Best Friend isn’t a person Danny, it’s a tier.
Best Friend isn’t a person Danny, it’s a tier.
One of my deepest #shames, #lifefails, is my paralyzing inability to cook for my family.
Yikes. There. I said it.
I instinctively equate this issue with having a real disinterest in nurturing my family, for which I suspect judgement is in right order. Oh, I can emotionally feed my children home cooked guidance that has marinated in years of experience, observation and are tender, delicious and nourish the soul – but put me in front of an oven and I argue the kids don’t really need to eat. Do they? On top of the mommy shame rests a heavy weight that socially, I place a lot of value on the women who can cook. It’s a symbol of having had the time and space to practice; it’s success, generosity and maternal instinct all rolled into one tasty dish and I worry that my life has manifested by way of sucking at it.
In an effort to make me more comfortable in the kitchen, my husband has purchased as many self-cooking appliances as possible. Rice cookers, slow cookers, blenders, bullets, and most recently the Instant Pot. However, due to my aversion to manuals, these appliances tend to cause me anxiety and I have managed to reverse cook rice, burn steak and slow cook chicken to death in these machines. I know one setting on the Instant Pot, and everything shall be cooked using that setting, whether it’s meat, vegetables or yogurt. The embarrassment is deep when something simple goes wrong, and I often feel like I am making things worse just by showing up. I have served my children uncooked batter, salty pie crust that nearly hospitalized us for dehydration, and really. bad. bread. And so I cook wearing heavy armour, protecting me from when the kids get that look on their face. I don’t want to experience The Deep Hurt. I’m too old to be set back a few childhood issues.
Believe it or not, I’ve made a lot of progress in that last 10 years. Ask my husband. The fact that he fell in love with me while I was eating a balanced diet of canned soup and alphaghetti and tolerates my incredible disappearing acts when it’s time to cook supper, is a miracle. I love when he talks about that early time – about how much he loved the decor of my apartment, how beautiful and alluring I was. How one day he opened my cupboards and blinked into the darkness, having his first second thought about our relationship. He still laughs about how simple and salty my diet was, and I remember feeling like I had stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia when I walked into his apartment and it was filled with spices, rice and cooking pots that only my grandparents had.
However, I have recently discovered a chink in my own armour, and there may be a way into the world of cooking for my battered and bruised self-esteem. I have stumbled upon these magnificent pieces of writing called recipes, within which structure and safety is offered. Yes, I’ve screwed up some meals even though I followed a recipe, but because I’m following direction, when there is a screw up it’s the recipe’s fault. It didn’t say to cook the dough. Inside the world of these recipes, I am able to pretend I am a cook, and I have moments of relaxing just prior to the brocoli burning, or right before I taste the sauce. I’m not yet ready to interpret and improvise, but I can already imagine a time when I will be. And these moments, built carefully on top of each other, will one day result in a tower of confidence in the kitchen. Maybe. Hopefully.
One recipe at a time.
She was named in the hospital, after naming her Charlotte. After learning she was a girl (what?!). After the kerfuffle between the OB and lead nurse who took her away from me. After she had spent a mere 11 minutes in the birth canal, too fast to squeeze those tiny lungs clear. After sending my friends home because I didn’t know how long the birth would be. After an afternoon of my partner and our best friend feasting on burgers and shaving his soon-to-be-dad head. After calmly announcing I think I might be in labour, and getting a coffee down the street. After watching my belly get bigger and my ability to predict the future get smaller. After watching people shrink away, or step up. After seeing the little blue line and smiling in spite of my fear. After my boyfriend gently suggested I take a pregnancy test, and blinking at him like he was speaking a different language.
Monica. The name landed on her so hard there was no removing it. Not after all that.
Monica rocked my world. She knocked everybody I knew on their ass. Her arrival made people nervous. Her multiplying cells sped up my life. I spoon fed her apple sauce and she force fed me focus. There was a lot of kicking and screaming, from both us. Fuck she was a tough baby. Do you remember? Do you remember how tired I was? How loud she was? She looked like a porcelain doll and sounded like a siren. Monica asked things of me I felt offended to have to answer – like Do you have what it takes Mir? Her method of communication ensured her survival, as though she knew she had been born to the un-ready. She kept me awake, kept me on my toes and kept me in line. Monica knew. She’s always known.
Monica screamed her way through infancy, like the notion of being a baby was infuriating. Her lack of control, her limited communication, compounded by her dumb parents who couldn’t read her signals – it all seemed to overwhelm her. It was like she had done this before and she knew she was shit-out-of-luck having to do it all over again, and so she raged with a fire only newborns possess. But when she stopped long enough to connect, her presence was breath-taking. Do you remember?
Toddlerhood redirected her energy. Her developing language calmed her, gave her a voice. Her developing voice empowered her, gave her a will. Her will was so strong I often found myself in a deadlock with a 2 year old that felt unnaturally balanced. My inability to maintain my authority speaks more to my wavering expertise as a young mother, but her intelligence has always been a little unnerving. It is hard to stand behind an argument when the conviction of your opponent is unrelenting and comes from one so small, with a fire only toddlers possess.
Today Monica sits on the edge of pre-teen. She doesn’t care for endurance sports, documentaries, or Danny from The Mindy Project. She loves hearing stories about herself and staying up late with her parents. Insightful, emotionally intelligent, focussed, quick as a whip and if she tries – or if her brother pins her down – she can be silly. When she flirts with the carefree I breathe a sigh of relief. Stay childish. Stay light. She has always had a tendency to know, take on, feel and understand too much.
As soon as she could talk, Monica wanted to know where she came from. You were picking your parents I said – a response that captured an intuitive feeling that I had been selected for this job. From the moment she dropped from a star and took up shop in my body, I knew she wasn’t mine. I felt the weight of being a guide, and at times I have protested hard. She’s watched me fumble, heard me apologize and still seems to like me. Every day she’s a step ahead, and every day I try to keep up.
Conservative to a fault. Monica.
Motherhood often feels like a bad basement party; dark, loud and somebody is always standing lonely in the corner. I don’t find I excel at the endless tasks, restrictions, stresses and failures. I shirk many conventional behaviours that motherhood demands and make an effort to dress as well as I did when I was childless. But true to form, Monica knew what she needed and landed herself in a family that is brilliantly flawed, fiercely loving and knows she belongs to the future. After 10 years I can see the value in that, and am grateful the future came to me when it did.
When I was a kid, I would watch and read celebrity interviews with obession. The impossible questions, followed by the ready answer. As an audience member, I was held captive by their words, the seriousness of their sharing. I marveled at the gravity of their experiences. Naturally, I began to mimic my way through imagined interviews. Usually conducted by Oprah Winfrey. The confidence behind their brand of living was something I craved and wanted to emulate. I familiarized myself with key phrases like ‘I have no regrets’ or ‘Pain made me stronger’ and rehearsed them in earnest.
At 34, I still talk to myself like I’m being asked important questions; like my answers matter to a room full of strangers. It’s a delicious self-indulgent feeling, and I admit that I have these conversations on my dog walks, in my car, or in the bathroom mirror, mugging my way through the thoughts. If I can’t talk it out, I have to write it out.
Over the years, this interview enactment has morphed into a way for me to process my life. Even though it comes from me, the voice being interviewed is an omniscient one that casts an intelligent, high status light on my issues. And thank god I have one voice in my head that takes my shit so seriously. So seriously that she has no shame answering the darkest questions, is willing to give eloquence to my confusion about life, my fears about motherhood, my female wickedness and stand behind them publicly – whether through words or the right tonal inflection. All my private interviews are televised, obviously. All my writing is written with the intention of going viral. If there is an absence of audience, the process does not work.
This need to share, to fumble for the ball in front of a hungry stadium is something that has made me quietly uncomfortable. Why the audience? What void do I have that is so vast it requires strangers to feel validated? Validation – my most elusive lover. Sexy as shit. Toxic as fuck. Validation – that evil sin that keeps me from colouring outside the lines. Validation makes me feel fickle, immature, superficial, and yet, and yet! I pine for it with a gross suffering.
Then: https://tryingtobegood.com/yoga/its-okay-to-want-to-be-seen/ followed by 3 distinct emotions: 1) Intense self- forgiveness 2) Instantaneous compassion for all those professional sharers 3) Overwhelming gratefulness for the internet.
I felt like I had been pardoned for a gruesome crime. I felt like I had found water in the dessert. Sooooooooo….yeah. I have a need to be seen. I have a need to be deeply seen – almost to the point of insatiability. My guilt at needing this is paralyzingly real and therefore I tend to let the world off the hook. I spin in circles waiting to be witnessed, terrified that I have a need that must, it must come from outside myself. It has to come from you. From that group. From them. Otherwise I live in solidarity confinement.
When I don’t let this confident voice sift through the tough issues in order to one day drop it in the middle of an unsuspecting crowd, I suffocate. I bury myself alive with the weight of my toddler emotions, my hair trigger sensitivities. I slyly coax myself further out into deep water and then belly laugh at my own drowning. Conversely, if I’m not ready to write it out, not ready to be interviewed, it means whatever the topic, it’s too soon. There must be confusion or angst around it and I have to wait patiently. I have to wait for that inner voice to develop enough confidence that there is no more shame.
Finally, I am standing safely ashore. Check check, I say into the mic.
O.W. So, tell me: After all the ups and downs, after everything you’ve been through, and know you’re going to face, do you have any regrets?
M.W. Oprah, get a grip. I have no regrets.
On the eve of my son’s 4th birthday, I managed to give him the present one boasts about as an adult. The present that outlasts, that outdoes, that outshines all others. I didn’t even know that I was going to give it to him until he had unwrapped it.
It’s hard to predict how a day goes. There are nights I get very little sleep. These are not nights to complain about. There are nights I get even less sleep than very little and it’s hard not to moan about those. There are familial stresses and tensions. My daughter has taken to telling me very long, very boring stories with no climax and I have to nod dutifully to be supportive but I am actually memorizing cracks in the sidewalk. There are parental and marriage woes, mostly to do with the lack of time, the lack of grace, the lack of 2 bathrooms. Breakfasts, lunches, backpacks, flyers, agendas, behaviour, fatigue, rivalries, meals, lessons, hobbies, video games, laundry, dog walks, social texting, cleaning – it’s all a bit much.
Come bedtime, my kids are lucky if I still look human. They’re also lucky if I have the energy to do the right things, like read books, tuck in, and give a kiss.
But tonight. On the eve of his birthday there was just enough in the tank and I made it. The glorious moments I had with him. His laughter. His hilarious observations. His facial expressions. His ability to follow impulses and watch him recognize that they got a laugh, then milk it a bit more. His laugher at himself.
His present was that I was there. I let bedtime go on too long, and his reward was watching his mother relax and release with giggles. He so rarely sees that, and it was a joy to let him experience it after a tough slog of uphill battles.
The memory will escape him by tomorrow, he’ll have no recollection of this night we shared. But it’s there somewhere, tucked in both our sub consciousnesses, ready to fuel us when we’re running on empty.
Mom whats it going to feel like?
My birthday. How long will it take you to set up?
It’s not your party tomorrow. It’s just your birthday.
It’s my birthday on this day?!
No, my sweet. Tomorrow. It’s your birthday for the whole day.
A whole day? And then I’m going to be 4? (so many vowels jammed into that word. I don’t know how he does it)
That’s right. When did you get to be so big?
Hmmm, I got so big because I eat all my dinner.
Can I smell your armpit?
Will it smell bad?
We don’t want things to smell bad. Not our penis, not our feet, not our belly button, not our…
Just smell it.
It started in early spring. I’d stop in at a plant shop and flirt with the greenery. I wouldn’t buy, only touch. I’d rub my hands along leaves, stems, picture them pot-less, wondering what was happening beneath the soil. I’d go home and fantasize about them, about them belonging to me, and me satisfying them.
I’d visit the shop again, maybe inquire about some of their likes and dislikes, get to know a few of them a little better. I’d play ini miney mo in my head Will you be the lucky one? How long will we will last? Right when the unknowing got unbearable, I’d buy one. I’d cradle it home, pick a spot for it, and place it gently. Here you go. Now we try to make it work. Please, let’s make this work.
First it was one, then two. All of a sudden I was picking up new beauties every week. In the course of 2 months, I acquired 8 new obsessions.
A long time ago, I had a bit of a green thumb. I was even somebody who bought discounted plants and could bring them back to life. But more recently, I’ve discovered I’ve lost my undeniable touch, and it’s shaking my self esteem. How could I be so good at something 10 years ago, and now be void of skill? Is this something I should prepare for when it comes to motherhood, wifehood, friendship or something else? No thank you.
And so I fight.
The Creeping Ivy – beautiful and touchable with miniature oak leaves that started to die. I was horrified and touched it more, panicked and watered it more, but continued to watch it wilt. I changed the lighting (candle light my sweet?), played Jann Arden for her, touched her in places she’d forgotten about and watched her bounce back to life. But then one morning I wept quietly beside her and decided desperate times called for desperate measures. I removed her from her pot and performed an impromtu surgery. I cut her in half and tried to decide which side had the best shot of surviving. I repotted the more lively side and said goodbye to the brown, miserable side that had peaced out. She toys with me. The side I saved hasn’t died. It hasn’t thrived. It is a zombie plant, stuck somewhere between life and Darryl.
The Bamboo plant from Canadian Tire ($10) – violated by my cat. The leaves were nibbled or eaten entirely and yet she stands proud in her…beer glass (?) and continues to green the crap out of the rainbow spectrum. She gives all the other plants a run for their money when it comes to colour. A survivor. Don’t don’t care what she looks like. She’s bad ass.
The Kangaroo plant – doing well. She gives me hope. There’s nothing wrong me with me, I tell myself. If she can be happy here, then the others are being picky.
The Orchid. The Geisha of house plants. I knew it wouldn’t last. With the beautiful orchid, I enjoyed our time together. She wooed me, gave me pleasure. Our shared time was beautiful, memorable, but there was no lasting power there. We were not soulmates, we were in love for a night and I was relieved when it was over. She left her expensive pot and I still don’t know what to do with it.
The Aloe. Omigod the Aloe. What am I doing wrong? I look around and everyone, I mean everyone seems to be able to keep an Aloe alive. I’ve seen the craziest people host the heatlthiest aloes, meanwhile I’m starting to use my Aloe as material with my therapist. Sometimes it stands up straight, sometimes it wilts. At times I think it wants more from me, and I cater. I touch the soil, I stroke the tentacles, one time one fell off into my hand. I was mortified. I came home the other day and a new juicy arm was developing. Playing hard to get, clearly.
I don’t know what my relationships with these plants mean. It feels important, it feels like a test, like a calling. Please need me I whisper. Please make me your number one. Your North. I’ll provide everything if you keep loving me.
And so, I keep growing up plants.
Jerry Seinfeld once said ‘There is no such thing as fun for the whole family’. I didn’t hear him say it, but it sounds like Jerry. Dry. Witty. True.
This simple statement has become a bit of a mantra for us. We say it every time something fun goes south. It’s a gentle reminder that it’s not really our fault. It’s the cause and effect of trying to find an activity that suits the needs/moods/interests/attention/fascination/imagination of 4 different humans.
Today was one such day. Would you like to come on a short road trip with us and then spend the rest of day in our company? If you need reassurance that your family is normal, or a reminder to never have one, this could be right up your alley.
8am: Everything is pretty normal. Dog has been walked, tea has been made. Kids are eating their weird breakfasts (butter/peanut butter/jam on crackers followed by a plum…?) and I’m excited about the day’s events. A short drive to the Bonnechere Caves. An Ontario marvel. A childhood memory I’m excited to pass on to my offspring. Then comes the question from my daughter “Is it going to fun?”
“What do you mean is it going to be fun?’ I ask/hiss/threaten.
“Yeah, like are we running around caves, or is it like somebody narrating the whole time like those movies I don’t like” (documentaries)
At this point everything turns on its head. I explain what’s going to happen, she sinks into a deep depression, and her brother starts to tease her. I channel Jerry and recite our mantra, and my husband predicts that everybody’s “play acting bad moods will soon turn into actual bad moods.”
10 minutes later I am doing angry dishes, he’s having an angry shower and my son is stomping around trying to fit in.
8:50: I find a note on my bed written by my daughter that is an example of her character and pulls everybody out of their funk. Well, not my husband. He was the last one to join us in the actual bad mood, so he lingers there for a tad longer, making him an easy target for me and my daughter to pick on and encourage to ‘let that bad mood go’. Shameless.
The road trip is only an hour and half. In that short time period all the predictables happen.
11:30: We arrive. The activity itself is a success. The kids are captivated, the caves are cool and our tour-guide is just awkward enough to give my husband and I some good material for the ride home. We park next to a family with kids named Ezekiel, Judah, Isla and We-Think-Our-Kids-Are-Miracles and I hide my eye rolling behind my sun glasses.
1:30: The trip home goes as one would expect. A bit crankier, a bit louder, my husband a bit sleepier at the wheel and I keep staring directly at the sun to catch this solar eclipse everyone keeps talking about.
3:00: Arriving home means dividing up tasks like feeding kids, walking the dog, buying the groceries and an hour later, it’s time for me to leave the family and go for a run. I don’t much like running, but I enjoy being alone, I enjoy the slight sense of punishment that running gives me and I enjoy a quick orgasm after. After my run my husband is off to punish himself at a boxing class and I am left to make dinner. I don’t like cooking, but I do like following instructions, so if I have a recipe I’m good. The kids hated it.
6:30 – 9:00: As evening wears on, my patience runs thin, my love dwindles. I just need everybody to go unconscious now so I can scroll through feeds, lie on the couch and conjure up energy for tomorrow. In a short span of time my son breaks a wood working tool, I force him to own up to it, we start one book, he chooses another, he picks two books, I begin one, he wants the other, I start that one while he cries with a blanket over his head because he wants to sleep with the broken tool, he finally shuts down, moves his pillow to the hallway to fall asleep, creeps into my room to say his entire bottle of water is travelling slowly down the hallway, my husband and daughter are spending a relaxing few minutes with each other so I put a stop to that immediately and bark at them to clean the kitchen, I clean up the water, I tell my son I don’t want to see him again tonight, he asks for a kiss, I kiss him on the forehead, he says ‘no the lips’ I kiss him on the lips, I barrel into my room and decide now is the time to capture the day in writing.
Of course even that activity gets interrupted by the rest of the evening. It never ends. But by 10:22 I am sitting in darkness, surrounded by unconscious people who will wake up and make everything loud again in 10 hours. In this moment, I think everybody is happy.
So there Jerry.
(This post is dedicated to Shelagh, who challenged us to write one blog post a week for the next four weeks. To you Shelagh, a slice of life for you to snack on.)
The morning’s cool air hits my arm, having breezed in from the open window and I tuck it under the covers, feeling a heat wave that draw my eyelids back down to their resting place. The sleeping bodies of my son and husband offer enough heat to keep me dozey for days. A little foot is hooked between my thighs and the sweet’n’sour smell of sleep waffes into my nose. I turn my head, re-open my eyes to the bright grey sky. My son’s hand is softly open on my pillow, holds no tension and I instinctively place my thumb in the palm of his hand, wondering if he’ll still squeeze it in his ripe old age of 3. He is so quiet when he sleeps. I smile at this profound revelation. He is so beautiful – looks like my grandfather, reminds me of my father, behaves like me. I don’t want to get up, I know that moving my body risks stirring him awake and then the quiet will end. After his 3 years; my daughter’s 9 years, I am tired. I am wounded and I react badly to loud sounds.
The cool air nudges me out of my nest and I breathe my last soft moments. I eye my husband lightly snoring on the other side of the bed, the cat curled around his head. When I get up I will put my socks and pants on in preparation of taking the dog out for her morning walk. I know that I will put my jacket on louder than I need to, that I will not try to stop the dog leash from hitting the wall and I will begin my day resenting that my husband is still enjoying the warmth beneath the covers. After 10 years, I am tired. I am wounded and I react badly to men lying in bed when there is a dog to walk.
Outside, the street is covered in a light frost, the bushes decorated with winter garbage. My dog lunges for squirrles. I’ve stopped reprimanding her. I duck down the streets I am least likely to run into anybody, because I do not have the energy to discipline her anymore when she whines for the attention of other dogs she is desperate to play with. I walk through the chilly air and know my husband is getting up, risking the great threat of our son waking up to my absence and having an early morning tantrum. He must be terrified every morning. He precariously gets up, having already faced one of the biggest fears we carry, and he turns on kettle. He wakes up our daughter and he makes the tea. I bring the dog to her favourite place to do her business. He empties her lunch box from yesterday. I pick up dog poo. He makes one or two or three or four breakfasts. I stroll myself down an extra street, he makes a lunch or two. We meet in the living room before 7am and I drink my warm tea. There is little to say.
Convincing the kids that the morning is chilly, and therefore requires appropriate attire, is each and every day a shocking challenge. In the moments that I wrestle shoes on unresponsive feet I curse the chill that first woke me. When I’m hunting for the only sweater that my son wears, I curse the frost that refuses to leave our city, that forces me to lose my temper. I blame it for my lack of patience, for my quick swear words directed at my shitty kids, and I imagine a world that is warm and requires no layering of clothing.
Oddity: I am unapologetic about loving hot cars. It’s my favourite moment, on a hot summer day, to climb into a hot car and just suffocate in the heat for a few moments. I am always the last to roll down my window, ignoring the shouts and chides of my family who are pushing their faces to the down rolling window for their fresh air. I wait until I’ve sat in the dead heat just long enough and only then will I break the hot weight by letting the fresh air stream in. My love for hot cars is rivalled only by my hatred for cold ones. Like a cruel punishment, we have somehow managed to get to the kids up, fed, prepped and dressed for the day; we have managed to get them down the hallway of our building – our building filled with crazies who constantly leave signs about not running, not shouting, not toddlering in the hallways – without pissing anyone off; we have literally stopped to smell the dead flowers (dead from the persistent frost) … only to be met with a cold car.
Our daughter gets dropped off behind her school – a glimpse into her growing embarrassment of her parents. ‘Drop me off where nobody can see us together‘ her eyes hiss. Her only job when getting out of the car is to say good-bye to her adoring brother. My son keeps his eyes stuck on her from the moment she unclips her seatbelt until she disappears down the path. He waves with an exuberance that breaks my heart every morning – and he cries if he is robbed of a proper good-bye. My daughter knows this and exerts her power over him every once in a while by ‘forgetting’ to wave, by ‘smiling’ with her lips tight and her eyes rolled. When she does this, my husband and I roll down our windows and shout at her to ‘wave properly! Smile! Say good-bye to your brother!‘ It is exponentially more embarrassing for her but I am committed to making her life miserable each and every time she tries to shirk her morning responsibility.
Our son gets dropped off at daycare – and it can really go either way with him. Sometimes he runs into the arms of the workers and sometimes he clings to our legs in not-so-silent protest. The exit is swift and sometimes gut wrenching.
Sometimes I forget that I’m older then when I last checked 10 years ago. I seem to eternally hover in my mid 20’s, and often it’s surprising to see my friends celebrate their 30-something birthday and then realize I’m next. It’s not that I don’t want to age, it’s that sometimes I feel that I’ve missed it’s happening. I look in the mirror and I look older. I come home and there are two kids waiting for me. There is evidence that I have been adulting, but the things that I thought would make me an adult while in my youthful 20’s are perpetually out of my reach. I wrote out the list, ad lib, and realized that not only do I seem unable to check off the items, but I can’t seem to make a new list, one that is probably more realistic. Here is what I’ve been banging my head against, in all it’s miserable glory:
Signs of (Unattained) Adulthood That Plague Me On a Daily Basis
I try to conjure up my blessings, a quick substitute for a new list of what it actually means to be an adult. I mean, if there’s one thing Western Society is great at reminding me, it’s to Be Grateful asshole – accompanied by photoshopped images of somebody’s zen travels and tanned skin hiding under GAP Body underwear. It’s hard to fail daily at the one piece of advice constantly thrown at me over newsfeeds, petition emails and viral ad compaigns. But I keep trying. So I made a list. I’m good at lists.
A List of Things To Be Grateful For You Ingrate