Surplus to Requirements

I’ve never liked Mother’s day. Trying to please a mentally ill mother is no one’s idea of a good time. I did or didn’t become a mother, depending on how you want to define that word. My mother died.

I am surplus to requirements on Mother’s day.

It sits somewhere between the hell of heartbreak and the hades of a sandpaper based smugness. My mother wasn’t fantastic when she was here, Now she isn’t here.  My reproductive abilities are sub par.

They don’t mean me when they talk about Mother’s. There’s no room for my kind of “mothering” in there. There’s neither room for the nurturing of various nieces and nephews nor for the various women who have nurtured me.

Mother is a word filling me with chaotic and clashing feelings.  It’s messy. There are dead babies and ambivalence and second guesses. There’s no closure. There’s just this day.

And I don’t know what to do with it.

Surplus to my requirements.

Posted in Baby Loss, Learning Life | 5 Comments


I was having a beer with several of the neighbours, chatting idly about how life has changed since Owen left. I said that I was thinking about getting another dog.

Thinking, mind you. Thinking enough to look at Mastiff Breeders, not thinking so much about actually getting one. Just. . . thinking.

My one neighbour immediately suggested that I should have fewer animals. This would free me up to travel.

I am bewildered. It isn’t as if I have been wandering around telling everyone I wanted to travel. I don’t think I’ve told anyone that. I’ve told people that I need to re-stain the back deck and the front porch and build a small path out to the car. The neighbour and I are planning on staining the fence. I’m going to grow wax beans. I haven’t talked about travelling. I’ve talked about home.

I had a profound realization.

I like going away. I like going away and seeing new places doing new things. Mostly I like the idea of coming home. Of the cats on the newel post and the dog barking from the bathroom – where she has locked herself in again. I love the idea of home.

You may call it small and boring and even fussy and punctilious. I like the part where I put my clothes out the night before, I like packing a lunch, making some toast and putting the dishes in the sink. I like doing a bit of yard work here and there, doing laundry on Sunday morning and cleaning the cat litter on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I remember to take the garbage out, I hang the towels up and I haven’t run out of coffee or cat food, yet. I figured out how to unplug the bathroom sink.

I have lived with chaos and sorrow. Not Owen, but for longer stretches of my life, there as chaos and sorrow. My life is quiet. Unexciting. There is me and the pets and work and school. It’s frankly boring.

I love it.

There’s nothing wrong with small and quiet and boring.

My neighbour? She has itchy feet. She wants to go, to be free.

I told her I’d watch their dog.

Posted in Divorce, Learning Life | 2 Comments


Sometimes you can strike exactly the right note in a blog, so you type it out and hit post and it’s brilliant. Sometimes you can’t. So you turn it over in your head. And you want and need to write about it, but you can’t find words. You throw stuff at the screen and hope something sticks and that you can make some sense out of it.

A colleague texted me on Good Friday, asking if I wanted to go to church with them. Sometimes I go to church, but I had zero desire to turn up at a megachurch filled with strangers. I had no desire to be part of the annual outreach program. I’ve run the annual outreach program – I know what’s coming. I will be exhorted to holy living and Jesus. They will call it community building. I will call it inauthentic marketing.

What I wanted was someone to do what I have so often done – to reach out and bring me into their tribe for the night. To tell me to bring the buns and show up at 5. Let me play with children and talk to the grumpy and elderly aunt and help set the table. Hand me a tea towel and get me to help with the washing up. It has nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with kindness.

So I went to the art gallery. Had a terrible cup of coffee and some very excellent shortbread. I went to a cafe, had bread pudding for dinner and got caught up on my corporate finance readings.

I am an orphan with no children. There was nowhere to go and no one to see. There was no point in making ham and scalloped potatoes for just me. This is the hard part of being alone.  I will adjust. I will make new traditions. It won’t always hurt like this, it won’t always feel so lonely. I know that.

But last week, that first holiday? It sucked.

Posted in Divorce | 4 Comments

After 35 it starts on Fire

Aunt Peanuts asked me how dating was going.

It’s men on a dating website with no shirts, who can’t spell and think it’s “cute” that you are smart. It’s guys who like “‘humpting and fishing” sending you a message that just says “hey”.

Dating after 35 is watching a 16-year-old girl on youtube, as she uses her straightening iron to curl her hair. And being unable to replicate the effect. It’s trying to figure out how to “contour” your face and realizing that you bought a kit which has instructions,  but you need your bifocals to read the instructions and you are wearing contacts.

It’s trying to figure out, in a wardrobe of work clothes and jeans, what constitutes “date clothes. It’s changing your clothes three times and sending half a million photos to your friend. Can you wear a cardigan on a date? It’s heading out the door 5 minutes late, hating what you’re are wearing.

It’s arriving at a starbucks/restaurant/wine bar and looking around, hoping he looks like his photo. It’s a discussion with Jason/Steven/Mark/Scott/Chris about work/hobbies/astrology/their opinions on the fiscal crisis. It’s trying to figure out how to leave because you don’t want to talk about astrology and their opinions on the fiscal crises.

It’s will he text? What if he doesn’t? What if he does? Should I kiss him? Do I want to? It’s wondering if you should take the dating app on your phone and just look at pictures of cats instead.

And it’s the guy who says “I don’t care if it’s Sunday and you are wearing jeans and a sweater and your hair is in a ponytail. I’d like to see you again. I’ll meet you when you walk your dog. I’ll bring coffee.”

Posted in Adult Dating | 5 Comments


You wouldn’t think they would play “You are my sunshine” at a country concert. Or that it would hit me like that.

There were 3 songs that I sang him. What came into my head quite without thinking. We played For the Beauty of the Earth at his funeral. I heard Hush about a year after he was born, randomly at a concert.  I haven’t heard You are my Sunshine since that night. I haven’t sung it to babies; I sing all sorts of other songs and never that one.

I excused myself immediately, fled into the bathroom and stood there. Gasping. I’d say I wept, and I suppose I cried, but mostly the moment of being right back there, in that room, in those moments, saying hello and goodbye, and it took my breath away.

I have a photo of us in my office. I am singing to him. For years I didn’t like looking at it.  It’s not the pastoral mother singing her baby a lullaby. There is blood, I’m not looking at the camera. IV tubing.I look and indeed am, deathly ill.

And my son is gasping for breath and dying.

All I had to offer is a lullaby. So it’s what I gave him.

I’m sure the song was great. The concert reviews both said it was. My friend seemed to enjoy it.

I wouldn’t know. I was buried in memory. 10 years later it still takes me. 20 years hence it will still be so. He was my sunshine.

Posted in Gabriel | Leave a comment

It was the Fill Valve

My toilet is running.

It’s been running for almost 2 months. I have considered buying a new toilet because I have installed a new toilet. I know how to do that. It is astonishingly easy.

In my head, fixing my toilet was a great feminist feat. Nellie McClung, Indira Ghandi, Rosie the Riveter and me, fixing her toilet with some parts from Home Depot. Fixing the toilet was proof positive that I would be ok on my own. Look at me, remembering to lock the doors, not running out of toilet paper and fixing the toilet.

Except I am not mechanically minded. There are diagrams and I can’t explain it, but I swear that the parts freaking move on the page. All of that plastic fitting together and I just know, in my gut. What I am going to hear is cursing and breaking plastic and running water (some of which will be me crying). I watched the video’s on youtube (I listened to you Aunt Peanuts) and they were talking English, but my brain couldn’t compute.

I went to Home Depot on Wednesday night. The guy pulled something off the shelf, but I’m sorry, he said the word nipple. The 14-year-old boy in me went running past and the adult in me had to go and chase the 14-year-old boy and there just wasn’t anyone left to listen to the guy’s explanation.

Today a friend told me about her handyman. He’s named Ken, he’s a grandfatherly sort of fellow. He reminds me of my Uncle David. I called Ken this morning and he popped by. Petted the dog, laughed at the kitten, took the top off my toilet, told me it was my fill valve. They get old. He’d replaced one that morning, or he would have had one in the truck and could have done it then.

As it is, he’ll be by on Monday morning with a new fill valve and some nibblers to cut a tile to replace a broken one. The whole thing will cost me about $60. I’ll put the tile in while I listen to a webinar for school (you have no idea how easy laying tile is) and then it will be all done.

I’ll give him the $60 and make him some brownies because I’m so grateful. That I can afford the money to fix it, that he can fix it quickly, but also that I learned something. There’s more than one way. Sometimes it really is ok to say that you can fix a problem by finding the trusted professional who knows how to do the job for a price you can afford. The toilet gets fixed either way.

The fate of feminism and my ability to survive on my own don’t rest in my ability to fix my own plumbing.

Posted in Divorce, Feminism | 1 Comment

Narrower Doorways

Ms. Fab came last week while I did my new MS drug infusions. I didn’t ask, she just volunteered. For a week she drove me back and forth, fed me, made me coffee. She told me, in thought, word and deed that it would be ok. That I was loved. That I was not alone. I could not have managed without her.

I think about dying alone. When my son died. When my mother died. When I chose to not have children. And when I left Owen. I am frightened of dying alone. Given my MS, given my temperament, given all the things about me, people might have wondered if I should have just left things as they were. Stayed married. We were not unhappy – not completely. Things were stable. I would not have died alone.

In truth, I don’t know if I will find someone again. Some days it seems like I will, and sometimes I remain fully convinced that I will die alone. I will have no children, no parents, no family and no lover. I will die in a hospital bed, on the floor of my bathroom, elderly, forgotten. Alone. As sure as my personality, as my drive, is the curse of being alone. Sometimes it seems as if I have been alone, unseen, since the day I was born and my parents forgot about me.

I am, in the language of marketers, a niche. Driven, determined, focused. I know what I want, what I offer and what I am worth. Even in my most frightened moments, I tell myself I would rather die alone than be lonely with someone. I tell myself this. Hold it up, console myself. I tell myself everyone dies alone. It’s a narrow doorway.

I learned something last week, with Ms. Fab, with texts from my friends, with all of you. I will not die alone.  All last week I was not alone. Ms. Fab was with me. My friends texted and emailed and checked in. Owen made sure the insurance was settled. The absence of a romantic partner was not felt.

Oh, I will go through the door alone. Just like you will. But before? The life I live up until I cross the threshold? That won’t be alone.


Posted in Divorce, Feats of Wonder | Leave a comment

Take Command

Some years ago I was at a client social event with some software vendors. As so often happened, there were 14 men sitting around drinking, and me. The only woman. The men were talking about their wives. A surprising amount were stay at home mum’s. We mustn’t forget Mr. California’s Malibu barbie wife – doesn’t cook, doesn’t clean, doesn’t work. To be sure it’s no small thing to run a house and keep up with kids when your partner is on the road 40 weeks a year.

And there was me. Still dancing backward in my high heels, kicking ass and taking names. The youngest principal, well respected in her field. I am nobody’s little woman. I stayed quiet. Nothing really to say. The conversation was mercifully short, but it took a surprising turn at the end.

One of the men, a Texan, an internationally respected mountaineer, one of the kindest and smartest men I’ve ever called a friend – he held up his glass of beer.

In his drawl . . . “Now, I’m from Texas and we like our women a little different. We want the ones that dig their heels in, the ones that keep their heads when it all goes sideways. The ones that load the kids and the horses up when trouble comes, that circle the wagons and grab a gun.”

And he leaned over and he looked at me and said “Honey, I know you are from Alberta, but in your heart, you are a Texas gal. Strong and tough. Don’t ever change that.” 

It’s a story worth telling on International Women’s day. We come in all shapes and sizes, all forms and functions. And the world needs all of us.

Here’s to the women.

Posted in Feminism | 1 Comment

And So I Lied

She wasn’t prying. I’m in a medical situation, getting a drug, and she had to ask about my past medical history. Pre-eclampsia, with long-term minor kidney damage and very mild hypertension, the fact they gave me a ton of blood, my platelets crashed, that matters when you are getting a monoclonal therapy.

She’s 21 weeks pregnant.

We went through the history. She asked if my baby is ok now.

I lied.

I told her that he was fine and staying with his dad this week.

There is no need for general confession. It was a lie, I know that. I suppose it was a sin, but it was a kindness too.

All the same, I lied about someone I loved. For all the right reasons.

Forgive me.

Posted in Baby Loss, Grief | 4 Comments

Our Penitence and Our Mortality

I went to Ash Wednesday mass last week. I still don’t know what I feel about the good Lord. I don’t believe what I did. I still like going – I’ve been going to this service for most of my life. It’s quiet, grounding. It reminds me to self-reflect, to be humble and to be contrite. Among other things, this is the point of lent – to focus us on brokenness – within ourselves, within our communities, within the world. Possibly creation groans all the time, but the liturgy asks us to stop and abide with that groaning for 40 days. We are asked to be still and watch and listen. We will be broken anew even as we are made whole in other ways.

The sermon this year was particularly interesting. Instead of focusing on the falling short, the Rector focused on why we help and why we don’t let others help. I’m pretty good at knowing why I help others and I call myself out when my motives are not fantastic.

Letting others help me.


oh. umm.

I’m maybe not good at this.

I’m typing this from a new infusion clinic. Over the next 5 days they will pump $65,000 worth of drugs into me. I feel. . .

Look, I’ll just be blunt. I feel like absolute shit. My head is pounding, every single muscle in my body hurts. There are no words to describe how awful my mouth tastes. I’m running a nasty fever. I’m moving like a 90-year-old.  I’d say I have to barf, but I’m not sure I could muster the energy.

Ms. Fab flew out yesterday to take care of me. I confess, I thought the clinic was fussing at me. I’m pretty independent. My biggest worry was going to be keeping myself busy. I had my textbooks for next semester, a crochet project, some work stuff. I thought I’d manage pretty well.

I’m not going to be independent this week. I’m barely going to make it through. I’m going to need every spare ounce of help.

I felt uncomfortable during the sermon. The rector said it’s can be sinful to reject offers of help because we are rejecting love. We are hindering others from loving us. We are so caught up in our strength and virtue we don’t think we need help. The danger in that is that we become immune to needs, we become arrogant in our independence.

Apparently, this won’t be an issue for me this week.

Posted in Living Deliberately, MS Gets on Your Nerves | 3 Comments