Tom Stagg was something a little different to everyone. He was Dad, Poppy, husband, brother, brother-law, father-in-law. He was friend, co-worker, neighbour… all those good things.
To some, he was the guy who brought you water. Uncle Tom had a local water delivery business.
To others, he was a coffee buddy. He went to Tim Horton’s every morning to meet his friends. (Did you notice the funeral home was overflowing with donuts?)
To a whole bunch of people in hockey skates and jerseys, he was the friendly face who served you french fries. After raising a family in Ontario , he retired in Grand Falls-Windsor where he worked the canteen at the local arena for more than 17 years.
For a scattered few (looking at his kids, Cara and Andrew), he was the guy who shovelled your driveway even though you had already shovelled it. Because you didn’t do it well enough. He was very helpful. Painfully helpful.
To me, he was my uncle on the mainland. But he was a little more than that too. To me, he was a bit of a legend. Because he was the one who gave me my first Cabbage Patch Kid. (Cue angelic choir music!)
Now that might not seem like such a big deal to you. But in 1983, being five years old, with commercials on TV during Saturday morning cartoons showing these adorable new dolls with their one of a kind names and their adoption papers and their butts that smelled like baby powder… this was a very big deal indeed.
Parents across North America were flocking to stores to try to get their paws on a Cabbage Patch Kid for their children, with fights occasionally erupting over the hard-to-find toy. They cost about 30 dollars a pop but were going for more than triple that price on the black market.
I wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid so bad, Mom looked all over the island for one. We heard she got into a fist fight with a mother from Gander but the rumours were never confirmed.
Not a Cabbage Patch Kid to be found. Only cheap knock-offs at Dalfens. This kid would not be settling for some “Lettuce Patch Kid”, no sir.
We were headed to Brampton to visit Uncle Tom and family for summer vacation. Uncle Tom knew I was back home in this wasteland of unrequited dreams, yearning for this doll. So he told Mom: I will have it for her. And when we arrived at the airport in “Tronno”, there he was. And there SHE was. I don’t mean Aunt Colleen or my cousin Cara, though they are lovely. I mean her. The doll. A real, genuine Cabbage Patch Kid in Uncle Tom’s arms. All the way from a magical land called the Canadian Tire Junk Shop.
Tom Stagg worked at the Canadian Tire warehouse, lovingly called the junk shop, where goods were shipped back if they were damaged or missing parts. He sent us piles of stuff. It was a thrill each time a box arrived. We’d crack it open to fight over the latest dented (but otherwise perfectly good!) treasures. My brother Glenn always had the best skates in town because Uncle Tom hooked him up.
My Cabbage Patch Kid was perfect, with her brown loopy hair and dimpled cheeks and powder-fresh badonkadonk, but she was missing one thing: her adoption papers. Who was this cotton-haired tot? What was her name? Was this CPK actually KGB? (It was the 80s.) Luckily, I was a five-year-old creative prodigy. I’d give her a name myself. Something very unique and mysterious and radical. Her name would be… Amanda.
And Amanda is with us today. She is 37 years old and if you sniff really hard, you can still catch a hint of baby powder. (My husband sometimes catches me smelling her butt and thinks “what the heck is wrong with this woman?”)
And Amanda wouldn’t be the last one either. From the majestic aisles of the Canadian Tire junk shop would come three more diapered kiddos, compliments of the great and powerful Tom Stagg who controlled all the forces of the toy universe.
There was Lindley, the boy. Kirsten, the premie with the bald head. And Casey, the limited edition talking Cabbage Patch Kid with the batteries in the back. The movie “Child’s Play” was out around then, so it freaked me out a little when Casey would say “I’m bored” in the middle of the night. Not to mention the fact that “Casey” sounded a lot like “Chucky.” But she never choked me out while I slept, so Uncle Tom scored major brownie points with that high-tech delivery.
Four CPKs. I was the envy of Bishop Meaden Elementary School in Badger’s Quay among girls age 5 to 9. Ask Patty and Tina. They will confirm.
Uncle Tom probably didn’t remember all the dolls he sent. But I never ever forgot who gave them to me. My mom gave me life. But Uncle Tom gave me LIFE.
Now this is not about material things. Lord knows kids get way too much stuff. It’s about the fact that he did what he said he would do. He delivered. He went out of his way to make his little freckle-faced niece in Badger’s Quay happy.
And the joy continues with my little girl, who fiercely loves her dolls and still plays with mine.
It’s amazing what a small gesture can mean to a child.
I didn’t see Uncle Tom a whole lot these last 10 or 15 years. Mostly at weddings and funerals; that’s how she goes. I saw him most often when I was a child, during summer vacations. So that’s how I remember him best. In my most vivid memories of him, I am a little girl, it’s summer, and he is smiling at me… always smiling… with that big, magnificent moustache.
Every moment with him was a positive one. He was always laughing, always doing something to help someone else, and, always sniffing and snarking as all we Staggs do. We have sinus issues, okay?! That’s how I knew he was ONE OF US. (Honesty, with me and Glenn and Uncle Lloyd here in the room at the same time, I’m surprised anyone can hear a word.)
Though I only saw him once every summer if I was lucky, I came to know Uncle Tom as a generous, warm, helpful, energetic person. Who liked to vacuum his minivan a lot.
I went through old family photos of Uncle Tom. In a number of them, he was shirtless, or BBQing, sometimes BBQing while shirtless. Glimpses of happy summer vacations. In my favourite snaps, Cara and I are holding our Cabbage Patch Kids. Uncle Tom is in the background watching us play. Or washing his car while we play. We’re holding our dolls, he’s holding a bucket and a sponge. Also, shirtless. Classic Tom. (If someone doesn’t keep that minivan clean, prepare to be haunted forever.)
I formed my impression of Uncle Tom when I was five. And it never changed. Never underestimate a child’s mind or memory.
It’s not about grand gestures or gifts. It’s the little in-between stuff kids remember. The way you talked to them. The way you listened to their crazy stories. The way you smiled. The way you laughed at their jokes when everyone else was busy adulting. The way you brought them joy in the smallest way. It can be a big thing to a little kid. And those kids, see, grow up to be adults. Eventually, they’re the adults speaking at your funeral, telling everyone what a legend you were.
Uncle Tom, I hereby release you back to the cabbage patch. Thank you.
Every year when one of my kids turns another year older, I write them a letter about what they’re like at that moment. It’s like a time capsule full of words, so they can read about themselves many years from now, remember the little things they’ve forgotten, and hear their mother’s voice. Max’s birthday is coming up in a couple weeks, so I’ve already started jotting notes on a page titled “You are 9 years old today.”
But today I’m doing something a little different. Today, I write about me.
You are forty years old today. Yes. You.
First of all, you are using Calibri at 18 points, because that’s what feels good right now. For someone who loves white space, you are realizing small print is overrated. You should apologize to all those clients you rolled your eyes at for asking to make everything bigger.
Your favourite colour is blue. Maybe because you grew up by the ocean, or because it reminds you of your father’s eyes. Maybe it just looks damn good with red hair.
But no blue pens, please. Black ink only up in here. And unlined paper. With no wrinkles.
You are not a diva.
You love bubble baths. You will take a bubble bath in the sketchiest of hotel rooms. You’ve yet to find a bath soap that makes a satisfactory amount of bubbles. The smell of that pink bubble bath from Avon reminds you of your nan.
Your secret crush is Dave Letterman.
Tina Fey is your best friend but she doesn’t know it yet.
If you could go to dinner with anyone, it’d be Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
If you were a chocolate bar, you’d be a Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut, Dark.
You love trivia but you’re mediocre at best. You’ve been watching Jeopardy since you were a child.
You don’t drink enough water.
Your favourite song is Travellin’ by Matt Mays. But your favourite band of all time is The Bangles. (Girl band!) You sing Eternal Flame to your kids at bedtime.
At your bachelorette party in 2008, you thought you had performed Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis at Karaoke Kops but it was actually I Touch Myself by The Divinyls. Ironically you were wearing a shirt and no pants, because you thought it was a dress.
Your favourite movies are Life Is Beautiful, and Bridesmaids. Similar plots.
You love to read but you read like a snail and worry that your life will be too short for all the books. You just finished Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind Of Girl” and Lindy West’s “Shrill” and now you’re reading Luvvie Ajayi’s “I’m Judging You” and you need to buy Sharon Bala’s “The Boat People” and Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s new novel “Hysteria” ASAP.
Your favourite book is “How To Be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran.
Your favourite children’s book is “The Missing Piece” by Shel Silverstein. Should be required reading for everyone, not just kids.
You have a 20-year-old mattress that is probably 30 pounds heavier than when you bought it because of all the dead skin. You should probably be concerned.
You enjoy folding clothes. This surprises even you.
You cried during every episode of the new Queer Eye. You need more gay men in your life.
You have 16 pairs of Levis. You scored a vintage Levis jean jacket at a thrift store in Halifax in 1997 but have no idea where it is now and it still hurts.
Your last meal would be boiled cod, mashed potatoes, crab legs, macaroni and cheese, sweet corn on the cob, and a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade from the Midwest.
You can’t go to the movies and not eat the outrageously overpriced popcorn.
Your ass is 100% juicy white meat. You’re thankful for high-waisted jeans.
You had a hernia repaired a year ago and the stitches inside you have not yet dissolved. You should probably be concerned.
Your hair is bright red, but not the red you were born with. You work hard and will have what you want, god damn it.
You have worked at m5 for almost 18 years but still learn something new every day. Sometimes that something is that you you’re still spelling weiner wrong.
You’re easily bored, so advertising works for you. You get to solve business problems to help local companies thrive and charities do good in the world. You also get to sniff jumbo markers. It’s okay — you’re creative, they expect you to be weird.
This past fall you went to NYC for a conference for women in advertising. It was a two-day lesson in privilege, and made you realize how lucky you were to be there at all.
You are your own worse critic. You are never 100% happy with your work because you know it could be so much better. It’s okay – this is how great work gets made. Keep pushing, you stupid idiot.
You are way smarter than you think.
You are an activist at heart. The “Patriarchy Got Me Drove” t-shirt you wrote for the St. John’s Status of Women Council has become a catchphrase and a rallying cry for local feminists.
It’s okay to be angry sometimes.
You are a new board member for the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival. You’ve always dreamed of watching movies and smashing the patriarchy at the same time.
You emceed the International Women’s Day event for the Gander Women’s Centre this year. You told the crowd that you called your parents’ Ford Taurus the Ford Clitoris. Your dad could never find where he parked it.
You are fearless when it matters. You won’t jump from a bungee cord, but you’ll speak up against bullshit like pro-lifers and misogynist twats.
You’ve been flagged by at least one political campaign for being a loudmouth liberal. This is one of your greatest accomplishments.
You tweeted about Coleman’s seal pelts once and sales went gangbusters so they gave you a free pelt and some chocolate to say thanks.
You are emceeing an event by The Designers in May featuring Terry O’Reilly in conversation with Ted Blades. Local designer MJ Couch is making you a dress for the occasion. You told her to make the dress brown in case you shit yourself.
You are a good mom. You’re often impatient, irritable, and lazy, but your kids are turning out pretty amazing so keep up the good work.
You are a wife of some kind. You’re sometimes irritable and preoccupied, but you’re loyal as hell. Your husband is patient, kind, adventurous, and very horny. Keep up.
You are a shitty cook. You set off the smoke alarm more than you’d like to admit.
You don’t blog much anymore because you’re too busy making friggin’ snacks.
Most of your pants don’t fit anymore. You blame Netflix. #Netflab
Part of you wants to give away all your possessions and go live in the woods. But… bubble baths.
You love nature, but one night of camping calls for 8,000 wet wipes.
You’d die without hand lotion and Blistex.
You stopped biting your nails recently but god do they look delicious.
You swear a lot.
Your bedroom is a dumpster fire.
When you walked into a room, you used to wonder if people liked you; now you wonder if you’ll like them.
You used to want to be desired; now you want to be respected.
You have so many smart people in your life. You plan to squeeze every ounce of goodness out of them.
When you say you’re going to show up, you do.
You lost your dog in September. You stroked her belly until the end. It was one of the saddest moments of your life, but knew exactly what to do.
You don’t run away from the hard stuff.
You’ve had the same handful of friends since elementary school. You got blitzed together over Christmas and it was amazing. There’s a certain ease when you’re with the ones who know way too much.
Some of your closest friends are at work. Like ya would, after 18 years. Your work team gave you a hilarious 40th birthday cake with a picture on the front of you on the balance beam, which was actually a picture of you drunk on the grass at the boss’s cabin. This is the danger of friends with mad photoshop skills.
You had your birthday supper at The Fish Exchange. You and Rae split a seafood platter. Max tried five new things and now you owe him $25.
Your mother-in-law cooked you a birthday meal. Your request was stew and you’re not ashamed of it. Stew is an art.
On Good Friday, you had a birthday party at the house. You served a bunch of meat. God was pissed.
You don’t believe in God but your kids can believe whatever they want.
Life is about freedom and choice.
You wish you had more money to travel, and buy art, and buy cheese that’s already grated.
You already buy the grated cheese because you don’t give a fuck.
You’re finding it a little hard to believe you’re 40, until you look at your naked ass in the mirror and then it all makes sense.
You’re determined to not worry about aging; it’s a privilege denied to many. Besides, being upset about turning 40 would be an insult to 90% of the women you most admire. You are now in an exclusive club of some mighty fine broads.
It took you two weeks to write this hot mess. You’re busier than a dog with two dicks. If you stop doing things, you’ll probably die. So just keep going.
I was not a great dog mom. I rarely walked her. I never brushed her hair. Some days came and went and I barely even looked at her, caught up in the daily fuss of work and parenting. I noticed her most when she wasn’t there at all, especially when one of the kids dropped a raisin or Cheerio on the floor. Shit, I gotta bend over and pick that up? Splash was the original Roomba.
But my husband, Andrew, was the best dog dad in the whole world, so I know her life was good because of him, in spite of me. When I first met Andrew in our mid-twenties, his family dog was about 15. He was heart broken when Lacey died, so I wasn’t surprised when he told me: If we are going to be together, there must also be a dog. (My allergies be damned.)
His love of dogs was one of the reasons I loved him, so what could I say? A dog mom I would be. We did some research and settled on the Portuguese Water Dog – hypoallergenic, big enough to take fishing, and small enough to fit into our humble bungalow and midsize car. We found a lovely woman named Mary-Anne who was breeding her porties in her home in Wentworth, Nova Scotia. Her female, Penney, was pregnant, so we put in our order. On Friday the 13th of April, 2007, our girl was born. But of course we didn’t yet know which one she was.
We picked her from a photo of the litter – eight or nine sleeping balls of fur in a myriad of black and white. We knew her when we saw her; she was a little separated from the group – a sure sign that she was adventurous and ready to travel across the Gulf to become a Newfoundlander. Most porties are black with just a few white spots, but Splash was equal parts black and white, like a tiny dairy cow.
We even thought about calling her Cowie. But we settled on Splash, elated to realize that the first two letters of our childhood dogs’ names combined to spell it — Spook, Lacey, Skip. And an unexplained H. (Hey, Newfoundlanders love putting H’s where they don’t belong.) It was meant to be.
When she was eight weeks old and ready to leave her mother, Andrew flew to Halifax and brought her home in a little bag tucked under his seat on the plane. She was 10 pounds and fully trained to pee and poop outside, with big brown eyes and fur like ripples of silk. She was perfection, softer than clouds, her breath as sweet as sugar.
She was cute but feisty. Mary-Anne later confirmed it – we had picked the alpha female in the litter. This would be extra fun when she was a fully grown 50-pounder! I remember one night shortly after we got her, Splash trotted to the front door to watch master Andrew leave for hockey. As soon as the door shut behind him, she turned to me sitting on the couch, arched her wee body like a jungle cat, and charged at me. She chased me around the couch for ten minutes while I yelped, half amused and half shit-baked. I was being terrorized by a fuzzy dice with legs! Her Friday the 13th birth started to make sense; we had ourselves a demon baby. It took me a while to show her that I, too, was boss. Though I’m not sure she was ever fully convinced. They say a dog only has one master, and it wasn’t me.
She was a super mischievous pup. I once left a ceramic plate of burnt cookies on the stove and returned home to find the plate laying on her bed across the room — intact and not a crumb to be seen.
She destroyed many a shoe. I mourned a few favourite sneakers.
We often returned home to see garbage strewn across the living room.
Once she even got into my stash of lady products and had a proper chow-down. If you’re ever wondering what a tampon looks like after it has travelled through a dog’s digestive system, just ask me.
But she was a dog with a conscience. We always knew she had done something naughty when she didn’t greet us at the front door with her signature shoe-in-mouth move. Sure enough, there’d be a steamer on the rug, and Splash would be on our bed trembling with fear.
Eating tampons doesn’t sound too bright, but she was sharp as a tack. She could sit, lie down, roll over, give you her paw, and toss a treat from her nose to her mouth.
She could count too. I shit you not. Drop a treat on the ground and tell her not to touch it till you count to three. “One… two…………THIRTEEN!” She’d jut her head toward the treat before realizing I said thirteen, not three, and continue to wait patiently. If the counting went on too long, drool would drip from her lips. Sometimes she just couldn’t resist and picked the treat up gingerly, hoping maybe we hadn’t noticed.
She could answer the phone. Yes, I’m serious. Press the page button on the base to make the cordless phone beep and she’d ransack the house to find the phone and return it to you. We’d be in another room when suddenly the beeping would get closer and closer to us; she had found it and was on her way, proud as punch.
And, at just five months old, Andrew taught her to get a beer out of fridge. Don’t believe me? Voila…
She was the centre of our world… until our world got one more human in it. Splash was two years old when our son Max came along, and the confusion of having a child with the #1 dog name in the world commenced. I lost count of how many people called the dog Max and the baby Splash.
Before we left the hospital, we sent home a receiving blanket with the baby’s scent so Splash wouldn’t eat the new eight-pound intruder. As if. Splash humbly took her place at the bottom of the family hierarchy in exchange for all the crumbs tossed from Max’s highchair and all the applesauce on his lips, forever.
She enjoyed 50% of the backseat for a few years… and then Rae came along. We had just enough room for her furry butt, jammed between the two car seats.
But it never deterred her from coming with us on excursions. She always wanted to be with us, no matter what. In her last week of life, we knew she was sick, so I happily squeeeeeezed into the back seat so she could ride shotgun like old times. Splash in the passenger seat was always a riot. Drivers would pull up beside us at red lights, nudge their passenger, and chuckle at us. Splash would glance at them and then stare straight ahead like she gave zero fucks. Pfffft. They didn’t even have any treats.
But watch out – if you reached your right hand over to scratch her while you were driving and then decided to put that hand back on the wheel, oh hell no. She’d paw at you to keep scratching. Yes, her paw would come at you while you were operating a motor vehicle. She didn’t say you could stop, fool! Multi-task! Drive with your knees!
She may have gotten demoted in the car, but she always took top spot in the bed. The kids had to sleep in their own beds but Splash got to sleep with us. At night, she’d walk halfway down the hall, turn around and stare at us, beckoning us to bed because she was tired.
We moved into the city a couple years ago, with neighbours a few feet away in every direction and a backyard the size of a meatball. This was Splash’s retirement home. For most of her life, we lived in a dog’s paradise – rural Torbay, with a house backing onto acres of farmland and a frisbee’s throw from the ocean. She ran free on the East Coast Trail, lapping up rainwater from puddles, chewing on sticks, and sampling the berries. Even in our fenceless backyard, she had space to sniff and explore. Sometimes I’d let her out to pee and completely forget about her. I’d look out the back window and she’d be waaaaaay the bejesus out in the pasture. I’d call out in my most threatening voice (which is not very threatening, unfortunately) for her to come back. She’d look up and stare at me and not budge an inch till I uttered the magic word – “treat.” That bitch ain’t no fool – she begged to go out way more than she needed to, just so I’d have to give her a Milkbone to come back. Sometimes she’d give me a proper “fuck you” and run off even further, treat or no treat, and I’d have to suit up in boots, coat, and angry face to go hunt her down. Which was super fun when I was nine months pregnant with a bowling ball in my underwear.
I spent most of 2009 and 2015 at home on maternity leave, so some days I’d be outside in my bathrobe, baby on my hip, tits exposed to the world, hair like a rat’s nest, yelling “get back here NOW, ya little frigger!” Sometimes I could see neither hide nor hair of her, so I’d have to toss the baby in the backseat, get in the car, and drive around the neighbourhood, scanning the greenery for a little poof of black and white. Usually I’d find her out back of the Foodland where tasty morsels often fell from the dumpster. I’d bawl at her to come hither and she’d start the slow walk of shame to the car, head down, paws full of Torbay mud. Busted again. When Andrew got home from work and asked how my day was, Splash’s latest escapade was often a highlight. Sometimes I didn’t tell him at all so he wouldn’t blame my newfound obsession with Road to Avonlea.
She drove me to drink some days. But chasing her down, taking her for a walk to tire her out so she wouldn’t pull a fast one on me later… It got me out of the house, reminded me there was a whole world out there beyond the diaper pail, when many days I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry.
Once, we lost her completely. Well, the lady I was paying to clean our filthy house lost her completely. That was an expensive day, let me tell ya. Andrew and I both missed half a day of work, scouring the whole town for the little frigger. We were bound to come up empty because our fuzzy wanderer had been taken into custody. Picked up by the dogcatcher. Yes, apparently that’s not just a fictional character in Annie. I paid a hundred dollars to bail her out of doggy jail at the Town Hall. (Newsflash: you need a proper I.D. tag from the City on your dog. Who knew?)
Splash would never have survived in jail. She loved her freedom too much. She stuck her head out the car window to feel the wind on her face. When we got close to one of her favourite places, like her buddy Jack’s house, she’d start to whine with excitement. She totally knew geography. Or maybe her nose could smell that big ol’ Bernese Mountain Dog. In any case, she figured out how to put down the window with her paw, so she could feel like she was getting there faster.
She liked to run off leash on Dunphy’s Lane, bend the yellow grass in the meadow. We went there the week before she died. But things were different now. There were new homes going up where she used to run, cutting her freeway short. She wouldn’t have been able to run anyways, not now. Splash lay down in the warm grass while we filled our butter tubs with blueberries.
She loved to swim and fetch sticks from the pond on Whitty’s Lane. Ducks scattered when they saw her coming. When we took her for walks, her webbed feet would pull us toward the pond.
She loved to go fishing and camping with Andrew. Once she went on a hard-core canoeing adventure and almost got eaten alive by the nippers. Andrew had to practically carry her home.
She was funny. She slept in the zaniest positions – paws straight up in the air, crotch open to the world. I wondered what she could be dreaming about. She wouldn’t get up in the morning until we did. If we stayed in bed till noon, she’d stay right there with us. Of course sleeping in became a thing of the past once the kids came along. But if one of us was sick in bed, Splash would be right alongside.
She was always happy to see you. As soon as anyone came into the house, she’d be at the front door with a sneaker or a toy in her mouth, circling you with a low growl, tailwagging and butt wiggling, eventually dropping the object at your feet so you could rub her head. That was your cover charge. She especially liked being scratched on her lower back, and did the running man in response.
When you jumped up suddenly and ran upstairs or down the hall, she’d chase you like a madman, nails slipping on the hardwood floor, whining with anticipation. We’d do this on occasion for sheer amusement.
She had jaws of steel. Historically, the strong-jawed Portuguese Water Dog was used by fishermen to haul up nets. Splash used hers to rip the eyes and nose off countless toys. When I put away her things yesterday, on top of the pile was a brown monkey a friend gave me at my first baby shower – with holes where its eyes used to be. Of course I kept it.
Like most dogs, Splash loved to go for walks. But she was was so clever, we had to spell out the word “leash” if we weren’t quite prepared to get up and at ‘em. And when she didn’t want to walk any further or didn’t like the direction you were heading, she’d put on the brakes: planted her four feet on the ground and put her head down. We’d have to drag her home like a stubborn mule.
She spent a lot of time in the bathroom. Think you were going to poop alone? Oh no, you may as well leave the door ajar or she’d be scratching at it within seconds. We’d step on her when we got out of the shower. She licked the water off our legs when we got out. She drank the bath water, bubbles and all. The last few months of her life, the toilet was her personal water fountain.
She’d go into the bedrooms and mess up the bedding. I was never sure why. Gave me a great excuse for never making the beds.
She’d bite our bums when we ran around the backyard. She ripped the arse out of more than one pair of pants.
She rarely barked. Other than finding a scattered turd on your lawn when she ran out of room on ours, she made an ideal neighbour.
She’d hang off the couch in weird and hilarious ways. I have dozens of pictures of Splash perched or dangling or spread eagle on the sofa. What a weirdo.
She loved chasing us when we went sledding in winter, nipping at us all the way down the hill. An extra layer of terror for the descent.
In winter, snow stuck to her fur like a million tiny snowballs. We’d find huge puddles of water on the floor as it melted off her.
She was a friend to all, even after enduring years of abuse from the new humans.
We were very lucky to have such a sweet, gentle soul in our daily lives. But I didn’t say she was polite…
When we went into a restaurant, she’d give us the death stare from the car. GIVE ME YOUR HAMBURGERRRRR. Splash loved food. She died for cheese. The only food we saw her turn down in her 10+ years was a mushroom. Watching a movie with Splash in the room was sheer torture, with her head bobbing toward you every few seconds, gesturing for another piece of popcorn. She stalked everyone eating anything and licked the dirty dishes in the dishwasher; I called her the pre-rinse cycle. When you were eating at the table, you might feel something emerging from under the table, between your legs — don’t worry, it was just Splash’s furry face, taking care of that corn niblet that just fell from your plate. She was very subtle. We joked that she’d choose a pork chop over any one of us, any day.
But during her last couple of weeks, we saw that that was just not true. Her organs were failing, she wasn’t digesting food, she turned up her nose to just about everything we cooked up. On Saturday, we walked into our bedroom and saw her standing in the corner with her head stuck between the nightstand and the wall, a pile of regurgitated food nearby. Eight years ago we might have scolded her, but now all we felt was pity. We rubbed her head and said it was alright, and I quickly cleaned up the mess.
And we knew we had it wrong all this time. The thing she loved most in this world wasn’t food; it was us – the touch of her humans. Belly rubs. Head scratches. It was the only pleasure that remained now at this 11th hour. And so there were many and often. I tried to make up for lost time, rubbing her soft belly every chance I got, sometimes waking in the middle of the night for a cuddle, to make sure she knew I was there. And on Sunday morning as she struggled to live while her body gave up the fight, we held her, and rubbed her, and caressed her silken head, and told her she was a good girl — the very best.
A dog’s life. How basic. How painfully brief. And it’s entirely up to us how it goes. I think that’s why it hurts so much. Because her whole existence – her life, and her death – was for us. Beyond this family, there was nothing. All she ever wanted was a walk, a rub, and a piece of cheese. There’s something terribly pitiful about it all, and something I could never adequately honour. I always struggled with the guilt of skipped walks and her long days at home alone while we worked. I struggle with it still. Did we do enough? Was she happy? Did we do right by her? Did we waste too much time?
There aren’t enough Milkbones in the world to repay her for what she gave us. She was comfort. When I had a rough day at work, her simple presence brought me down to earth. When my dad died, I found solace in her quiet warmth.
She was loyalty. When nobody else saw me, she stared right into my eyes. Hoping I was going to make popcorn, most likely, but still — when nobody else was waiting for me at home, she was there. She made a terrible guard dog – rarely barked, and so friendly she’d happily welcome intruders if they smelled like bacon. But she was there nonetheless – a constant companion, a trusted sidekick. We were never alone.
She was true, uncomplicated love. The way she’d close her eyes and press her head into my hand when I rubbed her ear. That was all she wanted from me (besides popcorn). And when days went by when I didn’t rub those ears or look into those big brown eyes, and those days certainly did go by, she never held a grudge. Mark Twain got it right — if heaven went by merit, we’d stay out and our dog would go in.
She was a reminder to cherish the simple things. Stop fussing. Keep playing. Never stop playing. She is still a reminder of that, perhaps now more than ever. The silence here in the house is so very loud.
I thank Andrew, too, for wanting a dog in the first place (my allergies be damned). I would never have known this sadness, but I would also never have known this love. There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.
Her death is a throbbing reminder that life is short. Time is fleeting. Ten years, man… a decade… gone in a blink. There’s only so much time for walks, only so much time for belly rubs, only so much time. Especially when so much of our time is spent paying the bills, and we’re all so very tired.
We knew the day was coming but we hadn’t discussed what to do once it came. Not an easy thing to talk about; feels like you’re willing it to happen. But when the moment arrived Sunday morning just before dawn, I think we both knew where she belonged.
We woke the kids to touch her satiny coat for the last time. And we laid our first baby to rest in a diaper box, in a spot where she lived her best days. Near where she galloped on the East Coast Trail, back and forth, back and forth, in bursts of the purest bliss. There were cows there as they often were when this was our stomping grounds. They watched us dig the hole, curious, cautious. A cow and her two calves lay in the grass, but the mother soon came to her feet and got a little closer, protecting her little ones, as mothers do. It felt like it meant something.
We covered the box in dirt, marked it with rocks, and returned this magnificent gift to mother earth.
The cows came up to the car as we were leaving. I saw a glimpse of Splash in their eyes. And we left our little girl there on the green hillside with a view of the ocean. It was hard to drive away, but we knew she was home.
I think about her most at bedtime. I picture her there on the hillside, in the darkness all alone instead of curled up at the foot of our bed. I can feel the ache in my chest. I know Andrew feels it too, even more so; he has felt this before. I’m almost surprised by my own grief. It keeps me awake. I flip my pillow to the dry side. As hard as it was to let go of those silky ears and soft belly, I know that’s just her shell out there. The soul of her – the genesis of our family, our steadfast friend – will always be wherever we are.
We have a secret, you and I, that no one else shall know, for who but I can see you lie each night in fire glow?
And who but I can reach my hand before we go to bed and feel the living warmth of you and touch your silken head?
And only I walk woodland paths and see ahead of me, your small form racing with the wind so young again, and free.
And only I can see you swim in every brook I pass and when I call, no one but I can see the bending grass. – Anonymous
Newsflash, girl: 2016 was not cool. Syria, Brexit, Zika, Orlando, Carrie Fisher, that guy in charge of America now (name’s not important), and the list of disappointments goes on. There’s no way around it – 2016 was a steaming pile of hot garbage in the history of the world.
But not in your world. You turned two just before 2016 ended, and by all accounts (i.e. most accounts; see previous paragraph) your second year on the planet was pretty darn sweet. Case in point: your Halloween costume was a pineapple. Doesn’t get much sweeter than that.
And as god and Dora the Explorer are my witnesses, I am determined to remember Sweet ‘16. Even if it means remembering that Prince died (sob) and Hillary lost (weep). It’ll be worth it if it means remembering you, as you are right now, at two years old.
Rae Alice Murphy.
This morning, I asked you what your favourite colour was. You said: apple. Then I asked you what your favourite food was. You said: blue. It’s okay. I know you hit the bottle pretty hard last night.
Your favourite colour is yellow, formerly known as LELLOW. You’d look intently at my mouth and try your darnedest to follow direction and then, “Yaaaaaaaa LELLOW!” It was so adorable, I almost didn’t want you to ever get it right. But then you did.
Your favourite food is groceries. Okay, if I had to pick just one: apples. I have to hide the bowl of Granny Smiths on the counter under a cloth. If you ever meet a woman named Granny Smith, I fear for her life. If an apple keeps the doctor away, you are immortal.
Immortal indeed! On your second birthday, you wore a Wonder Woman shirt WITH A CAPE. It was a size 4, which is the size a 4-year-old usually wears. You are 33 pounds and tall. I want a shirt (WITH A CAPE, IT’S ONLY FAIR) that says, “My baby can kick your baby’s ass.” Just kidding, size only matters when your brother Max is deciding which half of a cookie to give you.
But if you’re a superhero, it’s probably Spiderman. Check it. Last summer, at 18 month old, you were watching Daddy play in a softball tournament. I took you home for a nap between games, but you just weren’t settling so I left you there to cry it out in your crib. As I washed the dishes downstairs, your cry got louder and louder, and closer and closer? Freaked out, I ran to the bottom of the stairs and there you were on the landing, sobbing and… UN-CRIBBED! You had escaped, even with the mattress at its lowest setting. There was no clunk on the floor, so I knew you hadn’t fallen. You had climbed! Or pried the solid oak bars open with your mini bingo wings and slipped out. That week you fast-tracked to a toddler bed with a super duper waterproof mattress cover. (Now if only you could graduate to the toilet.) Later that evening when I was telling Dad about your Olympic future in pole vault, you took me by the hand and led me to your crib. I tore the crime tape away, put you in, and in the blink of an eye you swung your chubby leg up over the side, hoisted yourself up, and used your webbed feet to slide down to the floor, where my jaw was now sitting as well.
Your favourite TV shows are Dora, Super Why, Horrid Henry, and Wanda and the Alien. (Netflix has changed our lives.)
Your favourite game is Hedbanz. Me: Am I am an animal? You: No, you’re a sandwich.
Your favourite movies are How the Grinch Stole Christmas and E.T.
You can say, “E.T. phone home.” When someone asks who you’re gonna call, you know the answer… Ghostbusters! And when Max built a Lego helicopter last month, you shouted “Get to the choppa!”
Your vocab is off the charts. Your aunt Kim who happens to be a speech language pathologist/doctor/professor (FYI feel free to follow in her footsteps) confirms it – you’re the next Cicero, or Pericles, or (please please pleeeeeease) Gloria Steinem.
A few weeks back when Max was in the tub, I had to pull you out of the bathroom kicking and screaming, “I want to touch Max’s vagina!” When I corrected you on the body part name you took note and yelled, “I want to touch Max’s peanut!” You kill me.
There are monsters in your room. You said Max told you. He denies it, but I’m suspicious. Just last week he got upset when I wouldn’t let him go into your room to save you from the creatures that looked an awful lot like your bathrobe and towel hanging on the hook. I finally gave in. He put his arm around you and said, “I never want you to be afraid of anything, Rae.” (Sounds guilty to me!)
You’re going to be a doctor when you grow up. At least that’s what you told my friend, Cecilia, while waiting for me in the Panera Bread parking lot. We toasted your future with a turkey apple cranberry on multigrain.
You do like giving examinations with your doctor’s kit. But what’s up with the constant needles in my face? Maybe plastics will be your specialty. Free botox, yasssssssss.
You might want to get potty-trained first though, Doc McPoopins. Imagine how long it’ll take you to scrub in if you keep using your pants as a toilet and sticking your hands down there. Last week you were excited to wear panties around the house for the first time. Disney princess panties! “Don’t pee on the princess,” I said. You peed on the princess.
You can count to 20, but usually get tangled up around 14.
Speaking of tangles, OMG YOUR HAIR. It’s reddish goldish brown and wavy and unruly and great for catching bats.
Your eyes are dark brown like coffee beans. Your father, Van Morrison, says you’re his brown-eyed girl. You’ve really nailed the stink-eye though, assisted by your big, magnificent eyebrows. These brows will come in handy as you question everything forever.
You have the most jubilant trot. Every stomp (not step – STOMP!) shakes the mugs in the cupboard. You walk to the bookcase or toy box like you’re the next contestant on The Price is Right and you’ve been waiting your whole life to play Plinko.
You love books! Max reads to you. That’s why I waited 5+ years to have you, so Max could do all the work. GENIUS. Currently your favourite story is Jack and the Beanstalk.
Max also taught you how to play “Daddy Goes to Hockey” on the ukulele. Dad and I have resigned to the fact that we will never have a family band.
Your favourite toy is MAX’S LEGOS. Especially the ones that he has already assembled.
You are fascinated by nature. Snow, birds, puddles, and “The moon! The moon!” One morning as we were leaving the house you asked me if I could see “the hun”. You meant the sun. You’re hill (still) learning to make the S hound (sound). It was a beautiful winter morning and you helped me see it. Sometimes it’s hard to see the sun even when “it’s cold enough to turn you into a popsicle.” (Simile provided by Max while I was proofreading this piece, to replace something about a brass monkey.)
You’ve taught me so much already, like this fun fact:It takes about 6-9 months to grow back a toenail. You lost the nail on your right big toe this summer after squatting it in the door. It’s almost grown back now and looks totally badass.
You like wearing make-up NOOOOOO ya don’t. But you grab my make-up brushes when I’m getting ready for work, and I tickle your face with the bristles. More than once I’ve caught you putting my deodorant on your armpits – on the outside of your shirt. When you’re a bigger girl, you’ll probably have your own lipgloss or something (so yummy, right?) Your body is your own, and if you want to have fun with make-up, I’ll help you. Also feel free to save your make-up money for books and puzzles. Just a suggestion.
You love trying on hats and shoes. Sometimes you wear Max’s old hockey helmet around the house just for fun.
When Dad and Max go to the basement to play hockey, you say “I play hockey too!” You grab your stick and put your boots on the wrong feet and go downstairs to run about, occasionally taking breaks to lean up against an old mattress and suck your thumb.
YOU SUCK YOUR THUMB. A lot. So much, it should have been the first thing on this list.
You like going to the arena to watch Max play hockey NO YOU DON’T. You go there to run around like a wind-up toy, put your mouth directly on the water fountain, and eat stray Timbits off the floor.
When someone sings “Hush Little Baby”, which ends with the line “You’ll still be the best little girl in town,” you promptly correct them with “best little girl IN THE WORLD!” Go big or go home, says you.
But try and be polite, huh? We were at a store recently and you were there in your stroller, arms outstretched like you were flying. A nice man saw how cute you were and asked, “Are you an airplane?” “No, I’m a bumblebee!!!” you corrected him, with the face of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. He apologized and moved along. Sin.
You’re sure not afraid to ask for what you want. Whether it’s a snack, a toy, or my iPhone, you say “I want it. I neeeeeeed it.” Sometimes you lay on the persuasion with “One more time?”(which you never mean) or “Just a little bit?”(also a lie) and “Pleeeeease?” (damn it!) in a voice that weakens even the strongest resolve. Here, just take everything. You win. You’ll be a great leader one day. “I want that report on my desk in 24 hours,” said President Murphy. “And I’ll have that apple on your desk too.”
You logged your second plane ride in 2016. We went to Ontario to visit family and friends. Aunt Robin kept buying you things bigger than our suitcase and her boyfriend, Frank, let you eat ketchup chips for breakfast. My friends’ 11-year-old daughters, Ainsley and Avery, put on a fashion show with you as their wee model! Your looks included geisha, blue-haired umbrella girl, and local Oshawa gal in belly top, leggings, and heels.
Everywhere we went on our vacation, you talked to strangers. (It’s okay, I was with you, but let’s have the stranger danger talk real soon, k?) While shopping, you forced eye contact with total randos and said things like, “I’m shopping with my mommy!” “Good for you,” they’d reply. On the airplane, you announced, “I’m on a big airplane!” just in case someone thought we were on a magic bus in the clouds. You offered a grape to the young man in the next seat; he accepted. (I was dreading you offering him a cube of wet cheese.) While in the checkout line at the store, you looked at a couple standing behind us and said, “I’m a pineapple!” They looked amused slash confused so I had to explain: Halloween. You make friends wherever you go.
We even went to a seniors’ home for a craft sale and charmed the pants off a couple residents who were sitting in the lobby. As we were leaving, I suggested you give one of the ladies a hug goodbye. (Old people make me weak.) You promptly marched up to her and gave her a big hug and kiss. She couldn’t have looked more delighted if she had just made out with Elvis Presley.
You are a fearless performer. I facetimed you from the m5 boardroom a few weeks ago when I was working late and you gave my bosses, Kim and Gary, an impromptu performance of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. They both died of cuteness overdose and now I have to run the company myself.
You’re well versed in all the classics and demand them in succession at bedtime, pulling your thumb out just long enough to shout: Row, Row, Row Your Boat! Rockabye Baby! Old MacDonald had a farm! You Are My Sunshine! Etc. You also sing some tune called “I love you” that Poppy taught you, that includes the line “it’s a sin to tell a lie.” Must be some weird Catholic tune that condemns you to hell or something. (JK, Pop.) I think it’s time to shake up this trad train. Gotta give Gaga a go. Or maybe we could try Metallica’s version of Hush Little Baby. It’s called Enter Sandman. LOL.
Not all your songs are traditional though. You like to sing “Dumb Ways to Die,” (based on the popular PSA for train safety, now also a game on Max’s iPad), which Poppy overheard and thought you were singing, “Don’t wait to die.” YOIKES. Darn tune is as catchy as heck, so I can’t blame you for singing it at the airport in Toronto as we were about to board our flight. But remind me not to teach you the word “bomb.”
We had a great first summer at our new house. We got you a water table for the back deck, which you proceeded to climb into, clothes and all. Gonna need a pool next year, I guess. A small one. Like, super small. One downfall of our new life in the suburbs: our backyard is an amoeba.
You also made your first snowman a few weeks ago! The snow wasn’t sticky enough, so I carved a picture of a snowman in the snow-covered ground. You stuck the carrot right in the middle of him, so Frosty ended up with a chubby instead of a nose.
You are very independent. You like putting on your boots yourself. If I do it for you, you rip them off in a huff and put them on again yourself. Needless to say, getting ready in the morning is very efficient and enjoyable. You like brushing your teeth by yourself too because Dad works at the dental clinic and you want to make him proud YEAH RIGHT YOU LIKE EATING TOOTHPASTE AND YOU KNOW IT!
You’re a tough cookie, so I was surprised when you were unsure of your new daycare at first. On the way there last week, you kept saying “I don’t like daycare” over and over in the backseat. I had to bribe you to go inside with cheese. We are so related. You’re content there now though. The girls at daycare say you’re the first responder when another child is upset. And yesterday you amused them by shouting “Get to the choppa!” while eating your lunch.
Your best friend is Wayne Murphy. I know, who names their kid Wayne anymore, am I right? He’s 71 but about 7 at heart, so it works. When Nanny walks into our house, you look right past her and say “Where’s Poppy?”
When Poppy dropped us off at the airport and you realized he wasn’t coming on the plane with us, your lip started to quiver and your eyes filled up with tears. We had never seen you like that. Nan and I had hearts so heavy, it’s a wonder the plane got off the ground.
I was Poppy’s Girl too (RIP Jack Stagg whose wool socks I’m wearing right now!), so I get it. “Are you daddy’s girl?” people ask you. “No, Poppy’s girl!” you clarify with that stink-eye we know and love. Poppy cries on the spot when you say something adorable. Please don’t kill him with your sweetness; we need him to keep babysitting you.
Sometimes I think about your other Poppy, and how unfair it is that he’s not here to enjoy you, and you him. But Poppy Murphy is doing such a great job (and Nanny Rosena and Nanny Shirley, too), and I know Poppy Jim would be so very thankful for that. So I don’t get sad about it much at all. Not anymore.
You may only be two but you’re the most compassionate person I know. When someone stubs their toe, you first exclaim “awwww” and then rush over to kiss it. Lips or feet, friend or stranger, your love is blind. (Again, let’s schedule that stranger danger talk.) “All better now?” you ask. Your sweetness really does ease the pain. See? You really are going to be a doctor.
Daddy had a really bad back this year. “It’s okay, Daddy. I right here,” you said, and our hearts exploded all over the living room. Dad and I share many a knowing glance. How sweet is this child?, our eyes say. Our eyes also say, how could two twits like us have made something so glorious? It’s quite possible you’re from another dimension. Planet Pineapple, perhaps.
I think you’ve dodged the “turbo ginger” gene, unlike your brother. It’s true – you’re a hugger, a snuggler, and a midnight cuddler. (Max used to hug knives and matches.) But you’ve shown some unusual feist these last couple of weeks – pulling a glass bowl of apples off the counter, yelling things like “I didn’t want dat!” and “I didn’t know dat!” even though we have no idea what you’re referring to. I think, with all your sweetness, I forgot what toddlerhood is really like. So I guess it’s begun. 2017 is going to be fun, and also “fun.”
Bring on the terrible twos; we can handle it. We’ll still enjoy the sweetest moment of the day when you’re back in my arms after work. You take a deep breath and sigh away all the cares of the world as you snuggle into my neck – thumb in your mouth, hand down my shirt, eyes closed, problems nil. In our circle of family and friends, this is famously called “boo-boo time.” Sometimes while grocery shopping, you pull me down toward you, my elbows leaning on the shopping cart handle, so you can cop a feel. I’m squeezing Sobeys’ oranges and you’re squeezing mine. Okay fine, mine are lemons, whatever. Half the city has seen my produce I DON’T EVEN CARE.
You are generous. As much as you love food, you will give away your last cracker without hesitation. You gave your birthday money to twin girls from Deer Lake who needed it more than you. (Rest in peace, sweet Autumn.) Maybe every year you can do something special like that. People say it’s not fair to deprive you of your rightful gifts, but I see this gesture as a gift to you in the first place. Just because everyone has done things a certain way forever doesn’t mean you need to do it that way. Question everything, girl. Use those eyebrows. There is often a better way.
Max adores you. Except the time he discovered his Minecraft Xbox game was broken and all signs pointed to NOT THE DOG. Just remember this when you’re older and maybe not so lovey-dovey: your brother is the only one you’re ever gonna have, and you might need him for spare parts or something. Dad got the ol’ snippity-snip a few weeks back. I’ll explain that if you don’t know what that means when you read this one day. Basically, you’re always gonna be my baby. Even when/if you have babies of your own.
You won’t remember much of your second year on earth. And maybe that’s okay, because it means you won’t be haunted by the yucky parts of 2016: terrorism, police shootings, Gord Downie’s brain tumor, and did I mention that buttmunch running the US now? Yeah. Ew. So much ew.
Maybe I won’t remember the details either. I won’t recall the squishy roundness of your face, or that bananas are lellow, or the way you tucked your head into my neck and all was right with the world. I know those details will leave me, because I’ve come this way once before with Max. It hurts. A beautiful kind of pain.
But I promise you, I will remember what it was like to have a little girl in the year 2016. Oh, how I root for you. Your presence here and your future up ahead have taught me to be more aware today, more tuned in to a world where many don’t want you to succeed. It taught me to be more honest, more kind, more realistic and optimistic at the same time. It made me want to be the kind of woman you can look up to, not just because I’m your mom. I want to be that person who takes the time to snuggle, or dance like a chicken, or talk about weird stuff, or write you a 10-page letter on your birthday.
I know this simple sweetness won’t last forever. You’re going to change, and things will get complicated, and you’ll have bigger problems than your boots on the wrong feet. I was a girl once too, and still am in some ways (stop laughing). I’ll yearn for these quiet moments when the world just melted away. That’s what makes me lean over that shopping cart to give you full range of my meagre dairy section. Because I know this wonderful ridiculous thing has an expiry date.
So yes, 2016 wasn’t exactly a shining moment in history. (And 2017 is looking like a rotting, worm-infested moose carcass so far as well.) But for you, last year was pretty great. And hopefully by the time you’re reading this, we’ll have cleaned this whole mess up and be shaking our heads at the blunders of 2016 the way we do at VHS tapes and hoop skirts and uranium dirt sitting. (“Was that even a thing?”) And you’ll be standing there in your adult-size pineapple costume BECAUSE WHY NOT, with the roads (plural) stretched out before you in all directions. And if things are still crap and people are still hurting, then I hope you’ll be one of the brave ones. Don’t get to the choppa, girl. Stay right here and fight.
I was never huge on Christmas. I mean I liked it, but there was always this looming thought that it was all incredibly fucking stupid. Some baby was supposedly born a couple thousand years ago and saved the world from sin (might be time to send another magic youngster there, b’ys) and now we give gifts and decorate trees and write letters to an old guy in a red, velvet suit. Yeah, nothing weird about all that.
But I went along with it. I enjoyed the music, the shopping, the lights, the eggnog, the elf porn. Just kidding, I don’t even like eggnog.
Then Dad died and there was no reason to do anything ever again, certainly not go along with some silly traditions based on a pile of lies. The first Christmas after Dad bought the farm, I could care less if we put up a tree at all. I certainly wasn’t about to drag some big fir into the house and painstakingly position it and trim it and tie it to the wall so it didn’t fall over when King Kong Baby climbed it. We put one up, but my heart wasn’t into it.
This year I’ve decided to resubscribe to the hoopla. Some of it anyway. For Max. Do I still think it’s mostly a heap of crap that makes people spend too much money and give their kids too much shit and stress out over the most trivial stuff and eat and drink till they explode? Yes, yes I do. But there’s some magic in it for the kidlets, so I’m going to do it for Max. I’d stick exclusively to reality if it wasn’t so ugly half the time. Maybe we could all use a few shiny, sparkly lies once in a while. I still think Christmas is really fucking stupid. But I don’t know, maybe life is a little nicer when you’re stupid.
So I took Max to the Santa Claude parade today. Nearly froze my short ‘n curlies off watching every goddamn dance troupe in the city kick up their legs. But…well done, girls! At least you’re not pregnant or smoking crack, bravo. We can all agree it wuddn’t no Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. More like a Pipers on Elizabeth Avenue Parade. But it was something, I guess. Santa said “Hello there, Max” as he drove by with his very realistic one-dimensional wooden reindeer, so Max thought that was pretty cool. He also said “ho ho ho” so I guess he was talking to me, I dunno, whatever Santa. The floats were fa la la la LAME-O, but if I have to cast a vote the local chicken wing joint, Wingin’ It, gets mine for their thematic combo of aviation and poultry.
I also plan to decorate the house. I’ve started with this tree. It has a hamburger on it.
I can see this is going to go really, really well.
Max James Murphy, you sneaky rascal. How are you growing up so darn fast? You are four years old today. I am in awe.
When people asked how old you were today, you said: “I’m four. And then five and then six and then seben*.” (*Not a typo.) You are excited about getting bigger. You have your whole life ahead of you. Nobody knows what the future will bring, and that’s just how it’s supposed to be.
I still remember the day I peed on a stick and thought NO WAY. And now here you are turning four years old and I’m thinking the same thing. You can’t possibly be the baby I held in my arms four years ago today, straining to open his swollen eyes for the very first time. You are my endless source of disbelief and my constant reminder that anything is possible.
Your father and I can barely remember the sleepless, screaming infant you used to be. (I said barely. We’ll never fully forget, which may explain why your only sibling is covered in fur and poops in the yard.) Boy, how you’ve chilled out these last couple of years. There was a time when you wouldn’t sit still long enough to be hugged. But you’re making up for it now, distributing love and affection on demand. I love your sudden, spontaneous smooches, with your arms slung around my neck or your hands gripping my cheeks. It’s like you’ve just rediscovered that I’m your mom, you’re totally stoked about it, and you’ll burst if you don’t let me know. Let’s hope you still feel this way when you’re a teenager.
You have your fiery moments, but Turbo Ginger has geared down. I see how you look at my face when I’m speaking to you now, your curious eyes flicking around, thinking about what I’m saying, asking questions to help you understand. You are a good listener (most of the time). You are a thinker. You are smart. There’s nobody on earth I’d rather talk to.
You are a creature of habit. You have “your spot” on the couch. If someone else sits there when it’s time for some Treehouse, they will be removed with brute force. You take an apple and a frozen yogurt in your lunchbox, every day. And you must have a puppet show at bedtime – the exact same show every night – followed by daddy’s rendition of Christopher Robin. Daddy can’t sing for beans, but you don’t seem to mind.
You need to wave to us out the window every time we drive away, and we must wave back — no exceptions. Waving to daddy as he leaves for work is what gets you out of bed in the morning. If he forgets to wave, you get upset, I call his cell, and he drives back to make amends with extra waving and airborne kisses. But we both know daddy never forgets to wave.
You’re always up for adventure beyond our humble abode in “Torbag.” But your favourite place in the world is right here at home. Our house is small and cluttered. Your bedroom is a matchbox. There’s barely enough room for your train tracks. But to you, this place is a palace. Knowing you see it that way helps me to see it that way too.
You are one of the tallest kids at soccer. You scored two goals on Sunday. “I winned two times,” you said. It’s so hard to resist touching the ball with your hands though, isn’t it? I don’t know how you do it. You took me quite seriously when I said, “listen to your coach and do what he does.” During your first class, every time Coach put his hands behind his back, so did you.
You can walk on the bottom of the kiddy pool at the Aquarena now. You think that’s pretty cool. Although, I suspect you’re thinking – why learn to swim when I can just walk on the bottom?
You’ve outgrown your tricycle. When you pedal, your knees almost touch the handlebars. It’s okay — you got some brand new wheels today. A blue Thomas bike with training wheels. Yesssssssss. Fist pump.
You are starting to get freckles on your nose. And your chubby toddler cheeks are melting away to reveal the young man you’re going to be. I find myself kissing those cheeks extra hard these days, trying to convince them to stay a little longer.
Your front tooth is still loose, but it seems to be hanging in there. Not bad for taking two smacks in the mouth from the same Tonka dump truck.
Your favourite food is “noodles and broccoli.” You eat so much broccoli, we may soon start growing our own. Whenever there’s something less favourable on your plate, you say you’re not hungry and pout. But a few seconds later, you’re clearing your plate. Your father and I snicker behind your back. Don’t be mad.
No food on earth will ever compete with “pock-a-soles.”
You’re putting on your own shoes now. (No laces yet though.) And you lie down on the floor to slip into your coat – the way they taught you at daycare. Your “Go Habs” mittens are the only mittens. There’s a hole in them now, which I guess I’ll have to sew up.
You are the kid who tells the adult in the room that something’s going awry. “Aidan is jumping on the bed.” “Owen said a bad word.” But there’s no emotion about it, just facts. You’re not a tattletale; you’re a reporter. Let’s go with that.
You’re fair and diplomatic. When I ask you who’s funnier, mommy or daddy, you say: Mommy… and daddy. When I ask you who’s a better singer, you say: Daddy… and mommy. When I ask you whose boy you are, you say: Mommy’s boy… and daddy’s boy… and Splash’s boy.
You never forget Splash. It’s probably about time you start calling her a “she” though. Not all dogs are boys, little dude.
You are an expert belcher. It’s all burping and farting and peeing and pooping — all the time. You told me you chase after the “bad guys” at daycare. I asked if you fight them. You replied, quite matter-of-factly, “I punch and fart at them.” I know you’re just playing. If I ever hear that you’re bullying another kid at school, I will do as my grandfather used to say and “take you down a button-hole lower.”
When you poop (yes, I’m going there), you immediately bend over and stick your butt up in the air. I walk into the bathroom and you’re already in the “wiping position.” I think you’d stay there for hours until somebody came. We were at a party a couple months ago and I lost you in the crowd. I passed by the bathroom and caught sight of your butt up in the air, awaiting the first person to come in and give you a hand.
You’re not shy. You’ll sing the Thomas theme song upon request, the Fisher Price microphone practically inside your mouth. And you’re a clown. You take off your clothes before bath-time and stomp around the house chanting “handsome, handsome, handsome,” shaking what your father gave ya. Crazy kid.
You love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You crack up when Donatello says, “butt sandwich.” You say “heroes in a half-shell.” I say “turtle power.” And vice versa. This can go on for hours.
But even crime-fighting turtles can’t compete with a cheeky blue train. We thought by now you would have left Thomas behind. Not even close. You’ve never had a pacifier or a blanket or a stuffed animal, but now I realize Thomas was all of those things for you, and still is.
You love playing hockey in the basement with daddy. You especially love to body-check. Daddy is looking forward to coaching your hockey team one day. But if you don’t want to play hockey forever, that’s okay too. We’ll always have the basement.
You love ketchup. When we ask what you had for lunch, you say: “Caesar salad, chicken nuggets, and ketchup.” Ketchup is a food. Daddy gave you a bottle of it for your birthday today. You thought that was pretty funny. You’ll always remember he did that, just like you always remember who gave you everything. Who gave you those Thomas pajamas? Aunt Robin. Who gave you Gordon the train? Uncle Glenn. When you open gifts, you say WOW, even if it’s socks. Today, you even took the time to open your cards.
You are master of the iPad. And you’re finally holding a pencil properly. (Oh how the times have changed.) You can write your name now. But you don’t care that the letters are supposed to be side by side from left to right. You put the M, A and X wherever you feel like it. Freestyle, baby.
You have an unusual concept of time. You often start sentences with things like, “When I was a little boy last night…”
You like to hide. But if someone finds you right away, that’s not cool with you AT ALL.
You love being outdoors. Summer’s almost here so I expect you’ll be spending some serious time in the backyard watering the clothesline post in your yellow rubber boots.
You are going to be a fireman when you grow up.
You love blue. But you’ll gladly drink out of a pink Princess cup.
Jogging pants over jeans, hands down.
You wouldn’t be caught dead without your sunglasses on. Even when it’s not sunny. Even when it’s dark! I think it’s because your future is so bright.
At least once a day, I find myself staring at you, utterly amazed that the likes of your father and I could create something so perfect. If I could have picked parts from a catalog, I would have created you just as you are.
It’s hard to resist, but I try not to tell you you’re handsome too much. Because how you look is not important. It’s who you are. I hope you always know that. If there’s one thing I want the world to see in you, it’s not your beautiful brown eyes but the kindness behind them. I think the world is seeing it already, even though you’re only four.
I realize as the years go by, the current you will replace the former you in my mind. It’s just the way it goes. One day, I’ll be looking at a young man before me and say “I can’t believe you were ever that four-year-old little boy.” So today, when you blew out your candles (all by yourself today, as requested) I made sure to take note. In that moment – right after you blew out the flames, right before everyone started to clap, just as the smoke from the candles was slowly climbing skyward – I took a mental picture of you. My big, brave, curious, affectionate, broccoli-munchin’, train-lovin’, kind-hearted boy who is four years old today.
I brought you in from the car tonight, asleep in my arms after a busy day. You’re getting so tall and heavy, I can barely carry you anymore. But I will always carry you, in one way or another, no matter how big you get. And you can’t stop me.
As you know, I’m a blogger. Duh. You’re reading my blog. Shut up.
Come fall, I will also be a published author. Fall: the perfect time of year for a book called Motherfumbler. Get it? Fall… Fumbling… Oh shut up.
Anyway, I’m pretty stoked about it all. I’m going to be a household name — in at least four houses where I have blood relatives.
But I sometimes think — usually as my mother is wagging her finger — what happens when Max starts to read? Will I keep writing as I do? Should I curb my vulgarity to protect him? One day, is he going to be mortified by my book about tits and vaginas and what a horrible baby he was? Probably. Well I can’t take the book back now. And I don’t wanna. It’s going to be out there. For. Ev. Er. When he’s five. When he’s 15. When I’m dead. So maybe I’ll include this loving message to him at the front of the book, in case he needs a little help to deal.
One day, one of your evil classmates is going to bring this book to school, hand it to you, and say: “Page 87 is all about your mom’s vagina.” In fact, I probably just ensured this will indeed happen.
It’s okay if you’re embarrassed. Children are supposed to be ashamed of their parents, especially ones who are really funny and awesome. But when that kid says his mom says your mom is “crazy” or “vulgar” or a “bad mom,” you make sure to reply with one of the following:
1. Oh yeah, well at least my mom can write more than her name on a bathroom stall.
2. At least my mom has a vagina. I heard your mom’s got an alpaca farm down there.
3. Your mom is just jealous, because your dad wishes my mom was your mom.
4. That ol’ thing? That’s what my mom was doing while working and parenting and blogging and playing football and saving the whales and stuff. What does your mom do, other than change your big boy diapers and bleach her moustache?
Now you’re all set. Of course, the best thing to do is just smile and say: Tell your mom – thanks so much for buying a copy. I’m one step closer to Disneyland. Again.
P.S. I’m very proud of you, even if you’re not proud of me (yet).
We are of that new order of families whose Sunday routine consists of lazing around in our jammies, eating cereal, and watching movies about space travel. “Church” is just a picture in Max’s Little People book.
Yesterday morning (Easter Sunday), while we were visiting my mom at the ol’ homestead in Badger’s Quay, Max came downstairs exclaiming “Jesus was back alive!” After fighting the urge to tell him that Jesus was a zombie who slowly morphed into a bunny, my straight-up bedtime story had stuck. “Jesus died,” he recollected. “But when it became Easter day, he came alive again.” My good Christian mother was tickled pink.
My atom-splitting science teacher of a husband, however, just glared at me, his thick eyebrows twisting into tornadoes. What have you been teaching our son? “Don’t worry, honey,” I assured him. “I’m not getting all Jesusy on ya.”
I went to church on Easter Sunday with my mom and Max. One time too many, I suppose, for an outspoken skeptic or atheist or agnostic or whatever the hell I am. People were moving away from me in church to avoid the projectile splinters that would surely result from a pew-splitting bolt of lightning.
I was raised in the church. My father was an Anglican lay minister for 50 years. I sang in the choir for ten. I know all the words to several hymns. I even have a favourite –– The King of Love, My Shepherd Is. It still gives me chills. Possibly because I imagine the “shepherd” is Robert Downey Junior in a loincloth, but I digress. Now, do I think it’s all a bunch of biblical bunk? Yeah, mostly. I just can’t bring myself to go to church anymore; it’s all so silly. And I can’t seem to shake the fact that some of the world’s most gifted minds thought so too. Charles Darwin. Albert Einstein. Helen Keller. Ernest Hemingway. John Lennon. Jodie Foster. Maybe I’m like David Bowie – a self-described “reluctant atheist.” I want some kind of faith and hope to hold onto, but my mind just won’t let me believe.
But I’m not one of those hypocrites who expects to get married and buried in the church but never steps foot inside in-between. Let it be known: When I go tits-up, you can throw my ashes into the cavity of an old, broken typewriter.
But I haven’t completely forsaken church. Because I guess I’m still open to the possibilities. Refusing to go – never ever ever – would be like declaring I know something for certain, and that is neither true nor possible. The burden of proof is with you though, Jesus lovers. So forgive me for skipping church and watching E.T. with my family instead. I may not be wrapped in the arms of Jesus, but I’m wrapped in somebody’s arms and somebody’s wrapped in mine. This is what’s real to me. This is my heaven. Send me a Jesus memo when you find something.
But even though I’m not all Jesusy, it doesn’t mean Max can’t be. So I took him to church on Easter morning. As his mother, it’s on me to teach him how to be polite and share and wipe his arse, but it’s not my job to tell him what to believe. Especially when I don’t have the slightest clue myself. It’s my job to guide him, and show him some of the options – like the story of Jesus and Easter and Christmas and Satan (just kidding) – and then he can decide for himself.
Besides, I reckon there are worse things to be than Jesusy. As far as I know, Jesus was a kind, gentle, compassionate man who lived humbly and judged no one. If more so-called Christians acted more like that, maybe I wouldn’t have such a distaste for the whole thing.
Anyway, even though I’m not much of a believer myself, I tell my son about Jesus. So that one day, when he realizes it’s all a bunch of horse shit, it won’t be “because Mom told me so.” It’ll be “because that is what I think.”
On the other hand, if he decides it’s all true, I am open to be enlightened.
Easterirksme. Butit’s not Jesus’ fault. He’s been dead for over 2,000 years for Christ sake. It’s the rest of us. We’vecrucified Easter overthe last couple millennia.
30 years ago when I was a little chick, Easter was so wonderfully simple. Birds tweeting. Lilies blooming.A feed of turkey or turrs after church. A handful of little chocolate eggs hidden around the living room.(We’d find one sneaky egg months later and wonder if it was still good to eat.) And a chocolate bunnythat I’dmethodically consume,bit by bit,over the next week.Ears first,ass last.
But look at Easter now.We’ve gone and complicated the hell out of it. We’ve got our kids thinking every time there’s a Jesus event – Christmas, Easter – they get a pile of crap.And then we post photos of it on Facebook – you know, so the kids in Africa can see how much we love Jesus.Jesus doesn’t equal love, silly rabbit. Jesus equals candy and chocolate and new clothes and pastel-coloured junk and a week of no school. In fact, we’ve probably got our kids loving the whole crucifixion thing a little too much: Hurry up and nail that dude to the cross already so I can get my pawsonsomecandy!
Nice trick, Bible boinkers.I imagine, deep inside the bowels of the Vatican,there’s a candy factory where they lace little fudge bunnies with extra sugar – to fuel the addiction of the world’s kids to the sweet story of Easter.And it’s not just the Catholics.I’m sure theArchbishop of Cadbury is in on it too.
If we’re going to give our kids stuff, at least we could tell them WHY. You know, as a symbol of the ultimate gift of Christ or something.But sadly, some of us are just not that bright. Or maybe we just can’t bring ourselves to tell our kids about the lamb of god because it sounds an awful lot like the shit of sheep.So we tell them a giant ass bunny brought the goods.Becausethat sounds so much better.
Here’s an idea. If we insist on showering our kids with Easter crap, how about we throw in a few t-shirts? Give our kids heaps of candy, toys and gadgets, and make them wear one of these shirts to give credit where credit is supposedly due:
THANK U 4 THE IPOD, G-ZIZ.
JESUS GAVE ME SALVATION… AND SMARTIES!
JESUS DIED FOR MY SINS… AND THIS SCOOTER.
THESE LEGOS WERE MADE POSSIBLE BY THE VERY GENEROUS CONTRIBUTIONS OF ZOMBIE JESUS.
IF YOU LIKE MY NEW EARRINGS, YOU ALSO LIKE THE NAILS IN JESUS’ HANDS.
THIS EASY-BAKE OVEN – PAID FOR WITH THE FLESH AND BLOOD OF CHRIST. RED VELVET, ANYONE?
THANKS FOR THE GOOD CHOCOLATE, GOOD SHEPHERD!
MY REDEEMER IS RAD GENEROUS.
JESUS IS MY COPILOT. THAT’S WHY HE GAVE ME THIS REMOTE-CONTROL HELICOPTER.
Shoes. You gotta wear ’em to know ’em. Sure, they’re comfortable when you’re strutting up and down the hallway of your bungalow with your pyjama pants pulled up to your knees. Try wearing those pleather suckers on George Street for six hours and see how you feel. You be hobblin’ like Tiny Tim in drag.
Same thing goes for your kid. You never really know what kind of youngster you’ve got until you test him out in the real world – beyond your 12-foot by 12-foot living room where his audience consists of dinkies, dust bunnies and the dog.
Our recent trip to Orlando confirmed that our little junior is quite the joiner. Not one of those annoying little assholes whose hands are permanently raised in class, volunteering for everything from erasing the chalkboard to shining the teacher’s apple with his face fuzz. Max is the kind of kid who just wants to participate, see what it’s all about, and doesn’t mind that everyone is looking at him.
As soon as we arrived at Hollywood Studios, we got stopped in our tracks by one of those impromptu entertainment troops. They pulled up in the middle of the square in a funny little truck and a slew of crazy characters piled out. A crowd of onlookers quickly gathered around, each one with the kind of smile that hurts your face. After a few tricks and zingers, the actors said they’d now be giving away an ultimate Fastpass and asked for a few pint-sized prospects to come forward and compete for the prize. Max didn’t start shouting “me me me!” He didn’t know the war was over. But with a teaspoon of encouragement, he was game. “Do you want to go up there and try to win?” we asked him. Blank-faced and open-mouthed, a little stunned by all this excitement, he nodded his head. And with a gentle push of my hand on his shoulder, he was gone out there into the big, bad world. He skipped up into the epicentre of the action, stood politely in place, and said his name into the microphone on cue. Phew. I was terrified he’d say his name was “meatball” or “toaster” or “dicksmack” or something. Who really knows what’s going to come out of their mouths? Seriously. He followed his father into the bathroom the other day and said, “Daddy, your bird is disgusting.” And he did NOT hear that from me. Nor can he read thoughts.
We shouldn’t be surprised by his courage, I suppose. His nickname is Turbo Ginger for god sakes. He chewed his way out of his crib. He ran before he walked. His first crayon drawing was titled, Riptide of Emotion. But I just don’t know where he gets it. When I was little, I’d have crawled up my mother’s hole before I’d get up in front of a crowd. And his father is kinda shy. Except when he’s drinking. Geez, I don’t suppose Max was drunk the whole time we were at Disney… Hmmmm.
So our gutsy little guy didn’t mind doing his own thang during our excursion to the land of mice and magic. And thank goodness; I didn’t pay a zillion clams to have him cling to my thigh like a loser koala bear. This is a buffet of fun, dammit, get your money’s worth.
His audacity was an endless source of amusement for us. Except at the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movie set which should be called Honey, I Lost Our Kid. Max was up the big leaf, down the dog’s tongue, in and out of giant Cheerios and tunnels. Our kid would go into a little nook, we’d watch and wait, and someone else’s kid would come out. Me nerves. I’m going to have to teach him a new word soon: kid-nap-per. It took all four sets of eyes – two parents, two grandparents – to keep him from ending up in a Columbian brick factory. “Rust hair, strong, make good worker.”
I reckon this audacious child of mine loins is my ticket to greatness. I mean, it’s not like I’m ever going to strike it rich with a bestseller or anything. In Orlando, I kept looking around for opportunities to win things, where I could shove Max up on stage to try his luck. “Remember that time you ruined mommy’s vagina? You owe me. Dance, ya little frigger, dance!”