The Gifts of Imperfection – Two-Minute Book Review

Sakes alive, it’s been ages since I officially reviewed a book! More than three years, actually.

Pourquoi? I started to explain, but I’ve decided it doesn’t matter! I do want to write about books, but I don’t have time to wax philosophical, and you may well not have time to read such blither-blather either.

Hence — The Two-Minute Book Review. I’m excited about this concept.

(I actually have no idea if this will take two minutes to read. We all read at different speeds, after all. And with widely varying levels of mental imagery – more on that later.)

First book that came to mind that I’ve read in the past three years is actually NOT from Book Club, but no matter.

AND GO.

gifts-of-imperfection-brene-brown

Title: The Gifts of Imperfection – Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Author: Brené Brown

Other works: Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and I Thought It Was Just Me, etc., as well as several TED Talks (my first exposure was this wonderful talk, which I looked up after reading about Brené on Momastery.

Genre: Self-improvement… Spirituality… Life journeys…

Recommended by: My hairdresser, who had just come to a place in her life where she was feeling truly happy with herself in her life. She glowed with it.

Main characters: Brené, her many unnamed research subjects, her family, and especially you, the reader.

Opinions: My hairdresser found it really helped her to be happy with herself and thus to move forward with her goals. She was hoping to convince her husband to read it, because he was feeling stuck in a place of insecurity on many fronts. (I’ll need to get a haircut for an update.) Personally, I found it to be an interesting, comforting, thought-provoking read. Not a difficult or jargon-y book whatsoever. Brené is a professional researcher, and she’s also a very human human.

A quotation I liked: “The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” I really, really relate to this statement.

What sticks with me: The concept of living “whole-heartedly,” with all the things you and your heart are together, including the painful parts and the vulnerability to let them be seen. Also the statistics that indicate that one of the factors associated with happiness and contentment is belief in something greater/larger than ourselves, whether it be God or love or global connectedness or something else altogether.

Recommended to: Anyone struggling with self-acceptance, anyone wishing to be forgiven, anyone beating themselves up about stuff too often.

To sum up: I liked The Gifts of Imperfection a lot. It didn’t change my life drastically, but I can see how it would for some. And I’d like to read ALL of Brené.

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8 Unromantic-Sounding Ways I Know We Will Last

two hearts making an effort

“How’s your relationship these days?” is not a question most of us ever ask people. I’ve probably only ever asked it of newlyweds (where it’s more like “How’s married life?” nudge-nudge) or of very close friends with whom I have a precedent of relationship discussions.

It is a bit odd, though. Among parents, there are the constant “how are your kids” conversations, and it’s expected that you’ll dish on the hard parts as well as the fun parts. But for some reason, even though Sean and I are at the age where the majority of our friends are in committed relationships, we rarely discuss that very important aspect of daily life. Somehow, it feels rude or intrusive to ask, even though we certainly care about the answer.

One result of this is that when friends have major relationship troubles or break up, it’s often a complete shock – sometimes even to close friends. You think, But they always seemed fine!

Obviously, the reasons to break up are as diverse and numerous as the couples who do it. For the couples who stay together, there are myriad reasons for that, too. Presumably, though, most couples who’ve had a long-term relationship – whatever its future – had a period of awesomeness at some point. A chapter, of whatever length, where the connection was uplifting and the chemistry was wild and both parties thought, “This could be IT!”

Setting aside the Big Bad Wolves of Relationship Destruction (infidelity, abuse, addiction, etc.), how else do those paths diverge, such that some couples stay together and some split up?

I can only speak for myself in this, of course. I’m no expert. If someone asked me, “How can you be sure you’ll be together forever?” I’d say, “I’m not. It’s impossible to be a hundred percent sure. But I am supremely confident.”

How, you ask, can I be supremely confident without blind faith? What’s the secret? And could it be helpful to anyone else?

Well, shucks, that’s why I’m writing this. So that you can all SOAK UP MY GLORIOUS WISDOMAlors, voilà: here is my carefully crafted counsel, based on my own untrained and entirely non-objective experience of thirteen years with the same person (9.5 of them married).

1. Let Your Inner Grub Out.

If you’re gonna be with someone for the long haul, they need to see the real you, and your real habits. Not dressed up, not scrubbed down. When Sean and I moved in together, cohabitation was our way to make sure that neither of us had habits that would be deal-breakers for the other. We are lucky to have very similar scores on the slob-to-neat-freak scale. If I forget to put the CDs back in their cases (yes, we’re sooo retro, we still have CDs), or if he forgets to put his nasal rinse packet in the garbage, we know we’re about even. We have also found we’re able to handle each other’s dirty laundry and live with each other’s stinkier sides, and we like each other even in comfy pants and scruffy hoodies.

2. Get Used To Non-Perfection.

Speaking of grubs, your personality-related grubbiness is gonna need airing out too. We all have our flaws. We all have at least one side that’s lazy or naggy or procrastinatey or judgey or grumpy or insensitive or whatever. (Fun game: guess which ones are mine!!) And if you join yourself with a person, you join yourself with their flaws. Those flaws are not going anywhere. And Sean and I are well aware of the less awesome parts of each other – and ourselves. Sometimes we drive each other a little bit bonkers with that. But even though we know we can’t change each other, we do support each other’s quests for self-improvement, which are constantly evolving.

3. Forget Sweet Talk. Try Straight Talk.

Speaking of imperfections, it’s good to know we can live with each other’s, but sometimes discussion is necessary. It’s amazing how easy it is to find yourself playing games, manipulating, expecting someone to read your mind if you’re feeling pouty. But that’s lame. If my husband is driving me bonkers in some way, and I never articulate it to him, then what chance is there to improve things? If he’s upset with me for something, I want him to tell me – even when it hurts to hear. (Contrary to some beliefs, it is NOT more respectful to say nothing in an attempt to spare someone’s feelings.) It usually hurts, although we also take pains to word things as plainly-but-tactfully as possible. Those moments are really hard, but bearable – and worth it – if they come from a place of caring. Leaving those unsaid things to fester, on the other hand, is a great way to drive spikes into the potential cracks in a relationship. (We consider that, true to our marriage vows, being irresponsible with spikes is not an option. We have invested; what we have is not disposable or replaceable; therefore, proper maintenance is necessary.)

4. Learn To Mess Up Properly.

Speaking of upsetting each other, Sean and I have learned, many times, that if you handle mistakes with honesty and sincerity, it works way better than denying or deflecting blame. THIS IS HARD, too. Admitting you’re wrong… I honestly think everyone struggles with it. True apology feels deeply vulnerable. But it’s also humbling, illuminating, disarming, and endearing. It allows a couple to be a team, with both members party to the resolution. And I’ve noticed that when a person can be candid about mistakes, those aforementioned flaws and foibles can sometimes even be… kinda cute.

5. Never Mind About That Honeymoon Phase.

Speaking of admitting things, let’s be frank: the exorbitant new-relationship ecstasy does not last forever. Sometimes Sean and I look back on how snuggly-wuggly and cutesie-wootsie we once were, and we think, Yeesh. Our friends must have been nauseated. That swooning stage is not sustainable, long-term. And to be even franker, in a long relationship, there are sometimes downright cool periods – times when you feel distant or annoyed or just not that attracted to each other, or even disconnected.

N.B.: DON’T PANIC. It doesn’t mean the spark is gone forever.

For me, those are usually the times when I’m feeling deflated about life in general. Fortunately, I’ve learned not to put stock in those times. I know that that’s just how I feel if I’m short on sleep, or not eating right, or stressed out about certain things. I wait it out. I know it will pass. It always does. If it needs a little nudge, some of that straight talk (see #3) comes in very handy. Invariably, the moment comes when I look at my husband and feel the affection/happiness/spark surge back in.

It’s also worth mentioning that, in my experience, the settled, solid, non-swooning phase is, in many ways, more sublime than its predecessor. And it still includes kisses that make me weak in the knees.

6. Go Ahead And Take Love For Granted.

Speaking of sometimes-latent affection, one of the perks of being in a committed relationship is getting to take love for granted – in a way. It’s not that I take love in general for granted; it took me ages (years, even) to tell my high school/university boyfriend that I loved him, because I wanted to be absolutely sure I knew what I meant, and meant it well. But once you’ve taken that leap and decided that yes, this is love!, it’s your right – and responsibility – to trust that it’s there… even at times (see #5) when you feel crotchety and not-so-loving. My Hubbibi and I always end phone and text conversations with “I love you.” Especially if we’ve been exasperated with each other, or having a difficult conversation, we both know that by saying “I love you,” we’re affirming that we don’t take challenging moments as bad signs, that we both trust in the proof of our history. Unless one of us were to go through a fundamental change, we know: I’m me, and you’re you, and we love each other.

Furthermore, I really believe that the out-loud declaration of “I love you” is, for lack of a better analogy, like a valve that opens to let the love flow. The absence of “I love you,” on the other hand, is not just a silent moment; it’s a gaping hole through which the love can gradually – and painfully – drain out. I know couples have very different outlooks on when to say it, how often to say it, not wanting it to “mean nothing” if said too often. I see where they’re coming from, but I don’t think saving I love yous for special occasions makes sense. Love, with your life partner, is a gift – but not the diamond-bracelet kind of gift. It must be a practical, everyday gift, like a high-quality glue that can get kinda grungy but does not let go. Even if you say it dozens of times a day, it still means everything.

7. Love Is Not All You Need.

Speaking of love, it’s not the last word. It’s also really important to like each other. If you don’t enjoy each other’s company, all the good chemistry in the world won’t make up for it. I always smile when I see that quote on someone’s wedding program, “This day I will marry my best friend,” etc., because I think that’s the dream. What more could you want? Permanent sleepovers with your best friend! Always coming home to your favourite person! Once you cohabit, and more so once you have kids, it won’t always be “quality” time. There will be many humdrum household activities to share. Once in a while you might think, “Remember when we used to do FUN stuff together??” And you will again. But in the meantime, even if you don’t spend lots of time together (couples on opposite shifts, or with very different hobbies, for example), just sharing those run-of-the-mill activities can be lovely with a cherished friend.

8. Smarten Up And Be Grateful.

There are lots of couples out there who make their marriages function even though they’re not particularly happy or compatible together. Sean and I are fortunate in lots of ways some couples aren’t: we have very well-matched senses of humour; we enjoy the same simple ways to spend time together; we like the same music; we have similar nerdy and/or intellectual tendencies; we have harmonious politics; we genuinely love each other’s families.

We do, however, have differences that can be difficult. We aren’t passionate about all the same things; we don’t have the same style of communication; we have different instincts on a lot of minor issues; but all those things are surmountable with some conscious effort. And with the time we’ve already spent together, we owe each other that conscious effort. Who are we to let small things mess up our relationship when other couples have such larger hurdles?

Ignoring my good fortune seems spoiled to me – like living in such abundance that you feel entitled to waste perfectly good food – and I HATE wasting food. I’ve made a habit of intentionally appreciating the good things, so that when things don’t seem super-rosy, I never forget that I’m still an extremely lucky gal.

One more thing… A Note About Mental Illness.

As many of you know, my beloved Hubbibi is subject to chemical depression sometimes. It took a long time for both of us to understand that while depression can be triggered or catalyzed by circumstances, at its foundation it has nothing to do with how many things are good in one’s life. I have had to pull myself back from feeling like my failings were directly contributing to his depression.

The thing is, before our marriage, we did almost break up – several times – and I mostly blame the depression. It’s an illness that steals your mojo, takes the glow out of even your favourite people and things, makes you feel like stuff isn’t worth doing, saps your motivation to do even the things you know are good for you.

So again, speaking just from my own perspective… If your relationship seems lacklustre despite solid history, consider that mental health (or lack of it) could be an issue. Because there are ways to deal with that. We would never have gotten through those almost-breakups, not to mention having children, not to mention losing one child, without confronting those issues head-on. Being open about this, and being a united team where mental health is concerned, has saved us multiple times.

Just sayin’.

So, to sum up:

If someone were to ask me, “How did you know that Sean was THE ONE?” I’d say, “I didn’t. But I knew he was a super-special-awesome one.”

If someone were to ask me, “How do you know Sean IS the one?” I’d say something annoying like, “He is… because he is.”

I don’t necessarily believe there’s only one human in the world I could possibly make a life with. But Sean is the person I’ve chosen, who has also chosen me, with whom to build something special and interesting and beautiful. He is the only person with whom I can have THIS life, and this life is the one I want.

***

P.S.: To read more about mental health struggles and successes, please click here.


 

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100 Happy Days – Day 36: Smiles

“See my new smile??” they ask. (And this picture reveals a love for three oranges! Well, clementines. AB was making an orange snowperson with them.)

croissant smiles

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100 Happy Days – Day 25: Black Lentils

I’ll be honest. This day was a hectic, somewhat crappy day. One of those days when my kids are simultaneously screaming before 8:30 a.m.; also, one of those days when I asked myself, “Why did I become a teacher again?” Sigh.

BUT.

There was this bag of mysterious legumes I’d accidentally bought months ago, thinking they were black beans. This was the morning I’d finally Googled “black matpe” and realized they’re just lentils.

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Which was important because A) lentils are my FRIENDS, and B) curried black lentil soup (usually called Tarka Dal) is one of my top three things to order at an Indian restaurant.

So I easily found this slow-cooker recipe for Black Lentils, and put them on to cook during the workday.

Sean got home before I did that day and actually texted me: “What smells like delicious in here?!” He was the one who cooked up some basmati rice for us.

When I came home, I had the same lovely feeling of walking into a warm house that smells like delicious – and dinner’s basically ready to go. And here’s what my not-so-mysterious lentils looked like: THE REAL DEAL. They cooked up creamy and flavourful with minimal effort.

IMG_7463

As it happens, I didn’t have chiles, cilantro, or mustard oil, and I used canned coconut milk/cream instead of whipping cream, but… IT WAS SOOOO YUMMY. And so easy. Not to mention vegan and gluten-free.

Happy.

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Remembering What We’re Built To Do

sunshine through the trees
Image from http://www.ForestWander.com

When I was 18, a boy at Camp wrote a poem for me. Although I didn’t requite his crush, I still consider his poem one of the most romantic things I’ve ever received, because of its candour. The second line was “She’s just like sunshine through the trees,” and to this day I still feel kinda thrilled about that. Sunshine through the trees is one of my favourite things in the whole world.

A while back, I heard on CBC about a study showing that spending time in green space improves our mental health. Apparently, being in the presence of leafy trees actually makes us happier.

I think most of us can vouch for this. At the end of a long, white winter, I’m sure I am not alone in feeling an almost physical thirst for those luscious green leaves. It’s nice to get this confirmation: we are built to feel that way.

Family Camp at NeeKauNis last month was full of reminders of the things we are built to do and enjoy.

Here we are, in the age of modern medicine, where Westerners rarely worry about diseases that used to kill us in great numbers – smallpox and tuberculosis, for example – and we’ve handily encouraged a phalanx of new maladies all by ourselves.

We eat packaged food so far removed from its sources that we don’t even recognize the ingredients; then we wonder why we have troubles with our various organs and our energy levels.

We’ve surrounded ourselves with harmful chemicals in our food, clothes, grass, household products, and everything plastic; then we are devastated when opportunistic cancers have a field day.

We spend hours a day sitting, hunched over some screen or other, often sacrificing sleep for addictive overstimulation; then we realize – too late, sometimes – that our heart or lungs or joints or brains don’t work properly anymore.

We live in our container-homes, put in our earbuds so no live people can distract us, and avoid eye contact with the humans who serve us coffee or check out our groceries; then we shake our heads at the rise of prescription anti-depressant use.

I’m not speaking in self-righteousness. I do most of these things too. I’m not condemning modern medicine either, or technology in general. I really appreciate the benefits of ultra-portable computers, affordable antibiotics, high-speed transportation, laparoscopic surgery, and the wondrous capacity of the internet. I like Cheetos and Toaster Strudel, I watch TV on Netflix, I love Facebook, and as I’ve mentioned, I am very grateful for the existence of prescription anti-depressants.

But when I’m in a restaurant and see a family of four at the next table, not speaking, each absorbed in a separate hand-held device, my husband and I look at each other and quietly vow: That will never be us.

And at Family Camp, I remember that when those contemporary facets of life drop away for a few days, it does good to every layer of our selves.

It helps that there are children of all ages there. They’re all over the things that humans are meant to do. Just watching and listening to them is therapy.

built for 3

Children run and jump and climb and slide. They laugh their heads off, and cry hard when they need to. They sing and dance with joy. They build and knock down. They splash and spin. They scrunch their fingers and toes in the sand. They get dirty with real dirt. They want stories, hugs, their own little space, and their own accomplishments.

I want those things, too.

When I think about what really, actually makes me feel good, it’s mostly simple things. The things I’m built to do. The same things humans have been doing for centuries – or longer.

Dancing until I am out of breath.

Cooking for someone I love.

Making art.

Getting lost in a great book.

built for 2

Sitting in dappled shade. (Sunshine through the trees.)

Hugging.

Plunging into cool water on a hot day.

built for 4

Sipping a hot drink on a cold day.

Listening to music I love – or better yet, making some.

Hearing breezes, birds, crickets, rivers, waves.

Writing.

Looking closely at something beautiful.

built for 6

Reading to my kids.

Going to bed when I’m really tired.

built for 5

Walking in fresh air.

Laughing.

Eating something truly delicious.

built for 1

Sharing thoughts and feelings with a friend.

Doing a job well.

Having an adventure.

I know, they read like clichés, worthy of a curlicued garden tile. But there are reasons the inspirational-message market is so successful. Mostly, it’s because

1) It really IS good for us to dance as if nobody’s watching, sing like nobody’s listening, etc., because we’re built to.

And

2) We busy humans are remarkably good at forgetting the value of those seemingly easy things.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the thousand little jobs you have to do on a daily basis. I could easily spend all of every day doing small, necessary, basically mindless tasks. Which is not satisfying at all.

For me, I know, I need to think of those good-for-my-soul things as medicine. Taking my medicine is my responsibility, something I must do for my health. And in order to take it, I have to notice it. I have to be truly mindful and present.

That way, any time I can grab a bit of dappled shade or kid snuggles or good conversation, they will heal what ails me.

What precious things are you built to do?

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International Day of Happiness

Hey there, lovely Di-hards,

Will you help me write a blog post?

Today is International Day of Happiness, as decided by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012.

I have to admit, when I heard this mentioned on the radio yesterday, in the same newscast as Malaysia Airlines, Crimea, and the winter that just won’t end, it felt… awkward. It brought to mind my eternal conundrum:

Look at all the misery in the world – what right have I to be happy? AND,

Look at all the misery in the world – what right have I EVER to be unhappy, when I am so fortunate?

Then I read the Secretary General’s message on the topic, which includes these words:

Happiness is neither a frivolity nor a luxury.  It is a deep-seated yearning shared by all members of the human family.  It should be denied to no-one and available to all.  This aspiration is implicit in the pledge of the United Nations Charter to promote peace, justice, human rights, social progress and improved standards of life.”

Kinda beautiful, n’est-ce pas?

So apparently, today, we are charged with pondering REAL happiness. New shoes, pretty gadgets, and video-game dopamine aside, what makes us REALLY happy?

So here are your three questions, to be answered in the comments with a handful of words each… Don’t overthink it, don’t try for a complete list, don’t worry about being fair or super-deep or organized or original. It’s okay if it’s cheesy or seemingly silly or someone already said it. Just write something that comes to mind. We know that family and friends make you happy – you don’t have to cover them all for this (unless you want to). Just be REAL.

1. What gives you a giddy rush of joy?

2. What gives you the glow of true satisfaction?

3. What makes you so happy that words don’t begin to cover it?

Please consider commenting if you have time. You know, just so I don’t look like a total loser for asking the question. 🙂

{Here are my answers, if you’re interested. 1. Dancing alone to a wicked song in my living room, seeing my son get off the school bus, a kiss that makes me dizzy. 2. Clicking “Publish”, laughing with my students, coming offstage knowing I’ve danced well. 3. Making music as part of a group, my wedding day, the moment of live birth. And my kids’ cheeks when they smile, of course.}

What are your thoughts?

smiles

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Why The Rainbow Rocks My Socks

rainbow-flow
Rainbow Flow by colorcompany.ca

I grew up in the kind of household I wish all gay kids could grow up in: one where I always knew, without ever having to ask, that my parents would accept me. Well, not quite – if I’d been a Conservative/Republican, that might not have gone over well. But I never doubted that my sexual orientation was a non-issue. In fact, I don’t even remember learning what gay meant, which probably means there was a conversation so matter-of-fact, and so early on, that I never thought much about it.

I turned out to be straight. That was fine too.

The first person I knew who was for sure gay was a lifeguard at Camp when I was thirteen. What I knew about him was that he was incredibly friendly to everyone, and sang out-of-tune camp songs with contagious enthusiasm. And he liked guys, I guess.

The year I lived in France, one of my best friends was Matt from Idaho. We got to be close over the Toussaint holiday, spending a week tracing a southward line through some towns famous for châteaux and vineyards. He was a great travelling companion.

I remember a conversation, over a restaurant dinner at the beginning of our trip, where he told me about himself – how he’d had difficulties with his parents and had battled depression. He had gotten into some pretty hard drugs for a while.

It wasn’t until almost the end of our trip that he actually told me he was gay – but I’d basically figured it out by then. Looking back, I can see that he had tested me – probably many times – to make sure I’d be okay with it first. (For instance, I remember him commenting on a rainbow bus and waiting for a reaction.) I don’t blame him; how was he to know I was different from those who’d mistreated him in the past?

In teachers’ college, I once participated in a seminar put on by some of my queer classmates, addressing how to deal with homophobic bullying in the classroom. One was a guy who had grown up with a single hippie mom who had always accepted him for exactly who he was. But the one whose story stuck with us the most was a guy from Central America (El Salvador, I think) whose family had moved to Toronto when he was a kid. He told us about the pain he’d gone through when he began to realize he was gay, understanding that those horrible gay-bashing words kids used now meant him. Knowing that his parents would be outraged and heartbroken if they knew – he wasn’t even sure they’d still want him as a son.

He lied about it for as long as he could. He kept secret his attendance at a queer youth support group, until one day his parents found his pamphlets. He told us that it was awful – they didn’t take it well – but that eventually, with lots of time and discussion, they came around. Sadly, I know there are parents who don’t.

I have two Aunties who live together in a big house overlooking the river. It is full of personality, with one scarlet bathroom, many decorative frogs, and “stairs that go up and up and up”, as E puts it. They both went through a lot before finding each other, including heterosexual marriages that produced wonderful progeny but also brought many struggles. They have both been professional storytellers, and their relationship reminds me of their tandem storytelling: they are a beautifully complementary, synchronized team. They work together, sing together, fit together. Seeing them interact, it is clear that they make each other truly happy. They’re adorable. It’s the kind of partnership I think all married couples should aspire to.

You already know I’m uncomfortable with gender stereotypes. You can probably tell that I support gay marriage as well.

I also love rainbows. I am one of those people who compulsively puts the markers back in the box in rainbow order. I always drew rainbows on my colouring pages, and I still like to colour rainbows on things with my son’s crayons – the more subtle the gradations, the better.

My son also loves rainbows, and has excellent colour acuity. We have a really good time together, arranging his cars in rainbow order.

rainbow cars

I was already an adult when I found out that the rainbow is a symbol of the LGBT community. I admit that I felt a bit territorial: Wait a sec! Why do gay people get to have the rainbow? *I* love rainbows the most. What if I want a rainbow to represent me even though I’m straight? And now, I have a rainbow baby. I’m even more invested.

I had a bit of the same feeling when I realized that the gay pride celebrations are just called “Pride”. The words “gay” and “queer” are already theirs. So, like, LGBT people now have the market cornered on being proud, or what?

But whatever. It’s not an issue that ever kept me up at night.

Then recently, I had a bit of an epiphany. I had occasion to buy some soup at a deli counter with a poster on the door advertising a concert by our local LGBT (and allies) choir. I smiled when I saw the poster, because I’ve been to many a Rainbow Chorus concert, and while I’ve seen other choirs with more technical skill, you will never find a more feel-good show than theirs. (Except possibly Singing OUT!‘s.) Singing, dancing, costumes, props, and more heart than you could shake a flag at. I’ve laughed and cried and cheered at their concerts.

Anyway, I felt glad to be patronizing this LGBT-friendly place. And then, I had a strong hunch that two of the people (or maybe more) serving that day were queer. It didn’t surprise me when they were super-nice, and sincerely helpful when I needed directions. I always try to use my best courtesy, but that day I found myself making a special effort to be nice enough to somehow convey to them my acceptance: Hey, I’m on your team, even if I don’t bat for it!

After I’d left, I wondered to myself: why did I want to impress those servers? Why did I assume, just because this place was LGBT(-friendly), that the people working there were generally awesome? Was I really thinking that gay people are better than straight people?

I’ve thought a lot about it since then, and my answer is… actually, yeah, kinda.

Here’s what I’ve figured. If you are openly LGBT, you have undoubtedly already come up against the backlash. No matter how supportive your family or city or neighbourhood might be, there is enough ignorance and homophobia and meanness out there to find you.

It’s not that being persecuted makes you a better person. But let’s remember that many minorities don’t have closets. If you’ve made the choice to come out – which, the more I think about it, must be damn scary – you probably have to do it over and over. Every time you change jobs or cities, every time you enter a new circle, you have to re-tell your truth. So, if you’re openly LGBT, you are choosing to live life with courage. You’ve decided that being true to yourself and the LGBT(TIQQ2SA) community is more important than whatever fallout may occur.

I’m not saying that every gay person is a paragon of integrity. We’re all human. But most of us straight folk never have to make a choice between going unharassed… and being ourselves. Living that life would teach a person a thing or two about compassion and acceptance.

The same is true of LGBT celebrities, who have to come out not just to their friends and families, but to millions of people who don’t know them personally but feel entitled to judge them. And is it just me, or are the openly gay artists the ones who most often manage to be insanely talented, hilarious, imaginative, AND seem like lovely people? I mean, I guess it’s possible they’re all SOBs in person, but I know the world is a better place for the awesomeness of people like Ellen Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Rosie O’Donnell, Elton John, Jane Lynch, William Finn, Indigo Girls, David Sedaris, Evalyn Parry, Victor Garber, Melissa Etheridge, David Hyde Pierce, and k.d. lang (among others). And seriously, who but LGBT+allies would come up with Prop 8 – The Musical?

Happily, it seems that if you come out, you’re joining an amazing crowd. If the celebrities and the LGBT choirs are any indication, gay people as a group are just nicer and more fun.

But perhaps we should consider statistics. Mathematically, don’t there have to be the same proportion of jerky gay people as straight people?

I assume so, but my guess is – and I think George Takei would back me up on this – many of the people with same-sex tendencies AND trouble showing compassion are the ones still in the closet. (That would sway the percentages.) And it must be pretty dark and uncomfortable in that closet. I’d probably be bitchy too.

We know that LGBT youth are often subject to cruel torment. We know that homophobes use reprehensible tactics to try to hold off the wave of marriage equality and make gay people feel bad about themselves. It’s not an admirable facet of humanity.

But how does the LGBT community publicly react and fight back to this malevolence? Not with rage or self-pity, even though God knows they must feel some, and they’d be entitled to it. Nope – this is a community that reacts with gaiety. With humour and creativity. With effervescent joy and love. With fashion and passion and Rainbows. And with friggin’ awe-inspiring Pride.

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Pride parade photo from cbc.ca

They say, BE YOU. Who you are MATTERS. We should all live like that.

Obviously, this is a community that’s earned the word gay, and the word pride, and the best rainbows we’ve got.

Congratulations – to all of us – on the defeat of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act this past week. Even though there’s still much work to be done, those walls are coming down. Maybe someday there won’t be any closets left, and mentioning your same-sex partner will be like mentioning your Portuguese roots or whatever. Just one more cool part of what makes you who you are.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy those rainbows wherever I see them, and be inspired to live more truly.

Happy Pride, everybody.

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Photo credit

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Things to be grateful for when travelling with small children

Travelling with little kids is tough and stressful. As such, it would be easy to kvetch about the monkey wrench in our travels to my cousin’s wedding in New Mexico last weekend – the storm that delayed our flight from Buffalo, meaning the folks at Washington Dulles didn’t have our gate ready, meaning we missed our connecting flight to Albuquerque, meaning we had to stay overnight outside DC and had to take an itinerary “through” L.A. to get to NM the next morning, meaning we missed almost a whole day we could have spent relaxing with family members we see far too rarely. I can’t deny it was a shame that we missed that time.

But just prior to our departure, I had finished reading Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. It’s about a young girl who escapes to the U.K. from war-torn Nigeria and then spends two years in a refugee detention centre and then escapes from there illegally (don’t worry, I’m not telling you anything you don’t find out straightaway). Great read, and it really puts things in perspective. It reminded me how easy things like travelling are for me, being legal, Canadian, white, financially stable, etc.

And overall, even with the glitch, things went well.

First, a few Things I Was Grateful to Have Along:

  • Travelling companions. On the way to New Mexico, our kids had two aunts, two uncles, and two grandparents around in addition to their parents. This made unexpected waiting times in airports MUCH more manageable.
  • The Ergo (baby carrier). Honestly, I don’t know what we would have done without it. Baby AB napped in it many times in five days, and even when she was awake, it would calm her down to be in it. LOVE our Ergo.
  • Baby Mum-Mums. I can’t deny they work in a (hungry/fussy/wiggly) pinch: distracting and edible. And she’s neater with them these days.
  • Other airplane snacks. The penguin crackers, trail mix, etc. ended up being even more important than we’d predicted, since we had that much extra airplane and airport time. And a very picky four-year-old.
  • The iPad. E spent a rather excessive amount of time playing Angry Birds, but it sure smooths things out when you have an immediate activity that requires no other equipment (doesn’t even need a tray table) and completely engages the little guy.
  • The regular pad. I am very much torn when it comes to screen time for kids (but that’s another blog post). Suffice it to say, I was happy E spent some time with his notepad and coloured pencils too.

Other Stuff I Was Grateful For During Travel:

  • My parents – and grandparents – who made it affordable for us all to come.
  • My dad, who organized and booked almost everything, figuring out best options for hotel and car rental, and braving the cruel arbitrarity of flight prices.
  • Nice border guards – in both directions – who wished us well as we crossed with zero hassle.
  • E’s enthusiasm, which really kept us all going when things went wrong. He was a total trouper, despite a couple of short nights in a row. It’s hard to be too upset when your preschooler is hopping with joy at the moving walkways, escalators, shuttle trains, and – oh yeah – airplane rides. All the airports’ decorative elements (art, rainbow walkways, light-up floors) are worth double with a little kid. Even at 11 p.m. on the bus to the hotel in DC, when Baby AB had finally had enough and indulged in a good howl, E was comforting her: “Isn’t this amazing??” When we finally arrived in NM, having spent most of two days doing the plane thing, he said, “I wanna go on some more planes!!” He is now an expert. He can talk with ease about departure gates, and refers to planes as “aircraft”.
  • The charismatic rationality and politesse of Uncle D, who, when we missed our flight, decided not to bother with the giant grumpy Customer Service line, and instead charmed vouchers for food and hotel from some staff at the United gate. (They were going to say it was on us, because it was a weather-related delay, but he diplomatically pointed out that if our gate had been ready, we could have made our connection.)
  • A voucher-funded cheese quesadilla at Fuddrucker’s, served by a sympathetic staffperson even though it was closing time.
  • A voucher-funded stay at the Westin Washington Dulles, a seriously swanky hotel with pillow-top mattresses, leaf-shaped soap, and lovely-smelling lotion that lasted me for the rest of the trip. Even if we only had about seven hours to enjoy the place.
  • My endearing baby. She was a trouper too, beyond all expectations. On every flight, people commented on how well she did. You know how air travel can be a tricky-yet-boring exercise in pretending other people aren’t in your personal space? Impossible with a baby. She stared directly into the eyes of my seat-mates, sometimes even reaching out to caress or whack their arms, and they all succumbed. Don’t know how I got so lucky.
  • The Magic Boobs. They helped immeasurably with avoiding screaming-baby syndrome. TOTALLY worth any awkwardness at whipping out the nipple in very close proximity to strangers.
  • The Sky Mall guy. I think Baby AB got a crush on him. She told him “Hi!” a bunch of times, and then there was some pretty heavy licking. She learned to look for him in the seat pocket on every flight.

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  • The kindness of strangers. The lady who let Baby AB play with her bracelets, the young woman who held her when I needed to find something in my bag, the different men who brought out their inner dads to flirt with her, the guy who changed seats so our family could sit together, the flight attendant who chatted with E and gave him a set of gold pin-on wings to match the blue ones Grammie gave him. People were really, really nice. It made everything easier. (MOTL.)
  • The vigilance of Donna, sole flight attendant on the little plane between L.A. and Albuquerque. Thanks to her, we now know ALL the rules: no carry-on straps in the vicinity of feet for takeoff/landing (lest they become entangled during taxiing); baby cannot be in “harness” during takeoff/landing; if you’re at the front of the plane with no seat in front of you for stowing things, overhead bins are the only option; baby must be in (the lap of the person in) a certain seat because of something about oxygen masks, and if you forget and start to pass the wiggly thing across the aisle to Daddy to give your arms a break, DONNA WILL REMIND YOU. NO BABY-PASSING. We were SO SAFE on that flight.
  • Arriving at our destination! Especially after the slick L.A. airport, it was a relief to get to Albuquerque where everything’s all granoladobe. (That’s my new term for the appealing mix of New Mexican and hippie culture.)
  • On the way home, getting to see Kevin McDonald (of Kids in the Hall fame) was a thrill for us – no question, it was DEFINITELY him – even though we couldn’t get up the gumption to talk to him. Shoulda put Baby AB on the job.

Other Stuff I Was Grateful For:

  • Wonderful extended family – both genetically related and assimilated – who make it worth the trip. You are fantastic and I love you all.
  • Staying at the America’s Best Value Inn (four stars) on Alameda, not the one on Paisano that Sean and I found first (three stars and quite sketchy).
  • Not being actually sick. I felt really ill on the Saturday morning and had visions of trying to sit through a wedding with a stomach bug, but then I had a nap with my daughter and felt all better. It must have been exhaustion/stress.
  • Hot tub and swimming pool at the hotel, where we all got to witness Baby AB going French.
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Stylin’ baby suit.
  • Bugs Bunny, for giving cachet to the concept of making a wrong turn in Albuquerque. Because by Jove, every time we went anywhere, that’s what we did. (Well, almost every time.)
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Yep, you shoulda.
  • Albuquerque’s charm. It’s not like I know the city well, but I was immediately captivated by the colourfulness. From parking meters to license plates to whole buildings, stuff is painted fun colours. (Or colors. Or colores, I suppose.) Then there’s all the adobe and an obvious effort to make things harmonize with the New Mexican style. Also, having lots of Spanish names to say is fun.
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Rainbow fence (photo from flickerhivemind.net) that made me think of popsicles, obviously.
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You think it’s someone’s living room… but it’s our gate at Albuquerque Sunport.
  • New Mexican food! And Old Mexican food. I love real corn tortillas and pinto beans and red chili sauce and cheese. We got a ton of delicious, authentic food from El Modelo and now I really wish we had such a place where I live.

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    What to look at while waiting for Mexican food.

 

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Chilies and ivy at El Pinto – a very pretty restaurant with apparently so-so food that we passed up in favour of El Modelo.
  • A lovely wedding. Even though it’s harder to relax and enjoy an evening celebration with (jet-lagged) kids in tow, it was a moving ceremony, with a personal blessing from each of the parents, followed by original, individual vows from bride and groom – each of whom has a wonderful way with words. They are clearly an amazing team. Plus, thumbs up for the delicious dinner, beautiful private space, decorations, dancing… And the rain even held off.
  • The seemingly effortless friendship between E and his birthday-buddy cousin (their birthdays are one day apart, and this year she happened to be exactly twice his age): tag, hide-and-seek, exploring, pillow fights, and a trip to the zoo = best buds.
  • A bit of quality time with some of the best people I know, whom I am proud to call family. Especially great getting to know (a little) the bride, the groom-to-be in the upcoming September wedding, and the mama of the next baby cousin-to-be. Extraordinary people.
  • My amazing husband. This trip was a LOT of stress and hassle to deal with for such a brief weekend. Wonderful as my family is, he is not as dearly attached to them as I am. He never complained about the delays, the heat, the things that didn’t go right… On Father’s Day, he stayed behind with the napping baby so I could hang out with my relatives at the post-wedding brunch, and then he took his son to the zoo (which was apparently fascinating but also sweltering and very crowded). He’s a fantastic dad.
What a guy.
What a guy.

BTW. Baby AB cut her sixth tooth on the trip, AND invented a new smile. She is now favouring what I call “the squinchy smile”. She practiced it on a young guy eating a hot pretzel in the Houston Airport, and as he grinned back he commented, “That’ll make your day.” Then she used it on a twentysomething couple at our gate in Chicago, and she and the guy ended up making all kinds of cool tongue-faces at each other. (She has good taste. He looked remarkably like Ryan Gosling.) ALSO, the clan taught her to say “Bye-bye.” It’s winsome.

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I can hardly wait to be perfect.

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Perfect Me

Someday, I’m going to be SO organized that I will be perfect. In fact, my entire family will be perfect, because of my contagious perfection. (And my husband’s constant, inspirational quest for self-improvement.)

This Perfect Me will get good exercise every day, outdoors when weather permits. She will remember without fail to take her vitamins. Every Saturday she will go to the market for fresh local food, which she will have lots of energy to cook into delicious, nutritious meals (because of the exercise, fresh air, and vitamins). Her family will therefore also be bursting with energy and happiness.

She has perfected the art of scheduling, such that her schedule doesn’t feel like a restrictive duty list, but rather a natural rhythm that makes impeccable sense.

Her rhythm includes enough housework each day so that clutter and dishes never get mountainous or impassable*; she also has developed a knack for making tidy-up time FUN so that the kids joyfully join in. In fact, the whole family cleans up together, singing happy working songs for motivation. At Perfect Me’s house, there are never piles of laundry large enough to suffocate a preschooler. The diapers are always out on time for pickup. The fridge never smells funky or contains ancient unrecognizable leftovers. The recycling cart never overflows, and the cats never poop on the floor two feet from the kitty box, because this family is totally on top of these things.

Even better, Perfect Me is so organized that she is more environmentally responsible: she always hangs out the laundry (weather permitting), and cycles to the grocery store.

Organization enables Perfect Me to find time each week for refreshing bouts of creativity (dancing, music, writing) and quality playtime with her children. She and her now-perfect husband remember to do fun things like take their kids skating and have picnics, and also have time for each other. (They even go on dates. Regularly.)

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The picnics will look almost like this – perhaps more endearingly mismatched. (Photo credit.)

Perfect Me has no trouble keeping her patience and treating the world with kindness because she’s terrifically healthy and balanced. Also, she’s so organized that she’s always able to make sure that her kids’ meals and bedtimes are consistent, so everyone gets lots of sleep and her kids whine way less than regular kids (which is what they are at the moment). Even when her children have cranky times, her mind is so clear that she is able to glean instantaneously what is needed (snuggles, tough love, body break, what-have-you) and deliver it with equanimity. She doesn’t find herself saying bitchy things and then immediately fretting about the example she’s set and the damage she might have done.

Perfect Me always has wet-wipes and great snacks on hand. And she always knows where her phone and keys are.

All this synergy gives Perfect Me the confidence and clarity to be more socially graceful. Her Christmas cards arrive before Christmas. Although her house isn’t magazine-neat, it’s tidy enough that people can drop by and she’s not embarrassed to invite them in. She always remembers to introduce people to each other and offer beverages. She makes a remarkably great cup of coffee. She converses and never worries that she might’ve just said something doofus-y.

When Perfect Me goes back to work after maternity leave, she will have such good practice at creating seamless schedules that she will be able to get the kids to the babysitter on time with nary a meltdown (not even on her part). She will magically find time to fit all the above-mentioned awesomeness into her days with lighthearted serenity, and even take on volunteer opportunities to give back to her community.

In case it sounds like Perfect Me will be smug and obnoxious, don’t worry. She’ll still be able to kick back and eat chips and watch movies sometimes. She will still be able to laugh at the mistakes she’ll make (charming things like forgetting to put the teabag in – not upsetting things like forgetting to send a thank-you card or swearing at her baby). Her meals will taste great but won’t necessarily be Pinterest-worthy. Her garden will probably never be breathtaking, although she will be able to keep invasive maples from cracking the foundation of her house. She will never be en vogue with the latest fashion trends, but she will have good hair. (You know, because of all the sleep and vitamins.)

If the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, I guess it makes sense to start by getting the laundry out of the dryer. It might even get folded today or tomorrow.

I feel more Perfect already.

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It’s gonna happen. Perfect Me is coming, y’all.

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*Let’s be realistic: Perfect Me probably has a dishwasher. And a garage.

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Happy Day, Auntie Em!

Today is the birthday of my elder sister Emily, a.k.a. Auntie Em. It is also the day she officially completed and bade adieu to her Major Research Project, finishing her Masters in Language, Culture, and Teaching.

Emi is a special gal. She is full of love and complicated thoughts and stress and nostalgia and joy and sorrow. She is beautiful and smart. She is generously thoughtful, the kind of person who makes a homemade card to say thank you for something… and then the card is so lovely you want to thank her back. She is an ardent knitter, reader, walker, cycler, and conversationer. She also loves her nephews and niece with a fervour and investment that rival those of a parent.

Happy birthday, sweet sister! And congratulations!!

I know this course was a tough row to hoe, especially the big-ass paper. And that, despite your passion for the topic of ESL teaching and cultural differences in classrooms, the research was not as fulfilling as you’d imagined. Still, I hope you will look back and remember the good parts – your better profs, the interesting conversations with fellow students, and time spent reading the literature you found most fascinating.

Also. I have something else to say. I just want you to know that, although I know it’s temporary, and although sometimes sharing a kitchen can get dicey (ha! get it?), and although you may be, on some level, “waiting for your real life to begin”, it has been many kinds of awesome sharing a household with you.

I’m glad you were there for when we brought our babies home, and for the time when we didn’t.

I’m glad we’ve been able to have so many fun family meals and games, in between all the social gallivanting you do. 🙂

I hope E will be able to remember being ensconced in pillows in your room, having dance parties and leafy nests and eyeshadow, playing with flashlights and balls of yarn and annoying Japanese alarm clocks. Thank you for taking jillions of photos and footage of him being his little self, and for taking an active role in his education, literary and musical and innumerable otherwise.

I know I will look back on this time as a golden era, a cozy time when my babies were babies, when we learned all about parenting them together, when we watched in wonder as they did the amazing things they do. I wish every mom were lucky enough to have a sister on the premises – not just for company or for another set of eyes and hands, but also for a fresh wellspring of patience when a mama is at her wits’ end. I’m so grateful for the times you’ve appeared magically when things aren’t going well, swooped in and kept your cool in the face of a maddening toddler/preschooler.

I hope you know we love you a lot. I hope you have loved this golden era too. And I hope your dreams come true – preferably this year. Well, as soon as is convenient, anyway.

three sisters in a bed
Mini-Di, Mini-Beth, and Mini-Em (long before they were Aunties).

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