“Your House”

I went to meet the new owner of my house after all the conditions had been removed and before she got possession. Some of it was that she was moving out of a very tiny condo and was interested in keeping a few pieces of my furniture, some of it is that I feel like someone should walk you through a 110-year-old house.

Someone who loved the house should show you the very odd location of the shut-off valve to the garden faucet and they should tell you that no matter what you try and who you talk to, the dining room window will sound exactly like a dying cat when you open it. They should tell you that the house is a happy house and it creaks companionably with you as you go up the stairs. There is a section of trim missing in the butler’s pantry, but I spent 10 years haunting lumber stores to match it and the trim is in the basement, in the rafters, waiting to be installed.

The entire week before I met the new owner, I practiced – I practiced saying “your house” instead of “my house”. I practiced repeating all the things I loved about the house, covering off the places where my house was tied to my memories, my heart, and my soul, and doing it without sobbing. I made it through.

Then the movers came and all of my stuff was at the gentleman callers. A few days before possession was due to legally happen, I went back, and spent a few hours weeding and pruning the garden. Then I walked through the empty house. I started upstairs and I just stood in each room and remembered. The big things, the silly things. All the little things that you would never know about because they are so quick and so little they never make it out of your thoughts. I was so many different women in that house. And all of those women needed to exist so I could be the woman I am right now.

Finally, I stood at my front entrance and, with my hands on the newel post, I said thank you to my old house. It was home and I built all the women I am there.

And then I drove away.

Posted in It's a Wonderful Day in the Neighbourhood | 2 Comments

Messy Middle

My life is in that liminal space where you are trying to remove all of your personal effects to sell a house, while also trying to integrate an entire existing house into another entire existing house, without bending the rules of physics.

And moving this box of say, kitchen stuff, means you have to move some stuff from his kitchen into his basement and the basement isn’t built yet. And there’s that set of boxes in his closet, which need to be moved so that I can move in my clothing, but we can’t put them in the basement, because, well, basement.

Also, my office is going in the basement and since it’s not built, my office at his house is cunningly disguised as the kitchen table. You might think I could come to this house and work, except for the fact it’s quite a hike, but more than that, enough of my stuff is at his house that this house feels weird and empty. I have too many houses while also having no home.

There’s also this weird thing about what I bring to the other house, in what order (even things which aren’t waiting on the basement). I find myself thinking that I will move this thing or that thing when I’m “fully living at the other house”, with no idea of how I will know when that happens. I mean, obviously, I will have done this when my house is sold and I have moved in to his house; but surely we all realize we are heading toward a recursive loop. The cats are at his house, Gracie comes back and forth and I feel a sense of guilt that I leave Gabe’s ashes here, although their permanent home is meant to be in my office downstairs at the his house (the basement, again)

So, I plink away at repainting walls and packing stuff and sorting and donating, with still only the vaguest ideas of what comes next and when, although I have taken time off in May, with some idea of using that time to move and unpack.

There are lots of reasons why May, but mostly because I think May is a cataclysm of memories in this house – my mother and I in the garden, Gabe’s tree with leaves, the roses we planted for the family.

May is when I am forced to remember that I am leaving a house, a house which is a place and a connection. I will leave Maggie and Delta and Coda and Toby and Missy, buried under Gabe’s tree. I will leave the walls that my mum painted, the dining room ceiling we installed while I was pregnant. I will leave the front porch on which I have hugged so many people hello and goodbye. I will leave the newel post I leaned my head against the first time I came back into this house as a single woman. I will leave a place that I can touch and be connected to people I cannot touch.

And you can tell me that those are memories and you can take them anywhere; I will say that I know this better than most. But memories have a location. They have a place and that place is a way to keep our memories anchored. When we have to say goodbye to people, whether we want to or not, a place is a way of holding on more tightly to the memories because we are still connected, even just a little bit.

These walls will be closed off from me and I will be disconnected just a bit more.

I do not regret my decision, not for a second, but a lack of regret isn’t quite the same as knowing the decision’s cost and feeling it.

So, out before the start of May, before my garden wakes up, before my courage runs out.

Posted in Learning Life | 2 Comments

Here I am

So, here I am. Deep in the land of requirements, of stakeholder engagement, of explaining business needs to software developers.

Here I am, leading a project to build a knowledge base for perinatal services. Here I am, sitting through the perinatology orientation with grace, even though it is less professional knowledge and more personal history.

Here I am, late on a Tuesday night, pulling up the first-trimester vaginal bleeding decision tree. The software developer and my stakeholders walk through the assessment – is the cervix open, are HCG levels doubling, ultrasound, medical management of miscarriage, retained products of conception.

Here I am confirming – the developer is satisfied – he has what he needs to write code.

Here I am – the mother of dead children. Gasping at an inevitable cascade that cannot be stopped.

Here I am, as I have been for 14 years, 2 people in one.

Here I am ticking that agenda item off the list and moving on to the next.

For perhaps a split second, those 2 women were in the same place and a decision tree merges with memory.

And here I am wondering how the hell to ever reconcile this.

Posted in Baby Loss, Life After Children | 3 Comments

Written on the Bone

On the first day of school, taking pictures of the house tweens with their backpacks and the sign (which their father said was silly and which I ignored because you have to have a sign), there was a memory. Memory like the smell of rain on a hot summer day or your mother’s old perfume.

When we had family pictures taken in late September, what with the carefully organized sweaters on a 20-degree day, Gabriel’s bracelet on my wrist is not quite visible in the pictures but it’s there all the same. The photo hangs on the wall in my new home. Gabriel is there, even if I’m the only one who knows.

Through the spring and summer, I talked to a baby still in his mum’s belly and I frantically knit all the things for him. If sometimes there was a rushing sound of worry in my ears, I kept that to myself.

Last week, as my team planned out a project on perinatal monitoring for high-risk pregnancies, my voice sounded, at least in my ears, a bit high-pitched as I assigned another team member to work on the project. I prayed no one would ask why I left such a high profile and fascinating project on the table.

In the memory, in the bracelet, in the rushing of my ears, in a high-pitched voice, are the stories of loss and sorrow and longing. If you took away the eyes that composed the first day of school pictures, the hands which knit for the baby, the high-pitched voice. If you took away all of my memories and all of my stories. If you took away all of my soft tissue and erased every tear I’ve cried for him –

If you laid my bones out upon a table and looked at the ribs which protected my heart, you would see his name.

Even with this wonderful man, these amazing house tweens, new babies, and dazzling projects:

Always my darling little boy. Everywhere I am, so also are you. Love is written on my bones.


Dear friends and loved ones,

With great joy and heartbreak, we wish to announce: at 10:26 PM on December 10, 2007, Gabriel Anton was born into the hands of Cathy, his midwife, sang to in the arms of his mother, rocked in the arms of his father, bathed in the arms of his grandmother, and baptized in the arms of Regula, his Parish Priest.

At just after 11 PM, he was carried to Heaven in the arms of the Angels, where we will meet him again one day. At 520 grams (1 pound 2.4 ounces), and 33 cm (13 inches) he was wee, with 10 fingers and toes, and a full head of hair. He was a perfect, but very tiny baby.

For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart. Luke 12:34

Posted in Gabriel | 1 Comment

On a Sunny Winter Day

It is just past 1 pm now. I have been in meetings since 9. I was up most of the night with a deployment, snatching some sleep for a few hours from 4 am until 8 am. I am the sort of tired that is a bit delirious. The sort of tired where you know you should eat, but worry that anything other than yet more coffee thrown into your stomach will result in revolt.

Today is an uncomfortable day. With a backdrop of exhaustion, too much work, and not enough time. My teams are tired, we are so close to the Christmas break, so tired of covid and the finish line keeps moving.

There are too many meetings for me today. Too many places to be in at once. Too many people asking questions that I can’t answer. Too many people need things that I can’t deliver. Too many people need kindness from an empty well.

And yet. The sun is shining outside. There is a beautiful blue sky, the snow is glinting white.

This is, in so very many ways, the twin of the day my mother died. On a day just like today, 7 years ago, with Handel’s Messiah playing in the background, she saw an open door and she walked through it. The sun was shining, the sky was blue.

Tonight I’ll go and have Indian food with her boyfriend. His new partner and mine will be there – two people who never met my mum, but know of her all the same. My team has never met my mum, but today they saw what she taught me.

My mum never thought much of me. She always wanted me to be something other than what I was. She did teach me that your goals must always slightly exceed your grasp, that we rise to the expectations others have of us. She taught me that if you dig a bit deeper, there is always a bit more grit to be had.

Tonight, when the sun goes down, I’ll know that I did more than I thought I could when I woke up this morning.

That seems enough to remember her with.

Posted in The language of families | 2 Comments

The Problem with Being Technical

I tell people I’m not technical, which is true and not true. Certainly, I wasn’t technical say, 25 years ago. 23 years ago I found touch typing to be impossible. 18 years ago excel was a painful software tool I only had to use once in a while. 10 years I wrote pseudo-code for the first time. 5 years go I wrote actual code for the first time.

Yesterday I went hunting through a config table to find a setting for this blog that had gone haywire. I found it, and by dint of a course on SQL I understood enough of what I was looking at to turn all of my plug-ins off, so I could turn them on, one by one until I found the one that buggered everything up.

I am typing this in a quiet house, the gentleman caller and the house tweens upstairs, asleep. In the background is a deployment call – various developers spouting off technical jargon as they have taken a very critical piece of software offline and begin the process of setting it up so that it can do more things. Unlike even 5 years ago, I know their language now.

All of this to say that my blog stopped working for a bit in October. I updated a plugin and everything fell apart. I got really busy, it took a bit of time to fix it. I figured I could fix it and I’m glad I was right.

I missed talking to you.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 1 Comment

Out of the Corner of my Eye

I bought a new mailbox this morning. I’m restaining my front porch this weekend. Figuring out how to fix a few tiles. Repainting a wall. All of this is part of the not-so-slow whittling down of a list of tasks. Not the usual sort of 110-year-old house maintenance tasks, but the tasks one does as part of preparing to sell their house.

This will be the first fall that I don’t think about my spring garden. The first year that I put away my summer decorations, knowing that I don’t plan to put them up on this porch next year.

I don’t know where I’ll be this time next year. In the same city, I’m sure. But in a smaller house? A rental while I decide? Maybe living with the gentleman caller? I don’t know.

I do know that my old house needs a new roof, it’s 5 years away from another furnace, 3 years away from another hot water tank. The basement is and always will be a bit damp. There’s no insulation in the walls. I have all the love in the world for this house, but it requires more concentrated investment than I could ever justify.

I bought a new mailbox this morning, remembering the saga of the front porch. I look at the tiles in my front entrance, remembering when we put them in. Gabriel’s tree in the backyard has gotten taller than me, a tall tree in place of a tiny baby. This house was most of my marriage, all of my son, the story of who I have become after my divorce. This house is teaching myself to use power tools, coping with a broken furnace, leaking pipes, and unemployment, without a partner to comfort me. These walls hold the stories of my life. This house is joy and heartbreak, comfort and frustration and the million ordinary day emotions in between.

Even this morning, as I bought a new mailbox, I forced myself to think of what is sensible and cost-effective, not what I would love. It’s terrifying, sad, exhausting, but time to do this.

Posted in Home Reno's Aren't for Weaklings | 3 Comments

15 Mins

I am tidy. I realize this more and more as I age. I have particular spots for things and I like things to be orderly. Oh, not perfectly. The hose is still in the middle of the yard from where I left it last night. There’s a pile of things on my hall table that need to go upstairs, and if we could not talk about the state of my pantry shelves, that would be grand.

I wasn’t always tidy. I tell parents this, as they despair of their children ever turning into functional adults. I tell them that I was so terrible at cleanliness, I was required to keep my bedroom door closed. Now I can’t stand the sight of an unmade bed. I tidy up before bed, I can’t leave dishes in the sink.

I was thinking of a friend’s daughter who got married last week, which brought to mind my own adventures in housekeeping for 2 that started 20 years ago this month. My mum didn’t really do housework. There were housekeepers and when those were not affordable, there was a bit of me (well, a lot actually) and it was so chaotic and unpleasant that it never seemed to be an integrated whole called “this is how you run a home.”

20 years ago I was in my first married appartment, a little depressed, a bit overwhelmed, and a lot unable to cope. Along came FlyLady. She came with simple things – get up, get dressed, make your bed. Spend 15 minutes in a room (set a timer) and declutter. Before you go to bed, tidy up. Keep your sink clean and shiny.

Look, it sounds stupid. I get that. But, it worked. It gave me a solid set of habits and structures. I’ve carried them with me to every place I’ve ever lived. Somehow my inner neatnik came out. 15 minutes at a time.

Posted in Adulting is Stupid | Leave a comment

Elegy for Lois

Yesterday was the sort of day that is I will tell you about 2 weeks from now, and I’ll make you laugh when I tell you about it. I’ll use hyperbole to describe the craziness of being in 3 meetings at once, while stuck in a grocery store parking lot. I’ll tell you and you’ll laugh because it was sort of funny. 2 weeks after the fact.

I was preparing for an early bedtime when I heard the doorbell and then Gracie. Neither the bell nor the dog were letting up, so I put on a bathrobe and answered the door.

The neighbour told me that someone broke into my garage. I went out, flipped on the lights. The only thing stolen was Lois. Lois, for those of you who don’t remember, is my bike. She’s not especially remarkable. I bought her 11 years ago to the day because she was a pleasing shade of teal. I bought a matching bike helmet and a wicker basket that I could put library books and cheese from the Italian center. She’s held beer and cat food and the one time I tried with wine it was a bit of a disaster, my basket having no top.

Lois was not expensive, she was not remarkable, but she was mine. Purchased as I tried to find my way past what it meant when your child died and your world turned upside down and everything was sad and a bit hard. She reminded me of other transitions I had made, other bikes I had loved.

She was never the beloved Norco of my childhood, but she was remarkable. While unemployed last year, with a surfeit of time and shortness of funds, I could bike to the library. I could bike to the Italian Centre and spent a few dollars on a coffee, sit on their patio, watch the world go by, and feel less panicked. I figured out things like how to put air in her tires and how to add grease to places. She was the perfect bike for who I was.

I will get a new bike. If not this summer, then early next. I will name that bike and I’m sure I will love it too.

Lois will join a teal Norco. A nostalgic sort of memory about the ways in which a bike moves – not just from place to place but from time to time.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 3 Comments

At 4 am

The worst of the pandemic for me has happened at 4 am. No matter how often I tell myself that I should pay my brain no mind in the hours between midnight and 6 am, when I wake up at 4 am, and I am worried about life, about the future, about money, about what happens if everyone I love dies of Covid. . . It is overwhelming and horrific. I would, eventually, fall back asleep and wake at 7, bewildered that I spent an hour obsessing over my roof caving in.

In the last week, almost all of my friends passed the 2 weeks after their second dose mark. Mostly this means I have spent the last week visiting people and hugging them for the first time in 15 months. I have gone to restaurants. I may go to a movie theatre this weekend. We took the kids to Calgary last week, we are planning a vacation in August. I have returned to working 50 hours a week. The world is returning to the way it was. Not completely, but I was starting to think that there were better days around the corner.

I woke up this morning at 4 am. I waited, bracing myself, for the litany of fears and obsessions, and they did not come. Instead, I thought about vacations. I thought about the restaurants I’d like to visit. I thought about planing a “you missed Christmas/Easter/Thanksgiving/Your Birthday” party.

There will be bumps. We won’t ever go completely back to the way things were. But based on last night, it really does feel around the corner for me. The worst of the pandemic is over now.

Posted in Pandemic | 3 Comments