Monday, 30 December 2013

Turn Out or Lean In

Sick of all the "best of 2013" lists yet? One notable book we're seeing on a lot of lists is Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. We saw her speak at BlogHer 13 and were inspired to at least think of what we would do if we weren't afraid. But...this article attempts to pop the magic bubble:
Have a read and tell us what you think: should women need to lean in or just turn out?

Gray Mama

Monday, 23 December 2013

’Tis the Season

The holidays often include visiting, and I have been lucky enough to see many of the Secret Mamas recently. When we meet, our blog obviously comes up. We have been tired lately — and our trip to BlogHer 13 seems to have overwhelmed us more than invigorated us. As with many things in life, we left gung-ho, but then got home and life set in. We had things to do that didn’t include SEO and photo tagging.

We suddenly felt like our little blog wasn’t “right” or “searchable,” and so we put it aside. But here I am trying to get back at it. A gift to myself, perhaps, and the mamas I love so much.
Often when I share a moment with my kids I think of the blog — I think I should write this. I don’t expect anyone to read it, really, but I do know that it is something I do for myself that doesn’t require getting out of my pajamas, so I am all for it.

Here we go…

A Doll

Loulou is 14 months now! How does this happen? Time flies, pajamas get too small, nursing ebbs, and some sadness creeps in. The baby is gone, the toddler emerges. She is a happy girl and plays with almost anything, and with Christmas around the corner my husband and I have been wondering what Santa should bring. He obviously has to bring something for her because W can’t assume she is unworthy while he gets spoiled.

With the clock ticking and a Toys R Us coupon about to expire, I hit the mall this morning. I wandered the aisles and tried to think about Loulou as I browsed the (somewhat terrifying) selection of toys. As a second child she is already destined for a lot of hand-me-downs, so I wanted to pick something just for her. I touched ponies, tea sets; even a mini shopping cart held some appeal. Always with a voice in my head — GENDER! GENDER! GENDER! it screamed. Don’t buy pink! Be equal! No princesses!! However, she IS a girl and loves to put on her shoes and brush her hair (seriously).

So when I arrived in the Cabbage Patch aisle I knew I had to buy one. I knew she would love to feed a “baby” and touch its hair. I hesitated for a moment as I snickered and rolled my eyes at the names on their birth certificates — “Pax Adele” and “Clarissa June”  — and then I saw one whose middle name was the same as that of my oldest friend, and I took it as a sign! I bought the doll. I did it. I gender profiled LouLou! And, you know what, it felt good.

Tightrope Mama

[image: boy and girl playing doctor and nurse by H. Armstrong Roberts]

Thursday, 19 December 2013


I did something bad today. Something that all daycare parents know NOT to do. It is a cardinal rule of sorts: Don’t look back. Just go.

Today is Day 2 of LouLou’s fulltime daycare experience, and both mornings have been sad. She cries and grasps, but because I have done it before, with W, I feel stronger. 

I was feeling so strong today that I thought I would pop in and take a peep, since I was already in the building returning W from midday gymnastics. I crept up to the Baby Room and then I saw it, the sight that I can’t unsee. My baby girl, lying face down on a mat, whimpering, with giant tears rolling down her face. She wasn’t even wailing or bawling; that I could handle. It was just a sad, submissive, lonely cry. To me her face looked defeated. There was a daycare worker right beside her, holding another baby and talking softly to them both, so she wasn’t completely alone. Regardless, she looked miserable. They told me she had just woken up, but I didn’t really hear them because I flew to her, I scooped her up, and she sighed heavier than any baby should. She just silently laid against me for what felt like four hours, and then I nursed her. Which is yet another daycare sin. They should never really have the forbidden fruit within those walls because it is a tease. Daycare is for milk from cattle and snot.

A lot of the other babies were napping and the women in the room know me pretty well, so they let me stay for a while. LouLou was completely silent the entire time I was there, and then suddenly it was diaper-change time and someone was scooping her from me. I had intruded long enough; they had to get on with the day. And so did I, I guess. But I didn’t want to. So, even though there are no more bitchy lions around, I still went to work and cried. I cried for her loneliness and for mine. That pudgy little squirmer has just had her heart broken for the first time, by me. Her face, I can’t unsee it. I hurt her feelings. I feel like shit.

Tightrope Mama

[image: flower heart by Lydia Coventry]

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Crazy Carousel

“Your acting was terrible in that workshop thing.”

The director stares at me from a small corner of Chaz’s kitchen. It’s 3 a.m. Actors, writers, and the like drink and talk noisily around us. The kitchen is packed, the party still in full swing. Older actors with serious cred lurk in corners with young actresses hanging onto them. Multiple bottles of wine and Medeira crowd the kitchen table (since when is everyone drinking Medeira?), spilling into the cheese and trifle: boozy, sugared, and cigarette-smoked, very reminiscent of days gone by.


I came across the word while researching names for my new small-town shadow-play company. A recent venture with two other “wives of the theatre town” where I have chosen to live and raise the Guppins.

Precinema: Before the invention of the lens. The time of magic lanterns, smoke and shadows, and simpler deceptions.

I no longer live in the city. I’ve taken a job as a house manager for a big theatre in a small town, which distinguishes me as either the bravest or the stupidest Canadian actor on the planet. Actors don’t like to see other actors “shit where they work.” Isn’t that a pleasant expression? Ever notice how your toddler never poops at daycare?

I tell myself I am an example to other actresses who can no longer act for whatever reason. Including the raising of a small child. Theatre eats up your time. It’s a six-day-a-week night job and the pay is crap. There are no benefits, no EI, and the average salary in Canada is somewhere between 7 and 11 grand per year. It is for people in their twenties who haven’t had time to get too far into debt yet. Who don’t yet have back issues and can work nights and hold up a tray of drinks. I am proving that you can be middle-aged, still work in the theatre — maybe not as an actor, as a creator necessarily — but it’s a world you can decipher. That it’s okay to work the admin side, the front-of-house side — which is what I've been doing, and it’s been a struggle for me every single day of the two seasons I’ve been doing it. Peers come to my office to see if I can get their in-laws or girlfriends in for free. It takes some a minute; some never cotton on at all.

“Hey — aren’t you…?”

“I had a kid,” is my response. But even to my ears it falls flat as an excuse. Other actresses have children and act. Although not many who are more or less on their own with their kid. That might be true.

But still, you know the voice, right? The one that says, “That’s only an excuse and you know it. You are lazy, a waste of talent. Every day that goes by is a day when you could be doing something creative and important. You need to try harder!”

A few months back I acted in a workshop production of a new play. I thought it was great. The play had pig puppets and was based on a Canadian novel from the 70s. I thought I was channelling some great character energy. I felt like I was getting my sea legs again. I was so HAPPY.

“What a WASTE.”

The director who speaks this I consider to be my mentor. We created several projects together “Precinema.” He looks into the cloudy crystal ball that hangs between us in this big-city arty kitchen party. It’s one night away from my life in the small town, to celebrate Chaz’s girlfriend buying in to the apartment building we co-own, in the process getting me (almost) out of debt — the debt that has steamrolled since becoming a mother. And I get eviscerated by someone who matters.

From his wine-encrusted lips, my mentor determines:

“I see nothing but murk. Cloudy. You’re stuck in it. Such potential. Quelle dommage.”

He turns to the rest of the room, his arms spinning.

“This was GREEK,” he says, referring to me. “For THIS you must write the shadows. Write her a part! Write her a part — force her into the places she doesn’t want to go and you’ll get strange of the highest order. But now — a Waste of Talent. Quelle dommage! Nothing truly creative ever came out of ———.”

Hit spits out the name of the town where I live with so much venom.

My heart races. I am experiencing a bad shock. My ears start to ring; he quickly moves on to assail some other individual with his insight, and I exit out the fire escape. Chaz follows me. He makes excuses for the director. He explains he is exceptionally happy being surrounded by young actors and it turns him into a shit disturber. I feel Chaz’s compassion but I disappear down to my apartment, which my sublettor has gifted me for the night. I crawl into a bed I used to know and pull up the covers. Shortly thereafter I hear someone tumble down the stairs of the apartment building, and Chaz ‘s voice: “Woah woah now, you all right?” I know just which drunken shit disturber it is. I close my eyes. It’s 4 a.m. But I can’t sleep.

The next day, we gather and deconstuct the party over coffee and corn chips and leftover guacamole. My dearest friends are around me. It is a rare moment. I see them so seldom now.

Nicky says to me, in her great wisdom, “It’s very difficult for people like him to see people like you get off the crazy carousel.”

And I know she’s right. But it hurts so much because the mentor is right. I am wasting my talent. I am doing nothing. He invested in me. And what do I do? Have a kid, move to a small town, and do occasional readings of feel-good Canadian novel adaptations. And some hokey shadow plays for kids on ghost tours.

Chaz is creating a one-man Glenn Gould show from the piano. Nicky is doing her masters in theatre direction. Chaz’s partner is a doctor who is becoming a phenomenal painter. What am I? Who am I now? I just signed up as a temp for manufacturing work. I’ve just been asked to do shift work at a battered women’s shelter. I’ve apparently disappeared into a hopeless murk. The Great Canadian Disappointment.

I drive back to Smalltown. It’s Eldora’s 50th wedding anniversary. The Guppins is being looked after by a friend; they are already at the party. I arrive after a depressing trip down the 401. I walk into the Masonic Hall. Many people. Eldora and her man are all dressed up, the lights are low, and a seven-piece band is playing country rock at top volume. I see my friend, who points towards the dance floor.

My girl. The Guppins. It’s like she’s got a fricking halo around her or something. She’s dancing. Not just kid dancing, but gracious arm twirling, hip grinding, interpretive Isadora Duncan dancing. She is the most magical thing I could ever imagine. Every person in the room is watching her over brimming glasses of beer, grinning, commenting, winking at me. I see her. I see her and I forget all about Precinema. I forget all about the crazy carousel. This is what I’ve been doing, stuffing love into this creature, dancing every day, and now, at three and a half, it shows.

It’s the Long Game, ladies.

Hang in there.

Drama Mama

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Mean Girls

We went on vacation to my hometown. Over the course of two weeks, Cookie was forced to play with many strange children, most between the ages of two and five, most girls. (Cookie’s three.)

Normally she plays with two boys a bit younger than her. She’s a calming influence, they look up to her, and the three have learned about sharing and gentleness together over the last year and a half. Apparently she’s had it easy.

Most of her play dates on her vacation were violent and nasty and sadly traumatic. There was much slapping and pulling of toys and snarky comments. Cookie’s no angel, but she’s pretty reserved and she was not on her turf, so she was never the instigator. It was somewhat heartening to see her gradually build up nerve and learn to pull back and reprimand, but mostly heartbreaking. There were many tears. Some were almost mine. Very rarely did Cookie break down and say she didn’t want to play with the raging toddler bitch of the day, but I could tell she always wanted to say it. But in all cases the parents we were visiting were friends, and we couldn’t exactly leave because their children weren’t playing nice. So Cookie learned to face each encounter with grim fatalism.

The worst part is that I had to be diplomatic and I couldn’t parent other peoples’ kids, so I ended up defending the other kid’s behaviour to her. I had to tell her to share. I had to explain that the other child was still learning to express emotions, so Cookie had to understand why they were abusing her. I hate this. I remember this, the feeling that my mom wasn’t on my side. I still feel that. I don’t want Cookie to ever, but I’ve already done it, and it kills me.

After a day spent with two particular girls and their cousins, two boys, another day with the girls. Cookie asked, “Where are the boys?” The boys who were gentle and helpful and sharing. At this age, boys have yet to make her cry.

I recognize and remember this experience. Girls were always competitive and jealous. Boys could care less about that shit; they just wanted to play. Then, for a few years they were just as bossy and even more aggressive, but then the pre-teen years hit and they were the fun ones again. I always had girlfriends; I learned to play well with others, but my friendships with guys were much less complicated (until they weren’t).

I want my daughter to have simple, generous, loving relationships with girls, as she does now with her two best friends, the boys. I knew in time this mean-girl stuff would come, but it breaks my heart to see how nasty girl relationships are from the beginning. Is this just the way kids are? Is there anything we can do, other than explain, “She’s still learning to share,” “She doesn’t know how to say that she’s sad or angry or jealous,” and “She needs you to show her how to play together”? Is there another way to get her to love other girls, other than taking their side rather than hers? Surely not, but I haven’t googled it yet. I’ve been too busy visiting my lovely girlfriends and their bitchy daughters.

East End Mama

[image: Little girls by Lydia Coventry]

Friday, 25 October 2013

Things that Made Me Happy Today

Here’s another round-up of crazy and/or useful links to brighten your day.

Admit it: you wonder too. Cookie sings this at daycare. (Except, I hope, the part where they sing “What the fox say?”) The video’s just a tad creepy, so I wouldn’t recommend it for kids. But if you haven’t heard of this yet, you will. Recorded as a joke by two Norwegian talk show hosts, “The Fox” made it to Billboard’s Hot 100 top ten. Seriously.

Definitely not a kid-friendly site, but the archive is full of kid-friendly goodness for their tummies. Thug Kitchen has brilliant healthy recipes, mostly vegan. Just…if your kid can read, don’t open this in front of them. I am so trying these peach pancakes this weekend, if I can find decent peaches in October. Which is a challenge, admittedly.

I’m stealing some of these. I may have already used the rope/swing/Muskoka-chair-with-beer trick.

Not terribly SFW. Most of us here are well past the point of throwing bachelorette parties. Unless they’re second marriages, that is. Or sometimes third. Sigh. But just in case you’ve thrown a rockin’ bachelorette and for some unfathomable reason have a barely used penis cake pan that you’ve no idea what to do with, here are some brilliant suggestions. Here’s another one: Kijiji that shit.

Every once in a while I forget that STFU Parents exists, and then I hear something about placenta printing and I remember. Well, it’s that time of year at STFUP, the time when the scariest, most nauseating things that parents post on social media (like, say, placenta prints) are shoved to front and centre for us to point and laugh/cringe at. If you can get around the ads, that is. The fun is just starting, so check back often.

For the first time in my life, I clicked on a sidebar ad. Crazy, I know. Why would anyone do that? Well, I’ve had a picture of a pair of boots hanging on my bulletin board for literally years now. Like, it moved with me. And then one day, there were almost the exact same boots flashing at me in a sidebar ad. So I had to.

Turns out they were on a site called JustFab. They’re not real leather, but that’s okay because no matter how well I take care of boots, they really only last me one season anyways because I wear the hell out of them, so I’ve started buying cheap ones every year. Not ideal, but oh well. But get this: they were $40 (plus S&H). And they were on my doorstep the next morning.

The catch is that it’s a subscription service. Every month you get an email with a list of things you might be interested in, and you have to either purchase something or opt out by a deadline. They sell footwear, handbags, jewellery, and denim, so the selection is a bit limited. But it’s pretty of the moment, and the quality’s not bad for the price. Most things are $40, although there’s a leather collection that tops out at $90. And did I mention I got the boots the next morning? Crazy.

Since I saw those boots, I’ve opted out one month and bought a second item the third month. It was another one of those inspired moments — angels sang and a beam of light shone on my laptop. Years and years ago I had a dream in which I was wearing pinstripe jeans, like I had in grade seven, and the next day I thought, “I miss pinstripe jeans,” so I went to a few vintage shops but came up empty. No one had pinstripe jeans. Even now I mention them to friends who are the same age as me and they have no idea what I’m talking about. I didn’t imagine this, people. Pinstripe jeans were a thing, I swear.

And then, in my latest JustFab email, there they were. Pinstripe jeans, like I’ve been searching for for almost a decade. The very next morning, on my way out of the house to drive Cookie to daycare, I tripped over them on the doorstep. They fit perfectly. There are so many other ways I’d rather shop and so many businesses I’d rather support, and I really don’t want to be a shill for any company. But time is money, right? Plus, this just seems to fill a particular need of mine insanely well.

One of us is pregnant and wondering what she’s going to dress up as for Halloween. I said, “Pregnant nun, obviously.” So classic. Or sooo done, depending on your perspective. Turns out there are lots of brilliant options. My favourite is Marge from Fargo. Really feeling robbed that I was only barely pregnant on Halloween.
(Note: Linking to a pro-life site doesn’t constitute an endorsement of its views.)

East End Mama

[image: via pregnant chicken]