The bearable fullness of being

This Saturday, I drove my 14-year-old son and 4 of his friends down to Storm Crow Manor for a DM&Dine session as a belated birthday party.

Picking the boys up from various corners of our neighbourhood, I knew a lot of the streets because I have mapped out or driven routes to pick kids up for the After School Program at work.

One of the boys was in Noah’s baby-mom playgroup that I joined when Noah was about 6 months old, so we’ve been stopping by his house for that long. Another one of the boys is the sort-of stepbrother of Noah’s best friend (also along for the ride, but goes to Noah’s arts high school in dance. And the fourth member is a straight up new friend from high school.

Noah’s choice of music was an 80s classic rock station, which played Queen, Steppenwolf, and The Police (“hey…that’s Sting, why does the display say The Police” – 14-year-old) as we drove past the cemetery where Emily is buried. We drove by Carl’s and my first house, neighbourhoods where we have visited friends, where my sister lived, where we’ve worked. Down Church Street to park across from Wellesley station.

Storm Crow Manor is nerd paradise in the middle of Toronto’s gay village/rainbow district/whatever I should call it, please comment.

The DM for Noah’s party, Nicole, is a friend of mine that I met on PernMUSH in I think 1992 or 3. When I was on maternity leave for Emily’s birth (March 2004), she took my job, which created awkwardness when Emily died, but we worked out a job share arrangement that I hope worked as well for her as it did for me. I ended up first at home alone after those part-time hours, and then working remotely a lot of the time from Ottawa, because Carl accepted a contract that meant he essentially moved there.

What I think I have perhaps never told her is that her friendship was one of the strong strands in the web that held me up during that time.*  My daily life was like watching TV with the volume off; things only kind of rolled by. I left the house early each day and walked in the cemetery and talked to Emily. Then I worked until mid-afternoon. I would take the GO Train home, and stop at the LCBO in Union Station on Mondays and buy a bottle of whiskey. Each day I would add a chocolate bar. I would come home and do physical labour — yardwork, painting the basement, clearing out the barn, anything that tired me out. And then I would crawl into bed, watch VHS tapes of Sex and The City, drink a finger/two fingers/three fingers of whiskey and eat my chocolate bar, and go to sleep. But every now and then, Nicole and I would hang out and discuss everything not to do with work, homes, or babies.

In June of 2004, Nicole invited me out for Pride. She was (and is) married, so was I, and so we hit the party with nothing on our minds but dancing. And we did dance, like crazy, drunk and hot and sweaty and dehydrated.

I had been moving into the role of mother, avoiding sushi and soft cheese, reconfiguring our home, planning Life With Baby, and then the house of cards came down and I hit a new barrenness. Dancing with Nicole, and in the energy of that celebration of identity and self, I felt a shaft of joy again. It went through first just as happiness, and then a shock of recognition of it, and then a wave of guilt that I could feel it with my baby in the ground. But most of all, that feeling was possible, in the after.

This all hit me after I dropped the boys off to enjoy their campaign in the hands of one of the best storytellers I know. The way enjoying “nerd stuff” is mainstream now. The way my son and his peers accept fluid gender and sexual identities. The presence of my living children in my life. The amount of joy every week that we all share. The way my Toronto and Scarborough roots have spread underneath me and pop up everywhere in the ground itself. And the way Noah is just at the start of that, making some memories with his friends.

It’s a pretty rich life going on.

*In typical fashion, I am posting this on the Internet before I tell her, if I even do.

Saved in the edit

Someday I will write a book about Christmas. I may start it today, in fact, since I’ve been threatening to for the last dozen years. But like most things I say I’m going to do around Christmas time, it either doesn’t get done or I half-ass it. April is really my month for stretch goals.

For me, the Christmas season always feels like being a beginning swimmer at a swim meet. Everyone else is diving and turning and passing me, and I’m just trying to stay out of their way and not drown. Since having kids, things have improved because it’s so much easier to make miracles for small innocent offspring than it is to make them for one’s self. But let’s just say before that, my goal was to minimize the number of hours between Dec 1 and Dec 26 spent sobbing in the bathroom.

This year Carl mostly made Official Christmas happen, helped by my mother-in-law, and I slept and tried to grow bone. He did a great job. It was one of the best.

And I don’t think my kids noticed that one of the Christmas engines was not firing off. I think this is of course because Carl is amazing, but also because as a family we have edited Christmas to the point that it is manageable. We don’t come close to doing it all. But we try to do enough to carry the through-line — peace, goodwill, and caring — forward.

So it’s in that spirit that I thought I would share this video around the importance of editing in the creation of my generation’s central epic.

How to teach your kid to form letters, post-surgery version

My child has trouble seeing and we want to teach him how to form letters. This is kind of a life lesson for us too.

Parenting note: It’s my goal to keep the ratio of parenting posts fairly low on the blog overall. but the next few weeks may be an exception as I’m home with Noah (9) and Liam (4). 

Liam’s still recovering from cataract surgery, but try telling him that. As far as he’s concerned any attempts to keep him from injuring his eye (he had a lens implanted) are just crazy grown-up talk. It’s also been a rough road to diagnosis for my little crazy-active guy; part of us coming to terms with how poor his vision has been (and may stay, if his brain doesn’t re-adjust) has been to realize that when he says he hates writing or hates drawing, or simply gets up and runs around, he’s frustrated by real things.

I would have thought that after a lifetime of working to take my own experience seriously I would have remembered a little better that in children particularly, behaviour is often its own language. Liam of course has no idea how other people see, and wouldn’t know how to express it if he did, and so for him letters and numbers have been dancing around helter-skelter and he just thought that’s how it is.

Here’s the activity that brought it home; he asked me to write the first row and then went to continue the set. I’m pretty sure this is how he sees. I have gently tested him since and it looks like he knows how to write his numbers and letters, as long as you do not care whether they are oriented in space in any way – he reverses, flips upside down, misses big chunks or writes over prior letters:

Numbers as written by a young kid with cataracts

While we’re home I’m trying to boost his confidence a bit. I’d also like him to learn how to read and write, you know, in his life, and since I have this gift of time I figured why not haul out some of the strategies I learned way back when I was an ed assistant for the TDSB way back when.

How to teach letters using a sugar tray

By the time I was working with kids in elementary school with this kind of trouble, they were usually pretty wriggly and oppositional when it came to writing their letters, which makes me wish I’d spotted the same in my kid (although a lot of 4 year olds just are.)


This exercise combines the sugar drug with removing some of the barriers to forming letters (how kids hold the pen, the drag of pencil or crayon on paper) and also allows for quick erasure of any mistakes with a shake. In my completely unscientific and untrained observation, making sure the child or student isn’t staring at his or her own mistakes for too long is important, because it reinforces the reversal in their minds. Also, it’s discouraging.

The other bonus: The more times you write a letter the more times you get to lick your finger in between. Strong incentive to keep going, at least if you have my kid.

With Liam, I get him to point his pointer finger (although he prefers using his thumb) and we do the letter from the top together, to help him develop the arm feel/muscle memory for the movements. Then he writes that letter on his own. He’s into it.


Cake pan

Caution: Yes, it’s awful to use sugar to teach your children. I used to be very anti-bribery too. You can totally use sand, just don’t lick.

There’s lots of parenting stuff here but I am reminded too that often we attribute success or failure to attitude rather than to actual systemic issues, especially when it comes to kids and teens.