The Lessons of 20-Year-Olds

Because I’m worried about my job (I think I’m going to be laid off in the next 2-4 weeks), the general state of the world, an uncle in congestive heart failure and a nephew who is dying, and I will not be able to get to him**, I am teary.

Bread is a soothing sort of thing. It reminds me of how much I love cooking for others, how much it connects me to the people I love. I made bread for J’s. son, who reminds me so much of Travis that it sometimes takes my breath away.

So universe, if you are listening. I know Travis and David won’t talk to me anymore. I know that when they returned a wedding gift, I was never going to be told what I had done. I know whatever it was, I’m likely very sorry for it.

But Universe – they are still my nephews. They will always be my nephews. They get included in the total count and always will be. I can’t bake bread or make mashed potatoes or knit for them. So universe, if you would keep an eye on them – deal gently with them? I’d appreciate that.

*Does this work as a nickname? He was J. in my phone for quite a while, while I hoped things would work because I liked him, but wasn’t sure.

**Update to Sit Rep – The border has not been militarized, but no one official on the Canadian side is recommending travel. They aren’t sure if I would be allowed in, or at what points I could enter and they have been very clear that if I catch Covid 19 and die, no one from Canada and our socialized healthcare is coming to get me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Downside of Up

I have been trying to stick to a routine in these days of social distancing. I have been trying to get up at about the same time, go to bed at the same time, get dressed, put on makeup, walk the dog, take a lunch break. I have set up a coffee meeting with friends and colleagues three times a week. I have a little list of people I text on a regular basis. I see the boyfriend (He does not have a nickname. He needs a blog nickname. I’ll work on this) because we (and his lovely oldest son) are not really ever seeing anyone else, so we count as some sort of isolation buddies. I’ve done all the things that should be assuring me some form of mental health protection. Nope.

The downside of up, or the upside of down is this: it’s hard to scare me after the universe made me hold my baby in my arms while he suffocated to death and died. Really, what else could you do to me? What more is there? You can’t threaten me with the fear of pain and hurt and sorrow and near death, so I’m not worried about getting sick and dying. I should be, what with the MS. I should be at least a little bit worried. I’m not. I’m worried I am going to lose my job, that I shall become homeless and Gracie and the cats and I shall have to go and live in a cardboard box.

What makes me panic is randomness. When the universe took away the fear of pain and hurt and sorrow, it left me with an ironclad sense that the world is not fair. The world is not just, it is not reasonable and it does not care whether or not you are a nice person. Bad things happen to good people, to bad people, to meh people. Bad things happen. You cannot predict them, you cannot stop them, you cannot even hedge against them.

I tell myself that we are all panicking. Indeed, I would question the mental health of anyone who wasn’t worried. This is a time of panic.

Still. It’s exhausting.

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Learning Life | 1 Comment

Sit Rep

This morning I asked my niece in law if she could, in her “spare time”, please get a hold of one of Andy’s doctors to get a letter indicating that Andy was going to be dying soon. You see, the borders are closed except for “essential travel” and the definition of “essential” wasn’t as robust as one might expect. The letter might help explain that no, this wasn’t a fun jaunt, I was coming because Andy was dying. Not dying in the hypothetical, not dying in the abstract, but actually dying right this minute and could you just let me through.

We were working on that when the . . .


I have tried, more or less, to be at least somewhat civil about Trump. I have tried to remember people I love voted for him.

The absolute flaming pile of horse shit that 46.1% of Americans (including the niece and nephew I am trying to get to) voted for has decided that what he most needs in the middle of a pandemic is not universal healthcare, it is not to value science, it is not universal basic income, no it is to militarize the borders with . . . . Canada.

Canada and the US have the longest unmilitarized border in the world. Indeed, we couldn’t be bothered to decide what the full and official border was until 1908 (this was 41 years after confederation for Canada and 132 years after the US declared independence). We had a joint commission and sent out a bunch of surveyor’s and sometime around 1925, we all decided that the map they came up with was good enough.

Until today, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canada, while not encouraging me to go to the US, did seem to understand that the situation was rather dire. They could tell me that with my Canadian passport, Canada Custom’s would have to let me back in and that at least now, and likely then, if then was not too far in the future, I would have to quarantine myself in my house for 14 full days if I had no symptoms, and then the length of the symptoms plus 10 days after if I did develop Covid like symptoms.

Until the moron that somehow got elected president got involved and was confused about what a pandemic meant and what one should do and also – again – the military on the border – and now?


Now I can’t get there.

To be clear – I may be the only Canadian wanting to actually get into the US right now. I am probably the only person I can even think of who wants to leave the world of the social safety net, universal healthcare, kindness, good government and a Prime Minister who has managed to govern the country from home because he’s also a full-time parent, whose wife is in quarantine.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have another (Canadian) beer.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Burn the Boats

Somewhere between the tension of being deeply practical and sensible and being, well, somewhat fierce, I . . .

It wasn’t that I hadn’t realized I’d fallen in love with this guy. I’m dumb, but I’m not that dumb. I’m smart enough to know when I’ve fallen in love. No. the problem was that I am practical and sensible. Practical and sensible women do not fall in love with someone they have known for two months.

It doesn’t matter that said man went and bought snacks for my trip to Montana, and carefully figured out what I like to drink and bought me that and carefully remembered that I really like Cheesies and included chocolate and pepperoni (because he felt that I am often short on consuming protein). It doesn’t matter that he called me almost every night and listened to me talk about how crazy things were. It doesn’t matter that he spoils my dog and likes my cats and brings me coffee in bed. It does not matter that I get texts asking what I ate for lunch, which is really a gentle reminder to eat lunch, because we both know damn well I have forgotten to eat. Again.

It was impractical to have fallen in love with someone you have known for 8 weeks. It didn’t matter that I had fallen in love with him, the sensible and rational part of my brain pointed out that you can’t fall in love with someone that quickly. It’s unwise. It’s a great recipe to get hurt, how much can you really know someone in 8 weeks, he could be an ax murderer . . . . It is not practical or sensible to fall in love with someone in 8 weeks.

It is now 10 weeks.

I’ve fallen in love with him.

Thought you should know that.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 6 Comments

Mind // Body Dualism

In the third year of my undergrad degree, I took a philosophy course which was mostly on epistemology (how we know what we know). We spent rather a lot of time on Mind // Body dualism.

The thought experiment goes thus:

A young man, body mangled in an accident cannot survive the trauma. In an attempt to save him, we transplant his brain into the body of a middle-aged woman in a persistent vegetative state. Her body was healthy although her brain was gone. The riddle, the thesis of the paper, the crux is the answer to the question – who is that young man // middle-aged woman? Are we our bodies? Our brains? What makes us, well, us?

Our brains are perhaps as mysterious as the whole of outer space. Dimensions unknowable and six inches between our ears; we don’t know much about either in spite of what we may have heard. It’s rare. The doctors tell us that. In a few papers maybe it’s mentioned.

It’s not the tumour, it’s not swelling from the radiation, it’s not trauma. It’s not meds. The doctors shrugged at us. They did it kindly. The cops who forcibly brought him into the hospital were as humane and as gentle as they could be. Still, I took his wife past the security guards and the nurses gathered outside of Andy’s room. It took 4 huge men and 2 nurses, a syringe filled with Haldol and Ativan and Benadryl to restrain him. When they got him out of his clothes there were 6 knives and ammunition. A locked psych unit. Threats, screaming. An involuntary committal hearing.

I feel like I’m telling you about a newspaper story or the crazy friend of a friend story you tell with hand motions at a dinner party.

No, I have been pondering the wrong thought experiment for more than 22 years.

The thought experiment now goes thus:

There’s a man you love like a brother, you have known him for almost 20 years. He looks like the man you have always known, but you cannot recognize his brain. When you cannot fathom the rage; when his wife cannot manage his aggression and his small children are terrified; when everyone decides to discontinue chemo and meds; is the man restrained and guarded still Andy? If not, who is he?

Posted in Grief, The language of families | 3 Comments

All the Things

This week I have a grant application due, I have a paper due, I have a class, I have several tricky meetings, I have to drive back to Billings for a few days (Andy is failing. Oh, his body is fine, but he is actually losing his mind). I need to move some meetings, find someone to cover a few more that can’t be moved. I need to get the car in for an oil change. And one more thing. I have to go meet my boyfriend’s children.

Yeah, I know. I felt weird typing that.

So, let’s unpack that. I didn’t actually intend on having a boyfriend. Joel arrived awhile ago, and it works. I quite like him and I’m delighted and he met a bunch of family and friends last night and he brought me coffee in bed this morning, so I guess that cat is out of that bag (Actually, the cats all over him. The cats really like him). But. Umm.

Here’s the thing. The children are the ages I like. The ages I am good at with. They are teenagers. I’ve even managed to set it up so that I meet them one by one – the oldest is Tuesday. He’s doing a degree in political science. I’d normally be quite excited. I love poli sci students. I was a poli sci student. Usually, I’d ask what he’s learning, who he thinks should win the Primaries, the Canadian Conservative Party Leadership Race. We’d argue current events.

You know, when they aren’t my boyfriend’s children.

I’m bringing pie. Less Politics. More pie.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Dreams Change

In my early thirties, as my body lost baby after baby, dreaming I was pregnant broke me. In my mid-thirties, after I decided I wanted off the ‘try and get pregnant/stay pregnant/lose another pregnancy’ rollercoaster, pregnancy dreams became less frequent. They were the scent of a campfire in the late fall when you know winter is coming.

About this time last year, I had a dream I was pregnant. I woke up panicked. The Irishman kissed me the next night and I cringed. Finally, I confessed the dream. He looked bewildered. Between the IUD, the condoms, my age and the fact he’d had a vasectomy 8 years earlier – there was no way I was pregnant.

The Irishman didn’t quite get it. I did. I noted the change. Pregnancy was panic. A sudden, rapid and profound adjustment of a life that I like. No, a life that I love. There is no longer room for a baby. That was ok.

A few weeks ago I went on a date. He was all the things I like in a man. Smart, funny. Self-aware. Valued family and intellectual thought and good grammar. He wore a shirt in his profile photo. (This is bigger than you would think).

My date told me he wanted a family. He desperately wanted to be a dad. I smiled and told him that age and destiny had passed me by. I wished him well in his search.

I find myself, not sad, but remembering.

That woman who wanted to be a mum? Who wanted to carry a baby? Give birth? Nurse a living child? Watch that child play and grow? She’s part of me, although a decade gone. Sometimes I picture her in the glowing light of a winter afternoon with a baby in her arms. I hope she’s happy.

I know I am.

Posted in Adult Dating, Life After Children | 2 Comments

Three Views

On Wednesday my nephew began to exhibit signs of a stroke. Decreased mobility on his right side, inability to remember things. I’ve been thinking about what I looked like that day and trying to reconcile.

You see, if you were my family, you saw a series of texts talking about how to do a FAST stroke assessment and how to present that information to the ER doctor. You saw a series of text messages to my niece telling her that she was loved and not alone and that she could manage this. It wasn’t much, but from 1,600 KM away, it’s what I would have wanted to hear.

My colleagues saw nothing more than a woman who apologized for checking her phone in meetings – I told them that I was keeping an eye on a bit of a family emergency, but not to worry.

And I don’t think anyone saw me. It feels overly dramatic, but it’s true. I got that first text saying it looked like Andy had a stroke and this cold hand grabbed my heart and lungs and started squeezing. I felt a bit unable to draw breath. Is this a bump in the road? Is this the start of the end? A nothing burger that will turn out to be a wasted day in the ER? I sat in a dim conference room for five minutes, listening to my meditation app and reminding myself to just breathe.

And then I emerged and was as I always am.

I worry. I feel like I am boring my friends, boring all of you, talking about this.

I could go and see a therapist, but there’s nothing really wrong. The truth is, my family is my world and a part of my world is dying. I do the self-care stuff – make sure I get enough sleep, eat reasonable food as much as I can, try and be gentle with myself.

Still, I think about seeing a therapist. Not because I need strategies to cope, but because I need a space, once every few weeks, where someone can listen to me and simply respond with “this sucks. I’m sorry. I’m listening. I don’t mind listening”.

Does that sound crazy?

Posted in The language of families, the nieces and nephews | 5 Comments

As Old as my Little Finger

As my mother was dying, the tissue and transplant team came to me, asking what they might be able to use of hers. My mother was a thrifty woman, as am I, so I was happy to have this conversation. It went well until they asked me her date of birth.

“June 27th”, I said.

“Year?” said the nurse.

And I paused. You see, for all the time I can remember, my mother said that she was “as old as her little finger and a little older than her teeth.” Observations based on aging were of no help. Women in my family look about the same from 15- 25. We look about the same from 25-40. Then we look about the same from 40-60. We are not so long-lived that I can really tell you what we look like at 80.

When my mother died I had an idea that she was past 60, but I could not tell you how far past 60. Maybe 62. Maybe 72. I didn’t know.

They consulted her chart. Got a year. She died and I really didn’t know. I wrote it down somewhere, but when asked how old my mother would be, I still default to answering “as old as her little finger, a little older than her teeth.”

This doesn’t fit on a form. Especially not the sort of ridiculously officious forms from the government, which require your mother’s date of birth.

June 27, 1947.

Or as old as her little finger and a little older than her teeth.

Posted in The language of families | 1 Comment

Cutting the Thin Strand – 3 Years On

Three years ago today I posted that Owen and I were separating.

We filled out the divorce paperwork last week. At some point, pending administrative failure, my divorce decree will arrive in the mail.

I find myself . . . sad.

I have wondered if I should have stayed, although it’s not because I missed him or missed our marriage. Mostly I wondered if it was all that bad or even bad enough that I was entitled to be done. He didn’t beat me, spend his paycheque at casinos. Mostly I have a series of sixteen years of stories where my ex was just . . . not really interested in me, in what was happening in my life, in what I had to say. I have an ironclad notion that he was not going to change and while it wasn’t going to get worse, it wasn’t going to get better either. I suppose it’s not dramatic, but “well, he’s not so bad” doesn’t seem like a reason to stay married.

I am happier on my own. I am lonely, but I was desperately lonely while I was married too. I’m the only person to shovel the walks and perform household maintenance and figure things out with the car, but I don’t have to hint, ask, or beg, so it seems easier. I can decide to eat oatmeal for dinner because I don’t feel like cooking and there’s no one to complain about a lack of dinner. It turns out that I crawl into bed alone, tell Alexa to play Radio Swiss Classic and read whatever I want, and that feels good. It feels good to mow my own lawn and learn to use the cordless drill, make my own mistakes and figure out how to fix them. It feels good to walk into a space that is entirely mine and know that it is safe – no one will harangue me about a water bottle left on a table, a light left on. It feels good to cook for others and not hear complaints about the cost of meals and generosity.

So, why the sad?

I suppose I’m sad because I still believe in the notion of romantic love. Almost certainly not in the way that I did when I got married in 2001, but I still believe in the notion of caring and loving a person. I believe in the benefits of care, concern, companionship. I’m not soured on marriage, I don’t think it’s a useless institution.

I’m sad because I gave my word. I promised for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, until death do us part. And then I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. I think to make an oath matters and I know that I broke mine. I think that’s sad, even if I would do it again and acknowledge it’s better that I did break my word.

The sadness is for a time. I’m particularly aware that I broke my word these days. It’s also sadness for what could have been and never really was. That, I think will take longer to resolve. It may, I am realizing, never fully resolve.

I can live with that small bit of sadness, I think.

Posted in Divorce | 1 Comment