"Someday's gonna be a busy day..."

Sunday, 15 May 2011

In Praise of...Ruth

I've been blessed with many true, lovely friends over my lifetime, and I thought that in line with my In Praise Of blog entries, I should honour different friends on their birthdays. After all, who doesn't like to hear a few nifty things about themselves, especially on their birthday?

To kick off this little series, I'm gonna pay tribute to my dear friend Ruth, on what is today, her 30-something-th birthday.

Ruth is one of my insurance jockey buddies. We met about seven years ago at work, via a mutual co-worker who roped us into painting his apartment while he watched and complimented our artistic skills. At least he fed us pizza. Anyway, I do remember being struck by Ruth's big smile and weird enthusiasm for painting trim. I found myself attracted to her boundless energy, her organizational skills (she got the painting party working together efficiently - well, except for the guy we were painting for!) and her interesting paradox. From the outside, Ruth seemed like a squeaky clean innocent, all smiles and sweetness. For example, when she showed up at work one Hallowe'en dressed as a cheerleader in our company colours, no one was surprised. It was just so....Ruth. But once I got to know her, I came to realize that inside that perky girl lurks the naughtiest, most perverted sense of humour I've ever had the pleasure of being exposed to. She can come out with the raunchiest thing and look so cute and sweet while telling it you can hardly believe she really said it.

During the early days of the painful separation from my first husband, Ruth was one of the friends I clung to. Life had turned upside down for me. I felt unhealthy, unattractive and unmotivated to do much of anything. It was Ruth who coaxed me to get a gym membership; it was Ruth who went there with me twice a week after work and cheered on my panting, gasping, perspiring self to try the treadmills and ellipticals while she jogged along effortlessly beside me, a sleek thoroughbred coaxing along the tired old mare. It was Ruth who welcomed me into her home to try vegetarian dishes and play complex board games with her husband. She took me to parties, dragged me out shopping for new clothes, and told me I looked hot, even when I knew the bags under my eyes were the size of suitcases.

Ruth also had a knack for artfully moving conversations along when I was in danger of miring myself down in the unproductive mud of post-marital angst. She told me dirty jokes and made creatively disdainful remarks about my ex when I needed to hear them. She was a balm that helped heal my damaged self-image.

Most importantly, it was Ruth that got me laughing those deep, almost painful belly laughs that help us release festering anger, bitterness and tension. We still howl about the time she pressed a certain part of her anatomy up against my shower stall at the gym, and the time she wiped out on the sidewalk while demonstrating krunk moves. Ruth is the sexiest klutz I know.

And when the time came, she was so supportive of my burgeoning relationship with D. She never once told me I was dating too soon, or doled out any of the other well-meaning advice I received from other pals. She supported my choices and didn't judge, and in my opinion, that's the mark of a true, mature friend. Ruth was a gorgeous and fully involved bridesmaid at our wedding, even though it was the same day as her wedding anniversary and she was fighting a wretched cold (something she didn't tell me until she left the party at 1am).

Ruthie is the queen of scrapbooking, the mistress of domestic bliss. She sews her own Hallowe'en costumes, makes her own birthday and Christmas cards, and bakes hundreds of exquisite Christmas cookies from scratch. She completed a nursing degree while pregnant and working full time, and graduated in the top of her class.

And yet she's not overbearing, as so many A-type personality people can be. She's natural and gracious. I love her air of quiet confidence, and her nonchalance about her beautiful creations. Ruth is alawys the first one to applaud my efforts, and she's one of my biggest supporters when it comes to writing.

One of the best things about Ruth is that she's the type of person I can talk to about anything. And I mean ANYTHING. No subject is too taboo, or too boring. I think we've had conversations about everything under the sun. How cool is that?

But perhaps the most telling thing about our friendship is the storm it weathered back in 2008. When we got pregnant at the same time, we high-fived our good timing. Our babies would be born a month apart, and we'd be off for a whole blessed year together. It was going to be great having a friend to share all the highs and lows of pregnancy with. And then D and I found out we had to lose Rose.

This type of situation could have wrecked a lesser friendship, or been handled badly by either party. But Ruth treated me with compassion, honesty and dignity. She never tried to hide aspects of her pregnancy, but she didn't celebrate it in my face, either. She never, ever complained to me about any of the common miseries of pregnancy, even when her feet swelled up and her back went out. Ruthie was a class act.

It was Ruth and her husband who took us out for supper the night before we had to go to the hospital to deliver Rose; we stayed overnight at their place. And it wasn't weird, or uncomfortable. In fact, it was calming. I felt safe at Ruth's place.

I'll never forget the day she graduated from nursing college. I went with her to the ceremony, but we went out for gelato first. Ruth was eight months pregnant, and wore a stunning, form-fitting black dress, which I called her "Fat Audrey (Hepburn)" outfit. As we sat across from each other at the gelato shop, the conversation meandered somehow to my daughter Rose. We hadn't really talked about it much; I said something about how she had long legs like her father, and Ruth smiled at me and said, "I bet she was beautiful." That's when I dissolved into tears, something I had tried hard not to do in front of Ruth, not wanting to cast any shadows on her own pregnancy. Ruthie got up, sat down beside me and held me. It was strange and sad and beautiful, being comforted about the loss of my child while pressed up against a pregnant belly.

Since our friendship survived that rough patch, it seems only fitting that D and I bunked down at Ruth's when I went into labour with Jade. After my labour was deemed "false," we went back to Ruth's, and celebrated her birthday with her. We stayed overnight, and as luck would have it, "real" labour started in Ruth's guest bed at 2:45am!

We've since enjoyed the ups and downs of parenthood together. Our husbands get along well; our kids will grow up knowing and loving each other. Even though we're two hours away from each other and don't work in the same office any more, we've managed to keep up with phone calls, emails and regular visits. She's committed to the friendship, as am I, so I think we're in it for the long haul.

So Happy birthday, my dear "Bruce." I love you and I hope life continues to give you gifts of happiness and contentment. I am a richer person for knowing you.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A little Russkie never hurt anyone...

My recalcitrant, almost-two-year-old daughter was in "tune out Mummy" mode a few weeks ago when I was trying to get ready to go somewhere. After asking her to please come here three times, I suddenly blurted it out in Russian. My daughter stopped what she was doing. Her eyes got wide. I finally had her full attention, even though she had absolutely no clue what the heck I'd just said.

One thing about speaking Russian to a non-Russian speaker is that the words have a certain commanding tone to them. It doesn't really matter what you say; I could have told my daughter that kitties and dollies were pretty and it still would have sounded like I was saying something important. At any rate, I found a magical new way to get her attention.

So now I find myself dropping the odd Russian phrase or word out of the blue into my conversations with my daughter, endearments like "detka maya" (my child), whimsical stuff like "sheek pat petch" (said after you sneeze; literally it means 'fly under the stove!')and exclamations like "astarozha!" (BE CAREFUL!!). We count in Russian going up the stairs; we play with my old Matroshka (nesting) dolls often.

I feel fortunate to be able to teach Jade bits and pieces of another language. My mother was born in Belarus and spoke Russian to my sister and I at home; we lived next door to my Babushka for 20 years, and she never learned much English beyond "Medy Chreestmas!" and "vatermelon," so my sister and I grew up speaking Russian as a second language of sorts. I didn't realize until I started taking Russian courses in university that the Russian I spoke was badly stilted, outdated and comprised mostly of diminutives and baby talk. Apparently my Baba spoke to us using childlike terms our whole lives; I think I must have sounded like a Muscovite four year old with a speech impediment every time I opened my mouth to speak the language of my ancestors.

But who cares? The little bits and pieces I can impart to Jade and Dylan will be for fun, not for educational purposes. My sister and I have always enjoyed having a secret language to employ at opportune moments (e.g. clandestine exchanges about hot guys at the grocery check-out; exclamations of disgust over rude people in public places) so perhaps my kids can enjoy something similar. At the very least, I've found a way to make Miss Jade understand I mean business when I throw a little taste of the ol' Russkie yzik (language) her way.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Nosey Nosey....

My daughter Jade does this really cute thing where she'll come up to you, rub your nose with hers and say, "Nosey nosey!" It's her form of a kiss and she's been doing it with my family since she was very little. But lately her nose has been more of an experimental playground than a cuddle tool.

Last week, on my way home from my dad's cabin, I hear Jade's little voice say, from the depths of the backseat, "Mumma, lookie lookie! Look at me!" I glance in the rear-view mirror, and the kid has a raisin (her drive home snack) jammed up one nostril.

"AHHH!" I screamed. "JADE, honey, no! NO! Get that raisin out of your nose right NOW!" She snorted it out with impressive force and said, "Kleeeeeenex pleeeeease."

We had a conversation about the evils of putting things up one's nose, and I thought I'd gotten the point across (you'll have to go to the hospital, I'll take your raisins away, blah blah blah). Until today. Today, at various times throughout the day, I had to get her to snort out dried cranberries, cereal, toast, vegetable chips and a piece of apple. GAH!!!!

Someone please reassure me that this stage does not last? In the meantime, I'm keeping the tweezers handy.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

In praise of...the Thank You note

One of my more vivid memories of childhood is of my sister and I hunkered down at the dining room table, necks stiff, legs dangling, surrounded by tape, glue, bits of paper and lists galore. We were on thank-you note duty, as enforced by my formidable mother.

Although we had a small immediate family, my mother had a lot of friends. These friends were not only plentiful, they were generous, kind and always brought us gifts when they came to visit. They never forgot a birthday, or arrived for supper empty-handed. And even the ones who didn't celebrate Christmas still came for Christmas dinner bearing gifts for my sister and I. And one thing my mother insisted on was that we write formal thank-you notes for every gift we received.

These were not store-bought notes with swirly THANK YOUs already stamped across the top, oh noooo. These, my friend, were hand made notes, little paper cards meticulously folded and decorated with collages of cut and paste pictures scrounged from the piles of dead greeting cards my mother hoarded for this exclusive purpose. I'm sure they were perfectly hideous, and perfectly entertaining for the folks who received them.

I think I must have written hundreds of little notes over the years. When Christmas or birthday months rolled around, I would look at my delightful pile of presents and gloat over them - then groan inwardly, thinking of the cramped hands and stiff back I'd have to endure in a few weeks. Initially, writing thank-you notes was kind of fun. The first five or so would be carefully folded and decorated, with much thought given to theme and colour. Then it was all downhill after that, each successive card looking sloppier and more haphazard than the last.

I still have very generous friends and family, and I still feel moved to write thank-you notes. It's a testament to my mother's lessons about gratitude and politeness, but I also feel it's kind of a lost art. I wrote over one hundred fifty notes after D and I got married (his job was to address and stamp them); I wrote around fifty after each baby was born. It humbled me to see how generous and kind people were to us after these events; I figured the least I could do was write them a wee note to say thanks and endure a few hours of stiff neck and fingers.

A few of my friends write some pretty mean thank-you notes themselves. My sister-in- law always writes beautiful, very personal notes inside her hand-made cards; my good friend creates the most elaborate works of card art to send her thanks. And one of my newer Kink friends got her two year old daughter to crayola the inside of the note they sent to say thanks for her birthday present. I thought that was pretty cool.

I'm a bit ashamed that I don't take the time to write notes for my birthday presents any more. Emails and phone calls are easier for this sleep-deprived mama right now. I do my best to send notes anytime the kids get a gift though, and I'm hoping that I can pass along this small act of gratitude to them when they're old enough. I like to think that one day I'll corral them into sitting at the dining room table (the same one I wrote mine at) and creating little cards of their own, while I (and my mother from up above) nod in approval.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Farewell, faithful drooler

For those of you who haven't already heard, my big, sloppy, "I weigh 100lbs but still think I'm a lap-dog" bull mastiff died in December. Neko was riddled with doggie lymphoma, and I decided to send her "to the happy hunting grounds" three weeks after her diagnosis.

It's taken me a while to find the motivation to write this entry; anyone who has lost a pet will understand how tough it is to pay them proper tribute. I don't want to get maudlin over a dog, especially when there are terrible, horrifying things happening to human beings on the other side of the world right now. But she was a faithful, loving companion for over seven years, and I think she deserves some mention in my bloggy annals.

Neko belonged at first to my ex and me. I'd always wanted a dog that looked like a DOG - wee little canines afflicted with cute and/or fluffy need not apply, thank you very much. And after spending seven years with an irrepresible bull terrier, I wanted a dog with personality, but not TOO much personality.

We researched portuguese water dogs, ridgebacks, vizslas and weimeraners. Then we found a bull mastiff breeder in Mowhawk. She was such a nice person, and her dogs were friendly, well-behaved and healthy looking. When the breeder showed me into a pen that held 15 sleeping bull mastiff puppies, I knew I was in trouble. When they woke up and tumbled over en masse to climb all over me and shower me with puppy kisses, I was done for.

Neko was a singleton, the only puppy from her mother's first pregnancy. We lucked into getting her, as she had already been spoken for, but the people who'd been first in line backed out when they found out she was a tawny red instead of brindle. When we sat in the kitchen signing the paperwork that would make her ours, the breeder asked us what name we'd picked. I told her Neko, which was Japanese for cat (I was taking Japanese at the time), a little joke and also a nod to Neko Case, a
Canadian singer my ex and I admired. A minute later, the breeder's kitchen radio played a Neko Case song, which freaked us all out a little bit. Obviously, Neko was meant to be ours.

She was a rambunctious dog from the very beginning, chewing up her basket and anything else within teething range; as a puppy, she hated being held and lived only to wrestle with anyone who'd throw down from the time she woke up until the time she collapsed in a heap in her crate. As she grew into adulthood, she became more and more of a cuddle bunny, which was problematic since she ended up weighing only 20lbs less than I did. As a teenaged dog, Neko's favourite pasttime was leaning on people until they fell over, at which point she'd happily sit on them until they were rescued from her scary love.

She survived two knee surgeries, a bout with mange, a weird growth on her head and several skunk attacks. She also survived my bad divorce and subsequent anxiety attacks. I'm thankful she was with me through all that crap - she was a great companion, and a grounding presence for me to come home to. And when D came into my life, she lucked out as much as I did: he took her on epic walks through the city and spent hours giving her the endless belly scratching sessions she so craved.

Our move to the country was probably the best thing to happen to her. I felt such a surge of joy whenever I saw her gallop along the beach, run blindly through the long grass in the meadow, or fjord the depths of the Pine river behind our property. Nekes spent long, lazy days stretched out in a variety of sunny spots, often taking refuge from the heat under the mock orange shrubs, where she'd finish off her nap with a back scratch from the low-hanging branches. The city dog transitioned to country dog without a backward glance.

I admit that since Jade came along, Neko didn't get the attention or exercise she used to. But she had slowed down considerably as well; whether that was due to age, having adapted to our new lifestyle or the cancer's inexorable advance, I'm not sure. She got growly and miserable at the end, and that's why I decided it was time to give her some peace. Owning a dog is a huge responsibility, the hardest part of which is knowing when it's time to let them go, and preventing unnecessary suffering.

The vets came to our place so Neko could pass out of this world in the comfort of her own home, on her own stinky bed. Watching her eyes glaze over, seeing her take her last breaths, knowing she wouldn't be there to rub up against me and cover me with hair anymore - it was pretty awful. Awful, and necessary.

So we have started a dog-less era here at Someday farm. D isn't in a hurry to add any more furry friends to our family, and I want some time to grieve Neko before I even think about another dog curling up in my heart again. It's the first time in 14 years that I haven't had a canine friend shuffle to the door to welcome me home; the first time in a long time D and I haven't had a constant companion tugging us along on our walks. But the most poignant stab came a few days after Neko's death, when Jade threw a handful of food on the floor, looked around, and asked "Where Keko?"

We miss her.

Monday, 28 February 2011

My hot Oscar date

Another Oscar night has come and gone, but this year I actually had myself a hot date (see photo)!

Yeah, my little man doesn't like to go to bed too early, so he and I watched the gala event together for the first few hours. He seemed to take my gown and heels in stride, and was obligingly quiet during the important awards. He didn't make fun of me for dressing up, didn't tsk tsk me for drinking three glasses of champers and best of all, he didn't mooch any appetizers. Best. Date. Ever!

I know it's a little silly to get all dolled up just to watch a bunch of Hollywooders fawn all over each other, but I don't care. We all need a little silly in our lives now and then. And I am so thankful to be feeling healthy enough to WANT to put on a dress and have a drink that Oscar night this year was extra giddy, and extra special.


Sunday, 6 February 2011

In sickness and in health...but mostly in sickness!

Fighting this wretched c difficile bacteria hasn't been a pleasant experience to say the least. Some days - okay, most days! - I've been an absolute mess of anxiety, worry, guilt and fear. I honestly don't know what I would have done without my steadfast husband, my encouraging sisters and my amazing mother-in-law, who have all taken turns steadying me when I felt I was about to crash, nurturing me and loving me without fail. My friends - especially the newer ones I've made up here through my Mums' group - have been unfailingly supportive. They send me daily email check-ins and offer help every time. Thank God for family. Thank God for friends.

Having been very ill for over four weeks now has given me lots to think about. There isn't much else to do when you're fighting near-constant nausea, the shakes and lethargy and have been confined to bed for most of the day. Sometimes one's brain goes in some pretty dark places, but there are also moments of sanity-preserving clarity that I am deeply grateful for. Here are a few that come to mind:

1. Sometimes it's only when you are at your most vulnerable that you discover how much you are loved. When I'm feeling really sick, and I have absolutely nothing to offer, my husband still makes me feel beautiful and beloved. He and my sisters can still make me laugh. My mother-in-law is still thrilled to see me and the kids, even when I spend the entire day moping on her couch or dozing in her guest bed. It is an experience that both swells my heart and humbles me.

2. Be thankful for the things that are going right. My kids are healthy. My husband is healthy. My mother-in-law is recovering well from her recent surgery. I have a doctor who takes me seriously and listens to my concerns. I live in a country where medicine is readily available. My house is warm and snug; we have a fridge full of nutritious food, even though I can't eat it! The sun sparkles on the snow, even though I can't ski in it. My daughter's laughter is as wild as ever; my son greets me with a smile every morning, even though I haven't been able to spend as much time with them as I want to. My husband's arms are warm and safe at night, and he holds me tight when I am too weak to reach out for him myself.

3. Give yourself permission to be sick. This is the best advice a doctor has ever given me, but the hardest advice to actually follow. I have been overwhelmed with guilt - the house is a mess! I look terrible! My kids are going to get disconnected from me! My husband must be going crazy and wish he didn't marry such a weak woman! - but I am learning, very gradually, to try and let go of the guilt and just face the fact that I. Am. Very. Sick. Period. The hardest thing for me has been to accept the idea that I may need to lie in bed for another few weeks and rest, and to give myself permission to do so. I'm talking excrutiatingly hard! But really, what choice do I have?

4. Find your happy place. Like I said before, the mind can go to some pretty dark and disturbing places when your body is failing. I'm teaching myself to acknowledge the darkness, then steer my brain into some happier thoughts. A counsellor once taught me to create a vision of a "safe place" and use it to combat anxiety, so I use the original one I created all those years ago: it's a warm summer night. The sky is scattered with stars. I walk down a sandy beach path into a clearning beside the water; there's a small bonfire burning and a large log beside it where my Babushka sits, waiting for me to join her. I've also created several new ones - my husband and I gently sway in a hammock on a deserted beach in Hawaii; my husband and I hold hands on a porch, watching our adult children and small grandchildren play a game of soccer on the front lawn of Someday; I'm driving the mountain highway towards Banff, where I'll spend a week writing. They are strangely comforting and help keep me grounded when my mind wants to think terrible things.

5. Be brave. Not much else to say, really. (0:

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The winter of my discontent

Holy. Crap.

It's been over a month since my last bloggy post, and you wanna know why? Because I have been living in a house of plagues for the entire winter!

Not to bore you with a litany of our illnesses, but check this out: Jade had bronchitis, tonsillitis and a variety of colds. Dylan was (mis)diagnosed with urinary tract infection. D recently got whomped with a wicked bout of the flu (in 5 years, I've never seen my man toss his cookies before, so watching the usually healthy one in our family retch his guts out for 12 hours was an eye-opener). And yours truly had bronchitis, mastitis, a cold and finally a bacterial infection that's beaten me down to a shadow of my former self. I'm thinking of marketing it as the C difficile weight-loss programme.

As a family, we've been in and out of emerg, different hospitals for tests and the doctor's office more times than I can count since October. It's been horrendous. And yet...I know that though we've had rough luck, we haven't had to deal with anything life-threatening or incurable. So I am trying to count my snotty, pukey, nauseous blessings in between doses of anti-biotics, piles of crumpled tissues and empty gatorade bottles. In the shadow of things like Haiti, close friends who have recently lost loved ones and relatives who have been in wheelchairs for nearly a decade, our misery is negligible.

Here's to a stronger, healthier 2011. Wishing you blessings and good health, my bloggy friends.