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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Catfished by cats; judging kittens when they’re sleeping

We’re told not to judge a book by its cover. We may mentally understand the concept, but we are emotional infants when it comes to pretty, shiny or in my case, adorable, things.

When I lost Maggie just over a year ago, I wanted another cranky little calico. I reasoned that JoJo was getting on in years, Sweet Pea would be moving out with the kids, so I started looking for a little Maggie. I’ve never actually gone looking for a cat before, they always just end up here. But I wanted a calico, a bossy, grumpy little beast.

I called shelters and shopped online. Every time, I’d have one just in my grasp and I’d hear, “sorry, someone just took her.” I was eventually way beyond looking; I would have taken anything sight unseen. I finally got a call from a rescue. My heart leapt as I grabbed a kid and the car keys and headed to the store where they display rows of broken hearts.

catsThere was a tiny calico, all right, with another cat firmly wrapped around her. They were sleeping, big brother securely protecting her from someone who just wanted a calico and not a big brother. I swallowed hard and Taryn, my kitty co-pilot, said exactly the wrong thing: “Maybe we should just hold her and see what she’s like.”

Of course I took them both, because I bought that book cover. Two darling bundles with an impossibly hard kitten life: they’d been rescued off the streets in Egypt, where romantic notions of cats being idolized by the ancients are nonsense, and instead, feral gangs of cats roam the streets and are hated and abused. It’s not that I thought Canada had run out of stray cats, it just so happened the calico I wanted had a back-story more interesting than my own.

It soon became evident I’d brought mayhem into my household. We named them Mark and Cairo, but we should have named them Jekyll and Hyde. Come feeding time, they become sharks. I have to separate them from JoJo and Pea, who eat calmly on the other side of a door wondering what all the noise is. My kitchen cabinets are all duct taped shut because they will steal every last piece of food and run.

I reasoned that feral kittens would take some time to calm down; they’d soon learn every meal was not their last, and I could quietly go back to just being the woman who had four cats, not the woman who had two good cats and two insane cats though admittedly knowing there is no way to dress up the fact I have four cats.

Flash forward a year, and I’ve learned some things.

I worked with a cameraman who happened to be from Egypt.

“Oh,” I told him, “I adopted two cats from Egypt!” He raised his eyebrows. “Why would you do that? Cats in Egypt are crazy.” I thanked him for his insight.

A colleague had actually written a piece on the feral cats of Egypt while there reporting on the revolution.

“You wrote about feral cats,” I emailed him. “I adopted a couple and I can’t figure out why they’re so nuts.”

He wrote back about waiters hurling them into the sea to get them off patios.

I asked a vet I was working with about my little darlings. “They are the product of generations of abuse and neglect. I could tell you stories …”

So my sweethearts are hard-wired to be ferocious at feeding time, but incredibly affectionate in the other hours.

They might need a different cover, but I’d still buy the book.

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The sandwich generation: maybe not what you think

“Can we stop at Canadian Tire? I want to buy a sandwich maker,” said Ari, 21. I sighed quietly. I already can’t see my kitchen counters for two reasons: I have almost no counter space, and what I do have is buried beneath clutter and things like sandwich makers.

“Why do you suddenly need a sandwich maker?” I asked.

“Because Miles had one when we did that robotics trip and he brought it to the hotel room. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches the whole time. It was awesome.” It should be noted that this was about six years ago. He has not seen Miles in that time. He has not mentioned the robotics trip in that time. It’s like he stepped off a magic bus and opened his eyes in 2016.

“You may buy a sandwich maker if you clean up the counters first and sort out the cupboards.” I knew this would be stupid, like ice cream and bread makers I know that reside next to boxes of Christmas decorations in houses all over; I have neither, though we do have an Egg McMuffin maker down there that Ari used every day for a year when he was 9. One decent frying pan can make your life complete. Instead, my son sauntered out of the store carrying a fifteen buck, bottom of the line sandwich maker.

Back home, he started emptying cupboards that have needed emptying for years.

“You’re like on those shows where they say, “I won’t have to buy pasta until I’m 70!”. That’s what you do,” he said, piling pasta on the counter.

“We go through a lot of pasta. You have no idea how much, only that when you want it, it’s there. When it goes on sale, I have to buy it.”

“Those people are nuts. They have entire shelving units full of stuff. You need shelving units. Or you need to stop buying pasta. These cupboards are actually big. Everything would fit if you quit buying pasta. I just texted Taryn a picture of our pasta problem.”

“Stop taking pictures. We do not have a pasta problem.” I reassured myself when Taryn got home she would be on my side.

“Who bought couscous?” he asked, staring at a box he’d found. “Probably Pammy,” I told him. Sure wasn’t me.

“Who bought quinoa?” he asked, reaching higher. “Probably Pammy,” I told him. Again, not me.

“Does anyone actually eat low sodium Triscuits?” he asked. “I do,” I replied. “I’ve never seen you,” he said suspiciously. “I do a lot of things you’ve never seen me do.” That shut him up for a moment.

“What about this applesauce?” He was getting near the top shelves now. “I bought it for your lunches.” The last time he took a lunch he was 11.

“What’s manicotti?” he asked, blowing dust off a box. “Pasta,” I told him. “I read a recipe once and thought I’d make something with it.” That ended exactly as you think it ended.

With everything finally cleared up, he hauled out his sandwich maker. He threw the instructions and the box in the recycling bin. “Hey, there’s not even an on and off switch. This is sick,” he said, smiling. This is the kid who complains if the car doesn’t have a heated steering wheel. I watched him fiddle with it, finally stuffing a sandwich in it. I heard him muttering under his breath and asked him what he’d said.

“I told the cat to get his tail out of the way while I closed it, and said how great this thing will be if I’m drunk.”

I don’t want to know what happened in that motel room.

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April brings tulips, taxes and all the stories in between

While the rest of you may be cheering the nudge of tulips through gardens covered in layers of a Mother Nature who can’t make up her mind, I stare wistfully through my smudgy windows and woefully at the piles of paper that have accumulated on my long table.

It’s tax time.

Each year will be different, I tell myself, and next year will be. Again.

Certain I had a handle on things last year, I carefully cleared out my file cabinet to be organized for the coming onslaught. Instead, I spent hours immersed in stories and poems and drawings I’d held on to since the boys were in preschool. Determined to gather it all in one spot, I combed files and corners for photos and papers and journals and spent that afternoon reliving two decades. It was a different kind of accounting.

That’s my problem, of course. I will drop everything if someone tells me a story. I’ve been late getting on planes, I’ve spent hours some weeks returning emails, and I’m one of those weird people who mean it when they ask: “How are you?” It deflects things like my taxes, but taxes are taxing and stories are wonderful and how can you blame me?

I have an accountant I adore who dutifully listens to my stories in turn. I started going to him when I was 18, with a burgeoning business that I thought required the professional polish of a professional accountant.

First year’s sales were $356. I’m not sure what he charged me, though he’s never let me forget I showed up wearing leather pants. The straitlaced accountant and the crazy chick in the leather pants: it’s been a lifelong friendship I continue to cherish. That other kind of accounting, again.

I’d taken a bookkeeping course to handle the millions that didn’t materialize but the practice remained handy. The problem? The table covered in mounds of papers that must be sorted, collated and reduced to a single sheet I hand to Henk for his accounting magic.

Yes it’s in my computer, but every year as those tulips force through, the tulips my Dad planted, I need to see the year before me as I think about the ones that have passed.

So, too, do the cats. The late, fabulous Maggie would sit serenely among piles of paper enjoying the sunlight and chasing any that fell to the floor; papers on the floor signalled recycling, and meant she could frolic.

The youngsters I have now believe the table itself is simply a paper highway and dive and cavort in the piles, making my work four times harder. This is the problem when the previous worker leaves without training the incoming ones.

I would get angry, except I know the value of developing new stories. I let them play.

I tell all the kids to give me their official slips and papers; with myriad tuitions and student loans and part-time jobs, I want to make sure nothing gets missed.

Taryn asked which papers she should give me. The scary ones, I told her, and she understood. I asked her about previous years, before she knew my son, and together we go over that accounting. We find that story.

Training has made me a receipt keeper, and I parse out the relevant ones each year. The most important receipts — treks to the cottage with the kids or the Reward Boots for landing a new gig or the parking slip from Niagara Falls after losing one — are the ones that get tossed away.

I’m wrong; I don’t do my accounting once a year, I do it every day.

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Go With The Flow

Ari, 21, has always kept his hair clipped down short. From about age 5, he’d hop in the hairdresser’s chair and ask for a number two. I’d ask each time if he’d perhaps like a style; he always said no. And so it went, a number two year in and year out and my darling son looking like someone who had just been released from prison.

Today, my son has boy band hair.

He doesn’t call it that, but when I saw a boy band on TV recently, I realized that’s what it was. The hair on top of his head is high and swirly like a wave waiting to be surfed; he has hair that requires no product and he’s unselfconscious enough about his looks to believe it happened by accident. A friend patiently explained to me that this hair is called “flow”. He keeps a hat on it most days so I hadn’t realized just how long it had gotten until recently.

Ari FlowIn anticipation of a trip we were all taking, he and his girlfriend Taryn went shopping to buy him some respectable clothing. It was to be a work trip for me, and I’d told him there would be dinners where he couldn’t wear shorts and flip flops. Taryn sent me photos as he tried things on, and in one he had hauled off his cap to reveal the full cockatiel. It had a kind of Elvis quality to it and when I later said so, they both smiled politely. In that moment I understood what it will be like to be the oldest person in the world.

Dressing for dinner the first night of the trip, Ari came into my bathroom desperately looking for something. “I have to do something with it,” he said. The glacier of hair looked rather cute, but did indeed clash with the button-downed look of junior executive-on-vacation that he’d settled on. He hauled a comb through it, and tossed on a little spray for good measure. It calmed down, though at the cost of that famous flow. I told him he looked very nice.

A colleague of mine met him 10 minutes later and said he looked like Mitt Romney. He proceeded to introduce him as The Young Republican for the rest of the evening. Ari looked horrified and told me he was getting his hair cut. It’s not often you can be Harry Styles one minute and Mitt Romney the next so I told him to embrace the flexibility.

Back home, he came rummaging in my room one night. “I need a hair thingie,” he said, poking around on my bedside table. I handed him a hair elastic. “Yeah, that, thanks.” He left the room. A minute later he returned with his hair pushed into a fountain sprouting from his forehead.

“You look like a unicorn,” I told him.

“Taryn told me to wash my face. She said you put your hair in a ponytail to wash your face.” I could hear Taryn giggling in the next room. I’ve become accustomed to living with girls now, with Pammy and Taryn ushering in a wave of femininity and detail that was previously missing. I dress more like my sons most days, and I’ve been dulled over the years by things like number two haircuts. My Mom never cared how we cut and coloured our hair — or at least she never admitted it — though my father used to sputter. I learned a lot from my Mom; it’s just hair, and I actually like Ari’s Elvis hair.

Go with the flow.

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