t spent this much one-on-one time with you since you were an infant (that time when Rachel and Rowan headed out on that West Coast vacation ahead of us and I hung out with baby you and painted your brother’s room while you napped BECAUSE BEING LEFT ON MY OWN TO PAINT A ROOM IS VACATION TO ME DAMMIT). And, frankly, we were long overdue (for the one-on-one time, not painting, although I bet that if I had suggested to you that we get out some rollers and slap some paint on a wall or two, you would’ve been completely game).

Anyway. I was very much looking forward to spending the weekend with you, but I have to admit I was just slightly concerned that maybe you wouldn’t feel the same way. After all, for so long it seems as though I’ve existed in Rachel’s shadow when it comes to you. And while your absolute and passionate preference for her seems to have faded, vestiges of it remain: “Is Rachel putting me to bed tonight?” you’ll often ask, hopefully, although by the time we cuddle up in bed on my evenings with you, you’re completely content to read and to cuddle with me. Nothing I can’t cope with emotionally, but it did occur to me that maybe you would balk or — possibly worse — be indifferent at the thought of just the two of us all weekend.

I mean, you’re not the most sentimental kid: unlike your brother, you seem not to have inherited the Goldberg penchant for getting weepy at comings and goings, for tearing up at significant emotional events and commercials. When I walk you to school, your brother is the one who turns around for extra hugs at the schoolyard gate, while you tend to march happily into the playground without a backward glance. “I love you,” I’ll call. “Have a great day, Isaac!”

“Yeah yeah,” you’ll say.

And then, when I collect to you on Thursday after school, at the beginning of our solo weekend adventure, you handed me a card. On the front, you’d written my name (OK, you’d written “SHEZIN,” but I’ll take it) surrounded by Xs and Os. Underneath my name, you had drawn a heart. And inside the card, you’d drawn a picture of you and me, holding hands, inside another heart.

IMG_0955[1]

And it’s a good thing that I had these two extra hearts, because the one inside my chest nearly exploded just then.

We had a fabulous weekend. We had tickle fights. You spent a happy hour or so sorting out the international coins in my coin jar. We went out for sushi and you ate flying fish roe and an entire hand roll and copious quantities of wonton soup. We saw How to Train Your Dragon II. We made muffins and I remembered to breathe as you measured all the ingredients and dumped them into the Cuisinart. You found the discarded metal brackets that used to hold up the old Venetian blinds in my office — I nearly said no when you asked if you could have them (another mess, more chaos, bits of metal scattered throughout the house), and then remembered that I’m trying to say yes more, and two hours later you had created several found-object sculptures with the brackets, much electrical tape, and household string. On Saturday morning, inspired by said sculptures, I dusted off your other mother’s childhood Meccano set — right up your alley with its zillion tiny metal pieces, each in its own place in its Styrofoam tray — and you got right to work, building a bridge. We never left the house that day but instead worked in companionable near-silence, you screwing together metal brackets and me puttering about, playing guitar, doing bits of work and occasionally putting some food in front of you to feed that miraculous, ridiculous little brain.

IMG_0999

Your brain: it’s nuts. I’ve taken to jotting down snippets of conversations we have before you go to sleep. You’ve got a definite penchant for the gory and the macabre. We’ll be lying there, all cuddly in the dark, and then you’ll turn over and say something like, “Mama? Is it possible to die while standing?” or, “Mama? What if you’re dead do you just see clear?” or, “Mama? Why would you tie someone to a train?” or, “You know, I don’t really like bedtime. I always wish it was more … explosive. You know, like if you got a little bomb every night.”

Despite (maybe because of?) your fascination with the grotesque, you’re such a happy kid. After a few weeks of practice, you can now do the splits, a fact that you share with everyone, dropping — boom! — suddenly down in the schoolyard, in the parking lot, in the living room, so that people marvel at your flexibility. Maybe you’ll take up figure skating, marrying your bendy limbs with your love of the ice. You’re joined at the hip with your best friend, who joined us for a sleepover Saturday night. When the two of you are together, it’s as though you work on one brain: the two of you remind me of those toddler twins on the Internet who have their own language. You are still an inveterate magpie, snitching shiny things from my desk, my dresser. You have cleared out everything from your bedroom closet and created a lounge/lab, where you hang on your own or with your friends. You love Minecraft and being read to, maple syrup on your oatmeal. And while you have, mercifully, mostly given up the habit of climbing into our bed at 4 AM, you still arrive most mornings by seven to snuggle up and say hello. Usually, you walk around to Rachel’s side of the bed, but more and more often, you climb right into the middle of us and whisper, “Is it a family day? And can we have French toast?”

Lately, I’ve been missing, longing for, the baby version of you, trying to remember the weight of you on my hip, curled next to me in bed those hazy newborn days. There’s no trace of that baby left in those long, skinny limbs of yours — sometime in the last year or so, I realized that you no longer suck your thumb. Your once indispensable security blanket is now utterly optional. But that’s OK: there’s so much more joy in spending the weekend with you now than there was six years ago, even if I did get the satisfaction of painting a room on my own.

Happy seventh birthday, Isaac. You’re the bomb.

Love,

Mama