Eight year old (2)

Dear Isaac,

On the morning I began drafting this letter to you, I woke up early — earlier than you, at least, at 6 AM  — and snuck downstairs to my office in order to try to squeeze in some journalling before you and your brother woke up. (Or, really, before you woke up: Rowan will reliably sleep in well past seven these days, but you have never really varied from your preferred 6 AM-ish wake-up call, slipping in to my room to cuddle and ask questions and steal my covers and wonder about French toast. You know. I can barely fault you for it — I've always been terrible at sleeping in, and I'm not getting any better at it as I get older.) It's a crapshoot, my early-morning attempts at pre-kid activity: you wake up at the slightest noise and so I often forfeit tea, try not to put too much weight on the stairs, pee in the basement rather than risk using the bathroom upstairs, all in the name of having you sleep longer.

This particular morning, I made it! I got all the way into my office and even got through a paragraph before I heard the unmistakable sound of you, stumbling out of bed and across the hallway, peeking into my room and not finding me there. I heard you grab a pajama shirt, the fall of your feet down the stairs and then there you were, poking your head into my office and crawling into my lap. I admit that I thought, Damnit. We spent the next half-hour and three longhand pages like that. You pulled The House Book off my shelf and flipped through it, chattering to me about all the different buildings by famous architects as I attempted to write ("Is that a mansion?" "Do you think a house like that would cost 299 million dollars?” “I would really, really like to live in that house."), squirming in my lap, all elbows and sit-bones into my thighs and ribs and sides. We jockeyed for space on the desk — me with my notebook and you with your massive hardcover. We negotiated: you wanting breakfast and me wanting to finish, you wanting to sit on my lap exactly as you wanted to sit and me wanting you to sit so that I could feel my legs. Etc.

If I look back on those pages, which I'm doing right now, they are annotated with notes about you, ranging from annoyance to pleasure, fatigue to adoration.

Because you're eight, all skinny and snaggletoothed, long-limbed and flexible (you trim your toenails with your teeth; you can still do the splits all ways, although you don't drop suddenly into them and scare people now as often as you did, say, a year ago), legs covered in bruises and picked-at mosquito bites. You shaved your head about four months ago — your hair, your choice — but it's mostly grown in. Last week, I quietly snipped away the beginnings of the mullet at the nape of your neck, because we do still have some standards around here and hockey hair isn't one of them. Yet.

Because you're eight, and these kinds of cuddles, these extended, one-on-one moments of physical closeness, are fewer and further in between. Sure, you prefer to fall asleep in my bed and would stay there all night if I could sleep next to your squirminess and sheet-stealing, but I can't, and so each night that you're here I gather up your sleep-limp body and carry you to your own bed. You're still little enough, light enough, to do that, although it's starting to get awkward: those never-ending legs catching the sheets as I try to move you. One night a couple of weeks ago I heaved you gently onto your bed and your weight shifted so that I lost my balance ever so slightly and fell, gently, onto the mattress with you, your cheek coming to rest against my chest like you were a baby again. I stayed there for a few minutes, remembering.

That’s it, isn't it, what it means to be eight? Still small enough for so many things — laps, late-night bed shuffles — but not for much longer, with those long legs of yours. You're starting to be a real menace in those tickle fights you suggest almost daily. You still prefer to be read to out loud — and I love to read to you, so that's a great thing. (We just finished E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, one of my absolute childhood favourites, and I thought about how much fun it would be to take you to New York one day, go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art together.) But still, lately I catch you with a book on the couch, and I hear you whispering the words under your breath, and I wonder just how much longer we’ll be reading together: will I notice first that you’re too big for my lap or that you’re too independent a reader to sit with me any longer? Either way, there are going to be some feelings about that. We’ll discuss those later.

First, I will tell you that if I had to take bets, I would predict that you will be an archaeologist or jeweler. Or a curator: you are fascinated with rocks, have turned your bedroom into a display case for the various fossils and specimens that you collect on your own and with your still-beloved former babysitter, Clair. You're convinced that they’re worth millions, which would be a good thing because of your above-mentioned mansion fantasies. We're having lots of talks about money these days, but I fear it your context for the numbers is still underdeveloped. Which is fine, given that I can barely wrap my head around the fact that you are eight. And nine and ten can't be far behind, can they?

So much for distractions.

Isaac, you are a goofball, a dancer, a ninja. You love Minecraft and your best friend. Your best meal is still breakfast, preferably copious quantities of French toast or oatmeal, covered with copious quantities of maple syrup. Many things in your life are copious — the more the better. You are equal parts sweet but wildly unsentimental; you don’t cry at goodbyes and would prefer not to say them at all; it's hard not to want to hug you anyway but I'm learning to give you your space. Which makes the morning cuddles, the bedtime reading, extra sweet. (It would be disingenuous not to note that now you are here for only half your bedtimes. I want you to know that I notice your absences, miss you when you are not here — even as I welcome sleeping in past seven, even when I can wake up and journal and drink a cup of tea uninterrupted. I want you to know that know that you're okay exactly where you are.)

You are eight, and I will watch you celebrate that eight-ness with a bunch of boys running wildly through the neighbourhood, and I will marvel. I will watch you catch hold of this new age, on the cusp of this new time, and run with it. And I will revel in those moments when you stop, even for a moment, and fall into my lap.

I love you,


PS: Seven-year-old

PPS: Six-year-old

PPPS: Five-year-old


Talking to kids about transgender issues, over at VillageQ

Hey there – today I'm posting over at VillageQ, on talking to Rowan and Isaac about Transgender Awareness Week. (Spoiler alert: my conversation didn't go as planned.)

I was going to write about how we watched the Arcade Fire video “We Exist,” which features a young transgender woman, how I pulled out a recent issue of the New York Times magazine, which features three transgender men on its cover, all students at Wellesley University, an historically “women’s” college, now grappling with how to understand and acknowledge the increasing numbers of trans male and female students on its campus.

I was going to tell you about the nuanced and careful conversation we had, where they asked questions and I answered them and we all emerged slightly more enlightened after 10 or 15 minutes of pleasant chat.

But, here’s the thing: my sons are seven and 10. I don’t think they have ever in their lives had a serious, 10 or 15 minute, sit-down, nuanced, focused, and enlightened conversation about–well–anything, really.

Please click on over to read the rest!

An open letter to my hairstylist

kitten before Dear Tonya,

I’m just checking in to make sure you’re OK after yesterday.

Not that I think anything untoward happened. After all, we exchanged only pleasantries. I may have communicated firmly, but I know I did so kindly.

It’s just that, as you said, I seem to do a very good job of “pushing you out of your comfort zone,” and so I wanted to make sure that you weren’t too rattled after my second visit to the salon in five days. I mean, you did say to come back if any aspect of the cut wasn’t working for me, and so I did that thing that I am historically so bad at doing with hairstylists and asserted myself.

The cut was good, Tonya, it’s just that, well, I have a shitload of hair. I have, conservatively, about three normal people’s worth of hair. And it is thick, and it is curly, and it does what it wants. And it needs much product as well as a strong and drastic hand in order to be tamed. And you, Tonya, are going to have to be this strong and drastic hand. Even if it does push you out of your comfort zone and cause you to say things like, “Well, you’re definitely the most… different… and… determined client I have.”

It’s OK, Tonya. I can take it. I mean, you’re not the first hairstylist I’ve made uncomfortable. The first 20 years of my life were essentially a quest to find someone who could figure out what to do with my hair. Sure, I had unrealistic expectations. As a kid, I wanted hair like Barbie’s: long, blond, straight. If not Barbie, then I would have happily settled for Cindy Brady hair: those two pigtails in their perfect ringlets. In the early 1980s, I wanted hair that would feather. I was a young Jewish girl who longed for WASP hair, and it wasn’t happening. For a while, I had a good thing going with Al, who wore leather pants and worked out of a salon in Richmond, British Columbia. He managed to coax something like style from my masses of frizz, but then he died of a heroin overdose and I was back to square one. For a while, during the late 1980s and early 90s, when big hair was in, I managed to work out a trick involving a whole lot of styling mousse and a bandanna. By the mid-1990s, I spent hours of my life I’ll never get back flat-ironing my hair into submission and avoiding rain and swimming pools at all costs.

And then, I met Jimi. Jimi, at Coupe Bizarre on Queen Street West in Toronto. Jimi, who had hair EXACTLY like mine. Jimi, who never once used thinning shears — the bane of my existence — but instead sliced away at my hair with a straight razor, carving out great swathes of it. Jimi, who cut out channels of hair directly at the scalp, defying everything anyone else had ever told me about hair in order to thin mine out, make it manageable. Jimi, who cut my hair dry. Jimi, whose cuts lasted a good two months. When he was done with me, he was up to his ankles in hair. “It looks like kittens!” he once said at the end of a cut.

And then I moved up here, to Thunder Bay. Where there was no Jimi. Fortunately, I returned to Toronto often, visits that were planned with a trip to Coupe Bizarre in mind. But, sometimes I needed a haircut here, and as time wore on, I visited Toronto less often, and so the quest to find someone to whack away mercilessly at my tresses with a straight razor, to carve out channels into my scalp, began.

Tonya, you’re at least the sixth person in town I’ve been to. Everyone says that they can thin out my hair, and everyone pulls out some thinning shears and hacks away at it for a while. And I look down at the ground, and there are no kittens there. And I feel the weight of my hair against my scalp, and I know that they haven’t done what I want them to do. And it irks me, Tonya. It really irks me.

And then I met you. And you were game. Reluctant, but game. And you timidly carved a few tiny channels and my scalp. And I pushed you to do a couple more, and you did, and I felt that perhaps I had pushed you far enough for one day. And then, during the next visit, you did a bit more, but still not enough. And then you blow-dried my hair and that made it poof out. I’m sorry that I got cranky when that happened, but I had told you that I didn’t want you to blow-dry my hair because it would poof out, and also I had to pick up my children. And then I came back for another cut on Friday, and I pushed as hard as I could push before stepping out of my own comfort zone, but still, at the end the haircut there was too much hair on my head and not enough on the floor and so I pulled it together and made a follow-up appointment. And I vowed that I would not leave the chair until you had cut channels into my head a centimetre apart all the way around. I wasn’t leaving until there were kittens.


And you did. It went against everything you have ever learned in hair school, but you did it for me.

So, yes. I am determined. I am perhaps even different. And thank you for not saying it, but if you think I’m difficult, so be it. You’re stuck with me, and I sincerely hope that you are not fond of heroin, because we are going to make this WORK.



kitten after