Had an email today from one of my earliest editors at the Hamilton Spec. He’s long moved on, but he’d been going through his files and thought this would give me a laugh.
It’s my very first Motherlode column.
First anything, actually. Several things will jump out at you (apart from how much I wish I could go back and rewrite it), most obviously are the names. For a year, I wrote as Maggie Newley. Maggie is, well, Maggie the Cat’s name. Growing up, our cat’s name was Nooly. The kids got rechristened (Christopher became Marc, which he hated, and Ari became Jackson, which is his middle name). The lawyer’s thought it was safe to let JoJo remain outside of the Witness Protection Program.
The Poor Sod was ‘Brad’, and his name wasn’t Brad. Or The Poor Sod. He’s gone, but I think you’ll agree, the general tone of our home hasn’t changed much. I’m sure I should save this for a couple of months and have a 9th anniversary party for my writing career, but, it’s a slow day, and I’m jetlagged.
The Motherlode (originally published October, 2003)
Mean what you say, keep promises and love your kids like crazy
The alarm hasn’t gone off. We are late. The bread bag is melting to the side of the toaster as my youngest son spills orange juice everywhere. The cat walks through it and runs up the stairs. My oldest son announces he needs $22 for a field trip. We have five minutes to get out the door and hide all of this from the world. Welcome to my life.
My name is Maggie Newley. I’m 39. I’ve lived in Burlington all my life. I moved back to my childhood neighbourhood seven years ago, thereby proving you can indeed go home again. I have two sons. Marc is nearly 12, or as he continually reminds me, a “preteen” who requires special care and handling. Jackson is nine and scares the life out of me daily with his daredevil prowess that I call reckless and his father calls athletic promise. My boyfriend Brad lives with us, and our two cats, Rainey and JoJo.
My children are growing and becoming more independent by the hour; people are still asking me what I want to be when I grow up. Am I fit to lead them? I believe someone invented dimmer switches so I wouldn’t have to clean my floors. I start a new fitness program every three months.
Every Monday I pledge to eat healthier, and by Tuesday I’m ordering dinner by yelling into a clown’s mouth. I am a talented seamstress who staples and tapes up hems as they loosen. On picture day, my kid is the one with ketchup on his shirt and who needs a haircut. I fill out field-trip permission slips the day of the trip, I tell myself Lunchables don’t really have too much salt in them, I wear the clothes that no one else in the family will wear, and I put the garbage out while wearing a nightie. I have never stored a number in my phone’s memory. I have never recorded anything with the VCR. I read six books at the same time and get all mixed up.
I have come to realize that I have very little control over anything. I clean my house, only to have it defiantly get grungy again. I read about people who, at my age, learn Japanese or master the stock market. I am happy to match up all the socks out of the dryer and feel accomplished when I put the clocks ahead and back at the right time every year.
I believe in rewarding the small triumphs, so I can give, and get, more rewards.
I have had a variety of jobs over the years, and not one of them has given me the same satisfaction as my kids’ telling me they love me, the plants I buy flourishing or a car with a full tank of gas. Writing about my life, for some strange reason, seems to be the right career move.
I saw a young couple desperately turning the self-help section upside down at Chapters recently. They were whisper-yelling, trying to find a parenting book for some dire problem. I shook my head at them in a knowing, smug way, and pondered how to approach them to save them a boatload of money. There are only two words you need in your arsenal as a parent: fear and guilt. If my kids are doing something bad in front of me, they’d better be scared. If they are doing it behind my back, they had better feel guilty.
I’ve discovered that the big secret to raising kids is that there is no secret. What works for one kid rarely works for another. I pick my battles to increase my chances of actually winning one. Mean what you say, don’t forget a promise, carry through on your threats, and love them like crazy. Maybe I could scribble that in a book and sell it to the couple at Chapters.
P.S. to reader: Our names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the not-so-innocent. But unlike some things in life, the events depicted are exactly as shown. I hope you’ll join me in this space each week, for my trek through motherhood.