The foundations of cottage lore

I think of the cottage as my second home, and in many ways it is. It has become kind of suspended in time, and when we walk in each year, we pick up where we left off. The months it spends in the cold and the dark keep it preternaturally young. Or maybe old. I’m not sure which.

Nostalgia lends a certain generosity to the viewing lens; we finally replaced couches that had been here twenty years. They were that red and green Santa Fe pattern that was all the rage probably, well, thirty years ago. I remember buying them; you could get a whole room of furniture – couch, chair, love seat, coffee table, end tables, lamps – for five hundred bucks. It looked it; those deals are the equivalent of a supersized meal deal, with quantity failing to take the place of any quality, but the abundance makes your heart jump at the thought of filling a whole room – checking so many things off a list – in one swoop. Sold.

Ari is taking a critical eye to the place this year, or more exactly, an owner’s eye. He’s lent a hand on a new deck, and wants in on the discussions on maintenance and upkeep. I like this; it’s the only way this place made it to the second generation, and very few make it to a third. My father’s dream was passed to his daughters, as was his goal that this place should unite, not divide. As much as we cherish the vacation time and understand how lucky we are, we also know we are keepers of so much more.

While Roz and Gillian and I often overlap for a day or two, we’re mostly up on our own time. As a result, we each hesitate when it comes to ditching anything. Generations of kids have created a lot of handiwork and collected a lot of games. Nobody knows what someone else’s treasure is so we carefully keep things on the shelves. Board games that only one of us knows the rules to anymore, others missing the money (“just take it out of Monopoly”), a dozen decks that almost have 52 cards in them, pompoms, googly eyes, popsicles sticks, glue guns and a plastic cup labelled RIP full of dead batteries.

Ari held up a bunch of popsicle stick creations. Gilly had carefully set them aside, a veritable flotilla of totally un-lake-worthy ships that had been born one rainy afternoon years ago. “I made this crap. Can I throw it out?” he asked. I laughed. I’m sure Gilly had been unsure if they were keepers or not. “Ditch them,” I told him. He held up something else, but I shook my head. If my kid didn’t make it, I wasn’t making the call.

He knows I won’t part with the coffee table he teethed on; he believes it to be of historical significance himself. I explained that you can’t toss cottage art made by others, because it is the foundation of cottage lore, and without the stories you don’t have the history, and without the history you just have a rental. I sometimes dream of a space you’d find in a magazine, a rustic oasis whose rough edges are only those that have been engineered to be there. And then I look around this place and know it won’t happen, and I wouldn’t let it.

“What about this?” Ari asked, holding up another artifact.

“Stop it. One day it’ll be your kids who made this stuff and you’ll understand.”

From the other room, I heard Taryn sigh, and giggle. Ari smiled.

Pretty crazy when you can see the next generation.

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Wearing pants is for amateurs

There’s a lot of things you can do without wearing pants.

For years, the boys knew that if I could hear them in the kitchen late at night I would inevitably holler down, “Leave me enough milk for tea!” Everybody knows that I can’t wake up and start the world spinning on its axis each morning unless I have my tea.

I’m old school, like my mom. Tetley it is, and copious amounts to stoke my writer brain until noon.

As the kids aged into that 24-hour eating loop, I had no idea what would be left by morning. Too many days I’d come down to an empty milk bag in the fridge and just like that, my day would be destroyed.

Things have gotten worse, however. Now, I never shop. I used to do that once a week thing but I’m down to just Ari and Taryn living here and between their jobs and school, I have no idea if or when anyone will be home. My cooking skills are getting decidedly rusty (Ari just started laughing) and my meal planning skills have left the building. I hand them my card and they do most of the shopping and cooking, which is heaven. I eat leftovers and cereal. And we run out of milk.

Like most women, when at home I hate wearing pants. Sweatpants aren’t bad, though calling them that is really a reach in giving something a name. My mother used to buy our clothing so we’d have a little room to grow; I still use the same theory with sweatpants. You could staple two dozen bagels to my butt and I’d have room in my sweatpants. Which, of course, means I can’t be seen out in public in them and I try not to wear them at all. I just wear big T-shirts to sleep in, which naturally transition to daywear because when it comes to fashion, I am a Swiss army knife.

I called Sarah across the street and told her I needed milk. Sure, she replied. I darted across sans pants because if you move fast enough, like The Flash, nobody will really know what they just saw and dismiss it as an aberration.

I depend on my neighbours to doubt their eyesight on a regular basis. You know when you’re supposed to assemble that emergency kit for your car, with chocolate, water, jumper cables and a candle? Mine has pants in it.

I made that donated milk last two days. Still hadn’t got to the store. I have one friend who has admitted to putting a shot of Bailey’s in her morning coffee when she runs out of milk. Another has used ice cream. Necessity is obviously the mother of invention. Because I had neither Bailey’s nor ice cream, I finally went to my Last Desperate Measure: McDonald’s.

Raced out to my car (The Flash, part two), and at the “drive thru” I ordered breakfast and asked for a milk. There was a pause on the other end of the speaker and Intercom Lady said, “A milk?” I didn’t blame her; I’ve pulled this ploy later in the day and ordered a Happy Meal for a child who didn’t exist.

Back home, Ari spied the little milk carton and raised an eyebrow.

“Run out of milk again? No pants?”

He may think he’s funny, but I got the last laugh. I have enough milk for three days now, and I still haven’t put on pants.

She who pants last, laughs loudest.

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My KitKat is graduating from high school? Already?

My niece graduated from high school last week. So did a lot of kids, but only one is my niece and there is only one Katya.

I’m proud of her. She’s one of those straight A students who has checked off all the boxes, landed her dream placement in a great engineering program and is ready to take on the world. It’s hard not to feel misty and proud even if I’m just the aunt who has provided more bad influence than anything constructive.

She’s kind and sweet and has a line of snark running through her that came from her mama. When we’re all together — the three sisters and our only girl child now joining in — and the conversation gets peppery, I can see her dad shake his head almost imperceptibly and wonder what he did to deserve this.

“Well, you married a Sommerfeld,” I want to tell him. Lucky guy.

I’ve written a lot about being this age, about the bonds of family feeling more like binds and then wishing later I’d paid more attention, appreciated more things.

I don’t know if Kat is far enough ahead to be looking back just yet, but a couple of weeks ago I caught her ushering a turtle across the cottage driveway, her car with the hazard lights on to keep both her and the turtle safe. Her grandpa would have done the same thing, and it made me think of him as I watched her. Those bonds, and those binds, seem to time travel; she never met him.

My mom was a spectacular baker. Katya is a better one. Everything she bakes looks and tastes like it should be in a magazine. By age 14, she was getting orders from people. If you want to understand about a surplus of talent, consider that this baker plans on becoming an engineer.

When Mom was sick and measuring out her time in days, it was Katya, not yet 2, who could keep her entertained. I’m not sure who was babysitting whom, but I do know that when my boys were too fast or too much or just too boy, it was Kat who somehow sensed, in her wise little baby brain, that this woman needed a baby in her lap and not a race course through her living room.

That tiny girl was no pushover, however. From the time she could walk, when she’d had enough of guests, she would bring them their shoes. It was hilarious to watch (and a little embarrassing to receive), but the girl knew her own mind, even then.

At Mom’s eulogy, we noted that Katya never brought Grandma her shoes.

At her graduation party, Kat’s dad, with my sister Gilly at his side, gave a lovely speech for their firstborn. He choked up a bit and it was sweet and it also made me realize this girl can never get married; I don’t think her father could stand it. We toasted this smart, lovely girl, and I was whipped back to that time when we are breakable but unbroken, vulnerable yet brave.

We use graduations as an ending, but they’re not. They’re the beginning. You graduate to the starting gate and when you lift your eyes, the boundaries fall away. You find out fast if rules comforted you or challenged you, if walls were keeping you in or keeping something out. My KitKat will discover all this and more, and she’ll no doubt put her own turtle-ushering, shoe-delivering stamp on it.

And Kat, if you’re reading, that family who makes you so crazy will be behind you every step of the way. Count on it.

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Dinner is ready when the dogs stop licking the deck

I sat working in the kitchen while Taryn made dinner. She was singing lightly to herself, nearly under her breath, as she chopped and stirred. I listened for a few minutes, smiling. My mother always sang while she cooked or baked, or even mopped the floor. When she didn’t know the words, she just hummed. But always, the soundtrack to my childhood was my mother finding enough joy in the small things to sing. It was a lovely moment, and I wish my Mom could have met her grandson’s girlfriend.

Since Christopher and Pammy moved out, I’ve tried to pull off a version of Sunday dinner; we all came home every Sunday for dinner every week we could, and it was great. The difference of course, is that my mom sang while she made that dinner and I mostly swear. Last night was no different.

Because of the kittens, we have to lock up any food. I threw chicken, still half frozen, into a plastic bag to marinate. I tucked it into the oven, because the dog food Taryn was thawing for Shelby was in the microwave. There was a container of something in the toaster oven already. I set about chopping up vegetables to roast, and made a big foil pouch of hobo potatoes. With a call into Pammy to figure out what time dinner should be, I tossed the potatoes on the barbecue. I waited fifteen minutes, then set the oven to 400 for the veggies.

Yup. Ten minutes later, I heard a weird sizzling sound. “Nooooooooooooooooo! Noooooooooooooo! Nooooooo!” I hollered. Really hollered. Taryn and Ari came falling down the stairs as I pulled a disintegrating plastic bag from the oven. Ari started laughing. I grabbed a cookie sheet and tried to rescue the marinating chicken breasts before they plunged to the floor.

“I think they’ll be okay,” said Taryn, peering as the thick bag slid off. “It’s not like I eat them, but I’m sure they’re okay.” Our resident vegetarian was prepared to risk the rest of us. I tossed the pan of vegetables into the oven, and stared at the sorry mess of chicken. Nothing looked melty, so I made a corporate decision. Dinner was on.

Barbecuing hobo potatoes – potatoes, onions and butter in a big homemade foil pouch – requires two big flippers and a little skill. Well, a lot of skill. The kids eat as many as I can possibly make, so it’s heavy. I’d already flipped it twice and things were going well. I came out to make room for the chicken and flipped them again. And watched everything spill out all over the grill. By now I was nearly crying. Taryn looked at me a little frightened; kitchen disasters are nothing new around here, but this was becoming a comedy of errors.

“I give up! Order pizza! I quit!” I yelled, slopping everything onto a pan. I stuffed them into the oven with the veggies and poured a glass of wine. Taryn poked her head in the back door. “I just flipped the chicken. One fell on the deck, but don’t worry, Shelby didn’t get it.” I sighed. Pammy and Christer arrived with Alfie, who scooted out back no doubt looking for fallen chicken.

“Dinner is in ten,” I said waving my hand at the stove. The clock was on. That meant the oven wasn’t. I’d turned it off half an hour before. The vegetables were just sitting being warm. I turned on the oven, glanced out back at two dogs licking the deck, and poured more wine.

You want to know I don’t sing like my mother? This is why.

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Pay it forward and feed your kids’ friends

Because of geography, our rec room is often the central meeting place for the boys and their friends. They use it as a base to go out from, or more often than not, they just crash here for the evening.

The cast rotates through like some off Broadway road show, but for the most part, these kids have been coming here since they were in elementary school.

The conversations are awesome, to be honest. They know I can hear them but they also know I value their honesty. It’s like I’m sitting in the back row of that theatre, deep in the shadows like a proverbial fly on the wall. I’ve watched them grow up and grow apart and come back together; I’ve watched them move away for school or for work or for good, and stay in touch as they weave back and forth in each other’s lives. I’ve heard them be scared and arrogant and upset and triumphant.

The only time I pop out of my room is to tell Ari to get some food. “Take my card,” I tell him. “Get a bunch of pizza or whatever you guys want.”

I do it every time, and every time they all tell me “thank-you Lorraine” or “Ari’s Mom” (I still get called this; cracks me up), but we’re old enough to get our own and I tell them I know they are but get the pizzas.

When I was 16, I dated a lad for most of a year and we regularly gathered — friends, siblings — in his parents’ home for hockey and poker. It was the year Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers joined the NHL and Saturday nights were a foregone conclusion as long as the season lasted.

This column isn’t about hockey, however, or the piles of dimes and nickels we used to place bets. It’s not even about his mom telling us to shove over a bit so she could play a few hands, usually winning but never keeping the money.

Instead, it’s about how his father would come into the room at some point, stuff some cash into his son’s hand and tell him to go get some pizzas. We all had part-time jobs but like every other group, there were differing levels of budgetary wiggle room. We were teenagers; of course we were hungry. But most of us also made less than five bucks an hour.

In that exchange between father and son, I learned things I’d never forget. It is frequently in the smaller gestures that you learn the biggest lesson. Footing the bill for all of us removed the uncomfortable conversation of who had enough funds to participate. There was never a question. If a little sister didn’t work or if someone was working full-time that summer, it didn’t matter.

It was kind. It was thoughtful. It was remembering that eating doesn’t stop at dinner when you’re 16. It was grown-ups welcoming us into their home, and telling us they liked having us there. Food is love, says a good friend of mine, and she’s right. My mom could feed an army on no notice, and over the years I finally appreciated just how much work that was.

And so I give Ari or Taryn the look, and they dutifully sort out enough pizzas to feed anyone and everyone. The kids still protest, but not much. They know I’m doing it because I love them all, and love that they still gather after all these years.

And every single time, I thank Gunter Kajah for teaching me that.

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Why I won’t snoop on my kids, or anyone else

“There’s a letter here for you,” I told Christopher.

“Open it.”

“Noooooooo. I can’t.” I legally can’t, but I also physically can’t. Under Section 48 of the Canada Post Corporation’s Act, it is illegal to open someone else’s mail. I learned this as a kid. I always found it fascinating and terrifying that I could be Breaking the Law simply by opening an envelope. I had a hell of an imagination when I was little, and thought the RCMP would swoop into the kitchen. I’d contemplate doing it today just to see some Mounties.

I despise snooping. I don’t care if it’s your spouse or your kid, I hate it. I think everybody has a fundamental right to privacy. When the kids were young, I knew their computer passwords; I also told them I’d only go into their accounts with them sitting beside me. It only happened once – Ari had indeed called another kid a bad name – but they knew I wouldn’t unless I had reasonable grounds to believe they were serial killers or selling my possessions (or themselves) on Kijiji.

Snoop and you will find. By the time you are scrolling through someone’s phone or digging in their purse, you already have reason to believe something is amiss. Boundaries are very good things, and I think we should all take a leaf from Canada Post’s page and define what constitutes privacy. I don’t think you should complain about your family on a public Facebook page; if someone shows you a picture on their phone, it is not an invitation to swipe through their photos; if someone leaves a personal email account open by mistake, you should close it.

My Mom used to dig around in my diary and deny it; the denial was worse than the offence. I’m not sure what she did with information about my crushes and hatred of my boss at the library, but I guess it made her happy to know I wasn’t having sex. The stupid thing was, if Mom had been more open and communicative with me about all the things she feared, I might have felt comfortable coming to her with them. I didn’t. I already knew how she conducted this part of her life, and I wasn’t impressed.

My Dad used to go through the garbage because he had a near pathological fear that one of us would throw out something that could be recycled or should have been composted. One time, he found someone’s birth control pill packaging or weight loss scam pills (I can’t remember which; both tirade-worthy) and I couldn’t believe someone had forgotten to smuggle such evidence out of the house in her purse. Like all children of snoops, we had become masters of deception.

People who snoop are unhappy and looking to find the source of their unhappiness outside themselves, rather than snapping on the high beam and turning it inwards. I’ve never seen a snoop rewarded with anything good: proof of a betrayal, which is devastating, or no proof and the search becomes the betrayal instead. It’s all damaging. Instead of crossing respectful boundaries, have a discussion. You can’t dictate what someone else will say or own up to, but you can direct your own behaviour.

There are few places left in this world where we can travel undocumented. Our cars record every move, cameras capture most public interactions and our computers tag us at each click.

I’ve heard people snoop and feel vindicated at discovering they were right all along. The thing is, they were right all along without the snooping. Trust is a delicate thing; not opening somebody’s mail is a good symbol of how to maintain it.

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If I start packing now, I’ll be done in two years

When I bought this house from my parents, Dad had already been in care for a year, and Mom did the smartest kind of move, ever: she simply selected the things she wanted to take to her new place and left me with the rest.

She’d actually tried to ditch things while Dad was still at home, but every time she put something to the curb, he’d bring it back in. The only reason he’d even allowed the house to be sold was because I bought it.

It’s nearly 20 years on and I’m still sorting through “the rest.” With Ari, 21, making noises about his own impending independence, I picture trying to pack this place up to sell it and I shudder. Five decades of many lives leaves a mark and I highly doubt I can find a buyer who will let me select the things I want and abandon the rest. The fact remains, however, that this is too much house for me and I’m finally OK with letting it go.

Ari and his girlfriend Taryn have been collecting furniture, all neatly shrink-wrapped in the garage. We have a massive sectional couch in the rec room and the other night I mentioned that it should really be at the cottage, where the flip-out bed is much needed.

The big bunk beds in Ari’s old room are also destined to head north and suddenly, someday felt like this day.

“We can get the stuff up there,” said Ari. “We can put our couches up here in the rec room and get them out of the garage, and we can get Taryn’s bed set up in my old room.”

The cottage-bound furniture is the kind you buy when you want something good, something permanent. It’s what you buy when you’re through with hand-me-downs and good-enough-until-everybody-is-potty-trained. It was furniture for a beginning.

The timing made sense. I had a big pickup truck in the driveway that week and within 24 hours, Ari had assembled a second one and a couple of extra boys.

When Ari is motivated, things happen. Fast. They somehow loaded four pieces of couch down the stairs and into the trucks, leaving the beds for another trip. The plan was a quick trip up, move old stuff out and new stuff in, and then head back home.

I watched the boys at the dock from my perch on my new-again couch. I watched them diving into the lake, laughing, determined to make the most of the hour we’d have there. I looked at the coffee table in front of me, still sporting the many sets of parallel gouges where Ari had teethed on it one summer. We need a roof on the cottage this year, and Ari told my brother-in-law he’d be there to help.

The deck on the house needs replacing, so Ari has assembled a plan – and the needed shoulders – to build a new one. Christopher is eyeing the siding through the eyes of a young man who has a new job and is promising improvement. All this while I’m still sorting Lego and dinky cars out of forgotten cupboards.

Back home, Ari and I surveyed the emptied out rec room.

“I just realized, when we move out, you’ll have two empty rooms,” he suddenly said.

I smiled, thinking that I’d never had empty rooms and knowing that each one would make the transition easier. Unlike my father, I think I can honour the past without being welded to it.

Except for a certain chewed up coffee table. That I’m keeping.

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Going to the dogs one babysitting gig at a time

I am babysitting.

Well, dogsitting, to be more exact. When Christopher and Pammy moved out last fall, they took Alfie with them. Alfie is the tiny rat terrier Chihuahua that looks like Yoda. We like to say he has oodles of character, which is a nice way of saying he is a two year old Mexican jumping bean, with teeth.

Taryn’s dog, Shelby, who still lives here, is Alfie’s best friend. Shelby is eight times the size of Alfie, but they don’t seem to notice. My problem when I dogsit? I forget. The cats move around and are fairly silent unless they’re hungry, and Shelby is one of those laid back dogs who just does her thing. Alfie is not silent, not laid back, and doing his thing usually involves everybody doing it with him. Alfie likes an audience full of willing participants.

Places I have found Alfie today:

  • In a laundry basket, under piles of dirty laundry
  • In the back of my closet
  • In the basement behind the dryer
  • In Shelby’s very large dog crate
  • Underneath Shelby
  • Under my bed, with a cat helpfully hissing on top of the bed
  • In the garage when I left the side door open a couple of inches

Every time, I’ve had to go looking for him because I’d forgotten about him. Every time, he took more and more advantage of that fact. At one point, I discovered him looking through the front door at me. From the outside. Our backyard is fenced, but I discovered there is a small hole that has been dug under one small section. Do you know how big that hole is? It is Alfie-sized. I hauled a log across the bolthole and prayed that Shelby didn’t helpfully move it out of the way for Alfie, because she’s sweet like that, always helping out a friend.

I was never much of a babysitter when I was younger. There were a few kids I sat once in a while, but we all looked at each warily because they knew I had no idea what I was doing. I would usually cut side deals with them – you can stay up and watch TV with me as long as you pretend you’re asleep when your parents get home – because I grasped the concept of parenting as well then as I do now. When the boys were small, I didn’t hire sitters because the upside to being divorced was the occasional court-ordered night off. When the boys were older, I used to pay Christopher to watch Ari and I’d pay Ari to behave, and tell each of them not to tell the other.

Now, I’m looking at two dogs, puppies really, who can’t decide if they want to be inside or outside, up or down. They both tip their heads at me the way dogs do, and I just tip my head back. “My sons practically raised themselves,” I say out loud to the dogs. “I have no clue what you want.”

I’ve learned if you say, “wanna go outside?” in a very excited voice, dogs indeed want to go outside. I’ve also learned if you said, “wanna hurtle out of an airplane at 30,000 feet?” in a very excited voice, dogs would want to do that too. It’s great when they’re being quiet, until you realize they’re being too quiet. It’s great when they’re outside, unless you remember your fence has a breach. Right now, they’re both staring out the front window, no doubt waiting for their Moms to come home.

I have flunked the grandma test. Someone tell the kids.

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Normal people are worried about what their kids post on the Internet

For any of my longtime readers, you’ll know two years ago I underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy, documented in two Motherlode columns in May 2014.

It’s been a long road these past two years, with many decisions, many emotions and as you may have guessed, more than a few laughs. This is my family we’re talking about, after all.

The last piece of the puzzle was completed recently, when I opted to get 3D tattoos for nipples. Yes, it’s such a thing, and yes, it’s really cool. My tattoo artist, Kyla Gutsche, is a world-renowned specialist in medical tattooing; there was no chance I was getting spider webs or smiley faces put there, though I supposed I could have asked.

The Royal Ontario Museum is holding a special exhibit this summer on the art of tattooing, and a few weeks back there was a special showing by Why We Ink, a group that celebrates the tattoos of cancer survivors and the people who love them.

Kyla was asked if she’d like to submit anything; I’d just completed my work with her, and I’d had a photo session done by my friend and colleague, Danny Bailey. In one of the best pictures, I’m wearing a wild mask (though nothing else); I’d wanted to represent any woman. It was an amazing example of Kyla’s — and Danny’s — work, as well as the surgical team of Dr. Nicole Hodgson and Dr. Ronen Avram at Juravinski Hospital.

Too amazing, it seems. In advertising the event on Facebook, Kyla’s business account was suspended for nudity. Why We Ink also saw the picture censored; the first one ever. Remember, these are fake boobs and tattooed nipples. I can walk through a mall and blush at Victoria’s Secret displays, but let’s not see the scary lady’s pretend parts.

It’s a pretty sad commentary on who we’ve become when we’re surrounded by hyper-sexualized imagery to sell everything from shoes to cars yet honest depictions of what thousands of women face every day are somehow wrong.

Facebook left my posting of the image alone, and dozens of my friends around the world reposted it to make a point. I put it up on my personal website’s blog, along with a couple of videos we shot about what has taken place over the past two years. Don’t worry, I left my top on for the videos.

As I’ve done through much of this, I don’t exactly tell my sons what I’m doing. Their girlfriends always know, but I just answer what they ask and we all agree that what Mom does with her boobs is her business, even if she’s sharing them with the world. There are days when I doubt they’re even paying attention.

Ari, 21, was at the liquor store the other day. A longtime employee, Jeffrey, knows us too well. When Ari came of age, I’d just send him to the store and say, “Find Jeffrey, he knows what I drink,” and he would and he did.

Ari called this “embarrassing.” I called it handy.

“So, Ari! Read about your hair,” Jeffrey yelled across the store. Ari tucked in a smile. He’s used to this. “It must be tough, your mom writing about everything!”

“Well, it will make it harder for me to be a spy,” replied Ari. “No 007 for me.”

“No secrets left about you,” Jeffrey said.

There are plenty of secrets left about Ari. My readers would die if they knew my real kids.

“But, to be honest,” laughed Ari, “there really are no secrets left about my mom, either.”

Jeffrey looked at him blankly.

Ari walked into the house an hour later.

“Jeffrey doesn’t read your blog.”

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The straight buzz on a hair-raising rite of passage

“Just sit still, I’m sure I can even it up.” — Mom, wielding scissors.

There are many milestones that usher you into full-on parenthood, but nothing affirms that arrival quite like the rite of passage sure to scar every child: when you decide you can give your kid a haircut.

Mom did this to us, and we have the photographic evidence to prove it. I have thick, stick straight hair, and too often my bangs looked like someone had taken a bite out of them.

She was just trimming them a little, she’d say, wielding the kitchen scissors we used to open milk bags and clip coupons. We had a hairdresser down the road but for quick touch-ups, Mom was on it.

Class pictures from my childhood reveal year after year of crew-cuts on the boys; I still know a lot of people who just kind of get their boy children shorn every few months and I was, admittedly, happy when my sons were just that easy.

Girls are different. Growing up, we all wanted long hair, but Mom deemed until we could take care of it ourselves, that wasn’t going to happen. The photographs reveal a lot of little bowl cuts, except for Gilly, the youngest, who somehow managed to score natural curls.

Mom never attempted to doctor her own hair, of course. She had a permanent permanent (I never saw my mother without a perm) which was pretty common for her era. We grew up thinking you knew you were a grownup when you started getting perms and roller sets, an idea that haunts my sister Roz to this day.

Because people want what they can’t have, I wanted curly hair. My mother promptly gave me a perm, which just as promptly fell out. Looking back, I am grateful she didn’t try it again.

Roz wasn’t so lucky. In a fit of Homestyle Hairdresser, Mom and my Aunt Jean decided Roz, then aged 8 or so, would look darling with some curls. Roz wasn’t so sure, but out came the Toni home perm and into the kitchen chair she went.

No poodle at Westminster had ever looked poodlier than Roz looked that day. I’m not sure what result my mother was imagining — the Toni home perm girl on the box sure looked a lot happier than my sister. Unlike me, Roz has fine hair, so it took rather nicely to the miracle chemicals my mother soaked her head in.

When Gilly was about 12, I got a frantic phone call from her. She was in our bedroom, crying, phone cord under the door. I could hear Mom (and come to think of it, probably my Aunt Jean, as well) outside the door. Mom had offered to trim her bangs, and now she was desperate for me to get home and take the scissors from her. Apparently, in an attempt to keep evening things up, the bangs kept getting shorter and shorter. Roz had moved out by this time, because I like to think she would have used her Toni home perm experience to save her little sister.

The funny thing is, in our dress-up cupboard, which featured a lot of Mom’s old party dresses and some (on reflection) fabulous shoes, were a set of three wigs. They were plastic helmets that looked like you’d put a cabbage on your head. They were harsh and horrible and so spectacular, we all used to fight over the blond one.

Because I learn nothing, when Ari was about 10, I announced I’d bought clippers so I could do his buzz cut at home. He let me do it exactly once.

I’d officially become my mother.

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