A vroom of ones own.

Thursday is garbage day in our neck of the woods. Around 8am, the big green trash eater pulls up out front. It passes by twice – once to get the trash on the opposite side of the street, and then again on its way back to get ours. When Max hears the slow groan of the truck, he scurries to the couch, climbs it like a koala bear on bennies, pulls open the drapes, and leans his face to the window to witness the glory of the big-wheeled hunk of metal. Sweet garbage-collecting action. A Thursday morning ritual.

I sometimes wonder about the nature versus nurture debate when it comes to gender, intelligence, sexuality, etc. Well, when it comes to gender at least, Max has convinced me – nature is boss. I certainly didn’t teach him to be a dirt-diggin’, train- obsessed boy; he was simply born that way. Predetermined machismo. One of his first words was vroom. Onomatopoeia – well done, Maximus Manliness. He was just seven or eight months old when he started driving a toy car up the arm of the sofa; a perfect hill. (And my boobs; imperfect speed bumps.) Who taught him that? Not I. Not anyone. He is snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, through and through. Sometimes I expect him to emerge from his bedroom with a frog in his pocket.

I admit – I let him watch too much TV. He likes a variety of shows, but the ones that really get his blood pumping are Bob the Builder, Mighty Machines, Thomas and Friends; you get the idea. Tools, heavy equipment, trains, trucks. How does he even know what these things are? He doesn’t, but he knows what he likes; it’s in his DNA. He has an innate attraction to things that have power, movement, and aggression. The vroom of Roary (the racing car)’s engine, the buzz of Bob’s powertools, the choo-choo of Thomas and his chugging chums. Give ‘er, says Max Murphy, in not so many words.

When he was about ten months old, he could use a hockey stick like nobody’s business. Check out the natural goalie stance. When he makes it big in the NHL one day, they’ll use this pic in his player bio.  NHL. Torbay rec league. Whatev.

Eat your heart out, Patrick Roy!

We take walks to the farm down the road, with an eye out for cows and horses that often graze in pastures sloping to the harbour. We are lucky to live near such breathtaking scenery. But Max has other ideas. On the way there is a big, yellow school bus, parked on a strip of gravel, off duty. With eyes as big as saucers and a twinkle to boot, Max points to it and makes a vroom-like sound in his throat, with a question mark vocalized at the end. “Yeah, that’s a school bus!” I assure him. He sits back in the umbrella stroller, satisfied. Who needs animals when there’s this big, beautiful, yellow creature before us?

I love his rough and tumble ways. But I want to show him that’s it okay to be tender too. When he pulls on Splash’s tail or hugs her a little too hard, I say “be gentle”, and he starts to pet her softly. Though his inborn nature tells him to be strong and fast, I want to nurture him to also be soft and thoughtful. I will start with a Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas. No joke. Think little boys shouldn’t play with dolls? Fair enough. But by telling your son “dolls are for girls”, aren’t you also telling him that caring for children is the mother’s job? Not cool. I save this debate for another post. It’ll be called Long Live Paddy Shane! Paddy Shane was the name of my husband’s Cabbage Patch Kid, circa 1983. Laugh if you want, but Paddy Shane could very well be the reason Andrew is just as nurturing as I am, if not more.

The other night, Max was walking around the living room hugging and squeezing a plush dog. A rare sight. Since birth, Max has never taken to anything for comfort. Not a soother, not a stuffed animal, not a blanket. Now, here he was, cuddling this stuffed pup. Wow, I thought; maybe he’s finally developing a softer side.

Five minutes later I found the toy facedown in Splash’s water dish. It was too late for CPR.

Sunday driving.
Playing dinkies at Nanny's in Badger's Quay.

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Where the hawt is.

“So when aw you goin’ back ta I’eland?”

“We’re from Canada.” (Dum dum.)

“Oh! I have a cousin in Canada.”

(Let me guess… Toronto?)

“In Toronto.”

“Oh, cool.” (Pity.) “That’s pretty far from our home. We’re from Newfoundland.”

“Oh. Okay…”

Uncomfortable silence, cut short by Kim’s chuckle and my question – “You don’t have a clue where that is, do ya?”

“Not really.”

Fair enough. I mean, I didn’t know much about Boston either. Except it’s the home of Ben Affleck, a famous marathon, Paul Revere and his uber fast horse, the inspiration for the 80s hit television show Cheers, Boston Cream Pie, and tea parties (wink).

Turns out they are a friendly bunch, despite their piss poor grades in world geography. The first person we met was the hotel concierge – a jolly cross between Rodney Dangerfield and Santa Claus. “Where should we go for supper?” we asked him. “My place for a baw-ba-cue,” he replied, followed by a quaking laugh. His name was a slap-in-the-face reminder of the city’s Irish heritage. Seamus Murphy. Perfection. We told him we were from Newfoundland, and although he knew little of it at first, the next time he saw us in the lobby a couple hours later, he proudly rhymed off some googled factoids about our beloved easternmost province. A tip-worthy gesture. The morning we left, his shift hadn’t yet started so we left him an envelope of money at the front desk. On the front we scribbled “Long may your big jib draw!” He’ll figure it out.

Seamus wasn’t the only friendly face in town. We ate at an Italian restaurant, served by the most Italian waiter on earth. Antonio. A 60-ish man with a gut like an overstuffed ravioli, cuddled by a simple white apron. Rolling his r’s and sometimes dropping them in a charming Boston-Italian mishmash, he rocked our worlds with wine and homemade pasta. When I was at least two sheets to the wind with chianti, I decided to try out my Italian accent. “How are your meatballs?” I inquired in my best Italiano. I told him how much I loved the word meatball. He thought this was quite funny, and had a little laughing/coughing episode that shook my cannolis.

Boston. What a lovely little town of only 650,000 people. So big (it’s America’s 20th largest city), yet so small we could walk almost anywhere within 10 minutes flat. So modern, yet so intoxicatingly ancient. The downtown streets are narrow. Sky-high office buildings tower overhead, and yet it feels like a horse-drawn carriage could whizz by at any moment; I hold onto my bonnet. The people are of all shapes and colours, and they look you in the eye. Sometimes the crotch, but mostly the eye. The fat squirrels on Boston Common eat out of your hand, which explains the fatness.

I don’t know much about Boston (two days is hardly immersion), but I like how it feels. It has a unique face, an intriguing story, and an awesome sense of place. Good for you, Beantown. I hereby forgive you for not knowing anything about my awesome place. My home, with a story so deep it makes yours seem like it was written yesterday, and a face so breathtaking it makes yours check itself in the mirror one more time. I’m not trying to pick a fight, of course. You’re wicked good. And I thank you for reminding me how a place can mean so much to a person.

I board the plane at Logan, click my rubyless shoes together and say to myself, There’s no place like home. When I touchdown in St. John’s seven hours later, no amount of fog would keep me from seeing my wide-eyed boy and how very lucky I am.

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The poppy.

On the battlefields of World War One, chalk soils became rich in lime from rubble, allowing “popaver rhoeas” – poppies – to thrive. John McCrae’s 1915 poem In Flanders Fields made the poppy a popular symbol of remembrance, honouring soldiers who died in battle.

Lest we forget.

But for me, the poppy means something else. Not so much the flower, but the word. I say it every night as I tuck my Max into bed – “goodnight, Poppy Jim” – with a tender skyward gesture.

Poppy Jim, my dad, was no soldier, but he did fight a war. Cancer is the common enemy of so very many. When will we ever declare victory?

But instead of focusing on the loss, I focus on the legend; keeping it alive. For me, it’s easy; my dad is with me every day – his face, his voice, his humour. But for Max, I must take extra measures.

Max was just nine months old when dad got the final verdict. I still remember when he said to me, “I guess Max won’t know me very well.” A knife straight through my heart, all the way to China.

I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation; surreal is an understatement. But I was stronger than I knew, and I reassured him that I had a gazillion photos (dad loved getting his snap taken) and hours of video footage – of him and Max together! It’s true; I had been taping him for months, immortalizing him on a high-def JVC camcorder. Quite possibly the best purchase I ever made. I bought it, not only to record the new little life in our world, but to capture the lives of those who might not be around forever. (Which is every one of us, really.) I didn’t know how things would play out with dad, but I wasn’t taking any chances. If cancer was going to win, I needed to record my unique and wonderful and crazy father as much as humanly possible – to show my Max one day. Roll tape!

I started with the photos right away. At least a couple times a day, I ask, “Where’s Poppy Jim?” And Max points to the big, beautiful photo on the wall of two hopeful and childlike faces staring up at the camera from a pillow on the floor.

I have a little photo album on a table in the living room, right in the midst of Mad Max’s Thoroughfare. Cover to cover photos of Poppy Jim. Sometimes I pick it up and show Max for a few moments. “That’s Poppy Jim!” I say happily. “And that’s baby Max in his arms!” I poke Max’s chubby belly to help him make the connection between the boy in the picture and the boy in the flesh. Sometimes I catch him flipping through the album himself, his nimble little digits savagely flipping through the pages.  He throws it, stomps on it, bends the photos. I don’t care; I have copies. I just want poppy to be a household name and a familiar face; whatever it takes.

I know I can’t possibly make Max remember him. I mean, what’s your earliest memory? I have a vague recollection of kindergarten class – playing in the sandbox, and making impressions in Play-Doh with the soles of my Strawberry Shortcake sneakers. That’s as far back as I can go. So yeah, I don’t expect miracles here. I’m not trying to inspire in Max a memory of Poppy Jim; I’m trying to create a sense of him.

The books will help. Max has his very own copy of Jim Combden’s Fogo Island Boy. A gift to the future, for a teenage Max. There is also a second book in the works. A collection of the poetry and prose of Jim Combden, including 100 pages of his second, unfinished book chronicling his adventures as a young teacher in rural Newfoundland. The tale is incomplete and unedited, but I trust you will find some magic in his raw words nonetheless.

There are a million stories of dad. Dad the teacher, dad the golfer, dad the lunatic, dad the dad. And we must keep telling them, even if it hurts. Max will be proud of his pop, even if he doesn’t remember. The way I am proud of my father’s father who died at the age of 39 when my dad was just 10 years old. But his short existence is the stuff of legends. Google “Eli Combden” and “polar bear” and you’ll see what I mean. He was my grandfather, and though I’ve never seen his face, I am proud.

All this remembrance of Poppy Jim doesn’t come close to the actual experience of him, but it’s something. Max will know his poppy’s face. He will hear stories about his awesomely crazy character. He will have a sense of the legacy he left us. And there will be a place in his heart for the poppy he once met and cuddled and played with, but can’t possibly remember.

On this day, I leave you with a poem penned by the one and only Jim Combden.

November 11th

Although the years have washed away

the blood upon the hills;

Although the birds in chorus sing,

where once the whine of shells;

Although the maples peacefully

replace the mighty guns,

and grassy carpet now contrasts

the blood of mothers’ sons;

Although the cannons cease to bark,

and cries of war have died,

I still shall place a poppy on

my chest and wear with pride.

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Housebroken.

Remember baby walkers? The ancestor of the exersaucer, with wheels on the bottom? I don’t remember them, but I have photos of my miniature self in one, rolling around the house at breakneck speeds with a cookie in one hand and a death wish in the other. These devices have led to many injuries, and yet they were a household staple for nearly a hundred years.

Check out this happy baby from 1905 (courtesy of Wikipedia. Not really.) It was all fun and games until someone lost a… leg?

In 2004, Canada had finally seen enough smashed babies and became the first country to ban the sale, importation and advertisement of baby walkers. (It was either that or ban stairs, and that was a little ridiculous. Jellybean Row would be screwed.) Even selling second-hand baby walkers at yard sales and flea markets is illegal. If you’re harbouring a baby walker in your home, you could be fined up to $100,000 or sentenced to up to six months in jail. Bah! You’d get a more lenient punishment for making toddler pie.

Even without those munchkin mutilators, it’s still a dangerous world out there. And by out there I mean in here – in our house. It’s just a bungalow with a couch, a TV, a fridge, a half dozen bear traps – the usual stuff. But a toddler can find trouble in a room full of cotton and rainbows. Especially when he’s half chimpanzee. In Max’s first 1.5 years of life, he fell down the stairs. He fell face-first out of his highchair – twice. He busted his lip at least a half dozen times. Once, he even bit his tongue so bad, I thought he had bit it clean off and swallowed it.

I still remember the horror of that morning. I was in bed (my turn to catch a few extra Zs) when I was awakened by Max’s blood-curdling screams. As Andrew reached my bedroom door with the wailing boy in his arms, I was mortified by the sheer amount of blood; his sleepers were saturated! It was like baby Hannibal Lecter had just eaten his first liver. He had in fact fallen down and chomped a huge gash in his tongue; one of the pitfalls of having 14 teeth at just 10 months of age. Amazingly, his tongue healed in a day. It is one of the fastest healing organs in the human body. Who knew?

Max has not swung from the chandeliers or rafters, but only because we don’t have chandeliers or rafters. He works with what he’s got, like cupboards and drawers…

Once, when I was washing the dishes, he was playing near my leg, pulling dishrags from the drawer. I noticed a sudden silence – a sure sign of trouble, right mothers? – and I looked down to see Max standing there, peering up at me with wonder, with a giant meat cleaver in his hand. Holy shit, it’s Chucky! I calmly removed the king of the knife rack from his hand and breathed a sigh of relief. So that’s where I put that sucker.

All this, and not a single trip to the emergency room.

Safety. It’s a tricky thing. Obviously, I try to be cautious, but I don’t want to be one of those mothers (or grandmothers!) who follows the kid’s every move, gasping every time he stumbles. I use common sense, but I don’t overdo it. If we said NO to everything, we’d be uttering one, long,
drawn-out NOOOOOOOOOO the entire day, every day. The way I see it, a scattered bump, bruise or pinch is a good thing. A lesson in cause and effect. Action and Consequence 101.

But hey, we don’t tempt fate. The meds and chemicals are safely stored away up high. We pay attention to product recalls. We don’t leave him unattended in the bathtub. (If we can’t give him our full attention, we just don’t bathe him. Dirt makes ya grow.) We cut up his food so he doesn’t choke. If the wire is frayed, we stop him from chewing on it. (Kidding, of course.) We don’t let him run with scissors, or let him have scissors for that matter. And we don’t keep the sharp knives under the dishrags (anymore).

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A work(ing mother) in progress.

To work or not to work? That is the question… for those mothers who have the choice.

These days, it’s difficult for the average family to survive on a single income. As much as I want to believe all you need is love, my empty fridge suggests otherwise. I can’t help but add a few things to the list of necessities – clothes, shelter, food, and a reservoir of homogenized milk.

Should mothers go back to work or stay home and raise their children? Who the hell knows. I know some women who think putting children in daycare is next to abandonment. I do see the absurdity of bringing a child into the world and then handing him or her over to someone else to raise 8-12 hours a day. I also know women who have returned to work after a second or even third child, even though the cost of child care devours their entire paycheck. A reasonable price for sanity, I guess?

Both choices are difficult. Both entail some sort of sacrifice. And both options have their benefits and their bummers. My year of maternity leave opened my sleep-deprived eyes to the fact that full-time motherhood is insanely consuming. When I returned to work, I would regularly proclaim my admiration for mothers who stay home and raise their kids, day in and day out. “You have the tough job,” I’d declare, meaning well. But one day, my friend Kelly put me in my place with one short reply. A mother of three boys including five-year-old twins, she simply said, “It might be hard for you, but it’s not for me.” Holy crap. She was so right. Who am I to pity her? She loves her job and wouldn’t have it any other way. Maybe it’s my shortcomings that make the job tough to me. I no longer say anyone has a tougher job than anyone else. It’s all relative. Every child is different, and no woman is created equal.

I need my paycheck. But even if I didn’t, I’m not sure I’d choose any differently. Maybe I’d work on my own terms. Write a book, or breed puppies, or knit tea cozies (right after I learn how to knit, and figure out what a tea cozy is.) Or maybe I’d miss the high-energy collaboration and water cooler comradery of the working world. Maybe I would be doing exactly what I’m doing now, by choice.

Truth is, I love my job. It’s often fast-paced and high-pressure, but I prefer chaos over boredom. My job is creative, which just so happens to be the kind of soul I was born with, as corny as that sounds. It’s simple logic, really. My job makes me a happier, more complete person, and that makes me a better mother. If I am happy, I teach Max happiness, and I can’t think of a better lesson. Sure, I’m away from him a lot, but at least when I am with him, he gets the best of me.

I respect all mothers for their choice to work or stay at home, but I think it’s important for each of us to be more than a mother. We are individuals, with needs and talents and interests and opinions. Or at least we were before we got impregnated! So for God sake start talking about something besides how cute your kid’s poop face is. Actually, the poop face is pretty cute, so keep talking about that. But most of the other stuff – change it up, sister. Seriously. The stench of the diaper pail has penetrated your brain.

Without a shadow of a doubt, being “Max’s mom” is my number one role in life. But that doesn’t have to define me wholly, no matter what guilt society would have me feel. I am a mom, but I am also a wife, a friend, a teammate, a writer, a unique and complex person who can give so much more than Cheerios to my wide-eyed wonder boy.

Ironically, he’s the one who makes it possible for me to work in the first place. Every writer needs a muse.

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Growing up… BOO.

Halloween ain’t what it used to be. (Neither is Christmas. Or Easter. Or even Fridays.) But it’s not the tradition that has changed; it’s me.

When I was a child, Halloween was full of a spooky kind of magic. The night sky was always black, with streetlights beaming certainty in scattered parts of our quaint seaside town. I grazed from house to house, pillowcase in hand, brimming with excitement. Mom would hide around the corner while Raggedy Ann, or Strawberry Shortcake, or Snow White, knocked on each door and delivered the trio of magic words – Trick or Treat? Once my load became heavy with sugar, it was time to head home to dump my cargo into a heap on the living room floor. Now to blissfully sort. Candy here. Chocolate there. Chips and cheezies over there. And a handful of rare treasures – a small pack of crayons, a pencil, a teeny tiny notebook. What a haul.

Somewhere between childhood and womanhood, between mullet and marvellous mane, Halloween (among other things) lost its luster. Maybe ghouls and goblins suddenly seemed ridiculous, now that I knew the jolly old elf was a hoax and a half. (“Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.) Maybe I discovered what OD-ing on junk food does to the teeth and the badonkadonk. I don’t remember exactly when things changed or why, but they did. I guess with age comes wisdom, and wisdom comes at the price of fascination.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had my adult fun with Halloween. Around age 20, I realized Halloween afforded me the rare, judgment-free opportunity to dress like a total slut. So I seized the day. But hey, at least I was creative! There are far too many slutty cops, slutty nurses, and slutty school girls running around out there. How unoriginal are 20-year-old girls anyway? If you’re going to dress like a bimbo, at least be clever about it. Be a slutty nun, or a slutty sous chef, or a slutty beekeeper, or a slutty Nazi. A few years ago, Andrew and I dressed up as Little Miss Muffet (the semi-slutty version) and the spider – you know, the one who sat down beside her. My arachnid hubby sported an extra “leg”, and his shirt said “What’s in the bowl, b*tch?” On the back of my dress was written, “Sit on my tuffet.” Good times. Good times, indeed.

Maybe motherhood has softened me. Or maybe I’ve just evolved into a different, more self-preserving kind of party girl. No mistake, I live for the absurd. And I can finish off a bottle of red wine before the cork stops rolling. But the parameters of my merrymaking are different now. Last night, for example. In bygone years, I would have attended Mardi Gras on George Street – my old stomping grounds of singlehood. But nope. Not interested. I took my tiny terror to a kids Halloween party instead. I went as primetimes’s fave fangbanger, Sookie Stackhouse. Andrew was Vampire Bill. (If you don’t know these characters, it’s because you don’t watch True Blood and that is unfortunate.) Max? He was decked out as…. wait for it… Satan! Ha. I like to say Satan instead of devil; it gets a rise out of people. But it’s way cuter than it sounds… see?

The chance of getting a sensible photo of lil’ Lucifer in his costume? About a snowball’s in hell. The front of his costume read “HELLUVA KID” and the back was a tribute to the urban insight of Snoop Dogg – “Drop it like it’s HOT.”

Instead of rocking the streets of downtown, I rocked Beelzebub Boy to sleep. I chose to make a dessert (edibility TBD), cuddle with the fur kid, watch Poltergeist (not bad for 1982), reflect on Halloweens of yore, and just breathe. If that makes me a crusty old lady, so be it.

I miss Halloweens of childhood. But the spirit of it all is not entirely lost on me; it is rekindled through my Max. This evening, I look forward to his mystified look as neighbours plop treats into his pumpkin. He’s only 18 months old, but every twinkle of the eye counts for something; molds him into a person-shaped chunk of happiness. This Christmas, I look forward to seeing that twinkle when he feasts his eyes on the multi-coloured lights on every home, when he sees his new wooden train track under the tree, and when he comes face to face with Mr. Kringle himself. The most wonderful lie of all time.

I also hope Max, one day, mourns his childhood, as I do. Because that will mean he had a good one.

The greatest poem ever known

Is one all poets have outgrown:

The poetry, innate, untold,

Of being only four years old.

– Christopher Morley, To a Child

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Are we there yet?

Thinking about flying with a toddler? Three words: DON’T DO IT.

I don’t mean that. I mean, in the grand scheme of a two-week vacation, the four-hour flight there and back is just a fart in the pants. You can do it! But be forewarned. And pack at least six kinds of crackers.

Children under the age of two can fly for free. In Canada, at least. So, as new parents, we think Yippee! We’ll take a trip somewhere before the half-pint is two. Give him a ride on a big ol’ jet airliner – for free! Not so fast, opportunistic little mama; think this through. If it’s relaxation you seek, leave the lil’ squirt home. There won’t be much time for kicking your feet up. The kicking (and screaming) will be done by someone else.

The drama begins at the airport. For the love of lemon gin, take your umbrella stroller. A toddler on the loose at the airport? You may as well post an ad on Kijiji: One toddler for the taking. Likes cheese puffs, pooping in pants, and long walks on the beach. You can push the stroller right up to the door of the airplane. Leave it there and board the plane; the stroller is magically waiting for you on the other side. But don’t get too excited; the nightmare occurs in between.

Our August flight to Ontario would have gone much differently had Max been a 9-month-old crawler instead of a 16-month-old Olympic sprinter. With a perfectly immobile baby on my lap, my biggest worry would have been keeping his ears clear and his belly full. I could have flicked on the cartoons, stuck a bottle in his gob, and giddy-up – Toronto, here we come. But Max had learned to motor and had been honing his legwork for the past five months. And now he was bringing those mad skills onboard. No amount of Thomas the Tank Engine was going to stop him from busting a move on that Boeing 737. In fact, Thomas probably just reminded him to go full steam ahead.

For Max, boarding the plane was like walking into a new world of possibilities. His eyes lit up when he saw the endless rows of seats, each containing a different face. I could almost hear his thoughts, spoken in a British Stewie Griffin accent, of course. What is this? A life-size Fisher Price Shake-n-Go Flyer? Must… explore… now. Check out the giant porn stash on that dude. Feast your eyes on that chick’s big dangly earrings! Can I grab them, mommy? Can I? Can I? Oooooh, this little window shade is fun! It’s open, it’s closed, it’s open, it’s closed…

When we took our seat, we were pleasantly surprised to have been assigned the row with extra legroom. Bless your heart, travel agent lady. At least you tried.

I’m no dummy; I came prepared. I packed several NEW dinkies and toys. They worked – for a while. Eventually, Max started tossing everything to the floor. Half the time the toy would wind up under someone else’s seat, so I’d have to retrieve it with my head in a stranger’s crotch. Excuse me, sir, could you move your undercarriage so I can find my son’s train?

I also packed snacks galore. My purse was a vending machine. Raisins, fruit, Cheerios, Goldfish crackers, and a few sugary sweet treats for emergencies. But there were not enough snacks in the world to keep our boisterous boy down. By the time the seatbelt sign was switched off, Max had turned on the Turbo Ginger.

We made the mistake of traveling at night. The flight left at 7pm, so I thought – Perfect. He’ll get on board in his pjs, have a bottle, then go to sleep… and we’ll watch a movie! Dream on, Self. Max was tired, but he fought it with every fiber of his 25-pound being. And how could I blame him? This was an exciting new place. There was no crib, no darkness, no familiar surroundings. It couldn’t possibly be bedtime! Damn, that kid is observant.

He tried to escape our two-seat row, but Andrew’s leg served as a barricade. It’s not safe out there in the aisle!  Some parents walk their kids up and down the aisle to let them blow off steam. But this could easily go awry. People have hot beverages, and there’s always a flight attendant coming or going. Besides, if I gave Max an inch, or 10 feet of aisle, he’d take a mile. One glimpse of the buffet of faces beyond our row and things would get real ugly real fast. Try returning to our seat once he had a gander of that sweet action. Max Murphy Meltdown imminent.

Thankfully, he was content to stay in the one-foot by two-foot playroom in the clouds – i.e. the space between the window and the aisle, minus the space taken up by mine and Andrew’s legs. He flashed greasy grins at the gentleman across the aisle from us. He danced up a storm. He was deliriously tired, lying on the floor for a few seconds as if he was going to go to sleep, then suddenly springing to life and cackling like something possessed. Aha! You thought I was asleep, didn’t you? Suckas! Sometimes he’d lie there for a few extra moments and we’d get our hopes up – could this be the beginning of peace? – when suddenly I’d feel little teeth chomping into my foot. What a case. Andrew and I cracked up. Until we cracked. Three hours into the journey, we were desperately begging the sandman to arrive.

Max slept for the last hour of the journey. Just enough time for Andrew and I to fall asleep and – ding ding – buckle your seatbelts, we’re coming in for a landing.

The return flight was even worse. It was the red-eye; need I say more? This time, we even had a spare seat between us. A blessing? You would think so, wouldn’t you? Mastermind Max only utilized this luxury for his lunacy. He stood up on the seat and threw things over the top at the poor people dozing behind us. A die-cast locomotive to the face leaves a mark.

My recommendation? Fly with your under-two-year-old before he or she is walking. If it’s too late for that, travel with a partner. Don’t fly at night unless you have the patience of job and caffeine injected directly into your veins. If you have money to burn, buy the kid his own seat and attach your carseat to it. (Apparently stapling his sleepers to the seat is a no-no.) If your mini has miraculously developed the faculty of reason – If you sit down and be a good boy, mom will give you a marshmallow – lucky you. Or, if you were blessed with a naturally chill child, congratulations; I was not. Turbo Ginger makes for a frustrating plane ride…

…but a fun life.

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Pobody’s nerfect.

What’s the first thing you say when you see a newborn baby? “She’s so cute.” “He’s so beautiful.” “She’s got her mommy’s nose.” “Who does he look like, I wonder?” Looks. Beauty. Is it all we ever think about? Do we even hear how ridiculous we sound?

I confess – when I was preggers, I was afraid my kid was going to be ugly. Of course, my greatest fear was that he would be born with a debilitating disease; I’m not a monster. But my second greatest fear was that he would have the map of Australia on his face, or a head shaped like Stewie’s on The Family Guy, or satellite dish ears. (Free cable would not be consolation.) Everybody wants a beautiful child. It’s only natural, especially given the skin-deep world in which we live.

We want our kids to be lovely – not just because we want to look at them and go awwwwww. We want them to be attractive to spare them the ridicule that comes with not being attractive. Freckle face. Fatso. Dork. Four-eyes. Beanpole. Short stuff. OUCH. We’ll do whatever we can to protect our kids from that pain. Trouble is, helping them conform to the ideals of beauty to dodge the rejection only perpetuates the problem.

Today’s society is obsessed with beauty. I pick up a magazine and flip through the pages of women looking impossibly perfect, and I come to two conclusions. 1 – Wow, those women are flawless. 2 – I’m so glad I have a boy. For some reason, guys can be pudgy, hairy, and imperfect. If they’re charming, funny or smart, they can nonetheless hook the cutest girl in the room. Throw in some musical ability and a trust fund and he’s a hot commodity. Seriously, count the mediocre if not motley rock stars who have married supermodels. Yeah, exactly. The chubby, hairy girl? Yikes. She can play the piano and the harp while doing stand-up comedy and juggling fire; hope she likes black and white because she may as well sign up for the convent now.

Seriously, these supreme beings represent an ideal that 99.9% of us can’t possibly achieve. They are genetically predisposed to thinness. The vast majority of us – no matter how much we exercise and diet and groom – will simply never look like this; it’s just not in our DNA. And yet this unattainable imagery is presented to us – including our impressionable little girls – every single day, on TV, in magazines, on larger than life billboards. We are so immersed in it, we don’t even realize the damage it’s doing. Seriously, even these models can’t achieve the perfection before our eyes! Virtually all of them are airbrushed into oblivion. I work in an artroom; I’ve witnessed the wonders of PhotoShop. Even Cindy Crawford once said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.” As if her supermodel self were not a lofty enough standard to strive for, they shave a little off her thighs and magically erase the blemishes from her skin. “There, that’s better. Now, little girls, here’s what beautiful looks like. Good luck with that.” And the little girl looks in the mirror and sees a dozen things she wants to change but can’t. Or can she?

I was an ugly child. Buck teeth, freckles, pasty white, rail thin, and red hair sculpted into a mullet. My personal slogan: business in the front, party in the back. It’s not a pretty picture, let me tell you. But thankfully, for most of my childhood, I didn’t know I was ugly; I was just… me. Playing with my Barbie, blissfully oblivious to her universal status as the classic blonde bombshell; the epitome of the perfect female. The women around me were not weight-obsessed. Grandmother chewed on the salt meat bone. Mom never wore a speck of makeup. I had no prissy older sister to idolize, just a brother who kicked my ass at Jeopardy and taught me how to catch. My dad wore mismatched clothes, sometimes on backwards (true story); he was as far away from vanity as humanly possible. Nobody ever told me I was beautiful, and nobody ever told me I was ugly. Maybe the mullet rendered people speechless. Or maybe I was valued for humor, intelligence, and honesty; that’s the long and the short of it.

But inevitably, adolescence happened and opened my eyes to the female ideal that I clearly did not represent. I suddenly became aware of my particular weight issue – I was too skinny! The actresses on television were thin, but they were shapely, womanly, sexy thin. Unlike Blair on The Facts of Life, I was a piece of two by four with fly-bites for boobs, wearing long-johns inside my jeans in a pathetic attempt to look more like an hourglass and less like a human erection. Mom and her friend poked fun at me, cautioning me not to run up the stairs too fast – “You might get two black eyes!” Laugh it up, ladies of large fun bags. To a 10-year-old girl, that stings. And clearly, it sticks to the memory, forever deeming me, at least a little, that insecure little girl.

I turned out okay, stronger and wiser for the experience. But I can see how some girls end up down a bad, bad path. Girls who idolize Britney Spears and her bare midriff, who look up to calorie-counting parental figures who remind them to lay off the cookies – not because cookies are unhealthy, but because they make you fat, and nobody wants a fat girl. What does that do to a young mind? – The mind of a girl who’s just trying to find herself in the first place. She finds herself not good enough, forever pursuing a goal she will never achieve. I hear about girls with anorexia, turned into something they never intended to be, trapped in a house of mirrors – in none of which they see their true selves. How do they escape that skewed perception? How do they reprogram their brains? There is no prescription for perfection. There is no perfection.

I thank God my child is a boy. But I know he’s not entirely exempt from it all, so, just as I would a girl, I shall try my best to teach him what’s truly important – kindness, compassion, courage, integrity – and hope to God it takes, and stays with him when he’s no longer safely tucked under my wing. I can’t put him in a bubble, away from this materialistic world. But I can show him. That true beauty is in the trees, red and brown and gold in autumn’s cool breath. It’s in a perfectly still lake on a windless day. It’s in the symmetry of wooden slabs sloping to the sea, dotted with multi-coloured boats awaiting the next fine day. It’s in the silky smooth coat of a puppy with four paws in the air, relishing a morning belly rub. And it’s inside the people around him – of all shapes and colours and sizes, who are kind and funny and honest and unique, if only we take the time to look beneath the surface.

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The lucky ones.

My sperm donor and I spent my 31st birthday in a prenatal class at the Health Sciences Centre. (The class was twice as long as my labour, ironically.) We were practicing breathing techniques, and one of the exercises required Andrew and I to turn and face one another. I had to breeeeeathe – hee hee hoooooo – and he had to lean toward me and rub my shoulders and such. Without thinking, he said something that permanently etched itself into my memory – the part of my memory where I store reasons to dropkick people in the face, and call them “sperm donor” instead of “loving husband”. His exact words “This is going to kill my back.”

I think even Max cringed in utero. Oh. My. God. Did he really just say that? My back had been aching for eight months. Peaceful sleep was a distant dream (and you have to sleep to dream so I was royally screwed). And the epic pain I was about to endure any day now was going to make his backache seem like a hangnail. I was petrified about what was about to happen to me, and he was casually complaining about his back. Grrrrrrrrr.

But despite this slip of the tongue, and my earlier posts that might suggest otherwise, I am not bitter – not toward him, (and yes, he is a loving husband, by the way), not toward anyone who is exempt from this ungodly pain. I just like to whine about it; it makes me feel better somehow. It’s kinda like swearing. I don’t really need to curse. Frankly, I’m never really that pissed off. But I just like to throw in a good, solid “DAMN” now and then, to send a little surge of lightning through the ol’ bloodstream. I joke about the nightmarish labour, comparing it to that big, goofy Kool-Aid jug bursting through the brick wall. I tell tales of case room horror, occasionally employing the use of hyperbole to heighten the entertainment value. It did hurt. A LOT. But truth is, I’m over it. Well, almost. And I don’t really blame anyone for the pain (anymore). Apple-eatin’ Eve is my homegirl. The nurse in the case room who told me to hold off on the drugs; she was doing the best an overconfident meathead can do. And men – how can I resent them? I mean, they’re not exactly getting off scot-free. In fact, because they’re largely omitted from this unique life experience, I actually feel kinda bad for them.

Think about it. In every other avenue of life, men and women are equals. (In the Western world, anyways.) We have equal opportunities – at work, at school, at play. We may not be able to pee standing up, but we broads can be the best, the boss, the bomb. Men and women alike, there are no limits to what we can do. The world is our oyster and we both get to shuck it.

But this thing – carrying a child and giving birth – men simply cannot do. It’s just not possible! They will never know what it feels like to bake a person inside of them like a Butterball turkey. (Nine months… now that’s what you call slow-roasted.) They’ll never know the exhilaration of having that child, just moments after entering the world, latch onto their breast with sheer animal instinct; born to suck. Men have nipples, but why? They’re as useless as tits on a bull. In fact, they are tits on a bull. Men can only sit back and observe the miracle of keeping this spectacular creature alive with nothing more than the nectar of our own bodies. It sounds too impossible to be true. But God, or evolution, or Aphrodite, or Yoda, or someone, made it very possible. For women and women alone. We may be the subspecies to endure the pain, but we are the lucky ones to have the privilege of this first-hand miraculous life experience.

So we must have compassion for men, not resentment. And we must do what we can to include them in this experience. In fact, we must enable them to in our pain. We must let them rub our feet, our backs, our legs. We must permit them to run warm baths for us, paint our toenails, shave our legs, and run out at 2am to buy ketchup chips, muffins (“I said BLUEBERRY, damn it!”), and mangoes. During labour, we must squeeze their hand so tight, it’s at risk of losing a finger. We must have them fetch the hungry baby from the crib, then put the happy baby back. We must encourage them to spend time with the lil’ munchkin, while we go shopping for 200-dollar leather boots. It’s the least we can do to include them in this heaven-sent journey from which they have been so unfairly excluded. In the name of equality, it’s simply the right thing to do.

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Nine.

Nine months, what a curious amount of time.

In nine months, a boy I did grow.

Nine months ago today, a dear poppy died.

The boy was just nine months old.

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