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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When a wet dog hugs you, you smell like a wet dog

As someone who has little reason to worry about a commute to work — down the stairs to the kitchen is usually about it — I also have little reason to worry about the weather.

That sounds selfish, and I do care what others have to contend with, but if I wake up and spy rain, I may shrug a little and curse the greyness.

Until Shelby. When you have a dog, weather is all of a sudden of major importance. I don’t care about wet weather because I’m going to stay inside no matter what. Shelby doesn’t care about wet weather because she is going to go outside no matter what.

Ari and Taryn are gone most days at work and school; Shelby duty falls to Mama L (we don’t use the G word), and for the most part, Shelby and I are a decent team when the cats don’t get in the way. She has a million toys that require almost constant disembowelling, many gross dried parts of dead animals to chew on, and a nap schedule I envy.

She also likes to go outside. And come back in. And go back out. She’s busy out there; she has puppy friends on three sides of the yard who meet up regularly like the retired guys you see at Tim’s every morning; she’s dug two sizeable holes that need maintaining and if not Shelby to haul massive branches around the yard, then who?

Shelby2Shelby is a collie/shepherd mix with huge brown eyes and the sweetest temperament I’ve ever experienced in a dog. Shelby doesn’t bark; she politely taps at the door to be let back in. If I don’t hear her, Sweet Pea, the only cat who likes her, will sit and mewl until I notice. Pea is actually a tiny border collie in a cat suit. She rounds everybody up.

What I have learned in the past year is that dogs with long, soft, furry coats shed. They get wet because they roll in the grass and run around under cedar trees, because that is apparently what all the cool kids do. I now find myself multiple times a day wiping a dog’s paws as she patiently holds them up one after another, then towelling her off as she hugs me.

I am a cat person. Shelby knows this and does not make my life difficult. She’s worried she might be the first creature, human or otherwise, to ever get evicted from this house.

A friend was over the other day and as we sat on the couch, I realized Shelby had been off her blanket. I surreptitiously started grooming the couch for dog hair, as if nonchalant hand vacuuming happens all the time. He finally asked what I was doing. I looked at the huge ball of dog hair in my hands and decided no more friends could visit.

I’ve already vacated most of my house rules. When the boys were young, it was simply, “only call me if you’re bleeding” and by the time they’d grown, it had progressed to “only call if you need bail.”

Keeps things simple.

Cats aren’t allowed on the counter, and the first two knew that. The current kittens don’t care and I do that thing where if someone new comes in the house, I glance at the cats on the counter and firmly yell, “I told you, off the counter!” and the cats looked confused, and then bored, and I fool nobody.

Shelby turned two a few days ago, and Taryn happily announced that made her 14.

Another kid entering the teen years. Awesome.

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Looking for love in all the wrong places

“Ew, ew, ew, ew. You should read the creepy message some guy sent me on LinkedIn,” said my sister one morning.

Ah, LinkedIn, that professional networking website for professionals that some professionals keep mixing up with a dating site.

LinkedIn allows individuals to connect based on professional ties. You can request to be “linked” to someone, and they have the option of adding you to their list of connections.

Most of this is fairly straightforward: I accept and make requests based in the automotive industry, creative aimed at writers and anything that might understandably augment either of those things. I do not accept requests from random people I can’t conceive of having any reasonable need to connect with. I have a great imagination, but even I can’t come up with a reason to open the doors to someone who believes their multi-level marketing nonsense is an “opportunity.”

Call me old school, but I believe in a special demarcation between church and state. Any entity – LinkedIn, in this case – devoted to work should be treated like work. If I’m using this site to hunt for employees or for projects, why would I want to see you in your wedding finery? I’ve seen women in what can only be described as boudoir photos, I’ve seen men in shorts holding fish, I’ve seen bios full of spelling errors and I’ve seen pictures of people with pets because they’ve obviously mixed this up with Facebook.

All of these pale in comparison, however, to the messages that make me feel like I’m sitting in a bar. Messages like the one my sister received the other day.

Maybe our online lives are just too fluid; maybe it’s natural for one area to flow into another as our work lives serpentine with our personal ones; maybe it’s just normal for some men to think LinkedIn is actually a Woman Catalogue.

Most of us (should) know by now that recruiters and employers are going to check on our social media postings. It’s too easy and tempting not to poke around, especially when you can do it under the guise of investigating someone for professional reasons. If you’re a blackout drunk or raging racist (or simply spend all your free time with people who are), by 2016, you can reasonably expect some blowback. Nothing tiptoes on the Internet.

But what about those who go barrelling past every boundary of good taste and good grace while flying their company flag? I’ve received creepy come-ons like my sister did, from men I’ve never met but, thanks to LinkedIn, now know all their professional affiliations. It makes airbrushed boudoir photos seem positively tactful.

What would your HR department think of you sending out your best pickup lines on the company stationery? Maybe you’re the boss and used to everybody stickhandling around you, but rest assured, those in your employ may humour you but nobody else will feel so obligated.

Most industries are entwined with others; LinkedIn is great at the algorithms that pimp you across various platforms, meaning being a major player in one area doesn’t guarantee you will be in another – your words can and will be used against you.

I’ve nothing against a swing and a miss in proposing a business relationship; how else do we build careers? But confusing a professional arena with your dating pool makes me question your judgement along with your integrity.

The fact you’re doing it as a representative of your company means you might have to start using your connections for another purpose – finding a new job.

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When your house whispers at you, instead

Modern technology has robbed me of much of my noise making ability.

It’s torn away my frustration outlets. It has taken all the loud, banging thumps and crashes that came with a satisfying door slam or phone hang-up and replaced them with sad-faced emoticons or one with a devil spouting tiny horns. There is no comparison.

I grew up with a black Bell phone on the kitchen counter. That sucker could have knocked out Mike Tyson if hurled correctly. Slamming down the receiver was not just satisfying, it sent a thunderous message throughout the entire house. It even gave a weak ring in the midst of the thunder, as if the phone cried a little and tried to duck, which is what I imagined whomever had forced me to such action was also doing.

Along came flip phones and I would watch people deliver a weak slap to that tinny flap, exasperation replacing anger.

Nowadays, it doesn’t matter how hard I push a button, the message received on the other end is the same. Call ended. Nothing to see here. I have never hurled a cellphone, though people in movies do it all the time. I understand why.

I cracked a phone screen a few years back; it shattered simply by falling to the floor from a table. What kind of wimpy phone does that? I hadn’t stuffed it in its kryptonite case yet, but I found myself wondering why they don’t just build them out of that stuff instead of selling me another layer that should have been there to begin with.

I just answered my own question.

Have you ever tried to slam a modern drawer? No matter what you do, the drawer rescues itself halfway in and gently tucks itself away. This is an upsell feature on many products: cupboards and drawers that are unslammable.

I have a toilet seat that does this, too, which I will admit is a blessing in the middle of the night when I am not rattled from sleep because someone chose this time to remember I like the lid down at all times.

My Dad used to make a lot of noise with his tools. Well, my Dad made a lot of noise all the time, but I grew up believing that the only way to work a tool box was to repeatedly slam the narrow drawers shut as you hunted for whatever was eluding you. I still do this; I like the zipping noise the trays make as they’re whiskered in and out, and it makes me feel efficient in a very inefficient way: the screwdriver I’m looking for is usually in the junk drawer in the kitchen.

I’m not an especially violent person, though I do love to toss on a pair of boxing gloves once in a while. It’s not that I want to end every phone call with a crash or find fault with a cutlery drawer. I just miss the household code. If Mom heard a series of drawers being opened and shut, she’d yell and ask what we were looking for and tell us it was in the laundry. If Dad sutured the front door shut with a shove after work, we’d know good day/bad day without a word spoken. A phone slam meant: don’t ask your kid how the relationship is going — or, maybe, do.

With an increasingly decentralized household — everyone has their own phone, most watch entertainment on their own devices, a shared dinner hour is often claimed by bashing schedules — I miss the subtle theatrical cues that modern technology keeps erasing.

I just realized how silently I typed this. I learned on an old Underwood and I threw that carriage return with intent.

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Tearing apart supermarket mysteries, and family lies

If I go grocery shopping, I fling what I know we need into the cart.

I make substitutions on the spot depending on what’s available, what’s on sale and whether they’re charging $87 for a head of cauliflower that all of a sudden makes people who don’t even eat cauliflower lose their minds.

I found a cauliflower for two bucks a few weeks ago and was so excited, I bought it. It’s still in the fridge, doing that thing that forgotten cauliflower does when nobody is looking.

When the kids do the shopping, I scratch down a list, imagining each aisle in my head. Sometimes they call me and they’re not at the store I go to, which means the list is essentially useless, like trying to defuse an atomic bomb with the instructions to a Lego Star Wars kit. In these times of crisis, I metaphorically throw up my hands and tell them to buy what they want, which no doubt was their dark plan all along.

Ari, 21, and his girlfriend Taryn announced the other night they were making a recipe. Recipe shopping is always their problem, not mine. If you want exotic things like cumin and ginger and rice, you’re on your own. I eat a lot of Shreddies.

“I need whole milk,” said Taryn.

“Good. I need a few other things when you go. Take my card,” I told her.

She was rifling through the fridge, trying to decide what else they needed.

“What’s whole milk?” asked Ari.

“It’s a kind. That’s an American recipe, so just look for homogenized. When I was a kid we called it homo. I think they still do.”

He snickered on cue.

We usually buy one per cent, and a lactose free one for me.

“But there’s also two per cent and whole, or homogenized….” I heard Taryn talking as they drifted out the door.

When they returned, Ari was putting things away. He held up a slender red carton.

“This is only 3.25 per cent,” he said calmly.

I glanced up from my computer.

“Yeah, homo milk.”

I shrugged.

“I couldn’t find it, and it makes no sense. Taryn told me to go get whole milk. I’m standing there seeing skim and one per cent and two per cent, and then this 3.25 and I’m still looking for whole.”

I started to laugh, but quietly so he couldn’t tell.

“I walked down the entire milk aisle looking for 100 per cent milk. Whole. That’s what makes sense,” he continued. “But no, I get to 3.25 and it stops. I thought I missed it.”

By now Taryn had brought in the rest of the groceries, which Ari started putting away.

“I asked him to go get the milk. He was gone forever.”

“BECAUSE THERE WASN’T ANY 100 PER CENT MILK,” a voice bellowed from inside the fridge.

Last week, he discovered there are unsalted Premium Plus crackers. (“I mean, why even bother?”)

We have had discussions about unthawing meat for dinner.

And I cracked a 20-year family mystery regarding orange juice for him just last month. He thought there was a nutritional reason I buy orange juice without pulp; I told him we didn’t use to have a dishwasher and the pulp stuck to the glasses, so I never bought juice with pulp.

The look on his face was similar to when he found out his hamster, Cookie, hadn’t died of natural causes, unless you consider a cat who learned how to open a hamster cage natural causes.

If he asks me about the Caramilk secret, I’m going to continue to lie.

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Want to take that tone with me? Whatever

“Why do you text so weird?”

Only Ari had the nerve to ask me that directly a couple of years ago, but I know all four kids think it. They make fun of me.

From the time I sent my first text, about six years ago, they’ve been relentless. That first text arrived on Christopher’s phone as a long string of letters: I didn’t know how to put a space in between the words. It’s been all downhill since then.

I keep reading all these articles about how what you don’t say in texts and emails is more revealing than what you do, and I totally agree. I was never, ever a smiley face kind of person until I found myself grasping at that most annoying of little smirks to prove I’m not a bitch of the highest order. Tone is everything, they say. And while I staunchly refuse to LOL or C U LTR, I am not averse to throwing in many hehs or uhms.

There are sites you can visit that string together some pretty hilarious autocorrects — texts that end up being far outside what the original message was intended to be. Many of the best ones are between parents and their kids; some are sweet, but most are just mortifying.

I don’t have any mortifying ones on my phone, but mostly because I am so careful in what I send. I spell out each word, and I cautiously wonder how my words will be interpreted by my offspring or their mates. I never just say “OK” because I think that will look cold; I say “kk” and I know they laugh behind my back. They also joke that I put in hugs and kisses, I write I LOVE YOU in capital letters just for fun, and I tell them not to text and drive.

I use exclamation points in texts though I rarely use them when I speak or write.

I am not particularly jovial in nature, but I am terrified that my messages might reveal me to be dismissive or harsh. You can tell someone you’re grounding them for a month and taking away the car but if you follow it with an exclamation point, it doesn’t look so bad.

I don’t read as much into responses I get from the kids, mostly because I’m happy when they respond at all. If I’m away I text the girlfriends; only Pammy and Taryn will answer me and I’m sure it’s out of pity. The only expression I will not let stand is “whatever.”

Now, there is an answer that will send me down a surly warpath.

Disengaging, dismissive, all the disses.

I’ve kept letters from my parents and cards from old boyfriends; I’ve kept phone messages long after I should have deleted them, old phones with scrolls of texts, and I’ve buried emails deep in hard drives that will probably never see the light of day again.

But respond to me with “whatever” and I will seethe. I remember using the pejorative term to my own parents in full throttle teenage nastiness, but somehow, having it hang in print to be revisited instead of fade away with all of the other attitude is worse.

You may not whatever me. Or worst still, whatev. Don’t whatev me.

And that, ultimately, is why I don’t shrug off the articles trying to decipher how we communicate; it matters. I’ve saved notes the boys have written over the years because written words somehow always have more power, and can be revisited. The text on those phones is forming a written diary I didn’t have with my parents.

I think it’s valuable.

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To sleep, perchance to dream — ay, there’s the rub

I think of all the things that used to seem so illicit, the things people would smuggle across borders or hide from their significant others. The things parents would lie to their children about and the things children would lie to their parents about. I think about objects I have coveted and circumstances I have envied.

And now the only thing I would sneak, lie for, covet or envy, is sleep. I’ve also discovered it is not only my deep secret, it is dominating the landscape of almost every person I know. Hit a certain age, say goodbye to sleep. It was supposed to be once the kids were grown, you’d get it all back. Tell that to 3 a.m., staring at you in all its glowing judgment. Then 3:10. Then 3:59. Tell that to 6:30 when you’ve finally dozed off again, at 5:45.

My doctor has told me often enough that I have to retrain myself. Like sleep training a baby, I have to sleep train myself. I follow the rules and do all the things and still I’m reading in bed at four in the morning, various cats wondering if it’s time for breakfast.

I’ve blamed those creatures and mucked with their schedules. The cats don’t know who is allowed to sleep with me, or if anyone is, and I often drift off to a symphony of paws scratching on one side of the door or the other. I can’t remember who is in or out.

I spent 14 years with one cat sleeping on my feet on top of the covers, after a childhood of another one doing the same thing. When I travel I plunk a pillow near my feet so I can go to sleep. A cat slumbering in the room is like a nightlight or white noise machine. Cats do a thing where they all promise to behave if they can just stay in the room; they’re liars, of course and I kick them out, wishing just once one of them could sleep on my feet and not take part in the NASCAR race taking place under the bed.

I blame not working out enough, but I’m too tired to work out. I blame not eating properly, but I’m too tired to cook. Half the time I’m too tired to even eat.

If I wake up after a rare decent night’s sleep, I want to celebrate by taking a nap.

I stopped by my sister’s house the other day, and her daughter greeted me at the door shushing me.

“Mom’s talking a nap; she hasn’t been sleeping lately,” she told me, almost needlessly.

I work with a crew of teenagers who are usually yawning by the time we get to work at 9 o’clock at night. “What do you all have to be tired about?” I would ask them. One blinked shyly before admitting she was tired because she’d been up since 5 for a full day of classes, her other part-time job, and had then come in to work on the show until nearly 11 p.m. After taking transit to get everywhere. I stopped complaining.

My doctor has checked out all my moving parts and I’m a fairly healthy non-sleeping person. One friend suggested more vitamin D and some sun; I asked if it was working for him, and he yawned and admitted not much. Another suggested yoga, but the best way for me to fidget is to be told to lie still and clear my mind.

I’m debating taking my sister one of my cats, though I’m sure her husband would kill me.

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When the cost of saving money is too high

Let’s talk about the “sharing economy.”

You might be fooled into thinking it’s sorta like the old barter economy. You know, that thing where I’d watch your kids while you went to buy new bras because there is nothing worse than taking a 3-year-old into a change room and in return you’d pick mine up from after school care because I’m stuck in traffic hyperventilating that I’ll be charged a dollar for every minute I’m late, which is still cheap compared to having to hear that I love them less because I was the last mom to show up.

The sharing economy is not the barter economy. Trust me. The sharing economy — strangers in cars picking you up with the tap of an app, places to stay by checking in online — are convenient and a deal and at first blush, a fabulous way to circumvent The Man. Do we still say that? The Man? Is that still a thing?

No, the sharing economy is about those of us who aren’t The Man battling it out to be among the worst paid, least protected and most exploited workers in the country. We’re essentially volunteering to work under conditions that people before us fought long and hard to eradicate.

Let’s say you have an arrangement with a handful of your neighbours. One owns a snowblower, someone else has the good weed whacker, another has a chainsaw. Nobody needs to use all of these things all of the time, so you’ve all sorted a way to share. You’ve made it work, because the idiot who used everything but contributed nothing finally moved.

Now, take that arrangement, and have a new neighbour move in and say, “I’ve created a schedule for you so we can determine where the tools should be. I will let everyone know when things are available, but you can continue to purchase the tools and maintain them at your own cost. But because I’m streamlining this and providing a central information hub, everyone is now required to pay 10 bucks a month into the kitty.”

The kitty is Hub Guy.

The problem isn’t with the neighbours who tell this new neighbour to stuff it; it’s with the fact that more and more business models look like this and people think it’s a good thing. Hub Guy isn’t on the hook if the chain snaps on that chainsaw, or someone runs the wrong fuel mix through your lawn mower. He’s not on the hook for anything. You are. It’s like some corporate evil has hijacked the meaning of community and found a way to profit.

All you know is that you want something cheaper, and now you can get it. You can cut out some layers of bureaucracy and get a ride, a hotel or a handyman cheaper. Except that ride is probably not insured, that hotel is probably not licensed, and that person in your home might not be bonded.

It’s like the whole world has become a temp agency and we wonder why nobody has a stable income, benefits or a future.

You’d think, especially in Hamilton, that we’d know better. You think we’d understand the dangers of workers hurt on the job, and the necessity of safety nets and oversight. You think we’d understand the race to the bottom takes quality along with price, as we eat fruit shipped from China instead of our own Niagara region. I mean it — go read that label.

Every time you circumvent some system you hate instead of working to fix it, you defeat yourself. By all means adapt new economic models, but require it is done in a way that protects both workers and consumers.

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When the readers do the writing – this one’s for you, Katie

A couple of years ago a young woman wrote to me and asked me for advice.

Her father had passed away suddenly at a terribly young age; she was pregnant and her question to me was as raw and torn as an open wound: how could her unborn child ever know him? How would she remember her father?

She doesn’t know it, but I cried over that note. It was like blowing on embers I thought had gone out. Ari had just turned 2 when Dad died and Christopher would have his fifth birthday just a few days later. How would my sons know a man they would never be able to remember?

I thought about that new mother, her joy entwined with her sadness, and told her the one thing that could make losing her father remotely bearable: write about him.

I told her you don’t have to be a writer, you just have to be disciplined. Every time you remember something he said or did that made you laugh, write it down. Every time someone mentioned something you’d forgotten or never knew, write it down. Every time your child does something that reminds you of him, write it down. Prose, poetry, song lyrics, random thoughts; stuff everything in a journal and begin a history of things you don’t ever want to forget.

I told her I’d been lucky in ending up having the job I do. I had no clear path to these pages, it just sort of happened and in the beginning I was terrified of disappointing readers or my sons, and eventually myself.

And then the beauty of life unfurling in real time took over, and almost inadvertently, my sons have a history of their grandparents I could never have hoped to cobble together on purpose. It took the shifting of time, the changing of moods, all the wonderful and terrible things that have happened since Mom and Dad have gone to form the backbone of this narrative that has a life of its own.

Write, I told her. Write because our minds are slippery shape shifters, chameleons so capable of making you believe the changes they’re undertaking are of your own volition when they’re not. Memory is a victim: of time, of mood, of cynicism, of laziness and of pain. You won’t remember to put it down later, and if you do, it won’t be in quite that way.

And you get better at it. At first, you write the hurt and the loss and the anger. Finally, you break through to the gold, those moments that make your kids happy to be told, “you remind me of your grandpa.”

You find permission to acknowledge imperfections and you find the power to forgive someone for letting you down. You find your own voice through the noise and you find the power to forgive yourself, too.

People who know me know I’m still devastated I’m not a daughter anymore. Life has kicked me in the head enough to understand time spent focused on things I can’t change is time wasted, and to also understand none of us have that kind of time to waste. I like a good wallow as much as the next person, but I find it a luxury of those who haven’t a loss that cuts clear through to the bone.

That young mom wrote to me last week. She’d written a beautiful piece reminding everyone it’s Heart Month, but her message was wrapped in a story about her Dad. She captured his humour, his spirit and their love.

She wrote it.

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