Three girls

I might have been four or five.

It was raining, and had probably been raining for days. It was a Saturday and my brother had a soccer game at St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission, BC. This would have been in the early 1980s.

We arrived, my brother joined his team, my mom joined the parents on the sidelines, and I joined the other siblings on the playground.

There was a slide — one of those huge, skyscraper-sized metal ones that would have taken my short legs three straight minutes of climbing before reaching the summit. You’d never find these slides on a modern playground, but back then we took risks.

I don’t remember the ascent, nor do I remember pausing and wondering how foolish I’d look if I just shimmied back down. I don’t remember sailing along this metal ramp to the bottom, either.

But I remember the finale — my blue jean-wearing butt splashed straight into a mulch-filled puddle. It was my trademark move at this age; one I’d repeat many more times before nailing the landing.

I don’t recall trudging over to my mom, rubber boots squelching full of dirty mud puddle. I don’t remember how itchy I must have felt as the mulch jabbed and poked my legs inside my soggy jeans.

I don’t remember my mom shaking her head, sighing, and looking at her watch to see how much time was left in the game. I don’t know if she considered just pulling my brother out of the game and taking us both home.

I don’t recall her hand on my shivering back, ushering me inside the huge red and white school, or if she spoke to a grown up when she arrived, or what they might have said.

I remember walking downstairs, though, and entering a big, carpeted room. I remember that the curtains were orange and drawn and that the light filtering through gave everything an odd, ginger glow. There were three girls in the room, and they seemed old to me, but were probably only 13 or 14. They all had long dark hair and they smiled at us.

I don’t remember wedging myself behind my mom’s legs and peeking around them. But I suspect I might have done just that.

I know my mom spoke to the girls; she must have — my mom speaks to everyone whether they want to hear what she has to say or not. I don’t know what she said, but they must have come to an agreement, because one moment my mom was there and the next she was gone, and I was alone with the girls in the orange-tinted room.

There was a couch, and I sat on it wet jeans and all, scootching my butt into its deepest corner. I must have put my hands over my face, because I remember how the room looked through fingers. I probably cried. I did that a lot at four or five, so it seems probable.

The girls took turns leaning in and talking to me. And they had scarves, so many scarves. There was a bottomless drawer in my grandma’s bedroom full of flimsy rainbows that my cousin and I would dig through and twine around our necks, heads, wrists, and waists.

The girls had these scarves, too, and they whipped them around their faces, behind their heads, and they reached forward, tickling the hands in front of my face, trying to coax them away. They were laughing, and telling stories. I listened, rapt, and terrified. These were scary stories. I stopped crying at some point, but continued to shiver — perhaps it was cold, more likely it was fear. They told scary stories through delicate scarves until my mom came to collect me.

We would have clambered into the big green Jeep with the wooden side panels and made the short drive home. I would have undressed and maybe even jumped into a rare mid-morning bath to get the mulch off my skin. My mom, I presume, did laundry.

We would have had lunch, of that I’m sure, but whether my mom continued on with chores while my brother, sister and I played, or whether she put up her feet and read a book, I can’t say, but I hope she did the latter.

I rarely thought about those three girls; the ones who didn’t get to go home with their families after the game. Or about all the other children who wouldn’t spend lazy Saturdays playing, having baths, being cared for, nurtured, loved, included.

But I think about them now, and often; now that I have children of my own.

I got to go home that day. I got to go home every single day. I can still go home today if I want.

And I don’t know how to reconcile that.

St. Mary’s was the last functioning residential school in Canada, and closed in 1985.

The great sleepover debate

I said no.

I say no often to my children without giving it much thought, but this seemed like a big no; there was a harshness to it. Saying it hurt a little because I could feel he wanted it so badly, and he’s such a great kid, and he’s almost 10, and I was probably being over protective.

“No. You can’t go to the sleepover birthday at the local ski hill. I don’t know this boy. I’ve never met him or his parents. It’s an hour away on a snowy road. No.”

Sleepovers are a rite of passage, and I remember my first attempt vividly.

I was about six, and I was to sleep over at my best friend Tami’s house. I’d visited countless times before, and our parents were friends.

There was a build up of excitement; I could barely eat as butterflies parked in my belly.

Finally, Friday night arrived and it was amazing until the lights went out, at which time I sobbed and begged Tami’s mom to take me home. She did.

A few weeks later, I tried it out again and made it through the night. I graduated to other sleepovers — sleepovers that found me giggling on my grandma’s balcony with my cousin Becky, or up watching Labyrinth over and over, pausing only to make prank calls to the boys from school.

(Keep in mind, this was before call display.)

Sleepovers were great. Sleepovers are great. I want my kids to have sleepovers and to host sleepovers, but I’ve been fielding invitations from parents since my oldest was about five, and I say no far more often than I say yes, because I’m torn between wanting my kids to have amazing experiences with their buddies, and wanting to make safe choices for them.

I’ve had to develop rules, which include:

  • If I don’t know the child, or the parent, the answer is no. You’d be surprised how many sleepover requests come to my house from children, and parents of children, who are complete strangers. I couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup, I have no idea who the parent is, what they look like, how many children or dogs live in the house, what they do for a living, or whether they have gang ties.
  • If a parent decides at the last moment that the pizza/movie birthday party is now a sleepover, the answer is also no. No. No. No. First of all, WHO LIVES LIKE THIS? Making the decision to extend a nine-year-old’s birthday party into the next day — on a whim — seems insane to me. I can’t work like that. I like plans, and I like having them in advance so I can give my extremely anxious brain enough time to freak out.
  • If there have been multiple playdates, and I’ve gotten to know the kid and the parents and have successfully creeped them on social media, then yes, yes, a thousand times, YES!

When my kid visits your house I want to know that he feels comfortable enough to tell you if he’s scared. If he feels sick. If he’s hungry or thirsty. And I want your kid to feel that way with me before he spends the night.

We’re told to provide our children with the tools they need to engage with the world. We talk to them about stranger danger, and about bullying, and about participating cautiously in cyberspace.

But we’re also told that most child predators are not strangers, and that they’re the next-door neighbour, the basement tenant, the babysitter, the uncle.

As a kid I didn’t notice when I graduated from midnight My Little Pony marathons to sobbing over Heathers and making prank calls in the basement. When my parents said no, which was often, I thought it was just because they were jerks.

Turns out they weren’t jerks. And I’m not a jerk, either. My kids will do sleepovers. But let’s not rush it. Let’s get to know each other a bit, see how they play together for a few hours before they spend the night. How about you invite me in for a coffee while they play so that I don’t have to resort to the social media creep?

That’s a lie. I’ll creep you anyway. I’ve already creeped you. But it’s only because I care.

Thoughts that keep me up at night

What problem are the removable liners in sports bras trying to fix? Is their primary purpose to solve the ages old horror of vague nipple shapes under tank tops? Or were they merely created to provide a nice, rounded shape to the otherwise lycra-flattened boob? I go to the gym often, and I run, and because of this, I own a lot of sports bras. If you’re like me, you’ve spent time fishing these fleshy-coloured flaps out of the wash, or poking your fingers inside the little slits on the side of the bra coaxing out the bunched-up liner, only to later attempt to reinsert it in the original position. There’s swearing, and origami involved in this process. And if you’re also like me, you’ve got a drawer full of odd-shaped fleshy flaps — like socks — that you hang onto because someday you might find the match, and then once again be able to hide your nipple shapes while you run. Let’s face it — some dude designed this terrible contraption, and then other dudes around other boardroom tables all over the world nodded their heads and agreed that it was a fabulous idea. And so here we are, ladies, drowning in mismatched fleshy flaps, hiding our nipples when really all we want is to go for a run and have everyone just leave us alone with our deep thoughts.

•••

At Costco, my 9-year-old is not allowed to try a piece of buttered toast until I say it’s OK. Which is fine. There might be peanuts, gluten, dairy and other dangerous things in that toast, and Costco doesn’t want to be responsible for my child’s anaphylaxis. I get it. But at what age do they start handing kids food? I’ve never seen anyone asked for ID at a Costco sampling booth, so do they have a standard “age at which you look responsible enough to know and understand your own food sensitivities?” Is that legal drinking/pot-smoking age? (19 where I live), or is it younger? Is it understood that by age 14 or so you’ve lived long enough to know not to eat dairy if you’re allergic? If there’s anyone out there who provides samples at Costco, I’m dying to know.

•••

My friend is preparing to sell her house, and as a result has been frantically renovating her bathroom and retiling the fireplace. She bought the tile for the fireplace two years ago, but it wasn’t until she decided to sell that she actually opened up those boxes. Meanwhile, I have a beautiful, two-person jetted bathtub in my garage. Someday, most likely in the weeks before we list our house for sale, it will move upstairs into our master bathroom. Until then, this gorgeous tub will collect dust (and empty pop bottles) in the garage, while also preventing us from parking inside. I’m often motivated to buy the things I need to renovate, but am very rarely motivated to actually renovate. It makes me sad looking at that gorgeous vessel knowing that I’ll probably never bathe in it, but even that sadness, and the bitterness of knowing that some stranger will delight in the beautiful bath, doesn’t prompt me to roll up my sleeves. It makes me sad — but not sad enough to actually renovate.

The mom flu

Once, when I was about 14 I had a sinus infection so severe that I nearly blew my left eye out.

To this day, I have to close my eyes tightly when I blow my nose so as not to accidentally launch my left eye across the room.

It occurred to me over the past several days, eyes closed, blowing furiously into a Kleenex, that I used to be really good at being sick.

As a kid I was sick all the time. I had coughs, fevers, pink eye, strep throat and chicken pox. I even got shingles when I was 13 — a special virus reserved for the elderly — that traced perfect loop-de-loops around my teenaged back.

But at some point it all stopped and I got cocky. My life is a germ factory, and I walk through it daily in short sleeves; my sick offspring literally sneeze into my open mouth and I wake up the next morning without a sniffle.

I rarely get sick, and now I’m out of practice.

Man Flu has its own Wikipedia page, and just recently, Dr. Robert H. Schmerling posted results of a scientific study conducted to determine if this condition is legitimate — if men actually experience more acute flu symptoms than women.

There is no similar Wikipedia page or Harvard study for the Mom Flu, so I feel qualified to discuss the differences between them, and I’ll do so by drawing upon zero actual research, and pure anecdotal evidence. Here is my conclusion: Women rarely give themselves permission to be sick.

Men are no better at math than women. They are no better at driving, at comedy, or at managing money. One only has to turn on the news to recognize that they’re also not that fabulous at running countries.

But they are great at being sick, and most of the women I know (sorry for generalizing ladies) are terrible at it.

This Mom Flu found me at home, alone, on my living room couch, on a cold Tuesday morning, confused and anxious about what was going on.

“What does a sick person even do,” I asked my dog.

He suggested a rousing game of fetch or a trip to the dog park, but there wasn’t enough Kleenex in the world to make that possible, so instead I washed the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, tidied up the boots by the front door, started a load of laundry and took out the recycling. Then when I felt I had “earned” some down time, I made tea and sat on the couch.

Tea done, I got up, put the mug in the sink, and looked around.

“What now,” I kept wondering, as the minutes ticked by on my first official sick day in over a year, completely aware that I was failing, and feeling crummy about it because I hate being bad at shit.

I turned on the TV but it seemed noisy and out of place during the day.

So I folded laundry.

Then I tried to nap, because that’s what I tell my kids to do when they’re sick.

But instead I sat on my bed and stared at my dog, who I eventually took for a walk.

Sick Day No. 1 was over, and I’d accomplished about 20 minutes of productive rest time.

I’ve got a Mom Flu. I’m out of practice, and it’ll take a lot longer than the length of the average flu to figure out how to grant myself permission to relax.

A social life, curated

Social media is such a lie, and I am such a liar.

It has been nine months since I posted to my blog, and it’s not because I ran out of things to say.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that I have two super powers, and one is never running out of things to say, ever. In fact, I can carry on both sides of every conversation without even pausing for breath.

I talk everywhere, and to anyone. Trying to get some work done? Big deal! I had a hilarious thought! Just about to make an important phone call? Yeah, but wait until you hear this!

I’ve always had a lot to say, but what I say, and what I share (especially on social media) has always been carefully curated. The moments in which I’m absent or silent are the moments that I don’t have the capacity for curating. If I had posted to my blog three or four months ago I would have shared thoughts and feelings that I would have immediately regretted.

I would have risked opening myself up to sympathy, pity, and criticism at a time when judgement was the last thing I needed, and pity would have driven me insane.

And I’m not that brave.

So I stopped writing because I didn’t want to run the risk I’d write something I’d regret — something I couldn’t delete.

But then I looked back over the past several months of my social media posts, only to realize I had been talking. I had been talking quite often, but the conversations I shared were so carefully manufactured that they were almost outright lies.

“Look at my life,” those posts cried out, “it’s full of sunny days, big smiles, fitness, family, friends, vacations, and very merry Christmases.”

Truthfully? That’s garbage. This fortieth year has been the most difficult of my life.

Brick by brick, I’m putting myself back together. But the trauma this year has brought has forever changed the way I am, the way I see myself, the world, and probably the way I write.

The lies we tell on social media aren’t intentional, or malicious. We’re all just constructing the stories we want to read. The stories aren’t always true, but we want them to be, we can imagine they are, and there’s comfort in that.

Here’s to 2019. A year of great stories, and greater honesty, openness and bravery. And to greater recognition that behind every perfect and hilarious social media post there is someone with an untold story who is working very hard to build herself back up again, brick by heavy brick.

 

You’re only as old as you feel

Originally published in the Kamloops Daily News, Jan. 11, 2011. Gramma passed away on Nov. 15, 2016, and not a day goes by that I don’t hear her emphatic voice in my head. Usually, it’s when I’m doubting myself. And usually, her voice is castigating me, telling me to stop being “SO STUPID.” In life, she never insulted me, but she’d routinely insult herself. We’re a lot alike, her and I. 

Ninety is the new 50, or so I’m told.

My grandmother, or Gramma as I have known her for the past 32 and a half years, turned 90 last week. There was a big hullabaloo over it, as there should have been. Unable to attend the shindig, I sent a card filled with scratch tickets in my stead.

I chose Set for Life, and fully expect her to win. I suspect she’d go with the payout, but I’d encourage her to take the $1,000 a week for 25 years, because I’m that certain she’ll still be going strong at 115.

Some people are born old. I know a few of them. Some people aren’t. We call these people young at heart, but that’s a terrible cliche, as it’s not particularly accurate. Gramma is young in mind, and in spirit, but she’s not young at heart. She’s had a heart attack once or twice in the near century that she’s been alive. According to her doctor, she’s got an enlarged aorta, but you don’t need a PhD to discern that her heart is too big. And I’m certain in the past 90 years she’s managed to break that big heart of hers once or twice – what good would 90 years be, after all, if there weren’t a tale of love and loss tossed in there somewhere?

She might not be young at heart, but she’s never been old, this Gramma of mine. In fact, I recall her saying that once, while going about her daily routine, she looked over and caught a glance at herself in a mirror and let out a loud shriek.

“Sometimes I forget,” she said to me that afternoon. “I’m going about my day and in my head I’m 25, but then I look at myself in a mirror and I’m OLD,” she yelled. Sure, she’s become hard of hearing, but that’s not why she yells, and it’s not really a yell in any case, it’s merely volume for emphasis. And Gramma is nothing if not emphatic.

This past summer, Gramma needed a hip replacement. It had been months since she’d been able to get out on the golf course, and she hadn’t been line dancing in a coon’s age. What really got her goat, though, was her inability to walk unassisted. She required a walker – the ultimate indignity – and occasionally, when going up stairs, she needed an arm to hold onto for support.

It was time for the surgery, she said (rather emphatically), and so she went, and these days she’s aquafitting and furniture shopping, getting geared up to move into a resort-style retirement community. It’s a big move, but exciting, and this way there’ll be someone to come in weekly and do her vacuuming. Unfortunately, it’s out of my price range, or I’d be tempted to join her.

No, Gramma’s not old. She’s a spry 90 – still going in for hugs and sneaking butt pats at the same time, and still cheating at Scrabble. While I know her as Gramma, the great-grandchildren (and there are many) know her as Gramma Treats, and while they all stop for butt pats when she gets in the door, their next stop is her giant purse, which is always overflowing with fresh cookies and little bags of candies, or little toy trucks. In fact, I’ve even caught my older sister sidling up to Gramma, asking her if she’s got any stray jubejubes kicking around in that magical purse of hers.

Age certainly is only a number, and sometimes I’m sure she feels each and every one of her 90 well-lived years. But she’s never been old to me, and saying she’s 90 just seems ridiculous.

She’s older than the BBC, than Readers Digest, than Time Magazine. She’s older than one-piece bathing suits, The Ten Commandments (the film, not the actual tablets), the Winter Olympics, Chrysler, Scotch Tape, Winnie-The-Pooh, the 40-hour work week and the use of insulin as a treatment for diabetes.

The things she’s seen, the things she’s lived through, make me catch my breath. The fact that I can still call her up and speak to her about those things makes my breath hitch for another reason altogether.

I’m blessed – so blessed -to have my Gramma, who was born when the population of Canada was a paltry 8.7 million.

It’s just sad that she had to wait until her 90th birthday for me to fully appreciate that blessing. Better late than never, I guess.

Happy birthday Gran.

 

Rainy Sunday reading

My perfect rainy Sunday involves a great book, a fireplace, a soft blanket and a hot cup of coffee.

Oh, and a clean house that smells of pie, and children who are playing together (with educational toys), quietly.

I can’t manage most of this — except the coffee and the book, and usually the coffee is lukewarm by the time I actually get to sit down and drink it. I can almost always carve out a small space in each Sunday for reading, but at this stage in my life, the books I read have to meet certain criteria.

For starters, they can’t be overly complicated. There was a time in my life when I expected a lot from literature. I devoured classics, and poured over Oprah’s book list. These days? I need books that take me away but don’t ask much of me in return.

Oh, and I’d prefer if they don’t make me cry. There’s enough sadness in the world. I’ll come back to the classics and the books that soak up my sobs eventually, but these days I need escape.

So, if escapist fiction — often with a historical bent — with the occasional bit of dystopia thrown in for good measure is up your alley, then read on to find out what I recommend, and I’ll do my best each rainy Sunday to offer a few other suggestions.

(Note: I live in a semi-arid region, so there aren’t as many rainy Sundays as one might wish for)

The catch? You have to share your recommended reads with me. I read a lot, and quickly. I’m always running out of books, so the more recommendations the better.

What I’m reading now

The Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley (books 1 through 9)  flaviadellucebooks

“It was one of those glorious days in March when the air was so fresh that you worshipped every whiff of it; that each breath of the intoxicating stuff created such new universes in your lungs and brain that you were certain you were about to explode with sheer joy; one of those blustery days of scudding clouds and piddling showers and gum boots and wind-blown brollies that made you know you were truly alive.” 
Speaking from Among the Bones, Flavia de Luce, No. 5

A friend of mine introduced me to this series. It turns out that despite the fact my friend is way smarter than me, with many letters after her name, she and I have a similar taste in reading. This knowledge makes me feel way smarter than it should.

But Flavia is truly enchanting, and I’m so glad we met. Set in 1950, 11-year-old Flavia is finding her way through the world out of her home base of Buckshaw, a rambling old English mansion. Her mother died when she was a year old, her older sisters either ignore her or are terrible to her, and her father is absent. She’s raising herself under the sometimes watchful eyes of Dogger, her family’s butler who suffers from PTSD. Her best friend is Gladys, her bicycle.

Oh, and did I mention that Flavia has a passion for poisons, and also solves murders?

Alan Bradley is a brilliant writer, one I wish I had discovered sooner, and I’m so excited for you to get to know Flavia if you haven’t already.

The Timothy Wilde Series by Lyndsay Fayelyndsay faye timothy wilde trilogy

The Gods of Gotham, Book 1
Seven for a Secret, Book 2
The Fatal Flame, Book 3

I can’t remember who recommended The Gods of Gotham to me, or whether it was one of those books that just kept popping up on my recommended reading lists, and I eventually just bit the bullet and bought it, but however it happened, I’m grateful.

The Gods of Gotham, set in the 1840s, introduces Timothy Wilde, the best, yet most reluctant, copper star on New York City’s inaugural police force. It’s dirty, and twisted. I pride myself on being a bit of a plot sleuth, able to figure out what’s going to happen before the author shows me, but there are so many twists and turns and gritty bits in this book that I was completely taken by surprise. Wilde is among the only decent humans that Faye reveals, in her exceptionally well-researched period drama.

These are my recommendations for today, what are yours?

40 is the new 30, and other lies we tell ourselves

I’m so close to 40 I can smell the wine on her breath; near enough to reach out and stroke her stray chin hair.

I’m at the age when we begin to placate one another with lines like, “you’re only as old as you feel.” I’m at the age when Susan Sarandon quotes begin to resonate; when I’m told I should stop obsessing over my appearance, and be confident in my own skin, and in the woman I’ve become.

I’m “aging gracefully.” I’m over the hill, but I’m “picking up speed.”

When I crest the hill I’ll look around and realize that I’m at the top of my game, I’m who I was meant to be. I’m self-assured. I’m poised. I’m intelligent.

I’m still waiting.

Am I aging gracefully? Two days ago I tripped over my dog and wrenched my back. I’ve been hobbling and gasping around the house, ever since. Advil and Robaxacet rattle around in my pocket like spare change, and I’ve spent more time with my acupuncturist, chiropractor and massage therapist than I have my own husband.

Aging is hard, it’s painful and it’s expensive. There was a time when I would go to the salon for fun. Now I go to the salon to camouflage my grey. I’m earning more than I ever have, but spending more on serums and hair removal — for my face.

I’m digging in to my thirties, (whitened) tooth and (manicured) nail. At some point, I’m told I’ll be confident enough to let go of the eroding bank of my youth and just slide right into the babbling brook beneath, but I figure I can hold on a little longer. I’ve got this.

As long as I don’t look ahead. Or in the rearview.

I recall a telephone conversation that took place about a month after I became a mom. I was talking to my sister, and was near tears. My life had been cataclysmically altered by this bawling, needy, swaddled thing. Everyone was shouting at me, “BE GRATEFUL! ENJOY! YOU’RE SO LUCKY,” when all I really wanted to do was sleep.

“I just miss it,” I said to her. “I miss being able to drink a whole cup of coffee before it gets cold, or to sit down and read more than one page at a time. I love my baby, but I miss my life!”

She laughed at me. She laughed, and she laughed, and then she laughed some more. Then she said: “Danna, just forget about your old life. Just forget it. It never happened. If you don’t forget it, you’ll go insane.”

It was tough, but I managed. I managed to forget what time to myself felt like. Then, when those brief golden moments occurred, they were unexpected, and glorious.

Vegans have to forget bacon. They can’t spend a lifetime picking through their chickpeas and tempeh and thinking back to the last charcuterie tray they ate.

So, they forget. And then, one day, they’ll sit down, chase a slice of vegan cheesecake with a glass of vegan wine, and realize that it is possible to find new, delicious things to eat. They’ll find that life is still worth living, even without bacon and dairy cheese.

Such as it must be with aging.

I have to forget the woman I was. I have to stop standing in front of the mirror and remembering how I used to look. I need to stop thinking about the calories that I used to be able to consume without consequence, and how late I used to be able to stay up at night without nodding off into my cup of herbal tea.

That girl with the flat tummy and the great ass? She was a character in a TV show that I used to watch. I think of her with fondness, but her show was cancelled a long time ago, and there’s never going to be a reboot.

And soon, I hope, if I forget for long enough, I’ll find that grace that comes with age — that confidence and poise they say is headed my way.

Bringing home the (dog) baby

This week our family welcomes its first puppy.

For years I’ve rolled my eyes at the suggestion that raising a dog is similar to raising a child. Often, this comparison comes from people who don’t have children, making scoffing a requirement.

But, having spent the past several weeks planning to bring a puppy into the home, I’ve come to realize that maybe — just maybe — I’ve been too quick to dismiss the similarities. There are a few.

Consider upfront costs, for example.

Dog babies, much like human babies, require a ton of stuff, and as a result, are really, really expensive. My dining room table is buried under bags of dog food, dishes, treats, toys, bedding, crates (one for home, and one for travel), and an endless supply of puppy potty training essentials.

And nobody — not a single person — threw me a puppy shower, so I’m on the hook for all of it.

Then there are the late nights spent coming to terms with the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m bound to screw it up and raise an asshole dog that sniffs crotches, jumps on children, pees everywhere, barks at everything and eats cats and postal workers.

As motherhood approached, I spent many nights tossing and turning, and staring at the ceiling fretting about the same things — minus the crotch-sniffing and cat-eating, of course.

And let’s not forget the unsolicited and often conflicting advice.

“You must follow Cesar Millan’s method, it’s amazing.”

“DO NOT follow Cesar Millan’s method. It’s terrible.”

“Don’t use pee pads.”

“Do use pee pads.”

“You must clicker train. Immediately.”

“Do NOT give him a human name. He is NOT a human.”

When this advice is launched at me, I can’t help but think back to the unsolicited and often passive aggressive advice I fielded during my advent into motherhood, some nine years ago.

“DO NOT give him a soother. You’ll never break him of it.”

“Disposable diapers are great for people who hate the Earth. Do you hate the Earth?”

“No screen time. EVER. Until he’s at least eight.”

“Keep him rear facing until he reaches puberty.”

“Bottle feeding is an option. If you’re terrible.”

“DON’T swaddle him.”

“DO swaddle him.”

“DON’T let him cry it out. EVER!”

“Jeez, just let him cry it out already!”

When I was growing up everyone had dogs, and all any dog needed was a collar, a leash, a bed, a bowl and a belly rub or two. Instead of pee pads and poop bags we had newspapers and shovels. Dogs licked plates, ate scraps, chewed ham bones, and gobbled whatever kibble was on special that week.

Somehow, even without all of the gadgets and canine behavior modification methods, dogs were amazing. They protected us, loved us, and we returned the favour.

Dog ownership has become riddled with pitfalls. The stakes are higher, the expectations greater.

But I’m convinced that, as with raising children, sometimes the simple things matter more than the gadgets and the gimmicks; simple things like consistency, routine, encouragement and praise.

There. Now it’s your turn to roll your eyes.

Random acts of compassion

The wind has a bite to it, and sharp teeth, too. I slam my car door before another gust hits, crank up the heat, and nose out of the parking lot with a million things on my mind, and too few hours in the day.

The light turns red and I curse. I’m already late, and this light is so damn long — it’s the longest light in the city. The light’s not triggered by traffic, but I roll my car forward anyway, seething with impatience.

Out the passenger window I watch as a woman wearing a long blue scarf leaves the bank, stops, turns, and walks back the way she came, pausing in front of a bundle of blankets on the sidewalk.

The bundle moves, and a woman’s face peeks out, nearly camouflaged against the mud-coloured siding of the bank.

The woman in the blue scarf crouches down, leans in and begins talking. I can’t hear her. I so badly wish I could hear her. She’s smiling and nodding her head. The woman she speaks with looks up.

The woman in the blue scarf reaches up and unwinds it, grabbing hold of it tightly in the wind. She leans forward and wraps the blue scarf carefully over the shoulders of the woman on the sidewalk. The scarf, still warm, probably smells of perfume.

The woman in the blankets puts her head down, wraps her hands around her knees, and starts to cry. I can tell she’s crying by the rise and fall of her back, by the way her shoulders shake. That’s the way my children look when they cry. That’s the way I look.

The woman who gave the scarf, leans forward, takes her hands, and holds on tight. The light turns green, and I drive away, staring at the pair on the sidewalk in my rearview mirror until I turn a corner.

**

Cool, with a taste of spring, it’s light jacket weather. I’m jogging my usual route, and I’ll be home in half an hour – just in time for dinner.

I see them at a fork in the path and they make an odd trio. The older man stands several feet away, hands in his pockets, running shoes scuffing the ground as though anxious to get moving. Off to his left stands an elderly grandmother-type with a leashed Chihuahua perched on her shoulder like a bug-eyed, panting parrot.

She stands and smiles down at a boy — a teenager, by the size of him. His back rests against a light post; his face is hidden inside his jacket, which is zipped so high only his mop of black hair pokes through. He’s slumped forward, arms crossed over his knees. She stands at his side, chatting, and looks up to smile at me, waving me on as I slow down. The boy needs help. He needs someone to notice him, to speak to him, to care about him. The woman with the Chihuahua smiles at me as if to say, “it’s OK. I’ve got this. You go.”

Weakness is walking away from people who need help. It’s hard to stop, and harder still to know what to say, or do, being more afraid of saying and doing the wrong thing, than of doing nothing at all. I’m ashamed to admit having walked away.

Perhaps someday I’ll have a blue scarf to give, and be brave enough to be so compassionate.