The Greatest Love Story of My Life : Casablanca, The Notebook, Beauty and the Beast all in one

My favourite love story doesn’t have a prince. It doesn’t feature Ryan Gosling. And shockingly, even though I love my husband to the moon and back, my favorite love story isn’t even my own- it’s my grandparents’.

What has always made my grandparents’ relationship remarkable to me was the fact that they liked each other. I grew up in a house that felt like the United States during the 1960’s Cold War, where at any moment one side might detonate the nuclear bomb of divorce and annihilate my world. Thus, the feeling of genuine friendship that my grandparents shared, formed the basis of what a loving marriage looked like for both me and my sister.

You couldn’t separate one person from another. Gran came with Granddad; their names were said together, always, because that was their life. My grandparents tackled the world head-on, side by side. They danced west coast style together, they sailed together, they biked together, they geocached together. It didn’t matter that every single one of those interests belonged almost exclusively to my Granddad, they did them together. My Gran spent her life sewing matching costumes for their nights out dancing, scrubbing the boat to ready it for a trip, preparing elaborate lunches to feed my particular Granddad during their outdoor adventures. Gran supported Granddad while he captained the ship of their life.

The way that my grandfather supported my Gran was more subtle. As a child, my sister and I would watch for his love- in the way that Granddad would come up behind Gran and hug her. Or the way that, despite living on modest means and carefully budgeting every month, Granddad insisted that they could afford a sewing machine the price of a used car so Gran could add detailed embroidery to her sewing projects. When I went to university, Granddad truly proved his love for Gran by buying her two dogs then walking the canines twice a day, every day, after that.

In the same way that my sister and I liked to bask in their love for us, we would delight in our grandparents’ love for each other. As teenagers, whenever our family traveled together, despite having our own space, somehow Diana and I would end up in Gran and Granddad’s room. They wouldn’t be paying any attention to us necessarily. My sister and I just enjoyed watching our grandparents be together.

Even the off moments of my grandparents’ marriage were endearing. The same night that Granddad unwittingly revealed Diana’s actual age (as opposed to the one on her fake ID that she carried in her pocket) to the nightclub bouncers, my sister and I sat in my grandparents’ room beforehand. Both Diana and I were ready for a night of dancing, but Gran and Granddad still had to put on their matching country Western outfits. Granddad carefully set a map on their bed of how to get to the club and said to Gran that the directions were there and could she please remember to bring them.

Fast forward to the four of us walking to the dance club, Granddad is about two minutes away from loudly declaring Diana’s underage status to the bouncers. Granddad turned to Gran and asked whether she had brought the map. “What map?” my Gran asked. “The one I said that I laid on the bed for you to bring in your purse, and you said ‘Mmmm hmmm’” replied Granddad.

“Dear, you talk an awful lot, sometimes I don’t always listen” my Gran confessed. All of us laughed and I marveled to myself how wonderful it must be to live with someone for so long that on occasion you just allow the cadence of their voice to fall around you without listening, not in an inconsiderate way but more in the manner of letting your chatty spouse talk. Then my Granddad shouted Diana’s age to the bouncers, setting off a course of events that would end with my other, paternal grandmother being dropped off by the police at midnight and the spell of goodwill was broken. Evidently we hadn’t needed the map, only a set of Ontario legislation for Granddad.

It wasn’t just my grandparents’ friendship that makes their love special to me- it was the endurance of that love. My grandparents met, married and had children in their teens. They traveled across the globe as a family when my grandfather was in the military. They lived in more places than I have, which is astounding because I’ve moved a lot in the past couple of years. And through all of that, they were together, creating stories, supporting one another.

My whole life, I’ve been fortunate to watch my grandparents live their marriage vows; for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Often I’ve marveled at the achievement of loving the same person for your whole life, choosing to endure every peak, plateau and decline together and the determination it must have taken for both of them to achieve this.

The last time I visited my grandparents, my grandfather turned to me and said “Gran and I are friends.” I smiled at him and replied “I know” because I do, their love for one another has been a fact of my life, every day since I was born. My only hope is that I can create the same caliber of love story for my own family.

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Love and Thunderclouds

“Are Grandma and Grandpa at my house?” my three year old asked me as I walked him home from daycare. His grandparents had appeared the day before and stayed over to help us with our upcoming move. Tex’s parents had dropped my son off at daycare but I had neglected to inform my little boy that Grandma and Grandpa wouldn’t be there when he returned.

“No buddy, sorry” I replied.

A grey cloud appeared over my three year old’s head and I heard a clap of thunder as his face darkened. “I want to go see them!” Mini-Tex all but stamped his little foot.

I felt badly, because I understood my son’s sentiments exactly. I was raised partly by my grandparents. Every other weekend when we were small, my mom would drive my sister and me to their house. What followed were the best two days of my week, filled with love, extra attention and fun.

As we got older and started school, my favourite moment was the school secretary announcing over my classroom’s intercom “Please remind Sarah not to take the bus home today”. That announcement signaled only one thing- that Granddad was picking up Diana and me from school, then he was going to drive us to his and Gran’s house.

My grandparents were present for every important event in my life, every performance, every achievement. My grandfather left school at grade ten and only later completed his GED, so education was paramount to him. My sister and I would proudly display every one of our report cards and he would fawn over our academic triumphs.

Christmas didn’t begin until we stepped foot in their house. It didn’t matter if it was the 27th or the 29th, to heck with Santa, as far I was concerned, Christmas at Gran and Granddad’s was the “true” Christmas. To me, if my grandparents weren’t there, it was as though I couldn’t totally celebrate.

The worst part of the year came after Christmas. Each January, Gran and Granddad drove down south for twenty nine months. Or at least that’s how their winter sojourn felt to my childhood self. Like my birthday wasn’t actually my birthday until they returned. Sure I enjoyed partying with my friends, but I never truly turned a year older until I received a hug from my grandparents and the completely unnecessary congratulations of living another year.

From the outside, my son’s scowl looked like frustration and anger but I knew better. It was an expression that said “I love my grandparents and they love me and we are accustomed to being together”.

As I apologized to my surly looking three year old, I did my best not to smile and in my head, I made a mental note to talk to my husband about when we could visit his parents next because even though I’m grown up, a part of me desperately wants to see my grandparents too.

Flying Electronics and Other Talents of My Mother’s

Does anyone remember Flava-flav?

Flava Flav

This man? Who has ingeniously sidestepped the issue of strangers asking for the time by wearing it around his neck? (Photo Credit : heidibenj.blogspot.com)

He’s a national treasure. Along the same lines as Trump, or that guy who tries to bankrupt rich people by selling them tickets to a nonexistent festival.

Once upon a time, Flava-flav had a reality show. My sister and I loved it. And by loved it, I mean we were university students home for the summer in a place whose night life consisted of going out to the Dairy Queen and searching nearby bushes for our indoor cat when it got out of the house. Brampton is dead sexy, what can I say?

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The place I grew up is this man in city form. Every young person’s idea of a good time. (Photo Credit Twitter)

There wasn’t a whole lot of choice when it came to entertainment.

So there we were crashed out on the couch, and we stumbled upon a Flava-flav’s “Flava Of Love” marathon. I don’t need to tell you just how awesome twenty women competing for this wizened, Viking hat and clock wearing man’s affections are. It was akin to discovering a buffet of deep fried Mars bars. A terrible idea but to a young person, 25 seems ancient so who cares if your bad choices lead to a heart attack in four years? You should dig in. Flava-flav = great. Endless Flava-flav= the best day ever.

My mother did not agree. However my entire life, she abided by Barbara Coloroso’s advice, the former nun’s mantra is “If it’s not morally threating or life threatening: leave it be.”

During the first episode, my mother huffed at the television. In the same manner of an alligator, subtly warning its prey that they’re about to become lunch. The second episode she roared, with such primeval anger that I’m going to continue with the alligator theme – “There must be something better to watch- you change that channel now!”

It may have been the episode where one of the girls takes a laxative and poops on the floor during the Flav-a-flav equivalent of the Bachelor rose ceremony.

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Every facet of the show renders it a timeless classic. (Photo Credit Wikipedia.com)

With the same stupidity and naiveté as tourists, my sister and I ignored the danger signs and continued enjoying the low brow delights that only reality TV can provide.

The third episode is when my mother lost it, and ate the television whole like she was some sort of character out of a children’s story.

Not actually.

But my mom did step in front of the TV and bellow “If you don’t turn this garbage off now, I’m going to chuck the TV.”

Now she had our attention.

  1. Because in addition to being extremely fit, my mom was and still is freakishly strong. I joke about her bench pressing the neighbour’s sedan, but until she proves she can’t, the Grumans park carefully. It was unclear where she was going to chuck the TV; out the window or in the garbage but the fact of the matter is, in the sport of large electronics shotput, my mother is capable.
  2. My mother is a passionate person. And passionate people are unpredictable at times. Where other people jump in feet first, my mother has been known to hurtle herself backwards into life butt first. It makes for better, more interesting entrances. And good photos- as evidenced by all the pictures of my Mom throwing her backside into the ocean while surfing. In addition to being physically capable of throwing the TV out the window, my sister and I feared for the squawk box’s life and could picture our forty inch TV sailing over the deck in homage to my mother’s frustration with reality show culture. Other people might have merely unplugged the television, but my mother, who once bought her friend a live animal rather than a standard gift of perhaps socks, could be relied upon to be erratic at the best of times.
  3. My Dad would have quietly tolerated and accepted the smithereens of electronics laying on our lawn when he returned home. This was the same man who contentedly assumed his fate when in a span of less than a week, my mother, sister and I brought home a skink and two cats in succession. My Dad rocked at rolling with the punches of living with three weirdos.

Consequently, off went the TV. My mother stopped snapping her jaws and ceased bicep curling our couch in preparation for setting the Guinness Record for World’s Longest Television Throw. My sister and I still watched Flava-flav that summer but never when my mom was home.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom. I love you. And all of your quirks. Especially the ones that make for good blog posts. I’m allowed to watch Flav-a-flav type television now, but you’ll be happy to note that my husband sends me to a far corner of the house and forces me to wear head phones.

Also, if you curse me with your standard dastardly spell of “I hope you have a child just like you” please note that you will be called upon to hurl our television out the window and onto the patio when my children watch bad television. My pipe cleaner arms are not designed for shot put of any type.

In Ten Years

My sister and I didn’t like the shots. Either the colour was off, one child wasn’t looking, or the framing was wrong.

But you know what?

None of it matters.

Because in ten years, we won’t remember any of that.

Instead we’ll look at that slightly imperfect image and think “our babies were so little”.

Or we’ll remember the moment when we first met up, stripped off the boys’ matching jackets and realized that we had almost dressed them in identical outfits.

Or the surprise I felt when I saw my brother-in-law walking in with my sister – he booked the day off work.

Or my gratitude when I watched my brother-in-law interact with all the babies and said a silent “thank you” to the universe that my sister ended up with someone so kind.

A gratitude that was almost matched by everyone’s delight when my husband showed up with a box of Krispy Kreme donuts.

I’ll remember my shock when my sister told me that she took my son down the 720 degree corkscrew slide. And that my son was the one to suggest such a thing. My little boy’s bravery was nearly outshone by his 6’6 uncle going down the same slide. I picture that giant man bursting out of the bottom like toothpaste exploding out of a tube after an elephant sits on it.

I’ll smile, when I think of the relief I felt when either Diana or I, caught one of our children wandering away out of the corner of our eye, only to see our Dad swoop in to herd the wayward child back.

And when we realized that both the toddler and the preschooler were completely toast and decided to take this imperfect picture, how both boys refused to remove their jackets afterwards until they were roasting.

All of this will be conjured up because of this imperfect photo and another set of photos which so perfectly captures the day. Right as we were leaving, Diana hopped into a photo booth with her son. Partway through, my little boy decided to crash the party. All the fun, surprise, joy, excitement and love of that day is held in that series of images. I’ll remember all of that.

Failing At Being French

Some people aim for an authoritative parenting style, others a permissive, personally, I go for a Darwinian vibe in my daily life with my son. As in, if he manages not to be eaten by mountain lions, or freeze to death before age five, then he’ll probably develop the skills to survive most events in life unscathed.

Not really, but based on what happened last Easter, a person might assume that was my parenting strategy.

After finding all the eggs hidden in the house, my mother and I took Mini-Tex to the park on his brand spanking new push new tricycle. Sounds fabulous right? It wasn’t. It was Ontario, during spring, sort of, which is to say, it was windy, a little snowy without having the decency to be sunny or have any snow on the ground to reflect the meager amount of light coming from the sky.

Ontario can be a jerk like that.

As it was, my mother and I were trying to make the best of it. Enjoying one another’s company, talking while watching my son wander farther and father away from us into an open field.

I had just read a French parenting book which was all about how you should feed your children to wolves and allow them to fight for lives alone so they can develop independence. What can I say? The French are crazy, and clearly don’t love their kids. However the book claimed that if a parent did this, they could talk on the phone and drink their coffee in peace, so I was on board.

This was why when Mini-Tex wandered so far from me, inspecting all the grass in the field, I stayed put. That was when it happened- a rogue bobcat tried to eat my toddler.

Not actually. It was a suburb in Ontario. I’m not even sure they have rabbits let alone any predators. But Mini-Tex abruptly broke through a thin layer of ice covering a giant divot. It looked alarmingly like this.

The hole looked deeper than it was because when my two year old plunged through the ice, he fell on his knees, effectively soaking himself up to the armpits in freezing puddle water.

My mother and I screamed like frantic teenagers and sprinted towards him. I reached my child first and hauled his shocked little self out of the hole. “I’m chilly” Mini-Tex whimpered as I tucked him under my arm and ran with him like he was a football and I was about to score the final touchdown for the Superbowl.

My mother followed behind me. “Take the baby” she cried “I’ll get the toys”, gathering up the sand buckets and shovels we had brought to hack away at the permafrost. Without stopping to put on his helmet, or do up the safety straps, I deposited my toddler into the tricycle. Between his now soaked jacket, and his chubby toddler pudge, Mini-Tex was firmly wedged into the seat. The helmet and straps were merely a formality, a nod to our family’s respect for safety. But in the grand scheme of dangers, at that moment, my two year old was at greater risk of losing a foot to hypothermia than falling out of his new ride.

The three of us dashed towards my grandparents’ home, the only indicator of my speed was the sound of my mother’s wheezing behind me. A four time Boston Marathon alum, my mother is fast, so clearly the adrenaline coursing through my blood was having an effect on my stride.

Once inside the door, we set about stripping my frozen child. I pulled off his sodden jacket while my mother popped off my son’s boots, emptying a significant amount of frigid water onto the carpet in the process. Pants and socks were the next articles to go.

“Blankets!” my mom and I shouted as we propelled my pants-less toddler upstairs. My Gran met us on the landing with the requested item. “What happened?” she asked her voice the picture of concern. Once under the comfort of a warm quilt, Mini-Tex answered. “I fell in a muddy puddle.” He continued to tell the story all day, much to the delight of my family.

As much as I would love to drink my morning beverage in peace, I decided then that I wasn’t cut out for the French parenting style of allowing your preschooler to pilot hot air balloons alone or feed starving great white sharks hunks of steak. Quel dommage.

 

 

Please Don’t Read This. Go Watch The Canadian Version of C-Span Which Is 50% More Boring Than The American One. That Sounds Like More Fun For A Good Time Than This Blog Post

I don’t know why people like reading these stories. They’re kind of akin to reading a boring person’s diary – “Ate a banana today. Was mushy. Should have made muffins instead.” But here it is, back by head-scratchingly popular demand, an account of our holidays.

Also, for all those who are like “Christmas? You’re writing about Christmas?” Please keep in mind, I have a newborn. All of you will be LUCKY to receive those cards I send out with the reindeer on the front wishing you a “Happy Holiday” in June.

One of the benefits of going to Winnipeg for two weeks last December was Santa. Our town has a Santa. Sort of. He meets once a week for two hours after dinner. And he’s…….. Well he’s….. Our Santa tries . . . .

I don’t know how to put this tactfully because invariably someone from town will read this and be all “Hey that’s my brother/cousin/son-in-law/Dad you’re talking about.” And that is not my intent. I know that the Santa is a volunteer, or more likely was voluntold, but at the same time. . .

Ok, something to remember is, I used to work for Disney. Meaning that I know all about the business we call show. I was not the greatest performer, but I stayed in character, I played the part and I took pride in my appearance and costume. There were countless other performers who were better than me; I watched them, I aspired to be like them and failed miserably. So really, I live in a glass house and am throwing stones. So I encourage you all to chuck boulders in my direction. Aim for the squishy bits- there are lots, did I mention I just had a baby?

Aside from the fact that our town’s Santa’s beard was fake, and that he didn’t have a moustache and didn’t bother to whiten his eyebrows. Aside from all of that, his hairy ankles stuck out of the costume. It wasn’t his fault, but I probably would have borrowed big boots to play the part. He also had trouble staying in character. That and last year, our town’s Santa was totally over eager about inviting our gorgeous au pair to sit on his lap. She declined in case you were wondering.

After that experience last year, I decided that Mini-Tex was going to have a proper meeting with Santa. In October before Christmas, I started Googling places in Winnipeg to meet Santa. Reading this, you’d think that I was one of those super organized mothers. I’m not. I routinely show up late and my son often wears his previous meal on his face in public. And then kisses people. Because he’s a toddler. For serious, someone give me a Parenting Razzie please.

Anyway, I discovered that you can prearrange a meeting with Santa in Winnipeg, meaning that you can skip the giant line. Amazing. Except I couldn’t make the site work. This meant that two days before we were supposed to leave for Winnipeg, when Tex asked me what time we were supposed to meet Santa, I said we didn’t have a time. Remember what I said about being disorganized? Cue my husband logging into the site, making the internet work and arranging a meeting. Only not a good time slot because there weren’t any left.  It was in the afternoon, thus Tex would be working.

Fast forward a week to when I am picking up our little boy from daycare. I explained in the car that he would walk up to meet Santa and the jolly old man would lift Mini-Tex onto his lap. Our almost three year old was good with this. Because you know he treats strangers like jungle gyms and climbs on them all the time. Not actually.

Then I told him that Santa would ask what he wanted for Christmas. Mini-Tex listened with all the focus and intent of someone trying to translate Sanskrit. I had to prompt my almost three year old again to get some semblance of answer about what he wanted for Christmas. Finally he said Mickey. Having been a performer doing meet and greets, I know that the key to a good interaction, is preparation and talking so that nuances of the character can come out.  I was hoping this discussion would lead to a memorable visit with St. Nick.

We get to the mall and Mini-Tex is still wearing yogurt and melted cheese from breakfast. I sent him to daycare like that because I enjoy sharing our son’s meals with the daycare’s dog. So I change him in the family washroom and then slooooooooooowly make our way towards Santa. We are desperately early for our appointment. Absurdly early. The kind of early that I know will result in a wait even though we have an appointment. So even with all of my dawdling, and demonstrating how twenty different snow globes work in the Carlton Cards, we still roll up to Santa’s workshop with twenty minutes to spare.

There isn’t a person in sight. I was shocked.

That’s a lie. There was a lone baby who was finishing up his visit with Santa. I couldn’t believe my luck- I didn’t even have time to take off my coat! So Mini-Tex bravely walks up to this giant bearded stranger and Santa hauls him onto his lap.

The interaction went better than last year. The only reason our son sat on Santa’s lap last year was because our au pair was perched on the chair next to him holding out her arms. So our toddler was all like “Ok, Janey, I guess. But only because I love you like crazy, normally I prefer not to sit next to strange men whose hairy ankles are erupting out of their pants.” And then for the picture Mini-Tex had this look of panic mixed with uncertainty. His face said “Janey, please remove me from this man’s lap. I am very uncomfortable and am 99% certain that this is unsafe. Like I’m not going to call Child and Family Services on you or anything but for Pete’s sake GET ME OUT OF HERE!” His eyes were actually screaming.

This year, Mini-Tex wanted to be on Santa’s lap. Ish. He liked the concept of Santa but was not loving the big man whose red velvet legs he was sitting on. Meeting Santa was important, he was sure about that, the smiling and enjoying the experience part? Well, that wasn’t going awesome. It took a lot of effort on both the photographer, Santa’s and my part to coax a smile out of my ambivalent boy.

In the end Santa gave him the largest candy cane that Mini-Tex had ever seen. (It was a normal sized candy cane but my toddler has only ever received the miniature ones, so this candy cane was extremely exciting.) So my three year old deemed Santa to be pretty neat. That said, unlike the PVC ig-aa-loooo across town, he has not asked to meet Santa again.

Hypothermia and Pumping Small Children Full Of Sugar- All Of My Best Parenting Decisions

Why are you reading this? Haven’t you heard of the Huffington Post? I swear that is more interesting than my family stories. Even Gwenyth’s Paltrow’s site that suggests women shove jade eggs up their hoo-has is a better read than this. Oh well, your funeral. For the record the coroner will state “Cause of death- boredom”. Here are some stories of our Christmas adventures.

Also for all those who are appalled by me writing about Christmas, first off, I already instructed you to STOP READING. Secondly, replace the word “Christmas” with “Easter” and you’ll be fine. Well not fine, bored to the point that you’re comatose, but breathing.

For our family, Christmas started the weekend that we left for Winnipeg. It was a big town weekend- free movies, free skating, free cookie decorating and crafts, all of this occurred the day of our town’s Santa Claus parade and the tree lighting.

Tex was of course working. Because he always is. But thankfully he wasn’t bothered about missing all the fun whereas I would have been devastated. So Mini-Tex and I headed out to the free movie. The theatre was showing “Smallfoot”.

Mini-Tex LOVES television. He also never gets to watch television. Weekday mornings he gets half an episode of Paw Patrol while my husband showers. It’s to the point that if he hears the shower turn on, no matter what time of the day, he rushes the bathroom like it’s the stage of a One Direction concert and he’s a teenage girl. Then he bangs on the cupboards with his mighty toddler fists and shouts “Paw Patrol PLEASE!” at the top of his lungs. So for Mini-Tex, watching an entire movie was a big deal.

“Smallfoot” was super cute. As always when we go to the theatre, I got him a kid’s combo which includes popcorn, candy and pop. Because I take pride in providing experiences that lack both nutrition and educational content. My favourite part of the movie was glancing over and watching my almost three year old dancing in his seat. He spent the next couple of weeks acting out various parts of the movie. Super adorable.

The Santa Claus parade was very, very cold. But not as cold as last year when icebergs formed in the culverts around town and people transformed into ice sculptures. Like an idiot, I ignored my husband’s suggestion that we drive to the parade because who drives a kilometers and a half? Even when I was five and thought my feet would fall off from being forced marched such a distance; my mother would still insist that we walk.

Consequently Mini-Tex was crying about his feet being chilly by the time we got home from the Santa Claus parade. To make up for it, I let him eat all the candy he got from the parade as dinner because I’m a stellar parent like that. Once he was finished, I then packed him in the car to see the “ig-aa-loooo”. (The igloo house is four kilometers across town and my son’s feet were already chilly, hence the bike was out.)

There is a house with twenty inflatable decorations and an equal number of other lit up, non-inflatable decorations. It’s incredible. They also constructed an ig-aa-looooo out of PVC piping and a white tarp. Gorgeous. And so fun. It’s my and Mini-Tex’s favourite house. For serious, I may take him there every single night that we are in town before Christmas.

A week before the parade, at the end of November, Tex and I realized that we were in a bit of a pickle. When the Halloween decorations went up around town, all our little boy wanted to do was hug them. Every time that he’d ask to make friends with the blow up decorations, we’d say “Not today buddy, you can hug them on Halloween.” Then the Halloween decorations were taken down and the Christmas ones went up. So we’re in the car, and Mini-Tex asks if we can stop to hug the Christmas decorations. I say “No” of course. Then from the back I hear him reassure himself “Not today buddy, you can hug them on Christmas.”

Well fudge.

Barring us going around the city caroling, an activity which our almost three year old would not have the patience for, we would not have a reason to go house to house on Christmas. What was I going to do?

There was only one answer- the cookie lady. When you drive into town there’s a giant billboard with a picture her smiling face on it and three hundred individually decorated cookies form a border.

Not actually, but there should be a billboard with the cookie lady’s face on it. For serious, this woman is a national treasure. I’d write to the Prime Minister about her but based on how our leader’s tenure is going, he’d just ask the cookie lady to put the Mary-Jane in her baking.

For a paltry, tiny sum, Lorna* the cookie lady will make stunning, delicious works of art. People have repeatedly told me that they feel guilty eating something so beautiful when I give the cookie lady’s wares as gifts. Their guilt is of course nothing compared to what I feel when I pay her. And I always include a tip.

So I’ve decided I am going to order some cookies from our resident cookie lady and one night, Mini-Tex and I will head out in the bike and distribute baked goods as a way of thanking people for decorating their homes, then while their doors are open and they’re marveling over the beautiful cookies, we will ask whether our toddler can hug their lawn ornaments. Judge me. Tex and I frequently talk about how I’m the good cop and have a backbone made of fluffed wool. Goodness help me when our son is a teenager.

Wish me luck with our winter blow up decoration adventure. Also send warm socks. We will need them to tromp all over town in the snow and assault our neighbours’ lawn ornaments with hugs and love.

*Obviously I didn’t use the cookie lady’s real name. First off, I don’t want the leader of our country calling her up, and secondly, then I’d have to place my orders months in advance because her phone would be ringing off the hook.

The Last Good Day

In his novel “The Fault in our Stars” John Greene writes about the concept of the final day of your life that you enjoy before you start to die in earnest- the last good day. Or at least that’s what I think he was talking about. I read the book in French and even though I’m fluent, there’s always a part of me that questions whether I fully comprehend the meaning of a text in my second language. But for the purposes of this post we’ll pretend that what Mr. Greene was talking about.

Something my friend Sula said to me while my grandmother was dying, that brought me a lot of comfort was; “You knew your grandmother as a person, not just from social functions, a lot of people don’t get that.” And it’s true. My grandmother cared for me often when I was a child, and I visited her house on occasion as a young adult. In university, she would vacation with my family. While I could write exclusively about all of the lasts that came with dying, those wouldn’t express the depth of our relationship, or who my Grandma was as a person.

My Grandma was close friends with everyone, but especially her neighbor across the street, whose pool we used to swim in, any time we liked because Grandma was always welcome there. I remember shivering on the Antarctic iceberg that was my grandparents’ foyer while my grandfather was still alive because he insisted the house be kept at 12 degrees Celsius or some equally chilly temperature. Then I would burst out the door onto the sunlit porch with flipflops on my feet. Grandma always called them thongs which caused Diana and I to giggle silently because thongs were underwear not beach apparel. Then the dash across the street, only stopping to squish my toes into the tar that covered the cracks on the road, before pausing at the mulberry bush to grab a sweet snack.

My grandmother loved plants; she gardened right up until she moved out of her house. It used to alarm me the way she’d eat the fruits off of random trees; I was always worried she’s accidentally poison herself. There’s some poetic justice in the fact that I married a man who does the very same thing.

Then I would throw ourselves into the pool; splashing, swimming and jumping to our hearts’ content. Invariably the friendly neighbour would come out at some point to talk to Grandma. We did this from the time I was very small. All of my cousins did in fact. I still remember Grandma carefully catching my second youngest cousin Sophie as she leapt from the side of the pool. The last time was around when I was twelve, the friendly neighbour still welcomed our visits but was too ill to come out to say “hello”.

When I was nineteen, my grandmother paid for me to accompany her on a cruise with herself and three thousand other old people. It was every teenager’s dream; Metamucil with every meal and being in bed before eight pm. I kid. What I remember from that trip was how healthy my grandmother was. During the voyage, old people were falling everywhere, breaking hips and arms but my grandmother was as steady as a rock, scaling the endless staircases at castles and monuments. This is how I remember her- triumphant, standing at the top of three thousand steps while all the other old people were moaning and watching from the bottom.

That wasn’t the last time that I saw my Grandma accomplish a great physical feat. Three years later, my family visited Maui. One afternoon, my Dad dragged his eighty-three year old mother up Mount Haleakala. At the top, the air became thin and even my father had to sit down. I wish I could say that was the last instance of elder abuse in our family, but it continued. A couple years later, we took Grandma along with us to Disney World. She spent a lot of time sitting on benches but only because we insisted on charging at top speed from show to show.

My grandmother kept that can-do attitude into her late eighties. My Dad and I took her out to lunch one day. She had just begun reluctantly using her cane. However she still preferred to move unaided or take the arm of the nearest person instead. It was winter and the walkway of the restaurant was slick. I went to grab her arm but she jerked it away from me saying defiantly “Let me go when I can go!” My grandmother was always independent and her own person.

When she was ninety-two, my Grandma moved out of her house and into an assisted care facility. The woman who moved there was quieter than the Grandma I remembered from my childhood. But she still loved to rejoice in her family’s achievements. And she loved her great grandson so much. Mini-Tex would climb all over her. He was a chubby little baby and at that time, my grandmother was a frail nonagenarian. I winced and would grab for my son, terrified that he would break my Grandma’s arm by accident as he gave her sloppy kisses and hugs. But she loved it.

The summer before she died was the last time that I saw my Grandma being independently mobile. When she first arrived at the care home, she would store her walker outside of her room. The next time I visited, the walker had moved inside her room, but my grandmother would move independently without it.

The last summer, the walker remained at her side. Mini-Tex thought the mobility aid was a fabulous toy and would push it around. Then he’d tire of merely making off with his relative’s walker and go steal a stranger’s. As I was chasing my toddling son across the atrium of the care home, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my Grandma sitting on the couch, trying to use her foot to catch the edge of her walker that Mini-Tex had rolled away from her. Even at ninety-three, she still wouldn’t complain or ask for help. This was the visit when my grandmother took delight in pushing her great grandson around on the seat of her walker.

The last time I saw my grandmother, she was barely able to push her walker. My Grandma spent a large portion of my visit lying down on her bed. Workers came to move her from her chair in the dining room back to her walker. I had spent my whole life taking cues from a stern, opinionated woman. I thought the whole reason that we sat so long at the table after dinner was because Grandma wanted to enjoy the ambiance.

Once in her walker, it became obvious that my grandmother lacked the strength to push herself back to her room. So I enlisted the help of my two year old to push her. I took one handle and Mini-Tex took the other. It worked pretty well until Mini-Tex got over excited and ran too fast, tripping on his winter boots.

That was the last time. For everything. She was really quiet that visit. But she watched my two year old, and she listened to my stories, as she had my entire life. It’s been a year since she died. Even though it was heartbreaking to witness so many lasts, I’d still love one more day with her.

My In-Laws Aren’t Actually As Awful As My Husband Would Have You Believe: This Is Me, Throwing My Husband Under The Bus

Unwashed- I just wanted you to know my feelings on it. It’s a bad idea.

Tex- I understand your feelings, but isn’t this the stuff that your best stories are made of? Something awful happens to you and then you write about it. Like your shingles post, that was amazing. It’s exactly like that.

Unwashed – I’m sorry, did you just compare attending your family’s Christmas with a form of herpes?

World, I needed you to know that this happened. It was actually better than during our last date night when I was complaining that I was fatter than my last pregnancy and Tex quipped “But yet the baby is only measuring in the 33rd percentile”.

As a rule, with the exception of observations about the size of our fetus, my husband is nice. Like really nice. The kind of nice that when people see us together, they’re like, “Ohhhh, she must be keeping him captive.” What this means, is that no matter how kind I am, I am always the mean one in the relationship, who says terrible things. But this once, I wasn’t.

I was however the one arguing that driving eight hours round trip in one day to attend a Christmas lunch at his uncle’s house, with a three year old perpetual motion machine and a pregnant lady who does vomit fountain impressions in moving vehicles, was not the best idea. I will totally cop to that one. But I was not the person who compared the experience of visiting his family to excruciating nerve pain and a rash so unsightly and bumpy that it would make a person contemplate living in a darkened cave until the spots resolve.

Those tire tracks on my husband’s back? They’re my handiwork. If this doesn’t channel the spirit of the holidays, I don’t know what does.  Merry Christmas everyone, I hope your families are also like a debilitating flare up of Herpes zoster.

 

Also for all of you worrying about the well-being of my smaller than average baby; first off, thank you, but secondly, keep in mind that I’m approximately the size of a twelve year old. And not even a tall sixth grader. Tex and I would have been far more concerned if the baby was measuring in the 90th percentile. Then we would have been questioning whether it was actually our baby.

This post is proof that I am actually the mean one. Tex would never rat me out for comparing my family to an outbreak of blistering sores.

Also, in the end, Tex went to the Christmas get together with our son alone because a day before the shindig, I managed to badly strain a muscle which made sitting, standing or doing anything for long periods of time super painful.

Part Two: The Night Of The Living Helicopter Parents

This post continues where my previous one left off. If you do not share a minimum of 25% of either my DNA or aren’t a close family friend, you’re probably going to find this as boring as watching competitive cross stitch competitions. I suggest you bail now. Unless you have insomnia in which case- you’re welcome. Now you can save that Xanax for a night when you truly need it.

After the mall, we quickly hopped back into the bike to go see all of our three year old’s favourite decorations. In addition to hugging the blow up cats, monkeys and Halloween dogs, Mini-Tex of course had to tell each inflatable a story, and ask them questions. Thus started the routine of the evening, where the homeowner would come to the door after hearing voices, then stand and watch as our son mauled their decorations with hugs. The candy bearers were quite patient- they’d stand there for five minutes.

Mini-Tex, having finished his job of hugging the inflatable decorations, would head back to the bike to be ferried onto the next set of blow up decorations to be hugged, leaving the puzzled homeowner to wave their candy at him from the door. One woman even chucked a bag of chips at our bike when she realized that we weren’t going to come to her door. Mini-Tex’s entire raison d’etre was the decorations. The candy was a nice but completely unnecessary addition.

There were at least a dozen houses that we visited where we didn’t even bother ringing the doorbell. We just left. So this totally solidified our son’s assumption that Halloween was all about kissing and making friends with inflatable lawn ornaments.

Something you’ve undoubtedly realized is- I love Halloween. I don’t love getting dressed up. I don’t love decorating my house but I adore watching a parade of little people live out their dreams for one night. I’ve spent many years living in accommodations that children would never visit; above a doctor’s office, in apartment buildings, the list goes on. In the past, I’ve found friends who were willing to host me for the night. “I’ll bring the candy and dinner, you just have to let me squat in your front entrance for the evening” was always my agreement.

In the absence of trick or treaters, I’ve even been the creepy lady sticking her head out the front door when a group appears down the street, yelling at the children “I have candy! Lots of candy!” And it’s true, I heap the sugar upon the little people, like I’m at a costumed strip club and making it rain Hersheys. Wow. I just took an already awkward interaction and made it worse.

I ask every little person, “And what are you?” with all of the earnestness of Mr. Rogers. I fawn, I high five, I tell the trick or treaters how pretty/spooky/imaginative they are. Heck, I even like the sullen teenagers in plain clothes who show up at ten o’clock at night. The point is: I truly love Halloween.

Having now taken an adorable little person around for all Hallows Eve, it turns out- I’m not the only one.

Tex and I came up with a game plan while our son was napping. Start at the mall, bike to the opposite side of the city and make our way back to our house stopping at only the high yield houses. Meaning the houses with either three blow up decorations or more, or the ones with super neat decorations. For example the house with what looked like an ordinary inflatable giant pumpkin but actually played Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and had lights on the inside so the face of the Jack-o-lantern changed making it appear that the pumpkin was singing the music. That was cool. We spent ten minutes camped out on that person’s lawn dancing and whooping it up. We wanted to see every one of those places in town.

This meant that there was a little old lady who watched our trio go from well decorated house to well decorated house on her street. She had gotten into the spirit, but her decorations were small and dated. Also it was getting late. Abruptly, as we were about to walk up her driveway, I insisted we return to our bike and head to a warm place to give Mini-Tex dinner. My husband agreed and we turned around. The lady watched forlornly from her window as we walked away. Once it became clear that we were about to leave, she ran out onto her porch waving a giant bag of candy. “Don’t I get to see the little one?” she cried.

I felt awful. Not just because I had now seen myself in thirty years’ time, but because I was disappointing a woman who was the spitting image of a grandmother stereotype; the kind of lumpy figure that gives out amazing hugs, short cut hair curled perfectly with rollers that she sleeps in and wire frame spectacles. She was even wearing a grandma style sweatshirt.

The problem with driving a bike is that you can’t roll up your windows or make a fast getaway. “Get pedaling” I hissed at Tex as the septuagenarian contemplated whether she was going to run down the street after us. We waved jauntily as we cycled away, watching the poor old lady deflate like a balloon after a birthday party in the bike’s rearview mirror. Apparently there are people who love this holiday as much as I do.

Luckily the hospital where Tex works is halfway in between our house and the opposite side of the city. I was on the verge of hypothermia while Tex was on the verge of a meltdown from too many layers. He quickly shucked a shirt and long johns so I could put them on. In the meantime, Mini-Tex was having the dinner of his life, sausage pieces with a side of Smarties and juice to wash it down.

Juice is not a beverage that makes an appearance in our household. Ever. It is also heavy, relative to chips. It was decided, in the interest of storage space and weight, that we would open every juice box that Mini-Tex had been given up to that point. So for dinner he had a smorgasbord of juice. Between that and the dual parent dressing moment earlier, Tex and I should get an award. I’m not sure which one- whatever the parenting version of a Razzie is likely.

By the time we finished our dinner, it was seven. Reasonable, good parents would have recognized that the evening had been sufficiently fun and called it a night. But as established by our actions, we are not those people. So back into the bike we went, to hug the mummy blow up and shake the hand of the baby monster. Tex wins an additional award for not tripping over the thousands of guide wires securing the nine blow up decorations at the mummy house as he lifted our son from one decoration to another in the pitch black garden.

It was shortly after that when I realize that although we had put out a giant bowl of candy next to our three pumpkins for trick-or-treaters, I had neglected to turn on the porch light because it was four o’clock in the afternoon when we left. Meaning that, at the end of the night, we would return to a giant bowl of candy.

After a quick stop to hug the moving, fake fire breathing dragon, we headed home. Oh sorry, dragon-food eating dragon. Weeks ago, while I was strapping my three year old into the bike after visiting the library across the street from the dragon, Mini-Tex asked me “What is the dragon eating?” not realizing that there was something in the dragon’s mouth, I gave him what seemed like an obvious answer- dragon-food. Then of course we rode by the house and I realized that the dragon was breathing fire. But by then the damage had be done and the fire was henceforth known as “dragon-food”. No amount of correcting could convince our son otherwise.

Tex pedaled us quickly across town and I ran into our house to refill the candy bowl a bit and turn on the light.

OK, rant. What happened to all the greedy little miscreants who empty candy bowls? I was depending on them! Otherwise I wouldn’t have purchased three boxes of treats. I swear every single kid must have respectfully taken one lone piece and left the rest. Who raised these excessively polite children with endless reserves of willpower?  What is our world coming to when we can’t rely on the candy grubbing nature of the youth?

Also, I forgot the part when we stopped at the local nursing home. When my grandmother was alive, despite how desperately painful and embarrassing the experience was due to my toddler’s behaviour, I would always bring Mini-Tex to visit her. Little kids bring old people joy. Small children dressed up for any reason bring lots of joy. So we stopped at the local nursing home. As it turned out, we entered through the dementia wing just as they were sitting down to dinner. Mini-Tex wandered around and said “Hello” to all of the residents. They were delighted. One of them was blind so the nurse described all of our costumes to him.

Then we went and knocked on the individual doors of people still living independently in the home. Tragically most of the residents were verging on deaf and didn’t hear us. (Or didn’t want a visit.) But the couple elderly people we saw were happy. Though they felt guilty about not having candy which we reassured them wasn’t the purpose of our visit.

By this point in the evening, Mini-Tex was still excited but wilting. All the other little people and their responsible parents had returned home. But we continued to cycle around the city because gosh darn it, I was going to get my money’s worth out of that fifteen dollar Olaf costume from Kjiji. Also we had yet to visit the street with the ghost that jumps out of the pumpkin or the house with the spider on the roof.

It was around this time that Tex and I decided to forgo the candy part entirely. People had once again filled our son’s decorative pumpkin basket to the brim and we were running short on toddler energy. After terrifying our offspring by holding him up to touch the peekaboo ghost, we headed for the house with the giant tarantula.

Mini-Tex was beginning to look like Olaf in summer; he became a puddle of costume and snowsuit. “Do you want to see the spider on the roof?” I asked. “No” came his terse, small reply. That was it; we had maxed out our toddler’s love of inflatable decorations. Tex and I concluded that it was time to go home. The problem was that we had agreed to visit friends of ours.

As quickly as he could, Tex cycled past the spider house. In spite of his exhaustion, our son did get out and hug both Jack Skellington and Darth Vader along the way. We quickly popped by our friends’ homes and headed home.

Then on our way home it happened. The event we had been dreading. We live in a small town. Meaning there is a small police force so we NEVER see the police. While we wear our helmets religiously, much to our son’s chagrin, on this night none of us wore one. Wearing a helmet would have mussed my do, prevented Tex from wearing his Kristoff hat and wouldn’t have fit under Mini-Tex’s Olaf costume. Even still, during the afternoon, Tex had placed our son’s helmet in the bike because it is the law for children to wear head protection while cycling.

As we were pulling away from our friend’s house, coming in the opposite direction was an RCMP vehicle. All the colour drained from my face. There was no way with all our lights that he wouldn’t notice our bike. We were going to cap off our perfect night with a ticket. A ticket that was well deserved, but a ticket nonetheless.

The Mountie rolled down his passenger window and I broke into a flop sweat. “Did you get a lot of candy?” the officer asked Mini-Tex. Our toddler had transformed into a catatonic mess so Tex answered for him because I was suffering from the worst case of dry mouth I’d ever had in my life. “Lots.” The officer gave us a wave, “You folks have a good night then” before he continued on his way. It was only when the vehicle’s lights became pinpricks in the bike’s rearview mirror that I could exhale.

Happily, when we arrived home, the candy bowl was empty. I had instructed a group of teenagers that we passed to visit our house and take everything they found there. Old people who complain that kids these days don’t listen have clearly never offered two kilograms of sugar in exchange for walking four streets over.

Unfortunately there was still a full box of treats in the house. Furthermore it was open, so I couldn’t return it even if I did do responsible adult things like save receipts, which I don’t. But, as I went to unplug our inflatable Paw Patrol decoration, I heard voices down the street. “Oi!” I yelled in the direction of the youths. “Trick-or-treaters! Come clear out our candy bowl!”

Then I went back inside, without much hope because you know, kids these days. Likely they were angel children who only took one piece from the bowl. Then, as I was stripping off layer after chilly layer, I heard voices approaching. “Take everything!” I said.

“Everything?” the kids asked incredulously.

“Well divide it fairly amongst yourselves obviously but yes, everything.”

And that was the end of our Halloween. Well sort of. Turns out eating five packages of Swedish Fish will give a toddler a second wind. So Mini-Tex was up for another hour. I am an amazing parent, for serious, where is my Razzie?

Also, I welcome all hate mail about my bike safety decisions or lack thereof on all Hallows Eve. If you’re feeling lazy, you can just put them in the comments.