Home


Christmas 1979, Northeast Philadelphia, PA

Image by jaycoxfilm via Flickr

With the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday nearly upon us and our little house on the Canadian prairie covered with snow, Christmas cannot be far off, and with the holidays comes massive doses of family dysfunction.

No sooner had the Facebook brouhaha with Rob’s younger brother Tyke settled into an awkward semi-silence than noises began emanating from Rob’s in-laws that could spell trouble for the holidays.

This comes on top of my mother-in-law’s future husband’s being targeted by a Canadian Border official with a bug up her butt.

But my family can be counted on to induce annoyance too.

As I was sitting at soccer practice Saturday morning , working on a short story when I suppose I should have been raptly worshipping the mini-me of my loins, Mom called.

In the old days of yore, whenever she called me at home and got the answering machine, she would immediately call my cell. Her use of my cell as a GPS was my chief reason for fighting my late husband’s insistence that I own a cell phone in the first place.

“You need this to be safe,” was his angle. Though truthfully, he just loved cell phones and loved the idea of us being just a transmitter tower away from each other when we weren’t physically together.

“My mother will use this to keep perpetual tabs on me,” I told him. “She will call just to chat, to vent and it won’t matter where I am or what I am doing.”

It wasn’t until the dang-it thing began interrupting us when we were out to dinner or shopping or just flitting about from here to there that he understood what I already knew about Mom.  He considered it a small price for me to pay so that he could call me during our mutual break times during the day.

Now though, Mom rarely deploys her tracking option – unless something is up.

“Have you talked to your sister?” she asked.

I had not and being asked if I had set off internal alerts.

“I’ve decided not to give any gifts to anyone but the little grand-kids this year,” she said.

And by “little” she means Dee and her cousin N2. Not N1, the nearly 17-year-old for whom it’s been Christmas for quite some time in terms of his Grandmother’s largess.

“Did you send us a check last year?” I asked.

Long ago my parents dispensed with the hassle of actual presents and just gave us money. One hundred dollars to be precise.

“I think so,” she said. “Didn’t you get it?”

Although I couldn’t remember at all, I assured her that we did indeed get it because I didn’t need her panicking and prowling through her check stubs from a year ago.

“It’s okay, Mom,” I said. “We don’t need a gift.”

“I’m just going to be all about me this year,” she explained. “It’s been Christmas all year for some and I think I should spend my money on myself.”

Hallelujah! I can’t recall how long I have been at her to simply spend her money on herself. The less she leaves behind, the easier my life will be as I am currently named in her will as the executor of the trusts she’s set up for my youngest siblings. I am all in favor of there being nothing to care-take.

“Did they take it well?” I meant my siblings and nephew.

“I’ve only told you and DNOS,” she said.

But they shouldn’t be surprised because she’s already cut them off from the nickel and dime fountain. Which is why she was really calling me.

Baby’s live-in common-law (I guess) mate, LawnMowerMan, is not happy. Baby is used to calling up Mom and nagging the occasional $20 or $30 out of her from time to time.

The money is for cigarettes mainly but given LawnMowerMan’s heavy drinking, I imagine she buys him booze as well when his paycheck runs short.

Cut off from easy pocket change and living so far below the poverty line that it likely isn’t clearly visible from their little pocket of have-nothingness, LMM has resorted to calling up Mom and harassing her again.

Whenever he is tired of Baby, and this usually happens when Baby is broke, he uses the phone in attempt to intimidate my mother.

He’s a violent man. He’s a drunk. And he has such a low stake in life that he doesn’t hesitate to use whatever means necessary to improve his tenuous grip.

DNOS has officially declared both our younger siblings “dead to her”. When things come up with either then, who’s Mom gonna call?

But what can I do from 1500 miles away and in another country?

After speaking with her, I tracked DNOS down later in the day and asked her to help Mom put a block on Baby’s home number and to look into re-keying the locks and making sure that only she, our mother and our aunt have access to the house.

It’s all I can do.

Oh, I could call Baby and read her the riot act but she has no control over that piece of shit she lives with and I would probably put her at risk if he were around when I phoned.

I am not afraid of the guy though I am keenly aware that he is capable of hurting just about anyone physically if he is inclined. I am hoping this blows over but as Rob pointed out:

“Of course it won’t.  As soon as we show up there in March, something will happen. We never visit that Baby isn’t at the center of some dysfunction or other.”

So, I may have simply postponed the shit splattering until I can take care of business in person.

Ah, can’t you just feel the holidays coming?


Sibling Rivalry (Family Guy)

Image via Wikipedia

One of the longest and wide-ranging studies ever conducted on the relationship of personal satisfaction and siblings has concluded that you aren’t imagining it when you believe that had your parents practiced safer sex, you might be happier today.

Apparently, the quality of childhood (and some would argue this extends into adulthood as well) is greatly influenced by the number of siblings you have.

For each sibling added to a family mix, the level of satisfaction for the others diminishes. I would venture to add that the quality of the new sibling’s personality is also a factor and that your parents child-rearing/interacting interest and skill set probably is key as well.

Speaking only from the perspective of an oldest child, I can attest unequivocally to the fact that a mess of younger siblings did nothing to improve my life on the whole. Aside from my next in command sister, DNOS, I could have easily been an extremely happy only child. I have all the requisite qualities. I was low maintenance (which admittedly made it easier for my parents to foist their fantasies of a large family on me), able to entertain myself and not disturbed at all by solitude and silence.

My singular qualities, in fact, made the additions of siblings difficult for someone who preferred a more Garbo like existence.

I know people who adore their large families. Count their siblings as best friends and couldn’t imagine being an onlie.

Dee is less than enamoured with “onlie-ness”. She laments that her older sisters aren’t closer than a decade and more to her in age. Though, I would venture a guess that they have both pondered the implications of being singletons with a bit of longing.

DNOS and I frequently have conversations that center around the lament of the younger two existing.

Oh, stop. It’s not that gruesome. We are all adopted and had they not been our siblings they’d be some other unfortunate family’s burden to bear.

But fond as I am of DNOS now that we are well into adulthood, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have thrown her under a bus to be an only child when I was a child … even a teenager.

She would protest, but the truth is that she benefited as much from following me as the younger two did in terms of my parents aiming all their strictness at me. I was practically a shield for the rest of them in terms of unrealistic expectations and experiments in parenthood.

I will admit, however, to appreciating my younger siblings as we all hit our pre-teen and teenage years. Being an “easy” child to raise meant that when they began acting up as teens, I was pretty much ignored. A small boon but one well deserved given how much of their care was foisted upon me when we were all small.

My folks were farm-bred Depression babies. Old schoolers who still totally believe that you have more kids so the older ones will learn to be responsible. And that’s actually an interesting stance given that the fact that they were the youngest in their families.

Dad actually wanted a very large family. In excess even of his own experience being one of six children. I have no idea at all why Mom married him given that expectation because there is no one less suited to being the mother of a horde than she.

My most vivid childhood recollections of my mother was of a very angry woman who clearly did not enjoy housework, cooking or minding more than one child at a time.

By the age of five, I was the oldest of four. Wherever we went it was Mom and four wee children, consequently, we did not get out much unless Dad was along. Even then, I can’t recall a single outing that didn’t end with someone being yelled at, hauled off the ground to dangle by a tiny little elbow or smacked on the bottom.

Being the oldest, I quickly learned to lay low and deflect when necessary, but I often wished that I had no siblings at all (when I wasn’t wishing for different parents or a stint as an orphan living with my much more tolerant of me Auntie and Grandmother).

It’s not that we fought much. Aside from my brother, CB, I rarely fought with any of my siblings, but this stems from the fact that at very early ages, we all went our own ways and sought out more like-minded compatriots. We could, and did, clan up in times of trouble, but we mostly had little to do with each other – something that really still defines us today.

I don’t know a lot of people personally for whom family is all, or most even, in terms of close relationships/friendships. Even if friendship preference evolved it tends to be with only one or a couple of siblings within families.

Most people I know have sibling relationships that range all over the “it’s complicated” scale, and even relatively cordial interactions came with middle-age and were possibly even forged by crisis situations.

At my age, I deal with the whole sibling thing only when it rises like Dracula from the tomb, which mercifully isn’t often. We have our own lives filled with significant others, children and chosen companions. Our need for each other – not much to begin with – is reduced to base-touching and keeping an eye on our mother as she dodders into advancing age.

It’s enough. And it’s okay.

But, I still think I would have made an excellent only child.


 

Photo of a 20-piece box of McDonald's Chicken ...

Image via Wikipedia

 

An age old question. Which came first. Chicken? Egg? And really, does it matter?  Except to those who live off the grants that fund the studies to decide the issue for once and all?

The more serious query concerns chicken nuggets.

So, which came first the white meat or the batter?

Let’s find out!

The answer, of course, is neither. But the surprise that American children will eat deep-fried chicken goo is interesting. Any North American parent could have told Jamie the outcome in advance.

We train our kids to eat chicken nuggets as early as possible. Their ability to gnaw the soggy glop apart is the key to our semi-liberation. No longer are we a slave to our own dinner tables once Junior can subsist on nuggets and french fries (can’t forget the starch – it’s staple).

Once the eating of fried chicken paste is mastered. We are free to feed our kids on the run courtesy of McDonald’s, who will let us choose apples or carrots to assuage our guilt and throw in a plastic Chinese toy for added distraction time.

Chicken nuggets means we can eat out again. Not at good restaurants – because their “nuggets” are actually “fingers” which our children eye with suspicion (having no personal knowledge of what real chicken looks like). They sniff. They poke. They balk. They take a bite or two and refuse to eat more because “it tastes different”.

Different being a bad thing where small barely cognizant humans are concerned.

By the time they are the age of the kids in this “fool-proof” experiment, they are ruined.

Ruined, I tell you.

And it’s our fault.


2008-03-02 Girl Scout Cookie Booth Sales (19)

Image by juverna via Flickr

That’s Girl Scout cookies to my friends down under (Canada), and I have three boxes of them in my office as I type.

$144CAN and it’s not like the old days where the troop doles cookies out after little girls bring in their order forms, collecting payment upon delivery.

As a fund-raising method, it leaves a troop wide open to douche-baggery.

Nope, the girls front cash for the cookies up front. Three boxes is the minimum buy in, so woe is the family without friends, relations and who aren’t in good stead with at least the neighbors who live in closest proximity.

And then, it’s door to door. Desperate Facebook status pleas and hawking them at work when all else fails.

Well, actually, total failure means looking up recipes for orphan cookies in the Internet and force feeding them to your family, hoping that the sodium and trans fat aren’t really as bad as all those news reports keep saying.

How hard can it be to get rid of 36 boxes of minty chocolate incredibly bad you-ness goodness? I mean really. People eat nearly anything even now with doom up the yin-yang long-term health prophecies warning them off.

This was not quite the learning experience I envisioned for Dee’s first ever scout meeting, but I knew about the cookies going in. I can’t claim ignorance and the cookies are here. Just off to the left of my peripheral vision, so I must deal.

And wheeler deal I will.


The High School Sweethearts

From time to time  the oldest daughter would shyly announce that she’d “met a boy”.  Sometimes that’d be it. But occasionally a date or two-ish followed only for said “boy” to be quickly banished for his clinging ways or over-enthusiastic interest in her.

One thing about both of my step-daughters that struck me early is that neither one has a clear picture of themselves in relationship to how others see them.  Attention and enthusiasm seem to puzzle them.

That young men notice them is no surprise to me.  Each in her own way is a bright light that naturally draws the eye and incites interest.

The “boy” in question turned out to be the older brother of a friend.  I can’t recall if they’d met previously, but they collided with some force at a party, which found them sitting on the roof, deep in conversation for five hours.

“He thinks I’m funny,” she chirped bemusedly.

He probably thinks you are quite beautiful too, I thought but knew better than to say aloud.

“Anyway,” she continued, “we have a date.”

And we didn’t hear about “the boy” again for some weeks.

Edie will be 28 on Thanksgiving (the Canadian one) this year. Her age and singleness have been a growing concern – to her. Rob was unconcerned. His ambivalence about the girls and “boys” is amusing and reminds me a lot of my own father, who had little visible interest in his children’s marital status*.

I tried to be encouraging without being nosy. I am not her mother. Although we have a good relationship, it is not a deep one. She has her confidants, and I am unlikely to be added to the list. That’s okay. I don’t have expectations of being a mother-like figure for her. I came into her life late, and we simply haven’t had, and most probably won’t have, opportunities to bond in that way.

But I wasn’t surprised that a “boy” would find her funny, want to take her out or discover a way to pursue her without sending her in search of her hidey-hole in the hills. That clever “boy” was bound to show up some day.

On Father’s Day, Edie brought him up again. She’d just gotten back from a long weekend in the States, and he surprised her with wine and flowers.

“He missed me,” she blushed a bit.

At the end of a Sunday supper visit later in the summer, I inquired about whether she would be bringing the “boy”, who now had a name which peppered her conversation, to visit.

“It’s too soon for that,” she said.

And I let it go, but I told Rob I expected we’d meet this “boy” by Thanksgiving.

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” he replied.

Christmas at the latest perhaps, but I am guessing sooner rather than later,” I said.

She brought him around for Rob’s birthday at the end of August. A bit sooner than I thought, and the significance of the occasion wasn’t lost, even on her father.

We knew a lot about him by then.

Edie had breathlessly updated Rob as he lay in the hospital the night of his heart attack. Worried perhaps that she wouldn’t have another chance?

At one point during her gushing, Mick leaned over to me and said, “I wish she’d just marry him and shut up about it.”

Silver is a paragon though this is no surprise as like as he is to Rob.

He is handy. Renovating his first house and flipping it for his current fixer-upper. He’s outdoorsy. Good with the romantic gestures and sweeping a girl off her feet moves in a way that cast me back to my early days knowing Rob.

The clincher, I think, was an extended weekend camping trip he planned for the two of them.

“He’s doing everything,” she said. “And I don’t even have to drive!”

So familiar. The keepers must all get the same playbook handed to them before they embark on a new existence.

His first Sunday dinner with us was enlightening as it was vindicating. He was, however, not what any of us had envisioned.

Rob feigned indifference to the potentially momentous occasion.

“I’ve met boyfriends before,” he said.

“But have they had good jobs, their own transportation and owned property?” I asked.

“Good point,” he said.

And upon first glance, he was handsome with pants that sat at his waist and a ball-cap that just about hid his Dermot Mulroney eyes.

During their first conversation, Silver explained to Rob that he liked to do all the renovation work himself because he was “too cheap to pay someone”, and I had to turn around and find something to do in the dining room to keep from laughing out loud where I found Mick snickering knowingly.

When I commented on that revelation later, Rob simply said,

“Don’t go there.”

Barely a week later, a Facebook message from Edie announced their intention to come to dinner again.

“Why so soon?” I asked. “What’s up?”

“Maybe they just want to spend time with us,” Rob said. “There doesn’t have to be something up.”

But of course there was. The children want to spend time with us only about every six weeks more or less.

I am not Edie’s mother but I did watch** them carefully that first supper. Silver had eyes or a hand on her at all times, and I have seen that look before. It’s the one that says everything in the world that will ever matter is right in front of you, and you still can’t quite believe it.

The second dinner was a family dinner. Teasing and stories and protests that nothing more can possibly be consumed even as hands move to refill plates.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

Until we were at the door, Mick, Silver and Edie saying their good nights. Edie suddenly threw her arms around her Dad’s neck and said,

“So …” Long pause and deep breath expelling a rush of words she’d clearly rehearsed. “I’m moving in with Silver at the end of October.”

Rob blinked but said nothing. This produced a slightly less breathless rush to fill the gap as Edie began to expound on the foolishness of renting a place she was never at anymore and that finding a sublet had been easy and that Rob wouldn’t have to move the couch again – in case he was worried about that.

“Well, I’m certainly not helping with that couch again,” Mick chimed in.

My heart sank a bit at the “rent saving” reason. I don’t think that money should ever be the motivating factor for couples to co-habitate. It should always be based on love, and the realization that a shared journey is the only option for them even if achieving this means scrapping one life, or both, to rebuild the new one together.  Expense, logistics, degree of difficulty are to be treated as details only. And then Silver broke into her monologue with

“And she likes me.”

And she does more than that. She’s giving up the city, her beloved neighborhood of Whyte Ave to move to the suburbs. Her sensible speech was for Rob because all his daughters from oldest to smallest value his opinion and respect and want him to approve and be proud.

“Well, I told you so,” I said.

The next day Rob asked,

“How long have they been seeing each other again?”

“How long did we know each other before we were engaged and I was leaving the U.S. and everything I knew?” I said.

“We weren’t kids,” he countered, “but good point.”

“They aren’t kids. Twenty-eight and thirty-two are firmly in adult territory.”

“Good point again.”

“He’s good for her. She loves him,” I said, “and he fits.”

And now that I have officially blogged about him – he’s family.

*Save for that of my youngest sister. Her habit of breeding with men she either wasn’t interested in marrying or those who were not interested in marrying her drove him to distraction periodically.

**I watch because I care deeply about her happiness and because I have this inexplicable sense of obligation to Shelley to keep watch in her absence. It’s something only mothers would understand, I think.


Oil painting of a scullery maid by Jean-Simèon...

Image via Wikipedia

There is a reason why women abandoned the kitchen in droves once the combined effects of modern conveniences and access to the workplace kicked in. And that reason?

Kitchens are the equivalent of salt mines. Backache inducing, mind-mushing and mostly unappreciated work.

Subtracting the last bit for myself personally because my husband appreciates enormously and often, the aching back and low-level of intellectual stimulation will not induce many of my gender back to the scullery no matter how Home Depot dresses it up.

Today I baked, laundered, raked and tidied.

For hours.

And I am not a pioneer homemaker or even my Grandmother. Despite my personal fetish of mixing up foodstuff from scratch, my wifely arsenal includes an industrial mixer, an oven that doesn’t require the need to stoke it with wood (that would need to be chopped), a microwave, a blender, a food processor and a dishwasher (which praise be to my husband is installed and in service again). And still, the morning and a goodly chunk of afternoon later saw me just finishing and not even close to cleaning or yard-work.

Here’s where the feminists – married some, but mostly single – chime in, “Where is your husband? Division of labor violation alert!”

But he was mixing cement and applying scratch coat to the sides of the house, and seriously, labor division is an illusion. Always was and continues to be this fantasy that ruins more relationships than it should.

Reality is that Rob tends to the big house things – like siding, roofing, knocking out walls, installing hardwood and all things mechanical, electrical and plumbing related. I make the trains run on time, which isn’t glamorous or easy to point a finger directly at most days but necessary none the less.

And I teach yoga. Which is fun and good for me besides while Rob girds up to head back to literally dig a salt mine at a nearby chemical plant. It is neither fun nor good for him – as his recent heart attack attests to.

The point then? There isn’t one aside from the obvious, which is that fair is an ebb/flow thing, and when one gets all bean-counterish about it – joy is naturally sucked right out of one’s  existence.

There is nothing overwhelmingly odious about modern life that probably isn’t self-inflicted by unrealistic expectations that are imposed on us from the outside.


I sorta went on vacation this summer and didn’t let any of you know about it, didn’t I?

It’s not that I planned anything or went anywhere or even slouched from one interesting activity to a completely slothful and relaxing one.

I simply neglected you, dear readers.

And I didn’t have much to say. Or news to report.

The heart attack aftermath appears to be on an upswing after a fretfully frightening bout with medication side-effects and reactions.

Rob broke into an angry red puffy scratchy rash just after my mother’s visit ended. Much hemming and hawing by doctors followed and finally he was taken off of three meds that he didn’t need anyway, but are “protocol”.

I do not like “protocol”, Sam I Am. It drips laziness, and my own take on medical folk is that if I can Google it – it can’t be rocket science – so work a little, okay?

My mother came to visit? Did I mention she was coming? Or was that just Facebook? I confuse the two, think I’ve blogged something I only updated or updated something I actually blogged. The only people who really know are those who read here and are my friends/family/or people I am merely curious enough about to friend.

It was a good visit, but she reads over my shoulder while I am working. A little thing and I know that many daughters would love to have such trivial issues with their moms, but after a week it grates like moldy cheese.

Half-hearted stabs at stay-cationy stuff were attempted during her visit and in the last week because we needed to cancel our real vacation to Yellowstone. Couldn’t safely be Stateside with Rob’s issues and he still hasn’t been “officially” stamped with the “carry-on” seal of medical approval.

There was the Farmer’s Market in St. Albert, which is no place to take a near-eighty year old woman, an eight year-old and a guy who’s recently had a heart attack.

But we went anyway.

Shopped. And I never do that. Which really came home to me when I pruned my wardrobe for our upcoming garage sale and was startled by how little I had to start with and how much less there is now.

Rob takes up more closet space than I do.

I think I have one pair of jeans, and they are capris and two pair of shorts.

It’s so sad that Rob suggested I snag a pair of yoga pants he saw on sale the last time we were at Costco.

Oh, and I shop for my clothes at Costco and Walmart.

How the mighty have fallen.

Shopping with Mom is like shopping with Dee – it’s all about them – which made it interesting to watch my mother’s reaction to her granddaughter’s completely mercenary non-interest in Grandma’s choice of stores. Mom deals only slightly better with not being the center of attention on shopping trips than Dee does.

But in spite of the amusement, it was wearying.

Having a Grandma on the premises is handy however. A couple of days after she arrived, she manned the deck when Rob needed to visit the ER again. I have never had the convenience of family close at hand during crunchy times. Eye-opening really because being far away all the time, I’ve never cultivated a habit of counting on anyone when the going ups and toughens.

She held up but her age was apparent by the end of the day. She is not spry and fatigues more easily than she would care to have anyone comment upon.

But my, handy-dandy. Such a treat.

Losers that we are, Rob and I failed to take advantage of the opportunity to schedule a date night. I thought about it but remembering that I had to drive, I quickly discarded the notion.

I am not at all sorry that Rob is officially sanctioned to drive again. Let’s just say that the four weeks he couldn’t drive were endured by us both and let it go.

Summer mostly came and is gone. Truly. Fall’s heralds trumpet from the turning leaves to the winged ants squirming from the ground. The thermometer dips below 10c every night and the sun’s angling toward the horizon again.

We took in a few local sites. Visited Fort Edmonton, a historical village where that Brad Pitt movie about Jesse James was filmed a few years ago. Trekked out to Vegreville to see the giant Pysanka, a Easter-ish egg of frightening proportions.

Last weekend we cheered Mick on at the Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival. We hadn’t planned to go everyday, but Edie’d gone camping with her new beau, Silver, and there was drama on the dragon boat team which left Mick a bit stranded in terms of support.*

And today?

School is nearly upon us. Rob – fingers crossed – goes back to work next week. And me? Back to my schedule, which I have missed a lot.

I like fall.

*It will come as no surprise to older folk that the twenties are still fraught with middle school angst. A couple on the dragon boat team is having “issues” and Mick was unfairly painted as “the other woman” for not recognizing that the man half of the couple was probably being more than just friendly in his daily texting of her. The couple is unmarried, together for five years and while she talks of future knot tying and babies, he says nothing. Tragic but hardly something a person wants to get dragged into the middle of. Naturally lines were drawn. Sides taken. Mick as the only single woman in the group was already probably “suspect” and the rest of the hens jumped with beaks sharp and claws ready. Mick for her part didn’t bite and while in a sane version of life that would count for something, it didn’t help her win anyone over. So we hung out. Even Dee managed to hang in though she wasn’t able to suppress  her obvious boredom toward the end.