"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.