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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We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the chives

I didn’t pull the yard in the fall, and I knew the spring cleanup was going to be beastly.

I told Ari and Taryn I needed a couple hours from both of them, which they promptly agreed to. “We’ll be back Sunday, will that be OK?” they asked and I agreed.

On Saturday I called Christopher and Pammy at work to make the same request. “You know it’s going to rain all day Sunday, right?” asked Pammy and I replied that I did not.

And so on Saturday, I found myself cleaning up the yard. Alone. I rather like doing it, but because of the dogs we now have a fenced yard, but a cheap one that has no gate.

I can’t lift heavy bags over the fence alone. The only one who can get from the backyard to the front with any elegance is Ari, who can leap it like a gazelle. I look like a turtle clinging to two lawn chairs as I make the transition over. I do it when nobody is looking. I hope.

I got to work with a rake and a digger thing, apologizing to my late father as I went along. This is still his yard and I still come out here to talk to him. I glanced at my pathetic vegetable plot, last year’s tomato plants curled up like paper corpses around stakes now boldly staking nothing at all. As I tugged out dead pepper stalks, I was pleasantly surprised to notice two huge clumps of chives waving away in the spring sunshine. It appears chives can survive our winters — and my gardening skills.

When I was a toddler, I’d play out here while my father puttered in his huge garden. He was busy and I was busy, but he could keep an eye on me as I put the world to rights in my sandbox. We had mourning doves, noisy little creatures that I apparently took exception to. “Hoo hoo, yourself!” I would yell, my father laughing at my furrowed brow. It’s not just a family story; it’s the truth. I was born trying to change things, and these birds were interrupting my concentration.

I mention this only because as I scrambled along pulling out leaves and weeds from my cedar hedge line, another bird started making a racket. It was close, nesting low in the cedars somewhere. I couldn’t see it and I knew not to go peering too closely. If I got within a couple of metres, she would start fussing each time. My father would have known what kind of bird it was, why it nested there, and when the babies would be coming. He would have explained why I wasn’t allowed to get too close; that the best way to let her guard her babies was for me to never even see them.

I would have argued and tried to peek, because how often is a bird’s nest at eye level? He would have caught me and hauled me back, and told me to dig dandelions out because he knew that was my favourite thing to do. So five decades later, I put down my rake and went to dig up dandelions.

I’ll clear that section of the yard in a couple of weeks, when there is no longer an agitated bird mom defending her home. I’ll thank my dad for teaching me things about gardens, and mourning doves, and childish instincts. I’ll thank him for reminding me the only way to move forward is to get down in the dirt and do the work.

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A miscarriage is not a disability

Is a miscarriage a disability?

A recent ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario says it is.

A Toronto woman was fired from her job after suffering a major depressive episode she says was triggered by a miscarriage and the death of her mother-in-law. The tribunal ruled in her favour that she shouldn’t have lost her job because of the depression, which they got right. Then they went a step further and said her miscarriage was a disability, which they got wrong.

There are two crucial issues at play here, and both matter. Mental health in the workplace is still a giant ball of stigma, freighted with assumptions and misunderstandings. A report recently released by CivicAction found that in the Greater Hamilton and Toronto Area (GHTA), one in five in the labour force is dealing with a mental health issue, and 31 per cent have coped with it in the past year. Add in how many of us love someone dealing with it, and I doubt many of us remain untouched.

A miscarriage, while truly emotional, is not a disability. I experienced a wanted pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. It was bewildering, stressful and sad. It was also an incredibly common outcome; many women miscarry before they even know they’re pregnant. Your body is a marvel and that marvel frequently makes decisions so organic in nature, you’re fooling yourself if you ever believed you had a say in it.

Many things can trigger a depression, or other related mental health issue. I deal with bipolar disorder, and a manic episode can be fluttering in the wings as surely as a depressive one. Why someone can handle something one time and not another is not the issue; the cause of the breakdown is important only in the sense of diagnosis and treatment, not as a “good enough” excuse.

Shorter answer? Acknowledging the existence of depression and the impact it has on an employee is good practice; labelling the cause of the depression a disability is not.

Loss changes us. It sharpens some parts of us as surely as it dulls others. But the fact remains that life is about loss and we can talk all we like about the natural progression of things, as if there is a sliding scale dependent on age, or the loss of one person superseding that of another. I’ve heard people say they get less support when they lose a parent than a sibling or child because it’s the natural order of things, as if your heart is a deck of cards and one trumps another.

The tribunal has stepped into muddy waters with this decision. Like universities changing curriculums or having to issue trigger warnings on topics that might be sensitive, we’re barrelling headlong down a path of buffering all the hard edges with bubble wrap.

Life is tough. You don’t get to make your way through it wearing a helmet and pads with everyone removing the risks ahead of you. Instead, we need open and honest conversations about dealing with things like depression, instead of thinking we can somehow make it not exist.

Nobody can alter my brain chemistry by making sure nothing hurts my feelings or by not requiring me to show up and participate in the maintenance of my own health. I do not have a disability; I have a diagnosis. When I had a miscarriage, I did not have a disability; I had a loss.

We’re having a hard enough time getting mental health issues out into the open where they can be handled empathetically, practically and to a good end result. Don’t cloud the issue by slapping disabling labels on common — if sad — medical occurrences.

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