Forget seven stages of grief. There’s only one: I miss you

“I think I missed the Maggie column, can you tell me when it ran?”

This email flipped across my laptop while I was out of the country for work. I’d just finished getting dressed for dinner and was trying not to wrinkle/tear/spill anything on the only grownup outfit I’d brought along. My makeup was done and I immediately started crying it off my face.

Maggie was my cat. As a part of the household, she’s served many roles in this column, from star to cameos to supporting cast. Fourteen years ago when the boys were young, I’d promised them a cat when the time was right. Vet bills and cat food were nowhere in our ridiculously tight budget at the time, so I used mystic phrases like “when it’s meant to be” and “we’ll get a sign”.

The sign was Free Kittens propped by the curb of a house that looked like it had been condemned years before. Sensing a bad outcome, I left the kids at home. I crept around the back to find three drunken men holding two chainsaws aloft, empty beer cans everywhere. It took them a moment to notice me, a moment I nearly seized to run far, far away.

“Free cats?” I asked, trembling. I never tremble, but the beer- chainsaw combo rarely ends well. I went home with a few ounces of calico kitten, fur so sparse it was more like feathers. She was trembling, too.

I don’t use the word “besotted” often, but we were besotted with this tiny beast. She reached her full weight of six pounds and maintained her kittenish good looks her entire life. She sat on my lap all day and slept with me every night. I would carry her around while I put on the kettle or fetched the mail, neither of us thinking there was anything odd about this.

Around age 12, she started getting cranky if I was away. She would usually stop eating, and Christopher would race her to the vet. I still have one memorable text: “I know the Visa card is for emergencies, but I took Maggie to the vet and told them to do whatever they had to. I know that’s what you would want.” We paid $600 to find out she was sulking.

She’d have blood work every six months or so in the final two years. I think she just had a crush on her vet. She dropped a half pound each time and it stayed off, my tiny girl shrinking before my eyes. I’d await the results with the vet’s cautionary words ringing in my ears. And each time, both the vet and I would be amazed to find out she was essentially fine. Maggie had perfected faking it. She only needed a small fainting couch to complete her drama.

Except the last time, of course. In January of this year, I looked at the vet, the test results, and my four-and-a-half pound girl who refused to eat, and said no to surgery. Christer and I endured a tearful exchange where he was prepared to use his own Visa card, but I shook my head.

Resilience, like youth, is wasted on the young. I keep barricades around my heart to keep things out, because once in, they take up permanent residence. It’s like a cupboard full of broken dishes in there, and I walk around with small ghosts hanging from me like charms on a bracelet.

That reader hadn’t missed the Maggie column. I’ve just never been able to write it. It’s too hard to articulate things I can’t bear.

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I used to laugh at Dad for never throwing anything away. Not anymore

I glanced through the back window in time to see dinner being cremated.

“I thought one of you was keeping an eye on the barbecue!” I yelled.

“I just checked it. It was fine,” said Christopher. I opened the lid to see five chicken breasts huddling together on the left side of the grill, as if something had scared them. “Why is everything crowded over here?”

Because the right side had turned into a flamethrower, again. But they were only on the left front area, because the rear burner quit working years ago.

“Did you say we were getting a new barbecue last year?” asked Christopher. “Five years ago,” I corrected him. The barbecue is nearly twenty years old. It’s a Weber natural gas one because I use it all year round, and can’t stand lugging propane tanks around or worse, opening a cold grill with dinner staring back at me, half cooked. It’s been an excellent barbecue, outlasting a team of cheaper ones, and I’ve replaced parts when I could. Problem is, buying pieces of barbecues is cheaper than buying one whole. And it’s time for a whole one.

One of the knobs stopped turning several winters ago. I thought it was just ice and told the kids it would work again in the spring. I fix a lot of things this way; a friend’s air conditioning unit was making a weird noise. She asked if I knew anything about them. I went over and gently banged on it and the humming stopped. I told her it was fixed. If my computer starts messing up, I immediately shut it down so all the gremlins can leave. These things work just frequently enough for me to have faith in them.

Spring came and the knob didn’t work. We adjusted to cooking on the remaining two sections, which is totally fine unless a guest tries to barbecue. It’s like knowing where the creaky stair is, or using pliers to turn off the tap because the handle broke. Every house has its magic.

I saw an ad to win a new barbecue, and it looked like it would be perfect so I entered. I’m still waiting to hear back on that. I thought of making the kids put their money where their mouths quite literally are, knowing if it comes to food, they can probably be inspired. Pammy once wanted to start a petition to make them frost both sides of her Mini Wheats.

I watch people crowd fund surgical procedures which makes me sad, and weddings which makes me laugh. It then occurred to me that my barbecue lasted far longer than my marriage did; going by some chart I just found, I’m coming up to my china anniversary with my barbecue. If begging for wedding donations looks greedy and silly, begging for a barbecue at least would be a good return on the investment.

I know what’s actually going to happen. I’m going to procrastinate for another year, and as soon as I can find a complete pair of rubber gloves instead of just three lefts, I’ll tear it apart and rebuild the sucker. Ari will raise an eyebrow knowing I won’t remember where everything goes, and he’ll help. I’ll call the Weber place to ask about some part and I’ll call it a doohickey and they will pretend they’re not laughing.

And after I’ve broken all my nails and have grease everywhere, the knob still won’t work but it will at least look better.

My mom always told me to put a little lipstick on if I wanted to feel better. My barbecue just needs a little lipstick.

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Unless Noah is on, I’m doomed

Christopher’s girlfriend, Pammy, 23, has wanted a dog her entire life. She’s lived with us for four years and I’ve never felt obligated to indulge her childhood yearnings because I always wanted a pogo stick and I got one and I hit my head on a snow shovel hanging on the wall when I pogo’d in the garage because it was raining. Sometimes parents shouldn’t give in to childish whims.

After losing my darling Maggie in January, it threw the cat quota askew. JoJo is 12; Pip is 2, but I reasoned she needed a friend. Hence the two kittens, now 5 months old. What’s worse than a 5 month old kitten? Two 5 month old kittens.

When Ari’s girlfriend brought her dog Shelby around, I was shocked to see everybody adjust quite nicely. I thought of something.

“Pammy, when you guys move out, you’re going to get a dog instantly. It might make sense for you to start looking now, so it can become accustomed to the cats, and here. We all know where it will be dropped off when you need a sitter.” There was stunned silence, at both concepts: someone moving out, and someone getting a dog. That afternoon, Pammy and Christer went off to the Hamilton SPCA “just to look”.

What they brought home was The Ugliest Dog in the World. Pammy came in cuddling a hairy bundle of sticks, cooing about how precious he was. Even the cats thought it was a joke. After a grooming, it was revealed she’d adopted a rat terrier- Chihuahua, apparently something that is made on purpose. She named him Alfie; my father finally got his namesake. Alfie has the face of an 89-year-old man, so it seems appropriate. If my father were alive, he too would have the face of an 89-year-old man.

I’ve had a crash course in dogs the past two weeks. They are different from cats. They like other dogs. When a moving truck pulls in and a kid is watching out the window saying, “I hope they have kids!”, that is a dog. If you introduce something new to a cat, they roll their eyes and tell you they’ll get back to you in a month or two. Maybe.

I tell Shelby she can go on the couch. “Lie on your towel,” I say. She carefully lies down beside the towel.

Marco gets on the counter where he’s not supposed to be. He stares deeply and intently into an outlet. I worry about this one.

Cairo likes one of my sweaters to knead and teethe on. I didn’t know kittens’ teethe, but apparently they do. She intently goes to town on my sweater, blissfully unaware that I am actually wearing it and she’s piercing my lower back with her teeth and claws.

JoJo sits high on one of my dressers most days, certain The Rapture must surely be upon us. She is equally certain she is the only one in the household who will be saved, because surely the addled won’t be rewarded.

Pip is angry at Pammy, who previously gave her undivided attention and love until Alfie, the puppy with the face of a gargoyle, showed up. Pip now loves me best.

A colleague called me the other night. “You’re up to four cats? And two dogs? You’ve already written that you’re officially crazy, too, right?” I pretended to take offence to his tone; I could hardly argue the content. “You know you’re staying single forever, right?” Good thing, I thought. Four cats sleep with me every night.

And sometimes a puppy who looks like a gargoyle.

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Food is the way to my heart… as long as I know what it is

Pammy wanted to make guacamole the other day. I do not do this, but I am not averse to things like this taking place in my kitchen.

“Where’s the avocados?” she asked. A reasonable thing. I looked at her blankly.

“What avocados?”

“I had two avocados here in the fruit bowl. They were finally ripe enough, and I need them.”

“What exactly does a ripe avocado look like?” I asked her. As it turns out, if you ask me, they look exactly like a pear that has gone really bad. I’d thrown them out. Some people watch too much Food Network. I don’t watch enough. The limes accompanying the avocados didn’t go to waste, however. They gave up their tarty lives in several gin and tonics.

I fumble with food that doesn’t start out looking like what it ends up being. Pineapples dare you to eat them, and kiwis look like something just got neutered. I try to give all new ideas a chance, especially if they’re plunked in front of me. Most are overrated and sometimes, I wonder if there is some giant joke going on. I ate kale chips in a pretty spectacular restaurant in California, and if it hadn’t been for the very successful martini in my other hand, I never would have been able to swallow them. Sometimes the emperor has no clothes.

My sons have grown up none the worse for wear, as far as I can tell. Everybody will try everything once, and eat anything put before us if someone we need to impress is watching. The fact remains we’re a bunch of peasants at heart (and stomach) and prefer food we can not only readily identify, but pronounce. I thought teaching my kids how to pronounce Worcestershire was silly until people starting getting all fancy about bruschetta and quinoa. I won’t fault you for making those faces with your perfect enunciation, but I probably will make fun of you.

For Mother’s Day recently, the kids announced they were taking me out for breakfast. They know I prefer breakfast over any other meal, and I know they’d had a party the night before and needed hangover food. I told them it was lovely of them to think of me on this special day, and Ari replied they figured it would be easier to get a table if they had a mother with them.

Christopher and Ari sat at one end of the table, and I sat in the middle, chattering away with Taryn and Pammy. I looked up in time from requesting my usual omelette to hear Christopher order something called a Hungry Man breakfast. Before I could finish reading what that was comprised of, Ari ordered the same thing. It entailed four eggs, four kinds of pig, toast, hash browns and other things. It sounded if not awful, at least awfully big.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said as platters were deposited before each of them. They were grinning like fools, staring at plates that have probably been ordered as last meals. I poured more coffee and daintily spread some jam on a slice of toast. I fully expected Christer to discover Jimmy Hoffa when he lifted up a slice of ham.

It didn’t take long to realize that Ari’s eyes had been bigger than his belly. The girls and I scavenged a few things from his plate, but it was a lost cause. Too much comfort, too much food.

“Should have ordered the Hungry Boy,” Christopher told him with a smile.

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Snips and snails and puppy dog tails.. what is cat food made of?

You may have noticed that pet food is no longer just pet food. When we had our first cat 35 years ago, my mom plunked a bag of cat food into the cart at No Frills and that was that. My Dad supplemented the critter’s diet with all kinds of gross extras, like lumps of gristle. It was disgusting and Nooly just chowed it all down and lived to a healthy ripe old age. We’d find bits and pieces of mouse lying around, leading me to believe that our cat invented the sushi craze.

Now, I go into emporiums devoted to pet food, pet beds, pet toys and guilt. I spend more time peering at labels on tins of cat food than I do investigating what I feed my family. The internet is no help at all; if I listen to those crazy people, I should be spending three hours a day working on my Michelin star for our Cateteria. On the Internet, everybody is a pro. If I got itchy over people declaring themselves doctors and lawyers because of their Internet learning, I soon discovered the vast armies of homemade veterinarians out there.

I blame advertising, of course. Like many people, I’ve watched Mad Men and been made even more aware of the sinister side of selling, evil people plotting up ways to make me buy things I don’t need with money I don’t have wearing clothes I don’t like while asking myself why people wear false eyelashes.

It was bad enough when the ads were targeted to my sons. We had many, many battles over Nutella, a jar of chocolate gloop I refused to buy them. The boys dragged me to watch a commercial declaring it wholesome. For breakfast. I refused. Nutella had to pay fines over those misleading ads, but not before an entire generation was brainwashed into thinking it was the equivalent of spreading broccoli on their toast.

Advertising shows me frisky puppies and sleek cats next to labels featuring streams and vegetables. They leave out the part that animals eat animals; maybe they should show that purring calico bringing down a chicken. Most of it is so expensive, Christopher calls it câté.

We used to take Nooly to the cottage. We’d found him as a stray, and he knew his way around the outdoors. I was always terrified something would pick him off; he was nowhere close to king of the jungle up there. One time as we packed to head home, he had vanished. After a few hours of calling into the forest, my father announced we were leaving. Two girls with horror-stricken faces pressed to the back window of the station wagon wailed most of the way home. How would Nooly survive if he didn’t hear the can opener every night?

Two weeks later, we pulled into the cottage driveway, and Nooly was sitting on the back step. He looked fine. The cat and my father exchanged glances as we raced to open tins of food for our four footed Robinson Crusoe.

It’s this memory, of course, that nibbles around the edge of my brain as I scour labels for added fillers or too many carbohydrates. Venison, chicken, turkey, beef, ten kinds of fish, every kind of vegetable and I’ve yet to see the only label that would make perfect sense: mouse. They could even draw up a little label, make a cute commercial.

As I stared at the latest labels a few days ago, stressing over the fact I’d bought something with brown rice in it, I heard the kids start laughing.

The kitten had eaten a gummy bear.

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Fear and loathing in the new sex-ed curriculum

Your kids are being taught health education from a curriculum that was created before there was likely a computer in your kitchen. OK, I’ll say “sex ed” so the hat chewers can get to it.

Since the last update in 1998, we’ve gone from few with Internet access in their homes to most having it in their hand. Every time you install a net nanny to keep your children from viewing forbidden material, keep in mind it was no doubt invented by someone not much older, and the ability to disable it will be along in 20 seconds. Kids are like anything you try to keep penned; they’ll find the weak spot.

The contents of the revised program are being conveyed to some communities in interpretations that are worse than immoral; they’re purposefully putting forth inflammatory lies to stir up those who can’t seem to do the only thing that would make any sense to me: read the damned curriculum yourself.

Feel nervous that your five-year-old will be taught the word penis? Do you feel uncomfortable with the word leg or hand? Then it’s your discomfort that is going to make it difficult for your child — that one you’re so worried about — to come to you with any issues about his wee-wee, including the fact that someone else is touching it. The concept of consent might be the single most important part of this upgrade. Nobody is destroying the romance of childhood; they’re protecting it.

Let’s assume you keep your children under wraps until they’re 18. You’ve filtered all contact with computers, friends, television, movies, music, billboards and pop culture. When you finally send them away to school, or they get out in the world without you beside them, you know what they are? They’re prey. Congratulations. You’ve not only hobbled them with ignorance you’ve saddled them with guilt.

Worried about conversations the program might spark at home? House rule: if my children are brave enough to ask me, I have to be brave enough to answer them.

Each step of the way, the revised sexual health curriculum gives children power: it teaches them fundamental biological understandings of their bodies as well as giving them tools to cope with the enormous emotional changes they are going through. It does not teach your child to be gay, it simply teaches them some people are, and you don’t get to beat them up for it. Issues surrounding sexual orientation, gender and family structures are all crucially based on respect, not sex.

Children shielded from this kind of information often need it the most. A child realizing he or she is gay needs somewhere safe to bring questions and fears. Remember, a Mom and Dad who don’t “condone homosexuality” can’t just hope it will go away. I don’t condone cancer or amusement parks, but they’re still real.

The very people opposing their children learning fact-based, clear language, information about their health and bodies are the very people who will sub in for that education with words like “you don’t need to know that” and “those feelings are dirty.” Insert your teen suicide statistics here.

Everything your child learns will be laid down over a template of the values you’ve instilled at home. Information meted out incrementally over years will augment that framework, not replace it.

Children have a voice.

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Unbelievably, Motherlode gets romanced by… a dog

ShelbyAbout six months ago, Ari, 20 started dating Taryn, also 20. I was allowed to meet her, which in our household means only one thing: she’s been warned. Over the years, I’d wondered when my sons might start dating. It turns out they’d been handling dating all along; it was a question of when their dates would be able to handle me.

Quite frankly, I’ve always been perfectly charming. I smile and shake hands firmly, yet kindly. I ask about their school and work lives, I don’t say words like “gangsta” because I’ve been warned, and I never, ever say “when I was your age” because again, warned. When in the presence of new people, I try not to yell at the news on TV and I am usually wearing pants.

Then Ari spoke the words that sent a chill down my spine.

“Taryn has a dog.”

Oh. I don’t do dogs. I’m polite around dogs, but it’s the kind of polite where you eat something that has lima beans in it because it would be rude not to, but you walk away wondering why anyone would purposely buy lima beans. Taryn lives an hour away and I figured it was her family dog, and I’d have to look at pictures and say it was cute even if it looked like a cross between a schnauzer and a schnitzel.

Nope. Shelby is Taryn’s dog. A collie shepherd cross, she is just a year old. When Ari asked if they could visit, I smiled a fake smile and pictured my cats tearing around the house chased by a dog like some manic Saturday morning cartoon. I know dogs.

My mom grew up having dogs; all apparently now live on a farm in England somewhere (the dogs – not my Mom) but we were never allowed to consider it. Even getting Nooly the cat was a reach; I’ve met a lot of dogs in my life and too many struck me as being eternal two-year-olds; certainly cute but way too needy.

Instead, Shelby came into the front hall and sat down. I patted her l head and she lifted a paw for me to shake. I nearly asked her about her school and work. Four cats darted into the basement, no doubt learning how to spell apocalypse as they ran. I decided that Shelby could visit in the backyard, so the cats wouldn’t freak out.

Taryn moved to our city, and Shelby was now a larger part of the equation. I offered to babysit one afternoon for an hour; a dog out back on her lead on a lovely day, me working away, how hard could it be? I looked up to see Shelby peering at me through the back door. She was not on her temporary tether. She’d somehow worked her way free, and come to tell me. She doesn’t bark.

“If you behave, you can come in. I have some work to finish,” I explained to a dog. She obediently plunked down, and JoJo, our oldest cat, sat in the next room giving this intruder the evil eye.

It’s been a month now. Shelby and the cats share the same space more or less amicably. She shakes my hand whenever she sees me and I pat her lovely head. She’ll do sleepovers in Ari’s room and after some initial missteps (“I know it’s 6am, but how can you be sure she doesn’t have to pee?”) I’ve learned the only thing a dog wants you to do is love it.

I’ve spent a long time being certain about all the things I know. Kind of nice when an old dog learns a new trick.

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Two floods and a flat. Catastrophe? No, Tuesday

On a recent Tuesday morning, I sat staring blankly at my computer monitor willing words to erupt for two different noon deadlines. They were not erupting. Pammy, 23, wandered bleary-eyed into the kitchen. She is in the homestretch of her degree thesis and final projects and is sleeping a couple of hours a night, if she’s lucky. She’d gone down two basement steps when it all started.

“The basement is full of water.” I’m not afraid of many things, but I am afraid of water loose in my house. Water on the loose inside is like having a bird or squirrel on the loose; I’ve had both of those things, too, which I’m sure comes as no surprise.

I could hear something leaking. I could also see cartons and furniture and things that we’d always meant to put away. I hollered for both boys and tried to detect the source of the problem. The humidifier on the furnace was dripping away, which meant the first phase of Sommerfeld Scientific Leak Control had to be put into place: finding a cooler. This was easy, because it was still under the leak in the roof in the attic.

The water line to the humidifier – the saddle valve, as Google was about to inform me – was busted. Ari turned it off, working with two No Frills bags wrapped around his feet. Our unfinished basement floor is kind of nasty. It didn’t hold. He headed to the hardware store (he took the bags off his feet) for a fix some guy on Google suggested. I called my sister at work, because her husband, Manny, is the next best thing to having my own when the house falls apart. I’m not sure he agrees.

As I hunted for a plumber, my deadlines taunted me. I watched two kittens head downstairs to investigate, as I futilely yelled at them to stop. Ten minutes later, Boy Kitten ran back upstairs with clumps of litter on his feet like platform shoes on some 80s metal band member.

My sister found someone to stop the water, which was good because the Google guy was a liar. Even with the water shut off, the drips kept on. A man named Darryl showed up and I handed him a pair of water wings and sent him downstairs. Christopher and Ari continued hauling stuff outside as we lowered property values for the neighbourhood.

An hour later, as I stood in the driveway thanking Darryl profusely, I glanced down. The car had a flat tire. With Pammy frantic to leave in 5 minutes, I called a friend who donated her car. Christopher started sorting out the tire, and I watched my deadlines fly by.

Ari shook his head. “What else could go wrong?” he asked. I headed back downstairs to check on the drying process, only to notice water pooling around the sewer drain on the other side of the basement. Yup. The sewer was backing up. Tree roots chose this day to announce they were back.

Floods, flats…so many F words that day. As Ari and I discovered why you never, ever say “what else could go wrong?”, he paused and looked at me. “Hey, turn around. Look! I didn’t know you had grey hair. You have some grey hair!” He was laughing. I was not. I was having the kind of day you read about when people’s hair turns grey all at once. I’d decided by 4pm that is truly a thing.

I glared at Ari and considered adding one more F word to the day.

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How many details do famous people owe you about their health? None

Joni Mitchell’s recent health issues are capturing headlines. Speculation is to be expected when the person in question is an icon.

It was reported she was taken to hospital a few weeks ago, condition unknown. I’ve watched concern pile up among music lovers and here in my own small heart because Joni Mitchell is, well, Joni Mitchell. Her work stands alone. News of her being unwell reminds me of all the things I take for granted, the things I think about sporadically or intensely or sometimes not at all for long stretches; Joni’s music is a friend of mine.

But I also watched one paper publish an opinion piece along the lines of What Joni Has Always Meant to Me that read more like an obituary. I thought that was the height of bad taste until I read another that flat out stated if she was suffering mental health issues, we needed to be told because how else will we ever reduce the stigma if someone like Joni Mitchell won’t discuss her personal issues? It made the near-obituary look a wise editorial decision. It wasn’t, but there’s nothing like terrible to make bad look better.

You’ve heard of peak oil, the terminal decline in readily available oil, terminology now being applied to water. Have we reached peak garbage yet? Maybe our brains are at last so saturated in nonsense that we can finally stop entertaining ourselves to death and start to have conversations about things that matter. Joni Mitchell is no real housewife, no fame whore kindling notoriety into headlines because talent was just too elusive.

Yet, a newspaper article in one of this country’s major players opines she owes us more. She owes us the nitty gritty, down and dirty details of what might be playing out with her health. Specifically, her mental health. Because Mitchell – intensely private – has alluded to struggles in the past, we deserve details. A 75-year-old heavy smoker is taken to hospital; speculate on that if you require fodder. Don’t pretend her mental health is about education and information by deciding within a moral vacuum what she owes us.

I talk openly about being bipolar. I spill pretty much everything if I think it might nudge others to find help, or gain a little empathy. I live out loud, but never in a million years do I think anyone else is obliged to. You don’t demand someone share details of their life because you think it’s the right thing to do. You don’t get to decide that Joni Mitchell owes you anything.

I love when people say they’re just tryin’ to reduce the stigma, helpful little busybodies that they are. Discussing an individual’s mental health in a conversation they are not participating in is not about boosting awareness, it’s about chasing ratings. There’s stigma about a lot of things, like adultery or hemorrhoids. By a certain age, you’ve probably dealt with one of them. Shall we speculate, so we can remove the stigma? Care to have people publically debate your association with either of those topics?

Car manufacturers have started making something they call “infotainment” systems. It’s a horrible word, colliding information and entertainment together as if we’re too stupid to be able to process one without the other. At least they’re just trying to physically maximize space with the idea. I’m tired of news sources hiding behind a veneer of advocacy that is simply sensationalism, little ‘info’ to go with the ‘tainment’.

Before you take part in this kind of speculation, first decide what you would owe a bunch of strangers.

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What’s a little OCD between sisters?

When you’re a kid growing up with an older sibling, you get used to deferring to that sibling. In some ways it’s just one more person giving you orders, but it’s also someone who has beaten the path ahead and worn down Mom and Dad. Roz is five years older than I am, and did enough bad things to let me to later slip under the radar. For this, I thank her.

It’s funny how patterns and roles established in childhood hold firm. Gilly will forever be our little sister; I think she should be grateful she never ages. She thinks we should stop picking on her.

The problem with Sommerfeld women? We’re all a bunch of bossyboots. We’re all stubborn, though we’re each stubborn in our own charming ways. We’re outspoken even if nobody has asked for our opinion. We’re like my Dad in that regard. He kept all of his opinions in a satchel he carried around and handed them out to anyone who looked like they could use his opinion. He believed this was everyone.

I’m out in Toronto on Tuesdays to do my show, which is not far from Roz’s house; I head out early and take her grocery shopping when her husband has their car. Or rather, I scroll through my emails as she looks at every single red pepper in the display before selecting one. We move onto celery. Then chicken. She does it with lemons and limes and cucumbers and things I can’t even name. I throw a bag of Cheezies into the cart.

She tells me which route to take; she tells me when it’s safe to turn; she tells me where to park. We have an agreement. She can tell me where to drive, but she may not tell me how to drive. On an incline last week, she quietly said, “this would be a good time to use your emergency brake.” I looked at her. “You can’t help it, can you?” She shook her head.

When she said Easter dinner would be at her place, Ari looked at his girlfriend Taryn. “Don’t eat; we will be feasting”. He was right. This attention to detail I tease her about has awesome results. ‘Attention to detail’ is polite; she readily notes her OCD tendencies. Her nickname is One Two Three Four. In one store, I found some darling little spice jars and bought all they had. When I got home, Pammy took one look and said, “Roz let you buy nine?”

In her kitchen one day, Roz reached into a drawer and brought out a small screwdriver. Without missing a beat, she turned a screw in a light plate a few millimetres so it was perfectly horizontal. At Easter, Gilly showed us a picture of her spice drawer to compare cooking tips with Roz. The labels were in alphabetical order. I have little envelopes of spices that all fall on the counter every time I open the cupboard. I think I was adopted.

When the boys were small and the divorce was fresh, it was Roz who bought them back- to -school clothes and made up the shortfall of no medical benefits. It was Roz who helped me corral two tiny kids at the cottage over and over and called it a vacation. It was Roz who drove home on weekends to get up at 5am with two little boys so I could get some sleep.

After Easter dinner, I put a knife in the dishwasher. She turned it around. I pretended not to notice. She pretended not to see me pretending not to notice.

What do little sisters know?

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