Guardian Angel (or, don't leave your wallet on top of your car)

I put my wallet on top of the car so that I could take a selfie at the gas station. That’s stupid, I told myself as I did it. You’ll regret that. Don’t do it.

But I put my wallet on top of my car, anyway, and took the photo and posted it, before gassing up before hitting the road to Winnipeg, where Elan and I had decided to meet for the weekend to work and play and eat great food and wander streets and hang out and go to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and have long, blue-sky conversations about the Future of Work and Life and Anthology and Everything. And then I got into my car and I drove off. 


And then I realized within a minute exactly what I had done. By the time I got back to the gas station — remembering to inhale and exhale and drum, drum drumming my hands on the steering wheel during the agonizingly long red light between me and my fears — my wallet was gone. Not on the ground next to the pump. The attendant inside hadn’t seen it.

And so I stood in the parking lot of the gas station for a moment, trying to figure out my next steps. I had a car and a full tank of gas, but now no driver’s license or credit card or bank card or cash. So, really, I wouldn’t be able to make it to Winnipeg, would I? Not really. Not legally, or easily, not without a Guardian Angel to bankroll me, in cash, now. Did I have a Guardian Angel?

I was just processing all this fallout when a man drove up in a red truck.

“Are you looking for something?” he asked.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually uttered the words “Bless you,” before in my life (at least, not anyone who hadn’t just sneezed) but I did, then.

(It didn't even occur to me to open my wallet, check to make sure that everything was there. Because I knew it would be. And it was.)

And then I got on the road, and I drove, listening to Cheryl Strayed read from Tiny Beautiful Things, and that book is my new religion. I still need to reread it at a couple of million times and process it, but I'll take this lesson from it, for now: that little voice in your head? The one that says, That's stupid? The one that says, You'll regret that. Don't do it. Listen to that voice, and then also listen to it when it says, Do that thing, that thing that you're so scared to do. Because that thing will save your life. And also: You are surrounded by Guardian Angels. You just need to meet them, and also be one when called.


PS: Elan and I stayed in Winnipeg courtesy of Executive Suites by Roseman. The accommodations were lovely — comfy beds, fully appointed kitchen, easy-on-the-eyes decor. I'm guessing our Winnipeg digs were one reason why it took so much effort for us to actually venture out into the city; it was too easy to stay in and just hang out. Roseman put us up (thank you!), but I'm not otherwise compensated for this post, and all opinions are my own.

Smoke and pastries

portugeuse pastries 3 (Begun last week ...)

The last time I smoked a cigarette, it was New Years of the millennium. Earlier in the evening, Rachel and I had ordered in sushi, which we consumed, along with a bottle of really good champagne, in the bathtub of our Queen West-ish apartment in downtown Toronto. Eventually, we dragged ourselves out of the bath and got pretty and went to a party at our friend Caitlin’s downtown loft, where there was more champagne and more food and where there were beautiful and very drunk and very giddy people.

Just before midnight, we headed up to the roof of her building at King and Bathurst and watched the sky explode in bursts of the most beautiful fireworks I’d ever seen: stars and wheels of colour lighting up the world around us for what seemed like hours.

And even though the sky exploded, the world didn’t end.

Do you remember Y2K? And how we all thought that we might die when the collective speedometers of all the world’s technology flipped over to 2000? I had just turned 29. We’d visited an ATM. We had filled some jugs with water and bought a few cans of soup, and had then switched over to sushi and champagne and decided to see what happened. Which was, of course, nothing. Which is kind of what we thought might happen, but who could know for sure?

And on that night I smoked my final cigarette.

I wasn’t a heavy smoker; I never had been. I had smoked, on and off, casually, since at least high school. I smoked the way you could back then, in shopping malls and on subway platforms and on airplanes, in restaurants and bars and on my high school and university campuses. I smoked between classes, at rehearsal breaks, while playing pool at bars, at parties. My friend Peter and I used to go to late-night movies at Cinema du Parc in Montreal, and smoke in the balcony while we watched movies like Until the End of the World (Best. Soundtrack. Ever.). Sometimes I bought my own cigarettes; often, too often, I bummed them off other people.

It was never about the nicotine, but about the ritual, the camaraderie, the habit, the giving in to craving, the pleasure, the perverse thrill of being young and bad and immortal.

But by midnight on December 31, 1999, I was ready to quit. I had decided that it was silly to smoke casually. Which, of course, it was. It was silly to smoke at all, in fact. We all knew that; we all still know it. A friend of mine had put it this way: “Smokers don’t smoke. Not even when they’re stressed. Not just when they’re drinking. Not after they’ve had sex. If you don’t smoke, you don’t smoke – ever.”

Her words stuck with me. Was I a smoker, or wasn’t I? The absoluteness of it, the black-and-white of it, appealed to me. I don’t have an addictive personality, but I do have a bit of an obsessive one: I like lists, and goals, and absolutes. I like things to be tidy. I have a weak spot for self-improvement initiatives. I have a bit of a perfectionist streak. And so I decided that, if the world didn’t end, the new millennium would see me as a non-smoker.

Which it did. I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but that one stuck.

Until last night.

Last night, I went out with an old friend from those university days in Montreal, someone who smoked and drank with me at so many of those parties and bars and movies and breaks. She’s one of those friends where there aren’t any holds barred, where the conversation is as honest and bare-bones as it is infrequent — we go for months in our separate cities without talking and then we get together and it’s like nothing has happened.

And so we shared a bottle of wine and we talked for hours about where we were at and what’s been going on in our lives. I told her — already amped up on the heels of this conference — about how so much of the past year has been intense, how I’m starting to feel as though some narrative of my life has cracked wide open, shattered into so many pieces that gluing them together again is pointless — and, more to the point, unhealthy. Whatever that broken narrative was, is, it had long since served its purpose, built on assumptions and beliefs that perhaps had served me well once but now bore some kind of re-examination.

We talked about all the intense experiences of youth, all those parties and bars and classes and rehearsals and affairs and late-night movies, all the dramas and how simultaneously exhausting and invigorating they were. We talked about what it was like to feel so deeply, so much of the time, and how different it is in our day-to-day lives as grown-ups, professionals, spouses, parents. And I told her that even when things were difficult this year, even when they were most uncomfortable, a part of me was just so relieved to feel deeply and strongly and fully again — to “feel all the feels” as a different friend recently said. We talked about how I am so dedicated to order and predictability and routine and working out and being good. I said that I might be ready to slaughter some sacred cows (I’m cringing, vaguely, that that metaphor, but it’s good and bloody and true).

And then we walked out onto the street in search of Portuguese pastries and coffee, and she pulled out that two-month-old pack of cigarettes that she keeps in her bag for precisely this kind of occasion, and she asked me if I wanted one, and I took a deep breath and said, “Yes. Yes I do.”

And I had a few drags of a cigarette. And in those few, contraband, lungsfull of smoke I inhaled, paradoxically, a bit more life. It wasn’t the nicotine — it was the willingness to shatter a so-called perfect record in the name of something larger, riskier, stupider, sillier, more fun, less anxious, less caught up in the sum total and more alive to all its parts. No, I doubt very much I’ll ever take up smoking regularly again. But whether I do or don’t, it will be because of what I feel like doing at the time, not because I don’t want to break my perfect record.

It’s not like the world exploded into a million bursts of light because of a single cigarette. But it didn’t end, either.

It's the destination, okay?

Summer 2009 005

“It’s the journey, not the destination.”

How many times have you heard those words as a parent? A lot, I bet. If you’re anything like me, I bet that you’ve muttered those words to yourself as you tried to get a toddler to go just about anywhere. I bet you’ve “journey-not-destinationed” yourself through homework or toilet training or the grocery store or sleeping through the night or any number of child-related milestones.

But you know? Sometimes, Zen as it is, that little “journey not destination” mantra can get, well, a wee bit onerous. Sometimes, having someone chirp at you that, “Oh, ha ha, you should just enjoy what’s happening right at this very moment because life with kids is all about the journey, not the destination” can make you feel like punching that person in the throat. It’s tantamount to saying that if you were just a better parent, a better person, you would truly embrace, say, your toddler’s insistence upon stopping to drop pebbles down every single sewer grating on the way home from daycare, thus turning a 10-minute walk into a 90-minute odyssey.

Because here’s the thing: sometimes, no matter how wonderful a person or a parent you are, it’s about the destination. Sometimes, sure, it's important to be here now. But sometimes, you just want to get there, already. Fast. And with as little screaming as possible.

Nowhere is this more true than on road trips with children.

So, let’s debunk this whole myth of “journey not destination,” shall we? Let’s put to rest once and for all that we are somehow lesser as parents if we feel on occasion that the less time spent in moving vehicles with our children the better. Let’s stop judging ourselves and each other by the degree to which we look forward to and enjoy strapping small, high-energy beings into five-point harnesses and hurtling off into traffic for hours. Because while there while there are undoubtedly lots of excellent things about road trips, there are also lots of rather tedious things.

Sure, there will be moments of pure beauty. You will see a pair of deer standing for a split second at the side of the road and your four-year-old will say, “Mommy, that deer looked right at me!” And you will say, “Yes, she did, honey.”

You will stop at a perfect beach for a picnic lunch and spend an hour skipping stones with your children, and one of them will lean back into your lap and look up at the sky and point out how that cloud looks just like a rabbit. Eating a Chihuahua.


You will prepare a cooler filled with fruit and vegetables and healthy snacks and your children will eat all of those fruits and vegetables and healthy snacks without complaining and you will sail right on by the fast-food chains, drinking tea out of your reusable travel mug, feeling smug virtuous.

You will bring E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web on CD and your entire family will listen, entranced, to the entire story, and you will weep together at its ending.

You will bring a big pile of your own pillows and stack them between your children so that they cannot easily hit each other, and they will make little nests with those pillows and both fall asleep at the exact same time. And while they sleep, you will drive as fast and as far as possible, all the while talking to the other adult in the car and listening to — squee! — your own music on low.


But for all those times, and more, there will also be the times where the kids are too busy scratching at each other in the backseat to notice the scenery and when you go out of your way to visit the World’s Biggest Nickel they will refuse to get out of the car. They will eat only ice cream and deep-fried things for days on end and insist on listening to Diary of a Wimpy Kid or One Direction on repeat. They will clamour for electronic devices and grunt and not look up as you point out, say, the Grand Canyon. They will insist that they don’t need to pee during the rest stop and then have to pee the moment you pull onto the open freeway. The baby will scream unremittingly for the last half-hour of the day’s travels and then fall asleep as you pull into your hotel parking lot. And not one bit at night.

These things — and more — will happen. They are part of road trips. And no matter how good a parent or a person you are, there is no earthly reason you should enjoy those moments. During those moments, your job is to grit your teeth, stick on One Direction and toss your emergency stash of chocolate and the backseat, and drive as fast and as far as possible. Because you’ll get there eventually. I promise.

This post is part of BlogHer's Family Fun on Four Wheels editorial series, made possible by Mazda CX-9.