Taking stock of a wayward dock

Our dock keeps running away from home.

We’ve needed a new dock at the cottage for several years. Wood deteriorates, and wood being mangled in the thick ice that heralds winter in cottage country is facing a lofty foe.

We – Roz, Gilly and I – own the cottage our parents purchased 42 years ago. That sounds like they made a decision to jump into the holiday home market. They didn’t; my Dad said he was going to check out a cottage. My mother gave him a look I soon learned said far more than words. That night he came home and we owned a cottage. I remember yips of joy from girls with no clue how much work was about to happen, and a look of thunder from a woman who did.

Gilly was up first last year, and called to say the dock was gone. Gone? How does a dock be gone? She called again to say they’d found it at the other end of the lake and had hauled it home with canoes and ropes. She and her husband managed to get it back on its crib, but she warned us it was a little precarious. The main source of security was a rope tied to the pump house. We started pricing building another dock and left it tied with a rope to the pump house.

A few days before I was taking up my crew this year, I popped in during a work jaunt. It’s called “checking on the mouse situation”. Every spring, you open the door nervously, wondering how many small intruders have left behind their caraway seed calling cards. Not bad, I noted. Less work than usual would be required.

Until I went to the lake, and stared at the naked shoreline. No dock, no rope. I called back home to let the others know. Roz said somebody probably stole the rope.

Ari and his friends, Ben and Pat, are all cottage veterans. We went up a day ahead of the others, and I’d warned them there was no dock. I’d also told them they’d have to find it; you can’t leave a dock floating around loose. I checked my rear-view mirror and saw 3 Tom Sawyers looking back at me.

In record time, they had the truck unloaded and were digging out paddles and life jackets. I heard whooping from the lake as they tossed a canoe into the water, and headed out like Viking warriors, if Viking warriors liked rap music, nachos and cushioned flip flops.

Not half an hour later, I saw Ari and Pat struggling to paddle the canoe, the waterlogged dock trailing behind them. And Ben, all 6’6” of him, standing on the dock waving to me.

“Hey, Swim Team,” I called, “why aren’t you at least kicking?”

“It’s too shallow.”

“So get off it and push.”

“The bottom is all mushy.” The two paddlers yelled unkind things to him.

When two more sets of shoulders got there, we managed to push it almost back into place though with a few inches of water covering most of it. Hunting for a rope, I found a thick cable with huge hooks on each end. Our cottage shed is a testament to the way my father faced the world: thick chains, violent scythes and about a dozen axes. We cabled the dock to a huge tree and pounded back some stray nails.

A new dock will be lovely. But I had 6 kids last week who couldn’t have cared less, and I was reminded we sometimes spend too much time worrying about the wrong things.

After all, they got to be Vikings.

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Maybe being successful really is just child’s play

When I moved back into this house, a small boy directly across the street was nearly bursting with excitement. “They have a kid my age!” His mother told me this, years later, as we watched that little boy and his younger sister become so tightly knit with my two that they still call each other siblings. Christopher, 22, was just 4 when we moved in; Ari, 19, was not yet 2.

They’re all grown up now, of course. Sarah just turned 20, as Ari will next month. Michael has a couple of years on Christer, but it’s never mattered. The four of them have moved through their young lives together, even when they’ve been apart in school, even when circles and cycles of friends have come and gone.

Our photo albums are littered with their history. They’ve all appeared in this column, seamlessly moving from one life stage to the next. They’ve argued and they’ve bickered and they’ve rolled their eyes. They’ve gone away to school and come back, picking up where they left off without a stumble. The age differences have evaporated, and they’ve discovered the best plans are no plans at all. They don’t phone, they just flow between houses as they always have, these awesome kids I’ve watched wrestle each other and ignore each other yet always stand united to the rest of the world.

This summer feels different. Maybe they can sense the onset of real adulthood in the offing; school is over for one, and maybe that is all it’s taken to change the timbre of their interaction. Most nights, they are out front tossing a football or a softball, just like they did when they were small. But so much has changed: if cars need to be moved, they move them. There are often a few beers sitting carefully on the curb as they play. I’m still not sure who owns which football, and Christer finally found his baseball glove in Michael’s basement.

Christopher’s girlfriend Pammy has fit right in, and I see Sarah happy for another girl to offset her many brothers. The other evening, the granddaughter of a neighbour joined them as they threw a softball back and forth. This tiny 7-year-old ran around laughing, no doubt excited that the big kids were letting her play. I watched her and the calendar flew back 15 years, and I was glad those big kids could remember how important it was to be included. I suddenly remembered this girl’s grandparents watching me and my sister grow up here, and I was reminded the evolution of a neighbourhood is about the people and not the houses.

My neighbour and I sat on the step the other night, listening to the banter of these adults we still see as our children. It seems like last week we watched them in the twilight against a backdrop of cicadas signalling summer’s end, twirling and twirling, arms outstretched, as they giggled and flopped down on the grass and yelled that they were drunk. Over and over, revelling in play, simply play. I hope they keep room for play in their lives; we often lose it. Maybe the four of them can keep it lit like a pilot light for each other, their mere presence in each other’s lives enough to transport them.

They’re still too young, I think, to understand how strong they’ve made each other. No matter where they all branch off, these childhood roots will hold them in good stead. They’ve made room for one another while finding their own ways – and it’s a gift they’ve given me as well as themselves.

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Legally hobbling women: way to go, Hobby Lobby

Not even the suffocating humidity of late can snuff out the chill blowing from the south; when we talk about the winds of change, we usually think we’re going forward. Not if you’re the Supreme Court of the United States.

You’ve heard, no doubt. They ruled that Hobby Lobby, a large chain employing about 30,000 people, can deny birth control coverage to their employees because the owners do not believe in it. The Court decided that because it is a “closely-held” business (Hobby Lobby is owned by a single family), they can stick their noses into the business of their employee’s families. Which will no doubt be getting larger.

An employer’s religious beliefs are trumping an individual’s right to access medical care. Contraception is medical care. And, in case you think this is a one-off, that ruling has spurred on 82 other firms waiting in the wings to exercise the same puritanical control.

Call me outrageous, but I believe patient and doctor have the right to discuss any and all aspects of that patient’s health; I believe that doctor has the right to prescribe any drug or procedure that is federally approved and warranted in treating that patient; and I think any employer providing health benefits does not have the right to pick and choose which drugs and procedures they will cover based on their religious beliefs.

In a neat twist, it is only their female employees they’re lining up in their religious crosshairs. Erectile dysfunction got you down? Hobby Lobby will pay for your ‘script for the little blue pills. Some might think it’s a message from above that you should pack up your tackle and accept your fishing days are over. No, Hobby Lobby is cool with paying for Viagra for its male employees, as well as vasectomies. Well, that makes sense. I mean, the Bible does state that Viagra and vasectomies are part of God’s plan. Guess they just want to make sure men can both shoot and score.

It must be because Hobby Lobby loves kids, right? They surely must be huge proponents of helping their employees build a good family life with lots of offspring, as their good lord intended. Well, no. Good luck looking for maternity benefits; it’s not their fault you were stupid enough to get pregnant.

According to Mother Jones, “Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).” Huh. Let me get this straight: a company that has now legally blocked their employees from having contraceptive care covered under their health plan because it goes against their religious ideology actually invests money in firms that make…contraception.

Canadian Conservatives, though they consult with the political forces and think tanks in the U.S. who provided the very climate for the Hobby Lobby decision, haven’t pushed this country as far to the right. But the fact that decision surprised many south of the border should serve as a warning.

An Alberta physician recently declared she would not prescribe birth control pills. The governing body covered their butts by saying that it was a clinic, and patients should talk to their family doctor. They neatly skirt the fact Alberta, like many other provinces, is experiencing a shortage of family doctors.

To anyone who thinks Hobby Lobby is justified, I’ll make you a deal: I’ll keep my heathen beliefs out of your church, and you keep your religious beliefs out of my government.

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Cats run the Internet because cats run everything

When it comes to kids and vets and pets, I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t.

A couple of times a year now, Maggie the Cat will go off her feed. Instead of simply saying “can I try that other brand?” she dehydrates in 6 hours, loses a pound she can’t afford and slumps dramatically on the floor. She’s 13, and I’m aware her needs are changing. I also want her to spend some time with the woman who taught that gorilla sign language.

Last week was different. She was still eating, but not keeping it down. She looked up at me, a small calico bag that used to have a cat in it. I said I was taking her in.

“You know she’s faking it,” said Pammy, Christopher’s girlfriend. Maggie stalked from the room.

“She’s really lost weight, though, I don’t want to risk it.”

“It will cost a fortune, and there isn’t anything wrong with her. Trust me.”

The vet gave her a poke and a prod, and weighed her. 5 pounds, 1 ounce. “She’s down 10 ounces since the fall,” he informed me. We both looked sad. So did the vet. He started listing all the things that happen to older cats. I agreed to a run of blood work to at least establish our starting point.

Have you ever been to a casino? You’ll see people sitting at a slot machine for hours and hours. They feed their tokens in, sucked up into the whirl of knowing that this machine – their machine – will pay them back all those tokens if they just sit here long enough. If you walk away without that win, all of your money has just been flushed away.

My cat is a slot machine.

A bill for a checkup, a few hundred more for lab work and all of a sudden, I’m into her for too much to just walk away. The vet said he’d call the next day, and gazed sadly at the tiny bundle in my arms. She tucked her head under my elbow for added effect. The vet spoke in the hushed tones doctors use around patients who are near the end, and I cried all the way home. So did Maggie.

Back home I used words like diabetes, hyperthyroidism and cancer. Ari, 19, noted she was bouncing around the house and seemed just fine. It was true. Her lethargy had evaporated, and she tucked into her new food with enthusiasm. And kept it down. I gave her the evil eye and she pretended not to see me.

We have a new cat in the household, and her boundless energy and youth make Maggie and JoJo look a little crotchety. There is a reason you never see an ad for a good used cat; there’s no such thing. There are good used cat owners, but not any actual good used cats. We dance around them, and it’s we who know all the steps.

The vet called the next day, and I took a deep breath and sat down.

“Well, her blood and urinalysis levels are all normal.” He sounded a little perplexed. “I mean, we ran over a hundred things. She’s all within normal range.” The same thing had happened 9 months ago, with the same results. I should have named her Munchausen.

“Told you so,” said Pammy, cuddling Maggie.

“Easy for you to say. If I’d called it wrong, none of you would ever have forgiven me,” I replied.

Maggie started sneezing today. I’m pretty sure my cat is allergic to herself.

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How can my kids be getting older if I’m not?

The transition is complete. I saw Ari, 19 walking up the driveway the other day and thought it was some man. I had to give my head a shake to realize it was my baby. Conversely, Christopher, 22, has been 6’4’ for so long it’s baby pictures of him that surprise me. I don’t know; maybe we just let the first one grow up faster.

We are spending a summer juggling cars and jobs and schedules. Christer’s girlfriend Pammy, 22, is working days, and Ari works most afternoons and evenings. Christer and I are based here but I travel, so each evening is trying to sort who needs to be where and when, then involving cars and bikes and timing. I realized early on I didn’t need to be part of the equation anymore; they sort it out amongst themselves and everyone gets where they need to be. I am living with grownups.

Pammy will make dinner some nights; Christopher once cut the grass before I asked him to; Ari will grab me a bottle of wine on his way home from work (“you like this Sove stuff, right?”) and blue bins often go out without a reminder. They fix my computer. Laundry I didn’t fold appears folded.

“Where do we keep the vacuum for the car?”

“We’re ordering pizza, what do you want on yours?”

“Mom, I’m sending you a really interesting link. Read it and tell me what you think.”

I like this new era. It can be frustrating, because they turn back into children at the most inopportune moments. They still look at me with haunted eyes around dinnertime, and there is nothing to eat even though they do the grocery shopping. I hand them my card and say “if you recognize it, put it in the cart” and they come home with an eclectic cross section of things that rarely make a single normal meal. We adapt and melt cheese on this instead of that.

I was flipping through piles of old pictures the other day, and came across a trove I’d never seen. A box dropped off by a friend after Mom died, tiny black and white photos of both parents before they’d married, before they’d even known each other. Pic after pic of my Dad in natty suits and Don Draper hats, striking poses beside cars – and sometimes women – I didn’t recognize. I was looking at my own son staring back at me. I showed Ari and he smiled, but he was humouring me because he’s even old enough to do that now.

When he was about 6, I was chopping garlic for dinner one night. A sliced clove sat on the cutting board, and I turned to see Ari grimacing as he put a piece in his mouth. Determined, he chewed, tears forming. I asked what he was doing. “You said Pa used to eat that stuff, so I guess I better, too.” My Dad did eat raw garlic, and this tiny boy was honouring him in the only way he could think. I learned then the honour is in the effort.

My quasi-grownups still get dressed out of laundry baskets, dressers merely decorative. I barked at Ari that he had 9 empty drawers he could use, and he said he only had 6.

“The dresser has 6 and there are another 3 under your bed,” I reminded him.

“I never put stuff in those ones,” he replied. I asked him why not.

“When I was little, I thought you bought those to keep the monsters under the bed from getting out.”

My baby grinned.

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Tackling the loss from 18 years away

It’s a green metal box. The latch is a little wonky, and as you open it one hinge does most of the work, the other one pulling itself up like an old man exiting an easy chair. My Dad was never much of a fisherman, but for some reason, having a tackle box made him happy. It still sits beneath the cottage, a little rustier every year, a little less relevant.

It’s full of junk, really. Broken lures and bits and bobs of wire and hooks; an ancient pair of needle nose pliers that don’t open; swivels that won’t close. There are still some new packages in there, some leaders and weights and an indignant looking fake fish sporting garish colours and a belly full of tiny hooks. It was always full of castoffs, but Dad would say bring me the tackle box when we’d messed up our rods, yet again, and he’d dig through the little compartments, figuring out how to make something he already had do the job of something he didn’t want to go buy.

I didn’t like lures, I liked worms. I would feel sorry for the worm as the fish nibbled away at it, and then I’d feel sorry for the fish that eventually got caught. I’d feel even sorrier for myself later that night if Dad made us eat the fish because if something had to die there had to be a reason.

Our lake was full of deadheads, fallen trees just beneath the surface that were the doom of many boats and the curse of even more cast lines. Lures would be ripped off because no, you hadn’t hooked a big one, you’d snagged a log and we’d watch from our dock as strangers to our lake (locals knew all the dangers) gave up trying to free their fancy tackle and quite literally cut bait and moved on. We would load a grappling hook into our old wooden boat, two little girls antsy with anticipation as Dad rowed around the fringes of the lake, staring like a hawk beneath the surface for our prey.

He’d set the hook and we’d hang on, four small hands being burned by the yellow rope, four small feet braced against the back of the boat. Dad would row back in, and we’d yell if we lost it and cheer if we didn’t. We’d eventually haul these river monsters back to shore, where Dad would pick them clean of their snagged tackle, adding the bounty to the green box. Real fishermen would visit, men with tackle boxes with tidy rows and immaculate packages arranged by size and category. Dad would pull out one of his prizes – a particularly expensive lure he’d scavenged, but would never use – and they’d nod and tell lies to one another and have another beer.

Dad’s been gone nearly 18 years and I still can’t accept the reason but the tackle box remains. Periodically, someone will poke around in it, trying to save a trip into town that will take longer than the urge to fish will last. The tangle of rods and reels is a sorry statement on how we don’t take care of things, except every year, necessity provides new incarnations of gear that makes one kid or another more than a fisherman; it makes them an inventor. I think Dad might have liked that that even more, the making over and the making do.

My Dad usually found his bounty where others had given up, and that little green metal box is a testament to that. Not so irrelevant after all.

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With the Tories, it’s déjà vu all over again

I was a weird little kid, and took an early interest in politics. My Dad was a staunch Progressive Conservative from Saskatchewan. I wrote a fan letter to John Diefenbaker when I was 9. Told you I was weird.

Debates would get heated. My father wanted me to follow his teachings, and for a long time, I did. As I learned, I asked more questions. I ended up at a conclusion I still believe: political parties are like lousy marriages where people only stay together for the kids. Why couldn’t we use this idea from one side of the aisle, but that one from over here? My Dad would sigh and say it didn’t work that way.

Little did I know I was enjoying the halcyon days of politics. Now, I swear the only words that ring out with any clarity from a dais are “whatever s/he just said, I’m totally against it.” We don’t vote for anything, we vote against things. Disturbingly, people fail to realize that things have changed. That Progressive Conservative party of my youth is not this one. Not even close. If you’re still just checking the blue box, you need to pull your head out of the sand. These are the Regressive Conservatives.

I will give Tim Hudak this: I totally believe he will cut 100,000 public sector jobs. He will never, ever sort out the other end of that teeter totter; the entire 1,000,000 jobs plan has been shredded across the board for embarrassingly faulty math. But he’ll keep his word and slash the other end to the ground.

My fears? We’ve lived through this before. Hudak’s master, Mike Harris, instituted his Common Sense Revolution just before my Dad died in 1996. We felt the impact of those “common sense” cuts firsthand, and so will you if it happens again. My father had nurses so run off their feet with staggering workloads, we took over all but his medical care. There’s nothing wrong with a daughter bathing her father, unless you take into account his dignity, which I did.

Let’s keep an eye out for the invisible cuts, the ones that don’t matter. Who needs hospitals and schools to be clean? I mean, how dirty can they get? Someone said I was getting frantic about “a little dirt in the corners”. I welcome him to the new world of C. difficile. Three years ago, the Niagara Health system had 37 deaths from C. difficile; it is contagious and it is deadly and we need to counter it with cleaner hospitals, not dirtier ones. Maybe some of these newly branded Conservatives can afford to opt out of a healthcare system that is increasingly becoming truly for the great unwashed, but I can’t.

We can’t keep being old people who forget how it was to be young and young people who believe we will never get old. We’re a collective; the fact my kids no longer go to the elementary school doesn’t mean I don’t want it safe and good for the kids who do. I may not need daycare facilities anymore, but I once did and people I care about will again. I don’t need a new hip today, but I’ll need something.

I’m fed up with ads insinuating that Ontarians have more bootstraps to pull up or should be punching more holes in their belts. According to the Ministry of Finance, “Ontario currently has the lowest program spending per capita among Canadian provinces.” Every party that has ever been in power has made costly errors; I’m just not prepared to have our health and education frontline workers be the sacrificial lambs, again.

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Netflix allows me to have impure thoughts

Every few months or so, I barge around the house waving bills, deciding what we can live without. Hydro is a killer, but it’s followed closely by phone, internet, cable, gas and groceries. I stare at those lists you get to organize a budget. I get to things like “gifts” and “entertainment” and start laughing. Our entertainment is explaining why nobody is getting any gifts.

Hydro bills make me spit nails. It doesn’t matter what I do, it keeps heading up. We’ve become as nocturnal as a bunch of badgers, with laundry and dishes being done in the wee hours. By candlelight. I’ve tried replacing light bulbs with seven-year-warranty-my-ass twirly bulbs, but once I realized you handle the burned out ones like nuclear waste, I quit. I want to be environmentally responsible, but I can’t keep up. Besides, I know of at least one person who bit through a thermometer as a kid, and they’re still alive.

I found out a few months ago the kids had discovered Netflix. Most people have known about this service for a year or three. Nobody told me. You can watch nearly anything you want, when you want, on any device. TV shows, documentaries, movies, anything. And you can sit and watch whole seasons of something all at once, which is good for someone like me who can never remember when anything is supposed to be on.

So Christopher, 22, his girlfriend Pammy, 22 and Ari, 19, have been enjoying Netflix while I watch M*A*S*H reruns and say yes to someone else’s dress. How did I find out? I told them I was dumping our cable down to basic. Nobody was watching much TV, so I figured I’d teach them a lesson and take away the fancy packages.

Nobody cared.

“We don’t watch it anyway,” explained Christopher. “We just watch Netflix.” Hence I learned about Netflix. And hence they were forced to set my computer up so I too, could watch whatever Netflix was.

In about 2 hours, I was addicted. Years and years of programming I’d missed out on. No longer would I have to just nod and smile when people compared notes on current hits like Breaking Bad or House of Cards. But better still, I could now go back in time and find old stuff that had debuted, run for several seasons, and finished before I even heard about it. And here is where I found the magic.

Overcome with guilt at finding an 18-year-old football player sexy, I checked out a bio. Because I was so late to the game, so to speak, that 18-year-old was now 33. While still creepy, it wasn’t illegal. My impure thoughts were less impure. I mentioned this to one of my sons, who looked at me like he’d just swallowed a cockroach.

Newly empowered with choice and control, I called the cable company and told them to drop me down to just some local stations. All I wanted was the news. Nobody would notice.

“Hey, what happened to the TV?” yelled Ari. Seems he’d flipped around and settled on some Canadian channel he’d ever seen before. I sat down to watch a terrible game show with him. It soon became clear not only was it really old, it was really bad.

“We have a new cable package,” I explained.

“What’s it called, the 15 years too late package?”

Then The Beachcombers came on. He just looked at me.

“All I can say is that this was just as corny then as it is now.” That, and no impure thoughts of Bruno Gerussi.

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Whatever kills me had better be prepared for a fight

I really thought I was done talking about my boobs.

Three weeks ago, I told you I had a preventative double mastectomy. Family history with the disease is dubious, and I wasn’t taking any chances. All went well, and I’m back to my usual sparkly self.

Three weeks after surgery, I had a follow up appointment with my surgeons. Before I could get to my first question, my Surgical Oncologist, Dr. Nicole Hodgson whirled into the room and tossed a lab report on the table.

“Good timing,” she smiled. When you have done what I did, they remove all the tissue and check it under a microscope. I’d known this but forgotten, because a couple of months previous, I’d had a mammogram and MRI that had given me the all-clear on the cancer front.

I looked at the report, my eyes flying over it line by line, page by page. She pointed to one line. Lobular carcinoma in situ. I looked up. “Very high risk cells in the left, and starting in the right. It’s gone.” I looked down instinctively to where my left and right had once been. I was silent.

I’ll be honest: this was the only time in this whole affair that I felt sucker punched. I’ve been deliberate and decisive and clear-headed. I’ve attacked this with a near clinical attitude that some people thought I was using to mask fear. I’ve never been afraid. But if I thought I was dodging a bullet before, this time I was Indiana Jones diving under the descending rock wall with no time to spare.

So what was Girl Indiana thinking in those moments? Well, I was thinking I was lucky. But I was also thinking that women need to be aware our highest health risk is heart disease and stroke, not breast cancer. I inherited hypertension from my Mom as well (I’m not complaining; I also got her lovely hands) and am medicated to stop my elevator bursting through the top floor.

Living life is like crossing a busy highway, and you can get hit by anything. Many of you have written to me over the past few weeks – and some of you, over the past ten years – and said you feel like we’re friends. I understand and I agree: we share this spot every Monday and my life is better for having you in it.

As your friend, please listen. I’ve learned some up close things these past months, and I want you to benefit from them. You may not be able to control all the bad things that can happen to your health, but you have to try to control what you can. Make yourself as strong as you can be to handle whatever tackles you.

Quit smoking; eat better; start walking every day. I mean it. Nobody has time, but lying in a bed unable to haul yourself up means you need every muscle group ready to take over for the compromised one. I couldn’t use my chest. All of a sudden, my gut and my arms had to compensate. We are so brainwashed into thinking fitness is about skinny jeans, we forget it is about making your body ready to do battle.

We have spectacular medical services, but healing from a position of strength can mean the difference between surviving something and dying from it. Ask yourself: if tomorrow I underwent emergency surgery, how would I fare? Am I already helping my body, and my doctors, achieve the best outcome?

Just change one thing today. One. Become a warrior on the inside.

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Ask me how I know that dead skunks float

“I found a dead skunk”, said Ari, 19. The only good news was he was coming in from the yard and not out of his bedroom.

Seems the poor critter had tumbled into a water-filled yard waste bin during the winter. Things got covered in snow so suddenly, I hadn’t noticed it tucked behind the shed. Spring brought tulips and daffodils and skunks. The boys were cleaning up outside, and when Ari found the skunk he ran for a stick. Christopher, 22, ran for a hazmat suit. I will never know how two kids raised the same way can turn out so differently.

“I think I can get rid of it,” said Ari. I wrinkled my nose.

“Ew. Maybe your brother can help you.”

“Yeah, right. Maybe I can get it in a bag or something…” In the end he decided to call the city to take it away. Ten years ago, he would have been selling tickets to all his friends, who would have been surrounding the thing – holding sticks. And we wring our hands at the violence in video games.

The following day, I heard him answer the door when a city van pulled up.

“Man, she just reached in and grabbed it in a bag, in two seconds!” he told me as he came back in. I remarked that she was tougher than he was. He told me to be quiet.

“After she left, I tipped it over to get the water out. Guess what else was in there,” he asked. Before I could stop him, I discovered there is something worse than finding a dead skunk in your yard. That would be finding half a squirrel. I feed those squirrels; I name them. I told Ari he had reached an age where it was acceptable to withhold information from his mother.

I want two things: I want to be someone who doesn’t have dead varmints floating in her backyard, and I want to be someone who has children who wouldn’t think of poking dead varmints with a stick. My dream children were different; you know when you read of lottery winners living in the streets a year later, that wealth squandered? How you shake your head and know – know in your marrow – that you would be the exception? Having children is like that. You look around at how everyone else is doing it and know you could do it better. You ponder your own childhood a little too closely and get caught wondering aloud if you’d really been permitted to skate without a helmet or eat unwrapped Halloween candy. Your mother gives you that glance that says, “you try it and get back to me, I only made it look easy.”

As I was pulling weeds later on, Ari appeared on the deck. He started gently jumping up and down, the bad corner of the deck undulating beneath his feet like a floating raft.

“We need a new deck,” he said unnecessarily. “It’s even worse than last year.” Things with rotted beams rarely get better after yet another season of neglect. I sighed and told him it was on the list.

“I wish we could just do a new deck the Amish way,” I told him.

“You mean without electricity and wearing funny clothes?” he asked. He was serious.

“Like a barn raising, you goof. The whole neighbourhood gets together to build a barn.”

“We don’t need a barn. We need a deck,” he replied.

I have two kids who can’t cooperate to get rid of a dead skunk. Somehow I think the deck will have to wait.

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